Suspicious circumstances at Stone Forest

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ghost_det01MonsterManual-1-FleshGolem-e1398059863836Necroposter

This session took the elvish boys, agents of the Judiciary of Parsantium, to an outlying village known as Stone Forest. The town was named after the large cemetery there, and most of the businesses serviced that trade: stone cutters, undertakers, cabinet makers and so on. Rumours had reached the central court that a restless spirit was haunting the graveyard and had scared a couple of people to death.

For this session I used many pieces of advice from Sly Flourish’s great set of tools. I highly recommend his Lazy Dungeon master for some good tips on not over-planning. First I identified the starting scene: in the taverna called the Future Child in the village of Stone Forest, where the agents could start their investigation. This start cut out potentially tedious time in describing the case back at base and making the trip there. It was only an hour or so out of the city and so travel would have only introduced a whole bunch of red herrings. Next I identified three locations: the graveyard itself, the funeral parlour of Nicolaos Dimitrios, and the manse of a mysterious local named Behrooz Abbas.

At this stage I tied in some personal clues from the character’s own contacts. Cassius was advised that a certain powerful individual by the name of Behrooz Abbas was short on his payments to the criminal gang he worked for in secret. Storm was advised that suspicious chemicals had been purchased by someone in Stone Forest, possibly indicating that someone was conducting magical experimentation without guild authorisation.

Then I sketched out on single index cards three allies and three enemies. And with that I had all the preparation material for the entire session. This marks a huge difference in how I have been running sessions. In the past I have over-prepared in the hope of satisfying the players’ need to detail and tied up loose ends, not really with much success. By loosening the reins a little I wanted to test if a more satisfying result could be achieved.

How the game ran in brief:

  • Interrogation at the bar revealed two widowers, both of whom appeared to have gifted the same locket to their wives before their deaths. Timing indicated that the locket had been retrieved from the corpse of one and then resold. Was this a simple case of grave robbing, or was the locket itself responsible for the deaths?
  • Both of the deceased had been prepared for burial by the same funeral parlour
  • At the funeral parlour the lads found everything to be pretty much as expected, and they tried to figure out some way to provoke matters so they could short cut polite interrogation methods…
  • Meanwhile, Cassius had sneaked around the back of the compound, made entrance and discovered a second workroom. In this work room he found a slumbering Flesh Golem. Naturally he beat a hasty retreat to inform the others
  • Time passed. Later, they returned and forcefully entered the quiet building. On entering the secret workroom they found the golem and all the gruesome implements used to manufacture him. It lumbered to its feet and attacked, but the lads managed to trip, stab and burn the beast. Only Cassius got a bash in the side of his head for his troubles
  • Just as the monster was going down the funeral director, Nicolaos, arrived, and tried to comfort the monster. The lads thumped him unconscious. Satisfied that they’d uncovered illegal activity they bundled him up and took him back to town. On the way they discovered that he was not a skilled magic user at all. He’d just been following directions from a book that a Mr Abbas had given him
  • Next day they returned to Stone Forest with a mission to confront this mysterious Behrooz Abbas. The butler advised them that the master was away in town for the day. Not to be deterred they used the authority of their office to enter the premises. Finding a locked door that the butler was terrified to open they picked it, and headed downstairs. The wooden steps were unsteady and they managed to deduce that a misstep would displace pots that had wires attached: a trap! They saw a chest in an alcove and stayed far away, much to Cassius’ disappointment, and at last reached the bottom. A locked door with a rune carved on in blocked their way. It seemed unlikely that all of them could have avoided looking at the rune, and the Glyph of Warding duly went off, blasting them with some pretty severe damage
  • Singed and frightened, they decided to go for a short rest…

And so the night of play wrapped up.

From the DM perspective this session was more satisfying than previous. Play style for this group is to treat the game as a puzzle to solve. In attempting to satisfy that in the past I’d attempted to detail the encounters and places so that everything held together. But of course these optimisers found ways to circumvent these detailed plans, leaving me  disappointed that I had not provided enough ‘challenge’. The trick to short circuiting this, I think I’ve learned, is not more planning, but less. Since they will dismantle any designed sequence, having fewer but stronger core elements makes its far easier to pivot to new circumstances. It worked for me. Hopefully it worked for them as well.

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The great chariot race

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It was the day of the final race of the Spring Racing Carnival in Parsantium. All four teams would be taking part, with two chariots per team running. The quadriga chariots were large and fast and the Hippodrome, though large, seemed to offer little room for manoeuvre. The favourite charioteer, Mercurius of the Blues was set to win an historic record of seven wins of the grand final if he were successful. House Scipio had a lot of money riding on the outcome. The prestige of the house, and the Noble quarter, seemed to be riding on Mercurius’ shoulders. His rival, Tarkhan Kadir or the Greens, was equally skilled and determined to finally beat his rival.

The elvish boys were in the crowd enjoying the festivities. There had been the usual gang violence but nothing out of the ordinary. Fireworks were banging in the side-streets, pantomime dragons weaved through the crowd.

The race ran. A chariot belonging to the Reds overturned, killing the driver. A kid ran on to the track and was run down. Mercurius and Tarkhan Kadir jostled for first place, exchanging the lead several times while whipping their horses and each other.

In the end it was Mercurius that crossed the finish line. Leaping from his chariot before the Basileus’ box he bowed and waved to the crowd, every bit the showman and great athlete. however, as the Basileus left his box to come down to the arena and place the laurel leaves on his head and kiss his cheeks Mercurius collapsed. Team physicians rushing to him. A hasty canopy was thrown over him. It was declared, after he was carried away, that he had simply collapsed and was unable to receive his triumph.

But… back at the station house the lads were informed that Mercurius had died at the scene. More importantly it appeared that he had actually died several days earlier. how was this possible? Everyone had seen him hale and healthy during the race.

They headed to the compound of House Scipio in the Grand Ward. The compound was large, walled, beautiful yet functional. It was the estate of that notable family and the training grounds for the Blue team. Mercurius’ body was held in isolation in the mausoleum where the cool subterranean environment would hopefully retard its decomposition. But what the lads saw was a body that had clearly been dead for several days (just a bit longer than the maximum window that would allow resurrection – smart arses with their bloody rules).

Interrogating the team doctor did not reveal much. The doctor himself seemed pretty vague: not at all the professional that might be expected to be charged with looking after the most valuable athletes in the city.

On the way out one of the slaves recognised Octavius from his previous adventures. With a bit of deft questioning he allowed the investigators a look at the team ledger book. There they found entries referring out some of the athletes to a mysterious Mr Ushi Wibu’ah from Khemet, specialist in exotic diseases. The address was acquired and the elvish lads headed into the Victory Ward.

Mr Wibu’ah’s property was an impressive structure, a group of walled compounds around open spaces of water features,villa house plans Beautiful Roman Villa House Plans Home Design 2017

When questioned, the staff acted odd, robotic even. On close questioning Octavius rolled double criticals with his advantage for being a recognised member of the Judiciary. Overcome with the compulsion to answer, yet unable to do so, they suffered a meltdown more typical of the easily confused supercomputers of the 1960’s. Zombies! The chase was on.

The lads swiftly moved through the house, slaughtering more zombie servants as they shambled out. They found a staircase leading under the house and investigated. It was a necromancer’s workshop, with all the gruesome implements and constructions of that trade. Another tunnel led out, and they dashed along it when they heard sounds of someone fleeing.

The tunnel exited through a trapdoor into a taxidermist but they were only just in time to see their quarry exit through the main door to the street. Animated creatures in various states of repair rushed the boys from all directions, but Storm blasted them all in one fell swoop with Thuderwave (he also found that he now needs to roll on the Wild Magic table whenever he has the Ioun Stone in operation).

Across the street they saw the fleeing Necromancer enter a butcher’s shop. When they burst in various animal corpses also tried to attack, but most of these were brushed aside.

Now in the back street Ushi cast Hold Person on Aerius, causing him to fall behind. In the lull the necromancer jumped into a fast carriage and careered down the street. It did him no good as Storm blasted it with Fire Bolts.

Again fleeing on foot, Ushi Wibu’ah, now revealed as a Mummy of some description, approached the gates between Victory and Harbour Ward. Aerius shouted for the guards. The captain of the watch and a half dozen uniformed guard burst out ready for action, but the Mummy gave him a Dreadful Glare and the poor captain collapsed in terror.

At last the elvish lads had caught up and they started in with their fearsome combat skills. Damage was inflicted. Oaths and shouts and alarums. Aerius became infected with Mummy Rot (but he’ll recover). [And without doing a blow-by-blow] The mummy was defeated.

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Post game clues and thoughts:

  • The corpse of the killed charioteer also could cause Mummy Rot. When dead Mercurius won the Basileus would touch him, and contract Mummy Rot. Who would want to kill or maim or otherwise harm the Basileus? Or is that a red herring?
  • Who would have gained by killing Mercurius? If he’d died before the race then House Qassim with the equally skilled Tarkhan Kadir probably would have won. The rivalry between House Scipio and House Qassim goes back a long way
  • Why a Mummy from Khemet? Khemet, consumed by an ancient curse is the land of the dead. The former ruler of Parsantium, the Rajah, was an ally of Khemet against Qadissa. Is there a connection?

This was the first time we had a run an ‘investigation’ game rather than a typical murder-hobo game.

N1 session wrap up – The Miracle of Trobridge

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The New Year has brought renewed focus on the campaign. We spent the better part of last year, and maybe more, working through N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God. This is because we’ve put it in the context of the wider world and explored along more than just the linear path as provided.

At the end of the last session the elvish lads had withstood the assault of the reincarnated Naga as she sought to recover the canopic jar that radiated evil (and may contain parts to the exiled Rakshasa that once ruled Parsantium). It was the dead of winter, and the survivors hunkered down just to survive.

The town of Trobridge (formerly Orlane, but renamed because of the magnificent defence against the river trolls) was divided into two camps. One clustered around the temple. The other around the surviving tavern that was once the centre of the Naga cult.

There was a lot of refreshing of memories and winding up of loose ends. The lads had been there for several months and had built up something of a relationship with the locals and the area. This was a turning point for the characters so I offered them each a chance to retire, or at least indicate the future direction of the campaign. They could choose to hang around here and retire; they could choose to hang around here and base their future adventures from Trobridge – effectively making future adventures wilderness; they could return to Parsantium.

Cassius found he had much in common with the thieves and cut throats over at the Golden Grain. Together they looted the deserted township and partied into the night. His offer was to join them as they carved up the land and made themselves Barons, creating a new state that would offer itself to either Parsantium or Karjolat.

Aerius found that he became the focus of attention by the many orphans and even a dog. They were fascinated by his daily meditations and he found himself by default becoming their teacher. His offer was to settle and lead the community to a better moral future.

Storm found that Ramne the retired wizard was actually a very powerful magic user. Using the younger man’s help Ramne recovered his scrolls and organised the temple’s library. His offer was to become an apprentice and learn some spectacular magic.

Octavius found that he had become close to Misha Devi, the priestess who had been charmed by the Naga but saved by his actions. Together they planned the recovery of the village. By day they laboured to make sure that everyone was fed and that no stone was left unturned to breathe life back into Trobridge. By night they talked by candle light after prayers about their hopes and dreams. One thing led to another, and his offer was to stay, marry, and become a pillar of the renewed community.

That was what they had to consider.

One night something unprecedented happened that was to become known as The Miracle of Trobridge. This is a major world shaking event and will reverberate throughout the land.

As everyone congregated in the main temple space the light changed character. The statue of Merikka (analogue of Demeter), the goddess of agriculture and the harvest, changed and animated to become the living likeness of Helion, Lord of the gods (analogue of Hyperion). The jade statue of the naga was blasted, and then plastered across the walls to become a frieze of the elvish lads’ exploits. The canopic jar was sealed in jade and then welded into the new statue’s base. The elvish boys were again offered what could have been their deepest desires. And then the light faded.

A lot had happened.

To give them time to think I then took them through a one-shot mini-dungeon under the village where the troglodytes must have had their lair. Stirges, rot-grubs, black puddings and ankhegs. Lots of hurt, but everyone survived though perhaps lacking body hair in Cassius’ case (look up when you skulk away from the action, for there may be a black pudding there).

In the end they said their farewells and headed back to Parsantium. It was spring now and they managed to catch a ship. The court case established the facts of the possession and subsequent actions. Despite being reprimanded for the exceedingly high death toll they were rewarded with entrance into the Judiciary: with a badge and everything (+1 on reaction rolls when dealing with anyone who cares about Parsantine authority).

And so N1 finally wrapped up. Whew.

The group had chosen the direction they want the campaign to go: city based, within a legal structure. Let the next adventure begin.

Character wallet for D&D

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As the DM for our group I don’t get the chance to play a character in depth. I certainly get to play lots of bit-players, but not through the process of growth and development – after all, I’m holding most of the cards.

And it was the thought of cards that prompted this idea. Having developed characters that I would actually play and then inserting them into the party as NPCs I wanted to find a simple way to show their characters without a full character sheet. Firstly it would be unfair on the players for me to have a full fledged character under my control in their midst, and also it was an unnecessary burden for them to have to manage all the details of another in whom they were not invested.

I have stacks of cards on my desk. Some taken from going systems such as Pathfinder, but plenty of others with different art and markings just for inspiration. Combine these with the spell cards, and I had a viable cut down character representation. Add to this a cut down character sheet that contain just the bare minimum of facts. Combine these into a natty leather card holder – spell book – and I have a complete portable character profile.

This example is for Kekara, a 4th level Druid from a desert region, of the Vanara race. Race details as the last page just for reference. Scarab is the Druidic focus. The equipment cards come from the Pathfinder Mummy’s Mask set. The card wallet was found on eBay for less then $2. It’s called a business card wallet, but handles poker sized cards OK. Two to a sleeve is more than it can handle though: as it is you do need to show a little care in turning the pages to avoid catching and bending the edges, particularly for those cards at the extreme ends.

Playing the solo campaign by D&D Solo Adventures

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I found this site by accident: D&D Solo Adventures and felt compelled to give it a try.

This is essentially an electronic version of the venerable Choose Your Own Adventure stories, using D&D (in my case 5e rules). You need to keep track of elements on a scratch pad, and have characteristics as described by the standard rules, and roll dice for real and abide by the results.

The story starts with some nice flavour text, links to maps, and many possible adventure/quests to embark upon. You can of course cheat and click from place to place, hovering over every result and instantly succeeding. In doing so you are only cheating yourself, as there is no reward structure except your own willingness to abide by your own level of discipline.

In another words this would fail badly for many personality types, and be extremely rewarding for others.

There was a time this would have driven me batty. But now I find it perfectly restful, and immersive.

In fact I found it so compelling I cleared the game table and set it up to play out the combats using miniatures – I hardly ever do this in group D&D play. I used my halfling druid character Kekara, who is 4th level. This is technically too powerful for the early adventures, and too weak for the latter. But I have him just by himself, and so far he’s finding it pretty challenging.

My role in our gaming group is predominantly as the DM. As such I have few opportunities to play – as in: ‘make decisions’. Our group is fairly rules conscious, and as a result I generally make up the story and they run the rules. This means that there are many elements I’m a bit hazy on. This solo adventure is a good way to deepen my understanding of the rules since there is no one to ask except myself. So I have to look it up and not delegate.

Here is Kekara in the Crematorium confronted by a skeleton that has just crawled out of the furnace. The other was easily despatched by turning over his coffin.

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N1. Lizard Cult. Session 7 – Orlane changes its name and ceases to exist

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IMG_1124After clearing out the dungeon of the defeated Naga queen the party limped back to the village and overwintered. Conscious that they were at risk from marauding goblin bands they decided to mount defences. By walking around the place and talking to everyone they came to understand who was where and their condition. There were 57 adult male villagers, 24 women of various ages, and 11 kids. There were also 14 ‘special’ types: retired adventurers, people who were clearly mercenaries in pay of the former cult and so on.

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Using the big map the party marked out the location of these people and considered how they would go about defending. The conclusion was reached to defend from the temple. The villagers were requested to relocate: not all did. A few hold outs stayed in their cabins. The owner of the Slumbering Serpent, who never really disliked elves anyway (sneaky little buggers), stayed, while all the guests left. Everyone at the Gold Grain stayed barricaded inside that former cult haven.

 

Some time later the warning bell atop the temple sounded as a goblin warband approached. The ragged groups approached from the fields behind Ramne the retired wizard’s house. These goblins, led by a hobgoblin chief, descended on the nearest houses, looted and then burnt them. Then they moved on to the Slumbering Serpent where they made quick work of the racist proprietors and settled in to gorge themselves.

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The elvish boys hurled abuse at the goblins, who approached the temple, but then retreated in good order with their loot when caught in lethally accurate bow shots.

Time went by and the party settled into that complacency that they usually have in any adventure: of being untouched and untouchable. They took no damage and were easily able to repel the invaders. Anyone who refused the sanctuary of the temple deserved what they got, they figured. The other group at the Golden Grain had engaged in a stout fight with the goblins at the east bridge, and presumably they were feeling pretty pleased with themselves.

In the meantime the two elvish agents that were already in the village at the very beginning approached the party and congratulated them on their defeat of the Naga and her cult. They knew what the heroes had found in the form of a canopic jar that radiated evil magic, and offered to ‘take it to a safe place’. All the heroes knew about the strangers was that they were agents of ‘a foreign power’. As (mostly) loyal servants to Parsantium they refused the offer. The agents departed on friendly terms but reports from around the town suggested they were searching for the jar. This put the wind up the party as they had buried it near Ramne’s cottage. So they disinterred it and instead installed it at the temple (but where, and what effect did it have on that place? – that’s the question…)

Thinking carefully and consulting their memories the heroes suspected that the agents were a different breed of elf altogether. Their inability to appear in daylight and their monotone complexions suggested… dramatic music… Shadow Elves. Who were of course legend and it was silly to even think it… But if they were, may be the old legends were true…

Anyway, one night the watchers on the platform were surprised by a sudden stench and then one of them squawked and was plucked over the side to his death. Troglodytes were climbing the embankment!

IMG_1127IMG_1128IMG_1129IMG_1130Without retelling this titanic battle blow by blow we can compress it to these key highlights:

  • Successive waves of increasingly stronger groups of troglodytes approached from the lake
  • More entered from the tunnels below the temple. This attack had been anticipated but it was still hard going for the villagers. Arrius the monk dashed down and led the defence
  • Both Storm and Octavius became ill from the Troglodyte stench but battled on. Piles of bodies, both trog and villager began to build up, and Storm unleashed ever more impressive pyrotechnics from his sorcerous mind. Cassius made good use of cover in the columns surrounding the temple, as did Ghath, and picked off an uncounted number of foes with their crossbows
  • But still the enemy kept coming
  • Reserves were brought to the fray to stem the tide
  • As the group was concentrating on one quarter, another group of enemy made it to the walls. This group had a Lake Troll with it. And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth…
  • Because the party had thought they’d used an awful lot of their magic and had taken wounds, and now there was this guy (CR7, 125hp, regenerate). Such malicious joy for the DM to watch them fret
  • Ghath considered sneaking off and leaving the rest to their fate
  • AND THEN… coming up the road was the Naga herself, rejuvenated, seeking revenge, searching for her stolen treasure of the canopic jar
  • The troll pushed the party to the limits, carving his way through the villagers and pummelling Octavius. The extra help from an old crone with a magic ring who finally brought him down, but the sigh of relief was muted because the Naga was smugly climbing the stairs..
  • She blasted Octavius, who was standing n front of the main doors with a necrotic ray, inflicting him with that most hateful of conditions because he had gerontophobia
  • But then, as spell slots were empty, and hit points were bumping along on near-empty, a heroic villager called Trent brought her down with an arrow to the eye.

And so ended the siege of Orlane with an incredibly narrow victory to the boys who had never had to face a real challenge before.

But the victory was in many ways hollow. Only 19 adult male villagers remained unscathed along with 29 women and children. The village was no longer viable as a community, much less defensible. True, the canopic jar reputedly containing some remains of the Rahkshasa Raja had been prevented from falling back into demonic hands. But Spirit Nagas were effectively immortal, and she would rise again. She would never stop until she got her revenge.

The last act of the Mayor was to rename Orlane to Troll Bridge, or Trobridge as it now appears in official Parsantine records.

N1. Reptile god. Session 6

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Naga

IMG_1080The elvish boys spent a fair amount of time recovering from the battle in the mud with the ghouls and then continued to search the squelching, stinking passages. They were disappointed on several occasions to find no treasure of significance after battling minor creatures such as giant spiders and centipedes.

Their cautious, search systematically, approach allowed them to map fairly well and they noticed that on one path the tunnels appeared to be digging into more solid material and sloping down. They also neglected to search for secret doors a couple of missed some of the hoard. But they did manage to rescue a couple of captives, including the woman who had written the letters that drew them to the village in the first place.

They passed through a large chamber where a new type of undead creature leapt out, but was dealt with so quickly that it had no chance to employ any of its special features. On the other side of the door they found the main temple where the high priest and a Wight lay in wait. Despite some tense moments they passed though this test largely unharmed as well.

Through a secret door behind an ancient stone statue of a naga they found a very ancient chamber. Runes at either end of this area could not be identified, except to say they were Sampuran and predated anything currently known. In the middle if the chamber they saw a canopic jar. Rather than touch it with bare hands they drew it close using magic. They made the connection between the heart found in the Temple of the Dark Daeva, and suspected that perhaps this contained some more body parts of the deposed and exiled Raja.

Once the jar was removed from between the runes they heard a scream of rage. They fled, but were horrified when the naga herself smashing into the path, having gone the long way through the labyrinth to get there (couldn’t she pass through the zone of the protecting runes? Guess not).

The elvish boys leapt forward with usual gusto: Cassius leaping forward AND leaping back as usual. In response, the naga dropped a fireball in their midst and even though they saved against the effect, the captives were killed outright, Ghath was thrown into critical condition and Storm and Arrius were badly burnt.

Alas (for me) she only had one shot, though. Storm blasted her with a ray of frost and she was down.

The boys made their way back to the village and found all the survivors there to have recovered from the naga’s enchantment. It was late in the season and stormy. They considered their options of striking out through hobgoblin marauding territory or over wintering in the village.

There are some important considerations and campaign hooks here:

  • This was a Spirit Naga, with all that this implies. They have now made a recurring enemy
  • What are they to do with the canopic jar with its unknown contents
  • Was the naga protecting the jar, or trying to get the jar and could not because of the warding runes
  • This is twice now they have come in contact with multi-armed demonic creatures

Project 1701 extended – the bigger picture

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Drifter

Been rolling some random characters using Mongoose Traveller to see what stories develop. The action is all centred around Guerzim, a world run by the militaristic Nar faction of the Union Crucis, as described in the Judges Guild product Crucis Margin. The Nar launched attacks against their neighbours, the ManDanin Co-Dominion, around 100 years ago and got their arses kicked. The ManDanin are a strong confederation of humans and the semi-reptilian Danin species that have experimented with genetic engineering and have produced many different sub-species. So far, I have assigned a Soviet Union art style to the ManDanin, and a European-NATO style art to the Crucis Union.

Sexes of characters, along with all other characteristics, were generated randomly: honest.

Ufuk Burçin Barış (7ABB5A) is a ManDanin agent that has taken a local Guerzim name and settled in. He was recruited and sent into the foreign territory but failed in his assignment, was exposed and has ‘defected’ to the enemy. He was born on an ice-capped asteroid and joined the Security Intelligence Bureau (SIB) straight from school. He was a promising agent but was incautious, making enemies at home. He lives a comparatively comfortable life with $25k in the bank.

Ekber Mansur Balık (887976) is a taxi driver native to Guerzim who served a term in the Navy, fell in love, and then through negligence caused the death of some shipmates. An unremarkable student and scholar, Ekber sleepwalked through his childhood and his time in the navy. In was only the court-marshal that woke him up as he found himself disgraced and out on the street. He still talks big as if he used to be a significant captain of the line, and likes to pretend that his expulsion was due to some deep political skullduggery.

Ayberk Koray Demir (549A79) is a clumsy drifter in the wide open spaces of Guerzim’s sometimes harsh and  beautiful landscape. After the war a century ago, many facilities were destroyed and/or abandoned. Colonisation is comparatively new here, and there is a great big world to discover. Those rings around the sun are obviously the work of the Ancients, and rumours persist that Ancient sites can be found on the surface of Guerzim. Ayberk thought himself part of a crew that lived out of the civilised cities, exploring – yes and scavenging – and living a life a rugged intradependent independence. But he was betrayed and ejected from the crew. He now walks alone, an outcast, but with valuable knowledge, and death sentence on his head if he ever enters the territory of his former crew again.