Sundered Empires Play Report 2

Read the previous session report

After a few days recovering, the PCs were ready to try again.  Lucian had left the keep to spend time in the nearby woods (the player couldn’t make that session) but a couple of new adventurers made it to the keep.  Alfric Kinslayer, a dwarven warrior with a tattooed face (the brand of a kinslayer…another nice touch made up on the spot by his player) and ‘Long’ Tom, another Bladedancer in service to Sethi, entered the keep looking for others like themselves willing to risk the dangers of the wilderness.  The two groups quickly found each other and, being apparently trusting sorts, decided to join forces.

The players picked up a few rumors and other bits and bobs, but nothing that interesting.  After the surprisingly charismatic dwarf spent some time hunting for hirelings (netting him the brothers Thorsigar and Thorwold), and Long Tom hired a man named Lysander, the group was off.

They again explored the goblin tunnels, hoping to find the treasure and the chief that Lucian’s interrogation had revealed.  What they found, to their consternation, was that the goblin tunnels had apparently emptied out.  Even the goblin bodies were gone (though the ogre’s corpse remained).  They picked through rooms that had obviously been inhabited, trying to find out what had happened.  After finding a store-room and dealing with a wandering group of orcs (that they again surprised), they located a secret door and began to explore the tunnels beyond.

After a short walk, they found a group of hobgoblins (which, of course, they surprised).  Much butchery happened leaving them again with a single triaged monster, and a single non-human doing all the talking.  Because the hobgoblin’s words were like growls, the dwarf convinced the others that it was cursing them rather than answer his questions while he applied more, er, forceful techniques to find out the layout of the caverns.  It’s interesting that in both cases of monster interrogation, the non-humans have kept their more delicate human allies ‘out of the loop’ (though Lucian merely spared them the goblin’s begging and whimpering, he didn’t actually do anything other than intimidate his).  They did learn that the various tribes didn’t seem to like each other very much.

Unfortunately for the players, they made a lot of noise which alerted a group of guards further down the tunnel.  When the players made their way towards the tunnel, finally the dice reminded them what it is like to be surprised.  Alfric took a crossbow bolt to the chest that nearly dropped him (1 hit point).  Luckily for him, the party had a cure light scroll they’d found in the ogre’s cave which Kanen quickly used to bring him back up.

They rushed the stairs and killed the hobgoblins, but then more of them started pouring out of two doors into the entry chamber.  The party realized that maybe they should retreat as they couldn’t tell how many monsters were coming their way.  So they quickly threw some burning oil down and fled the caves.

This session started later than I’d like so not a whole much got done.  The party came back with only a handful of gold to show for their trouble, which was a bit demoralizing.  However, it was nice to see them exercising wisdom and retreating.  Later editions teach us that all fights are balanced and this certainly wouldn’t have been balanced.

Another funny thing about this evening is that there were three ways into the hobgoblin’s caves.  The two main doors the hobgoblins had spiked shut or barred, because they knew invaders were out there.  But because the goblins had never discovered it, the hobgoblins didn’t think it would be discovered so they left it as is.  Much to their regret…

It’s another nice thing about this module that it’s a ‘living environment’ which is to say the monsters react to these constant invasions of their homes. I like thinking about their responses to these murder engines storming their lairs.  So it gets a bit more interesting for me than a static environment would be. It also keeps the players on their toes and feels less like a video game.

I like that.

Read the next session report

Accidental Worlds Part 2

I don’t remember when it was that I actually decided to sit and draw a map for my world.  We must have been playing for a few months because summer was over and I was in my senior year of high school.  I had some strange graph paper that my dad brought home from work so I just decided I’d better sit down and draw a map.

I’d read Campaign Master for Rolemaster games, specifically the sections on world building and creating environments that function like those in the real world.  With those ideas, I started drawing a landmass and populating it with fields and forests and mountains.  Some of these I named, others I left as blank spots on the map.  I had only the vaguest of ideas about the world before I drew the map, and even after I finished, I only had notions about the things I’d put there.  What were the mythic woods of Tryshalla really like?  Did dwarves live in the Iranthra Mountains?  It created a sense of wonder and curiosity that I’ve not really experienced in a game since.

I understand the wonder of the hex-crawl experience that seeing an unexplored map can cause.  Without a doubt, I wanted to know more, even though I was the creator of the darn thing.  I can only imagine the  effect it’s had on my players.

Over the years the map has changed, here and there.  Some places have been destroyed.  Other’s filled in as the needs of the game changed.  But that map (which I still have and use) has created a richness to my world that has allowed it to stay fresh and real for me all these years.

Sundered Empires Play Report 1

Excited by the OSR (Old School Renaissance), and thrilled by the awesomeness that is Adventurer Conqueror King, I’ve decided to run a campaign in the ‘old school’ vein.  I intend to run this as a ‘hard core’ style of game, by which I mean, the dice will fall where they may, I have little to no ‘story’ planned out, henchmen are integral to success as is ‘player skill’, etc. etc.

For those of you unfamiliar with what I’m talking about, basically there is a fairly major divide between people who like older versions of Dungeons and Dragons and those who play newer versions.  I’m perfectly happy to play both styles, though I’ll admit, I’m finding a preference for many of the elements of the older style these days (mostly because I appreciate running 3-4 combats in an hour and some roleplay rather than being only halfway finished with one combat).  All of the comments I make above are based on the major perceived differences between newer and older play styles (as I’ve come to understand them anyway).

Humm… maybe I have another post here.  Anyway…

Long and short, I’m running a new game, set thousands of years in the past of my setting, in a darker, more ‘sword and sorcery’ version of the world (ala Conan).

Since I’m going ‘back to basics’ on this campaign, I’ve decided to go back to the beginning.  Dusting off perhaps the most well-known module in D&D history, B2 The Keep on the Borderlands.

The story opened with three PCs making their way to Restwell Keep, the aforementioned keep on the borderlands.  This is the far eastern edge of the empire.  Beyond it lies a benighted wilderness of barbarians and monsters.  But the keep is in constant need of mercenaries and those willing to risk their lives for glory and fortune.  The empire cannot afford to send enough troops to properly garrison the keep, so the Prefect Adronius Mellacus encourages mercs and adventurers to come and make preemptive strikes on the monsters that lurk in the wilds.

A group of adventurers found their way to Restwell having heard the legends of wealth and danger.  They included Kenan-Tal, a hick priest of Talia, a compassionate healer with absolutely zero social skills; Arakhe Kahn Cursyrd, a bladedancer dedicated to the god/goddess Sethi; and Lucian, a Tryshallan Nightblade, trained in the temples of Dakanan to dispense justice to the followers of Chaos.

This is one of the things I love about my player’s interaction with my world.  In almost all the previous campaigns, Tryshallan have had very little to do with Law (with a couple of notable exceptions).  The background of the race that has come out of the various campaigns has them closely associated with either Balance or Chaos.  Now, I’d thrown in the idea that the Tryshallan in this time period were subjugated by the empire, but I’d not really thought about it beyond that.  My player (who has played in one of my modern campaigns as a Chaos worshipping Tryshallan) came up with the ‘assassin’s for god’ concept off his own back.

And lo, did such things come to pass in my world.

Throughout the various campaigns I’ve run, players have added so much fantastic detail, things that have kept me on my toes while invigorating the world itself.  I love that about gaming.

So the group got the lay of the land and talked to a few people.  Kenan-Tal met up with Vallerend Iridius, the Curate of Dakanan in Restwell Keep, asking if he could serve the older priest in exchange for lodging (the player had spent all his PC’s money on armor and weapons and barely had a silver to spare for a bunk).  The other two went to the bar where they met some potential henchmen.  After wining and dining them, they ended up with Havelock and Guido, two ex-legionaries willing to venture into the wilds with them.

They heard the rumor that to the east there was a warren of tunnels that hid a large collection of Chaos tribes that often gave the keep problems.  So, at first light, they set off.  Kenan-Tal had helped a legless beggar and thereby learned the cryptic warning of not going into the caves furthest from the entrance to the valley.

A slow and cautious investigation of the first cave mouth rewarded them almost immediately.  A group of Goblins were drinking and talking around a table.  They had weapons on hand and appeared to be some kind of guard group that was simply not doing very well (the party got surprise on them).  The Tryshallan could see them (even though Elves don’t have Infravision in ACKS, I give it back to them and to dwarves both) and hissed a warning to his companions.  They barreled into the midst of the surprised Goblins and put them down with arrows and spears.

This is where I discovered something interesting about ‘old school’ play.  In later iterations of D&D, surprising a group of opponents would normally be impossible.  Thanks to armor penalties and the fact that everyone has to roll stealth or sneak or whatever, it just never happens (without some kind of magic that is).  Monsters can ambush players, but players can’t really do it the other way around.  That kind of sucks and doesn’t fit the fiction (or reality) that allows for heroes to catch opponents off guard.  But the surprise mechanic in the older versions of D&D is very straight forward and not subject to many modifiers… 1 or 2 on a d6 and a group is taken unawares (ACKS includes some variance for creatures that are actively on guard versus those that are distracted, and the occasional ‘sneaky’ character type, but at the least you have that).

This rule has come to the player’s aid numerous times so far.  The various encounters they’ve had have been invariably in their favor because of lucky die rolls on their part (or poor ones on mine).  After killing the goblins, they managed to triage one (who was still dying but briefly conscious) and Lucian (the only one who could understand it) interrogated it.  The goblin was terrified, both of death and of the Tryshallan holding it, thanks to the ancient relationship between goblins and Tryshallan.  It begged and whined, and answered every question he put to it.  Luckily, the compassionate cleric of Talia couldn’t understand it’s cries of torment.  When Lucian learned all he thought he could, he ‘helped’ the goblin with a quick thrust to the heart.

The party continued onward, surprising a second group of goblins.  These died much like the first, though not quickly enough to give out warning cries.  They were loud enough that the second group of goblin guards heard and tossed a bag of gold to an ogre in an adjoining cave.  Now, I kind of screwed up with the ogre.  I’ve established what ogres are previously in my world, and they aren’t the oafish things depicted in D&D (much closer to the beautiful human cannibals in Runequest) but I forgot to amend this.  So in my head, the ‘ogre’ was just either some small giant or a human truly warped by chaos.

Anyway, the guards and the ogre came marching out to meet the PCs.  This was when I was reminded why low-level wizards ‘ruin’ d6 encounters per day… the Sleep spell.  No save.  No nothing.  Just wham and down went the ogre thanks to the Tryshallan’s magic.  The party then mopped up what was left of the opposition.

By this point, Arakhe had taken several injuries and was in danger of passing out from blood loss.  They searched the ogre’s cave and took his treasure then fled back to the safety of the keep.

It was a good session and I’m really pleased how well the game worked.  I’d forgotten so much about old school D&D and I’d not had the chance to play ACKS, so I was quite happy to see how well it all played.  I’m pretty sure the players enjoyed it as well.

Read the next session report

Another Great One Gone

I just found out that Professor Muhammad Abd-al-Rahman Barker, passed away.  His world, Tékumel, was one of the first rpg settings ever made.  Arguably, it is still one of the most original and alien, thanks to its non-western basis.

Tékumel was always one of those settings that, like Arduin, was semi-mythical to me.  I heard drips and drabs from various gaming products (mostly old dragon magazines) and came across references to it, but had great difficulty putting my hand on a copy.  Then, thanks to extreme luck, I came across a copy of the old TSR Empire of the Petal Throne somewhere (I want to say a yard sale, but maybe I found it in a bargain box at a convention, I don’t quite recall).  I found it fascinating, though I never actually tried to play it.  The alien world was just too alien for me to wrap my head around.  But I loved to read it and loved his religions and how different the world felt.  Since then, I think I’ve picked up nearly every version of Tékumel game that’s come out (barring the most recent BESM version, though I do want to get it).  I read A Man of Gold which I greatly enjoyed.

I think the depth of his world influenced my own world creation quite strongly.

He’s another great from the beginning of the hobby, and I’m sad to hear he’s passed.

[RPG Music] Fantasy Ambient

Thanks to The RPG Athenaeum for pointing me to Stuffed Crocodile’s excellent collection of RPG (and generally awesome) music.

I’ve long used music in games and totally agree that it should be used for establishing atmosphere and ambiance.  The problem, of course, is getting the right music for the right scene… and not being too fiddly with the CD player while trying to GM.  Years ago, I ran games with a mixed DVD of burned music, with general ‘exploration’, ‘combat’, ‘wonder’ and a few other vague emotional notes.  I’d just hop between folders depending on the scene we were playing.  It worked, but I never hit on the idea of using loops.

Anyway, there is some excellent music on this list and I’ll certainly be going through it at length!

[RPG Music] Fantasy Ambient.

Sundered Histories

For the game this time around, I decided I would set the play in a time period that, though loosely mapped out in my head, had never been explored by any group I’d played with.  This is the Age of Strife, five hundred years after the Sundering, the event that ended the Age of Magic.  This is a time when the forces of civilization have fallen, as Chaos has encroached upon their territories, torn down their cities and cast out their people.

So I’m going for a more ‘Sword and Sorcery’ vibe then high fantasy one like I normally do.  The Vancian D&D magic has only begun to be used in this setting as wizards had to relearn their lost arts after the end of the era.  I’ve decided that several things that end up being part and parcel of the ‘modern era’ will have their seeds now.

Before the end of the AoM, there was a vast human empire called the Empire of Valas.  This is a rough Roman empire analogue.  So skilled in magic and organized war, thanks to worshipping the Lords of Law, they slowly encroached upon the world, conquering one petty kingdom after another.  Eventually they were a vast and sprawling empire.  Allied with the Dun (later the dwarves) they even managed to shatter the strength of the unassailable Tryshallans, bringing their fallen leaders into the heart of Valas bound in iron chains (deadly to the fey Tryshallans).

But then it fell.  Their power was broken in a single cataclysmic night.  Since then, they have fought a desperate struggle, falling further and further back from the encroaching wildness.  An empire that once spread across the face of the known world has been reduced to a mere shadow of its former glory.  Not that you could tell by the way the decadent nobility behave.

Many Tryshallan have thrown off the human shackles and fled back into the wilderness.  The Sundering stole a great deal of their power, but in an odd quirk of fate, they are no longer slain by iron’s cruel kiss.

And the Dun, once powerful creatures of living stone, have been cursed with mortal flesh.  Much of their underworld empire has fallen as well, caverns and citadels lost to earthquakes and goblin invasions.