We picked up our Dungeons & Dragons game with the aftermath of the Battle of Castrum Stativa. The victors went through the bodies of their Quadi enemies, looting corpses, tents, and moving the hundred of dead to a mass grave south of the town and fort. The characters made a beeline to the commander’s tent, where they found a bunch of loot, including the war mace of the original general, Brutharius. They also found the corpse of the tiefling warlock that the monk, Icio, took out. In his coffin, the body was wrapped in muslin treated to preserve the body. Also there were scrolls with the spells he knew (including several that he never got a chance to unleash on them…) Also found was his amulet — a Christian cross in a pentagram. Fascinated by all things religious, our cleric, Augustinian, picked up the amulet…which promptly hit him for 8d6 damage and nearly killed him instantly. The necrotic damage aged him prematurely, and even after Icio laid hands on him and did a lesser restoration, the cleric was sickly and felt cold for days.

After a night of revelry to celebrate their victory, Legate Marcellus decided to take the remains of the cavalry and head for Augusta Vindelicorum to report the engagement and  their win over the Quadi. To bolster the severely weakened garrison at the fortress, Marcellus was able to convince their Marcomanni reinforcements to remain for a few weeks until he could arrange for Roman troops. they leave the fortress with two dozen horses laden down with their loot from the battle.

A two day trip, across the stone bridge the Romans built over the Danube and through the snow-covered fields led them to the Roman capital of Raetia. The characters arrive to a massive turn out by the town — soldiers on parade, citizens shouting and throwing flower petals, and the Proconsul waiting to present them with a victory wreath. They are houses with the praetor urbanis of the town in a massive villa, and treated to a state dinner with the finest of the city.

While Marcellus and Carrus are playing politics with the proconsul — Marcellus attempting (successfully) to support Castrum Stativa with a full legion, and to get troops to go to Lenta and investigate that troublesome tribe. Calvinus the Bard and Carona, their satyr friend, entertained the guests. Meanwhile, Icio went to find the local church, and Augustinian visited the Temple of Jupiter and Minerva.

The church in the city turns out to be a massive stone ediface with stained glass, a beautiful statue of Mary and the divine child behind the altar, and a bible. The bishop, Asis, welcomes Icio — he’s never met a barukhim (blessed) one, one of Jesus’ brethren. (In the campaign, he was an aasimar.) They are discussing the situation in town, with the slow incursion of Christianity over the pagans when they are interrupted by a tall, beautiful figure they first think is a woman…but turns out to be a man. The very sight of him is strangely disturbing, and both Icio and the bishop fail their Wisdom saves. Terrified by the creature, which dismisses the bishop, Icio learns that this visitor was looking for him, the “little angel” that is causing so much trouble in Germania. Icio, son of Zaccharius the Faithful…or so he was led to believe.

The creature questions him — he is the faithful soldier of the One True God, but hasn’t he wondered at all about the nature of these gods he’s encountered? Or of his guardian angel? Why are angels all male? Why has he never met a female aasimar? Perhaps not everything he has been told by the church is true — the best lie is wrapped in the truth. He should know; they call him “the Lie.” That isn’t his mandate, however: he is “the Accuser”, he who calls to account those whose faith has wavered, or who have committed sins. But when he noted falsehood in that god he served, and called him to account, he was cast down to Earth. Icio is paralyzed by fear in face of the Enemy, himself! But before things can go any further, the angel Michael, burst through the door to drive Sataniel off.

Icio is staggered by the implications: Satan, himself, has taken an interest in the monk. He finds Augustinian in a similarly shocked state. He has also received a visitation — the statue of Jupiter spoke to him! It told him of this demi-god, Sataniel, and his search for “the Shadow” — not a person as they had thought, but a veil that separates the planes of existence. This Shadow was cast by Jupiter, with the help of Minerva and Prometheus, after the Trojan War. The gods had realized their continued involvement in the affairs of Man could spell disaster for not just the people of the world, but the world itself. The Shadow keeps them from manifesting physically, but they can see the events on Earth and occasionally speak with those special folks who can hear them…people like Augustinian. Sataniel hopes to break the Shadow and collect an army to overthrow the god that cast him out. There are those protecting this veil, the Guardians of the Shadow,.

After bringing the rest of the party up to speed, Augustinian tells them they have one advantage over Sataniel and his minion Aiton, however…Jupiter told Augustinian where the Shadow is: the only plane that could not be separated from Earth — the Underworld. They need to travel to the River Styx. But where is the Styx? Augustinian had an excellent Religion test — the Styx has its source on Mount Aroania in the Peloponnesus. They need to get to Greece. Carona, however, warns that the Guardians are not to be triffled with. She has never seen them, but some of the dryads he people treated with described them as creatures “elemental in nature”, powerful and capricious.

The night ended with the group realizing that someone was observing them through the curtains over their door. The chased the figure into the hall, only to find the spy was gone, apparently disappeared into the night…

This was a big push episode, finally filling in some of the metaplot that has been hinting at since the start of the campaign. One of the challenges was pulling together the Christian and Greco-Roman mythologies, and providing a unified danger. Satan’s desire to build an army, pulled from the ancient creatures inhabiting the pit of Tartarus in the Underworld.

We picked up again tonight with the party having repelled the first attack by the Quadi (hobgoblins) and their allies, the Vandals (goblins.) In a very one-sided fight, the Romans held out against catapult attacks from the south and Vandal attempts to get over the wall from the east. In the end, the Vandals on the right flank of the legion of bad guys broke and ran for it. Insult was added to injury when the heroes disguised their monk with an invisibility spell, allowing him to pour Greek Fire on the catapults behind enemy lines, which were then lit by incredibly lucky (and well buffed) archery tests by Legate Marcellus and Benarix the spy.

Two days pass with the Romans putting the fortress in order for a prolonged siege. Augustinian the cleric purified the food and water that had been despoiled by the rats loosed on the fortress by the Vandals, injured were tended to, and at the end of the second day, they were roused to the western wall by horn blasts in the snow frosted forests. Someone was getting reinforcements…but who?

Moments later, Titus Germanicus — one of their scouts who had been sent to contact Marco the Hammer in Heilbrunna and ask for his aid — arrived at the head of a small group of mounted Marcomanni. 300 Marcomanni were on the march and about to relieve the castrum! Outside and to the south, the Quadi started shifting their lines in anticipation of an attack, giving them the opportunity to coordinate with Marco’s people.

The plan was simple: the Marcomanni would attack the left front of the Quadi, while the Romans flanked their right and struck in. The attack was led by the turna (cavalry) under Carrus the dwarf, and augmented with Carona the satyress, Icio the monk, and Titus. They would harry and distract the Quadi and allow the Romans to close the distance and attack.

Using the Unearthed Arcana mass combat rules, the larger force of Quadi held against the cavalry, and gave the PCs in the group the chance to battle some of the individual bad guys. This led to Icio and Carona getting pretty chewed up, Carrus getting knocked about a bit — badly at first, then not so much as the fight went on. Icio, at one point, was knocked to 0HP, but healed by Augustinian, who ran to aid him. The initial exchange between armies and the early injury to PCs made it look like this could be a possible TPK sort of night, but they rallied.

The turna was reinforced a few rounds later by the two cohorts of Roman legionnaires, who hit the Quadi hard. The real damage, however, came from the bard, who laid into the hobgoblins with shatter, killing or incapacitating 40+ of the hobgoblins. Between all the characters, they took out almost 60 of the 180 in that particular group, breaking their morale and causing them to flee. The Marcomanni were better prepared and smashed through the other cohort of Quadi with ease. In “real world” time, the entire fight was about 15-20 minutes long, but ended with the last of the hobgoblins evacuating the field in half-decent order.

During the fray, Icio had attempted to pray for help from his guardian angel (as it were), Michael, but was healed by Augustinian at that moment. He puts the intervention down to God’s aid.

In the end, all the players did very well in experience points, and loot. The characters also realized that the solid victory of the Romans — and the new allies that Marcellus had signed a treaty with — had put Marcellus’ star, until then just a lark of the young caesar, into rapid ascendance. Rich, victorious over new and dangerous enemies while outnumbered, and having brokered a successful alliance, the characters are set to become heroes of the empire!

Since starting this campaign, I’ve been going out of my way to avoid the usual high fantasy tropes associated with Dungeons and Dragons. This is a bit difficult due to some of the game mechanics which enshrine these same themes. I avoided having magic users or even particularly “monstrous” creatures show up for the first few months of the game. The goblins and hobgoblins that are stand ins for the Vandal and Quadi/Goths of history is more to highlight the racial and cultural differences in physical form. They’re not really “magical” things. I originally wanted to limit the number of magic users in the party, as well, but decided to hold fire on that. As a result, we have a bard, cleric, and an aasimar monk (whose class doesn’t give him spells, but does enhance his intrinsic “supernatural” being.) They all have [beep]ing magic. I did use the spelless ranger class from the one Codex WOTC put out for Carrus, and the last character is a fighter.

This required me to start coming up with a story reason for why we have all these guys together. The answer: they are pawns of forces larger than they are, and have been brought together to fight something that requires their combined abilities. that has also requires me to start fleshing out the cosmology of our alternate Roman Europe. A lot of this is now hanging on the nature of the aasimar, Icio’s, nature — what exactly are these demi-angels? Augustinian and Calvinus (the bard) are pantheists, and they appear to have Apollo as a benefactor. We’ve also met Pluto (and possibly Minerva…) What are these gods, and what is their relation to angels and the “One True God” of Icio’s faith? (We’ve established that Jesus of Nazareth was an aasimar, like Icio.)

Working within the mechanics to explain the game world is an interesting exercise for me. Normally, I bend the rules to suit the campaign and story, as needed, but having a couple of rules lawyers who know the system — and using them as a resource, rather than a foil — is tailoring the game universe to explain why these mechanics work. It’s an uncomfortable proposition for me as a GM, but it’s proving to be useful experience.

However, the most annoying and egregious of the D&D tropes came to the fore during the wrap-up of the last session —  the speed with which the heroes heal. One of the conceits about hit points is that they don’t really track physical damage, but a sort of aggregate of luck, stamina, physical injury, fear or mental injury. I’ve been trying to take this into account with things like Carrus the Dwarf taking damage in the form of his one beard braid being cut off in a fight, which distracted, angered, and also shook his courage. (He loses those beard braids…), or the creeping fear of having multiple opponents swinging at you. However, during the last session in which the characters took necrotic damage from one of the magic-users. The description of having the life sucked out of them was meant to convey the fear, pain, and damage that was being done. They were getting banged up, badly, particularly augustinian, who had cast a warding bond to soak some of the damage that they had anticipated Legate Marcellus was going to take going mano y mano with a hobgoblin.

Yet, with a few hours rest, some hit dice use, and some healing spells, everyone was 90-100% by the time events unfolded this session. I’ll admit — I’ve always hated the fast healing in some RPGs. I acknowledge, and even support, the notion the PCs are exceptional creatures…but I think a few days to bounce back from getting your ass kicked seems appropriate.

Bitch-fest complete.

This week picked up with most of the characters trying to grab a sleep or rest (Icio was meditating in the gate tower so he could keep an eye on things) after they killed the leader of the Quadi and his tiefling advisor.  Marcellus, as the presumptive commander of the garrison, was preparing their defense, and Carrus was attempting to get his cavalry ready.

Over the wall, the Quadi lit bonfires and made a god-awful racket that culminated with their burning their leader, Brutharius, on a pyre. The enemy then retreated to their bonfires for some kind of rally that eventually led to the repeated chanting of “Lomar! Lomar!” — they’d chosen their new leader.

The point to this vignette was to 1) provide an alien-ness to the quadi, 2) create a sense of forbodding, and 3) flesh out their society and make them more real than just a monster listing in the Volo’s Guide ot Monsters. (A good resource, by the way!) They don’t bury, like the Christians and Romans; they have some kind of democratic-ish means for choosing their leadership. This could give some insight for how the polity of the Quadi is run.

Around midnight, the Quadi attack begins when Icio and Marcellus start hearing their soldiers and the civilians taking refuge in the castrum start freaking out. Looking down, they can see something boiling out of the sewers and buildings around the fortress — rats! Hundred, thousands of rats swarm through the place, biting and panicking the people inside. It wakes the other characters, and Carrus — who had dropped off in the stables — wakes to find himself covered in biting, squealing vermin!

Much of the night revolved around fighting this mass of rats, who were keeping the fortress from presenting a solid defense. The best part of the evening was the total, epic, failure of both Calvinus and Augustinian on their Wisdom saves versus the rats. Augustinian hasn’t failed a fear check ever. Hordes of goblins and hobgoblins: fine. Strange shadow creature that sucks your soul out? No huhu. Trolls: well, he is impressive, but so what? Rats? Shreaking like a cheerleader at an away game. They aren’t able to even get their clothes and armor on, fighting in their nightshirts. Even when they are doing well, like when Calvinus gets a good shatter — they get showered with rat gore, and just that much more distressed. It was great comic relief.

Icio, who has been THE bad-ass in the game, promptly biffs a bunch of his rolls: 1s around the horn on fighting, his wisdom save when, having fallen, he gets swarmed by rats. He finally retreats to the wall to be “more help.”

While all of this is happening, the enemy starts trying to climb the east wall — leading to Marcellus having to fight Vandals while directing fire and defense. The Quadi let fly with catapults, battering the south wall of the fortress. For this portion i was using a combination of the Unearthed Arcana mass combat rules for the huge groups of combatants, with Marcellus as the commander. For the artillery exchanges, I was simply using the stats for catapults, but I had to extrapolate the hit points of the castrum walls. I gave each 100′ portion 500HP and a damage threshold of 20HP. That means that using the fixed damage of the catapults, the walls were taking 7HP from each hit. After an hour or so of combat, the south wall had two sections with 72HP damage. Holding, but damaged…

While the other characters mostly fought rats, Marcellus had to direct the battle which saw the century of archers on the walls absolutely destroy the Vandal skirmishers that had been trying to mount the eastern wall. They eliminated the skirmishers, and broke the morale of the rest of that company-strength unit, causing them to abandon the field. To the south, the Quadi attempted to use a ram on the gate, but were killed off by the archers and balista on that wall.

In the end, the Romans lost 26 soldiers to fire caused by the small catapults the Vandals had been using to hurl flaming kindling and oil, and another 50 or so civilians and soldiers injured by the rats. Augustinian used purify food and water to undo the damage the rats were sent to do: despoil the food supplies. Several swarms got into the stores before they retreated as quickly and mysteroiusly as they had appeared. (This coincided with the Vandal [goblins] that had been controlling them decamping.) The Vandals lost 100 soldiers, and another 50 left the battle. The Quadi suffered — between the last two sessions — about 50 of roughly 600 soldiers.

With the fortress safe for the time being, the characters took the opportunity to switch from the more realistic siege plot to the more D&D appropriate hero moves. Using an invisibility spell, they disguised Icio, who snuck behind the lines of the Quadi to get to their catapults, where he poured “Greek fire” on them before running back to the castrum. At that point, with a spectacular roll that was buffed by the bard’s inspiration and cleric’s bless, Marcellus and one of the NPCs, the spy Benarix (who had returned from his mission to Lenta and slipped through the Vandal lines during the fight) each got a 32 (critical success for the latter) to hit the catapults with flaming arrows.

Now, with about 20% of their forces killed in a single day of fighting, four of their catapults out of commission, and a Romans still safe behind their walls, the Quadi are settling in to wait for disease and famine to take the Romans down…n ot knowing this tactic has also failed.

The siege story was an attempt to introduce the creepy mystical element and mix is with the more realistic war plot. It worked decently and gave all of the heroes a chance to kick ass and shine (or entertain, in the case of the bard/cleric). In the end, using their skills in concert allowed them to not just defend the fortification, but do real damage to the bad guys.

The first few episodes were about getting the characters together and starting to define the world and the hazards. The next leg — where they traveled through Germania and met the Quadi — was to give them a chance to slowly delve into the politics, but to also introduce the meta-plot, some kind of fight between dieties and an “adversary”. This culminated with the fight at Castrum Stativa, in which they (if they survive) will have made a name for themselves as heroes and should get them to 5th level. In 5th Edition, this seems to be the point where characters jump from the regional hero to the sort of mythic hero (early in their careers), that can finally go toe-to-toe with a fairly strong opponent.

The next volume of this game will see them start to do the sort of thing Greco-Roman heroes are supposed to — search for the McGuffin, fight bigger bads, until they hit their main baddie that will define their story.

We had our next installment of our Dungeons & Dragons game this evening (with guest co-GM, my six-year old daughter rolling for the bad guys…) In this, the characters prepared for the one-on-one combat that Legate Marcellus had proposed to the general of the Quadi (or hobgoblins, in this world) forces. The PCs had never counted on a fair fight, of course — Roman notions of honor still maintained that fondness for craftiness that the Greeks had. The priest, Augustinian, had Carrus the Dwarf melt down a bit of platinum to craft a warding bond , and also cast Shield of the Faithful  to boost the legate to a ridiculous armor class, and allowed the cleric to slough some of the damage he would take to himself.

With ten cavalrymen in support, they rode out to meet Brutharius, the leader of the Quadi and his tiefling advisor, Raphael. Surrounded by hundreds of cheering Quadi and Vandals (goblins, in this world), Marcellus and Brutharius threw down in a contest of skill. Both characters were incredibly hard to hit, and after five rounds, I upped the ante by having the tiefling instigate Icio, the aasimar monk, into action. When he got close enough to the party, he cast Arms of Hadar and pummeled everyone for 16 necrotic damage, with only the monk managing to absorb some of this. He invoked armor of shadows, as well.

The monk got a hit in, only to be hit with hellish rebuke. Before Raphael could really lay into them with fireball, the monk got initiative and put him down with a flurry of solid hits. At this point the surrounding army moved in for the kill, all the while, Marcellus battling the Quadi general. Carrus, who realized they were severely outmatched, called in the cavalry to drag his friends to safety inside the castrum, then valiantly beat off a group of goblins and hobgoblins with his warhammer and axe.

Augustinian — who finally lost concentration on the spells he was using to protect the legate, Calvinus the bard, and Icio the monk all were pretty badly mauled in the fight, and finally withdrew. With a final shatter, Calvinus managed to kill Brutharius. The party fell back behind the walls of the fortress, while the Roman troops poured arrows and ballista bolts into their pursuers, then dumped hot oil on those that got too close to the gate.

Hit dice and healing spells pulled them all back to their max hit points, but this had proved to be a decent challenge for them. Now the question is — did their ploy to break the leadership of the Quadi and hopefully their will to fight work..?

I recently got to see Porco Rosso for the first time this week. I’ve never been as enamored with the Studio Ghibli stuff as other geeks, but this seemed like it would fit my taste for pulp-action. While there’s some of that, what I got was a movie that was a wistful romance — romance for seaplanes, romance between old friends in the form of Gina and Porco and Fio and Porco, and love of the period. It’s a great movie, but one of the things I noted was the absolute love the creators — and their characters — seemed to have for aircraft. There’s a scene after Porco’s plane has been shot to pieces that his mechanic muses it would be cheaper and easier to build a new one. His response was something like “I’ve grown attached to this one…”

Having known a lot of pilots and other forms of gearhead, it’s an affection I’ve seen in real life, and have experienced. I’ve had a bunch of motorcycles over the years — my current 2010 Triumph Thruxton (named “Trixie” after Speed Racer’s girlfriend) is hadns-down my favorite bike I’ve owned, despite others having been faster or more maneuverable. I know car guys that hang onto their favorite car long after the cost-benefit of owning the vehicle has tipped negative. I know motorcycle guys who go looking for that bike they owned 20 years ago, even though it’s technologically inferior.

For sailors, pilots, motorcyclists, and real driving aficionados, their vehicle usually represents more than just a room that moves me from point A to point B. (A ghastly trend that started with entertainment systems in cars and will only worsen with the introduction of self-driving vehicles.) “This ain’t no dead piece of metal,” Rex Racer tells his brother at Thunderhead in the much-underrated Speed Racer movie, “A car’s a living, breathing thing…” They are companions that are freedom to move and escape, they show off your personality, indicate your social and economic status.

Strangely, I rarely see this connection between role-playing game characters and their rides. Partly, this could be that most of my players just haven’t bee machine-heads, but even those that were rarely had that spark with their vehicle. Partly, it’s the lack of having an actual thing to see or use; a lot of the joy in owning a vehicle comes from that feedback you get when driving/flying/riding them. There’s bee n some connection to ships in our sci-fi games: Galactica in our long running campaign, for instance; Constitution, our Sovereign-class starship in an old Star Trek game…but no one has that “screw it, I’m staying on my dead ship” quality that you see in Malcolm Reynolds towards Serenity, nor do they send years tracking down their Millennium Falcon.

So how to foster this connection, especially in a character that is supposed to be a gearhead or pilot/diver/etc…?

First, don’t talk stats. When you introduce the vehicle, don’t focus on the stats. Focus on the way it looks, the way it makes the character feel. Have a picture of the thing…

Second, don’t talk about that stats. Talk about how the seats feel, how it sounds or smells, how it handles. For a character’s Sikorsky S-38 seaplane, I described the wicker seats and settee, the table in the passenger compartment, the old-school steering wheel on yoke, the smoothness of the engines. Really, have pictures.

Third, the GM has to think of the ship as a character. What sets this think apart? Serenity is a beat-up barely functioning tramp steamer of the stars…why is she such a draw? Because she’s a home, but she is also freedom from the war, from the Alliance, from all the things people don’t want to face. Why is Porco Rosso’s Macchi S.33 (no, I don’t care what they say in the movie — it’s not a Savoia S.21. Google it.) so important to him? It’s a temperamental, difficult to fly, aging seaplane…but it’s his escape from the world and his connection to when he was human. The escape, the freedom — look at vehicle ads — those are the power lines for getting people to buy a motorcycle, a car, a boat, or a plane.

These vehicles make their owners feel free. And that’s your in as a GM.

The D&D game picked up with the characters in Heilbrunna — a new Alemanni settlement along the old Limes Germanicus, only a day or so away from Lenta, the seat of the Celts that have been stirring trouble in southern Germania Magna and Raetia; and Castrum Stativa, the last Roman garrison on this side of the Danube. Run by Marco the Hammer, a seven-foot tall barbarian, the people of Heilbrunna were open and gregarious. Marco knows their Celtic traveling companions, led by Cairc, and has heard of Carrus the Goblin Killer (whom Calvinus is trying to rebrand as Carrus the Troll Killer, even though they didn’t kill said troll…)

They spend two days in the town, telling stories of their exploits, but mostly trying to impress upon Marco the danger the Quadi tribe (hobgoblins) present to the people in the area. They are besieging Locoritum, one of the larger cities in the region, and have been ranging south tracking the party. (They left that last bit out…) With some help by Calvinus the Bard’s charisma, Legate Quintus Marcellus was able to negotiate a treaty with these Marcomanni, making them foederati of the Roman Empire. He’s started to realize exactly what his rank entails: as a legatus imperium — charged by the emperor with diplomatic powers — he is second only to a proconsul!

Their Celtic companions push south during the negotiations with Marco, to warn their king, and Marcellus dispatches their spy, Benarix, to tail them to Lenta and get the lay of the land. The party then turned southeast to Castum Stativa to see if they could find some assistance in their mission. Arriving at the fortress, they find it is light on personnel. Instead of a legion’s strength, there are 350 men — a century of archers, two of foot soldiers, half of whom are local volunteers — a troop of 30 or so cavalry, and a smattering of engineers and artillerymen for the ballistas and catapults. Led by 30-something Pannonian centurion with the rank of prefect castratus named Sextus Hadrianus, they are doing their best to keep the peace with the Marcomanni in Heilbrunna and the Lentienses — despite the latter’s hostility to Rome. With Marcellus turning up to pull rank and request troops for him mission, Hadrianus is a bit worried. This grows worse at the stories of the Quadi. They dispatch a rider to Augustus Vindelicorum, on the other side of the Danube, to request help from the army there.

That evening while out for his constitutional on the wall, Icio the monk catches sight of movement in the trees…lots of movement! On the road coming from the north, he can make out dark figures moving against the snow on the ground. Rousing the garrison, they use a light spell on a ballista bolt and shoot it at the road, where they can now see hundreds of Quadi and Vandals on dire wolves, moving siege equipment! There are more in the woods around them, encircling the fortress and the small Alemmani town to the south. There’s at least a legion’s worth of these creatures. While they are preparing for an assault, the Quadi send a pair of Vandals to call for parlay at dawn.

Marcellus and the party go out to meet the leader of Quadi here — a giant bugbear named Brutharius. He is advised by a tiefling named Raphael Tinirian who is taking a great interest in Icio… Instead of being actively intimidating, Brutharius is calm, haughty, and diplomatic. He is hear to collect the people that killed his soldiers near Wolfangel — them. He pretends he doesn’t realize he’s talking to them, but give the garrison the day to “find and turn over” the criminals he seeks. Marcellus takes a risk and challenges the Quadi leader to one-on-one combat, which is accepted. They will meet at twilight.

The bard continues to try and press Marcellus to launch a preemptive strike on the Quadi, but he realizes they are outnumbered three-to-one, the Quadi training is probably better, and they are better shutting up the castrum and waiting for reinforcements from the nearby Legion III Raetia.

That’s where we left it for the night.

The characters have reached 4th level already, and the characters seem much more powerful than their similarly ranked analogues would have been when I last played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in the mid-80s. Each episode has required me to bump up the stakes and the challenges. They plowed through a platoon-strength of bad guys in the last big encounter…if they ‘re going to have a light legion’s strength, they needed to be met with proper opposition.

We’ll see how I balanced it next week.

“Wer hat Angst vorm schwarzen Mann?” German childhood song

Sing that ditty with the usual singsong of the creepy kid in the movies to get the full flavor. “Who’s afraid of the Dark Man?”

The critter for one of our recent adventures, the Black Man is based on Germanic myth and which has many analogues in European myth — the “Gray Man” or Fear Dubh of Scotland is very similar, as is the “Faceless One” of Welsh lore. This bogeyman roams the childhood imagination from Romania to Ireland, and was used by parents to scare kids into behaving. He’s under your bed, in your closet, peering through the heating grate, moving through the darkened forest, following you across a lonely moor, looking for those disobedient, mean, willful children.

Here’s the Welsh version, which is close to the description of the thing we used:

Hush, my child, do not stray from the path,

Or The Faceless One shall steal you away to Fairieland.

He preys on sinful and defiant souls,

And lurks within the woods.

He has hands of ebony branches,

And a touch as soft as silk.

Fear The Faceless One, my child,

For he shall take you to a dark place.

And then  what shall become of you?

No one knows, so be good, my little one…

Oh No! He is here to take you away!’

I added the to this already awful creature, which inhabits shadows and can move through the a water aspect — combining the Dark Man with the usual shape-changing water-bound horror like the Nix or Nie in Germany, the Voyanoy of Russia, or the Neck of the English. this was partly from having watched the creepy-as-shit trailer for It while running the game. so I mixed a bunch of the usual horror themes and threw in the murdering child rapist who was executed by the townspeople and buried in the refuse outside of town trope.

This presented an interesting challenge mechanically. I wanted the unstoppable terror vibe for the monster, which means you don’t want the characters toddling in and wiping the floor with the baddie in a few rounds. The wight didn’t quite hit the mark, nor the shadow, and neither incorporated the water features, so here’s our monster for your use:


This wanderer came to [enter town] and soon after children started turning up dead. Captured in the act, the townspeople executed this awful person and buried him without rites in their refuge mounds outside of town. Over the course of months, the spirt of the dead man regained strength and began to look for the same prey as in life, those disrespectful, curious, naughty children, and lure them to their deaths. He does this by surprise, or using the bodies of their dead friends or family to draw in the victim. He can do this by reanimating the recently dead, which he keeps well-preserved in his lair — a body of standing water like a pond — or imitates their voices.

It is a creature of darkness, not shadow, and often appears as a dark, slender form with long, branch-like arms that can grow in length. The creature will often rise silently out of bodies of water, or simply stretch out of the shadows for its prey. It is a glistening black, with vaguely human features, and when it speaks (which is rare) it is a whisper of a familiar voice.


It collects bodies and souls, and the dead it keeps in its lair can be reanimated as zombies (standard stat block, save they have illusion with allows them to appear unmolested and alive).

Medium undead, neutral evil (CR 3 — 700xp)

Armor Class: 12     Hit Points: 45     Speed: 30′ land, 50′ water

STR: 15   DEX: 14   CON: 16   INT: 10   WIS: 13   CHA: 15

Skills: Intimidation +6, Persuasion +5, Stealth +6

Condition Immunities: Exhausted, Frightened, Poisoned;, Damage Immunities: Necrotic; bludgeoning, piercing ,and slashing from nonmagical or silvered weapons

Damage Vulnerability: Radiant

Senses: Darkvision 120′, passive 13

Languages: those it knew in life

Traits: Amorphous — can move through small spaces; Illusion — can mimic the form and sound of a person it has seen or killed. Wisdom save DC12 to see the true form; Shadow  and Water Movement: The creature can move from one shadow or standing body of water to the any other it can see; Shadow and Water Stealth: In dim light, or when using a body of water, it can Hide as a bonus action with an extra +6. However, bodies of water it inhabits exhibit a strange lack of reaction to wind and are non-reflective; Sunlight Sensitivity: Disadvantage on all tests when exposed to sunlight.

Actions: Multiattack: It can make two attacks per turn, and can add its life drain to both; Life Drain: +4 to hit, reach 5′, one creature. Hit 1d6+2 necrotic. Target must succeed on Constitution DC13 save or lose the damage. Lasts until after a long rest. Target dies if the effect reduces hit points to 0. Target can be reanimated at the will of the Dark Man and is under its control. It can control up to 12 zombies at a time.