Sunday, September 29, 2019

Tribal Trojan War variant

A rather low resolution photo from today's game (yes, I have a cheap handphone), but when you are hanging out with old friends, getting high quality photos of the game, or even the game itself, is not a top priority.

We finally got to try out the Trojan War rules modifications I made to the Tribal game today. We played a small game, with two chariots and two units of foot on each side. My Hero was the first to fall to wahj's Hero, who in turn fell to a unit of foot. Martin's Chief then dismounted, stripped one set of armour, loaded it onto his chariot and ordered his driver to take it back to camp, then stripped the other set of armour, commandeered my chariot, and drove off, with fg's Chief powerless to stop him. The number of Honour points both sides had at the end was equal, but we thought Martin's side won.

The rules seem a little broken, since Heroes and Chiefs are vulnerable to only missile and thrown weapons when they are mounted, but they have to dismount to strip armour, which made them vulnerable. I suppose in future games we need more foot units, including at least one unit of missile troops on each side.

After the game we talked about other projects, and decided that we should perhaps finally get a game of aeronef going. I have in fact been having thoughts of that recently, and I have a bit of a headstart with my Dystopian Wars Ottoman ships. We are all of the opinion that whatever set of rules we choose should be simple, so if you have any suggestion, do let us know in the comments.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Seven Worlds #1 - Reunion and Rumours of War

The crew reunite (bottom right corner, from L to R): Marcelius Coban, Amahrius, Lindsay, Nick Johnson, Kumra Ka'an, and AJ Stamper. 

Campaign Diary

Our story begins at the headquarters of the Galactic Teamsters' Guild (GTC), where Nick Johnson, Kumra Ka'an, and AJ Stamper (see PC profiles here) had all come to attend the funeral of their former employer, James (Jimmy) Hassel-Hoffa XXVIth.

As the chief mourner delivered his eulogy, our crew, meeting for the first time in more than fifteen years, updated each other on their lives.

Nick, after the events of the last campaign, took to drinking, which doomed the Private Investigator business he set up; however, he had since managed to quit alcohol, and now relied on the constant consumption of coffee to get him through the day.

Kumra cashed out and bough the Magpie, their old ship, and started a business as an independent freight operator, although he was not averse to the the occasional less-than-legal deal when business was bad. His temper, however, prevented him from retaining a crew, and at the moment he was operating solo.

AJ too took to drinking, but was otherwise able to stay sober long enough to start and run a mining company of his own; however, his alcoholism had caused his partners to question his reliability, and strained their relationship.

When the chief mourner had finished the eulogy, the guests were invited to view the deceased one last time. As our crew passed his open coffin, Hassel-Hoffa suddenly sat up, and exclaimed:

"Good news, everyone - I'm not actually dead!"

He then took a stack of credits out of his suit pocket, and called Jet, a brawny young man, to hand them out to the mourners (who were in fact all hired actors) while he and the crew had a meeting.

Our bewildered crew followed Hassel-Hoffa to the conference room, where he explained that he had come up with the ruse as they had avoided his emails. The United Confederation (UC) government, he explained, was holding a parade at their Headquarters in New York to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Second Galactic Peace Treaty between The United Confederation and the Tazanian Empire, and the crew, instrumental to the peace, were invited to attend.

After confirming that the trip would be fully-paid for by the UC, our crew accepted the invitation.

Hassel-Hoffa then revealed that he had another reason for wanting the crew to travel to Earth. His brother Lamar Hassel-Hoffa, he explained, was a software genius working for Telenet, which installed and operated the galaxy-wide communications satellites that allowed communications between stars systems and ships while in hyperspace. (Prior to the invention of Telenet, ships had to upload communications from the 'cloud' at their origin system before a jump, and then download the data to the 'cloud' at their destination system, and were unable to communicate while in hyperspace.)

Four weeks ago, the GTC lost the ship "Beowulf" near HP-3, an uninhabited planet where a Telenet satellite was deployed. The final audio transmission to the GTC indicated that the crew were surprised by the sudden appearance of a ship close to them, and within the gravity well of the planet, before communications was suddenly cut off.

(Hyperspace travel was sensitive to gravity, and it was not possible to jump into or out of hyperspace within the gravity well of a system.)

Hassle-Hoffa then played the audio recording from "Beowulf" for the crew, who felt the hair on the back of their necks stand at the moment when Beowulf's crew detected the other ship.

Hassel-Hoffa forwarded the recording to his brother, asking if he knew of any similar occurrence at any of the other Telenet satellites. Lamar replied that he would look into it, but Hassel-Hoffa received no communications for the next few weeks. When he finally decided to contact Telenet, he was told that Lamar had disappeared suddenly, and that the police had been unable to locate him, despite the fact that tracking devices were implanted in all UC citizens.

The Telenet office and Lamar's home were located in Boston, and Hassel-Hoffa asked our crew to drop by after the parade in New York to see if they could learn more about Lamar's disappearance. He would send Jet, a new employee, as their assistant and driver, as well as to pay all the bills along the way.

Ten days later, our crew found themselves in New York, standing in line to clear security to enter the restricted area cordoned off for the parade, which would be held in front of the UC Building (formerly the UN Building). After passing through the cordon, guests had to walk half a mile to the building, past displays set up to tell the story of the UC, the First Galactic War and the First Galactic Peace Treaty, as well as The Order and the Second Galactic Peace Treaty that resulted from its rise and fall. The trail ended at Ralph Bunche Park. For a few moments our crew stood before the steel obelisk Peace Form One as they recalled the Serran Guidestones that led to their involvement in the crisis so many years ago, and when they were reading the inscription below, they heard a chirpy female voice behind them:

"Remarkable, isn't it? He was the first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize, at a time when his people were an oppressed minority. It reminds me of the plight of the Serrans and the mission of the Serran Brotherhood."

They turned to see a young Serran woman, who introduced herself as Lindsania ("call me Lindsay!"), Amahrius' personal assistant. She escorted the crew through a second security cordon at the gates of the UC Building, and then through a third to enter the viewing gallery. Here were hundreds representative and dignitaries from the UC, the Tazanian Empire, and the many worlds of the Neutral Zone. Lindasy led them through the crowd to Amahrius and his Security Chief Marcelius Coban. Amahrius expressed his regret for not being able to attend Hassel-Hoffa's funeral due to his work at the Serran Brotherhood for Peace, and was told that it had all been a ruse to get the crew to come to Earth.

The parade began, and our crew took their seats in the gallery overlooking the street below where floats and marching contingents passed. Suddenly, Nick noticed synchronised footsteps behind him. He turned just in time to see three UC security troopers raise their blaster pistols. He called out a warning, but it was too late - the troopers fired several shots into the Tazanian party.

AJ charged at the troopers, but a female Rakashan intercepted him. The two struggled for a while, until AJ managed to restrain her.

"Assassin!" she hissed at AJ.

"No! I am trying to help!" AJ replied.

"Then release me!" the Rakashan said.

AJ released the Rakashan, but the attack had ended: a Rakashan bodyguard had ripped the throat of one of the troopers, while Kumra had broken the neck of a second with a single punch, while he was held in an arm-lock by Nick; the third trooper turned his blaster on himself, and shot himself through his chin.

More security troopers entered the gallery to restore order, and it soon became apparent that the target of the attack was Archduke Emmul, the Tazanian Ambassador to the UC, and nephew of the Tazanian Emperor. The female Rakashan, the ambassador's sister, now carried his limp form from the stands.

"You have murdered the Emperor's sister-son while he was under your protection. Such treachery can only be repaid by war; may your gods have mercy on your souls, for ours will not," she declared.

As she exited the gallery, she turned to AJ, and said, "Thank you."

The area was locked down, but no one dared to stop the Tazanian party. When at last they were allowed to leave, the crew returned to their hotel, where they tried to contact Amahrius to see if he could help them gain a meeting with the Tazanians so they could offer their help, but Lindsay, who answered the phone, informed them that Amahrius was in meeting with the UC authorities.

But it was already too late: they could now see on the TV Irkalla, the ambassador's sister, carrying his body through the spaceport lobby, flanked by armed Tazanians, while the UC security troopers stood by, too stunned and too afraid to stop them. After a few minutes, the Tazanian ship took off. It would be two weeks until the ship arrived back at Mathus, the Rakashan home-world. Then, war will begin.

Unwilling to stand idle while the galaxy headed towards war once more, our crew leapt into action. Nick called on his friend Edwards in the police, while Kumra asked his contacts in the criminal world if they had any information on the three attackers. Kumra's contacts drew a blank, but with Edward's help the crew were able to enter the morgue and speak with the medical examiner (which turned up little additional information), and learn the address of the trooper who shot himself, whose name was Finn Holden.

Jet drove the crew to the Holden residence, where Nick, giving the story that he had previously worked with Finn, gained his father's confidence. There, they learned that the elder Holden was a retired UC security trooper, and that young Finn had wanted to follow his father's footsteps since he was a child. He joined the academy after graduation, and had been a security trooper for four years. Like all security troopers, Finn had cleared psychological evaluations, background checks, and had no debts - there was no explanation for his actions. To comfort the grieving man, AJ offered mind-control as an explanation. The crew promised to get to the bottom of things, and left.

That night and the following day the news was filled with discussion on the impending war, from the UC top brass reassuring the people that they would both try their utmost to resolve the issue with diplomacy, and that they were ready for war, to military pundits giving their views on the relative military prowess of the two sides, to market analysts predicting a crash when the bourses open on Monday.

Amahrius called the crew that morning, apologising for not doing so sooner as he was caught in the emergency meeting after the shooting. The Serran Brotherhood would send envoys to Mathus, he informed them, but he warned them that the chances of a peaceful resolution was slim: in Rakashan culture, a man was considered the chief protector of his sister's sons, and for the ambassador to be killed while performing a duty assigned to him by his uncle was an affront that the Emperor could only respond to with war; that the ambassador was shot in the back instead of dying in combat as a Rakashan noble was expected to made it even worse.

When the crew told Amahrius that they wanted to find out the truth behind the assassination, Amahrius bade them instead to leave Earth as soon as they could, and to find a quiet corner of the galaxy to hunker down until the war was over.

With space travel still closed, our crew decided to make their way to Boston.

At Telenet headquarters in Downtown they met Stanley Morgan, the Vice President for Software Research, who told them that Lamar was working on the next-generation upgrade to the Telenet system when he suddenly disappeared. The company had co-operated with police investigations, and conducted their own investigations, but were unable to find any clues. Due to the nature of Lamar's work, he was unable to reveal any details of his research to the crew.

With little to go on, the crew traveled to Jamaica Plain, where Lamar had his residence. The crew broke into the Lamar's home, and found the place thoroughly searched by the police and his computers removed. AJ spotted a high-end bug in Lamar's study, but was unable to tell who had planted it.

The crew then visited Lamar's neighbour across the street. As it turned out the owner was one Professor Velkmann, a professor of Classics and Greek History at the nearby Hellenic College. Professor Velkmann was a friend of Lamar, and the two would often visit each other at their homes and have long conversations. When Nick expressed his surprise that a software scientist and a professor of history had many topics in common, Professor Velkmann waved a hand at the ancient artifacts that decorated his living room.

The artifacts that a culture leaves behind, he explained, reflected its people's aspirations: a totem mask, for example, reflected the importance a culture placed on the spirit world and their connection to that world. And Telenet, which Lamar worked on, he mused, likewise reflected their culture's aspiration: to communicate, and through communication, to bring about understanding and peace.

Our crew then revealed that they had come at the request of Lamar's brother; Professor Velkmann recognised the crew, and knew that they had worked for Hassel-Hoffa. He handed them something that Lamar had passed him a couple of weeks before his disappearance, with the instruction to pass it to his brother when he visited: it was a car key, but not that of a "modern" car, but an older, antique car.

Our crew left the Professor and returned to Lamar's home and entered his garage. Inside, they found a modern car, its navigation system removed by the police, and a Mini Cooper, lovingly restored, in British Racing Green, and a Union Jack painted on its roof. The car key fit the Mini.

Searching the interior of the car, the crew found a second key in the glove compartment, this time that to a train station locker. Under the dashboard, Kumra found a homebuilt device that drew power from the car battery, and connected to a servo-motor under the hood that connected to the car's steering system. The crew removed the device and opened it, and were able to determine that it was a custom-made computer, but were unable to determine its purpose. Jet suggested they tried to connect the device to a computer, and drove the party to a nearby RadioShack. There, with various parts from the bargain bin, he was able to put together a computer that enabled him to determine that the device was built to navigate the car via servo-motors based on dead-reckoning, without accessing any external positional satellite or beacon. By superimposing the directions to a local map, Jet determined that the destination was Forest Hills station, not far from Lamar's home.

It was evening when the crew arrived at Forest Hills station. There were few commuters inside, and they soon located the locker. Inside, they found something that resembled a memory card, but did not look like it fit any of the current computer ports. As they stood at the lockers, wondering what to make of their find, Nick noticed four men headed towards them...

Prepping and Running the Game

This is a rather long campaign diary, as I had to get a lot of plot exposition and foreshadowing done.

The core plot of the session (and that of the campaign, really) is based closely on Seven Worlds, but I have of course changed the scale of the campaign from a few solar systems to the entire galaxy, and I based the main NPCs of the campaign on the NPCs the PCs have met in their previous campaign - in fact, Amahrius was one of the PCs.

When I pitched the campaign to the players, I told them to tell me what their characters had been up to in the intervening 15 years. Not surprisingly, all of them developed a substance dependence issue.

The first half of the session was a bit of a railroad, and the players went along because they knew that was the campaign I planned. What surprised me however was how the players rose to the occasion and took it upon themselves to "get to the bottom of things" and stop the galactic war. This is in stark contrast with the previous campaign when they were space truckers who were just trying to get the delivery job done without complications. At one point I had to tell them that this campaign different from the previous one, and that they should not expect to solve all the problems I throw at them in a single session.

I had a lot of fun researching for this session. For a start I decided that the UC Building would be the old UN Building, and looking at Google maps I noticed the Isaiah Wall and then Peace Form One. It occurred to me that the park would make a nice bit of foreshadowing to the campaign.

Once the attack had taken place, the players went into full gear, taking initiative in trying to first stop the Tazanian diplomatic team from leaving Earth, and then trying to investigate the three assassins. I had to make up backgrounds for the three of them on the spot, and when Nick called on his contact, I had to come up with an NPC on the fly too.

I feel a little bad that they are trying so hard to stop a war, when in truth *spoiler alert* war will come.

I set the second part of the session in Boston since it was a nice distance from New York, and the PCs could make it there and back in a single day. I had fun learning about the many neighbourhoods of Boston. The Mini Cooper was supposed to lock the PCs in itself and then drive them to the train station, but the players were cautious, which allowed Jet, the new character whose player could not attend this session, to show off what he was capable of.

At the end of the session I insisted the players write down the names of all the NPCs whom they have interacted with, partly because many of them would feature in future sessions, and partly because I was not sure I would remember the names I made up.

Over all this was not a session that gave the players many opportunities to affect the game world, but as a lead-in session, I think it achieved its purpose of introducing the major NPCs and plot elements, as well as allowing the players to get their characters invested in the plot.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Getting Ready for Savage Worlds Campaign

One of the fun things I enjoy doing as a GM is to prepare the hardware for the system which make GMing and playing a smoother experience.

I am expecting to receive my Savage Worlds Adventure Edition boxed set in a couple of weeks, but I have already started my preparations.

The first of these things I prepare was the GM screen. The boxed set will come with a 4-panel GM screen, but I am used to the 2-panel, A4 landscape format. These are easy to DIY: just two clipboards taped together with gaffer's tape, printed reference charts and tables clipped to the inside, and some themed artwork on the outside. I've put one of my MCDM stickers on the screen because I don't really know what else to do with them.

I've also made a few cards with 'Parry/Toughness' on them to put inside some plastic card holders. I plan to write the Parry and Toughness of the PCs' opponents on these with dry erase markers and plonk them down so the players can see them, which should make combat go faster.

Similarly, I have decided to use the 'tent' format character sheet for this campaign. I printed the character sheets on two sides, and placed them in these plastic folders which have a clear pocket as the front flap of the folder.

The thing about Savage Worlds is that 'hit points'/wounds and fatigue levels and such can be easily tracked with counters, so there is no real need for players to make any change to their character sheets during the game. The tent format of the character sheet means that, when placed in front of them, the players can see all their stats, and at the same time the GM can see those stats which are used in combat too, again making combat go faster. When the folder is flipped open, the players can see the other information like gear and details of their edges. There is also a half-pocket in which I have placed a copy of the players' reference, and which they can use to keep notes and handouts.

I own the Litko tokens for the previous edition of Savage Worlds. The new version of Savage Worlds introduced several more states, which the boxed set have tokens for. However, I wanted the new Litko ones to match my existing set. Having more than a dozen different types of tokens meant I needed an efficient way of organising them. I got a multi-compartment plastic box from the two-dollar store which was just the right size and had the right number of compartments for the tokens. To make it easier to find the right token, I had to label each compartment. To make the labels easily visible when the box is placed on the table, I decided to affix them at the 'wall' of the compartment. I used translucent tape, which makes the words visible, yet does not make the box look cluttered.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Terrinoth #41 - Blood & Gold, finale

Therion takes shelter in the pool, while the rest battle the Count
Campaign Diary

For the whole morning the party (click here for PC profiles) traveled westwards along the south bank of the Flametail River. A little after noon, a fog began to rise and cover the river. Our heroes pushed on, until at last they saw a dark shape loom a short distace ahead of them. A sudden gust of wind parted the fog long enough for them to see a small castle upon an island in the middle of the river: castle Pfalzenstein.

The party hid themselves and their mule cart among the vegetation by the river, and observed the castle from a distance. A pair of guards patrolled the ramparts of the castle, while another one stood watch at the top of the keep in the centre. As they watched, they saw a barge coming across the river to the bank they are on; on the barge was a familiar-looking carriage. With the aid of some men along the shore, the driver of the carriage drove the carriage onto the shore, and soon the carriage was moving past our heroes. Inside the carriage rode the steward, Lazar, and a young man with dark hair and dark eyes.

With the way to the castle watched constantly by guards, our heroes decided to steal their way into the castle late at night. Whisper stole a boat from a farmstead upstream, and with the aid of Therion's water magic, the party moved silently across the river to reach the little island.

Here, once more with the aid of Therion's magic, Tom scaled the wall of the castle unseen and opened the gate to let the others in. A quick reconnoiter of the compound showed that walls of the castle surrounded a small compound, in the middle of which stood the keep. The door to the keep was not found at the ground level, but was reached by a wooden bridge that spanned from the ramparts of the wall. Near the gate was a well.

Tom once more ascended the walls, and from there let down a rope, which the others then climbed up. Then Whisper crossed the bridge silently, and picked the lock to the door - the party entered the keep, and shut the door behind them.

Even now, within the keep, they did not let their guard down. They found themselves in a hall, which was dimly lit by the moonlight streaming in from the narrow windows. On one end of the hall was a spiral staircase. Our heroes debated where to go in whispers, and at last deferred to Giso's wisdom to head downwards.

The level below the hall turned out to be the servants' quarters, and our heroes took care to not wake them. Descending further, our heroes found themselves in the storage area, which was piled full of sacks of wheat, barrels of beer, and preserved meat. With the rest of the party unable to see in the dark, Whisper had to do most of the searching, Her keen eyes soon noticed that a path had been left that led to one corner of the room. Walking to the end of the path, she found an empty barrel placed against the corner of the room. She shifted the barrel aside, and found a loose flagstone beneath it. She lifted the flagstone, and found a flight of stairs descending into the ground below.

With their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them, the party gingerly made their way down the stairs, in complete darkness. It was only when they were all underground and had replaced the flagstone above them that Giso dared to conjure up a light. The steps of the stairs were cut into living rock and were clean. They led some twenty foot into the ground, which Whisper surmised would take them to the level of the river.

At the bottom of the stairs a narrow corridor led to a heavy wooden door, which was unlocked. With their weapons drawn, our heroes pushed open the door, and stepped beyond it...

Our heroes found themselves in a large cavern, party-natural, part-shaped by hand. On one side of the cavern was a pool of water, which was illuminated from above by moonlight shining through the well in the courtyard above. Niches were carved into the walls of the cavern, and within them were sarcophagi.

Our heroes crept silently into the cavern, but were interrupted by a voice calling out to them:

"It took you long enough. But tell me, have you taken care of Weiss?"

They followed the source of the voice to the other side of the hall. Here, on a dais, was a long table, upon which was placed alchemical apparatus, books, and other paraphernalia. A man in a noble's clothes sat at the table. His skin was pale, and his eyes and hair dark. On his belt he wore an ornate rapier. He was the Count of Pfalzenstein.

Our heroes at first tried to feign ignorance, but the Count made it clear that he knew who they each was.

Our heroes demanded to know his purpose for poisoning the populace of Tamalir with Red Mist. The Count replied that the creation of Red Mist was but a 'hobby' to him - something to pass the boredom brought about by the gift of immortality; the ill effects of Red Mist, he explained, was but an unfortunate side-effect of his diversion. Alchemy, he elaborated, was a passion of his, and he had for years tried to find a way to keep vampire blood stable in sunlight, a task which he accomplished a while ago.

On a whim he decided to let his servant Lazar sell it as a drug to the rich and famous of Tamalir to see its effects and, after the novelty had worn off, had decided to end the business. However, the emergence of a rival drug-dealer, which also meant the presence of a rival vampire who had also found the secret to keeping vampire blood stable, piqued his interest again, and he set himself the aim of destroying this upstart. When Lazar's thugs failed to find and eliminate this rival, he turned to our heroes, who did the job, but not well enough. Soon afterwards, Weiss, his rival, would use his own tactic against him, and trick our heroes into breaking up his Red Mist business.

Now the Count made an offer to our heroes: help him hunt down and destroy Weiss, and he would end his Red Mist business altogether. After all, he asked, had they not come because they wished to see the drug trade ended?

Whisper asked the Count if this meant he would not think up other schemes that might harm the people of Tamalir, but the Count would not commit.

Frustrated by this, Giso bellowed out a warcry, and sent forth three scorching rays of light that struck the Count. Injured and enraged, the Count swept the contents of his tabletop towards the party, and as the glassware struck the floor and broke, a red mist began to form, and soon our heroes were caught in a cloud of noxious gas.

Holding their breaths, our heroes backed out of the cloud, even as the Count strode into the middle of it, seemingly unaffected by the gas. He did not draw his rapier, but from his hands he sent out tendrils of darkness, which when they struck our heroes drained strength from their limbs, and held them immobile. Therion began a song of encouragement to the party, and our heroes began darting into and out of the cloud, attacking the Count in turn as a pack of wolves would. But the Count had supernatural speed and strength, and when he struck our heroes with his bare hands he sent them hurtling through the air.

Still, Therion's clarion voice lifted their morale, and they continued their attack on the count, who summoned forth undead servants from the sarcophagi. Giso called upon the aid of Kellos to keep the undead servants at bay, and sent one of them fleeing back into its sarcophagus.

Soon the red mist dissipated, and the Count sought to hunt down Therion, who fled into the pool at the other end of the hall, which the undead servants would not follow.

With the threat of the mist gone, the other heroes closed in on the Count; Giso drew his attacks and fended off his blows with his shield; Tom attacked with his makeshift spear of bog-oak tip; Whisper attacked with a bog-oak stake as well as her fist. Surrounded and outnumbered, the Count in the end succumbed to an enchantment from Therion, and fell to the ground laughing manically. Then, in the moments before his death, he turned to Therion, lifted his rapier, and said: take this.

At the moment that the Count died, the undead servants too fell dead.

For a moment there was silence, but before our heroes could catch their breaths, they heard footsteps coming from the corridor which they had entered from...

Prepping and Running the Game

This was supposed to be the final session in the Blood & Gold arc for the B Team, but I ended the session on a cliff-hanger for a reason which I will reveal later.

This session was not based on any module, but was a natural continuation of the story so far. I knew I wanted them to fight the Count in his lair, which meant I needed to make him a lair. After the previous session, I also knew I needed to give the players more confidence that they are on the right track.

The lair which I chose for the Count was Pfalzgrafenstein Castle, and actual Rhine castle. Honestly: does this not look like it should be a vampire castle?

I managed to find plans of the castle from a site by a guy who made a Lego version of the castle. From there, it was a job of deciding what each of the rooms held. I made a list of the number of guards, servants, and retainers who would be found inside the castle, as well as on the river bank, and bought a random items table to fill the Count's study in the top floor of the keep (which the PCs did not visit).

As this was sort of a heist scenario, I had to be prepared for different approaches. I had the boatmen on the river bank who I thought would welcome the PCs and perhaps give them more information about the castle and the Count if they had decided to approach them.

The Count, I decided, had a 'system' for keeping his identity hidden over the centuries. He would marry a noblewoman, bring her to his castle, and then murder her, kidnap a baby who looked like him, and then announce that his wife had died in labour. The child would be raised as his heir, and then when he reached a certain age, would also be murdered, and the Count would then take his place and announce that the old count had passed away. To keep this ruse up, he would routinely change the guards and other servants in his castle.

Unfortunately, the players decided to take a stealthy approach, which meant that they managed to not interact with any NPC until the boss fight. Also, by choosing to go directly into the keep, and once inside to go down instead of up, they managed to avoid all the guards and the bodyguard, whose stats I had ready behind my screen.

We had a bit of fun roleplaying the stealthy approach though. To illustrated how dark the inside of the castle looked, I actually switched the lights inside my apartment off for a while. For most of the session, the players were actually whispering to each other as they discussed what to do.

The actual conversation with the Count was also done in-character, and I think for a while they were in fact tempted to work with the Count.

For the Count's stats I chose to base them off the Deathlock Mastermind instead of a Vampire. A Vampire as written would have been too powerful for the party, and was also to me a little too predictable. The Realms of Terrinoth book did not give vampires the classic Dracula powers, but gave them some ranged magical abilities, so that was what I wanted to do too. The Deathlock Mastermind had both a formidable melee attack, as well as a ranged magical attack which could keep attackers away from himself. I wanted also to do the movie vampire thing where their melee attacks were so powerful they would fling an opponent they struck backwards, so I ruled that he would throw an opponent back by a number of squares equal to the damage he inflicted, and that the opponent would be prone. In addition, I decided to give him Legendary Resistance and Legendary Actions. On top of all this, I decided that for his opening move, he would do the Breaking Bad thing of using a chemical attack, which would further weaken the PCs.

Despite all that, and the addition of three minions based on Deathlock stats, the fight was less deadly than I had hoped as the Count managed to roll below 8 for most of his attacks. At the same time, Therion's player managed to resist the temptation to attack, and instead stayed in a supportive role throughout the combat, which gave the others just enough temporary hit points to stay alive. The fight lasted for 6 or 7 rounds, but seemed longer because of the Legendary Actions and the presence of the minions. The PCs actually managed to force me to use my my Legendary Resistances, and won the fight the honest way.

Still, as a back-up in case I rolled really well or they rolled poorly, I had the three Justicars on stand-by, ready to rappel down the well, having decided to follow the PCs.

The battle mat is once again from Heroic Maps, specifically their Down The Well map set. I have been using my map books for the past few sessions, but the layout of the Down The Well set is just so evocative, I could not help using it as the arena for my boss fight.

When the fight ended I told the players they hear footsteps coming, and then paused the game there. We skipped ahead a bit give them the dropped loot and to roll for random loot, but I told them these would not be in their possession until we resolved the next session...

And the reason why I had to end the session this way is because of this:

I saw this announced a couple of days before I ran this session, and I thought it would be a hilarious way to end off the arc, similar to how we ended the A Team arc on a The Hangover parody. I have originally planned to not game on the Monday before Halloween (it being a long weekend and I try to avoid gaming on a long weekend so the players can spend time with their families), but now it seemed like the perfect date for the perfect scenario.

The module will only be released on 01 October, so I am taking a bit of a risk planning the next session based on a cover, but hopefully there is enough material for me to work something out.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Eureka Miniatures Bronze Age Greeks and Cutting Edge Miniatures Sea Peoples

I resumed work on my Trojan Wars project last weekend and managed to have a few more units painted.

The first was this chariot from Eureka Miniature's Bronze Age Greek line. These have a classic Eureka chunky look, and paint up nicely. The rail chariot is an interesting piece, and requires you to actually bend the rails to fit the base of the chariot. It makes for an easier, sturdier construction, actually.

I wanted to get dismounted versions of the same characters, but the foot figures come with head options; Nic was kind enough to ensure that the heads that came in my pack were the same as those of the riders.

I also painted this Sea Peoples chariot from Cutting Edge Miniatures, which sell their  stuff through Warlord Games.

They are smaller in scale than Eureka's figures, and have a slimmer look.

I painted up a unit of foot figures too. The figure with the blue shield in the middle is actually a third rider from the chariot pack, but I decided to base him on foot to serve as the dismounted version of the hero.

I still have two more units from Cutting Edge to paint - a unit of Early Achaean spearmen and a unit of Sea Peoples Levy javelinmen - but with four chariots done I have enough to playtest the Trojan Wars variant of Tribal.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Seven Worlds Campaign - Prologue

A New Campaign

The Terrinoth B Team campaign arc is scheduled to come to an end next week, and we will be starting a new campaign at the end of this month.

Now I plan my gaming schedule way in advance. Like, nine months in advance. As early as the end of last year I had planned to run another Savage Worlds sci-fi campaign, using the new Adventurer's Edition of the rules, which I backed on Kickstarter. With a promised June delivery date, I reckoned an August start date would be conservative... but it seems now that the physical books will reach me some time in October, so I will have to use the pdf for now...

For a while I could not decide between running Seven Worlds, or a sequel of our Gamma World campaign, but after re-watching The Expendables and its sequels on Netflix, I decided I would do Seven Worlds after all.

While Seven Worlds has a harder sci-fi setting with a much lower tech level than the setting I used for my previous campaign, and the central techs featured in the modules will not apply to my campaign, the central threat/conflict fit the story of my setting very well, which brings us to...

The story so far...

The new campaign takes place 15 years after the end of the first one.

About three centuries ago, humanity developed faster-than-light travel and began colonising nearby systems. As they explored further from Earth towards the centre of the galaxy they came into contact with alien civilisations, and together they formed the United Confederation, a (Star Trek) Federation analogue for our world.

Eventually, the Confederation came into contact with the expansionist Tazanian Empire, based on the other side of the galaxy. A century-long war ensued, until both sides decided to conclude a peace to preserve their respective polities.

Each power retained the core systems close to their respective capitals, and large swathes of the galaxy were designated as the Neutral Zone. Under the terms of the treaty, ships from both sides were forbidden from entering the Neutral Zone. As a result, shipping companies based in the Neutral Zone that would ply the routes between them sprang into existence, and it was in one of these companies that we found our heroes, among whom were:

Nick Johnson, a human ex-cop from the Confederation who fled to the Neutral Zone after being framed for the murder of his wife by one Rian Raynaud.

Kumra Ka'an, a space yeti with a criminal past.

RB-62, a reprogrammed utility droid.

AJ Stamper, a space-miner made redundant when his company decided to use droids as workers.

Amahrius, formerly captain of the Royal Guard of the Serran-ruled planet of Hirceptus, who had to flee his homeworld after being framed for the murder of the Empress.

(They will be joined in the new campaign by Jet Black, an orphan from the streets with a flair for tech, who joined the Galactic Teamsters' Guild for the chance to travel and see the galaxy.)

Over the course of the campaign the crew were caught up in the activities of The Order, a political movement that emerged not two years ago near a region of the galaxy known as the Dead Zone (on account of all the uninhabitable planets found there). System after system joined The Order, sometimes suddenly and inexplicably, even though there seemed to be no uniting cause for the movement.

Eventually the crew learned that The Order had been 'brainwashing' people to join them by means of psychic power (a power which was unknown in the galaxy at that point) which they were able to project by proximity (out to a dozen light years or so away), or by means of strange stone obelisks.

During this time, Amahrius and the crew rescued Princess Aiel of Hirceptus, who was held prisoner by the usurper Prince Kol'vyl. She revealed that the prince was the mastermind behind the murder of the Empress, and that he was also the secret leader of The Order.

Using the information provided by the princess, the crew set off to investigate The Order, and eventually learned the story behind The Order.

Millennia ago, the Serran race developed primitive space flight. As they traveled to other systems, they realised that their innate psychic powers allowed them to dominate the other species found there. Slowly, they began to conquer these other worlds bloodlessly. As the range of their space travel increased, they learned that their powers faded if they were too far away from their colonies. The Serran priests learned that the psychic power of the race in fact flowed from the bedrock of their home planet and through each Serran via an invisible link that was weakened by distance. To remedy this, they carved twelve obelisks from the top of their sacred mountain, which they called guidestones, placed them into twelve cathedral ships which formed the flagships of the Serran fleets, and so the Serrans vastly increased their dominion, spreading to the far reaches of the galaxy.

For a while the Serrans were masters of the galaxy, but things took a turn when they came upon Mathus, the home planet of the feline Rakashan. The Rakashans were immune to psychic powers, and their primitive warships took the Serrans by surprise and defeated and captured the Serran fleet sent to conquer the planet. The Rakashans were able to commandeer and up-arm the Serran ships and use their navigational data to find the other Serran colonies, even though they were unable to duplicate their faster-than-light engines. Slowly but surely, the aggressive Rakashans conquered one Serran colony after another, with each victory giving them more ships and resources.

The Serrans, never a numerous people, fled before the Rakashan invasion, and destroyed their colonies in their retreat, which resulted in the formation of the Dead Zone. Eventually their homeworld was lost, their people enslaved, and as the psychic chains that linked their colonies broke, the Serran overlords were overthrown in those colonies not yet reached by the Rakashans. Only on a few worlds did the Serrans remain the dominant people, and one of these was Hirceptus. The history of the Serrans, now scattered across a hundred planets, were suppressed, both by their erstwhile subjects and the Serrans themselves, for fear of persecution, and eventually tales of both their psychic powers and their imperial history would be forgotten.

For their part the Rakashans soon fell into internal warfare, and as their Serran ships were destroyed in civil wars, they lost their capacity for long-distance space travel, and with it the memory of their brief first empire. It would take centuries before the Rakashans would develop the technology that will allow them to form the Tazanian Empire.

Millennia later, Prince Kol'vyl, a star-archaeologist, would come across records from this period, and begin to search for the Serran homeworld and the lost cathedral ships. When he located the wreckage of one of the cathedral ships on a planet in the Dead Zone, his latent psychic abilities was awakened by the guidestone contained within. The prince kept his discovery secret, even as he began initiating and training an order of psychic warriors, with the grand ambition of restoring the Serran Empire.

When his schemes were discovered by the Empress, he had her assassinated and took over Hirceptus. Then, acting behind the scenes, he began to engineer the rise of The Order.

When The Order became sufficiently powerful, they began to encroach on the territories of the Tazanian Empire. As these incursions increased, the Tazanian Empire threatened to retaliate against The Order - unfortunately, when the peace treaty was written a century ago, neither power predicted a time when a third power would arise within the Neutral Zone that would have the power to threaten either of the signatories, so any military action by the Tazanian Empire would breach the terms of the peace, and draw the Confederation into a second galactic war. As tension rose between the two great powers, a peace negotiation was called on the Galactic Core Point to try to avert war.

With Princess Aiel by their side, the crew presented evidence of Prince Kol'vyl's machinations at the conference, but the revelation only made the Tazanians more determined to go to war, and by then it seemed The Order was too powerful to be stopped except by war.

In a last ditch effort to stop The Order, the crew seized one of the guidestones, and traveled to the Serran homeworld, now a Tazanian colony, for it was predicted that the return of one of the guidestones to their origin would create a short-circuit in the psychic chain, breaking for a time the psychic power.

When they arrived at the sacred mountain, however, they found Prince Kol'vyl waiting for them. After a titanic battle, the crew were able to return the guidestone into the niche in the mountain rock from which it was cut, and the resulting energy release killed Prince Kol'vyl and his retinue, and at the same instant, the psychic hold The Order had over its constituent systems was broken.

Overnight, planets declared their departure from The Order, and the military crisis was over. However, a backlash against Serrans started almost immediately, as fear of their psychic powers and 'corrupting influence' fueled pogroms and persecutions on a hundred planets. Our crew should have been celebrated as heroes for averting the war, but their revelation of the Serran involvement resulted in atrocities, so instead they chose to fade into obscurity to deal with their guilt. All except for Amahrius, that is.

Now raised to the throne of Hirceptus, Empress Aiel (with the aid of Amahrius, restored to his position as the captain of the Royal Guard) opened Hirceptus to the hundreds of thousands of refugees and traveled to the many systems to plead for her people. Tragically, she was murdered by a mob on one such visit. The death of a uniting figure for the Serran people caused great anguish and anger in the people, and for a while it seemed that another war would break out. But Amahrius rose to the occasion, and became a voice for reason and peace in this trying time, and was able to convince the Serrans to forgo their vengeance, and so peace was kept.

In the decade that followed, Amahrius promoted the peaceful use of (the now weakened) Serran psychic powers, and formed the Serran Brotherhood for Peace. Using their subtle psychic abilities, the Serrans act as negotiators and counselors for the various factions in the galaxy. While initially viewed with suspicion, the positive outcomes from the employment of Serran 'speakers' soon became apparent, and they began to become a valued asset by the various governments.

So as our new campaign begins, the galaxy is enjoying a new era of peace and prosperity. But as we rejoin our heroes, we all know that the crew that once saved the galaxy from total war, is gonna have to do it again...

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Terrinoth #40 - Blood & Gold, continued

Ambushed by the Two-Blade Gang
Campaign Diary

After two weeks of travel, Giso, Therion, and Whisper arrived back at Tamalir in the company of three Justicars (battle priests of Kellos). Their first stop was at the Church of Kellos, where they reunited with Tom Kellosson, when Giso explained his sudden and long absence (click here for PC profiles).

Tom, in the meanwhile, informed them that the number of Red Mist victims which the church have collected from the streets had increased in the past month, something which they attributed to a sudden loss in the supply of the drug. Whisper questioned a victim at the hospital, who confirmed their suspicion, and also informed them that he had last obtained his supply from the Pasha, which was familiar to our heroes.

The party decided to pay another visit to the Pasha, and stopped by at Therion's shop, which was close to the brothel. To his dismay, he saw that the shop was closed. After some frantic knocking on the door, his assistant opened the door. She explained to her employer that on the day after Therion had left without notice, a sum of 200 Gros had been delivered to the shop by someone, and that same day a suspicious character had come to spy around the shop on the pretext of buying something. She also noticed that the shop seemed to be watched, and had decided to close the place until Therion returned.

The party continued to the Pasha, leaving the Justicars to keep an eye on the shop. A quick conversation with the madam of the place confirmed the fact that Red Mist did come back into circulation for a short while after the party's first errand for Lazar, but had quickly disappeared a little after their business with Weiss. The party surmised that there were in fact two, rival, parties selling the drug - Lazar's party selling the more expensive version or the drug, and Weiss' party selling the cheaper version - and that they had unknowingly been involved in disruption of both businesses.

As the madam was mum about the supplier of their Red Mist, the party left the brothel to plan their next move. They struck up a conversation with the bouncers outside, and learned from them that one of the characters that they had seen loitering around Therion's shop was a gnome nicknamed 'Ratbone', whom they believed to be with the Two-Blade Gang, a small-time gang that operated on the south, poorer side of Tamalir.

Therion came up with the idea of equipping everyone in the party with two daggers, prominently displayed on their belts, and Whisper, who lived on the south side, led them into the territory of the Two-Blade Gang. They were soon able to find Ratbane (not Ratbone!), but quickly lost him in the crowd. Instead, they spotted the assassin that had wounded Weiss at The Golden Lion!

As Tom had not encountered the assassin previously, the party decided to split up, with Tom following her, while Giso and Therion kept a distance behind him, while Whisper followed him from the rooftop.

But alas! Tom was lured into an alley, and ambushed by Ratbane and several members of the Two-Blade Gang. Fortunately, the others were not too far behind. As the other heroes joined in the melee, more and more gang members, each wielding two bladed weapons, entered the fray. For a while things looked grim, until Giso summoned up a flaming sphere that barreled through the ranks of the gangsters, setting their clothes on fire and forcing several of them to jump into a nearby canal. The assassin was killed by Tom, and Ratbane, now alone and outnumbered, tried to flee but was cornered.

Ratbane confessed to working for Lazar, guarding the stock of Red Mist which Lazar would periodically send to the storeroom there, by boat or through the sewers. However, apart from instructions to keep watch over Therion's shop, the gang had had no contact with their paymaster for several weeks. He then led them back to the sewer hideout, which they had evacuated since the storeroom was torched by Weiss, but which they were supposed to man in the event Lazar needed to contact them. Searching the storeroom, Therion came across a broken glass vial which held Red Mist, and remarked that the material seemed to be of higher quality compared to that used in Weiss' version - Tom recalled where he had seem a similar material: in the glass wine bottles in the Pasha!

A little enquiry revealed that the wine was imported from Trast, from the vineyards that lined the southern slope of the Flametail river valley. The wine would be shipped up the river in giant tuns, along with the glass bottles, and the bottling would take place in a bottling plant in Tamalir. The vineyards and the bottling plant belonged to the Count of Pfalzenstein, and it is believed that the family possessed certain alchemical tricks which they employed to make the wine last longer.

The Counts of Pfalzenstein, the party also learned, hailed from an ancient line, and previously were the Dukes of Tamalir. In the aftermath of the Second Darkness, the Duke was unable to pay for the support of Tamalir, and was forced by the Barons to relinquish the city, which was granted Free City status. In exchange, the House of Pfalzenstein was given a permanent seat on the city council, granted a monopoly on the import of wine (the family owned vineyards in Trast), and they kept their hereditary seat at Castle Pfalzenstein, a small castle on a small island in the Flametail river, about half a day's journey east. The current count of Pfalzenstein kept a townhouse in Tamalir, but the day-to-day business was attended to by his steward.

The party made their way to the townhouse, hoping to lean more about the supplier of the glass vials from the steward, but when they arrived Whisper saw a carriage outside the place - it resembled the one used by Lazar. Not long afterwards the steward exited the townhouse and entered the carriage. Our heroes' request for an interview was rebuffed, and the carriage drove towards the north gate of the city.

That evening, Whisper sneaked into the townhouse and rifled through the contents of the steward's office. The papers there showed that the glass vials were indeed imported along with the wine bottles, but the quantities were so small that, given the selling price of Red Mist, the profit derived therefrom was dwarfed by that of the selling of the wine. There were also invoices for certain alchemical components, which Tom recalled were also seen on the invoices they had recovered from the rival faction for Lazar.

With more evidence pointing to the count's involvement (or at least someone within his household) in the Red Mist trade, the party decided to pay him a visit at his castle. The next morning, they packed their gear (with Therion cutting up an expensive bog oak chair in his inventory to fashion stakes and arrowheads for use against vampires), sat themselves on Therion's mule cart, left instructions for the Justicars to come for them if they had not returned in a week, and made their way out of the city.

Prepping and Running the Game

This session is not based on any particular module, but evolved out of the background of the story so far.

I knew the arc would end with a confrontation between the party and one of the bosses behind the Red Mist trade - the players were quite clear that they wanted to go after Lazar's gang first, so I prepped with this in mind.

I needed to lay a trail of clues for them to follow, so I started to imagine how the count operated his business. It soon became clear to me that his business model did not make sense at all if profit was a motive, which led me into thinking why he had decided to start the whole operation to begin with. The answer, of course, is that 'some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.'.

I decided to link the Red Mist trade to the wine import, on account of the glass, which led to me deciding about the history of the House of Pfalzenstein. The fact that medieval wine was hard to keep fresh allowed me to bring in the element of alchemy, which we will later learn has something to do with the manufacture of Red Mist.

I placed clues in the form of the wine sold at the Pasha, an empty glass vial in the sewer hideout, and the Two-Blade Gang as a source for combat and clues. I had expected the players to visit the bottling plant, which was another possible combat encounter, but they decided to investigate the Two-Blade Gang first, and then skip to the steward's house.

To me the whole chain was pretty clear: glass vial links to glass bottle, glass bottle to wine, wine to bottling plant and vineyard, bottling plant and vineyard to a count residing in a castle outside the city... how much more obvious can it be?

Unfortunately for me, for once my players were reluctant to jump to a conclusion. They spent a bit of time discussing their investigation, with Therion's player proposing that they went to Trast to investigate the make of the glass vials. Fortunately, the other players were able to convince him that they should follow the trail downstream instead of upstream.

In retrospect I realise I could have planned things better, but it is always difficult to strike a balance between making the evidence so clear that the players would be able to go to the city watch or church and just asked them to handle the business, and making the connection so tenuous they are afraid to make the move.

I had actually set aside up to six sessions for this arc of the campaign, but as it turned out we will only play four sessions. This prevented me from developing some of the plot points into longer adventures or encounters - I was planning to have a session where the players would play the roles of the three Justicars, who are sent on a side-quest with Erkiss the kobold to obtain bog oak, and when this could not materialise, I had to improvise and decide that Therion would conceivably have something made of bog oak in his luxury store.