Monday, September 27, 2010

SR21: Thunder, Clay, Coins

The prefix in front of the title is to help differentiate between Southern Reaches adventure logs, Verden adventure logs, and me just rambling. In this case it means "Southern Reaches, session 21". Verden adventure log titles will still start "Verden:". From this point forward, if it doesn't have a prefix, it's just me talking about something.

This session happened Friday, September 24, 2010, and was the only session I ran this past weekend.

Adventuring Group:
Su Bel (human cleric)
Mog the Doomed (half-orc barbarian)
Tycho von Helmont (elf alchemist)
Agnes Sunbeard (dwarf rogue)
Thorngrim (half-orc sorcerer)

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

Autumn has arrived along with the great herds of aurochs. The Woodcutter's Camp has been abandoned again and the farms surrounding the Iron Keep have slowly emptied as the farmer families have moved in behind the solid walls of the town. It's not the herds that drive the people back inside the walls, but the auroch herders – the gnolls. Gnolls follow and guide the herds and consider any land the herds move across as theirs.

The available adventurers made some last minute purchases of gear (Tycho bought 10 bear traps and Thorngrim located a ring of sustenance) and then headed out. Being short on funds, the group had decided that they wanted treasure. Narrowing down preferred adventure locales to either the Terrace of Fallen Horses or Santa Fe, they opted for Santa Fe due to the lack of undead.

As they passed Jericho's Cairn on the Gravemarker Road, Tycho noticed that the cairn had been disturbed. When Agnes checked the disturbance, she discovered that someone had buried a holy symbol of Pharasma in the cairn. This was unusual and the group took the holy symbol for later investigation. Later in the day the group arrived at Drop-off Tower and camped for the night.

The next day the adventurers followed the Old Road through the Three Peaks Hills to the edge of the Sea of Grass. Instead of unending vistas of tall prarie grass, they found immense herds of aurochs slowly moving north. Where the herds went, only shorn grass and turned and packed earth remained. Additionally, there were large groups of dog-headed gnolls following/guiding the herds. The adventurers carefully made their way along the remains of the Grass Road, Thorngrim marking the trail with the wizard mark spell. As they made their way across the Sea of Grass, they killed a giant scorpion laying in wait for a lone auroch and avoided a prowling dire lion. When the sun set, they were still in the Sea of Grass and had to make camp. Luckily, the only predators that bothered them were a pair of cheetahs that Mog scared off.

The next day, dark clouds started filling the sky and the sound of thunder grew close. Barely an hour into the day's march, the adventurers were overrun by an auroch stampede! In the ensuing chaos, the adventurers became separated. After killing with one swing of his axe the first auroch attempting to trample him, Mog grabbed Su Bel and ran, Mog trying to move fast enough to keep up yet avoid getting trampled. He was marginally successful, getting he and Su Bel to a large rock outcropping in the Sea of Grass that the aurochs had to flow around, but he was greatly battered and bruised as a result of his efforts. Tycho was able to quaff a potion of expeditious retreat and eventually make his way out of the stampede and to the nearest part of the Pueblo Hills. Agnes, not able to keep up with stampeding aurochs, acrobatically leaped up onto one and rode it with the stampede, guiding her "mount" when she could. It ran for the better part of an hour, depositing her somewhere in the Pueblo Hills, lost. Thorngrim, rather than run from the aurochs, hunkered down behind the corpse of the auroch Mog had killed and used a ghost sound of a roaring dire lion to convinced the aurochs to run around him, not over him.

When the stampede finally passed, the sky opened up and rain poured down and kept pouring. The adventurers gradually found their way to Santa Fe. Agnes was able to use the arrow of direction found in a previous expedition to guide her way through the hills, arriving first. She scaled the cliff to the entrance of Santa Fe, made a fire to dry off with, and waited for her companions to arrive. Tycho and Thorngrim arrived a couple hours later, having met up on the Sea of Grass. Mog and Su Bel arrived last, after getting lost several times in the hill. The group camped for the night, sheltered from the continuing rain.

When dawn broke, so to did the rains. After consulting their maps of Santa Fe, the group decided to climb a set of spiral stairs they had not checked out on previous trips. The spiral stairwell led up to a set of rooms behind the upper shelf in the overhang Santa Fe was built into. The stairs opened on a hallway that led to the upper shelf and some defensive works. There were two doors in the hall, each on an opposite wall. After Agnes checked both, she announced one was dangerously trapped, the other only locked. The group decided to explore the locked door.

Behind the door was an octagonal room, in the center of which was an immobile statue that Thorngrim and Tycho identified as a clay golem. After a brief huddle and some preparation, the adventurers attacked the golem, an enlarged Mog and enlarged Agnes advancing to flank and strike the golem. The golem, unmoving and long unused to people took time to get back up to speed, a fatally long time. Thorngrim used grease to drop the golem prone while Mog and Agnes continued to press their attacks, eventually destroying the golem, but not before it gave Mog a wound the adventurers were not able to heal.

There were two doors providing exit from the octagon room. Agnes checked both doors, pronouncing one locked and trapped, the other only locked. She unlocked the second door and had Mog open it. He pulled the door open, triggering a trap Agnes had missed. Stone slabs dropped into place, sealing the exits to the octagon room and water started pouring into the room [from the recently refilled cisterns]. Su Bell and Thorngrim were still in the hallway, but Mog, Agnes, and Tycho were trapped in the rapidly flooding room. Mog started attacking the slab blocking the way back and Agnes moved to help him. With increasing desperation as the waters rose, Mog and Agnes attempted to shatter the slab. Just as the water reached over Agnes's shoulders, they cracked the slab into pieces, allowing the water to flow out.

Once the water drained away, the two rooms beyond the doors were explored, each a treasure room! The first room contained three large urns, the first filled with copper coins, the second with a fine oil, and the third with wine that had gone bad and was now vinegar. The second room contained an urn of silver coins, and urn of gold coins, and an odd ivory tusk with a map carved into it.

With literally more treasure than they could carry, the group decided to return to the Iron Keep. After camping for the night, they headed out. They had to avoid another dire lion prowling for food and reroute around a large mire caused by the torrential rains, but two days later they were back at Drop-off Tower. They camped at the Tower and stashed the ivory tusk with the map (after taking rubbings of the map). Tycho, having gained some insight during the expedition, was able to finally heal some of the damage Mog took from the clay golem. The next day the adventurers returned to the Iron Keep. Su Bel now had enough money to pay for two restoration spells to be cast upon Mog, finally erasing the last aftereffects from his being raised from the dead. This was a loan, not a gift, and so she required he give her half of his current monies so she would not be without funds. Mog readily agreed.

[During the between session time, Tycho is finally able to heal Mog of all the damage from the clay golem. Mog will be out of action next session as he waits to get both restorations cast upon him. This period of cleansing and meditation is a condition of the temple. Out of game, Mog's player will be out, so this is not an issue, but would be necessary even if he was going to be here next week. This means that either the group would let two weeks pass in-game or Mog would have started a second character.]

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Verden: Bounty, Crypts, and the Waystation

This session happened Wednesday, August 25, 2010.

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

Before setting out to collect the bounty on the orc wizard, Arthus, Gilgamesh, and I collected up Artemis at the Gnome Hill Inn. We decided to pool our monies and purchase a group membership in ICE from Richard, the paladin leader of the organization. After doing so, he invited us into the guild house for the first time. It is plush and comfortable, completely different from the more ramshackle look on the outside.

Richard provided us with guild membership tokens that indicate we are members and also grants access to the waystations. Where are the waystations? Clearly marked out on wall-mounted map of the area. We spent a few minutes updating our map to match the Wall Map, then purchased some healing potions and a tanglefoot bag – items only available to guild members.

After stocking up, we headed out towards the wizard’s hut, taking the trail north and then cutting west to the hut. Along the way, Artemis kept me from stepping into a pit trap she noticed. Good elven eyes on that woman! We lowered her into the pit to look for loot and she found a bit of gold, some minor gems, and a bear trap. Hunh. I re-hid the trap (doing an excellent job if I may say so) and arranged some stones to remind us of its location. Never know when something like that could be useful.

We got far enough the first day that we could have made it to the hut, but only if we exhausted ourselves. Not wanting to be winded when we faced the wizard, we camped early. Gil was working on a new gadget of some sort and as a result, everyone woke up with a bad case of leaves. Not like leaves were dropped on us from a tree, we were actually sprouting leaves. We all insisted that if he is going to take apart items like that, he do so at a distance from the rest of us. Artificers are more trouble than they are worth sometimes.

The following morning, after haranguing Gil about the leaves again, we made our way to the wizard’s hut. We noticed a few things different from our last time here: the strip of grass had been mowed, the naked body of the guy previously in half-plate was strung up again, and the wizard now owned a ballista. It was parked right next to his hut. Big thing too.

After formulating something like a battle plan, I hustled around to the back of the hill of war debris backing the hut and started climbing it. The entire hill was lousy with bells on wires as alarm systems. That might have stopped some, but not me. I got into position above and slightly behind the hut with the wizard noe-the-wiser and signaled to Gil. Gil hopped the fence and attempted to use detect magic to spot the hidden mines all over the wizard’s “yard”, but tripped the first ones he encountered immediately, alerting the wizard. The wizard fired two magic missiles at Gil for his troubles. Gil panicked and immediately used his obscuring mist gizmo to provide himself cover. This just made it difficult for Artemis and Arthus to get in position.

Luckily, the wizard got cocky and came out to fight again, thinking he had our number. He realized something was up when he laid eyes on Artemis for the first time, realizing there were now four of us. Then I started peppering him with my crossbow while Arthus attacked with his sword. The last straw for the wizard was Gil’s new grease/burning hands combination device. Gil used it to cover the wizard in grease and then set him on fire. The wizard tried to turn invisible and flee, but the smoke coming off him nullified that and Arthus, Artemis, and I (after a styling acrobatic slide down the pile of debris) were able to surround him and put him down. His corpse eventually became visible again, which was not an improvement.

After that, we looted the hut of 17 books, a nice rug, two potions, and some other stuff that looked good. Gil identified the potions as cure light wounds and stoneskin, which was good as I guessed wrong and the hidden chest they were in was trapped and Artemis triggered it. My fault entirely. Sadly, the ballista was an illusion. Richard probably would have given us good money for a real one. We also cut down the two adventurers from the gibbet and packed them away in the chest on the pack horse. Oddly, they didn’t stink. We then headed to the cemetery, as it was the safest place for us to camp and recuperate spells. Along the way we had to avoid a group of wights, which would have been bad news if we had had to fight them.

After a refreshing (and undisturbed) night, Gil started identifying what loot was magical and what wasn’t. One of the cloaks was a cloak of resistance [+1], which we gave to Artemis. A polished rock we pulled from the trapped chest turned out to be an elemental gem – you crush it and a large fire elemental is summoned. Gil assures us the elemental will be controlled by the person who crushed the stone. The rest of us are dubious. The rope we found turned out to be a rope of climbing, which should be handy to have.

Three of the books radiated magic. Two of the books were trapped with magical symbols, but the third was a comprehensive list of beginning spells. Gil says that that book will be very useful for him. Well, he said it after waking up from the symbol of sleep the second book hit him with.

Once Gil was awake again, we decided to go down into the mausoleum and finish clearing the rooms. Things were like we left them, which was a good sign. The room with the gold coffin also had a magical field protecting the coffin, something we had not noticed before. Not wanting to do anything we couldn’t take back, we decided to check the other crypts before messing with the magical field here.

The next crypt over was the one containing the stone coffin and a partially collapsed wall (and the spear trap I failed to notice until I tripped it, which Gil and Arthus were only to glad to tell Artemis about). We investigated the wall and discovered another room behind the first one. We cleared out more of the debris and entered the room. Chained to the far wall was a woman with a wooden stake clearly sticking out of her chest. To one side was a magical wooden box that had water continually running through it. On the ground near the woman was a stone tablet with “Oh how I loved her” written in Celestial on it. This room spooked us and we decided to leave everything as we found it.

The last room was where the ghouls attacked us. The room was exactly as we left it and there was nothing of interest in the room, so we returned to the room with the gold coffin. We discovered the field cutting off the back of the room had a round gap in it and we thought to try the “Creation’s Key” gold cylinder we found a couple weeks back. It worked and the field went down. The runes on the cylinder changed to read “Creation's most radiant treasure”. Inside we found a mummy holding a wooden box. I carefully retrieved the wooden box and opened it. Inside were four scrolls – one sealed with wax, the other three not. The unsealed scrolls allow the casting of hallow with daylight attached to it. We took all four scrolls and replaced the wooden box in the coffin. After closing the coffin and moving away, the magical field reappeared. Interesting.

We left the Mausoleum and checked our map of the area. According to our map, the nearest waystation was within a day’s travel, so we decided to go check it out. Better to know what to look for now than desperately trying to find it later when we might be running from something. Along the way we had to hide from a red dragon that was slowly flying towards the west. Those things are huge!

When we arrived at the place where the waystation was supposed to be located, a small building appeared out of thin air. Richard had told us that the guild tokens would allow us to see the waystation, but having it actually happen was something else. Inside we discovered that the waystation is larger on the inside than it is on the outside. It also contained a sitting area (with chimney and fire), four sleeping rooms (with large comfy beds), a fully stocked larder, and (best of all) hot baths! After refreshing ourselves, we discussed what we had found in the mausoleum and concluded that someone was torturing a vampire there and we wanted nothing to do with it. We kept watches through the night, but nothing bothered us.

After breakfast the next morning, Gil identified several of the magic items we had found but had not identified yet. We marched east to connect with the trail to Vestige. Along the way we had to hide from the red dragon again, this time flying east. If that dragon starts being a frequent occurrence, we’re going to have to take precautions.

We also found another pit trap. Artemis noticed it but, and I can’t prove this, she nudged me into it. I think it was a bit of payback over the trapped chest in the wizard’s hut. Personally, I’m just happy there were no spikes in the pit. I did find a magical light crossbow [+1] (which I appropriated immediately), a coin pouch with 100 gold marks in it, and a quiver of bolts, which I stuck in the bag of holding. After marching a few more hours we arrived at the head of the trail and camped.

That night we had to scramble to a new camp when a purple worm decided to burrow past. This turned out to be fortuitous as Gil and I both spotted a coin pouch at the new camp which contained a clear, unflawed gem and 20 gold marks.

In the morning Gil finally got around to using identify on the sealed scroll. It turned out to be a magical map that showed the area around the holder. It also seems to want to lead us to something in the north northeast, but we were more interested in returning to Vestige right now. The day was uneventful and we arrived at Vestige as the sun was setting.
We stopped at the guild house first and turned over the bodies and the wizard’s head to Richard, who paid us the 500 gold mark bounty. We also chatted about what we found in the Mausoleum and Richard opined that it sounded like someone was saving the vampiress for something. Neither Arthus nor I like the sound of that.

Later, over at the Gnome Hill Inn, we shared our adventure with those there. While talking with Jonathan, it suddenly occurred to me that the vampiress might be his employer’s wife. I decided to keep this insight to myself for the time being – I have no way of knowing how Jonathan would react to that observation. I find I’m still suspicious of his lack of memory about what happened to him down there.

*End Session*

Monday, September 20, 2010

Update and Fore-warning

Due to a dearth of players last week (trips and family obligations, which always trump gaming), there was no Southern Reaches game last week. Additionally, I was ill, so I missed the Verden game as well. :(

I still have notes from a previous Verden game to turn into an adventure log, which I will post this Wednesday. Going forward, I will be returning to posting only twice a week here as my baseline, with occasional third postings as I have material or, more to the point, available time to write. I'm developing more material for the Southern Reaches to start addressing some of the weaknesses of the setting, most notably a lack of NPC for the players to socially interact with. Additionally, I'm writing new material for my other game Naze Valley Rangers, which is a more traditional "adventure"-based game (rather than player-driven exploration). Finally, I have a half-written story I'm writing that I very much want to get back to as I have friends who are getting aggravated that I haven't written more since November. Plus, I want to see how it comes out at the end. :) All of that adds up to possibly more writing than I can carve out time for (after battling my nemesis, procrastination), so I need to cut back a bit here.

Plus my LiveJournal account hasn't been updated in ages...


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rules Updates

I’ve started OK-ing the new Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide for use in the Southern Reaches campaign. I’ve made it through the new race options and new base classes, approving both. I’ve started reading the new class options for the original base classes and have approved them as I do not anticipate anything game-changing from what I’ve read so far. The reading has been slow because they really did a good job fleshing things out and making them workable – but man that takes some reading fortitude to plow through.

To date, I’ve only had some minor adoptions by the players. Thorngrim chose to swap half-orc ferocity for sacred tattoo. A sorcerer from my other campaign picked up two new spells from the APG (burning gaze and dancing lantern if you're curious), and the paladin from that campaign is interested in possibly switching to inquisitor. We might have to do a temporary switch to see if it is a good fit for the character concept.

So, what to do when the game you’re playing released new rules?

There are two types of new rules: a complete new edition or supplemental rules for the current edition. New rules editions can be really great or really a pain for a GM. If the new edition refines or unifies the application of previous rules (e.g., Champions 4th edition to Champions 5th edition), this can be great and the transition fairly smooth. If the new edition is a complete re-write of the rules from the ground up, like D&D 4E, then you need to decide with your players whether or not to use the new edition or stick with the old one.

In olden times, it was pretty much assumed that the new edition of the rules would eventually be adopted (grognards notwithstanding). With the introduction of the OGL and the retroclones, plus a vaster array of base game systems to choose from, this is no longer the case. It is much easier to stick with older rulesets when the primary manufacturer moves on, especially if your group plays a form of D&D (which is statistically very likely). If you are playing a game that is not covered by the OGL (or something similar) then things are a bit more dicey. Hard to get new players involved if they can’t get their own copy of the books, especially if any length of time has passed since the game went out of print.

From the GM perspective, adoption of a new edition boils down to this: are the advantages of the new ruleset greater than the aggravation of having to re-spec every NPC and monster in your campaign? Depending on what style of campaign you run (fixed length versus perpetual), this conversion process can be a major effort or a titanic effort. You also need to take into account how your players feel about the new rules and what will happen to their characters as part of the conversion.

There are several ways to incorporate a new edition. One is to just take a break from running that campaign, let someone else run something for a while, and convert everything wholesale. This could be modified by just converting things immediately involved and do the rest as necessary, but this seems to just draw out the aggravation. I feel a clean break is better for game play and the GM’s sanity. A possible sideways step is to finish out your current story arc, invoke a major shift in the way the world works, and restart with new characters elsewhere and/or elsewhen. Living Forgotten Realms has done something similar to this with the Forgotten Realms. I have a friend who is in the process of doing this for the second time for his homebrew campaign (2nd to 3rd ed AD&D and now to the Pathfinder RPG).

Now what about “just” a rules supplement?

I’m thinking about the Advanced Players Guide for the Pathfinder RPG, but this could also include adding Unearthed Arcana to AD&D or the Supplements to OD&D – really anywhere you have new rules for existing classes, new classes, new spells and/or powers, or alternate rules for combat or something else being added to the core ruleset. Here the GM’s work is a bit harder. Do you accept it all as written and hope for the best? Do you pick and choose what you want and leave the rest?

The answer is: it depends.

One of the issues with D&D 3.x was unfettered rules bloat. If you, as a DM, allowed everything published into your game, you fairly quickly achieved a singularity and the whole thing collapsed in upon itself. This led to either picking and choosing or house ruling stuff. I prefer running the rules as written, so everyone has the same rules. As a result, I am reluctant to accept rules piecemeal, but have there was a clear benefit to doing so.

With the APG, I’m leaning toward adapting the whole book as-is and then house-ruling anything that becomes problematic. From what I’ve read so far, things seem fairly balanced overall with minimal power creep, if any. Again, this leaves everyone in the group with access to exactly the same set of rules, rules that seem to have been written with balance (not word/page-count) in mind. Your mileage may vary.

I think that's enough rambling for today.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Crouching Tiger, Hoisted Ballista

This session happened Friday, September 10, 2010, and was the only session I ran this past weekend.

Adventuring Group:
Su Bel (human cleric)
Mog the Doomed (half-orc barbarian)
Tycho von Helmont (elf alchemist)
Agnes Sunbeard (dwarf rogue)
Rhapsody (half-elf rogue)
Thorngrim (half-orc sorcerer)

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

The masterwork ballista that Tycho, Agnes, and Rhapsody had commissioned was available a week after the order had been placed and so Tycho pulled the donkey and cart out of the stables and the regular group of adventurers made their way to Drop-off Tower with the new ballista. They followed Gravemarker Road to the Tower and arrived with enough time to start hauling the ballista to the third floor using a block-and-tackle system with Mog and the donkey providing the muscle power. Unfortunately, the tiger that had dogged the trio of Tycho, Agnes, and Rhapsody last week returned!

Not wanting to tangle with a tiger at just this point, the rope was tied off and the adventurers withdrew into the Tower and waited for the tiger to lose interest and leave. The group had learned the hard way that the great cats are not to be trifled with and was short on funds in case someone died, which seemed likely when dealing with a tiger. It did eventually leave.

After the sun set and the tiger left, a dire boar wandered near to the Tower and was felled by a set quick ranged attacks from the adventurers. Mog went out to quickly field dress the dire boar, but his fear of the tiger returning distracted him and he did a thoroughly awful job of it. What he brought back was edible – after someone else did some work on the rough chunks of meat. Later, an assassin vine (perhaps attracked by all the blood) managed to get close enough to the tower to attack. It injured Thorngrim greatly, but was itself killed by Rhapsody.

When dawn finally arrived, the adventurers quickly finished hauling the ballista up to the third floor and installed it looking out the window over the door to the tower. They then set out to finish the exploring work that Tycho, Agnes, and Rhapsody had started. They found little during the day (other than more trees), but that night their camp was disturbed by 5 giant ants, a giant stag beetle, and finally two leopards out hunting. One of the leopards killed one of Thorngrim’s trained dogs, but was itself killed by Rhapsody’s spiked chain when it tried to flee.

The next day, the adventurers explored further, nearly completing their exploration of the Edgewood, but needing to camp another night. This evening they faced a small troop of giant ants (four of them) and a dire tiger. The dire tiger nearly killed Agnes in the first round of battle before the other adventurers were able to tear away the dire tiger’s prize and flee at high speed, leaving behind all the dire boar meat they still had on them. The dire tiger seemed to accept this as it did not pursue the adventurers. The wand of cure light wounds was heavily drained healing Agnes’s wounds, but all were relieved to escape none-the-less.

The next day the tired and groggy adventurers finished their exploration of the Edgewood. They returned to the Iron Keep and exhaustedly sank into the chairs of Spider’s Bar. That night a storm blew through from the south, bringing cold rain and winds with it. The seasons were finally starting to turn…

[This was a short if occasionally tense session. Su Bel, Rhapsody, and Thorngrim all made 4th level during this session. Next session things start to change as Summer turns to fall and the auroch herds start to return to their winter pastures.]

Friday, September 10, 2010

Verden: Poking the Wizard with a Stick

This session happened Wednesday, August 18, 2010.

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

Despite agreeing that the hut should be left alone, Arthus and that walking carpet Gilgamesh decided they couldn’t let it go. Artemis and I were content with staying at the Gnome Hill Inn and refused to go with them, thinking that they would wise up and not go.

They went anyway.

After some time went by, Artemis and I got to talking about it and we decided that the two of them were likely to get themselves killed, leaving us without access to healing magic for the next two and a half months. Plus, Arthus is an easy mark in Three Dragon Ante. So we played a quick game of rock-paper-scissors to see who had to go after them and who got to stay at the inn. I lost.

It took me most of a day to catch up with the two and when I finally did, they were at the hut. They had also provoked whoever was inside already. I could tell this from the handful of blast marks on the ground inside the fenced area and on Gilgamesh. The marks on Gilgamesh were from magic missiles cast by someone inside the hut – I saw the last pair of missiles hit as I came around a final pile of war-debris. As the two idiots were just standing there in the open, trying to decide what to do, I dragged them off to one side, using the hillocks of debris that flanked the hut as cover.

They then brought me up to speed on what they’d done so far. I was stunned. Gilgamesh had decided that the warning sign’s message to “those who can read” meant if he couldn’t read, he’d be safe. So he blindfolded himself and stepped into the fenced off area…directly onto a series of explosive magical mines. He then cast animate rope to untie one of the two bodies hanging on the gibbet in front of the hut (the one in leather armor with several swords on its belt), which is when magic missile spells had started flying from the hut. He stepped out of the fenced area to discuss what to do next with Arthus and got hit again by magic missiles, which is when I showed up.

Seeing as they had already provoked the hut’s occupant, there was no longer a reason to not press on and I strategized with Arthus and Gilgamesh as to our next plan of attack. Gilgamesh wanted to cobble together a new device that would combine grease and burning hands and use that to set the hut on fire. He was a bit fuzzy (no pun intended) with the details on how he’d get close enough to safely use the thing, but it would take eight hours to assemble, so we let him get started on it.

To build another device, Gilgamesh had to take apart one of his current devices. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this always invokes a side effect of some sort. This time is caused grass to rapidly grow five feet tall, fifteen feet wide, and in a long straight line in the direction Gil was facing. He happened to be facing the front door to the hut, so there was now a swath of five-foot tall grass going over the hillock and all the way up to the front door of the hut. Perfect cover.

Barely hesitating long enough to tell Arthus and Gil to stay put, I quickly stepped around the edge of the hillock, hopped the fence, and advanced on the front door of the hut using the five-foot tall grass as cover. I set off three of the mines on my way, but was able to avoid the effects of two of them completely. I then ran part way up the side of the gibbet and slashed the rope suspending the body in half-plate armor. And I looked smooth doing it.

I immediately dragged the amazingly heavy corpse back through the grass, just avoiding the effects of a burning hands spell cast from inside the hut. The grass in front of the hut caught fire and started burning, blocking the door with flames. Idiot wizard.

Gil and Arthus helped me get the body back over the fence and into our impromptu camp, where I discovered why the body was so heavy – the back pack was full of rocks! I was livid. That SOB wizard dangles bodies and issues a challenge like that and then has the nerve to fill the backpacks with rocks! Oh, if I could catch sight of that arrogant wizard, I’d show him what for.

“Luckily”, he decided to come out and yell at us. I was so angry I picked up and threw a rock at him immediately. Not my most diplomatic move. The orc wizard responded by casting spells at us. Not the wisest move on his part. Arthus charged him and whacked the wizard good with his magical longsword while I pulled my light crossbow and started peppering the area around the wizard with bolts. These attacks (mostly Arthus, really, as I never hit him) convinced the wizard to turn invisible and retreat back towards his hut (which was now catching fire, by the way).

After a couple of ineffectual attacks, we were no closer to hurting the wizard, but we could tell he was trying to flee back inside his home. I did an end run around him, setting off a couple more of the mines in the process. Those things don’t do a lot of damage individually, but they really add up. While we had the wizard flanked, the reality was I was not certain how I was going to get out of the fenced area with my life.

Luckily, the wizard was thinking the same thing about himself and decided to parley. He had levitated, which lifted him out of the fighting, but he could not move otherwise and he realized when the invisibility ran out, I’d be able to pin-cushion him with my crossbow. So we tersely talked and agreed to part ways. He cleared a path through the mine field for us and we left, taking the half-plate and sword the body we liberated had on it but leaving the body. We marched an hour away and then camped.

Honestly, I’m glad he decided to talk. Arthus and Gil used up all of their healing magic in the fight and we were still pretty beat up.

The next morning Arthus and Gil used up almost all of their healing again to bring us close to whole again. We decided to march to the cemetery and hole up for the day. We really could not afford to run into anything dangerous without any healing back-up and the cemetery was only two hours away. We marched there as quickly and as cautiously as we could.

When we arrived, we discovered that the markings above the door of the mausoleum had changed. Gilgamesh used his read languages/create water gizmo to read it (plus refill all of our waterskins). It now said "For shame! The peace is ruined! He shall never be allowed to enter again!" Ominous. We decided to not mess with the mausoleum. Arthus spent part of the day doing maintenance on his “new” armor and getting it properly fitted. After that we played Three Dragon Ante to kill time. All in all, it was a pleasant afternoon.

That night, while I was on watch, I heard scraping and moaning noises from inside the mausoleum. I immediately woke up Arthus, thinking his ability to beat down undead might be necessary, and then opened the door to the mausoleum. Collapsed inside was an unconscious human in armor, wearing the crest of Sarenrae (honest sun guys, big on redemption from what I remember). We hauled him out and closed the mausoleum door (locking it) and pulled him over to our fire. He was obviously injured, but still living. Arthus used the last of his healing on the guy (which mostly closed his wounds) and we made him comfortable.

In the morning he woke up and was a bit skittish. We talked with him and learned that his name is Jonathan and he is a cleric in the service of Sarenrae. He had followed his employer out here into the wastes a while back after his employer’s wife had been kidnapped (although he specifically said “stolen”). They had been following leads and entered the mausoleum. His employer had disturbed a coffin and things got hazy after that. Jonathan appears to be missing some time. Could be trauma, could be something else. I’m going to have to watch this guy, follower of Sarenrae or not.

After some discussion, we all decided to head down into the mausoleum to see if we could find Jonathan's employer (or at least that's what Gil and I told Arthus). I reopened the door to the mausoleum and we filed down a flight of stairs into the ground. At the end of the stairs was a room with a stone sarcophagus in the center. The walls were a huge mural, showing the history of the Necromancer Wars, from start to finish. Part of the mural was actually on a tapestry. I checked behind the tapestry and found an open door leading to a room with four coffins. The walls here were bare and two of the coffins were open and empty – the lids of the opened coffins showing deep scratch marks on the inside. Jonathan vaguely remembered this room, but not very well. He thinks this is where his employer started messing with things.

There were stairs out of this room, heading further down, but not as far as the first flight of stairs. These stairs ended in a chamber with three other exits (one on each wall) and a short (three foot) pillar in the center with a domed top. Sitting on the pillar, perfectly balanced, was a gold bowl. I was first in, so I also was the first to notice the two zombies animate and move to attack. I fell back to the rear while Arthus and Jonathan took out the zombies.

Jonathan can read Celestial and the pillar had writing that said something to the effect that anything poured into the bowl would become holy. We tested that with a full waterskin. Seems blessing the water also depleted the magic balancing the round bowl on the round top of the pillar. We flipped the bowl upside down and left it on the pillar in case the magic came back.

We explored the three short corridors leading out of this room. Two were trapped, one by a spear trap I found the hard way and the other with a stone slab dropping from the ceiling, which Arthus found the hard way (after I tripped it – I'm so embarrassed). There were rooms at the end of each corridor, but we avoided messing with the contents, except the third room which contained two ghouls. Those attacked us and we (eventually) put them down. Arthus was paralyzed early in the fight and I took a lot of damage before Jonathan put them down. Handy guy to have around it turns out.

After that, we decided to leave and head back to Vestige. I did take the golden bowl, seeing as it was no longer working. On the way back, Gil finally identified the last of the magic items we found earlier (a pair of eyes of the eagle, which we agreed Artemis would be able to put to best use).

When we got back to Vestige we sold the gold bowl and the sword from the corpse at the hut. Richard paid us REALLY good money for the sword, much more than it was worth. He showed us a sunburst symbol on the sword, identifying it as belonging to a member of I.C.E. and he was really wound up about the orc wizard stringing up I.C.E. members. Richard offered us a 500 gold mark bounty to bring back the other body for burial and the wizard's head. Yes, the paladin leader of I.C.E. put out a hit on the wizard.

We decided we were good with that.

*End Session*

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Exploring and Adventure Logs

Sometimes, exploration is boring.

Take the last Southern Reaches session as an example. When the session started, barely a sixth of the Edgewood had been explored. This isn’t to say that the PCs had only been in a small portion of the Edgewood, only that they hadn’t done more than wander a line across much of the forest, more often than not lost while doing so. One of the newer players commented on this before the game started last Friday and so, with only three players, it was decided that they would properly explore the forest.

As a result of this, they found the following:
  • A giant ant nest
  • An overgrown orchard (near Drop-off Tower)
  • An impassible area of forest
  • A ruined village
  • More trees than you can shake a stick at

[Two of these are actually adventure locales. As the players read this blog on occasion, I won’t spoil the surprise by stating which two. You’re welcome.]

How do I know this made for a less than exciting gaming session? I started getting bored writing up the adventure report. Now my adventure reports for the Southern Reaches game don’t go into a ton of detail and I do my best to bundle the empty parts into the fewest number of words possible. My goal is to provide a basic narrative and the high points of the session. I gave all the detail and descriptive text during the session and typing it all in again seems a bit…wanker-y to me.

Now if the players want to write it up, that’s worthwhile from several angles. First, it provides a sense of what made an impression on the players and how they see the world connecting together. This is invaluable feedback to a DM. It tells the DM what stuff matters and where they are doing a good job and where they need to do better. It also inspires the DM to keep going. This is something the Verden DM clued me in to as an incidental aside while we were chatting before a game. He reads my adventure logs to see his world through a player’s eyes and to gather encouragement to keep going. This is important to a DM as running a campaign, especially a sandbox exploration game, takes a great deal of effort and player feedback helps greatly to maintain that effort.

In-character adventure logs also help reinforce the player’s memory as to what is going on in the game. This is why I write the Verden adventure log in-character – so I can remember what I was thinking in-character at later sessions. Going through my notes (as sketchy as they sometimes are) triggers my memory as to what happened and reminds me of things I may have forgotten otherwise.

Finally, adventure logs are valuable resources to be mined for later campaigns. What stuff (a very technical term bandied about by DMs everywhere) have you used before? What did the players love? What did they hate? What worked out well and what should never be tried again?

I think that’s all I have on that for the moment. What are your thoughts?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Exploring the Edgewood

This session happened Friday, September 3, 2010, and was the only session I ran this past weekend.

Adventuring Group:
Tycho von Helmont (elf alchemist)
Agnes Sunbeard (dwarf rogue)
Rhapsody (half-elf rogue)

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

With only a small number of adventurers available, Rhapsody suggested they explore more of the Edgewood, rather than attempt any of the adventure locales they were familiar with. Tycho and Agnes agreed and the trio set out.

From the Woodcutter's Camp they explored south, to the edge of the hills, before making camp. Near dawn a shambling mound approached their camp and they hastily broke camp and fled the immediate vicinity. They resumed exploring along the southern edge of the Edgewood, avoiding a pack of giant ants. They received little rest that night as the camp was beset by 4 giant ants (which they killed), an assassin vine (which Rhapsody critically hit twice in a row before Agnes killed it), a tiger (which they avoided), and three more giant ants (which they quickly killed).

Somewhat groggy when the sun rose on the third day, the trio continued east. Mid-day they discovered the source of the giant ants – a giant ant mound. Not wanting to engage an entire nest of ants on their own, the trio went around and continued east another three miles before camping, exhausted. Their rest was not disturbed until the end of the Rhapsody's watch (third watch), when Rhapsody heard a dire boar approaching. The trio quickly broke camp and avoided the dire boar.

Approaching Drop-off Tower, the trio found the remains of an ancient orchard with trees of several fruit types heavy with fruit. They spent the better part of an hour harvesting as much fruit as they could stick in a bag of holding. Heading east again, they came across the Old Road and found a cache of logging gear of human construction. This was puzzling, as the Old Road is no where near where the loggers of the Woodcutter's Camp work. The trio packed up the gear and decided to head directly to Drop-off Tower to store the gear and camp for the night.

During the first watch, Tycho spotted a giant stag beetle ambling past the tower and decided to attack it, flinging an alchemical bomb at the beetle. He hit it squarely but did not kill the beast, succeeding only at driving it away. The rest of the night was uneventful.

In the morning the trio returned to the southern edge of the Edgewood and continued exploring eastward. They encountered a nigh impassable section of forest and had to work their way around it to the south, finding little else during the day. That night, a manticore and a bulette separately approached the adventurer's camp, forcing the trio to abandon their camp twice during the night.

The next day and night passed quietly, and on the seventh day they passed Owlbear Crossing on the as-yet-unnamed river that demarcates the border between Edgewood and East Edgewood. Swinging their exploration arc back northwest to follow the river, the trio came across a nest of giant stag beetles, including the one Tycho had burned three nights earlier. Tycho prepped Agnes for the fight with enlarge, bull's strength, and cat's grace. She then raged and charged the beetles. The fight went poorly for the beetles.

The next day the trio followed the river to the coast, where they found an old abandoned village. There were signs that the village had been attacked and not peacefully abandoned. Going through the ruins, the trio found some clay urns containing a total of 1500 gold marks – a nice haul.

After exploring the for the next day and finding little more than more forest, the trio's camp was disturbed by leopards, a tiger, and a giant boar, in addition to an hour or two of rain. They spent most of the night moving camp to avoid the threats. With the wildlife in the area starting to get dangerous, the trio started exploring back west in the morning, heading towards the Iron Keep. They passed the Unmarked Cairn and the spot marked "assassin vine" on the Table Map. The marking was theirs and marked where they first encountered an assassin vine in the forest. It is now home to four of the deadly plants. The trio wisely decided to avoid contact and headed north to the Gravemarker Road, where they camped for the night. That night the tiger re-appeared and the trio moved again to avoid it.

The expedition ended with a quick sweep of the northern tip of the Edgewood and then back to the Iron Keep. After some discussion back in Spider's Bar, the trio pooled their monies and commissioned a masterwork ballista for installation in Drop-off Tower. It will allow a stronger defense of the tower, especially from flying creatures.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Some Updates

Just to keep folks up to date, here are some updates:
  • The Verden game will not run the next two Wednesdays due to A) most of the players being out of town, and then B) the DM being out of town. Luckily, I have two more sessions worth of notes to transcribe, so there will be Verden adventure logs the next two weeks.
  • This DOES mean that I will NOT be posting a second Verden adventure log this week. Sorry about that.
  • There should be a Southern Reaches game tonight. I'm not entirely certain who exactly will be there, but it looks like a low level group as Sinn and San Ti reappear after many weeks of work interferring with gaming. ;-)
  • The Southern Reaches group is now down to nine players. Khallas' player is in Austin now and working a 10a-7p shift at his new job that has a potential future, meaning it would be very unusual if he ever made a regular game again. Despite what I just said above, I always believe that getting your real life on track trumps gaming every single day of the week and twice on Sundays, so this is a great turn of events. Doesn't mean we won't miss him at the game, but what's better for him is better in general.
  • The A/C at my home is finally completely fixed. I am very grateful for that. Suddenly being without a comfortable environment in your home is very debilitating.

I think that's about it for right now. I'll resume regular posting next week with SR adventure logs on Monday, a Verden adventure log on Friday, and Wednesdays containing ramblings upon what ever inspires me in either game to write about on Wednesday.

As to that, if there is anything you'd like me to expound upon related to either game or my thoughts on West Marches-style games, please leave me a request in the comments and I'll get on it. Thanks!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Verden: Goblin Patrol – Bust!

This session happened Wednesday, August 11, 2010.

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

Gilgamesh and Arthus heard from Samuel that there has been goblin activity to the northwest. Richard opined that Samuel has “goblin on the brain” and that there might not actually be any goblins. We decided to go investigate anyways as it gave us an area to explore, even if no goblins were actually around.

We followed the trail from Vestige north, turning off the trail near where it peters out and entered the debris field. This took most of the day, so we made camp and set up our standard watches. During my watch, I heard the distinct sound of coins jingling in a money pouch. The sound seemed to be approaching. Thinking I had discovered a chance to enrich myself, but not wanting to get in over my head without back-up, I awoke Artemis and quickly explained the situation to her.

With her keeping an eye on camp, I slid out into the debris field to find out who was bringing us some coin. I didn’t get very far before discovering the sound came from two skeletons that were slowly approaching our camp. I called back to Artemis to wake up Arthus (paladins have to be good for something, right?) and took up an ambush position. When the first skeleton got within range I attacked.

Now saying “I attacked” normally implies that the target of the attack gets injured. This did not happen. In fact, I very quickly disarmed myself during the fight and did not damage the skeleton I was fighting until near the end of the fight. By then, Arthus and Artemis had easily taken down the other skeleton and Artemis came over to “help” me with the first skeleton. By “help” I mean do most of the damage with me getting in a feeble hit with a broken club I picked up after cleverly throwing my perfectly good one away. I really hate skeletons.

After taking out the skeletons, Artemis and I checked them for loot. Both had a coin pouch. Mine had 12 gold coins in it, the other was empty but felt like it had something in it. No matter how hard the others tried, they could not pull out whatever was inside. Oddly, it was this "empty" coin purse that jingled. We gave it to Arthus to hold onto and neither Artemis nor I wanted a noisy coin purse on our person.

In the morning we decided to head due west, as that would put us in the area northwest of Vestige, where Samuel had suggested goblin activity was happening. Early in our march, Artemis noticed a complete chest in a pile of debris. We pulled it out and she and I disabled a trap and unlocked the chest. Inside were 4 gems and a small pile of gold. Loot! This expedition was already a good one. After emptying the chest, I noticed the inside was not as deep as it should be and pried up a false bottom. Hidden away was a bag of holding, which I claimed. I transferred most of my gear to the bag which maintained a constant weight of 15 lbs. This helped me greatly – I’m not a big burly guy like Arthus and my gear was weighting me down. We tied the chest to Gilgamesh’s pony to act as bandit bait. The rest of the day was uneventful and we found little worth noting. That night it rained, so other than replenishing our water supply and finding the chest, we spent a day and night to little effect.

Being due northwest of Vestige now, where goblin activity was supposedly happening, we started a sweep pattern back towards Vestige, looking for goblin activity. Instead of goblins, Gilgamesh noticed a leopard stalking us. The fight took some time as the damned thing would not sit still and let us hit it. We did eventually kill it, but only after Arthus had been savaged by it. We bound his wounds and used what little healing magic we had left for the day, but he was still not at full health. We then camped to let Arthus rest and heal some. During the evening, Artemis found a locked coffer while on watch, but set it aside for the morning so she and I could examine it in good lighting. Good eyes on that woman – two treasures in two days. Must be from her elven half.

[The party achieved second level at this point.] After breakfast, Artemis and I examined the coffer and easily disabled an arc trap protecting it. The lock was another matter entirely. It took Artemis, Gil, and I over an hour and a half to work out the inner workings of the lock and defeat them. Inside we found two rings. Gil was able to identify them both as rings of sustenance. After some discussion, the rings went to Gil and Artemis and my ownership of the bag of holding was formalized. During this time, Arthus was able to finish healing himself, but we were left with minimal healing for the rest of the day.

We continued our sweep, looking for goblins and instead finding a cemetery. Now it could be argued that everything for miles was one big cemetery, but within the picket fence of this small area, the ground was still hallowed. There were a half dozen graves along the edges of the cemetery and one mausoleum in the center. Above the door to the mausoleum were words in a script we could not read. Not wanting to explore the mausoleum with almost no healing available, we decide to camp early. In the cemetery. Which seemed to be the safest place we had found so far.

During her watch, Artemis was fiddling with the noisy coin pouch we had given to Arthus and was able to fish out a short golden rod with writing on it. The coin pouch still jingled, but seemed to be empty now. Definitely a cursed item.

By dawn, Gilgamesh had finished cobbling together a new magical gizmo. This one creates water while granting the holder the ability to comprehend languages. Why he chose to combine those two effects I’ll never know. The writing on the golden rod is now readable and says “Creation’s Key”. The writing over the mausoleum door turned out to be a warning to not disturb anything inside. Seemed kind of ominous, so we decided to continue our sweep of the area and come back later.

We spent most of the day getting rained on. The one mobile thing we spotted the entire day was a fire elemental, which seemed to be angry about getting rained upon. We decided to avoid it entirely. Something odd happened while we were camped for the night, but I’m not certain what – I woke up several feet from where I went to sleep. Very strange.

Having been out for four days and finding no goblins nor signs of goblins, we decided to start making our way directly back to Vestige. Well, mostly directly back – we checked out a stretch we haven’t been in before on the way back and found a hut book-ended between two immense hills of war debris. There was a low fence across the front, 60 feet from the hut. At the gate was a sign in multiple languages warning “those who can read” to stay away or be “doomed”. On a dual gibbet next to the hut were hung two adventurers, still in their gear. Naturally, we took this as a challenge. Or a trap. Probably both. After discussing it a bit, we decide to not do anything yet and ask Samuel and Richard about the hut. No sense in angering someone we should be friends with.

As we press east, back towards the trail to Vestige, it starts raining. And by raining I mean someone opened the sky and let an ocean start draining. It rained hard all night and all through the next day. What should have been two hours travel at best took us all day due to the torrential rain. By the time we got back to Vestige and could take advantage of getting out of the rain, the rain stopped. Sigh.

We talked to Samuel and Richard about the hut and they knew nothing about it. That gives us two locales to go back to. I favor the mausoleum – who ever hangs adventurers by his front door is likely more dangerous than we can handle right now. Surely the others will agree.

*End of Session*