Monday, May 31, 2010

Terrace of Fallen Horses

This session happened Friday, May 28, 2010, and was the only session I ran this past weekend.

A major change has happened to how I'm running overland travel. In the middle of discussing the difference in map scales between my map and the one used in the West Reaches campaign, I realized I was making the PCs roll for navigation far, far too often. As a result, I am now making the PCs roll a Survival check every three hours of movement (15 miles of travel) instead of every one (3 miles of travel). As a result, expect the PCs to get lost less often.

Adventuring Group:
Su Bel (human cleric)
Khallas (human ranger)
Agnes Sunbeard (dwarven rogue/barbarian)
Tycho von Helmont (elven alchemist)

After Khallas picked up his commissioned armor and buckler, he and Su Bel pulled Agnes and Tycho aside, confessing that the Table Map site labeled "Ruins" actually contained a series of tombs. They also confessed that the tomb guardians were tougher than the two of them could face and they had to flee last time. They further explained that they were looking to improve shares by reducing the number of people involved and were wondering if Agnes and Tycho were interested in a side trip to the Ruins to collect some treasure? They were.

After two days of travel (during which they avoided a dire lion), the group arrived at the Terrace of Fallen Horses. The far right tunnel on the upper terrace was still open, but the next one over, which Khallas and Su Bel had been chased from, was once again re-sealed. Also, there was a giant scorpion by the reflecting pool looking for a quick meal. After a quick fight the adventurers killed the giant scorpion. The group made camp and the night passed uneventfully.

The next morning the group circled around to the top of the hill and descended the hill face to the upper terrace (greatly helped by Tycho's grappling hook and knotted rope). After looking around a bit, the group found a pile of bones that once was one of the skeletal champions guarding the Queen's Chamber in Tomb #2. It's armor and weapon were missing and there was no sign of the second skeletal champion that Khallas and Su Bel had defeated the last time they were here.

Agnes quickly had the stone slab seal off of Tomb #2 and the group was immediately attacked by the two remaining skeletal champions and the reanimated missing armor! A tough fight followed, which was wrapped up by Agnes demonstrating her charging-battleaxe-sneak-attack maneuver to great effect.

After some group healing by Su Bel, the group entered the Queen's Chamber. They found a gold covered sarcophagus in the center of the chamber. The walls were covered with illustrations of the queen ruling and doing great deeds, probably after the previous king died. Agnes investigated the sarcophagus and found an arrow trap. She disabled it and gave the poisoned arrow to Tycho who proclaimed that is was covered with wyvern poison. Agnes then proceeded to opening the sarcophagus, setting off the very well concealed summoning trap, which summoned a large air elemental.

[Note: I have the players make a single roll for all traps when they are trying to find them, comparing that roll to the DC necessary to find the trap(s). I then tell them what they rolled high enough to find. Agnes rolled a 21 and found the poisoned arrow trap but not the summoning trap.]

The adventurers ran, recognizing the danger they were in. The air elemental chased them for over an hour before they were able to lose it [they spent a token to avoid the fight]. After making camp, the group had some discussion as to whether or not they could take on the air elemental with what skills they had, it was agreed that they needed Mog (to soak damage) and Sal Ty (for magical support) before continuing.

The next morning they broke camp and started their return to Iron Keep. They promptly got lost in the tall grasses of the plains, fighting another giant scorpion while trying to work out their actual location. They finally made it to the coast and camped. The next day, forced to the coast to avoid some marshes, the group was attacked by a group of 11 skum, which charged out of the surf to attack the group. While several of the adventurers were wounded, none were in serious trouble and the skum were defeated. Pushing on to their very limits, the group made the Iron Keep at sundown. [Su Bel, Khallas, and Agnes all leveled at this point.]

The group made a short excursion the following day to the Woodcutter's Camp, finding it occupied by woodcutters harvesting timber for use as support beams in the mines. They talked with the men working there, asking what creatures they might have seen. Apparently, the area had been quiet, so the adventurers headed off into the Edgewood looking for quarry. Khallas was able to find tracks from a giant stag beetle and the group quickly killed it. They then returned to Iron Keep, avoiding the need to camp in the forest. [Tycho leveled at this point, which was the whole point of their hunting expedition.]

Agnes was able to get reasonable prices on the broadswords and armor the group was able to take off the skeletal champions, turning a small profit on the expedition.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Map Expansion - The Plains

So the primary item I wanted to place on my expanded map is the summer auroch pastures. [Which reminds me – I need to remove the auroch from the random encounter table during the summer months and replace them with horses.] I also needed to show the migration path between the two areas. The winter pastures are 3483 sq. mi in area (which may be small, but I think it is do-able), so the summer pastures have to be at least that large. Plus I need a route between the two that is believably long. I also need a reason for the migration to happen, both in the fall and in the spring.

So I put that on the map in a way that looked OK without worrying about distances and areas too much. The summer pastures spill off the bottom of the map, but that’s OK for the moment. Later I’ll add more map. I may also extend the route between the two pastures and push the summer pastures onto the next page.

Now I’ve set up the two locations by seasons, so weather shifts must be at least one of the causes. The easiest thing to do is make the summer pastures nice and relatively safe, but frigid in the winter. As close as I drew the two pastures (only ~105 miles apart right now - that might change, see above), I need a darn good reason for the two areas to have different weather. Clearly the summer pasture must be at a higher altitude, so I need a series of plateaus or an escarpment (or two) to denote the altitude differences. [Note to self: add the escarpments and some passes for the auroch herds to use.]

These passes will make good hunting for humanoids at least twice a year, so this is where I’ll assign some of the humanoids I avoided using on the starting map. I can also put some tension between population pressures and conflict over prime hunting areas, making the area tense for the players to explore, but rife with role-playing opportunities (that's my theory anyways).

So the aurochs leave the summer pasture when it gets cold. Why don’t they stay in the winter pasture all year? Predators and lots of them. Cheetahs, worgs, chimeras, bulettes, and a ton of other monsters that live in the area. The studies I read (well, skimmed anyways) indicate that while herbivores often migrate and some of those tremendous distances, predators don’t. So during the winter, the area predators eat a lot of aurochs and tend to give birth to their young, while the food is plentiful.

The aurochs on the other hand are merely wintering here. They will not give birth until the spring when they return to the summer pastures, but their mating season happens in the winter pastures, near the end of the winter. This is one of the major triggers for the migration. They are also fiercely territorial at this time and adventurers should beware.

Yeah, that’s about all I’ve got on that for the moment. Next week I’ll discuss the swamp area and possibly the jungle I’ve added. Tonight is the next game session, so there will be an adventure log on Monday.

My fault

OK, I admit it - I forgot to write a second post for this week. It's a DayJob issue, but the fault is mine and I'll own up to it. mea culpa.

Sadly, I must now beg off writing something now. Lunch is available, so I'll be writing then about some new areas I've mapped and maybe a bit about The Cave.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Today's post will be delayed until tomorrow, Thursday, due to a "documentation emergency" at the DayJob that spilled over into my personal writing time. Apologies to all.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Discussions on Campaign Growth

There was no Southern Reaches game run this past weekend as I needed some time to work on some other stuff, flesh out some more of the map, and generally play a bit of catch up with myself. Running two monthly games, a weekly game, and playing in two others, plus a reading club and trying to spend more time with my wife (whose schedule has also blossomed) is stretching me a bit thin.

When fleshing out the large(r) scale map (1 hex = 15 miles), I realized I need more room. And a plan. A plan would help tremendously. So I have mapped out much more space to the south of the Table Map, I may still fiddle with it as I'm not entirely satisfied with it. I think I need to double it in size (at least) and redraw some of the locations, particularly the summer pastures for the aurochs, which don't feel far enough away for me. Plus, the encounter tables need some serious re-working, preferably including an night and day option.

I found an interesting way to speed up some of the traditional dungeon design. There is a site producing new geomorphs which are quite good. If I can find the link again I'll post it. It should do very well for what I want to do with The Cave and the Labyrinth of Qual deep underneath it.

We've also had a small spat of drama as to play styles, which I think I accidentally fuelled by posting my adventure logs here. Su Bel and Khallas keeping silent about the Terrace of Fallen Horses caused some friction amongst the players. This came from a disconnect in communication about game expectations, including my own. I think I've nudged things enough to get the group back on track, but we'll have to wait and see.

As a result of all this, I have rethought my position about competition in a West Marches-style game. If you are going to allow/foster this kind of competition, you need to separate the groups a bit and/or provide "private" areas for each faction to explore and one to share together. Or, keep everything separate and don't post about what the different groups are doing until they learn in game. This last part does me no good as DM and blogger. Part of the reason I'm posting the adventure logs is so I have a record of what happened in game. This helps greatly when the PCs avaoid an area for a while and then return and I have to remember how things were and why and then update form that for the intervening time.

Which leads to another topic: bandits. These are a staple of adventure games and are mentioned in most of the online literature dealing with West Marches-style games. However, I can't see a logical reason for bandits to exist in the Southern Reaches. Bandits need victims to prey on and there just aren't any in the wilderness. Plus, that place is dangerous, yo!

So I may have to manufacture something. Maybe they appear when the auroch herds return for the winter and disreputable individuals start raiding the herds from whichever humanoids are ranching them (probably gnolls as I like them as monsters, but I'm doing a lot with them in my Naze Valley Rangers game, so maybe not). There's been trouble in the mines with some collapses, so the Woodcutter's Camp will be populated the next time the PCs go by it as there is a need for new timber. There's also the Tower of Raan which the players have never systematically looked for (it's in the Edgewood, but they haven't been there yet). I don't know, maybe I'm over thinking it.

That's it for today, more on Wednesday. See you then!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

First Trip to the Cave

This session happened Saturday, May 15, 2010, and is the second of two sessions I ran this past weekend.

Adventuring Group:
Su Bel (human cleric)
Mog the Doomed (half-orc barbarian)
Kallas (human ranger)
Agnes Sunbeard (dwarven rogue/barbarian)
Tycho von Helmont (elven alchemist)

Having accumulated a reasonable sum of money, the adventurers spent some of it on upgraded or specialty gear. Mog commissioned a masterwork Large battleaxe to replace his current one and Khallas commissioned a buckler (later upgraded to +1) and +1 scale mail. Tired of being attacked at night while sleeping and not having any armor for the resultant fight, several players invested in “sleeping armor”: light armor that they can sleep in without waking fatigued. This way they can sleep soundly, knowing that, if awakened by those on watch due to an attack, they will not have to fight “naked” (read: without armor).

With Sal still pouring over the rubbings from the Illustrated Obelisk, the rest of the group decided to go check out the cave in the southern hills on the Table Map. On the fourth day of hiking (after getting terribly lost in the Sea of Grass and attacked by cheetahs) the group arrived at the location on the map. Rather than a low cave leading deep into the earth, they found an abandoned pueblo village high up a cliff face.

Using a grappling hook and rope to gain access, the group started exploring the cluster of seven buildings. After checking out three of the buildings, they were attacked by a gargoyle shaped like a totem. The fight was not looking good as most attacks bounced off the gargoyles stone skin until Tycho attacked with his magic sword and drew blood! Su Bel quickly cast magic weapon on Mog’s battleaxe (Mog already being enlarged at this point). Mog then raged and attacked the gargoyle, killing it in two quick strokes. Exhausted and needing to heal, the group fell back to the entry building and camped.

The group spent the next day searching the remaining buildings. One of the buildings had a spiral stair leading up (possibly to a higher cave opening in the ceiling of the main cave), two of the buildings had stairs leading back and down into the cliff face, and one of those (the one the gargoyle was lairing in/on) had a collection of skulls. There were a wide array of animal skulls, three human skulls (one inscribed with runes), and two troglodyte skulls, which Tycho was able to identify, apparently being wise in the ways of skulls. As the troglodyte skulls were relatively new and some of the group knew that troglodytes live underground, where the stairs appeared to lead, it was decided to return to the Iron Keep rather than push on.

The return trip only took three days, punctuated by Mog nearly being killed and dragged off by some cheetahs that raided the group. He was saved from being cheetah-chow by excellent bowfire from Khallas.

Back in town, the group sold the collection of cheetah pelts to cover travel expenses (food, mostly) and started making plans for further expeditions.

Total time elapsed: 7 days

I need some time to expand out my area maps and populate the region with a few more adventure locales, so I will not be running Southern Reaches this week. Schedule allowing, I should resume running Friday of next week (May 28). I have a collection of thoughts on how things are progressing that I will post next week. I might also post some previews of the new adventure locations, but no promises at this point.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Under Drop-Off Tower, Fourth Trip; Old Stones; and Fishing for Experience

This session happened Friday, May 14, 2010, and is the first of two sessions I ran this past weekend. This session became three small expeditions, as you'll see. This was also the first session where all the active players were at the table at once, which caused a bit of tension as not everyone shared what they've been up to.

Adventuring Group:
Su Bel (human cleric)
Mog the Doomed (half-orc barbarian)
Kallas (human ranger)
Sal Ty (elf wizard)
Agnes Sunbeard (dwarven rogue/barbarian)
Tycho von Helmont (elven alchemist)

For the first time, all of the active adventurers in the Iron Keep were available for an expedition and headed to Drop-Off Tower. (This was due to a collapse in the iron mines last week and many miners being out of work as the damage is being repaired.) After a day of hiking, the group made camp in the Edgewood, where they were attacked by a tiger. They fairly easily defeated it.

Once at Drop-Off Tower, they immediately headed down into the Moldy Halls, performing a detailed search for secret doors (previous experience had taught them they probably missed some during earlier expeditions). The group wholesale scraped the mold from the walls and supported Agnes's searching. In the Pillar Room (which the Front Door opens onto), they found a secret door they had previously overlooked.

Behind it was a small room containing the remains of several huddled bodies, long ago wasted to skeletons. Tycho was able to determine that they were all elves, five being children and one an adult. Sal detected magic on the adult and a ring of protection +1 was found. It was given to Agnes, who so often ended up on the front lines in combat. A passage way out the back of the room eventually connected up with one of the empty storage areas they found on earlier expeditions.

They next went to check the room with the spring. After an extensive search, they determined it was exactly as it appeared. Getting tired, the group camped in this room for the night, refilling their waterskins from the spring.

After completing their room recheck in the last storage room (off the Hall of Statues), they returned to the treasure room to take another crack at the trapped chests. Agnes confirmed there was a flame strike trap on the last "safe" chest, and decided to leave it for last. She shifted her attention to one of the others and successfully disarmed it, finding the chest full of silver coins. This chest was emptied into the bag of holding. Bolstered by her success, Agnes attempted to open another chest. This time she failed, setting off the fireball trap, which chain reacted all of the remaining traps into detonating as well. This destroyed most of the treasure, but left a pool of gold and a large pool of copper. [Agnes made her Reflex save and, due to Uncanny Dodge, took no damage. The rest of the party was already down the hall, "just in case".]

Having now cleared the Moldy Halls, the group turned its attention to Morlock territory. They lifted the portcullis, wedged it open with a spike, and cautiously checked the winch room, which was empty. Feeling a bit more confident, they headed into the first statue room, passing the closed door that leads to the hallway north. As they were half past the door, it opened and six morlocks poured out, screaming warcries. Almost immediately after that, six MORE morlocks poured out of a door ahead of the PCs, catching them in a pincher and heavily wounding several PCs. The PCs immediately withdrew and ran, pulling the spike to shut the portcullis behind them. The morlocks pursued to the portcullis and stopped, making no attempt to raise the portcullis.

The PCs fell back to the first floor of the tower to recover. While camping there, they observed a yellow musk creeper and its attendant zombies approach the tower and destroy them with arrow fire from the upper floors. The next day they followed Gravemarker Trail and only got slightly lost in the forest. Luckily, the forest was quiet and they safely returned to Iron Keep the following day.

After a quick resupply, the group decided to go take a look at Old Stones. They followed the western edge of the Edgewood to the hills south of the Edgewood. Camping there, they observed a chimera flying in the area but successfully avoid its attention. During the second watch, two cheetahs attack the group, looking for a quick meal. Instead they found a quick death.

The next day they followed the hills a bit more and then headed out into the sea of grass that is the plains. At the location simply marked “Old Stones”, they found a very large set of standing stones, covering nearly an acre of space. A processional set of stones led to a triple ring of progressively larger stones. In the center was a large primitive obelisk covered in pictoglyphs, which Sal spent the day partially deciphering. Tycho took rubbings for later study, finding his own mark already on the stone [“Tycho was here”]. Sal is able to identify part of what is shown as the history of a king of some sort and another part identifies the location of the Shadowed Pillar, which may be the home of a sorcerer named Qual. There might also be a safeword for gaining entrance, but Sal’s not entirely certain. Camping that night outside of the stones, Agnes observes an air elemental walking the perimeter of the circle and later a phase spider, which the group avoids.

During the three day hike back to the Iron Keep [yes, they got lost in the Sea of Grass], the group fought a worg, a giant scorpion, and an assassin vine that wandered out of the Edgewood and nearly killed Su Bel. By the time the group returned to the Iron Keep, Agnes is done for a while and Tycho and Sal want to study the rubbings from the Obelisk, but Su Bel is not yet ready to relax. She convinces Mog and Khallas to follow her out to the Woodcutter’s Camp. There they run across some giant ants, which they kill. Mog is a bit spooked (having taken most of the damage from the ants) and the group returns to the Keep in the morning. [Su Bel is able to level after killing the giant ants.]

Total time elapsed: 12 days

Monday, May 17, 2010

Update Delayed

Hey, I was going to update at lunchtime, but forgot to bring my notes with me to the DayJob. I'll update it tonight when I get home. My apologies for the delay.

There will be two adventure logs this week (Today and Wednesday), plus some discussion on what the group found at The Cave and possible intragroup friction (on Friday!). Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Return to Under Drop-Off Tower, Third Trip

This session happened Saturday, May 8, 2010, and is the second of two sessions I ran this past weekend. This is the first session I offered a hireling as an option, mostly as it was the first time the PCs had the money to hire anyone. Tycho’s player ran Gunnar during the game.

Adventuring Group:
Tycho von Helmont (elven alchemist)
Agnes Sunbeard (dwarven rogue/barbarian)
Mog the Doomed (half-orc barbarian)
Gunnar Darkbattler (human fighter, hireling)

Seeking to continue their investigation of the Moldy Halls under Drop-Off Tower, Agnes, Tycho, and Mog hooked up for an expedition. Feeling they needed more support, they hired another miner, Gunnar Darkbattler, to go with them, paying 3 gp/day plus the opportunity for bonuses.

Once again, most of the first day was spent lost in the Edgewood, still miles from Drop-Off Tower [but not as lost as the previous expedition got]. The group arrived at Drop-Off Tower about mid-day and quickly proceeded down into the Moldy Halls. They returned to the Secret Armory and explored the second secret door. This door led to the other side of the portcullis from the previous room. Thoroughly searching the area, they found several things. In one corner they found a (non-mobile) skeleton and two marked skulls, indicating that this was the deposit point for the teleportation mist they had previously discovered. They also discovered that the portcullis separating the U-shaped room was immobile, making this side a form of prison.

Running out of options to search here, they circled back around the halls to the Hall of Statues, where they originally saw two rust monsters. While passing through the Octagon Room, they saw two rust monsters down the west hallway, towards the Pool Room. As the rust monsters had not noticed them, the group just kept moving. In the Hall of Satues, they found two more rust monsters, which immediately attacked! After an extended fight, the rust monsters were dead and the PCs victorious.

Agnes searched the room and found a covered door leading to an empty room with no fungus in it. The group camped here for the night, being rather exhausted. They discussed some alternate search methods, with Tycho and Gunnar assisting Agnes and decided to give it a go in the morning.

The next morning, they implemented their plan and found a previously undiscovered secret door in the Hall of Statues. Beyond it was a short hallway and a room with six locked chests. Agnes checked the chests and found four to be trapped with fireball traps and two rather suspiciously untrapped. Having broken her lockpicks on the secret door to this chamber, Agnes was not willing to take a try at any of the chests here. So the group emptied out their bag of holding and put the chest in it. It barely fit.

Not ready to return to the Iron Keep yet, the group decided to investigate the portcullis to the morlock area. They found the portcullis closed again and lifted it open, spiking it in place in case they needed to retreat. They went to set the latch in the winch room and found six morlocks!

Another extended fight happened, with an enlarged Mog nearly dying early on as the morlocks swarmed him. Agnes dragged his body back while Gunnar and Tycho held the line against the morlocks, slowly wearing them down. Agnes used up nearly the entire supply of healing potions getting Mog back up [due to some bad rolls on the healing] allowing him to assist in the end of the fight. The last morlock eventually decided to run and the PCs let him, rather than run into another group of them. They let the portcullis close again and fell back to the surface to camp.

Out of healing potions, the group camped an extra day to heal before leaving Drop-Off Tower. Attempting to head north for the shore, they found them selves at the banks of the river to the east [they got really lost]. They followed the river down stream to the coast and then followed the coast a bit before needing to camp. The next day they arrived at Jericho’s Grave and attempted to cut across the tip of the forest using the Gravemarker Road (as it is being called now). They got lost and had to camp in the forest again.

The next day they quickly found their way to the Woodcutter’s Camp, but rather than follow the road back to the Iron Keep, they holed up here for the night, hoping to gain a little more experience before returning. [Mog was within 50 points of second level and the group thought they could get through one, maybe two encounters safely, let Mog level up, and then return, despite the fact that most of them had hit points in the single digits. The dice heard their plan and said, “oh yeah?”]

Early in the first watch (Gunnar’s), a group of giant ants showed up, deciding the PCs would make good food. They were wrong and were killed off fairly quickly. On Agnes’s watch, the group had to quickly move to avoid, first, an assassin vine and then two leopards out hunting. On Mog’s watch, a dire boar took exception to the PCs being in it’s territory and attacked. This was a tense fight as the entire party was low on hit points now and there was no healing magic available. The group killed the dire boar, but were now themselves a little closer to death. On Tycho’s watch, the two leopards the group avoided earlier returned, having caught the scent of dead pig. Rather than fight the leopards, the group threw them the ham hocks they had carved out of the boar. The leopards took the meat and left, much to the relief of the party.

When morning arrived, the group rapidly fled down the road to the Iron Keep. Once they were safely within the confines of Spider’s Bar, they paid Gunnar for the eight days of the expedition plus a 26 gp bonus for work well done. Gunnar was pleased with the pay and bonus and left to spend the money elsewhere on ale and whores.

After some discreet shopping, Agnes purchased a masterwork set of thieves’ tools and went to work on the chest. Taking her time and working with Tycho, she discovered a well concealed flame strike trap on the chest. There was much discussion as to whether or not Agnes was up to the challenge of disarming the trap.

Working out that there was a 50-50 chance of not setting of the trap and a 30% chance of disarming it completely, she took the chance. The trap went off anyway, burning Agnes severely but not fatally. Tycho quickly applied several healing concoctions to Agnes, eliminating the burns. Sadly, the same could not be said for the chest or its contents. The chest was destroyed and several books inside were burned to ashes. The gold in the chest melted into a sizeable lump, which the PCs sold for cash to the tune of 7000 gp.

Needless to say, many potions of healing were purchased with that money.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Return to Under Drop-Off Tower, Second Trip

This session happened Friday, May 7, 2010, and is the first of two sessions I ran this weekend.

Adventuring Group:
Khallas (human ranger)
Agnes Sunbeard (dwarven rogue)
Tycho von Helmont (elven alchemist)
Sal Ty (elven wizard)

Seeking to continue their investigation of the Moldy Halls under Drop-Off Tower, Agnes, Tycho, and Sal hooked up with Khallas and headed out (Su Bel was not available due to trouble at the mines). Most of the first day was spent lost in the Edgewood and the group ended the day encamped in the wooded hills inside the Edgewood, still miles from Drop-Off Tower.

The next day they finally arrived at the Tower, finding 6 boars grazing around the entrance. The boars noticed them and got aggressive. A minute later and there was suddenly lots of ham at the cost of all of the healing magic. The group decided to camp in the Tower to finish healing up before entering the Under area. [Sal also made 2nd level here and needed the extended rest to level-up.] Sal spent the evening studying the spellbook Tycho has been carrying around and learned two new spells from it: mage armor and grease. Tycho used all of his healing capability to get the group healthy again and so needed to rest yet another day.

On the fourth day of their expedition, the group finally took the spiral stairs down. At what they now call “the Front Door”, they were faced with a rust monster that was nibbling on the ever-present purple fungus. They ranged attacked it but failed to kill it. After a short bout of melee combat, the rust monster withdrew and ran away towards the octagon room. Not wanting to face it or the other rust monster they knew to be down here, the group went the other way, heading deeper into the fungus covered area.

They found a few more statues covered with the fungus along a back hallway and a room with a teleportation area. They threw a (non-mobile) skeleton and two marked skulls into the mist, hoping that they could find the ending point later.

Following the back hallway further, they discovered it led back to the fungus room with the pools and the fungal stalks, which were in the process of re-growing. They also found a very heavy brass portcullis blocking off passage west and were unable to lift it, even with all their strength.

They next explored the rest of the pool room and discovered a fungus choked stairwell further down. Not having the tools to clear that much fungus safely, they instead followed a different exit from the pool room. Down this hallway they found a u-shaped room that was free of the fungus and cut in half by brass bars (at the base of the “U”). There were (non-mobile) skeletons on the other side that were reaching through the bars as if to escape or beg for release. This creeped the party out a bit.

A very thorough search of the room by Agnes located a secret door! Beyond was the remains of a small hidden armory, complete with several sets of armor, long swords, barrels of arrows (needing to be re-fletched), and two locked chests. Tired, and with Sal wanting to memorize different spells, the party decided to camp here.

The next day, Sal was able to identify three of the swords as magical, one being a flaming +1 long sword and very valuable. Agnes attempted to open one of the chests and set off a fireball trap in the process. This required the use of the rest of their healing magic to cure. Additionally, Sal no longer had offensive magic spells ready, so the group camped again in the secret armory. Agnes spent the rest of the day searching the room while the others re-fletched arrows and found another secret door in the armory. She decided to leave it alone for now.

The next day, Agnes made a try at the second chest and set off the fireball trap on it. Deciding this was a sign, the group headed back to Iron Keep. They got lost in the Edgewood, but found their way out at Jericho’s Grave and made camp there. Luckily, nothing bothered them that night.

The next day they made it back to the Iron Keep and sold magic swords and all the armor. They then agreed to purchase a bag of holding for party use, being kept in Spider’s Bar when not in use. This would become useful in later sessions.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Locations in the Southern Reaches – Theory 2

This is a continuation of last week’s theory posting, explaining the background and my thinking on locations in my Southern Reaches campaign, and will wrap that up for a bit. At least until the PCs explore a lot further out.

The Ruins
The first PCs have arrived here and just scratched the surface before returning to the Iron Keep (see yesterday’s post). On the map, the location is simply labeled “Ruins”, which is technically accurate, but not really descriptive of what’s there. So the question is “Why?”

I decided that past adventurers made the table map, several decades ago. Realizing that the map was in a public place, the notations they made were more in the way of mnemonics rather than completely descriptive. They knew what the notations meant and that was good enough for them. This allowed me to map out the local area and list some intriguing points without spilling the beans.

As to the location, I have a name for the hills in my notes, the Ruined Hills, but I’d rather the PCs name locations for the map, so I haven’t handed it out. Same with the adventure site itself, but I’m listing that in the Adventure Log headings just so I can keep things straight myself. I’m also using the Bayeux Tapestry (link shows sample) as my example of what the murals on the walls look like in the tombs. This provides a bit of verisimilitude to the setting and will differentiate the cultures to the players.

The Cave
No one has made it here yet, although Tycho von Helmont found a reference to this location and has updated the map with a cryptic “need feathered key to enter”. I have a mid-level map from Sickly Purple Death Ray that I need to key and fill, but I also need to draw out the upper levels and populate them. I think I will be doing that late this weekend, at least getting the map sketched out. I have a good list of monsters that list “underground” as their habitat that I’m looking forward to using. I’ve toyed with the idea of having these caves somehow link up with Under Drop-Off Tower, but I probably won’t – too cheesy, I think.

Old Stones
I’m proud of the standing stones I drew on the map. They aren’t awesome art, but very representational and groovy for freehand work in Publisher. This location will likely point to locales further south, away from areas the PCs know about. It might provide protection against something otherworldly. It might be a gate or the receiving area for a gate.

I need to do some research on standing stones in Europe to get a good feel for likely layouts before I sketch this out. I also need to find a sample for the petroglyphs on the Illustrated Obelisk, an item Tycho von Helmont has a reference to in the spellbook he found. I want this to be culturally different from other things as the Old Stones are VERY old, representing a culture that was here long before the elves of the Edgewood or the human horse lords of the plains. I have some thoughts on that, but they are still percolating, so I’m not going to share them yet.

3 peaks
There is an adventuring locale here, but I have not made a lot of decisions about it yet, other than where it is. The name comes from me drawing three mountain peaks on the map, grouped tight, amongst the hills. Seemed a natural name.

This is the least developed of the major landmarks on the Table Map, something I will be rectifying this month. Once I have this detailed a bit, my starting area will be fully sketched out (note that I don’t say “complete”) and I’ll be ready to start working on the next tier out of locations. Then I can go back and provide hooks to these locations in the unexplored parts of the Local Area.

This is an important concept in world design: building in manageable chunks. I’ve done top-down design work (design the world, then the continents, then the countries, all the way down to the villages so the players can go anywhere and I’ll have something already done), but I seem to limit myself later to what I drew on the map at the beginning. This time I’m working bottom-up (meaning starting with the place the PCs start in and then designing areas outside that as the players get there), which should allow me to add cool things as I think of them. This let me get immediately started from almost nothing but a local wilderness map and some things I downloaded off the Internet and keyed up myself.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Terrace of the Fallen Horses – First Expedition

Note: This posting is all OOC as the player characters involved have chosen to stay silent as to what they found on this expedition. They don’t want others to benefit from their hard work without being there to partake themselves. As DM, I heartily approve as this provides strong motivation for these players to mount a new expedition soon – after all, the other players might finish what they are doing and decide The Ruins look tempting on the map…

This session happened Friday, April 30, 2010.

Adventuring Group:
Su Bel (human cleric)
Kallas (human ranger)

Tired of working in the iron mines, Su Bel and Khallas decided to go on an expedition to check out The Ruins (as listed on the Table Map). Su Bel knew that treasure was found at Drop-Off Tower and hoped The Ruins might also contain treasure as well. She recruited the ranger, Khallas, to help navigate the way to The Ruins. At first trying to cut across the tall grasslands of the plains, they got lost, ending up on the coast, where they camped. They decided the next day they would follow the coast further before cutting back into the plains.

The next day they headed east, nearly to the Coastal Hills before turning south into the plains. They managed to get within sighting distance of the hilly area they were targeting close to sundown (after getting turned around twice in the very tall grasses). That night a small herd of aurochs and a small herd of wild horses move through the area, causing Khallas to wonder what was causing them to move at night. He finds out shortly – a ghost is moving across the plains, seemingly circling the hills ahead. Su Bel and Khallas decide to stay low in the grass and hide from the ghost (they spent a resolve token to avoid the encounter – quite rightly).

On the third day, they enter (and exit and re-enter after getting lost) the hills. Searching the hills for “ruins” they find an artificial pond next to a hill with two terraces, one built out from the base of the hill and one cut into the side of the hill above the first. The lower terrace had many broken horse statues (life-sized) while the upper terrace had what appeared to be a cave entrance. This confused the adventures a bit, but they decided to investigate further.

Neither being good at climbing (especially in their armor), they circled around the hill until they found an easy way up to the spot above the terraces. They then carefully climbed/slid down to the upper terrace. There they investigated the “cave” entrance, quickly working out that it was artificial and had been open for some time. In fact, the entire terrace was covered in 3-4 inches of dirt and grasses, indicating these were very old.

Inside, they determined that this was once a crypt, but it had been stripped of everything long, long ago. Somewhat disappointed, they made a thorough search of the crypt and the area outside, where Khallas noticed that there were regularly spaced, large divots in the hillside along the back of the terrace. Using his short sword to probe the sod, he discovered that the divots indicated covered crypt entrances!

He and Su Bel then uncovered the first entrance to the left of the open crypt. It took some time and effort to lever the sealing slab off the crypt before they could gain entrance. Looking in while letting the air inside freshen, they saw extensive (and undamaged) artwork painted on the walls. This encouraged them greatly.

Lighting a sunrod, they cautiously entered the crypt. The passage led back into the hill and the murals showed the great works of a king or ruler during his lifetime, including one mural showing his queen sitting in a throne with his shadow behind her. The actual crypt itself contained a large sarcophagus and four armored skeletons as an honor guard. Worried about the skeletons animating, Khallas went to hobble them, which caused them to animate. A short fight later, the skeletons were destroyed with minimal damage to the adventurers.

Investigating the sarcophagus turned out to be another matter. Khallas took some precautions but it was not enough and he and Su Bel were wounded by a double scythe trap. Quickly using up the last of her healing magic, Su Bel had both of them patched up. Inside the sarcophagus they found the remains of a warrior. Time had ruined most of what was inside, except for a sword and a helmet, which were in good condition. Being somewhat tired from the long day, the adventurers decided to camp in the crypt, behind the sarcophagus. They reset the trap to use as a defense in case something showed up during the night.

Leaving the crypt the next morning, they noticed that the mural of the queen was not part of the original decorations. Investigating further, they discovered that the plaster of the mural hid a rubble wall with a chamber beyond it. Hoping for more treasure, they cleared away the mural and knocked down the rubble way, exposing another crypt area, again with skeletal guardians. However these guardians were still in good condition (as was their gear) and attacked with great skill, forcing Khallas and Su Bel into a fighting retreat.

Having retreated out onto the terrace and then down the length of the terrace, Khallas and Su Bel realized two things: only two of the skeletal guardians pursued out of the tomb and those two were about to cut them down. In a desperate bid to put some more distance between themselves and the skeletal guardians, Khallas and Su Bel slid down the hillside to the lower terrace (Khallas in a controlled fashion, Su Bel…not so much). The skeletal guardians did not pursue!

Quickly realizing the skeletal guardians were programmed to stay on the upper terrace, Khallas and Su Bel used all of their magic and arrows from a distance. Two of the guardians were destroyed and a third was heavily damaged before the adventurers ran out of ammunition and magic. Not wanting to camp anywhere near the are (in case the ghost came by or the skeletal guardians decided to come down), the two tired and wounded adventurers headed back to the Keep.

After two days of marching (only taking time to cast some healing magic), the adventurers returned to the Iron Keep at sundown, vowing to keep their experiences secret until they could return to the Ruins with help. They sold the masterwork helmet, but Khallas kept the sword, which turned out to be magical.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Adventure Log Delayed

The adventure log for last Friday has been delayed due to the sudden death of our clothes washer. We were particularly close to the clothes washer, like it was one of the family. It's inevitable treachery, dieing just as we started laundry for the week, leaving us critically short of clothes and at the mercy of the home warranty people, will be a pain that will linger for some time.

In the meantime, it's replacement finally arrived this evening and is now busy at work. Long may it live.

I will post the first adventure of Su Bel and Khallas, on expedition to The Ruins, tomorrow (Tuesday). Thank you for your patience.