Archive for the ‘Campaigns’ Category

Previously, on Collateral Damage…

The crew had gone through the first few episodes of Heart of the Fury, leaving them with a friend in high places and a mysterious video clip. At length their trade runs brought them to the place where the clip was recorded, and investigating it took them well off piste, resulting in them unleashing an Artificial Intelligence wired into the largest superdreadnaught ever built (it says so, right here in the brochure). Unfortunately, when when all you have is a superdreadnought, everything looks like a target, and in the ensuing havoc and carnage, the Collateral Damage slipped away, in case unkind people – people who didn’t understand the full story – blamed them for it.

Having picked up a cargo of weapons – not the ones they were sent for, but let’s not get picky – and diverted a few select items for their own use, they moved on to Toyis, a trade hub controlled by intelligent winged housecats called the Precious, who live in arcologies abandoned by their long-dead masters. Here they encountered the ruthless trade factor Mittens Pleasant Landing, and made a deal with him: They would loot the levels below the 30th floor, where the Precious fear to tread, and swap that for some valuable but unspecified items in Mittens’ warehouse. Shortly thereafter, the crew learned why the Precious (justifiably) fear to tread in those levels, and the multi-tentacled horrors that scare the Precious discovered just how much pain an Urseminite with a plasma gun can bring.

As the credits roll, the crew have found a centuries-old tourist map with directions to various places of interest in the arcology, and are planning their next move. But wait; is that a slimy tentacle oozing into shot? Do you know, I rather think it is…

GM NOTES

The crew of the Collateral Damage has dropped over time from eight players to two, and that combined with the fast-playing nature of Savage Worlds and our Old School approach to things means the extremely experienced ‘away team’ chews through plot at a frightful rate. It’s clear no-one is really that enthused about following the story arc, so a return to the previous (and easier to prepare) picaresque approach is in order.

We also agreed to replace the six wild card PCs whose players no longer attend with the couple of NPCs it would actually take to fly the ship; they have an engineer and a gunner, and as to all intents and purposes they’re tooling around in a Traveller free trader, they need a pilot and a medic. Perhaps I’ll roll up a couple of Mongoose Traveller characters and convert them.

For the next session, rather than map out an entire arcology, I shall adopt the Beasts & Barbarians card and token approach when we next meet, creating a space dungeon on the fly. Come to think of it, perhaps the Two Hour Wargames city and risk-and-reward decks would be easier.

In other news, we did have time for a D&D session as well; the plan was to try out D&D 5th Edition, but we agreed that while a fine game, it offers no real advantage over White Box OD&D for our purposes, so we danced with who brung us.

I am pleased to report that the dragon turtle threatening our adopted home city of Shadipuur is no more, having been tricked into capsizing a cargo ship full of lamp oil and first distillate brandy, then bombed by invisible flying magic users dropping fireballs on it while being shot at by as many ballistae as we could find. Damn, those things are tough. One aspect of the situation still requires attention – namely, the improbably large amount of gold the dwarves were promised for their help. Which we don’t actually have.

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Only Soreth and the Fox turned up to this session; that sort of thing happens sometimes in a drop-in game.

At the end of episode 29, when all players were teleported home, Soreth found herself in her cave, north of Drakkenhall, while the Fox woke up in his old bedroom at Castle Stormwatcher, just outside Glitterhaegen. In the intervening period, Soreth’s magic sword Spiterazor advanced the theory that [a] it was created to slay dark elves; [b] it its experience, you find dark elves fighting dwarves; [c] there are lots of dwarves in Anvil; and therefore [d] they should go to Anvil, kill dark elves, and take their stuff. Since neither of them has the brains God gave a rabbit, off they go.

Meanwhile, the Fox’s henchwoman, Ladra, had learned that a dwarven goldsmith in Anvil was making a golden statue of a fox spirit, went to investigate, and was imprisoned for trying to steal it – so the Fox makes his way north to get her out of jail.

On meeting up at Anvil, the group learns that the local dwarven clans pride themselves on the quality of their beer. Making good beer requires a plentiful source of pure water, and by sifting through ancient records, one dwarf brewmaster has learned of the existence and approximate location of a spring of surpassing purity. The musty tomes tell him that the spring has been corrupted, and must be cleansed using a barrel of an unspecified but powerful potion.

Clearly, the brewmaster thinks, this must be a reference to Brimison’s 8X Winter Ale. The party are hired to convey a barrel of this most puissant beer to the spring, dispose of any unwanted tenants, and empty the barrel into the spring.

We gloss over the trek to the caves wherein lies the spring, with Soreth carrying a barrel of 8X Winter Ale. Inside, they find an unwholesome mixture of goblins, orcs, ogres and dire wolves, but between Soreth’s breath weapon and the Fox’s flashing swords, these don’t last long even though Soreth is distracted by fossicking through their quarters for loot, and only two cowardly goblins escape with their lives.

Locating the spring, they meet a water elemental who had taken up residence in the spring for its purity, only to find herself trapped there for generations while the orcs dumped – well, best not to think about it really – into the pool. When they dump the Winter Ale into said pool, its power purifies the spring and creates the first beer elemental in history – like a water elemental, but permanently tipsy.

Luckily for them, the beer elemental is a friendly drunk, and professes undying love for the Fox. This is unlikely to have a permanent effect as she will forget him at midnight. The Fox lets her down gently, and he and Soreth return to Anvil to collect their reward.

GM Notes

Hearts of Stone has now morphed into a series of picaresque one-sheet adventures with the overall story arc set to one side for the foreseeable future.

I had planned to use Gold & Glory to generate a dungeon for this session, but work and domestic affairs meant no time to do that, so I grabbed one of the old Crooked Staff freebie dungeon complexes, a bunch of monsters from the SW core book which are stated to cooperate, and a mission plot from Warhammer Quest. Took about an hour to set up, and most of that was spent choosing a map.

“The dinner-table is often the terrain of critical conversations, for it is there one has the better of one’s interlocutor. There is no escape without scandal, there is no turning aside without self-betrayal. To invite a person to dinner is to place them under observation. Every dining-room is a temporary prison where politeness chains the guests to the laden board.” – Maurice Renard, The Hands Of Orlac

1412 Ria D768534-7 Ag Ni GG

The ship’s boat from the Dromedary deposits Arion at Ria starport and he walks out into the muggy heat with the clothes on his back (Great Archive Surveyor coveralls, indifferently laundered aboard ship) and a spacesuit. Neither the ship’s boat nor the laser turrets are standard fittings on a subsidised liner fresh out of the yards, so Arion surmises that the Dromedary is intended to trade with backwater planets in hostile space. Ria seems to tick both boxes.

Looking at Solo p.53, I need to make a world encounter roll (p. 58), which will lead me to other rolls as appropriate. I roll 3, 2 and learn that the local community is either not what it seems, or very welcoming.

The starport is about as basic as you can get and still be an actual functioning starport, a decrepit set of landing pads and a few buildings. Arion needs to find passage back to Mizah, or at least Hasara where an Archive ship will eventually turn up, and suspects he’ll need money for that – lots of it. Before making any decisions, he needs more information, and the best place to get that is at the starport office, a mouldy-looking edifice with a couple of soldiers (armed with what look like simple chemical slugthrowers) and a man in a suit loitering outside. All three have luxuriant moustaches, which Arion will shortly learn are the local fashion. The suited man waves at Arion to attract his attention, then walks briskly up to him, with the soldiers ambling along behind, as if their presence were more for show than because of any real threat.

“Senor Metaxas? I heard from traffic control that you were arriving. I am Luis González, pleased to meet you.” González is speaking accented English, the lingua franca of spacers across the sector.

“Likewise, I’m sure. Yes, I’m Metaxas. How can I help you?”

“We don’t often see anyone from outside this system, especially not a Surveyor from the Great Archive. King Adriano Talamantes invites you to dine with him tonight, and bring him news of the outside galaxy.”

Arion thinks for a moment, covering his indecision by lowering his heavy spacesuit to the ground. He’s not likely to get a better offer than this, and while he is wary of local despots, the soldiers can likely shoot him if he runs, or overpower him if he doesn’t. Might as well go without the handcuffs, then, and eat a fine dinner instead of prison slops. Since Arion knows Archive ships don’t normally go as far as Ria, and individual free traders haven’t got the range for this run, the King must be getting all his external information from the Combine, and the implication of the invitation is that he doesn’t entirely trust them; Arion may be able to turn that to his advantage.

“I would be delighted to accept your kind offer, Senor González,” he says. “When am I expected, and what is the best way to the palace?”

“Don’t worry,” smiles González, “We will take you there right away.”

-o0o-

A few hours later, Arion finds himself clean-shaven (except for the beginnings of a local-style moustache – may as well fit in), showered, dressed in borrowed finery rather than a tatty surveyor’s coverall, and at table with Luis González, King Adriano Talamantes, Queen Delfina, and Princess Isabella, the ten-year old heir to the throne. Waiters bustle in and out with various courses, and discreet guards in dress uniforms stand behind the King to either side of him.

By the time they get to what passes for coffee locally, the ice has been broken and the five of them have moved past the polite small talk, including Arion’s descriptions of life across the handful of worlds in the Fastnesses and the family’s explanations of local history, geography and crops.

“I must tell you, Senor Metaxas,” the King begins, gesturing with his coffee cup, “that Captain Anderson tells me we should fear the Archive, that it is dominated by people with a liberal socialist agenda, hostile to our way of life here.” Arion frowns, considering his next words carefully; the prison cell is still a possibility.

“There is rivalry between the Combine and the Archive,” he says, “And a wise ruler wouldn’t take anything either of us says at face value. Captain Anderson has given you the Combine view of things; allow me to present the Archive’s. You know, of course, that before the Interregnum, a great human empire controlled this region of space, with its capital on mother Earth. Before that empire fell, it established centres of learning on major worlds, to ensure colonists had access to a basic knowledge of technology, culture and history. One of these was the forerunner of the Great Archive on Mizah; after the empire fell, it worked with the planetary government to save as many people as it could, and rebuild.”

“Captain Anderson tells me that the Archive has taken over the government of Mizah from within. Like some kind of parasitic wasp, he says. Whatever a wasp is.”

“It’s true that the Archive and the government have worked closely together for centuries. What Anderson may not have told you is that the Combine was once a faction within the Archive. We are essentially a quasi-religious academic organisation, focused on humanitarian aid and research, sharing our knowledge freely with other worlds. Some time ago, a group of the Archive’s Adepts started saying that we should sell our tools and knowledge rather than giving them away, and that since what other worlds most wanted to buy was weapons, we should sell those. That led to a schism between the academic and commercial interests in the Archive, with the commercial elements leaving to form the Combine.”

“I see. Captain Anderson argues that what people are freely given, they do not value, and that the Archive imposes its will on other worlds over generations, by insinuating its ideas into the minds of the young.”

“The Archive’s eventual goal is to uplift every system in this region to the old empire’s level of technology, thus eliminating hunger, disease and oppression. We hope this will lead to harmony, to a voluntary association of free worlds.”

“With crystal spires and togas for all, no doubt. The rebels in the swamps say I oppress them. Captain Anderson says that emissaries of the Archive are spreading sedition and firearms among them.”

“Then why invite me here? Why not just arrest me?”

“Because all I know about the Archive, about the whole galaxy since the empire fell, is what Captain Anderson has told me. Asking him if it is true gains me nothing. But you…” The King waggles a finger and smiles. “You do not know what he has told me. So where both of you agree, I can take that as the truth. Where you disagree, one of you is lying. So I hope you will accept my invitation to stay for a while, and understand that the guard outside your room is there for your protection.”

Arion considers his options, and comes to the conclusion that he doesn’t really have any.

“How could I refuse such a kind offer? I can think of no better place to stay during my time here.”

GM Notes

This week I’ll talk a bit about how the worlds of the Nebula are being created.

I start with the number of jump routes it has, and use those for a first cut of the starport (one route is class E, two routes D, and so on) and population level – inhospitable secondary systems have a population level of the number of routes plus one, habitable primary systems add another two to that. I override that in two cases; tertiary systems always have a world profile of E000000-0, and the two homeworlds (Kuzu and Maadin) have starport type A and population 9. So Ria begins with starport D and population 5.

Then I use Google translate and other sources to find out what the name means, and in which language. Ria is interesting as it means a number of different things; a drowned river valley in English, “river” in a number of Romance languages, a corn-drying kiln in Swedish, a moustache in Vietnamese, or “blood” in Woi (spoken in Indonesia).

I muse on that for a while and imagine the kind of world that would be an appropriate name for. The goal here is that if the players in a group game ever figure it out, they’ll say “Ohhh… Of course, it would be called that, would’t it?” I chose this approach because I’m not very good at doing it the other way round, figuring out a relevant name for a world based on the stats, and tend to drift into analysis paralysis. It also has the benefit that it tells me which culture or cultures originally settled the place, giving me a ready source of names, traditional menus and customs, and so on.

In the case of Ria, the image that comes to mind is a rural, agricultural planet, primarily focussed on growing corn along a river valley, with one major town just upstream of a tropical river delta, split politically between a Spanish-speaking ruling class and a mixed bag of farm labourers from other cultures, and a group of flatboat-mounted guerillas hiding in the delta’s marshes and seeking to overthrow the rulers. Possibly the first thing a visitor notices are the impressive mustachios sported by all adult males. Then I assigned the rest of the profile to fit that picture. Note that the boardgame implies all primary and secondary worlds have antiship defences (laser and missile turrets), and by extension either a Tech Level of 7+ or some sort of arrangement with another planet which armed them. Bases I assign by looking at the map and placing them where I think it makes sense and fits with the profile; there’s no reason for Ria to have any bases, so it doesn’t.

As we explore the subsectors further, you’ll see the region was largely colonised by Turkey, Indonesia and the proposed East African Union.

Arion, 014-3401: Dromedary

Posted: 11 November 2017 in Dark Nebula
Tags: , ,

“How canst thou say, I am not polluted, I have not gone after Baalim? see thy way in the valley, know what thou hast done; thou art a swift dromedary traversing her ways.” – King James Bible, Jeremiah 2:23

Aboard the Dromedary.

I roll for in-game reactions (Solo pp. 19-20) and an onboard event (Solo, p. 56): There’s only one active PC yet – Arion – who rolls a 6 and therefore fails to avoid a bad reaction; a further roll of 4 shows that a choice is made and he doesn’t like it. The onboard event is 43 – a power failure.

The Captain’s day cabin is spacious, by shipboard standards, and Captain Anderson sits at a small desk, interviewing Arion, who is dressed in an ill-fitting pair of Combine overalls and perched awkwardly on a folding chair. The scene is dimly lit by emergency lights, and the air conditioning is off.

“Our sensors confirm there’s wreckage from an Archive Surveyor, and the origin of your trajectory matches where it would have been when you left. So your story checks out. But tell me, why would pirates blow your ship up? First, they’re breaking no laws by being here; second, there’s no-one to enforce them if they were; third, a ship with an Archive transponder has nothing worth stealing – no offence – and fourth, the Archive is too powerful to upset for no reason.”

“None taken. I saw too much. I saw who they were meeting out here. Hierate scouts.”

“You sure?”

“Hraye III class with a fuel slab, squawking a clan recognition code. Unmistakable.”

“Pfft. Half the pirates out here are from the Hierate.”

“True, but they don’t squawk clan codes. And honour dictates that anyone using those codes be a member of the right clan, and vice versa. The code tells you who it was. No room for error.”

“Hmm.”

“Hmm indeed. So Captain, thank you for picking me up, but I need to impose on you further – I need to report back to Mizah right away.”

“Surveyor, the law is clear. I grant you’re a distressed spacefarer, and the Archive is good for your transport costs. But I can’t turn 600 tons of ship around and break my Bond to get you home three weeks sooner. Do you have any idea how much that would cost?”

“Don’t you see how important this is? The Hierate and Confed have been rattling sabres at each other for years, this could be the start of outright war – and if the Hierate barrels through here fangs out and hair on fire, they’re going to hit Mizah first.”

“But they might not.”

“But…” Before Arion can argue any more, Anderson interrupts, the steel any trader captain must have at his core being displayed for the first time.

“But me no buts, Surveyor. The law says I drop you at the next port of call and submit an invoice the next time I’m at an Archive facility. I have no obligation to deadhead you halfway across the sector first, and no obligation to reroute my ship for your convenience. Unless you have written authority from the Great Archive to pay the penalty clauses for breaking my Bond, which I know you do not because we searched you for contraband and weapons when we brought you aboard.”

The lights flicker back on and the air conditioning starts up again. “Finally!” Anderson mutters, then continues in a louder voice.

“Now that power has been restored, we can jump. And we will. You can either keep out of the way, or help with running the ship, but any more complaints about the route and you’ll find yourself in cryosleep in a low berth. Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal, Captain.” Arion leaves the office. He is seething inside, but if he’s put into cryosleep, who knows where – or when – he’ll wake up?

GM NOTES

This story thread came about as I thought it was time we found out how Arion met Anderson, how the pirates were involved, and why Arion started working for him. I have no idea what happened, but the dice will tell us soon enough.

For this campaign, I’m determined that each post should have part of the story in it, so I’ll keep the commentary on rules and setting design in the GM Notes section, rather than in separate posts as I’ve done in the past. This time, as Arion is in jumpspace, let’s look at FTL travel, and the implications for the rules and the campaign. I expect that will make more sense if we have the map in front of us, so here it is.

The Dark Nebula boardgame makes several assumptions about hyperspace jumps. First, you can only move along the routes on the map (at least until you uncover the secrets of the Nebula itself). Second, you can’t leave a tertiary system unless there is a tanker present to refuel you with hydrogen harvested from the star. Third, in a two-year turn you can go anywhere on the map, stopping only for enemy units, tertiary systems without a tanker, or uncharted jump routes; since there are about 80 routes on the map and each side has three movement phases per turn, the theoretical minimum jump time is roughly three days, and is probably more than that. Finally, you can’t bypass any star system on your route (otherwise the tactic of blocking fleets with a sacrificial scoutship wouldn’t work).

Savage Worlds itself is silent on the topic, but the Sci Fi Companion says that a ship can jump to any system regardless of distance, potentially in zero time if it’s prepared to expend enough fuel, and The Last Parsec adds the idea that the jump is faster and less risky if the system has a hyperspace beacon. To match Dark Nebula I could say that astrogation beacons communicate with each other faster-than-light (explaining how each player in the boardgame has perfect knowledge of the enemy’s movements), that beacons only allow travel along specific routes; and that tertiary systems have no beacons. In that case, tanker units would be a kind of self-propelled beacon.

Traveller limits ship movement by the amount of fuel carried and the rating of the jump drive installed, rather than by specific jump routes; refuelling at a planet is still needed, but you can bypass systems as long as you have the fuel and drive rating to do it. Aligning Traveller with the Dark Nebula is straightforward; I usually rationalise the jump routes by saying that the map is a 2-D representation of 3-D space, and systems that appear to be next to each other may be too far apart vertically to allow a jump. Saying that the boardgame’s ships have jump-3 gives a close enough match for strategic mobility – Bors, Daanarni and Taida Na remain impassable without some means of refuelling, and while you shouldn’t be able to access Ria, Osa or Karpos I can live with that – I want Arion to visit Ria and Karpos. As the map is drawn, J-1 pretty much limits you to Mizah and its neighbours, J-2 is good for exploring either subsector but won’t get you from one to the other, J-3 lets you travel between subsectors, and J-4 lets you leave the map. That progression has a certain elegance to it, don’t you think?

(If running multiple campaigns a generation or more apart on the timeline, I could argue that the drives in the various games are the same kind of hyperspace motor at different technology levels; first the DN drive, then the Traveller one, and finally the SW version. But ain’t nobody got time for dat.)

TL, DR: Traveller jump drive wins. There’s a good campaign to be played using the official Savage Worlds hyperdrive, but it’s not this one. Maybe next time.

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

1514 Daanarni E000000-0 Ni.

Daanarni is blindingly bright; a blue-white supergiant. You can read by it in the next star system but one, that’s how bright it is. So look away into the blackness, and after your eyes or your screen filters have adjusted, you may be able to make out a small, bright dot. Zoom in on that, and keep zooming, and eventually you’ll see a human figure in a deep space pressure suit, solar panels cranked out of the backpack like wings. It was the light glancing off those that caught your eye. It doesn’t look like he’s going to run out of power any time soon, whatever else he’s short of.

One of the panels reels in, just a little, and after a while extends back out again. You realise he’s using the radiation pressure and the solar wind to tack across the system, quite possibly just to keep his mind off wondering how long he’s got left before the air and water recyclers break down or he starves to death. Or whether he could open the faceplate just a crack, just long enough to scratch that God-damned ITCH on his nose.

You’re just starting to get bored with watching his glacial progress when the familiar disk-and-slab shape of a subsidised liner winks into existence, not too far away from him and on an intercept course, or nearly so. Its turrets swivel to align lasers on him, the ship’s computer having registered him as a potential threat; after a few seconds it picks up the suit’s transponder and moves the ship itself elegantly aside instead. You scan through the appropriate radio frequencies, and shortly pick up traffic between suit and ship.

“…I say again, this is Surveyor Arion Metaxas of the GAS Bozcaada out of Mizah. Well, technically I suppose it’s not so much a ship, more an expanding ball of gas fluorescing in the far ultraviolet, but… Sorry, I’ve been out here quite a while. Permission to come aboard? I’ll be good, I promise, and the Archive would be ever so grateful, I’m sure. I certainly will. Oh, and there were some pirates in the system a while ago, you might want to keep an eye out for those.”

“Hang tight, Surveyor, this is the Combine liner Dromedary, Captain Anderson commanding. Give us a few minutes and we’ll reel you in.”

At length, a hatch opens in the Dromedary and a pair of suited figures appears. They tether themselves to the ship, then jet across to intercept Arion on manoeuvring thrusters while he reels in the solar panels. Catching him easily, they escort him back to the ship, and all three disappear inside.

To be continued…

-o0o-

Fade up theme music (Joe Satriani: The Traveler). Roll credits…

DARK NEBULA SEASON 1: THE TRAVELLER

Starring Andy Slack as Arion Metaxas

Also starring…

  • Karen Gillan as Coriander
  • Vin Diesel as Dmitri
  • John Lithgow as Perry Anderson

Produced and directed by Andy Slack

Written by a bunch of dice and large quantities of single malt.

Music by Joe Satriani.

Based on the boardgame by GDW, Solo by Zozer Games, and Savage Worlds by Pinnacle Entertainment.

With additional material from Classic Traveller by GDW and Stars Without Number by Sine Nomine Publications.

8th June 216, near Anvil Road; Boris, Dave, the Fox, Kowalski, Pascal, Silmaria, Soreth, X7-09.

Most of the party are now in the Mines of Madness, one way or another, and have set up an impromptu camp on the first level near the lift shafts. Boris, Dave, the Fox, Pascal, Silmaria, and X7-09 are exploring the second level after Hug-Hug sacrificed himself (twice) in a not-entirely-voluntary manner to let them pass beyond the altar room, and after finishing their repast, Soreth and Kowalski troop down the stairs to join them. Hayes and Ssh’ta are nowhere to be seen (they are still in Marblehall directing the relief effort).

Moving on from the altar room leads them into a cavern, where they find a metal golem in the shape of a dwarf, nine feet tall and almost as wide, pulverising red crystals and filling barrels with the resulting dust. Eventually they attract its attention, and at length Silmaria remembers they took the deed to the mine from the leader of the skeletal miners. She shows this to the golem and it accepts her as the new owner of the mine and itself. Silmaria directs Dave to decorate it and teach it how to dance, with the aim of using it as a backing dancer for her band.

Boris assumes the form of a cockroach, and slips past the boulder blocking the other exit from the cavern. Silmaria orders her new follower to push the boulder aside, which it does, and everyone troops into the cavern beyond, which proves to be knee-deep in guano and full of bat swarms and giant cave crickets. Pascal is an insectivore, but crickets the size of sheep are too much for him, so he directs X7-09 to cut one down with an axe so that he can feed. The others cluster beneath a leathery pod on the ceiling, which turns out to be a giant bat, so Soreth tries to incinerate it with her fiery breath. It dodges, and flaps around the ceiling in terror for the rest of the scene.

Growing bored with this, the party passes through an exit ringed by stalactites and stalagmites, looking disturbingly like a giant stony mouth, and descends a series of ledges into a further cavern. The Fox makes his usual dramatic exit, and is immediately assaulted by a giant worm fifty feet long for his pains. It miraculously fails to crush him, instead flipping him fifteen feet into the air and back onto one of the ledges.

The Fox is really not having a good day.

Boris (who has resumed his human form) casts fear, and zombie ghost snakes fill the cavern. The giant worm is no match for this, and submerges to flee in fear.

Exploring further, the party comes upon a door and opens it. Beyond is a square chamber, occupied by a liche on a throne. Before it can speak, X7-09 holds up the deed to the mine and says: “We are the new owners, and we’ve come to talk to you about the rent.”

The skeletal figure gestures, and a door opens opposite him, revealing a pile of treasure. Soreth immediately starts sneaking towards it, closely followed by Silmaria, who says to her new friend sotto voce: “Golem, please assist Soreth in the treasure recovery, follow her lead.” The golem starts creeping towards the treasure. Soreth grabs an armful of loot and holds it close. Valore glides over and picks up a silver cat statue.

“Wait!” calls the Fox. “What about the Forever Stone?”

“That is no longer an option,” the lich intones. “You have chosen the treasure.”

Icons are invoked. Soreth and her armful of “shinies” disappear, as does almost everyone else. Silmaria lunges forwards and manages to grab an armful of loot before she shimmers out of existence; the rest of it fades away. X7-09, Boris and the golem are left staring at each other and the lich. None of the treasure remains.

“I refused the treasure,” says Boris. But before anything else can be discussed, Boris blinks out of existence.

Discontinuity…

Soreth shimmers into existence in a familiar location; her home cave, just outside Drakkenhall. Humming cheerfully to herself, she dumps her armful of shiny coins onto a larger pile, then snuggles into it for a nap with a satisfied “Aaaah!” She seems to have developed small, but functional-looking, wings.

Silmaria appears in a cosy pub with several chests of loot, including a ruby-studded horn, a number of potions, lots of coins and eight silver cat statues. “Better start counting,” she mutters to herself. “Soreth really should be here,” she muses, and starts counting out a share for Soreth.

Valore and Dave blink into existence in the Cathedral in Santa Cora, near the Priestess herself. “Ah, the very person!” declaims Valore, waving a silver cat statue for emphasis. “Look here, Priestess, having seen the state of the world and the numerous followers of the Lich King, I implore you to start a great crusade against the unholy! Now is the time, before they consume us all!”

The Fox is now in his old room in Stormwatcher Mansion, just outside Glitterhaegen.

Kowalski Klas’tak is in the Dwarf King’s bedchamber in Forge. “This is going to take some explaining,” he says, under his breath.

Boris has appeared in the Elf Queen’s boudoir. “Aaawkwaard,” he says to himself.

Meanwhile, back in the mine, X7-09 becomes aware that Pascal is in his chest cavity. “Come, golem-type construct,” he says. “Follow me, I will lead you to your mistress.” The three of them tramp off in search of the exit. Inside the construct’s chest cavity, Pascal the sentient chamaeleon admires his new armour.

Behind them, the door swings closed with a muffled thump…

GM NOTES

Well, that didn’t go as expected. Specifically, the stalwart adventurers fell for the decoy treasure, then several of them secretly used icon rolls to advantage themselves in obtaining said treasure; above, you see the result of their carefully-worded pleas to their icons interacting in unexpected ways.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking. Always dangerous, that. The current situation for the group is this:

  • We get 4-5 people turning up to most sessions now. I can manage that without splitting the group into two teams.
  • Who turns up isn’t very predictable. That’s cool, it’s meant to be a drop-in game.
  • Most people regularly miss 2-3 weeks between sessions, and some as many as 8 or more. This makes it hard to progress a long-term story arc built around specific character backstories as well as introducing ‘skills fade’ on the rules.
  • The Roll20 character sheets keep breaking, not sure why, it only seems to happen on some buttons for some players. I’ve set up some buttons for common dice rolls as a backup, but it’s unclear how much that will help.

I’m making some changes to the campaign to suit this new situation.

  • I’m merging the teams back together. To explain why PCs change from one session to another, I’ll base them in either a city (which is near a lot of adventure sites, West Marches style) or aboard a ship (which visits lots of adventure sites, like pretty much any SF TV show you can name).
  • I’ll park the story arc, at least for now, and switch to short adventures that can be completed in a single session. Probably dungeons, as we seem to have the most fun in dungeons.
  • We’ll keep an eye on how the character sheets and buttons behave, and if they get too bad, we’ll switch to another game that uses the built-in dice roller without needing macros.

As and when circumstances change, we can always do something different.

Anvil Road, 8th June 216. Boris, The Fox, Hug-Hug, Pascal, Silmaria, X7-09.

Almost all our heroes are somewhere in the mines now, and gather by the campfire between the lift shafts and the spiral staircase. While the others lick their wounds and roast – well, best not to think about it, really – over the fire, Boris, the Fox, Silmaria, Pascal and X7-09 descend by the northern lift shaft (now repaired by X7-09) to the lower level.

Some short-range exploration allows them to tie up their rough maps of the upper and lower levels, and to deduce correctly that the only thing they haven’t investigated on the upper level is the mysterious moaning noise behind one of the walls. Leaving that for another day, they follow one of only two unexplored corridors they know of, which twists and turns and at length leads them to a circular chamber with a high ceiling, which X7-09 notes is covered with holes. On the middle of the floor lies a body in chainmail, stretching its hand out towards a large gem. The Fox attempts to shield-surf down a short flight of stairs into the chamber, fails miserably, and walks the rest of the way to the gem, intending to liberate it. Two things happen immediately; large spikes slide out of the holes, and gravity in the chamber reverses, hurling the helpless Fox onto the spikes. Through swift reactions, adroit use of the shield, and (to be honest) miraculous luck, the Fox survives the spikes; then gravity returns to normal and he falls 20 feet to the floor, suffering severe contusions.

The rest of the party had cautiously retreated outside the chamber during this performance, and so survived. Pascal scampers into the chamber, again reaching for the gem; this triggers the trap again, and while Pascal’s extraordinary wall-crawling abilities protect him, the Fox is again slammed into the ceiling spikes, and then back onto the floor again. He begins to look somewhat the worse for wear and there is some doubt whether he can leave the chamber under his own power, so Boris casts entangle in his unique manner – extending his luxuriant armpit hairs to a length of some 15 feet and projecting them for the Fox to grab onto. Given where this impromptu rope has been, the Fox is reluctant to grab it – until it triggers the trap again, when clutching on to it allows him to avoid the spikes, but not the bonecrushing slam into the floor afterwards. X7-09 and Boris reel him in like a fish and he is partially healed. Pascal gathers up the loot and after a short argument, the Fox gets the chainmail for his pains – and puts it on before anything else can stab him.

Pascal determines to his disappointment that the gem is an illusion, and more productively, that if he walks round the edge of the chamber he can cross the chamber without setting off the trap. The party cross to the other side and open the opposite door, at which point they are blasted by a lightning bolt of uncommon puissance. Fortunately, X7-09 is in the van, and as he becomes more experienced and better-equipped, he is getting increasingly difficult to hurt. Smoking slightly, he leads them through, and they discover the bottom end of the staircase where the others are camped. Not wanting to risk the chamber again, they troop upstairs, across to the lift, and back down again, before taking the only route they haven’t explored yet, another passage.

At length, this passageway ends at a door, with an apparent gargoyle statue in an alcove nearby. Remembering that “the gargoyle knows the command word”, they ask for this and receive it. It’s at this point they begin to wonder what the command word does, but Silmaria is inspired by the word and begins scribbling notes about an awesome song using the word as its title.

X7-09 marches up to the door and tries to open it, receiving a very large spring-propelled spear in the guts for his pains. However, his shield slows it down enough that it does no actual harm, and he twists it sideways intending to smash its wielder into the wall beyond. He discovers that the door is false and the spear part of a trap, but while he is finding this out, Boris runs a long nail down the gargoyle’s cheek and says “My, aren’t you a handsome fellow,” while at the same time the Fox barrel rolls away from the skewered X7-09, expecting further attacks – straight into the gargoyle.

The gargoyle interprets this combination as an attack – wouldn’t you? – and leaps from its alcove to rend the party into toothsome chunks. Boris immediately invokes his magical bodyguard (a medusa).

“Stanley, my love,” says the medusa. “It’s been so long!”

“Gorgon – kill!” instructs Boris.

“Anyone in particular, or just all of them?” asks the medusa.

“Not me!” shouts the Fox.

“Just the statue today, my dear,” explains Boris.

“How dare you cheat on me!” roars the medusa. “You thought I’d forgotten after all this time!”

While Silmaria taunts the gargoyle from the rear, the others lay into it with a will. Everyone hits it and hurts it, except X7-09 who is preoccupied with the door; but perhaps predictably, it dies when Boris kicks it somewhere tender with a viciousness not normally seen in elven wizards.

After some discussion, the party declaims the command word, thus opening a secret door. Following the corridor beyond leads them to an altar room, with an unbound corpse nailed to the altar by a dagger. The errant Hug-Hug is hiding behind the altar.

“Fanatics!” hisses X7-09, deducing in a flash that a sacrifice of some sort is needed to proceed. While the rest of the party gazes on, mouths open in shock, Pascal casts stun on Hug-Hug, X7-09 grabs him and slams him on the altar, and Pascal rams the dagger into his chest, killing him instantly. A section of wall slides back, revealing a passage deeper into the mines.

“Poor Hug-Hug,” says Boris, intoning a request to his patron Icon under his breath.

“Yes, Master?” moans Hug-Hug, as he struggles to rise from the altar.

“You have done well, my friend,” says Boris. “The King has given you a second chance.”

The Fox cries out: “THE NECROMANCER!” and leaps forward, longsword swinging for the goblin’s exposed neck. Hug-Hug’s head flies from his shoulders to roll across the floor, while Boris gleefully skips off to join the rest of the party, as they venture into the newly-revealed passageway…

To be continued…

GM NOTES

The Fox is currently going by the name of Sir Balthazar Rook, but I find it easier to think of him as the Fox. He never takes off his closed helm, as we have established that while everyone forgets his face at midnight, they do remember that their party contains an Imperial knight (who for some reason never opens his faceplate).

X7-09’s player (also Pascal’s player, though in this session X7-09 was the Wild Card and Pascal the Extra sidekick) is proving remarkably good at figuring out puzzles with next to no clues, which is gratifying.

Boris continues to be a deeply unsettling individual. The player does Chaotic Neutral very well.

Pressure is mounting to explore Babe Island (drawn on the map by Boris about 15 sessions back), so I have agreed to take them there once they’ve finished in the mines, which will probably be next week. I’ve been meaning for a while to switch over to some homebrew adventures, and this is a good chance to do so. Who knows what they’ll find there? Not me, but the dice will soon tell me…