Monday, November 25, 2019

The Square Deal Saloon

Started a new RPG campaign just recently. The setting is more-or-less that of Shadows of Brimstone meets HBO's Deadwood. Two of the PCs collectively own a house-of-ill-repute in a boom-town, somewhere in the New Mexico Territory, just down the road from the smoking crater that is Brimstone. There's another competing saloon and gambling den in town, and a number of weird supernatural hijinks afoot. The other PC is one of their regular customers, who happens to work at the Telegraph Office.

For the first session I made some incoming Telegraph props. One was an actual message for one of the PCs, but the others are essentially plot coupons and nuggets of important information about sub-plots and opportunities, that the Telegraph Operator PC is obligated to make the rounds and deliver. It's working pretty well, as the PCs basically get to eavesdrop on everything going on in town. I made the community bustling with plotlines, colorful characters, and mysteries. It's meant to be layered and sandboxy, with the PCs getting to decide what things they want to stick their noses into, and whose pockets they wish to pick. So I've arranged all my subplots on a color-coded calendar (the first session is Wednesday, March 9th, 1887) that tracks how each storyline will progress if the players do nothing to interfere. I'm hoping they'll interfere frequently and with gusto. They seemed to love it, which is good, because I'm prepared to add a couple more Telegraphs each session for foreshadowing, character development, and clue-delivery.

The mechanics are a blend of Savage Worlds and the Drama System from Hillfolk, with some custom mechanics to emulate parts of Brimstone, and a few cool ideas lifted from other games I like. During character creation, I had the players choose from several small "fill-in-the-blank" quizzes I had prepared. Their answers to those questions let them define things in the town, name NPCs and establish relationships to them. Each of the quizzes had some mechanical benefit that it unlocked. For example, there was one that said: "There's a group of bandits causing trouble in the region. You used to ride with them, but had a falling out." It then listed two of the canonical Infamous Bandit Gangs from Shadows of Brimstone, and had the player choose which one they'd been part of. Then it said "someone in town knows your secret past. Who are they, and can you trust them?" It then gave a bonus on Guts and Riding skills, as befits someone who used to ride with a bunch of train-robbers. The player who chose this card was effectively embracing a western trope, getting a connection to something that's part of the official setting, and then given carte-blanche to invent and ally or foe in town. It worked great. We ended up with a really cool interlocking web of NPCs and plotlines.

I'm running this game at a friends' house, because one of the players is allergic to my cat. So I needed a good way to bring the game with me that doesn't involve me hauling the rulebooks to Savage Worlds, Deadlands, Hillfolk, and Shadows of Brimstone with me every week. So, I popped over to, and made myself a new GMing Notes wiki. It's a closed/private wiki, so I can just bring it up on my iPad.  All the most important rules are on there now, along with pages on every location, every NPC, those Telegraphs and other visual aides to show the players, and that color-coded plotline calendar that keeps me on top of what's likely to happen when. It's working pretty great thus far. I'm liking it enough I've begun adding my note files for my other two active RPG campaigns to the same wiki, so I'll have one highly-portable campaign database for all my future games.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Great Pumpkins

I played in an 11-hour halloween one-shot last night, run by my friend Jeremy Hill. It was a solid game, lots of fun. Every player had 2 PCs, college students who were going to a Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch. Each of your two PCs would arrive in two different car pools.

Scenes bounced back and forth between these two groups. One group ran into bloodthirsty ghosts at the pumpkin patch. The other group's car broke down, and they ended up asking for help at a creepy old house a few miles down the road... a house full of cannibal cultists. They seemed to be two entirely separate adventures taking place on the same night but just a few miles apart, but we eventually learned that the cannibal cult were actually the ones responsible for stirring up the ghosts that the other groups was battling.

It was pretty nifty way to tell the story. Jumping back and forth between the two groups allowed some cool "cliffhanger" cuts. Because each player had a two characters (one in each group), every time we hit a dead end in one mystery investigation, we could cut away to the other group for a little while.

When we'd come back to the previous "dead-end" later, in the intervening break one player or another would always have come up with another option that we hadn't tried before. I feel like there were places where we would have otherwise gotten frustrated or locked up, but the scene-hopping just naturally shook us free of that every time. It organically encouraged us to think outside the box. What's more, switching between our two characters worked to give you a break, so the nearly 12-hour session seemed to flash by super fast. Without exception, each player chose radically different personality and character types for their two characters, which probably amplified this rejuvenating effect. It worked really well.

I'm seriously considering stealing this trick for my own games going forward. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Three Cons, Old Friends, and a Boom

I have been busy as heck lately, and playing a lot of games.

Work sent me out to GenCon, were I ran demos of Shadows of Brimstone, Forbidden Fortress, Last Night On Earth, Fortune & Glory, and A Touch Of Evil. It was super fun and I love sharing and teaching many of my favorite games to total strangers... but it was also very exhausting because GenCon is a huge show with a million faces and a hundred thousand games.

In my off hours at the con, I played a couple of new games I hadn't tried before.

Incan Gold is a fun press-your-luck game that I reliably came in... well, certainly not winning, but not in last place, either, so I feel like I did okay for a newbie. The best part was that I got to play the game with my old friend Brendan Riley, who lives far away and I hadn't seen in several years, and my buddy Bill French. I never would have expected them to meet, given that they live in different states, but GenCon is a place of miracles.

Brendan's company Rattlebox Games is playtesting a game called Udder Chaos, the only competitive cow-milking game I've ever seen. It's fast and goofy and full of rhymes. It was light-hearted fun, and you'd be helping support a old friend of mine, so check it out if you get a chance.

One night at GenCon I played a party game called Buy The Rights, in which you get a random hand of high concepts and genres and have to make your best pitch about why producers should invest money with you. I hammed it up, basically role-playing as a different screenwriter or producer in each round, and it turns out that nonsense is a very successful strategy in this game.

The other fun new experience of this GenCon for me was Hellapagos, a party game that starts out fully cooperative and then suddenly very quickly descends into murder and sometimes cannibalism. It was a social game that really felt like the first season of Lost. Everyone was working together to build a raft and catch fish, except for a couple slackers who just raided the wreckage for personal treasures. Much fun was had by all, including those who died when suddenly everyone started scrambling for the limited space on the raft. I, as one of those horrible slackers who spent a lot of turns searching the wreck, found a decent supply of bullets, which I traded 1 at a time to the only person who had found a gun, in exchange for her using them on people other than myself. In the end, 3 of the 8 players, including myself, made it back to civilization to tell the story of how we were the sole survivors of the wreck. Just don't ask about the barbecue.

Shortly after getting back from GenCon, I packed my suitcase a second time and headed to my favorite little (~1,000 attendees) local gaming convention, Dragonflight. I had originally planned to just go for fun, but at the last minute agreed to volunteer to run the Story Games Lounge when the usual volunteer dropped out. As it turns out, volunteering to run the Story Games room is itself a lot of fun.

First day of Dragonflight Game Convention:

GM'd an awesome double-length Psi*Run for 7 players.

Explored an alien planet in The Quiet Year

Lost a game of Snake Oil to the dreaded Fraud card

Played "2 Rooms and a Boom" till my brains hurt. It's a great social-deduction game, kind of like "Are You A Werewolf?" except everyone gets to play the entire game and know one has to die until the last couple seconds.

Won a game of Jetpack Unicorn. Honestly, I'm not crazy about this game. I think Superfight does the same thing, but better.

Played some more 2 Rooms and a Boom. (Across 6 games I've now been on both teams a couple times, been the bomber and been an Ambassador.)

On Day 2 of Dragonflight:

 GM'd Og the caveman RPG for 5 players. No use big words play Og. The cavemen met The Doctor, and caused a regeneration.

GM'd another successful Psi*Run, for 4 new players. Hallucinatory madness derailed everything in a delightful way.

Hosted a giant marathon Microscope timeline for 6 players. It was epic! One of the best-developed, most fleshed-out microscope games I've ever seen. These new players really picked it up quickly and dove deep into the game.

That night, I got the band back together! Playing in Laura Mortensen's annual midnight Urchin game, as my recurring character, Rory Wanker of the formerly famous Rory Wanker and the Bloody Stickers. We're making a comeback, if only in my mind.

Other games played in the Story Game Lounge included more Quiet Year, some Zombie Cinema, and a few escapades of esteemed Baron Munchausen.

Day 3 of Dragonflight:

Played in a delightful Lego and d20s game run by Tim Beach. Two of the 5 players were kids, and they kept the game light-hearted and unpredictable. Tim did an amazing job of making the game work on the kids level and not lose the adults to boredom. Nearly all of my GMing experience in the last 20 years is with adults, but I can only imagine GMing for kids takes extra creativity, patience, and panache. Well done, sir.

Later that night:
I went to a birthday party at Zulu's game cafe. While there, we played a game of Dark Gothic. We all lost when the Shadows filled up in a sudden hurry. Quite the shame, as I was super close to winning, and probably could have done so in one to two more turns.

The next weekend:

Battlestar Galactica board game with old friends I hadn't seen in forever: Andy Collins, Gwen Kestrel, and Greg Collins (and their friend Ben). I was a frakking toaster the whole time, and I successfully destroyed the pathetic human fleet by breaking their morale. It was a solid game, and the humans came very close to winning. Possibly the closest game I've ever played of BSG. 

After that, we played Between Two Cities, which is a very clever cooperative drafting and tile-placement game where you're building a city together with the player on your right and simultaneously building another city together with the player on your left. I didn't do so good at this, coming in 4th out of 5th place. I love the entire-cooperative nature of the mechanics, and how that's counter-weighted by the scoring. It's a game that exists in a very unique head space. I want the players adjacent to me to do well, and any other players to do poorly, but I don't really have a way cause that second part. There's probably some deeper strategy I'm not seeing yet, but I can at least admire the novelty of this truly unique game.

We followed that up with Royal Turf. It's a Knizia game about horse racing and betting on horse racing. In the abstract the topic doesn't sound interesting to me at all, like if you said "want to play a game about racetrack betting?" I'd reply with "not unless it's Royal Turf". Every time I play it I feel like a) I'm really not very good at it,  and b) the game is surprisingly fun and enjoyable despite all that.

Then the wonderful Bobbie Hyde showed up to pick me up and we talked her into playing a round of Decrypto. It's a team code-guessing game, and we both really enjoyed it. If I didn't already own Codenames Duet, I would immediately rush out and by Decrypto. I feel Decrypto is a much better game than normal Codenames, but that makes it about equal with Codenames Duet (which is closer to codenames, but also generally a vastly improved version of Codenames itself).

So, it's been a summer cavalcade of new games and old friends. Pretty damn cool way to spend the days. And it ain't over yet. This weekend is PAX West! I will once again be running demos of Flying Frog adventure games. Sleep is for the weak.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Dear Boss

Yesterday I mentioned props I had handed out in my Nights Black Agents Dracula Dossier game, and it dawned on me that I'd never shared the letter the PCs had been sent by Jack The Ripper, whom they accidentally freed from Cross Angel Cold Storage.

Most of it is in fonts because I was lazy, but I told them to imagine it was all hand-written, and that the group's Forgery expert could identify 2 of the 4 handwriting patterns as matching the "Dear Boss" note and the "From Hell" letter. Either it's the best forgery he's seen in the Ripperology field, or somehow both of those letter writers are still alive. It's less directly actionable than the prop in yesterday's post, but it was still pretty fun.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Just Lettin' 'Em Talk It Out

I ran another session of Night's Black Agents: Dracula Dossier yesterday. I'm going to brag a little bit. It was the least amount of work I've had to do as a GM at the game in possibly forever, and it was amazing. Two of the players were running late, so rather than dive into the plot, the other players just started in talking in-character and planning for the next op. This lead to them reflecting on some of the props I'd given them in a previous session, and suddenly they found themselves deeper in character discussing the ramifications of a letter they'd intercepted. The other players showed up, and they had to bring them up to speed on it. This started a whole new round of debate and even philosophical discussion, as they pieced together the frame of a plan on how to bring the fight to the enemy. I didn't have to do anything. For over 4 hours they bantered back and forth, with everyone super-engaged and excited.  I played one NPC, for about 30 seconds, near the very end of the session when they decided they wanted to phone a friend. Other than that it was all them. And they enjoyed it so much, everyone kept complimenting my GMing and the depth of the world I'd created, as I mostly just twiddled my thumbs.

Now, to be fair, I did a ton of work before and between sessions to set this up. I worked out the rules of what vampirism is in the game world (as NBA provides a toolbox for the GM to design their own unique take on what the evil in the world really is). I built a huge roster of NPCs each with their own agenda and timelines and loyalties, and let that simmer in the background. And then I dangled tantalizing clues about the true nature of things before the players eyes in the form of some nifty props.

Without the context of everything that's happened in the game, this probably reads as maddeningly obtuse, but my players were able to decipher it enough to hatch a scheme to turn Rasputin, Paracelsus, Graf Orlok, Jack The Ripper, Mina Harker and a Moroccan Djinn named Aisha Qandesha against Count Dracula. It's going to be epic.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Sailing Off Into The 7th Sunset

I wrapped up my 7th Sea Campaign tonight. It was 7 sessions of play, mostly just fulfilling what was officially a 5-chapter story. There was a terrible monster on the loose, and the PCs eventually figured out it used to be a Montaigne noblewoman who'd blooded the wrong Syrneth artifact. When she tried to call it to her with Porte, she got her soul trapped inside it, and her body turned into a murderous Porte-wielding monster. The players returned the artifact to the Syrneth ruins where it had originally been found, and thereby put the monster to rest. One of the PCs sacrificed themself to seal the monster in, which wasn't my original planned solution but was suitably bad-ass enough to work and feel like an epic campaign-capper. Everyone had a blast, and it was nice to run a game to a logical and exciting crescendo in a relatively short number of sessions.

Now, we certainly could have continued from there with the surviving characters and 1 replacement. It was tempting to do so, but for one misgiving: I really don't like the 2nd Edition mechanics. I love the heck out of the 7th Sea setting, but I didn't really enjoy the new system. It wasn't awful, but it never quite gelled for me. The players enjoyed the game, because I gave them a compelling mystery and an intriguing cast of NPCs to interact with -- and because the PCs were themselves fun and colorful so I definitely can't  claim credit for everything good about the campaign.

For being such a light system, it took a surprising amount of work to make fights and chases fun. The Action Sequences worked well if I took a lot of time to prepare them with a bunch of Consequences (we're fighting on a boat in a storm) and Opportunities and Villain with a good special ability and a couple Brute squads to back him or it up. If the PCs unexpectedly picked a fight when I wasn't prepared for it the battles ended up being one-sided and lackluster. Maybe that's my failing as a GM, and maybe it's not as bad as I thought, as my players didn't have nearly as many complaints as I did. For a super-light system where your nastiest Villain only has 3 stats, one of which is literally the sum of the value of the other 2 stats, it took a surprising amount of prep to make Fights and Chases feel tense. None of my PCs were Duelists, so it's possible that fight scenes would have been more readily dynamic if we'd gone that route, but as I mentioned in previous posts I think the Duelist rules had some balance issues. In D&D if the players go off the map, you can pad out your run-time by throwing a handful of goblins (or something stronger at higher levels) at them. There's no 7th-Sea equivalent of the low-prep filler-fight.

The Dramatic Sequences had the same problem of being cool if I anticipated them and prepped all sorts of neat things happening during the Sequence for players to spend Raises on, and falling flat if the players chose to investigate somewhere or talk to someone I wasn't prepared for. I'm pretty good (I think) at improvising NPC dialog and I had a multi-layered mystery plotline so I made those improv scenes generally fun, but the lack of dynamic Consequences and Opportunities in most social or investigative scenes meant that the Players didn't necessarily get their "money's worth" for character points spent on non-combat skills. There was lot of GM-fiat involved. I probably could have done better in the planning department there. The age-old GM crutch of having the PC roll some dice and basing a decision on the roll is very complicated in 7th Sea. There's no equivalent to rolling a natural 20, and rolls where the PC gets no successes is almost unheard of. As GM, you have to build multiple Consequences and Opportunities into every die roll, or else just accept that the PC will automatically succeed. I did the later far more often than the former. Again, that might be my failing more than the rulebook's. I dunno.

We're almost certainly going to switch to a different campaign with a new setting and new rules when next we get together. If that weren't the case, or if I were to give 7th Sea 2nd Ed another go somewhere down the line, I can think of a tool I might create that would help make these Action and Dramatic Sequences easier to put together on the fly. Basically a deck (or a couple decks) of Consequences and Opportunities on notecards. This would provide some inspiration and help the GM spice up a Sequence or Risk. Having them on cards you could play to the table would also help the Players realize what options they had during each scene. I know we had a couple times where the PCs missed Opportunities and at least once suffered a Consequence because by the time we got to someone's third action in a scene they'd just forgot about a detail I'd described at the start of the round, and so they dumped all their Raises on a big hit. That was ok, I guess, but it was definitely a rough edge of the system that could be polished smooth with deck or two.

The other hard part for me as GM was balancing Story Chapters. I like giving my players a lot of freedom to chart their own course, so it made me reluctant to spell out the 5 steps to my story. I was crafting a mystery to investigate, so I didn't want to spoil it with detailed steps that revealed too much. A consequence of that was my steps were a little too vague and it took 7 sessions (by my count, one of the players disagreed it was this long and my notes don't include play dates to verify) to finish our 5 Chapter Story. None of the players managed to complete their personal Stories. Partly that was because they were very focused on the main mystery, but when I did go out of my way to introduce a new major NPC for one PC's Story, they bushwacked him in the very next scene and kinda short-circuited that Storyline. So, yes, I could have done better, but it was also at least a little on them. Over all this isn't insurmountable, as I think there's a learning curve to Story creation and we would have eventually found our footing (in writing them up as well as multitasking the pursuit of plot) if the campaign continued. It's just that given the other headaches and speed bumps in the system, we're choosing to move on before that learning curve has gotten past the initial spike.

Anyhow, it's not a horrible game, and I still love the setting. I just think I'd rather put my efforts into something different for now, and my players are willing to indulge that.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Players Gonna Be Players

7th Sea (in either edition) is not a game where PCs die very often. The mechanics of the game(s) give players a lot of outs, and lots of ways to seize narrative control or survive against all odds. Damage at worst only knock PCs unconscious. To actually kill a PC, the Villains, Monsters, and general NPCs need to first incapacitate the PCs, and then have an uninterrupted follow-up action to straight-up cold-blooded murder those characters. And even when you do get to that situation, the GM is actively encouraged to not kill them outright unless it is especially dramatically appropriate. PC death should only come if it was earned and warranted, non-random, and well-warned in advance. The GM is really encouraged to only kill PCs in very atypical circumstances, and generally only in cases where the player would themselves have to admit "yep, that makes sense, I should have seen that coming". PC death should only happen as a major foreshadowed plot development. Anything less, and instead of dying they should wake up tied to a chair, or wash up on the shore, or fall off a cliff and be left for dead but actually crawl away to nurse their wounds. It's swashbuckling heroism, where the plucky heroes always win in the end.

That said, I very nearly killed 2 PCs in my latest session of 7th Sea.


In fact, the second time, I absolutely would have killed them, except one of the PCs had a special ability I had forgotten about, which allowed him to spend his last Hero Point to slip loose and stab the villain with the very knife he was about to use for PCtricide.

All because Players just had to be sassy.

It wasn't like I'd built up to this. The Villain who nearly killed them actually met them for the first time in this very session.  He's not even the Big-Bad of the storyline. He's an secret agent of the Inquisition who was working covertly to root out the same supernatural evil the PCs are working against. I expected him to be a distasteful ally in the "enemy of my enemy" sense, someone they could gather intel from, and maybe trick into expending himself against the real Big Bad.

Instead, right after they'd fought a really tough skirmish with the Big Bad that they'd technically won but at great cost, when the PCs were at their weakest, they chose to pick a fight with the Inquisitor. They mouthed off repeatedly, insulted his manhood, dared him to attack them, and threatened to expose his secret mission to the local government he was working against. It was pretty ballsy, and kind of awesome... and it was also a bit of a tactical blunder to pick this fight with an untested villain just seconds after a battle that had left them wounded and low on resources.

2 out of 3 PCs went down almost immediately, and the third fled knowing they were outclassed.

Fade to black. (If this had been D&D, they'd have been dead, but this is 7th Sea.)

They wake up later in restraints, being interrogated by the mustache-twirling Inquisitor. There's also another NPC present, who is tending their wounds, and seems to be sympathetic to their cause. He tells them to be careful with what they say because the Inquisitor is basically looking for an excuse to kill them. There's some exposition and playful back and forth, and I'm trying to lead to a situation where the PCs realize they actually have similar goals (defeat the supernatural evil that is murdering innocent victims all through the land).

But the one player is having none of it. He immediately starts mouthing off again. To such an extent, I feel like I have no believable options. The Inquisitor draws his dagger and leans in to disfigure the PC. I know full well as I do it that the PC won't knuckle under, and will continue to mouth off. I resign myself to having to kill a PC any second now, in a pretty awful way.

And then the player says "You forgot I have the 'Slip Free' power. I spend a Hero Point. He thinks I'm tied up, but I'm not. Taking him by surprise, I shove his own dagger into him". I was not expecting that. Well done, player. I say "well done!"

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

4 reasons to visit Whitspur

In a recent D&D session, the players arrived in a new city.  I didn't want to just give them a giant exposition dump about the city at the get-go. Exposition is dangerous -- if it goes on too long, the players will tune-out while the GM rambles. If it's kept short and sweet,  it tends to give the players a razor-sharp singularity of purpose that can strain verisimilitude or rail-road.  I wanted to provide the facts on the ground in a way that would give the players a personalized window into the setting, get them engaged, but not necessarily all on the same page from the first scene.

So I made four note cards. On one side they listed a nutshell reason why the PC would be coming to town, just buzz-word summation, for the players to choose from: "Glorious Adventure", "Conspiracy Theory", "Paycheck, then a Vacation", and "Family (Is Thicker Than Water)". Based on just those titles, the players split them up between themselves. Once everybody had chosen, they were allowed to read the other side quietly. The idea was to internalize some facts and goals to inform their roleplaying, rather than just blanketing the party with all the info at once. Everyone knew a different unique thing about the town, and had a slightly different reason for being there.

Here's what the other side of the cards said:

Family (Is Thicker Than Water)
I have family that lives in Whitspur. Cousin Edreth and Cousin Bjarne. They work at the Whitspur Mill and Grainery (like their fathers before them). I haven't seen them in a couple years, but we used to visit their family every year when we were kids.

On those visits, us kids would sneak out at night and climb the silver steps on the outside of the giant white stone tower. It must have been 200 feet tall, at least. For fun we'd knock on the silver door at the top, and sometimes something behind it would knock back at us. We used to make up horror stories about what was inside.

One particularly windy night, Edreth's best friend, Krisjof, fell off the steps and died. That was the last time my parents ever took me to Whitspur. 

Glorious Adventure
Whitespire is named for the white marble tower at it's center. They say it's a mile high, and no one has ever been inside the tower! The only door is at the top, made of indelible Electril (an alloy of Silver and Mithril) and magically warded.

There's a riddle carved into that door, known as “The Riddle of Blood”, that's never been solved. They say only the cleverest adventurer of them all could solve that riddle. Whoever does will find untold riches inside that tower.

Other rumors say The Riddle of Blood is just a euphemism for human sacrifice. There's a noble family of Paladins, the Elfenbeinspeers, who have guarded that tower for hundreds of years against all evil that has tried to release it with human blood.

Whichever story is true, I'm confident a great adventure awaits me in Whitespire.

Paycheck, then Vacation
The Duke owes me 20 gold, and 2 weeks vacation in a room with a view of the gleaming spire of Whitspur.

Last spring, I helped drive off some bandits from the township of Thegdress. Despite being far to the east, Thegdress owes fealty to the Elfenbeinspeer family of nobles, who summer in Whitspur.

This payment letter I've got here says that I can collect my reward from the Innkeep and Paymaster at Duke Elfenbeinspeer's family Inn in Whitspur. For my past service to Thegdress, I will receive 20 pieces of gold, a “Magic Lantern in a Bottle”, and 2 weeks room and board with the “full Elfenbeinspeer Elegance Experience”. It's gonna be a good two weeks.

Conspiracy Theory
Whitspur has a famous impenetrable tower made of white marble, with silver stairs running up the side of it. It's over 100 feet tall, and covered with runic sigils. I haven't seen the sigils yet, but I suspect they are runes from the ancient Authrek civilization.

The Authrek reigned in the Age of Madness, more than a thousand years ago. They were powerful necromancers who worshipped Orcus, with human sacrifice. Most Authrek ruins are deep beneath the earth, which is why most scholars don't realize Whitspur's climbing tower to be one. I suspect the foundations of that tower reach deep into the underworld. I believe this site is the epicenter, the great temple where the Authrek sacrificed millions of victims.

There's an order of Paladins that guard that tower, led by Duke Elfenbeinspeer, and I bet they know dire ancient secrets they aren't telling us.

It worked pretty well. All the players internalized their little bit of unique info, and only shared it via in-character dialogue when it came about organically. A few subplots kept them from just rushing straight to the tower -- there was some shady business going on at the Inn, and cousin Bjarne was in the stocks in town square -- and they rode into town in the middle of the night. When the first light of dawn showed them that the cursed tower was physically missing and the white stone blocks from it were being used in new construction at the edge of town, everyone felt the tension level rise real suddenly.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Exit Through Reprisal's Mouth

For X-mas, my girlfriend got me this cool little notebook called a Rocketbook. It uses a special erasable pen, and comes with an App. The App makes it easy to use your phone to Scan in whatever you draw on the page, and it runs Optical Character Recognition to scan all your writing into text. Then it automatically shoots that over to whatever inbox or dropbox or data cloud service you prefer. It's fast and easy, and totally should have resulted in me posting a bunch of stuff about my D&D games here the day I got back from the trip. Should have, but I procrastinate quite well.

The photo to the left is the scan of one dungeon map. I brought my Dwarven Forge stuff, so in play this map was a tactile 3-D thing that I built on the table as they explored. It was pretty cool. I had never before tried taking Dwarven Forge on the road, but in practice it was less of a hardship or hassle than I had imagined it would be to haul this stuff down to Portland.

The OCR function got most, but not all of my words:

##New Years Map 2018-19 ## Exit through Reprisal's Mouth? Blood Recepticals Blood stocks Iron Maiden B Box Barricade Portculis Butcher shop Log for Bridge DC 12 to cross 3 feet of water at the bottom of a 12 fost pit Stairs Down from Whitspur mu Rubble/cave-in all Digging 

For future reference, it seemed to capture words written horizontally, or sloping downward at 45 degrees. Words sloping upwards to the right did not scan.

Whitspur is the town that is mostly addicted to undead meals.  (Described in my previous post from a few days ago.) The blood recipticals are part of the mechanism that turns a little bit of blood into a full undead ghoul. Parts of the dungeon is an ancient temple of Orcus, and other parts are a ill-considered butcher shop set-up by the chef of the Inn upstairs. It's a long story.

Reprisal was this evil little Quasit that the PCs had defeated the previous time I ran D&D in Portland many months before. He was the demon-familiar of an NPC Sorceress, who used him for reconnaissance and to lead her kobold minions. The PCs murdered him half a dozen times, but due to ways of demons and familiars, the Sorceress could manifest him anew with a 15-minute ritual every day. No matter how often they killed him, she would send him out again to be her eyes, ears, and mouth. The PCs really responded to this, and tried to fool, manipulate or bargain with Reprisal several times, and then killed him again whenever his presence was inconvenient. When they solved the dilemma and completed the mission, the PCs thought for sure they'd never see Reprisal again.

So this session, when they arrived at the Inn they'd been traveling to, Reprisal was waiting for them. That was not good. After a bit of banter, they determined that he was no longer working for the old villainess, and was now a free agent roaming the countryside. Rather than murdering him some more and testing whether or not he could still reform infinitely, they decided to point him in the direction of someone else they thought could use some annoying. I think they were a little surprised and lot pleased when this worked and he took off to hassle some sad-sack NPCs  they'd left behind down the road a ways. Better them than us.

Not that you asked for it, but here's a little more detail on that: The NPCs were a group of incompetent orcish merchant-bandits that the PCs had scattered to the winds but been unable or unwilling to hunt down and destroy to the last. So it was feasible that Reprisal would harry them into a more permanent defeat or frustration that would make the Orcs stay away. Worst case scenario, if he joined forces with them, it was basically just combining two negligible minor threats, that might rolled together be a single speed-bump added to the adventure. This seemed mostly harmless at the time.

And then, roughly 48 hours and 2 marathon D&D sessions later, they're exploring this subterranean temple of Orcus, and they see this giant archway in the shape of a green demonic head. If you're familiar with some of the oldest Dwarven Forge sets, you may know the piece I used. I tell them it's the spitting image of Reprisal the Quasit, just blown up to epic proportions. This is in the room with the magical mechanisms that summon an infinite army of undead if you know the right ritual.  I tell them there's lots of Abyssal runes carved into the walls, and as they read them, it talks about how the army can be summoned up, belched forth from the mighty jowls of Orcus, before his triumphant return to conquer the world.

So now the players are left with a troubling mystery. Is it just that all Quasits are formed as miniature versions of the Great Demon Lord they serve? If so, that's nothing to worry about - there's just a minor link between Reprisal and their current Dungeon by way of Alignment. But there's a chance, at least a small one, that maybe this annoying little Demon they've been playing Cat-and-also-Cat with for the past few sessions is actually some sort of Avatar of a pretty serious big-bad with outsized ambitions. Maybe sending him to the local Orcs wasn't such a great idea after all. They all started debating what their next move needed to be.

And then, because I'm a dirty GM, I chose that moment to crank up the pressure. The City Guard unit that was tracking the PCs (it's a long story, but hinted at in that post I linked to earlier) started clumsily probing the dungeon and setting up an ambush. Not wanting to be identified and captured or exiled, the PCs felt they had best flee deeper into the dungeon, by walking through the Mouth of Reprisal.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

7 recent sessions

I haven't been keeping up on the old gaming blog much. Since my last post, I have run 2 sessions of 7th Sea, played in 1 session of Ravnica-flavored D&D, and run 4 consecutive marathon sessions of D&D. Here's a bit about each:

7th Sea 2nd Ed: Thus far, the PCs have fought Ghouls, saved a woman from a lynch mob, investigated a supernatural murder scene, and navigated the social strata of a nobleman's court function. We left off last session with the PCs transporting a body on a boat in occupied territory during a storm, and just noticing that the Ghouls were sneaking aboard for a rematch. Next session should be exciting. (That session is scheduled for tomorrow,  but it's probably going to be cancelled on account of an ill player. It's a small game with just 3 PCs, so being even 1 PC down on a session has a pretty big impact.)

Ravnica: Using the new-ish D&D book that is based on the coolest world in Magic: The Gathering. I usually GM (and none of my frequent players would really be into Ravnica) but then a work-friend invited me to this, and I just couldn't turn it down. I was so certain I was going to play a Goblin Izzet Guild Mage, because, after all, this is likely the only time I will ever get to RP in Ravnica. Goblins as RPG characters can be hella fun. Then I get to the character creation session, and two other players also want to be Goblin Izzet Guild Mages. Three goblins of the same guild struggling to carve out sub-niches while stepping on each other's feats (pun intended) seemed less than ideal for everyone. Plan B then, is as follows Class: Druid / Background: Simic Combine Scientist / Race: Simic Hybrid. Essentially a fusion of elf and Blue Bottle Jellyfish (aka Portugese Man'o'war). A mutant who strives to mutate others. The first session was short because it came on the heels of character gen, but it was highly entertaining. The two goblins were hamming it up, so I get to enjoy over-the-top Izzet antics while embodying an entirely different style of mad scientist myself. I think it's going to be good.

D&D Marathon: Every time I make it down to Portland to see my old high-school buddies, we pack the evenings with copious amounts of alcohol and D&D. We introduced a new player this time as another old friend who's usually absent was able to join us for the festivities, and he played a Minotaur Bard. (We needed more cowbell.)  I had great success with a complex no-easy-answers storyline the last time we'd been in Portland, so I went for similar damned-if-you-do-or-don't material this time, too. The first encounter was a group of traveling merchants who just so happened to be orcs. The PCs of course went the full murder-hobo route, for which I made them feel guilty even though it was totally what I expected them to do. I'm kind of a bastard GM sometimes. The rest of the story had to do with a city where everyone was addicted to the newest menu at the largest inn. The players did some investigating, and then broke into the dungeon beneath the inn, accidentally alerting the unit of the city watch that keeps that dungeon sealed up tight. The ruins below has an evil altar that supplies a never-ending supply of undead if you know the correct dark ritual. Yep, the whole town is addicted to delicious ghoul flesh. (I cast "Purify Food and Drink". It should be safe to eat now.) At the end of the session, the PCs were sort-of-trapped. They're behind a secret door that the guard unit doesn't know about, but the guards do know they broke in, and could potentially reveal the gruesome secret to the town. So they need to either find another exit, or else fight their way through a couple dozen policemen on their way out. I don't get down to Portland often, so they've got some time to think up a good plan.

Night's Black Agents: Ideally, this game would meet once a month, but it's a tricky group to schedule sometimes. We're all frequently busy elsewhere. Hopefully in February I'll have another session to tell you about.