5 November 2017

Bombadier beetle shells? We're rich!

Yesterday my two boys (9 and 7) asked me to run a roleplaying session for them, continuing the adventures of the dwarven thief and fighter duo (Gremdullim and Emrin) with their trusty NPC comrades, the human cleric Jerard and fighter Geoffroi. I protested that I hadn't prepped anything, they didn't care - "Just make it up, Daddy, isn't that the point of the game, to make up a story together?" How could I resist their old-school wisdom? Back to Morgansfort we went...

It started with a level of the unexpected that rather set the tone. Gremdullim ran through the meagre savings the pair of dwarves had while he waited for, and worked with, the lad in charge of the mews behind the stables who was training/domesticating the stirge chick that he'd saved when otherwise destroying a stirge nest in the old fortress on the island nearby. Name chosen ("Royume"), they set off with the stirge hooded and jessed around his proud master's wrist to replenish their coffers by delving once more into the ruined fortress with its cleric-targetting goblins and territorial kobolds.

Heading back to the stairwell down to the second level (only a few cracked walls and masonry marked the site above ground), the party were being cautious after noticing scorch marks on the walls on their last expedition. Sure enough there was a rapid but intermittent skittering sound, almost like an insect but too big, and the occasional gust of warm air that carried with the stench of burning hair. They proceeded even more carefully; Royume was transferred to a shoulder so that a shield could be grasped in Gremdullim's left fist instead.

From deviantart, by Seraph777
Crossbow firmly gripped in sweaty palms, Emrim suddenly jumped when the light from Jerard's lantern reflected off a large iridescent shape at the end of the corridor... which scuttled! The bolt was gone from his crossbow before he or any of the others could think or speak, and it hit the creature hard, cracking through the surface and burying itself up the fletchings in the... whatever it was. The creature shook itself then turned its back towards them (it could be seen as a huge beetle, easily four or five feet long and maybe three feet wide), lifting up its rear before squirting a fine mist of foul smelling liquid towards the adventurers which suddenly ignited with the same burnt-hair smell as before. "Down!" yelled the fighter, but the two dwarves both got caught in the flames and were badly singed.

They backed away and paused. Gremdullim patted down his beard while Royume was twitching as though it could hear a sound they could not. Maybe a high-pitched sound like the whistle it was trained to respond to? Geoffroi, however, was getting rather excited. "Look at the shininess of that shell! I reckon that's be worth a coin or two to a jeweller. And I heard from my cousin down-country that all the posh ladies have started wearing shiny beetle earrings. Come on, it's got to be worth a go!"

The lure of gold to the nearly impoverished pair was enough to rekindle their enthusiasm and they advanced again, but three more of the beetles came scuttling round the corner. Had they been called by their injured fellow? Whatever had brought them, they made straight for the party, mandibles clattering! In the ensuing melee, Gremdullim's fighting skill was severely blunted by the initial scorching he'd received, or perhaps by the fact he was trying not to damage the shell of the beetles. At one point he slipped in darkly comic fashion and sprawled on his back, waiting for the end, only to find that in falling flat on his back he ended up below the jet of flame from a beetle! Meanwhile, Jerard proved his worth again. Emrim nearly lost a leg below the knee [natural 20] to a beetle's bite which knocked him unconscious with the shock [exactly 0HP], but Jerard stepped up, knocked the bug flying with a blow from his mace and then dragged the dwarf back to heal him by calling on the merciful power of Tah. In the end it was a burst from the backside of a beetle that brought them victory [yeah, I can alliterate] as it crisped one of its fellows and distracted another which was slain by Gremdullim. The final charge after fleeing beetles and into the possible line of fire... later they couldn't decide whether that was bravery or stupidity.

(c) Christopher Burdett - used without permission

While the rest kept an eye out, Emrim scooped out the innards of the dead but not burned beetle so that it would be lighter to carry. He tested the innards with an iron spike first to see if it would dissolve them as the ooze had peviously; it was fine but he ended up scorching his hands badly on one of the internal sacks of the beetle that was the source of its spray [failed a Traps check] in making sure the shell wasn't damaged. They rinsed it with the rest of their drinking water just in case.

Carrying the bulky shell between two of them (cleric and thief), and with Royume re-hooded, they set off back up the stairs. All the noise had obviously not gone unheard, however, as a hungry, grunting moan echoed along the corridors behind them. Despite picking up the pace, the sound came closer to reveal a group of five pallid, predatory looking creatures, about man-height but utterly inhumane in visage. "Run!" the adventurers all called out together and off they fled. "Carrion eaters!" spat the cleric in between ragged breaths as he struggled to match step with the dwarf holding the other end of the beetle shell. They burst through a doorway with the ghouls rapidly catching up and slammed it shut behind them, wedging iron spikes under it to keep it shut. Just in time! The battering and scratching on the other side, and the sheer unholy hunger in the whines of the ghouls turned their stomachs as they hurried on their way.

From Heresy miniatures
They got back to their boat and were halfway across before the ghouls appeared on the dusk-darkened shore having had to take a longer way round to catch them. Emrim cursed them inventively in the language of his kind and then took a last shot with his crossbow, ripping the throat out of the nearest [natural 20!]. They looked away sickened as the others leapt upon the still-warm body of their late fellow and tore him apart with teeth and claws. They rowed harder!

Had it been worth it? Well, they got 80 gold for the shell, despite being pretty sure the trader was ripping them off, so they were better off after their expedition than before it, even after the amount they had to drink to put the last sight of the ghouls feasting from their minds. [Emrim the thief also levelled up to Level 2]


Well, for an unprepped session, it was pretty fantastic! With the shell I just opened my mouth and started talking. I reckon I can get a future adventure arc out of trading in monster parts for jeellery as well as for wizards etc. Who knew that bombadier beetles could be so interesting? It turns out that people in the real world use beetle shells/wings for jewellery, too. I didn't know that before looking for pictures for this post. Weird!


  1. Using some of the quests from the BFRPG Adventure Modules in my rpg campaign. I'm currently using a modded version of 'The Black Hack' for rules, but have recently picked up 'he Hero's Journey Fantasy Roleplaying', which is a really cool Whitebox variant. Doesn't look like you need it, but have you seen this?: http://www.rpgnow.com/product/111529/Dagger-A-Toolkit-for-Fantasy-Gaming-with-Kids?src=hottest_filtered&coverSizeTestPhase2=true Happy adventuring!

    1. Hi Gareth, I haven't taken the time to read through the various Hacks and variants - yet! But I have got a virtual stack of pdfs on my reading list. I'd be interested to read what you think the Hero's Journey, if only because its Hobbit-esque cover caught my eye.

      I've had a skim through Dagger but they took so quickly to BFRPG that I (perhaps mistakenly?) went straight for the "grown up" version and haven't looked back.

      Roll high, my friend!

    2. Skimming through it I like that you randomise a prior profession for your character (based partly on race), which gives him or her an ability in a particular field and also determines starting money and some equipment. For instance, the Trapper: 'You are skilled at laying snares and traps to catch small game such as squirrel or hare. You can also identify their passage or presence. Starting Gear:Small Animal Trap, Dagger, 2d6 × 10 gold pieces.' The game encourages heroic behaviour, which is going to be difficult with my players... Probably should have gone for 'Zweihänder'!