Monday, June 12, 2017

Session Report - Into the Redlands - 3 June 2017

Emile Durkheim and his crow totem animal, Totem (shaman 1, played by Emily)
Vodka Gimli and her automaton, Rosie (dwarven machinist 1, played by Stephanie)
Fester the Footpad (thief 1, played by Jason)
Paralee (elven enchanter 1, played by Julia)

The session opened in Lesserton, one of a few human communities clinging to the southwest coast of the island that houses the Redlands, a great swath of goblin, orc, and troll territories that cover the north side of the island. From Lesserton, the villagers can see Mount Rendon, the tallest peak on the island, said to be near the Goblin Market, where anything might be sold or bought. Lesser sits between two sites of ruin. Just to the west, the ancient Imperial city of Mor, once Empire's farthest north outpost and the seat of human civilization on the island, now a gravel pit littered with the broken remains of its Imperial owners. Just to the east of Lesserton are the catacombs, the underground burial vaults for the citizens of Mor, covered over by a graveyard of barrows and cairns.

The four characters started the game fully outfitted for adventure, but with little in the way of pocket money, and so began by picking up pieces of gossip about where best to find treasure. They quickly decided to try exploring the cemetery. Like everyone in town, they already knew that teenagers and other foolish types sometimes made the half-day journey over to the graveyard to prove their bravery or look for gold, but not everyone who went there always came back. They also knew that the Imperials had imposed both their government and their state religion on the human communities of Red Island, that like their fellow Lessers, they mostly believed in the older spirits and had their own burial practices. They knew that any gold the Imperials buried wasn't helping anyone in the afterlife, it was just being wasted in the ground, and any bodies they disturbed belonged to the very decadents who'd brought ruin to the land. But asking around turned up some other rumors - that a death cult calling themselves "the Chosen" had moved in to the catacombs, that runic tablets found in the maze of tunnels curse everyone who reads them, that the catacombs go four levels deep, and of course, that all the rumors people spread were just folk tales meant to scare away children from an essentially harmless old burial ground.

They arrived at the entrance to the old graveyard around noon, and saw that it was bounded on its north and south sides by difficult marsh. The yard itself was covered with small hills and low mounds - burial places that might hide an entrance to the catacombs below. They decided to ignore the mounds closest to the entrance, assuming those had been raided long ago, even if they now looked covered over again. They passed a stele, and made their way closer to the center of the yard, where the mounds were placed thick and dense together. Picking one close to the southwest corner of this central area, Fester got out his shovel and started clearing away the grassy turf from the entryway.

After half an hour of digging, Fester finished uncovering two stone slabs supporting the hollow earthen mound. They saw a pair of human skeletons laying on the bare dirt floor, but nothing else. Vodka Gimli and her diminutive dwarf-shaped automaton, Rosie, ventured inside to give a more thorough search. While Vodka patted the walls and examined the stonework for seams, Rosie posed and flexed her biceps, and encouraged her builder in her task. <<BZZT WE CAN DO IT BZZT>> Vodka eventually found a drawer hidden in one of the slabs where it met the floor, and pulled it open to reveal a pair of small wooden funerary figures (perhaps representing the buried duo), a bejeweled silver dagger, and a roll of parchment covered in strange and seemingly ancient writing. As she tucked these items into her pack, Vodka felt her skin go to gooseflesh and all her hair stand on end. She turned around and saw both skeletons rising to their feet, trapping her inside the mound!

Vodka Gimli brandished her war hammer at the skeletons, and Rosie performed a riveting rock-em-sock-em maneuver that cracked on the skeletons' ribs. The other lurched forward and wrapped both hands around Vodka's neck, chocking the life out of her! For a moment, she thought sure she'd be dead, but after blacking out awoke on the ground with a broken neck, her entire body feeling of pins and needles. Satisfied with the damage they'd inflicted, the skeletons turned to attack the group outside!

Emile Durkheim raised his sickle-sword in self-defense, and had his crow, Totem, carry a dagger over to his friend Paralee. Paralee used her staff to give a solid smack to the skeleton that had nearly killed Vodka Gimli, knocking off one of its hands and putting its head at a crooked angle. She then took the dagger from Totem and joined Emile in holding the skeletons at bay. Fester used his short sword to fell one of the skeletons, and Rosie guarded the prone body of her builder and friend. The remaining skeleton menaced Emile and Paralee, but with its crooked head and missing hand, it couldn't manage to connect with them. Fester quickly put the second skeleton down as well, severing its spine and then stomping on the skull.

After taking a little time to recuperate and get Vodka Gimli back to her feet, the group decided to abandon the graveyard and return to town. Emile Durkheim vowed to consult his ancestral spirits to learn how to restore Vodka to heath. Leaving the yard mid-afternoon, they arrived back in town around sundown, weary and wounded, but somewhat wiser and somewhat richer as well.

pair of wooden funeary figures
jewled silver dagger
scroll with mysterious writing

Vodka Gimli (almost!)

2 skeletons

35 from the silver dagger
26 from the pair of skeletons
Divided by 4 characters, this came to 15 XP each.

(This was a short play session because we started out rolling up the characters. Two of the players had never played D&D before, and a third said he hadn't played since the early 1980s. We went around in a circle rolling up ability scores, choosing classes, writing down class abilities, rolling for templates of proficiencies and equipment, and then writing those down too. I printed out and stapled each class separately, so I could hand those printouts to the players, which worked very well. There are two things I wish I'd done differently with the templates. First, I wish I'd stapled the template list for each class to the rest of the handout, rather than having them separate. Second, since ignoring the default templates and then rolling for them on a separate table was a little confusing for the players, and since three of the four characters ended up with default template anyway, I wish that I'd just said that first-time characters get the default template. Then, when a player is on their second or third character, I can tell them that they have a choice to accept the default template or roll for a different one. For those unfamiliar with Adventurer Conqueror King, the template takes the place of rolling 3d6x100 for starting gold and individually selecting starting proficiencies. Vodka Gimli was the one character with a high enough Intelligence score to get a bonus proficiency, which she used to select Personal Automaton. This is the reason she was able to start the game with Rosie, rather than having to spend 7000 gp and two weeks trying to draw the blueprint and another 7000 gp (and another two weeks) on construction.)

(I used Adventurer Conqueror King and the ACKS Player Companion for my character generation rules. The starting village and the ruined city come from the book Lesserton & Mor, which provides details on the village, and a series of rules for procedurally generating the contents of the city. One idea I really like from that book is 120' hexes for ruin-crawling. Essentially, the characters can cross one hex in one 10 minute exploration turn, which I think is a great scale for exploring an outdoor (or outdoor-ish) area in detail. The rest of the island come from In the Shadow of Mount Rotten, which has a series of rules for procedurally generating the contents of a goblin- and orc-controlled wilderness. There's a challenge with using this book that I hadn't thought about until I started drawing the island map: first, the territory in question is just enormous, large enough that it's hard to fit a map on a single sheet of paper; second, and probably relatedly, the hexes are unnumbered on the original, which creates challenges for copying correctly. I made one hand-drawn copy for my own reference, a simplified hand-drawn copy for the players, and then started work on a 4-sheet judge's map. I got that whole thing drawn and cut out (although not numbered) in time for the game. Spending so much time on the island map though meant that I had to rely on printouts for the ruins and the cemetery. The cemetery, I should mention, is Barrowmaze Complete, which has a ruin-crawl hex map of the graveyard, and then a standard dungeon map of the catacombs. I think I need a player map of the graveyard next, and then maybe maps of the ruins and island that are large enough to lay out on the table and fill in as the players explore.)

(I usually like to get a little more exploring in a single session, but the characters had good reason to head back to town when they did. When the skeleton hit Vodka Gimli, and I rolled 5 damage against a character with 3 hp, Stephanie asked me "Wait, is that it? Am I just dead?" Fortunately, she looked amused / horrified, not angry or sad. I pulled out ACKS's "Mortal Wounds" table, and had her roll on it. All in all, I think that she and my other players all had a good time. And while they may not have found any cash, a silver weapon is a useful thing to own, and Paralee, as a magic-user and a historian, can probably translate the scroll and find out what's written on it.)

(I realized in retrospect that I read the Mortal Wounds table slightly incorrectly, and that since the party had no way to restore even 1 hp to her until they got back to town, that she should have died one combat round after being maimed. That part was my mistake, but I'm still going to enforce that Vodka Gimli needs a month of bedrest before she can adventure again. Her "mortal wound" is a broken neck, which has three consequences: first, it reduces her Dexterity to 3; second, she can't move, fight, use items, or cast spells; and third she has to save vs. death once a month or die of complications. Stephanie wants to try to save Vodka Gimli's life, and I think the rest of the party wants that too, so I've been looking into the options for that.)

(According to ACKS as written, the only way to undo a "mortal wound" is with the Restore Life and Limb spell - the same one that can bring a dead body back to life. Restore Life and Limb is a 5th level spell, which means accessing it as 1st level characters is going to be tricky. Lesserton & Mor suggests that the town church is willing to perform miracles in exchange for service or gifts (or cash, if you can persuade them to take it.) A 5th level spell is supposed to require taking on a quest to expunge an evil cult, or the gift of a major magic item, or 10,000 gp in donations. If the church believes Vodka Gimli is willing (and able) to root out one of the cults in the catacombs, they might task her with that quest. They might also accept the gift of the automaton Rosie, (who would become a mechanical church servant, I guess) although they'd want a promise to either build up her body or add another special ability sometime in the future. The availability of spells in Adventurer Conqueror King depends somewhat on whether I consider Lesserton to be a Class III or Class IV marketplace. A 5th level divine spell has only a 50% chance of being available in a Class IV market, although if it can be bought, costs only 500 gp, which seems surprisingly low. I'm thinking the other two major-ish human towns on the coast are roughly the same as Lesserton, but the Goblin Market might have someone able to cast the spell. For sure though, a goblin would want a favor as well as gold in exchange for healing a dwarf. The ACKS Player Companion adds the spell Regeneration, but it's a 6th level divine ritual, and so likely a dead-end.)

(On the other hand, maybe I disagree that Restore Life and Limb is the only way to heal Vodka's injury. One thing I like in Dungeon Crawl Classics is a set of guidelines for using healing magic to treat other injuries (like the kind you get from DCC's brutal critical hit tables.) Receive 1 HD of healing magic for example, and you can repair a broken bone, although you won't recover any hp when the magic is used to treat the injury. Organ damage (another possible interpretation of a spinal injury) requires 2 HD of healing, and paralysis requires 3 HD. (Incidentally, curing a disease takes 2 HD of healing, and neutralizing a poison takes 3.) Coincidentally, ACKS has a Medicine proficiency with 3 levels of expertise, corresponding to 3 types of medical specialists - healers, physikers, and chirugeons. As written, they can't do anything for mortal wounds, but if we take some guidance from DCC, perhaps they should be able to. They heal 1d3, 1d6+1, and 2d6+CL hit points of injuries respectively, and physikers can cure disease, while chirugeons can neutralize poison, all of which maps rather well to the guidelines laid out in DCC. ACKS doesn't give much advice regarding paralysis. The only two things that cause it (by name) are ghouls and the spell Hold Person. The monster description for the ghoul suggests that the spell Cure Light Wounds should remove ghoul paralysis, which seems like a bargain compared to DCC, and something that a healer or physiker could do.)

(So, with all this in mind, I would say that Vodka Gimli is suffering from the effects of a broken bone, and organ damage, and paralysis, but that a skilled chirugeon could treat her, restoring her Dexterity (maybe), restoring her ability to move and adventure normally, and removing her once-a-month chance of dying of complications. The chirugeon would need to retain a healer and a physiker for the delicate operation. Class IV markets have a 33% chance of finding a chirugeon, which means that one of the three human cities on the island should have one. The three day operation should cost 12 + 6 + 3 for the three workers, or a total of 21 gp, making this by far the most affordable option. Since it is ACKS, I would still make Stephanie roll on the "Tampering with Mortality" table even if it's medicine, not magic, saving her character's life. If I were following the DCC guidelines, I would probably also rule that Vodka gets a permanent -1 to her Dexterity or Constitution (her choice) as a result of the ordeal. The medical staff will also have to make a proficiency throw to pull it off correctly. If they fail, Vodka Gimli will have to survive a save vs. death ... and they probably won't be willing to make a second attempt.)

(So, those are the three answers Emile Durkheim will receive after consulting his ancestral spirits: the church in Lesserton for 10,000, the Goblin Market for 500, or the best surgeon on the island for 21. As a machinist, Vodka Gimli would also be aware that she could re-fashion Rosie into a kind of supporting exo-skeleton instead of being healed. Dropping Rosie to ½ HD and adding the vehicle special ability would cost 4000 gp in research materials to design a blueprint for, and that's because she's altering an existing automaton - it would cost 11,000 gp to design this from scratch. Rebuilding Rosie as a power armor would also another 4000 gp in parts, plus, since she's paralyzed, Vodka would have to hire skilled laborers to do the work for her. Retirement is also an option here. Especially if she can get healed enough to eliminate the risk of complications, Vodka could simply become an eccentric villager with a robot maidservant. I'll let Stephanie decide how she wants to proceed, although in terms of price, demands on her independence, and safety of travel to the healing location, one of these options stands out to me as the most likely choice.)

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