Herodotus, The Histories -Extract- Labyrinth of Egypt

It has twelve courts covered in, with gates facing one another, six upon the North side and six upon the South, one after another. and the same wall surrounds them all outside; and there are in it two kinds of chambers, the one kind below the ground and the other above upon these, three thousand in number, of each kind fifteen hundred. The upper set of chambers we ourselves saw, going through them, and we tell of them having looked upon them with our own eyes. The chambers under ground we heard about only; for the Egyptians who had charge of them were not willing on any account to show them, saying that here were the sepulchres of the kings who had first built this labyrinth and of the sacred crocodiles. Accordingly we speak of the chambers below by what we received from hearsay, while those above we saw ourselves and found them to be the works beyond the human. For the passages through the chambers, and the goings this way and that way through the courts, which were admirably adorned, afforded endless matter for marvel, as we went through from a court to the chambers beyond it, and from the chambers to colonnades, and from the colonnades to other rooms, and then from the chambers again to other courts. Over the whole of these is a roof made of stone like the walls; and the walls are covered with figures carved upon them. each court being surrounded with pillars of white stone fitted together most perfectly; and at the end of the labyrinth, by the corner of it, there is a pyramid of 240 feet, upon which large figures are carved, and into this there is an underground way.

A labyrinth, with an underground level and an adjacent pyramid? That’s a megadungeon right here!

Herodotus, The Histories – Extract – The Gate of the Dead Queen

This same queen [Nitocris] also contrived a snare of the following kind: — Over that gate of the city through which the greatest number of people passed she set up for herself a tomb above the very gate itself. And on the tomb she engraved writing which said: « If any of the kings of Babylon who come after me shall be in want of wealth, let him open my tomb and take as much as he desires; but let him not open it for no other cause, if he be not in want; for that will not be the better way. » This tomb was undisturbed until the kingdom came to Dareios; but to Dareios it seemed that it was a monstrous thing not to make any use of this gate, and also, when there was money lying there, not to take it, considering the inscription itself invited him to do so. Now he would not make any use of this gate because the corpse would have been above his head as he drove through. He then, I say, opened the tomb and found not indeed money but the corpse, with writing which said: « If you had not been insatiable for wealth and basely covetous, you would not have opened the resting-place of the dead. »

This is neat. But I can’t help but think that in lieu of this mild disapproval it should have ended with a terrible world-shattering curse!

Herodotus, The Histories – Extract – Babylon, Lady of the Tower

[…] and in the midst of the temple precinct is built a solid tower measuring 606 feet both in length and in breadth, and on this tower another tower has been erected, and another again upon this, and so on up to the number of eight towers. An ascent to these has been built running outside round about all the towers; and when one reaches about the middle of the ascent one finds a stopping-place and seats to rest upon, on which those who ascend sit down and rest: and on the top of the last tower there is a large sanctuary, and in this cell a large couch is laid, well covered, and by it is placed a golden table. No image is there set up nor does any human being spend the night there except only one woman of the natives of the place, whomsoever the god shall choose from all the women, as say the Chaldeans who are the priests of this god.

I wonder, is Babylon’s the original archetype of a « princess » locked in (atop) a tower?

from a russian fairy tale

The Mushrooms Go to war!

image: Erol Otus

A Russian nursery rhyme:

Borovik, mushroom white,

Colonel of the mushroom might,

Sitting under a large oak

Looking at his mushroom folk

Summoned them, ordered them

To go to war

We can’t go, said the ink-caps,

Our foot’s too small for the steps.

We don’t have to go to war.

We can’t go, said the belianki,

We are noble white dvorianki.

We don’t have to go to war.

We can’t go, said the toadstools,

We are brigands, we are crooks.

We don’t have to go to war.

I can’t go, said the morel

I am too old and not too well.

I don’t have to go to war.

Said the russet ryzhiki,

We are simple muzhiki.

We don’t have to go to war.

We’ll go, cried the groozd,

We are brave and willing.

We shall go to war

And make a great killing.

Lonely Vampyre

With my previous post you could think I don’t like The Ruins of Undermountain but that’s not the case, there’s a lot of clever stuff in its pages.

One location/encounter in particular reminded me how much I like unlikely allies as a DM. I’m not talking about factions (which are nice too) but monsters or seemingly evil characters that, under certain circumstances, can bond with the PCs. I like it but I also know from experience that Players are absolutely thrilled by it!

But here’s the one I’m talking about here (1991’s spoiler I guess):

This vampyre was once a female human merchant of Waterdeep, Spadreera Omarkhont. She now appears as a slim, svelte, beautiful (but dirty) creature clad only in ash-covered tatters, her eyes glittering with red fire and much of her hair all burnt away.

Yeah, she’s a fire vampire.

Spadreera is lonely, more than anything else. She’d like to chat and gossip about Waterdeep regularly, with someone she could regard as a friend and will try to befriend any beings who survive her initial attack, and cease hostilities when she offers to. PCs who befriend Spadreera never need fear attack from her again. She will not accompany PCs out of the dungeon, and is reluctant even to leave her lair but she will meet PCs at agreed-upon places elsewhere on this level, and even aid them against encountered monsters. She does not appreciate being used, however PCs would be wise not to try to dupe her into fighting every other monster on this level. Spadreera will plead to any befriended creatures for visits as often as possible! In return, she can guard treasure for PCs, give them all the (sadly outdated) information she knows about the intrigues and secrets of Waterdeep, and give them advice on trade (she was a very shrewd merchant). Her lair can become a hideout and safe house for PCs, if they conduct themselves in the right manner.

She’s still a monster in some way but:

Spadreera’s alignment and tendencies are overruled by her loneliness; she will look for prey and opportunities to unleash her cruelty elsewhere, among the monsters that roam this level, and never harm PC friends. She will even nurse injured PCs faithfully back to health without attacking them!

What an interesting NPC!

Do you know of any other cool unlikely ally?

The Wizard inside a Stuffed Beholder

I was skimming through AD&D Ruins of Undermountain, just to see how it compares with 5E Dungeon of the Mad Mage, and I stumbled upon this:

Old Xoblob’s shop

The shop is named for the stuffed, eyeless beholder that hangs from the ceiling inside. Aside from being a curiosity in itself, the beholder conceals a hired wizard who can fire a wand of paralysis out of the dust-covered eye tyrant’s mouth.

I chuckled to myself when I read this. Just picture the poor guy, hidden in a stuffed beholder, twiddling his thumbs ALL DAY LONG!

Adventurers won’t steal from Xoblob’s shop so easily.

Dandalus will trade with whoever comes through the gate. He makes no enemies, he merely charges more for services to those attackers or doublecrossers. Dandalus always takes the following precautions: he wears a ring of spell turning, a ring of free action, and a greenstone amulet; he always carries two potions of extra-healing, an elixir of health, two iron bands of Bilarro spheres, and six beads of force in his pockets.

The shopkeeper will charge more for services to attackers…

A magic shop, a wizard bored out of his mind and a shopkeeper that EXPECTS to be assaulted by his usual clients…

Hilarious nonsense.

Three Kingdoms – Vol IV – Extract – Foreshortening the Land

The Chinese classic Three Kingdoms is one of a kind historical novel. An epic drama, mostly about warfare and governing; here and there we can find interesting fantasy tidbits.

As the Wei cavalry raced after the procession, they noticed a chill wind blowing in little gusts and an icy mist spreading around them. They pursued strenuously for another stage but failed to catch up with Kongming, The soldiers reined in and said in amazement, « How strange! There they are still –we’ve gone thirty li without catching them! What do we do? » When Kongming saw that the pursuers had stopped, he ordered the porters to rest facing the enemy. After a long pause, the northerners resumed the chase; and Kongming returned to his wagon and began moving with studied slowness. The northerners pursued another twenty li but never reached their objective. Dumbstruck, they watched as Kongming had the wagons turn round again and advance toward them. The Wei troops wanted to pursue. But at that moment Sima Yi arrived with a company and issued an order: « Kongming’s marvelous skill with Eight Gateways and the « Taboo Days » formula has enabled him to control the Six Ding deities and the Six Jia deities. As he is now using the technique « Foreshortening the Land » from the divine text of the Six Jia, the army cannot overtake him. »

Magic Items – Chult- II

Here’s a few more homebrewed magic items that have appeared in my campaign recently. The Warclub of Death is based on one of my son’s ideas. He’s awesome!

Dryad’s Evolving Bow

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Weapon (Longbow), Very Rare (requires attunement)

Offered by a grateful dryad, this longbow starts as a +1 magic weapon but evolves over time. Each 3 levels you have had the dryad’s evolving bow attuned you can strengthen the bow as follows (in order):

  • Add +1d4 piercing damage (thorns appear on arrows as they hit a target)
  • The dryad’s evolving bow is now +2
  • If an arrow hits something, you can then cast Grasping Vine as a bonus action, with the arrow as the targeted spot of the spell.  The bow has 3 charges, it regains 1d2+1 charges each dawn
  • The dryad’s evolving bow is now +3
  • You can cast Tree Stride as a bonus action, it costs 2 charges to do so, the bow has now 7 charges, it regains 1d6+1 charges each dawn

Curse

Curse of the Tree Hugger. While you are attuned to this bow, you have disadvantage to any attacks you make against plant-type creatures.

Cloak of the Dragonfly

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wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

While flying, your speed is increased by 10′. Additionally, Stirges are very reluctant to attack you and won’t do so unless absolutely cornered.

Boots of Bug Squashing

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wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

As a bonus action, you can make a (strength) melee attack against an insect-type creature (or swarm) for 2d6 + str damage.

Poniard of the Ancient One

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weapon (dagger), rare

This + 1 dagger has 3 charges. When you hit with an attack, as a free action, you can expand a charge to paralyze the target for 1 round (constitution save DC 12). The poniard regains all of its charges after a long rest.

Warclub of Death (probably yours)

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weapon (club), very rare (requires attunement)

This is as a Nine Lives Stealer +2 club.

Curse, Atavistic Instinct: While attuned to the Warclub of Death, you can’t stand the idea of wearing any clothing or armor.

Lord Snail’s Magic Shell

Wondrous item, very rare

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Paizo

This large shell functions as a Bag of Holding.

Curse: Legacy of a Pervert

Whenever you try to retrieve an item (as an action) from the Lord Snail’ Shell, you have 50% chance to pick instead one of the late Lord Snail’s innumerable erotic charcoal drawings (depicting his dungeon neighbour, the nereid).

Hat of the Spider

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Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

While wearing this hat, you gain the following benefits:

  • You ignore movement restrictions caused by webbing.
  • You have the ability to comprehend and verbally communicate with spiders.
  • You can use an action to conjure a Swarm of Spiders (Monster manual: Swarm of Insects statistics) within 90′ of you that will be under your control for 10 minutes and then disappears. Once used, this property of the hat can’t be used again until next dawn.