Monday, June 19, 2017

Session Report - Into the Redlands - 17 June 2017

Emile Durkheim (human shaman 1) and his crow, Totem played by Emily
Fabio Proudfoot (elven courtier 1) played by Megan
Kierhan (elven enchanter 1) played by Chris

Renaldo (human fighter 1)
Fredo the squire (human 0)
Petey (human 0)

In the second week of spring, a (mostly) new group of friends decided to venture from the town of Lesserton to ruined Imperial city of Mor. Lesserton is on the southwest coast of a great island, on the edge of a human-controlled strip of farmlands and Dark Age villages. As a human, Emile never knew Empire at the height of its rule, he had only experienced the aftermath of its fall, including the rediscovery of old pre-Imperial religions by shamans such has himself. Fabio and Kierhan, as elves, had come up from the Continent. They remembered the Empire and watched its collapse, and they understood how far the once great civilization had receded from its northernmost shore on the so-called Red Island.

The friends started by asking around town for rumors of the once-great city's current condition. Handsome Fabio, a man of obvious grace and nobility, got accosted by some sort of down-on-his-luck man-about-town who warned him against visiting the Kinswallow and Cruikshanks neighborhoods, advised him to book a room at the Pegasus or rent a room in the Heights. The vagrant also offered to give Fabio a personal tour, but Fabio managed to give the shabby poseur the slip. Emily and Kierhan managed to find people willing to talk about the ruins. From one source, they learned that some people blamed the Imperial governor for destroying his own city to keep the orcs out - and that ironically, the orcs now had the run of what was left of the place. From another source, they heard that Mor used to be filled with gold and jade, that it had been the greatest city in the world, that it was even better than anything the elves had built - "No offense intended, ma'am, but I'm sure you agree with me" - and that it was likely the treachery of the dwarves that caused the city to fall.

After hearing a bit about Emile's trip to the graveyard above the Imperial catacombs, they also decided to try hiring some bodyguards. With the gorgeous Fabio, with golden locks flowing in the breeze, his shirt opened deep to feel the wind on his chest, and beguiling Kierhan leading the way, they had no trouble recruiting some help. Kierhan wanted to find a soldier who would fight on her behalf, and managed to convince Renaldo, a man in his early 30s, dressed in hand-me-down Imperial armor he must have inherited from his grandfather. Emile and Fabio were content to accept the services of simpler guards, and accepted Renaldo's offer to bring on his "squire" Fredo Boggins and his own kid brother Petey. Fabio was delighted to meet Fredo, as he was familiar with the Boggins family name, although Frado thought the elven noble had gotten him confused with one of his relatives. "Please, call me Fredo. Alfredo is my father. But it sounds like you're thinking of my uncle Olfrodo, or my auntie Ilfrida." There was some haggling over wages, but the hirelings held firm and secured a full share to be split between Renaldo and his crew. Fabio and Kierhan argued the hardest for some kind of discount, but eventually reassured themselves that the hirelings would probably all be killed anyway, and so wouldn't have to actually get paid. Renaldo took this in stride, "Hey you elves have got a weird sense of humor, but don't worry, me and my boys don't plan on dying anytime soon."

Together, the group marched the old road the half-day's walk to the ruins of Mor. Coming to the moat, they met a green-skinned man dressed and armed much as Renaldo was, in worn and patched Imperial armor. He explained that he and his friends ran the bridge, and they'd have to pay a toll to get across safely. The group examined the "bridge" and saw that it was really just a series of ropes stretched across the old moat, leading to a crack in the fortified walls. Sensing that the group might be a little reluctant to pay, he pointed out that if they killed him, his friends would just cut down the bridge while they were on it, and if they didn't like it, they were welcome to swim around the moat and look for another way in. The group did initially balk at the request for a gold coin each to cross the bridge, but were relieved when Renaldo's information that they could be bought off with rations proved true. The bridge guard was especially happy to receive iron rations - "Oh, you've got the canned stuff! That stays fresh forever!" - and assured them that they wouldn't be asked to pay again at the other side of the bridge. True to his word, the guards on the city side let them pass unmolested, although it occurred to them that they'd probably have to pay again to get back out of the ruins.

Taking a moment to survey the city, they saw that they whole place seemed blasted to rubble. The ground they stood on was gravel, and there were wrecked buildings among piles of broke stone every way they looked. Straight ahead, they saw that there was a relatively clear path to the ruin of the old Citadel, passing by a great heap of rubble that used to be the For'd Gainsay. One of the bridge guards mentioned that another gang controlled turf in that direction, and he couldn't be help liable for any damages they suffered in there. The group thought the citadel seemed like a good place to look for treasure, and so headed out along the path. The way was relatively clear, with all the major debris seemingly long removed from their route. About 15 minutes into their walk, they spotted a great pit, perhaps the basement of an old building. Renaldo stepped forward to investigate and peered over the ledge: "Nah, there's nothing in there." For about another hour they continued, at one point, able to see some dried vegetation like an overgrown rose garden to their left, and later some intact buildings to their right. Perhaps halfway to the ruin of the For'd Gainsay, they encountered what used to be an apple orchard, and was now a wild copse of apple trees bursting with a profusion of fruit. They spotted a pack of feral dogs eating fallen apples. The dogs growled when anyone got too close, but otherwise kept to themselves as the group explored. They thought about collecting some apples to trade with the bridge guards, but before they got started, their air filled with an ominous buzzing sound!

The group arrayed themselves in a defensive formation, and soon they were attacked by five giant, carnivorous flies. The wretched insects swerved and dived among the group, their proboscises and feet caked with rotten apple and dogshit. What followed was a vicious and hard-fought battle.

The swooping flies almost immediately managed to take bites out of Renaldo, Fredo, and Petey - though the local toughs all survived their initial injuries. Emile used his friendship with beasts to call and whistle to the wild dogs; two answered the call and joined him in the fight. Petey got in an early stab with his dagger, but the flies kept dodging just out of reach of the other attackers - even the dogs couldn't leap high enough to grab them out of the sky.

The flies got another bite of Renaldo, then ripped apart poor Fredo! The team rallied, and paired up to kill two of the monstrous insects. A dog bite and a slash from Emile's sickle-sword killed one of the flies, while cooperation between the elves Fabio and Kierhan put down another.

Things are looking up for the team, but only briefly. The flies make their morale check, their wings buzzing angrily in the dry air. One of the remaining three insects managed to take a very nasty bite out of Renaldo, ending his life! Petey also made his morale check, remaining in combat despite the loss of his brother and his friend. The three friends stepped forward to protect their last remaining bodyguard, and Emile took a rather serious bite himself, though he managed to stay on his feet. In his rage, Petey stabbed another of the flies, and one of the junkyard dogs finished it off, wrestling it to the ground and mauling it. (Emile and Fabio fumbled this round, but fortunately for them, ACKS doesn't have fumble tables like DCC does!)

One of the two remaining flies took a bite of Kieran, leaving beautiful Fabio as the only person left unharmed. One of the dogs grabbed a fly out of the air and killed it. Then Fabio, posed like the subject of an oil painting, his hair fluttering behind him like a golden cape, slew the last of the vile insects.

While the pack of dogs feasted on the corpses of the giant flies, and Petey stripped his brother's body of its armor and weapons, the group found the flies' nest and ransacked it, killing the eggs and maggots, and recovering 49 tarnished copper coins. Then together they covered Renaldo and Fredo with cairns of stones, and then set out collecting apples. They gathered four day's meals of apples each, the reddest, freshest specimens that Emile and Petey had ever seen. Fortunately, nothing dangerous was drawn by the sound of the fighting, or came upon them while they were gathering fruit. Their backpacks laden, they trekked back the way they came, along the relatively clear path to the bridge guards' encampment at the wall. The guard orcs were thrilled to accept apples as payment for the return across the bridge, and even offered to pay gold coins for the rest of the apples the group carried. The sale ultimately profited them 27 gold coins. After the half-day's walk back to town, arriving near dusk, the friends agreed among themselves to pay loyal Petey a full share rather than the quarter he was expecting, 6 orkin gold, and 49 insect-nest coppers. (I decided Petey still only received a quarter share of experience however.)

2 faithful hounds
49 copper coins
16 meals worth of Imperial apples sold
27 gold coins


5 giant carnivorous flies

15 each for taming the dogs (30 total)
29 each for killing the flies (145 total)
28 for gold and copper
(203 total, divided into 3¼ shares, becomes 62 XP for each player.)

(For the second session in a row, I had two completely novice players, and my own first-ever all-woman session. One woman told me she had always wanted to play but never had the opportunity before. I think a lot of judges and referees spent this day running Free RPG Day games at their local shops. I didn't specifically plan to pay with new players for FRPGD, but it felt like a nice coincidence. We got a late start because one player had to work late in her own store, and the other had spent the day at water park with her family, but we still had time for a full game.)

(Character generation with new players is always slow, I think, but went a little faster this week. Using the default template worked out fine. Part of me wonders whether pre-generated characters would be a good idea. My players liked getting to pick out their classes though, and walking them through filling out their character sheets let me explain the basics of attacks, saving throws, and their class-based abilities. I certainly never would have thought of taking a character with 17 Strength and 17 Charima and imagining them as a kind of buff, elven male model. Pre-generated 0th levels, with only the names to choose, worked well for my DCC players, but of course they still got to pick their own 1st level classes for the survivors. I'm hopeful that once we have some characters die, my players will be able to make their second characters a little faster than their first.)

(The players decided to employ hirelings this week, which I think was a good decision. I realized in retrospect that I misread the hireling rules in Lesserton & Mor, and that each one should have demanded some cash up front, in addition to his partial share of the treasure. I've been thinking of the Empire as analogous to Rome, which might be why I gave the hirelings (bad) Brooklyn-Bronx-Jersey mafioso accents, except Petey, who's studying the old language and has a (bad) Italian accent instead. I know I've heard advice that hirelings can get promoted if the player characters die, but I decided that any monsters would attack the hirelings first, setting them as the front line in the group's battle with the carnivorous flies. I suppose I'm inspired by the Henchman Abuse blog and Star Trek's red-shirts. And the overall body count might have been much higher if I'd had the flies spread their attacks out more evenly.)

(The carnivorous flies themselves were 2 HD monsters, which means this was actually a pretty dangerous fight for the group. I had Renaldo and Fredo announce their fear - "I dunno boss, maybe we should run!" - ironically, in each case, they each suggested retreat right before getting killed. I had the players roll to generate the treasure horde. The treasure type for the horde had a possibility for nearly every kind of coinage and luxury good (even magic items!) - but based on the players' rolls we came very close to having no copper, although we also came close to finding silver.)

(Following the procedures in Lesserton & Mor, I randomly generated each ruin hex as the players went. The open path they followed was included on the overview map of the city, but even the terrain type of most other hexes is undecided, meant to be generated at the table. The vegetation and buildings I mentioned aren't on the map. I had the players roll to determine whether or not their was "weirdness," and then, if there was, what type. They got relatively lucky. Our first "weirdness" was the pit, and the second was a double, "Food Source" and "Monster Lair." The monster lair produced a full complement of the giant carnivorous flies. The food source gave the possibility of a wandering monster, which is how we got the pack of wild dogs. The reaction roll for the dogs had them standoffish but not aggressive, but the flies were angry and dangerous. This could easily have turned into a TPK. Fortunately for the players, the roll that gave us the dog pack was the only one of the wandering monster rolls during the session that actually led to a wandering monster.)

(Generating the terrain at the table, and having the players roll for it, is something that I've observed one other judge doing, in an ongoing game (although currently on hiatus) I've been playing with one of the authors of the Black Powder, Black Magic zine. I take notes while I play, so I will probably eventually post some summaries of those sessions here as well. Seeing Carl do it, and knowing that I enjoyed playing in those games, and taking my part in rolling the dice to randomly generate the terrain, gave me the confidence to try this myself, using a procedure I might have been afraid to repeat if I hadn't seen it used successfully. That said, there are a couple things I want to work on. First, I need to get my notes together a little better so I can run things a little more smoothly. Second, I want to make sure my players have some shot at finding a little more treasure than they've done so far. With 1500-2500 XP apiece needed to reach 2nd level, the nickel-and-dime hauls they've brought in so far aren't doing much to get them there. It will probably help if they can manage to get into a fight they can win without such terrible losses, or find some unguarded treasure. Carl's setting includes the possibility of finding lumps of gold or magic ore there for the taking in the mining tunnels. Since I didn't write any of materials I'm using for this myself, I might want to look them over and see where the bigger money is, if only so I can drop a few rumors. Also in Carl's game, the ore itself can be traded for magic items by completing minor quests. Which leads me to my third area of improvement, which is that I want to make sure I'm doing things to make this feel like a living world, and finding ways for the default adventure of basic treasure-seeking to generate the option for players to go on more quest-like adventures as well. I've got some ideas about how this trip to the ruins might generate consequences for any return visit.)

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