Monday, 13 July 2020

Belswick 21: a mess of their own making

Super quick recap, because I have a lot on my plate (such as running not 1 but maybe 2 more campaigns on the side!)

LAST SESSION IN BELSWICK

In the middle of winter, the party returned to clear out the last areas of the Tomb of the Serpent Kings, only to find that a bunch of bandits had taken up residence. The highwayman Brent, spared by the party before, had apparantly found the fungal cloning device in the dungeon and used it to make many, many moronic copies of himself...

(Yes, previous decisions by the party matter - and they can even fuel a restock of a mostly explored dungeon! Oh, the joy on my players' faces. Or was that deep resentment? Secure your sites kids, you don't want squatters moving in after you worked hard to clear a dungeon.)


THIS SESSION:

Shams the Dwarf fighter and Guy the Divinernow a Psion combine earthshaking magic and telekinetic might to collapse a secondary entrance tunnel to the Tomb. Good thinking, now the Brents can't sneak up on them from behind!

Too bad that I didn't get to collapse that trapped tunnel on the party myself, but so it goes.

Lomin the Elf rogue scouts ahead with Shams' imp familiar Ricky (who has been furiously taking notes and muttering "outsider! outsider!" at Guy's sudden psionic displays). It turns out the Dwarf/Man-made earth tremor knocked out the roof to a large underground chamber; a new exit to the tomb! (Area 11, if you have this excellent free module)

Taking the main entrance on top of the hill, the group is surprised by a viscous black ooze dropping from a slamming ceiling trap and a vicious skeleton with a dreadful axe. (Area 5, with the black pudding and from areas 13 and 14: they were accidentally freed by the Brents and set up an ambush here.)

Close call

Lomin's brilliant longsword, the Torch of Saint Kurelda, speaks in his head: it is eager to vanquish the undead menace! The elf immediately starts pounding the horror. Morti the artificer cleaves into the black pudding, but sadly it doesn't make a dent - in fact, it causes the pudding to split into four! Morti and Shams valliantly fight the oozing monstrosities, but the thing's acid seeps into their armor and brings Shams to the brink of death. Her shield is ruined, she sports horrifying acid burns and just resists being blinded.

I love me that Death & Dismemberment table.

Tilly the priest/bard/warlock is making himself useful by throwing bolts of divine radiance and spell-sounding death's bell for the skeleton, as Guy holes up in a side tunnel and takes pot shots. When both enemies are down, the party picks up the berserk skeleton's axe...to have it hum with pleasure at such carnage. Say high to Meatcleaver!

Meatcleaver: cruel semi-sentient greataxe +1, attunement necessary. On a crit, Meatcleaver inflicts a wound from the Death & Dismemberment table (use damage -10 to find the wound).

Counterattack

ll this noise has attracted the attention of the Brent bandit group. As the party tends to Shams' and Morti's wounds, Tilly sneaks out, magically disguises himself as a Brent and links up with a pair of the bandits that was outside hunting when the attack began.

Other Brents are climbing out of the new exit/entrance over area 11, and Tilly finds himself being interrogated by a smarter and stronger version of the baseline copies. He almost gives away the game when he gives an answer in perfect grammar, but his Deception skill holds. As the band sneaks to the main entrance, the leader-Brent instructs Tilly to go get reinforcements. No such thing happens of course.

Parlay?

The Brents try to parlay and ask what it would take the party to leave them alone, but Lomin claims first dibs on the entire site and wants them out. He follows up with killer arrow shots, as Tilly-disguised-as-Brent takes out hidden Brents with Toll the Dead-cantrips and superpowered Inflict Wounds spells. The leader-Brent takes a couple of hefty sneak attacks and overclocked spells to put down, but in the end all of the bandits lay in the snow,  reverting to their fungal origins.

The party makes camp in rooms 3 and 4 and sets a watch. Tilly sneaks back to the collapse over area 11. A couple of brents, a leader-type Brent and an even-huger BRENT watch on as the silvetongued asshole soothingly talks at them - and matter-of-factly pulls up the rope down into the room. Just then the moonlight hits him, his disguise spell fades, and a chorus of impotent rage sounds from the earth.


Gods, next session is going to be cathartic. Whether for the Brents or for the players I don't know, but I expect people to cathartic their guts all over the place :D

Monday, 1 June 2020

Belswick 20 - echoes

LAST SESSION IN BELSWICK

The group successfully won court cases brought against them and secured holdings for themselves and their allies in the barony of Walden. Still grieving the loss of their druid friend Mike tot the Devil's Ring tournament, they take on a crosseyed gnomish Inventator to try and replace him.


They left their home barony of Walden once as a group; the entire campaign might take place in this one duchy. Such a change of pace from the continent roaming campaign I last ran in Eberron.

...which makes me think back to this awesome campaign concept I'd like to try out:
A RACE ACROSS EBERRON IN 80 DAYS
...get in line though, because I also have Bronze and Sand, Star Wars, Dark Sun, Call of Cthulhu and a Piratecrawl prepped.


THE BAND

Still nameless, although spectators at the Devil's Ring now know and recognize them as the Winter's Children.
  • TILBØRD MIVEN BJORNSSON, deal making, silvertongued cleric/bard of the Authority from the Vaeringjar Isles, warlock of the Radiant Maiden ("this cleric does NOT heal"; port to 5e Warlock patron coming up!), boss of two spined devils, chatter-up of nature spirits peaceful and bloodhungry, and friend to ghouls everywhere.
  • SHAMS METALGROG, dwarf knight from the Principality of Wild Stone, blazer of a new trade route to the Belswick and sometimes spellcaster. Proud and sometimes confused master of an imp called Ricky, who seems quite unlike other devils.
  • GUY, diviner wizard from southern Arrayne, survivor of childhood drama at the hands of a Cult that called him the Messenger.
  • LOMIN MOR, rogue and glorious bastard, formerly a noble son of Arrayne, now sometimes posing as Lady Olga of Culfield. Getting married in that disguise come Spring. Also pestered by his contacts in the Violet Cloud.
  • MORTI FIZLELOT, gnome Artificer with seriously wonky stats (d18 down the line; his wisdom 4 is a glory to behold). Traveled from neighbouring duchy Thynne via the highest, cruelest mountain he could find. Rides a steampunk pony-sized rhino called Unicorn.

THE DEPARTED

  • AJU, shark cursed to walk the land as a fishling barbarian. (Player stepped out of the game.)
  • MIKE, druid and fast friend to all animals however ravenous, survivor of a childhood attack on his home village by freaky cultists to The Messenger. (Mike died in session 18.)

THIS GAME

  • Shams and Lomin pay Lionel the Raven to finish their cool magical stat-boosting tattoos. It hurts like hell, but now they have arcane circuits out of gem dust and dubious ink adorning their chakras.
  • Guy can't cast spells anymore. He can, however, talk without opening his mouth and moves things with his mind. He tells Tilbord that Last time this happened, people tried to restrain him and his ancestral castle of Loupe Pierre did not survive the resulting fire.
  • The players really take the time to talk to Guy about this sudden change; great roleplaying.
  • Ricky FREAKS THE FUCK OUT when he sees Guy practising mental powers and turns invisible. "OUTSIDER! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!" Ricky's nightly inspection of Guy's bedroom ends with wet, tentacly sounds and a bedraggled, beslimed imp sneaking back to Shams. Guy sleeps the sweet dreams of the innocents.
  • Shams has decided to site her trade house in the neighbouring estate of Witmarrow, which will be ruled by the group's patron Lady Liselle and her husband Peter, the son of baron Walden.
  • The group owes a debt to Sir Haine Kerjules of Crossroads to finish clearing a snake-themed dungeon on the southern road to the mine at Copperfield. Also there's the matter of the missing novice; Brent, a former bandit has run away months ago. Has he taken up a life of crime again?
  • The party regroups, restock and head down there. On the way they spot a big oak on a hill, about a mile off and unmoving in the wind.
  • Heading for the entrance of the Tomb of the Serpent Kings, bandits try to ambush the party! Guy is still out of spells but that doesn't really matter. He reaches out with his mind, bandits float up into the air or step off tree branches, mesmerized. Morti unleashes a gear-winged axe as Shams shoots blasts of fire and Lomin downs six in a row with five arrows. (Rogues and places to hide, man.)
  • The bandits are all Brent. The ones in the trees; the ones sneaking up with shortswords and axes, the ones with the longbows. All look and sound like Brent - or at least a slightly unfinished version of him.
  • As Tilly interrogates the last survivor ("Brent, hold up! It's me, Brent!") I get scorching glares from the group. But hey, it's not MY fault they left a fully operational cloning machine down there last time they explored the Tomb!

Can't wait for next game. Maybe finally, after 20 sessions, they'll meet the sentient inhabitants of the TOMB OF THE SERPENT KINGS. The party cleared out the goblins and stopped the cloning machine from making more, but that doesn't mean the dungeon goes into stasis. Oh no my pretties, I've had time to restock!


PLAYERS' HIGHLIGHTS

After each session, I ask the players for their highlights from the game. Makes for good feedback and cool summary!


MORTI:
  • Lomin shooting straight from all possible angles, nice killshots 🤘🏻
  • Tilly: try to spare a Brent and they still get shot down. Points for imitating one of these guys 👏🏻
  • Guy, just everything. Brutal and nasty powers, but the opportunities! And the debuffs he's handing out! 😱
  • Shamms/Ricky, for that well-placed imp stinger in the kidneys ☠️
  • DM, loved how you played the Brents and kept a nice tempo


TILBORD
  • Guy:
    - oh cool, his psychic powers are expanding
    - oh, hmm, something seems off
    - OH, we better treat him nicely for now
    (and OF COURSE Tilly asks 'but did you try talking with it?')
  • Morti:
    - of course the Gnome has a mechanical mount
    - of course it's a pimped out rhinoceros...on roller blades
    - of course the rhino is sad it can't sleep indoors
    - wait, his axe does /what/?!
     
  • Shams the silent dwarf, seemingly the one hardest hit by Mike's demise
  • A hidden Lomin is the perfect anti-Brent artillery. Deliciously heartless. 
  • Ricky is a great single target hunter. Being attacked right back = big nope
  • Brent and the Brentshrooms...oh man.
    "I'm Brent", "No I'm Brent", "I'm Brent too!" *facepalm*
    (oh the pain I wish on him...👿)
(DM: I had such different plans for Brent! Dark and tormented...then this happened 😂
Tilly: Oh, no worries. Darkness and tormentation shall be his lot.)



SHAMS
  • Guy: wtf, the most disturbing part is that he doesn't seem to notice the changes himself. Interesting to see him fluently using those new powers in combat. Painful that it seems to have be caused by Mike dying.
  • Morti: fucken awesome mount, weapon and distracting sound system
  • Brent and Brent and Brent? What the hell am I getting myself into, what did this group do before I joined them...
  • Kick-ass move by Ricky, but I'll save him for invisible scouting in the future.
    Ricky killed a Brent with one poisonous sting, then almost died on the riposte from another Brent. Damage resistance only takes you so far with 10 hp...
  • Good to see my dwarves again.


GUY
  • Morti with rhine. A weird team became a lot weirder :-)
  • Brentlings as far as the eye can see. Handy if you want to start a cult :-)
  • Tilly with a plan for Brent, Lomin with another plan :-)
  • There I am quietly testing out my powers, when people suddenly feel the urge to start kill stealing. I'm taking notes!

LOMIN:

In random order
  1. "We're all Brent" The realization that Litvar’s tomb had a new occupant...
  2. Guy spuugt zuur!? Holy Authority!
  3. Morty’s bijl does what!?
  4. One shot, one kill. The entire evening. Except for NPCs that had been spared by Tilly, that guy took two shots😋
  5. In general; How, surrounded by bandits, there’s never a moment we consider surrender. Mindset: Bring it on if you really want to, we’ll totally slay. And then doing just that. Awed by our awesomeness.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Module review: Lair of the Lamb

Lair of the Lamb is an OSR style module by Arnold K. over at Goblin Punch. It's a funnel where players run a total of 12 characters through a dangerous adventure and see who survives to see daylight. Free to use and comes with Arnold's newly updated GLOG version, but can be run with other D&D variants as well. In this case, I used D&D 5e and grounded the place in my Bronze & Sand-"setting".

Arnold asks any users of the Lair to give him their impressions; here are mine!

IN BRIEF

The Lair is a freaky, cohesive place. I loved reading the module and loved running it. The players took a bit of time to adapt to the idea of OSR style equipment improv, turning the environment against their enemies, exploiting intel.

SESSION OVERVIEW

Party escaped their bonds and took on the Lamb two times, scaring it off with torches. (Won't work a third time). They lost three out of twelve PCs + replacements, freed an ally, found improvised weapons, armor, rope and light. Three of them leveled up to level 1 (fighter, cleric, rogue). They are now thinking about escape and/or fighting the Lamb to the death (see Lessons Not Learned below). They've explored 12 out of the 21 rooms and found but not exploited hidden rooms and lock combinations.

PATH TAKEN

  • Main party 1, 1a, 1b, 5
  • PC left behind 1, 1a, 2, 1b, 5, join up.
  • Then 5a, 6, straight back to 1 for fresh PCs, return to 5, 8, 9 (they REALLY wanted that drink), 10, 14, 13, 15, 13, 16 (end of session).

SECRETS DISCOVERED

  • crawlway from 10 Bone Pile to 14 Sarcophagus through searching;
  • code to 7 Throne in 9 Fountain through listening carefully to description (unused b/c only a new PC cracked it, who hadn't visited 6 Tumblers yet)
  • fake bottom in 14 Sarcophagus (unused)
  • chatted with Danjo (who for some reason turned into the Swedish Chef) but didn't have any treasure for him;
  • link to Shendormu in 16 Mold

THE LAMB

Big, scary. Could use more direction; what's it want? Some basic wants or habits would be nice, but that might push you from a random encounter model to planned paths. It worked fine as-is, but didn't scare the players into running; they paid for that. I reworked it for 5th edition as an AC13, HP72 Catoblepas-like beast with a long drooping neck, bite attack with grapple & swallow attempt on subsequent round, and a reactive tail swipe to trip flankers. Also played up the light&fire phobia, which was used to good effect.

THE GHOULS

Did not encounter, and I'll probably end this dungeon after section 1. Will save for later use. They seem a funloving bunch.

PRESSURE TO MAKE LIGHT

Not really felt due to smart improv (lighting the hay in 2 Goats with rock-strike sparks) and easily finding all the torches. Then 5e threw a curve ball: one player leveled and learned Light as a cantrip; I made them search for phosphorescent moss as a material component, but they also found that pretty fast. Party now has a torch and a half and Light.

ROPES AND WEAPONS

Rope wasn't really sought until they encountered Akina, then found promptly in a bone pellet. Weapons were sought and found more easily: 6 feet torch holder into a makeshift spear, table leg into a club, steel shortsword & armor near the drowned guy in 9 Fountain.

(Note: the haunting text specifies that the soldier died in his armor, but it's not there to be found. I added in a breastplate and greaves.)

LESSONS LEARNED

  • improvising with what's about (flaming barrier from Lamb pellets, torch/club from table leg, mace from torch holder)
  • exploiting an enemy's fear

LESSONS NOT LEARNED

  • running away from monsters
  • luring away monsters
  • investigating beyond first impression
  • exploiting info found (lock codes, hidden areas, possible ally outside the dungeon)

CHANGES FOR 5E

I'm running 5th edition, so used different stats for the Lamb (as Catoblepas with additional bite/swallow attack), priests (Cult Fanatic / Acolyte / Guard, not encountered yet) & weaponry and armor. Added a couple of more ways to level up, mainly the places where you could be initiated as a warlock, wizard & cleric, and added a milestone for gaining access to drinking water.

I swapped out some treasures (in 7, 8, 14a, 18a) for Coins & Scrolls relics, presenting the option to either break for immediate power or worship for long term bennies.

0TH LEVEL CHARACTERS FOR A 5E FUNNEL

  • Roll stats as normal; either asign immediately, or as the rolls come up (e.g. first roll is to ask for Survival; player decides they want to be good at that and asign a high score).
  • Choose race, background
  • Take 6 + Con modifier hp
  • Proficiency bonus is +1

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Belswick 19: see you in court


Third session over skype, no maps or battle and mostly court drama. My players are glorious assholes and they got away scot free with everything except for the crossdressing. 

LAST SESSION

Last time, in Belswick: A pit fight. A bound and dreaming godling whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Grue- and awesome spectacles. Victorious characters who mourn the loss of one of their group.


THIS SESSION, IN BRIEF

The party gains rewards and is confronted with past deeds. They win grievances put against them by Sir Vennax and oust the kidnapping bastard from his fief; and Lomin's alter ego Lady Olga sees of a challenger to hir domain, although both Tilly and Olga's prospective husband Sir Kerjules now know Olga is Lomin in a dress and wig.




THE CHARACTERS

  • Tilbørd "Tilly" Miven Björnsson, human bard and knowledge priest of the Authority. Survivability of a wet paper towel and arguably the most dangerous of the entire party. Fervent maker of deals with warlock spirits, lich-priests, devils, ghouls, faeries and more
  • Mike, human druid with mild psychic powers after a nightmarish cult sacrificed his entire village to raise their star godMorti Sizzlelot, gnomish inventor from the Duchy Thynne across the spine mountains, sent to the party with an introduction letter from the King
  • Shams, dwarf fighter/arcane knight from the Principality of Stone, opening a trade route with Belswick now that there's war brewing with the southern kingdom Arrayne
  • Mr. Lomin Mor / Lady Olga, Elf from Arrayne who has been impersonating the (deceased) Lady Olga of the fief one over
  • Guy, human diviner wizard with mild psychic powers after a nightmare-filled youth as heir to a lord in Arrayne [couldn't make it to this session]

MY PLAYERS SAID

Morti, previously Mike:
  • DM: good atmosphere and well-played NPCs during the nobles' court
  • Shams: awesome that her armor has special sound effects
  • Tilly: good build-up in those five speak-with-dead questions and delicious roll for the verdict
  • Lomin aka Olga: genius how you player her, and I love how some people now know of the ruse
Lomin: I loved...
  • to level Drake verbally as Lady Olga, then seal his fate with a natural 20
  • Shams' very expressive creaking armor
  • seeing how much fun Morti's player had introducing his character
  • realizing I could afford both a bribe to that goatling and pay for 2 magic tattoos
  • Tilly in his element during the court procedings. Good dice rolls, that man
  • the whole setup actually, where a lot of longrunning threads came together. Nicely done & kudos to our DM!
Tilly:
  • The entire setup: so clear this wasn't a modern court. Hear and rebuttal, direct judgements based on persuasiveness and bribes. Wonderful how there were two completely different cases against the PCs, and nice work giving all the players a role. Shams' trade house, Morti's introduction, Lomin/Olga's wedding and inheritance, and Tilly as spokesperson.
  • Spot-on NPC's again, with Drake as a highlight.
  • Lomin as Olga, just delightful! Well played and well played. Slight snag in that Tilly and Kerjules are onto him now.
  • Shams and the emoting percussion armor!
  • Introduction of Morti the cross-eyed woozy micro gnome. Wisdom 4...oh Lords above and below
  • Questioning Vedric, rolling well, perfect result. Giving him yet another kick in the ass, permanently removing Vennax the elder and younger, putting Lady Liselle in a positive light and rewarding her with a fief of her own. And literally getting away with murder without lying even one word or speaking above my status.
  • When's next session?

IN DETAIL: FIRST, THE AFTERMATH

As the group catches their breath in the fighters' tent, they all try to process the loss of their druid friend Mike. The Autumn Shadows (beaten unconscious and robbed by an Oni) leave with dirty looks at the victors. Tyaak of the Grey Whispers, an Eagling noble son of barony Ballumbie, offers Tilly and his compatriots a role in his mercenary band. There's war coming with Arrayne, and Tyaak intends to lead small, specialized bands into decisive action. Shams notes that the Whispers' tactical withdrawal maybe saved their lives; a solid choice, (s)he even goes as far as naming Tyaak's band the real victors of this fight.

Cheers for the victors as they receive 2000 gp worth of gold, platinum and gems from the Halfling barker Rennis.

Ulrike the potion brewer mumbles her regards to the group as they leave. "Cackle mumble groan *blood* cackle hum"

Shams and Lomin want cool ability boosting tattoos done by Lionel the tattooist. They end up choosing tattoos for +2 Int (Shams) and +2 Dex, +1 Cha (Lomin), to be done over the course of the next week.

Right before entering Walden town, Tilly peels off from the group and unleashes his Red Bottle Imp: over the course of the night, the smoky thing will spread the following rumour all across town:

"The Toad of Ballumbie has made nice with [our enemy] Arrayne and has sent his lackeys Vennax the elder to weaken our border and his son to poison ears at court"

I was sure they'd forgotten all about that imp. Solid use of a limited resource there!

SIDE NOTE: GET INKED

Characters can benefit from multiple tattoos, one per ability and one extra for e.g. faster movement or elemental resistance. Tattoos must be increasingly larger circuits on special body parts, but there's some freedom in the design. Upgrading an existing tat is possible, but requires breaking and reweaving the arcane circuit, which can potentially nullify the entire design. (Progressively harder check: failure = have to restart entire tattoo at extra cost.) I rethought the cost for the ability boosters:
  • score +1 = 500 gp
  • score +2 = 1200 gp
  • score +3 = 2000 gp
  • score +4 and higher: not in Lionel's reach, although he's heard stories

NOBLE COURT AND TOURNAMENT

Baron Walden has gathered all his fief holders and knights for the Winter Court. There are many proclamations, alliances and grievances to get through.

  • The newly-minted King's Herald Rosaly (well-known to the party) brings news of war with Arrayne. Taxes will go up (prizes rise +10%) and nobles' upkeep increases to 10 gp/month.
  • The Crown thanks all those who escorted the King on his secret peace mission, especially the faithful servants of Haine Kerjules: our heroes get a potion of heroism and 500 gp for "services to the Crown", i.e. recovering the King's Spear and shieldmaiden from the Hydra Corruscon.
  • Lord Kerjules and Lady Olga have announced plans to marry and join their estates, but approval must wait until after the grievances are settled.
  • The Dwarf Shams Metalgrog has come to trade Dwarfish alchemy and siegecraft to Belswick in its war against Arrayne. She will be granted land to set up a trade house in the region.
  • A young Gnomish inventor from neighbouring Duchy Thynne, Morti Sizzlelot with top hat, whirring-gear goggles, a red cloak, walking stick and goatee, comes to the party with a letter of recommendation by Baron Radnor (the King) himself. The "inventator" hopes he might prove useful. Guard duty he won't get, because he's a cross-eyed scatterbrain. He has stories about an icy mountain pass with untold treasure and a crazy hermit who told him never to come back.

GRIEVANCES

Sir Vennax of fief Witmarrow accuses his neighbour Kerjules of Crossroads of:

On behalf of Vennax, Mother Iranelle of the Order of St Kurelda (inquisition) speaks with dead the head of Seymon Bosprus, the owner of the Boswitch Bath House, who tells the court that the PCs indeed murdered Vedric and even announced it to Seymon a day before. Iranelle's creepy cold voice is only lent extra weight by the titanic warrior armored in red bodyguarding her.

Hitting back, Tilly obtains Vedric's head (Lady Liselle tasked the group to murder the fucker) and speaks with dead to interrogate it (with zero prep or time to think!) and confirms the following:
  • the wizard was behind the bandit attacks
  • the attacks were aimed at kidnapping Liselle because she'd offended some noble in her home barony
  • the bandits were paid and supplied by Vedric on behalf of Sir Vennax and the toad baron of Ballumbie

Vennax' son Lucius tries to weasel himself into an early inheritance, but Tilly bardic-grants himself inspiration and rolls a stunning 30 persuasion check - result: Vennax is jailed, his son kicked out of the inheritance, and Lady Liselle and her husband Peter Walden (the baron's son) will take control of fief CulfieldWitmarrow.

Strike one for the players. Ready for round two?

Drake Selbern challenges Lady Olga for the control of fief Culfield - the old, sickly, barren and childless hag is exactly the wrong person to control the border fief with war on the horizon. What's more, Drake has proof that Olga sent ruffians of the Violet Cloud thieves' guild to burn down his property - he has two captives who confessed under torture, and an encoded letter by Lomin ordering the deed.

BACK IN THE DRESS

Why should the party care? They don't particularly, except for Lomin, who's sitting there in the dress of his alter ego and deceased lover Lady Olga. Lomin/Olga is looking for a way to keep control of Culfield. She lays into Selbern with a old, wavering and razor sharp tongue.

Baron Walden adjourns court after the crowd got particularly rowdy, and Lolga is accosted by a goatling merchant giving the sign of the Violet Cloud...250 gold and the letter and confessions go away. Olmin is decisive: 250 gold, 50 in advance, and get lost.

Witnesses broken out of jail, the encoded letter isn't worth much and Olga handily defeats the challenge (rolling a natural 20, grumble grumble). Not only does she keep control of Culfield, she can marry Sir Kerjules and decide on who will inherit the fief.

There's just one teensie snag: chatting with the party after court and instructing them to finally clear the Tomb of the Serpents, Kerjules catches an inflection in Lomin's speech he just knows is Lady Olga's. (I roll a super high insight check for the guy and just go shellshocked as the old hedgehog ruler realizes what he's in for.)

Worse - for no-one except for Lomin - Tilly sees through the disguise as well. Grinning like a maniac, he keeps the secret. For now. Who knows what next session will bring?

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Campaignlet framework: Bronze and Sand

Quarantaine has weirdly increased the amount of D&D I'm getting. Once we figured out that rpg-via-skype is vastly better than no rpg at all, the choice was easy. There's even interest in forming a small extra group for a couple of oneshots. And so, I thought to quickly hash out a setting for a couple of dungeon crawls. You know, 3-4 lines as backdrop. Of course that went as well as you'd expect.

Just 3-4 lines of backdrop, I said to myself.

I hereby present to you: 

BRONZE AND SAND

[ also available as a Google Doc ]

IT IS A TIME OF FADING EMPIRES. Proud city states fight for freedom from the five great kingdoms of Iskander. Merchant caravans and sailors from across the known world bring priceless glass and silks to market. But the dusty roads are beset by sandaled raiders gripping bronze or bloodthirsting iron. Sorcerors drown entire triremes in demon-conjured storms.  In the wilds, the sphinx and lamia have woken to nibble at the corners of empire.

SETTING. This world is like ours in the times of Hellenistic Egypt and Greece. Sandals and short swords of bronze or dread Iron. City states war, trade and build Wonders to their glory. The world is wide and untamed. There are strange beasts and ancient treasures beyond the oil lamp's light.

Iskander was the great general whose two decade conquest heralded the start of the modern world. He famously conquered the entire civilized world and bound the tribes of Gog and Magog behind the half-mythical Iron Gates. When spent Iskander returned from this last task, his five generals rose up and divided his domain into five kingdoms.

ICONIC CREATURES. Androsphinx, Basilisk, Catoplebas, Centaur, Chimera, Cockatrice, Cyclops, Dao, Djinni, Dryad, Efreeti, Empyrean, Gorgon, Griffon, Guardian Naga, Gynosphinx, Harpy, Hydra, Lamassu, Lamia, Leucrotta, Manticore, Marid, Medusa, Minotaur, Mummy, Nereid, Pegasus, Roc, Salamander, Satyr, Serpopard, Spirit Naga





INSPIRATION

  • Goblin Punch's OSR funnel Lair of the Lamb: screamed out to me as THE thing to play as a oneshot. Of course then I needed a setting to hold it...
  • I Don't Remember That Move's Harpyshaft adventure: I read it immediately after Lair of the Lamb and it connected with the bronze age-y Alexandrian vibe. Also check out Whose Measure's Harpyshaft notes
  • Coins & Scrolls' Iron Gates series: provided the framework I needed, specifically the idea of a mythical mediterranean sandbox, ruins everywhere, Iron as a powerful but soul-deadening metal. My take will be much less pre-apocalyptic than Skerples'.
  • Dungeon of Signs' Along the Road of Tombs: decadent empires, ruin-squatting robbers and culties. Chock-full of atmosphere.
  • Against the Wicked City's Cities of the Great Road: endless stretches of road with proud, strange cities you've never heard of before. For when my beloved chaos worshipers inevitably decide the map is too small and they want to head to the Wicked City. FML.




PEOPLES AND ORIGINS



Niceans - crafty traders and spies, prosperous kingdom [Byzantium; ruins of Troy]
  • Cities: Basileia of the Golden Domes, Zenopolis of the wondrous Clock Tower
  • Ruins: fallen Illion with its Cyclopean skeletons, underground Kaymakli, the shunned Corpse-City of Kar Hadash, the flying mountain Exile
  • Encounters: merchants, spies and assassins; star-mad mages and priests, bound angels and devils; rakshasa, vampires, Vanir barbarians, ghouls

Aeneans - 1000 isles of fiercely independent city states. Fishers, hoplites and schools for oratory and invention. [Greek/Roman; ruins of Mycenae]
  • Cities: Rhen of the Wolf Coliseum, Pyrgos and Gythion with its Colossos
  • Ruins: Cyclopean, like those at Hagar Qim, Ta' Hagrat or Illion. Rumors abound that the Aeneans have dark appetites like the ones who lived in this land before them.
  • Encounters: Roving philosophers, questing kinglets, trader-pirates, river and wood spirits, a horde of cryptids and god-children tasked to complete bat-shit-crazy tasks

Darians - strict and proud, worship many fiery beings under the Lawgiving Sun. oppressively large cities amidst vast plains [Persian; ruins of Ur, Babylon, Babel]






Iskandrians - desert kingdom in decline on its long river. Named after the great general who bound the tribes of Gog and Magog behind Iron Gates. [Egypt, Alexandria]
  • Wonders: Iskander's Library (also) and Iskander's Tomb are marvels of the known world, although dwarfed by the Pyramids of Hisarna.
  • Encounters: riddling sphinxes, destitute heirs of Iskander, haggard caretakers of His Library and Tomb, nightly ceremonies to the old gods at sand-covered tombs and steles, undead ancestors wondering why the honour rites have stopped, ghouls, wraiths, giant scorpions, jackalwere

Sea Peoples - wide-ranging raiders and traders [Phoenician; ruins of Carthage]
  • Cities: Byblos, Tyre and Sidon the Infinite City are the largest cities in this loose federation
  • Ruins: jealous Rhen destroyed the great trade hub of Punicia, the trade hub of Punicia, destroyed by jealous Rhen; the Pillar of Fire
  • Wonders: the dark-rumoured Vault of Moloch and Tyre's Lighthouse
  • Encounters: traders from strange oceans; merchants tired of explaining the Sea People don't sacrifice children; ongoing feuds and displaced people of Punicia; child sacrifices; rhinoceros vanguard and elephant riders, Fish-headed sea dwellers; jackalwere and ogres and witch covens

MAP

Made with Inkarnate free edition, then a quick pass in Illustrator for roads and borders. Basically the med with serial numbers filed off.

WEIRD PLACES

The Black Pyramid of Khalgorond
The Pillar of Fire
The Abominable Island
The City of Infinite Ruin
The Blue Necropolis
Guilder, the City of Green Brass (good for a city with a great Pharos-style lighthouse)
The Invincible City of the Tusk People
So You've Been Kidnapped by a Giant Bird





ADVENTURE

Or: how the fuck do I make a character for this sandy hellhole?

GAME RULES
System: D&D 5e, all player handbook classes, races and backgrounds available
Stats: 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8, or 4d6-drop-lowest, or d18
Starting level: 0 (funnel) or 1 level below the rest of the party for a new character; when we level in between sessions, everyone rises to the same level
Faith: write up at least 5 words about your patron deity. You can be an atheist. The gods like that. Gives them something to aim for.


RACES
All the regular player handbook races are available as bloodlines of humanity. You are and look like and age as a regular human. No racial tongues, no darkvision. You can speak Common and the language of your origin region in addition to any extra tongues.

d20
race
description
1
Dragonborn
djinn-blooded, with elemental sign like wind-tossed hair
2-3
Dwarf
children of the smith god Talos
4
Elf
cryptic children of the Sphinx or dryad-blooded
5
Gnome
followers of the wise goddess Septet
6-7
Half-Elf
nymph-children
8-9
Halfling
small and sneaky humans
10
Half-Orc
satyr-children or rowdy humans
11
Tiefling
child of the Lilin or Iblis the deceiver
12-20
Human
the multitudes of humanity


CLASSES
All 5e PHB classes will be open to the players, but we start with a 0th level funnel. Characters have their starting stats, race and background, and that's it. No equipment, no class levels, 6+Con modifier hit points and proficiency with simple weapons.


LANGUAGES

Common tongues
Common - trade tongue
Aenean* - Aenea, Nicea
Darian / Eme gir* - Daria
Demotic* - Iskandria
Sea People / Rasna - Sea People

Arcane and esoteric
Abyssal (chaotic evil spirits) *#
Celestial (good spirits) *#
Deep Speech (aberrations)
Draconic *#
Druidic #
Giant (such as the ancient Cyclopes) *#
Infernal (lawful evil spirits) *#
Primordial (elementals) #
Sylvan (fey, nature) #
Undercommon (underdark)

* also exists in a separate Ancient / Noble form, no longer spoken and hard to read
# used to write or cast magic

EQUIPMENT
Most of the PHB equipment is available: lenses and waterclocks were available in ancient times, after all. Metals are a special case: almost everything is made out of bronze. Due to the limits of crafting bronze, there are no long- or greatswords, rapiers, chain armor or half and full plate. (You could make them out of iron, but no-one's invented those techniques yet.)

Materials
All items made out of iron and steel carry a bloodthirsting curse, but they are also stronger and more flexible than bronze. Items made from bronze, wood and bone are fragile and can break with abuse. A few hours in a smithy can repair them.

Weapons or armors made from bronze, wood or bone break on a critical fumble.
  • 1 break: halve all damage dealt or halve the AC bonus
  • 2 breaks: weapon or armor is damaged beyond repair

A THOUSAND GODS

Gods and their miracles are everywhere, and so are their temples. Some gods are known throughout the world, others only in one isolated hill village. Ancient power, anointed kinglet, river spirit or ascended hero? Who cares. They're the glitzy fucks who can call down lightning and turn into a vase of daisies to seduce your bae while you're out sifting the sand for gold.
  • Moloch the Golden - Sea People god of fire and war, rumours of child sacrifice 
  • Ankai - Darian god of gold, civilization and sunlight 
  • Ennu - Water god of knowledge, storms, dreams and writing 
  • Dagon - Ancient Darian / Sea People god of grain and prosperity
  • Ammon the Ram - the Protector and Diviner
  • Resheph - Ancient Iskandrian god of plague, war and thunder
  • Nitan the Beast - unfettered god of iron, earth and blood, but also mathematics and invention

IRON MUST BE BATHED IN BLOOD

Directly lifted from Skerples' Iron Gates series; I mostly stole copied summarized his work, although some of the descriptions under Iron stats are mine.

Iron protects and iron corrupts. As each age draws to a close, iron sings a song of blood. Those who wield iron lose memories and restraint. They are honed to a killing edge. Not bestial or mindless, but simplified. Knights plot furious wars, perpetrate massacres and reach for their weapons at the slightest sign of dissent.

metal
effect
cost
steel
attack & damage or AC +1
regular x5
iron
regular item stats
regular x2
bronze
attack & damage or AC -1, min. 11
regular
wood, bone
attack & damage or AC -2, min. 11
half regular

Your Iron capacity to safely carry Iron is [Iron stat bonus], minimum 0.
  • Iron daggers, swords, chain armour, and shields count as 1 Iron.
  • 20 iron arrows count as 1 Iron.
  • Giant hammers, giant shields, etc. count as 2 Iron.
  • Iron-infused spells count as 1 Iron.
  • Any number of non-violent Iron items count as 1 Iron, no matter how many you carry.
Iron stat: How you resist Iron's siren call of blood. Doesn't have to be your highest. Your Iron stat's ability bonus sets your Iron capacity. Roll under your Iron stat to successfully save against Iron's roar for blood.
  • Strength: Fight yourself. Force your sword back into its scabbard. Your neck bulges, your teeth grind.
  • Dexterity: Move, don't think. You twitch and endlessly repeat your gestures.
  • Constitution: You overcome it by exhausting yourself in manic exercise.
  • Intelligence: You lose yourself in intricate thought. You mutter and squint.
  • Wisdom: You overcome it by centering yourself. You stop moving, close your eyes. Your breathing slows.
  • Charisma: You overcome it by brushing aside the bloodlust with a wry smile.

capacity
effect
attack bonus
At or Below
No effect. 
-
1 over
If you kill an enemy in a particularly bloody fashion, Save or recklessly attack the next adjacent enemy.
+1
2 over
You cannot write. If you kill an enemy, Save each round or recklessly attack the nearest target, friend or foe.
+2
3 over
You cannot read or write. You forget almost everything. If you kill an enemy, Save or attack the nearest target, friend or foe. You regain control when combat ends.
+3
4+ over
You become a mindless husk driven by bloodlust. This is irreversible. You gain +10 HP and reduce all incoming damage by 2.
+4