Hearts of Stone 10: Marines

Report prepared by Decanus Matteus Fulmens, Legio III Adiutrix, 21 April 216

Sir, I beg to report as follows:

Pursuant to your orders, we set out along the road from Glitterhaegen to Anvil in pursuit of the griffin “Lord Fluffington III” stolen from the Duke of Glitterhaegen and the suspected thieves, and by dispensing small sums of money (separate accounts attached for reimbursement) we were easily able to determine their route.

Approaching by stealth we were able to observe the group before committing to engage, and discovered it to consist of:

  • A knight bearing the livery of Baron Stormwatcher’s household troops. He wore a closed helm and could not be identified. This individual was riding the aforementioned griffin, together with an unidentified woman of apparent noble birth.
  • A recently-shaven dwarf, accompanied by a dwarf-forged construct soldier.
  • A rav’malak female – previous reports had not mentioned her so we were not prepared for a party with air support.
  • One high elf wizard accompanied by a wood elf musician and a female human bard of uncommon beauty. The wizard’s presence was expected, hence my own assignment to the patrol.

There was no sign of the dark elf known as “Dave”, Hayes Agar or the dragonborn Soreth. These may or may not be accomplices in the theft but did not take part in the engagement to follow.

We moved parallel to their track through the woods at a sufficient distance to avoid discovery, and blocked the road ahead of them. We observed them encounter an awakened bear – its status was recognisable by its chain of office and its ability to speak. After a brief conversation with the wood elf, the bear moved on, back towards Glitterhaegen. We did not detain it for questioning as the chain of office clearly marked it as a diplomatic envoy.

The bear was clearly on friendly terms with the wood elf, but we could not hear what was said without breaking cover, and mindful of the primary mission, we held our position.

As the party approached, we prepared ourselves for combat and made our presence known, requesting that the griffin be handed over to us – I was hopeful that the situation could be resolved peaceably and indeed several of the party, including the mounted knight and the bard, attempted to parley, but the dwarf-forged immediately attacked us in melee, presumably on the dwarf’s orders, and supported by the rav’malak; negotiations therefore stalled. While the bulk of the patrol engaged the dwarf-forged, a small flanking party approached the griffin from the right flank but were driven off by arrow fire. (Munifex Septimus was gravely injured and will require extensive sick leave; we were lucky he was not killed, and I have sent him back with this letter and an escort of two other Munifexii, leaving me with 9 effectives including myself.)

Meanwhile the enemy high elf had cast several spells, including what appeared to be summoning mystical ghost zombie snakes and some means of whispering into all the patrol’s ears at the same time that he was not wearing anything under his robes. However, the discipline of the Legio held firm and we continued to fight.

Under close attack from the rav’malak, who swooped on me with a greatsword, I was forced to reveal my arcane abilities but managed to drive her off. At this point the knight took to the air on the griffin, claiming that he had been given it by Lord Alron Stormwatcher, who as you will recall, sir, has not been seen for a number of years and whose death has been rumoured on several occasions, and that “this is not the griffin you are looking for”.

At this point it was clear to me that we could not effectively pursue the griffin once it became airborne, and that the remaining arcane offensive options available to us risked serious injury or death to the griffin and its riders, at least one of whom claimed to be noble born – and thanks to my service in Glitterhaegen I was able to recognise that the knight’s livery and heraldic emblems were indeed those of the Stormwatchers. I therefore gave the order to disengage and we retreated in good order.

We will follow the group at a safe distance but will not engage without further orders, as to do so might set the Duke and the Stormwatchers at odds. I recommend however that Baron Stormwatcher be requested to explain his family’s involvement if any, since the markings on the griffin clearly identify it as the missing animal. Should you wish us to engage the group I request reinforcements, especially archers, as I do not have the numbers to best them by the honourable means I know the Legio would wish me to use.

I have the honour to remain, sir, your humble and obedient servant,

Decanus Matteus Fulmens, Legio III Adiutrix
Given under seal this day, 21st April, year 216 of the 13th Age

GM NOTES

Well, here is another emergent recurring enemy, I think. As I was a bit under the weather and unsure what to do next – I’m trying to time it so that the encounters with Casila’s family are handled in downtime when we break for Christmas – I introduced some troops sent to recover a griffin allegedly stolen by the character who now calls himself Balthazar Rook.

The Decanus and his men performed admirably for mere Soldiers (admittedly he is an Experienced Soldier Wild Card with an Arcane Background), and this led to the group deciding they were facing Imperial Marines, so I rolled with that, and have started adding Roman trappings to reinforce the image of tough, professional soldiers. If you leave the dice and the players to it, they will produce intriguing NPCs for you. What Matteus has not mentioned is that his reaction rolls to Silmaria the bard are off the top end of the scale, and his reasons for following the group are not limited to recovering the griffin.

Meanwhile, stealing a griffin from the Duke of Glitterhaegen on a whim, and then in effect claiming that Baron Stormwatcher put you up to it, is likely to make ripples in the game for some time. Once you’re a few sessions in, this stuff writes itself.

Roll20 Token Sizes

About five years ago now I posted a comparative size table for various games, and once I started using Roll20 I felt the need for something similar┬áto give me sizes for Savage Worlds tokens based on d20 sizes and a 5′ grid. In case you’re interested, here’s what I came up with:

SW Size d20 Size Squares Examples
-2 Small 1/2 x 1/2 Cat
-1 to +1 Medium 1 x 1 Halfling, human, orc
+2 or +3 Large 2 x 2 Bear, ogre, troll
+4 to +7 Huge 3 x 3 Great White Shark
+8 or +9 Gargantuan 4 x 4 Dragon
+10 Colossal 6 x 6 Giant worm

It may come in handy that Large, Gargantuan and Colossal monsters are the same size as Small, Medium and Large Burst Templates, respectively.

Hearts of Stone 9: Death from Above

10-20 April 216, Glitterhaegen

Emerging from the inn they so carelessly set on fire a few moments ago, the party is starting to make good its escape when they notice a horde of demons descending on them from the skies.

Dave shoots one with her bow, but to no effect. Ssh’ta does likewise and misses, while Caliban (who has transformed into a full-grown dire wolf) growls in intimidation. Soreth employs her fiery breath on the boss demon, who is much larger than the others, and one of his minions. The party has a healthy respect for this weapon, and is horrified to see the smaller demon merely shaken, and the larger one completely unaffected. Kowalski’s beard, however, being worn by the large demon as some kind of trophy, is completely incinerated.

A pair off demons grab Soreth and carry her off. A second pair repeats this with Dave. The Fox is incapacitated by a mighty slash from a demon claw, and falls. Seeing this, another demon turns towards Silmaria, who taunts him thus:

“Your mother was an angel, your father drank holy water and I have the proof!” Visibly shaken, the demon bursts into tears and tells her she is mean.

Kowalski’s armour turns the claws which strike him, and Caliban is hit, but so lightly it seems the demon was almost trying to pet him. Casila is not so luckily and suffers a serious wound, as does Boris; both of them have several demons attacking them. Boris then recalibrates his googly eyes and sprays mystic zombie ghost snakes out of every orifice imaginable (and unimaginable). Silmaria looks at the terrifying scene and shudders, and even the demons of hell pause, taken aback.

Kowalski is suddenly enveloped by something black, smoky and unwholesome, which makes him very difficult to hit.

X7-09’s voice goes deep and booms with rolling thunder as he speaks: “Greaav oneuk leave wiavh avhouke lat have avaken, avhe ukacrifice lat have liwo be greaav shum uklaveuk freukh gijak burnun avownuk agh avreaukure go go dijak avhe ciavausan!”

The largest demon replies: “Well make your $%^&* mind up! Right lads, three for four. Let’s ride!” The demons begin to take off, leaving the party and the town behind as they fly off. Before leaving, the one next to Ssh’ta speaks as it hands him a package.

“We’re not done here, shortie. Take this, I like a challenge.”

Sensing that X7-09 is about to “repair” the injured, Ssh’ta unfurls the package over the Fox; it turns out to be a cloak of invisibility. Unable to see the Fox, X7-09 turns his attention to Casila.

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” she asks, closely followed by “That hurts!” At this point an angelic being, previously seen approaching in the distance, lands next to the pair and picks up Casila before X7-09 can do any more damage. Casila now appears wreathed in holy fire, which does nothing for her state of mind. Boris (who can actually heal people) moves up and says:

“Icanhealz. Lay on fingernailllleeerrrr hans yes hansss.” He sets to work.

“Are you sure you have to put your hand there?” asks Casila. Possibly because he is laying on hands in the wrong place, Boris fails to heal Casila and moves on to try his luck on the Fox. After this, the Fox appears to be stable, so with the last of the demons gone, the party drapes him over the dire wolf and follows his directions to an alchemist, where he is partially healed but advised he needs at least 10 days’ bed rest. The alchemist can’t help Casila, whose wounds are less severe, but says she will need no more than 5 days’ rest.

Wandering around town, they see Soreth stomping back through one of the gates, covered in gore, chewing thoughtfully on what looks like a piece of demon, and muttering under her breath. Ssh’ta returns the cloak to a dark alley and begins playing a sombre tune. It starts raining.

Valore somberly gives the ashes of Kowalski’s beard the last rites, then picks up Cali the dire wolf pup. The pup now appears to be on fire; Ssh’ta looks concerned and cries “Caliban!”, whereupon Valore is picking up a full-sized dire wolf.

Over the next ten days or so, while Valore preaches and collects alms, and Kowalski works as a healer and bouncer at a nearby inn, the party exchange information. Having lost Dave, Ssh’ta and Boris decide to take the others into their confidence and reveal that they have been charged by the Elf Queen to return Casila to her family, whose estate is between Glitterhaegen and Anvil. It transpires Casila was kidnapped by drow as a young girl, and spent some time with them before being recovered by the Elf Queen. As her family are wealthy and influential nobles, her Highness believes returning the girl is both morally correct and politically useful.

Hayes turns up a few days into their recuperation period, and the dungeon heart is duly sold, on the basis that at least Big Bad Barry will now follow someone else.

GM’S NOTES

In this episode we see that although the PCs are badasses there are things out there that can eat them for breakfast and summoning them with icon dice isn’t all cakes and ale, that Ssh’ta can shapeshift Caliban from pup to adult and back with a word of command, and that anything Valore picks up seems to be on fire.

The opposition this week were demonic soldiers from the SW Fantasy Companion with their Sizes tweaked a bit. Taking half damage from everything except their weakness turns out to be a game changer. Three or four berserk demons ganging up on someone with wild attacks can ruin their whole day, even if they’re only using their claws.

Despite using Savage Worlds, a party of 11 (9 PCs plus Casila and Caliban the dire wolf/pup) versus a group of 20 demons ran slowly. There were various reasons for this, including numerous internet dropouts for two of the players, another two not showing, a reduced but still significant amount of whisper chat, and people still learning the rules; with an experienced party around a physical table I have run skirmishes with several dozen figures and a few vehicles on each side in less time than this. Is Roll20 inherently slower? Too soon to tell, but the sessions are shorter than usual so I need to focus on fewer, tougher enemies, at least for a while.

Dave’s player isn’t enjoying Dave as much as the rest of us, so we used this combat to remove her from play and substitute a replacement character, Valore. In my view, there is no point making someone play a character they don’t enjoy, so I am pretty laid back about minor rebuilds or even, as in this case, swaps.

The usual array of DPS, healers and tanks is out in force, but Silmaria is unusual. The player has pushed everything into Charisma boosts and interpersonal skills, and is trying to be a bard without any spells, using trappings on her skills to replace the usual array of buff/debuff powers.

It was pleasing to see the party starting to pull together as a team, focusing more on how to help each other survive than revenge. The key to this, I find, is cranking up the threat level at the right pace to match the party’s knowledge of their own capabilities. It is quite noticeable how much more effective the more experienced players are, even with less capable characters.

Hearts of Stone 8: All at Sea

31 March 216 to 9 April 216 – Concord and the Midland Sea

The odd convoy leaving Concord for the nearby docks hurtles through a nearby wood, surprising a mercenary archer called Nishanja who has stopped for a brief rest and a snack. The Fox peeled off as they passed Concord and disappeared inside briefly, so what Nishanja sees approaching before he is hauled aboard the cart is this: The cart itself, driven by Boris with Hayes in the back holding the dungeon heart; Soreth, X7-09 and Kowalski on foot; Dave and Silmaria riding a stone fin as it cuts through the earth; about a dozen armed half-orcs screaming threats and insults; and behind them, Ssh’ta and Cali, with Casila catching up and The Fox spurring a recently-acquired horse some way behind.

While they are figuring out what to do next, a bearded man going the other way runs towards them, pursued by a red dragon.

“They’re early!” he calls. “Run! Run!”

“Who, us?” Silmaria wants to know.

“No!” calls Beardie. “The drakes!”

What was in Hayes’ mind at this point will never be known, but he throws a turnip at the bearded fellow and kills him outright. “Nailed it!” he crows. The dragon turns lazily to follow the cart. “Kill-stealer,” it accuses.

“Oh, another challenger?” asks Hayes, beckoning in the traditional martial arts fashion. The dragon affects not to notice and begins a conversation in draconic with Soreth, who is after all a red dragonborn. Meanwhile Boris has decided that the dragon might be female and rubs his long fingernails together in excitement, and Silmaria sings an ode to the marvellous dragon… “Oh wonderful dragon! Your power is so mighty! Your scales so shiny!” and so forth.

Breaking away from Soreth, the dragon uses its breath weapon to wipe out all of the half-orcs, then lands and paws at the bodies, looking for something interesting to eat.

Boris casts confusion on the living dungeon following Hayes, attacking it with illusory mystic ghost zombie snakes. Dave and Silmaria step off the dungeon’s fin as it submerges and climb aboard the cart. By now, they can see that the port is in flames, and hovering over it a little way out to see is a large stone building festooned with dragons, who occasionally launch themselves off it for a strafing run of the docks.

Soreth asks the dragon why it and its friends are attacking the port. “For the lulz, obviously,” it replies. The Fox calls out something to it, and it moves over to talk to X7-09.

“Your colleague back there,” it begins conversationally, “Tells me that you are full of valuable treasure. Is this true?” X7-09 denies this and opens his chest compartment to reveal a chamaeleon and not much else, before pointing out that the Fox appears to be a noble and probably has gold on him. “Hmm,” says the dragon, which is now joined by a pair of friends curious to know why it is talking to these inferior creatures. After a brief exchange with the Fox in draconic it loses interest.

The party debates whether to hitch a ride with the dragons on their flying whatever-it-is, but decide against it on safety grounds.

Now, they’re approaching the docks, and Hayes peels off in disgust. Finding a small, single-person craft he throws his few possessions aboard and casts off. Assuming treachery, Ssh’ta shoots an arrow at him. X7-09 runs after Hayes and attempts to join its master, but is unable to clamber aboard in time. Everyone except Hayes boards a merchantman at the docks, and exploring it they find a skeleton crew cowering below decks. Persuading the sailors that they can protect them from the dragons, they cast off as well and head for Glitterhaegen, singing a selection of sea shanties. Nishanja the archer watches them sail off, the richer by two horses.

The voyage of some 625 miles takes about 9 days and is uneventful except for the Fox attempting to throw X7-09 overboard. This does not go down well, but by the following morning it is (literally) forgotten. The dungeon, now dubbed Big Bad Barry, continues to follow Hayes, thus answering the question of whether living dungeons can swim.

Arriving in Glitterhaegen, except for Hayes who is a day or two behind the others, the party splits up. X7-09 goes off to sell loot, Silmaria seeks out an alchemist to appraise the value of the dungeon heart, and the Fox goes off on some secret errand. The rest of them go to the nearest pub, where Boris requests a fine beer and a fine lady, and Dave affects to buy ale but actually drinks cranberry juice.

Soreth decides X7-09 has been holding out on her, since she killed all the goblins inside Big Bad Barry but he collected and sold all the loot. This escalates into a fight, with Kowalski and Silmaria selling tickets and collecting bets. Boris sends mystic ghost zombie snakes into the ring for a little extra pizzaz. However, when Soreth breathes fire over X7-09, he realises he no longer has his axe – did he mislay it aboard ship? Has someone stolen it? Either way, he turns and runs, to general disappointment.

At this point the party realises that perhaps using fiery breath weapons inside a wooden building is a bad idea, as the pub is on fire. They emerge in pursuit of X7-09 – and stop, as they become aware of a horde of demons descending from the skies.

One of them is wearing Kowalski’s beard.

GM’S NOTES

This was the point at which I sensed there was now too much going on for the party to process, so a bit less insanity may be in order for future sessions. In my defence, a lot of the madness is caused by the party using icon dice to prank each other. The first dragon rolled maximum for its reaction to Soreth, and then Silmaria charmed it with her +6 Charisma, so it was feeling at first curious and then friendly. That could have gone badly wrong.

The group continues to run more slowly than I expected for three reasons. First, there are 9 PCs in the party, in fact 10 last session when we had a visiting player; modern games are designed for 4-6 players and that’s what I’m used to now. Second, there is a huge amount of whisper chat going on in the background, usually at least three player-to-GM asides at any one time and others between players; I’ve asked them to keep that down to a dull roar going forwards, as I’m losing track of what’s going on. Third, a number of the PCs (not the players) hate each other and are constantly trying to rob or kill their rivals – I am pondering whether to tell them they don’t have to use their Hindrances to control their in-party relationships, and if they keep this up some of them are going to die. However, they’re fighting each other so much that traditional opposition is hardly required. This may even be realistic for a group of murderhobo loners with no real reason to cooperate.

Meanwhile, I am moving away from using 0One and Cry Havoc! tiles and maps towards the ones free to download at Dungeons Unlimited. The latter are a convenient size, and Roll20 works better with a D&D-style square grid than a hexagonal one.

Finally, I believe the party members are now generally aware that the Fox stole X7-09’s axe while they were in the living dungeon, and that his One Unique Thing is that everyone forgets him at midnight…

Hearts of Stone 7: The Living Dungeon, Part 2

It’s the evening of 31st March, and Casila has come to one of the city gates of Concord to wait for her companions’ return, watch the sunset over the sea, and wonder what tomorrow might bring.

Suddenly, the Fox hurtles past, closely followed by a horse and cart, heading for the docks. A giggling Boris is at the reins, with Hayes in the back; Hayes is holding something red and pulsing, partially wrapped in a cloth. It is about a foot across, and vaguely heart-shaped. They disappear from view, and a second or so later, a group of people run past on foot; Soreth, X7-09, and Kowalski. A little way behind them, what looks like a giant shark’s fin made of stone cuts through the earth, leaving a huge furrow in the road; Dave and Silmaria are balanced precariously on it, Silmaria singing soothing lullabies and Dave shouting “Cowabunga!” Behind that is a warband of half-orcs, waving weapons in the air and shouting grisly threats.

As the strange procession recedes into the distance, Ssh’ta sprints up to Casila with his wolf pup, Cali. “No time to explain,” he pants. “Follow that cart!” Then he is gone, running after the rest.

Slowly at first, but with increasing speed, Casila runs to catch up.

TWO HOURS EARLIER…

We left our heroes exploring their first living dungeon, which had broached a little way outside Concord, and in melee with a few surviving goblins. Although they put up a stiff fight, one goblin and one hobgoblin is no match for this party and they fall swiftly to the blades of X7-09 and the Fox, leaving the group in possession of the battlefield. Dave wanders off to the dead skeleton they smashed earlier and picks up an arm bone.

“Query: Dave-type ally: Why arm?” asks X7-09. “It’s for a joke,” Dave explains. “Do you find it humerus?”

They then explore the rooms, finding a few weapons in a smithy – Dave picking up a crossbow – and a gold-topped wand, a few coins, and some silver candlesticks in a crypt, which Hayes appropriates. An apparent altar room with a stone statue in it appears to have no loot, so they wander out again. This leaves one opening they have not explored; an iron grate leading into what at first seems a treasure room, wherein a gently pulsating chest sits on a plinth surrounded by runic inscriptions. Naturally, Hayes marches right up to it and opens it, finding within a beating heart about a foot across.

“Aha!” he exclaims. “The heart of the dungeon! Right, I’m having that.” With no further ado he yanks it from the chest, causing the whole dungeon to writhe violently; Kowalski loses his footing and falls. As he recovers his feet, the party runs for the exit – a stone mouth some 15 feet across – only to find it slams shut before they can reach it. They put the heart back, and the mouth opens. After a brief discussion, the rest of the party moves outside while Hayes wraps the heart in a cloth and ties all the party’s rope to it. Moving outside and gathering assistants, Hayes explains. “As soon as we pull the heart out of the chest, the door will close, so we only have one shot at this; we have to get the heart out before the door closes, because after that we can’t open it again without someone inside.”

A fierce debate ensues about whether someone should be left inside just in case, who it should be, and – if it were Soreth – how much she would be paid for doing that. While this is in progress, Boris and Silmaria turn up and join Kowalski and Dave, who are sitting watching, eating popcorn and trail mix. Dave begins to fashion a grass beard for Kowalski. Ssh’ta also wanders up and begins to play softly; it starts raining.

“Buy a girl a drink before you get her wet,” Dave admonishes.

Hayes and company give the rope a brisk yank and get the heart about two-thirds of the way out of the dungeon. Soreth jumps inside before the mouth can close and restores the heart to its resting place, whereupon the mouth opens again.

On the second attempt, they get the heart all the way out before the mouth closes. “To the pub!” Hayes crows triumphantly, and off they trot, Hayes intending to make for the docks and commandeer a boat. Behind them, the dungeon shakes mightily, raises its head into the air, and submerges into the earth with a roar. It begins to follow the party, underground. A stone fin breaks the earth behind them and follows Hayes, who has the heart.

“You have a new pet!” Silmaria calls.

“It’s adorable!” Hayes shouts back.

Dave flips acrobatically onto the fin, shouting “Cowabunga!”, and Silmaria joins her, singing soothing songs to calm the dungeon down. A group of heavily-armed half-orcs running the other way stop, and watch open-mouthed as the group passes. Hayes waves elegantly at them, and Boris offers a heartfelt wink.

“Hey boys,” Dave shouts, and winks. She asks the half-orcs what they are doing.

“We’re here to loot the dungeon,” they explain. “What are you doing?”

“There’s nothing in there,” the party call back. “Except goblins, and we killed all of those.”

The half-orc leader shouts: “You b*st*ards! Boys, they killed Gothmog! Get ’em!” They begin to chase the group.

“Who are we selling the heart to?” asks Silmaria, conversationally.

“Haven’t gotten that far yet,” Hayes admits. “We’ll figure it out.”

“But it is valuable, right?”

“It better be!” shouts Soreth.

At this point Hayes spots a cart nearby and commandeers it. Boris (who can actually drive a cart) pushes him aside and seizes the reins, and the parade makes off at speed…

GM’S NOTES

The less I have prepared, the better this game seems to run. This dungeon was no more than some 0One tiles slapped together with a vague thought that two goblins per PC should be investigating it; the treasure, tricks and traps come from tiny details on the tiles. The adventure was intended to expose the party to the idea of living dungeons, and that they might contain an item which kills the dungeon if destroyed. That was what they were supposed to do with the heart, destroy it, but PCs being PCs they decided to steal it and sell it instead.

It was also good to see everyone in attendance, although three of them joined late and therefore didn’t do much. The session also marks my first foray into background music during a session, specifically the Jaws! main theme after the dungeon submerged and began chasing them.

Icon relationships are not really coming into play much for this group, except for pranking each other. I love the idea of relationship dice, but they are not really doing anything practical for us – none of us is sure how to use them. If icon dice don’t start pulling their weight by the end of the year I shall drop them – maybe convert them into Connection Edges, which on reflection are already part of Savage Worlds and serve much the same purpose.

One Unique Things have worked better, and although they haven’t been much in evidence the last couple of sessions, they helped generate some truly unusual and different characters.

I see the 13th Age setting as inherently gonzo and disposable, intending to discard it once this campaign comes to an end, so I feel free to throw insanity after insanity at the players. It is strangely liberating, and so far they seem to enjoy it. I wonder how long I can keep it up?

Shadows of Keron 32: Hosts

While the rest of the party amused themselves ignoring the plotline and fomenting rebellion in Caldeia City, Alihulk Junior was out pounding the streets looking for clues to his father’s whereabouts. By tracing orders of his father’s favourite foods, wines and types of slave among the city’s markets, and talking to the delivery men, he triangulated his father’s position. The party tooled up those of their freedmen who had military experience and set off, posing as merchants bearing gifts as the first step in broadening their trading network. To recap, at this point the group consists of a paladin of Hulian with his Amazon bodyguard, a fat albino pygmy, a half-Nandal, Alihulk Junior, simmering with revenge, a Caldeian estate manager, and five Ivory Savannah spearmen recently freed from slavery and pretending to be slave-soldiers escorting the others.

The story arc was now back on track and I led the party into Hosts, a scenario from Beasts of the Dominions. That was published four years ago, so without giving away the full details I feel comfortable revealing that it is an everyday story of an estate in ruins, giant mutated life-forms, and evil sorcery.

Pausing only to succour the pregnant girl and slaughter the estate-owner’s henchman they met on the way in, they entered the estate and encountered the aforementioned giant mutants. All the NPCs bar two (the estate manager and one spearman) panicked and fled into the nearby cane thickets, where the mutants hunted them down and killed almost all of them – Hippolyta the Amazon was recovered at death’s door after the scenario and saved by Peter’s Healing, which surely can only reinforce her devotion to him.

Undeterred, the party managed to reach safety in the mansion’s tower ahead of their foes and slam the door, after which they noticed screaming upstairs. Marching to the sound of the screams, they found Alihulk Senior engaged in dark sorcery involving a terrified girl and attacked him directly.

Alihulk Junior drew a two of hearts, and just stood there sputtering while his father exclaimed “Still a disappointment, I see,” and laid into the others. Losing the melee after a few rounds, our dark sorceror teleported away, and while the NPCs cowered on the ground floor, everyone except Abishag piled outside in pursuit, taking a moment to set fire to the tower.

“Hulian’s divine instructions are clear,” Peter explained. “If in doubt, kill it with fire.”

Abishag, of course, started looting the building, but one of the spearmen (established on the journey in as being violently hostile to pygmies) took advantage of the distraction to stab him with a spear. This sideshow continued while Peter, Alihulk and Borg ran after the evil sorceror, to find him surrounded by giant mutant creatures drawn up in serried ranks and waiting for them.

A long and brutal melee ensued, but at length the sorceror felt it appropriate to flee on mutant creature-back. Alihulk Junior chose this moment to consume his potion of Speed, run after them, and leap up to grapple his father, casting aside his customary two longswords.

A truly cinematic fistfight ensued, burning through bennies right and left, until they both fell off the sorceror’s mount. The sorceror then teleported away and ran off, but was detained by a bolt of Hulian’s holy fire from Peter and a stab wound donated by Borg. A frenzied Alihulk then ran up and proceeded to beat his father – his enemy – to death with his fists.

Reflections

The encounter between Alihulks Senior and Junior was everything I could’ve hoped for; the younger apparently freezing once face to face with the man he has been chasing for the last six years real time, and goodness knows how long in game time. The slippery sorceror escaping again and again, only to be caught by the son he has so often spurned. The fistfight atop a charging mutant. The near-escape, Alihulk’s friends slowing down the villain long enough for Alihulk to catch him, and the final showdown.

Most satisfying.

But what about Alihulk’s Enemy Hindrance? I asked his player. Now that his enemy is dead?

“Back on the Ivory Savannah,” he said, “That old witch told me I have a brother…”

Shadows of Keron 31: The Windowless Tower

It’s gratifying that the Shadows of Keron campaign refuses to die, but I have to take into account that some of the younger players are moving on with their lives, so if possible, the story arcs involving their PCs need to be brought to a satisfactory conclusion while they are still around.

Thus it was that last weekend the party found themselves on the outskirts of Caldeia City, in pursuit of Alihulk Senior, chaos cultist, evil demon-worshipper, dark sorceror, and Alihulk Junior’s father. (The player took the character’s own father as the focus of his Enemy Hindrance at character creation.)

Alihulk’s player was unable to join us for the Saturday session, so the plan was that the group would move into Caldeia City and pick up the sorceror’s trail, then when the missing player arrived for the Sunday session, we would follow that up with the final dramatic showdown.

I thought that The Windowless Tower from Places of the Dominions would be a nice way to lead up to that, and strewed clues to that location and Alihulk Senior’s whereabouts and current plans in their path.

Naturally, they ignored all these clues completely. Instead, posing as Independent Cities merchants trying to break into the drugs and slave trade, they set up a meeting with a minor Caldeian nobleman. They promptly murdered him, took over his villa, and set up a complex scheme of buying the stroppiest slaves they could find, putting them through cold turkey to remove all traces of drugs from their systems, deprogramming them, and releasing them into the city.

Why, you ask? I certainly did. It turns out Peter Perfect the paladin of Hulian has taken a disliking to the Caldeians since their economy is based on trading slaves and addictive drugs, and has developed a fanatical focus on overthrowing King Caldaios. Since the only character in the party who has Streetwise or any similar skill is run by the player who couldn’t make this session, they decided they couldn’t find the revolutionary underground, so they would have to do something that attracted its attention. Luckily for them the underground found them before the secret police did, and promised to return later for serious negotiations.

Learning that the dead nobleman had visited the Windowless Tower did attract their attention, and they visited it themselves for long enough to ransack it, kill almost everything inside, and burn it to the ground. I tell you, Old School roleplaying is alive and well around here.

Meanwhile, thanks to some astonishing reaction rolls, the amazon bodyguard they picked up at the end of episode 30 has developed a crush on Peter (who is charismatic, noble, honourable, and somewhat dim). The party have renamed her Hippolyta, and one name is as good as another, so I let that stand. The lady of the house, following another set of whacky dice rolls, turns out to be [a] smokin’ hot, [b] a keen poisoner, and [c] convinced that the best chance of survival for her and her children is a romantic dalliance with Peter. So a game of cat and mouse has developed, with the Caldeian noblewoman trying to poison the Amazon, and the Amazon trying to stab the noblewoman while no-one is looking. Peter has the Clueless Hindrance and is thus largely oblivious to this, but Abishag the hobbit poisoner-assassin is well aware of it all and watching with great amusement, meanwhile teaching the children of the house all he knows about killing people. He justifies this by pointing out they are the only people he knows who do not trigger his Quirk of “Hates everyone taller than him.”

The estate manager (Balthazar) they also picked up at the end of episode 30 fancies the Amazon, so is quietly supporting the noblewoman. He is also a closet sorceror on the run from his school of wizardry, but this has not yet come to light.

Borg, meanwhile, originally a half-orc, has never felt more at home, thanks to the Caldeian practice of modifying their slaves using drugs, cross-breeding, and vile sorcery. Aside from Tricarnia this is likely the only place in the Dominions where a party consisting of what appears to be four humans, a half-Nandal, and a fat albino pygmy can pass without attracting undue attention.