Friday, 5 January 2018

Jungle Trek session 1 - grocery trip

Jungle Trek: they crashed their airship in the middle of the jungle, now they want to get back home. Here's the first session report on how the players made friends and met the wildlife. It's long - I added DM notes and thoughts in between the log. Shorter? Less blathering in between? Comments please!


Don't leave your healer out at night, displacer beasts might catch him; I suck at making being held up with a knife sound scary; when the Druid says that, amazingly, you're a sentient instead of an animal, don't gripe, you just avoided becoming dinner; I hate how Pathfinder gives characters stuff for free that I'd happily have written an adventure about; when the dirty old treant offers you his fruit, don't take a bite but use a whip; and finally, it's remarkably easy to get a hippo bull to charge but don't expect it to be able to trample you to death. Also, swanky new tattoos.

Two weeks I spend writing up hex generators and random
encounters, and in the end I just quick-sketch an area map with
mostly planned content. Valuable lesson there - will expand
in a later post. Note the illegible cartoons of salamanders and
scorpions all around the map.

The crash survivors

  • Indiana Gnoll - male Gnoll ranger. Whip. Deranged laugh. [player: Robert]
  • Woody the Warforged Wizard - fucking guess [player: Bas]
  • Drake - male human healer [NPC]
  • Eorie - female human rogue [NPC]
  • Santash - male kalashtar psion who fell off the Peryton but managed to shove his mind into his psicrystal [NPC]
  • Emalyse Hargo - female crewgnome who fled the Peryton before the crash on an unknown elemental-powered contraption [NPC]

The dead

  • Captain Orsken Maine - male Half-Orc professor at Morgrave University
  • Enzo Biscotti d'Sivis - male Gnome communications expert, House Sivis
  • ...and 22 other NPCs to be detailed later

What happened last game

Players explored the crash site of the Peryton on the slope of a smoldering volcano - no survivors. Basic survival gear, the ship's compass and maps, and its long-range communication item are taken.

And a shit-ton of magical gear, Pathfinder PCs of level 5 starting off with several thousands of gold pieces worth of loot. Retire already!

The four lift a ring of petrification from captain Orsken Maine's decapitated statue - which turns back into flesh when the ring is jacked. Resident psycrystal Santash catches a final thought in the captain's head: "throw the box into the fire". Off they go to break into the captain's safe.

Seriously, I don't know why I even bothered with that hint, they were probably going to loot the captain's safe anyway. Come to think of it, I might have thrown them off of investigating exactly why the Peryton crashed...

BOOMING RETROACTIVE DM VOICE: you find a mysteeeerious box clamped around a pylon on the engineering deck. Looks out of place, once you pry it open you see it contains crystals and runes and shit to break enchantments. Probably why the fire elemental broke loose. Funny thing is, the magic isn't written in Draconic but in some weird other language. OOO MYSTERYYY!!!

...yeah, back to our scheduled programming:

The captain's safe is trapped of course, but not lethally.

I'm a big softy (and I was saving up the nasty for later.)

Inside, the players find a slightly better map and a puzzle box decorated with symbols of the Silver Flame. The puzzle box has a multicolored feather, which gives oracular answers (and a weekly contact other plane), automatic writing style. Box closed, no signs of magic; box open, and any magic user gets all tingly with the mad mojo in the feather.

Yer basic "we need to dispose of this horrid relic somewhere - you fly to a volcano and throw it in" plot. I was short on time when the previous game TPKed and I had to whip up something new.

Meanwhile, brave lookout Drake is ambushed by a displacer beast, goes down shrieking and the party investigates. Motivation is high on all sides: the cat and its mate need the kibble, the party doesn't want to see their only healer get eaten half an hour into their first session. Some killer magic and whip-work see the displacer beasts off, and then it's time to clutz their way through old-fashioned first aid to wake up the healer who can magic wounds away.

Uninspired mix of body parts or incredibly annoying ambush predator that magically makes you see it where it isn't?
They may not have expected this D&D critter in their Pathfinder game, but that sure wasn't going to stop me.
Welcome in Xen'drik, where everything wants to eat you.

At this point, we're an hour into the first session. After a near-fatality, the party decide to hole up in the wreck of their airship. Shenanigans happen when the gnoll PC designates the remains of the crew fair game to use as rations. It's fine, I'll just adjust their morale modifier. But my bigger problem is that I want them moving; so I roll to see which of the three factions in the area gets to the ship first.

First natives to investigate the crash site is a mixed group of dark elves. A couple wearing bronze armor ride a miniature airship with a cute little fire elemental and has a face suspiciously like escaped crewgnome Emalyse Hargo. Others wear furs, leather and chitin, marked with a couple of different clan sign. Unfriendly folk, who are turning the wreck inside out and start right at the captain's quarters.

No, a different flying ship - oh, forget about it.
(La Chasse Galerie - Wikimedia)

Players still waiting to see what happens. They decide to watch from the shadows. I decide to pick up the pace. Stealth check, perception check...

You can tell us if you
are Firebinders. We will
know when you are.
Are you Firebinders?
From here.
A group of Drow in leather and yet another clan sign surprises the group, they talk via the wizard's magic, and all decide to make off before the "Firebinders" notice them.

NOT happy with this scene. The initial "Drow pops up behind you with knife at your throat" felt too much like a capture scene, and players loathe those. It didn't feel dangerous - no OMG this guy could kill me - but like a chore. Needs work.

Drow scout speaks! (Are you Firebinders? Your ship is Firebinder craft. Do you serve the Firebinders? Which Firebinder did you steal it from? How do you feel about Firebinders? Are there many where you are from? With the constant looking at the jugular and other sweet spots.)

Indy and Woody deny that they are Firebinders themselves, say that they come from far far away, where a people called Gnomes use Firebinder magic to make ships fly. Because fuck Gnomes and their unreliable binding stones, that's why.

What the hey, the Drow scouts are done with this scene as much as the players are and it's off through a dark scorpion-infested jungle to see the wiz---leader of their Broken Pincer clan.

We're an hour or two into the session (with a lot of sneaking and dialogue) and it feels like time for the players to have some more action and a chance to do instead of being done to. So I soften up on the whole suspicious native angle and usher them into a not-too-unfriendly Drow village.

Tribal leader welcomes the group, they muck around in a couple of languages because the wizard's Tongues spell is long-gone, there's a wonderful bit of diplomatic incident when he tries Giant (of course they speak the language of these ancient slavetakers) but in the end the group is welcomed and get asked what the f*** they're doing in our jungle, thank you?

Local Drow custom is to only give your name as a sign of surrender, or as a sign that you are sure in your strength to defend it. This means that I only have to indicate tribe members by role or description, not by name. Much easier to DM on the fly.

In a hilarious aside, the tribe's druid tries Speak with Animals on the Gnoll, which doesn't work, after which Indiana gets a chit saying he's a bona-fide sentient. Money passes hands in the audience as the losers pay their debts. Gnoll steams but decides not to massacre entire Drow camp for snacks.

Sentient my ass.
Gnoll Defenders by BenWootten

I really had to send some interaction this player's way - it may be realistic to have the local tribe not speak fluent Common, but it sure is annoying. Next level, I see people investing in learning Drow. Am not going to introduce bable fish or somesuch - let them muck about. The Gnoll is already trying if people speak Gnoll, Lizardfolk or Goblin. Have decided that Lizardfolk is a distant cousin to Serpentfolk, and of course there are Serpentfolk in the jungle. Don't eat their flowers.

What do you know? If the strangers really want to travel far to the north, and if they're willing to perform a slight service, the Broken Pincer will be delighted to help them on their way. Turns out there's a youth on the rite of adulthood who has bitten off more than he can chew; he was supposed to go out for fruit, but never came back. The Drow can't help him during this rite of adulthood, but if some stranger were to help out...

This, the party feels, sounds like an excellent opportunity to show their worth. Could they perhaps escort said youngling back to camp? And this would be utterly delightful to the Drow.

Heigh-ho, it's down a steep cliff via slippery steps and across some rapids, with hilarious falling damage and being swept away by the river at the bottom, but everybody survives although their dignity doesn't, but nobody here knows them so it's all a wash. Plus, fast-moving water so less leeches.

Scene needed better description though. I wasn't in the game this session - felt unprepped, had to think hard to give responses or describe scenery.
Google giant leeches. I dare you. Or clicky. Via

As an aside, our ranger has jungle as a favored terrain and it turns out some rule variant says he can have the entire party leave no tracks for as long as he wants. Honestly, this bugs me so much about Pathfinder, D&D3.X and VDND - not this single class option, but the enormous heap of powers and tricks that get piled onto even a beginning character, every level again.

Stretching the time a summon spell lasts, hiding your party's trail from even the best of trackers, inflicting bleed damage with a sneak attack? Skills like that should be the reward for an adventure, not a basic package you get just for levelling up like every other shmuck. Because it turns those awesome powers into the basic expected power set for every PC and NPC, something not earned but just picked out of a list. 

I know I could rule that sorry, power just doesn't work in this jungle. But I'd have to rewrite every bit of a Pathfinder class until I liked it and at that point, better start typing up my Fantasy Heartbreaker (it's basically D&D with Goblin Punch spellcasting). We chose Pathfinder as this campaign's rule system because the players really preferred it over VDND - and hey, it's their game as much as mine.

Maybe I've just been reading too many OSR blogs.

Jinmenju - via
Anyway. In the swamp down the cliffs, there's a tree with delicious fruit - the Drow youth was sent to get one of the fruits and bring it back to camp. Little detail left out? The tree is sentient, mobile, and sadistic. Having caught the Drow under a root a while back, it now dangles its sick head shaped fruits right out of reach.

A buzzing sound from the tree works its way into the characters' heads and turns into a lechy old guy's voice - some sort of telepathy. (Anyhing but more translating!) Sure, Jinmenju will let the kid go. But Jimnenju will need a gift if he has to give up this tasty snack. Perhaps one of the little grey things from the lake to the west?

Also this as a close-up. Via Lynne's Images (Flickr)

...which turn out to be hippos. Indy and Woody are smart and know that hippos are no joke. Getting run over by a hippo is not good, getting bitten is also not good, basically hippo = bad news, but it's either lure in the alpha male of the herd or fight the tree for the Drow kid.

Plan A is for Woody the wizard to just summon a hippo via magic and offer it to the tree. However the tree sounds smart, the spell only lasts for half a minute, and after some debate they don't think they can pull it off. Plan B then: Indiana Gnoll will try and bellow a challenge to the alpha hippo, hopefully get 2 tons of enraged herbivore to charge after him a bit, then hide and sneak ahead, rinse and repeat.

I gleefully prepare the trample rules. Woefully unimpressive, by the book the hippo wouldn't be able to kill even the wizard with its puny 1d8+6 trample damage. 1d6+Con bonus of hit points per level just sucks all the joy out of a DMs life. Maybe I missed a multiplier somewhere. Yeah, that's got to be it - x4 "because it would be hilarious to see you get smeared into a paste and because hippopotami should be feared, damn it" bonus. Issue resolved. But it never comes up because the ranger manages to outwit the furious alpha male.

Tough dice rolls are no obstacle - the Gnoll pulls off the scheme and delivers the giant hippo right to the Jinmenju tree. Which rips the giant beast down to half its hit points in a single attack. Party finally gets how effing out of their league they are against this creature. This ain't no level appropriate challenge. But the tree does need all its roots to handle the hippo, and lets the Drow kid go. Indiana Gnoll even gets to show off his whip skills and brings back one of the tree's fucked up fruits.

I swear I wasn't planning on making this a story on dirty old men kidnapping kids for sick kicks. Just rolled out of the map that way. What issue do the Drow have? Must be something they can't solve it themselves - some taboo with an adulthood rite. Ok, what's in the area that's dangerous? Oh yeah, the 13 hit die tree with the smelly hypnotic fruit. What could it want - what else is in the area? Lake with hippos. Presto.

I wrap up the game because it's getting late: back in the Broken Pincer camp, the players are welcomed as friends this time. They'll get a guide (same Drow they just saved - he has some shame to work off) and directions on what lies ahead.

For their services, all (N)PCs get a swanky Broken Pincer tattoo of a cracked scorpion claw, which will give a once-in-a-lifetime bonus on grapple checks. For instrumental Gnollery, Indiana's version is upgraded to a single shot Freedom of Movement spell.

He'll need it.

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