Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Chronicles of the Adventurers' Guild #17

This is the account I received from the companions of Tamira Reid, who on the 18th day of Ostar, in the year 1842, descended into the crypts beneath the Ashen Hills. I hereby record their names for posterity: Kimly of Forge, Leowe Blackclaw, also of Forge, Madian Moonridge, of the University in Greyhaven, and Moonshadow the Elf (see PC profiles here), with the orc Gamdar as their bearer.

Entering the crypts, the party came upon two dragon hybrid sentries, and by means of a beguiling spell were able to interrogate them and learn of their purpose: they had entered the crypts to seek out an undead dragon, animated by the Heart of Nodros, whom they called Ossirex, and whom they worshiped as a god. They had tricked a party of mercenaries to aid them in their quest, passing themselves off as tomb robbers, but had in fact been searching for the lair of this beast, until they were thwarted in their progress by the Cultists of Nodros. They had but recently found their way into the hall wherein Ossirex had been trapped; when the mercenaries saw the undead dragon, they realised that they had been deceived, but were forbidden to leave, and instead made to excavate a tunnel to the surface to free Ossirex, that he might appear before all the dragon hybrid and unite them.

The party then resolved to used subterfuge to lure the two other dragon hybrid in the cabal out of the lair, that they may be overcomed individually, but it seemed that the magic user among them were able to break the beguiling enchantment over their brethren, and they came silently upon our heroes and sought to ambush them. A melee ensued, during which three of the dragon hybrid were slain, and the orc Gamdar fled.

Calling upon the blessings of Kellos onto herself and her fellows, Tamira led the pursuit of the remaining villain, their leader, to the hall. There, she called out for the mercenaries to lay down their arms and leave, promising them safety and the mercy of Kellos if they did, and they did so, abandoning their former master.

Entering the hall, they did battle with the dragon hybrid and Ossirex, the great undead dragon. And although with his foul sorcery Ossirex was able to raise countless skeletal warriors to aid him, our heroes were able to overcome them with the grace of Kellos.

Tamira herself plucked the stone Heart of Nodros from the chest of Ossirex, but its evil burned her hands with a coldness. Now Kellos spoke to Tamira, and told her that the Heart must be destroyed with the mace of Druentes, which Tamira wielded, but the wielder would be killed in the act too.

Despite the beseeching of her companions, Tamira resolved to do so, ignoring their pleas, and so sacrificed herself for the good of all Terrinoth.

Her remains were faithfully gathered by Leowe Blackmane, who, stricken with grief, became a blasphemer of Kellos, blaming him for not returning Tamira to life.

So the tale was told to me by the companions of Tamira, and I did behold with mine own eyes the skull of Ossirex, which was terrible in aspect.

And it is thus that I beg our holy church to build upon this site a shrine honouring our late Sister in Kellos, that her deed and the grace of Kellos may be known to all who pass.

Brother Othar, Priest of Kellos

Prepping and Running the Game

The account above of the last session in our Barrowmaze campaign is mostly false, but what I imagine the PCs would have told Brother Othar upon their return to the guild, and how he would have recorded it.

The party did come upon the dragon hybrid sentries, and they did use Charm spells on them, and learned that they had not in fact set the guild on fire (the death cultists did, but the players did not have a way to know that), and also learn their true purpose for coming to the dungeon. And then things went south from there.

They came up with the idea of using the Charmed dragon hybrids to lure more of their fellows out so that they may be tackled individually, before the party takes on Ossirex. As they needed only one of the dragon hybrid to make the plan work, they had to decide on what to do with the other one. Some of the players wanted to kill him, which I told them was something which Tamira, being a cleric of Kellos, would not agree to. In the ensuing argument, Tamira's player did not actively try to prevent this from happening, and Moonshadow's player decided that he would simply stab the dragon hybrid while the rest of the party was arguing.

I decided that Gamdar, who had volunteered to be their bearer, was so outraged by the unnecessary killing that he dropped all of the party's gear and started to walk off... and that's when they Charmed him too, tied him up, and knocked him out.

The party sent the remaining dragon hybrid back to the lair with the command to lure the others out. I decided that their leader, a sorcerer, would see through the ruse and dispel the magic, and in turn use the Invisibility and Fury Fire spells (a fireball centred around the caster) to ambush the PCs instead. In the resulting fight the PCs took a lot of damage, but were able to kill all but the leader, who fled back to the hall.

When Tamira tried to heal the party, I told her that her spells weren't working. It wasn't long before my players realised that I had ruled that Kellos had withdrawn his spells from Tamira. Tamira's player, being an old school gamer, knew what to do: he made her set up and impromptu shrine and prayed for guidance.

Meanwhile, we got into an OOC argument about whether Kellos was justified in doing what he did. The players argued that the dragon hybrids' plan to release an undead dragon would result in many deaths, and for that they already deserved death; also, in their circumstances they could not risk having a prisoner around. I argued that the PCs could have tied up the dragon hybrid, and then gone on to destroy Ossirex, which would have neutralised the threat without them having to kill a defenceless prisoner.

Eventually I let Kellos give Tamira her powers back, on a "probational" basis given the threat they all faced, but by the the mood at the table was already soured.

With her powers restored, Tamira was able to buff the party really well, and the boss fight turned out to be less exciting than I had hoped for. There was some interaction with the surroundings, as the players tried to bring the ceiling down on the skeletons - I had made some rubble counters for this expressed purpose as I imagined Ossirex would use his tail to sweep down pillars and bring sections of the ceiling down to separate the PCs - but I had the feeling that our hearts were not really in it.

Things got worse after the fight, as the players now had to decide what to do with the Heart of Nodros. I told them that Tamira was able to intuit by holding the mace of Druentes that the mace could destroy the Heart, but the wielder would be killed in the process. Tamira's player was keen to destroy the Heart there and then, while others argued for bringing it back to Brother Othar and perhaps subsequently to the church in Vynevale. Then they came up with the idea of Charming the bound Gamdar and making him do the deed for them instead so none of the PCs would have to die.

As this discussion went on Moonshadow and Kimly's players moved their characters away from Tamira as they saw what would be coming, and when it seemed like Leowe and Madian would force the issue, Tamira's player had her destroy the Heart before they could get their hands on it. There was a blinding explosion which brought more of the ceiling down, and when the dust had settled the Heart could not be told apart from the rubble.

Leowe salvaged as much of Tamira's remains as he could, hoping that the church could resurrect her, but they were unable to. We ended the campaign with Tamira being made a saint and a shrine of her being set up at the former site of the guild, and Leowe carrying Tamira's remains in his backpack and vowing to find a way to bring her back to life again.

I am deeply disappointed with how the session went and how the campaign ended. I am not yet sure when things began to spin out of my control, and when I could have effectively steered the game away from the way it went.

Charm and Command spells are always problematic in an RPG, and I do wonder if I should ban PCs from having access to them in the future.

Obviously the players saw the situations presented to them as tactical problems to be solved, and not moral choices to be made, which points to a failure on the part of the GM to present the world in a fashion that encouraged them, or rather their characters, to view the world as a place where the killing of defenceless people was something that even hardened adventurers would not do.

There is definitely a lesson to be learned here for me, although I cannot yet tell what it is.

I hope to do a retrospective of the campaign in the future, not so much on how the campaign went, but what I learned about running an open-table megadungeon using an OSR set of rules.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Chronicles of the Adventurers' Guild #16

On the 17th day of Ostar, guild members Kelso, Kimly, Leowe, and Erik, (see PC profiles here) with the bearer Karl in employment, and accompanied by the mendicant monk Brother Tuck, returned to the southeastern section of the underground complex.

Here, they entered the south door in the chamber with coloured walls, and defeated the undead within, and recovered the grave goods, which included a fine bronze sword.

Then, returning to the eastern corridors, they explored the four side chambers, each of which they learned house a bronze skull upon a plinth, and each of which was protected by an elemental guardian. The party was able to defeat the elemental guardians in turn and retrieve the four bronze skulls, which when placed into the niches in the central bronze door, caused it to open.

The bronze door lead into a large hall, within which was a single sarcophagus and much grave goods contained in earthen urns. A ghostly form arose from the sarcophagus when the party attempted to recover the grave goods, and began to attack them with elemental magic, but the members were able to defeat it and recover the grave goods, which included a golden sceptre with four precious stones set upon its head.

Grave goods recovered were assessed to be 251 Gros in value, of which 84 Gros was disbursed to the members according to the terms of the contract. Member Kimly purchased the bronze sword at 66 Gros, and member Kelso purchased the sceptre at 66 Gros.


On the night of the 17th day of Ostar, the guild hall, as well as the Kellos chapel nearby were set on fire by unknown arsonists. Most guild members and staff were able to evacuate the hall, but bearer Karl died in the fire, and many others suffered from the effects of inhalation the noxious smoke.

I was able to salvage with my person these chronicles, and Harnold was able to keep safe the Guild ledger and much of the guild's treasury, but much of the sundries and supplies were consumed by the flames.

When we sent for help at Fort Rodric, we learned that the garrison had been taken ill, with tainted food being the suspected cause.

Our pressing need now is to care for those who are stricken, which we do with the aid of Brother Othar and his guests from Vynevale, but it seems several guild members wish to undertake a final expedition to the barrows, for what goal I know not.


Jeras, Guild Chronicler

Prepping and Running the Game

This is the penultimate session of the campaign, and it happened that the four players who could attend are the same who will be in the Sorcery! sequel campaign, so we played a short session before going on to create characters for that campaign.

There were no healer PC available, so my players petitioned me for a hireling healer, and I decided to conjure up a monk to join them.

The session was filled with shenanigans, such as when Leowe inadvertently caused damage to the other party members when he used Gust of Force on a Fire Elemental, and Kelso returned the favour on his turn, and when the other members pranked Leowe by slamming the door and leaving him alone with an Air Elemental in a room instead of going in to help him as they agreed.

The delve ended with the party getting their hands on two magical items: a flaming sword, and a sceptre that grants the holder resistance to elemental damage.

In the final part of the session I set the lead-up to the finale session: visitors from Vynevale - Brothers Grimmel and Berkin (see here), accompanied by two justicars - bring grave news from the holy city; the copy of inscription sent to Vynevale by Brother Othar was recognised to be the same script as an ancient manuscript, which told the story of one Druentes, a follower of Eusodes (Yasoda), and the company he led into the crypts of Nodros cultists in a quest to destroy the Heart of Nodros, a magical artifact that gave them the power to raise undead. Druentes was betrayed and killed, but his follwoers were able to chase the cultists to the northeast sector of the crypts, and collapse the tunnel there, trapping them and the Heart of Nodros. Druentes was buried in the crypts as he requested in his dying words, that he may watch over the evil in case they should rise again.

Although they did not know the true intent of the dragonkin and his party, the players were able to put two and two together and realise that the Heart of Nodros and the fact that the Ashen Hills was once the site of a great battle during the Dragon Wars and therefore contained perhaps many remains of dragons made for a bad combination.

Brothers Othar and Grimmel then beseeched the PCs to return to the underground complex and recover the Heart of Nodros before someone else did. The players briefly considered returning straightaway, but decided to do so the next morning.

This allowed me to proceed with my plan and have the death cultists set the halls on fire in retaliation for the PCs' part in their ousting. I then told the players that one out of their two PCs is incapacitated from smoke inhalation, and they would each have to decide which character to use for the final session.

I am hoping to be able to get six players around the table for our finale, which should be one big fight, after which we will convert the surviving characters to 5E, and archive them for a future campaign. We will then hopefully be able to have a discussion and decide on what campaign to play after the Sorcery! campaign sequel.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Blood Bowl 2021 League Round #3

After a couple of weeks' break we got back to our league again.

This time round my skavens faced the Black Orc team. Adrian spent some gold recruiting a trained troll to his team, which gave me a lot of gold for inducement.

We rolled on the weather table and got rain, which was a bad thing for me. I won the coin toss and chose to receive, and scored a classic skaven two-turn touchdown, which was a shock to Adrian.

We then rolled a "Blitz" on the next kick-off, which saw me run two players into the Black Orc's half and interfered with the Black Orc's drive. Adrian was close to the touchdown line at turn 8, but a failed throw team mate roll saw him go into the second half one point down.

In the second half he formed a cage and methodically drove down the pitch, but unfortunately the dice were still not in his favour as he failed to put any skaven into the Casualty box. He scored on turn 14, leaving me two turns to try to win the game. This time round the Black Orc team was ready for my skavens, and although I managed to run three players into his half on turn 15, he managed to mark all of them, and I dropped the ball on my final hand-off that saw me one die-roll away from winning.

I was actually worried about facing the Black Orc team, but as Adrian's team was heavy on the heavies, it left him with fewer goblins to run defence.

At the end of the third game, the standing is as follows:

Kazak Killers: 6

Badland Brawlers: 4

Skavenholme Scallyways: 4

Middenheim Marauders: 0

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Musings on Gaming #4 - Soul

Although I have been GMing since around 1986, I didn't really give any thought to the themes of my campaigns until perhaps ten years ago. For the first twenty-five years of my "career" as a GM, I had largely let my players make whatever character they wanted, and then ran them through a string of unrelated module, never bothering much with the theme of the campaign, or the motivations of the PCs: I presented a villain/treasure map, and it was their jobs as PCs to defeat that villain/kill whatever was guarding that treasure and take it.

Granted, most of those years were my teenage years when my players and I were just content with exploring dungeons and killing stuff and gaining cool magical items. Gaming was rare during my university and working years, until around 2008, when the re-release of Dragon Warriors led to me meeting Adrian on an RPG forum, which led to a regular Saturday gaming sessions at his place.

The first breakthrough for me came during the Lone Wolf campaign I ran for the group. The players were all playing the good guys: Sommerlending Knight, Kai Lord, Brotherhood Mage. I told the players:"think Star Wars, and you are the Jedi", and we went through a series of unrelated modules from that I stringed together. A few sessions into the game, I felt that the PCs were getting too bloodthirsty, often killing bad guys even after they had incapacitated them - we are talking about humans here, not Giak or Drakkarim. I addressed this in-game by having their masters comment on that they were getting closer to the dark side and urging them to exercise mercy and restraint to redeem themselves.

The campaign then continued with me using a Conan module, where the villain, in the guise of a priest of a good order, used the death of his predecessor, a much loved champion of the poor, to foment social division and call for violence against the rich - a mysterious monster was murdering innocent people in the city, and the priest was claiming that it was divine retribution for the sins of the rich. As the days went by, tension began to build and threatened to boil over into mass violence. The PCs went about investigating the murders, and came into frequent contact with the priest and the city leaders. The Kai Lord became sympathetic to the position of the priest, while the Mage and the Knight were suspicious of him and tended to side with the city leaders. Much of the sessions were just RPing, and I often had to toggle between the two groups as the party split to interact with the two sides.

When the final confrontation came and it was revealed that the evil priest had raised his predecessor as an undead to murder on his behalf, the Kai Lord was so enraged at this betrayal that he killed the priest, even after he was left defenceless by the others. I then ruled that because of this act, Kai had stripped him of his Kai Discipline powers.

The player was of course unhappy about the whole thing: first being conned by the GM, and then being punished. Fortunately for me, he did not quit the campaign, but soldiered on, redeemed himself, and his powers were eventually restored to him.

I look back at this campaign fondly because it was the first of my campaigns where I felt there was a theme that ran through the sessions. Even though I had not planned it that way to start with, the mere idea that this was "Star Wars, and you are the Jedi" probably guided the way I, and later my players, viewed the actions of the PCs. And the theme of Star Wars - at least the first six movies - was about power, corruption, fall, and redemption.

I have employed the idea of a campaign theme in some of my other campaigns: the theme of "deception" in my Sorcery! campaign, and that of "price of peace" in my Space Opera Season 2. I find that having a theme helps me to plan the sessions, in creating situations where the players, through their PCs, are confronted with the theme of the campaign.

Of course, not all campaigns need a theme, or will benefit from one. Some of my mini-campaigns are just play-throughs of classic TSR modules, and I think that for a funhouse dungeon like White Plume Mountain it is perhaps the lack of a theme rather than the presence of one that makes it so memorable.

The employment of a theme, while useful for a more GM-directed campaign, may work less well in a more player-directed, or sandbox type of campaign, where the theme may instead emerge from the plans and actions of the PCs.

In such a campaign, in place of a predetermined theme, it is more suitable to employ what Matt Colville calls a "central tension" for the campaign setting.

The central tension is perhaps implied in the original D&D, with the duality in alignment: Law vs Chaos. It is hard-baked into the White Wolf RPGs, where the purported aim of the various "X; The Y" games is to explore the tension in our modern society through the lens of some non-human being, whose non-humanity forces us to examine our own humanity. Or something like that. I've only ever GM'd Mage: the Ascension, and I not not sure I did it correctly.

Regardless of whether you use a central tension that comes with the setting, or whether you create one of your own, central tension is what creates drama and invites the PCs to act. Two sides are in conflict, or will soon be in open conflict, and the PCs have the choice to make on which side they wish to see win in this conflict, and how they choose will decide that.

How your players choose, however, will be decided by their characters' motivations, which will be the topic of the next post in this series.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Future Campaign/s

This post is primarily for the players in my group, although if you are a follower and have some suggestion on what campaign we should play in the near future, do leave your comments.

With the Sorcery! 2 campaign scheduled to run from April to May, we can start planning for the campaign that will follow it; and if we like more than one of them, we can always queue them for future campaigns.

I've got a few ideas for what we can play next; the first three follow the drop-in, drop-out format as with the Barrowmaze campaign, while the next three require a more regular attendance.

1. Space Opera Season 3: Deepnight Revelation

This is a Traveller kickstarter I backed a while back and, providing it delivers by May, we will use it as a basis for Season 3 of our Space Opera campaign.

The premise is: after the events in Season 2, the United Confederation found a wormhole in the Dead Zone which they believe lead to the homeworld of the Grens. Together with the Tazanian Empire, they built an exploration vessel, crewed by the best the Confederation, the Empire, and the Neutral Zone have to offer, for a mission to go through the wormhole and find the source of the Gren threat and put an end to it... and Nick, AJ, Kumra Khan, and RB have been asked to head the mission.

Rules will likely be Savage Worlds

Players from the previous Seasons will retain their characters (except for Jet, who is still considered too junior for command and will play as a crew character), and also create a new "crew" character - other players will also each create a crew character. Game will be semi-trope style, with the command team making the command decisions, and the crew PCs doing the execution. Think Star Trek (TNG or Voyager - not Discovery).

We will continue the drop-in, drop-out system, with the team for the session made up of the players who can make the session.

2a. Return to Terrinoth: The B Team aka Lakemane's Larcenous Lackeys

What can I say? I like Terrinoth, and I love some of the characters you guys have made and played.

This campaign picks up where the B Team and Barrowmaze left off.

Our campaign is set in the city of Tamalir, and consist of Therion Lakemane (now Steward to the Count of Pfalzenstein), Whisper Blackmane, Giso, and Tom, (all around level 5) as well as characters from the Barrowmaze campaign. Rules will be 5E, with the Five Torches Deep characters converted over to the corresponding class, with XPs at 1-to-1, i.e. around level 4.

The campaign will probably be more player-directed as we follow the shenanigans of Lakemane and company in their quest for... whatever it is that you guys feel up to!

2b. Return to Terrinoth: The A Team aka Venier's Valourous Vigilantes

Alternatively, we can rejoin the A Team, i.e. Entana, Strigoi, Percy, and the world famous Gio Gerbo, all around level 6.

This campaign will be set in Fulhurst, a village on the edge of the dreaded Mistlands that Entana is holding for the University of Greyhaven. The PCs will be retainers who have joined the party, drawn by the fame of our heroes. You can choose to convert your Barrowmaze characters to 5E, or create a new 5E character at level 4.

Play will be in a style similar to Deepnight Revelation above, with the players for the original party making the "domain-level" decisions, and the retainers doing the actual adventuring. There will be a more definite plot-arc for this campaign.

2c. Return to Terrinoth: The C Team - Guild-Free

In this alternative, you keep one of your characters from the Barrowmaze campaign, convert him/her to 5E, and you form a party. Play will be in the more traditional format. Where will you go? You tell me!

3. Gamma World and Shadowrun mash-up

This is something has been at the back of my mind for years now, and is a mash-up of a Shadowrun-esque campaign we played, and the Gamma World mini-campaign I ran.

The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where civilisation still exists in megacities ruled by vampires, while in the wastelands beyond the city walls scavengers and mutants eke out a living in the hostile landscape.

In the first thread of the story, George Bennett (failed mob doctor), Ice (cyborg street samurai), and Victoria (half-vampire), have fled into the wastelands with a little girl, pursued by vampires who want to use her as a bio-weapon.

In the second thread of the story, our village of mutant sentient-but-not-necessarily-anthropomorphic animals have recently explored a crashed spaceship and returned with high-tech weapons which they hope will help them defend their village against a tribe of human wasteland warriors bent of eliminating all mutants.

As their paths cross, the two parties find that despite their differences, working together may be their only hope for survival in this crazy cross-genre world.

No idea what rules to use yet - the decision will largely depend on whether we want a more gritty game, or a more gonzo, roll-for-your-new-mutation game.

4. Something, something, Jon Hodgson

OK, this one is less worked out, but the idea is to use The Hero's Journey, a set of OSR-ish rules, for some sort of a "journey" campaign.

There are several candidates for the setting, including my old favourite Anglo-Saxon England, Middle Earth, the Lone Wolf world, or the Dragon Warriors world. The key thing is that the campaign should involve some sort of long journey, and lean into the "fellowship" aspects of the rules, and that the mood should be Jon Hodgson art.

5. Something else

Those are four ideas I have, but if you have something that you think the group will enjoy playing, and if I think I can do the idea justice, then do bring it to the discussion.

It can be a short campaign, or a long-ish one, fantasy, sci-fi, pulp, or modern - I am open to running most things except Horror, which I don't think I will be competent at.

So let me know what your thoughts are!

Friday, March 12, 2021

Dwarrowdeep Kickstarter

Being a dwarf sucks. You delve too deep *one time*, and now that's what everybody remembers about your people...

From the creator of Barrowmaze comes a new kickstarter: Dwarrowdeep.

Now neither the name nor the premise of the megadungeon sound innovative, but the author hints at a plot twist... But the point of Old School, as least as far as I am concerned, is not doing something *new*, but doing something old *well*.

I enjoyed Barrowmaze, even though I did not run the dungeon 'as is' - I mean, no one can actually run this thing 'as is', right?

What I liked about Barrowmaze is how there is a logic to the whole megadungeon, from the whole reason why the dungeon was there, to why there were different 'districts' to the dungeon, and why the monsters are there, as well as NPC factions with their own motivations.

And now it looks like Greg Gillespie is promising something like that again: a megadungeon with a reason and coherence.

I am still on the fence on this one: delivery date of Aug 2022 is too far even for me to plan for, but a lost dwarven home is something that you can drop into almost any fantasy world - heck, I can drop it into Magnamund, Thedas, *and* Terrinoth, and have the campaign link back to one or more PC in each of the worlds!

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Chronicles of the Adventurers Guild #15

On the 14th day of Ostar, guild members Aksinya, Erik, Folly, Francis, Grak, Kelso, Kimly, Leowe, Madian, Moonshadow, Piper, and Tamira (see PC profiles here) explored the underground complex via barrow #35. Exploring to the west, they came upon a series of chambers, guarded by undead, which they defeated, and recovered much grave goods.

Grave goods recovered were assessed to be 525 Gros in value, of which 131 Gros was disbursed to the members according to the terms of the contract.


Jeras, Guild Chronicler

On the 16th day of Ostar, guild members Tamira, Madian, Kimly, and Leowe, with the bearer Karl in employment, explored the underground complex via barrow#16. Exploring west and then south, they came upon a chamber within which were the crushed remains of tomb robbers. The stones upon the walls of the chamber animated and took the form of men, and attacked the party when they sought to cross the chamber, but they were able to overcome the enemies.

Proceeding further south, they came upon a fork in passage. To the west they came upon a bronze door, upon which were four niches, each carved with a different symbol, which they surmised to represent the four elements. To the east the passage led to a square room, within which was a bronze statue of a four-armed demon. The four walls were painted each a different colour: blue, yellow, red, and brown. There were a sealed door on the north, east, and south walls.

The party broke down the eastern door, and found within it a single sarcophagus. When they sought to open the sarcophagus, a ghostly form appeared and attacked them, but they were able to defeat it. Within the sarcophagus the found the remains of an individual with much grave goods. The party then broke through the northern door, and found again a single sarcophagus. Once more a ghostly undead rose to attack them, and once more they defeated it, but member Tamira was grievously wounded in the fight. The party recovered the rich grave goods within the sarcophagus, and returned to the guild.

Grave goods recovered were assessed to be 186 Gros in value, of which 64 Gros was disbursed to the members according to the terms of the contract.


Jeras, Guild Chronicler

Prepping and Running the Game

This session was a continuation from the last one, although we had to retcon a little because of player availability.

The party came upon the fight between the Dragon cultists and the Death cultists, and a confused melee ensued, made worse by the use of the darkness spell by the Death cult leader. Eventually the PCs were able to gain the upper hand and drive the Death cultists away, but they were able to flee through the room with zombies, which delayed the pursuing Dragon cultists enough for them to escape.

The two victorious parties then looted the belongings left behind - I used one of the random tables from Knock! #1 as a random loot table - and I had the Dragonkin rogue from the Dragon cult gather the grave goods and divide them into four piles, and then inviting the PCs to pick three of them as their cut of the loot. This was done to show the players that the Dragon cultists were either stand-up fellows, or else not really interested in money...

It was a massive haul, but divided among 11 PCs, it didn't come up to much per character.

One of the players was still fixated on the idea that the undead woman in the underground pool was what the cultists were after, and managed to convince the others to break the terms of the agreement with the Dragon cultists and make a night-time trip to the cavern, a sector that was technically out of bounds to the PCs, to search it more thoroughly.

I was totally unprepared for this - I have told them that the area was rumoured to be crawling with undead after sundown, and no one in their right mind would travel there after dark, and assumed they would never do so either. During the time they were discussing this I realised I could use one of the mechanics in Five Torches Deep to resolve the journey. This mechanic was intended to allow a GM to resolve a session if there wasn't enough time to play a party's journey to the base, and involved having each character make a single roll to see how many hit points he or she lost. As we were using this to roll for the forward journey, this meant some of the PCs started the delve with many hit points down, and had to cast healing spells, which had the risk of the caster losing the ability to cast spells for the actual delve. Fortunately for them, that did not happen.

The players then went through in detail how they searched the cavern, and I had to come up with something quick to not disappoint them. I decided that the undead woman was the ghost of a woman strangled and sacrificed in the pool, like a bog mummy. The party was able to recover her skeleton, which they decided to bring back to the guild. The player now wants to see if he can somehow resurrect the woman with the aid of the NPC cleric...

The following adventuring day the players decided to stick to the agreement with the Dragon cultists and explore the part of the dungeon that now "belongs" to the guild. This section of the dungeon features an elemental evil theme, so the things they discover there all featured the same theme.

The eastern branch of the passage actually leads to five other corridors, including the one with the bronze door with niches. The other four corridors each led to a room that held one of the keys to the bronze door. Strangely, instead of walking down the other four corridors, my players decided to explore the western corridor, and came upon the room with the coloured walls and statue. They at first assumed that the statue was the key to opening the bronze door, but could not figure out how that worked. Then when one player had his character touch one of the walls, I described how the pigment rubbed off onto his hand. The next thing I knew I had four PCs, each with one hand covered in pigment inside one of the niches. It was a face-palm moment, and I told the players that had this been a Gygaxian dungeon, we would be having four one-handed PCs right now.

That said, I am happy with how they got into the OSR mode and explored various ways of interacting with the environment I described to try to solve the puzzles they faced (or for that matter, created for themselves...). Most of their initiatives were not rewarded, however, as I could not reasonably 'say yes' to them and spin a whole new thread to the campaign and still keep everything on schedule for a finale in two more sessions. The other issue was that XPs in OSR was tied to challenges, and had I allowed their solutions to work, it would not have been fair (and it would not have felt fair to them) to award the PCs enough XPs for them to level up before the final session.

The chasing of the red herring (the strangled woman) was an interesting one. I wonder if this was a side-effect of using a pre-made module. Had I designed the adventure on my own from ground up, perhaps I would have been 'economical' and omitted any element that did not relate to the main plot.

Unable to figure out the bronze door, they decided to just fall back on what they knew best: break down doors, kill undead, take their stuff. They were able to clear two of the three crypts in the square room before they ran out of spells and return to the guild, which was perfect for me - hopefully they will complete this section of the dungeon the next session, which will allow me to end that session with the big reveal, and set up the final session.

Saturday, March 06, 2021

Musings on Gaming #3 - Space

All of the fantasy RPG worlds that I set my campaigns in - Terrinoth/Menara, Ferelden/Thedas, Magnamund, Dragon Warriors' Legend, and Fighting Fantasy's Titan - are large worlds, presumably Earth-sized planets.

While it is fun to read about the diverse regions in the world, it is improbably that a single adventuring party will travel to all or even most of the places described in a setting book. Nevertheless, there is a way for GMs to convey the size of the world to the players without having to take the PCs to all these places.

The first is of course to have the PCs come across and interact with people and things which come from these foreign, far-flung regions. Most fantasy medieval worlds have a functioning trade system, and often trade is the chief reason the movement of people and goods across vast distances; others that I can think of are pilgrimage and conquest (which in itself usually stems from a desire to move people and goods...). People and goods from foreign lands are distinguished by the fact that they are different from the local people and goods, and these differences can be expressed both culturally and materially.

One of the most obvious difference between peoples is of course language, and here is where I dislike the concept of the Common language (as conveniently as it makes the job of the GM), unless there is an in-world reason such as the existence of a continent-spanning empire. In settings where the region the game is set in is an analogue of our own Dark Ages or Middle Ages, this becomes even more glaring. In our own world, 'national' languages in the form which we understand them now did not exist in medieval Europe, and that is something that I like to reflect in my game worlds too.  

To a lesser extent this dislike also applies to the existence of "racial" languages like Dwarven or Elvish, unless again there are in-world reasons for why certain races should have a language that changes very little over a span of hundred of years, such as the people being very long-lived, or that the language is being guarded very zealously, such as with a liturgical language, or with a very closed community.

For these reasons I dislike spells that allow PCs to understand or speak foreign languages (I save that kind of thing for my sci-fi campaigns), as it takes away the uniqueness of the cultures. In fact, I lean further into the differences in language, and sometimes describe my NPCs as having an accent that is from a different part of the same nation that the PCs are from, or using a local expression not familiar to them. Where communities of "demi-humans" live among humans, I describe them as speaking the same local language as the humans, but with words from their own languages sprinkled here and there. Where an NPC is not a fluent speaker of the language the PCs are speaking, I describe them as speaking with a heavy accent, haltingly, and/or with a different grammar.

Another way to portray the vastness of the game world, and also its age, is to have indicators of migrations of ancient people in the setting. The fact that much of Europe now speak an Indo-European language and practise a Semitic religion is the result of movements of culture and peoples across a period of millennia, and something that at once speaks of how big our world is and how old human cultures are. GMs can allude the existence of such movements of cultures and peoples by having languages that are related, and having say the head church/temple of a religion or its pilgrimage site being far away from the PCs' native place.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Chronicles of the Adventurers Guild #14

Prepping and Running the Game

This week's report takes a slightly different format for a couple of reasons: 1. the PCs are unlikely to be truthful in their report to Guild Chronicler Jeras, and 2. we ended the game mid-delve, which we have not done before.

A brief recap of the session.

The PCs decided that they would go along with the tomb-robbers' plan to launch a co-ordinated attack on the Death cultists.

To accommodate the fact that 12 PCs were in on the scheme but only four players were at the table, we had the players who were present send their characters into the dungeon, while the rest stood guard at the known exits to cut off any retreat.

However, as Kelso's player was convinced that the strange woman on the island in the underground pool was the quarry the dragonkin are after, the PCs proposed a start time of 1pm, to allow them to try to find out her true nature. Unfortunately for them, the woman was just a "monster of the room", and cost the PCs a little resources.

Moving back to the main mission, the PCs moved through the door they had barricaded the last session, and managed to find the secret door that led into a room that would have led to the cultists' lair.

The room was guarded by ten zombies and an Idolic Deity, a monster from the Tome of Beast. The flying statuette had the power of casting an aura that eroded a divine caster's faith, and the two strongest members in the party were nerfed and fell back. Here the players fell back to OSR thinking and threw a fishing net over the statuette and wrestled it down and bashed it to bits, while keeping the zombies at bay with a area-control spell.

Since they did not clear the room of the zombies, however, they failed to find the secret door that would have led to the cultists' west flank. Already late for the attack, they had to rely on their map and execute a wide march to the south and then east, before finally coming upon the passage that led to the cultists' east flank by following the sound of battle.

As one of the players had to leave early, and as I had not expected this development, we ended the session about half an hour early, just as they PCs are running towards the fight.

This gives me a week to plan the fight that we will open the session with. I am still not sure how to do this: on the one hand the Death cultists are outnumbered and they have a clear route for retreat (something which I was worried about before this development), yet on the other hand I would hate to have ended a session early in anticipation of a big fight... and then make it an anti-climatic rout.

Well, I have a week to plan for this, so let's see what happens!