Saturday, 30 April 2016

Armour of the Red Knight (magic item), and speculations on the notion of 'Gatekeepers' as game-fodder

The Armour of the Red Knight (also known as the Armour of the Gatekeeper) is a magical suit of plate-mail. Whether there is a single suit like this or several, is not known for sure. It was made by Dwarven artificers in the distant past and has had many owners. It seems to expand, contract and change to fit whoever is the current owner, providing protection for an Ogre or Centaur as comprehensively as for a Halfling. Down through the Ages, the wearers of the Armour of the Red Knight have tended to be solitary warriors guarding some mystical site - sacred springs, ancient tombs or similar, though they may be encountered at more prosaic locations such as fords and outside town gates.

Image from
fantasy_art_armor_castlevania_artwork_white_hair_swords_1920x1080_wallpaper_38304used without permission but I thought it looked cool. The address is so long I had to break it; you need to put an underscore back between 'alucard' and 'fantasy' to visit the page
The armour conveys the following abilities:

1 - allows the wearer to Save as a 10th-Level Cleric (this is the case whatever the PC/NPC's actual Level, even if this would provide better saving throws);

From also used without permission but again, it looks cool
2 - in the event of an attack on the wearer by any magical means, magical flames (as Fireballs, DAM: d6+1 x the wearer's Level) will shoot out at any being, friend or foe, within 30' and will continue to do so every Round until the targets move more than 30' away or are killed;

3 - every successful hit on the wearer that does not reduce her/him to 0hp allows her/him to increase the following statistics:
Level/HD +1, including hp adjustments, up to 10th Level/10HD;
STR +1, up to racial maximum;
DEX +1, up to racial maximum;
CON +1, up to racial maximum.

This hasn't been playtested as both my gaming groups are having sabbaticals; but I liked the idea of an antagonist that increased in power the longer the fight went on (EDIT: and it's similar to an idea I was kicking around for statting The Hulk, that I was kicking around some time ago). It has a mythic and Arthurian ring to it, like the mystical powers of Sir Gawain (link), whose strength increases and diminishes during the day. Thinking about Gawain, Arthuriana and challenges also suggested the idea of a knight as a guardian. This I think is a little-explored part of the 'source material' for D&D - we're used to the 'questing knight' theme where the hero(ine) goes to kill a dragon or find a holy/magical object or even rescue her/his lost love, but there is a large amount of Arthurian and other 'heroic' literature that mentions warriors who are fated or otherwise compelled to stand guard over something and issue challenges to those trying to pass or access it - to act as literal or figurative 'gatekeepers'. In the 1981 retelling of Morte d'Arthur, John Boorman's film Excalibur (link), Launcelot du Lac guards a ford and challenges those who want to cross to single combat. He duels with Arthur, is defeated, and swears allegiance to Arthur. The Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is (justly in my opinion, it's a great scene) one of the most celebrated examples of the type. The Old Man at the Bridge could also be counted in this category. Gandalf at the Bridge of Khazad Dum, maybe not.

All hail the Black Knight

Gatekeepers make most sense as NPCs - an obstacle that the PCs have to overcome to continue on their journey (whether that is to, or already in, the dungeon). There is little 'gameable' adventure in this for a PC I think, which is why D&D is more geared to the 'questing knight' approach - wander about and have adventures, instead of staying put and seeing what the world throws at us - but it is something to consider perhaps.

What if... instead of 'hexcrawling' (for example) the PCs were forced through magical or legal means, such as working off a Curse, or punishment for a misdemeanour (my sell-check doesn't like that, I don't know why), to spend a period as Gatekeeper at a sacred or other important spot? In the legend of Diana Nemorensis (link), the successful challenger of the priest/king/guardian of Nemi took his place. This perhaps could be a danger to PCs whose general approach to NPCs is to murderhoboerise them, if the result of defeating that Gatekeeper and taking his magic weapons/armour, or generally doing the thing the Gatekeeper was trying to prevent, is to find yourself under a Curse or Geas, or just ordered by the Temple hierarchy/Town Council, to stand guard at the same place and challenge the next comers - maybe, even members of your own party.

Of course, like Lancelot in Excalibur, it could be a way of acquiring a follower - defeating the Knight of the Glade in some non-fatal way means s/he decides that the PC is a hero worth following and offers to serve as a hench-person, in perpetuity or until some specific time has elapsed or some event has been completed ('why, if you journey on to the Shrine of Artemis, I will accompany you there and offer thanks to the Divine Lady, and ask of Her where next my quest should take me').

This could all equally be in a dungeon context. If Room 3.16 has a fountain that dispenses water equivalent to a Healing potion, but the PCs need to defeat a Gatekeeper to access it, then they may find that one of their number (the highest-hp warrior, the PC that delivered the death-blow, the first to drink from the fountain, the one who fails most spectacularly to make a Save against spells) is Cursed or Geased to become the new Gatekeeper, either until defeated in turn or for a set period (a year-and-a-day, a month, a night) - or maybe the Keeper of the Fountain is released from the Curse that binds them, and is free to accompany the party for a time. This could all be tied to rumours known about the dungeon - legends that there is a healing fountain guarded by a succession of knights, or a single knight that never dies, or that a specific knight was cursed to serve as the Gatekeeper of the fountain.

I feel there is a certain amount to explore here, especially as it relates to the Fortunate Isles (a place rife with such things in my gameworld-in-my-head) and in general to Arthurian and Greek legend (which is basically the mythic background to most of the southern part of my game setting anyway).

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