Shadows of Keron Episode 12: The Uninvited Guest

Kenaton is a big city, and the players have been travelling towards it for months, so even if it isn’t the eventual destination, it deserves a couple of adventures. There are none specifically set in Kenaton, and the few urban One-Sheets don’t look suitable. OK then, what do we know about Kenaton?

Reading through the relevant sections of Beasts & Barbarians and Citadel of the Winged God, I see that Kyros City and Kenaton have been allies for a long time, and that both cities provide troops to the Golden Guard, whose aim is to make the Gold Route (which follows the Sword River) safe for trade. This is a land and river route from the northern countries to Kenaton, where it crosses the Brown Sea to Lhoban. Kenaton is thus both a seaport and a major trade hub.

That’s it. Actually, that’s about the level of detail I like; enough to get me thinking but not prescriptive or over-detailed. I can do pretty much what I like, and it’s about time Jughal the Restless came back; he shouldn’t give up until the party either kill him permanently or give him the gems, in which case there will be tears before bedtime. I imagine he is tracking them because of some mystical connection to the gems, possibly he can see through them – yes, I like that. So, Jughal knows that The Warforged is carrying the Eyes on his person.

Jughal’s objective is to recover the Eyes, and thus gain control over his own Weakness. If he can get them without violence, so much the better – less risk to him that way. He knows of several treasure caches and will happily trade one or more of them for the Eyes; after all, once he is completely invulnerable, he can always get them back.

He is a lich, so his main strength is that he knows almost all the powers in the book. I decide that he can see through the Eyes, and knows their direction and distance at all times, but he can’t hear through them. So, he has to follow along behind the group, which limits his chances to lay traps. Once they reach Kenaton, however, and settle in to trade, relax and so forth, he can act – but he will still act swiftly as he doesn’t know their plans.

He has three basic strategies available to him; deceit (persuade the party to give him the gems), stealth (steal them), and brute force. Of course he could just ask nicely, but where’s the fun in that? Someone this old and sneaky knows enough about power to kick off all three approaches and go with the one that bears fruit first. I decide to expose the party to the visible signs of his plans, then wing it, letting the session go wherever they wandered. It’s a long time since I’ve run a completely improvised session, wouldn’t want to get rusty.

-o0o-

Resting up in Kenaton, the group sells off unwanted possessions and enjoys the comforts of city life for a while. They decide they are staying at the Headless Chicken Inn, part of a chain stretching across the continent, which amuses me.

Ahmed the Jeweller, whom they befriended while selling off gems, asks to meet them and tells them he has been ordered by a mysterious stranger to make a pair of matching ruby earrings, quickly, or die. The rubies he describes are an exact match for the Eyes of Jughal. Can the party help him find such rubies, or alternatively intervene with his patron? As it happens, they can.

When a thug from the Thieves’ Guild comes around to check on progress, they show him the Eyes and offer to sell him The Warforged (clearly some kind of automaton). He sets up a meeting with the Guildmaster for the following day.

While The Warforged guards the jeweller’s shop, the others go into the seedy side alleys, looking for information on the Guild. In addition to that, which doesn’t help them much, they learn that someone has dug up a few dozen bodies in the city cemetery. Nessime goes there and discovers evil runes carved on the tombs, then alerts the local Temple of Hulian, who respond by girding their loins and staking out the cemetery.

Something sneaks into the jewellers’ that night and tries to cast a spell on The Warforged, but fails.

Day 2, and at the meeting with the Guildmaster, the party learns that the mysterious stranger has offered the Guild 50,000 Moons to retrieve the rubies, which is far more than they are worth. The Warforged proves he has them, then offers to double that if the Guild will set up a meeting with the stranger. The Guild agrees.

That night, the whole party camp out in Ahmed’s shop. Something sneaks in, uses Puppet on The Warforged (he has a weakness, and it is his rubbish Spirit trait) to persuade him to hand over the Eyes of Jughal, then Teleport to escape. Unfortunately, the parting instruction to The Warforged is “kill them all”, which triggers a second Spirit save – this one, he makes, and as it is now raining, a humanoid figure can be seen limned in raindrops in the alley outside. The party charge into contact, firing ranged spells, and Shake their opponent; it is none other than Jughal the Restless, whose Invisibility drops when he is Shaken. He Teleports again, but The Warforged manages to snatch back the Eyes before he does so.

Day 3, and Nessime alerts the Temple to Jughal’s presence. They are not angry, but very, very disappointed that the party released Jughal from his tomb. Nessime spends the day being debriefed before the Temple sends runners off in all directions to raise the alarm.

Meanwhile, The Warforged and Gutz meet the Guild to tell them the deal is off. The Guildmaster explains that this means he is 150,000 out of pocket, and he would be happy to take that in cash. Immediately. This leads to an argument, and shortly thereafter, missile fire from rooftop archers who have The Drop on the party. However, it takes more than an arrow to drop The Warforged, and Gutz is happy not to be the primary target. Both sides retreat before things turn to melee.

The Guild is no longer the party’s friend.

That night, again the whole party camps out in the shop, and they are rewarded with a mass zombie assault during the small hours – Jughal is responsible for the raid on the cemetery, and has used it to raise some disposable troops. Blast spells dispose of most of them, but they are just a diversion, as Jughal Teleports inside the shop and unleashes a Fear spell on the party. This has no effect on Nessime or The Warforged, but Gutz has to spend a benny to avoid a fatal heart attack, and is Shaken for a number of rounds.

The Warforged returns the favour, but zombies are immune and Jughal has enough Spirit to shake it off. Jughal and The Warforged nod at each other, having established that Fear won’t work. Jughal next casts Puppet on The Warforged, takes the Eyes from him, and runs out.

The party pursues him into the night, whereupon he uses Fly to get up onto the rooftops. A lucky Bolt brings him down, and before he can recover (he’s out of bennies by this point) the party are upon him.

After much debate, they place the Eyes back in Jughal’s sockets, immobilising him. The liche is then dismembered, with his head (including Eyes) in the Temple at Kenaton, and other parts dispersed around the continent. The Warforged consents to this so long as he is paid rent for the use of the Eyes. Although disappointed by this, the Temple decides 5 Moons per week is a small price to pay for the continued existence of humanity, and so the deal is struck.

-o0o-

When next we see our heroes, they will have moved on to Syranthia, site of the Great Library. What could possibly go wrong?

A Triumvirate On My Own

Fresh from the Achiever-Explorer-Killer-Socialiser view of my players, I now turn to the threefold model. A quick recap:

  • Gamists focus on playability, without worrying too much about story or realism. ("We should use a square grid for the battlemat because it’s easy.")
  • Simulationists focus on realism over story or playability. ("We should use a hex grid for the battlemat because it doesn’t give an unrealistic advantage to units that move diagonally.")
  • Narrativists prioritise the story over the game. ("We don’t need no stinkin’ battlemat.")

I haven’t done a survey for this view of the group, but I’ve played with them long enough now to have a feel for where they sit. As usual, I refer to the players by the character name, to protect the innocent…

  • Alihulk, Garstrewt and Gutz are gamists with significant narrativist tendencies. They read up on the setting background between games, and have interesting but so far unexplored backstories, but once at the table they want to play a game, and so long as it’s fun they don’t mind about accuracy.
  • Athienne is almost a pure narrativist. For her, the story comes first, second and third, and the game exists only as a framework for it. However, her interest is mostly in the story of the protagonists, whereas Alihulk and Gutz are interested in the story of the setting as well, and Garstrewt is only interested in the setting.
  • Nessime and The Warforged are unashamed pure gamists. They don’t follow the story, and have no interest in historical accuracy. So long as there are puzzles to solve and fell beasts to slay, they don’t mind why.
  • Peter is a narrativist with gamist tendencies. A favourite quote is that he likes rules which are simple enough not to get in the way of the story. Although he has more actual, practical knowledge of real-life adventuring than the rest of us put together, he carries that lightly and lets us get away with murder in terms of what you can really do with a horse, a knife, or a sucking chest wound.

This suggests I should focus on the game first, the story second, and historical accuracy not at all, because nobody is interested but me.

Beasts & Barbarians Indiegogo

For the past couple of days I’ve been thinking, what I need is more One-Sheets or Savage Tales suitable for use in the Dread Sea Dominions – short adventures which would occupy a session each. There are a lot of One-Sheet adventures around, but most of them are for Deadlands, and I’ve found converting them harder than I expected. Ideally, I’d have enough that I could pick a suitable one from the pile for whatever group turns up on Saturday.

And lo, no sooner is the wish made than I see GRAmel has set up an Indiegogo campaign to fund Beasts of the Dominions, ten new monsters each with a Savage Tale attached.

I’ve pushed a few bucks their way, and if you’re minded to do the same, click on the link above sometime before June 12th.

The normal schedule will be resumed tomorrow.

Review: Well Met in Kith’takharos

This is the first in a series of adventures from White Haired Man, available for d20 or Savage Worlds. I’ve had my eye on these for a while, but recently it occurred to me that they would fit nicely into the Buffalo River delta on the Dread Sea Dominions map, thus extending my heavily-tweaked Beasts & Barbarians campaign.

The authors’ objectives are to produce small-scale settings and adventures, easily incorporated into any fantasy campaign; and to separate game mechanics from the plot and descriptions. A rules-agnostic version of the setting is available on the WHM website. I’ll review each adventure in turn, then close with a retrospective and overview.

This fellow is a 46 page PDF, by Dave Przybyla and Michael Galligan. The Savage Worlds version is aimed at 4-6 Novice PCs, and as well as being an adventure in its own right is intended to introduce players to the swamp, its natives, and Kith’takharos politics.

CONTENT

Kith’takharos Region is a swampy, inhospitable area which contains one village, nine ruins, and six reliable sources of fresh water. The region is about 20 x 28 miles, call it 550 square miles in old money; or if you prefer, 32 x 45 km, a bit over 1,400 square kilometres. That’s roughly the size of the Faroe Islands or Guadaloupe, about 20% bigger than Hong Kong. The small size of the region makes it extremely portable, easy to drop into any fantasy campaign.

The authors explain their design philosophy, provide an introduction, and outline the scenario, which consists of assorted setting information, narratives (a console gamer would call these cutscenes) and nine events (a D&D player would call these encounters); I reckon my group would take 2-3 sessions to complete the adventure.

This is followed by four potential adventure hooks, ranging from "seeking the rare plant that will heal your relative" to "oops, we missed the boat". Whichever one you choose, the PCs find themselves in the swamp village of Kith’takharos, and are quickly hired by one or more of the factions with an interest in finding a missing explorer. There’s a full-page colour map of the village, and narratives to set the scene – the local law explains constraints on the PCs’ behaviour; an experienced adventurer tells a tale which may be useful later, if the PCs remember it; and then the job offers begin. A local explorer is missing, and various parties are interested in what happened to him.

This leads us into the local political factions: Lady Salmissra, who strives to control trade in valuable swamp plants via the Order of the Jade Leaf, who amongst other things suppress poachers and smugglers; and the Transit Guild, one of those organisations which everyone knows is criminal in nature but somehow manages to avoid being prosecuted. The PCs are also likely to meet the Swamp Men, indigenous lizardfolk who live in the swamp.

The bulk of the adventure deals with tracking down the missing explorer, finding out what happened to him, and avoiding the same fate oneself.

FORMAT

There’s extensive use of colour throughout, and plenty of maps; GM and player maps of the region, a map of the village, a floor plan of an abandoned temple in the swamp; those are useful in running the adventure. There are colour images of various things which the GM is intended to show to the players at various points of the adventure; these vary in usefulness – I don’t think I needed a full-page colour illustration of a rowboat, for example, but I can see the value of some of them.

Narrative text and monsters are pulled out in differently coloured boxes. Each event opens with a paragraph explaining what other parts of the book are needed to run the event, and a brief description of what triggers the event, followed by notes on how to extend, shorten or omit the event, and its purpose in the adventure.

SUGGESTED IMPROVEMENTS

I’d prefer to download the rules-agnostic setting as a single PDF, rather than clipping various webpages. If I understand correctly, this PDF will be available soon.

It would be nice to have layers implemented in the PDF file, since 46 full-colour pages is slow and expensive to print.

CONCLUSIONS

It’s possible to run the adventure without having read the setting information on the WHM website, but I’d recommend you do glance through that first, it clarifies a number of points.

The adventure is well laid-out and seems easy to use. I look forward to running it; I understand though that an improved version is on the way, and I’m likely to get that before I actually run the scenario at the present rate of progress.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5.

Shadows of Keron Episode 11: Citadel Part 4 and Thieves in the Night

Citadel of the Winged Gods, Part 4

After a week off to reflect, the party decided that their tactical position was not good, and they should do something about it. Noticing that one side of the pyramid was devoid of tribesmen, they made a fighting withdrawal to that side, then turned and ran into the jungle, pursued Indiana Jones style by howling savages. A standard five round chase ensued, during which they nearly lost their native guide, Kiran, but managed to grab him and drag him off with them. Eventually losing the savages in the jungle, they settled down for a damp, cold night which they spent wondering what had happened to their companions.

In the morning, after a few minor setbacks, they found their way to the Lost City they have been looking for these past few sessions. Dodging arrows in the ruins led them to discover such survivors as there were, but their discussion was interrupted by Kumal the Smiling, their recurring nemesis, and a dozen Valk archers who have been trailing them through the jungle and looked decidedly the worse for wear. This was planned as the big climactic fight of the adventure, but ridiculously lucky dice rolls on Fear and Blast powers wiped out the Valk in a couple of rounds, before they could do any serious damage. All the Valk except Kumal the Smiling, that is.

Now, Kumal should be dead by now, but for some inscrutable reason of their own, the Dice Gods love him. He has been blown up, stabbed, thrown down a well, perforated with arrows, blown up again, stabbed again, and he just keeps on coming. I’m not even using any bennies on him. So, it should come as no surprise that one of the city’s guardian beasts carried him off to an uncertain fate. By this stage, he may have developed a grudge against the party. If he survives the guard beast – and you can imagine how tempted I am – I foresee a crusade for revenge on his part.

The party found sufficient loot for them to consider their time well spent. As I misread a paragraph in the adventure, this includes two giant fighting hawk eggs, since hatched. Oh well, never mind – I’m sure I can make them regret that.

Thieves in the Night

Since we finished early, I dragged out my emergency one-sheet and trimmed it to fit the remaining time. This was Thieves in the Night, also by Umberto Pignatelli, from Savage Insider #3.

This is an everyday tale of tomb-robbing folk, and venturing into a step pyramid in the minor Kyrosian city of Gilaska, the group emerged, more than somewhat bedraggled, heavy of purse and light of Wounds and bennies. While the Carnival at Nal Sagath uses the random card draw method to generate a dungeon, Thieves in the Night uses Beasts & Barbarians’ other approach, presenting a list of rooms and encounters in sequence. Since I skipped over half of these to fit into the time limit, I plan to respray the pyramid and use the rest of the encounters again later.

Lessons Learned

Athienne’s player wasn’t able to attend much of this adventure, which is a pity as she had all the right skills and could have taken a turn in the limelight. I need to think about how I can cope better with not knowing who is turning up to any given session; that suggests a swing away from multi-part adventures towards one-sheets, and possibly a return to the megadungeon concept.

I should also read the scenario more carefully in future to avoid burdening the party with too much treasure.

On the plus side, having a short spare scenario in the back pocket is a useful tool.

Radar Love

Spurred on by tension between players in the last couple of sessions, I re-analysed the recent player survey responses and used them to rate each player on the classic four motivations… to recap quickly:

  • Achievers like finding loot and leveling up.
  • Explorers like finding stuff out about the rules or the setting.
  • Killers like killing things, sometimes other players.
  • Socialisers like talking to NPCs and other players.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of them, but if Player A’s motives differ too much from Player B’s, it’s harder to craft a session that appeals to both of them.

I then plotted the results on a radar chart, which you can see below. (Yeah, I know, I take this stuff way too seriously.)

playstyles

Some things leapt out at me…

Externally Focussed Parties

These groups should stick together, and the main conflicts should be with monsters or NPCs.

  • Peter and Gutz can operate in any party, but work especially well together. Their radar plots are so close they overlay each other perfectly.
  • Athienne and Garstrewt work well together, but both prefer to avoid fights.
  • The Warforged and Alihulk work well together as long as the party is in combat.
  • Nessime’s interests overlap with everyone’s except Athienne and Garstrewt, but never by more than half; so Nessime will usually be slightly at odds with whatever is going on.

Internally Focussed Parties

Here, the main conflicts will be between party members, so I expect the party will split up in play.

  • Athienne or Garstrewt with The Warforged, Alihulk or Nessime; these two groups have opposing interests.
  • The Warforged and Alihulk, if there are no fights.

Conclusions

In descending order of frequency, I expect the three commonest party makeups to be:

  • Group A: The Warforged, Nessime and Gutz. For this group, I should prioritise fights, with loot and puzzles in joint second place.
  • Group B: Group A plus Athienne and Garstrewt. This will be the hardest one to manage, as I can literally please Athienne and Garstrewt, or The Warforged and Nessime, but not both pairs at the same time. The best I can do here is time-slice between puzzles, combat, loot and NPC interaction.
  • Group C: Group A plus Peter. In terms of scenario focus I can treat this as if it were Group A.
  • Group D: Peter, Abishag, Alihulk and Borg. Puzzles are more important than for Group A, but fights are still good.

If I’m not sure who is coming to a session, which I am usually not, I should go with Group A, but need to consider how I can keep Athienne and Garstrewt interested if they turn up.

Review: Dem Bones, Dem Bones

No, not a product called Dem Bones. One of the big timesavers for me is pre-painted miniatures, and here is a comparison of three lines. I’ve chosen skeletons since I have a skeleton figure in each line. Here they are on a 5mm grid:

Photo0107

Left to right:

  • D&D B8, LE/CE3 Warrior Skeleton by WotC from the now-defunct D&D Miniatures range. This guy is a monster, 39mm tall if you add up the lengths of his limbs, spine etc. The paint job is basic – he was one of the early sculpts – but the pose shows the right aggressive attitude, even if his sword arm is in an unusual position. I think he is shouting “Die, adventurers, die!”
  • Skeleton, 7 of 40, from the WizKids/Paizo range. Probably about 35mm high if erect. All of them are made of soft plastic, but this one is slightly stiffer than the other two; like many of his colleagues in the Paizo Wizkids range, he has a base, then little blobs of plastic under his feet, raising him by an extra millimetre or so. He has a permanently surprised look to him, as if unexpected adventurers have barged into his crypt from his right side, and reminds me of C-3P0. Probably the most realistic paint job. He is saying “What are you doing here?”
  • Skeleton with sword from the Reaper Legendary Adventures range. Again, I estimate 35mm high if erect. Reaper is the only non-random line; you select your monsters singly or in small groups, and can see what you’re getting, whereas you buy the other two lines blind, in random booster packs. This fellow is also the only one who doesn’t have a full 1” disk base, his is slightly smaller and oval. However, a bit of superglue and a spare base will fix that. He is my favourite of the three, and in my mind he is saying “Oh yeah? Come get some, meatshield!”

Not for the first time, my cellphone takes a blurry picture, but you can find sharper images on the web, if interested.

Like all other miniatures, scale creep is rampant. Not that it matters that much, but I confess to a mild annoyance at seeing figures advertised as “28mm” or “heroic 28mm” when they are actually 35mm. The average miniature height was roughly 25mm in 1975 or so, and 35 years later it is 35mm. I hope still to be playing when I’m 100, but at this rate, “28mm” figures then will be nearly 54mm high.