Due to the Christmas break and vacation, I had given the go ahead to my daughter and her friend to sit down and try out D&D if they wanted to. My daughter had participated over the last 2-3 years on and off here and there for a half dozen of so sit ins. But this was her first time as a "real campaign" so to speak. Normally I run B4 - The Lost City as my go to welcome to D&D adventure (knowing it cold and having run it countless times), but I went back to the real beginning and busted out B2- The Keep on the Borderlands for the two of them.
I did my typical slow explanation of the game and rules, sticking to B/X as written for now, and stressed that we can try this out and that if they wanted to, we can continue. There was no forced continue if they didn't want to. So they each rolled up characters, my daughter a thief, her friends a fighter. Scores were good (I did roll 4, drop 1) but far from fantastic. The thief suffers from a 6 Charisma and only has a 12 Dexterity (was nice to see her play something she WANTED to and to use the dice scores as they were - not what was optimal), while the fighter does have a 15 strength (his highest score) and an 8 Dexterity. What was nice is they each rolled max number for hit points and the money wasn't too bad (120 for the thief, 110 for the fighter).
And then, after and hour plus of rules and rolling and learning how to play...we started. And it was wonderful to watch two young people (12 y/o each of them) get swept away by the history that had gone on before and where they came from. Both of them are big fans of history and mythology, so I transported the duchy of Karameikos to Northern France/Germania and re-wrote our history from roughly 750 AD onward.
At the time just when his parents were coming to pick him up we had to stop and I asked if they had a good time and wanted to play some more. And they both wanted to play again tomorrow. I laughed and told them in 2 days we can do it again.
I think I introduced someone else to a life-long hobby today.
Write up follows:
The end of the Roman Empire brought with it the Dark Ages, with the only point of light remaining in the Western World being the Brightness that was Constantinople. As the 8th century came to an end, the mightiest of the Gauls, Goths, Celts, and Druids banded together to craft the strongest spell-prayer they could to break the walls of this unending city. In a time when the world believed in magic, even though the Roman system of science had driven back the march of ignorance.
But in this case, at this time, in another Earth, the Weave of magic and science were two sides of the same thing – and in this instance – with the void left from where science once stood in these Dark times – the spell of magic rushed in and exploded.
The land shook from India to Portugal. The Nile flooded, the Pyramids crumbled, Italy was torn asunder, Greece fell into the sea. Cliffs broke, forests burned, and the world of men was sent reeling. And in the wild lands between the broken states and cities, monsters and beast from legend filled the darkness of the forest primeval. Dragons flew through Romanian Mountains, Goblins prowled the forests of Germania, Orcs crested Hadrian’s Wall and burned along the banks of the Thames.
Man was plunged into barbarism but did not let their light snuff out. They banded together as one, crafting new kingdoms and new provinces. They held the line against kobolds and minotaurs. Holy men bent knee to Christ and Yahweh and Zeus and Pan, calling on miracles and benedictions from unseen forces on high. Wizards learned from the space between the stars and through sheer force of will how to bend the fabric of reality and reshape the prime material to their want. Dwarves came from the Carpathian and Pyrenees to help the world of men. Elves emerged from the dark eternal forests of Rus and Britannia. Halflings ranged from the quiet lands along the Spanish coasts and the deserts of Palestine. All goodly races banded together to hold the line against the Chaos of the emerging Wild.
Here in Charlemekios, in the land that in our world would be considered Northern France, the Duke had waged a holy war against the goblin forces; ending almost 2 decades of constant bloodshed. New lands had been annexed and for the last decade, the lands of men have waged an uneasy truce against the monstrous hordes that once dominated the country. Baron Guilfoil had been established in this the last bastion and keep on the Border, charged with not only keeping the land safe and patrolled, but to find out where the goblinoid stronghold might be and have it destroyed.
Every peasant, yeoman, and local had heard of the stories of various kingsmen and rangers who dared the Wild to find this font of evil. But it was 2 seasons ago that they finally came back with knowledge and proof. Three miles east and north of the Border Keep, was a cleft in the very stone as if carved by a giant’s hand hundreds of feet wide and over 500 feet long. A ravine where all manner of goblin, orc, and kobold made their home amidst the bones and cast off detritus of their kind. Some dozen caves or less dotted the ravine in various places, each one a black maw where the dark creatures made their home.
And they needed to be rooted out.
Since the spring thaw the Baron has been sending out his riders and pages to every Thorpe, village, hamlet, and farmstead in a 20 mile radius. Asking of anyone who wanted a chance as riches and glory to come to the Border Keep and plumb the darkness of the Caves in the Wild.
Charlotte’s family owned a small farm (10 acres) of scrub land and berries along the banks of the river Bibiche where her mother was a neurotic mess and her father a one time locksmith. They had come out to this area in the hopes of resettlement and the knowledge of getting a stipend from the crown for homesteading. To Charlotte, who was just now 18, it was tedium, horrible, and overall numbing. A skilled archer and possessing her father’s nimble hands, she agreed to go to the Border Keep to try her hand at riches and glory. Her father gave his blessing (and his locksmithing tools); her mother gave shrill cries and admonishments.
William Bill’s family were farriers, a skill that helped give William his strength and size, but he was a bit clumsy and prone to moving before looking. Being the third son he spent his time cleaning stalls and shoveling crap, dreaming of something better elsewhere. So when the call came and he learned that Charlotte, his friend, was thinking of going to the Keep, William jumped at the chance. Sporting his grandfather’s sword and a piecemeal purchased set of platemail armor, he left home with his family’s well wishes in his ears and the two friends set off for the Keep.
They arrived together, the Keep standing on a plateau 60’ over the surround land, a single easily defensible road leading to the main gates. The two friends made their appearance known and purchased a variety of supplied they suspected they would need in the journey to the Caves. Eventually the Castellan called the two friends to come to Baron.
In his early 50’s and sporting a salty beard hanging to his chest, he was a warrior that was in the decline of his days and going to pot. He greeted Bill and Charlotte by name (which surprised the two friends) and spoke about the Caves of Chaos. There were many wanna-be adventurers who had answered his call and they have been tramping into the Wild for almost a month now. Many have not returned. Some have come back with riches, some have come back missing fingers and babbling about the horrors they had seen.
The two friends spoke to the Baron at length, asking many questions before thanking him for his audience and heading to the Inn for a last dinner and conversation. They opted not to hire any of the locals, not for this the first trip out. The Baron had let them know that the rangers who have gone before reported that the caves closer to the entrance of the ravine were populated with more goblins and orcs than the deeper caves where more dangerous denizens were rumored to live. So they would go to a closer cave, look around, and if it was beyond their skill, they would return to the Keep and hire some of the locals and potential adventurers to go with them on the morrow.
They had worked out a deal where the Baron would take care of their lodging and meals for the rest of the day and tomorrow’s morning…and their Hospice stay should it be required. That evening they spent it at the Inn and listened in on a number of the potential rumors the locals were talking about. Much of it was a garbled mess but the two friends were able to glean tow bits of wisdom: 1) the various monstrous tribes of humanoids that make up the Caves generally stick to their own cave by their own kind. And 2) there are some cultists that might make their homes in the caves, and because of that and the evil influences – any altars they might run across would be considered bad and full of trouble.
The next morning they set off, checking with the gate guards on when and if the Keep’s gates would be shut (the gates shut at 9 PM and open at 6 AM) – making note of it and allowing themselves at least 2 hours to walk back. The trip there was without peril. The only notable thing was the lack of fauna in the area. Even the typical birds were few and far between, their distant song more sad than merry in the audible isolation.
It was after some walking and when the foot trail turned to the north that the duo began looking in earnest to the western edge of the track and discovered the mounded earth and thickets as described by the huntsmen who had come this way before.
They pushed through and spied the deep ravine that was the source of the greenskin scourge and the house of the Caves of Chaos. Outside of a lonely vulture giving them a stink-eye from a lower branch of a distant tree, they saw nothing else. But the two of them felt as if they were watched and the prickling on their neck was that of something evil in the air.
They looked around for the caves closest to the entrance of the ravine, picking two of them –one on the north wall (but some 20’ upslope), one on the south (at the ravine’s floor). From there they discussed the merits of each and went back and forth until they settled on the south one as the better choice (it boiled down to – if they had to run and flee, it was going to be ultimately safer if they did not have to slide and fall down some 15’-20’ from the entrance).
Charlotte went first, William close behind, both of them with weapons out as they made the walk with care towards the entrance. The ground was covered in a fine layer of ground up bone, bits of filth, and the tell-tale stink of sweat socks and overripe bananas that spoke of goblins. This was the right cave, at least for now.
With her bow drawn, Charlotte crept up to the cave mouth and peered in. It was perhaps 12’ wide, 10’ tall, and opened up to a triangular shaped chamber almost 20’ within. Through the dank gloom she could make out 3 possible paths but there were no guards here. She backed away and told William of her findings.
He lit a torch and held it with his shield hand, sword drawn. He took the lead and the two of them crept in. The cave floor had dozens of bones, much of them human. Almost all of them were split and the marrow gnawed out and sucked clean. Toothy marks covered the dull ivory white which had the two of them retching slightly at the thought of their fellow man eaten.
Once inside there were three choices, right, straight, and left. William shone the torch down all three – the 20’ sparkling of light revealing only more passage as it went. It was the left most passage, with waving sheaves of webbing hanging from the ceiling a few feet down, that beckoned the most to them, so they squared their shoulders, regripped their weapons, and ventured on in that direction…waiting for whatever was in the darkness ahead.