Berserkers

Cantercon, followed by the charmed fighting-woman, explored the corridor. At a door on the left, the corridor turned right. Thrace stood guard while the conjurer put an ear to the door.

002Through thick planks, he heard a murmuring voice that rose into a crescendo, “…and kill something!” followed by a chorus of “Yeah!”

He whispered to Thrace, “Berserkers,” and pulled a purse from his belt.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m going to hire them,” he said and knocked on the door.

A brief scuffling from the room beyond stopped in silence. Then a gruff voice said, “Who’s there?”

“Cantercon. I have a proposition for you.”

The door opened. Three men, armored in leather, swords drawn, stood in the doorway.

The conjurer held forth the purse. “One hundred gold coins and half any treasure found for you if you kill things for us.”

Broad smiles spread across battle-hardened faces.

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Cantercon

The tall, armored woman let out a breath. Her sturdy frame relaxed. The magic-user studied her expression.

“What’s your name, fighting-woman?”

“Thrace.”

Her eyes didn’t narrow; her brow remained uncreased. By these signs, he knew the spell he cast on entering had been successful. It made her predisposed to friendliness toward him.

“Thrace,” he repeated, trying the name on her. He admired how she held herself, straight and confident. “Call me Cantercon. I search these rooms for a book. I invite you to join me.”

“How do you know there’s nothing under the statue, Cantercon?”

“Nothing of value,” he said. “The runes on the pedestal indicate it represents the wizard Ardendred Faerthoht, Doommaker, builder of this elaborate complex. In the early phases of construction, he hid great treasures beneath representations of himself.”

Deep Dungeon Doom“Great treasures?”

“All his wealth secured, in later phases he hid deadly traps instead.”

Her eyes shifted to the pedestal beneath the stone-robed figure. Cantercon pointed behind to the archway with the monster-head keystone. Its one eye stared down at them. “Faerthoht favored the cyclops motif in later phases.”

The conjurer allowed a moment for his new friend to assimilate the information.

“Come.” Motioning for her to follow, he stepped toward the corridor beyond the statue. “We’ll divide treasure evenly.”

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The Conjurer

Holding a lantern to light the way, Thrace descended the pitted granite steps into the dungeon. Where the stairs opened into the entry chamber, she looked up to see a man in conjurer's robes peering at a sculpted archway that led into a corridor exit to the right. The conjurer let out a gasp and fled into another corridor further along the wall on the same side.

“Run away, magic-user,” she called after him, “before I put a quarrel in your mouth!”

Readying the crossbow, she muttered under her breath, “A curse on the class,” and stepped forward to see what the conjurer had been looking at. The carved head of a cyclops stared down at her from the keystone, its wide mouth full of sharp teeth, its one eye large and lidless. In the eye, Thrace saw the flash of an image. An inert body bathed in blood, its eyes–her own eyes–staring into the void. A cold chill ran from the base of her spine up the back of her neck.

The fighting-woman shook her head to clear her mind of the image, but she couldn't shake the cold that now invested her bones.

On the opposite side of the chamber, between two archways that mirrored those on this side, stood a statue upon a squat pedestal. Approaching, she saw that it was of a man. The head, smashed on one side, faced forward. The shoulders were raised but the arms had been broken off. It was dressed in a long loose garment of stone that flowed around its feet. Engraved runes on the pedestal were partially effaced.

Shivering from the cold, Thrace examined the floor around the pedestal for indication that it had been moved. Seeing none, she set down the lantern and slung the crossbow over a shoulder.

The Conjurer“The effort will warm me,” she said, and with both hands on the pedestal, she tried to move it.

“There is nothing of value beneath the statue,” came a smooth voice from behind her.

She jerked around to see the speaker. The conjurer reentered the chamber by the corridor beneath the cyclops head. Hands open, palms up, he spread his arms as in warm greeting.

The image of her blood-bathed body flashed again in her mind, then faded, as the cold left her bones. The idea occurred to her that perhaps this magic-user was different...

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Thrace

ThraceA fighting-woman who recently left the war on the northern frontier, “because my captains were all scoundrels and cowards and conspired with magic-users,” she says. “I'm going to gain experience and treasure to recruit and equip my own company. Then I'll return to fight Chaos.”

 

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Encounter in Town

A dungeon is a subterranean labyrinth, usually beneath a castle or some ancient ruin. Within its dark chambers, ferocious monsters guard lost treasures. Brave or foolish persons, called adventurers, enter such dungeons seeking fortune and fame.

“You deserted the cause of Law?”

“My captains were all scoundrels and cowards and conspired with magic-users.” The swordswoman was looking him square in the eye. “I'm going to gain experience and treasure to recruit and equip my own company. Then I'll return to fight Chaos.”

There, Edric thought, was his opening. Treasure is what he wanted her to find.

Continue reading "Encounter in Town" »

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The Clan of Bolt's Massacre

I, Cadolo, scribe of the Court at Donjonwold,
Do hereby transcribe from the expedition log of Haearnblaidd's Brigade
Into the ducal archives events that occurred in the spring of the year of the Weasel,
Month of the Beetle, on the south-western frontier of the realm.

Long reign to the House of Heryrod on World's Henge.

Quadrus, warrior commander, led Haearnblaidd's Brigade
Across the river Farby, risen under rain.
He was met by dervishes who follow the Six Winds,
Fighting monks, ferocity inspired by faith in the directions of their Hexad.

The matriarch expected gifts according to custom.
Quadrus gave none, cocky and practical.
For naught but all would have satisfied the chieftess,
Mounted at the head of a host of four figures, bowmen and lancers.

With strategist's eye the matriarch considered the breadth and depth of the Brigade,
Then withdrew, and her mounted men with her.
The sticks of the forest turned to serpents, fangs dripping bile.
Quadrus survived attempted poisoning.

In the Walking Woods, Quadrus discovered ruins.
Crumbling walls around empty places, age-old notions
Of forts and magazines, of homes and prisons.
Haearnblaidd's Brigade passed unmolested.

According to lore, peril haunts such places.
Any order of monster creeps behind toppled pillars.
Collapsing stone and guileful denizens trap trespassers.
In the empty places, unguarded treasure awaits beyond loneliness and insanity.

Sudden growls and claws flashing from behind,
Turning about, the right column morphed into a skirmish front.
A tiger-man stood down the line, felling men and horses to a figure's count.
Quadrus advanced and the lycanthrope retreated, a female and a dozen cubs fled with carcasses.

Out of the forest on high ground, Quadrus looked east
Upon the Griffon Plains and the Tuile Gorm, the Blue Flood.
Joined downstream by the White to make the Great River,
River of legend, river of myth, bridged by the Greater Race.

Across a grassy knoll, a wave on the Griffon Plains,
Tufts of trees about, leafy and bright green,
Rode Haearnblaidd's Brigade, proud men in the service of Heryrod,
Attacked by troglodytes – Men in animal hides, flailing cudgels,
Threw themselves against brutal mounts, falling to strikes by sword and iron hoof.
Only women and whelps and old men remained
In their caves, a conquered people now subject to the Duke
By letter of marque, the clan of Bolt's Massacre.

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The Wizard's Take

From Odenode's Private Diary

Spider Beetle Weasel, LIZARD DONJON – I have entertained as guest an envoy from the self-proclaimed Duke of World's Henge, a warrior, now commander of Haearnblaidd's brigade. He is called Bolt, named Quadrus, within whose veins is supposed to flow the Bird-serpent's blood.

This morn, the warrior commander led the brigade down the terrace stair and away south along the Farby. Seventeen figures of light horse carried supplies for men and mounts, plus a potion phial and a thousand pieces of gold.

I have heard before a legend of Protexer, his progenitor. Before he named himself Bloodsire in the west, he was called by his southerly kin Phinehas the Bastard, as well as liar and traitor. I hear tell that members of the House of the Quetzalcoatl and its adherents yet refer to their western cousins, whom they disclaim, as the House of Phinehas or the Bastard tribe.

Immediately upon our meeting I suspected deception by the warrior's demeanor. First claiming the chimera's treasure to consist only of scrolls and gold, upon further interrogation, he produced a potion with which he intended to pay himself for the ordeal of another. I, thereafter, put a charm on his person and invited him to the Lizard donjon for further interview.

I enhanced the spell's work with wine and familiar talk of local knowledge and personal history. In a moment of confidence, the warrior gave details of the death of Haearnblaidd. According to fuller account, it was a flask of poison, sampled from the geas-sought treasure, that brought the super-hero to his untimely end. Being confused by this information, I pressed further.

"Are you certain it was poison?" I asked.

"I presume as much,” smirked the warrior. “Hardly a drop touched his lips. He had not time to swallow before life escaped the scaffold.”

“Did you keep the vessel?”

“No, its content was all spilt.”

"Unfortunate," I muttered, pondering.

Then, following a different line, I presented the following argument.

"Why would he sample the potion,” I queried, “knowing that, as part of the chimera's treasure, it belonged to me?”

The fighting-man now appeared uncomfortable. I posed my proof. “The magic of the geas would have killed him if he had kept even a single coin of the spoils,” I stated. “And the spell-magic makes the victim well aware of this fact.”

I let Quadrus hold his breath a beat longer before I concluded with a paraphrase of my opening question, this time more slowly. “Why should he affront certain death to taste a potion that was mine to identify and to use?”

He let out breath. "Either your magic brought his extinction, or he took your own taste of doom," he reasoned.

I waited, but the crossbow commander did not make further attempt to explain the foolish risk apparently taken by the spell-bound super-hero. Then I gave my own answer.

“Only wish magic can break a geas,” I said.

The warrior remained silent. A wizard's wish is not the fanciful or desperate wish made by mundane creatures. According to lore, a wish is made through one of only two means. By a long-forgotten spell created by the Greater Race or through one of a small number of magic rings presumably empowered by such a spell, which must be worn to effect the spoken desire.

Further, I possess particular knowledge of one such ring, purportedly lost in a battle on the Griffon Plains after the Moonfell and the incursion of demons and extra-worldly monsters that the event precipitated.

I said finally, "Show me the ring, please, Quadrus."

I phrased politely the command and the warrior obeyed. I held out my hand and he put the object into my palm. I examined the ring, a band of shell set with diamonds.

Guirgardson's epic tells of the making of a ring from the shell of an oyster, collected by the storm titan Eydis at the mouth of the Great River, and of 24 tiny diamonds, one for each of the greater signs and each a different color, all cut in the gnomish workshops beneath the mountain peaks of the cloud giants.

I slipped the ring on a finger and feigned to admire it. "I would accept such a gift from Fealan Heryrod, Duke of World's Henge," I said, "were he to offer it."

The blood of the Bird-serpent drained from the face of the Quetzalcoatl's alleged square-headed descendent.


Top level magic-users are perhaps the most powerful characters in the game....” (Men & Magic, p. 6, Gygax & Arneson, Tactical Studies Rules 1974)

We may assume that Odenode is one of these. Having the rank of wizard, he is of at least 11th level. He may or may not be the most powerful wizard in DONJON LANDS, but he must certainly circulate in the loose society of top level magic-users of the world.

Like most acquaintances of that learned society, the wizard Odenode denotes the calendar date in an abbreviated form. The calendar, originally described by the signnamer Plaifark, is based on Turns of the Greater Signs. The abbreviation in current use consists of three signs or words to indicate the precise day, month and year.

The sign date of Odenode's writing, for instance, is the day of the Spider, month of the Beetle, in the year of the Weasel.

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Quadrus' Legacy

The evening and the day are pleasantly passed. My wariness of the wizard is much subdued since our first meeting. My officers are bunked in rooms similar to my own at the other end of a long corridor. Beneath the cornice that lines the walls of the corridor is a frieze sculpted with lizards in innumerable poses. Light gives through an oculus, these apartments being situated on the upper floor of the castle-donjon.

We have been permitted to come and go as we please through arrangement with the sergeant-of-the-guard for escort down to the entry level. This by prudence so as not to be surprised or overwhelmed by wandering monsters that occasionally make their way up from dungeons further down. We've encountered none, but contemptuous signs of their passage we've seen.

Though entry to the circular keep atop is strictly regulated, we might stroll unescorted along the parapet on the platform level of the donjon. From parapet height, one appreciates a wide view of the surrounding woods, save to the north-west, the direction of Hengor Hecs Mawr y Byd, where the view is blocked by the taller donjon. A guardsman told me that, on clear days, he has seen west to the Griffon Plains and south to the violet mist that rises from the upper tributaries of the Tuile Gorm.

This day was not a clear one, though the rain let up for much of it. The men passed their time at maintenance tasks and recreation. They oiled their weapons, tended to the needs of their mounts and to their personal hygiene, and they played at dice and made a tourney of rects-and-rounds.

To the wizard, I rendered the two parchments and two large sacks of gold coins, keeping the potion and secreting half the gold.

"You may inform Duke Fealan Heryrod that I much appreciate his gifts to me," said the wizard. “The Duke and I are to be friendly neighbors. I am confident.”

In the evening, the officers and I dined at the wizard's table. Our host treated us to delicate sweetbread and red wines. Talk was of diverse topics. The magic-user predicts more rain in coming days. He boasts of Gwerthsefyll's unerring aim with crossbow, and according to him, the grove of the menhir where is laid Haearnblaidd is called Grafgwernen by the plains nomads. He himself calls the south-flowing river Farby. He says it feeds the Tuile Gorm.

Earlier in the day, the officers had made a crude estimate of the number of the wizard's men-at-arms. Based on their observations of the changing of the guard, the capacity of the stables, and the size of the active kitchens and its staff, there should be at least one hundred men and horses. At table, Odenode deflected my inquiries for a more accurate figure.

After the meal, the wizard and I took ourselves outside. On the platform, the air was fresh but not chill. A vernal evening breeze pushed clouds north across the darkness overhead. We walked the parapets and we spoke of our ancestry.

“Gwaed Neidradar,” the wizard cited the name of my father's house as we paced. “The house is of World's Henge in the west. Its name's significance, however, suggests southern origin."

"Blood of the Bird-serpent," I translated from the Duke's language to the common tongue. "My paternal line spawns out of the southern city, from the House of the Quetzalcoatl."

Odenode put his nose into the wind, facing oncoming clouds. "Which means feathered serpent in a language rarely spoken anymore in Meridian Dormer," he said, at once naming the southern city and gesturing in its direction.

I explained the connection. “My ancestor quit the city of his birth where a rivalry between himself and a younger brother threatened the dissolution of the Quetzalcoatl. He settled in Hecs Mawr, named himself Protexer Cruor, the Bloodsire, and founded the lineage.”

The wizard turned an eye on me, saying nothing. I took the pause as an opportunity to divert the conversation to his subject.

“Odenode...?” I prompted.

“A daydream of the north gods,” he said.

I nodded comprehension. “And your folks?”

“I come from troglodyte stock.”

The statement was collaborated by the broad, square cut of his jaw beneath close-cropped beard yet dark.

“The Hawk is my tribe,” said the caveman wizard, “and the Peregrine, my clan. My people dwelt in caves while the people of your houses roamed still the plains, in the Epic age, back in the time when titans ruled the world from its mountain tops.”

At a breech in the clouds, stars streamed into view. The air stilled, and we admired for a long moment the silent procession of signs, points of light flowing through black aether.

As the constellations played out above us, Odenode pointed to particular signs and quoted from the work of one Plaifark, who I understand to have been a sage in some epoch passed. Though I find the words esoteric, I record them here in their entirety.

These are the words of Plaifark as cited by the wizard Odenode and as transcribed by the present Quadrus:


The Coot, reluctant, lays the egg and broods it, yolk of insanity.
The Weasel, covetous, steals the egg and hides it in its repair, beneath dark step.
The Snake, insatiate, thrice eats the egg, mutual greatness increasing.
The Lizard, prolific, its own makes the egg and multiplies the born fruit, perverse generation.

Then picked up a northerly wind, gusty, uncomfortable, and we retired for the evening.

Departure on the morrow. I will follow the Farby to the Tuile Gorm then turn north along the great river to visit the bridges or their remnants.

The brigade is at full strength, 340 men and horses, with a full compliment of arms and rations.


Rects-and-rounds is a board game very similar in parts and play to the modern game of Gounki (Malavasi 1997), which uses square and round pieces of two colors on a standard chessboard. The game is easy to learn, like checkers, though difficult to master, like chess.

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The Castle of Odenode

The invitation was kindly given. Though I was wary still of this magic-user, to refuse his hospitality would have been an offense. Upon receiving acceptance of his invitation, the wizard tapped smartly his staff on grassy ground and disappeared from amid the stones and the chimera took wing, leaving a view of our week's-end lodgings.

There are two donjons yet upright. One reaches into the sky like a spear, one side of the tower having collapsed to a pile of rubble at its butt. From that side is revealed a cross-section of empty floors. It appears uninhabited.

The other donjon is much less tall though still formidable in its presentation. It grows in a square shape from a broad base to a sturdy middle before it re-broadens to serve as pedestal to the circular keep, perched atop.

I led the brigade across the river and approached from the north. We were soon met by an escort of 40 heavy horsemen led by a champion and flying the banner of the wizard Odenode – a hawk perched upon the back of a lizard, the figures in yellow on a field of green.

The champion approached and we exchanged the military greeting. She called herself Gwerthsefyll. She wore a coat of mail and a green cape lined with blue silk. A long sword hung from her hip. Her horsemen wheeled about and headed back south along the river. Gwerthsefyll took up position on my right according to her station and, together, we followed the banner.

Thus convoyed, we came through a grand arch clothed in a thick thallus of lichen and we climbed broad, root-bound stairs through the first and second of three wide terraces siding the river.

Copses of oak and elder straddle the stairway. Mounds of peat in regular patterns hide fallen walls. Otherwise, little vestige of ancient works is evident in the yards surrounding the donjons. These uneven spires rise behind, on the upper terrace where similar mounds and copses enclose a court. Here, the men installed themselves, and horses were corralled on the lower terraces.

The champion showed me into the castle-donjon. We rode up a well-maintained stair along the base wall. We entered the building through a portal four horses in breadth and went down a passage of equal span to an inner chamber, high, groin-vaulted and lit from above through windows unseen from the exterior. There we dismounted and a pair of lackeys led our horses out by a different hall.

Gwerthsefyll said to me, "The footmen will convey you to guest chambers," and a squad of heavy foot filed into the chamber.

"You are a guest in the castle of Odenode, who is responsible for your safety during your stay," she said. "These men will protect you from any monsters that may be wandering the donjon."

The champion then departed and the footmen led me through winding corridors to an antechamber that raises and lowers by command of a lever. Myself and a dozen mailed men were in the room. When the squad leader engaged the lever, I experienced the sensation of rising through the air as the floor stones pushed my boots upward. After some moments, movement halted, the door was opened, and I was deposited in a suite of comfortably furnished rooms.  

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The Tomb of Palantir

Palantir jumped on the open sarcophagus, hoping to find a magic sword or some similarly potent weapon within. He found only a suit of armor encasing dry bones and a round shield.

He hurled his own shield at the advancing ghoul. It clanged against the stone floor. He grabbed the replacement from the bony grasp of its former owner and thrust it between himself and the ghoul's claws.

Swinging his sword around the shield, the elf felt it bite through the leathery hide of his undead opponent, which responded with a shrieking howl and hoisted itself upon the sarcophagus next to him.

Locked in a mortal struggle with the ghoul, Palantir pushed back for striking room. Black nails struck out, slicing the smooth skin of his neck. Blood gushed from the jugular as the elf fell back onto the armor and cracking bones of his tombmate.

The Tomb of Palantir

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