Saturday, October 01, 2022

Dwarrowdeep #5

Prepping and Running the Game

This session saw the party (Boggart, Bertil, Mulgrim, and Zunn; see PC profiles here) and the Fearsome Five (a fellow adventuring party of Avvars) return to the lyrium mines via the underground river. This time the docks were defended by the Scaled Ones, which the Fearsome Five defeated, after which they remained to guard the boats.

The party proceeded on back to the spider cavern, where they killed the giant spider and then burned the eggs she was guarding. There they also found the remains of two elven warriors, and took off them two pairs of gauntlets. These are linked to the story arcs for Mulgrim and Zunn, both of whom wish to take the Arcane Warrior specialisation later, and specialise in unarmed combat - typical players: you run a campaign set in a dwarven megadungeon, and two want to play elven monks...

Passing the spider cavern, the party entered the cavern guarded by the Rock Wraith. Bertil attempted to bargain with it for passage, and was told that the party could pass if they left behind the dead body of one of the three mages in the party. This was of course unacceptable to the party, and a fight ensued, resulting in the destruction of the Rock Wraith.

The party crossed the stone bridge that led deeper into the cavern, driving off more Scaled Ones as they did so. They were then drawn by a moving blue light down one of the smaller tunnels. They followed the light for a while, until at last they came to a dead-end at a sinkhole. Suddenly the roof of the tunnel collapsed, trapping Boggart and Zunn. Before they could begin to dig through the rockfall, the party was attacked by ghosts of dwarven miners. By the time the ghosts were defeated Bertil laid dead on the tunnel floor, and Mulgrim was unable to revive him.

Meanwhile, Bertil's spirit floated above his own dead form. He was soon joined by a spirit, who communicated with him telepathically. Learning of Bertil's distress, the spirit led him down back into his body, and Bertil found himself alive again. This encounter is linked to Bertil's character arc, as the player wants him to pursue the Spirit Healer specialisation.

Looking into the sinkhole at the end of the tunnel the party saw the calcified skeleton of a long dead dwarven miner. The skeleton crumbled when they tried to fish it out, but they were able to recover a silverite dagger from the sinkhole, which Boggart kept.

The party decided to carry on with their exploration, and returned to the main tunnel, until at last it opened into a large cavern. Waiting them there were a group a Scaled Ones warriors, led by a champion who could breath fire. A hard fight followed, and the party were planning to flee when a lucky shot brought down the champion and caused the other warriors to flee.

After the bound their wounds, the party proceeded further, and found that the Scaled Ones have abandoned the area, likely by diving into a sinkhole. They found that the site was likely used for the storage and refining of raw lyrium by the dwarves until the thaig was abandoned. In one of the rooms they found a burning statue of a demonic form like that of the Rock Wraith which they defeated. When the fire subsided they found a sticky charred substance on the statue, which Bertil identified as burnt blood.

The party took the head of the Scaled One champion as proof and trophy, and returned to the dock.


In the post-game Organisation phase the players failed their roll, and the roll on the Misfortune Table indicated an enemy attack. Continuing the thread from the previous session, I decided that some Fereldens have decided to launch an attack on the thaig's Great Hall outside the mountain hold as retaliation for the dwarves trading with the Avvar.

There followed a tense negotiation as me playing the Arl of Redcliffe, and the player as Rolf Khundar. Rolf demanded the perpetrators to be handed over to him, but I refused, as the Great Hall stood on Ferelden land which was leased to the dwarves and still subject to Ferelden law.

Rolf then backed down, but required compensation for his losses, which I gladly agreed to - I would rebuild the Great Hall, and levy the cost from fines imposed on the perpetrators, which would allow me to resolve the situation with the dwarves, while still keeping my own authority over my subjects, and impose a just but not harsh punishment.

This session allowed me to advance the story arcs for two of the characters. In the next session I plan to introduce a new element to advance Boggart's character arc.

I will also be following up on Rolf's attempt to poach lyrium miners from Orzammar.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Dwarrowdeep #4

Prepping and Running the Game

As is now customary, we began the session with a recap of the progress of the thaig so far, as well as the consequences/repercussions of the progress.

The reopening of the West Gate a month prior had allowed the thaig to establish trade with the Avvar, exchanging dwarven tools and weapons for some food. The volume of the trade is not high, but news of it had traveled to the Fereldens, who are occasionally the victims of Avvar raids to the lowlands. Some elements have begun to call for a trade embargo with the dwarves.

Meanwhile, the discovery of the lake has provided another source of food supply, and work is in progress to re-establish the aqueducts to channel the water to the Lower Hall, which will further reduce the thaig's reliance on outsiders.

On the production front, the recycling of the old weapons found in the thaig has progressed slowly on account of a lack of smiths, as well as coal. The reopening of the coal mines has been delayed by a lack of miners, and the complaints from the miners that the mines haunted.

In this session, our adventurers were sent to follow the river flowing out of the underground lake to learn where it led to.

The party - Lorca, Boggart, and Bertil (see PC profiles here) - and the boatman Boran sailed down the underground river, and after some four hours came to a crumbling, dis-used dock right before a waterfall. The dock led to a cavern which was lit by bioluminescent Deep Mushrooms, which Boran informed them were dwarven delicacies.

The party disembarked and began to explore the caverns and its passages, and had to fight off a pack of Deepstalkers - small velociraptor-like creatures that inhabit the Deep Roads. Bertil began to develop a sense of unease and a headache, which he later realised was due to the presence of lyrium ore in the area. It soon became evident that the dwarves had carved rooms and shelves in the caves, and used the area as a sort of warehouse.

Exploring deeper, the party passed through a cave inhabited by a giant spider, which they fought off. Proceeding on, they were attacked by tall, reptilian humanoids. While they were fighting these strange creatures, they were attacked by the animated statue of a demonic form, and had to flee.

On their return through the spider cave they noticed a glint of metal reflecting the light of their lantern. With torches in hand, they set the webs covering the passages on fire and drove off the spider, and found some relics from centuries past: a dwarven axe with a Rune of Paralysis, an elven helm, and an elven lantern.


This session introduced two major plot threads: the discovery of lyrium in the thaig, and evidence of a Dalish Elf mission to the thaig.

Rolf Khunda has taken the decision to try to poach smiths skilled in the mining and processing of lyrium ore from Orzammar. To Orzammar this would amount to a declaration of war, although how this war can be prosecuted will require a lot of thought. The travel time between the thaig and Orzammar means I will have a gap of two sessions to think this over.

The second thread relates to the personal goals of the three Dalish Elf PCs in the group. Two of the players have indicated that they wanted their characters to pursue the Arcane Warrior specialisation. The Arcane Warrior specialisation is a very specific one in the fluff of the game, and it was a bit of a stretch to try to fit that into a campaign set in a dwarven megadungeon, but I think I came up with a believable reason, which will be revealed in the upcoming sessions.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Dwarrowdeep #3

Prepping and Running the Game

Once again I am running late and have to combine the AAR and the commentary.

In this session the party (see PC profiles here) was sent along with The Badgers, a fellow group of adventurers, to explore the passage that led northwest from the Lower Halls. When they arrived at the hall at the end of the passage they found signs of a conflagration that had occured a long time ago. The two parties split up, with our PCs exploring the left hand side of the halls while The Badgers explored the other side.

Our PCs fought an Ash Wraith and found an underground lake that was used as a source of water supply by the thaig, as well as docks indicating that the dwarves once navigated the waters. The lake would provide a secured supply of water and some food for the thaig, which would strengthen its chances of success.

Our PCs returned to the rendezvous point but The Badgers did not show up at the appointed time. Following the chalk markings left by them, our PCs tracked them into what used to be a coal mine. After a while they came across the prostrate bodies of The Badgers, bleeding and dying. Bertil rushed forward to aid the closest one of them - Brannoc the Avvar - and simultaneously the party was ambushed by darkspawn from all sides. Zunn and Milgrim used their magic to keep the darkspawn at bay, while Lorca fought his way to Brannoc to drag him to safety, and Boggart cleared the party's route of escape

The party had no means of rescuing the remaining three members of The Badgers, who in all likelihood have bled out by then, and so had to retreat. Once out of danger, they were able to revive Brannoc.

This session had the same format as the previous two: the main activity was combat, with the exploration providing exposition and moving the narrative of the thaig's progress; there was minimal role-playing. This is a major problem with a dungeoncrawl where there are no intelligent monsters/enemies. Hopefully as the thaig's fortunes progress there will be opportunities to explore encounters outside of the dungeons involving the allies and rivals the thaig will make in the future.

I am most of all very impressed by my players' decision to try to save The Badgers. The fight was challenging, and I did not give any indication that they were required to do so, but they nevertheless risked their characters' lives to do so. Had I not told them that they other three members were likely already dead, they may have continued to fight and died.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Dwarrowdeep #2

Prepping and Running the Game

I am a little behind in my AARs, so I will just roll the AAR into the commentary.

This session had the party explore the (what was of old) West Gate of Khundara Thaig. The dungeon crawl itself was rather straightforward. We had a new player (new to TTRPGs) join us, and he gave me one of the most satisfying experience as a GM when he said he wanted to have his character "aggro" the monster; I smiled and ask him: how do you do that? His eyes widened, and I think at that moment he truly realised the difference between a computer RPG and a TTRPG.

The combats were pretty deadly as we had no warrior/tank for the session, with most PCs going down at least once. A lot of this is due to me not having a good sense of the durability of monsters with armour, and the infamous hit point slog of the Dragon Age system. This is an area I will need to do more work on.

During the strategic part of the session I revealed to the players that the West Gate opened high up in the Frostback Mountains, and was of old the gate through which trade with the Avvar took place. Soon after the gate was opened the Avvar made contact, and began trading food for dwarven weapons and tools. While this gave the fledgling thaig another source of food, it will lead to complications down the line...

Monday, August 29, 2022

Dwarrowdeep #1

It was the month of Kingsway when our adventurers arrived at Khundara Thaig. Then, it could hardly be called a thaig, for the dwarves had just taken the halls of South Gate not two weeks prior, and at great costs in lives.

Lord Rolf Khundar had need of men, and he offered generous terms: a roof over their heads, a warm hearth, a full belly, coins, and what loot you could find that was not dwarven grave goods.

Now of old the South Gates opened to the realms of men, and the dwarves built the halls within to impress the younger race, and even in its current state, a thousand years after they were abandoned they were still a sight to behold. Now the halls held stores of grain, salted meat, and stores to supply many men for many months, for the dwarves were once again going to war.

Formed into bands, the adventurers that had flocked to the banner of Lord Khundar were sent north deeper into the thaig, crossing the Chasm of Karak over Thurdin's Bridge, at last reaching the Lower Halls after a trek of nine miles. Here the captain sent them out in their bands, bidding them to survey the lay of the halls, noting where the darkspawn gathered, and noting where all the passages were, that the battalions will not be surprised by sudden ambush when they came to take the halls.

Exploring to the west, our heroes (see PC profiles here) were almost immediately set upon by a lithe darkspawn, which was called a Shriek, but they were able to slay it.

Proceeding on, they came upon a burial hall, which turned out to be a false crypt. When they searched the walls of the hall, they discovered a hidden door, but when Boggart passed through it, a portcullis came down and cut him off from the others. Then the stones of the wall on the chamber beyond formed into a golem, and began to attack him. Boggart attempted to restrain the golem by entangling it with a rope, the ends of which he passed to Bertil and Lorca. But the golem was too strong, and could not be restrained; but when it strained again its bonds the rope lifted the portcullis where it passed under the bars, and so Boggart was able to slip under the portcullis and escaped certain doom.

When Bertil had rendered healing to Boggart, the party then continued with their exploration, coming upon another chamber, wherein was a plinth, upon which a untarnished warhammer of great beauty was placed. Boggart attempted to remove the hammer from the plinth by means of a lasso, but when the lasso fell upon the hammer the pillars of the chamber, which were shaped like dwarven warriors wielding hammers, came to life and struck the plinth - the hammer was but a phantom!

The party proceeded on, and came across a hall of records, wherein was found many records concerning the common folk of Khundara Thaig. Near the hall of records was an ossuary for common folks, the entrance of which was protected by a magical barrier which our heroes could not pass through.

Finding no other passages, the party turned back, but was attacked by a patrol of genlocks, which they managed to defeat.

Prepping and Running the Game

The first session of our campaign was a simple dungeon with a few keyed areas. The map of the area was based on the Heroic Haps Abandoned Dwarven Hold tiles which I made, with the descriptions based on the entries from Dwarrowdeep.

Dwarrowdeep "as written" is too vast to run, and I have no practicable way of representing the dungeon on table, since our style is to use grid maps and miniatures. As a result I decided to let the players explore just one section of the dungeon, with the assumption that other parties are likewise exploring the other sections; the section that the PCs explore will be a composite of the more interesting keyed areas from the module, which I will translate onto the dungeon tiles which I have.

We had three combats this session, which is the usual number I try to aim for. Combat is slower than 5E, due mainly to the time needed to add up the sum of 3d6, as well as the dreaded "choice paralysis" when a player gets Stunt Points - I expect this to resolve after a couple more sessions though.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Dwarrowdeep #0

(see campaign background here)

PC Profiles

Bertil, Avvar Apostate Mage

Formerly from the Red Lion Hold, Bertil was an apprentice to the Hold's augur, until he made the mistake of leading a raiding party to attack a Ferelden village and killed the son of an arl and several Chantry priestesses. The arl led a punitive attack that wiped out Red Lion Hold and scattered its surviving members, and Bertil sough refuge at Khundara Thaig.

"Boggart", Ferelden Freeman Rogue

"Boggart" was once under the employment of a minor noble house in Ferelden. When the house fell, he turned to a life of crime, which got him declared an outlaw.

Lorca, Ferelden Craftsman Warrior

Lorca's parents were caravan guards for a Surface Dwarf merchant. After they were killed during a darkspawn raid, the dwarven merchant adopted him and raised him as his own. He joined Khundara Thaig to take revenge on the darkspawn, and to make a name for himself.

Zunn, Dalish Elf Apostate Mage

Previously the apprentice to his clan's First, Zunn had undertaken a quest to find the relics of an Arcane Warrior from his clan who five centuries ago set off on a quest to find the lost Khundara Thaig, but never returned.

Elion, Dalish Elf Rogue

A companion to Zunn, Elion hopes to aid him in his quest to restore the glory of the Dales.

Milgrim, Dalish Elf Apostate Mage

Earmarked to become the Keeper of his clan, Milgrim has taken the journey to gain better knowledge of the world outside the forests.

Monday, August 22, 2022

A Farewell to D&D

The biggest news in the RPG-sphere the past week had been the announcement of One D&D. The announcement doesn't really affect me, as I had already decided to migrate to the AGE system as the mainstay of my fantasy campaigns, starting today, in fact. In fact, I looked through my posts and realised that the last time we actually played 5E was almost 2 years ago.

There are two main reasons why I made the decision, neither of which has to do with the core rule mechanics or the way characters are created - two of the things most people seem to be talking about in this revision.

In fact, I find the 5E "roll a d20 and try to equal or beat a target number" mechanic to be effective; and proficiency bonus and advantage/disadvantage are just genius strokes.

In terms of the way characters are created, the new system is a mixed bag to me. I agree that there should be racial traits and background skills, but I also prefer racial modifiers to the attributes. I do think that any sentient race should not have a default alignment though.

So what are the aspects of D&D that make me decided to switch system?

The first is the spell lists. The default spell system and lists result in a setting where magic is too abundant, reliable, and low-cost for my taste. The problem lies not so much in the higher level spells (which PCs cannot access until rather late in the campaign) but the cantrips, which are unlimited, utilitarian, and take away much of the dangers and inconveniences of adventuring.

It is of course possible to amend the system, by say implementing spell slots for cantrips, a roll-to-cast system, and removing spells which I think are "problematic", implementing spell trees... but all those require time and effort, and may not be a once-off exercise due to the second reason for me switching system.

The second and more important reason for me deciding to switch system is that I simply cannot keep up with all the new character options and spells that seem to be coming out at shorter and shorter intervals these past few years. While 5E was my main system for fantasy campaigns, we typically alternate between fantasy and campaigns of other genres, and often try out other systems for shorter campaigns. Our group can probably get by with just the core books and whatever house rules we have adopted so far, but as I occasionally run games for newbies and at local conventions, I cannot claim to be running "D&D" if I don't keep up.

And keeping up seems to be something that will become rather expensive and time-consuming, judging by what little information we have so far from WOTC. I personally have no need for a whole VTT system, and I still prefer reading rules in dead tree format.

All these factors have led me to switch to a more stable system, which I hope will be provided in the form of the Fantasy AGE Core rulebook, which should be released... soon? In the mean time we will be playing Dragon Age RPG.

I will still keep an eye on One D&D, and I may even give it a try as a player when it is released - but for now, D&D is just a system that I used to run.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Return to Thedas: Dwarrowdeep [Spoilers for my players]

(image source)

A few months ago I started thinking about continuing the Dragon Age campaign which was the first campaign I GM'd when I started our weekly sessions. 

Well, in the months since I have decided to go ahead with that, and have bought a copy of Dwarrowdeep as the template for the campaign.

The basis of the campaign is that Rolf Khundar (a PC in our first campaign), heir to the throne of Khundara Thaig lost to the darkspawn almost a thousand years ago, had discovered the gate to the lost thaig, and had petitioned the Assembly to help him recover the thaig. When the Assembly voted to deny his request, he denounced the Assembly, and declared that he will recover the thaig without the aid of the Assembly, but with the help of any dwarf, man, or elf who will join his quest, promising them a place in his new kingdom.

While his move was condemned by many of the dwarven nobles, many casteless dwarves decided to throw their lot in with him, hoping to escape the caste system in Orzammar. As his party of exiles traveled south, overland, news spread, and many Surface dwarves and adventurers joined him.

The band was granted the use of a small area of land near the discovered gate by the Arl of Redcliffe, where Rolf built a great hall and began gathering supplies and more men to stage his mission. Eventually they were able to drive out the darkspawn in the halls of the South Gate, and retake the area. Their success cost them many lives, but drew even more adventurers to Khundara Thaig. Now, with their stores filled with supplies bought by the riches they have recovered and newly harvested grain and preserved meat, they begin their campaign to retake the rest of the thaig.

The idea of dwarves retaking an underground kingdom from evil humanoids isn't a new or uncommon one - in fact, I learned from one of my players that Return to Moria is going to be released in 2023 - but the politics of Thedas makes the situation a little more complicated and therefore interesting.

The recovery of a dwarven thaig will have major economic and political consequences to several major players in Ferelden.

Firstly, there is the issue of its relationship with Orzammar. The High King and the Assembly have chosen not to back the mission, but once Khundara Thaig is restored, their pride will not allow the existence of an independent dwarven realm, and they will no doubt demand homage and allegiance. Adding to this is the fact that Prince Bhelen, son of the reigning High King and a contender to the throne, is secretly sympathetic to Rolf's cause, believing that expansion, trade with the surface, and granting more rights to the casteless is the only way to save the declining dwarven race. If Bhelen can secure Khundara Thaig's allegiance by giving aid to Rolf (secretly), it will no doubt help in his bid for the throne. At the same time, the king's Second and also contender to the throne, Lord Harrowmont, is a traditionalist who has the support of the majority of the nobles, and someone who has reasons to want the mission to fail. No doubt both men are keeping a close eye on the success of the thaig, and will intervene when they feel they need to.

Then there are the local Fereldens, to whom the land nominally belong to. Rolf was granted small plot of land to build his great hall on, with no rights to build fortifications, due to the aid he rendered the Arl of Redcliffe during the darkspawn incursion during our first campaign. While it was convenient to the Fereldens to have a friendly armed force guarding a known gate to the Deep Roads, the presence of a new dwarven kingdom at one's doorstep is another matter altogether. If the thaig thrives, then the silver made from taxing the trade of goods to and from it will make the Arl more powerful. But if the thaig fails, then having so many armed and dangerous men with no money and no prospects is just a disaster waiting to happen.

Among these desperate men are apostate mages, who have fled persecution in Ferelden to seek a new home in a dwarven kingdom. While the land outside nominally belongs to Ferelden, their authority has not traditionally extended into lost dwarven kingdoms. If the thaig thrives and draws more apostate mages to its ranks, then is only a matter of time before the Chantry can no longer turn a blind eye to the existence of so many apostate mages in the realm of Ferelden.

Finally, there are the Avvars, who deem the mountain realm their own. While relationship between the Avvars and the Dwarves have always been cordial, the success of the thaig will no doubt draw more and more lowlanders to the region, creating more opportunities for tension and conflict.

On top of all these is the issue of lyrium, the mineral that possess magical properties. Currently, Orzammar has a monopoly on the lyrium trade, with the Chantry being the sole legitimate buyer. If and when lyrium is discovered and mined in Khundara Thaig (spoiler alert: it will be), this will cause a disruption in the market that will have major consequences.

I assume the lyrium trade to be a major source of income for Orzammar, so any competitor in the market will be a major threat to the kingdom. Orzammar will either have to gain control over the supply of lyrium from Khundara, or else shut it down.

For the Chantry, the source of lyrium outside of their control also poses an existential threat: the Chantry relies on lyrium to train and control its military arm the Templars. While most templars are loyal to the Chantry, the risk of losing control over their warriors is one the Chantry may decide they cannot afford. This puts the Ferelden Chantry in a difficult position: how can they make a deal with Khundara Thaig to control the supply of the lyrium when the latter are openly sheltering apostate mages?

As you can see, there are multiple factions which the players will have to interact with on top of the business of exploring the thaig and killing darkspawn.

Fortunately for me, Dragon Age RPG actually has rules for organisations, which I think I will use to adjudicate some of the interactions.

As for the actual dungeon-crawling, I am not yet certain how I will run that. I do know for sure that I will not run the dungeon "as is" (something which I think is actually impossible to do). That will require more thought and will be the topic of another post.

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Savage Gamma World #4

As our mutants plotted their mission, they were joined by their friend Yapapa (see PC profiles here) who had journeyed to join them at Dawnsville after parting with Joe. Yapapa's mutant powers of acidic juices provided our mutants with a quick way of getting Polly Pockett and Mr Bones out of their prison in the metal sphere - they now needed a means to flee Dawnsville and evade pursuit afterwards.

Yapapa made its way to the metal sphere, while the rest of the party, along with Furwall and Baccarat made their way to the water tower which Colonel Sari used as her headquarters. Their plan was to make their way separately into the headquarters, while Batte would instigate the populace at the shantytown to create a diversion. The mutants in the headquarters will then overcome the guards, take Colonel Sari hostage, and flee in the airship docked at the tower, picking up Yapapa, Polly, and Mr Bones on their way.

Map of Dawnsville from Kickstarter

Yapapa succeeded in dissolving the walls of the metal sphere as planned and freed Polly and Mr Bones, while Batte used his Fear Generation power to cause a riot in the shanty down. However, while Furwall and Baccaract were able to gain admission into the headquarters, Kong, Rex, and Vik were made to wait at the base of the tower.

When it seemed like the guards were not going to lower the lift to the ground level, Batte flew up to the tower and saw that Furwall and Baccarat had been bound by the soldiers and were about to be loaded into the airship, with Colonel Sari and her retinue following. The mutants and the ground decided to force their way into the tower. They overcame the guards, and Kong attempted to levitate up the lift shaft to access the headquarters, but was unable to get past the floor of the lift cab. In a last ditch effort to stop the airship from leaving, Vik used his Molecular Disruption power on the tower, disintegrating a section of its stem and causing it to topple towards the palisade wall. Unfortunately, he was too late - the airship had left its mooring, and began to head towards the south. Kong managed to extricate himself from the collapsed tower, and the mutants all fled in the ensuing chaos.

When they were reunited with Yapapa, Polly, and Mr Bones, Polly revealed that she was a member of the psionic group The Brain Trust, and that she had been sent by her leader Macron (yes, this is the name from the module) to infiltrate Dawnsville and learn about their plans. She had learned that they were using the tournament as a means to lure the inhabitants of the zone to Dawnsville to feed them the red stew, which contained a virus developed by the scientist Proteus, that would render them sick and kill them in a week; those who submit to the Army of Dawn would then be given a cure, while those who refused would be left to die. Polly had met Mr Bones in Dawnsville, and learned that the latter too wished to bring down the Army of Dawn, and together the two had planned to get Mr Bones near Colonel Sari, when Mr Bones can kill her and take her form using his mutant power.

Mr Bones revealed himself to be a mutant plant being, whose "queen" had been imprisoned by the scientist Proteus in a bunker to the south, which he had escaped from. The red virus was also developed in this "biobunker". Mr Bones believed that Sari and Proteus have fled there, and offered to take the party there.

Our mutants resolved to travel to the biobunker to rescue Furwall and Baccarat, and hopefully find their friend Mary Juna, and the cure to the red virus.

Polly confessed that The Brain Trust had purchased Mary Juna the mutant marijuana plant from Battenburg to help the group "expand their minds", and she offered to return to The Brain Trust to bring her and help to meet the party at the bunker.

Three days later, our mutants arrived at a small concrete post, which Mr Bones informed them contained the lift which led to the underground complex that was the biobunker. Next to the post was a radio tower, and moored to the tower was the same airship that Sari and Proteus left Dawnsville on. The radio tower emitted a strong energy, which incapacitated Vik, who had to left behind as the party approached the post.

The party surprised the guards outside the post and incapacitated them, and Mr Bones took the form of one of the soldiers, while Rex put on the uniform of the other. Rex and Mr Bones pretended to take Batte and Kong prisoners, and using the access cards taken from the soldiers, they entered the complex.

The party was able to get past the guards at the lift lobby, and make their way to the cells, where they found Baccarat. Baccarat informed the party that he and Furwall had developed symptoms of illness from the red stew, but were given a blue liquid that cured them, and that Furwall had just been taken out of her cell to have a mind-control chip implanted inside her head so she would serve the Army of Dawn.

The party searched the complex for Furwall, and arrived outside a large room, within which Mr Bones informed them his "queen" was held. Through the glass window on the door the party saw a large tree imprisoned behind a glass wall. Also in the cell were several humanoids who resembled Mr Bones. Through telepathy the tree communicated with the party: she revealed that she was created by human scientists before the apocalypse, and imprisoned here since, kept alive but weakened by the bare minimum nutrition provided by the life-support system. Two years ago Proteus entered the biobunker and took over the facility, but during a security lapse she was able to send out a few of her children to try to find a way to free her, but she thought that they have all failed in their mission, until now. She also revealed through her telepathic ability she had learned that Proteus was the mastermind behind the Army's plot, and that she would help the party fight the Army if they released her. Unfortunately, the access card our mutants held could not open the door to her prison - they would need to access the control at the Server Room.

Leaving the tree, our mutants found Furwall in a nearby room, strapped to an operating table and having her head shaved by a medical droid. They disabled the droid and freed Furwall, and prepared to meet up with Baccarat and flee.

As they passed the next room, they saw through the glass window in its door that Proteus was inside. The room was a laboratory, and they could see large vats holding red liquid and blue liquid. The party tried to enter the room but found that they could not open the door. Proteus was alerted by their presence, and raised the alarm. Within seconds the sounds of running boots could be heard coming down the corridor.

Our mutants were chased into a dead end corridor by Dawn soldiers and The Gray Death ,and pinned down by fire. Desperate, Furwall called out a challenge to The Gray Death to fight her in hand-to-hand combat. The Gray Death accepted, and said that he would spare Furwall's life if she won, but her companions would be put to death in either case.

Furwall accepted the terms, and overcame The Gray Death quickly, to the surprise of the Dawn soldiers. The mutants than attacked and neutralised the shocked Dawn soldiers, and fled down another corridor.

At the end of that corridor they found the server room. When they entered the room, the multiple monitors on the facing wall which had displayed the views from the various security cameras switched to displaying a female human face. A voice on the sound system announced herself as Minerva, the Artificial Intelligence that ran the biobunker's functions. She revealed that she was created a long time ago, but had gone into a slumber when the apocalyptic event that brought about the end of human civilisation happened, only to be awakened by Proteus and the Army of Dawn, whose presence she resented, but she was unable to directly harm Proteus or his followers herself due to her programming.

Our mutants offered a solution to Minerva: release the tree and her children to fight the soldiers, and they will mop up any remaining soldiers that the plants did not defeat, and rid her of the Army of Dawn.

Minerva was silent for a few seconds, and then the screens reverted to the security cameras' view, and the mutants saw the glass holding the tree lift, releasing the tree's children, who proceeded to rampage through the complex, killing Dawn soldiers with their bare hands. Within a few minutes, all the Dawn soldiers were dead. The tree lifted its roots from the ground, and began to slowly plod towards the lift, followed by her children. Mr Bones left the party to join them, and in a few minutes, the tree and her progeny were gone.

The party left the Server Room and freed Baccarat from his cell. Bodies of some forty Dawn soldiers littered the ground, but Proteus' body was not among them. The party returned to Proteus' lab. Here they found samples of the red virus as well as the blue cure, but there was not enough of the cure for the hundreds of zone inhabitants who must have eaten the stew, nor did they have a means of distributing the cure to all the villages in the zone.

As they pondered the problem, the door to the laboratory opened, and Polly and Macron entered, along with Mary Juna. Macron thanked our mutants, apologised for buying Mary Juna, and congratulated himself on the success of his plan in defeating the Army of Dawn, and promised that he and The Brain Trust would manufacture the cure based on Proteus' notes, and distribute them to all the affected zone inhabitants.

As Macron's people took over the facility, our mutants left the bunker to reunite with Vik, who informed them that he saw Proteus enter the airship with a couple of Dawn soldiers and leave just moments before Macron and The Brain Trust arrive in their cars.

Our mutants are now reunited, but Proteus was still out there, along with remnants of his army. Is the zone safe enough for their village to relocate to? Will The Brain Trust prove to be allies or adversaries? Will their bargain with the tree come back to haunt them? Only time will tell...

Prepping and Running the Game

(To be completed later)

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Savage Gamma World #3

Kong faces off against Furwall

Leaving the airship in the hands of Joe and his villagers, our mutants (see PC profiles here) decided to travel to Dawnsville to attend the wrestling tournament that had been advertised across the zone - the winner would receive a prize of a hundred bullets, and be given a position as an officer in the Army of Dawn, which they hoped would allow them to learn the whereabouts of their friend Mary Juna, who had been sold as a slave.

After four days of travel, our mutants arrived at Dawnsville, a small town surrounded by a palisade wall. As they approached the gate, they saw three bodies hanging from a gallows - two of the victims had a sign with the word "Thief" hung around their neck, while the third had a sign with the word "Psionic" around his neck. Posters on the walls announced that all thieves and psionics found in Dawnsville would be executed.

(map from Kickstarter)

Our mutants made it past the Dawn soldiers at the gate after announcing that Kong - using the assumed name of Long the Great - was there to take part in the wrestling tournament. Immediately the party was spotted by the mutant Jinnie, who volunteered to be Kong's manager for a cut of 20% of the purse. The party agreed, and were led to the sign-up area, where Kong was made to arm-wrestle the house champion The Grey Death, a cyborg. Kong, his strength restored after his dip in the sacred pool, defeated The Grey Death, who smashed the table in a fit of rage and left. Kong was in.

Jinnie led the party past the market area, where free stew was being offered to all the inhabitants of the zone who had traveled to Dawnsville to see the tournament. Kong recognised the smell of the free stew as that which had been fed to him while he was prisoner in Battenburg's Trading Post, which turned him gravely ill, and the party wisely decided to pay for some hotdogs with their own money instead.

The party took up bunks in the free hostel set up for visitors, and decided to browse the stalls at the marketplace. There they were approached by Polly Pockett, a reporter for the Dawnsville Gazette. During the interview, Batte sensed that Polly was trying to read Kong's mind - she was a psionic!

The next morning, the party made their way to spy on Polly at her office, and found that she was conspiring with Mr Bones, one of the participants of the tournament, to help the latter win.

That evening the first round of the wrestle tournament took place at the arena set up just for the event - a hemispherical steel cage sixty feet across at the base. The event was attended by hundred of visitors from all over the zone, and the leader of Dawnsville and the Army of Dawn, Colonel Sari, who watched the proceedings from a dais, flanked by guards.

The opening match saw Kong fight John "the lodestone" Dwayneson, a rock organism with regenerative power. Kong was close to losing the match when Batte intervened, using his Fear Generation power to cause John to abandon the fight. Fortunately for the party, Batte's use of psionic power was not detected.

The next match-up saw Mr Bones, a slim and quick humanoid defeat the boar mutant Swine of the Wild, who seemed to be confused by the former's movements... but the party noticed that Polly was standing near the ring...

Then came Furwall, a four-armed mutant gorilla who, after some initial difficulty, managed to seize her opponent The Zone Tornado with one pair of her hands, then proceed to pummel him with her other pair of hands into submission.

Finally, the house champion The Grey Death came on and easily demolished Delta Max, a droid.

The second day of the match saw Kong pitted against Furwall. As the bell sounded, Furwall leapt forward and quickly seized Kong with her hands... and then the two apes felt an attraction to each other as simian pheromones kicked in. Kong whispered to Furwall to let him win the match, but Furwall was too proud to throw the match; instead, she knocked Kong out with a single blow and ended the fight.

After Kong was carried out of the cage, The Grey Death and Mr Bones entered the ring. Despite his strength and power, The Grey Death was unable to grab hold of the nimble Mr Bones. Then suddenly, Batte felt a piercing headache just as Colonel Sari shouted: there is a psionic among us - find him!

Dawn soldiers entered the cage and arrested Mr Bones, and soon afterwards Polly was arrested too as she tried to flee. The pair was taken to a large metal sphere - an disused LPG storage tank - and lowered into it.

The next morning, it was announced that Polly Pockett and Mr Bones were psionics who had conspired to cheat in the tournament, and would be executed by hanging as a pre-game entertainment that evening.

That same morning, while Kong was resting from his injury at the hostel, he was invited to meet with Colonel Sari. Kong and Vik followed the Dawn soldiers to a water tower that had been repurposed as an office for Colonel Sari and her staff. Here, Kong was offered a position as an officer in the Army of Dawn, which he accepted. Colonel Sari then informed him that he would accompany her to "the bunker" the next day for his induction to the army. Kong asked if Furwall would also be offered a position in the army if she won the finals that evening; Colonel Sari smiled and replied that that would not happen.

Kong and Vik returned to his companions, and the party decided to visit Furwall and warn her that foul play was afoot. Arriving at her shed, they were met at the door by Baccarat, her mutant chimpanzee manager. After receiving assurance from the party that they were not in league with the Army of Dawn, Baccarat admitted them and informed them that he and Furwall had been asked by agents of Colonel Sari to throw the fight that evening or face... consequences. The duo were reluctant to throw the fight out of ape pride, but at the same time they feared for their own safety after the fight.

With Kong's new love interest in danger, our mutants decided they needed a new plan. Reasoning that Polly would have some insider information on Dawnsville and that she had little love for the Army, they decided to rescue her and Mr Bones before the fight in a dramatic fashion, and then flee Dawnsville with Furwall and Baccarat in the ensuing chaos...

Prepping and Running the Game

This was the first session of the campaign where I had all four players at the table.

The plot was based pretty much as per the module, but I had a lot of fun improvising NPCs as the players wandered around Dawnsville, doing shopping and sticking their noses into places. They also made a game out of betting on the outcomes of the fight - the module actually gives you the bookkeeper's odds for the match-ups, which makes it easy for the GM.

This part of the campaign was pretty sandboxy, but easy to run as the module provided a very well-drawn map of Dawnsville, descriptions of the areas of interest, as well as details about the NPCs. There were also events which the GM could trigger if the players were not proactively pursuing their own course of action.

I started the session with no idea of how it would end, but I am pleased with how it turned out and I am looking forward to the finale session next week.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Savage Gamma World #2

As our mutants made their way towards the munitions factory, it soon became clear that Kong was ill (see PC profiles here). He began to suffer from aches and chills, and his eyes turned bloodshot. Kong suspected that it may have been the result of a poison in a red stew fed to him by Battenburg, which was not given to the other slaves. That night, when the party made camp, an anthropomorphic camel mutant suddenly appeared in front of them. He introduced himself as Joe, and explained that he had followed the party from Battenburg's Trading Post.

Joe's village had been taken as slaves by Battenburg's goons and sold to the Army of Dawn to work at their munitions factory, and he was only able to evade capture by using his chameleon powers. Having heard their plan to free their friend from the munitions factory, Joe decided to join them on their mission. But first, there was the matter of finding a cure for Kong's ailment, which Joe had a proposal for: the elders in Joe's village of mutants had spoken about a community of monks in a sacred mountain who guarded a pool of healing, and that the faithful who are pure of heart may be healed of any disease or wound by the water from the pool. Joe had never been to the sacred pool, but he knew where the sacred mountain was. With no other option in sight, our party decided to travel to there.

After two day's travel, our party arrived at the foothill of the sacred mountain, and followed a path that led upwards. By now Kong was severely ill and bleeding from his nose and mouth - the party was running out of time. Halfway up the mountain, at a narrow defile, the party found their path blocked up a two-head giant, who claimed to be the guardian of the sacred pool. The giant explained that only those who were pure of heart and embraced peace could pass, and bade the party to throw all their weapons down the ravine beside the path. With Kong at death's door, the party had no choice but to comply... but as soon as they had done so two more giants appeared on the hillside above them, and began throwing rocks at them! Our unarmed mutants tried their best to fight back, but were almost overcomed by the giants, until Vik used his mutant power to cause the side of the hill to disintegrate, causing the giants to fall and become incapacitated. The use of his power caused Vik to fall unconscious, but with his two accomplices taken out, the two-headed giant surrendered, and confessed that they were just highwaymen who preyed on pilgrims to the sacred pool.

Our mutants recovered their weapons, and continued their way up the mountain. Close to sunset they arrived at a clearing, where they were greeted by the monks guarding the sacred pool. After our heroes passed a test of their compassion (and wits), they were allowed to lower Kong into the sacred pool, which restored him to health.

With Kong healed, our mutants made their way to the munitions factory, guided by Amaltea's map and Rex's super sense of direction.

Two days later, our mutants reached the munitions factory, which they could see from afar due to a airship that was moored above it. Batte flew over the compound and saw that it was a walled compound housing not only the munitions factory and the quarters of the slaves who worked in there, but also the barracks of the forty or so Dawn soldiers who guarded the compound, the quarters for the officers, and also a massive hangar for the Army of Dawn's airships.

With so many soldiers guarding the compound, a direct assault was impossible. Using the chameleon powers, Joe sneaked into the compound and made contact with his fellow villagers. From them, he learned about the organisation of the Dawn soldiers, and their routine. Now armed with information our mutants put their heads together, and devised a cunning plan.

The next evening, when the officers of the Army of Dawn were having dinner in their mess, Teva, a mutant from Joe's village with shapeshifting power took the form of their commandant and entered the mess. Inside, Rex, who accompanied Teva, used his paralysing gas to knock the officers out, and then kidnapped the real commandant.

Then Teva, still in his guise as the commandant, ordered the soldiers to load all the slaves onto the airship. The plan worked for a while, as the soldiers were not used to questioning orders, and the slaves, already informed about the plan, moved quickly. But as the last slaves were boarding the airship, a Dawn soldier decided to check in with the other officers at their mess, and found that they had all been knocked out. The alarm was raised, but by then it was too late. The soldiers started shooting at the departing airship, but soon stopped when they realised that their commandant was missing and might be onboard too.

Our mutants piloted the airship southwards through the night, heading for a place where Joe and his fellow villagers could start a new home. The next morning, when they went to see the commandant to decide his fate, they found him dead with no apparent cause. Our heroes landed the airship and disembarked, leaving it to Joe and his villagers.

Prepping and Running the Game

As Kong's player once again could not join us for the session, I had to come up with a way to have Kong travel with the party without him doing much. At the same time we had another player who could join us for just one session, so I had Joe the Camel join the party.

I used part of the content of the Mutant Crawl Classics module Blessings of the Vile Brotherhood for the first half of the session. The module is quite an interesting one, and involved a literal hexcrawl and chase which I did not use.

The second half of the session was based on the Mutant Year Zero module, although I added the part about slave workers.

The players were having difficulty planning the rescue of the villagers, until Joe's player asked if there were any mutants among the slaves who had powers which might be helpful. I decided that two of them would, and had him roll up random mutant powers for them. The powers gave them the inspiration they needed to plan the rescue, and they managed the rescue with minimal fighting.

Monday, July 04, 2022

Savage Gamma World #1

Our tale begins when our heroes: Batte, Rex, and Vik (see PC profiles here) were called into the hut of Ah Meng, the mutant orang-utan who was the head of the village of mutants living in the desert. Three weeks ago, Ah Meng told them, Kong, Mary Juna, and Yapapa were sent on a mission across the Barrier Peaks to find a new place for the villagers to settle, but they had not returned as anticipated. Now our heroes will have to undertake the journey to the west and to find their friends and complete the mission.

Taking what food, water, and salvaged materials the village could spare, our heroes followed the course of the old highway that humans constructed across the Barrier Peaks. After two days, they came at last to a lake near its summit. While trying to get water from the lake, the party was attacked by tentacled-shark mutants, but with Batte's fear-inducing powers they were able to drive the sharks off and refill their bottles.

The next day they followed the course of the river that led from the lake down the western slope of the Barrier Peaks. From their vantage point they could see that the river led to a long valley below, where there was more vegetation and settlements.

That night, while camped by the river at the valley floor, our heroes were interrupted by a deer-headed mutant fleeing from pursuers. After ascertaining that the party were not with "the Army of Dawn", the mutant introduced herself as Amaltea, and handed them a map and bade them to bring it and a small metal box to Truffaut's bar marked on the map, and then continued its flight to draw the pursuers away.

Soon the party saw three mounted men charging towards Amaltea. Using Batte's fear-generating power and Rex's paralysing gas power, our heroes managed to defeat the pursuers, and take their weapons and ammunition as loot.

Amaltea thanked our heroes, and revealed that she was a scout for Truffaut, a mutant bear who ran a bar and settlement a day's walk tot he north. Concerned about the rise of the Army of Dawn, an expansionist force operating out of the town of Dawnsville in the west. Dawnsville was a nondescript town like many others in the valley, but a year ago it began to convince surrounding settlements to come under its banner, and recruit an army armed with firearms, and create a whole economic system using bullets as a form of currency. Truffaut had sent scouts to find out more about them, and after weeks of work, Amaltea had learned that the Army of Dawn operates a few factories runned by slave labour. Our heroes learned that mutants matching the description of their friends had been seen being led by slavers to one Oscar Battenburg's trading post a week prior.

Our heroes accompanied Amaltea to Truffaut's bar, where they were welcomed by the mutant bear. Truffaut gave our heroes more information about the Army of Dawn, and gave them some salvage equipment to help them rescue their friends.

Our heroes traveled westwards to Battenburg's trading post, and arrived in the evening two days later to see slaves being led to an airship owned by the Army of Dawn, but their friends were not among them. Our heroes counted at least four mutant minions with Battenburg, a human. They decided not to risk a confrontation, and instead came up with a scheme to pass themselves off as buyers, using the salvage they have received from Ah Meng and Truffaut. After the airship had departed, our heroes approached the trading post, with Rex wearing costume jewellery and perfume, Batte swinging a make-shift incense censer, and Vik in attendance with a teapot filled with cactus tea. Announcing himself as Rexona, Rex asked to buy an ape mutant and a couple of plant mutant. Battenburg at first said that they were out of stock, but when Rex declared that he was a rabbit of means, Battenburg revealed that he did indeed have an ape mutant, and asked for a price of 300 bullets. Rex bargained the price down to 210, and soon Kong was led out and handed to them.

When they were out of earshot of the trading post, Kong told the rest that they had been ambushed by Battenburg's slavers two weeks ago and taken to the trading post. Mary Juna was sold to a group of psychics known as "the Brain Trust", and Yapapa was sold to a munitions factory owned by the Army of Dawn, while he was kept by Battenburg, who intended to field him as a champion is a prize fight organised by the Army of Dawn.

Armed with the information and the map from Amaltea, our heroes resolved to travel to the munitions factory to free their friend.

Prepping and Running the Game

This campaign is based on the Mutant Year Zero module The Gray Death, but instead of setting it in a winter landscape, I have transplanted the campaign to a post-apocalyptic California valley.

There were two combats in the session, the first being with the sharktopus at Lake Isabella, and the second with the Dawn cavalry. The Dawn soldiers in the module are depicted wearing WW1 British helmets style, which is the look my Warzone Imperial figures sport. Both fights were short, due to the PCs' powers, which on the one hand was a little disappointing, but on the other hand allowed the players to feel that their characters were heroic.

I had planned the session for 4 characters, but as Kong's player had to drop out last minute, I modified the plot to have Kong and two other potential guest player characters being captured by slavers in an earlier mission. This gave the players an extra motivation to complete the campaign instead of just turning around and going home once they learned about the situation in the valley, and also allowed me to direct them to the various locations in the module.

One of the fun part about this campaign (at least for me) is the use of random salvage loot/equipment. By chance the players rolled up items which were "posh" but seemed useless, like costume jewellery, perfume, incense, and a tea set, but the common theme among these items prompted them to come up a way to save Kong that didn't involved a fight with Battenburg and his slavers. Again I was a little disappointed, as I had actually generated stats and mutant powers for the slavers, but the way the players pulled off their rescue was quite cool.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Savage Gamma World #0

L to R: Rex, Kong, Batte, and Vik

We were supposed to start the Blood Sword campaign in June, but due to a delay in the delivery, we needed a filler campaign, and so I decided to return to our Gamma World campaign.

Instead of using the Gamma World 3E rules, which we used for our first (unchronicled) campaign, I decided to use Savage Worlds, with the Savage Gamma World mod.

In our campaign world our PCs are mutated sentient animals living in a village in the wastelands, eking out a living with medieval level tech and their mutant powers. When they learned that the nearby human wasteland warriors were planning to launch an attack on their village, the village elder sent our PCs to cave system in the mountains that is rumoured to contain advanced technology and weapons that may help them defend themselves.

The module I used for this campaign was Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, or rather a cut-down version of the module. So yes, we were playing an AD&D 1E module using Gamma World 3E rules.

The PCs - Rex, Kong, and Batte - arrived at the "caves" to find that the wasteland warriors had the same idea and had arrived before them. After some skirmishing and exploration, the PCs managed to defeat the boss monster (the famous Froghemoth), and return to their village with some weapons and technology.

In this season of the campaign, our PCs will learn that the wasteland warriors have gathered in strength and that defending against them will not be possible. They will therefore be sent across the Barrier Peaks to find a new place for the villagers to settle.

PC Profiles

  • Batte

Mutated bat. Powers: Fear Generation, Mental Shield, Sonar, Telepathy. Hindrance: Cannot speak.

  • Kong

Mutated ape. Powers: Levitation, Life Leech, Mental Invisibility, Radiation Eyes.

  • Joe

Mutated camel. Powers: Absorption (light-based attacks), Chameleon Powers, Gills, Antlers

  • Rex

Mutated rabbit. Powers: Anti-Life Leech, Carapace, Directional Sense, Gas Generation (Paralysis).

  • Vik

Mutated duck. Powers: Displacement, Energy Sensitivity (Defect), Heightened Sense (Touch), Molecular Disruption.

  • Yapapa

Mutated papaya tree. Powers: Wings/Mobility, Dissolving Juice, Explosive Fruit, New Sense (Ultrasound)

The mutant powers were randomly rolled for, and as you can see there are some interesting combinations and interactions there.

Kong has Life Leech, which is a area-effect power that causes damage to creatures in the area; but Rex has Anti-Life Leech, which makes him immune to the effect and may cause the power to rebound onto Kong instead!

Vik has Heightened Sense (Touch), which gives him a bonus for his Molecular Disruption, a touch-based power. This makes him rather powerful, but is balanced by the fact that he rolled the Energy Sensitivity defect, which gives him a disadvantage when near non-organic power sources.

This will be a rather short campaign, with around 5 sessions, and this time I plan to chronicle it on the blog, so stay tuned.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Zero Level One-shot: Sailors of the Starless Sea

A combination of events - public holidays, school holidays, work events, family events, and travels plans - means that there would be an eight-week gap between our scheduled campaigns, so I decided to open our regular Monday evening slots to one-shots.

Dave kindly agreed to run the first session: a funnel adventure using the Zero Level 5E rules. We were asked to create four characters in advance, using the random tables in the rules - three to start the game with and one to spare in case we lost all three characters.

The fun started as soon as the characters were rolled up. I ended up with:

Lance Grindr, a half-elf lens-grinder, with high INT, high WIS, but low STR and DEX. I had him as the bookish type.

Barry Stier, a human barrister, with 18 INT and CHA 10. He would be an arrogant prick who bosses everyone around.

Forrest Grump, a dwarven woodcutter, with INT 7 and WIS 5. Sadly, Forrest was manipulated by Barry, and died early in the game.

K'urnel Xandaz, an elf with STR 13, DEX 14, CON 11, INT 13, WIS 13, and CHA 9. With stats like those he was told he could become anything he wanted, so he chose to be a chicken butcher.

The scenario we played was the Dungeon Crawl Classic classic Sailors of the Starless Sea. I don't want to give the plot away, but suffice to say that the scenario had a good mix of horror, combat, exploration, and fantastic landscape.

I had a lot of fun role-playing my characters - especially Barry - and also providing the maps and figures impromptu as they emerged in the game, even providing incense and a candle when they appeared in the game. I guess if you have been GMing long enough you accumulate stuff that will allow you to run a lot of scenarios.

Barry spent most of the scenario staying in the middle of the group and not exposing himself to danger, but instead encouraging poor Forrest and the other party members to take risks. We all knew someone like that in the army. One by one the other party members died - every player lost at least 2 characters, with Eugene losing all four of his! In the climatic final scene of the scenario Barry realised that the only way he would survive was if he risked his own skin and worked with the rest of the party, and in doing so he redeemed himself. At least in his own eyes.

This was the first time I have played in a funnel adventure, and like I said it was a lot of fun from day zero. This was especially so as we were all familiar with each other and we all played to the spirit of the genre. I am not sure if I will recommend a funnel adventure as a newbie's introduction to RPGs, but it's certainly something I will try one day when we need a filler session.

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Assorted Dark Ages figures

I painted these figures over the long weekend with the goal of using them in a The Hero's Journey one-shot game based on The Last Kingdom.

They are a rough job, but they illustrate how rich the multi-part plastic kit market is, and what can be done with a bit of mix and match. The figures here are based primarily on the Gripping Beast plastic sets (Vikings, Saxons, and generic Dark Age Warriors and Dark Age Archers), with heads from Puppetswar, Frostgrave Wizards, and Oathmark Elf sets, and bits from the Gripping Beast Dark Age Picts and the Frostgrave Soldiers sets.

It truly is a golden age for RPG gamers.

Monday, May 02, 2022

The Trigram Chronicles #6

'Along the River During the Qingming Festival'

Braving traps and ambush in the old mine, our heroes save the Sword Sister from prison

Confronting General Yen at Qingming, our heroes take their revenge in blood

The next morning our heroes (see PC profiles here) awoke to find Yang and Liu already up, and working to help the Two Elders cook breakfast. After the meal, Feng, the Old Man of Lushan, declared that he would teach Yang and Liu his kung fu - having observed their contest with the other banes the day before, he had concluded that our heroes lack the aptitude to master another one of the Trigram kung fu styles. Our heroes parted ways with Yang and Liu, and made plans to rendezvous with them in three months.

On their way back to Tongling, our heroes came to take a rest at a teahouse. Here they observe two men playing a game of weiqi in a nearby table. One was dressed in the clothes of a scholar, while the other one wore the clothes of a labourer. His curiosity piqued, Wu approached the table to observe the game, and found that they two were highly skilled players, but the labourer was losing the game. Presently the labourer began to accuse the scholar of cheating, and the scholar laughed the accusation off in good nature. The labourer turned to Wu and asked his opinion, to which Wu replied: the wise player knows when to quit. The labourer then conceded the game, and grab the cup of wine offered by the scholar. As he did so some of the wine spilled out of the cup, and where the spilled wine landed on the table it began to burn through the wood. Unfazed, the labourer downed the wine in a single gulp, but suffered no ill effect.

The scholar then introduced himself to our heroes: he was the Jade-faced Scholar, the chief of the Twelve Banes of Jiangnan. The labourer was his deputy The Brute, and they were having the usual bet: if The Brute lost the game, he would have to drink a poison concocted by the Scholar - the Scholar enjoyed creating new poisons, while The Brute enjoyed proving his ability to resist all poisons. The other Banes now entered the teahouse, and the Scholar bade all to sit around a large table. When all had been seated, he made a proposal to our heroes: with the Two Elders now in seclusion and the Two Emissaries dead, the Twelve Banes were now down to eight - would our heroes join them and bring the number up to Twelve again? While they had been working for General Yen, the Scholar had decided now to align himself with the Ming rebels, and hope that the heroes' relationship with Prince Gui would allow them a chance to gain positions of power in the new government when the rebellion wins. Our heroes were reluctant to join the criminals, but found it hard to refuse them, until Wu asked to be allowed to defer the decision to after they had taken their revenge on General Yen. Satisfied with that reply, the Banes left,

When they arrived back to Tongling, our heroes learned that the leader of the Sword Sisters had been arrested by the Qing. General Zhuo, who had been appointed by General Yen to replace General Yu, had closed the city gates and threatened to execute one woman from every household in the city if the Sword Sisters did not surrender themselves. Duan, the leader of the Sword Sisters, surrendered herself. The city gates were opened, and most of the womenfolk in the city fled to the countryside afterwards.

Our heroes resolved to rescue Duan. Through his contacts in the Beggar Sect, Wang learned that Duan was not kept at the city prison, but had been transported to a secret prison located in an abandoned copper mine outside the city. Taking the guises of the merchants who supplied food to the guards and prisoners at the secret prison, our heroes drugged the food, and when the guards had fallen asleep from the effect of the drug, entered the old mine.

Inside, they followed torches set at intervals along the walls of the mine shaft inwards. They found that the deeper chambers of the mine had been turned into prison cells, and that several prisoners were being held there, all fast asleep from the drug in the food. In the innermost cell was Duan, trapped beneath an iron cage.

Our heroes opened the cell doors with the keys they took from the drugged guards, but as Soong dragged one of the prisoners out he realised that the man was heavier than he expected for a prisoner. At the same time, Wang realised that prison lacked the stench of a normal one. Soong kicked the prisoner, who instantly woke up and readied himself to fight: it was a trap! A portcullis dropped over the cell where Duan was held, trapping Zhang inside, while at the same time the lights went out, and the prisoners exited their cells and started to attack Soong, Wang, and Wu.

But the darkness was not the only obstacle our heroes faced, as there were flame and spike traps in the corridors. After a hard fight, our heroes freed Duan, and together they fled the prison. For his heroism, Duan relieved Wu of his vow to disable his kung fu, and instead made him swear to not pass it on.

Months passed as our heroes laid low, until they once again reunited with Yang and Liu. Together, they studied and practised their kung fu, such that by the time spring came, they had learned the weakness of General Yen's kung fu.

And so when the Qingming Festival approached, our heroes were ready to exact their vengeance. The Sword Sisters had learned of the location of General Yen's parents' tomb, and our heroes resolved to ambush him there, when he was expected to be accompanied by few guards.

Sure enough, came the day when the General came to worship at his parents' tomb, he left the two dozen men in his retinue at the foot of the hill with his mount, taking only two bodyguards with him. Our heroes laid in ambush, and when he had completed the rites of worship, sprung their attack by throwing missiles at the general. General Yen dodged the attacks. Immediately one of the bodyguards drew a bamboo tube from his sleeve and tugged at a string at one end, sending a signal flare into the sky - the guards at the foot of the hill would arrive in under twenty minute.

Our heroes charged into combat. Yang and Liu drew the bodyguards away from Yen, while our heroes surrounded Yen. Beset on four sides, the general found it impossible to defend against the flurry of blows from our heroes. During a lull in the fighting, he tried to convince them to join him in service of the Qing court, but our heroes would not relent. The general fought on valiantly, but by the time the guards came into view they were only in time to see him fall. The six heroes disappeared into the woods surrounding the tomb, and were seen no more.

Prepping and Running the Game

So concluded our short wuxia campaign.

By the end of the last session I thought that we had gone through most of the tropes of the genre, with only the final boss fight to play. I had some trouble coming up with material to fill the session until then, but once again this blog came to my rescue.

I decided to place a dungeon into the session, and to plant some traps in it, utilising some of the dungeon trappings models FG and I had. The players of course knew they were walking into a trap when I put the map onto the table, but nevertheless the fight was quite fun.

The final boss fight was tactically less interesting, I made the (possibly wrong) decision of using the two party NPCs to tie up Yen's bodyguards, essentially reducing the fight to a four PCs vs one NPC fight. The fight was static, with Yen surrounded on four sides by the PCs. As luck would have it three of the PCs were ahead of Yen in the initiative order, with Soong, the PC with the highest damage output going after. Each round saw Yen fending off the attacks from the three PCs, retaliating and wounding perhaps two of them, before being struck and wounded by Soong. This was not tactically interesting, but as we were all into the trope, we saw it was the three PCs occupying Yen's attention and drawing his attacks to allow Soong to land his blows. This interpretation was made more real when Wang and Zhang took so much damage that they were worried about being knocked out of the fight, with Wang using his kung fu to block damage inflicted on Zhang, and Wang having to spend Qi points to gain temporary hit points to stay in the fight. Now per the stats in the rules Yen would have been able to outlast the PCs, but I decided to reduce his hit points so the fight would not drag out, and have him fall at a dramatic moment.

All in all I would say this was a fun campaign that allowed us to indulge in the tropes of the genre. The combat rules were sufficiently crunchy to give each PC a different combat style, although it did also mean that the GM had to spend some time designing the NPC opposition to make the combats interesting.

While the genre was a fun to play, it is not one that I see us playing for long term or repeatedly. I am interested however in playing a gun-fu version of the rules, maybe a short campaign set in the John Wick universe, where the villain will also be played by Donnie Yen.

We will take a break from our usual campaigns this month and next as I have some work commitments and some of the players will be traveling. Instead we plan to play a series of one-shots, with Dave (and hopefully Dzaki) each taking a session, while I am aiming to run three sessions open to members on our Meetup group.

Addendum: I found out that DwD Studios actually has a set of Espionage/Paramilitary RPG rules called Covert Ops based on the same engine. Looks like it is on...

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Sludge Fox #5 - White's Plantation

Game 5 of the campaign had the rebels attack a village occupied by Crown forces.

FG launched a two-pronged attack on my position. For a while the cover provided by the houses my forces were holed up in gave me an edge, but the superior numbers of the rebels soon took a toll and my commander fled the field.

We will be taking a break from the campaign while FG paints his cavalry up. We hope to be trying out the Battletech Alpha and the CAV: Strike Operations rules in the near future.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

The Trigram Chronicles #5

Lushan in winter

Daring rescue in Tongling; our heroes save four from the blade of the executioner

Travel to Lushan to seek the Two Elders; our heroes face four of the twelve Banes

For half a month our heroes recuperated from their injuries at a house in Tongling, under the protection of the Sword Sisters. Then one morning, when Zhang, Soong, and Wu (see PC profiles here) were well enough to be out, they learned that the magistrate had announced that the four assassins who have murdered General You had been caught and would be executed at the city square at noon that day.

The three heroes went to the city square, where a small crowd had started gathering around a stage set up for the execution. Here, Soong noticed that they were being stalked by two men, whom he accosted. It turned out to be Yang Shou and Liu Zheng, two of the thugs they had defeated and sent home a few months earlier. Hearing of the news of general You's assassination, the two had decided to find our heroes and pledge their services to fight against the Qing. Our heroes accepted the two's offer, and gave them instructions to meet them outside the city.

The Sword Sisters warned our heroes that this was likely a trap laid by the Qing, but our heroes would not let four innocent men die for their actions, and so they decided to rescue the prisoners.

The city square was packed even before the hour of noon. Soong surveyed the crowd and noted that several men in plain clothes were watching the crowd more than they were watching the stage set up for the execution - this was indeed a trap! At the appointed hour three men and a woman, all of whom did not know kung fu by their movement, were marched onto the stage. The magistrate, a known corrupt official, strutted onto the stage... but before he could give the order to the executioner, Wu, hidden in a nearby building, threw a needle into this eye, killing him instantly!

The crowd began to panic as the soldiers tried to keep order. A troop of soldiers led the prisoners away from the square, but they were ambushed in an alley by our heroes, who defeated them in short order and set the prisoners free.

Returning to the Sword Sisters' house, our heroes learned that the last of the set of scrolls were known to be last held by the Two Elders of Lushan, who were the founders of the Twelve Banes of Jiangnan. Now during the reign of Emperor Tianqi, when the corrupt eunuch Wei Zhongxian held much power, famines and natural disasters resulted in much lawlessness in the lands south of the Yangtze. It was then that the Two Elders of Lushan, then know as the Jiangnan Chivalrous Couple, rallied a band of ten other martial artists and their followers to keep order and dispense justice in the region. However as their numbers increased they found it hard to maintain and keep order their band of followers, who turned to extortion to sustain themselves, such that in time they were known as the Twelve Banes of Jiangnan. Disillusioned, the two retired to Reed Forest Lake in Lushan, leaving control of the band to the others.

Our heroes met up with Yang and Liu, and together they journeyed westwards to Lushan. Near the foothills of Lushan they learned from the villagers that the Two Elders still lived in a hut in the middle of Reed Forest Lake in the mountains, where they had supplies sent to them every month. Our heroes purchased a boat and some wine and meat, which Yang and Liu carried as the party ascended the mountain. Now even in those days Lushan was known for its scenery, and along the path to the lake were rocks carved with the calligraphy of famous poets from the previous dynasties, but our heroes had little time to tarry and appreciate these.

As they passed through a snow-covered bamboo forest on their way, they were ambushed by black-cladded swordsmen hiding among the bamboo and in pits dug into the ground, whom they defeated. It was thus that they knew their arrival was anticipated, and this was confirmed when they arrived at the shore of Reed Forest Lake, for across the ice floes formed on the surface of the lake came four forms, skipping from floe to floe, to confront them.

Two of these they have met earlier: the Purple Robed Twin Swords whom they fought at Qiyun Mountain. The other two they knew only by reputation: Red kasaya monk and White robed taoist, two more of the Twelve Banes of Jiangnan. The four explained that the Two Elders were not receiving visitors, and bade our heroes to leave. Our heroes were of course unwilling to leave without meeting the Two Elders, but knowing that they could not defeat the four in combat, instead proposed a contest, which if they win, the four would give them passage.

Now Yi, the Purple Robed Swordsman, advised his companion against this, saying that our heroes were full of trickery. The Red Monk, however, was impetuous and easily provoked, and challenged Soong to a contest, saying that he would step aside if the latter could defeat him in five rounds. Soong countered his challenge, saying that as he was a junior, the terms of the contest should instead be: if the Red Monk was unable to knock him out in five rounds, he would have to step aside. The Red Monk agreed, and proceeded to attack Soong, who put up a methodical defence. At the end of five rounds, Soong was much battered but was still standing, and the Red Monk stepped aside.

Now it was Zhang's turn. Knowing that the Purple Robed Twin Swords complemented each other with their fighting style, she challenged Wen, the Purple Robed Swordswoman to a duel. Trying to play to their own strength, she attempted to keep the distance and use her throwing knives to defeat her opponent, but Wen was able to close the distance each time, and Zhang was defeated.

With each side having won a round, it now came down to Wu. But it was the White Taoist who proposed the contest: he and Wu would each carve a line of poetry on a nearby rockface, and whoever did the better would win the round. Wu agreed, and won the contest convincingly.

The four then left as they had promised, with Yi again berating his companions for falling for the trickery of our heroes.

Yang and Liu now set the boat on the lake, and the party rowed their way to the tiny island in the middle. As they neared, they saw an old woman sweeping the floor outside the hut on the island. She admonished our heroes for creating a ruckus, and asked them to leave. The heroes announced that they had brought wine and meat as gifts, whereupon a voice from inside the hut welcomes them.

Entering the small hut, they found Feng, the Old Man of Lushan, and presented their gifts. They explained the purpose of their visit, and beseeched him to give them the scrolls. Feng was unmoved by their pleas, and indeed tried to dissuade them from their quest; the way of the world, he observed, was the strong preying upon the weak, and it was beyond the powers of a few to change the order of things. Nevertheless, the wine and meat had put him in a good mood, and he allowed the heroes to stay in his hut for the night.

Have our heroes journeyed so far to fail in their quest? Alas! dear readers, you must await the next chapter of our tale to find out.

Prepping and Running the Game

The plot for this session came more or less organically and from requests made by my players during session zero.

The plot involving the prisoners was of course supposed to be a dilemma for the players: should their characters risk capture by rescuing four unknown? I am glad they decided to, and was impressed by the way they pulled off the rescue.

Yang and Liu joining the party was the result of Zhang having reached level 3 of the Leader class, which gave her followers. I was able to use an NPC from an earlier session to introduce followers in a more natural fashion. 

They have asked for a fight in a bamboo forest, and one on water. I therefore decided to use a battle mat I had in our of my map books that showed a lake covered with ice floes for the big fight in the session, which in turn meant that I had to place the Two Elders in a suitable locale.

The other fight, an ambush in a bamboo forest, is of course a wuxia staple.

The way the final fight turned out was not planned. I had imagined a straight fight, but my players had different plans, and frankly I think they did an excellent job of playing to their characters' strengths while sticking to the wuxia ethos.

The campaign had been fun so far, but the next session, to be played at the end of the month, will be the final one. I have yet to decide what happens in the next session, but I have made it clear to my players it would be the finale session, and asked them where they imagined they would fight General Yen. Their decision was to confront him at the Qingming Festival, where he would return to his ancestors' tomb, presumably with a small entourage. This seemed like a reasonable choice, although I will have to come up with some ideas to make the battlefield interesting.