Friday, July 21, 2017

Redlands Campaign - Preview of the Buildings of South Central Mor

Below is a map of a district of mostly-intact buildings that my players found on their first voyage into the ruined Imperial city of Mor.

The orchard the players found is in the Hex marked T17, and the two clusters of buildings they could see from the planting are to the east, still inside the same grouping.

I thought that stocking those buildings using the guidelines in Lesserton & Mor would take longer than I wanted to spend mid-session, (and it did!), so I decided to prep them ahead of time. I also decided to randomly generate the contents of the adjoining hexes to see if any additional buildings turned up (and they did!)

The result is that amidst the piles of rubble, the relatively clear spaces, and the sections of vegetation, there are 7 hexes with buildings, totaling around 20 structures. But what are those two different grey areas? And what kinds of inducements might tempt my players to venture into any of the ruined buildings? Stay tuned!

(I like the idea of the sept-hexes as an organizing device, but in practice, I find their layout - in not quite horizontal rows - a little counter-intuitive. They aren't laid out in either a standard grid or in the way we ordinarily read hex maps, which means that it's hard for me to make any kind of mental map that matches what I've drawn on paper. Also, while there is a certain convenience to looking at the hexes in groups of seven, since each hex within the sept-hex can have its own terrain, it's not that much more convenient than just looking at them individually.)

(The procedures for randomly generating hex contents in Lesserton & Mor are also maybe not quite as streamlined as they could be, particularly the procedures for generating buildings. A small amount of that may be because I was using pdfs and the website, which makes things like flipping through the pages, cross-referencing information from the Labyrinth Lord rulebook, and even changing dice sizes a little slower than if I were using the print books and physical dice. But even bearing that in mind, I can't help but think that it must be possible to write a set of procedures that create similar results a little faster.)

(Because of the way they were generated, some of the buildings are empty, some contain monsters, and some contain treasure - and of course, some contain monsters and treasure. I treated any building with a basement as an "empty room" and applied Labyrinth Lord's recommended 15% chance of unprotected treasure. Some of the monsters inhabiting the buildings are quite deadly, and some are protecting a fair bit of treasure as well. If my players decide to explore the buildings in this cluster, and if their characters survive the exploration, they're likely to find more money and more magic than they've uncovered up until now.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Housecleaning a Memory Palace in Scarabae

I recently played in an online game in Tales of the Grotesque & Dungeonesque's open-table Scarabae campaign.
I usually take contemporaneous notes when I play, because I think that something valuable and interesting happens at the table, and I want a record of it. In this case, I knew that Jack would be publishing his own summary on his own blog, so I'm just going to link to that below.

I played the character "Traviata Maru" - named for Verdi's opera La Traviata (based on the Alexander Dumas' play La Dame aux Camélias, which was in turn based on his own novel of the same name), and for the comic book character Dr Maru, aka Dr Poison, from the Wonder Woman comics.

I knew that Scarabae was a New Weird city, so I wanted to play some sort of demimondaine figure. Traviata used to be an opera singer, so she has D&D 5e's "entertainer" background and the "inspiring leader" feat that lets her inspire people with her singing. She caught consumption, which explains why she left her job and has now started adventuring. It also explains why her Constitution score is only 8. Now she's some kind of scientist - the new "artificer" class with the "alchemist" specialization - who wants to make both medicines to help "the innocent" (herself and people who remind her of her herself) and poisons to punish "the guilty" (her operatic and alchemical rivals, ie, anyone more professionally successful than her.)

Nicole Kidman as Satine in Moulin Rogue! (2001)

Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers in Black Swan (2010)

Elena Anaya as Dr Poison in Wonder Woman (2017)

A summary of Traviata's first adventure in Scarabae can be found here. She turned on a mechanical phonograph, smoked some magic drugs that made her more emotionally unstable than usual, used her alchemy to save the life of a dandy, and assisted in staging a re-enactment of a traumatic event to help release the memory of the trauma from the high-rise apartment that had transformed into a magical diorama of the event.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Session Report - Into the Redlands - 8 July 2017

Paralee (elven enchanter 1) played by Julia

Tony (human 0)
Vinnie (human fighter 1)

In the second week of spring, while her friend Emile ventured into the ruined city of Mor with the elves Fabio and Kierhan, Paralee decided to return to the Imperial graveyard in the hope of finding more money to help pay for her friend Vodka's medical care. Vodka Gimli had given Paralee the scroll of ancient writings she found in a burial mound, and Paralee had managed to translate the writings, discovering that they contained instructions for spells to cast fire from her hands, to cast electricity from her hands, and to create a magical light.

Remembering the skeletons that had nearly murdered her friend, Paralee decided to hire a bodyguard to accompany her into the graveyard. Paralee had been blessed from birth with a charming and magnetic personality, and since learning elven magic, had only become more beautiful and captivating. She had no trouble at all recruiting Tony, and convincing him to join her. They spent the evening listening for rumors and agreed to meet up in the morning. Paralee heard that altars found in the catacombs could be very dangerous. Tony encouraged her to take this to heart, because everything he heard suggested that all the fantastical stories people told about the catacombs, all of them were true.

In the morning, the pair set out along the Path of Sorrows, arriving at the old graveyard around midday. Paralee decided to lead them up the western edge of the yard. At the first burial mound they passed, Paralee thought of her sick friend, thought of her need for money, and decided she couldn't afford to pass up any opportunity that might help. Tony spent an hour digging away the entrance to the mound, revealing another hollowed-out hill like Paralee saw before. Inside were two stone slabs with a skeleton lying on each. The skeletons were dressed in rags, each with a bowl by its head and a jar at its feet. Paralee and Tony cautiously entered the room. Thinking again of her friend, Paralee took the coins from each bowl (50 gold pieces all) and then moved to inspect the clay vessels. The skeletons remained immobile. Paralee inspected the clay jars and saw that they were Imperial-era amphorae, red clay bottles decorated with black painted figures, a level of craftsmanship that no one in Lesserton could duplicate. Knowing that the old pottery would be fragile, Paralee tore pages from her journal to wrap them carefully, then tucked them into her backpack.

Feeling fortunate, Paralee and Tony exited the mound and continued walking north along the edge of the yard. They passed several more mounds until they came to the marsh, then turned inward toward the center of the graveyard. As they walked, three figures came toward them out of the swamp. They looked like preserved corpses, and though their movements were clumsy, they seemed to walk as quickly as anyone alive. Tony was alarmed. "Boss, what should we do? I don't like the look of these guys!" Paralee agreed. "Run!" They turned and sprinted toward the center of the yard, slowing to a jog after their initial burst of speed, but intent to lose the walking corpses. After some time, they came to an area that was thick with mounds, although they no longer hand any idea exactly where they were within the yard. They could see burial mounds surrounding them thick in every direction, including one that seemed to have collapsed long ago. Paralee picked one near the fallen mound, and Tony began digging again.

After an hour of digging, Tony had cleared away the grass and soil from in front of a stone door sealing the entrance to the mound. Some deft sledge hammering reduced the stone door to rubble. "Eh, badda-bing badda-boom!" Behind the stone door, instead of a single burial chamber like she'd seen before, Paralee instead found stairs leading underground into a crypt. She insisted on going first, telling Tony to guard the door. Feeling rather winded, Tony was happy to give Paralee some time to explore. At the bottom of the stairs, she emerged into a chamber with piles of rubble where the stone ceiling tiles had fallen away, along with some of the earth and dirt they were supposed to hold up. She saw two doors leading out of the entry chamber, as well as a hall branching off to one side. Paralee first checked one room to find a stone sarcophagus, then another where she saw burial niches cut into the walls. She went down the hall to check the third and found another stone sarcophagus, this one in a circular room, surrounded by four marble statues of beautiful women, serving as pillars to hold the ceiling up. Paralee decided this must be the most important chamber, and called to Tony to come down. Together, they began pushing the lid from the sarcophagus, revealing a skeleton dressed in the withered rags of Imperial garb, and a velvet sack that seemed miraculously preserved, as though it had been buried only yesterday. Unfortunately, while they attention was on the tomb, three of the statues came to life. Two of the statues beat Tony to death with their heavy arms, and with her guard down, the third attacked Paralee, but barely missed as she ducked backwards out of the way. Paralee heard the tomb rumble and felt the ground shake, and she ran out into the main room where more of the ceiling was collapsing. She tried to shield her head from more falling tiles as she ran, taking a few nasty cuts to her cheeks and forearms, but making it out of the crypt alive. Either because she had left or because of the collapse, the statues didn't follow, and Paralee, ragged and bloody, walked back to town alone to recover.

The next morning, Paralee took stock of her gains, and found that the amphorae had somehow survived the collapse, no doubt protected by their careful wrapping in paper. She went into the Lesserton market, and found a buyer for the amphorae at the Platonic Order. He initially offered her 50 gold pieces for the pair, but Paralee poured on her charm, and talked him up to 75. She then went to where her friend Vodka Gimli was on bedrest and spent the rest of the day, and all of the next, convalescing beside her. Then, feeling recovered, Paralee went to buy her own shovel and hammer, and sought out another hireling to accompany her. Still feeling guilty about Tony's death, Paralee looked this time for a soldier, a man who could defend himself as well as her. She found Vinnie, a young tough wearing beat-up old Imperial armor and carrying an ancient spear, and hired him to join her the next morning. Both spent the evening asking about the catacombs. Paralee heard that an evil wizard once used the catacombs as his base of operations, and might be living down there still. Vinnie heard that orkin had come across the mountains from the Redlands and were now living amongst the burial mounds, just as they did in the ruins of Imperial Mor.

Together, Paralee and Vinnie made the four-hour march to the graveyard, and this time Paralee decided to follow the southern edge along the marshlands, heading in the same direction she and her friends had ventured the week before. They stopped at the first mound they passed, one Paralee thought her friends had chosen to bypass before, and she and Vinnie spent the hour digging away at the entrance. They found another set of stairs leading down and descended together, although Paralee stopped short on the bottom step, inspecting the lone room carefully before setting foot inside the crypt proper. She saw four stone sarcophagi, and there, on the ceiling, a half dozen giant centipedes clinging to the tiles. As she and Vinnie watched, the centipedes dropped to the floor and began scurrying toward them. Paralee knew that similar insects in the woods were often poisonous, and warned Vinnie. "Plus, they got us outnumbered, boss!" They ran back up the steps, and dashed deeper into the graveyard, still hugging the marshy perimeter.

After a time they stopped, and Paralee thought they might be somewhere near the first tomb she and her friends had robbed together. She saw many more burial mounds in the grassy land just past the marsh, and one mound tucked back into the swampy area of the yard. She and Vinnie dug again, the wet soil practically sloughing away from the hill as they worked. They uncovered another set of stairs leading down, and Paralee once again insisted on going first. She went down one staircase, only to find another, and followed it down to a surprisingly dry and crisp antechamber. Paralee thought this was odd, since the ground above was so wet. Before them stood the remains of a marble statue, but it was so pitted and pocked that she couldn't decipher its original shape. She saw a door on the current level, and another set of stairs leading down. At the bottom of those stairs, Paralee came to another door, which she entered, revealing a large chamber, its sides lined with burial niches, its far wall dominated by a giant statue of a skull-headed figure of death, standing in a triumphant, conquering pose. Fearing that this statue too might spring to life, Paralee hurried back up the stairs, and checked the only other door in the crypt.
Unfortunately, as she entered the room, the body of a dead warrior sprang toward her, and as its hand touched her she saw herself as a child, learning to use a bow, all her happy memories of elven archery, and then her eyes clouded over with cataracts, and she knew she would never be able to aim so well again. She began making a fighting retreat to avoid opening herself up to another attack. Vinnie lept down the stairs with his shield to protect her. "Don't worry boss, I'll save you!" Vinnie swung at the creature with his short sword, but was unable to make contact with the supernatural foe. Paralee told Vinnie to get out, too. "I'll cover you, boss! Don't wait for me! You get to the top of those stairs, just run!" Unfortunately, during his own fighting retreat, Vinnie too was touched by the monster, and saw his life pass before his eyes, his childhood in Lesserton, his time in the militia, and he collapsed at the top of the stairs. Paralee pulled him the rest of the way to the surface, and supported him as they limped as quickly as they could away from the death right behind them.

Some distance away, Vinnie collapsed again. Paralee thought they were very near the mound she'd entered the week before, but couldn't be sure. Vinnie asked for some water and some time to catch his breath. They sat for an hour, then began their journey back to town. On the way, they passed the first tomb they'd opened before. The centipedes were no longer outside, and when Paralee checked, they weren't inside the tomb anymore either. Remembering her friend in need, and not wanting to come away with nothing to show for her troubles, Paralee entered the tomb, Vinnie following close behind. Together, they pushed open the largest of the sarcophagi, and found a skeleton, dressed in rags, wearing a golden ring and a jeweled necklace. Feeling a little bolder, they checked the second, and found another skeleton, this one wearing the remains of a dress, a golden ring, a gold tiara, and a silver bracelet. The final two sarcophagi were slightly smaller, the tombs perhaps of very young adults. In one, they found the skeleton of a young woman buried with her silver ring and ivory comb. In the other, a young man, buried with his ivory-handled dagger. Paralee collected all these goods, and then she and Vinnie returned to town.

Arriving around nightfall, Vinnie asked for his share of their treasure, requesting both gold rings and the dagger. Paralee thought of the dangers they'd faced, the dangers that were likely still to come for her, and said that she needed the dagger, but offered to pay off the rest of his share in cash, which he accepted. "You're a tough lady, boss. I hope to never see no death like that again, but if you need muscle on another job, you know where to find me." Knowing that the jewelry was almost as good as coinage for most transactions, Paralee opted to keep her haul in its current form before finding a bed to collapse. She knew she'd need a least a week to recover from her ordeal, but she had come through it richer, and closer to paying for Vodka Gimli's medical care.

50 gold coins
2 amphorae (sold for 75 gp)
2 gold rings
1 gold tiara
1 jeweled necklace
1 silver bracelet
1 silver ring
1 ivory comb
1 ivory-handled dagger

Tony the guard


14 for encountering the zombies
125 for the gold coins and amphorae
250 for encountering the caryatid columns
(Since Tony died, the first venture's 389 XP all goes all Paralee.)

3 for encountering the centipedes
110 for fighting the wight
255 for rings, tiara, necklace, comb, and dagger
(In the second venture, the experience is divided into 1½ shares, with Paralee getting 1 and Vinnie getting ½. Of the 368 total, she gets 245.)

(Only one of my players turned out to be available for this session, because the others were sick or out of town or had family obligations, but she and I headed to a local bar and had a good time. Since there was no overlap in the characters for this session and the one before, I decided that they took place at the same time, during week 2 of the campaign. Aside from using the weeks to track how long the characters on bedrest are laid up for, I have no immediate plans to make use of the passage of time, but maybe some ideas will come to me later.)

(I liked that so many of Julia's decisions for Paralee were motivated by her wanting to find money to pay for Vodka Gimli's medical care. Having some kind of in-game rationale for the risks she was taking pushed her to be a bit more bold in taking chances to find treasure. Her other clear motivation, of course, was staying alive, which again provided clear in-game reasons to help her decide when to run from combat, and when the leave the graveyard entirely.)

(I realized as I was looking something up mid-session that I'd been making the digging too easy. The author of Barrowmaze suggests that it's supposed to take between 4-12 hours, determined randomly of course, and can be decreased down to 2 if you have a whole team of workers digging together. This is probably much more realistic than what I've been doing, but honestly, I'm not sure it's the kind of game I want to run right now. Making my players hire entire work crews, or spend between half-a-day and a-day-and-a-half waiting to enter a single burial mound, is not really how I want this particular campaign to go. I'm just not interested in running something that hardcore right now, especially not with mostly new players. So for this session least, I'm stuck with 1 hour of digging - and a wandering monster check - to get into each covered mound. Actually, Paralee getting a shovel of her own has given me the idea that perhaps it should be 2 or 3 hours for a single person to dig, but 1 hour if there are two or more diggers. This would also be consistent with the Barrowmaze instructions for breaking down bricked-over doorways and the stone slabs covering burial entrances.)

(I had to look up the chase rules for the first time this session, and they're pretty favorable to a small group fleeing from a larger one. In general, I think that Paralee's player made the right decision to run away each time she did. She and her hirelings might have been able to defeat the zombies, and probably could have beaten the centipedes - although the poison from the centipede's bites would have made it much harder to escape from anything else - but the caryatid columns and the wight certainly would have killed the 1st level spellcaster. The caryatids, in fact, would probably still have had the upper hand, even if Paralee had brought an army of 15 to fight on her behalf. Considering that the author of Barrowmaze has said that he thinks OSR should stand for "oh shit, run!" I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that Paralee kept ending up in so much danger. Really, in a game where it's possible to find yourself so badly overmatched, learning when to run is an important player skill. At the table, I wasn't able to find any advice in my rulebooks for awarding experience for monsters that are encountered but not fought. I decided to give half the XP for facing a single member of the group for the ones Paralee ran away from immediately, and full XP for escaping after she was already engaged, as she did for the wight.)

(Speaking of the wight, I'm not really a fan of level drain as a mechanic. Maybe I'm too soft as a referee; I'm certainly not killing off many player characters yet. As written, one touch from the wight should have killed Paralee and Vinnie, no save allowed, and they should have both risen as wights themselves after they fell. Instead, I gave them each a saving throw vs death. Paralee failed hers and had to roll on the ACKS Mortal Wounds table. Her result said partial blindness, and I decided to interpret that as cataracts rather than as some kind of violent disfigurement. With her elven glamour, it's possible no one else will ever tell that Paralee can no longer see over distances. Vinnie made his save - which is good news for Lesserton, which will not be terrorized by an undead soldier boy - and so felt he'd barely survived a brush with death. In retrospect, the ACKS resurrection side-effect table might also make for a good substitute for level drain if the issue ever comes up again.)

(All in all, I felt like this was a good session. Both times Paralee chose to retreat to Lesserton made perfect sense. The first time, she was down to 1 hp and her hireling was dead; the second time they'd both just barely survived meeting a wight. In general, the dice were pretty good to her. She only got one wandering monster the whole night; a ceiling collapsed but her amphorae survived - although that was partially due to her protecting them; and she made all her rolls to escape from pursuit. Plus she got the group's first big score thanks to the family tomb and its four sarcophagi. Between her loot and the monsters she faced, Paralee just jumped way out in front of her friends in terms of XP. Unfortunately, due to her mortal wound, she'll have to sit out week 3, although she can rejoin the adventuring life in week 4 - and at the end of week 4, Vodka Gimli will have to make a save vs death to avoid dying of complications from her injury, unless she's received medical care before then.)

(At the bar where we were playing, the bartender serving us told us that she and a coworker were into the recent Star Wars rpg, and afterwards another customer told us that he'd always wanted to play but never had the attention span. I had an interesting chat with Julia about the materials I was using for the game. I explained about Barrowmaze being a completed map, while the other books were just instructions for generating the map as you go. I told her I'd spent an hour or two earlier in the day, figuring out how many buildings the other characters spotted near the orchard in Mor, and stocking the contents of those buildings. We talked about how younger people can sometimes spend all day, or entire weekends, playing D&D, while for older payers, 2-3 hour sessions were more common. She asked what kinds of goals players hope to accomplish in those long sessions, if it's just leveling up, or if they want to defeat some final enemy. I talked about how every campaign is different, how I didn't have any particular plans for the ruined city of the monster-run wilderness, but that the catacombs have a giant bone dragon way off in the back where they would probably never meet it. She asked what players did when they finished defeating the big enemy, and I said that for myself, I thought it was okay to sometimes finish things, and be ready to move on to something else.)

(Spending part of my day using the procedural-generation rules to create one part of my campaign world, and the next part running a player though the finished Barrowmaze crypts really got me thinking that while I genuinely like all these materials, they're not exactly perfect for what I want. They're all too big, for one thing. Mor, and the Rotlands, and Barrowmaze - they're truly enormous. I suppose there's a desire, when designing products like this, to create a sense of wonder - and a sense that you're getting your money's worth - by making things that are too big to ever finish exploring, too big to ever even get close. And I appreciate that you don't want something that's supposed to be big to feel too tiny. But on the other hand, it would be nice to have something where my players could kind of finish it, or at least finish some section of it, and feel a sense of accomplishment from that too. We're not playing every weekend, we're not playing 8 hours a day, or staying up all night, but it would be nice to think that in the game, unlike in real life, we could do more that scratch the barest surface of the world. The Mario games actually feel appropriate here. The levels aren't huge, but they don't feel tiny either. There's a lot of world to see and explore, and a lot of secrets to find, but you can get all the way to the final castle. And even if you're not good enough at the game to make it all the way to the very end, you can at least get close enough to see the goal posts, you can take in the lay of the entire field even if you can't get all the way across it. The other complaint I have is that the procedures for generating Mor and the Rotlands are both kind of long and not very streamlined. I suppose if I ever feel very ambitious, I might try my hand at making my own version of this setting, one that matches more exactly what I wish it was like. Or maybe I won't. In the mean time though, I'd rather just be able to play than to feel like I can never start the game because I haven't finished prepping, and I'm serious when I say that I like these products and I'm glad that I'm getting the chance to use them.)