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Monday, 10 December 2012

A Ballad of Times Past - part one

Among the beautifully produced and re-edited Dragon Warriors releases from Magnum Opus Press a few years back, you may not have noticed In From the Cold, an anthology of White Dwarf scenarios by me, Oliver Johnson and Mike Polling. The book is currently out-of-print (really, that can still happen even in 2012 – I was amazed too) but hopefully it’s only popped out into the snow to relieve itself and will soon be stomping back over to the fireside and ordering ales all round, courtesy of Serpent King Games, who inherited the DW publishing licence from the éminence grise of British gaming, James Wallis. In the meantime, somebody styling himself the Dark Cavalier has become the self-appointed “publisher” and is offering it to anybody who cares to risk a download from his site. (Cheers, Cav; hope I get the chance to nick your Blu-ray player and laptop some time.)

Still, while not necessarily subscribing to the cause espoused by the brethren of the coast, I can see that, at this time of year, yes, content does want to be free. And in that spirit – and incidentally as a roundhead, not a cavalier – in the run-up to Yule I’m serializing “A Ballad of Times Past”, a seasonal standalone scenario in a world with very little magic. Today we’ve got the background and cast of principal NPCs, then the adventure itself in three instalments over the next nine days, giving you plenty of time to arrange a solstitial RPG session.

The adventure is set in Beorsca, a small kingdom in a land very much like Dark Ages Scandinavia. The practitioners of magic are even scarcer in this world than in Legend: all sorcerer, elementalist, warlock and demonologist spells above 2nd level require, as the material component, a pinch of dragon dust made from the powdered shell of an unhatched dragon’s egg (in hatching, the fledgling drains the magic from the shell). As obtaining dust would involve getting past a protective mother dragon, magic is very rare. One whole eggshell would provide one hundred pinches of dust.

Players should be told that spellcasters are almost unknown, but not why. Characters should be generated specifically for this adventure, and are 5th rank. They can be knights or barbarians (retainers of King Athelred involved from the start). There is also room for one mystic and/or one assassin (from the local abbey and minstrel troupe respectively, who join in as indicated in the text). Mystic spells do not require dragon dust, but in this world there are no mystic spells above 3rd level.

Needless to say, if you're going to be playing in this adventure you should stop reading right now and come back after Christmas!


Osric, the heir to the throne of Beorsca, is not quite 18 years old. A tall and handsome youth, he is probably the sort of warrior his father would have liked to be, for although Athelred has remained doggedly true to the new religion, he never has the effortlessly pure heart of his son. Osric’s long golden hair and grey eyes make him much like a younger version of his father, though he has not the king’s full beard or battle scars.

In his youth, Caedmon was a close friend of Athelred. When they befriended the dragon some 20 years ago, Caedmon was given fifty pinches of dragon dust. He now chafes at the fact that his former friend went on to win a kingdom while he lives in his tower in bitter and lonely seclusion. This resentment eventually drove him both mad and evil. He wants enough dragon dust to have a chance of taking over the kingdom, but failing that he will settle for enraging the dragon into causing widespread destruction.

Caedmon has not borne his 42 years as well as Athelred, He is frail and bent. His hair is sparse, and his complexion is unhealthily sallow. Only his eyes reveal the hidden energies within, for they are a clear and most startling sky-blue.

Erik is a slightly built man in his early thirties. He is of medium height with a handsome face and short, golden brown hair. A travelling mercenary, he came to Beorsca six years ago and fell in with Caedmon. He intends to help the wizard get the dragon dust (hopefully with minimum risk to himself ) and eliminate him once they have won the kingdom from Athelred.

Erik is utterly cold-blooded, and quite willing to dispatch anyone in the way of his plans, hence his nickname.

Erik’s sword, Ymir’s Fang, is a +2 two-handed sword. The sword has been passed down in Erik’s family for generations, but it cannot be possessed by an outsider. If Erik is slain and Ymir’s Fang examined, it will be found to be made of murky ice! It will then melt to a puddle of dirty water within minutes.

The dragon is 10 metres long with coppery-red scales along her body. She is only interested in guarding the egg she laid 18 years ago, which is now about to hatch. She can speak, is fully intelligent, if a little slow on the uptake, and can breathe flame.


  1. In From the Cold is the only one of the new Dragon Warriors books that I do not own. Don't worry, I won't be visiting Dark Cavalier's site; I'll either buy it from eBay, or wait for the Serpent King edition.

    There are some gaming books, though, that are long out-of-print. Sometimes this is because the market is too small to warrant a reprint (hopefully we won't see this so much in the future thanks to PoD services). Sometimes it is because the holder of the copyright - not the author - believes that their interests are served by 'disappearing' the book.

    Now, it doesn't seem like we're all that bothered when gaming books are disappeared, only available from collectors at collectors' prices (which doesn't benefit the pocket of the author or the copyright holder in the slightest), never to be reprinted or otherwise made avaialable. Gaming books aren't real culture afterall, are they?

    But what if a publisher of real books decided that it would let a novel go out of print - forever - in the hope that such a strategy would boost the sales of their new novels?

    I am very pleased to see that the move to PoD/.pdf has brought plenty of books back from the dead - the entire product lines for King Arthur Pendragon and Classic Traveller, for example, are legally available through these methods. I hope more publishers take this route or releasing and distributing their back catalogue.

    [The above is not a defence of piracy, or for information to be 'free', but simply for it to be reasonably available.]

  2. There are certainly cases where putting a movie or book away in the vaults for a while can boost interest. Disney have been doing this for years, and when Marvel started releasing their back catalogue in digital form, it wan't long before they noticed that having everything available any time people wanted it meant that it wasn't prized. Announce that Daredevil 1-50 are going off sale next month for 5 years and you can bet sales will go up.

    None of that really applies to old gaming material, though, most of which is even more of a minority interest than Silver Age comics. We're certainly hoping to get all our old gamebooks back out into the world in both print and ebook editions, and I know Serpent King Games are working hard at reissuing all the DW material - as well as new products like the Player's Book.

    Talking of which, I have the "Silent Night" DW scenario that I ran for my players last Christmas. I'm hoping that SKG will get time to release that in some form this year, but if not then I'll run it here next Christmas. Don't worry, it won't seem like a year ;-)

  3. That was a pleasant surprise. Thanks for publishing this adventure - it's much appreciated!

    I'm very happy that the rest of the DW line will be going print-on-demand with SKG, especially since Fury Of The Deep could make it's debut as an official printed supplement (it was previously PDF-only).

    1. The great thing about Createspace is that, given a PDF, you can set up and publish the print version in no time. In fact, needing a spare copy of one of the DW books last Christmas, I set it up, ordered the proof, and then deleted it. Took about 30 minutes!

    2. PS: That is of course piracy, so I'm not proud of it... :-)

  4. This is really a kick-ass D&D-scenario. I like the simple elegant solution to limiting wizarding. Also in the magazine the illustration of I think being of the wizard looks like Alan Moore. (I do not mean who made the illustration but the face that is illustrated sort of looks like him.)

    1. Alan Moore is a wizard, of course, so that makes perfect sense.

  5. I'm delighted to say I have a legal copy of In From The Cold. It really is a great collection.

  6. I still have the copy of White Dwarf with this scenario in it; a lovely tale to play through and the low-magic setting made a refreshing change. Now to track down a copy of From the Cold...
    Good stuff! :)

    1. Thanks, Paul - and good luck with your search for In From The Cold. I see it's listed on Amazon for £2500 so I think this is one of those occasions when I'm going to have to advocate piracy.