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)