Twenty years ago I started a new RPG campaign. Basic Fantasy RPG didn’t exist yet, and I was running the game using some house rules I wrote which I called “Project 74;” we did eventually switch to BFRPG a couple of years after I published the first edition.
The group was composed of Mike and Alan, two of my oldest friends, people who had been players in my games in high school and college in the ’80’s. Since the group was small they ran two characters each; one of Mike’s characters from that game was the half-ogre fighter Garag Onyg, and one of Alan’s characters was a fighter from a foreign land named Kyron Ristan.
They had other characters, as I said, but some of them didn’t live very long. Project 74 was as brutal to low-level characters as any old school game, after all.
It was in their very first adventure in the tunnels under the city of Lyrwenn in Enterone, one of the countries in my world of Glain, where they discovered Garag’s half-ogre half-brother, Og Onygson. He was abducting children because they were tasty, you see, and Garag and Kyron and their friends had been asked to rescue the last two he’d collected. While they were busy fighting him, Og’s “boss,” a magic-user named Jarvan Margrave, appeared on the staircase and attacked them magically.
Kyron made his saving throw vs. Jarvan’s wand of paralyzation and then pursued him up the stairs, out of the dungeons and into the magic-user’s tower, finally cornering him on the uppermost floor and doing away with him. Meanwhile Garag and the others defeated his half-brother and freed the children. And of course, they looted the tower.
Little did they know that Jarvan Margrave was in fact Lord Jarvan Margrave. His family had him raised from the dead, and with the help of his uncle (the Count) Jarvan swore out a warrant for the arrest of the adventurers. Thus they became fugitives, having many adventures as they wandered the borderlands. Eventually they rescued Vadarin, the “Iron Duke” to whom Count Margrave was a vassal, and the Duke cancelled the warrant and pronounced them innocent.
Jarvan never forgot this defeat. He meddled in their affairs on many occasions before he found a new goal… becoming a king.
You see, the land of Enterone has been ruled by a council of seven people, three high priests and four dukes, since the last king died without leaving an heir. That king, known as Gallus the First, chose this intentionally; he hoped that a democratic form of government would grow out of the change. But though the Regency Council reigned as he intended, nothing else really changed.
Jarvan Margrave learned that there was an heir, descended from an illegitimate cousin of Gallus Oberon. The heir himself did not know he was an heir, and so Jarvan was able to get close to him, capture him, and take what he needed to “prove” himself a proper heir to the long-empty throne of Enterone.
Both Enterone and Roslane, the rival land to the north, had ancient artifacts that could prove a man to be a proper heir to their thrones. Roslane’s founding dynasty had been exterminated long ago, and the Flaming Crown lost; they were ruled by a different family who took power after the fall of the so-called Undying Emperor. In Enterone the device was called the Royal Orb; installed permanently in the old, “retired” Ganelonden Castle in the capitol city of Vallerin, the orb would reputedly glow when touched by a true heir to Oberon the First.
Jarvan was no such heir, of course, but he took the true heir’s right hand, skinned it, and made from it a glove that could activate the orb. He made the glove invisible so that he could use it without it being detected. He did not kill Galen, the heir, but rather cast a feeblemind upon him and released him in the city of Ruonest. Galen, known as a mute half-wit, somehow fell into the service of Duke D’Angelo. He became a stablehand working in the stables beneath Castle D’Angelo, where our heros met him while dealing with a resurgence of the demonic influence that had nearly ended the reign of Duke Vadarin. The entire situation was a setup engineered by Jarvan to keep the most magically-capable member of the Regency Council from attending the ceremony wherein Jarvan would activate the orb.
By the sheerest of coincidences, Kyron Ristan managed to be near Ganelonden Castle just as this entire event was about to transpire, and his ownership of a certain ancient intelligent sword gave him status to attend that ceremony; he watched in amazement as Jarvan’s hand fell upon the orb and made it glow.
Fugitives again, the party began traveling outside of Enterone. We began to add new players, some who came for one or two sessions before disappearing, others who came and stayed. In the land of Derympi they discovered the lost Tomb of Karsma Megalos, and inside they found him not dead but petrified, They chose to restore him, not realizing that he was the Invincible Warlord of the Seren, enemy of the rulers of Enterone, and this decision would come back to bite them later. And in Kyron’s land of Kel they discovered that the country was secretly under the control of the supposedly-extinct Golden Elves, and they managed to bring them down and free the Kelites.
This turned out to be the last major adventure Alan participated in, as not long afterward he succumbed to the kidney cancer that had dogged him for several years. Kyron Ristan became a high minister in the new government of Kel, and the remaining adventurers moved on to other lands.
They went north, defeating an alchemist who was refining the dangerous aqua lumina made by the ancient Amun-Synites. They learned the secrets of the ancient and powerful wizard known as John of Zor, and visited his tower in that far-off land. They even saved a beautiful dragon from a horrible princess, and delivered that princess into the hands of the King of Roslane.
They returned to Enterone when their ally, Pons III, Duke D’Angelo was declared a criminal by King Jarvan. A council of war was established at Castle D’Angelo, searching for a way to resist the king and eventually overthrow him, but the situation looked dire; not only did King Jarvan have obvious plans to remove Duke D’Angelo from power, but it also seemed likely that Roslane would use this period of unrest on their border as an excuse to attack. Duke Pons presented a two-pronged proposal: Some of the adventurers would go in search of a magic crown they had once found in the dungeons beneath the Roslanian capitol, which they had sold to the king of that land without learning its power. In fact, it was the Flaming Crown which could reveal an heir to the line of the first kings of Roslane. This was an item the present Roslanian king could not allow to fall into the hands of his opposition, which is why he bought it. Stealing it back would give Duke D’Angelo leverage to prevent an attack.
While part of the adventurers went about that mission, the remainder went in search of a hidden castle where King Jarvan had imprisoned the true heir. The trip was difficult, requiring the utmost in stealth, but at last they reached the castle. The courtyards were filled with animated hill giant skeletons, and a dragon and several powerful NPCs guarded the heir himself.
So of course, the adventurers bypassed the whole thing, flying over the castle invisibly while the dragon’s attention was diverted (for in my campaign, dragons can see invisible things) and entering the central tower with almost no bloodshed. Galen was thus freed and taken back to Castle D’Angelo.
Having the true heir and the Flaming Crown at Castle D’Angelo was meant to prevent either king from attacking; it worked, at least in the case of the Roslanians, but King Jarvan was not so easily swayed. After all, to prove a claim as the heir, Galen had to enter Ganelonden Castle in the Enteronean capitol, Vallerin, and place his hand on the Royal Orb. Jarvan reinforced the city and the ancient “second castle” of Enterone, and then he ordered the offensive against the northern Dukes.
By now it was late fall, and the snow was falling; it was clear to everyone that Jarvan’s troops would have to wait to attack until the snow melted in the spring. Still, the usurper ordered Duke Vadarin to be reduced from the high position the Council had given him, and Jarvan’s own uncle the Count raised up at the Duke in his place.
Some of the adventurers, led by Garag Onyg and his wizard ally Aleron Rowentree, left the castle to seek allies in nearby towns. Messages were sent to many whom the party had helped in the past, in hopes that they would come to the aid of the newly-formed Resistance.
One of those messages was sent to Nyalorix, the cloud dragon who they had rescued from the evil Princess Dulcetta. Nyalorix had been held in thrall by the Princess by the simple means of stealing the dragon’s eggs; so long as Dulcetta held the eggs in a secret place, the dragon had no choice but to obey her. The adventurers had found the eggs and restored them to Nyalorix, and she was in their debt. But it was a debt she could not discharge, for her eggs had hatched and she was busy caring for the hatchlings.
A man approached the adventurers in a tavern as they paused in their travels. He introduced himself as Nuridnorix, father of Nyalorix. He told them his daughter had asked him to attend to her debt, and he said he would willingly fight by their side… but if they wished, he could instead direct them to a hidden army of automatons built to fight the Undying Emperor in a long-past century. The army was never deployed, as it was not finished when the Emperor fell by other hands, so the location of the army was carefully concealed and barriers were put in place to prevent them falling into the wrong hands.
Of course, the adventurers chose the army of metal men over a single dragon, and Nuridnorix directed and guided them so that they could find the mountain where the army had been built and hidden away. It was a long series of adventures, including a dungeon containing practically nothing but traps, a city full of kobolds who welcomed them to a feast, a catacomb full of undead horrors, a workshop protected by various prototype metal warriors, and a magical maze of stairs containing a machine that extrudes gelatinous cubes to replace any that are slain therein.
In a secret room they found a portal leading to a small, closed world called the World of Crowns. They knew from the story told to them by Nuridnorix that they were looking for a crown that would control the metal army; in the clearing where they exited the portal they found a tombstone engraved with seven crowns.
There were, in fact, eight crowns. They eventually figured this out and found the iron crown they needed, though they did collect a few others along the way.
It took them a bit to figure out how to work the portal device so that it would give them access to the space where the army was kept, but eventually they found their way and led the army out of the mountain through a wall that had been designed to collapse. They marched them through a bit of Roslanian territory, suffered a turncoat in their ranks who almost stole the army for King Jarvan, and finally arrived at Castle D’Angelo just in time to aid in the defense of the Resistance.
Duke Vadarin held out for a time, but in the late spring that part of his army that was loyal to the Margrave family turned on him, and he took the remaining soldiers westward to Duchy D’Angelo. Combined with the forces of Pons III and the army of steel soldiers, they held the line against the King’s forces.
But he had available five times as many troops as the Resistance could mount. Even with all their magic and six thousand automatons, they knew it was only a matter of time before the Resistance fell.
The fighting had started with an early thaw; the high holy days of the spring equinox, called Festival throughout the world of Glain, were still some days in the future. The council of war met to discuss the situation, and Aleron Rowentree suggested a bold plan.
Leaders and other powerful people were notified by messages sent using the young wizard’s own spell, Aleron’s Express Message, that Garag Onyg would enter Ganelonden Castle accompanied by the true heir on the last day of Festival. In Glain, Festival begins on the last day of the year, spans one or sometimes two days that are “outside” the year, and ends on the first day of the new year, and it was on this day that Aleron’s messages said the true heir would be proven.
This was the most nervous I’d been as a GM in decades. The climax, or rather, the first climax of a twenty year campaign needed to be epic, Hollywood-worthy stuff. Three high priests and their closest assistants, the dwarf ambassador and three members of his staff, the elf ambassador and two members of his staff, Duke Tarkan, his wife, and her bodyguard, and of course Jarvan and his closest allies (and 80 hand-picked fighting men of his army) would all be present, and that only after they entered the castle. First, they had to get there, crossing the expanse of the great Lake Dyasa and somehow getting into the city; this was the focus of our previous session.
Duke D’Angelo loaned them the black pegasi his family bred and maintained in secret, revealing their existence for the first time. Part of the adventurers chose this method of entering the city. They were intercepted by griffon riders loyal to King Jarvan, accompanied by the same green dragon, Rashdenarung, who had been assigned to guard the true heir. They outflew the soldiers, using the greater speed of the pegasi to climb above the griffons, and they simply flew away; some fire was exchanged but neither side suffered major losses.
Meanwhile, however, the true heir himself was to be transported by Aleron using his ring of spell storing (which could hold a single teleport spell). To increase his transport capacity, he drank a potion of giant strength first, giving him more than an hour (in fact, an hour and a half) of such strength.
As seemingly always happens, though, Aleron failed the teleport roll, landing partway to the capitol city. After rolling the distance and looking at the map, I realized he had landed them just outside the city of Lyrwenn, where the campaign began two decades ago.
Entering the city in a hurry, they asked around for a magic-user who could recharge their ring. Time was of the essence, because there were no more potions of giant strength at hand. They were told that a wizard had moved into the tower once occupied by Jarvan, and so they went there and bargained with him.
In return for a favor to be named later, the wizard recharged the ring, and the party quickly teleported away. But Aleron’s player failed the roll… again. This time the result was “similar location,” and as they were trying to land just in front of the elvish embassy in Vallerin, I decided the nearest “similar location” was the elvish consulate in the city across the river. That city, Jacinta, lies in the country of Derympi, which under the control of Karsma Megalos is hostile to Enterone.
They discussed many options for crossing the river, and chose to do so while flying (using the obvious spell) invisibly. But the dragon had returned to Vallerin, having just arrived in fact, and he saw them and flew toward them with murder in his eyes (and breath).
Garag quickly drank a potion of dragon control he had traded for quite a while back… and the dragon failed its save! It greeted its new friend warmly, but said it really shouldn’t let them land; the drinker of the potion talked the dragon into turning away from them and leaving them be, and then they were able to land and hide within the great city.
One of the members of the pegasus-riding party was Irithiel Kelquirrelle, agent of the Elf King, Order of the Leafy Crown. She had been captured, interrogated, and killed by order of King Jarvan after she was discovered snooping around the castle of Duke Tarkan by his wife Duchess Evaine. By a peculiar twist of fate she had been raised from the dead by one of the party members who had himself been slain by an agent of the king and then interred beneath Ganelonden Castle for later interrogation via a speak with dead spell. Jarvan had collected a number of potions of alchemical waters of sulfur, also called potions of raise dead; poured into the mouth of a corpse, they had the same power as the spell. A mad thief trapped in the dungeon had found them and used them to restore a single one of the dead characters, the gnome wizard Bannan, one of Mike’s characters. Their escape a month or so earlier had itself been epic, and it was after this that the Elf King assigned Irithiel to join the adventurers.
Emily played the part of Irithiel, previously an NPC in my online game, and at the end of that adventure chose to continue playing her.
The party of pegasus-riders landed outside the city, and simply walked in; Irithiel was the only member of that party who might be recognized so she was made invisible to prevent this. The two parties had agreed to meet at noon in front of the elvish embassy, and this at least went off without any further hitches. After some discussion, though, they took shelter in a temporarily-abandoned warehouse, bribing the guard to let them have it for the night.
Meanwhile, the pegasi were returned to Castle D’Angelo by the “decoy heir” that party brought with them; a terrified young soldier pressed into service at the last moment, and only too relieved at being allowed to return to his home.
Somehow despite the party being warded against scrying, the Elf Ambassador had learned of her presence in the city and sent for her; she would join his party in the morning, the first day of the year and thus the last day of Festival, as they went to the ancient castle to witness whatever might transpire.
Another player character, Jeanne’s gnomish cleric Einsturzende Altbaten, a devotee of the god of death, Mors Cain, went to the Triune temple that morning to ask their aid in protecting the true heir. The three high priests were already in procession to Ganelonden, accompanied by their assistants and a number of temple guards, but they stopped when the gnome mentioned the name “Garag Onyg.” “Unfortunately,” said High Priest Faber, of the order of the god of wisdom, “we can’t help you. To take a side would be to violate the law, at least until such a time as the heir is proven.” But after some negotiation the three high priests agreed to wait outside the castle for two hours before entering, to act as witnesses to anything that might happen.
The dragon rested atop one of the gate towers of the outer bailey, watching for invisible interlopers. A grassy, tree-dotted park lay between the wall of the outer bailey and the last street of the city, and a crowd of commoners lined that street. Scattered groups of city watch, commanded by officers from the Royal Guard, were in the park to hopefully quell any insurrection that might arise. The adventurers simply had to walk across the park to the gate to enter the outer bailey…
So, they did. Two party members who would not be recognized as such stood among the crowd sowing discontent, and when Galen appeared at the edge of the park and began advancing toward the gate the crowd was aroused to action and surged forward; but the dragon leapt down from its high place and faced off against Galen, and the crowd turned tail and ran back to the relative safety of the buildings at the edge of the park. Two player characters were with him, invisible but seen by the dragon, and at his instruction they appeared. He knew Aleron Rowentree, and began preparing to attack.
Garag Onyg had approached at a different angle, keeping the trees between himself and the dragon’s perch. When it came down and prepared to fight, he broke into a run, drank a potion of speed, and then drew his greatsword.
Aleron cast slow upon the dragon, and it failed its save; it was attacked, and suffered significant damaage, while not being able to hit with its claws. Badly injured and with Garag Onyg running toward it, the dragon took flight, but slowed by the magic it could not fly far nor rise very high.
Garag used the magic of his boots of traveling and leaping to soar upward and slice into the dragon’s belly, slaying it. Even better, he managed to avoid having its entrails spill down onto him.
With the resistance to their advance thus defeated, the adventurers went with the heir and the priests into the outer bailey, and then entered the inner bailey through the open gatehouse without opposition. In the huge foyer of the keep they found the elf and dwarf ambassadors and their parties waiting, and together they entered the corridor leading to the court.
The great court room was lined with pillars down either side, with long balconies overlooking the room; at the far end were several sets of steps leading up about eight feet to a raised stone platform holding the thrones of the King and Queen of Enterone. In front of them, firmly attached to an ornate stone pillar, was the pale white marble Royal Orb.
It was not the architecture that commanded attention, but the occupants. Forty guardsmen with halberds stood in rows behind the pillars, beneath the balconies. Forty more armed with crossbows lined the balconies themselves, able to fire twenty at a time and then rotate each round to reload while the other half fired. At the top of the steps on the left side, a woman warrior in black armor holding a very black sword, while the right side steps were guarded by a strikingly orange half-elf in plate mail attended by a huge black hound. Standing on the floor before the platform were Duke Tarkan, his wife Duchess Evaine, and her steel-clad bodyguard.
And of course, sitting in the king’s throne was King Jarvan. He stood and challenged the ambassadors, who all said they were present only as witnesses. But Irithiel stood among the elves, wearing a gown which actually indicated (in its traditional quilting and colors) that she was a victim of someone from whom she planned to exact payment. Jarvan did not address her, but whether or not he knew how to read her gown, he certainly knew what she had come for.
The ambassadors mentioned the true heir, which angered Jarvan; he arose from the throne and stepped forward, laying his right hand on the orb and causing it to glow. “There is a true heir, and he is me,” he said in reply.
The high priests pointed out that the three of them and Duke Tarkan together formed a quorum of the Regency Council, should such a body need to be seated again. They moved forward toward the right-hand stairs, even as Garag Onyg advanced toward the left-hand stairs; the guardsmen moved to block the way, using their polearms to barricade the way.
The black-clad woman looked at Garag Onyg as he entered the room, and called out, “Captain of the Guard!” and that officer replied, “Aye!” She smiled and continued, “Send a page to the temple of Mors Cain. Tell them they’ll need an extra-large coffin.”
“Shut up, Sirella,” said King Jarvan. Just then Galen entered the room from the corridor, and King Jarvan pointed at him and yelled, “Fire!”
Twenty guardsmen on the balcony raised their crossbows and took aim. Garag noticed that there was a gap, and determined that he could make a running leap with his magic boots and he would be standing beside the orange half-elf. For Garag Onyg, to have a thought of an offensive strategy is to enact it, and so he leapt, and as he flew in front of the orange man and his dog, the dog breathed seven dice of fire upon him. Garag failed his saving throw, but has so many hit points that he was still in relatively good shape. Under the effect of the potion of speed he began trading blows with the orange-skined cleric.
Duke Tarkan would not leave flee, of course, but sent his wife and her bodyguard up the steps to one of the doors out of the court. Serella, the black-clad warrior, ran across toward Garag, cursing the “damned dog” for being in her way (and of course it was a “damned dog” after all). And at that moment the gnome cast a silence 15′ radius spell in the area of the dais, affecting Jarvan and his allies.
King Jarvan walked toward the left side of the dais, out of the silence, and cast a spell which seemed to have no effect (a shield, of course). Then the guardsmen fired. Twenty crossbow bolts flew toward Galen, but every one missed, for he was wearing a cloak of displacement loaned to him by Aleron. The players actually kind of cheered at this.
We began another round, and most of the initiative numbers were close. The gnome rolled well and cast a hold person on the orange-skinned enemy cleric, who failed his save and fell to the floor. King Jarvan and Aleron Rowentree were tied. Jarvan saw that he had a good line on Galen and Aleron, and realizing that a fireball would take out too many of his own men, chose instead to fire a lightning bolt from his staff of power. But Aleron was simultaneous, and cast dimension door to transport both himself and Galen to the area beside the Orb. The lightning bolt could have struck them or not depending on the exact order of actions, so I made a roll and determined that Aleron was just a bit faster. The lightning bolt struck only the gnome cleric, who failed her save and fell, unconscious and dying.
Now standing beside the Orb, Aleron waited for Galen to touch it; but the heir stumbled, unprepared for the sudden teleportation. (He rolled a 1 for initiative.) Chris’ fey mage Talas dispelled the silence so Aleron and Galen could be heard. At almost the same moment, Cody’s magic-user Zorel stepped out from behind a pillar and unleashed a lightning bolt on Jarvan, injuring him significantly.
Meanwhile, Irithiel asked the ambassador if helping a friend would constitute a violation of their vow to observe, and he said, “Under the circumstances, no.” She moved toward the gnome, even as the high priestess of the goddess of life also did so, and the gnome was saved.
The guardsmen on the ground floor were ordered to block the way to the stairs, and except for Garag getting through they had done so; they were also ordered not to attack the high priests unless they took some offensive action, which they did not. So a significant part of Jarvan’s fighting forces were unable to act. As for those on the balcony tasked with slaying Galen? I rolled percentiles to figure out how many of them saw where he went, and basically none of them had, so they wasted the round trying to figure out what to do.
Garag hacked and chopped at double speed. The hellhound obeyed Serella, moving down a couple of steps as it bit Garag, doing him little harm. Serella swung but missed, and Garag chopped at her, inflicting major wounds. He had a bad feeling about the black-bladed sword she was wielding.
Then at last Galen’s hand fell upon the Orb, and it glowed. Brilliantly, brighter than the sunshine streaming through the skylights above, far brighter than it had for Jarvan. Aleron proclaimed loudly that Galen was the true heir.
In the following round Jarvan rolled badly for initiative. I honestly hadn’t decided what he would do on his turn, but it didn’t matter as Zorel blasted him with another lightning bolt, and ex-King Jarvan fell.
But the fight went on, though the guardsmen were thrown into disarray and took no further action. Serella used a spell from a ring, which she (in other words, I) had forgotten to use earlier… haste. But it did not help her as Garag cut her down before she could attack him again.
And then, it was over.
When Jarvan lay dead at last, Duke Tarkan proclaimed “Long live the King!” and bowed toward Galen. He called Tarkan and the high priests forward and informed them that he intended the Regency Council to continue running the country on a day-to-day basis, as they already knew what they were doing; he also indicated his intent to leave no heir, as Gallus Oberon did before him, restoring the country to the rulership of the Council upon his death.
In the following days, many arrangements were made, much rest was had, and numerous XP were distributed. I’d like to say it was a good time, but honestly it so much more than that!