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.