Monday, August 30, 2010

Metal Home Improvements

This session happened Friday, August 27, 2010, and was the only session I ran this past weekend. I left my notes in the car, so I’m typing this from memory – expect updates to the entry tomorrow, once I’ve consulted my notes.

Adventuring Group:
Mog the Doomed (half-orc barbarian)
Tycho von Helmont (elf alchemist)
Agnes Sunbeard (dwarf rogue)
Thorngrim (half-orc sorceror)
Rhapsody (half-elf rogue)

Note: the list of player characters is in player sitting order, from my left and then clockwise around the table.

The group of adventurers were indecisive as to which locale to explore. Short a wizard (Sal was not available) and even shorter on funds (after raising Mog a week ago [in game – out of game it has been two weeks], the one thing they can agree upon is a need to drop of the arcanely carved iron chairs they acquired at Drop-off Tower before anyone else sees them.

While following Gravemarker Road (which needed maintenance, maintenance that had to all come from Thorngrim), the group was attacked by leopards. While dangerous, the group found them much easier going than dire lions and killed them relatively quickly. Sadly, Thorngrim’s last dog was killed in the fight, leaving him feeling slightly more vulnerable.

When the group arrived at Drop-off Tower, they found the doors still shut, but something large and able to fly had taken up residence on the third floor of the tower. The group quietly unlocked the front doors as Tycho planned on throwing a bomb or two up into a window on the third floor and they wanted shelter in case he missed. Mog immediately charged up the stairs, intent upon doing battle with whatever was up there before it could fly out of his reach, but was stymied by the locked door on the second floor that sealed off the stairs to the third floor. He was contemplating just chopping down the door with his axe, but Agnes arrived and told him in no uncertain terms that if he did so, she’d chop HIM down. This actually gave Mog pause for thought, memories of death still too fresh in his mind. Agnes went back downstairs to await the results of Tycho’s bombs (expecting to need to close the doors rapidly and lock them).

Once the group was ready, Tycho lobbed a bomb up through a third floor window and waited to see what came out. First was what sounded like a lion’s roar, which gave the adventurers pause: they had been taunting Mog with thoughts of flying dire lions and now seemed to actually be facing one. Eek! The creature erupted out of one of the windows, staying aloft on a pair of wings. It looked very much like a dire lion with wings, but it also had a spiked tail and a man-like face: a manticore! Tycho quickly ducked back into the tower.

The manticore descended, charging Agnes in the doors, wounding her greatly but not fatally. The fight was tough, but the manticore could not get a coordinated set of attacks off. By the time it was thinking about fleeing, it was too late. Tycho and Thorngrim harvested several interesting parts of the manticore and manticore steaks were cooked for dinner.

That night, a shambling mound approached the tower, apparently drawn by the scent of dead meat. While Tycho decided on who to awaken (it was his watch), the shambling mound started slamming into the doors of the tower. Everyone sleeping was awoken by the sound of the wooden doors slowly splintering. By the time the adventurers were ready to face the creature, it successfully smashed in one of the doors. (Agnes was quite angered by this – those doors were expensive and difficult to transport.) The shambling mound went down quickly under the adventurer’s heavy assault, its fire resistance only helping slightly. After the fight, Agnes and Mog hammered up the old interior doors to seal the front entryway for the rest of the night.

In the morning, they group agreed that they needed to replace the front doors. [Also, Rhapsody leveled up to third level.] Luckily, the very complex lock had not been damaged and so could be reused. Before leaving the tower, the two iron chairs were unloaded from the bag of holding and placed on the second floor, Agnes removed the front lock from the remains of the doors, and the old interior doors were hammered into place to keep things out of the tower while they were away. Tycho also took measurements of the windows on the third floor with an eye to get shutters made to seal those as well.

The trip back was uneventful and the adventurers spent two days in Iron Keep, waiting for the lock to be mounted on a pair of iron doors. Thorngrim also bought two replacement dogs for his protection. Tycho then got their mule and cart from the stables at Spider’s Bar and the group travelled back to Drop-off Tower. The night was only slightly disturbed by some giant ants wandering by, but no combat happened.

The next morning the iron doors were mounted in place and it became possible to secure the tower once again. By this time the adventurers felt they had been out here long enough and returned back to Iron Keep, hoping to find either Sal or Su Bel available to adventure before going out again.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Players for a West Marches Game

One of the hallmarks of a West Marches campaign is a large pool of players, more than can fit at a table at one time. In an optimal world, the players get together as groups and schedule the games and ask the DM to be there. This works great in high school or college (particularly college), but after that it gets a bit more dicey.

What I am finding is that the game day is set based upon when the DM can be available and then players who can show up to play. A certain number of players can usually make every game with an equal number being more sporadic. The sporadic players will stick with the game until their character start falling behind in experience and then they drop out entirely.

This seems to lead towards a more standard gaming group, but I think it has greater flexibility in the way of bringing in new players. There is motivation to keep making games to avoid falling behind and with a more gygaxian naturalism, there is always the chance that high level PCs may die and restart, keeping overall levels relatively close (in theory anyways).

[Note: by "gygaxian naturalism" I mean the world is a somewhat naturalistic environment and what "should" be there actually is, regardless of level-appropriateness. So if your 5th level party wanders into a pride of dire lions, they better get out of there quick before they become kitty kibble. The opposite of this is a series of level appropriate encounters that gradually rise in difficulty to match the PCs increasing capabilities, as you see advocated in 3.x and 4E D&D.]

Now, one of the downsides to this is that sometimes you don't have a lot of players if real life conspires that way. In my Southern Reaches game, I have 10 players in my pool of players, but only regularly see six of them at the moment. In the Verden game, we started with six players and last session only had three. The question becomes, "Do I need to recruit more players or let it ride as-is?" The answer seems to be, "It depends."

For the Southern Reaches game, I don't think I need to recruit more players, partly because I still have six, but also because the reasons keeping the other players away are temporary and will be ending in the next month or so. For the Verden game, the DM is asking us if we know more players and I think he is right to do so. Three is a difficult number of characters to adventure with, especially if we do not have access to hirelings to supplement our numbers. The missing three players will likely be back, but it is much easier to run with a few more players and would improve our confidence that the game will regularly make (especially as I tend to be unavoidably late).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Verden: …and Back Again.

This session happened Wednesday, August 4, 2010. Two players were unable to make, so we just had their characters fade into the background. After this initial expedition, we will always end back in town so it this won't be an issue.

Adventuring Group:
Artemis (half-elf rogue)
Arthus (half-elf paladin)
Book (elf rogue)
Gilgamesh (uffnik artificer)

We started the day spending two hours working out where were actually were. Turns out we had circled back a bit. This was the first time it hit us how difficult navigating our way around out here was going to be. This is worse than going to a part of Verden you’ve never been to. Here there is no one to ask for directions and no signs to follow. We are going to have to take extra time to avoid getting lost beyond all hope of return.

After some discussion, we decided to continue exploring north, taking extra time to avoid getting lost. At one point, Artemis spotted a sword marking a grave. Arthus pulled the sword out of the ground and the blade disappeared. He was holding the grip, but there was no blade now. The blade slowly reappeared. Very weird, but he decided to keep it. Paladins…

Further on that day we discovered a pit trap a goblin had set to catch game. We know it was a goblin that had done it because we caught sight of him too. The goblin bolted, but I ran him down and tackled him. After some discussion with the goblin (with Artemis acting as translator), he agreed that we are "not food" and we let him go. Dangling him over his own pit trap (with spikes no less) seemed to convince him of our sincerity. After the goblin ran off, Artemis spotted something sparkly in the pit and we lowered her in to investigate. She found 9 gold marks, some gems, and boots of stealth (we think). I put the boots on and Artemis decided to hold onto the gold until “later”.

That night it rained during my watch. As my waterskin was getting empty and we had not seen any other source of water, I improvised a funnel and refilled everyone’s waterskins with rain water. This is something else we had not anticipated. It is surprising what I took for granted back in Verden and expected to be available out here.

With a renewed water supply, we continued north, looking for an end to the war-debris. Around mid-day we heard the sound of combat and investigated. We discovered human being attacked by two giant oozes. We moved to assist the human, because…well, the other things were giant oozes. The Hunter (what he goes by – he never told us his name) had vials of the stuff that he threw into the oozes and it caused them to roil and then melt once we got two of the vials in each ooze. The Hunter then scooped up melted ooze into the vials, which we thought was weird. Turns out the best way to fight giant oozes is with the remains of giant oozes – that’s what was in them originally.

During the fight, Arthus was engulfed by one of the oozes. Gilgamesh used his "shank of healing" to heal up Arthus afterwards. (Yes, he stabs us with his healing device.) We talked some more with The Hunter about the area and he gave us some advice. He’s been out here a couple years, so we took him serious. I found a ring (which turned out to be non-magical) in the goo, so it was not a total loss.

Parting ways with The Hunter, we continued north a ways and found some fire beetles. We killed most of them, but Gil captured some and put them in improvised cages. They make OK light sources. We also searched the pile of debris the beetles were in and found a set of magical bracers. Gil put them on, hoping they would help him not get hit.

When we finally camped, we discovered that most of Arthus's stuff was slowly destroyed by contact with the ooze acid. We realized we now only had food for four days left - just enough to make it back to The Wall. Hopefully. During the night we got attacked by 3 ghouls (which eat the fire beetles first). We defeated them, but Artemis contracted ghoul fever. One of the ghouls had picked up a feather token somewhere. Not knowing what it does, we packed it away for later examination.

In the morning we started heading back. It took us all four days of our remaining food to get back to Vestige. We sold what loot we found to Samuel at the Gnome Hill Inn (but not magical stuff). Divided four way, each share came to 192 gold marks, 2 silver squares, and 5 copper pennies. I spent part of my share buying 10 days of rations to resupply and a night at the inn. It was good to sleep in a real bed with some surety that monsters would not wake you up by attacking.

*End Session*

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Long Story Short: No-Hurricane Job

I'm behind due to the chaos my life has been over the last week (and to some extent still is). Rather than clutter up this blog with details, just go here to read about it. It will take me a bit to catch up for writing time lost, but I will.

Thank you for your time and patience.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wednesday Blog Delayed

Our A/C went out Monday night and the repair guy can't get to the house until Thursday, so I've been distracted by survival in Houston during the hotest part of the summer (translated: I got busy and forgot to write the thing). Tonight is the next session for Verden (at someone else's house, thank goodness), so no writing tonight. I'll work on a post at lunch tomorrow, so there should be a real post Thursday evening at the latest.

This is where having a buffer of written material would be brilliant. Sigh...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sandbox Permutations

Due to trip preparation, there was no Southern Reaches game last Friday (August 13), so I don't have an adventure log today. What I do have is some thoughts on different ways West Marches-style games can vary.

First example* is the Southern Reaches campaign, where I am the DM. In this campaign, the PCs are the only adventurers operating out of a small barony on the edge of a remote continent. There are no humanoids in the immediate vicinity (at least none interacting with people on the surface). The immediate area is naturalistic and the climate mostly benign. Initial opponents are animals, nature, and the undead. The PCs were provided a map with some adventure locales on it.

* I only know the West Marches from some basic reading, so I don't feel comfortable second-guessing how the campaign actually worked.

Second example is Verden, where I am a player. While we start out right next to civilization (and lots of it), it is on the other side of an immense wall and we can only go back and forth every three months. The immediate adventure area is tens of miles of ruins and smashed siege equipment and good water is hard to find. Again, initial opponents are animals, nature, and the undead. The players have a blank piece of paper for a map and not even rumors of adventure locales.

Third example is a sci-fi game that I'm talking about with one of my friends. Players will slowly explore an expanse of space, with star systems and planets comprising the primary adventure locales. Civilization might or might not be present on an individual world, but it's not too far away (as long as the spaceship works). Opponents can be nature, hostile alien life, hostile aliens, and possibly hostile non-aliens in the form of raiders. For ease of reference, I'm going to call this one Stellar Reaches (a working title I just came up with). It is likely there will be a star map and maybe system information for some locales, but probably not.

As a result of the starting environment, Verden is more survival oriented than Southern Reaches. Rather than draw every stream and spring on the map in Southern Reaches, I assume that the players find enough water that it is not an issue. In Verden, water that reaches the soil becomes tainted, so we have to capture rain whenever we can and we are seriously thinking of doubling our number of waterskins soonest. For a Stellar Reaches game, survival includes fuel for the ship and air to breathe as well as food and water. However, as that should be available at whatever starport the players base out of (or anyplace civilization exists) and does not have to be physically carried by the characters, this is a matter of logistics, not necessarily critical need (although fuel for the ship should be a regular purchase and will become a modulator of player wealth).

One of the issues I'm seeing in both Southern Reaches and Verden is a lack of NPCs for the players to interact with (Southern Reaches more than Verden as it turns out, but I haven't put up that adventure log yet). This is both a blessing and a curse. With no NPCs to get plot hooks from, the players must be proactive about doing things. On the downside, the range of encounters is more limited and interaction skills do not get much attention. Roleplaying is mostly between player characters which is more a matter of the players discussing strategy and where they want to explore. For my next campaign (once I've decided to conclude Southern Reaches), one of the things I'll change is how isolated the adventure area is. Bandits and intelligent humanoids should probably be more frequent in a sandbox game, if nothing else to shake things up occasionally.

For Stellar Reaches, NPC interaction should be a great deal more common. In a purely exploration game, it is likely the PCs will have a patron supporting them or need to sell data to keep everything running. In a more commerce-oriented game, the PCs will need to find cargo to ship or speculate in as they go system to system, using this as their income source and means for keeping the ship running. To do any of this will require interaction with a number of NPCs, getting interaction skills some limelight.

That's really all I have to say at the moment on that. I may have more on Wednesday.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Verden: Through the Gate

This session happened Wednesday, July 28, 2010.

Adventuring Group:
Artemis (half-elf rogue)
Arthus (half-elf paladin)
Book (elf rogue)
Sinn (gnome bard)
Bellwar (dwarf cleric)
Gilgamesh (uffnik artificer)

Since the time of the Necromancer Wars, the Great Wall has separated the city from the howling wilderness to the north. When the King (Emperor, High Poobah? I don't know, never seemed important growing up) cast the spell (or finished the ritual – whatever) he destroyed the necromancers in a blinding flash of light. Apparently people got along with their lives after that, but never went north ever again.


At some point, someone decided that opening the one working gate every three months to let people go north was a good idea. Can't imagine why, but there you go. Every three months they open the thing up for a couple hours and then close it. Most folks have forgotten about it and only notice if they live nearby because the damn hinges are squeaky as all Hades. Assuming Hades is a squeaky place, that is. I wouldn't know other than people "better" than me have told me it's where I'll end up unless I mend my ways.

I haven't.

My name is Book, and for reasons of my own (mostly to do with my breathing and my desire to keep doing so), I decided that a stint north of The Wall would be a good idea. I did a little research on the topic, acquired some gear (some of which I even paid for), and showed up on the appointed day. Surprisingly, there were other folk heading through the gate that same day. In addition to myself, there were two half-elves, a gnome, a dwarf, and something called an uffnik (short furry guy of a race I've never seen before). We exchanged names while we waited and then walked through into a sea of ruins and broken siege weapons as far as we could see. (I didn't ask why the others were heading north, mostly because I didn't want to explain my own reasons. Luckily, no one asked.)

Right outside the gate were two mostly whole buildings, each with a sign. One said "Gnome Hill" and the other said "ICE". Some of the city guard pushed a handcart of boxes and a few barrels over to the building labeled "ICE" and then walked back. Sensing potential profit (or at least very cheap supplies) I moseyed on over to the handcart. The folks walking the gate with me slowly followed.

A tall blonde guy stepped out of the building as I approached and started unloading some of the supplies. We talked. He is a paladin by the name named Richard Pureheart. (Really? Who names their kid that?) "ICE" apparently stands for "Inner Circle of Externals" and is apparently a guild of folks living on this side of the wall. Membership in ICE is 1000 gold marks per adventuring group and allows access to their map of the north and the right to camp at their waystations.

I think I had two coppers in my pocket at the time. Maybe.

After Richard finished unloading his part of the delivery, he asked us to push the cart over to Gnome Hill, the only inn in Vestige, the name of this little area. My companions agreed to do so and I let them. As I'm going to be stuck on this side of The Wall for three months, I saw no reason to acquire to anger anyone by pinching any supplies at this time. Plus, I really didn't need them and maybe someone else did.

The owner of the Gnome Hill Inn was a guy named Samuel. He is also the only employee. Rooms are four silver a night and the beer is cold, so not a waste. After buying a beer, we headed out into the wastes.

We headed north, trying to find the edge of the debris field that seemed to hug the Great Wall. After six hours of following a rough trail (the pointy stuff had been cleared at some time in the past) it was getting dark, so we camped. We hadn't seen anything all day, so we found a spot out of the wind and just camped. In the middle of the night a flood of fire beetles started marching through and we had to quickly relocate to a higher level of debris (an old building of some sort). Watching thousands of those beetles move by, lit by their glow sacks, was like watching a sea of fire slowly flow past. The next morning we could see that they were scavenging – there was nothing remotely organic left in their path and a lot of debris had been shifted. Wonderful.

In the morning we continued north. Things were quiet until some ghouls jumped us. We all had swords, arrows, and knives, which did about nothing to these things. Then I realized that the debris around us was full of things that could be used as clubs, so we put away our good steel weapons and grabbed whatever was at hand and started smashing the damn things. That worked wonderfully. Artemis came down with a mild case of filth fever afterwards, but eventually kicked it.

The rest of the day went quietly, but by the end of the day we were fairly certain we were getting lost. Scratch that: we WERE lost. We spent some time trying to re-orient ourselves, but we were to far away from The Wall. We decided to camp and try again in the morning with fresh minds. The other thing that was bothering us was this: we'd walked nearly 30 MILES from the Great Wall and this debris was still the dominant feature. We started seeing some grass, but no forest or trees for that matter. How far does this stuff go?

A couple hours before dawn we were attacked by a skeleton wearing armor. We still had our improvised clubs and smashed it down pretty quick. We gave its masterwork longsword to Arthus (it was better than his) and packed the breastplate and heavy steel shield on Gilgamesh's pony. I claimed a finger bone from the thing. Not sure why, but it seemed a good idea at the time.

Tomorrow we'll try to work out which way the Wall is. Now it's time for a little more sleep.

*End of Session*

We spent half the session creating characters and getting equipped, so we did not return to "town" at the end of the session like we should have. The DM cut us some slack here, but after this session, getting back to "town" at the end of a session will be a goal.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Writing Backstory for a Sandbox

I've been fleshing out the backstory for the Terrace of Fallen Horses. I'm not going to go into it here just yet as most of my players are reading this blog and I'd hate to spoil the surprise. So why am I bringing it up?

I want a certain amount of verisimilitude in my world. In order to do that, I need to know why an adventure locale exists and what happened to it that it is now abandoned. This requires some thought and some backstory. The tricky part is determining how much backstory is worthwhile and what is wasteful.

By wasteful, what I mean is "material that the players will never learn and possibly CAN NEVER learn". What happened to the Horse Lords whose burial chambers the PCs have recently explored? I know because I need to know what to put in the tombs and crypts, but really, do the players need to know? Will there be enough evidence for the players even to make a guess?
Similarly, I have some backstory for Dropoff Tower and the dungeons underneath it. It was important to develop so I can describe what's there and give an approximate age (elven stonework, several hundred years old). It is possible the PCs will find enough information to work out what happened or at least make a very good guess.

Now, do I need to write enough history to indicate whether or not the Horse Lords interacted with the Elven Lords of the Forest? And what about the Underfortress of "Santa Fe"? I could, but is it really necessary? Is there any way the PCs will learn it? Will there be any evidence in any of the adventure locales?

I like writing as a hobby, so I'm inclined to write an overall time line and interlink the adventure locales, even if I'm the only person who will ever read the material. I'm also inclined to do it as I discover linkages through writing that I had not thought of before. This is the discovery part of writing I like, letting my subconscious work the angles and kick up anything interesting it finds while my conscious mind is dealing with the typing and the spelling and the simple descriptive text. I also set my vague thoughts down into something more solid, which can highlight things that might not work out or are more awkward than I thought they were.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Dire Lions are Dire

This session happened Friday, August 6, 2010, and was the only session I ran this past weekend.

Adventuring Group:
Mog the Doomed (half-orc barbarian)
Sal Ty (elf wizard)
Tycho von Helmont (elf alchemist)
Agnes Sunbeard (dwarf rogue)
Rhapsody (half-elf rogue)
Thorngrim (half-orc sorceror)

Note: the list of player characters is in player sitting order, from my left and then clockwise around the table.

After two weeks in town recovering from the effects of the symbol of weakness, the adventurers decided it was time to return to the Terrace of Fallen Horses and claim what treasure they could. They marched along the Terrace Road, leaving from the Woodcutter's Camp. Along the way they spotted a pride of dire lions stalking a herd of horses and wisely avoided the pride. [They should have remembered this later.] While camped on the road, a giant scorpion was spotted moving towards the camp and quickly dispatched.

Mid-morning the next day they arrived at the Terrace of Fallen Horses. To ease climbing to the upper terrace, Mog started hammering a set of pitons along the back wall of the lower terrace and discovered a previously unknown tomb entrance. After some circular debate, it was decided to leave it alone for now and return to the third tomb on the upper terrace, the one they opened on their previous expedition.

Returning to the aforementioned tomb, Rhapsody blindfolded herself and re-entered the children's crypt. Finding the coffer with the exposed symbol of weakness by touch, she removed the coffers contents (some scrolls) and closed the coffer, hiding the symbol. She turned over the scrolls to Sal for investigation but kept the coffer for herself. He determined that these were arcane scrolls containing the spells illusory wall and symbol of weakness.

Rhapsody and Agnes then investigated the other two child coffins, triggering a hail of arrows from one but bypassing the trap on the other. In addition to mummified remains, the two rogues found some minor magic items (potion of fire resistance and arrow of direction) and a clay urn full of jewelry (seven pieces worth 3000gp total). Having exhausted the possibilities in this crypt, Agnes and Rhapsody finished their sweep of the hall and found another concealed crypt. The entrance to this one seemed very solid and they called in Mog to take a pick-axe to it. Mog found multiple layers of stonework sealing this crypt – 10 feet worth. After working at it for nearly an hour, Mog finally broke through to the crypt beyond.

Mog announced over his shoulder that he had broken through (the rest of the group having waited out on the terrace playing cards while Mog dug). When he turned back to the crypt he saw two shadowy figures with burning eyes. The creatures attacked Mog with ancient swords, one of them connecting. The weapon itself did minor damage, but Mog felt his life energy flow out through the sword and into the creature. He panicked and immediately fled, running out the tomb and sliding down the slope to the lower terrace before stopping. This unnerved the other adventurers greatly [to say the least]. Sal and Agnes fled down the length of the upper terrace while Tycho, Rhapsody, and Thorngrim nervously readied themselves around the tomb entrance.

What stalked out of the tomb were two cairn wights. Surprisingly, the cairn wights fell quickly, making the other adventurers wonder why Mog had spooked. [My dice ran cold and the hit on Mog was the only hit the two wights made all fight.] Agnes and Rhapsody investigated the now exposed crypt, finding two iron chairs covered with arcane glyphs and symbols and a large iron coffin, sealed to keep whatever was within it inside. Rhapsody called in Tycho to investigate the chairs and after doing so, Tycho was rather excited. Taking that as a good sign, Rhapsody loaded one of the chairs into her handy haversack while Tycho retrieved the group's bag of holding and inserted the other chair into it. Squeezing back out of the crypt, they brought out the chairs to Sal for inspection. Sal pronounced them foul necromantic items. This please Tycho even more, although he quickly covered it. [Que ominous lighning.]

In the meantime, Mog felt the loss of life essence settle in and realized he would need some divine attention to recover. [He failed the Fort save (of all things) and the negative level became permanent, requiring the casting of restoration to fix.] The group decided to head back to Iron Keep, hiking an hour along the Terrace Road before camping. They expected to get up the next morning, have Sal cast mount several times, and ride back to have Mog cured. Things did not go that smoothly.

On the first watch, Mog miraculously noticed a dire lion ready to pounce upon the camp for dinner. [Rolled a 20 on Perception.] Having learned a lesson, Mog warned Sal to the dire lion's presence before charging into combat. Mog struck the dire lion a heavy blow, but the dire lion proceeded to claw, bite, and rake Mog multiple times. By the time the rest of the adventurers weighted in and killed the dire lion, Mog was a bloody corpse. Sal pulled together Mog's remains and placed them into a sack to take back to town. The rest of the night passed tensely.

When the sun rose, Sal cast mount and the quiet group rode back to the Iron Keep. Once there, they sold all of the recently acquired treasure [but not the iron chairs or the coffer with the symbol of weakness] and then chipped in from their own funds to have Mog raised. Again. While once again among the quick, Mog was not fully restored to life and still suffers the touch of the grave. [He still has the two negative levels from the raise dead spell. The group did not have enough money to get the two restorations cast, so they'll need to go out and find some more treasure.]

[As a note, I did not stack the additional negative level from the wight's touch on Mog because I'm not certain it would stick after he died. In hindsight, it probably should, meaning 4th level Mog would have one effective level and be very suceptible to becoming undead after another level drain. I need to think on it some.]

[Additionally, there will be no game this week as I am going out of town to a friend's Army Retirement Party. Personally I see it as a reason to get together and hang with a high school buddy, but it is kind of wierd for me.]

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Verden: Possible New Feature

So my Wednesday night game (and by this I mean the one game where I'm a player and not a DM) seems to have stabilized into a West Marches-style exploration game using Pathfinder. This started out as a 4E D&D Encounters game, switched to Keep on the Shadowlands, switched to a home-brew setting, lost the DM (which is OK), attempted to switch to a different home-brew setting using Pathfinder, and finally switched to yet another home-brew setting, which is what we have played in the last two sessions.

Being a note-taking kind of guy, I'm sort of the campaign chronicler. I say "sort of" because unless your notes are available to others, they're just notes. I gave some thought to starting a different blog to post adventure logs on, but decided that I'd only have one posting a week, which is pretty light to create an entire blog around. Then I thought about the fact that I only post here Monday and Wednesday, which leaves a bit of a gap in the postings.

Now I originally left the gap so I'd have time to create material for my Friday night Southern Reaches game plus my monthly Champions game (The Bold and The Determined) and monthly Pathfinder game (Naze Valley Rangers). Writing an adventure log, however, takes much less time and effort as the action has already happened, I just need to write it all down. So I'm thinking about making Friday the day when I post adventure logs for this other game. If I do this, I'll likely preface the titles with "Verden", the name of the campaign (see the title of this post for an example).

So what's the point? As it turns out, an exploration game is not just an exploration game. In my Southern Reaches game, the PCs are exploring a (mostly) untouched wilderness and return to an actual town. I Verden, we voluntarily went through the gate of a Skull Island-style wall (Peter Jackson version stone walls of a lost civilization) which will not open again for three months. On this side is the debris of an ancient, cataclysmic war (the Necromancer War - fairly descriptive), a single inn, and the union house for an adventuring organization (which might or might not have more than one member at this time). And when I say "debris field" I mean "hills of broken siege machines and skeletal remains that go out over 40 miles from The Wall and along the length of the wall, several hundred miles (yes, it is a big wall).

So it's different, yes?

I think next week will likely be the first installment of the Verden adventure log. That will give me three sessions of notes and time to build up a tiny buffer.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Road Building and the Grass Sea

In the last game session, the player characters built their third road, linking the Woodcutter's Camp with the Terrace of Fallen Horses. This is the second road built across a stretch of the Sea of Grass, the other extending from the Old Road southwest to the Pueblo Hills and "Santa Fe". Their method of road construction across the Sea of Grass is to cut parallel paths through the grass and then perform a controlled burn of the grass between the two. This works well enough, but it really only creates temporary roads as the grass will eventually grow back. As long as the players periodically maintain these roads, the roads will provide a proven path, allowing speedier movement and a significantly reduced chance of getting lost.

But the seasons are turning and soon the auroch herds will return.

Far to the south, at greater elevations, the air is growing cold, heralding the return of winter to the Southern Plains. When the first snows start falling, the aurochs will migrate north to their winter grazing lands, the Sea of Grass. In addition to flooding the area with ornery cattle, the aurochs will eat the grasses and churn the ground – pretty much obliterating the player character created roads. On top of that, with the auroch in the area, rebuilding of the roads will be stifled during the winter.

I'm doing some research, trying to determine when I want the migration to happen. The last game session ended the equivalent of August 28th. [I don't want to deal with the issues of a completely original fantasy calendar, especially as the Southern Reaches are south of the equator and any calendar brought to the area would have been developed north of the equator and be inverted.] I think I'm going to go with an October migration. The herds will start movement near the middle of the month, arriving in the Sea of Grass at the end of October/beginning of November. The herds will stay until March and then migrate back south.

The horse herds that currently occupy the Sea of Grass will get pushed west, into the shadow of the Cold Mountains. The auroch herds will also be followed by predator groups. This will cause a change in the encounter tables for most of the area as the aurochs dominate the area for five months. I have until the end of the month to generate the modified encounter tables, which is entirely do-able.

Tangentially, I've been assuming that a week of game time passes between game sessions to push the calendar along. With each expedition lasting between five to nine days, this moves the in-game calendar along roughly twice as fast as the real world calendar. This allows me to add seasonal color text that changes in something less than a glacial pace. As an additional note, the gap between last session and the next one will be longer as several characters took a great deal of strength damage from the symbol of weakness they triggered and they need the time to heal.

Unless they want to play weakened…

Monday, August 2, 2010

Building the Terrace Road

This session happened Friday, July 30, 2010, and was the only session I ran this past weekend.

Adventuring Group:
Mog the Doomed (half-orc barbarian)
Sal Ty (elf wizard)
Tycho von Helmont (elf alchemist)
Agnes Sunbeard (dwarf rogue)
Thorngrim (half-orc sorceror)
Rhapsody (half-elf rogue)
Charity Sunbeard (dwarf cleric hireling and Agnes's naïve cousin)

Note: the list of player characters is in player sitting order, from my left and then clockwise around the table.

Agnes's cousin was interested in seeing what Agnes does when "adventuring" and asked to follow along. As the available group of adventurers had decided (after much debate) to go back to the Terrace of Fallen Horses and Su Bel was not available, the group agreed the young(-ish) cleric would be a welcome addition to the group.

Rather than just march overland to the Ruined Hills where the Terrace resided, the group decided to blaze another road across the Sea of Grass. Starting from the Woodcutter's Camp, the group cut and burned a trail due west through the deep grasses. After a solid day of road building, the group camped for the evening. Late that night, a dire lion stalked the camp while Agnes and Rhapsody were on watch. Rhapsody noticed it and quietly warned Agnes (who might or might not have been inventorying Thorngrim's belongings). Agnes quietly waked the others and after a short discussion, they decided to fight the dire lion rather than avoid it like normal. They quickly remembered why they normally avoid dire lions.

The lion charged the group, shredding apart Thorngrim's guard dog, Lucky. The adventurers attacked with moderate success, but the dire lion continued the attack. It bit Agnes and raked her with all four of its claws, nearly disemboweling her in the process. The other adventurers renewed there attack (with Mog finally getting into the fight to devastating success) and the dire lion decided to flee with its dinner, Agnes. As it turned to withdraw, Rhapsody got in a final attack with her spiked chain and dropped the beast. Charity immediately moved to heal her cousin, bringing Agnes back from the cusp of death.

The next day, the adventurers extended their road into the deeper parts of the Sea of Grass, getting slightly disoriented near the end of the day. Realizing they were slightly lost, they took the time to re-orient themselves before making camp for the night. During third watch, Mog spotted a giant scorpion making its way towards the camp. He immediately charged it and then called out a warning. This led to some confusion as the awakened members of the group did not know where the threat was. Thorngrim (who had been on watch with Mog) provided direction through the expediency of firing his unerring magic missiles into the scorpion, pointing the way with glowing bolts of light. The scorpion did its best to rend Mog into a meal, but was brought down just short of achieving its goal by the other adventurers. With only his rage keeping him conscious, Mog "asked" Charity for healing (demanded, really). Charity and Tycho expended all of their available spells healing Mog's wounds.

Later in the morning, as the sun climbed into the sky, the adventurer's road building was interrupted by the attack of two cheetahs. The cheetahs were quickly defeated and the group returned to road building. When another dire lion started stalking the group that night, the group quickly decided to move camp and avoid the dire lion.

Possibly as a result of their interrupted sleep, the group got lost while building the road the next day. Thinking they were further along than they were, they turned southwest too soon. It was not until the middle of the next day that they realized their error and corrected for it. That night they avoided a flight of cockatrices, but got enough rest otherwise.

At the end of the sixth day of their expedition, they finally achieved the Ruin Hills. Camping just outside of the Hills proper, they are awakened by a trio of burning skeletons wandering the area. With most of their strong magic being fire-based, the group was not confident that they could take on the burning skeletons and avoided them instead. The next morning they extended the road into the Ruined Hills and promptly got lost, spending most of the rest of the day correcting for this. Just as they got back on track, a storm rolled in from the north and the rest of the day was lost attempting to stay dry. The next day they finally achieved the Terrace of Fallen Horses.

The adventurers that had been here before checked the area to see if anything significant had changed, giving Thorngrim, Rhapsody, and Charity a tour at the same time. After assuring themselves that things were as they expected, the group set to some serious tomb plundering. First having enhancement magics piled onto himself, Mog removed the slab covering the next tomb in line through sheer brute strength. Behind the slab was a decorated thirty-foot hallway that dead-ended. Agnes and Rhapsody set to looking for a concealed crypt entrance, finding one behind a plaster covering depicting royal children being buried. Agnes raged a bit and shouldered into the plaster a few times, eventually plowing into the chamber beyond.

Inside the exposed room were three chests/sarcophagi and more wall decorations. Investigating the first chest/sarcophagus, Agnes and Rhapsody were able to bypass an electricity arc trap. Inside they found the bundled remains of a youth, a small ceremonial club, and a coffer. Agnes opened the coffer, seeing a symbol on the inside which exploded into a concussion of power, robbing Agnes and Rhapsody of nearly all their strength. The weight of their armor and gear pulled them to the floor under gravity's irresistible pull. Mog and Sal quickly stepped down the hall to the crypt to assist. With the symbol still exposed, Mog was immediately weakened, staggering under the sudden loss of strength but not falling. Sal was able to stop short upon seeing Mog stagger and avoided being affected by the symbol of weakness. Realizing what had happened, Sal quickly tied a blindfold over his eyes and moved into the crypt by touch alone. Rhapsody was able to describe the layout of the crypt and Sal closed the coffer. Agnes and Rhapsody were then pulled out of the crypt and the group camped for the night.

With nearly half the group severely weakened, including their heavy hitter, the group decided to withdraw entirely. Sal cast mount several times and the adventurers piled onto the phantom steeds. Following the new road, the adventurers were able to make it back to the Iron Keep as the sun was setting for the day. Sitting in Spider's Bar and discussing the expedition, the group decided that, even though no treasure was claimed (the coffer was left behind in their haste to recover Agnes and Rhapsody), the building of the Terrace Road was an accomplishment in itself and much experience was gained in the process. [Four of the six adventurers leveled on this expedition.]