Sunday, January 28, 2024

Three Worlds #2

Kargen falls afoul of a giant scorpion
When our heroes returned to the fort they found that their success had already been made known by the restoration of the spring. Once more a modest feast was held in their honour, where they made acquaintance of two newcomers to the fort, who had escorted a priest of Andeus there.

After learning what our heroes had encountered, Captain Mossak asked our heroes to lead a party of his soldier to the site of the dam, where they hope to pick up the trail of the orcs and find their lair and end the threat. Arwin and Kargen, the two new arrivals, were asked to join the mission.

The next morning Arwin, Kargen, Mala, and Rokas (see PC profiles here) and five soldiers from the garrison made their way back to the site of the dam. There they found that the bodies of the orc warriors slain by our heroes the day before had been dragged away. Following the trail east for two hours, the party came upon an abandoned village set against the side of a cliff. The adobe houses of the village lacked doors at the ground level; a wooden ladder led from the ground to the second storey door in one of the houses, and through its windows Arwin saw a few orc warriors.

Kargen and Rokas approached the house, but immediately the orcs shot arrows at them - the ladder to the door was withdrawn.

The soldiers took shelter behind some rocks, while Kargen and Rokas ran towards the houses and stood against the walls of the houses beside the one occupied by the orcs so they could not be shot at. They were soon joined by Mala.

After a failed attempt by Kargen to flings a lit lantern into the house, the trio decided to entered the house next to the one held by the orcs. From there they ascended to the roof top by a hole in the ceiling, and sneaked to the roof of the house held by the orcs.

Through the hole in the ceiling there, the trio could see that four orc warriors were in the room. The three planned a co-ordinated attack: Rokas would hurl a throwing axe at one of the orcs shooting from one of the windows, Mala would cast a spell of fire to burn the two behind the other window, while Kargen would leap from the roof down and attack any surviving orc.

While Rokas and Mala managed to execute their attack as planned, Kargen found to his surprise that when his feet landed on the floor of the house it gave way and he plunged into the room in the floor below. Almost immediately he heard a clattering sound and turned to see giant scorpion charging at him. Kargen was seized by the giant claws of the scorpion, and fell unconscious.

On the floor above Mala and Rokas had trouble taking down the last orc warrior, until the soldiers entered the fray and cut him down. The party then shot missiles at the giant scorpion to keep it away from the prone body of Kargen. Eventually Gad, an orc soldier, offered to jump to the floor below with a rope tied around his waist, and recovered the dwarf.

Eventually the soldiers killed the scorpion, and when they searched the house they found that the bodies of the two lost soldier had seemingly be fed to the scorpion, while their gear were found in another room. With the hour being late, the party made a sweep of the village to make sure there were no more threats, and then settled for the night.

==

Two days later, when they had rested and recovered, Valdus offered to take Arwin and Kargen into employment, and sent our heroes out to scout the routes ahead to make sure they were free from orc raiders. So once more our heroes ventured out of Fort Davelmag, this time to investigate the cliff painting of the manticore which gave the valley its nickname.

It was late afternoon when they arrived at the base of the cliff which bore the painting of the monster, which differed somewhat from the manticore of the Old World. Under the painting, some 20 feet from ground level, they saw a cave opening the size of a door, which they entered by employing a grappling hook.

image from wikipedia

Inside, they found a large cave with the floor covered by a layer of sand blown in from the outside, and a tunnel leading further into the mountainside. With sunset approaching, they resolved to spend the night in the cave and explore further when morning came. While they prepared to settle in for the fight, Mala was attacked by a giant lizard which had laid hidden under the sand. After a short fight, Mala killed the lizard with a blow from his shovel, and the party settled down for the night.

The next morning our heroes ventured deeper into the cave. There they found a larger cavern which was used as a burial site for orcs. In another chamber they found the remains of an orc interred in a seated position, with grave goods placed on and beside him. Our heroes took some of the goods, with Kargen claiming a necklace with a turquoise stone the size of an egg.

One tunnel led to a strange round cave that had the size and shape of the pit which served as a jail in Fort Davelmag: a round chamber some 12 yards across, with a ring of stones placed in the centre serving as a fireplace, and a small pit about two foot across set north of the centre. The room was also unnaturally cold, and frost formed upon the floor and walls of the cave.

Mala was able to sense magic in the cave, but was otherwise unable to learn more about it, and so the party decided to return to the fort.

Prepping and Running the Game

The first part of this session was a continuation of the encounter from the last session, but I changed the scene of the combat from a dungeon to an adobe village and added a vertical element, which worked well and provided some tension and laughs.

With the first encounter and quest done, I asked the players to choose which location they wished to explore next. There are about seven "dungeons" in the module, so it was not difficult to prep all the locations beforehand, especially since I modified all of them to cut them down and make them easy to remember.

The "manticore" in the photo above is actually a piasa, a mythological monster from the Mississippian Culture, which I borrowed because I thought it fit the name of the module.

The magical cave is based on the kiva of the Ancestral Puebloan culture, and is actually an important part of the plot of the campaign.

The character Mala had scored three criticals while attacking with the shovel in our two sessions, and it had become a running gag in the campaign. The player and I have decided to capitalise on this and use the shovel as a device in the character's specialisation as a warlock.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Three Worlds #1

Mala, Zua, and Rokas battle an orc warrior

Our story begins as Mala, Rokas, and Zua (see PC profiles here) entered Fort Davelmag at the western end of Huloror Canyon - known also as the Valley of the Manticore - as guards for the first trade caravan of the season. Valdus, their employer, had hoped to be the first merchant to reach Karn Buldahr in the south this year, and make a tidy profit.

The party were welcomed by the garrison, as news from the outside world was eagerly sought. That evening a modest feast was held for the visitors. But midway through the evening, a cry and a loud sound was heard outside the mess hall, and when the soldiers and our heroes rushed out they saw the body of Arnellas, one of the soldiers, lying face down at the bottom of the fort's watch tower. Standing at the top of the tower was Jorrus, the caravan's muleteer. His face was in a daze, and in his hand he held a knife.

Jorrus was disarmed and bound by the soldiers, and it soon became clear that he had stabbed Arnellas in the back and the latter had either fallen or been pushed off the watch tower. The two men had not met each other before the day, and no motive for the attack could be found, but nevertheless the guilt was clear. Jorrus was placed in a large pit in the courtyard of the fort which served as a jail, and Captain Mossak would send messengers to the town of Belton to fetch the duke's emissary to execute the death sentence for the crime.

Having found Jorrus an honest and upright fellow during their time together, our heroes were puzzled by his actions, and so they asked him what had trasnpired. Jorrus, still in a daze, replied that he had gone up to the top of the watch tower with Arnellos to take in the view of the canyon at night, and that he heard the saw the flapping of giant wings, and the next thing he remembered was that he was being arrested by the soldiers.

Our heroes returned to their quarters to find Valdus waiting for them. Valdus was unwilling to leave the fort without Jorrus, who had been a good muleteer, and in any case it would be unwise to travel on without someone to tend to the mules. He would ask the soldiers traveling to Belton to seek a replacement for Jorrus, which meant that they would have to wait for four weeks at the fort.

To make things worse, Captain Mossak had informed Valdus that the stream supplying the fort had in recent days decreased in flow, and their water would not be able to sustain the garrison and the mules if the caravan remained for more than a few days. Two soldiers sent out to investigate the cause of the lessened flow had not returned, so now Valdus asked our heroes to seek out the cause of the problem.

The next day, our heroes followed the course of the stream up the hills, and about noon time they came to a place where a pool had formed over a flat area of ground; a crude dam of rocks had been built across the stream. Zua observed that two orcs were hiding among rocks in the sloped overlooking the dam.

Rokas and Mala decided to make a wide flanking move and come upon the orcs from their rear, but as they neared the orcs' position Zua saw that one orc archer had in fact noticed the two of them and was aiming an arrow at Rokas. Zua loosed an arrow at the archer, and Rokas and Mala were warned of his presence. A brief skirmish broke out, and soon one of the orc warriors were dead, and the other one defeated and bound by our heroes. On the orc they found a sword which belonged to one of the soldiers from the garrison.

Our heroes attempted to interrogate the orc, but they could not speak each other's language. Zua, who had learned something of the "hand speech" used by some orc tribes during his travel, was able to learn that the orcs had indeed dammed the stream as they deemed the garrison of the fort enemies.

Our heroes began the work of dismantling the dam, with Mala wielding a shovel which he had acquired from the fort for this purpose, but before they could complete their work Zua spied two more orcs heading their way. As the two orcs began to shoot arrows at our heroes the first orc attempted to break out of his bonds. Mala felled him with a blow from his shovel.

Once more a fight broke out, and Zua and Rokas in turn fell to the orcs, until Mala struck down the last of the orcs with his shovel and ended the battle. Fearful of more attacks, our heroes looted the orcs, laid their bodies in a row, and then returned to the fort.

Prepping and Running the Game

This session is based pretty much "out of the book" from the module Through the Valley of the Manticore. I had the PCs be part of the caravan described in the module to give them a reason for being at the fort, and reversed the roles of the murderer and murder victim so that the PCs would have a motivation to want to get to the bottom of the mystery and prove the innocence of their fellow traveler.

This was a little more successful than I had hoped for, and the players spent quite a bit of time trying to solve the crime, and I had to move things long by nudging them in the direction of the problem with the water supply. The scenario with the water supply was supposed to lead to a second location, but given the time we had left and the state the PCs were in, I decided to delay that to our next session.

One of the things I have done for this campaign is to replace all the "humanoid" opposition with orcs, who play the role of the indigenous people of the continent. I used the culture and the architecture of the tribes of the American Southwest for the setting, and used the idea of the Plains Indian Sign Language to allow the PCs and the orcs to communicate.

Friday, January 05, 2024

Three Worlds #0

art by Jacob Fleming
Campaign Background (see here)


PC Profiles

Arwin, elven ranger seeking to learn about the flora and fauna of the Third World

Enree, human warlock; formerly a sailor

Kargen, dwarven fighter seeking his fortune in the Third World. Retired and returned to the Old World with loot taken from orc tombs

Mala, elven warlock on a secret quest

Rokas, orc barbarian, orphaned as a child and raised by humans

Zua, elven bard traveling through the Third World to collect lore


NPCs

Captain Mossak, captain of the garrison at Fort Davelmag, human

Dareni, dwarven stone mason

Gad, orc soldier at Fort Davelmag

Lennard, human porter at Fort Davelmag

Mama Clay, human cook at Fort Davelmag


Fiatus, steward to Castellan of Obanhold and Priest of Andeus

Saulinus, headman of the lumber village of Gatton

Remunas, headman of the fishing village of Yngley; Elze, his daughter

Mama Clay, human cook at Obanhold


Playable Races

  • Elves

More than three thousand years ago, the elven cities states in the First World joined to become an empire that ruled over the First World. From there their ships sailed to the Second World, where they built many cities and enslaved the humans there and forced them to produce the goods to feed their empire. All that ended two and a half millennia ago, when the humans revolted and invaded the homeland of the elves, shattering their empire. Several of the elven cities survived the Age of Strife and the Great Plague that followed, and while their fortunes have waxed and waned in the years that follow, they still endure.

Today the elves are known for their prowess as seafarers and traders, as well as their skills and knowledge as scholars, mages, and craftsmen.

Elves are slighter in height and built than humans, but have a longer lifespan, living up to the age of 130.

  • Dwarves

The dwarven have their origins in the mountain ranges that divide the First and Second World, where they mined the metals the elves needed, and acted as middle-men in the trade between the elves and men. The various dwarven kingdoms warred with each other and the elves in earlier times, until the Dwarven Empire was formed.

In time the Dwarven Empire became rich and powerful, and the dwarves became skilled craftsmen in their own right. But their fortunes were intertwined with those of the elves, and during the Age of Strife and the Great Plague that followed they retreated from the surface world and withdrew to their underground homes.

Dwarves are shorter than men but more stoutly built. They too have a longer lifespan than men, with most living past the age of 100.

  • Men

It is believed that men originated in the Second World, where they were once simple hunters and gatherers, until they were taught the knowledge of farming and metal-working by the elves. In time they learned also writing and sailing from the elves; but of all the races men alone knew how to tame horses. During the Age of Strife men overthrew the elven yoke and invaded the First World, shattering the Elven Empire.

Today men rule over most of the First and Second Worlds, divided into many kingdoms and empires, and now they have begun to conquer the Third World.

  • Orcs

The myths of many of the orc nations of the Third World tell of how their gods brought them from the First World to the Second, and thence to the Third World in a time long past.

There the orcs lived apart from men, elves, and dwarves and formed their own nations and empires. Then two hundred years ago, men arrived from across the ocean. After a brief period of conflict, men were driven off, but the diseases brought by them afflicted the orcs and soon spread across the Third World, killing most of their populace and causing a collapse of their nations. When men once more arrived fifty years ago, they found the lands abandoned and unworked, and the orcish cities in ruins and deserted.

But the orcs still abide, in thousands of villages across the Third World, some clinging on to their old ways, some trying to adapt to this new threat to their land.

Orcs are shorter than men but stronger. They have a lifespan just a little shorter than that of men, with few reaching the age of 60.

Playable Classes

  • Warrior

Barbarian

Fighter

Ranger

  • Thief

Assassin

Bard

Rogue

  • Zealot

Cleric

Druid

Paladin

  • Mage

Sorcerer

Warlock

Wizard

Character Stats

Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma

Assign in any order: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

  • Ability Score Modifiers

1-3

-4

4-5

-3

6-7

-2

8-9

-1

10-11

0

12-13

+1

14-15

+2

16-17

+3

18+

+4

 Racial Traits and Talents:

  • Dwarf

+2 to STR, CON, or WIS

Movement 5”

INT check to detect direction when underground

  • Elf

+2 to DEX, INT, or WIS

Movement 6”

INT check to know purpose of crafted item

  • Human

+1 to any 2 (different) stats

Gain Adv to next check when enemy Crit against you

Movement 6”

  • Orc

+2 to STR, CON, or CHA

Ignore 1 level of Exhaustion

Movement 6”

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Three Worlds - A New Fantasy Campaign

map from: Silver Compass Maps

My original plan for the major fantasy campaign for this year was going to be Blood Sword using Fantasy Age 2nd Edition, but as the campaign books have been delayed by more than a year and a half, with no clear delivery date in sight, I had to look for a filler campaign.

I looked around for a sandbox/hexcrawl campaign that would provide about 4 to 6 sessions of play, and came across Through the Valley of the Manticore from Gelatinous Cubism, which seems to fit the bill. I particularly enjoyed the geographical setting of the campaign and its "The Keep on the Borderlands" vibe. I had the idea of looking for more campaign modules that will fit with Through the Valley of the Manticore, and looked at some of the early D&D modules, but eventually decided that the two other campaigns from Gelatinous Cubism can actually be set in the same world.

The thought of linking the three campaigns together set me on the path to, over the past couple of weeks, world-building.

But before we go any further, I would just like to say that the map above is not done by me, nor is it the map which I plan to use for my game world, which has... no world map.

Other than the three regional maps from the three modules, I am not planning on actually creating a world map. I do have some idea of how many continents my world has (well, it's either three or four, I haven't quite decided) and what their geographical relationships to each other are, but as the three modules will all be set in the "New World" (the "third" continent in the narrative, known as the Third World in the setting), there is no need to detail the geography of the "Old World".

Now the... difficult part.

As the name "New World" suggests, the setting of my campaign will be an analogue of America. I am aware that in recent years D&D (and by extension all fantasy RPGs) had been accused of having "colonialist roots". I think an argument can be made for that, and that the geography of the early D&D module and its premise are based on those of America and their "frontier" mythology, but in this case I have chosen to steer into the colonialist roots of D&D on my own accord, and have the campaign explore what it is like living in a fantasy world at a time when civilisations come to a clash.

In this campaign, orcs will be the original inhabitants of the New World. They will not all be "evil" or "noble savages", and they will not be a monoculture - their many cultures will be based off Native American cultures, though I do not claim to known enough about them to be "representing" these cultures in the game. The campaign is set some 150 years after the first contact between the Old World and the New World, when the disease brought by the inhabitants of the Old World had caused the deaths of 95% of the New World and caused their advanced civilisations to collapse.

The "explorers" of the Old World: elves, dwarves, and men, now find themselves in a vast new land, sparsely populated by strange and unfamiliar peoples, largely uncultivated and littered with ruins and tombs containing grave goods made from gold and precious stones, all seemingly there for taking.

What drove our PCs to venture across the ocean to come to the New World? What do they hope to gain in their travels into the strange land, and what will they learn about the people of the land and about themselves?

Due to difficulty with scheduling, the campaign will be in the open-table, drop-in, drop-out format. As a result, I have decided to forgo the more complicated Fantasy Age 2nd Edition rules and instead return to Five Torches Deep, although I will be transplanting the rules for magic from the former to the latter.

I hope you will join us in our campaign.

Monday, January 01, 2024

2023 in Review and Looking Ahead

Some of the rulebooks and scenario books I bought in 2023

2023 was a good year for wargaming - we played a total of 11 sessions - but RPG saw a decrease to just 19 sessions. The total number of gaming sessions was the same as last year, which tells me that when it comes to wargaming and RPG, it's a zero-sum game.

I managed to complete most of the RPG campaigns which I planned to: the Dwarrowdeep campaign (which I thought had a satisfactory ending), the John Wick campaign (again, a good finale session), and Season 3 of our Savage Gamma World campaign, which saw the introduction of new players to the group.

A change in my schedule next year means that we will be losing a few players from our pool, and in response I will probably be running another open-table Five Torches Deep campaign in the vein of the Barrowmaze campaign we played, with some modifications. At the same time, I am keeping an eye on suitable campaigns to base the next seasons of our Space Opera and Savage Gamma World campaigns on. 

On the wargaming front, the monthly session allowed me to play all the rules I have been meaning to try out, and also let my friends (finally) use their miniatures in actual games. There are still many games which we want to play, as well as miniatures we want to field, so hopefully we can continue the monthly sessions in the year ahead.

But the first quarter of this year may see little if any gaming as I move to a new home and a new weekly schedule. RPG will now fall on Wednesday evenings, on a working day, which will mean I have to prep for sessions before the day of the game itself. The logistics of moving all my books, miniatures, and terrain and the storage solution for them will be a challenge, and it has forced me to prune my collection over the past year. I will need to be prudent in acquiring new stuff in the coming years, but already I have plans to buy and paint units for my friends' armies, as I have done previously.

Here's wishing you a Happy New Year with lots of Gaming in it.