Shadows of Keron: A Retrospective

It’s time to call this one. Time of death: April 2014.

I have enough material to keep running the game for another year, maybe two, but with several of the group dealing with serious illness in the family, two running after a new baby, one off to university and two off to Japan, the best I can hope for is a long hiatus. All the same, it’s been fun while it lasted, and a real success. My only regret is that it petered out, rather than ending on the kind of slam-bang, white-knuckle high note I’d hoped for; but such is life.

If you count the city of Irongrave where the PCs began, which was absorbed into the Dread Sea Dominions once Beasts & Barbarians captured my imagination, this campaign has lasted about four years of real time; one of the longest I’ve ever run.

The game introduced half-a-dozen new people to role-playing, and four of them still play on a regular basis; that’s a win, right there. I converted the whole group to Savage Worlds – win – and they converted me to Shadowrun – win. I got to know Piotr Korys and Umberto Pignatelli – win.

Over the course of the campaign, the PCs have grown from their lowly beginnings at Novice rank to the edge of Legendary. They have travelled across the Dominions from the Independent Cities to the Troll Mountains to the Ivory Savannah. They have looted tombs, toppled kingdoms and slain a god. They have upset the balance of power in the Dominions for centuries to come by gifting both the Ascaian Amazons and the Smith-Priests of Hulian the secret of steel-making.

What now for our heroes?

The Warforged intends seizing control of the abandoned City of the Winged God, where he plans to create a new race of warforged and take over the world – for the greater good of all, of course. (It always starts like that, doesn’t it? Then there are dissenters, then the Blast powers and frying pans come out, and the screaming starts…)

Nessime has been instructed by the Smith-Priests to make her way to Jalizar, there to help contain its ancient evils.

Gutz’ present whereabouts are unknown; but the party’s jewels are safe with him, wherever he and Maximus the warhorse are – at least until he finds a tavern with dancing-girls…

“When it’s over, when it’s done – let it go.” – The Bangles, Let It Go

Shadows of Keron Episode 29: The Death of Kumal the Smiling

Yes, it had to happen: Kumal’s luck finally ran out.

This was an improvised scenario aimed at switching the narrative track towards Caldeia, where I intend to run the Kithtakharos adventures next. Sitting down at the table, I pulled together a number of leftover plot threads – campaigns start to write themselves after a while. So there were undead guardians, a Daughter of Hordan, a handsome slave in vigorous good health, a Valkyrie, assorted Valk on warponies, a dark and stormy night, and a cave.

"We are NOT going in that cave," said the Warforged. "There’s always something nasty in caves."

Deftly bypassing the cave (and its undead guardians), the party treks on through the night and the pouring rain.

At length, they come upon an encampment, with a couple of dozen Valk and their tents, the leaders debating something with a Valkyrie. The Warforged hates Valk, and is all for slaughtering them on the spot. Nessime takes a more reasoned approach, and being unsure what to do, consults the Hindrances on her character sheet as I often counsel players to do in these situations.

  • Heroic. Are the Valk in trouble? No, so Nessime does not have to help them.
  • Loyal: Friends. Are the Valk her friends? No, so this Hindrance doesn’t come into play.
  • Vow: Fight evil until the last fire goes out (she is a paladin of Hulian, in effect). Are the Valk evil? Well… they worship demons. They speak the same language as demons. Close enough.

They approach stealthily, and The Warforged opens hostilities with a Fear spell. All the lesser Valk and the warponies flee in panic, but by virtue of not running away, the Valkyrie reveals herself to be a Wild Card. Gutz then taunts her something rotten, one of his favourite tactics, and she becomes Shaken. This buys the party enough time to drop an overpowered Blast spell on her, killing her outright despite the liberal application of GM Bennies.

Searching the wreckage, they discover a slave hiding in the Valkyrie’s tent, which also contains a map, a half-written letter, and a strange leathery object somewhat bigger than a football.

"Do you have a name?" asked Nessime.

"Yes, ma’am," replied the now-freed slave. "Antaeus."

"Oh you poor thing," she said. "I am so sorry."

This leaves Antaeus in a state of confusion, little knowing that throughout the campaign the only NPCs to survive encounters with the party have been those without names (and Kumal the Smiling); having a name ensures NPC death, or so the party now believes.

Antaeus declines to join the party, even after gifts of weapons and armour, but does agree to travel with them to the next town, wherever that might be. He explains that he was a prisoner of war from the Kyrosian rebellion the PCs fought in some time ago, sold as a slave and passed from merchant to merchant until the Valk picked him up. Had they kept on with this line of questioning they might have learned something truly useful, but since it’s not something Antaeus wants to talk about he doesn’t volunteer it. The party instead becomes distracted by the map and letter. The letter is apparently from the Valkyrie to someone called Baltazar, which several of the party recognised as a Tricarnian name, explaining that she has the object he seeks and is bringing it to him in Caldeia. (Gutz immediately reasons that this must be the leathery object, and it is therefore valuable and should be carried off.) The map is interesting partly because it exactly matches the map Gutz liberated from his erstwhile colleagues early in the campaign, which he was told by said colleagues showed the location of a great treasure, and partly because it has little pictures of Warforged on it, in the Caldeian swamps.

By now the party is getting the idea, and decides to press on south towards Caldeia. They come to a river, and determine (rightly) that if they follow it downstream they should come to the swamps. After a little while, they encounter the warponies, who have somehow got onto the other side of the river. There is much debate about how to cross the river to get to them, but at length this plan is abandoned.

A little while later, they encounter the Valk, who are looking for their warponies. Now that it is daylight, Kumal the Smiling (for it is he) recognises his opponents. He bullies the other Valk into attacking the party (because he hates them), then attempts to sneak off (because he is terrified of The Warforged, and not without reason).

Outnumbered three to one by dismounted nomad archers, the party is undaunted. The Warforged fires off his signature Blast spell against Kumal, and incinerates him, again despite GM Bennies.

Gutz takes a moment to honour the memory of a worthy foe, while Nessime uses Beast Friend and an excellent Persuasion roll to convince a swarm of nearby meerkats that the Valk are attempting to steal their territory. Two of them fall under a whirlwind of tiny teeth, claws, and offers of cheap warpony insurance.

Gutz drops a couple with arrows, The Warforged barrels into the closest group and whacks them silly with his Enchanted Sorceror’s Frying Pan, and once they reach 70% casualties the survivors break and run.

Antaeus is volunteered to pick up and carry the loot (mostly composite bows), since the party forgot he was there and didn’t use him in the fight. (He was quite happy with that, and they didn’t seem to need his help.)

It is without further incident that the group travels downriver into the swamps, to the sleepy village of Kithtakharos, which I must now read up on.

If you have worked out what that leathery object is, don’t tell them, it’ll spoil the surprise.

Shadows of Keron Episode 28: Ye lose, ye hated Elder Gods!

Previously, on Shadows of Keron… The party is on its way south across the Brown Sea, heading back to their homes in the Independent Cities.

GM’s Notes: This was the second improvised scenario from our annual gaming weekend, stolen from one of the comics in my Savage Sword of Conan collection, played in between White Box D&D sessions as a palate cleanser and change of pace. The premise, of which the party are initially unaware, is that long ago, a sorceror made a pact with a demon granting him immortality, but didn’t read the small print. He is immortal, and can only die by the blade of a hero, but he does not have eternal youth, and cannot leave his tower. Over the centuries he has become bored beyond belief, and increasingly decrepit, and now wishes only to die. Since the nature of the pact precludes suicide, he attempts to lure parties of adventurers to his home in the hopes that one will eventually breach his defences and kill him. Meanwhile, since the only pleasures left to him are eating, reading and writing, he has by means of letters left on the beach established trade with nearby islands. He can’t actually starve to death, but he can get hungry beyond belief…

Arriving at the next island on their route, the party trade in their stolen fishing boat, and while wondering what to do next, come across a poster nailed to a building near the docks:

REWARD
Bring the Blessing of Hulian to an old man in dire need, and you will be well rewarded.
Beware, there will be trials of water, earth, fire and air.
Seek out Captain Rimpoche at the sign of the Jade Idol for more details.

Peter Perfect the Paladin of Hulian cannot resist the chance to further his god’s aims. Abishag, Alihulk Jr and Borg cannot resist the chance to spend what gold they have in a pub. The Warforged tags along, grumbling about wanting to get home, and why is there always someone who needs help, and why does it have to be the party that does it… Everyone ignores him.

As they enter the bar, everything falls silent and all eyes turn to the PCs. (Every so often I like to remind the players how bizarre they are as a group, although it doesn’t do to derail the adventure in the way their freakishness really should.) A native of the Dread Sea Dominions would consider Alihulk and Peter (humans) normal enough, Borg (originally a half-orc) some kind of Nandal, Abishag (hobbit thief) a fat albino pygmy, and The Warforged “By the Divine Couple, what is that thing? Run!”

However, when the party first refrains from violence (a less likely occurrence than you might think) and orders a round of drinks for the house, the few locals present decide that their odd appearance is tolerable. The barkeep agrees to rent them rooms for the night, and points out Captain Rimpoche, a fat, jolly Jademan sailor in a black shirt embroidered with flaming skulls. The party is ready to kill him for this poor dress sense, but fortunately Peter makes a Knowledge: Religion roll and remembers that Jademen sometimes wear these emblems and nothing should be inferred about their personalities from it. Passage is arranged for the morning.

Now, at this point I was expecting them to gather information on the mission, and use that to make a plan. However, Peter is Clueless with d4 Smarts and roleplays that to the hilt, so simply went to bed. The rest of them decided the best use of their time would be an arm-wrestling contest with the local fishermen, which went on into the small hours.

The following morning, they make their way to the docks where they discover the good Captain supervising the  loading of provisions and cargo onto the ship. The Captain explains that he is taking food to the next island, and that nearly triggers a brawl, as The Warforged and Peter decide the party must be the “food” to which he refers. However, the Captain explains that as part of his regular route, he drops off a cargo of food on the island the old man lives on, and picks up a bag of gold coins for his troubles. He leaves the cargo in a clearing overnight, and in the morning recovers his gold and moves on to the next port. The party also discover during the voyage that Rimpoche inherited this route from his father, which should have been a warning to them, and that Rimpoche has never actually seen the old man. So long as the gold keeps coming, he sees no reason to rock the boat, as it were.

Rimpoche also mentions that from time to time, groups of scurrilous ne’er-do-wells decide that there must be more gold wherever the payments come from, and venture inland to visit the old man. These do not return.

As usual, the characters of those players not present help the crew set up camp for the night and turn in, as do most of the party. However, The Warforged and Abishag sneak out to the clearing where the cargo has been left. They discover it is carried off by Headless Zombies during the night, but amazingly don’t steal the gold. For reasons not entirely clear to me, neither drops any hints about what they have seen to the others.

In the morning, they pay Rimpoche to wait for them, and follow the zombie trail inland, eventually coming upon a four-storey tower which points a tube at them as they approach. (The players correctly divine this is a telescope.) The tower’s floors are painted in different colours; first brown, then orange, then blue, then finally white at the top, which is where the tube is.

The Trial of Water consists of an economy-sized water elemental in the tower’s moat. Alihulk is sent to swim over to the drawbridge and lower it, at which point the elemental grabs him and starts playfully smacking him into the walls. To my delight, The Warforged dives in to help… and being made of metal and weighing nearly half a ton, sinks straight to the bottom of the moat. Alas, The Warforged dominates the elemental with Puppet and instructs it to return both he and Alihulk to dry land, and break the drawbridge chains. The drawbridge falls, and the party enters the lowest floor of the tower.

The Trial of Earth is a trio of stone golems (I just made those up on the fly, which is easy to do with Savage Worlds). Abishag kills one outright with a slingstone, to the awe of the rest of the party – a series of exploding d4 can take anything down with enough luck. The rest are disposed of by more conventional means. Peter talks to the severed heads around the walls (these are the missing parts of the Headless Zombies), which warn him about the necromancer at the top of the tower. The party then advances up the spiral staircase to…

The Trial of Fire, which consists of two dozen Headless Zombies and six fire elementals which on a whim I decide are immune to normal damage (by now I’m running the adventure entirely without the aid of the rulebook, making up challenges and monsters as I go). Wholesale use of Blast and Bolt powers dispose of most of them, wreaking havoc on the structural integrity of the building, but the most entertaining episode is Alihulk shield-bashing a small group of zombies and doing so much damage thanks to aces that he goes straight through the tower wall. The rest of the party leave him dangling in the wind and tramp upstairs while he hauls himself back in.

The Trial of Air is on the third floor, which consists of six passages radiating from the central staircase and leading to a balcony which encircles the tower. Wind can be heard howling outside, which is puzzling since the air was calm at ground level. There are no stairs upwards, but the party correctly decides that there will be stairs outside on the balcony. Peter strides forward confidently, overcomes the attempts of the circling air elementals to blow him off the tower, and locates the staircase. Abishag follows him, and is blown off the tower, saving himself by grabbing Peter’s belt. Peter is dragged back towards the edge, Borg leaps forwards to grab them both and haul them back in… and goes over, saving himself by grabbing Abishag’s feet. The combined weight is too much for Peter, who starts sliding off, but due to his Loyalty Hindrance he can’t bring himself to let the other two fall, and neither of them wants to take one for the team by letting go.

Alihulk reaches the balcony, takes in the scene, and saunters past them on his way up to the top. I am still not entirely sure why.

The Warforged, however, runs up behind Alihulk and, firing blind, makes a lucky Puppet roll to dominate an air elemental and uses it to push his comrades back onto the balcony.

An Unusual Boss Fight now plays out. Grinning evilly, I produce a stack of GM bennies, and ask for their moves. Alihulk enters the top story, which is your typical mad wizard’s laboratory, to find an aged and decrepit man before him, making no attempt to defend himself, with a disturbing smile on his face. Not even Alihulk can bring himself to strike down the old codger in cold blood, so he settles for slapping him. Peter Perfect barges into the room, and demands to Detect Evil on the victim (remember, we’ve been playing D&D most of the weekend). Now, there’s no such spell in SW, but we agree that if he can roll high enough on Notice, he can get the same info. Peter Boosts his Notice, makes a corking roll, and is convinced the old guy is indeed a necromancer of surpassing evil. The party falls upon him with gusto, and the old man just stands there smiling, taking the blows. I am grinning an evil grin at the players and toying with my pile of GM bennies, but not using any of them. At length the necromancer dies, whispering through blood and broken teeth, “Ye lose, ye hated Elder Gods… ye lose…”

I have never seen the party so unsettled, as they tried to work out by what hideous means the necromancer would return from the grave to wreak his unholy revenge, and what on earth I was saving the bennies for. They decided that the Big Bad must have transferred his consciousness into Abishag, largely on the strength of Abishag purloining a small chest of gold coins during the fight. However, before they could lynch him, The Warforged (always on the lookout for arcane lore) found the necromancer’s journal while rummaging through the pile of papers Peter was using to make an impromptu funeral pyre, and discovered what was going on.

They retired to a safe distance and demolished the now-tottering tower with Blast spells, then marched back to the beach in triumph. Here, Captain Rimpoche was about to remonstrate with them about their impact on his livelihood (no more cargo runs to this island for him!) when he realised that the group appeared to have demolished a four-storey tower in short order, and as far as he could tell, using only hand weapons. Discretion is the better part of valour, he thinks.

REFLECTIONS

This one worked well, better than the earlier improvised session in episode 27; I consider myself back on form.

Next time, on Shadows of Keron… The party is back on dry land once more, and homeward bound through southern Kyros, hoping to avoid any entanglement with the Kyrosian Army, which does not count itself among their greatest fans. But wait… Look, on the horizon… can that be the dust of many, many hooves?

Shadows of Keron Episode 27: Pitch Black

Previously, on Shadows of Keron… The party have delivered Princess Karmella to her bridegroom-to-be as agreed, been paid, and are now heading south across the Brown Sea en route to the Independent Cities.

The trireme on which the party has secured passage, like most Bronze Age vessels, doesn’t stay out at sea overnight; it pulls up on a convenient beach. While those PCs whose players aren’t present and the NPC crew make camp, Peter Perfect’s eye is drawn to a ruined temple on a hill in the jungle. He takes Alihulk Jr, Abishag, Borg and The Warforged with him to investigate.

They discover, as dusk is falling, that the temple is part of an entire ruined village, and that it is a temple of Hulian. The village seems to have been abandoned for some years, judging by the state of decay. The Warforged hears noises down the well in the centre of the town square and looks into it.

The Warforged: Kumal? Are you in there?

There is no answer, so he drops some rocks down the well.

GM: Have none of you read The Lord of the Rings? Seen the movie?

But this falls on deaf ears. While Alihulk and Borg are exchanging insults and building a campfire on the temple steps, and The Warforged is throwing things down the well on top of whatever is making the noise, Peter advises the party that they are not permitted into the inner sanctum, and moves inside to pray, accompanied stealthily and unseen by Abishag. The village and its clues are ignored.

Inside, they find the priests and paladins of the temple, slaughtered and devoured in what appears to have been a last stand against… something. At this point Abishag’s player correctly identifies the scenario as Pitch Black, the first Riddick movie, but I ignore him and move on as it seems the rest haven’t seen it. While Peter is praying, Abishag scouts around the altar as he is convinced there must be a secret compartment full of loot. Alas, he is mistaken.

Meanwhile, outside, a stream of millions of eyeless bats shoots out of the well like water from a hose. The Warforged launches an unprovoked Blast spell into the cloud of bats, incinerating many, and those outside are showered in red-hot crispy bat parts. The party leap to the not-unreasonable conclusion that these critters are responsible for the mutilation and death of the priests, and barricade themselves into the temple using rubble from the village. Comments about streams of bats arcing off towards the beached ship and their colleagues are ignored. Comments that the bats are getting steadily bigger are heeded.

As they are sitting back congratulating themselves on a barricade well made, Peter points out that the temple roof has holes in it. This prompts a further frantic search for a secret passageway, and at length they discover that by applying large Strength dice to the statue of Hulian in the inner sanctum, they can slide it back on rollers and descend into a cellar below, where they find the pitiful remnants of the villagers, and not a few small bat carcases. They pull the statue back into place behind them.

Holes in the cellar walls lead them to a tunnel dug by bats, through a narrow, winding passageway where man-sized, eyeless killer bats are melded into the walls Aliens-style and pounce on them, and at length into a large cavern where a dragon-sized queen bat lies in wait. Peter talks himself into believing that this simple, albeit ugly, animal is a supernatural evil beast and is disappointed when his Holy Warrior edge fails to provide any assistance.

Needing no further encouragement, the party fall upon her, and after a protracted melee with fire support from the spellcasters, they slaughter what they have decided is the source of the evil. They retreat back to the foot of the staircase and hole up until dawn, when the bats return to their cave; then they emerge, fashion a makeshift lid for the crater where the well used to be (Blast again, I’m afraid), pour all the oil they can find down the well shaft, throw in a torch, close the lid and weight it down, then dust off their hands and march back to the beach, smug at a job well done.

Here they find the NPC crew slaughtered and those PCs whose players didn’t show up hiding in a cave somewhere. None of them knows how to drive a boat, but they cast around and find a small fishing craft before paddling off erratically into the Brown Sea.

REFLECTIONS

This worked pretty well considering I was making it up as I went. Since it was entirely improvised, though, it wouldn’t have hurt to let Peter use his Holy Warrior on the Big Bad Bat – it would have made no difference to the outcome, but he would have had more fun by bringing his character’s specialisation into play.

I realised afterwards that I was using the wound soaking rules incorrectly, by allowing the Big Bad Bat to soak damage from a previous attack. Strictly, one may soak after any attack inflicting damage, but one may only soak the damage from that attack with that roll.

Overall, though, a success. I can do better once I get back into practice, as you’ll see later…

Next time, on Shadows of Keron… You lose, ye hated Elder Gods! You lose!

Improv

So, tonight is the start of a three-day gaming session. We’ll probably spend a lot of time shooting the breeze and drinking beer, and I know the host has a white box D&D adventure he wants to run for the investigators of CSI: Shaddipur

Nick: As long as there’s gaming and unlimited beer, I’m in.

(Let it not be said that Da Youf of Today pay their elders no heed. Perhaps, in this case, a little too much heed.)

…but I think I probably still need enough material for 8-10 hours of play. That’s probably 2-3 adventures, but I want to play fast and loose as in days of yore, when I sat down to GM Traveller or 2300AD with only the vaguest idea of a plot (usually stolen wholesale from whatever story I’d read last) and faith in my improvisational ability. So, here are my notes for those scenarios in their entirety.

  • Session 1: Pitch Black. Crossing the Brown Sea, stop overnight on an island with a ruined village and a well best not looked into. Hilarity ensues.
  • Session 2: Ye Hated Elder Gods. One from the Savage Sword of Conan comic, I remember the outline of the story but not its actual title. It’ll do.
  • Session 3: Wanted: Dead or Alive. Kumal the Smiling and Kyrosian Valk mercenaries and Night of the Demon and Run of the Arrow and Daughters of Hordan, oh my.

Since the next few weekend sessions after that are going to be Shadowrun, I’ll let you know what happens by posting over the next few Mondays.

Shadows of Keron Episode 26: The Monastery of Shadows

Previously, on Shadows of Keron… Gutz, Nessime and The Warforged have decided to rescue Princess Karmella from her kidnappers, which entails meeting them at the Anvil, a lakeside site sacred to the cult of Hulian, and at least pretending to exchange her for Ulesir Shah, or in this case, Gutz, who bears an uncanny resemblance to him…

Fortunately, Nessime was paying attention to her lessons on the relevant day in paladin school, and knew where the Anvil was, so they were able to go directly there, where they met Philosopher Jimpah, a Jademan monk sent to observe the now indefinitely postponed wedding; he wished to rescue the princess too, so they agreed to join forces. They then spent a happy hour or so setting up traps to cover the approaches from the mountains, intending to ambush the kidnappers when they turned up to make the exchange. (You’ve seen Predator, right? It was a lot like Arnie’s Boy Scout alien traps.) It didn’t occur to them that the Bad Guys might come across the lake in a boat. However, this did allow me to remove a variety of items from the huge pile of stuff they’re lugging around with them, mostly the Amazon spears which have spent the last few game months lashed to their pack animal, and were used to make a big, spikey deadfall.

Seeing a hooded woman in the boat, The Warforged leapt to the conclusion that she was an imposter, not the real Karmella, and blew up the boat with a Blast spell. Illustrating the difference between their characters, Gutz dropped behind the Anvil’s rocks seeking cover, while Nessime stood up and ran forward to save the girl, getting shot by archers for her pains. This irritated her, and using her recently acquired Beast Friend on a convenient nest of hornets, she persuaded the insects to attack her foes. (I let her get away with quite a lot regarding Beast Friend, because I like to see the crazy schemes they come up with to use it.) By this point, the entire boat crew were Shaken or worse, and the girl was dead, so when the hornets attacked, they killed all the survivors.

GM: Congratulations. You have now killed everyone who could have told you what is going on. What’s your next move?

It took a while, but by astute questioning of Philosopher Jimpah, going back over the clues from earlier sessions, and not a little luck in tracking around the lakeside, they eventually worked out which way to go to retrace the kidnappers’ steps. (Interestingly, although the players often lament the absence of Athienne and her Tracking skill, so far it hasn’t occurred to any of them that they could use an advance to learn it themselves.)

When they encountered sentinels left to guard the kidnappers’ yaks, The Warforged used Puppet to send them jumping off a cliff. Using Stealth and items found on the yaks, the party disguised themselves as locals and used Beast Friend to persuade the yaks to take them to the kidnappers’ village. On arrival, they ignored the village entirely and climbed the sheer rock face to the Monastery of Shadows (three dramatic chords). After a number of adventures inside the Monastery, during which by dint of improbably good Persuasion rolls they convinced a group of novice monks that they were a party of tourists visiting the historic site, and learned the Monastery’s secret soup recipe by befriending the chef, they found the princess and disposed of her guards.

I had forgotten that they had the Stone of Recall, a magic item which they’ve had lying around for ages, which can teleport the wielder and anyone in physical contact to a preset waypoint. They hadn’t, nor had they forgotten to specify resetting the waypoint to Ulesir Shah’s palace. So, they teleported back to the patron and delivered the bride-to-be, bypassing the boss fight at the end of the scenario and leaving the Monastery largely intact, where no doubt its evil plots will continue to fester. This kind of thing happens in a sandbox game; because we were pushed for time, and Nick (The Warforged) hasn’t been very enthusiastic about this particular scenario, I let it ride rather than inventing a dark sorcery antimagic field to stop them.

Despite being well-paid for their efforts, the thing they were most pleased about was getting the secret soup recipe, a throw-away detail I made up on the spot while they were talking to the chef. Nessime and Jimpah have passed on the Monastery’s location to their respective religious organisations, so I anticipate a pitched battle offscreen as the three cults kick the stuffing out of each other, followed by dark monks bent on revenge coming for the party.

-o0o-

Where next for Our Heroes? A bunch of single-session scenarios on their journey back to the Independent Kingdoms, I think, followed by a grand finale in which Gutz and The Warforged finally work out that between them they know where The Warforged’s missing memory core is hidden, somewhere in the Fallen Realm of Keron, and the band set off on an epic dungeon crawl to recover it.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting to speculate what Kumal the Smiling has been up to while all this was going on. I think he might be tempted to sell information about them to the Kyrosian Army, in which he previously served with them, and which has put a price on their heads.

Next time, on Shadows of Keron… The chickens start coming home to roost, as the Kyrosian Army attempts to arrest the group for desertion and murder.

Shadows of Keron Episode 25: The Enemy Revealed

Previously, on Shadows of Keron… Disguised as nobles attending a royal wedding, Nessime, Gutz and The Warforged believe they are about to become embroiled in a civil war, following a falling out between Valk warrior nobles and the disappearance of the intended bride. After dithering for some time about whether to steal the wedding gifts and run for it, they decide to head east with the army of Tokharim Shah, one of the aforementioned Valk warrior nobles…

-o0o-

Three days’ hard riding brings them to a border fort that has seen better days, where the leader of the other faction (as they see it) is in hiding, with his army camped in the open outside the main gate.

The war has be nipped in the bud before other enemies take advantage of the army’s absence and sack the city. In council with Tokharim Shah and his generals, the party decide on a spec ops mission to block the gate so that their foes can’t retreat inside to more defensible terrain, while their allies attack the camp.

The stealthier members of the group infiltrate the fort; Nessime simply teleports to the top of the main tower. While The Warforged bars the gates, Nessime uses Beast Master to turn the Valk ponies inside against their masters, and a savage melee of warpony vs rider erupts. Meanwhile, Gutz climbs the wall and by dint of rolling 34 on his Stealth, infiltrates the war council of the faction leader in the flickering firelight which is the tower’s only illumination.

Nessime fires a rainbow bolt into the foggy sky, signalling to their army that the battle may begin, which it duly does. The two contingents of Valk lay into each other with a will offscreen, while The Warforged uses Blast on both friend and foe indiscriminately – during the course of the campaign, the character has developed an abiding hatred of all Valk. Inside the tower, Gutz resolves the pending civil war in a direct and brutal manner, cutting the faction leader’s head off with an axe. The missing princess appears to be present, but during the course of the melee she assumes the form of a bat and escapes through the tower window.

"Dark sorcery," says The Warforged. "I knew it!"

The Warforged uses Blast on the armies battling outside the fort to attract their attention, and announces to them that the fort’s leader is dead and the missing princess is not inside.

GM: Are you making any attempt at all to avoid hitting your allies?

The Warforged: No. I hate Valk. I’ll tell them the bat sorceress did it.

While all this is going on, a ransom demand arrives by messenger from the guys who really have the princess. Her father, Tokharim Shah, is incapacitated; his rival is dead; the armies are uncertain what to do next, although they tacitly agree to stop killing each other while they figure it out.

The party go into a huddle and discuss their options. The Warforged, who has never been very keen on this mission, argues that they should loot what they can and make a run for it; the spirit of the sandbox is strong in this one. Nessime, a true-hearted paladin, is for rescuing the princess. Gutz’ player is by now doodling portraits of various characters and has no strong opinion.

Further debate results in the idea that they should return to their patron, the noble Gutz is impersonating, and ask for more money to reflect the ongoing mission creep. Shortly afterwards, The Warforged hits upon the idea of killing the original noble, substituting Gutz, and seizing control of his fief; however, the players decide that they would rather carry on having picaresque individual adventures and aren’t interested in ruling a city-state, so they speak to their patron and ask for more money and additional troops. His reaction to this stops short of having them executed out of hand, but not by much, so they leave the city under a cloud and make for the exchange point specified in the ransom demand; Nessime still wants to rescue the princess, The Warforged has decided (based on very little actual evidence, but having recently read all R E Howard’s Conan stories) that a cult of dark sorcerors are involved and he may be able to learn something from them, and Gutz “just wanna have fun”.

-o0o-

I was distracted while running this session by the gamer-in-training, young Leo, sitting on my lap gurgling at me, so I went quite a way off-piste myself. I lost track of where the princess was and put her in the tower, so had to recover from that by turning her into a bat and having her fly off; fortunately the PCs had by that point killed the people with her, avoiding awkward questions about why this substitution had not been discovered by her intimate friends. So there’s a spoiler for you; at no point during Shadows Over Ekul does Princess Karmella turn into a bat.

I think Shadows Over Ekul will be the last multi-session adventure I run for a while; sessions are short and disjointed at the moment due to our various real-life situations, so it’s getting hard for us all to keep track of the story. After the end of this scenario, Tenchi (Gutz) will run the next part of the Shadowrun adventure path Dawn of the Artefacts for us, then I’ll switch back to single-session adventures, starting with some one-shots from Beasts of the Dominions.

In broad outline then, June will be taken up with Shadows Over Ekul, July, October and December with Shadowrun, August with holidays, September and November with Beasts of the Dominions; by the end of 2013 we should have finished Dawn of the Artefacts and Gutz, Nessime and the Warforged should have reached Legendary in Shadows of Keron. That’s far enough ahead to be planning for now.

Shadows of Keron Episode 24: A Troubled Wedding

New readers begin here…

Arriving in the Ekulan city of Teluk’Ammar, the party attempts to pass itself off as a noble and his entourage attending a royal wedding. Gutz (a thief originally from Northeim) is pretending to be the noble, not terribly well; Nessime is his advisor; and The Warforged is his personal chef, in which role he is somewhat hampered by having no sense of smell or taste, and absolutely no relevant skills.

"He’s a lousy cook," Gutz explains to the NPCs bulking out the party, "But he’s a clockwork robot. How cool is that? How many people can say they have a clockwork robot chef, eh?"

Fortunately, the NPCs bulking out the party include an actual chef, two servant boys, a real courtier, and 12 surviving Amazons (including the cute one Gutz is trying to pick up, and the one known as "You, Amazon at the back," who despite having no skill managed enough aces on her d4-2 to successfully identify an evil artifact they recovered from an assassin a little while ago). The rest of the Amazons fell victim to the river pirates mentioned in the previous episode.

-o0o-

It’s a fine, sunny day, which makes the thunderclaps downriver puzzling. Lookouts advise the crowd waiting at the docks that an… unusual Amazon hawk ship is approaching. With over half the rowers killed by pirates en route, The Warforged has created a low-tech version of Project Orion, and is using Blast under the No Power Points setting option as an ad-hoc propulsion method; fire off a Blast behind the ship, and use the resulting wave to boost the ship forwards. Their wake is full of dead fish.

As he describes it, this is so cool that I invoke one of my metarules and allow him to get away with it once, on the understanding that this does not establish a precedent.

The crowd thins out considerably, as the townspeople want no truck with Things Man Was Not Meant To Know, but the dignitaries and Valk guards don’t want to lose face and tough it out. The explosions cease and the ship is manoeuvred into dock by more conventional means.

Now this isn’t actually in the adventure as written, but given that Teluk’Ammar has a large contingent of Valk cavalry, I could not resist having Kumal the Smiling pop up again.

For those new to Shadows of Keron, Kumal is a long-time antagonist of the party who leads a charmed life. He has no special advantages, but the dice love him. The party has shot him, stabbed him, thrown him down a well (twice), and blown him up with Blast spells (multiple times), but he keeps coming back for more. At least he did, until a failed Fear check left him with a Major Phobia of Warforged, since when he has been trying to avoid Our Heroes. He was last seen at the Citadel of the Winged Gods, being carried off by a brace of ferocious giant fighting birds. However, I feel that having him ripped to pieces offstage is less than he deserves, so he now finds himself working as a mercenary in Teluk’Ammar.

Fortunately, the dice were kind to him again, and the party decided not to press their advantage; so he wormed his way to the back of their escort and slipped away, while The Warforged and Nessime used their Beast Friend and Puppet powers to ensure Gutz impressed the Valk with his (nonexistent) horsemanship.

-o0o-

This session focused on social roleplaying rather than combat – well, except for the swordfight in the pit of cobras, but that hardly counts – as the party attempted to ingratiate itself with the local nobility, hunting, dancing, engaging in political discourse and so forth.

"Let me show you the breakdance of my people," said Gutz, before getting several raises on an Agility roll boosted by Acrobatics, and doing The Worm across the ballroom floor.

Predictably, by the end of the session the bride-to-be was missing, a number of Valk warriors were mortally offended, and Our Heroes had decided that civil war was were about to break out.

"Now, I know this may sound immoral," said The Warforged, "But while the army is getting ready to leave, we could grab the wedding presents and make a run for it. It’s what Conan would do."

However, after extensive debate on this point, they decided by a narrow margin to throw their weight behind their erstwhile host, and ride out with the army.

Shadows of Keron Episode 23: A Prince’s Life

It’s been a loooong time, but we’re back! It’s been about four months since the last Shadows of Keron session, due to a mixture of deadlines at work, family events, and Tenchi (AKA Gutz) running the first part of the Dawn of the Artefacts Shadowrun adventure path for us. But now, we’re back in the Dread Sea Dominions.

As always, I’m trying to balance a session writeup against avoiding spoilers for the adventure, which is GRAmel’s Shadows Over Ekul. The session began in a tavern (naturally) with a bar brawl (naturally) and a subsequent visit to the local potentate, who offered to overlook their misdemeanours if they would just do this one little job for him… and thus the party, currently reduced to Gutz, Nessime and The Warforged, found themselves on an Amazon-crewed hawk ship bound for a neighbouring city, en route to involvement in palace intrigue surrounding an arranged marriage and a royal wedding.

Not much scope for bloodshed there, you might think, but if you did you would be overlooking the known proclivities of Our Heroes.

-o0o-

The most memorable part of the session was the earliest, in which The Warforged found himself challenged to an arm-wrestling contest in a bar by a group of Lhoban sailors. Gutz amused himself by betting on his colleague with money stolen from other people’s purses and taunting The Warforged’s opponent (named Dragon), while Nessime shouted encouragement from the sidelines – she had decided that as a paladin of Hulian she ought not to use Lower Trait on Dragon to give her friend an unfair advantage.

The match ended in a victory for The Warforged, followed by accusations of cheating from the sailors. This was especially galling as The Warforged’s repeated attempts to use Puppet to force his opponent to concede had all failed. The obligatory bar brawl ensued, ended decisively in the party’s favour by an overpowered Blast spell from Guess Who, which killed most of the patrons and set fire to the tavern.

Gutz decided Dragon had put up a good fight, so dragged his unconscious body from the blazing building, emerging right in front of a patrol of Amazon warriors.

“Awkward,” said Gutz.

However, with no surviving conscious witnesses in earshot to contradict their story of accidental lantern spillage, and the Amazons only having seen them helping injured victims from the flames, they were escorted into the presence of the local ruler, Ulesir Shah, who said they would be well rewarded if they’d just do one little job for him…

“They always say that,” said The Warforged. He was for ignoring the mission and pressing on, feeling the pay was too low, but Gutz’ Hindrances argued against him giving up easy money or the chance to stay close to the drop-dead gorgeous Amazon leader for a couple of weeks. So it was decided that they would help.

The later encounter with river pirates was, of course, merely a courtesy detail; and by the end of the session, all three had achieved Heroic rank. I think this is now the most experienced party I’ve ever run under Savage Worlds; it’s interesting that the feel of play doesn’t change that much – SW is very tolerant of increasingly capable characters, with the basic Fighting d6 pirate still being a credible threat, and I can’t think of another RPG system where I could run a set piece battle with the party and a couple of dozen NPCs on one side and several dozen pirates on the other, and still finish it in under an hour.

The main change from the early days is that now Gutz has the full set of initiative-improving Edges, he usually draws 5-6 cards per turn, so we chew through the action card deck faster than before; but with a second deck of cards and whoever goes last reshuffling after a Joker, it has no real impact on play.

-o0o-

Finally, we had a new guest player for this session…

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At the right of the picture with the giant blue d12 you see Anna (Athienne) holding Leo (character’s name unclear, although it sounds like “Guh”), the latest addition to the family, who is one of the nicer reasons why our gaming sessions are shorter and further apart this year.

As you can see, we’re starting him early.