The Sage Welcomes You

So, here you find a blog about life in general, but with a focus on family, games, books and creativity. Other "stuff" will creep in from timt to time.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A couple more things . . . to listen to.

Hi all.

So, a couple more things that I have encountered that are great fun.

First, following a link posted by @13thAge, I was led to The Adventure Zone, and actual play podcast for D&D 5e with a twist.  The GM and players are all family, three brothers and their dad.  All are broadcast and comedic veterans, and they all plainly get along and really enjoy each other's company.  The D&D world is at its gonzo finest, and any trope or trapping is likely to show up, as long as it is fun, and if it gets a laugh so much the better.  I binge listened to everything that is out so far, and it is terrific.  For those with sensitive ears, the banter gets reasonably profane, but never mean spirited.

Not only is this a fun listen, but there have been a dozen laugh out loud moments, and at least one, in a recent episode, where I laughed so hard it was difficult to breath.

No THAT'S entertainment!

Also, I have mentioned Brave New Dungeon before.  However, Big Al has embarked on a new project which is worth highlighting:Storytime.

Big Al is experimenting with his post production work, adding sound effects, background noise, music, all to make a rich listening experience.  He runs a one shot with a randomly generated dungeon crawl from Donjon and a meetup of new and old acquaintances of his online.  The players are really going for it as far as creating memorable and wacky characters for this one shot, and Big Al's post production work really adds to the enjoyment of the listening.

I have already mentioned how much I admire Al in his ability to sit down with a mixed online "table" of strangers and friends and give them all a great game.  Now he is stretching his creative skills even farther to create an immersive experience for his listeners which really impresses.

So far their are two episodes of Storytime out.  They are really worth a listen!

Game on!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Game Masters’ Roundtable of Doom #4 – To be or not to be . . . a Killer GM

Today I am venturing to The Game Masters' Roundtable of Doom.  This is my first foray (though the fourth offering of the Roundtable), so, we shall see how it all goes.  There may be some adjustments made to this post as I get a handle on getting things just right for the Roundtable.

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

This month's topic comes to us courtesy of Lex Starwalker.

There is a wide spectrum of lethality in RPGs, and there are GMs who fall on every possible point within it.  These range from GMs who run campaigns where PCs can never die to the other extreme –GMs who delight in killing PCs.  Where do you fall on this spectrum?  How lethal are your games and why?  How do you handle PC death if and when it happens?

This is a great question, and one that I think has an answer that is not just dependent on the Game Master, but also on the players and the game being played.  Know your audience and know your game.  If you run Call of Cthulhu, Dungeons & Dragons, and Star Wars, Edge of the Empire all exactly the “same,” I think you come out with some anomalies.  Of course, if that meets your players expectations, that might be fine.  There is never just one way to be a GM.  I do believe that the rule of fun should prevail.

Here is how I have done things in my present style of being a GM (because, as the poser of this month’s question, Lex Starwalker knows, being a Game Master is a journey of learning and change).  I think the most important thing is to know your players’ expectations (or if you don’t know them, you need to set them).  Fundamentally, I see role playing games as a way to have fun, and as the GM, you are in a leadership role to help create the fun.  If what you do violates the players’ expectations, or you go against the expectations that you set for the players, that conflict is going to reduce the fun. 

Some of the first GM advice I ever got, was from a few pages towards the back of the 1981 game, Stormbringer (from Chaosium).  In the “Hints for the Game Master” section in the first edition of Stormbringer, Ken St. Andre (with Steve Perrin) wrote a subsection entitled “The Deadly Game Master.”

The literary genre of swords & sorcery fiction is a particularly gory branch of heroic fantasy, and that is what this game simulates.  Inevitably, this means that some players are going to get into situations that they can’t get out of, and their characters will have to die.  It is important that they realize this before the game ever starts, and that they know that you bear them no personal animosity.  Then, when the character’s number comes up, kill him without regret.  As a GM it is poor form to become so fond of some character that you let him cheat death when his luck finally runs out.

Today, I agree, up to a point with Ken’s advice.  As you can see, the advice already assumes that you are in a particular genre of game.  It is not general advice for all RPGs, just ones in the “particularly gory branch of heroic fantasy.”  Also, it advises that you at least admonish the table and set expectations.  I think now, the Game Master and the players, at least in any long term game, need to agree on expectations.  Back in the day, I did kill a fair number of Stormbringer characters.  However, even with an agreeable audience and a lethal game, I do today tend to lean towards mercy at a cost, rather than outright kill a character, if that keeps the story and the fun going.

For the way I run things now, I have internalized the lessons of 13th Age (by Pelgrane Press and Fire Opal Media) and Dungeon World (by Sage Kobold Productions).  In 13th Age Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet suggest that player characters should not just die fighting some nameless monster, and instead offer their own (optional) Meaningful Death Rule.  I think I have generally internalized this approach for many games (with some exceptions, see below).  I think the advice in Dungeon World, that you as GM need to be “fan” of the characters is a complementary one this.  As a GM, on the one hand, you have to put up obstacles and provide threats to the safety and wellbeing of the PCs.  On the other hand, you don’t generally want death to be some random occurrence that does nothing to propel your story or motivate the other characters.  If you are a fan of the characters, such random and meaningless events are discouraging.  If a character that you like dies, you want it to be a great and glorious death, within the meaning of the game.

Fundamentally, though, my rule is know your audience, know your game (and be a fan of the characters).

So, if I am running Marvel Heroic Role Playing for a bunch of tweens, their expectation is that there is not going to be any player character death, AT ALL.  Sure, Spiderman or Black Widow might get knocked around, there certainly are going to be some narrow escapes and heroic rescues, but none of the player characters is going to get shot through the heart and die, game over.  This is reinforced not only by the audience, but of course by the game play.

On the other hand, if I am playing Call of Cthulhu with college friends, death and madness are expected.  The players know going in that a Call of Cthulhu investigator likely has a short shelf life, and those that manage not to die, slip increasingly into madness and disability.  Still, I have run some long Call of Cthulhu campaigns, and I have followed the advice from the early editions of the game.  If you have a choice of killing a PC or taking out an NPC to establish the danger and the threat, take the NPC every time.  It helps if you have established ties to the NPC and that the character is not just another faceless “redshirt.”  However, to get things started with something that causes likely instant death, you kill the guy next to the PCs, and not one of them.  Once the threat is established, you follow the play of the PCs.  Are they reckless and foolhardy, then they do deserve death “without regret” should it come to them.  On the other hand, if they play their characters and show smart play, as a fan, I am going to hold back on any instant death options, unless it really builds the story and is part of the fun of the game (because sometimes messy, or pathetic or horrific death is the fun of a horror game).  If danger is enough, then, we work with danger; maiming, near death, madness, that’s all on the table, but I don’t tend to allow random death that would inhibit the story.

So, what about something in the middle of the spectrum of Superheroes where no one ever dies (at least permanently) and horror, where everyone dies or goes crazy eventually?  This is where most adventure based RPGs reside: Dungeons & Dragons, RuneQuest, HeroQuest, 13th Age, Numenera, Dungeon World, Dresden Files, The One Ring, and et al and etc.  I have to admit to mostly not killing characters.

Over time, I have certainly seen many player characters in these games die.  However, for the most part, I prefer to see the PCs flee, or get captured, or suffer some kind of loss other than death.  This is, I think, largely because I like to run campaigns.  Campaigns need continuity, and killing characters, and particularly the dreaded Total Party Kill, tends to disrupt what is happening with the story that I have been enjoying building with the players over time.  Where death does occur, the story of overcoming death becomes the next logical plot point (e.g. becoming indebted to the healing temple to return the dead companion to life, etc.).  So, usually, the holodeck safeties are, broadly speaking, on when you step into my campaign.  The optional Meaningful Death Rule is going to be in effect.  Characters face other losses, but death is reserved.  In part, that meets the expectations of my players.  They put time into crafting characters, their histories and motivations, and they grow them at the table.  If some wandering damage is likely to kill them, for little to no reason, that is neither fun nor motivating for the kind of gamer who usually sits at my table.

On the other hand, there is a completely separate and apart kind of play, and that is the one-shot.  This does not mean that I turn into the lethal “save or die” GM just because I am running a single evening game.  After all, it should be fun, and getting to play is what is fun.  If we have four hours of play set up and you die in the first ten minutes, how much fun was that?  If dying means no longer being involved, that rather cuts down on the fun.  You can set expectations that characters are disposable and can be replaced, much like clones in Paranoia, but then you are playing a genre of game that is not going to necessarily have wide appeal. 

You do, however, play a one shot to have a different experience and tell a different kind of story.  Lethality can be very much part of that story, and can really be part of the fun with the right group.  I do not, in general, go in for Deathtrap Dungeons.  I don’t think I run them particularly well, so why do something that does not serve the players?  Still, if you know you are going into a deathtrap, you know that death is part of the fun of the game.  It is exciting to escape the trap, but you know your number is likely to come up eventually, and spectacular death is one of the possible rewards of play.  I will give it to you without regret. 

I don’t mind playing a high character death game as a change of pace, but for me, RPG play and the stories it generates is really about having a significant chronical of events for the player characters.  That might, at times, be punctuated by a death, but that is going to be rare and meaningful.

Individuals and their Blogs Participating in this Discussion (to be updated as necessary; posts will be made for the Roundtable between April 5 and April 11)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Ideas worth stealing

If you don't know it already, I am a big admirer of Rob Donoghue, a game designer, game master, and person of extraordinaty quality.

He has a blog over at The Walking Mind.  He recently started to write about his new D&D 5e campaign, The Thaw.  If you want to observe a process of capaign creation and blending that with character creation to make some very rich storytelling material, reading Rob's write ups so far are really worth a read.

There has never been a game that Rob would not tinker with, just like every great game master, so he offers some especially interesting twists on D&D 5e character creation which could be easily ported to other games like 13th Age.  He also creates some terrific visual and tactile artifacts for his game to help himself and his players as the story developes.

It is much better to go see for yourself.

I also wanted to shout out to Lex Starwalker, of Starwalker Studios.  I have recently started to listen to his Game Master's Journey podcast, and I find it to be very interesting a thought provoking.

In an ideal world, Lex and Rob should get together and have a conversation, like on a podcast (right?).

In any case, both these gentlemen have lots of information, ideas and advice worth taking or appropriating or stealing for your games.

Check them out!

Heroes of the 13th Age: Part 12: Fear in the Depths

On Sunday, March 1, we played the next installment of our game.  We continued the adventure of Liriandel, begun here.

The characters continued to be:

Cerise, the Spirit-Touched Cleric
Indigo the Gnome Cleric
Zyna (as always, the name changes), the Half-Elf Rogue
Froodo, the Halfling Monk
Hey Watchit, the Half-Orc Fighter
Lief, the Human Bard
Delthen Eversoar, the Human Paladin, and
Rolen Stillwind, the Wood Elf Sorcerer

Having battled animated swords which came from the next room, the party advanced carefully into the next large chamber.  Zyna took point, checking for traps and stepping carefully.  The room had once been the crude mead hall of the Sya-Negan (ancient barbarian demon worshippers), built during their campaign of conquest and extermination against the Lorai (the peaceful former inhabitants of what are now known as the Brown Grounds).

The wooden walled and roofed hall, was long ago reinforced with stone and repurposed as a central chamber for the burial mound.  Along with benches and tables, there was a great stone throne, once used by the Chieftain Tamaich.  Around the room were twelve terra cotta sentinels, each standing on a grave capstone, each without their swords (as those had already attacked and been defeated) and each, instead of a carved head, bearing a warrior’s skull on top of the statue.  Also, below the tables, rather huge capstones seemed to have been laid, and the party decided it best not to disturb those.  On the ceiling, was a ghastly sight.  More than a dozen of the Lorai warriors had been nailed, faces to the ceiling, and their bodies had become crudely mummified in their agonized poses along the ceiling.


The place ached of death and pain and evil. 


The party passed to the next room.  There they found a “trophy” chamber.  Decaying weapons and armor, once the panoply of the flower of the Lorai lay in heaps.  Also, collected together, were the twelve tattered blue banners of the Lorai, and nailed to each one was a severed, gauntleted hand (all that remained of the banner-men of the Lorai war bands). 


Led by a sense of dark destiny, Delthen the Inquisitor brushed aside some of the pile of armor, and found a fine suit of dark platemail, bound together in what seemed like barbed wire, with small curse charms twisted in.  He sense from his connection to the Crusader that this armor had belonged to someone the demon-worshippers feared deeply.  He excitedly began to free the armor.


That is when he was surprised by twelve creepy crawlies.  But what at first seemed like a dozen tarantulas, turned out to be the twelve severed and reanimated left hands (mooks) of the Lorai banner-men.  Each scratched and squeezed, and sought Delthen’s throat.  During the surprise round (a five is good for you and good for me), three of the twelve managed to connect, one critically, latching onto Delthen’s throat.  Another fumbled and fell to the floor twitching and trying to right itself.


Then everyone sprang into action.


Round 1 Escalation 0


Lief the Bard unleashed a Soundburst doing 30 damage and killing five of the zombie hands outright.  Delthen scrabbled to knock the hands off of him and crush them with his mace.  He invoked his smiting, but missed his role and did half damage, killing another.  Hey, the Half-Orc fighter, threw one of his rocks and finished off one that Delthen had grazed and outright killed another.  Zyna threw one of her throwing glaives, but it but grazed one of the hands for miss damage.  Indigo, mighty Gnome Cleric had trouble aiming his warhammer, but killed one with a graze of miss damage as well.  Rolen unleashed his sorcerous Scorching Ray with a critical hit, killing two more.  Cerise summoned the power of her faith to channel into a Javelin, but despite hitting, the damage did not finish off her targeted zombie hand.  However, the ongoing fire damage initiated by Rolen’s critical hit finished the last hand on its turn.


End of Combat


Undeterred by the nasty surprised in Delthen’s armor (which he immediately began to don after the combat), others searched through the items of the fallen Lorai for items which the Icons might deem helpful to them.  The Priestess led Froodo to a pair of Lucky Bracers.  The power of the High Druid directed Lief to a different kind of enchanted bracers, one that would allow him easy passage through woodland areas and aid in his climbing.  The Priestess similarly led Zyna to a pair of curiously preserved gloves which made her fingers sure and her grip strong. 


From the chamber of grim trophies (and, as it turned out “free goodies”), the party proceeded further down another passage, into a large room with a bulky terracotta statute.  The seven or eight foot tall statute portrayed a brutal warrior, possibly Tamaich himself.  Lief immediately decided to try out the power of his new Bracers of Brachiation to climb up the statute and stand on its shoulders (he did work in a circus once upon a time).  Worried some vile magic might harm Lief, Cerise cast Bless to help him.  In trying to shape the spell, she rolled a 1.


This caused the statute to immediately explode, and this time ten seemingly freshly risen ghouls (mooks) bubbled out from the body and from underneath the pedestal of the shattered statue. 


Round 1 Escalation 0


Lief found himself seemingly helpless on the ground.  Nonetheless, he rolled the highest initiative, and from his prone position, he unleashed Viscious Mockery, a spell he had chosen with an incremental advancement.  He blasted two out of existence.


Zyna took a moment to shadow walk.


Delthen once again summoned his power of smiting, and once again missed, but did significant miss damage, taking another one down.


Then the ghouls attacked, hitting Froodo once and Lief twice.


Froodo, the Halfling Monk, then launched into a whirlwind of action!  Unfortunately, his attack completely missed the intended target as he rolled a 1 [at this point I asked Froodo’s player how his attack could go wrong.  His brother, who plays Lief, said “don’t hit me!”  With barely a pause, Froodo player said “as I lunge past the ghoul, I hit Lief.”  I then said “roll.”)  Froodo the rolled a normal attack against Lief, scoring a 20 and doing 26 damage on a critical hit, flooring Lief.


Cerise cast Turn Undead, dazing the mooks.  She then stepped forward and cast heal on Lief.


Indigo, swinging his hammer, smashed through a ghoul, killing it, and then also cast heal on Lief.


Rolen shot forth his Scorching Ray but missed and did some minimal miss damage.


Hey then charged forward, swinging his tree and invoking Power Attack and killed four ghouls [n.b. I envisioned this, and described it as the point in a Nintendo Mario game where Mario gets the big mallet and the music starts to play as he flattens every opponent around him.  That was pretty much what Hey did].


R 2 E1

There was one ghoul left.

Lief stood up and cast Battle Chant, blasting the last ghoul and ending combat.
End of Combat


After a quick review of the room and the hole out of which many of the ghouls had climbed, the party advanced further into the burial mound and found a oval chamber of smooth stone, containing four crudely sculpted reliefs, painted in a fresco style.  Each of the reliefs depicted a four foot tall, vaguely humanoid shape.


Zyna scanned the room first, and she had the sense that there was a trap within.  The party moved on. 


They made their way back to the main passage, through the side passage they had before left unexplored (having come full circle).  They then reversed course, passed the trapped entrance, and proceeded up a ramp in the opposite direction from which they had first explored.


As the came deeper into the mound, Zyna had a strange feeling that something was going wrong, but she was too late to stop it.  Suddenly a huge boulder started to roll down the corridor, careening from side to side, so that even though it did not take up the whole corridor, it’s seemingly random movement made avoiding it seemingly impossible.


Hey attempted to dance around the rock, but fumbled and was smacked for a large hit of damage.


Delthen then decided to try to finish the trap and to employ his enormous (19) strength to stop the boulder.  He came close, and avoided damage to himself, but he ended up merely deflecting the menacing rock.


Lief, counter-intuitively charged at the boulder, and leaped over it, in a half circus, half parkour move.


Froodo planned to use his staff and his agility to also fly over the boulder, but instead fell right in its path.  Before it could roll over him, he fell into an immediate trance, which he somehow remember learning when he studied among the elves and became a follower of the Elf Queen.  He then found himself teleported, like a High Elf out of the boulder’s path.


Zyna who had been backing away, finally gaged the movement of the stone, and leaped over it with style.


Rolen seemed paralyzed and surprised and the boulder just smacked him aside.


Cerise too had her serene concentration as she summoned strength from the gods of light shattered as the boulder slammed into her, and then careened downward. 


Indigo, recalling his many hours studying and raising spiders, did “whatever a spider can” and went up over the oncoming rock, and landed safely on the other side.


The path of the boulder continued down the corridor, and the party discovered that it had smashed open the pit at the entrance, making crossing out of the mound a difficult proposition now.


Everyone decided to take a quick rest at this point.

After they had done some healing and gathered themselves, the party then marched resolutely back to the ladder down to the next level. 


In the chamber below the ladder, they found mist up to (most people’s) waists.  They waded forward through the mist to reach a circular chamber, in the middle of which was a carved pillar.


In this chamber on the pillar was another bas relief, again showing what appeared to be Tomaich, the barbarian warlord, nine feet tall.  A voice spoke in the language of the Abyss, uttering threats such as “Those who break the seal of this tomb I shall burn with my fire . . .”


They of course, broke the seal, and entered the next room.


That room was heaped with decayed burial goods, but here and there glinted shiny things, which hinted that a diligent search could lead to treasure.  However, the party was all business now, and decided they could come back after they finished business with whatever guardians remained and they obtained the Iriendel spear. 


In the next room, they found the crypt chamber of Tamaich himself.  On a stone bier lay the armored, blackened bones of the dead warlord.  At his feet was a sheathed, but decayed sword, and piercing him, was a spear.


The stone platform was sculpted with demonic symbols.  Behind it were four iron braziers.  Two stone pillars held up the twenty foot high stone ceiling. 


The party surged forward to grab the spear, with Hey and Zyna first.  As Zyna’s hand passed through the out of phase spear shaft, a demonic like wraith arose from the bier.  It was now transfixed with the spear, but the rage in its eyes and flashing claws looked ready to do harm.


Round 1 Escalation 0


The demonic creature surged away from them on its initiative, and it took two hits from opportunity attacks from Hey and Zyna.  Then I rolled its random demonic power, and got fear aura.  That snapped on, and it pervaded all of Tamaich’s tomb, causing every party member to act as if dazed (-4 to hit) and denying them the use of the escalation die. 


Tamaich in the next room awakened the undead barrow wights that were all that were left of his three wives.  They surged to attack.  He then moved on to the central chamber of the tomb, to awaken other creatures to slay those who would defile his resting place.


The party was left to fight the wights in the first instance.


Lief sang his Battle Chant to no effect.

Froodo charged forward to strike with his Greeting Fist, but missed.


Delthen smashed a vial of holy water from First Triumph over Tomaich’s bones, which had the effect of making them wet.  He then charged forward to smite, doing half damage with his miss.


Rolen summoned a Chaos Bolt, pulsing with thunder damage, but to little effect.


Hey attacked with his Power Attack, rolling a 20 and doing 44 points of damage to slay one of the wights.  Hey looked over at Froodo (Hey being played by Froodo’s player’s dad) and said “see, this is how you attack things.”


The two wights attacked, damaging Hey and Delthen.


Zyna walked into the shadows.


Indigo launched a Javelin of Faith, but missed.


Cerise invoked her Halo and then missed with her Javelin of Faith.  However, she also invoked her Leadership domain, and advanced the escalation die by one, with the hopes that they would eventually be able to benefit from it.


[as you can see, the fear aura causing -4 to hit was having a devastating effect on the ability of the players to hit, and it became even more aggravating as they saw the escalation die go up, and were not able to add it; it was terrific!  I now love fear aura!]


R2 E2 (because of the Cleric’s doing!)

Tamaich was off screen, pulling in allies to fight the characters.


Lief missed again with Battle Chant.


Rolen succeeded in his Elven Grace roll.  He empowered a spell with gathered energy, and promptly missed, though he benefited from some random energy.


Delthen invoked another smite, and missed for half damage on the wight in front of him.


Hey missed his next attack, but invoked Tough as Iron to rally and regain hit points.


The two wights again attacked, striking at Hey and Delthen.


Zyna appeared from the shadows, to attack for double damage and use surprise attack, and missed, doing minimal damage.


Indigo invoked his Trickery domain to generate a Trick die (a 13) and then launched a Javelin of Faith, which was a critical hit because of its holy damage (the wights being vulnerable to holy damage).  The critical hit destroyed the wight, leaving one left.


Cerise cast Bless on herself and then attacked and hit the last wight with her Javelin of Faith.


R3 E3

Tamaich, having set into motion his forces, could not resist the fight, and he phased his way through walls, like a wraith, to return to his burial chamber and attack Cerise.  He hit with his first attack doing 9 damage.  However, Indigo substituted his Trick die for Tamaich’s next roll, which was a 20 critical hit, and so he missed with his second attack.  His attack and damage increased due to that miss, but he would never get a chance to use that.

Delthen then stepped up and started to command others to organize their attacks and to concentrate on Tamaich, who was, after all, the source of the fear aura. [this provides a neat in game explanation for why Delthen  is going to multiclass into a Paladin/Commander when he levels up next; something already decided, but here was the moment when he earned this).

Everyone but Hey, who was engaged with the last wight, held their initiative until Cerise’ turn  (on initiative 5).     

Hey attacked the last wight, missing, but using carve an opening to expand his critical hit range.

The wight returned his attack, hitting him.

On initiative 5, Indigo used his invocation of Strength to make everyone’s melee attacks do triple, instead of double, damage on a critical hit.  He then cast Cure Wounds on Hey.  He then missed with his Javelin of Faith against Tamaich.

Cerise attacked and missed with her short sword, but using her Leadership she gave a +1 to everyone else to hit Tamaich. 

Delthen then stepped forward, girded in his Unyielding Plate Mail and wielding his Greater Mace of Striking and he smote Tamaich, hitting when it most counted, and doing 35 points of damage.  This took the demonic hit points below the fear threshold for everyone, thus giving those who followed the ability to use the escalation die, and relieving them of the -4 penalty.

Lief then cast his Viscious Mockery spell, causing 22 points of psychic damage to Tamaich, causing the ancient warlord to crumble and vaporize.  The spear fell to the floor. 

Froodo, attempting to help Hey, attacked with his Dutiful Guardian opening strike, doing 4 points of damage.

Rolen failed to invoked his Elven Grace, but he unleashed his Breath of the White on the wight and he did half damage with a miss.

 Zyna  stepped forward and secured the spear.

End of Session

So, now the “big bad” is dead, all that is left is his vengeance.  He summoned the creatures of his barrow, and besides the last wight, there are a couple of giant figures advancing on the heroes in the wive’s chamber.  In another part of the mound, another demonic figure has stepped into this plane, and other menaces may still be awakening, now not to defend Tamaich, but instead to wreak terrible vengeance.

Stay tuned for what happens next!

 Until then, game on!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Better actual play blogs than mine and other inspiration

I labor away here, and I put up records of the 13th Age games we have been playing.  If people enjoy them, that's great, but really they become my notes and records for my campaign.  They are in no way polished.

If I had more time (and perhaps more talent), I would do something sophisticated, because I admire the heck out of people who elevate write-ups through multiple character perspectives, add illustrations, and generally do way better than me.

A couple that I have really enjoyed include:

Brooklyn Encounters: Murder in Baldur's Gate
This blog captures the 13 sessions it took to play through this adventure.  It is beautiful to look at and a pleasure to read.

Eberron: The Winter Coalition
This is the chronicle of an epic ongoing campaign.  I think it has been going about three years.  The write-ups are sometimes from a third person narrator (presumably the Dungeon Master), but most entries are character entries, narrating what happened from a particular character's perspective.  I love reading the write-ups.  I never knew much about Eberron (it came into being during a long interregnum when I was not playing or paying much attention to D&D), but man, I would love to play in Eberron in this campaign.  There are hundreds of ideas to steal from the write-ups, and it is inspiring from a player/character develpment point of view, as well as from a Dungeon Master/campaign creation point of view.  There is quite a back catalogue of entries, but it is well worth reading!

Other Stuff

So, I think I have sung the praises of Hunter Black before as a source of inspiration.  I continue to be a big fan.  If you are not reading this web comic, why not!?  The team that writes, draws and letters the comic is outstanding, and the writer draws from his long experience with Dungeons & Dragons to inform his Fantasy Noir setting and characters (in the best way). 

This too has an extensive back catalogue of panels to read, but every one is worth it.

Finally, yesterday I somehow managed to stumble onto Skullkickers.  I may be the last guy to know about this low fantasy web comic, but it is gorgeous, action packed and funny.  So far (because, again, huge back catalogue) two no-name, amoral mercenaries, a big human with knives and six shooters, and a stocky red-bearded dward with twin hand-axes generally kick butt, take names, and win and lose fortunes as monster killers.  Their (mis)adventures have been very entertaining.  Apparently, later in the series there is a bit more gender balance in the storylines, but I can't eveluate that yet.

What I can say is that Skullkickers is very entertaining, and again full of interesting ideas to plunder.  If I am not the last person to hear of this comic, go and do yourself a favor and take a look!

That's all for now.  Go play games and have fun!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Heroes of the 13th Age: Part 11: Shadows and Light from the Past

On Sunday, February 2, we were able to resume our game.  We had one last minute change, in that one of the teenagers decided he no longer wanted to play his old character, Legolis the High Elven Ranger, and so we retired him, in favor of a new character, Froodo, the Halfling Monk (Legolis’ old roommate).

I’d say that you can’t make this stuff up, except that clearly we did.

The adventure is one I adapted from an old Dungeon Magazine #83 (“Iriandel”).  Much like my first foray, where I adapted a module published in Dragon Magazine, I am taking the broad parts of the adventure, and the support framework (maps, etc.) and improvising with the great tools that 13th Age equips me with.

The characters then were

Cerise, the Spirit-Touched Cleric
Indigo the Gnome Cleric
Zeva (as always, the name changes), the Half-Elf Rogue
Froodo, the Halfling Monk
Hey Watchit, the Half-Orc Fighter
Lief, the Human Bard
Delthen Eversoar, the Human Paladin, and
Rolen Stillwind, the Wood Elf Sorcerer

The party found itself trudging through the frontier lands of the Empire, West of Hammer Falls.  They had vague Imperial orders to find a magic spear of light.

As day turned into twilight, and rain fell on them, they approached a high wooden palisade which surrounded a rustic town.

Two Halfling watchmen hailed them from atop the wall and asked them to state their business.  By and by, the Halflings welcomed them to Pebbleton and admitted them to the town.  The watchers also directed the party down the street to the Mayor’s home to register their visit (mainly because the Mayor likes meeting new people).  The town was heavily populated by Halflings, but Humans and some Half-elves were also in evidence.

The heroes led their mounts through town to the humble abode of the mayor, Jimi Jimepro.  The Halfling invited the heroes in out of the rain and gave them some tea.  He then asked them about their business in the this out of the way outpost.  They recounted their vague instructions about finding a magic spear of light.  Jimi noted that they were a simple town, dependent on woodcutting and the lumber and charcoal trade.  He noted that the Wood Elves of the Cairnwood, though not friendly, did keep the lands buffered from the horrors of the Hellmarsh.  He also told them that they had friendly relations with a Gnomish settlement nearby (to the degree that anything is near Pebbleton).

As to the spear, well, he thought that the wandering minstrel who had taken up residence in the Common Hall in Pebbleton, might have some insight into the history and legends of the area.  In the meantime, before the adjourned to the Hall, he suggested that they stable their animals in the town stables, and that they come with him to meet someone else.

At the stables, he showed them a large, grey-maned horse with a white spot on its forehead.  Jimi introduced the horse as “Treetrot” and he told how the horse came to be a guest of the town.  Jimi had been caught in a terrible storm near the Cairnwood, and miraculously, the horse had found and led him home to safety.  Thereafter, Jimi had made sure that the horse was provided for in the town, and “Treetrot” has aided in pulling and carrying heavy loads and generally being useful around town.

Delthen and Rolen shared a meaningful glance after this story, which seemed to say “well, the horse could be an enchanted being, or possibly a unicorn who lost its horn . . . “

From the stables, the group moved to the Common Hall, a combination of a meeting hall, common kitchens, and modest Inn and Tavern for the residents.  There they met the Half-elf Bard, Ruallin.  She and Lief eyed each other warily, as possible performing rivals.  Lief’s dark look seemed to say “I will burn this place to the ground,” and it was not entirely clear if he meant with his musical performance or just with actual fire.  The party Bard seemed to be in a strange mood.

Nonetheless, Ruallin, at Jimi’s prompting told her story of the happenings in the area near Pebbleton many years before its founding.  Some 300 years before, a human tribe had settled the lands.  They were building settlements and becoming firmly established.  They called themselves the Lorai.  They had respectful relations with the Wood Elves, and they looked likely to flourish here on the outer edges of the Dragon Empire (during the Eleventh Age).  However, a demon worshipping human barbarian tribe, the Sya-Negan,  came from the North, wiping out everything and everyone as they travelled.  The Lorai realized that they must try to turn this tide of evil back.  Their chief, under the codes of the north, seemingly subscribed to even by the Sya-Negan, challenged the invaders’ chief, Tamaich, to a single combat to determine whether the Lorai would submit or whether the Sya-Negan, would withdraw.  Tamaich accepted the challenge.

To aid the Lorai, the Wood Elves enlisted the aid of one of the protectors of the forest, Iriandel, the Unicorn.  Iriandel agreed to temporarily give up his horn, so that its powerful magic could be fashioned into a weapon for the Lorai’s chief.  The Elves and Iriandel knew that the Sya-Negan would seek to destroy the Cairnwood and replace it with the spread of the Hellmarsh through their demon worship.  However, the Elves, when they called upon their sorcerers and spirit talkers to cast the ritual to create the spear from Iriandel’s horn, failed to account for the influence of the Trickster deity Pillizoro when they invoked their moon goddess Sendowa.  While not revered by the Elves, the trickster is often paired with the moon, and as the ritual ended, Pillizoro pronounced that should Iriandel not be rejoined with his horn after three days, it would be three hundred years before there would be a chance to reunite horn and beast.

The spear nonetheless was magnificent and proved to be a powerful weapon in the hands of the Lorai chief.  Unfortunately, although he dealt the death blow to Tamaich, the Sya-Negan chief also mortally wounded him.  Tamaich ordered his followers to wipe out the Lorai, although he had been defeated.  The Sya-Negan obliterated the Lorai settlements.  They also were rumored to have raised a huge burial mound and tomb where they laid Tamaich’s remains along with treasures from the Lorai and the spear made from Iriandel’s horn as a trophy.

Ruallin finished by saying that she believed absolutely that “Treetrot” was in fact the now hornless unicorn, Iriandel.  Jimi shook his head ruefully, saying it was a beautiful fairy tale, but hard to believe that right about 300 years since the Sya-Negan battle, that you could believe that a stray horse was really a unicorn severed from its horn.  Ruallin was firm in her belief.

Delthen and Rolen exchanged a knowing “told you so” glance.

After Ruallin finished her tale, Hey went to the kitchens to help and to pick up gossip and stories from the townspeople.  Zeva and the others asked Jimi and Ruallin some questions about where the tomb might be located.  Ruallin and Jimi agreed that the tomb of Tamaich was likely in the local foothills known as “The Knuckles”.  Zeva asked if anyone knew more about the location.  Ruallin told them that likely the Wood Elves knew more, but that they were prickly to deal with and suspicious of strangers.

Meanwhile, Hey’s help was appreciated in the kitchen, after initial apprehension of the Half-Orc was overcome.  He had a great evening cooking and preparing his signature croissant’s to rise and be baked in the morning.  He also learned from the gossipy Halfling cooks that not too long ago some people from the village had found a strange mystical mark on a tree, some half a day walk from the village.  They did not know exactly where it was, but it seemed infused with old and powerful nature magic.  They thought it seemed relevant to the search for Iriandel’s horn.

In the morning the party discussed whether to try to find and question the Wood Elves or whether to try to find the glyph as a clue.  The decided to search for the glyph, and turned to Rolen the Sorcerer to see if he could sense the glyph with his magically attuned spirit.  His Icon roll of 6 with the Archmage proved invaluable, as he got a clear sign of where to go.  He was soon leading the party directly to the tree marked with the mystic glyph.  About half a day’s easy travel, the arrived at an ancient oak, on the outskirts of the forest, and there in a magic script, Rolen could see what he knew to be the mark of Iriandel the unicorn.  As he touched the glyph, a voice from the tree said “You are perceptive, and I sense no evil intent in you.  Who are you who seeks the mark of Iriandel?” 

The party looked up astonished to find the words came from an ancient, but proud of bearing, owl, perched high in the tree.

“I am Tashek.  I have lately returned to this area after long travels.  Who are you?”

The party explained their mission and the stories about Iriandel they had heard.  Tashek was scandalized that no mention had been made of him in Ruallin’s account.  He muttered something about “no wingless bard is to be trusted.”  When asked what else Ruallin might have left out, Tashek confirmed that most of the details were correct.  He complemented Ruallin for at least ignoring the silly romantic subplot some had placed on the interaction of the ruler of the Wood Elves and the chief of the Lorai.  Though they had become allies when threatened with the Sya-Negan, it had not been based on infatuation.  However, after the loss of Iriandel’s horn, and the power of the Unicorn to protect the Cairnwood, the leader did go into exile tragically, and may have passed beyond this mortal realm.  In any case, the most important fact that Ruallin had not known, was known to Tashek: the location of Tamaich’s tomb.  It would take four days, but he could lead them into the Knuckles directly to the mound.  He did state, however, that he would not go underground.  Someone might have coughed and said “chicken” under their breath at that, but no culprit could be determined.

After the second day of travel, deep into the wasted lands that once were inhabited by the Lorai, the party made an uneasy camp.  The land was exposed and forbidding.  At the third watch, Cerise, the Spirit-Touched Cleric, essentially felt a distant disturbance in the force (Critical Roll on her perception check) and roused everyone to arm and prepare for battle.

Down out of the sky came a demonic flock of six bat things that some call “Squishies” due to their particular tactics of trying to crush opponents one by one under a “bat pile.”

Round (R) 1 Escalation (E) 0

The bat things proved fastest in the initiative and all descended upon Delthen, Dark Paladin Inquisitor of the Crusader.  The “murder pile” of demonic bats resulted in two hits and four misses with a total of 32 points of damage.  Delthen managed to use a recovery and then retaliated with a smite evil, which unfortunately missed and merely wounded one of them. 

Lief the Bard then unleashed a soundburst, Hey struck with his tree (after using Lethal to reroll), Indigo summoned the Spirits of the Righteous (but to little effect) and Rolen belched forth the Breath of the White.  Cerise then fired her Javelin of Faith, Froodo missed with his Greeting Fist, and Zeva shifted her tactical position and lashed out with her Evasive Strike.

At the end of all that, only two Bat Demons remained.

R2 E1

The two Bat Demons surged to attack Rolen, but Delthen killed one with his opportunity attack.  The last Bat missed Rolen.  Delthen wound up another Smite with his mace, but it was a swing and a miss with minimal damage.

Lief failed with his Battle Chant attack.  Rolen failed to invoke his Elven Grace, and then missed with his Scorching Ray.  Hey took a swing and a miss with his tree.  Indigo hit for minimal damage with his Javelin of Faith.  Cerise fired and missed with her Javelin of Faith. 

Froodo finally leaped forward and struck the demon down with his Basic Attack, after spending a point of Ki to make his miss a hit.

End of Combat.

After that night attack, the journey to the tomb was relatively uneventful.  At one point, Tashek and Rolen’s familiar, affectionately known as “GPS”, guided the party away from what looked like an organized and uniformed patrol of goblinoids (Hobgoblins, Goblins and Bugbears) that all seemed to where the uniforms of the Drakkenhall security forces.

Once at the Tomb of Tamaich, the adventurers took a quick look around.  It was a large rounded mound, surrounded by standing stones marked in demonic script. 

The party formed up and broke through the doors at the entrance of the mound.  Zeva almost immediately detected a trap just beyond the entrance that blocked their way into the passages within the burial mound.  The trap consisted of a pivoting floor, which would dump the unsuspecting into some kind of pit.  The back of the plate would go so far as to hit the ceiling, as the front part dropped people into the pit, and the ceiling would then drop heavy debris down into the pit to strike the trapped victims.

Everyone agreed it would be a bad thing to set off the trap.

Zeva determined that Froodo could walk across without triggering the trap on his own.  They also determined that they could jam the pivoting plate to allow everyone to cross if they used some poles against the ground and the ceiling.  After a little jury rigging, they managed to get even the heavily armored across.  However, it seemed like the pivoting plate might, in the near future, just crack at the pivot point and drop whoever was on it into the pit.  A reckless retreat over it seemed inadvisable, which they tucked away into their minds for the future.

Once across the trap, the passageway split at right angles.  The party turned right, and they soon found that the passage was marked by a line of capstones to dozens of pit burials.  Each capstone engraved with a strange glyph, each glyph different.  Indigo proposed casting a ritual to make sure that the dead within the pit graves stay sleeping.  Each party member made a small contribution to the ritual, and Indigo empowered it with his Turn Undead spell.  He found that each of the forty occupied graves’ inhabitants would stay resting, but he also detected that one pit tomb was unoccupied.

The adventurers made their way over the graves where the ancient Sya-Negan warriors rested until they came to the empty grave.  Zeva detected it as a trap immediately and the party carefully made its way around another pit trap.  They then continued along the passage into a circular room, with a passage out the other side.  In the middle of the room was an open passage down, with hand and footholds forming a ladder down carved into one wall of the downward passage.

As they entered, a chilling moaning began to issue from below.  Suddenly, they heard weapons being readied, and from the passage on the other side of the room, flying, animated swords appeared and began to slash and stab at the party. 

R1 E0

Lief sang forth his Soundburst at one of the swords. 

The swords hacked and slashed at the party, missing Delthen, but two wounded Zeva, and one slashed Hey, but the others failed to connect with Lief and Cerise.

Delthen took a swing and missed.  Rolen blasted one with a Chaos Bolt.  Froodo attacked, missed, used a power to take a reroll, and missed worse.  Cerise fired her Javelin of Faith, but missed.  Zeva fumbled and fell down the hole, taking minor damage (“Just as I planned!”).  Indigo swung his war hammer and connected.  Hey thought he missed at first, but ended up taking one out due to his Lethal talent.

R2 E 1

Lief destroyed one with his Battle Chant.

The swords attacked, one wounding Delthen.

Delthen destroyed a sword with his mace.

Rolen destroyed another with his Chaos Bolt.

Froodo almost missed again, but scored a hit with a reroll, smashing a sword with his staff.

Hey struck with his tree, to destroy the last of the animated swords.

End of Combat

So, after the combat, Zeva climbed up out of the lower level.  She counseled a full exploration of the upper level first.  The moaning from below continued.

What lies in the next chamber and any other crypts, caches or rooms beyond?  Will they find the spear made from Iriandel’s horn?  Will they live to see daylight and fresh air again?  Will anyone else get to cash in an Icon Roll.

Tune in next time a manage to get around to updating the blog after we play.


Until then, play games and have fun!