Posts Tagged ‘Beasts & Barbarians’

The Pawns spent some time in surveillance of the Mountaineers’ village before deciding that while sneaking through it to the Monastery was more stylish and less dangerous if it worked, failure would cause potentially fatal problems; so they roped themselves together and climbed up a rockface to the Monastery, despite Ash’s protestations about the damage to his new riding boots. Meandering around inside, they found Karmella, disposed of the guardians, and ran for it; onrushing guards forced them to divert into the chamber of the Black Flame, where a complex three-way combat ensued; Mountaineers vs Black Monks vs the party.

Our heroes inflicted severe casualties on the Black Monks, thanks to U’wahz using his Sage superpower to add a fact to the setting, namely that the Monks’ “Black Flame Rays” could be reflected by mirrors. By that point Korras was down, and an unspoken truce developed between the Mountaineers and the party, who both ran for it as the Black Flame exploded behind them.

Zosimus and the bulk of the party kept on running, on the basis that the Mountaineers would soon realise that imposters now knew the location of their hidden base and would then want to silence them; but the Monk and Max went back into the Monastery looking for loot to carry off, and Dorjee took on board the task of healing Korras; so perforce they rejoined their companions later, and all made good their escape.

The party went a little bit off-piste towards the end; they avoided Ulesir Shah’s unexpectedly heroic march to the Monastery and took Princess Karmella back to Tokarim Shah and Jirro, before heading south with the Amazons to Shan’Ammar. They also told Jirro where to find the Mountaineers’ secret hideout, so no doubt hijinks will ensue off-stage – this because Ash likes causing trouble for the hell of it and Zosimus hates Valk with a passion.

We closed the session with them boarding the Blood Bride and sailing off into the sunset.

GM NOTES

This time I agreed with the group that we would use tokens to track progress on the climb, and the mapless dungeon approach of trait rolls and card draws recommended in the core setting book. I was expecting them to push back hard on that, but in fact they didn’t, noting that it was easier for me (as I don’t have to draw maps) and faster for them (no mapping, no time spent investigating boring empty rooms, their time focussed on the battlemats for exciting locations) so I think I can adopt this wholesale now – it is after all the way it’s meant to be played.

The group also readily accepted the idea of staying on board a ship they do not captain, which allows me to move them wherever suits the plot of the next adventure, and all of us to discard inconvenient plot elements every time they leave port, such as bothersome NPCs, over-powerful relics (“I didn’t think you wanted that any more, so I fenced it…”) and pursuing law enforcement. Max is on a mission to collect relics stolen from his clan, and Dorjee is in search of rare Lotus components for the Alchemists of Gis, both Hindrances chosen to give me scenario hooks, and between those and them being aboard a pirate ship I can send them anywhere next.

However, my turn as GM is done for a while, and after a break over the summer I expect we will turn to the Warhammer World again.

 

The penultimate session for Shadows Over Ekul, and after a lot of fascinating in-character discussion and debate over whether Ash should be replaced by a Valk character, the players decided to follow Jirro, cavalry officer and suspected kidnapper of Princess Karmella, to the old Tenebar Fort where he holed up, in support of Tokarim Shah.

Most of the session was spent on a commando raid on the fort. This captured, they learned from Jirro that he had, in fact, obeyed orders in good faith and to the letter (“Go to the fort and repair it, don’t come back until I send for you,”) and was not the kidnapper they were looking for. At this point a ransom note from the real kidnapper surfaced, offering to exchange Karmella for ‘Ulesir Shah’, actually Max in disguise.

In company with Philosopher Jimpah, King Ekul’s personal monk, they headed south to the hostage exchange point. By this stage they had decided that nobody was who they seemed to be, and began the exchange (correctly) convinced that the supposed ‘Karmella’ brought by the kidnappers was no such person. The leader of the kidnappers turned out to be one of the Black Monks they have developed such an interest in.

The highlight of the session for me was the fight with the kidnappers. Ash had concealed himself underwater near the lakeside exchange point, and due to an extremely positive response by the dice to his question “Are any of Etu’s sacred crocodiles following me?”, was flanked by two such reptiles. The fight began with Dorjee hurling a fear potion onto the kidnappers’ boat, whereupon the bulk of them leapt into the water where they were engaged by the crocodiles. Final score: Crocodiles 7, heroes 3, kidnappers 0.

Interrogating the Karmella imposter and the lone surviving kidnapper (a minion who knew next to nothing but was very helpful in the hopes of not being fed to the crocodiles) led them to a concealed stairway hidden behind a waterfall, at the top of which is a trail leading to a bandit village and (three dramatic chords) the Monastery of Shadows, which not unreasonably they expect to be full of Black Monks – followers of the Path of Obscurement, who have given them the only serious opposition they have faced so far in this adventure.

They slaughtered the sentinels guarding the path in less than one combat round, as Max now has Sweep and the Monk’s character build is focussed on maximising the number of attacks per round he can deliver – in the right circumstances he now gets five, which is very scary.

The session ended with the party dressed as rebels, riding captured yaks, and disappearing cinematically into a snowstorm as the camera pulled back from them.

GM NOTES

I continue to be impressed by Umberto Pignatelli’s ability to predict, or guide, what the PCs will do; after the initial debate they followed his most-likely outline almost to the letter.

They’re doing better than the last group; by the time the Shadows of Keron party had got this far, they had killed literally every NPC who knew anything about what was going on, including the slave girl posing as Karmella.

I’ve enjoyed this immensely, and it seems to have won over all but one of the players to Savage Worlds; but the next session will conclude this adventure, and then we’ll revert to WFRP3 and Star Wars EotE for a while. It will be a refreshing change to be a player again for a while.

Moving forward, I’ve calculated that at this rate I have enough scenarios for this group to last us until 2038, so I can afford to start offering them a choice of several via rumours, which I hope will improve satisfaction levels further.

The Pawns of Destiny continue to chew their way through Shadows Over Ekul. A lot of email traffic before the session led to a towering edifice of hypothesis about the political situation in Ekul (entirely plausible but not in the scenario or the setting book) which coloured the party’s approach.

Max succeeded in impersonating Ulesir Shah. Ash and the Monk spent most of the session tracking down three black-robed figures who arrived in Teluk’Ammar the week before the party, and became so invested in it that I gave them a trail to follow, although I had forgotten to bring their stats so they never actually caught what they have taken to calling ‘ninja monks’, though they did find a hideout from which the ninja monks had been watching them and found witnesses whose stories suggested collusion between the Shah’s evil half-brother and the ninja monks. Ash and Zosimus also took great pains to ingratiate themselves with their Amazon guards, Zosimus by engaging the commander in discussions of contracts and such, one merc to another, and Ash by arranging a series of athletic contests to keep the rank and file Amazons occupied during the buildup to the wedding, resulting in him being adopted as a sort of mascot.

Zosimus and Ash worked out from very little information the unrequited love between Ulesir’s bride-to-be and the cavalry officer, who in turn got far too drunk on the stag night and challenged the party to a sword-fight enlivened by venomous snakes.

(When Melee first came out, my games club had a Melee league, and the guy running it had a rule that if anyone developed too much of an advantage, the master of ceremonies would throw in a few poisonous snakes to even the odds. But I digress.)

Anyway, this all led to the officer being thrown out of the city and a certain amount of ribbing about his men having been incapacitated by Ulesir Shah’s food taster, that being what the Monk is posing as.

At the wedding the next day, it quickly became apparent that the princess had swapped places with one of her handmaidens and left the palace by night. Her father is most displeased, and U’wahz has expanded his Valk vocabulary significantly.

“I say we cut and run,” said Ash as the Valk warlord set off in pursuit of his errant daughter and the would-be groom. “I was curious about the ninja monks, but I’ve decided I’m not that curious.”

The spirit of the sandbox is strong in Ash’s player, and he chafes at the perceived limitations both of the scenario and his own character. Interestingly, this happened last time I ran Shadows Over Ekul as well – the Warforged had similar issues, and at about the same time, too; he argued passionately in favour of decamping with the wedding presents while all the Valk were out of town…

As you’ll recall, the Pawns of Destiny players had asked for a meatier plot, and given their current location and character backstories, I selected the fourth Beasts & Barbarians adventure for them, Shadows Over Ekul.

Since it can be up to six months between B&B sessions for this group – we meet twice a month but generally play WFRP3 – I follow the precedent set by the WFRP GM and write up a detailed report of each session shortly after play concludes, then circulate it before the next one to jog memories. However, I’m sure you don’t want 5,000 words of that, so I’ll summarise and share the highlights. The adventure was published in 2012, so following my five year rule, I shall make no effort to avoid spoilers.

Travelling to Shan’Ammar in search of Clan O’Well’s purloined sacred items – for this is why Max the Barbarian is travelling among these southern softies – the party are arrested following a bar brawl, and it turns out that Max is the spitting image of Ulesir Shah, the local ruler. Ulesir needs to travel to a nearby city state to marry his betrothed, so that he can borrow an army from his father-in-law to root out bandits led by his half-brother; but he is too cowardly to go in person, and thus hits upon the Cunning Plan of sending Max in his stead. Successfully fending off attacks by evil monk-assassins and mountain bandits, the group reaches Teluk’Ammar and survives an attempt to embarass Max by exposing his lack of riding skill. The session closed on a social cliffhanger as “Ulesir” and entourage met Tokarim Shah, Valk ruler of Teluk’Ammar.

Highlights:

  • During the arm-wrestling contest which precipitated the brawl, Zosimus beat his opponent by a massive margin, in the true heroic style. The first thing that happened after that was the purse of winnings flying past Ash, who had previously prepared a duplicate purse in advance “just in case”; with an amazing Stealth roll he swapped purses by appearing to fumble catching it, then flicked the duplicate purse into the hands of U’wahz the Sage.
  • The party’s Cunning Plan; despairing of teaching Max to impersonate a Shah, they circulated rumours of an assassination attempt which had temporarily rendered the Shah lame and mute, allowing them to splint Max’s leg and cover his face with a mask in the hopes of avoiding him opening his mouth or having to ride or dance at any point.
  • The attack by an evil monk-assassin during the voyage upriver to Teluk’Ammar, foiled when Ash ziplined down the ship’s backstay and kicked the assassin overboard.
  • The attack by mountain bandits, foiled when the Sage “remembered” that the local subspecies of goat goes berserk when frightened and charges the source of the fear en masse – armed with this information, Dorjee Pema the Alchemist lobbed a couple of fear potions into a suitable position, and the bandits were gored and trampled by goats, allowing the party to escape.
  • The party’s avoidance of the drugged horse intended to embarrass Ulesir Shah by walking to the palace slowly and circuitously while feigning interest in the local architecture.

Max’s player has decided that the horse thing is exactly the sort of hazing any Northeim clan would inflict on a potential son-in-law, for who would want their daughter to marry a wimp? “I’m not playing the weakling for these Valk any longer,” he said at the end of the session. “If they want a real man, I’ll show them one.”

No doubt hilarity will ensue. A Happy Easter to you all!

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.

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…”

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.