Sunday 31 July 2011

Team Adventure - Something Fishy

The session began with the Team trying to decide who would go down the shaft that they had discovered hidden inside one of the pillars. In the end, Ferros volunteered to lead the way and they found that at the bottom of the shaft, there was a narrow subterranean passageway that turned after a few yards and then ran straight for at least fifty feet or so. The team followed Ferros down the passage and our brave cleric found that at the far end, it opened into a vaulted crypt. Around the walls were niches into which coffins would be placed. Now, however, the niches were filled with scattered pieces of coffins, gnawed bones and other grisly remnants of those who might once have made their way down. Ferros moved into the room to investigate, only to find himself menaced by the sudden appearance of four ghouls – filthy, clawed monsters whose arrival was accompanied by the hideous stench of mouldering bodies and rotting flesh.

Ferros, newly the Scourge of the Undead, was undeterred by this awful manifestation and stepped forward, raising his holy symbol high. The light of the cleric’s faith burned bright and the ghouls reeled back in fear, shambling back towards the rear of the room. At that, the rest of the party poured into the crypt and with their bows poured missile fire into the retreating monsters, finishing off three of them. The fourth made its escape down a passage at the far end of the crypt and was not seen again.

Meanwhile, the Team, having found no loot on the bodies of the ghouls, started to search the crypt for hidden compartments and secret doors. Ferros noticed that his torch was flickering as he approached the southern end and Alurax deduced that this must have something to do with an air current that had to be coming from somewhere. They traced it to a hole that had been ripped in the wall at the back of one of the niches. They proposed to crawl down it to see where it led; Elador suggested that they be roped together, with the rest of the party holding the end of the rope in case something bad happened and they needed to be retrieved quickly. This they did, and at the end of the roughly-hewn passage that led back about fifteen feet, they found a small cave where bones and skulls littered the floor. Beneath this horrible detritus, they managed to uncover a hoard of silver pieces and several interesting items, including some vials of holy water and a scroll that conferred protection against the Undead on its reader. Whether these were the pitiful last possessions of a dead cleric or their presence was a macabre coincidence, the Team could not tell.

On the far side of the ghouls’ den was a smaller passageway, no more than a tunnel perhaps three feet across. Ferros and Merlin began to explore it but soon realised that its length and complexity meant that they were likely to end up lost. They abandoned the exploration and returned to the crypt where they reviewed their finds.
It was probably a good job that the party decided not to explore any further; the module stated that getting lost was a certainty if they decided to press on. They had roped themselves together for the crawl so that they could be extracted if need be - a very good idea for which I gave out some XP rewards.

Adthar took the lead as they followed the trail of the escaping ghoul and found that the passage led, by way of twists and turns to a junction. To the left was a corridor that vanished into the darkness but to the right, a flight of steps led downwards and there was the sound of lapping water. Going further, the Team found that the stairs led to a cave in which was a wide, deep pool. On a ledge on the far side, amongst more bones and litter were what seemed to be coins. Merlin set off round the ledge to get to the far side, accompanied by Galzor who was in for a nasty surprise as up out of the water rose a huge crustacean armed with massive pincers. It used these to terrible effect, badly wounding Galzor. The rest of the party now weighed in, hacking and chopping at the monster, a Giant Crayfish. It was finally despatched and sank back down into the water. While Merlin pressed on to the far side to investigate the coins, Adthar stripped off his armour and dived into the water to see if there was anything worth recovering – his efforts were rewarded with a silvery pin fitted with a small ruby and a bone tube, sealed at each end with wax. Surfacing again, he was in time to see Cafaror make the same descent to remove the crayfish’s claws, obviously to add to his growing souvenir collection. Cafaror's player was really getting into the souvenir collecting thing, which I am encouraging, partly because it is a very good attempt at individualising the fighter and partly because I have some interesting ideas for this in future adventures.

Once the party had dried off, they set off again up the passageway, aiming to see what lay at its end. They arrived in a large room which had several doors and passages opening off it. They tried to open one door, only to find that behind it was just a blank wall. From further into the dungeon, they heard a strange, dull clanging noise. Bemused by this, they moved further into the room only to find themselves under attack from a band of gnolls who were camped in an adjoining room.

The gnolls were a tough enemy although Adthar’s masterful swordplay made short work of four, with Alurax killing three. The rest of the party finished off the last two.

I'd set the gnolls' HP at 9, the average of 2d8 (saves having to check different HP totals for each individual monster) and with them being larger targets, the d12 damage from the longswords the party's fighters were using seemed to be delivering one-hit kills quite often in the combat.

Although there was no treasure in the gnolls’ lair, looting the bodies yielded a haul of no small size.

Having won their bitter fight, the party was in two minds as to which way to proceed. They decided to follow a long sloping passageway that they had sidetracked on the way to the gnolls’ room. At its end, they found a door, beyond which was another passageway and a door to the left. Ferros decided to open it a crack to see what lay beyond but at that point, he was surprised as it was wrenched open and an orc stabbed a spear at him. The thrust missed and moments later, the orc lay dead on the floor. Its companion, halfway up the passageway took a defensive position as the party hurtled towards it, whilst at the end of the passageway, a third orc started screaming “Intruders! Intruders!”

As previously mentioned, I'm moving away from human/human combat and so had exchanged the guards at this point in the module with orcs, a preferable solution for all concerned.

Battle was joined; the Team fought its way up the passage, into a small room and to the far side, killing or sleeping everything that stood in their path. Beyond the small room, they entered a larger chamber where they faced eight orcs, two hobgoblins and a tough individual in armour with a huge mace, who watched and waited for his chance to strike.

He didn’t get it; the Team engaged the orcs and punched through enemy lines. Alurax struck, then landed a blow that rocked him back on his heels. This was JG's use of the d30 for this session, a score of 23. When I announced that their foe was still standing, their eyes widened in horror. They had never met somebody with so many HP before and it was a shock to the system. Not for long, however. Galzor’s mace blow was tellingly effective (another d30 roll) and Elador fired a magic missile which sent the heavyweight crashing to the floor. He had only tried to hit Alurax once and missed. The party's tactic of rushing the big foe and taking him from front, sides and rear to get hit bonuses had paid off again (remember the ogre in the previous session?)

Soon, the party’s martial prowess – and the death of the enemy champion - finished off the opposition and the last two surviving orcs threw down their weapons and raised their hands, much to the chagrin of Alurax, who was fired up with a combat frenzy. The party cast a glance around a room littered with bodies and could not help but feel somewhat pleased with themselves.

They were in for an unpleasant surprise!

Friday 29 July 2011

Running a Call of Cthulhu pbem Part Fifteen

A brief word on handwaving, the definition of which I am taking as “Not burdening your players with the tiresome bits of reality…”

A pbem takes a long time to play. I think my first adventure took about eight months to cover from Saturday lunchtime to Monday evening. Although subsequent adventures have moved perhaps that little bit faster, it’s still a long process, even if only the essential stuff is included. It stands to reason therefore that anything that slows the process down should be looked at closely and its necessity questioned. We’ve already covered the amount of detail a Keeper should include, but what I’m talking about today consists mainly of the moments at which you decide to say “Yeah, okay, I’ll wave that one through and we’ll move on…”

If it breaks a logjam or moves the game forward and is fair to the player concerned and the Keeper can explain the justification so that it appears fair to the player(s) concerned, it will (or at least it should be) generally accepted.

Handwaves should be considered a limited commodity – if the Keeper starts to use them too liberally, it can give the impression that the action is being circumvented or that, again, player involvement is being restricted.

The perspicacious Keeper should be able to spot when a handwave is required. If you’ve got your finger on the pulse of the adventure, the sputtering sound as the flow starts to stall is a good sign. Similarly, a good degree of player enthusiasm for the process should indicate that now is not the time to skip to the next scene.

I’m just going to mention, as we are getting very near the end of this series now, something that also comes at the end – of the adventure itself.

There is a temptation, possibly born of those five-minute segments at the end of shows, to go through what happened and clear up any loose ends. However, this is probably not a good idea in Call of Cthulhu.

Therefore, my advice is not to do an end of adventure reveal if the adventure is being played as part of an ongoing campaign. The party may never visit the mysterious Majestic Hotel again but unless you’re not going to use those characters again, ever, then keep the lid on what really went on. As we journey through life, we can be fairly sure that we don’t know everything about things that happened to us. Some events in our life are mysteries or just downright baffling. It should be thus in Call of Cthulhu. The party may have overlooked something that the keeper can go on and use in a later adventure set in that same world – but if he spills the beans about what the party missed, that’s an opportunity wasted and it makes the party privy to information that they would not otherwise have learned.

Next time – a bit of humour in an otherwise bleak, horrifying and eldritch world and some valuable insights from my players on sandbox Call of Cthulhu

Tuesday 26 July 2011

An Adventure for Every Monster - Bugbear

Map from Dyson Logos, find it and other excellent images here.

Frequency Uncommon
No. appearing 6-36
Armour class 5
Move 9”
Hit Dice 3+1
Percentage in lair 25%
Treasure type Individuals, J,K,L,M. B in lair
No. of attacks 1
Damage per attack 2-8 or by weapon type
Special attack Surprise on a 1-3
Special defences Nil
Magic Resistance Standard
Intelligence Low to Average
Alignment Chaotic Evil
Size L (7’+ tall)
THAC0 16
XP value 135 +4/hp

This adventure takes place in a mountainous area that has a chasm running through it and several gullies that split the rocky wilderness.

The complex on the map is currently occupied by a gang of bugbears who have kidnapped a merchant’s daughter and are holding her for ransom.

The local lord, having heard of the plight of the girl, has hired the party to take the ransom to the bugbears and escort the girl back to her family.

As well as this, there is a second gang of bugbears who were driven out of their lair by the hostage-takers and want to get it back. They will attack more or less as the party enters the lair to deliver the ransom and take custody of the girl.

Following that?

Well, in a further development, the merchant whose daughter was snatched, not willing to sit back and let the local lord take all the glory for the deal, has hired a band of adventurers of his own who he has instructed to get his daughter back alive and wipe out the bugbears.

So, we have two groups of bugbears, two groups of adventurers and the following situation

Bugbear Group One will fight Bugbear Group Two but not the party.
Bugbear Group Two will fight Bugbear Group One, the party and the merchant’s band.
The merchant’s band will fight Bugbear Groups One and Two but not the party unless the party tries a hostile act
If the leader of Bugbear Group One finds out that the merchant’s party is attacking both groups, he will suspect a double cross (with all that this implies) unless the party can convince him otherwise.
The humans cannot tell the difference between Bugbear Groups One and Two
The Bugbears cannot tell the difference between the party and the merchant’s band.

Let chaos commence!

Keyed locations on the map

1 Main approach area for the main bridge. Two bugbears are on watch here, one at the end of each passageway. On detection of the approach of anyone who they do not know or who they regard as hostile, they will blow the large ram’s horn that is kept in Area 2
2 Watchpoint for the main bridge. A large ram’s horn is kept here for alarm purposes. There is a bugbear stationed here who will use a large composite longbow to open fire on attackers. He is an expert with this weapon and will get +2 to hit.
3 Winding passageway leading from the secret door to the rope bridge.
4 The chief of the hostage-taking bugbears lives here with his two bodyguards. He is AC4, has 25 hit points, attacks as a 4HD monster and does +1 damage. His bodyguards have 15hp and are armed with both morning stars and hand axes, which they will throw. There are several joints of meat here that the chief and his bodyguards are eating. The provenance of the joints is suspect.
5 Two more bugbears are in here, guarding the hostage. She is not bound as such, but the bugbears are ready for anything she might try, unless there is a distraction. She is a feisty girl and will seize any opportunity to make her own escape, which might not be such a good thing as she has no idea of the layout of the complex or its defenders.
6 End of the rope bridge. The ropes are tethered to iron posts driven into the rock. They can be hacked but will take 10hp of damage each before breaking
7 Guardhouse for the rope bridge. Two bugbears are stationed here.
8 Staging area for the rope bridge. Stairs lead up from here to Area 10. The ropes have the same hit points as those at location 6. A sentry waits here to make sure that nobody uses the rope bridge to outflank the position. He is armed with a clutch of spears and a scary-looking guisarme.
9 Eastern guard tower. As this covers both the main bridge and rope bridge, it has room enough for four bugbears, armed with heavy crossbows. The bugbears will not both fire in a round, but fire alternately so that one shot can be guaranteed per round. They also have swords in case they are attacked at close range.
10 A wide area enclosed by walls. Three bugbears are stationed here to bolster the defence of either the main bridge (14) or the eastern gate (11). There are some crates and packing cases against the south wall. These were seized by the bugbears when they raided the caravan that was carrying the merchant’s daughter. It was thought that they were valuables but it turned out to be dresses, cosmetics and a set of scrolls on which are written several romantic tales of courtly love. The whole may be worth somewhere in the region of 260 silver pieces. The bugbears do not realise what they are.
11 A guard room for the eastern entrance. This has room enough for two bugbears
12 This room is used for storing weapons; it will have spears, maces, axes, hammers, light crossbows, swords and several containers of oil.
13 This room contains the treasure of the bugbear band. It is guarded by two bugbears.

It has
Copper pieces 2251
Silver pieces 875
Electrum pieces 612
Gold pieces 507
Gems 1 (75gp)

The paucity of the hoard is probably one of the reasons why the band is engaging in hostage-taking.

14 The main bridge. This is a sturdy affair, made of dressed stone and several hundred years old. It has no balustrades (so somebody at the edge may have to make a DEX roll if they’re involved in combat that involves dodging blows). The stones themselves have faded designs on them that seem to resemble fish and birds.

From 6 to 8 is a narrow rope bridge that will only permit one person across at a time. If two people try to use it, both must save vs. DEX. If both save, the bridge bucks about but neither falls. A failed save means the person falls off the bridge and into the chasm. It’s up to the DM to decide what happens after that.

There are twenty-two bugbears in total. If an attack comes from either of the two passages to the west, the leader will move down to the rope bridge and call across to the sentry, who will come across with one of the guards from Tower 7. They, with the chief and his two bodyguards will emerge from the secret door and use this route to attack their enemies from the rear. In the meantime, the guards in Area 5 will move the hostage down the passageway to area 6. If an attack comes down the passage, one will hold the attackers off long enough for the hostage to be moved across the rope bridge to Area 8.

The rival band is only nineteen strong but they have determination and revenge on their side. They are armed with
1 Two-handed sword
2 Broadsword
3 Bow and dagger
4 Bow and dagger
5 Bow and dagger
6 Mace
7 Mace
8 War hammer
9 Battle axe
10 Mace
11 Spear and broadsword
12 Bastard sword +1 and two daggers (this is the leader of the other band – he has the same combat stats as the bugbear in Area 4)
13 War hammer
14 Battle axe
15 Morning Star
16 Spear and broadsword
17 Morning Star
18 Battle axe and hand axe
19 Spear and broadsword

The rival band know about the secret door leading into passage 3 as this was their lair before they were driven out. They will not try to get through it as they know that a prolonged battle in the passageway will slow their attack up. They will, however, try to seal it off with rocks and iron spikes, which will take three bugbears three rounds to achieve if they are not attacked during the process.
Their tactics will consist of attacking area 1 in overwhelming numbers, using their bowmen to knock out the bugbears on the western side of the chasm so that they cannot sound the alarm horn and then rushing the bridge so that they control both sides of it. The heavy fighters will then move to cut off the occupants of Area 9 so that axemen can race to the eastern end of the rope bridge and cut it, preventing anyone coming across it.
They don’t know about the merchant’s daughter but if they do capture her, she will serve as the main course at a victory feast they plan to enjoy when they have recaptured their stronghold.

As a postscript, it should be noted that the local lord had negotiated the release to bolster his position with the merchants and so intends to get rid of the party once the whole thing is over with.

EDIT - You can now download this adventure as a pdf, courtesy of Matthew Schmeer; click on the picture of the bugbear at the top of the blog sidebar.

Monday 25 July 2011

You know you're a gamer when...

Someone asks how much something costs and you instinctively give them the price in gold pieces...

"Discount for cash? Well, yeah, I guess so..."

Sunday 24 July 2011

Team Adventure - Skins and Snakes

Whilst resting up, the party heard the approach of two goblins who were clearly members of the gang who had been living in the Moat House. Alurax, Adthar and Cafaror burst out and finished the stunned goblins off, barely breaking a sweat. I’d rolled them up on the wandering monster table and since the rest of the goblins had been killed off, thought I’d bring these guys in as an easy sword-arm exercise for the Team.

Once their rest had ended, the party decided to move down the southern passageway off the Great Hall, checking out the rooms that they found. In the first one, they found nothing but smashed furniture and a wall cabinet. Alurax investigated and managed to recover a broadsword of particularly fine workmanship.

The next room was a bedchamber but it held nothing of interest. The party passed this by with little or no investigation. The final door opened onto a dark room in which the sound of chittering and fluttering could be heard. Elador cast his Light spell into the room which disturbed the bats roosting in the rafters but did not cause any trouble for the party as nobody went in there.

The large room at the of the passage had a pile of rubble in the south-east corner of the room and this brought back memories of the goblin room with its buried treasure. Alurax, Adthar and Cafaror headed over to the rubble to start excavating but received a nasty shock as a huge snake rose up and attacked them.

Adthar was bitten and succumbed to the poison before the rest of the party weighed in and attacked the snake. It was sluggish to begin with (well, that’s reptiles for you) and its reaction rolls were lousy, outclassed by those of the party. Eventually, it succumbed to their combined efforts. Whilst most of the party started to search for valuables, and were rewarded by the discovery of a fine jewelled dagger (with a staggering price tag), Cafaror decided to skin the snake and take the hide back to town to sell or make into snakeskin garments. This was such a cool idea, personalising his character that I decided to allow it and award him some XP for it as well. It’s difficult to make a fighter stand out and this was just what I was looking for from my players.

After this room, the party moved back to the main hall and decided to try the western passageway. There were three doors opening onto the passageway. In the first room were the battered and dilapidated remains of animal trophies, skins, stuffed heads, horns and antlers. The next room was empty but Alurax noticed an object in the wall cresset and was brave enough to remove it himself – the result was that he netted the party a silver baton – more GP for the account.

Behind the last door before the large room at the end of the passageway, the party found the remains of the castle kitchen, with tables, rotting food, old rusty knives and cleavers and a large barrel in the far corner. Alurax and Adthar, healed by the ministrations of the clerics, went in and Alurax made for the barrel. They were both surprised as a giant tick sprang out from behind the barrel and attacked Adthar. It missed him and as it leapt and came in for another attack, Adthar swung down with his sword and sliced it neatly in two – a cracking 20 on the to hit roll.

In the last room, formerly the castle barracks or so it appeared, a surprise lay in wait for the party. A huge lizard had made its lair in one corner of the room and came at the party as they entered. Adthar took a swing at it and gave it a small wound but Alurax managed to get a shot with his bow in and sent an arrow deep into the monster’s heart – the d30 strikes again. It’s nice to see this rule coming into its own and the players not having to be reminded of it in the heat of the action. The lizard fell dead, only to be systematically flayed by Cafaror who was clearly keen on adding to his collection of reptile skins.

The chest that the lizard was guarding contained some armour and weapons, but not much in the way of money. However, whilst Cafaror was skinning the beast, he noticed that there seemed to be something hard in its stomach and cut it open to reveal a shield that had a strange magical glow to it. I ruled that as he was not a professional skinner, he’d probably take quite a lot of meat off with the skin and would notice something lumpy like a shield stuck in the lizard’s gullet.

The party thought that they had more or less cleared the Moat House, at least above ground. They decided to carry out a thorough search and eventually came across two possible routes downward. One was in the corner of the great hall where Adthar had fried the giant rats with his oil bombs earlier that day. The other was a secret door in the wall of the room where the goblins had been lurking. After a discussion, it was decided to try the staircase behind the secret door and the party went down it one at a time as it was so narrow. This was a wise decision, as anyone who knows the Moat House will realise. The party did not discover their good fortune till a while later.

At the bottom was a tiny room and a door leading off it. Merlin the thief was deputed to venture beyond it and see what was there, trying to blend into the shadows and remain unseen. Unfortunately, another very bad roll on Hide In Shadows meant that the occupant of the room, a fierce ogre spotted him very quickly and leapt into the attack. Adthar and Ferros burst in to assist him but the ogre’s bardiche (how often do we get to see that weapon in action?) swung through the air and smashed into Merlin, flooring him. He scrambled to his feet as the rest of the party pitched in and pretty soon the ogre was surrounded and hacked to pieces, Alurax in particular virtually carving a massive gash in the monster’s chest – a critical that scored double damage.

The ogre had been guarding a large wooden box which was not locked and yielded a pitifully small amount of treasure, a few copper and silver pieces and some glass beads. Alurax, however, had better luck – while everyone else was examining the box, he was searching the pile of skins and rags in the ogre’s bed and found a mysterious cloak that shimmered and seemed very lightweight. As he tried it on and moved about, he seemed to vanish into the gloom. This was clearly a find of some significance, but I wasn’t about to let everyone know what he’d found or even its XP value, which was considerable. That would be a nice surprise when they got back to town.

Two doors opened off the ogre’s room. The first one the party tried yielded an interesting result – three prisoners in a bad state of health. Ferros healed them all and it was discovered that two were human merchants, who offered a reward for their freedom. The other was a gnome, the first that the party had encountered, who was cagey about his reasons for being in the dungeon – he said that he had been captured by gnolls and imprisoned. He feared that he was next on the ogre’s dinner menu but was grateful for rescue and gave the party an iron ring which, he said, would earn them the friendship of the gnome clans in the region.

This of course meant that I needed to place gnome clans somewhere on the map that, at this point, only existed in my head. However, I was looking into the West Marches campaign as the basis for my campaign’s immediate locale and that would offer ample opportunity for gnome placement.

Having liberated the captives, the party moved through the second door and found it led to a storeroom from which another door led into a much larger room with thick pillars holding up the roof, several doorways coming off and a staircase that clearly came down from the Moat House above. Over the archway leading to the stairs was a mysterious and sinister clump of slime that dripped evilly onto the floor. It was a sickly green colour and nobody felt like touching it. I pointed out that this would have dropped on them if they had come down the stairs from the rat room. As nobody had ever encountered green slime before, I’m not sure that they appreciated how lucky they were.

Alurax had moved into the room to investigate, using his new cloak but whilst he was doing that, the rest of the party came barging in and encountered two zombies who had been hiding behind one of the pillars. Battle was joined and Ferros leapt in with his holy symbol, turning the shambling husks of rotting flesh. As they retreated into a corner, Adthar hurled an oil bomb at them and set them on fire. By now, another door had opened and two more zombies emerged. Ferros turned them as well and they scuttled back into their cell. Alurax tried to hurl his oil bomb at them but missed – nevertheless, he managed to trap them in their cell while he proceeded to fire arrows at them.

The same process was repeated twice more, zombies emerging from doors and Ferros turning them. In total, he turned eight. Bows made short work of two, another hurled oil bomb set two more on fire and even Alurax nearly setting his new cloak on fire with a botched oil bomb throw did not dampen the victory against the zombie menace.

I was particularly impressed with Ferros’ player’s rolling of the turnings, which gave me an idea about developing his character. Stay tuned for further developments.

Ferros and Adthar investigated the room beyond a dark archway through which a suspicious blood trail led. Alurax and Cafaror searched the zombie cells and managed to find a scintillating peridot – another prize that reminded me of just how much wealth can be transported with a handful of gems. When we think of loot, we usually have an image of piles of coin, but gems are often a more interesting option as far as treasure, since their worth is not immediately discernible and keeps the party in suspense until they can get them valued.

Merlin was trying to pick the lock on a very solid door at the far end of the room but when he ran out of luck, the rest of the party joined him to break down the door and its neighbour and found piles of weapons, armour, arrows and bolts. They also found meat and brandy and a caseload of cloaks, embroidered with a yellow eye. Suffice it to say that they would not have to worry about running out of arrows again for quite some time.

Ferros and Adthar’s search led to a pillar that was revealed to have a secret door built into it. Behind the door was a deep shaft descending into the darkness; the rungs were neither dusty, cobwebbed nor rusty. It was clear that somebody had been using the shaft and recently too.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

An Adventure for Every Monster - Buffalo


Frequency Uncommon
No. appearing 4-24 (but more for the purposes of this adventure)
Armour class 7
Move 15”
Hit Dice 5
Percentage in lair Nil
Treasure type Nil
No. of attacks 2
Damage per attack 1-8/1-8
Special attack Charge (3-18 damage on impact and 1-4 trampling)
Special defences Head is armour class 3
Magic Resistance Standard
Intelligence Semi-
Alignment Neutral
Size L (5’ at shoulder)
THAC0 15
XP value 350 +8/hp

This adventure takes place in an area of open plains and rocky hills.

The party is enlisted to help the local noble’s retinue who are investigating reports of rustling on the plains. The rustling is actually being carried out by a gang of gnolls who are picking off the buffalo herders and slowly moving the buffalo towards an area of natural valleys where they have corralled them.

Whilst it appears to be a simple case of humanoids attacking and looting (as will appear to be the case when the party comes across the remains of some herders who have been killed), there is more to it than that. The plan of the gnolls is to lure the party and the noble’s retinue into a trap – there is a box canyon nearby and the gnolls have laid a series of clues that will point the party towards it. They have also constructed a crude camp at its end, where they have laid a set of mildly irritating traps to cause the party to pause and search the area. They have even hidden some small treasure caches in the area so that the party will think they have struck it lucky.

Unfortunately for the party, the gnolls intend to wait until the party has ridden into the box canyon before moving all their hoarded buffalo into place and stampeding them down the canyon to trample all and everything in it.

Once the noble’s retinue is destroyed, the gnolls intend to launch their attack on the noble’s castle and lay it waste.


Frequency Uncommon
No. appearing 20-200
Armour class 5
Move 9”
Hit Dice 2
Percentage in lair 20%
Treasure type Individuals L, M; D, Qx5, S in lair
No. of attacks 1
Damage per attack 2-8 or by weapon
Special attack Nil
Special defences Nil
Magic Resistance Standard
Intelligence Low-average
Alignment Chaotic Evil
Size L (7’ tall)
THAC0 16
XP value 28 +2/hp

The gnolls have upwards of a hundred warriors spread out across the plains and hills but the party is likely to encounter only a dozen or so at any one time as they are keeping spread out to avoid losing too many in one action.

The leader of the tribe, Yellow Fang rides a fearsome hyaenodon (AC5, 1 att, dam 3-12) from which he will direct the main attack on the noble’s castle. Yellow Fang is AC3, 22hp and attacks as a 3HD monster. He has a retinue of 7 warriors, (AC4, 20hp, attack as 3HD monster) who he is keeping in reserve for the big attack. One of these, however, will be in charge of the stampede attack.

Yellow Fang’s lair, such as it is, lies within a series of caves in one of the taller hills in the area. It is littered with buffalo bones and the skulls of butchered beasts are set around the main caves with oil lamps behind their eye sockets. If it is attacked before he has a chance to launch his raid, it will be filled with gnolls readying themselves for the assault. Yellow Fang has stationed his archers in position above and around the cave entrance to spot any attack from a way off and pin down intruders while his battle-axe and two-handed sword gnolls move in to engage in hand-to-hand combat.

If the party discover the lair after Yellow Fang has set off on his raid, there will be a few gnolls left to guard the treasure but the raiders will have taken the potions with them and Yellow Fang will have the tribe’s gems in a pouch around his neck.

Monday 18 July 2011

You know you're a gamer when...

You threaten to deduct XP to get your kids to behave...

"Stop that right now or you're going down a level..."

Sunday 17 July 2011

Team Adventure - To the Moat House!

Having had their collective backsides kicked by the ogres in the previous session, Team Adventure needed something new to get their teeth into. Ever willing to oblige, I decided to dust down an Old School Classic and got out my copy of ToEE (purchased from Mike Badolato many months ago). I turned to the Moat House and off we went.

The gang were approached in town by a representative of the Clerics’ Council (which as you may recall, was more or less invented by Mummy Grognard, so I’m picking up the ball and running with it)

The clerics had agreed to do a cut-price Raise Dead in return for a service from the party. Today was payback day.

They revealed that a building known as the Moat House, a day or so away, which had been in ruins for quite some time, had been reported as being used as a headquarters by a band of monsters led by an evil cleric. There were also reports that he had acquired a holy chalice which was an important cult item for the Clerics’ Council and they wanted it back. The party’s mission was to go to the Moat House, find out what was happening, deal with the evil cleric and get the Chalice back. Anything they found at the Moat House was theirs to keep except for the Chalice.

This ticked everyone’s boxes – a rationale for the party other than simple monster-bashing, a link to the emerging milieu, a chance to get their hands on loot and an in for the newest player. You will remember that last time, the brother of Cafaror’s player had come by to sit in and see what the game was like, and ended up playing Merlin the thief. Well, he was not put off by the experience and turned up for his first proper session. We rolled up a fighter who was christened Adthar and I announced that he was the nephew of one of the clerics on the council and was being sent along to make sure the party stayed on target and obtained the chalice.

Arriving at the Moat House, they were confronted with a description block that really had a great effect in setting the scene. I must make more use of those myself rather than just saying “You enter a room…” As adult players, we do tend to get a bit blasé about the scene-setting paragraphs in modules but the kids loved it.

They decide to try and cross the moat, rather than using the drawbridge. Merlin the thief waded across the moat and tried to climb the embankment on the far side, but alas failed his Climb Walls and slid right back down the embankment and into the moat itself. That was the cue for an attack from one of the giant frogs who was swimming around hoping for a meal. The frog missed by 1 and the rest of the gang hauled Merlin out, remarking that he was perhaps a tad smelly at this point.

I’d decided not to throw the full gamut of giant frogs at the party on the approach – a combat of that nature could well cause them to lose heart and this was not the experience that I wanted them to take away from the day’s session.

Eladar the MU used a Jump and landed on the far side of the moat, then used an iron spike and tied a rope to it so that the party could shimmy across. Soon, they were all standing at the foot of the tower in the bottom left hand corner (the one with the spider, except of course they didn’t know that yet!)

Merlin decided to try and climb up the wall of the tower and actually managed to roll under his Climb Walls percentage (a rare event with this party!) bringing him up to the arrow slit in the wall (which had crumbled somewhat, making it accessible if a bit of a tight squeeze). He was tempted to go through that but then for some unknown reason decided to head for the battlements at the top of the tower instead. He failed his roll again (00 on percentile dice) but I had him make a DEX roll and he managed to grab hold of the arrow slit sill, then hauled himself back up and in.

He lowered himself down to the floor and took a look around but failed to spot the large spider that swung down on its web and took a bite at him. It missed but in the very brief combat that followed, he took a bite and failed his poison save.

The rest of the party, hearing some odd noises, then silence, edged round the tower and in through the gateway, finding Merlin lying on the floor and something large and eight-legged hurtling down on them again. A swift attack by the party led to the spider being run through by Adthar.

First session, first kill. Always a big moment.

The party, having found a few copper and silver pieces and an ivory box (cue treasure in the form of trinkets and valuables rather than coin, a feature of this dungeon) headed across the courtyard and up the steps. Inside the great hall, they were confronted with two passageways and a door, but Adthar spotted an open archway that led to a storeroom, from which the sound of scuffling and skittering could be heard. The rest of the party quickly realised they were giant rats and – not wishing to be overwhelmed – Adthar tossed two oil bombs in there, which I ruled fried quite a lot of the waiting rats. First session, totally getting the hang of tactics!

Meanwhile, Alurax had decided to try the door and went over to it and pulled it open. On the other side was a goblin chieftain who was totally surprised by what he saw facing him. Combat broke out, with the chieftain being hacked down from 17hp to 4 before a Sleep spell from the MU floored him. By now his band (I’m using goblins in place of human brigands further to our discussions about human on human combat) had rushed into the fray and the party had to defend itself against a determined attack which, although doing some damage, was ultimately defeated. Two goblins had fled out of the hole in the wall, swiftly realising that they had no time to dig up their treasure. Their feeble attempts to extract it were, however, spotted by the party, who dug it up and opened the chest (with no thought to their own safety), revealing the hoard of copper pieces, fine cloth, flagon and goblets, fine box and arrows that had mysteriously glowing tips)

At that point, with most of the players having to go home, I had to call it a day. The party had made a good start and recovered some nice loot although they would not be able to gain from the XP until they returned to town to convert it into GP. Adthar’s player had enjoyed himself greatly and was a confirmed returner. All in all, a positive outcome for the Team.

Friday 15 July 2011

Running a Call of Cthulhu pbem Part Fourteen

Old School gamers have had it repeated so often that they can recite it in their sleep – never split the party. In combat-based games like D&D, the reason is obvious – half a party is half as likely to be able to fight off something that a whole party could probably beat. This, however, is usually not the case in Call of Cthulhu. No matter what size the party, running into something eldritch and monstrous is usually a TPK unless the investigators have something powerful on their side. Similarly, one person can die just as easily as five or six if they encounter a Shoggoth.

So, if it doesn’t matter what size the group is, there’s no reason not to split up and cover more ground (to paraphrase Scooby Doo). Indeed, the investigative focus of a good CoC game almost demands that the party breaks up into smaller groups or individuals in order to gather evidence and follow up leads. If the Keeper is doing their job right, there will be more leads than one party can cover on its own – the division of labour is not only advisable but essential if the investigators are going to stand a chance of acquiring enough information to stay alive (and that is the virtue of information, after all).

The format of a pbem makes it very easy to split the party up, in a way that can’t really be done with a tabletop game. No sending players out of the room and running the risk of having them listening at the door.

However, if the party does split into two or more sub-groups, it is very important that track be kept of time. One part of a split party should not be allowed to get too far ahead, since actions taken by the other part of the party may have an effect on them and it gets very confusing (and prejudicial to the atmosphere of the game) if time keeps having to be rewound in order to slot things into their correct chronological place. A general rule is to allow one sub-group to carry out actions that take it perhaps half an hour into the future and then concentrate on the other sub-group. Two sub-groups can be run simultaneously in pbem and be unaware of the activities of each other.

The players should, of course, be encouraged, in the tradition of the old public information films to let their fellows know where they are going. An investigator that does not call in on time can be assumed to be either dead or captured. With the second possibility, their rescue may be effected but even if they are dead, their remains, such as they are, may be able to tell their fellows something of importance.

Many CoC scenarios open with a social gathering of some nature. It’s difficult to administer these face-to-face as the odds are likely – as we have already mentioned – that the other players are listening in to the conversations that the Keeper is having with one particular investigator. There’s also the problem of putting on accents and strange voices, but that’s a matter of personal taste for each individual Keeper. Pbem means that the same e-mail can be personalised for each player. This makes it relatively easy for three characters to be talking to three different people in the same room and still feel that they are the focus of the Keeper’s attention.

Next time – when to handwave.

Thursday 14 July 2011

The Merry Pranksters - Drinks are on me!

The word is out - a party of adventurers have made a major score and are coming back to the city loaded down with treasure. To celebrate, they have announced that for one evening only, they are buying everyone who comes into their local tavern anything they want, all evening.

The Merry Pranksters have been hard at work ensuring that every freeloader and sponger in the city knows about this - in fact, the only people who don't know about it are the party themselves. Your players' party. I wonder what the usually friendly landlord of their traditional watering hole will have to say about it when he presents them with the bill...

Monday 11 July 2011

You know you're a gamer when....

You're watching the video for Hazard by Richard Marx and you find yourself thinking....

"This would make a great Call of Cthulhu scenario"

Sunday 10 July 2011

Team Adventure - Fundraising Epic Fail

Returning to town, the party, led by Elador, Elysia's brother and 2nd level Magic User, approached the Council of Clerics to see if it would be possible to bring her back to life. They usually charged a minimum of five thousand gold pieces but after an argument for reduction from Elador, the clerics decided that they would do it for three thousand gold pieces and a service to be performed at a time of their choosing (a sandbox time bomb if ever there was one).

The rationale behind this was that I needed a way to bring Elysia back but Mummy Grognard was without a character, so we brought in Elador, the NPC MU that she had invented in an earlier session and I hand-waved him in; the involvement of the Council of Clerics was also her idea (it was great to see her getting creatively involved in the milieu as well).

Three thousand GP was still a hell of a lot for a party of very low level characters to raise, but a lot less than 5K. Nevertheless, the party’s funds didn’t stretch that far, even when, as in the case of Junior Grognard, they emptied their purses completely – he wanted to help his mum out and who can blame him? Needing cash, and quickly, they decided to hunt out gold in its natural habitat – the dungeon. Off they went, with this session’s target the ogre chambers where, as you will recall, they had killed four in a previous session.

They crept in and found the first room empty but down a passage, sinister shadows lurked. I felt sure that the ogres would be expecting another attack and had decided that they would take a fall-back strategy, luring the party into the first room and then attacking where they could be fairly sure of deploying maximum strength in a small area. So it proved.

A hefty spear came whistling out of the darkness, narrowly missing Ferros. He fired an arrow (clerics are allowed to use missile weapons but not against humans). It was a difficult shot but he managed to hit and do damage. At this point, four ogres came charging up the passage towards the party and battle was joined.

The battle didn't go quite as well as last time. Nobody brought down an ogre – the d30 was not kind to them this week. One by one, the party began to fall. Eventually, there was only one cleric left, Galzor who did the sensible thing and took to his heels, a single ogre in hot pursuit. He led the ogre through a number of rooms previously occupied by the hobgoblin tribe and finally turned and fought it. Galzor managed to get a lucky hit in using the d30 and killed the ogre but it did him some serious damage. He stayed upright and was rewarded for his kill with an advance to second level.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party were dragged off to the Ogre command post to meet the Ogre Chief. He entered into negotiations with Merlin, who had the highest charisma. As the players were only rolling up stats as and when needed, CHA was one of the last to be filled in and Merlin got the highest, 15. His player was absent and the brother of Cafaror’s player was sitting in to see what the game was like. I allowed him to take over Merlin temporarily and conduct the negotiations – he handled it quite well and managed to persuade the Ogre Chief to let him go back to town to get a thousand gold pieces to ransom the party, who would then be released with only their clothes, no armour or weapons.

On his way out of the dungeon, Merlin met up with Galzor and after a quick Heal or two, they managed to obtain the money from their town-based stash and returned to ransom their comrades.

They nearly spent themselves into poverty to buy more stuff when they got back to town, but everyone more or less managed to re-buy all that they'd lost. There was a definite dearth of gold by now and Junior Grognard was particularly upset as he’d given up all his gold earlier to the Raise Dead fund and had nothing with which to buy himself more armour or weapons. Elador helped him out with a gift of the necessary money to get back to AC3 and weapon readiness.

An unproductive session from the point of view of advancing the party’s fortunes. I had not anticipated that the fight with the ogres would go quite so badly this time; the use of the house rule regarding minus hit points meant that rather than a near-TPK, we had a situation where the party was humiliated by their enemies – a sure-fire cause of vengeance desire on the part of the lads. I felt sure that this was going to inspire some in-game developments in the future; story generated by the actions of the party is always more involving than externally imposed DM plotlines.

Next time, we’ll see how the party got its mojo back and decided to explore different avenues for raising the much-needed funding.

Friday 8 July 2011

Running a Call of Cthulhu pbem - Part Thirteen

It’s been said on better blogs than mine - unless there is a very good reason to say No, say Yes but ensure that players face the consequences of their own actions.

As we’ve seen in weeks gone by, something that the players do may take the scenario off in a totally unexpected direction and - as we have also seen - this is a good thing. It’s also nothing to be scared of, since, if you’ve been following my earlier guidelines, you’ll only be two steps ahead of the players and won’t have invested hours of your valuable time in devising something that the players just don’t seem to want to try. Will you?

If you have, by some oversight, detailed the next six months of the campaign and feel that this work should be appreciated by your players, then it’s always possible to have the new divergence feed back into the original plotline at a certain point. But for goodness sake, be subtle! In fact, subtlety is, I think, one of the key attributes of a Keeper – if the players don’t notice that something has happened plot-wise, you’ve done your job. Nobody likes being told what to do (if they do, they play Adventure Path D&D, not CoC Sandbox) and those who don’t like it and realise it’s going on are going to get a little bit upset about it. They may even start to deliberately choose against expectations, which can make the adventure a little…hectic.

In the end, it’s all about player choice. I am aware that you, the Keeper, know all things and realise that behind the doors of that abandoned warehouse in Brooklyn is a Shoggoth that is going to turn the party into something resembling a Jackson Pollock but going through those doors is the player’s choice and their right as well. Provided that you have given them clues as to what awaits them, their decision should have been an informed one and if they’ve decided to go ahead anyway, that’s their lookout.

That having been said, nobody likes a TPK but if this was D&D and the characters were nudging 6th with a good chance of levelling up and had been playing the same characters for nigh on a year, the degree of personal distress at their demise would be a good deal higher than it might be if their investigators came to a sticky end after the same length of time playing (and adventures in pbem CoC can run for months). Players of CoC know (or they should know) what the game is like, what is likely to happen and more or less how it is going to happen. If they don’t know, they should be advised pretty quickly, preferably at the recruitment stage to give them the chance of playing something a little bit less…dangerous.

It’s a common complaint about New School adventure paths and such like that in order to keep them on track, the GM has to overrule the results of player choice at certain times. The problem with overruling player choice is that it effectively invalidates any input that the player has and disenfranchises them. A choice of one option is no choice at all. And one of the most common phrases in RPGs is “What do you do next?”

After a while, even the most enthusiastic player is going to get a little hacked off with having their avenues of choice closed down. Soon, the light of fun will go out of their eyes and one of two things will happen – either they’ll become a sullen participant, going through the motions and looking for a way of sabotaging the Keeper’s plans or worse still, they’ll walk.

Yes, players do crazy things but that’s what makes memorable and realistic games. And memorable is what you want. In thirty years’ time, nobody’s going to be talking about the game where everything went to plan and nothing out of the ordinary happened, are they?

Next time – Do Split the Party!

Thursday 7 July 2011

Everything's better with pigs

Not sure why but every time I do a post and put in a picture of a boar, it seems to go straight to the top of my Popular Posts list and stay there for ages.

Let's see if this one does as well...

(maybe it'll be more popular than Hot Elf Chicks)

Monday 4 July 2011

You know you're a gamer when....

You're in the kitchen and rather than put the stock cubes into the stew, you start rolling them like d6.

Sunday 3 July 2011

Team Adventure - Fire and Sorrow

At the start of the next session, the party was not going to enjoy their victory for long. Doorways at the end of the cloisters led to stairways and it was down these that something big and mean came pounding. Yes, there were more orcs and they were now backed up by two bugbears, tough opponents for any warrior, let alone those who had just spent time and energy fighting their way through orcs. The party pitched in and with the use of another Sleep spell, arrows, maces and swords, managed to overcome the second wave, but only just.

With no further threat apparent, Elysia turned her attention to the captive orcs. She was keen not to have to kill them if she could avoid it and despite their refusal to compromise, they said that they had no idea what the inscription meant or what the fire pit was for. Extracting a promise from the orcs to leave the area and not attack them again, she released them.

I was quite pleased with the way that this particular encounter went. I’m trying to ensure, having got rid of alignment, that the lads behave in a more or less acceptable fashion and killing bound opponents is not something that I want to encourage. Mummy Grognard agrees with me and that’s why I allowed her to take the moral lead on this issue. You will remember an earlier incident in which a hobgoblin surrendered to Junior Grognard’s character Alurax and was spared in return for co-operation.

With that out of the way, it was time to investigate the flame pit. There were five burners in the pit, arranged in a quincunx pattern. There was also a stone disc and a great many charred skeletons and bits of bone. It was clear from the inscription that the flames would have to be doused in a particular order and by someone climbing into the pit but what order?

Fortunately, a search of the bodies of the bugbears revealed two halves of a stone tablet, on which were inscribed some scratchy numerals. Placing the two halves together gave a list of numbers and it became clear (after a lengthy deliberation that demonstrated very positively just what resources of intellect and reasoning the boys had) that they related to the five burners. However, there was a degree of ambiguity about four and five so it was decided eventually that one of the party should go down, tied to a rope and lay the stone disc across each of the burners in the order suggested and take a chance with the fourth and fifth. Alurax volunteered for this task, which was quite brave since the evidence of what had happened to those who had failed was clear to see, scattered across the floor of the pit.

As luck would have it, they chose the right order and the bottom of the fire pit opened to reveal a set of stairs going downwards. The party ventured downwards then found that a passageway ran south-west. There was a faint flickering light from its far end. As they reached the end of the passage, they found that they were on the brink of a large chamber with at least two stairways leading off it and doors as well. Several black-robed hooded figures stood on the far side of the room and Elysia entered the room and walked towards them. At once, she was enveloped in searing blue-white forks of electricity and fell to the floor, motionless. Battle was joined and strange words of command from the figures plus crossbow bolts left the party struggling to keep the upper hand. Bows managed to kill two of the figures but it was clear that the party was getting nowhere and a retreat was declared. Alurax grabbed Elysia’s body and they moved back up the passageway to relative safety.

I had originally intended that this area would be full of evil clerics of various levels but as soon as the combat kicked off, I realised just how difficult it would be to administer a battle with multiple spell users and so limited things to a Command and a Darkness spell. Once the party had made their retreat, I made a few notes and amended the layout so that the low-level clerics became men at arms and only the 5th level leader retained his powers.

Elysia had failed her save and trodden on a glyph of warding which dealt out 15 points of damage. This brought her down to –11 and therefore under the house rules, she was now permanently dead and in dire need of a Raise Dead, which, according to the DMG would set the party back 5,500gp, a steep target for a gang of 1st levellers.
I was happy enough to go with that; it gave the party the prospect of getting their MU back and also incentivised them to go treasure-hunting although this did not work out quite as well as they had first envisaged as we shall see in the next session.