Hearts of Stone 20: The Red Tower

Team Robot: Boris, Silmaria, Ssh’ta, The Fox, X7-09. Glitterhaegen, 02 June 216.

Relaxing in Glitterhaegen’s dockside area, Team Robot debates whether they should stay or go. They’re trying to avoid the attentions of the Duke of Glitterhaegen, who may well bear a grudge for the theft of his prize griffin, Lord Fluffington III; Balthazar Rook gives serious thought to stealing it again, but the others talk him out of it. The group gets to know Balthazar’s new sidekick, Ladra, and he sends her off on an unspecified mission. Meanwhile, they have heard of a mysterious red tower, which in local rumours is linked to disappearances on the night of the full moon and red-robed cultists who eat pebbles.

Thus it is that on the night of the next full moon, Silmaria finds herself near the red tower at night, with only Boris in the shape of a mouse for company, and Balthazar, Ssh’ta and X7-09 concealed in overwatch. Inevitably, a group of four cultists attempt to sneak up on her, only to be shot down by Ssh’ta before being hacked to bits by X7-09, who is curious about their flame-bladed daggers but undamaged by them. Balthazar has the presence of mind to beat the one before him unconscious with the pommel of his rapier, so this time they have a prisoner, and their knowledge of the local area allows them to find a secluded warehouse where they can interrogate their captive after weighting the bodies of the other cultists and throwing them in the harbour.

“Just checking, we are the good guys, right?” asks Balthazar. X7-09 explains that they are adventurers, so they get to define what being the good guys means. That settled, the remaining cultist is put to the question, but knows nothing they haven’t already figured out. Tiring of his dire warnings about the Devourer rising to consume them all, they knock him out again and dress in the cultists’ robes before returning to the tower.

Using a key purloined from one of the dead cultists, they find the concealed door and enter. Within, they are attacked by invisible demons (well, invisible to X7-09 anyway, the rest of the group can see the red eyes, slavering fangs piercing their flesh and so forth well enough); X7-09 calls on the Diabolist to show him his enemy, and receives a vision of a gigantic living dungeon. While he is musing on that, the others snap out of it, discovering that it was an illusion.

They continue to explore the tower, finding little of note except a prisoner, who X7-09 reveals as a demon by cunning questioning. The demon announces himself as By-Tor, Prince of Darkness, Centurion of Evil; Caliban the albino dire wolf growls at him throughout the conversation, and he occasionally insults the canine. Reasoning that eventually he will persuade someone to release him, they agree to let him out on condition that [a] he will not harm the party members, with the exception of Caliban, and [b] he owes X7-09 one favour, to be called in when X7-09 desires at some unspecified point in the future.

That done, the party and the demon go their separate ways, leaving the cultists to their kidnapping, murder and Devourer-worship. After all, there’s a party to attend…

GM NOTES

You may recognise the adventure as a modified version of The Windowless Tower from Places of the Dominions, a Beasts & Barbarians supplement; hence the lack of spoilers as it was only published a year or so ago. Since the party ignored most of its wonders and threats, you haven’t missed a lot.

This session was primarily intended to adjust the pacing so that the two teams are back in sync for the next episode, in which they will meet up again at Marblehall.

It was also used to foreshadow some later events; this is most obvious in X7-09’s vision, but By-Tor has a role to play later in one of the character’s personal arc. They also left one of the cultists unconscious but alive, and tied up in a warehouse in Glitterhaegen. Since they took all his stuff, anyone rescuing him will not recognise him as a cultist; but he saw their faces plainly. This creates another potential plot thread.

We agreed to treat By-Tor’s favour owed to X7-09 like an extra icon roll.

Hearts of Stone Episode 19: A Keg for a Dragon

Team Dragon (Hayes, Kowalski, Soreth, Valore). Greenwell, 30 May 216.

Valore, who is gifted with wings, returns to Dwardel and explains what has happened to Team Robot. Dave the Dark Elf has reappeared, and cheerfully replaces the unfortunate Vor and Zadok as Valore’s follower.

Countess Casila has other things on her mind, however, and asks Team Dragon to go to Greenwell, a village of squatters south along the Glitterhaegen road, and negotiate a charter with it. The usual sort of deal is it pays taxes and it comes under her protection, neither of which is true just now. She leaves the details to the team, providing a list of things she expects from the deal, and things she is prepared to offer in exchange, the details of which need not concern us at this time. Soreth unkindly compares this to a protection racket, which to be fair is arguably the case.

Travelling to Greenwell, the party finds it in turmoil. The boy Chapel is missing, the dragon Clipwing is nowhere to be found, and there are goblins in the woods making a nuisance of themselves.

What’s this about a dragon? the team enquires. Mayor Hiram explains that Clipwing was crippled in a battle some time ago (“Yeah, I heard about that at school,” says Soreth) and struck a deal with the village: They would provide a steady supply of fine whiskey for medicinal purposes, and in exchange the dragon would prevent rude strangers from bothering them – this no doubt is why they have not felt the need to offer fealty to the Countess.

By knocking on doors and questioning witnesses, the party works out what has happened: Chapel, whose job it is to deliver the whiskey, planned to sell it to cover his debts, only to find it stolen before he could do so. Panicking, he replaced it with inferior spirits taken from his employer, but the dragon is somewhat of a connoisseur and easily detected this, withdrawing his labour and holding the boy hostage until the village keeps its side of the bargain.

Tracking down the thief (Seb, the owner of the village’s only inn), the party intimidate him into confessing and take him before the mayor. They recover the stolen whiskey and trade it to the dragon for the boy.

The mayor strips Seb of his inn and offers it to the party, before banishing both Seb and Chapel. Team Dragon persuades Hiram that it will be cheaper to pay taxes to the Countess than to keep the dragon in whiskey. The dragon is given notice and Kowlaksi suggests he might seek employment with the dwarves at Forge, where his favourite whiskey is made. Chapel’s creditor, Gristle the dwarf, is given information on the boy’s likely route out of town.

The mission is thus successfully completed, with no casualties apart from a few goblins encountered by chance in the woods.

NEWS

Lord Sunhammer, an envoy of the Dwarf King, is expected to arrive at Marblehall sometime in early June on his way to Axis for a summit meeting with the Emperor. He will pay his respects to the new Countess and there will be a feast in his honour, which Team Dragon and Team Robot are both invited to attend – further details to follow when the final date is known.

The Countess is concerned about Marblehall’s security in the light of orcish intrusion on her northern territory, and has ordered reviews of all the militia in her domain, starting with her household troops, to ensure that they are all properly equipped and trained. She has further ordered protective runes engraved on the walls of the manor house itself, as there are rumours of monstrous beings seen in the woods nearby.

GM NOTES

Valore’s player persuaded me to bring back Dave as an Extra, on the basis that this team is much darker and more serious than Team Robot and needs a comic relief.

This latest session used the first Old School Fantasy scenario from Reality Blurs, with quite a few of the encounters trimmed to squeeze it into a two hour slot. There are spoilers above, but this scenario has been around since 2009 so I feel very little guilt. It worked very well, and the players were pleased they managed to complete an investigation scenario without killing anyone – except a squad of goblins, which they advise me don’t count.

It’s definitely much easier running a group of 4-5 than one of 10, which I feel says more about me that the players or the games.

Hearts of Stone Episode 18: Jailbreak

Team Robot: Boris, Silmaria, Ssh’ta, The Fox, X7-09. Guest Star: Valore. Apologies: Ssh’ta.

Glitterhaegen, 26 May 216.

Team Robot, minus Ssh’ta and plus Valore, awakens to find itself naked in filthy dungeon cells in an unknown location. There is one other prisoner: Yalanchi, who looks as if he was not in good shape to begin with, and then someone beat him within an inch of his life. He informs them that he is a member of the League of Nine, one of the two great criminal gangs of Glitterhaegen, and that he believes they are the captives of the other one, known as the Shadowmen, which is rumoured to work with the Prince of Shadows; however, the people beating him have been more interested in asking questions than answering them.

Escaping the cells is clearly the first priority. Valore’s wing bash, Zadok’s heat bolt, and Vor’s ill-equipped attempt at lockpicking fail, and the Fox’s wild charge straight into the iron bars of the cell door gains him nothing but bruises; but Boris assumes the form of a mouse and strolls out into the corridor between the cells. At length, a massive half-orc enters the corridor and stops before Silmaria’s cell, appraising her. (Team Robot will never learn that his name is Zorba.)

“Yes,” he opines, “You are as lovely as they said. I can see why Himself wants you back.”

“No!” cries Silmaria, instinctively. Thinking more clearly, she goes on: “It’s so very dark in this cell, I’m scared. Will you… Will you hold my hand?” Silmaria is as good-looking as it is possible to be, and Zorba (who bears her no particular ill will) grumpily acquiesces.

“What about me?” calls Valore, who is in all honesty not as good-looking but still better than average. “I’m in here with two naked men, can you move me to another cell?” For whatever reason, Zorba agrees, but first summons another three equally large and muscular guards in case of tricks. Boris, meanwhile, has scampered across to X7-09’s cell, finding that worthy dormant and powered down. Hearing the guards return, he runs back into his cell – in plain sight of the guards, but a mouse in a dungeon cell block is nothing out of the ordinary, and they ignore him.

The guards form up around Valore’s cell in case of trouble, and order Zadok and Vor to the back of the cell before opening it so that Valore can emerge. However, her first action on doing so is to buffet Zorba in the face with one of her wings (which following something weird happening under Dwardel earlier are now made of steel). Boris supports her attack by casting Confusion, whereupon a horde of chittering, fluffy, long-clawed mice fall on the guards, shaking two of them. Zadok fires another heat Bolt at Zorba, to no effect.

Boris runs back to X7-09’s cell and picks the lock with long, mousey claws. One of the shaken guards wanders into range of the Fox, who stealthily relieves him of his keys. Boris moves on to Yalanchi’s cell, but breaks a fingernail and collapses, howling in anguish.

The guards mob Valore, whose fighting skill is (or shortly will be) legendary, and they can’t land a blow on her. Villen, the Fox’s squire, opens the door of their cell, and the two make a break for it, running for the exit through the scene of chaos – Silmaria is taunting Zorba, Boris is trying to pick locks, and Valore is punching Zorba repeatedly, making him flash like a torch every time she hits him.

Villen thinks better of abandoning his friends for a complete stranger (remember, everyone forgets the Fox at midnight) and runs back, unlocking Silmaria’s cell door and Yalanchi’s; but while he is freeing Yalanchi, Zorba stabs him from behind, killing him outright. Boris calls on the Lich King to raise his friend, and the Lich King does so to an extent, raising him as a zombie.

“Braaaiiins,” says Villen by way of thanks. Zorba yells at his men to cut the fugitives off at the exit (and also the knees, if possible), and runs Zadok through on the basis that he’s having no luck getting past Valore’s wing parries, and Zadok is after all a spellcaster. Villen considers attacking someone, but there are these lovely fresh brains leaking onto the floor right next to him, so he digs in.

The jailers form up at the top of the stairs leading out of the cell block, and the Fox runs at them, calling on the Archmage for assistance and invoking his own memory-erasing powers. The jailers promptly forget who they are and what they are doing, allowing the party to herd their unresisting former captors into a cell and lock them up.

They emerge into a well-lit corridor, with sunlight streaming in from the north end. Silmaria and Boris run to the daylight, and bask in it while waiting for the others. Valore and the Fox find a door leading off the corridor into another small complex; they manage to kill a couple more guards before those worthies can react, and arm themselves with longswords whose owners have no further use for them. Vor joins them, and they stealthily move deeper into the group of rooms, finding their own gear piled up on one room and the last remaining group of jailers, who have alas been alerted by the commotion outside and are ready for them, not that it helps; all but one are cut down within seconds, and the survivor mortally wounds Vor as he hacks his way free and makes a run for the exit. However, Boris has been using Healing powers to regrow his broken nail and expand his body hair to cover his nakedness, and now casts Entangle to wrap the fleeing foe in bonds formed by luxurious armpit hair. This slows him enough for Valore to catch him and stab him to death, before moving back into the cell block and butchering the surviving, if now mentally deficient, opponents – as well as the zombie formerly known as Villen.

Rummaging through their lair, Valore discovers trinkets and coin to the value of 80 silver. Yalanchi thanks them for releasing him and melts into the crowd; Team Robot gears up and moves out, the Fox vowing to track down Yalanchi, who he wanted to question further.

Some hours later, X7-09 reboots and finds himself alone in an abandoned set of dungeon cells, surrounded by the corpses of former travelling companions and presumed members of the Shadowmen. Phlegmatic as ever, he picks up Pascal the chamaeleon and lumbers out into Glitterhaegen.

GM NOTES

This session was the first official one after the group split in two, and it worked much better with five players than ten. So that is a success. Thomas Zunder’s approach of treating Icon relationships as skills also works much better than just using the straight 13th Age rules, and the players now use them pretty much the way I think is intended.

This was intended to be a session interacting with NPCs, during which the players could learn useful information and become embroiled in intrigure, and I thought that taking all their toys away and locking them up in cells might slow them down enough to do that; but I had forgotten Boris has Shapeshift and can turn himself into a mouse, and after that it turned into the usual bloodbath, with the party expressing a total lack of interest in why they had been captured or by whom. Like I always say though, if everyone’s enjoying the game you’re doing it right, and I have their measure now; what they want is a a fight and some shiny loot, and that makes session planning very simple. (By the way, I am using the SW Fantasy Companion loot generator here; I had concerns that D&D-style levels of magic items would break the game, but it doesn’t.)

While plain vanilla NPCs are pretty much incapable of threatening the PCs – the tanks have Parry and Toughness well over 10 by now – the party’s allies are squishy once their armoured shells are removed, and went down like ninepins. Did we see any remorse or attempts to resurrect them? No. What I got were comments to the effect that they had been wanting to recruit more useful henchmen anyway, and could we use the down time before the next session to design them?

X7-09’s player couldn’t make the session after all, so I decided to complicate the scenario by having him powered down in a corner – the players must not only escape, they must also take with them an unconscious forgeborn! Of course, what they actually did was walk off and leave him there…

Hearts of Stone: Deities

Gods are not that important in the world of the 13th Age, but players do occasionally ask what the gods of the setting are.

Rather than invent new pantheons of gods, each race worships one or more historic pantheons. There is some overlap between pantheons as each mythology contains its own versions of Jung’s archetypes – for example the Ruler might manifest himself as Jupiter, Odin, or Amun-Ra.

Humans, Halflings: Egyptian, then Greek, and currently Roman. This indicates the evolution of their religion over time and allows ruins from earlier Ages to have different symbology, layouts and so on.

Dragonborn, Orcs: Slavic. This has a suitably wide range of deities of death, destruction and evil.

Dwarves, Forgeborn: Norse. Obviously.

Elves: Celtic. High elves prefer the Gaulish version of the pantheon, wood elves the Welsh, and the dark elves have become completely fixated on Arianrhod in her aspect of the Spider, weaver of fate, whom they refer to as Lolth.

Aasimar, Tieflings and other races will be added if and as necessary. Gnomes were wiped out by plague at the end of the 12th Age, and good riddance.

Pytus is roughly equivalent to Pythian Apollo. Archetypes, you see, they’re everywhere…

Hearts of Stone Episode 17: Arachnophobia

Under Dwardel, 25 May 216

Previously, on Hearts of Stone…

Half the party descended into the “Archmage’s secret facility” under Dwardel town hall via a one-way teleporter, and found a small dungeon complex carved into a stalactite sticking down into an apparently bottomless chasm. Venturing outside it into a cavern, they found intelligent arachnids (who want to capture X7-09 and abduct him for unspeakable experiments) negotiating with drow (who want to kill Boris). Boris has broken the handle on one of the drawbridges, leaving the way open for intruders to enter. Valore is about to be overrun by invisible arachnids. X7-09 has caused the chasm to begin flooding with molten lava. Now, the rest of the party arrives to help. What could possibly go wrong?

sgate_sm

The scene of the battle: Stalactite Gate, from Deep Vistas.

Hayes, Kowalski and Ssh’ta brave the one-way teleporter and arrive to help just as the massed bands of drow, giant spiders, and invisible sentient giant spiders charge the party’s redoubt. The party forms a defensive line at one end of the closest drawbridge as invisible spiders move across it at speed, barging past Balthazar Rook who manages somehow not to get knocked off. Another invisible spider knocks Valore into the chasm, but as she can fly, this is merely a temporary setback.

Boris runs to the fray, and bumps into what appears to be an invisible giant spider in plate mail. Unwilling to engage in melee, he casts Pummel and a blast of strange-smelling gas emerges from him at speed (the less said about that, the better) and rattles those on the bridge. Meanwhile there is an exchange going on between X7-09 and the sentient spiders in Spidertalk. Ssh’ta emerges from a side door onto a turret with a commanding view of the battlefield, stations Caliban to protect him from spider assault, and begins methodically cutting down drow and spiders with arrows – this occupies him for the rest of the fight. Valore emerges from the chasm and starts rolling up the drow flank – she is one of the party’s three combat monsters, the others being Soreth and X7-09.

A spider barges past Balthazar again, and he kills it with his rapier. Feeling outnumbered, he drops his buckler and draws a second blade – the buckler falls into the rising lava. Caliban growls intimidatingly at the spiders, who ignore him. Silmaria sings a love song in Spidertalk, which she thinks should get the spiders frisky, but as the sentient ones are invisible she can’t tell if it worked.

The invisible plate-armoured sentient giant spider (trust me, it’s even worse than they know) casts Fear, and NPCs scatter in all directions while Balthazar is Shaken, and permanently marked by his terror; his hair turns white. At this point he reveals that he has a teleport amulet on loan from the Archmage, and his plan is to throw it at the boss spider so that she is teleported away. The rest of the party point out forcefully that this leaves them stranded underground with no way back out, and suggest an alternative plan of using the amulet to escape their predicament.

X7-09 pushes his two cultist allies into the lava as sacrifices as they advance around the outside of the stalactite, and calls on the Diabolist for aid, specifically the ability to breathe poisonous fumes on the approaching spiders (and Balthazar too, incidentally). However, either he is distracted by the subject of his phobia coming to drag him off to a life of pain and suffering, or the Diabolist thinks it’s funnier to leave him to it, and no help is forthcoming.

Hayes lofts a turnip at the drow patrol leader, who the party recognise as their earlier opponent, but misses. Balthazar invokes the aid of the Archmage to erase the spider leader’s memory, causing some sort of protective amulet on its thorax to shatter but having no other effect. Kowalski backs away from the spiders at the door and casts Deflect, Boris casts Fear (illusory ghost zombie snakes), X7-09 shouts that he will never be taken alive and Valore negotiates swiftly with the drow – they attacked, she retaliated, how about they call it even?

X7-09 ducks back around the corner of the stalactite and runs back inside, pursued by spiders, and slams the door behind him. The drow leader yells at her surviving troops to meet up at the rally point, and teleports out as they run for their riding spiders. The sentient spiders start banging on the doors. The party regroup around Balthazar, who sucessfully calls on the Archmage for more help – and all are teleported away.

But there is a catch. Something goes wrong with the evocation; the spiders, who are in the area of effect, are nowhere to be seen. Kowalski, Ssh’ta, Caliban and Hayes shimmer into existence in the basement of Dwardel town hall. The others are… somewhere else…

GM NOTES

This session was successful despite the large number of players. We have agreed to try splitting the party into two smaller groups, tentatively named Team Dragon and Team Robot, and run them for a while separately on alternate weekends. I think that will work a lot better; there are GMs who can run huge numbers of players – I’ve seen Eric Wujcik run over 20 at a time at a convention – but I’m not one of them, and I run better sessions when there are no more than 4-6 players. There are some set pieces planned for which I need all the players, though.

This and the previous session were run on one of the Deep Vistas maps, specifically Stalactite Gate, and you’ll see a small image of that above. These were on Kickstarter a while back, half a dozen large, beautiful, drow-themed battlemats.

Sadly, the approaching session end and steadily rising tide of lava prevented the party from exploring the former dwarf trading post a few hundred yards away, repurposed as a drow war cemetery at the end of the 12th Age. That was also a Deep Vistas map, Silent Garden. Oh well, maybe another time.

Hearts of Stone Episode 16: Under Dwardel

Dwardel, 25 May 216

The party makes its way back to Dwardel, and Boris, Silmaria, “Balthazar Rook”, Valore and X7-09 stay in town to deal with some unfinished business (namely, the Archmage’s alleged secret facility below the town hall) while the others hurry on to Marblehall to brief Countess Casila on the suspected orcish invasion.

Finding Amberlith’s pub abuzz with some sort of feast, our heroes enquire what they might have missed, and learn the following:

  • A few days ago there was a minor earthquake near Marblehall. No-one was hurt, and property damage was limited to a few broken plates.
  • The Archmage’s weather control station near Concord, known as Boltstrike Pillar due to the frequent lightning strikes it attracted, has vanished, leaving behind a large crater and no clues to what happened. Nearby areas of the Midland Sea are noticeably rougher than before.
  • Lucius, Dwardel’s alchemist, has been unmasked as a werewolf by legendary adventurers the Vengeful Company; he was responsible for numerous disappearances and dismemberments around the town, and has been hanged. His last words were: “And I would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for you meddling adventurers!” The Vengeful Company is now being celebrated with a week-long party.

Attempting to ingratiate themselves, our heroes are patronised by the Vengeful Company, whose attitude is that they are adorable but they should leave adventuring to the professionals. Boris, unable to enter because of his suddenly-acquired aversion to alcohol, stands outside scratching at the windows like a dog locked out of the house. X7-09 takes this opportunity to sneak up behind him with a rope, intending to forcibly wash and manicure him, but is frightened off by a hideous apparition, of which Boris will later claim ignorance.

Declining to venture into the dungeon at night, the group waits until dawn, when they are met at the town hall by X7-09’s cultist friends (who were at the party last night incognito, and arranged this rendezvous there). Showing the mayor their badges to establish that they work for Casila, they gain entrance to the town hall, its basement, and finally to a locked room at one end of the basement which contains a one-way teleporter (helpfully marked as such). Everyone except Balthazar and his squire Villain descend more or less straightaway, and the other two catch up after a few moments, by which time the main body has explored a small complex and started a fight with a couple of drow. Boris by this stage has transformed into an unusually furry mouse and attempts to entangle a drow with his exceedingly long and fluffy fur. One drow is quickly despatched, but the other breaks free of the fur, dodges past her assailants, boots open a door, and flees across a drawbridge into a large underground cavern populated with mushrooms, drow, giant spider mounts, and – some other arachnids.

Valore flies out, grabs the fleeing drow, and dives into a chasm surrounding the initial complex (she will emerge shortly, alone, with wings now made of metal, and make a superhero landing on the other side of the chasm). X7-09 is terrified as he realises that the “some other arachnids” are of special interest; he explains that their leader is none other than the spider mage who created him, and experimented on him, causing him great pain. He appears shaken by her appearance. Balthazar cuts off their dead foe’s head and marches onto the drawbridge, declaiming “For my master, the Archmage!” as he casts it into the chasm. He recognises the leader of the drow as the same one who tried to kidnap Casila a couple of months ago. Boris advances and casts fear on the arachnids, causing three of them to flee. As he has assumed elven form again, he is spotted by the drow leader, who calls out in Undercommon: “It’s Boris! Kill him!”

Meanwhile Silmaria and X7-09’s cultist friends are exploring the other exits from the complex, finding a rubble-filled stairway where some previous visitor brought the roof down, and two other drawbridges (one of which will become inoperable after Boris tries using the controls to operate it and they come off in his hand).

X7-09 climbs a ladder onto one of the complex’s turrets and casts a quick eye over the cavern terrain, seeing that the complex is carved into a giant stalactite which descends into a pit, and that stairways round the outside will give drow and spiders access now that one of the drawbridges is jammed in the “down” position. Concerned that the arachnids can now enter the complex, X7-09 calls on the Diabolist for help, and molten lava begins to fill the chasm surrounding the stalactite complex at an alarming rate, forming a sort of moat. Valore is perturbed when X7-09’s creator turns invisible, and even more perturbed when disturbances in the dust and debris covering the cavern floor suggest that a group of four invisible giant spiders are charging her. More drow pop up from behind assorted mushrooms and open fire with bows, to no immediate effect.

And people say there’s nothing to do in Dwardel.

GM Notes

I’ve started sharing news with the players to establish two closely-related things; first, that the world moves on even when they’re not looking at it, and second, that quests eventually expire if ignored. The disappearances at Dwardel were left alone for long enough that they became a good reason to introduce the Vengeful Company, who I expect to become long-term rivals, not least because their leader Borys Firesword is using the same name as one of the party and the same trademark weapon as another.

There was some creative use of icon dice rolls, and I was able to bring two characters’ backstories into play, which is always gratifying.

This session moved much more quickly than usual, because half the players were out celebrating a birthday and so we had a group of 5 players rather than the usual 9-10. I must consider splitting the group and running the two halves on alternate weeks, as this is more effective than tuning the rules for speed.

Hearts of Stone Episode 15: Let’s Hunt Orc!

Near Anvil Road, 21 May 216

Orc wyvern riders return Balthazr, Hayes, and Soreth to the party; the three decline to say where they have been or what they have been doing, and the orcs leave without comment.

Shortly, the party notices smoke rising in the distance, and decide to investigate. Several hours later they find the ruins of a thoroughly burned and looted village, and tracks leading off to the northeast, tracks of orcs and… something else, something with very big feet, maybe 8-10 feet tall if it is humanoid. They leave their henchmen and Valore to bury the bodies and guard their loot cart, and follow the tracks; in due course they discover a dwarf-built tower in the woods, occupied by orcs, who spot them from an observation turret as they are making no attempt at stealth.

There is a brief discussion of what the next step should be. Balthazar points out that if the orcs are allowed to kill and burn indiscriminately, they will be back shortly with friends; his view is that their patron the Countess Casila would want the orcs killed and made an example of. Others favour a gentler approach based on persuading or charming the orcs into leaving. Kowalski points out that they essentially have a choice between slaying the orcs and lying to Casila on their return, but the softer approach wins the day.

Hayes now approaches the guard orcs and asks to speak to their leader, who it turns out is called Nailripper. While those two are in discussion, the outcome of which has yet to be shared with the group, the rest of the party settles in, Silmaria leading the orcs in drinking songs and X7-09 challenging the orcs to arm wrestling matches and similar games. The mystery of the large footprints is solved as the orcs have four ogres with them. The party also notes a winch-operated lift, presumably leading to an abandoned dwarf complex underground.

At length a goblin runs up, and demands to see the orc leader. When admitted, he says he has new orders from the Orc Lord: The group is to return to orc territory at once, since the Orc Lord is not yet ready to invade the Empire. Nailripper and several other orcs hack him to pieces in frustration, but then Nailripper yells at his troops to grab their gear and follow him.

Unfortunately for the orcs, they bunch up in their struggle to get out of the tower, and this proves too tempting for Hayes, who has been searching the tower and has found a blast potion. He hurls that at the struggling mass of orcs and ogres, and inflicts a phenomenal amount of damage, killing all but two – one orc who was outside the blast radius, and Nailripper, who staggers out of the flames singed and heavily wounded. Ssh’ta, Caliban, Kowalski and Balthazar fall on him, and Boris attempts to entangle him by using sorcery to extend a writhing mass of his own armpit hair into the melee, but after a few blows the attackers notice that Soreth is powering up her breath weapon and duck for cover as she breathes fire across the two survivors, incinerating the orc trooper. Nailripper, astonishingly, survives despite Kowalski magically reducing his vigour to make him an easier target. This is to no avail, however, as Hayes throws a turnip at his head, killing him.

The party loot the bodies and the tower, finding a variety of orc trail rations and water bottles, some $440 in cash and readily fenceable items, and a ferociously sharp and well-made longsword.

“We should get this identified,” says X7-09.

“No need for that,” says the sword. “I am Spiterazor, forged for the purpose of killing dark elves. Who among you is worthy to bear me?”

GM Notes

Another session which was intended to be a fight, but turned into a negotiation – however, when the orcs bunched up on their way out of the tower, well, that was just too tempting. X7-09 used an icon roll to produce the goblin messenger, which I thought was creative. Hayes has the Scavenger Edge, and used a benny to gain narrative control long enough to find a blast potion.

Off-camera, Hayes, Balthazar and Soreth have done a deal with Master Throatcutter’s men (errm, sorry, orcs). He that sups with the devil should use a long spoon…