After 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.
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.
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!
Without 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.
The 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
After the battle in the first level of the implausible dungeon beneath the swamp, the elvish boys had a good long rest in a barricaded room. When they re-emerged they completed the sweep and headed down, encountering and defeating troglodytes, crocodiles, giant rats, killer frogs, ghouls, and a particularly effective (though unlikely) harpy.
The standout events from this session were not the achievements of victory, but in the way they happened. There were a lot of ‘1’s’ rolled.
As more of a story-game guy rather than a rules guy I could not let this pass, and these critical failures became interesting and sometime funny events. Storm the sorcerer seemed to suffer quite a few of these. When they were fighting in a boat he rolled one on his attack, then failed a Dex check, and fell into the water. Later, when trying to shoot at a ghoul, another critical had the crossbow break – no doubt because of the moisture.
Octavius the paladin was actually charmed by the harpy, and was actually hit and took damage from a ghoul.
My favourite was when Arius the monk was attacked by a ghoul, was hit, and failed his save to become paralysed. Another critical failure later and we declared that he had lost something – his choice – but it would only be noticed later. This is straight from dungeon world and is an excellent way of inserting some story into the game. He fell, dropping his staff into the mud. It only makes sense that it could become lost or forgotten in the bid to get away.
This is something that is going to pay off later.
We managed to meet again after a long pause to continue the D&D5e play of the classic module N1, The Cult of the Reptile God.
We picked up the action exactly where it left off, with the elfish boys out on the paths in the middle of the night on the way to investigate the suspicious temple. Suspicion was the order of the day as Casius (thief) detected that they were being followed. No one else did and he slid away from the party to investigate. This aroused absolutely no surprise from anyone as he commonly sneaked off for no adequately explained reasons at the best of times.
This time his suspicions turned out to be true and they learned that they were being followed by two very skilled operators. The boys went to ground and waited, but so did their opponents. Two hours went past and Arius (monk) was furious that their watchers were behaving irrationally by not moving… unless they had superior vision and could see better. Casius circled back around and surprised of the watchers. After issuing a short warning he shot the startled figure who had leapt in fright and drawn his sword. At the same time a web spell enclosed the rest of the party from the other direction.
I described that in two short paragraphs, but it took an awful lot longer than that in realtime as the party played cat and mouse on the moonlit hillside below the temple. And so, in the interests of brevity…
The shadowy figures were also elves – and that was pretty ominous as elves are rare in this world. They had been in the village for a month taking notes. An uneasy truce was established and the party continued to the temple. There they found a secret door, entered, explored the ground floor, found a sleeping priest and then ran away again. Back at Llewellan and Dorian’s place they learnt some more about the strange goings on about the village. L & D gave them a sleep potion that could be used as a knock out gas.
Back to the temple they went, arguing for a long time about the tactics they would use once they got there. Once inside they again found the sleeping priest, knocked her out and then revived her for interrogation. She seemed reluctant or unable to coherently reply, something that only added to Arius’ (whose anger tempts him to the dark side… mmmm) frustration after a long long series of infuriating frustrations. They bundled her back to Llewellyn and Dorian’s where those two reckoned they knew someone who could remove such a powerful charm.
And for the third time the elfish boys returned to the temple, full of clever tactical ideas, made it to the first floor, found some skeleton guards and then, after a developing a complex plan to defeat them, smashed them easily in an anticlimactic combat. Image attached.
What conclusion could be reached from these lengthy deliberations?
- The temple is clearly something close to the heart of the mystery surrounding the village
- According to Llewellyn and Dorian people are being charmed, not converted, mutated or replaced
- Llewellyn and Dorian are part of some organisation, the nature of which they would not reveal, but that has something to do with the destiny of the pure-blood elves
- This party really likes to chew the moral and tactical issues before taking action
- The ancient coin that Ghath (bard) possessed was of particular interest to the two foreign investigators, as was the elfish boys’ encounter and defeat of a genuine demon
- Storm was of particular interest to the mysterious pure-blood elf agents. He was a sea elf and a sorcerer – a very rare combination – but he maintained his usual reticence and they got nothing from him
- Cassius managed to steal nothing at all
- Octavius (paladin) agonised about the process for manufacturing evidence to justify the start of slaughter
- 1st edition skeletons (I converted the originals rather than use the new stats) are a walk over. But that’s OK
Our group got together, minus one (or two if you count Alan who can only very rarely join), and this usually means that the Parsantium campaign usually takes a back seat for boardgames.
This time we asked Simon to take up the role of DM to play a single episode RPG using the Dungeon World rules.
Dungeon World (DW) claims to provide original D&D feel with next to none of the D&D mechanics. At first this seemed a ridiculous claim until I compared my experiences with what I remember from playing 1st ed AD&D so long ago in my teenage years. Back then, I seem to recall, the rules were more like pointers or aides memoire rather than a concrete set of instructions. We just talked shit and if we needed to roll a few dice every now and then we did. Today I look at D&D5e and despite its massive simplifications it’s still a mechanistic process laden with detail.
So what was the special element that DW brought to the table? Thinking about what your character was doing rather than simply manipulating a set of attributes in a mix-n-match boardgame, basically.
Now you could do this naturally, of course, and if you have been moving towards story-gaming this is the way you do it. But it does seem to me that we, as the game buying public, have been spoilt into accepting finished, completed, wrapped up products. It’s an exercise of selecting just-the-right shaped game tool and applying it. Complete with art and seamless mechanics and all the other shit that we used to dream about as kids. And the effect is that it dumbs you down to expect and be only able to respond in a limited, approved fashion. DW kills that.
I could wax lyrical on this topic – and have been until I deleted it. But you either understand what I mean or you don’t. Back in the 80’s we used to talk about the difference between Role players and Roll players. Either this means something to you and you happily fit in one camp or the other, or it means nothing, in which case I’m not sure how to reach you.
In any case, what are the key mechanics of DW that facilitates talking about doing stuff in your imagination as opposed to running a fantasy skirmish wargame? (Both are OK, I hasten to add: they are just very different.)
Dungeon World changes the task resolution roll from a simple Yes/No result to a Yes/Yes But/No (and sometime No And).
In D&D (and any other mainstream RPG) you roll a die (or dice), add or subtract factors, and if you roll better than a target you succeed, if worse you fail. ‘His armor class is 16. You need to roll 16 or better to hit him.’ and so on. Hit or miss. No story to speak of.
In DW you roll and if your results indicate you succeed as advertised (do damage, pick the lock, climb the wall, whatever), or you succeed BUT something else happens that you can choose (sword stuck, dislodge a stone and make a noise, etc), or you fail and the DM may inflict something on you. This simple change creates results that propel a story and do not just produce an exercise of rolling dice.
When you think back on a combat or an action in ordinary D&D you make up the story, ‘remembering’ to enliven the dull rolls with action. DW makes that happen as it happens. You don’t need to make up the story about what your roll might have meant. Your roll tells you.
Dungeon World is not the first game to try to do this. Mythic was a magnificent introduction to the world of telling stories rather than beating dice rolls. But DW bridges the gap between traditional pen and paper RPGs and genuine Story Games by constraining the elements into known parameters. Bards do Bard things and are typically bardish people. In this way it is reminiscent of Risus where that character class is just a set of cliches rather than a set of rules. This restriction may seem constricting if you think the purpose of the set of rules is to provide you with mechanical factors to min/max. But a short and broad set of guidelines is a lot more free than a very long list of concrete rules.
So what, you might ask? As a long time DM and only seldom player I can tell you that the pressure of being the entertainer for a group of people can be quite daunting. In traditional RPGs the DM has to know everything, be everywhere, have it all sorted out and know the answers. You can abrogate this responsibility by using prepared material, but the result is the same. Some people get to live in the world and your job is to make it happen for them. That’s a lot of work and responsibility. With this set you get to explore and discover the world with the players.
Anyway, what did I discover about Parsantium using Dungeon World?
- Elves pretty much believe that only they have souls. Everyone else, the short lived creatures, are more or less biological robots
- There are few than 20,000 elves left in the world
- A civil war amongst the elves long ago was precipitated by a pact with a demon. The losers of this civil war were exiled, entombed, imprisoned magically
- The surviving victors of the civil war, those who opposed the demon and its perverted elves, are weak, few and are more or less becoming extinct
- The barriers holding the perverted imprisoned are becoming weaker. They call out to be free
I recently picked up a copy of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, Skulls & Shackles. The 18th and 19th century fantasy pirate genre (Pirates of the Caribbean), while still being worthy and all that, never really interested me as a gaming topic. 16th century golden-age piracy a little bit more. High fantasy pirates, as this is kind of geared to be, fits into my current Parsantium campaign with some simple modifications.
This blog article is in two parts: actual review of the game as a mechanical exercise, and the story that I managed to tell myself in the Parsantium context using these cards and mechanisms.
The game review
The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (PACG) system uses a sophisticated card draw mechanism that pits a ‘Character’ card (in the traditional RPG sense) that has characteristics, against a randomised set of opponent and circumstance cards.
Victory is achieved by encountering and defeating cards using the talents your character possesses. These talents include any innate skills your character may have, along with the usual array of fantasy elements of weapons and armour and spells and equipment and so on.
There are many different cards types and getting into the game at first is daunting. I watched several YouTube videos of game play before I got the general gist of things and then could make sense of the printed rules. Having said that the basic idea is simple: sort the cards into types, and there is a handy visual guide to advise you how to stack them in the pre-formed box. Your character has a preferred set of equipments (weapons, armour and so on) and you select these from those relevant decks. Once done you have a deck of 15 cards. This is your health, or hit points. Damage costs you cards. Using items that are lost costs you cards. Run out of cards and you’re dead.
Following the prescribed set up there are adventures, that have scenarios, that have locations. Each location has a similar set of cards that are randomly aded to make their deck. These include the major villains and their henchmen.
Each turn, you expose a ‘Blessings’ card. This is the timer – run out of those and the game ends and you’ve lost – but they also have effects that you can exploit. This is a subtle meta-game element that I like. Mechanically it is simple, but it carries a strong sub-conscious message that this is a fantasy world where inexplicable stuff happens and fate can have a meaningful effect on you.
Then you put your counter on a location card, indicating that you are exploring there, and turn over the top card of that location. It may be a monster, or loot to pinch, or some kind of impediment to progress (a ‘barrier’). You roll dice based on the particular challenge, adding and subtracting factors depending on the relevant skills you possess, and objects, and weapons and spells… and so on.
Until you find the main villain and defeat them, or die.
It is a procedural game. Set the clocks and crank the handle. Once you get over the learning curve the process is straightforward, but since every card is an exception it can appear more complex as you take into account the ‘if, then, but, plus, minus, unless’ that is a result of the many cards up and exposed and in your own hand.
It’s no Reiner Knizia masterpiece of elegance and choice. It is a game of detail and complexity posing as depth. But that’s not a bad thing. It does deliver plenty of atmosphere if you are willing to slow down and read the cards and think about what’s going on and, dare I say it, make a story out of it.
Admittedly I have only played once and solo, so I cannot speak to the experience of having the preferred four players interacting. But from that solo perspective I got a lot of pleasure out of this on a rainy day-off-work by keeping a notepad and thinking about what each turn of the card would look like if this were a full social RPG. But I could easily imagine it becoming tedious if your objective were to turn cards and treat it as no more than a mathematical problem.
As a final measure of value I do believe that I will play this again – and there’s no higher praise than that – though I am now very much looking forward to this as it is well more in my core interest zone.
[I removed all the firearm related cards from the decks]
Once upon a time there was an assassin called Naseeba Hamid (using the characteristics of the Rogue Wu Shen) who was in the employ of the Great Caliph of Aqhran. The Caliph had become concerned over the increase of pirate activity in the Corsair’s Sea. Trade to Loranto and Parsantium had been attacked, of course, but so had the routes to the wilds of Ferez and Qardib. Attacks had become more common. Something had to be done. The Caliph summoned his Chancellor and outlined the actions: an agent was to be sent to investigate what was at the heart of this increase.
Naseeba started the search at the Floating shipyard near the port of Ferez. Following a tense diplomatic encounter when one of the pirate ships pulled in for repairs she joined a treasure hunt that eventually confronted a swamp ghoul. The ghoul was too tough for her and, severely wounded, she followed a new clue to Lonely island, a dot of land in the gulf to the east of of Rezana (Lonely Island). There Naseeba wandered, avoiding an ambush and then finding magical weapons locked in stone that she could not shift, even when using the Onyx of Constitution.
After much searching she found Adaro Barbarian, a Sahuagin (the card said merfolk – could be any aquatic creature I decided) chieftain who seemed to be in charge of everything. Taking careful aim with her crossbow, and tipping the bolt with poison, she nailed him, but he survived and fled. Following him back to the Floating Shipyard she again attacked the swamp ghoul. The battle raged for many hours, with Nasseeba using every trick in her assassin’s book until at last the beast was dead.
But alas, in her weakened state she was no match for the recovered Adaro and he killed her before she had a chance to report back to the Caliph.
So what do we know?
- There is an island off the coast of eastern Bathura that is the pirate’s base
- That a major leader is a Sahuagin, implying a whole bunch of plot elements
- That there is a haven for pirates off the port of Ferez
- The Caliph does not know who or where the threat is coming from
- The threat has not been removed
The ‘game’ lasted 17 turns. One could slow down a lot more and flesh out an entire story this way.
Long ago a Daeva known as The Deceiver (Gazember, Matquara and many other names) came to the court of the Winter King and promised him pleasures and experiences beyond his imagination.
It is not known whether this event happened before or after the King’s estrangement from his wife, the Summer Queen. What is known is that the Queen distrusted Gazember and forbade her from speaking to the court. So instead the creature whispered in secret to those that would listen.
She built a following of elves that had already started on their path to the dark world and slowly, one by one, ensnared them.
By the time the King realised that his people were disappearing and banished Gazember, a sizeable stock of elves had been ensnared. In shadowy glades deep within the forest the Daeva conducted her foul experiments of cross breeding and magical mutation.
A short crusade followed, and the King led his army against the Daeva and her hellish creations. She fled, along with the few surviving and most resilient of her monsters, and took up residence in the dark spaces beneath the Forgesmoke Mountains.
It was roughly at this time that the elf King and Queen became estranged, but there were many causes behind that acrimonious split than just this one event. The King’s infidelities had become too frequent to ignore.
Many centuries passed and it was assumed that the Daeva had crawled away and died along with her beasts. But evil rumours became associated with those mountains. Sturdy dwarves told of creatures more cunning and terrible than any goblinoid, and expanded their caverns with caution. Even the stolid bugbears, single-minded hobgoblins and their pets, the goblins, shuddered in fear at what was breeding deep at the root of the mountains.
The vast forest to the north of the mountains changed as well, as if a toxin was spreading through the soil or air. It took on a new name of Gloomtangle and became the home of giant spiders, poisoned rivers, malevolent trees, and elves of a very unpleasant sort.
Then, in 1122, after a century of intermittent skirmishes with an unknown type of creature, The Orcs vomited out from the western spur of the mountain and surged down the Bathuran peninsula. Orcs: tortured and mutated elves, so twisted with pain and hate that they were ferocious, relentless, almost unstoppable. Rezana fell and with it the entire Western Empire collapsed. Loranto only survived because of its position upon the water: its navy keeping the horde at bay.
For 200 years the Orcs consolidated their position on the Bathuran peninsula, and spread throughout the Forgesmoke Mountains. This created a refugee crisis of not just humans and dwarfs. In 1443 Kalgroth Ironheart led an army of bugbears, hobgoblins and goblins out of the mountains along the Via Bathura to sack Parsantium. It seems likely that they had been displaced by the expanding Orcs. The goblinoids were defeated, but not before they had despoiled the area between the eastern Corsairs’ Sea and the Istra River.
Now, in 1545, the goblinoids pose only a minor threat as the few refugee tribes maraud on the edges of the mountains from which they were dispossessed, the forests were they dare not go, and the resurgent human lands to south and north. Instead the threat to Parsantium from the west comes from the growing presence of the Orcs. And questions have been asked, in private at least, what had the elves to do with this whole catastrophe? And can they be trusted now?
A quick update of the first session of the classic 1st Ed, AD&D module N1. Against the Cult of the Reptile God. We played using 5E rules, for what that is worth, set in the beautiful campaign setting of Parsantium. The players were 2nd level: Paladin, Monk, Sorcerer and Rogue. We also tried to video conference in Alan with his newly created Bard, but that presented some significant challenges. We will try again next time with some different technical experiments – I’ll write these up separately when we’ve cracked the problems.
After the lads had cleaned up the mess of the Daeva’s attempt to recover her physical form, they stooged around town for a month or two. The big city, Parsantium, capitol of the world, the Queen of Cities, offered them plenty of distractions to keep them busy.
One day, Lieutenant Saurish of the Tribunal approached them with a job. A citizen had been receiving disturbing letters from his sister up in a border town. There was nothing immediately actionable in the letters but they were suspicious. The party was invited to investigate; minimal expenses paid. Last minute shopping equipped the thief with a hand crossbow, much to the amusement of the rest: G75 ($1500) for that? Yeah, but it’s really cool…
Orlane (we agreed that it probably had a better Greek sounding name but I hadn’t bothered to translate the module very well) was up near the delta of the Istra (Danube) and was a reasonably old colony that had been ravaged by the hobgoblin invasion 100 years ago and was now recovering. New blood had flowed in, including the sister of the complainant. On questioning, the brother could tell nothing more. He was a simple monk/scholar who had turned to the authorities for help.
The names of cults and religions in the letters were researched and turned up some interesting clues. The cult of Manassangra was mentioned, as was the more benign cult of Ushas.
It was September, and the heroes decided to take one of the last galleys of the season that was going to Karjolat, and paid to have it drop them off at the mouth of the Istra. Attempts to find something to smuggle didn’t come to much as they realised they were not actually going to Karjolat but instead some back water village. None the less, they did conclude for future reference that they could possible make some money trading tea, medicine and spices to that far northern city. The trip was only a couple of days because the winds were strong.
The Istra delta was huge and boggy with many outlets to the sea and islands. It was a perfect haven for pirates, they saw, and could well be a fantastic place for a city to take advantage of the trade along the river. But now the villages were mean and broken down: depopulated after the hobgoblin hordes had passed through. The heroes collected what rumours they could (bugger all) and moved up stream.
At Orlane itself the heroes methodically walked the circuit around the lake and interacted with many of the local population. This gave them a good feel for the paranoid nature of many of the residents, and for the almost perverse friendliness of others. Finally they settled into the Slumbering Serpent (menacing music), and then sneaked out of the window in the dead of night to investigate the temple. And at that point we quit for the night.
Highlights of the session:
- Rogue tries to figure out how to rob a weapons shop, instead concluding that maybe buying might be safer, only to have buyer’s remorse once he’d shelled out the hard cash. He planned to rob the place and recover the cost but this came to nothing (but it was worth a laugh)
- Bard suggests negotiating a trade/smuggling deal to bring in banned goods from Karjolat to Parsantium, conscious that they weren’t going to Karjolat and that this would therefore put them on someone’s death list. It didn’t happen, but it was an impressive commercial scheme
- Sorcerer, notorious drinker, swears off wine, confounding the rest of the party. Deep suspicions form about whether he has been possessed
- Paladin, noted authority on all things, declares that in Karjolat they will not be interested in buying opium, instead that they might well be interested in invading Parsantine territory to stamp it out
- Monk reveals more about his tragic upbringing and strong Tiangao origins. This again raises the central mystery of the party and it’s place in the developing story: how come so many fae creatures have come together at this time?
- At the village, rogue attempted to sneak through someone’s yard, only to discover that there was no opportunity to hide and nearly got plugged for his trouble. Later redeeming himself he eluded the tailing farmer’s son. Later again he climbed on the roof of the Golden Grain taverna, but then in a final indignity he had a bad set of rolls and was ‘spotted’ by guard geese and they honked like mad
- In the Slumbering Serpent, paladin was gently informed that the belt buckle he had been using as an excuse to meet blacksmith/silversmith types – because that was the link in the original call to action – was actually a very tawdry piece and maybe he should just get a new one
- And finally, the likely lads were exposed to the casual racism of this setting. They were nice boys, but well, they were elves, you know? Now I’m not racial, but they’re sneaky aren’t they?, present company excepted, of course. Always sneaking about…
I had the opportunity to DM a playtest of Richard Green’s Whispers of the Dark Daeva for his magnificent setting, Parsantium. The version we had was for D&D 5e. There is another version for Pathfinder. This cannot be a full review as the adventure is still in pre-production, but what I can give is my impressions of the work so far.
Parsantium is a fantasy setting with usual suspects of high magic and expected fantasy races. Where Parsantium is significantly different from the usual high-fantasy fare is in its cultural setting. It is based on a fictionalised Constantinople of roughly 900 to 1,000AD. Access to other expected cultures such as Indian and Chinese are present, and a fictionalised monotheistic culture to the south is a Caliphate and is clearly designed to draw in Arabian Nights sensibilities. The Parsantium setting is a well-realised world, primarily focussed on the city itself at this time. There is a tantalising back story reaching some 2,000 years with clues enough to build some spectacular story-arcs. The clues are already there. Parsantium is clearly a labour of love, and it shows – in a good way.
Whispers of the Dark Daeva is the first official adventure written by Richard and its sets up beginning players and GMs with several cues to get into the setting. In brief, the story calls for the adventurers to be drawn into an investigation. This can be for a private citizen or it could be for the authorities. This latter was the way our game developed. There have been murders… and someone is responsible. There are thrilling chases, brushes with the law, the ubiquitous dungeon crawl, and a boss encounter that if you’ve been playing it right, is very difficult for more reasons than just hit points.
The playtest version is 55 pages long with only supporting illustrations (maps) not finished art. The layout is clear with sections clearly and usefully titled. At the beginning there is a scenario introduction and an introduction to the overall setting. This is useful as it sets the scene for players in what is probably their first contact with the setting. The introductions set the scene for further adventures and raise questions for inquisitive players. This is all done clearly and succinctly.
Stats for monsters and NPC are nicely set out with the relevant information available in a way that is easy to consume. Layers of clues and a progression from discovery to discovery reads well. Tension builds well and on several occasions our group of characters did not expect to live. The conclusion was tense and satisfying.
Whispers of the Dark Daeva will suit players and DMs that are looking for a little more cerebral kind of play. The plot is not difficult, and there is plenty of opportunity for sword play. Magic users and thieves will not be left out either. But the setting itself means that a party that expects an anarchic world where they can turn up and loot and murder will find themselves in a lot of trouble. Parsantium is a civilised city, with a functioning bureaucracy and a City Watch who’s job does not extend to being cannon fodder. Involving themselves in this hunt for the cause of the mysterious deaths means dealing with functionaries in conversational ways.
Even without this being a finished product, and with some development still to go, I was more than satisfied with exposing this to the players. And they enjoyed both the general setting and this scenario is particular to want to immerse themselves more. That’s a good recommendation.
Look out for it is my advice, and buy it when you can.