Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Sorcery! #6 - The Caravan

Meeting the not-so-friendly locals...

Campaign Diary

The party continued their march northwards, and soon the walls of Khare had disappeared behind them. Ahead lay the vast expanse of the Baddu-Bak plains.

As the waning moon began to rise in the east, Glowulf noticed a few birds circling above the party. Suspecting something unnatural, the party prepared themselves for an attack. Sure enough, one by one the birds began to dive at them - Nighthawks! The party quickly took down three of the raptors; when the remaining two turned to flee, another raptor, this time an eagle, dived out of nowhere and attacked them, killing them before they could get too far.

The eagle then landed before the party. It was a goldencrest eagle, a bird used as messengers by the royal court of Analand. Around its neck was tied a metal tube, which contained a rolled up parchment.

Morgana unrolled the parchment and read it aloud. It was a missive from the king, acknowledging that the party was not the first that the court had sent on this mission - several other parties had been sent, but none had returned. The king also bade them to be wary of the Seven Serpents, servants of the archmage, and to seek out Shadrack the Hermit, who might be able to aid them on their quest. Morgana wrote a message to the king on the back of the parchment, asking him to send the eagle at more frequent intervals, and placed the message back into the metal tube. The eagle took to the air, and flew south.

Scanning the horizon, the party found a solitary dead tree, which they decided to spend the night under. They had barely settled down under the tree's bough when they heard a rustling sound coming from it. They turned and saw that a face had appeared on the gnarled bark of the tree trunk. The face spoke, bidding them to travel eastwards to the fishtail rock, where they would find Shadrack. Despite the lateness, the party decided to break camp and head east.

The moon was high in the sky when they saw a huge rock rising from the flat plain, with its top shaped such that it looked like a fish had been buried headfirst into the ground. The opening to a cave could be seen at the base of the rock, and standing outside it was a man whose face resembled that which appeared on the tree - it was Shadrack the Hermit.

Shadrack welcomed the party into the cave, where he offered them food and asked them of news from Khare, which Goncol happily supplied. The party asked him about the Seven Serpents, and he related how it was told that the archmage had slain a huge hydra many years ago, and raised its seven heads as seven serpents to serve him. In the recent months the Serpents had be about Baklands, rousing the nomadic tribes of the plains.

Each was gifted the power of one of the primal gods which the archmage worshiped: the Moon, the Sun, Fire, Water, Earth, Air, and Time. Though powerful, each serpent also had a weakness - the Air Serpent, Shadrack told the party, could leave its solid body and become intangible, but if its body was destroyed while it was in this state, the serpent would perish.

With their stomachs filled, the party spent the night by the fire in fishtail rock, and when they awoke in the morning Shadrack was nowhere to be found.

The party resumed their course northwards. Once they spied a dust cloud in the distance, as if a large body of horsemen was riding past. Another time they came upon an ancient, now dry riverbed, scoured with many large pits, and heard the sound of a flute coming from one of them. Both times they made a detour to avoid giving themselves away.

At around noon they were attacked by a giant frilled lizard which ambushed them, and Valerian suffered a grievous on his sword arm from the acid which the lizard spat.

In the afternoon the party came upon a caravan in the distance: a Black Elf encampment! Glowulf bade the rest of the party to make a detour around the camp, while he approached it alone. When Glowulf was within bow range a couple of arrows clattered around his feet. Several Black Elf archers challenged him in Elvish, but Glowulf could only reply in Common. Glowulf asked for permission for the party to be admitted to the camp. One of the elves left, and after a while returned to tell him that permission had been granted by Cesstar, the leader of the tribe.

When the party had entered the ring formed by the Black Elves' wagons, they began to question Glowulf, and the party soon learned that Glowulf was not in fact a native of the Baklands which he claimed to be, but was in fact raised by a fisherman in Analand after he was found floating in a basket near the mouth of the Jabaji River! Glowulf had joined the party on it quest as he wanted to return to the Baklands and find his tribe. He showed a pendant which his foster father had found on him, and was told that it bore the symbol of a tribe that dwelt in the Vanti-Bak Wastes to the south.

The Black Elves then questioned the rest of the party on their reason for venturing into the Baklands. Morgana revealed that they had come on a mission against the archmage. Instantly the mood in the camp change - hands gripped sword hilts and arrows were nocked to bowstrings. The Serpents, agents of the archmage, had demanded that all the tribes report any strangers to them, and for all the tribes to gather by the shores of Lake Ilklala on the night of the next full moon to pledge allegiance to the archmage; Cesstar now blamed the party for bringing the archmage's attention to Baklands.

Morgana used all her wits to persuade Cesstar to keep their presence hidden, saying that the tribes would retain their independence if the party succeeded in their quest. Cesstar conferred with her advisors, and loudly proclaimed in Elvish that these "traders" would be allowed to trade at their camp. An elf named Elecar was assigned to be their chaperon, and they were led to the trader's wagon, where Morgana was horrified to find a copy of the spellbook from Analand on sale. She purchased the book, and found that it belonged to a classmate, who no doubt had been sent on the same quest before her, and had perhaps met her end. Walking to the bonfire at the middle of the camp ground, she threw the book into the fire, that its secrets would not be known to the forces of evil.

As the party prepared to leave the Black Elf encampment, Cesstar took Glowulf aside, and asked him to abandon the party's futile quest and join his tribe, but Glowulf replied that he had made a promise to get the party across the Baklands, and he intended to keep that promise; when the quest is over, he would return to the Baklands and find his tribe.

With night approaching, the party headed towards a field of boulders to the north, where they made camp. But their rest was disturbed by a few Klattamen, wild men of the plains. Quickly defeating their attackers, the party decided to move their camp before more attackers arrived.

As they trekked through the night, Glowulf raised his eyes up to the moon to take a bearing, and was puzzled when he saw that the moon was full, when it was waning the night before. Slowly, before their eyes, the moon began to become smaller and smaller... and then it suddenly turned into two moons - the party found themselves staring into the eyes of a large, jet black snake, whose eyes seemed like the surface of the moon: it was the Moon Serpent...

Prepping and Running the Game

This session followed the book rather closely. I once more looked at all the encounters listed in the modules, and picked out the once which I thought was interesting.

One of the changes I introduced into the story here was that the archmage was trying to unite all the tribes of the Baklands, and that the Seven Serpents were his messengers. This gave them a reason to be in the Baklands, which the party must cross and also gave them two options: to try to sneak past all of them and reach Mampang unannounced, or to kill every single one they come across, so no word of their mission reach Mampang.

Unfortunately for me, the players took their mission rather seriously, and set about trying to avoid ALL the potential encounters I placed before them. Now in the original gamebook, and of course in a more traditional fantasy RPG, players would *want* to check out all the encounters to find information and loot and gain experience points; but I failed to realise that when the aim of the mission was to avoid detection, players will of course do the most logical thing and avoid everything!

To prevent the session from ending too early, I had to reveal to the party that the caravan they encountered was a Black Elf encampment, and persuade Glowulf's player to investigate it instead of avoiding it.

I had left clues alluding this the fact that the party was not the first one sent on this quest, and now I made it clear in the message from the king. I was hoping that this would invoke some emotional response from the players, but I was disappointed.

Likewise I was hoping that the other players (or at least their PCs) would have a reaction when they found out that Glowulf was in fact a fake "barbarian", but again I was disappointed.

Glowulf's player did RP the encounter with the Black Elves very well though,  and I think if we ever return to this campaign again Glowulf's quest to find his own people would be a good hook.

The party nearly came to a bad end when Morgana revealed their quest though. It was rather unwise for the player to risk disclosing the information to strangers, and I used the advice from Matt Colville to prevent it from ending in disaster, by slowing time down, giving them ample indication of the change in the Black Elves' attitude, and giving them a chance to talk their way out of it.

From this point on I see that the players have two options: to carry on their covert mission to Mampang to recover the Crown of Kings, or to try to create an alliance of the tribes of the steppes against the archmage. The second one seems unlikely to succeed, but if they do want to try that it is something I think is worth exploring and derailing the campaign for.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Roman-Persian War Campaign - Game 1

We decided to play a short campaign using the set of campaign rules by Dan Mersey from Issue 2 of Battlegames magazine, this time with our Late Imperial Roman army invading Sassanid Persia.

The battle report is over at wahj's blog:

The rules are a mash-up of Dan Mersey's Dux Bellorum and Impetus, which we have cobbled together and refined over the years.

I've got some more West Wind figures in the mail, so hopefully in the next game you will see some new units.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Sorcery! #5 - The Beggar

Campaign Diary

The party set about planning the heist. Goncol called on his old contacts, and learned that the key to the vault at Vlada's Gambling Hall was kept by Horace, the pit boss, who usually kept an eye on the whole joint from the upper floors of the gambling hall. They discussed several options, but finally decided that they would ambush Horace on his way home and seize the key off his person.

With still several hours till the closing of the gambling hall, Morgana proposed the party returned to the Temple of Slangg, where she revealed the party's plans to the priest. The priest, bemused by his latest convert, decided to aid her, and provided them with information of where Horace lived. The party decided to steal into Horace's room at the inn where he kept a permanent room, hoping to find something which would give them some leverage over the man. However, they found little information there - Horace apparently kept all his business at the office; they nevertheless decided to steal the coins and a set of nice clothes they found there.

Returning to the gambling hall, the party staked out the place: two of them watched the front door, while the other two watched the back door.

After midnight the gamblers began to leave, and an hour later the back door opened, and the party saw a humanoid creature with no arms came out of the kitchen, holding several bags with the tentacles which emerged from its misshapened head. It threw the bags into a heap against the wall of the building, and returned into the kitchen.

A little while later, the front door opened, and two men exited and proceeded to lock it. Soon afterwards, the back door opened once more, and Horace, accompanied by two other men, exited, locked the door, and together the three made their way towards the inn.

The party trailed Horace and his men, and became aware that they were taking a circuitous route to the inn, perhaps just to avoid any ambush. Using his knowledge of the city, Goncol led the party to a narrow alley, where they managed to surround Horace and his companions.

The party, now masked to hide their identities, managed to quickly overcome Horace's men, but before they could get their hands on Horace, he smashed the windows of a nearby building and entered it. The party followed him into the building, and after a short scuffle managed to knock him out. The party searched and found a bunch of iron keys, which they took off of Horace. Then, carrying Horace's limp form between them, they returned to the gambling hall.

Using Horace's key to unlock the back door, the party entered the kitchen. There they found a staircase leading to the upper floor, a door to the main hall, and a door to the side. Entering the side door, they found themselves in a storeroom, and saw the humanoid creature they saw earlier on a pallet on the floor. The creature screamed, and Valerian struck it with a makeshift sap, hoping to knock it out, but the creature screamed even louder. Valerian struck it again, and then again, and the creature fell silent. Valerian had killed it. Immediately Valerian felt the blessings of his patron god Usrel, the goddess of Peace, depart him.

Another staircase led from the storeroom to the basement below. The party entered the basement to find two guards, alerted by the creature's screams, waiting for them. The party quickly subdued the guards, this time without killing them. Opening a door behind the guards with another key from Horace's bunch, they found themselves in a vault with many locked niches in the walls. Using his magical sense, Glowulf detected the faint glow of magic behind the door of one of the niches. To their horror though, they realised that none of the keys in the bunch fit any of the locks!

Morgana tried using sorcery to unlock the niches but failed. Goncol then tried his lock picks... and succeeded. He opened the niche, and found the book that he had stolen not so long ago.

The party took their loot back to the Temple of Slangg, where they rested for the rest of the night. Goncol studied the pages of the book, and memorised as much of it as he could. The next day they returned to Lortag's house, where they exchanged their loot for the third spell line. Lortag informed them that their heiest had become the hottest news in Khare, and he bade them to leave as soon as they could before Vlada and Darius' men found them.

The party still lacked one spell line, though. Desperate, they decided to find Theetah, the seventh noble of Khare, who was rumoured to have been blinded by the Red Eyes. At first they searched among the beggars near the South Gate, where the few beggars who claimed to be Theetah were quickly revealed to be impostors. Morgana then had the idea to search Theetah's old residence for clues. Goncol led the party to the abandoned mansion, but a search of the interior revealed no clue to the nobleman's whereabouts.

Returning outside, the party saw a blind beggar approaching them. When asked, the old man claimed to be Theetah. The party offered to help Theetah get his vengeance against the Red Eyes in exchange for his spell line, but Theetah, suspicious of their intent demanded that they revealed their purpose for opening the North Gate. Wary of leaking their mission to spies of the archmage, the party refused to do so - they were at an impasse.

Then suddenly, three winged forms appeared behind Theetah - harpies! As their cries pierced the air, Theetah begged the party to protect him against the harpies, whom he told them were sent by the Red Eyes to torment him. The party set themselves between Theetah and the harpies, and after a hard fight brought all three of the creatures down. The grateful Theetah reluctantly gave them the spell line.

With the sun setting, the party hurried to the North Gate. As they approached the isolated north wall, the few guards on the walls paid them little heed. Our party stood before the north gate, and one by one they each recited one line of the spell. When the final word of the spell was spoken, a rumbling sound issued from the gate. Belatedly, the guards realised something was wrong. They called out to the party. Three loud clanks were heard, as the bolts holding the gates disengaged themselves, and the doors to the gate began to open.

The party ran towards the gate, while the guards stared in confusion. They were through the gate before the first of the guards had descended the walls.

Prepping and Running the Game

I had planned to base the session on the module "Sea's 7", a heist module by Evan Perlman. The module had an interesting story, a cast of NPCs which would have provided role-playing opportunities, and some description of the layout of the gambling hall/casino. I imagined the PCs would interact with the NPCs and either try to con or blackmail their way to the vault, or else use subterfuge to lift the key from Horace. As it turned out they chose the murder-hobo approach. Well, at least they didn't just charge into the gambling hall, weapons flashing...

I did not plan on them visiting Horace's home, and had to make up where he lived on the fly. I decided that Vlada employed only people with no family, to ensure that they were less likely to be compromised, and that Horace was careful to leave all work-related materials at the gambling hall.

The ambush against Horace would have been an easy encounter for the party, so I decided that Horace would naturally guess that any attacker would have been after the keys to the vault, and so made his priority keeping the keys away from the attacker. I had Horace hide the vault keys inside the building he broke into - the irons keys the party found on him were keys to the other doors in the hall. Had the players asked to search the building for other keys, I would have let them find the hidden keys.

The flayer, the tentacled creature whom Valerian killed, was originally a cook found in another encounter in the original book. I decided to put him in the kitchen of the gambling hall as the party had not had a chance to meet it earlier. The creature was harmless, and probably the only innocent being in the whole city, and it was a shame that it died despite their intention to avoid killing it. In the original book, killing the creature would have resulted in the failure of the whole mission, I believe.

The encounter with Theetah was pretty much as in the original book. I decided to place him near his old residence when Morgana's player suggested the party search it.

Over all I found the session rather bland. Part of it I attribute to the low crunch of the combat system. In future sessions I will try to let the NPCs utilise more of the combat options, which will hopefully inspire the players to try them too.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Sorcery! #4 - The Scholar

Campaign Diary

Acting as casual as they could, our heroes managed to walk past the two dock guards without arousing suspicion, but as soon as they returned to the gate to find it unlocked, they immediately gave chase.

Goncol and Glowulf scaled up the wall of a nearby building and spotted the three masked men making their getaway on the roof tops - they gave chase, while Morgana and Valerian shadowed them from the streets, ready to cut the men off.

Just when our heroes finally caught up with the masked men, the dock guards also arrived. The masked men tried to leap across a wide street from rooftop to rooftop, but stumbled and fell to the ground along with the chest. As Morgana and Valerian tried to hold the guards off, Goncol and Glowulf managed to recover the chest, leaving the masked men and the bewildered guards at the scene.

Returning to the necropolis, they found Darius and his men waiting for them. The party handed the chest over, received one of the spell lines in return, and - too tired to travel to an inn - spent the rest of the night in one of the crypts.

It was mid-morning when the heroes woke up. Having freshened themselves at one of the public fountains, they took stock of the situation.

They had one of the four spell lines needed to open the North Gate, and they had but some 36 hours to leave the city. Acting on Flanker's tip, they decided to visit Lortag the Scholar at the Artist's District.

Lortag, as it turned out, did know one of the spell lines. In exchange for the spell line, he tasked the party with stealing the very same book which Goncol had stolen from Darius! He bade the heroes to meet him for dinner later that day, while he tried to learn where Darius was keeping the book.

With several hours before dinner time, the party wandered the streets, hoping to learn where else they could find a Noble of Khare. Passing through the Temple District, they were drawn to the sermon at the chapel of Slangg, the God of Malice. At the end of the sermon, the priest made a call for a champion to represent the chapel in a contest of wits and sorcery, in return for any favour the champion asked for. The heroes asked if the priest knew one of the spell lines, and when he replied in the positive, Morgana took up the challenge. The terms of the challenge, however, required her to convert to the worship of Slangg if she did not win the contest.

Morgana entered the contest, but was defeated. She duly converted to the worship of Slangg, and the party gained their second spell line. They were halfway there.

Then Glowulf had the idea that perhaps a noble could be found at the gambling hall. Hoping to gain entrance to the upper levels at Vlada's Gambling Hall, where the rich gambled, the party first tried to have some suitable clothes tailored, but finding it beyond their means, they decided instead to lure a rich gambler outside the gambling hall to a back alley, where they proceeded to rob him of the clothes off his back, before tying him up.

Goncol dressed in the rich man's clothes, and with the others acting as his bodyguard, tried to gain admission to the upper levels. However, the ante at the tables there were too high for their coin pouches, and our heroes retreated to the ground floor, where the common folks played. Goncol played a game of swindlestones with a gambler, and during the banter learned that the seventh Noble of Khare went missing several years ago, and it was rumoured that he was blinded by the Red Eyes, a mysterious race that lived in their own enclave in Khare, after he tried to enforce the city laws on them. The party thanked the gambler, and left to meet Lortag for their appointment.

At dinner, Lortag revealed that his informers had learned the location of the book. After his own vault was broken into by a thief (actually Goncol) a few months ago, Darius decided to rebuild it. When he recovered the book from the crypt, Darius called in a favour from Vlada, and kept the book at the gambling hall's vault! The party would have to break into the vault, and steal the book again. Well, at least they knew the layout of the gambling hall by now...

Prepping and Running the Game

This session was a rather open one - I left the players the choice of where in the city to go to try to find the spell lines based on what they learned from the last game. They chose to visit Lortag, which I expected, and I in fact planned for the quest he would give them to be the game for the session after.

The encounter at the chapel of Slangg was taken from the original book - after I chose to let the PCs each worship a god, I thought it would be nice to reference it by having conversion a possibility.

The actual contest was based on a logic puzzle, which I saw here:

The players chose a sub-optimal strategy, and lost.

The visit to the tailor was unexpected, as was the idea that the gambling hall would be a good place to look for a noble. The players had the impression that *all* nobles in Khare knew one spell line - I should have made it clearer that only the major ones did. Nevertheless, it was fun watching them lure the poor minor noble to a back alley and mug him.

The next session will see them plan and pull off the heist, after which they will have about 24 more hours to find the remaining one spell line.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Sorcery! #3 - The Necropolis

Khare - the Cityport of Traps
Campaign Diary

As the party stepped through the gates of Khare, they came upon a market fair in the square just beyond. Their senses were overloaded by the sights, sounds, and smells of the city: stall owners hawking their wares, minstrels and town criers trying to grab the attention of passers-by, a myriad of colourful clothes and spices on sale, and the mixed odour of animal dung, roasted meats, and too many people in the same space.

Forgetting their mission for a while, the party spent some time wandering the fairgrounds, eating skunkbear meat on skewers, trying their luck at "Honest Hanna's Cabinet of Fortune", and Valerian took part in the fighting ring and (with the help of some magic from Morgana) won against the reigning champion, which gave the party some more gold to spend.

Having had their fill of food and fighting, our heroes turned their thoughts once more to their quest. To pass through the North Gate, Goncol told them, they needed to know the four spell lines that would unlock it. The only person who knew all four lines of the spell was Sansas, the First Noble of Khare, while the remaining Nobles, the identity of which were secret, each knew one of the spell lines. Goncol now revealed that he did not in fact know the spell lines as he claimed, but he knew that a book containing the spell lines was hidden in a crypt in the city's necropolis, which he proposed they go to.

Traveling north to the bridge across the Jabaji river, they took a brief halt at the Wayfarer's Rest, a large inn and tavern by the docks area, where they met Flanker. From Flanker the party learned that Lortag the Scholar was possibly a Noble, and that they might seek his help if they wished to learn more about the spells.

It was near sunset when they came to the gates of the necropolis. The party waited for the few people around the grounds to depart, and then Goncol guide them to a mausoleum. Pushing open the stone door of the mausoleum, they descended a flight of stairs to a large crypt underground. Goncol approached once of the sarcophagi in the centre of the crypt, and pushed open its lid. After a few moments of searching, he realised that what he sought was not within the sarcophagus. Confused, he nevertheless asked the others to search in the other sarcophagi and niches within the crypt. While they were busy searching, the door to the crypt sudden closed with a loud noise. Their candles and lanterns went out, and a rattling sound was heard as some of the bones within the wall niches knitted themselves into skeletons, which then came to life and started to attack them.

After a short, sharp fight, the party destroyed the undead, but Valerian and Glowulf were wounded. Goncol finally conceded that the book he came to find was no longer there, and the party headed out of the crypt... to find a dozen armed men waiting for them outside.

A pale, cloaked figure stood at the centre of the line of men; in one hand he held a book with a midnight blue cover - the book that our heroes had come for. The man revealed himself to be Darius, the Third Noble of Khare, and expressed his surprise that the party had survived the "reception party" he had prepared for them in the crypt. Goncol, he declared, had stolen the book from him several weeks prior, and had hidden it in the crypt before he skipped town; his men had trailed Goncol to the crypt and recovered the book, and Darius had laid a trap for the thief for when he returned to collect his loot.

Outnumbered, surrounded, and already wounded from their earlier fight, it was clear our heroes could not fight their way out. Goncol started hurling insults at Darius, hoping to distract him. Valerian and Morgana denied being Goncol's accomplices, and stated that they only wished to exit the North Gate.

Hearing this, Darius made the party an offer: he would let them have one of the spell lines, if they would "recover" a box from a warehouse in the docks for him before daybreak; in addition, they would have to leave the city within two days, or his men would kill them on sight. With no other choice, our heroes accepted the offer, and made their way to the docks.

Arriving at the warehouse late at night, our heroes spent the next two hours observing the guards' routine. When two of the guards had left to procure a midnight snack for the others, Goncol picked the lock to the gate, and broke into the warehouse with Morgana while Valerian and Glowulf kept a watch outside.

Inside the warehouse, Goncol and Morgana was surprised to find that two masked figures had entered the warehouse by removing the tiles on the roof and climbing down a rope. One of the figures took a small box from an opened crate, and together the two men climbed up the rope before Goncol and Morgana could stop them. Outside, Valerian heard a sound on the roof of the warehouse that told him something had gone wrong. Goncol and Morgana rushed out of the gate and informed Valerian and Glowulf what had happened, and together the party started to run out of the warehouse compound, hoping to catch the two masked men before they could get too far... and ran right into the two guards who had returned from their break...

Prepping and Running the Game

This session was based of course on Book 2 of the Sorcery! series, or rather the Myriador and Arion Games conversion of the book. Unlike Book 1, this part of the adventure had more branches, which meant that the party would bypass some of the encounters; yet at the same time, they needed to collect all four lines of the spell, which made things difficult for me as the GM.

My solution to this was to make a list of all the encounters in the modules which I found interesting, and then placed them in parts of the city which I thought they fit. I then let them know what the various districts of the city were and what they could expect to find there, and left it to them to decide where they would like to visit. These were the "flavour" encounters, which would allow the PCs roleplaying opportunities, as well as a chance to make some money and to buy or gain equipment and spell components.

For the spell lines, I decided to let them to associated with mini-quests. To avoid having the campaign grinding to a halt due to a single failure, I decided that there will be more than four Nobles who know the spell lines, which will allow them more than one chance to obtain each of the spell lines.

This session also dealt with Goncol's backstory, and introduced the campaign's theme of deception. Unfortunately for me, my players have a rather light-hearted approach to the game, and did not react as strongly to Goncol's betrayal as I had hoped for; fortunately for me though, this will not be the first deception they will encounter...