Tuesday 30 August 2011

An Adventure for Every Monster - Bull


Frequency: Common
No. appearing: 1-20
Armour class: 7
Move: 15”
Hit Dice: 4
Percentage in lair: Nil
Treasure type: Nil
No. of attacks: 2
Damage per attack: 1-6/1-6
Special attack: Charge (3-12 damage on impact and an additional 1-4 trampling)
Special defences: Nil
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Semi-
Alignment: Neutral
Size: L (5’ at shoulder)
THAC0: 15
XP value: 85 + 4/hp

The party are after a particular item/monster which, so legend has it, can be found in a notorious and dangerous labyrinth. This was designed centuries ago by a particular architect who, as luck would have it, was somewhat lazy and used the design twice. The party can get some valuable insights into the layout of the labyrinth if they visit its twin, which is in the territory of a certain king, who has long since cleared it and now claims it as part of his domain.
The King, when approached, is in a good mood. He is perfectly happy to allow the party to venture into the labyrinth – provided that they are men of honour and pass a test to prove this in the eyes of his court.
Provided the party agree to this, he will announce that they are to embark on a royal hunt – the object of which is to bring back a number of wild bulls, alive, for the ritual use of the king himself.

It is up to the DM to establish how difficult it will be to capture several of these specimens alive. Use of bolas, nets, lassos or such like are valid methods of bringing them back in one piece. The party should be encouraged to come up with weird, wacky and occasionally useful methods of capturing the bulls. Generally speaking, magic is not regarded as a manly or heroic activity. Members of the King’s court will ride along to see the party in action and to make sure they don’t harm the bulls.

Provided that they can bring perhaps three or four bulls back alive and unharmed, the party may think that their task is done. However, this is far from the case. The King holds a feast for them that evening and provides them with wine, women and fine apartments in the palace, where they may prepare for the next day. They’ll need the rest because the next day’s activity is bull-fighting.

No, not the sort you see in Spain but something more manly and heroic. The King really likes those two words.

The party will be asked to nominate their best fighter, without knowing what they’re letting themselves in for. He (or she – this is a fairly liberal society) will enter the King’s arena, wearing ritual armour (studded leather at best) and armed with a simple weapon (spear or sword) and will be set against one of the bulls they captured the previous day.

Of course, it’s not even that simple, because as well as the party’s candidate, other young nobles will be contending for the honour and glory and they will be most disgruntled at the fact that they might lose to outsiders. Therefore, it is likely that the night before the fight, the various nobles will try sneaky or downright bad ways to ensure that the fight is not a fair one. They will not go so far as to kill the party, since that would raise too many questions but drugs, excess alcohol, exhausting them with over-attentive women will certainly be considered.

If the party’s champion does win, fame and glory will certainly be theirs. They will have a private banquet with the King, access to his harim and of course permission to enter the labyrinth. The champion, being a worthy and brave individual (they’ve just proved it) will also be put on the list of the King’s reserve in case of war; they can have this worded into the ceremony that bestows the honours on them.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

An Adventure for Every Monster - Bulette


This could be your party if you try this adventure

Frequency: Very rare
No. appearing: 1-2
Armour class: –2/4/6
Move: 14”/3”
Hit Dice: 9
Percentage in lair: Nil
Treasure type: Nil
No. of attacks: 3
Damage per attack: 4-48/3-18/3-18
Special attack: 8’ jump (I'd like to see that)
Special defences: Nil
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Animal
Alignment: Neutral
Size: L (9 ½’ tall, 12’+ long)
THAC0: 12
XP value: 2300 + 12/hp

This adventure is set in an area of semi-civilised countryside, having been won from the wilderness a few years ago. The party will encounter in the course of their travels a fighter who is under attack from a gang of ruffians led by a 2nd level assassin. If they can save him before he is finished off, they will find out that he is a 1st level paladin, who has only recently begun his career as a champion of good. He is a little headstrong and rather on the young side, only eighteen years old. What he possesses in charisma is counteracted by his youthful naivety. Nevertheless, in gratitude for his rescue, he will explain that he is on a Mission to save a village of halflings nearby which is under attack from a pair of bulettes. (if the DM is feeling nasty, the paladin could only know about one bulette and the other could make an appearance when the party is committed to battle).

Needless to say, this is not the full story (although it is as much as the paladin knows). The hobbit village stands slap bang in the way of the development plans of the local lord and it is he who has ‘encouraged’ the bulette to investigate those tasty little furry-footed snacks. It is up to the DM to decide if he has used MU and Cleric assistance to cast Speak with Animals and Charm Monster. If this is the case, it means the lord has the services of a 7th level magic user on which to call if things get tough.

The local lord is not evil as such, just a typical noble who has risen from the profession of adventurer to seize, pacify and now civilise this particular piece of territory. An attitude of seeing things as problems to be sorted out with a heavy hand has stuck with him since his adventuring days. However, in order to keep his territory, he has assimilated himself into the feudal structure and now has an overlord who is a good deal more civilised and honourable than his underling. The local lord knows that his behaviour must therefore be beyond reproach while his overlord is watching (which could be all the time, you know what these nobles are like). He will therefore wait until the bulettes have destroyed the hobbit village, tut sorrowfully and hire a band of adventurers to hunt the monsters down and kill them.
Guess who?
The party, if they make it this far, will only get their bounty on production of the bulette carcasses, which is a problem because, lurking in the wings is a band of impoverished dwarves, refugees from their mountain fastness (following an unfortunate incident with a fire giant clan) and now wandering the lands of men, trying to turn a quick gold piece. Currently indebted to a loan shark for some gambling debt or hastily borrowed loan, they will see the bulette carcasses as an opportunity to strip the scales off it and turn them into shields of +1 to +3 bonus, then sell them and make some much needed cash. Woe betide the party who gets in the way of these desperate (and still very handy with an axe) fellows.

Note - the Bulette is not to be mistaken for this woman, who is nevertheless a character in her own right.

Monday 22 August 2011

You know you're a gamer when...

You call your son's friends by their character names...

"Adthar, Cafaror, come in! Sorry, what were your real names again?"

Sunday 21 August 2011

Team Adventure - Make No Bones About It

The previous session had been nearly a month ago, on 20th July and it took a little while for everybody to get back up to speed on where we'd got to, but as regards the mechanics of play, the lads had only forgotten one or two things, like the particular dice required for particular weapon damage. I was heartened by this, and all the more so by the fact that Adthar's and Cafaror's players (brothers in real life) had chosen to play D&D instead of the chance of an archery session at the local sports centre.

You will remember that when we left the last session, Ferros the cleric had just failed (rather badly) a turning roll as four ghouls came towards him in a crypt beneath the ruined chapel.

Fortunately, Ferros quickly cast a Protection from Evil which kept the ghouls at bay whilst Adthar and Cafaror scrambled up a few steps and took up fighting positions. Adthar hurled an oil bomb which sailed over Ferros’ head to hit two of the ghouls who blazed merrily. Cafaror opened fire with his bow, Adthar with his crossbow and Ferros joined in with his bow to wipe out the two remaining ghouls in short order.

They searched the crypt but found nothing of any relevance. The interred skeletons had long since been ripped apart and desecrated by the fearsome undead quartet. Coming back up the stairs from the crypt, they gathered themselves together, casting healing magic to restore a little of their fighting capability. Adthar was a long way short of his 23 hit points and would not really regain them all until the end of the session, since the party was not able to rest up and regain their full complement of spells.

Once this had been done, they completed their investigation of the ruined chapel, noting the presence of the well shaft (although at that time they did not know what it was). At this point, they realised that perhaps they should go and see where the others had got to. They climbed through the empty window space at the side of the chapel and hurried down the overgrown path to where the others stood at the opening in the hillside.

As a note to the interested reader, I was using The Poor Knight's Tomb by Simon Forster which can found here if anyone is interested in following in the team's footsteps. It required very little adjustment for 1e and I recommend it as a low-level dungeon that can keep a party of kids busy for a good few hours.

Beyond the opening, a flight of uneven steps led down to a small landing and the passage then turned right, down another flight of stairs. The flickering torches cast sinister shadows on the walls which increased the level of nervousness in the party. They were down on hit points, low on spells and were now entering a dungeon of unknown size and contents.

Through an arch at the end of the passageway, they could see a large room in which stood a stone slab. On top of this was a very old skeleton which looked as if it were about to crumble to dust. In each corner of the room was a statue, similarly old, with pious expression and hands raised in benediction.

Elysia noticed that there was very old, worn writing around the edge of the stone slab; she cast Comprehend Languages and discovered that it was a request for protection and blessing. From whom and for what was unclear. The adventure did not specifically mention this writing but I put it in to give the MU a chance to use Comprehend Languages and to add a little flavour to the session. It's also an opportunity to underscore the antiquity that is present in this campaign setting - the tomb in my world is hundreds of years old, as if mediaeval adventurers were to come across an early Saxon burial site.

Close examination of the slab revealed that there appeared to be a slight gap at its base where it joined the floor. Adthar tried to move it and although it felt as though there was a degree of looseness there, he was not strong enough on his own to shift the slab. Alurax, Cafaror and Ferros pitched in to help and slowly the slab moved across the floor to reveal a hole in the floor, ten feet deep or so. Elysia was very wary about going down, worried about noxious atmospheres, poison, flammable gases and such like. Adthar volunteered to go down first, tied to a rope so that if any misfortune were to befall him, he could be pulled to safety quickly. He made good progress, finding a passageway and moving along it easily. The rest of the party joined him apart from Merlin and Ferros, who remained in the room with the statues to keep guard. Neither Merlin's nor Ferros' players were in attendance for this session.

At the end of the passage that Adthar was exploring, they found a short flight of stairs down which they edged until they found themselves in a room that appeared to be both a small chapel and a tomb. On an altar against the far wall was a gold and silver seven pointed star which Adthar fearlessly picked up. Adthar's player (13) is getting very daring in his old age and there have been several incidents when he's been very lucky that no nasty traps have been waiting for him. Will his luck hold out? We shall see...

Nothing bad seemed to happen to him. The party’s attention then turned to the two sarcophagi that stood against the left and right hand walls. The lids were carved into the likenesses of knights with rounded shields and short swords whose pommels bore the shape of a seven-pointed star.

The lids were heaved off by Adthar and Alurax and inside were found skeletons of knights with the selfsame shields and short swords in pristine condition, blades sharp as the day that they had been forged. It was not long before somebody decided to try and pick up one of the swords, at which point both skeletons rose from their coffins and attacked the party. One was swiftly despatched by a combination of magic missiles and the doughty mace of Galzor, whilst the other skeleton proved slightly harder to destroy but eventually succumbed to the superior strength of the party (and more magic missiles).

Having survived their encounter with the first of the undead that the dungeon had to offer, the party set off up the corridor to see where the other end led. As they passed under the hole into the room of statues, they called up to let Merlin and Ferros know that they were all okay. With this reassurance, the thief and cleric joined them and they headed along the passage. Adthar led the way, bold, determined – and straight into a pit trap!

The party crowded round to haul the doughty fighter out of the hole, heal some of the damage and then investigate the three doors that lay ahead at the end of the passage. They decided to try the right-hand door first and entered a room with a small altar against the far wall, flanked by two statues. A careful investigation found that there was a very narrow gap behind the altar and a hole could be seen in the wall. Again, the combined strength of the party shifted the altar, which fell apart into its constituent parts and ended up as a heap of stone on the floor. The hole could now clearly be seen – about eighteen inches high by nine inches wide. What could have made it? Nobody knew but Alurax decided to borrow Galzor’s mace to see if he could enlarge the hole. He had little success, apart from dislodging a stone block and spilling some earth and stones into the room.

This was the point at which I had decided to slightly amend Simon's adventure. This tunnel was the home of a little colony of snyads (Field Folio), who are really only good at causing nuisances (as we shall see later).

The party decided to try the next door, across the passage, whilst Alurax kept watch on the mysterious opening in the wall. In this room there was another sarcophagus, the knight in effigy this time wearing plate mail, holding a kite shield with the seven pointed star and holding a longsword with a hilt shaped like an eagle’s head.

Elsewhere in the room were five ceremonial urns which Adthar unstoppered and examined. They contained scrolls and parchments in ancient script. He left them there while the party again opened the sarcophagus. Within, as before, lay a skeleton which wore the exact same armour and held the same weapon as on its effigy. Adthar reached in and took hold of the sword, while the party braced itself for the skeleton to animate. It did not do so, and Adthar experienced something strange as his hand clasped the sword hilt. A weird tingling sensation flooded through him and his head swam for a moment, but he soon regained his composure. This was a very important moment for the party but they were not to realise its significance for quite some time.

Having determined that there was nothing hostile to defend against in this room – and having more or less dismantled the skeleton in their attempts to extract its plate armour, the party moved into the final room. There, they were met by a magnificent sight – a faded but beautiful mural, depicting a woman in armour and sword leading knights into battle against fierce-looking warriors and demonic figures. The woman herself was raising her sword on high to smite the leading demon.

The party began to search the room, having seen nothing else of note and soon Elysia’s attention was drawn to the unusual angle of the sword on the mural, pointing upwards rather than downwards as would be usual if it were striking the demon. Touching and pressing the stones where the sword pointed revealed one that moved and as it was pressed, a door swung open to reveal a doorway and beyond it a small chamber with another sarcophagus.

I'd decided to describe the room and the mural in as much detail as I could and allowed Mummy Grognard to roll on a d20 below her INT to get minor clues which would lead her to the solution, which she got with only one tiny hint. A major keystone of Old School philosophy and one which added a good deal to the playing experience.

Meanwhile, in the room with the destroyed altar, Alurax was getting slightly bored with his sentry duty and his attention had started to wander. Suddenly, he turned to notice something out of the corner of his eye – a tiny shape that moved with lightning speed back down into the hole again. Alurax peered down the hole but could see nothing – there was a faint scuttling sound but that was all.

He hurried into the room with the mural to tell the rest of the party, just in time to see Elysia, Cafaror and Adthar about to heave the lid off the latest sarcophagus. The two clerics Ferros and Galzor were ready in case something nasty attacked from within. The party was clearly learning from experience and making good use of its members.

Off came the lid and inside lay a figure in ornate plate armour with a large mace in its bony hands. Elysia went to pick up the mace, and – as was expected – the skeleton animated and came at them, swinging the mace. The party withdrew into the main room where they lured the skeleton after them so that they could surround it and hack it to pieces, their preferred tactic. Despite landing a couple of telling blows with its mace, the skeleton soon fell to the overwhelming attacks of the party.

Simon's adventure lists the weapon as a two-handed sword with a serrated edge (and that would have made Adthar's eyes light up) but I wanted to have something for the clerics (and specifically Ferros, if he picked up on it) so I made it a mace that did double damage against undead, tying into an earlier aspect of his character's development.

A final search of the mural room revealed nothing and Elysia, having been informed of the strange little creature from the tiny tunnel, took Galzor and hunkered down on the far side of the room to see if she could entice it out. They dimmed the torches and waited. About ten minutes later, a little head poked out of the tunnel entrance, followed by spindly limbs. A chittering sound accompanied its appearance. Elysia tried to speak to it but it shot back into the tunnel again. A few minutes later, the creature was back – with four of its fellows, who peered out, chittered angrily and shook their tiny fists at the party members. Then they disappeared again. The snyads, I figured, would be mightily displeased at attempts to break open their lair and so were not well-disposed towards the party.

Realising that little would be gained by trying to communicate with the creatures, Elysia and Galzor rejoined the party and they ascended to the ruined chapel again, where they gathered their strength and decided to investigate the well shaft, since it was the only place left untouched so far.

They removed the heavy wooden cover and looked down. Adthar dropped a pebble down and from its fall time, they estimated the shaft to be about fifty to sixty feet deep. A fifty foot length of rope was used to lower Alurax down but after about thirty feet of descent, he came across a small hole in the side of the shaft, where two stone blocks had been removed and a small tunnel dug back into the earth. He recognised the dimensions – the same as the one from which the strange creatures had emerged. It was hypothesised that the two entrances met up somewhere between dungeon and chapel, but nobody could be certain about it. In fact they did - the snyads had broken into the well shaft for reasons that will become clear very soon.

Alurax and Adthar descended to the bottom, where they found, sitting in a sludgy mulch of green ooze, a collection of coinage, two battle axes, some kegs of ale, an ornate saddle and a bundle of clothes. Whilst they were standing there looking at the haul, there was a slap as half the length of rope landed around them. It had been cut and the point at which this had been done matched the opening in the wall of the shaft. It was pretty obvious that the strange creatures had done this, although nobody knew why.

Cafaror descended on another length of rope, tossed a flask of oil into the opening and then threw in a torch. While the oil burned, Alurax and Adthar climbed back up, the rope having been re-knotted by Elysia casting Unseen Servant.

At the top, they pondered what they should do. It was decided at length (with a little help from me to stop prolonged discussion on the subject) to use the fifty feet of rope and attach it to the twenty feet, then use the other thirty or so to lower another party member to cover the hole while Adthar and Alurax again descended on the seventy foot length. Cafaror volunteered to cover the hole and in this fashion, the treasure was brought up to the surface. Whilst this was going on, it was noticed that a piece of ornate ivory and silver jewellery was also amongst the haul but had been caught up in the bundle of clothes, which now turned out to be four ladies’ gowns.

Having finally brought the loot to the surface, the party decided to head back to town to see what their haul had yielded, but not before Cafaror had removed the remaining teeth from the corpse of the hill giant. He stated that he wanted to use them to make necklaces and jewellery.

I wonder how far Cafaror's player is going to go with this one. To his credit, he's playing his character consistently and I did advise him that if he could cone up with a good pitch and recite it at the table next time, I'd let him get a good price for the 'jewellery' from rubes who might fall for it.

On the way back, the party noticed that they were being shadowed by two horsemen on their left and two on their right, about half a mile distant and matching their progress. Spooked by this and aware that their stocks of spells and hit points were low, the party pressed on through the night, arriving at the gates of the town as the sun rose. Off in the distance, they could hear wolves howling.

Two wilderness encounter rolls had come up with "Bandits" and "Wolves". I did not want to inflict another combat on the party while they were in a weakened state but still wanted to heighten the tension and uncertainty. Plus, noticing the bandits (but not realising who they were yet) will form an interesting hook if said bandits start getting up to no good. An adventure in the offing? We shall see. The wolves can wait for another week when the party is looking for an easy few hundred XP.

They were unwilling to rest until they had safely stowed their loot and Elysia went straight to the Council of Elders to see if Elador was available to consult about the seven pointed star motif and the mural in the tomb. He was away on Council business but was expected to be back soon. The Council member to whom she was talking offered to consult the Archives to see if there was any mention of these things therein.

The party converted their gains into gold and bought themselves horses to avoid having to walk or use carts on their travels but two more developments occurred; Elysia, while taking the ivory and silver piece to the jeweller’s to be valued was told that there were flowing runic letters on it and that it might turn out to be very interesting indeed. And after finally succumbing to the need for sleep, Adthar was jolted out of a dream involving a landscape of lakes and forests, burning buildings, charging knights and a woman reaching out to him, imploring him to help her. He glanced down and in the dream, he was riding a horse and holding the eagle head sword that he had found in the tomb.

Strange events were afoot, but what could it all mean?

In a clear demonstration of sandbox play in action, I was watching potential hooks generate themselves from things that the party had encountered and the choices that they had made. Anybody could have drawn the eagle sword and thereby experienced the dream. I drew that idea from R Scott Bakker's books where one of the leading characters has the same dream night after night of a significant event in the distant past. This dream will only be the first and offer clues (nothing more) to a possible adventure that the party can choose to take - or not. As for the ivory jewellery, well, we'll just have to wait and see what the jeweller comes up with - again, adventure beckons but in a different direction. I'm also going to be writing up some background myths and legends for the female warrior on the mural.

Of course, the party could go in any of these directions or none - they may well try something completely different. Part of the fun - and part of the workload - of sandbox is being ready to go with them on whichever path they choose. A challenge and a very great pleasure.

POSTSCRIPT - the next session is set for 10th September, so you can expect another report the day afterwards. Also, due to personal circumstances, Merlin's player will probably not be a regular from now on. I've expalined this by ruling that Merlin has been called away on Thieves' Guild business. When the new school term starts, it may be that with a spare seat at the table, we could be welcoming a new recruit to the Team.

Monday 15 August 2011

You know you're a gamer when...

You're watching Boomerang with your kids and you find yourself thinking...

"A campaign based on Top Cat...yes, that might work...now, what system shall I use?"

He's the Chief, he's the King, but above everything, he's a 7th level thief...

Sunday 14 August 2011

Team Adventure - Moor Trouble Ahead

The session began with the party spending some of their hard-won gold improving their armour and buying new weapons. Most notable was Adthar’s purchase of a two-handed sword, something that he had been wanting to buy since he learned of its existence.

Galzor and Alurax also decided to increase the party’s animal contingent by purchasing a war-horse each. Nobody else seemed interested in horseflesh today.

Cafaror had some interesting news when the town tanner arrived to deliver his snakeskin boots and trousers.

The tanner had managed to cure and preserve the skin of the giant lizard and had put the word around concerning Cafaror’s desire to sell it. He believed that, given enough time, he could attract sufficient interest from collectors and enthusiasts to justify holding an auction for the skin. He told Cafaror that he hoped to be able to arrange it in two weeks’ time, as some of the buyers might have to travel from quite some distance. I had a few ideas as to developments that this could lead to, but introduced the two week delay to give myself time enough to write some stuff up. Once again, a chance event (Cafaror's player collecting skins) had started to flesh the campaign world out.

While the King of Skins was busy, the rest of the party were listening in on some interesting gossip in the tavern. It was whispered that strange things were happening on the moors to the north of the town. Some people had reported eerie lumbering shapes in the mist; some who went to investigate never returned. Others told of heavy thumping and crashing although there was no indication of what had been causing these noises.

The party decided to look into this and set off on their new mounts, their cart and mules. Several miles north on the road, they encountered a merchant caravan, heavily protected by armoured mercenaries. These merchants were taking no chances and as a result of their precautions, they had reported no unusual sightings. The first wilderness encounter roll had produced something which could have been quite mundane but the addition of the mercenaries was my way of showing the party that the wilds were tough and dangerous.

The party left the road as it veered off to the east, heading onto the moors themselves. Heather and gorse replaced grass, cairns of stones dotted the skyline. For several hours, they rode and marched north but saw little of interest until, in the distance, they spotted a flock of large black birds circling in the sky. Going closer, they saw that they were either crows or ravens; either way, it was a sure sign of carrion nearby. Ferros neared the carcass, which appeared to be that of a large cat – probably a mountain lion. This had actually come up on the wilderness encounter roll but rather than a live specimen, I thought that it would be a good idea to use a dead body to give the party an idea of what they might be facing.

Despite having been picked partially clean by the birds, the party could see that the lion had been pretty well pulverised by something big and tough. Galzor seemed worried that they might be facing something that could finish off a lion but Ferros decided to use his spell Speak with Animals to converse with one of the ravens, who informed him that they were scavenging, had not killed the lion and did not know who did. However, the raven did say that he and his fellows had seen “the big walker” on the moors and that if they continued north, they might find something of interest.

It's not often that the Speak with Animals spell gets used, and I was having a lot of fun role-playing the raven. Full marks to Ferros' player for thinking of the tactic.

On they rode, northwards as the afternoon slipped by and the sun headed for the western horizon. They came to a moorland stream where they filled their water bottles and watered the horses. They started to search up and down the banks of the stream and Galzor soon came across some flattened vegetation and large, heavy prints in the mud of the bank. There was some debate about whether to lay in wait and ambush whatever it was, or follow its tracks back to wherever it was that the thing was hiding.

The latter course of action won out and so Ferros and Cafaror took one of the war-horses, whilst Alurax and Galzor took the second; they got a way ahead of Elysia, Merlin and Adthar with the cart and the mules. Soon, they spotted what appeared to be a ruined building of some sort on the horizon.

Ferros was keen to investigate further, whilst Alurax and Galzor were reluctant to approach unless they knew a little bit more about it. The latter was proved to be the best course of action since as the bold cleric spurred the horse into a trot, a huge boulder came sailing through the air from the direction of the ruin, bounced just in front of Ferros’ mount and knocked him clean off the horse. The animal took fright and Cafaror was hard-pressed to control it. He steered it back to Alurax and Galzor, whilst the injured Ferros picked himself up and gave the ruins a careful look. Something dark, shadowy and big was seen moving within.

The riders reunited with the rest of the party who were moving up to investigate what they had heard – a colossal thump and a scream from both Ferros and the panicked horse. Realising that their quarry had been located, they started their approach to the ruin, which now seemed to be more like a chapel of some sort. Ferros, Adthar, Cafaror and Alurax took the frontal position whilst Elysia, Merlin and Galzor moved round the flank to see if there was a back way in.

As the brave foursome neared the building, the sinister shadowy figure within hurled another boulder through the ruined front door. Adthar took the brunt of the impact. Whilst he made his entrance through one of the empty arched windows, Cafaror slipped in, using the Cloak of Elvenkind that he had chosen after the division of the spoils from the Moat House. Alurax and Ferros stood by the door and opened fire with their bows, whilst Adthar swung into action with his two-handed sword. Unfortunately, it only scored a nasty gash on the creature’s arm and it was still fighting as Ferros’ arrow glanced off it, inflicting a similarly pitiful amount of damage. Adthar's player had rolled the 3d6, expecting some hefty damage but managed a total of 3. The d30 rolls of the party this session were also pretty lacklustre with JG getting 5 and Ferros' player scoring 1. A timely reminder that the dice are fickle things and must not be relied upon to save the party's bacon every time.

However, with Cafaror hitting it from behind and Alurax weighing in, the tide of battle soon turned and Adthar finished it off with a final swipe of his mighty blade, sending it crashing into the wall, off which it bounced to hit the floor, leaving a sticky smear of blood across the crumbling brickwork.

The monster was revealed to be a Hill Giant, the weakest of all the true giants but a tough opponent for the Team nonetheless.

While the foursome began to search the ruins of the chapel, Elysia and her companions were at the rear of the building. They spotted an overgrown path, reinforced in places with flagstones, that led away from the ruins towards a cave opening in the hillside. It was towards this that they made their way, keen to investigate something of obvious interest. They thought that things were finished in the chapel but they could not have been more wrong.

Pressing on with their investigation, Adthar, Alurax, Ferros and Cafaror found that beyond the arch inside the chapel lay an altar room with doors off it on both sides. To the left was a vestry where an old effigy lay on the floor. It had been covered in gold leaf at one point but somebody had stripped it of its riches long ago and there were only a few tiny flecks of gold left. To the right, there was a room in which was the entrance to a well shaft, sealed by a large round wooden cover.

At this point, somebody spotted that behind a pile of rubble from a weakened wall in the main room of the chapel was a heavy wooden door. They cleared the rubble away and tried to open the door but years of rain and inclement weather had caused it to swell and warp and it refused to budge. Ferros and Adthar put their shoulders to it and with their combined efforts, it flew open. The force of their strength carried them over the threshold but while Ferros managed to regain his balance, Adthar plunged down the steep stairwell with a loud metallic clattering. He landed in a crumpled heap at the foot of the stairs, in some sort of crypt chamber.

I'd had both players roll under their DEX to keep upright. Ferros' player made it, but Adthar's did not. I rolled a d3 for damage from the fall and got 3, which - as he had already taken damage, left him on 1hp. I mused on the irony of somebody going down to minus HP from a fall downstairs. Not the most glorious way to go. However, Adthar was still conscious when he reached the bottom, but soon he was going to wish he wasn't as in the darkness, shadowy forms started to move from their hiding places.

Ferros arrived moments later and stepped forward, raising his holy symbol aloft to banish the shambling shapes of corrupt decay. To his horror, they paid his words of power little heed and came closer…and closer…

Ferros' player had rolled to turn but got a 1. In protestation, both he and JG pointed out that he hadn't really rolled it properly but just dropped it onto the table and it didn't really count. I raised an eyebrow at that one but agreed to a second roll, since it was the end of the session and the lads were getting ready to go. He chose another d20 and rolled it again. A good, long roll. Which came to rest on a 2.

The dice were clearly not going to be gainsaid on this one. Ferros had failed to turn the ghouls. There were ways out, but only if his player could remember some salient facts and realise how to make use of them.

Friday 12 August 2011

Running a Call of Cthulhu pbem – The Sixteenth and Final part

Call of Cthulhu is a dark and dangerous game and not the sort of thing you’d associate with humour. However, there is room for levity of a sort within the game. I found two sources; the first was direct, in which I would frequently title e-mails with groan-inducing puns and the second was indirect, in which humorous situations arose out of play. The chief amongst these, and one that is remembered even now was Alessandro Mancini’s attempt to seduce the pretty young librarian in Brattleboro and thereby gain access to the secrets that a locked bookcase might supply. However, his internet dice rolls were so bad that the seduction (complete with impromptu poetry reading) backfired catastrophically, an incident that was memorably chronicled by Dungeonmum on her blog.

Whilst these two types of humour are perfectly acceptable since they do not undermine the general atmosphere of gloom, horror and dread, I don’t think that it’s a good idea for the Keeper to deliberately crowbar in situations or characters that are intended to be either ridiculous or comic relief. Whilst I don’t go as far as James Maliszewski in my dislike of things that vitiate the sense of cosmic horror and eldritch darkness that should permeate a game of CoC (I have a cuddly Cthulhu on my bookshelf) I have referred in previous posts to the efforts a Keeper should make to ensure that the atmosphere of a game is as close to that evoked by Lovecraft as possible. Laurel and Hardy or an attack by Mr Stay Puft just don’t fit into that.

And finally; some weeks ago, it was discussed in the comments section that it would be a good idea for some guidance on the best ways for players to participate in a pbem. I asked my players and Dungeonmum came up with the following sage words of advice.

Dungeonmum's Top Tips:
Talk to as many NPCs as you can, even the boring looking ones. If the information they provide doesn't help your investigation it will enrich your gaming experience, and maybe provide you with allies (plus it will give the keeper some work, as if they don't have enough already!)

Remember that you can do anything - don't worry too much about 'permission' - allow your PC to behave according to their personality, situation and the social constraints of the era and culture in which they are set, but don't be constricted by what you think is the 'correct' (in terms of gaming, rather than morality) thing to do.

Yes you can split the party. In tabletop this is harder to maintain but simply done in pbem. If something a co-player wants to do doesn't grab you or time is of the essence and you need to gather more information on more fronts, follow your nose (but be polite about it).

Remember that you are part of a group, so when you return from your forays and the keeper says to intercommunicate - keep your colleagues abreast of everything that you have learned, and try to do it in character, rather than info-dump (see next point). I made the mistake of forgetting to share something that I had learned (or assuming the others already knew, there are a lot of emails that go chugging back and forth - see other point below), but it turns out they didn't. Information that could have been critical.

Talking in-character is fun, I to like write my emails like fiction to distinguish between me the player and my PC. In pbem I do a lot more role-playing than table top (which frankly I always find rather nerve-wracking). My PC is a troubled alcoholic who is frequently witness to disturbing events so I can easily portray her trembling hands, nervous stares, chain-smoking and even signs of her addiction. Apart from checks and other die rolls most of the pbem exchanges are done in-character.
Pbem involves a lot of emailing of course. Set up a folder for it especially in your inbox, maybe even get the relevant addresses to send directly there. The chances are you will need to search for some vital clue that turned up months ago (another beauty of pbem, you are your own stenographer), and you don't want to go trawling through a choked inbox or even (horror!) delete stuff that could be useful later.

Well, that’s it for my guide to running a Call of Cthulhu pbem. I hope that this series of posts has either inspired you to get involved in an e-mail campaign or at the very least kindled (or rekindled) your interest in what must be one of the very best role playing games of all time.

Monday 8 August 2011

You know you're a gamer when...

You think that a pretty cool concept for a programme is "Gordon Ramsay's Dungeon Nightmares"

"Both these knives are +5"

Sunday 7 August 2011

Team Adventure - Beautiful Danger

We began this session with the party licking their wounds after the massive fight against the enemy champion and his humanoid minions. Ferros was unconscious and Galzor was called on to start handing out the Healing spells. Once Ferros had been healed, he reciprocated and soon the Team was up and running again.
There was one door left to examine and Ferros decided to investigate it. He pushed it open and beyond it, he found an area of utter darkness. It was no ordinary darkness, however – it reeked of evil magic and Ferros came back into the main room and let everyone know about it.
Elador, who had only two spells left, used his magic to cancel out the darkness and the party found themselves in a short passage leading to another room. As they moved down it, they were confronted by a blond, very handsome man who demanded to know what they were doing invading his domain and killing his servants.

The party announced that they were looking for the golden chalice, at which the beautiful stranger laughed evilly and said “I don’t think so”.
Ferros raised his bow and was about to open fire when he felt a strange sensation – as if he did not want to shoot the newcomer. He put forth all his strength of will and managed to overcome this feeling, letting fly with his arrow. It missed, as did the shots of other members of the party. The handsome attacker swung into action, uttering a single word to Ferros – “Die!”, at which the brave cleric fell to the floor with a groan. Their enemy hurtled into the fray with a glowing staff that the party soon found out was bad news for them. Adthar was the first to fall, having been unable to land a blow on their attacker. Neither were Alurax nor Cafaror able to do him any damage – he seemed supernaturally hard to hit. But if supernatural defences were protecting him, supernatural energy in the form of a magic missile from Elador did manage to hit, albeit doing only a small amount of damage.
His glowing staff and his plate mail armour proved too strong for Cafaror, who found himself forced back down the passage, but he managed somehow to sneak under the stranger’s defences and land a blow that did him some damage. Now Merlin had joined the fray but he was having no better luck in his attempts to hit. Cafaror was hit by the glowing staff and left reeling but still upright.

At this point, with only Cafaror standing between the mysterious man and escape into the dungeon, Alurax let fly with his bow. The arrow was true and took his target through the throat. Clutching at the arrow, their enemy dropped his staff and crashed into the wall, then spun and hit the floor, breathing his last. Thus passed Lareth, known as the Beautiful, but beautiful no longer.

Another timely roll of the d30 from JG. I'd deliberately broken the session before Lareth made his appearance knowing that they would need plenty of luck to overcome him. I held back on the use of his spells for two reasons, firstly because several of them were touch-based and he'd not be able to use melee weapons and secondly because there was a real danger of the party being very badly hammered, if not suffering at TPK. And of course, I forgot to have other members of the party apart from Ferros save to overcome the Sanctuary spell. My bad, but I don't think the adventure suffered from it overmuch.

Elador and Ferros, who had recovered from the sinister power of Lareth’s Command spell had managed to find their way into a sumptuously furnished room and while its owner was busy giving Cafaror and Adthar a hard time, they started to search it. They uncovered riches beyond their wildest dreams, gems, gold, platinum – Lareth was clearly a man to be reckoned with when it came to wealth. But there was no sign of the golden chalice, although a search of the dead man’s body soon revealed the cup, stuffed into a small bag.

The party believed that they had cleared out the dungeons under the Moat House and, taking a look at the amount of loot and plunder that they had amassed, decided that transport was needed to get it all back to town. Alurax volunteered to make the journey with the money they required. Elador said that he would also go, to protect Alurax and to speak to the Council of Cleric about raising Elysia, now that they had the money and the chalice had been recovered.

While they were gone, Ferros, Cafaror, Merlin and Galzor settled down to guard the loot and keep an eye on the place. A day after their fellows had gone, they heard noises in the corridor, which were getting louder. They readied themselves for action, Merlin checking to see if he could hear anything meaningful but unfortunately, nothing of any use was heard. Then there was a thumping and banging at the door. The four poured several flasks of oil into a pool in front of the door and as it burst open, dropped a torch onto it. The four bugbears that charged in got a very hot surprise – roasting heat and flames leapt up to meet them. One staggered into a wall and dropped to the ground; the other three charged on but met a determined resistance, although Merlin was brought low by a savage blow from one of the bugbears. Ferros and Cafaror proved their worth, with the cleric killing two and the fighter finishing off a third. Two bugbears that had been waiting outside took fright at what had happened to their fellows and ran for it.
I'd given the lads the idea of laying the oil trap; without it, they'd have had a really tough fight on their hands and again, the danger of character deaths. I'm not an evil DM and don't believe in being nasty for the sake of it.

When Alurax, Adthar and Elador returned, they were surprised to find out what had happened but this did not deter them from loading all their hard-won gains onto a cart and three mules and setting off for town as fast as they could go.

When they arrived, it was to the wonderful news that Elysia was now back in the land of the living, looking none the worse for her thanatic sojourn. There was even more good news to come as it transpired that, thanks to their experiences in the Moat House and its dungeons, everyone in the Team was now third level, with the exception of Ferros, who was fourth and Elysia, who had now advanced to second level. I was quite surprised at that, having spent the better part of an hour condensing all their kills, loot and ideas into XP totals. The sharing out of the GPs gave them the biggest boost but they had the perspicacity to keep back 5,000gp just in case somebody else met with an untimely demise and needed Raising.

Alurax claimed the shield that they had cut out of the giant lizard, Cafaror became the new owner of the mysterious cloak that was now revealed as a Cloak of Elvenkind. JG didn't seem to want it, having previously been very keen to hang onto it. I'm not sure why but I didn't quibble about it. Adthar got the plate mail that had previously belonged to Lareth. Ferros got a scroll of Protection against the Undead and Elysia obtained a scroll with three magic-user spells on it. Two of these were of a higher level than she could currently use. I've also printed out all the descriptions for the spells currently in her spellbook and those for the new ones she's found, in the Blackadder font so that it actually looks like an authentic manuscript. She can slot them into a ring binder and will then have the information on the spells she wishes to use without me having to pore over the PHB and interrupt game flow.

Because his sister was now alive again, Elador took his leave of the party. He was now a fourth level magic user and had important tasks to attend to on behalf of the Town Council. He needed some serious magical support for this and took with him the Staff of Striking that Lareth had used to such detrimental effect against the party. Its XP reward of 6,000 would have unbalanced the party and led to envious feeling so I thought this was the best way to handle things. The party had seen it in action but only on its lowest setting (the highest one would have slaughtered them as well as using up charges)

Ferros, having shown his ability against the Undead, was approached by the Council of Clerics to see if he was interested in becoming a cleric that specialised in hunting and destroying the undead. He agreed and was informed that from time to time, he would be given assignments or missions to combat the grave-dwelling hordes or recover objects and tomes that could contribute towards the sum of knowledge about these hideous creatures. This was a campaign development that arose out of Ferros' player's luck wit the dice when it came to turning rolls. A certain amount of clerical specialisation I am okay with and it's something that will lead to character-relevant adventures in the future, another way in which the players' actions are building the world. I've also brought in a house rule that a cleric will get XP equivalent to his WISD for every undead he turns. It seemed odd that a cleric could use a cool power like that and get no XP for it, whereas if he just bashed in their brains with his mace, he'd be rewarded. This seems fairer.

Everyone was pleased with the outcome of their expedition to the Moat House, but it was clear that this was only the start of great things to come for our Team.

Monday 1 August 2011

You know you're a gamer when...

The interview panel asks you how you'd describe yourself and you say "Lawful Good"...

"I'll be wearing this outfit on dress-down Fridays..."