The Elder Sign and its Uses

The Elder Sign, as drawn by H.P. LovecraftThe Elder Sign is a line with five branches, invested with spiritual energy (2 POW). The drawing to the right is how Lovecraft initially pictured it. It is a potent protection against the servants of the Great Old Ones when prominently displayed, for they yet remember the power of the Elder Gods, who fought against the Great Old Ones. One of the powerful Great Old Ones (including Cthulhu) might be restrained by the Sign as well, but probably only briefly. The Sign has no effect on the Outer Gods, Elder Gods, or the Great Ones, though the Elder Gods may look upon one who wears it with favor. A description of these various classifications of Mythos deities can be found at  A great deal of mischief is occasioned by the servants of the Great Old Ones, so the Sign is of use to adventurers. Deep Ones and Byakhee are the most common servitor races to be affected. The Sign is usually inscribed on a stone to block the passage of those servants. Most Keepers do not allow it to be worn as a large necklace, as headgear, or emblazoned on a metal shield, but I do. The wearer should remember it must be displayed prominently to have an effect, and that the Sign is hated by the Great Old Ones, who may go out of their way to annihilate it and anyone who may wear it.  Do not depend on it too much!

Please note that COC 5th & 6th edition have a very different interpretation of the Sign, one that to me diminishes the nature of the Sign in Lovecraft and Derleth’s writings. Derleth’s description of the battles between the Great Old Ones and the Elder Gods are compelling enough to me that I use those as a basis for the Sign’s efficacy. For a thorough discussion of the Sign’s efficacy as allowed in recent editions of COC, with which I wholly disagree, see  

Other protective charms that might be encountered in COC include the Star Stones of M’nar, the Seal of Isis, and Prinn’s Crux Ansata. Other possibilities include the Seal of Solomon, the Charm of Seven Paters, or some of the protective charms in Harry Potter’s universe ( I’m sure the mere mention of Potter will scandalize most COC players. 

Snape explains that life isn't fair.

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COC: The Sword, the Ghouls, & the Man who walked into the Danube

We’ve been getting ready to move, so although we’ve been playing, I haven’t had much time to write up the games. Here’s a brief summary of the two last sessions in COC.

Endeavour escaped from the sailors attempting to kill him, but the party never uncovered who they were, or why the purser and captain were unable to uncover them. Felix Fuda’s party and their own parted ways in Lisbon, and our three heroes went by train to Vienna.

Paracelsus with sword

In Vienna, they attended the auction as ordered, but the theft of the sword of Paracelsus (pictured above) by ghouls stopped it for a day. The party began an investigation of the theft. Billy killed a drunk while wandering in the sewers, and then the party was attacked by creatures who injured Billy and Joyce badly (Endeavour had fled in terror). At the last moment, Billy had inscribed an Elder Sign that protected them.

The auction continued the next night. For Jonathan Putnam, the party purchased The Magus (1801) for £180, Prodigies in the New England Canaan (1700s) for £620, and an Inuit medicine bag for £470. Billy was curious about what was in the bag, but Joyce warned him it was death to look into a shaman’s medicine pouch. So instead, he poured out the contents on the table. There wasn’t much interesting, so he shoved it all back in, or most of it anyways. Of course, opening the bag destroyed its power, so that was £470 wasted. They shipped the materials back to Putnam.

For themselves, they purchased Aleister Crowley’s Book of the Dead for £10 and a Hand of Glory for £20. They were unable to find the spells to activate the Hand in the library.

The investigation continued, and after Endeavour followed a man who walked into the Danube and vanished, they found the man who ordered the ghouls to steal the sword. He did it to exchange for a spell to raise his dead wife. The spell was not what he thought it was, but he was content, and the sword went to the secretive retainer of a Romanian patron. The party captured the man and the standard good cop, insane cop played out, complete with plans for his torture. Eventually, they relented but kept him locked up while they went into the ghoul tunnels, where they were attacked and Joyce injured badly for a third time. They retreated to the hospital to get repaired (again) and the villain escaped, joining the ghouls with his somewhat less dead wife.

The party now must pursue the retainer. They have also received a letter from Prof. Fuda, who apparently is another of Putnam’s agents. In it, Fuda asks them to investigate a Romanian noble. Is it too much to hope that the retainer is connected to that particular noble?

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Losing a Limb & Game Lethality

I just read an old blog by Omer G. Joel on lethality in gaming.  and it made me think. I disagree with Omer that lethality is the central argument. Omer praises roguelike video games, and seems to imply that tabletop rpgs should emulate them, which is basically saying that he likes hack & slash games. In general, I don’t. I am an old school gamer (i.e. an old grumpy guy) and I agree that D&D 5e doesn’t do it for me. Pathfinder is more fun to play, but there are so many extra rules that it all gets a bit silly. But ultimately my argument with those two systems is that they simplify their worlds too much and to my thinking, cheapen the story. I’m not interested in lethality for its own sake. Sure, these are adventurers and they face horrible danger. But they are also the special ones who overcome such horrors. The victories shouldn’t be cheap or easy, but they should be victories. As a GM, creating a fantasy world gives me joy. The players’ victories usually mean that they rampage through my world. The stories we create together are the reason I keep roleplaying. 

But the lethality issue is one I am currently wrestling with my own combat system. I use a hit location system (arm, leg, chest, abdomen, & head) and when an adventurer loses a limb, there’s no easy way to get it back. The players have invested a lot of emotion into those characters, and they would prefer to have some sort of fix to get back the arm or leg and continue adventuring. On my side, I’ve worked hard to create a credible world for the adventures, where the suspension of reality is not too difficult. Having Healers able to restore limbs quickly changes more than just adventuring — it implies a level of healing where health is pretty much assured, and for some reason that doesn’t sit well with me, perhaps because I also insist that players understand that combat is a bloody affair and shouldn’t be the first thing they choose. 

There are a variety of magic armors that reduce lethality as players become powerful, but beginning characters can’t afford those. My wife argued that instead of cutting the limb off entirely, I could just cut it to the bone, but the whole point of the combat system was to simulate combat, and again, eliminating severed limbs strikes me as trivializing combat. I could make Healing possible but expensive or difficult, and I’d have the same problem that beginning characters wouldn’t be able to use it. That actually might not be too bad, as the effort of creating a viable character who would survive to become powerful would make the achievement more emotionally rewarding. Omer argues that as well. Or restoring a limb might be done only for a geas or quest that is undertaken. That means that limb restoration would not be assured, but would only occur if the GM allowed it. And maybe that’s the way it should be. Such restorations would become another negotiation point between GM and players, something to build a story around. It would sure be better than just telling players they couldn’t get their limbs back.

So now the question is, how should I make limb restoration difficult or expensive? My system is skill-based, but I use magical skills that have prerequisites before they can be learned. Perhaps limb restoration is only available to the very skilled? But even then, those Healers would be unlikely to not heal everyone they could. They would be like a thousand Jesus figures, walking through the countryside. Perhaps there is an expensive spell component that is needed? It seems like limb restoration should definitely be expensive but does not need to be difficult. To fit my world, however, there will be both a level of difficulty and a price to be paid. Like I said, I’m grumpy.

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MERP: The Tomb and After

The party entered the tomb and there were six or more traps. The walls were lined with tombs, stacked two high in the walls. At the end of the room were three large sarcophagi. The names on them were Jeston, Grendo, and Bellage, local heros.

Ruti led the way. Sigrbrand cast detect traps again and found none. Guthbrand gave him 200 s. in recompense for misjudging Sigrbrand as a smelly paranoid wild man, for which Sigrbrand thanked him. Then he urged them forward, and Ruti and Guthbrand scouted ahead.

Ruti noted that a tomb on the left side seemed to have been moved recently. There was no dust on it. Sigrbrand was sure it was a secret door, but Ruti opened it and found it was a tomb with a body in it. It was Sontaran, the guard at the gate. His skin was pale and he seemed dead less than 24 hours.

“Hey guys,” said Laharai, who had followed the party. Sigrbrand’s spell identified an invisible man behind Laharai. “Drop to the ground Laharai,” shouted Sigrbrand. He then fired an arrow at the figure, who dropped dead to the ground, an ancient gnarled man. Another shadowy figure fired at Sigrbrand, causing a small wound. The figure then cast a pelt onto a trap, at which point various tombs start to make noise as the dead came to life. Sigrbrand returned fire and hit the fleeing figure in his leg. He also recognized the voice of the injured man, though he could not put a name to the voice.

Guthbrand ran after the fleeing man. Sigrbrand knelt next to the old man and searched him. He noted that the old man had a false eye, so he plucked it out. Then he tossed the old man’s body over his shoulder and grabbed Laharai’s wrist, pulling him after him as he fled the tomb.

Guthbrand called to Perry, who responded by coming into the open. Laharai, Sigrbrand, and Ruti made it out the door and barred the door behind them. Sigrbrand searched the old man while Laharai and Ruti watched the tomb to make sure no one got out. 5 traps inside were set off by the undead. Sigrbrand found an exquisite jewel in a pouch on the old man’s belt, so the Beorning slipped it into his own pouch secretly.

Guthbrand mounted Perry and tried to chase the shadowy figure. Guthbrand couldn’t control the horse, which delayed their chase, and they lost the foe.

Sigrbrand, Laharai, and Ruti fled to the gate. The guard refused to believe the undead had come to life, so Sigrbrand closed the gate. Ruti got to the top of the wall and saw about 20 undead coming from the tomb. Laharai was losing it. The guards still didn’t believe so Sigrbrand grew to 150% of normal size and closed the other gate. The guards freaked out, both from his size growth and from the dead ancient man on the ground. Finally they recognized a man ten years dead coming towards them and prepared to fight them off.

Guthbrand was trapped outside and mounted on Perry tried to attack the dead, but he failed his Ride and fell off his warhorse. He managed to remount Perry and slashed at the dead around him.

Ruti and Sigrbrand fired arrows at the dead from the parapet. After they have some success, the guards regained their morale, joined them, and decimated the dead.

With the defeat of the dead, the guards cheered the party as heroes and then called for Aidrid to come. The party hoped that Aidrid would recognize the dead wizard, but he did not.

When Guthbrand asked about the cottage near the tomb (where he had chased the shadowy figure), Aidrid explained it was the home of Rayden Hold, the bowyer, who came to town six months ago. He extolled Rayden’s virtues and his donations to the town.

Sigrbrand worked to get money for continuing the investigation. They agreed on 20 gp. and 3 goats from Aidrid, with 10 gp. up front (1000 s. so that was 333 sp. each).

Sigrbrand snuck up to Rayden Hold’s cottage and looked through the glass window. He was angered by the pelt of a cave bear on the floor. Then he snuck around to the back of the cabin where he found a secret entrance. He then reported back to the party.

Ruti and Sigrbrand went to the secret entrance while Guthbrand went to the front door. Ruti and Sigrbrand entered the house and found a journal in the back room. The writing was in Aduneaic. Sigrbrand cast Text Analysis 2 and read it.  There were notes on Aidrid, the dusky woman (whom Rayden didn’t know was Tallhy), Sontaran, Sahail, & John Tinon. He remarked on their ability to use artistry (Sigrbrand correctly assumed this meant magic). There was a brief list of names (Dorak, Feral, Dunbolds) with money amounts as if receiving payment from them. Rayden also had notes of their plans (i.e. the Master of Truth’s plans), and said that “These one-eyed men have been employed by the Master of Truths to spread the truth.”

Sigrbrand pocketed the notebook and then they went into the next room. Ruti found a small pouch in the cupboard with coins (2 gp., 18 sp.). They took it.

An arrow flew towards Guthbrand and did five damage to his arm. At the same moment, Ruti was trapped by a magic trap in the house. Sigrbrand pulled her on the bear rug towards him, but she was still trapped and had to wriggle out of it herself.

Guthbrand took another hit to his head and was stunned for two rounds. After Sigrbrand and Ruti exited the house, Sigrbrand successfully cast Sleep 10 against the archer. Guthbrand then rode over and spotted a man in a Cloak of Elvenkind. Guthbrand pointed him out to the others and all attacked while the man was recovering from the Sleep spell. Sigrbrand stabbed him in the side, Ruti hit him in the arm, and Guthbrand rode in on Perry and slashed the man in the right leg.

Rayden Hold (for it was he) yielded and dropped to his knees. Sigrbrand recognized his voice as the man in the tomb, so Sigrbrand ordered him to drop his weapons and cloak. Rayden claimed he had done nothing wrong. When confronted about the events in the tomb, he blamed the attack on Feral, the old man. While Guthbrand pumped him for information, Sigrbrand picked up Rayden’s stuff (Cloak with +10 Stalking, +10 DB, and a +15 Composite Longbow) and put them into a sack.

Rayden explained that he served the Master of Truth (out of character, we recognized the Master as Alatar, the last of the five wizards in Middle Earth, who ruled from the Furthest East). The Master used Gondorian acolytes to serve him. Rayden ferried agents across the river. He identified people with magical abilities who might oppose the master and killed them. Cosin worked for the Theladrins and for Gondor, so he had to die. “No one has to die,” yelled Ruti. At just that moment, Sigrbrand (who had worked his way around behind Rayden) cleaved the ranger down with a devastating attack from the rear.

“What the hell?!” shouted Guthbrand. “We were getting information from him! Now how will we prove he was responsible?” Sigrbrand shrugged and went inside the cottage to search again. He found a silver handled knife (20 sp), and an additional 3 gp, 10 sp. Lifting up a rug, he found a trap door down to a tunnel that led to the grove of tree outside the house where Rayden met his end. The money from the cottage totaled 5 gp 28 sp, which is 528 sp., so each person received 176 sp.

The party agreed to tell Aidid that Rayden was the guilty one. Ruti and Guthbrand went to speak to Aidid while Sigrbrand went to talk to the dusky woman (Tallyh). Ruti and Guthbrand noted that a bunch of rough guys had just arrived in town.

Since Perry was not allowed in the Speaker’s House, the guards brought Aidrid out to Ruti and Guthbrand. They showed Aidrid the journal of Rayden. Aidrid was stunned when they said that they killed Rayden. Aidrid said they must blame Cosin because no one would believe that Rayden was evil. Guthbrand get the rest of the reward — 10 gp and 3 goats. That would be another 333 sp for each of the party, if they divided it.

Sigrbrand put on the Cloak and swaps out his bow for Rayden’s, then snuck over to the inn. Rangnor and Breor are there, along with a big man with a club and a woman with a bow. Sigrbrand, unseen, signaled to Tallyh to meet him outside. He warns her that she was being hunted by Rayden, but that he was now dead and not a threat. She was grateful and shared some information as well. She was from the Hardarin, followers of the ancient one chained in the void (Melkor) who believe he will return to end the world. Soon. They await the watershed moment. The Master of Truth hopes to build power and fight the ancient one when he returns. She didn’t know who the Master is but thinks he is the last of the wizards. She also knew who the last Thaladrin was. She named the barmaid, in return for Sigrbrand putting in a good word for her with the barmaid, whom she was attracted.

Sigrbrand snuck out of town safely and met up with Ruti and Guthbrand, who had done the same. Guthbrand killed one of the goats and ripped off a leg to give to the stable boy, who was terrified and ran away. After much arguing over their plans, Sigrbrand agreed to sneak back into town to get the barmaid, while the others waited downstream by the river with the horses.

Sigrbrand snuck back but found the inn in shambles. The big man was dead, as was Breor. Sigrbrand went upstairs just in time to see the woman with the bow charge into a room. He followed, and found the woman and Rangnor cornering the barmaid, Sahail. Sigrbrand cast Sleep on both, and put Rangnor to sleep. Then he attacked the woman but failed to do much damage. Luckily, Sahail killed the woman with a knife. Sigrbrand gave the passcode (““Dawn is prone to rising, at least for those who keep it safe”) and Sahiel agreed to follow him out of town. They returned to the rest of the party, then returned to the Vane to meet with Mienna.













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COC: The Players take new Characters

After the first party arrives back in their own time (after their abduction by the Great Race of Yith), Jonathan Putnam retires. Now at the brink of insanity, he finances a number of adventurer teams in an effort to regain his own sanity. One of these parties is made up of Joyce Coleman (Archaeologist & specialist in Ancient Greek), Billy Masterson (a farmboy and football star), and Endeavour McQuinn (a detective and putative leader of the expedition). They are tasked with attending an occult auction in Vienna. Putnam purchases first class tickets for all of them on the Mauretania, bound from Boston to Lisbon by way of Bermuda.

HMS Mauretania

As they board, they spot an inept man carrying several books. They later learn his name is Prof. Paterson, and resolve to talk to him later. Perhaps he has experience with the occult.

On board, they encounter a number of odd events. They meet another of Putnam’s adventuring teams, more experienced than themselves, which is headed for Jerusalem after uncovering clues during their investigation of the Cornwallis Mansion on Cape Cod. Prof. Felix Fuda, Hargrove Thorpe, and Richard Bloch have dinner with the party several times on shipboard. Richard is athletic and hits it off with Billy. Fuda chats with Joyce, and Endeavor is unimpressed with Hargrove, who seems an indolent Brahmin.

Endeavour recognizes Count Mikhail Andreevich Kurosov from the newspapers, but the Count’s bodyguard keeps everyone at arm’s length. Billy of course tries to force his way through but fails. Instead Billy amuses himself by following around a scruffy priest who keeps sneaking into the first class decks but who is obviously lower class. He follows the priest down to the 3rd class cabins and is threatened by the priest, who is armed. Billy exits, stage left.

Billy then tracks down Prof. Paterson, who is busy being very seasick in his cabin. Billy breaks down the door, thinking he is saving Paterson, and then apologizes while snooping around the cabin a bit. He is forced out, and later is chagrined to find the door soon repaired by the crew. He had hoped to bother Paterson further.

Joyce, Billy, and Endeavour have dinner with the Captain, who seems eager to escape his guests. Billy again spots the priest lurking, and tells Malcolm Pinkum, the Ship’s Purser, about him. Malcolm promises to look into the affair. The next day, Malcolm assures the party that the priest will not be seen again, ever. The party searches the priest’s former quarters and finds nothing. Endeavour steals a uniform from the ship’s laundry and searches the third class deck for clues, explaining that he is checking for gas leaks. His efforts are largely thwarted by Billy’s insistence of following him around. Since Billy is not in uniform, this raises questions, although Endeavour does enjoy the intimate hospitality of a well-padded female passenger. After that, he soon gives up the chase.

Later, the Count plays shuffleboard. Hargrove is watching from a deck chair, sipping a highball. Endeavour attempts to approach the Count, but just at that moment, two assassins hurl a grenade and open fire on the Count. Hargrove neatly hits the grenade over the side of the ship with a cricket bat, and Endeavour hits the floor, leaving the Count to fend for himself. The assassins soon leap over the side of the boat and flee in a waiting speedboat. The Count takes Hargrove into his confidences, and Endeavour is left checking for wounds on himself (there are none).

Meanwhile, Paterson has recovered and invites the party to observe his crystal ball (a Glass of Mortlan) using an incantation from the Zanthu Tablets. The spell goes awry and a titanic octopoid seems to spot the watchers and move towards them. Paterson hastily ends the spell and ushers the party out, very nervous.

The party spends a lovely day at Bermuda, but after returning they seek Paterson again. He is not seen for two days, and eventually Billy bursts down the door again, only to find Paterson hanged, and a suicide note about elder horrors nearby. The party grabs Paterson’s gear (crystal ball and brass brazier) and books (a modern edition of Nameless Cults, an English translation of the Zanthu Tablets, and Cthulhu in the Necronomicon) and then reports the suicide to the Purser.

The party hears someone outside their room that evening, and Endeavour chases after an ugly sailor who leads him into the bowels of the ship, where five knife-wielding men attack him. Joyce and Billy are still some distance away.

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MERP: Carrock-en-bar

Sigrbrand, Guthbrand, and Ruti have defeated the assassins Edorhill and Toska. The three surviving lancers are Edric, Mince, and Johnboy. Miena and Erkram are also safe, as is their hostage, Thalian.

The party searches the area and finds mention of a Cosín in some papers in a chest. Carrock-en-bar, a nearby town, is also mentioned. Miena reveals that she was hoping to link up with Theladrins, a group of investigative mercenaries that works for the King of Gondor. Cosin, a half-elf, is a leader of that organization in Carrock-en-bar. Miena asks the party to contact him, while she, Erkram, and the lancers stays in the Vane, hidden by its illusory elf magic. She is too well-known to risk entering town. The party agrees and she gives them a password, “Dawn rises always for those who protect it.”

Since Carrock-en-bar is 20 miles away, the party spends the night in the Vane. Guthbrand sleeps with his horse in the house, while the rest sleep outside instead. Sigrbrand takes the time to cast Essence’s Ways and learns that the two glass eyes taken off Edorhill and Toska are malevolent, illusory magic. He also learns that the scarf taken off Edorhill is a mild aid to water breathing in some way. He keeps all of this, along with the gold bands from the assassins and a pair of well-made boots (+5 stalk/hide and +10 Moving Maneuver) found in the chest.

Sigrbrand, Guthbrand, and Ruti ride for Carrock-en-bar and reach it at day’s end. The river runs to the north and east of the town. There is a mossy tower on the northwest side of town and a tomb in a mound to the south, where people place flowers. A rich farm is to the west. There is a town square, with a central well, a tailor (Ned Haaim), smithy, a bowyers with the sign of a grey feather (Rayden Hold is the owner), John Tinnen’s wares (the general store, with Ninnet John the magic-using co-owner), the Fenwyrm’s Fire (an inn run by Laren), and an armory of the local guard, barracks, and the Wise Seating (town hall).

Sigrbrand sells his loot at the general store, adding up to 8950 sp., 52 cp., which he divides evenly with his two companions. He keeps the eyes, the scarf, the boots, and 2 gold finger bands, and then purchases a +5 Longbow for 450 s. from Grey Feather and a +5 longsword for 400 s. from the smithy. Guthbrand sells the minks, and keeps the money for himself after Sigrbrand refuses to deal in such “blood money.” All of the party buy 4 weeks of dried rations.

They stay at the inn, where Sigrbrand chats up Sahail, the young waitress, who ultimately proves too giggly for his interest. A blond man named Rangnor walks into the bar with a slender servant named Breor. Laharai the tailor’s son tells the party that he saw a ghost on the river last night, a man in black with long fingernails floating across the water in the mist. Laharai also tells them that several people in town are missing, including Faradek, Cosin, and Sontaran. Laharai describes the three men as having mystical abilities. Faradek brewed the best beer anywhere, Cosin told marvelous stories, and Sontaran seemed to see everything and to never need sleep.

The next day they search Sontaran’s house, finding 37 sp. 50 cp. Rather than steal it, Guthbrand adds 5 sp to the pile. They find a copy of The Book of Truth in the corner and a mystic snare in the middle of the room, which Sigrbrand identifies as a trap created by Nature’s Way magic. On their way out, Sigrbrand lifts the 5 sp.

Guthbrand and Ruti go to the Speaker’s Hall, to meet with Aidrid, a balding old man with a stick of the Culvorn tree (S. Redwood) covered with metal. Laharai freaks out and screams about the ghosts on the river, and when Guthbrand mentions the magic trap in Sontaran’s house, Aidrid signals the guards to be in a better position.

Sigrbrand claims to go to see the bowyer again, but in fact doubles back and steals the rest of the money from Sondaran’s house. He then goes to catch up with them at the Speaker’s Hall, but a number of the guards are showing too much interest in his companions so he instead goes to back to the inn.

Sahail tells Sigrbrand that Aidrid is an old tough bird and that Jaern has been his servant for a long time. Jaern is a little fat guy, under 5’(a hobbit?). She also explains that Cosin tells stories of the War of the Ring, which he was apparently at (a notion she finds ridiculous), and that the Book of Truth has been in town for a few months.

Two toughs come into the room – Rangnor and Breor from yesterday, and Sahail waits on them. The Innkeeper explains to Sigrbrand that they are new to town, arrived yesterday, and are looking for people. There is also a friendly hunter from the south, a dark skinned woman named Tallyh, sitting in the corner. She occasionally flirts with the barmaid. Sigrbrand slips out the back of the bar and heads for the woods to find where Cosin lives.

Guthbrand returns to the inn, while Ruti takes a different route. Rangnor meetss Guthbrand and tells him he looks like someone he used to know, a dead man. He is, of course, referring to Thalian, whose armor Guthbrand is wearing. Guthbrand is completely oblivious to the fact.  In Westron, the blond man says, “Dawn is prone to rising, at least for those who keep it safe.” Guthbrand pretends he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The little fellow gets up and tries to flank Guthbrand, but Guthbrand forestalls an attack by offering himself for work. Rangnor tells Guthbrand he might hire him to find two people.

Guthbrand picked up that a small woman in the corner, with dusky skin, was also interested in the conversation. Ruti joins Guthbrand as he talks to the dusky woman.  She warns him that Rangor has left to seek more help, perhaps to come back and find Guthbrand.

When Sigrbrand returns, Guthbrand tells him that the two guys are in league with the dusky woman, whom he feels is the most dangerous of the three. He also explains that he told Aidrid (whom Guthbrand thinks is ok) that Laharai and the party would go looking for the ghost. Sigrbrand gets a copy of the Book of Truth (written by a Master from the East) from the innkeeper, but finds no ensorcellment on it. He later throws it away, believing still that it may be ensorcelled. The party hires the stable boy to take their horses to woods for safety (in case Rangnor returns) and then they head for the village tomb to investigate.

Guthbrand’s keen senses detect something dangerous in the tomb. Sigrbrand casts Detect Traps and finds not one, but many magical snares like the one in Sondaran’s house. The party prepares to investigate the tomb thoroughly.


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There were no borders in the Middle Ages

That’s what Matthew Gabriele says, anyways, in this week’s Forbes ( Really? I have a feeling that people definitely knew where their territory began and where it ended, and they defended those vociferously. That is true of most humans, including the Native Americans. People defended their lands against encroachment where necessary, but Gabriele is no doubt right that trade and immigration had far less barriers back then.

We’ve learned recently that the Middle Ages were more diverse than previously thought. Somehow, the typical vision of the medieval period used to be a lot of white folks who were mostly differentiated by their culture (British, Irish, Scottish, French, German, Spanish, etc.). But those areas were conquered long before by the Romans, whose empire was made up of many ethnicities. For example, Persian cataphracts and other troops were sent to man Hadrian’s Wall, which by the way, also seems pretty clearly intended to be a border.  

So what does all this mean for medieval role-playing? Well, first, most rpgs are pseudo-medieval. There are all sorts of ways they are NOT medieval, including magic that works, heroes who can fight a platoon by themselves, and all sorts of mythical beasts. Where they ARE medieval, or mostly medieval, is in their technological level (usually pre-gunpowder, because as we learned in Enter the Dragon, “any damn fool can pull a trigger”). Later period tournament armor shows up in many as the armor worn by fantasy knights roaming the treasure-laden caverns of the world, but dedicated rpgers and wargamers try to keep the technology correct, as much as the presence of magic will allow. And that means that the careers of the people can be copied from medieval censuses, which is a great help. Medieval architecture is used, though that doesn’t seem entirely likely given the change in context given magic, heroes, and monsters. 

But areas are defended largely at the city level, unless there is some great empire (i.e. Rome) that is constantly expanding. So player characters can cross most boundaries easily. It is when they try to get into a city that they meet their first barriers, the city guards. And once in the city, they discover the strange and quirky laws that each city creates over time. Those provide lots of ways for travelers to run afoul of the law, even if they are trying to avoid criminal behavior (unlikely in gamers, but it is known to happen). So I guess that’s our takeaway from Gabriele’s article.

Posted in History, Thoughts | 2 Comments