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Rocks Fall, You Die

An Ode to Random Misfortune Tables

I’ve been in a fairly steady campaign of Forbidden Lands for the last few months. It’s a good game, really focuses on the idea of a harsh, unforgiving setting where travel is dangerous, your weapons and equipment can fail you, and you really need to build yourself a stronghold to claim and protect anything you manage to create, loot, win or otherwise acquire. It’s dangerous, life is cheap, and no one person can survive on their own, are really the core themes.

I began that campaign with a Wolfkin Druid, combining lethal brawling skills with shapeshifting magic and Wolfkin hunting prowess. Arathus quickly became one of the front line fighters, dealing out terrific damage with fist and fang, helping bring down an ever-increasing number of deadly foes from slavers to demons to harpies to colossal Elven tree constructs (disgustingly, but accurately, dubbed Entapedes by the party).

We had losses along the way, of course. Poor Jim lost his hunter on our first foray to the castle of Weatherstone. Alive, but so badly wounded that moving would kill her, and with a small army of undead soldiers bearing down on us, Arathus decided that throwing her from the battlements would be a kinder death than rusty, blunt halberds. A flock of ravenous harpies left little beyond bones and cloth by the time we found her again. That was a sobering day for us all.

Fate was not done with Jim though, and several sessions later, we were south of Weatherstone, aiding a dwarven siege army retake their ancestral home of Wailer’s Hold, now overrun with demons and undead. They caught a break that allowed some deep reconnaissance into the Hold, when the undead armies of Weatherstop came south to battle everything in Wailer’s Hold, and sent us in to look (we decided it was better for everyone concerned if we didn’t mention that we were the reason Weatherstone’s armies were taking an interest in the outside world again).

At the last moment, our party was spotted by a Rust Knight and his demonic mount, and we had to flee beck to friendly territory. Jim’s character, a powerful geomancer who had made people explode simply by throwing a pebble at them, tried his favourite spell like he always did. The good news was that he defeated the Rust Knight and his griffon-like flying mount. Unfortunately for him, his roll for the spell included a fumble result, and he had to roll on the Magical Mishap Table. Essentially, he lost control of the spell and became the epicentre of the effect, blasting himself, Rust Knight and mount all together into a homogenous fine crimson mist.

I believe it was at this point (also owing to how one of the other players swapped their character’s profession previously for various reasons) that I called the group “The Adventure Party of Thesus”. There was still myself playing Arathus, and Shidd’Fuk the Goblin, who were founding members of the group (we don’t count the halfling because Dale didn’t join for a session or two), but we were fairly chewing through the membership to the point where some plot threads simply weren’t relevant to the group any more.

By this time, we’d all accrued quite a hefty chunk of XP. Arathus had maxed out his Brawling talents and had started taking further close quarters abilities, so not only could he attack twice per turn, his attacks hit with *tremendous* force, and he got a free dodge each round to boot, making him a warrior absolutely not to be trifled with, and with the druidic knowledge to talk with animals, become as stealthy as a cat, steal the sight of an eagle, or further augment his attacks with the strength of a grizzly bear. So when our party heard rumours of a dragon in the northwest, injured and potentially something we might have a shot at overpowering, we packed our bags, paid our stronghold’s guards several weeks in advance, reminded our accidental slave (a long story for another time, Orc society has some WEIRD ideas about defeated chiefs we didn’t know about) to keep fed, and set off for Adventure!

Along the way there were harpies, a racist halfling with a terrifying magical oven (pastries should not move.), and we got involved with an up and coming new empire of free Orcs when their king mistook us for ambassadors and we decided to run with it. That was when we encountered the Stones of Stanengist. Another long story, but suffice to say Elves turn into sentient rubies when they die, and allegedly the first 6 Elves in creation were wrought into the decorations of the Crown of Stanengist so they could be together forever. RPGs being what they are, the stones were scattered in ancient times and so on and so forth. This new Orc empire was being subtly manipulated by one such stone, imparting wisdom to their leader in his dreams. His wife, a rather more cunning and shrewd Orc, realised what was happening and got us involved to take the stone (or “homewrecker” as she called it) off her hands. That led to a fight with some elves who wanted the stone back, which didn’t go their way, and a heavily surreal dream sequence where the stone spoke to the party about how it was hoping to help the Orcs to atone for how its people treated them in the long long ago, and how WE might be able to seek out the 5 remaining stones, and with their power combined turn Ravenland into a paradise free of demons, slavery, hardship inclement weather yadda yadda yadda. Being the main point of contact between the Orc Queen and the party, Arathus took charge of the new Stone, which makes what happened next even funnier.

We decided that after coming all this way northwest, we might as well continue on the extra day or two travel to where the dragon had been spotted. After real life obligations caused the Adventure Party of Theseus to replace another member (just 2 founding members left now), we tracked down the dragon by the trail of destruction. The thing was a walking thunderstorm, literally; wherever it went, storm clouds followed. So when we saw a storm that wasn’t moving despite the winds, we just had to follow the lightning-blasted earth and petrified forests and horse-sized clawprints straight to the dragon’s lair.

There we stood, considering how to proceed. After seeing humanoid bootprints leading into the caves we decided to be stealthy and see whether the dragon had already been slain, or if it was sleeping after a nice feed of adventuring party.

Arathus declared “Rather than risk the stealth roll, I’ll use magic to automatically succeed.”

The GM gave his permission. “Cool, but you still have to roll your magic die to see if it’s 1 success or more”

I clicked, ,the RNG did its thing, and… Skull face.

“Ooh, a mishap. Roll D66 please!”

I duly rolled, thinking that at least the stealth part had worked so I wouldn’t be eaten by a dragon.

I rolled 66. That’s the highest number you get on a D66. In forbidden Lands, rolling higher on tables is almost always bad.

The GM duly read out the result:

Your magic rips open a rift to another dimension, and a demon pulls you over to the other side. Time to make a new character. Your old character will come back as an NPC after D66 days but will be … changed.

Forbidden Lands Magic Mishaps Table, Player’s Handbook p119

There was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a rather awkward silence around the virtual tabletop.

Eventually the GM said “So, Arathus… would you like to describe how, precisely, you accidentally sneak straight into Hell and get trapped there for… 66 days!? Jesus christ.

Much laughter ensued.

And then we remembered that Arathus had been in possession of the Stone, the main plot maguffin for the entire future campaign, when he disappeared and unwittingly became a demonic adversary for his erstwhile companions.

The laughter continued, but with a slightly more “oh fuck oh shit he was a combat demon BEFORE becoming a literal demon” sort of tone. Brittle, I think is the word. To say nothing of what the effects of two months in Hell would have on the Stone itself. The GM, every bit as surprised as I was, decided to conclude the session there, as that one little chain of quickly escalating events resulted in him having to rewrite a large chunk of what he had planned for our group in the immediate future.

And so ends the tale of Arathus, heroic and mighty Wolfkin Druid to the Bloody Huntress, and the Adventure Party of Theseus has only one original member left.

God I love random disaster tables.

By Sarky

Freelance writing, communist propaganda, and only the very finest in depression-enhanced late night existential dread and self-deprecation.

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