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Saturday, December 10, 2016

One-Night D&D-The Haunted Castle (and the lessons therefrom)

Hello internet, my irregular publishing of entries marches on . . . irregularly.

On Saturday, I ran a short scenario of my own devising for a "pick up" game of Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

The game worked out well enough that I likely may run this scenario for other groups as an intro.  I and the group had fun, and I definitely learned some lessons that I could apply to (hopefully) make it run to be even more fun and exciting.

If you don't want spoilers, you should stop reading.

For anyone else, here is an overview of how things went.

The adventure is not in a determined setting.  The main adventure location was inspired by a real world castle, Caerlaverock in Scotland.






The players, who were a group I was able to get together with a few days notice, picked pre-generated characters from a set I had put together.  The characters were all third level, to allow for everyone to have some significantly cool things to do, and to avoid having to write a scenario about giant rats and other lower level threats, when I wanted to put a bit more risk and reward into the scenario.

We ended up with a pretty well balanced party, including two Wood Elves, a Cleric of Light and a Druid (Circle of the Moon) (Val & Telar, played by Tom and Robert), a Rock Gnome Eldritch Knight (Teflanto, played by Dan), a Forest Gnome Arcane Trickster ("Nick" played by Jamie), and a human Berserker (Arek, played by Darrell).  We did a short little Q&A between me and the players to determine how they knew one another, and then we got them on the rails to the adventure.

They received a summons from a Herald of the Duke to come and meet with an official of the Duchy for an opportunity.  Like any group, the characters were suspicious, wondering if this was legit, or a trap of some kind.  The eventually went to the meeting, and the Duke himself met with them, and charged them with a mission.

Role playing the discussion was pretty fun, and people made some social skill rolls, and it all went well enough.

This was the deal.  They needed to go to a remote castle, Kerag Ynys, near the northern border of the Duchy, where a castle had become haunted and disused.  The Duke had not been much concerned with the castle in recent years because the border had been closed, and the function of the castle (as a customs station for trade and garrison for protecting the trade route) had been superfluous.  Further, hostilities on other borders of the Duchy had kept the Duke from sending units to determine what had happened to the Baron of this castle.  However, in the last six months, peace and general amity had been negotiated, and the trade route was opening back up.  Now the Duke needs the castle.

Choosing a Baron is down on his long list of things to do, but in the meantime, he had decided that he can put the player characters to good use, get them out of his back yard, and test their mettle  to see if they are worth further recruitment and investment as agents.  He offers them positions as temporary Wardens of the castle if they will retake it from whatever monsters inhabit it, and if they will agree to help secure the Barony and assist a ducal steward to run the castle and return the village to habitation.

The characters reluctantly agree, especially after he explains that the typical adventuring group in his duchy, once they have achieved the kind of fame and notoriety that they have, either end up as his "friends" and in his service, or end up with their heads on spikes on his gate.

Further, the Duke had a story for them, accompanied by two clues.  His patrols had recently captured a bandit who had first hand knowledge of the castle in question.  He and companions had observed the castle and saw that its drawbridge came down each night, only to be closed up during the day.  They decided to try to take the castle as their base of operation and entered.  After beginning their search of the castle and finding some trinkets and remains from the former inhabitants they were attacked by "dead men."  Only the one bandit escaped with his life, and part of his reason.  He also had on him a fragment of a letter from the former steward of the castle to the last Baron (Marketh) of Kerag Ynys.  The steward urged his lord to return a "mask" to a place called Tor Mortas, warning it would bring great evil.  An annotation on the letter seemed to be from Baron Marketh, recording that he would never give up this treasure from Tor Mortas.

The Duke gave them the letter fragment, and also provided them with the possible location of a mechanism to open a postern gate and a passage across the moat of Kerag Ynys, so they would not have to enter across the drawbridge at night.

The adventurers journeyed to the north for days, until they reached the outskirts of the area containing the keep.  Since they knew that something was definitely active at night in the keep, they decided to time their arrival to the morning to give them all day to work on entering and dealing with whatever might be in the keep.

After thoroughly scouting the area, they were able to locate the mechanism to trip the Dwarven made device that raised stepping stones across the back of the moat to the postern door.  They made their way into the keep by this hidden path.

Once inside, they began to investigate.  They found the keep largely in tact, though seemingly deserted.  However, in the barn area, they found a pile of dead bodies, in various degrees of decay, and some seemed to have been "gnawed."  They we close to several ladders which could lead them to upper level on the wall, and particularly to the hoardings atop the walls.


Hoardings

Model of curtain wall with hoardings




















They also inspected the ground level room formed by the base of one of the castle towers, in which they found a small armory, and a trap door that led to something below.

However, before they could explore more, they began to take arrow fire from the top of the gatehouse.  A quartet of skeletons had detected them and had gone to the attack.  The characters scattered.  Most headed up ladders almost immediately, seeking to get cover, higher ground, and eventually reach the skeletons via the hoardings.

The Cleric, Barbarian and Arcane Trickster all headed up.  They were soon surpassed by the Druid, who turned into a panther and made short work of climbing, even having to use a ladder.  This left the Eldritch Knight still in the line of fire, and he caught an arrow, but was able to look for cover.  However, then a swarm of zombies shambled out of a nearby cellar.  Discretion being the better part of valor, the Eldritch Knight retreated up a ladder, and was assisted by the Arcane Trickster in jamming the trap door first on the ladder he came up, and then on another at a ladder around the corner.

Meanwhile, the Cleric, Barbarian and Druid all made it up to the level of the skeletons and charged in.  Once in range, the Cleric raised her holy symbol and invoked the powers of light, forcing one skeleton to cease his attack and flee to the far side of the gatehouse roof.  The other three, however, continued to draw arrow, until brought to close combat by the Barbarian who went into a rage, whereupon they drew their blades.  After trading indeterminate blows, the Druid shaped back into his human form and cast Moonbeam.  He was disappointed that the skeletons largely made their saving throws, but on the subsequent round, they all failed, and he melted them all like candle wax.

The Barbarian then charged back to get into some kind of view of the zombies, and with a furious throw, actually hit a zombie over sixty feet and two stories away with a thrown hand axe, neatly ending it.  The Cleric followed cautiously behind, looking for some way to attack from above.  The zombies were stymied by the ladders and blocked trap doors from making any attacks on the party.  Then the Druid turned his moonbeam upon them, and within two rounds, all but three were puddles on the ground.  The last three, barely holding together, retreated into the cellar.

The party, triumphant in this first battle then carefully searched the keep.  They found the trap door in the small tower armory merely led to a prisoner hole.  However, searcher the living quarters, they found the day books and ledgers of the Baron, and found his notes on how he journeyed to a place called Tor Mortas and retrieved a gold mask, with which he became obsessed.  On the trip there and back, two men at arms died, his personal priest went mad and fled, and he apparently murdered his body servant as too clever.  After he brought the mask to the keep, the town began to be beset by "things" who took the villagers.  Eventually, the remaining peasants fled the town, and the keep became threatened.  The Baron's wife urged him to return the mask, and then she had an "accident."  The information in these entries pointed to the mask being in the family crypt, built, like all the foundations of Kerag Ynys, by a allied clan of Dwarves centuries ago.

The characters found the way down by taking one of the main spiral staircases that served the keep.

They went far down underground, and then came out in a crypt.  It was evident that there was some "thing" in the crypt, but it, and its cohorts (more undead) did not immediately move to attack.  The characters identified the creature that seemed to be in control as a "barrow wight."  They attempted to treat with it, explaining that they sought the mask to return it to its place of origin, Tor Mortas.

They had a hard time of it, but made several speeches, gave oaths, and called it to recognize their honor.  Finally, the wight stepped aside from the door where it stood and told the party to work their "arts" on the door.  If they took the mask with the intent to return it to Tor Mortas, the wight, and its slaves, a ghoul and a specter, could be free.
The Wight

Up stepped the Arcane Trickster.  He handily unlocked the door, but then thought to look for traps.  The door, like all the entrances to the tombs in the crypt, was trapped with a mechanism which would allow the moat to rapidly pour into the crypt, likely crushing and drowning those who would defile the dead's rest.  He then tried to assess how likely it would be to set off the trap by disarming it.  He determined it would be unlikely.  However, that unlikely event occurred [his player having rolled a 1].

Two things happened at once.  The door opened, revealing the entombed bodies of the Baron and Baroness, the golden mask perched atop the sepulcher, and water began to pour in all around the crypt.

The Arcane Trickster, using his Mage Hand, seized the mask, and then cast expeditious retreat and fled the crypt.  The other party members tried to contribute to each other's survival [defined as a skill challenge].  Things did not go well.

The Barbarian sought to block some of the water coming in from the Baron's burial chamber, but instead ripped the door from its hinges [another roll of 1].  Others had some success in helping one another towards the exit stairs, but just as many tripped each other up or impeded one another.  Finally, the Arcane Trickster, as the chamber filled with water, shot an arrow tied to a rope towards his companions, hoping to pull them to safety, but as they grasped the rope, it pulled them down under and each seemingly lost their last breath.

For a moment, Nick, the trickster, thought about just leaving.

However, he managed to get the rope free, and found that, like a reflex, some of his friends had, in losing consciousness, held onto or been entangled in the rope.  He pulled first the Cleric, Val from the water and got a healing potion into her.  Next, they pulled out Teflanto, the Eldritch Knight, and while one revived him, the other pulled out Telar, the Druid.  Finally [after succeeding three death saves in a row], the Barbarian Arek simply refused to die and dragged himself up out of the now receding waters onto the stairs.

After some rest and healing, the party camped within the keep that evening and managed to prepare themselves for the trip to Tor Mortas.  There they found the ancient and primitive mausoleum from which the Baron had taken the mask.

They returned the mask, and it was sucked back down into the earth, presumably back to its owner.

This did not give the adventurers a good feeling, but they did feel lighter as they exited and then set off to claim their reward as the new wardens of Kerag Ynys.
The Standing Stones of Tor Mortas



Now for a bit of self reflection and criticism [and thanks to Matt Colville (Reddit here and YouTube channel here) for modeling this kind of process for me; definitely check out his stuff]:

In retrospect, I think what I did at the start of the adventure was a mistake, and I would do it differently the next time I run this.  What I realized after running the long introduction that included getting the mission from the Duke was that it had not been that important.  The players have to agree to go to the castle or their is no adventure.  As a "one shot" I should have started them just already on their way.  That way, all the time spent with the Herald and the Duke could instead be spent with some role playing between the characters and then giving more time to explore the castle and fight monsters.

Live and learn.

Having eaten up a lot of action time with not very consequential timing, I forced the players to have to resolve the adventure with talking, since we had about 40 minutes to finish up once they got into the crypt, and a combat would take an hour or two.  I did not want to quite railroad so much at the end, but it was a one night one shot, so it had to do two things.  It had to end with some satisfaction, and it had to be fun as a whole.  This also played into how I resolved the long series of bad rolls that could have resulted in all but one of the characters dying.  However, I thought it was more interesting to play through a series of death defying challenges.  The skill challenge ended poorly and the trap took all but one character down.  However, with one surviving character, it allowed for a heroic rescue and a salvaging of the mission.  That just seemed like more fun for my audience.  So, that's what I did.

When I run this again, I think we will start just a short way from the Keep, with the back story already assuming they are on the mission.  That is the scenario after all.  If I were to use this for an ongoing game, that would be different.  I would let the players move at their own pace and decide to take the mission or not.  There would be other things to do if they turned down Kerag Ynys.  But, for one night D&D, the agreement is generally, the DM has a particular thing to do in mind, and the players agree to give it a try.

On the whole, I had a lot of fun.  I was surprised by some of the things the players did (as always) and I was pleased that I was able to share an evening doing one of my favorite things for a goup of folks who (mostly) had not played for many years.

With luck, we will do it again, perhaps more than once.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Old and New Combined: A Vision for New D&D Adventures (Part 1)

When I wrote the epilog to the Nine Vessels of Magic campaign, it was to conclude the our adventures.  I wrote an end of sorts to everyone’s story.  It was a narrative set some two hundred and seventy-five years after the conclusion of the campaign.  

Caladin remained dead, entombed, perhaps to be called again to service in another age.  Daniel van Rigir, Cheltenham and finally Degius Le Gudrius had succumbed to old age.  The epilog was written about a year after Degius’ death.  Daniel founded the City of Freedom at the edge of a new forest begun by The Druid (a guest star who had been in a few of the adventures).  A hinted at dread foe, the Githyanki pirate Kal Thard, never made another appearance and instead passed into obscurity, leaving Daniel to his life’s work.  Daniel, in the epilog, had died with a happy family around him.  Cheltenham had had a distinguished career as a diplomat and warrior, and had left behind a martial arts school, specializing in the great sword.  Degius had been raised to the nobility of the imperial court and given charge of the imperial library.  He and Krystella had children and grandchildren.

The epilog left hanging the narration of Lady Antani Pendragon (née Luventar), as she remained lost, and her husband, Mordred Pendragon, continued to search for her and the child that he hoped had been born of their union.  He searched even though he seemed to live without hope of ever finding them.  Sir Lars Amoril had retreated from the world, and spent his life in contemplation of his god, Solonor Thelandria in retirement.  Lars, as a High Elf, could expect to live another four or more centuries, contemplating peace and the divine.  Krystella Le Gudrius (née Entuluvan), the narrator of the epilog, was about four hundred and forty years old, young for a Grey Elf, who could expect to live eleven to fifteen more centuries.  At the end of the narrative, it was implied that Krystella contemplated taken her own life to join Degius in the afterlife. 

That was the story that I wrote to conclude the campaign, and that is canon.  We are not going back.


However, in the world of fantasy, that does not have to be the end. 

We have the wonderful question, “what if . . . ?”



To set the stage for this, let me state a few of my thoughts on what inspires me to go forward on the foundations laid by my old campaign.  As pedantic as my quest theme was, there were a lot of good bits, and some connections to the materials of the lore of Dungeons and Dragons, that a few years later opened up into whole new areas of play.  

I had played with planes and parallel worlds, with the gothic tragedy of the Arthurian Myth, and I had taken the player characters into space.  In 1987, none of those things were full blown settings, though the elements were coming together.  New settings, from which the Nine Vessels of Magic campaign did not benefit, included Spelljammer (published 1989), Ravenloft (the original module was 1983, but the full blown setting fully developed as the demiplane of dread came in 1990) and Planescape (published 1994). 








Also, Greyhawk went through some major revisions, and my world had been, if not Greyhawk, a reflection of it.  The Greyhawk Wars (released in 1991) postulated a huge regional conflagration that advanced the timeline in Eastern Oerik (the Flanaess) and then reshaped it into a new set of narrative realities in From the Ashes (published in 1992).  This was further changed, refined, and updated in the new Greyhawk Player’s Guide (published 1998), which again advanced the timeline.  The original timeline setting had begun in Common Year (CY) 576, the Greyhawk Wars beginning in CY 582, From the Ashes (in the aftermath of the wars) was set in CY 586, and the new Greyhawk Player’s Guide was set in CY 591.  Also, there was a whole Living Greyhawk Campaing, and many thousands of players experienced adventuring from CY 591 to CY598.  Materials about the setting abound.









Finally, AD&D, though still played, is an ancient artifact.  Second, Third (and 3.5), and Fourth Editions of the game have come (and many still play each of those editions) and somewhat gone.  However, the newest version of Dungeons & Dragons is Fifth Edition, and it is a very good, solid platform for play which I like quite a lot. 

In re-imagining the foundations for a new set of adventures, I could incorporate the now accumulated lore of almost thirty years into my back story (at least the parts I remembered, or had notes on, or that seemed to fit).  I would build it to play in the modern and evolved rules of the Fifth Edition of the game.







What would that look like?




So, to start with, here is my “what if.”

First, as background, in this new gloss on old things, what if I had just set things in Greyhawk, on the world of Oerth, in the Flaeness region of the continent of Oerik?  What would be the back story, and how would things have played out.  As I am doing this on my own, and first and foremost for myself, this first draft will not take much into account of my players, even those with whom I am somewhat in touch.


The core party is Caladin the Paladin, Degius Le Gudrius (fighter/cleric), Cheltenham (ranger/cleric), Daniel van Rigir (ranger/cleric), Antani Pendragon (née Luventar; cavalier), and Lars Amoril (cavalier; cousin to Antani).  Where were these people from in the Flaeness, where did they begin their adventures, and where else did they go?  That is important, because it allows me to weave the backstory into the greater meta-plot of The World of Greyhawk, and to build story ideas and allow for character elaboration down the line.


To begin this "what if", this is what I imagine.

Caladin


Caladin was born in the Free State of Onnwal, once part of the Great Kingdom of Aerdy, but long independent.  His family was strong in the worship of Heironeous, the Oeridian god of Jonor, Justice, Daring, War, Valor and Chivalry.  He dedicated himself to the worship of that god and became a Paladin.  His father, a priest of Heironeous, sent him forth to find his own path and gifted him with a magic shield, upon which he commanded Caladin to place his own symbols, once he determined what crest he should gift to his descendants. For some time he served with a company of Dwarves, a notable minority in Onnwal.  Eventually, after adventures and tragedy, he passed across the the Sea of Gearnat and up the Woolly Bay to pass into the lands around the Nyr Dyv, which abounded with adventure and was the home area for the rest of the party.

Deg



Degius Le Gudrius, half-elven scion of a minor noble house in the Kingdom of Furyondy, grew up in his father’s castle, close to the Vesve forest (the largest hardwood forest in all of the Flaeness), and guarding the frontier with The Land of Iuz.  Deg’s mother was of the Sylvan elves, and lived with his father for some time, but returned to her forest and her people once Deg chose his path in life.  He was trained as a warrior, befitting the son of a castellan, but also chose the life of a scholar and took orders with the Elven god of longevity and patron of sages, historians, philosophers, and librarians.  Eventually he took to an adventuring life, and travelled out of the Kingdom of Furyondy to meet his future companions.

Cheltenham



Cheltenham Half-Elf, was born in the lands of the Duchy of Ulek, ruled over by Elven nobility, though his parents, also both half-elven as was common in those lands, were of humbler origin.  He grew up enamored of the wilds, and called to the worship of the High Elven god, Corellon Larethian.  His studies took him to the center of elven culture in the Flaeness, the Kingdom of Celene.  There, he trained for the priesthood, but also became acquainted with the vast elven woods, eventually joining the Rangers of the Gnarly Forest for a time.  Eventually, with his training and knowledge in divine lore, woodcraft, and the art of war, he set off with a friend to make his fortune.


Daniel



Daniel van Rigir, grew up in the rough and tumble lands of the Wild Coast, a land of petty nobles, robber barons, guildheld towns, fishing and forest villages.  As the land was prey to freebooters, mercenaries and displaced persons of all sorts, he grew up often in want, and always keenly aware of his need to be free.  He was fostered at a temple of Trithereon, The Summoner, the god of ndividuality, Liberty, Retribution, and Self-Defense.  From the temple, he passed to the company of the Rangers of The Gnarly Forest.  There he met and befriended Cheltenham, and after their time of training with the Rangers completed, they set out together, each looking for fortune and adventure.

Lars & Antani






The origins of Sir Lars Amoril and Lady Antani Luventar (later Pendragon) are closely aligned.  Both were knights of the Elvish Court of Celene.  Each came of noble High Elven family, close to the line of Queen Yolande of Celene.  Sir Lars of the Amoril family came of a line of Elvish Knights on the side of his father, Field Marshall Aldrieth Amoril, and of scholars, priests and wizards on that of his mother, Lady Yden Amoril (née Luventar).  He was the youngest of six siblings, including his two older brothers and three older sisters.  Lady Antani of the Luventar family, was the granddaughter of a Prince of the Court of Celene, Lorlar Luventar, and daughter of the famous archer, Gathiel Luventar, and Court Mage Anastasyn Luventar.  She was the middle child, between an older brother, an Eldritch Knight of the Court, and a younger sister, a devotee of the Elven goddess Hanali Celanil.

Mithredain
Both Antani and Lars were fostered to the Feywild and the Summer Court of the Arch-Fey.  Their training took place in the ancient fortress city of Mithredain, called the Autumn City, a place where time passed strangely, when it seemed to pass at all.  As these high elves worked with the warriors and nobles of the Fey, they gained powerful links to dimensions beyond the Prime Material Plane which held Oerth and their home forests of Celene, which they learned was a mere spot on the map of the Flaeness in the vastness of the multiverse.  Further, they each were knighted within the household of the Entuluvan clan.  While this Eladrin clan was at times a minor part of the Summer Court, it held a special privilege during the conjunction of the Feywild with Oerth.  At that time, the leader of the clan, Thormond Entuluvan, became Emperor of all Elves, so proclaimed by the High Queen Tiandra of the Court of Stars.  While there were paths and ways to the Feywild for Elvenkind to travel at any time, the decade long conjunction would bring together “The Great Elf Empire” through a nexus in the Feywild.  The difficulty was that Thormond foresaw that this conjunction would bring great danger. 

So, Lars and Antani, as wards of the Entuluvan, were particularly cultivated to respond to the danger soon to be.  Their destinies, however, were withheld by the canny Fey.  Knowledge was and is a currency among the faery, and little was shared with the two High Elven Knights from Celene.  Lars and Antani completed their training among the Fey, and returned to Celene.  From there, each in their time, they travelled to Dyvers to begin their errantry as knights.  Soon enough they became friends and companions with the others who would become the instruments of Thormond’s gambit against the dread Lich Kantorek.


To be continued . . .

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Overview and Memories of a 1980s Advanced Dungeon and Dragons Campaign

(Author's note: this is a post based on a combination of recollection and discovery of some scattered notes; I may modify it or correct and enlarge it depending on what else comes to me.  Also, this is probably interesting to no more than seven people on the planet, maybe fewer)


A long time ago, back in the 1980’s, I ran Advanced Dungeons & Dragons for my High School friends.  There was a shifting group of us, but as it finally fell out, after some comings and goings and character changes, there was a group of seven of us.  Six player characters and me, the DM.




I started people out with the basic dungeon crawl.  I quite unoriginally started with B-1, In Search of the Unknown, as the first level of my dungeon.  Other levels, carefully hand drawn, with room contents filled out in a key in a spiral notebook followed.  There was not a lot of logic to it all, but that was early AD&D.  The rooms usually seemed to be set pieces, often unconnected from one another, waiting for the entry of the player characters to trigger them.




They also had some adventures in town, some trouble with the thieves’ guild (the Monkey Guild as I recall), faced an initial incursion of mysterious humanoid feline invaders (Larry Niven’s Kzinti from Dragon 50) and some dealings with a powerful mage named Xanthius.




I was using my own “world” sort of.  I was both too cheap to purchase The World of Greyhawk materials and too proud to think that I needed them, but I was using Greyhawk Deities and was heavily influenced by Gary Gygax’s published campaign.  I never had much coherent world building, and we might as well have been in Greyhawk.

The main party consisted of:





Two High Elven Cavaliers (Antani and Lars) (each started after the write up in of the Cavalier Class in Dragon 72, and then formalized by Unearthed Arcana).

Two Half-Elven Ranger/Clerics (Daniel van Rigir and Cheltenham).

One Half-Elven Fighter/Cleric (Degius Le Gudrius).

And one Human Paladin (Caladin, yes, Caladin the Paladin).

One note on the Paladin.  Caladin came into the game because of a rules quirk.  His player had originally been playing Farl the Barbarian (who always wanted to go East).  We developed Farl after the Barbarian class was published in Dragon 63.  It was a class that got tried out a lot after its initial publication.



However, as written, the original barbarian character and the revised final version published in Unearthed Arcana, was a hater of magic.  As you will see below, that became a problem, and rather than house rule away that issue (especially since it had been a role playing point), we had the player swap Farl for Caladin.  Farl went East.

Eventually, we came to the point of needing more of a focus for the game, and thus was born my quest.  The Nine Vessels of Magic were the focus of the quest (thus the need to jettison Farl the Barbarian given the way the class was written then).  The quest was straight forward and unoriginal.  Long ago, a great Elven Wizard had forged the Nine Vessels of Magic, each one embodying one of the archetypical forms of magic, in order to help protect the Elven Realms.  Also long ago, the Vessels had been lost.
Now, a dreadful Lich, Kantorek, had discovered the lore of the Vessels and was seeking for them.  He was already massing forces for a great war of conquest against the realms of the living.  With the Vessels, he would be (wait for it) INVINCIBLE!

The Elven Emperor, impressed by the deeds of the two Elvish Cavaliers and their companions, charged the group with the retrieval of the Nine and frustration of Kantorek’s plans, if not his outright defeat.  I decided, as I was railroading them into this, that they might also need some magical support, so I contrived to place an NPC with them, creating the youthful daughter of the Emperor as a talented magic user and having her become infatuated with one of the party members, Degius.  The princess’ name was Krystella.

I already admitted this was not the world’s most original story.

It was, however, fun.

Along the way, there were a few guest stars.  A Druid who came in and out of the story as my cousin visited, and a thief (another lack in the party), played by a friend of one of the players, but who eventually decided not to come back (or we decided not to invite him back, that is hazy).
As they sought the Vessels, they battled pirates, they fought armies of goblinoids, they played through my modified version of The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, and they ended up in a quasi-Spelljammer before there was a Spelljammer setting, as they fought Mutant Orcs on a spaceship (also heavily influenced by Gamma World).  After that ship crashed, they ended up in a quasi-Egyptian setting and gained the help of Isis (I was going through several chapters in Deities & Demigods).







As we wound down the campaign they went through modified versions of the G-Series (Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, Hall of the Fire Giant King).






I ended up throwing one character, Antani (one of the High Elven Cavaliers) ahead, into my twisted version of the Arthurian stories.  The character ended up married to my version of Mordred.  As it turned out, there was Mordred and a “Dark Mordred” (ala Dark Phoenix as far as inspiration).



The rest of the party arrived afterward, and, of course the version of the Holy Grail in this reality was one of the Vessels.  There was a Cathedral to the Grail, guarded day and night by Sir Galahad.  However, he then was murdered, shortly after the formal announcement of the marriage of Antani and Mordred.  Mordred and Antani were arrested in their quarters, a bloody dagger in Antani’s hand.  





The party participated in the trial before the King, and at that event, Mordred, seeming extremely evil, revealed the affair between Lancelot and Guinevere, and then as Lancelot sought to flee with the Queen, Mordred used magic to cause Lancelot to kill Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth.  The extreme chaos essentially cleared the room, the player characters seemingly forgotten. 

Then, in an even bigger reveal, Mordred split, with his evil-self free and the man the player character loved still in chains.  He swore to destroy Camelot and Arthur and laughed at the thought that his good twin was to die for his crimes.  He then disappeared.

The characters managed to talk their way out of Camelot, take the Grail, take the “good” Mordred.  With the help of the spirit of Merlin, they boarded a mystical ship and set sail towards their final confrontation with Kantorek.  

In that crossing, both Krystella and Mordred were lost and taken prisoner by Kantorek when the ship foundered.  The characters each received a boon on the Isle of White Magic from an Angel of Light.  Somewhere along the way too, Antani found that she was in the early stages of pregnancy.  Then they went into the final confrontation with Kantorek.



There were some individual tests, then a big combat.  In the end, Degius was dead, and Antani ended up cleaving Kantorek in twain.  Unfortunately, he was also able to break his Staff of Power which killed Caladin and caused Antani to be cast into the multiverse, lost and sundered from her friends and her true love.  

Caladin was later entombed (prophesized to return some day), Mordred and Lars set off to find Antani, Daniel and Cheltenham got Degius raised from the dead, and Degius and Krystella finally married in our quick end game discussion.  That final game was in 1987. 



In about 1988, I wrote a long epilog, from the perspective of the long lived Krystella, which narrated the end of most of the company.  That is the official and unchanged end to the campaign which became known as the Nine Vessels of Magic.  There was triumph and sadness and some things that just did not get resolved.

I have had regrets about that campaign.  It was basically the thing I had to do to get a lot of mistakes out of my system, be a bad DM to try to learn to be a good DM, and a way to experience and understand a lot of lessons that others had tried to teach me, but you don’t get until you have tried and experimented with stuff.

I also remember it with extreme fondness, for all its flaws, especially for the time I got to spend with my friends.  It inspired character art and a lot of other creativity in my friends, which was both gratifying and a lot of fun.  

After that campaign ended, we all headed out our different ways, and frictions and fractures that had perhaps always been there surfaced more.  We never got back all together to game again.  That stage of our lives was over.

And if that was all, it would still be enough.  But I am thinking of writing another chapter or two. 

And with the wisdom of hindsight, I should think a have a twist here or there to add.

I'll have more to write soon.








Saturday, May 9, 2015

Quick Review: New Podcast with a focus on Glorantha

Glorantha luminary Jeff Richards and long time creative force in Glorantha and RuneQuest, Michael O'Brien (who goes by MOB) have joined with "Rob the Producer" to create:

Mythic Tales

Tales of Mythic Adventure Podcast

Now, there has been a terrible lack of podcasts focusing on the amazing fantasy world of Glorantha, and having Jeff and MOB involved means that two extremely knowledgeable and personable folks are going to be broadcasting on a (somewhat?) regular basis, and that is all good.
 
If you know nothing about Glorantha, then you can go here, here, here, here and here and learn a lot.  It began in the imagination of one man, Greg Stafford, as far back as 1966, but grew to be an imagined world of magic and myth contributed to by many creative people and that has played host to fiction, board games, and role playing games. 
 
So, it is very worh knowing about, especially since it is having a resurgence of products related to it released, including the recently issued Guide to Glorantha, the novel: King of Sartar, and the RPG supplement Heroquest Glorantha.  Also forthcoming are 13th Age in Glorantha and Adventures in Glorantha (for RuneQuest 6), as well as a slew of other fiction and game related products from Moon Design (the owners of the Glorantha intellectual property rights) (as noted in this episode of the Iconic Podcast).
 
So, how was Episode 1 of Tales of Mythic Adventure?
 
Uh, yeah, it was a bit of a mess.  Jeff and MOB have a great time swapping stories and digressing on one thing and another.  They lay the groundwork, but they don't show a lot of discipline or rigor as far as talking about their topic, or even having a defined topic of conversation.  It was fun to listen to, but you mostly need to be on the inside of Glorantha and RuneQuest fandom of the last 20 years (or more) to get what they are talking about.
 
It was entertaining, but the first episode is a little forgettable as far as reaching an audience outside of folks that already like to listen to stories of the old days, who perhaps frequent current Glorantha themed conventions.
 
So, I still think this can and will be an important podcase, because Glorantha as a world and a place in which to play games is still extremely important to me (I probably began my readings of Glorantha material and playing Second Edition RuneQuest in about 1982 or 1983).
 
What has to happen?
 
These two smart guys need to get serious about having a show about the big ideas and interesting aspects (which are just about everything) about Glorantha.  While this can be a show for the fans, it is even more vital to be a show to bring in new explorers of all things Glorantha.
 
Also, while they are going to be able to bring on some of the amazing past creators who have been and are involved in Glorantha, it should not be a show that dwells on nostalgia.  It needs to be about how alive and amazing Glorantha is.
 
I really have high hopes for this podcast, and both Jeff and MOB can help be voices to pull in new people to enjoy all that Glorantha has to offer.  However, to do this, I think they need to take after someone like The Tolkien Professor.  Corey Olsen, is a professor with a passion for translating Tolkien Scholarship into exciting discussions and lectures that bring people closer to Tolkien's literary works, explain Tolkien's process, and deepen people's understanding of Tolkien's place in literature, in genre fiction, and as an imaginary world builder.  He brings a kind of magic to what could be a dry discussion, and makes people excited about learning and about ideas.
 
There are a ton of ideas, of issues and cultures, stories and mythology that make up the last almost 50 years of Glorantha.  If this podcast can discipline itself to organize the episodes to appeal to a broad audience and bring those old fans in to a community where they are also creating new fans, well it will be a powerful tool.
 
If it remains a place for old time reminiscing and insider discussions, then it will be an interesting novelty, but for most people, it won't be important.
 
I have cautious hope that these three guys can pull it together.  So, I'll be listening, and I think everyone else who likes role playing, imaginary worlds, or mythology, should be listening too.

Game Masters’ Roundtable of Doom #5 – Your GM Big Picture Fu is Weak


The Game Masters’ Roundtable of Doom is a meeting of the minds of tabletop RPG bloggers and GMs. We endeavor to transcend a particular system or game and discuss topics that are relevant to GMs and players of all roleplaying games.

 

If you’d like to submit a topic for our future discussions, or if you’re a blogger who’d like to participate in the Game Master’s Roundtable of Doom, send an email to Lex Starwalker at gamemastersjourney@gmail.com.

This month's topic comes to us courtesy of Marc Plourde:

There are many different skills that come together to make up a GM. The ability to think on the fly, knowledge of the rules, plotting, etc. What skill do you think is your weakest? What have you done to try and improve that skill? What advice do you have to offer others trying to improve that skill set?


Being able to reflect on one’s weaknesses as a Game Master, as with any other part of your life, if no easy thing.  We like to know, and do, what we are good at.  Things where we kinda suck are not easy to dwell on.

The challenge with Marc’s question is, for me, that I find a lot to criticize myself about.  It is just the way I am.  I worry about making each thing work in a game, I silently berate myself as I trip over rules, I worry about making sure that each person around the table is involved as much as possible, and, while I am not solely responsible for each person’s fun, I am supposed to be, as it were, the captain of fun at the table.

However, despite these foibles and anxieties, none of my moment to moment mistakes with rules, player involvement, or improvisation are a key downfall.

I really have trouble connecting a big picture with the here and now action.  I find that some very rewarding forms of storytelling, the kinds of things to which I aspire, have this kind of linkage.  It does not have to pervade every little bit, but it should be helping to run things in the background.

I have a terrible time doing it.

This is really a campaign failing.  I want to give my players a meaningful campaign, with distinct story arcs, and larger meaning in events and action.

That turns out to be hard.  I really became aware of this kind of storytelling explicitly, from television, and specifically Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Each season had a defined arc, a villain, larger plot and metaplot elements, and supporting characters that helped move them along to the exciting or tragic or apocalyptic conclusion.  Buffy as a show certainly didn’t originate this, but it is the show where I became aware of this kind of master planning, which is distinct from the purely episodic nature of an older show like the original Star Trek.  One planet one week, some starbase the next, each episode almost always self-contained.  Like a series of, at best, loosely connected one-shot adventures that happened to include most of the same core characters.

Since before I became conscious of the modern showrunner style of television, I have wanted to have all the little stories add up to a big story.  I usually could come up with the big story, the ultimate goal at which to point the players.

However, this big goal was generally too lofty and remote, and I rarely could keep a campaign going to connect all the dots to get there, let alone provide the recurring NPCs, atmosphere and foreshadowing that might drive along one adventure after another to get to the mighty MacGuffin, the Big Bad, the Final Conflict.  My imagination just seems to exceed the grasp of my plotting ability, not to mention my ability to budget time and manage players through a coherent set of stories.

What to do?

In some ways, you have to learn to manage your expectations and also to murder your darlings.  Better yet, I have to learn that.

So, here are some coping mechanisms.  Dreaming big is fine, but two things are important to keep in mind when launching your campaign ideas.  First, you need to keep your mind open to all the ideas.  You can just catalog them in your Mind Palace (if you happen to be Sherlock), or otherwise, keep notebooks, journals, or, my favorite, random scraps of paper with your evolving ideas noted down.  In most cases, don’t spend a lot of time developing them.  Just keep them as a kind of fermenting yeast out of which something great may or may not come out.  This is because of the second thing.  Secondly, you have to factor in the players.  You may have the greatest ideas every (I know I do), but, since role playing is a cooperative and collaborative activity, it does no good to set your ultimate goals if what your players want out of the game experience is something different. 

Believe it or not, sometimes what players want is old traditional episodic television.  This week they are in a dungeon, next week they are in a town, the week after that, they are on a mountain.  Nothing much connects all of this, except that the characters are all together, and they are probably getting some loot and killing some bad guys.  If that is your group (and sometimes for me it is), then you can’t squash them into your sandbox setting, where they will explore through many adventures, meet dozens of NPCs with secret motivations, finally to win their place in the community and vanquish an ancient evil that has been pulling strings behind the scenes SINCE THE FIRST ADVENTURE.

It may turn out that nobody cares.

Big dreams have to be shared dreams.  Sometimes those big dreams come together organically, by working together with players and adding some elements from your imagination soup.  That may not be as seemingly coherent or satisfying as plotting out a series of story arcs, with specific beats and some clever triggered events, but what you and your players build together will be stronger than anything you can just come up with on your own.

I have definitely found that the story elements that games like 13th Age bring to the table provide tools for that dialog between player and Game Master.  A character creation process that helps show what is special about a character (13th Age’s One Unique Thing comes to mind), what motivates the character, and what that character’s story has been up until now, provides the fertile ground in which to plant my big ideas.  Add to that drawing links between the characters (one approach I like is the “guest starring” index cards used during team creation in Evil Hat’s Spirit of the Century; but Dungeon World’s Bonds also work, as does the fascinating process here,  here and here employed by RPG and GM innovator Rob Donoghue), and you get some wide open possibilities for your big story.

Now, everyone’s experience is going to be different.  Some GMs may be able to showrun their campaigns very satisfactorily.  But this is about my weakness.

And I am still working on it.  I have a bunch of big stories towards which my current game might move along, but for now, I am finding the connections between our different adventures where I can, and always looking to incorporate my ideas, the ideas of the players, and do a reveal here and there to make it look like I planned things all along, even though I mostly made it up as I went.

Thanks to Marc for this month’s topic!

Here are some other folks that participate in our Round Table, and where I’ve been able to, the links to the responses to this specific topic.