The dragon gets what the dragon wants

On the weekend, the group I was playing with screwed up our GM’s adventure from the very first scene, and from that point on he spent the entire session inventing new characters, story lines and encounters as we stumbled from misunderstanding to misunderstanding, culminating in the three-way stand off depicted above. We asked our GM afterwards, and as far as we know the adventure was supposed to involve us killing a black dragon, then a necromancer reanimating that dragon, us killing the undead dragon, then us tracking down and killing the necromancer. Fairly standard stuff, and the adventure opened with the dragon attacking our tavern, so we could have set off down that path straight away.

Unfortunately, we assumed – I think, fairly – that the dragon was too tough for us and that the only option was to negotiate with it. So we went and chatted, and the GM let us. What followed was a train wreck, that was rescued at every turn by our GM laying on an increasingly complex and entertaining adventure. Instead of three straight fights and treasure, we instead agreed to find a lich for the dragon; agreed to find the lich for a wizard called Magister Tiana who we thought was an enemy of the dragon; went to meet a dubious infernal contact of mine, who thought letting the lich go would be a good idea; investigated a crematorium; watched an auction where all the bidders were goth halflings; fought and killed the lich; made a lich compass; lost the lich to Magister Tiana; investigated the lich’s hotel room, where we thought we found evidence of a third force looking for the lich (probably the thieves’ guild); met the wizard that the lich was chasing, a chap called Malachy who was on the lam from the Wizard’s Guild; arranged a meeting between Malachy, Tiana and the Dragon thinking that there would be a three-way stand-off; fought the lich again; fought Malachy as he did a runner; and got a ride on a dragon to meet the heads of the Wizard’s Guild.

As far as I know none of these events were meant to happen. A few aspects of the adventure that were particularly entertaining:

  • The town itself: we were in a town called Red Lanterns, that is built on the back of a behemoth tortoise. The town comes alive at night when the tortoise sleeps and sleeps during the day when the tortoise walks; this tortoise is one of 10 such beasts treading a steady path in a circle around the continent, and its pelagic nature makes it a haven for renegades – it has no laws. We didn’t bother finding any of this out when we visited the town.
  • The goth halfling auction: In this town the bodies of the deceased are cremated, and then their ashes are auctioned off to the highest bidder – our GM told us he got the idea from Star Trek Deep Space 9[1]. We naturally assumed the lich was after something in the ashes, and so we went to watch an auction and see if he was present. On the day we visited, a halfling was being auctioned off and two factions in his family were involved in a bidding war that was causing some deep tension. All of them were, of course, dressed in black, and the entire audience of bidders were halflings, bidding for the ashes of their own uncle. This scene cracks me up every time I think of it. It was interrupted by the lich outbidding all attendant halflings, who responded to his intrusion by attempting to shoot him, at which point he turned into a swarm of cockroaches and ran, with us chasing.
  • Magister Tiana and the dragon: so we first offered to find the lich for the dragon if he would leave the town alone, and he agreed. Then within a few hours a wizard, Magister Tiana, visited us and told us that she was mates with the dragon. We didn’t believe her because she didn’t tell us she knew we had arranged a deal with the dragon, and in fact we were able to cut another deal with her to get the lich for her, with a bonus if we found out who he was working for. Why would she do this if she was an ally of the dragon that had already got us working for free? I’m not sure why the GM did this, or why we cut a deal with a rival of a dragon (thinking about this for even a moment, it’s really not a good idea to double cross people with this kind of power), but he did and we did, and thus the flavour of the adventure turned into one of those “everyone’s out to get Wally, let’s get him first” type stories. They always end well!
  • The fugitive wizard: after we had killed the lich and lost his body (aren’t we smart!) we searched his spellbook and found notes in it indicating that he was chasing some guy called Malachy, who was hiding in the local wizard academy. We found him, and discovered that he was on the run from the wizard’s guild due to an “accident” in which he accidentally crashed one of their sky castles. He was on the run from the lich after a confrontation in which he somehow permanently destroyed the lich’s eye and one hand. When he found out Tiana was in town  he got all scared and started thinking of running, but somehow we convinced him to meet Tiana and hand himself in.
  • The final stand off: we arranged the final stand-off thinking that Tiana and the Dragon would turn up separately, see each other and toast one another, and we would hand Malachy to the winner and loot the loser[2] – we remained convinced she’d lied to us right up until the point that she rode in on his back, carrying the lich’s head. Thus we found ourselves in the situation depicted above, with her and Malachy having a robust chat under the watchful eye of the dragon. Things went pear-shaped because Tiana had brought the lich’s head with her, and it got loose and started trying to waste everyone so that it could catch Malachy – apparently he was quite the prize. We, naturally, sided with the dragon, and then Malachy did a runner while dragon, Tiana and lich were engaged in fearsome battle. We caught Malachy and dragged him back, and that was that.

I think this adventure is a credit to the GM. Every part of it was fabricated on the spot to help us continue charging around the town making mistakes, and although we were starting to suspect we’d cocked it up, at no point did he let on which bits were in the plan and which weren’t – we were convinced the halfling auction was in his original notes, for example. He was creative and energetic throughout the whole process, he managed to tie together disparate elements of the plot even as he was making them up on the spot, and somehow at the end everything was resolved neatly and clearly – all of this in the space of about 5 hours. I think this kind of creativity and flexibility is the mark of a good GM, especially when it’s in response to your having thrown all his preparation out the window from the first encounter. We didn’t intend any of this disruption, we just genuinely misinterpreted the purpose of that first battle – like most players, if he had said “guys, this adventure is meant to involve you fighting this dragon” we would have taken it on, but he didn’t, and so we did what comes naturally to a bunch of cowards, and supplicated the damn lizard. But he didn’t correct us, presumably having faith that he could somehow muddle up an adventure regardless, and that’s what happened. He told us later that he decided many of the plot elements based on our assumptions, so that we were driving the plot forward, which is also a very fine thing to do. The man was an improvisational genius.

If there is any lesson in this for better adventure planning, I guess it’s that you shouldn’t make an adventure’s entire plot hinge on players deciding to fight a dragon – many players assume dragons are too tough for them, and if the first encounter of the day is a dragon they will assume negotiation is the key. But it also shows that if you’re a good GM with a healthy attitude, even when your players completely cock up your plans from the very start, you can still make a great adventure. And our GM this day was not just a good GM – he was a great GM. This is GMing at its finest, in my opinion.

Finally, to top it all off, once we’d finished for the day we offered to do a test fight against the dragon, to see if our first decision was right. It was a close thing, but we killed it. So even our decision to negotiate was wrong!

fn1: And they say Star Trek never benefited humanity!

fn2: we were stupid and evil!

Our Dungeon Tectonics Expert and Eunuch Servant

This is the session report for yesterday’s Make You Kingdom adventure. Because we covered a lot of ground and my notes were being taken hurriedly, this report needs to be quite light on details – probably a good thing, since I didn’t understand what was going on about 50% of the time.

The PCs and the Kingdom

There were 4 players, who as usual didn’t introduce themselves – in fact one player referred to another player as “Honourable Older Sister” throughout the session, because he didn’t know her name. We played the following characters:

  • The King, previous job “Doctor”
  • A servant, previous job “Eunuch.”
  • An Oracle, previous job “Sex worker” (Or something similar – performer of dubious origins, perhaps?)
  • A Ninja, previous job “Hunter,” played by me and named (by random roll) “uwasa wo sureba Oboe,” which in English would be something like “The Oboe of which everyone speaks”

I decided that my ninja was of unspecified gender, being so heavily wrapped in black that only his/her eyes show, and wrapped in a great black cloak (part of my equipment). My ninja starts with Quest 5, Wit 2, Bravery 2 and charm 1. This means he/she has 7 followers, who I decided (in keeping with the ninja theme) are all members of the same Visual Kei band. My Ninja had two skills:

  • Hunting, by which he/she can gather food with a good skill check
  • Disruption, by which he/she can expend a wish and prevent 1d6 of damage to a fellow PC

My ninja had the following equipment, all rolled up on random tables:

  • A fragment of a star
  • A used magic item
  • A cloak
  • Some shuriken (throwing stars)
  • A warhammer
  • A full course meal

No character can have more than 6 items. No one carries mundane items. I’m not sure what these items did, and I didn’t get a chance to use any except the shuriken, hammer and meal.

To give an idea of the dangers of combat, my Ninja had 14 hps. My ninja’s shuriken do d6-1 damage. To hit my ninja an opponent needs to roll over 12 on 2d6+bravery, and usually a monster’s bravery is roughly equal to their level. We were all level 2.

Our Kingdom was called “Eastern Champion Land” (also randomly rolled). Within it we had a Palace, Temple, School and Hospital, all randomly rolled.We also rolled up its location in a larger labyrinth section (like a Gormenghastian Traveller sector map!).

The Adventure Starts: The Kingdom Phase

A spy came to our kingdom and told us that nearby was a kingdom called “The Forest of Harvests” that was having a little trouble and was also the holder of a rare magic item. We decided to explore this kingdom, so first of all my ninja used his/her Exploration skill to map out the kingdom. I rolled so well on this process that I learnt the number of traps and monsters in every room, and the layout of the whole kingdom, as well as the type of monsters in one room. With this knowledge our job was made considerably easier. While I was doing this two of the PCs decided to go for a wander around our own kingdom; this is handled by rolling on special “roaming” encounter tables and can only occur during the “kingdom phase,” which happens when you’re in your kingdom. One player found some kind of magic berry or something and gained a permanent increase in hit points (+5!), while the other found us all some money. You can make these rolls any time you are in the kingdom phase, but you can only ever get each result once, and there are some risky outcomes (I think). It’s an example of your kingdom giving you benefits, basically.

Once these things were out of the way we set off. On the way one player rolled a random encounter, which we managed to avoid by making successful bravery checks, and then we arrived at our destination, The “Forest of Harvests” Kingdom.

Room 1: The Entry

There is usually only one way in or out of a kingdom, and the way in is always the first room you enter. The Forest of Harvests’ entryway contained some rolling hills and a road rolling between them, which happened to be blocked by a giant tree. This tree happily moved out of our way after some negotiation (I’m not sure what was said; my hangover was still going pretty badly at this stage)[1], and we proceeded without further trouble into room 2.

Room 2: The Road of Meals

In this room we were attacked by a pair of Ogrekin, who we killed quite quickly. We then explored the room, finding a road running through the middle and a field of mushrooms. Some investigation revealed that the yellow mushrooms healed damage, the red ones exploded on impact, and the blue ones were poisonous to touch. We couldn’t take the red ones with us because they were a little unstable. We travelled to the next room.

Room 3: Fisherman’s Lake

On the road to room 3 we discovered a Black Spot trap, which I disarmed. A Black Spot trap causes any who fail a Quest DC 9 test to be trapped in the black spot. Every quarter they have to make another test to escape it, and everyone else has to wait. This wastes time, but also food; every 4 quarters everyone has to eat one meal. Fortunately we didn’t trigger it, and ended up in the third room, which contained a massive lake. This lake was populated by Kappa, with whom we chatted. They revealed that they catch fish and trade them with a princess called Princess Mira, and told us about the dangers on the road to her room. We thanked them and did a spot of fishing: the Oracle hauled up a rare and splendid “Dungeon Maguro,” which can be used as trade with Princess Mira (or anyone else!) and a rare item (I was writing this so I don’t know what item came out of the tables).

Room 4: The Forest of Relaxation

This room wasn’t very relaxing at all, being gloomy and filled with Giant Squirms, a Chowhound and a Minotaur. We killed all of them. The Chowhound had a special attack called “Warm and Snug” which reduces everyone’s Resistance, making them easier to hit, but we dealt with it. There was nothing else in this room, so we proceeded to the room of the Princess.

Room 5: Mira’s Forest

Here we met Princess Mira, in a room with huge trees and lots of harmless flying monsters. Princess Mira spoke to us when we gave her the Dungeon Maguro, and revealed that the Kingdom was in trouble due to something happening at the “Small Shrine.” We offered to help, and set off to the next room.

Room 6: The Forest of Confusion

In this room we were attacked by 5 Scum and 2 Bad Company. Someone also set up a trap in the battle zone, which was a problem because this trap did 2d6 damage to anyone who triggered it, and was between us and the enemy. Only two of our members had missile weapons, and the Bad Company are pretty solid ranged fighters. However, our Servant had a special skill, “Dungeon Tectonics,” which enabled him to set traps in battlezones from a distance (it’s a type of magic). He used his Dungeon Tectonics skill to set traps, which killed the Bad Company and half the Scum; I then took out the rest with Shuriken. From their bodies we looted a rare magical Business Card that gives a bonus on diplomacy; this we gave to the Oracle. Every ex-prostitute Oracle should have a magic business card.

Every room has a Camp Phase, if you choose, in which you rest or explore. I chose to risk a “Rest Event” and rolled on the Investigation Table; it turns out that during the rest period I explored the room and stumbled on a Rust Samurai’s grave, and from this I looted a few pieces of iron, which I gave to the Oracle to use in her magic item construction powers.

Room 7: The Forest of Nightmare

This room was not actually a forest, but had lots of small buildings and contained some Dwarves. We talked to them and they told us that the next room – the Small Shrine – was occupied by 3 “Hurry Foxes” that could be very bad news. They gave us a bitter potion that we had to make Bravery checks to keep down, and with this we regained a few hit points. We rested here and moved on to the Small Shrine room.

Room 8: The Small Shrine

In the Small Shrine we were met by the 3 Hurry Foxes, who were called Umi, Soru and Chan. They refused to help us unless we answered 3 riddles, which were

Riddle 1

Consider the following equations. What is the answer to the 4th?

  • Bx4=1
  • Ox3=C
  • Sx3=O
  • Dx1=?

This is a baseball reference, and one of our players got it. 4 bases = 1 run, 3 outs=change sides, 3 strikes = Out, so 1 Deadball=Take 1. Thus the answer is “1”.

Riddle 2

In every survey ever done, which planet in the solar system is the most popular with firefighters? Is it Venus, Saturn, Earth or Mercury?

The answer was Earth. The reason: the emergency number for firefighters in Japan is 119, ichi-ichi-kyuu, which sounds very much like ichi-chikyuu, which means “1 Earth.” One of our players got this. I was flabbergasted.

Riddle 3

This involved completing a sequence of kanji I couldn’t read. The players got this in moments (Japanese love kanji quizzes).

With these three correct answers the Foxes told us of a secret road to an 8th room, where a Mushroom Dragon and its followers had set up and were terrorizing the Kingdom. So, off we went… but first a rest… I rolled on the Exploration rest table, and found a secret path to any room of my choice; we set this secret path to shorten our exit route. Then, onto the next room…

Room 8: The Mushroom Dragon

This room was gloomy and foggy, and occupied by a Mushroom Dragon, some Primal Ogrekin, some Ogrekin, an Ogrekin Shaman and a Minotaur. Battle was joined.

This battle was nasty. The Dragon’s breath caused poison damage (1 HP every round) and the Ogre Shaman kept summoning Ogrekin between us and the Dragon. Because the rules don’t allow us to move through occupied spaces of the battlezone, this stopped us from neutralizing the dragon. At one point the King was trapped in the Dragon’s zone, with a wall of Ogrekin summoned between us and him. I had to use all my wishes deflecting damage with my disruption skill, and I also sacrificed 4 of my band members to improve an attack roll; in the spirit of things I made a random table of band members and determined that the sacrificed members were the singer, both guitarists, and the Strange Male Dancer. The battle finally came extremely close to a TPK. The King was on 4 HPs, the Servant on 1 and the Oracle on 2, and me on 10; but Oracle and Servant were both poisoned, so one would die next round regardless of his actions, and the Oracle the round after. The Dragon was a 2d6-damage monstrosity, so likely to kill the King, and the King was our only way of winning initiative – and to do this he had to sacrifice an elite follower every round. Only the King and I were close enough to the Dragon to hit it. If I missed the Dragon its HPs would be too high for the King to kill it, and then it would kill him; if he missed it then it would probably kill him next round anyway, and even if it didn’t the Servant would be dead. For me to hit it I had to roll over 11 on 2d6. At this point the Oracle chose to expend her “loyalty points” on me, doing a kind of mad prayer to give me all the support she could. This effect can be used once a session, and gave me a +2 to my bravery. With this I hit, doing 3 damage; the King then managed to hit, and killed the Dragon. Had he missed, it would almost certainly have been a TPK, and had I missed he probably couldn’t have killed it even with a successful hit.

When the dragon died the gloom of the forest dispersed, revealing a beautiful and happy forest full of fruits that healed our injuries. The dragon was carrying a special rare item that could grant much money on a successful Wits check, which the King failed.

Returning to our Kingdom

The return journey has its own special random table, and rolling on this we got lost for a few quarters (no big deal), and I fell in love with the Oracle. We avoided random encounters on the way home, and when we got back to our own Kingdom we each rolled on a special encounter table for the response of our citizens, who thought I was a hero and granted me an extra follower, and then finally we rolled on a table for our party’s return to the Kingdom; this granted us extra followers. We then used our money to purchase a new building – a Harem. Finally the King rolled a wits check and recovered my band members for me.

Once the game was up there was one final, cute mechanic. Everyone had to close their eyes and, on the count of 10, point to the person they thought was the most effective player. This person gets a single “MVP point.” That person was me!


Including character and Kingdom creation, and an hour for lunch, we got through all those rooms, combats, talks and events in 7 hours. I think that’s an excellent amount of progress, and we had a lot of fun while we did it. This is an excellent system for megadungeon madness, and I think with a bit of GM input it could lead to some really excellent and hilarious dungeon settings. For example, there is a monster called a Red Giant that is essentially some kind of construct of Communism. This could be the final boss for a level 1 adventure, in a kingdom full of enslaved and crazy humanoid and magical creatures with a communist theme. Alternatively, the level 5 Dungeon Geek monster could lead to a kingdom modelled on a D&D dungeon and stocked with suitable monsters. For the times when the GM is not feeling imaginative there are a wide range of random dungeon tables by which a whole Kingdom can be stocked for play.

The game also has an excellent campaign mode, with the Kingdom phase between adventures enabling players to grow their kingdom as well as their characters, and relations between the PCs growing dynamically at every rest point. The final results of a campaign run this way would, I think, be truly hilarious. I think I might invest in this game and try it out on some people to see how a campaign runs – or try and force the GM from the convention (who plays the Soldier in my WFRP campaign, coincidentally) to run such a campaign outside of the convention. This probably won’t happen though, since he’s running Sword World campaign too (which I may be joining).

fn1: An interesting fact about the players in the convention that I really should dwell more on is that they are really kind and friendly, and if I had stopped at this point and asked for a simple explanation of the negotiation, they would happily have done so, and continued to do so through the whole game; in fact at later points “Honourable Older Sister” did this, as did the GM. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad encounter at this convention, which differs remarkably from the pub-based experiences I had in London; furthermore, I’m very confident that a British or Australian group would be nowhere near as supportive of someone with my level of language skills. The players were even interested in my reading method, since I had to translate things as I went and this is a fiendishly slow task. They’re genuinely helpful and warm-hearted.

Two types of pond life

Today I managed to attend the monthly konkon convention[1] in nearby Oita, and was rewarded for dragging myself out of bed with a slight hangover by an introduction to an excellent Japanese RPG, Meikyu Kingdom. The strict translation of this title is “Labyrinth Kingdom” but the nature of the game and the easy transliteration means that the game is actually given the English title Make You Kingdom.This is basically a mega-dungeon exploration and combat game with random tables that make D&D look rather tame and stingy; a social mechanic to rival Double Cross 3; and hireling rules that make your average D&D “I send my hireling down the corridor to spring the traps” look terribly noble. It’s also very cute and engaging, very fast, and has a degree of attention to details that is staggering in its thoroughness.

The basic idea

In Make You Kingdom the PCs are a group of heroes from the ruling court of a small kingdom that is part of a massive labyrinth of similar dungeon kingdoms. One of the PCs is always the ruler of the kingdom. Together with a large group of your subjects (we took about 30), you head off into the labyrinth surrounding your kingdom to explore new dungeons and capture kingdoms for yourself. The world consists entirely of labyrinthine dungeons – this is a real megadungeon, folks – because at some point in the past there was a “dungeon catastrophe” in which all of the world collapsed into the labyrinth – even the sky and the sea got labyrinthisized[2]. There is a whole ecology and science to this labyrinthine system, but from our point of view it doesn’t matter, because our purpose is to explore a neighbouring kingdom, kill everything in it, and take its stuff.

How it works

The mechanics of the game are remarkably simple. There are a couple of classes – Ruler, Oracle, Champion, Servant, Ninja – and each person had a job before they became part of the royal court. In our group we had a doctor, a eunuch, a prostitute and a hunter – and it is from this job that they get their single skill. There are 4 attribute scores – Wit, bravery, Quest and Charm – and 3 derived scores – Hit points, resistance and Supplies. That’s right folks, 4 stats and 1 skill. You also get a skill from your character class (I think the Servant gets 3), so you start the game with two skills. I had “hunting” and “disruption” (I was playing the Ninja – see below). All PCs get basically the same starting scores in their skills – a 4, two 2s and a 1. The ruler and the servant are slightly different, but that’s basically it.

The mechanic for resolving any skill test, saving throw or attack is the same. You roll 2d6 and add one of the 4 skills, and try and beat a target. There are two methods for boosting this roll to 3 or more dice, and damage is also done with d6s.

Combat occurs on a battlefield with 3 sections for each team – the Vanguard, the Rearguard and the Encampment – and the rules are very simple. You can move and you can attack, but you can’t move through a section that’s occupied by the enemy and you can’t disengage from combat. Various special abilities apply in combat, all with their outcome determined by the 2d6 skill mechanism. Monsters are presented in terms of 4 values: Bravery, Resistance, damage and Hit Points.

When your hit points reach 0 you’re dead. One member of the party has to be the ruler, and he/she is not allowed to die.

That’s it. The whole mechanic – including all forms of bad status, which is the Japanese word for “effects” – are written on the back of the character sheet.

There are two special methods for boosting your attack rolls:

  • Wishes, which are generally employed by spending a point of a stat called “vitality” (気力) that is not written anywhere on the sheet, and that we kept track of using paper clips, can be spent to add one die to any roll. Vitality is gained by a rather amusing method. If when you roll your 2d6 skill check you get a 6 on one die, and the other die has a value sufficient to get you a successful result, you get to trade the 6 for a point of Vitality. This applies even if the extra die you bought with vitality got you the 6. You can’t have more Vitality than your wit. This proved a problem for us.
  • Sacrificing followers, in which you get to throw 1d6 of your followers into the fray, and in exchange you can increase the value of your skill check by 1. At the end of the adventure your ruler can resurrect 1d6 followers. Some skills rely on followers – my Ninja could have chosen the skill “shinobi army,” which sacrifices 1d6 followers in order to disarm a trap (sound familiar!?) but he/she only had 7 followers, so this didn’t seem like it would get him/her very far

So, on those two paragraphs of rules the whole game flows.

Except for the social mechanic, and the kingdom-building.

Social mechanics

Similar to Double Cross 3, when you create your character you also have to generate a relationship with another PC, which can be based on loyalty, friendship or love. You can also have unrequited love. You get points in these traits, and these points can be useful. The Oracle in our group had “loyalty 2” for me, which she used to aid me at a crucial point in the adventure. During the rest phase of exploration things can happen that change these points (see below) or even turn PCs into enemies. You also have a background and a purpose that are related, and these can apparently affect the game (I didn’t see this happen). Some abilities and effects are limited by the number of points you have invested in your relationships with other people.


Before you can go anywhere you need to build your own kingdom. Your (and every other) Kingdom is built on a 3×3 grid of “rooms,” each connected by a varying number of corridors. You roll a random number of buildings to spread through these rooms, of varying types limited by your level and some traits of the kingdom that depend on the choices of the ruler. These buildings can take a wide range of forms – there is even a memorial hall – and they can have effects for the characters. For example, if two PCs go into a “Piazza” they can swap equipment and change the status of their relationship. Also, the level of order or education in your society depends on which buildings you have, and I think the number of combatant followers you have depend on some of these things too. We had a Shrine, a Palace, a School and a Hospital, and on my suggestion after completing the adventure we added a harem (which has a very funny picture).

The Kingdom also has 4 attributes – lifestyle, order, culture and something else that I forget. These determine some aspects of the kinds of items you can buy, and the number and kind of followers and allies you get.

Adventuring: Traps and Monsters

So, having established your characters, their interrelations and their kingdom, off you go on an adventure. The GM creates a new dungeon kingdom, also on a 3×3 map, and populates it with monsters and traps. In each room there will be a certain number of each. You explore in turns, that are divided into quarters, and each turn you need to eat once (so you need to pack food! We carried “bento” and a “full course” that  recovers HPs). In each turn there is an encounter/fight/camp type phase, and in each stage certain things happen.  The best thing about this aspect of the game, though, is the monsters, which are hilarious, cute, nasty and intertextual all at once. Here are the monsters we fought:

  • Ogrekin (小鬼), little ogres that are really easy to kill
  • Giant Squirms (みみず), giant worms that are quite easy to kill
  • Scum (人間の屑), really dodgy humans who drink too much and try to rob you
  • Bad Company (極悪中隊), a squad of nasty soldiers
  • Scum (人間の屑), a bunch of useless losers who try to kill you and steal your stuff
  • Chowhound (大喰らい), a great big fat thing that eats stuff
  • Ogrekin Shaman (小鬼呪術師), who can summon Ogrekin (actually a really annoying trait)
  • Primal Ogrekin (原始小鬼), slightly nastier versions of Ogrekin
  • Mushroom Dragon (キノコのドラゴン), which is exactly what you think – a dragon that is a mushroom

We fought all of these, and were nearly killed by the Mushroom Dragon. The picture at the top of this post is the little cardboard token for my PC, next to the token for a Scum. Below is a picture of some of the last group of monsters we fought – some Primal Ogrekin with the Mushroom Dragon.

Who says dragons are a strange idea?

Traps are ubiquitous in the dungeons, and you have to either disarm them or avoid them, and to do either you need to find them. This was my Ninja’s job, but because he can’t find and disarm a trap in the same quarter, he/she left others to do the finding and he/she did the disarming. Traps are quite nasty – we sprung two, one of which did small amounts of damage and one of which seemed to be some kind of disapproval trap that lowered our scores. There are several pages of traps for the GM to choose from, and some rooms had more than one, either in the room or the connecting corridors.

Random tables

The game is built on fighting and exploring, but the social mechanic is important and all sorts of things happen outside of combat, randomly. In addition to the random tables used to generate your PC’s history, purpose and inter-personal relationships, there are also:

  • Random encounter tables for travel between kingdoms
  • Random event tables for when you go “roaming” around your own kingdom. These can have significant benefits but you can only encounter any one line of the table once.
  • Random event tables for when you are resting, and decide to take a rest action. I used one of these tables to explore the area I was in, and found the tomb of a Rust Samurai, from which I looted some metal; I also nearly started a love affair with another PC (by accident)
  • Random treasure tables for every type of monster
  • Random event tables for certain types of action taken to prevent death (usually involving destroying an item)
  • Random event tables for your journey back from a successful quest – these can involve getting lost or having new types of encounters
  • Random event tables for when you return to your kingdom after a succesful (or unsuccessful!) quest, which can involve a gain or loss of followers, more money, new items or buildings, etc

There was a lot of rolling for this sort of thing during the game, and a lot of hilarious results arose from it. The dungeon we explored was already established, but I think that there are probably random generation methods for this too.


In essence this is a very cute, entertaining and light-hearted game that combines mega-dungeon, classic D&D-style dungeon crawling, very simple strategy and resource management, and exploration within a very simple system that incorporates some very clever social dynamics to provide triggers and dynamics for role-playing. The monsters are hilarious, as are the descriptions of buildings, character classes, jobs and items. It’s a really entertaining mixture of manga, classic D&D references, Japanese-style role-playing and strategy game. If you get a chance to try it out, I strongly recommend it. Over the next few days I’ll put up a description of my adventure and some scans of monsters, buildings etc from the rule book, which I’m borrowing for a week.

fn1: Today was the 60th convention, which apparently means it’s been running continuously for 25 years (it didn’t used to be every month). I think that’s pretty good for a town the size of Oita.

fn2: The way that Japanese is written makes this word really easy to invent naturally: Meikyuuka means “labyrinthification” and you can stick that “ka” onto pretty much any noun to get the same effect.

On Friday night I had my first ever amateur kickboxing fight, in a ring at a summer festival by the beach here in Beppu. I was up against a local pimp, who is the same age as me but perhaps 5 kg heavier, and from the same gym as me. I think he lied about his weight because there is another chap in the gym who is REALLY scary who he would have fought if he were heavier. I was the 7th fight out of 10, in the main bout section of the evening, so my bout had ring girls and fireworks. I even had a boxing/K-1 style entrance with my own song (Shared Creation by Garden of Delight).

The ring girls were supplied by my opponent – he works with them.

Anyway, I lost the fight, due to a combination of a) only doing 4 weeks of half-arsed preparation, including a total of 3 rounds of sparring training 4 weeks ago b) being shorter and lighter than him and c) not really wanting to be there in the first place. I’m not sure why I agreed to do a fight or why I decided to only train twice a week and not do special sparring sessions, knowing I’d be up against it on Friday. But that’s what happens when you aren’t really into the thing in the first place, I suppose! I’ve been kickboxing for 15 years and turned down opportunities like this before, and I think I just felt like I had to do it, so accepted my teacher’s offer of a place in the festival without thinking too much about where I’d be 6 weeks later… then took 2 weeks off, and then started training…

Anyway, the details of the fight go something like this:

2 x 2 minute rounds
1 minute rests
Full protective gear (helmet, shinpads, 12 oz rather than 10 oz gloves)
Maximum of two standing 8 counts
Knees allowed but not to the head
No elbows
i.e. kickboxing rules, though often kickboxing rules don’t allow knees. Incidentally, I’ve seen a “no-knees-to-the-head” bout go wrong, with one woman deliberately kneeing the other in the head and getting a knockout. It’s very easy for that to look like an accident, and the referee has to decide whether to award the match over a mistake – that woman was not popular with the crowd, but I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of a repeat performance by my opponent. In the ring you do rely a bit on your opponent’s good manners, but I think me and my opponent get along okay usually…

Also, the refereeing was conservative, so the ref stopped fights before he allowed anyone to get knocked out – no bloodbaths to be allowed.

Round 1: We started off pretty equal but he signalled his serious intentions early with 3 really savage kicks to my legs, none of which I managed to block. When the third one came in I realised that I had to pick up my game or I was going to be a Technical Knock Out (I’ve seen this a few times at K-1, where a man’s legs give out and the fight is over). Did I mention 3 rounds of sparring 4 weeks ago? I was running primarily on my memory of serious sparring years ago! So I picked that up, and after that his kicks didn’t land. I delivered some vicious blows in return (and oh what a satisfying sound that is) and in the second half of hte round I heard the commentator (our sensei) saying how I am renowned for my strong punching, and realized that I hadn’t really tried any, so I closed in and boxed him into a corner, landing a nice hard right at some point that rocked his head – he didn’t like that, and pushed his way out of the corner with a series of ferocious kicks and punches. For some reason my usually tight guard was loose, and his punches were coming straight down the centre, which doesn’t usually happen to me in sparring at all – I don’t know what I was thinking[1]. I must have tightened up at some point though because I don’t have any facial bruising, though this could be because he moved to hooks, all of which I defended against. I copped him with a few nice hooks actually, he didn’t seem to be able to defend punches at all. But because he was tall, and using front kicks effectively, it was hard to move in and land punches, and everything was happening so fast that I didn’t have time to work out ways around his guard – typically against a taller man you have to work the outside, or duck and weave, and did I mention I only did 3 rounds of sparring preparation, against a shorter man? Also bobbing and weaving is a very bad plan when you’re in a fight where knees are allowed, so one of my two main range-closing tactics was out of whack.

Round 2: So round 1 ended probably with him slightly up on points, but it was a good showing by both sides. Round 2 went pretty much the same way for the first half, with us exchanging heavy leg kicks, and I think all of mine landed actually but I checked most of his. I also got in a good middle kick that slipped half under his guard, but when you have a savage bastard trying to rip your head off you start thinking conservatively about middle kicks. Every time either of us hit each other you could hear it all the way across the beach, I think. I certainly heard it. Unfortunately things took a turn for the worse in the last half of round 2, because at about the 1 minute mark I managed a fairly solid series of boxing combinations, and in his desperation to get away he delivered a vicious knee to my stomach. I took it without being winded, even though it was a few inches from my solar plexus, but it was followed by this tiny moment frozen in time, where we looked at each other and both simultaneously realised that I don’t have any defences against knees. The next 20 or 30 seconds were spent with him trying to get in close enough to land some solid knee strikes, and he succeeded at least twice, and they FUCKING HURT, and I realised that this was not going to keep up, so I had to start backpedalling and trying to hold him off with kicks, while he hunted me down. There was no getting around this – it wasn’t a matter of me doing anything, because I don’t know how to defend against knees (I’ve done maybe 8 rounds of training with knees in the last 10 years), and he knew it, and every time he threw one I was going to cop it. As a sign of how tall he is, today my upper chest is hurting from the knees that landed on my ribs. I managed to get him in a clinch and nearly threw him despite his bigger size, but kubi zumo (neck wrestling) is also not my area of expertise and I only did that out of desperation. So the last 30 seconds of both rounds won him the fight, and the last 30 seconds of round 2 sealed it. I did think about mentioning a no-knees rule when the fights were organised, but didn’t. Oh well, silly me. How was I to know that being kneed in the chest by 75kgs of enraged pimp would hurt?

But, on the bright side, I didn’t suffer any standing 8 counts – maybe the first fight of the night to get through without standing 8s – and I landed some decent blows myself, and I think if I had been fitter and had some more sparring preparation under my belt, I probably would have given him a really solid challenge. Unfortunately, that “I don’t want to be here” feeling that pervaded the last 4 weeks kind of prevented me from putting in a decent showing. I have only myself to blame though – I could have turned up on two of the last 4 sundays for example, and done an hour of decent sparring each day,  and probably would have been a lot tighter on the night. Today my left leg is sore from those missed checks, and my chest aches, but I am otherwise in good nick and feeling very relieved that a busy period of my life and a stressful fight are out of the way.

It was not fun! But it was a good experience that I almost certainly won’t repeat. I don’t recommend it to any of my readers either. Once I figure out my partner’s snazzy phone, I’ll put up some video. It actually looks quite good, though I’m not recognizable in amongst the helmet and the sweat and the flying limbs, but I think I look reasonably professional. I hope my readers wince watching it as much as I did when it happened.

fn1: actually I was mostly thinking nothing. I was nervous and flat before the fight started and then everything was going so fast that I didn’t get to think much at all, bar the crystallized moments of the emergencies. Usually when I spar it takes me a few rounds to get into the groove, and I didn’t have that luxury this time around!

This being a report of the actual adventure I participated in at Konkon April 2010, Oita, Japan.

We were playing 3 4th level PCs developed only from the basic Pathfinder rule book:

  • Philip Blackstone (“Firippu Burakusutonu,” a 4th level Dwarven Fighter), played by me
  • Machiruba, a 4th level Human Cleric, played by Furudera san
  • Kelp (“Kerupu”), a 4th level Human Rogue, played by Ichinose san

All feats and skills were pretty standard. We used the 24-dice pool method for rolling up stats, so that the characters were pretty hard-arsed. Philip Blackstone, for example, was STR 18, CON 20, DEX 17, WIS 18, INT 12, CHA 10; which for a Dwarven fighter is pretty good going. We also had a 4th level Human Sorcerer NPC, called Kama (after her weapon), as backup. She can be see, with the Dungeon Master, Shiga san, in this photo:

Black sickles in the sunset...

The four characters turned up at an unnamed village in the morning of an early spring day, just at the change of the seasons. The village was nestled in the foothills of a Mountain range, and the hills were still coated in snow and ice but the paddocks of the village were expected to be free of ice by this time, and ready for planting. Unfortunately, the villagers had been waking every morning to find their fields frozen over right up to the snowline of the foothills. A ranger living in the mountains had tales of a family of white dragons living higher up, and the villagers thought that perhaps the dragons were freezing over their fields. So they asked the party to intervene to drive away the Dragons. Being only 4th level, we of course agreed.

However, first, we wanted to make sure we maximised our income in the negotiations over payment, so Kelp sneaked into the village storehouse and had a good look around for any valuable items we might be able to bargain for. He found a collection of golden statues, and so in our negotiations the following day Machiruba was quick to mention these and demand additional payment. When the village headman wavered over the fee she was demanding (4 times usual), Philip Blackstone conveniently charged in, fresh from his once a year bath, wearing only a loincloth and dripping filthy water from his beard over his heavily tattooed chest, and pointed out to all and sundry that disturbing a Dwarf’s annual bath is not a good plan. The village headman folded and offered us 4 times the usual fee.

So, we hatched a plan. We assumed the fields were being frozen by a dragon, and decided for our first trick to draw some massive Hill Giant footprints in the fields, and to place evidence of a Hill Giant camp, because Hill Giants are likely to live in the area and a family of Hill Giants might be sufficient threat to dissuade a white dragon from pointless harassment of a “poor” village (although did it know about those golden statues…?) So this we did, and remarkably successfully (Kelp proved to be very good at hattari, or trickery). So then we settled into a good hiding place, some distance from the site of the frozen fields, to watch.

Evening came, and what should we see but … a Frost Giant (“Furosto Jianto”) wandering down from the hills, leading a medium-sized white dragon (“huwaito doragon”) on a leash, and forcing it to freeze a pathway down to the paddock with its breath. The Frost Giant and its enslaved Dragon froze a good stretch of the villagers’ farms all the way back to the hills, and then when it had finished beating the dragon into this task, turned and waved its massive arm in the direction of the mountain. There in the distance, two other Frost Giants waved in return, and leapt onto the slopes. From the far distance they came sliding down the icy path the dragon had made, swishing and swooshing all the way to the bottom on their huge icy slide.

The characters realised then – this was like that moment in Street Fighter 2, when the evil genius points out to his captive that the day he destroyed her village and changed her life was for him just Tuesday. These Frost Giants were slowly destroying the village’s livelihood and screwing their hopes for the future – so they could build a giant slippery dip! The gods (and their 22′ tall white-skinned relatives) are truly capricious!

So the Frost Giant got a very good opportunity to view the footprints the party had laid with the intention of fooling a dragon from the air, and dismissed them as a cheap trick. Then they wandered back to the top of the mountain, and slid down again. Plan A, foiled. On to plan B…

In the morning the characters wandered up the hill with 8 doughty villagers, and found a suitable bend in the ice slide. Suitable in the sense that they expected the Giants to be sliding very fast, so that a well-disguised hole filled with spikes would do a good job of turning them into Giant sukiyaki. They set about digging a big hole. Unfortunately, they were halfway through when (surprise!) everything collapsed and one of the men found himself sliding into a 30′ deep pit! He caught himself on the edge and we dragged him out, then sent Kelp the Rogue in to investigate. The hole clearly opened into some kind of lair. Unfortunately, Kelp went a bit too far, and this happened:

Often, Rogues don't pay attention in Dungeoneering 101 classes

That’s right, Bugbears (“Bugbea”). Two of them, reducing Kelp to 1 hit point in very short order. Philip Blackstone was just preparing to hurl himself Thunderstone first into the pit but Kelp managed to flee up the rope into the hole, with the Bugbears following much more slowly. This was bad news for the bugbears, since hanging from a rope is not a good place to be. While Machiruba healed Kelp, Philip threw a throwing axe, and then when the Bugbears reached the top Kama cast Grease (“gurisu”), which was remarkably effective at putting both bugbears on their arses. Which is never a good place to be when there’s an irate Dwarf with a warhammer standing next to you. Chalk that up as 1 point closer to genocide for the Dwarven race (we kept one alive for interrogation).

Initially the characters thought they could leave the bugbear lair to complete the trap for our unwary Frost Giants, but upon interrogating their captive bugbear they discovered that actually the white dragon they saw the night before was being held prisoner in the bugbear lair; and that furthermore there was a large-sized dragon being kept there too. The Frost Giants were planning to use the large dragon to maintain their region of the mountains in the grip of ice and snow well into summer, so that they would not have to move. So, it was decided that the best way to solve the problem would be to set the trap, but prepare the dragons to help the group.

So, once more into the hole… after a little more exploring the characters found the medium dragon. A little negotiation with its bugbear guards and some suitable persuasion (violent and monetary) encouraged them to look the other way while the characters spoke to this dragon, which agreed to help the characters. It also agreed to provide information to the larger Dragon, when they briefly met while their cages were being swapped. In the evening, the medium white dragon would be removed from its cage and the larger one stuffed in. The characters’ plan was for the dragon to free itself when it heard the trap sprung, and come to help them[1].

So, the characters waited in the lair until the trap was sprung and with a massive sound (“doooon!”) the two sliding Frost Giants crashed down the hole into the trap. They were immediately beset with tanglefoot bags and alchemists’ fire, and battle was joined. The photo below shows the initiative sheet for this battle, on which the words “Frost Giant” are just visible, written in katakana. To the rear is a bottle of oolong tea, and the club mascot (“Kappa san”).

Frost Giant slower than Dwarf arrrgh!

The first Frost Giant went down pretty quickly under the combined burden of a lot of different fire sources, but the second was not so quick to die and, before the characters could finish him off the third one appeared at the top of the hole, having perhaps missed his friends. Simultaneously, the large dragon freed itself from its cage and burst into the room. The characters made way for it, slaying the second, injured Frost Giant as they did, and then the third Frost Giant came slamming in, though temporarily slowed by another grease spell. This Giant, completely untroubled by damage from the trap, was going to prove a little problematic. It first took a single strike at Philip, doing a fairly scary amount of damage; but Phillip is a bastard, and ignored it. The dragon lunged in then, but in response the Giant took a full round action and did 100 hps of damage. That’s bad news for a 4th level fighter, even if he is a bastard. At this point everyone was cheering for the 24-dice ability score pool.

Fortunately for everyone but the Frost Giant, Kama had a single scorching ray (“sukochingu rei”) remaining, and after it did a fairly solid amount of fiery pain, Philip lunged in with a critical and a whopping smack to the knee that finished the last giant. A couple of good rolls and the Frost Giant was toast. Victory, once again, for the forces of good (well, actually, Lawful Neutral, aka “chitsujo churitsu,” in Philip’s case). And so to the treasure, as the White Dragons flew away to higher ground, and the assembled players breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Thus ended my first adventure in Japanese Pathfinder.

fn1: Truth be told, there are some salient facts here I think I’m missing due to language difficulties. Or, there’s an implausible part of the adventure.  I don’t know which.


Here be dragons (bones)...

Having rested for some weeks in Iceland, and having cavorted to their hearts content in the snowy Autumn of that matriarchal and faerie-touched land, our heroes returned to their quest, setting off now to head to the West coast of Ireland and the mountains of Carron Tuohill, where they hoped to find clues as to who made the Assassin that was sent after them.

The sea between Iceland and Ireland is wild and rough, and indeed the characters found themselves in some trouble as they crossed it. In the far distance they saw pirates, and for some days a small cluster of Sea Sprites – harmless floating balls of magical energy – surfed the invisible arcane waves of the Inappropriate Response‘s bow wave. These encounters were relatively harmless, however, and Sea Sprites are in any case counted a friend by most sailors, since the disappear at times of storm or when any of the more frightening beasts of the ocean approach.

And so indeed the Sprites fled the bow of the ship after some days, and within half a day the characters could see flying beasts approaching. These hideous creatures had the body of a fish-scaled snake, a vaguely human yet monstrous head crowned with writhing eels, and a set of bestial wings. The ships pilot identified them as Sirens and fled below. The characters set about stopping their ears with magic, demonology or wax – whatever they were able – before the Sirens disappeared into the sea, their final move before they ambushed the ship.

However, the Sirens had misjudged their prey, and when they launched themselves into the air over the ship they flew into a storm of bullets and infernal energy. Although their first screams forced Anna Labrousse and Dave Black to surge, fascinated, to the edge of the ship, the Sirens were dead before they could do much damage. One, descending into the water, conjured a stunning burst of electrical power around Brian’s dog matilda, but it did nothing, and soon the final Siren was dead. The ship sailed on, unthreatened by such weak beasts. The only other beast our heroes saw in the Ocean was a vast, silent sea monster which passed beneath them and cast a shadow under the sea as if it were the reflection of a giant cloud, or some submerged island; it did not molest the boat, though, perhaps thinking it nothing more than flotsam scudding by. From whence it came, or whither it went as it plunged into the deeps, they could only hope to guess…

And so then the characters arrived at the port of Kenmare, a tiny town on the Western coast of Ireland and the closest port to Caron Tuohill, the mountain which the characters aimed to visit. Kenmare was a tiny, ramshackle town, nothing more than a collection of warehouses and mud huts in a narrow valley, above which loomed a sorry excuse for a Castle on a low hill. The suspicious and nasty-looking locals who met them directed them to the Castle, where clearly English speakers were supposed to stay; they travelled there immediately, and were greeted by the Lord of the Castle, his guards and a slimy, suspicious-looking advisor. They spent an evening with this misbegotten bunch, during which the advisor – clearly an upstart hedge-wizard of some sort – revealed himself to be a sneering, offensive little oik from London. He was rude to the characters and did his best to attract their ire – never, as George Washington discovered, a good idea.

The following morning the characters set out for Caron Tuohill, following the advice given them by the lord of the castle – they first would travel by horse for 2 days to the town of Killarney, on the lake East of the mountain, and from there obtain advice on how to ascend the mountain, for at this time of year the weather was treacherous and a mountain such as Caron Tuohill best climbed with caution. They did as they were bid, though the path took them through thick forest from which they were sure they were watched. Suspicious of tales of elves and faerie, the characters pursued their watchers into the woods but found nothing except thick brambles and silence. They continued, suspicious, to Killarney, where they found an even sorrier, sadder town, consisting of a few boarded up shops and some rundown homes clustered around a market square. The Market Square had clearly been the location of some kind of infernal ritual – there was a stake of wood, an extensive area of burnt grass, and faded markings of a magic circle. The town populace were a bunch of scared women and their children, hiding behind their doors and refusing to come to meet the characters – except one grumpy old lady, who attacked them with a broom and told them to leave. While she did so, the characters saw an old woman hiding behind a barn, and realised that she was wearing the symbol, which had been associated with the death angels in America. They gave chase to her, thinking she might be some kind of wizard, but caught her easily and discovered she was merely a scared old lady.

She revealed to them that she had been outside the town when “they” came and enacted the ritual – the ritual with the dead dragon, which bound all the men of the town to the service of “them” and forced the women and children to stay locked forever in the tiny town, never ageing or dying. The woman had been safe from the ritual by her distance, and while the ritual was being conducted she had stolen some things from one of “them”:

  • a chest which contained the shirt and a few other personal items of the person
  • an infernal pistol (in the woman’s possession)
  • ammunition (powder, ball etc.) for a long rifle (10 shots)
  • a Trajector’s telescope (use for 1 round; no penalty on long range shots for 6 rounds thereafter)
  • a ticket stub for a stagecoach from Bodmin Station to London Paddington
  • a letter addressed to “Tom Stoppard” at the station house in Bodmin Station, containing inconsequential information about his mother’s life in London (Whitechapel)
  • a pay slip from “The Iron House” for a reasonable sum of money, to be drawn at the Bodmin Post Office
  • a lock of hair in a locket

It was clear from this conversation that the woman had seen a group of soldiers and their wizard master, bringing a dead dragon into the town to enact the ritual. They had then left with all the men of the town, and all the remains of the dragon. Someone who had a part of the dragon and the right knowledge could, perhaps, reverse the ritual…

The characters returned to Kenmare with this knowledge, but as they approached the foothills of the hills Southeast of Killarney they were attacked by a squad of 32 soldiers, a Trajector, and the wizard of Kenmare. They slew them easily with magic and infernal fire, and took the wizard prisoner.

This was very convenient, because the soul of a wizard “only tainted a little by the compromise” is listed in the characters’ Tome of Lore Demon Summoning as “quite valuable in the preparation of the summoning ritual” if used properly. It would appear that the characters might have the ingredients for a ritual of Lore Demon Summoning by which they might be able to learn the necessary process for undoing the curse at Killarney. Were they to do so, they would be able to weaken the armies of this “Iron House” which surely they must visit soon…

We rejoin our heroes in the snow flurries created by the departure of the Greenland dragon, and in a new bind. Their task now is to journey to the ruined old town of Good Hope, and invade the church there to kill a lich. They have been geased by the dragon, and so have no choice but to do this as quickly as possible.

So, Brian the Hunter set about making a pool of frozen mermaid blood on the ground, and used it to scry across the Island, seeking the church in which the Lich resided. His vision was drawn initially to a church far away from Good Hope, but then the vision flickered and changed to the main church in Good Hope. The church was damaged in the dragon’s assault all those years ago, but not so badly that it was not covered and protected against prying eyes; however, Brian could see Ghasts moving about the churchyard and the docks of Good Hope, and the characters realised they would need some tactic to enter the church undetected. Their goal was to get as close to the Church as possible before revealing their presence, because Liches are renowned spell-users, and were the lich given sufficient chance to cast protective and summoning magic, they would all be doomed.

To this end the characters realised they needed to scry inside the Church, to find a way in and to know where the Lich hid, and what its defences were. They returned to their ship, and then sailed back to the main port, where they again enjoyed a night of dubious hospitality in Erik’s Longhall. This time, however, they sought something specific – any relic from inside the church of Good Hope. They found an old bronze ewer inside a cabinet in the long hall, and with Erik’s permission Brian the Hunter pretended to check the value of the ewer. He filled it with water and a drop of his blood and then sought, through the water, to view the inside of the church. Though Erik stopped him quickly, he was able to at least identify two doors, a stairwell, and a confessional box in which sat the Lich.

Thus apprised of the Lich’s location, the characters set off for Good Hope. Arriving at the docks, they were attacked by 5 Ghasts, but Brian cast a spell of entanglement which called forth great tendrils of goose barnacles from below the quay to envelop the Ghasts, and while they staggered, trapped, on the docks, Merton, Russell and Brian shot them down. From there they docked, and Dave Black and Merton crept up the hillside through the ruined old town of Good Hope to the churchyard to look for a way in. They slipped past the Ghasts in the churchyard and identified a side door, unlocked, which they could move through, though the door would obviously creak. However, none of the other characters – except perhaps Brian – would be able to slip by the Ghasts, and so they would need a distraction.

Brian provided the distraction in the form of Matilda, his wolf companion. She loped on ahead and, once she had drawn the attention of the Ghasts, led them away from the church while the characters took up position around the doors. Anna Labrousse summoned her Monster, which appeared as a beast made of shattered tombstones and ice; Russell summoned a demon with great webbed limbs to enter the building first, as cover against any powerful spells that would be directed at the door. These beasts smashed through the main doors while Merton and Dave Black slipped through the side door. The Lich, surprised, emerged from its confessional box but was quickly overwhelmed. Anna Labrousse ripped off its left arm with her spell, sending it clattering to the floor in a hail of bones; and then Brian and Merton shot it down before it could muster any powerful magic. Under the protective cover of demon and monster, Russell Ganymede destroyed the Ghasts.

Having destroyed the lich they investigated its treasure. First they had to defuse the altar, which had protective magic cast on it. This magic hurled Brian back from the altar and almost killed him, but David Cantrus healed him and dispelled the trap on the altar. They then examined the books and items on the altar and its nearby lecterns. The book with the dragon’s name in was written in Dragonspeech, which Anna could read; resisting the lure of the geas, she read the name and flicked back through the previous pages of the book, which gave something of the history of the destruction of the Church. It would appear that, having discovered the presence of the Dragon on the Island (through its demand for sacrifice) the priest of the Church summoned a powerful Knowledge Demon and sold his soul in exchange for the Dragon’s name. The dragon, discovering that someone knew its name, raided the town with the intention of slaying him before he could learn to use it. Unfortunately, in the first attack the Dragon killed the Priest’s whole family. The Priest, incensed, turned his family’s ashes into a phylactery and prepared to become a lich. In the second battle he confronted the Dragon, driving it away with its name, but was mortally wounded and died. Before he could return as a lich the Dragon ravaged the whole island looking for him, so that when he came back he was bound to the church and surrounded only by the dead of his old village. So the Dragon and the lich were stalemated, until the characters came to kill it.

Having learnt this, the characters are now ready to travel on to Ireland, to find the killer of the Dragon whose bone they carried; and whose bone Anna Labrousse turned into a corset when they stopped at Iceland en route to Ireland…

We find our heroes sailing into view of the small town of Good Hope, Greenland, where they aim to settle their ship and head inland to find a dragon – or, more likely, to be found by it. However, as they approached, still some distance from the port, they found themselves under attack by a team of 6 horrid, slug-like creatures, with the lower parts of a fish and the upper parts of a malformed seal-shaped human – mermaids! These scourges of the sea attack with their horrible screaming voices, causing their victims first to cower in terror and then to leap overboard into the sea, where they can be torn apart at leisure by the shark-like mouths of these vicious predators. Fortunately, some of our heroes are made of sterner stuff than mere sailors, and were able to resist the initial terror-scream. While some of the group fired infernal weaponry at the swimming beasts, others attempted to cast anti-magic spells on those of their fellows who had fallen prey to the horrid voice of the deep. Anna Labrousse, healed of this magical terror, set about ripping the mermaid’s limbs off, while Brian the Hunter entangled one of them in wreaths of seaweed, and Merton and Russell Ganymede fired their infernal weapons into the sea. However, before they could pick off their foes, Merton was enticed overboard by a mermaid’s screams, and had to be rescued from its magic thrall at the last moment by David Cantrus’s invocation of the Good Lord. Once more rescued from a watery grave, Merton set about firing into the pack of mermaids with a vengeance. Once four of their kin had been dismembered or shot to death, the remaining pair set sail and fled. The characters dragged one on board to investigate in greater detail and then, covering it with tarpaulin, sailed into Good Hope.

At Good Hope they were greeted by a man called Erik, tall and powerful-seeming, who carried a sword, wore leather armour and was draped in a cloak made of mermaid skin. He was accompanied by two extremely short and grim looking bearded men, whom the characters took to be Dwarves when they discvered that Erik was a Danish mermaid-hunter. He was initially friendly when he met them, though he seemed dubious of their intention to “explore the island”. He took them back to the longhall of Good Hope, where they met more men like him – dour, grim chaps who drank and ate a lot and spared nasty glances for Anna Labrousse. There were also more Dwarves scattered about, also looking dour and grim. Over an evening of drinking and merriment the characters learnt that Erik and his colleagues were an official mission from Denmark, intended to reclaim Greenland for the Danish people after 200 years of extinction. They hunt mermaids and trade in their magical parts and skin – though some of the men at the table hinted that they find a use for the mermaids before, as well as after, their deaths. The men seemed an unpleasant and offensive bunch, and the characters were suspicious enough of them to ensure Anna Labrousse always had an escort during the evening.

Late at night the characters saw Erik deep in conversation with a sinister looking, very short rakish chap, a man shorter and skinnier than a Dwarf. They had sequestered themselves in the kitchen and were behaving suspiciously. Merton, creeping in to listen, established that perhaps the small man was going to be heading inland immediately for some suspicious purpose. Fearing the worst, the characters took their leave of the longhall and set out inland to capture the gnome. Brian the Hunter sent his dog Matilda ahead, and in the morning they found their target caught against a massive stone in the hills out of town, Matilda sitting on his chest, his leg broken. He revealed himself to be a gnome scout called Gdernak. His mission – to go to a remote spot on the glacier some days’ march north, and warn the dragon of the glaciers that the characters were coming to kill it. No-one in town believed that they were here for any other mission, and Gdernak revealed that they had a long-standing agreement with the dragon – once a year they brought it a live mermaid to kill, and they warned it of any adventurers who had come to kill it. The characters learnt the location of the sacrificial stone on which the mermaids would be laid out, and to which Gdernak had been travelling, and then took him with them to the shore North of Good Hope, where they met their ship. From the ship they took some Bison as a sacrifice to the dragon, as well as the body of the mermaid, and headed North to the sacrifice point. Gdernak was kept out of harms way on the ship for 6 days, the time it would have taken him to visit the dragon and return.

At the sacrifice point the characters found a long slab of stone, crusted with ice and old frozen blood, and a single stone pillar with a silver bell on it. They dumped the mermaid on the stone, and retreated out of sight. Anna Labrousse rang the bell and retreated out of sight, to prepare the ritual of the eagle-hunting herb. Using the best telescope from the ship, they waited until they could see the dragon, far away in the grey arctic sky; Russell thrust the dragon bone into Anna’s hand, and her mind expanded outward, flicking across the vast open air between her and the Dragon to place her mind inside its ancient and alien consciousness.

The dragon noticed her presence immediately, and engaged in conversation with her. She revealed the reason for her presence, and the nature of the bargain they wanted to strike with it; the dragon agreed, in exchange for the right to occupy her mind briefly as she had done to it. She agreed, and moments later found herself back in her own mind, with the dragon’s great and frightening intellect staring through her eyes. After a moment it retreated, and she was herself again – cast out from the brooding, evil presence which just a moment ago had been all around her. Though they had heard and felt nothing, the other characters knew that something must have happened – Anna Labrousse’s skin had turned so pale it was almost transparent, and her eyes had turned silver, the whites bleached perfect white like marble. Anna Labrousse was dragon-touched.

The dragon swept in then, and it was mighty. Its body the length of two viking longships, its wings wider still, it was shaped like a dagger or a shard of ice, white in colour on its belly but silver-blue on its back and sides, with scales of such hardness and texture that it appeared to be made of ice and crystal. As it swept in it unleashed a cloud of frozen air from its huge and glistening maw, freezing the mermaid carcass instantly before executing a tight turn, swooping in and landing in a great, cat-like pounce on the body. The body, frozen solid, shattered into massive chunks as soon as the dragon landed, and the dragon commenced gulping them up, crouched over the stone like a cat at its prey. Even from their distance and hidden location, the characters could hear its breathing and the gentle sussurration of its wingtips against the ice of the glacier and the rock wall behind the sacrifice point – and they could see one great, watery blue lizardlike eye focussed on their hiding place.

They emerged from this spot and approached the dragon to speak with it. Soon the conversation turned to what they must do in exchange for the information they sought. The dragon agreed to tell them from which of its kin the infernal assassin had been made, if they would do a simple thing for it – venture into the ruined church at Hvalsney, the old capital of Greenland, kill the lich that dwelt there, and destroy all the books that it owned as soon as they could. They agreed to do this, and the dragon cast upon them a powerful geas, which would force them all to do its bidding. Satisfied that they were bound to it, the Dragon then told them the information they sought. The dragon bone they had brought with them was the remains of the dragon called commonly Cinderstone, once resident in the mountain of Corrán Tuathail in Western Ireland, near the lake and town of Killarney. Were the characters to visit the town of Killarney they would, perhaps, be able to discover the identity of Cinderstone’s killer.

The conversation finished, the Dragon leapt into the air and soared away, to what sinister cave the characters did not know. But here before them lay a chance – the Lich’s lair contained a book with the Dragon’s true name written in it. Should they be able to fight their geas for long enough to learn that name, they could perhaps return and slay this dragon themselves. Then its treasure – the treasure of all the adventurers who had come before them to slay it, as well as all the treasure of Greenland of old – would be theirs. Could they breach the geas for long enough to steal the name from that book which they must then destroy – and what other knowledge did the book contain, that they must destroy? The Dragon’s geas was sloppily done – could they copy the contents of the book before they destroyed it?

What, indeed, are the limits of a Dragon’s magical power, and what are the limits of a promise made to a Dragon?