Monday, 31 August 2020

Lankhmar #1: a golden key

First session of a new campaign is always interesting: I want to introduce characters and immediately give the players something to do, but also want to give them options to approach the situation as they like. In this case, I tweaked DCC Masks of Lankhmar and added an intro scene before the adventure properly starts. Of course my players immediately found a third option and are now completely off the rails. Awesome!

In the seedy Silver Eel tavern in the great city of Lankhmar, the patrons are unnaturally quiet. The reason: two swaggering thieves, openly wearing their silver memberships daggers of Thieves' House. The pair are discussing an upcoming robbery of the eastern collector of curiosa Igrik of the East, who lives in Noble District. At a shadowed table nearby, three sets of pointy ears perk up:

  • BUNTY, Half-Orc druid. Bunty's grand ambition in life is to open a bakery in Lankhmar. She wants to learn how to make the utterly crispy breadrolls that she once got from a passing merchant in her village on the trade road. Tattood with a whisk and a rolling pin on her forearms, the young half-orc still needs to scrape up the coin to join the Bakers' Guild somehow. Bunty has a Criminal background and knows the seemingly-cultured fence Ebenous Rilk, who works from Pleasure Park.
  • XALO, Gnome Warlock of the Fiend. Xalo was a curious little one, even for a Gnome. She's smart (especially with her Sage / Bookworm background), but has a hard time discerning between "mine" and "thine". That's how she wandered into an old hermit's hut, picked up a shackled book, and unwittingly completed a warlock pact. She's just in it for funsies.
  • SIX BURDEN, Half-Drow Rogue and the only native to Lankhmar. A skeletally thin half-elf urchin with dusky skin and a shock of white hair, he was orphaned at a young age by a dad he never knew and a mother drifting out of his young life. The orphanage didn't work out too well, and Six Burden learned to live on the street.


The trio are down to their last pieces of gold and need to come up with money to pay for their rooms in Ivrian's Slophouse.

Home-made map of Lankhmar, based on the city map in AD&D 2137 Lankhmar: City of Adventure.
Locations are from that book, the DCC line of Lankhmar adventures, and a few from the blogosphere.

PLAN, MEET WINDOW

When they hear the lanky thief Issek (named after a long line of sainted martyrs) and his brutish ally Tovlis planning to heist Igrik the Collector's, our trio quickly pay attention. Igrik is planning a big feast to show off his collection of antiquities and ingratiate himself in Noble district, and this is the perfect opportunity to sneak in and steal his new acquisition: a thrice-jeweled golden key.

Where I'd expected them to try and score Igrik' new acquisition for themselves, they instead hatch a plan to warn Igrik and get a reward. There goes my carefully planned heist, straight out the window. Being surprised like this is great stuff, that's why I DM!

Even though it's midnight, the Gnome, Half-Orc and Half-Elf head for Noble district to find the collector's estate walled off and guarded. The original building is very Lankhmart in style, but it seems Igrik is building a new addition: a domed octagonal tower that Xalo (run by a player who is always interested in strange lore) recognizes as specially designed to funnel arcane energies.

The trio try to bluff their way past the guard but fail, Xalo casts a spell to send him to sleep, pilfers a delivery of fish and spices, and the group heads for the kitchens, which are the only place in the estate still active this late at night. Here they meet with the chef, a tanned easterling like Igrik, who tastes recipes with a long copper spoon of office that promptly gets nicked by Xalo. Bunty manages to convince the chef that there's really a heist being planned and Six Burden weedles a signed note out of the overworked chef that says they can come back in the morning.

...and that's where we end this short first session!


LOOT

  • two bowls of food begged in Igris' kitchen
  • a bunch of raw salmon sprinkled liberally with saffron
  • an unwieldy official master chef's spoon (5 sp or 15 gp to the right collector)


STARTING TROPHY

Each character got to roll at the start of the session to get a special item. These aren't directly useful, but may drive stories further down the road. From Against the Wicked City's 20 things your trickster might have 'acquired' and not be quite sure what to do with.

BUNTY has a bundle of incriminating papers, implicating the influential Countess Kronia in a variety of crimes and misdemeanours. About half of them look genuine, but she's pretty sure the rest are high-quality forgeries.

XALO has a land grant, bearing the seal of a dead official, declaring Lord Farhad and his daughter Ara to be the rightful owners of Seven Lake Country. As far as she knows, Farhad and Ara have been dead for years, and Seven Lake Country is way, way out into the wilderness; but still, if she can pass herself off as a descendant, maybe she can find more profit here than out on the frontier...

SIX BURDEN has a hand-drawn map of the temple of Skama the Moon Goddess, with several secret passages marked on it. Next to one of them - which appears to connect the temple with another nearby building - someone has written the words: 'NEVER use this tunnel after dark.'

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Second campaign: swindlers and thieves in Lankhmar

 "You know, it's so long since I RPGed - I'd like to play again." How can I say no to that, especially coming from one of the witnesses to our marriage? And so I started thinking about a three player campaign in addition to my Belswick run (the Bronze & Sand stuff petered out over summer, I'm afraid).

Rereading Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories gave me inspiration for a rogue campaign set in the decadent and criminal city of Lankhmar. We held session 0 and 1 this weekend, and I think it's going to be good fun. (By which I mean my wife and our two best friends bullshitting me and my NPCs every step of the way. Awesome!) First here's a setting overview, next up is a brief session log.


SETTING

Lankhmar is the center of civilization on the world of Nehwon - or the largest cesspool on its face, depending on who you ask.

The city grows fat on the grain trade across the river Hlal and the Inner Sea. Its many workshops fill the air with smoke and smog - rare is the night when one can see the stars. There is a guild for almost everything; pay an entry fee and monthly dues, and you too can set up a shop. The Guilds of Thieves, Slayers and Assassins especially do not take kindly to freelancers.

The city of half a million is ruled by the pleasure-seeking Overlord Glipkerio and his council of nobles and advisors. Lankhmar is equally corrupt, decadent and squalid. Luxuriate in the Grand Library or the Great Play House, then turn a corner and slum it in the Marshlight Theatre or opium den. Every appetite can be stilled here.

Plotting nobles and sly merchants rub shoulders with nefarious mages, weary actors, feuding guildsmen, ecstatic cults and conniving thieves. Among the masses one may even see travelers from the Eight Cities, the Cold North, buried Quarmall, decadent Evanmaransee and the Mingol Steppes. Visit the Plaza of Dark Delights after dark to mingle with dubious sages and peddlers of arcana; deal with the underworld in Pleasure Park, then stroll along the Hlal and find your favorite temple on the Street of the Gods to wash away your sins. Lankhmar awaits.

Home-made map of Lankhmar, based on the city map in AD&D 2137 Lankhmar: City of Adventure
Locations from that book, the DCC line of Lankhmar adventures, and a few from the blogosphere, like
Vlinderkaai's (Semper)Vivarium


STORIES

I will be using the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser as inspiration, as well as the DCC adventures in Lankhmar and some reskinned adventures from OSR blogs.


SYSTEM AND HOUSERULES

5th edition D&D. Almost no house rules, which is a novelty. Here are the most important tweaks to vanilla D&D and to Lankhmar:

  • D&D: spells above 3rd level are incredibly hard to find; beyond that level, casters don't gain spells automatically as the bleeding edge of the art is jealously guarded by isolated practitioners. Join the Sorceror's guild, or seek the patronage of shrouded mages.
  • no focus on traditional alignment. I'm using word-pairs as described above.
  • Lankhmar: the original books feature mostly humans and 1-2 offshoot races like the invisible people of Mount Stardock or the Ghouls with their translucent flesh. I'll allow all D&D races - Lankhmar is a center of the world, and even rare races have a chance of popping up here.


ALIGNMENT

I can't remember who I stole this from, but I've swapped out aligment with a set of 5 word pairs; to be used as descriptors, not as straightjackets. For session zero, the players just picked the one word that resonated with them the most. The Half-Orc druid is SUPERSTITIOUS, the Gnome warlock is CAREFREE, and the Half-Drow rogue is TOLERANT.

  • responsible - carefree
  • superstitious - skeptical
  • romantic - cynic
  • traditional - radical
  • tolerant - intolerant


STARTING TROPHY

Each character got to roll at the start of the session to get a special item. These aren't directly useful, but may drive stories further down the road. From Against the Wicked City's 20 things your trickster might have 'acquired' and not be quite sure what to do with.


I'm undecided as to whether I'll incorporate the famous two rogues in the campaign. Since none of the players have read the stories (I think), I might just leave them out or have them as off-screen NPCs. Image by Mike Mignola

Monday, 3 August 2020

Belswick 22: back where they started

After 22 sessions of Belswick, my group is roughly back where they left the Tomb of the Serpent Kings 18 sessions ago: mostly cleared out, but with all the interesting bits left for the next band of squatters to move in. Last session they attacked the front door, this session they dug deeper.

I've precious little time this week, so you're just getting my group's highlights over chat. Enjoy!

Shams the Dwarf fighter
  1. Handling the nightly mischief by the Brents in my PJs. Sending the teargas back into their faces with a modified Thunderwave spell was nice.
  2. If anyone can scare the Brents shitless, it's invisible imp Ricky with his House of Horrors whisper campaign :D
  3. Almost forgot to mention the Brents! Lovely "bad guy" :) Too bad he's ded now.

Did they dig deeper? They sure did.
 
Tilly Oathbreaker*

* See Lomin's comments below and of course the loot from session 12.

Good fun! Freeing the world of the plague that was Brent was a good thing. Cool how a couple of potions and different strains of Brent caused problems ๐Ÿ˜†
  1. Morti and his collection of murder axes. Saw them in three parts from a distance, or throw a greataxe into their back as they run away! Shams has gotten a bit more insight into the weirdness and wickedness she's been caught up in. ๐Ÿ˜…
  2. That moment your suspicion is confirmed that Annabelle the herbalist is behind the whole plot - and you get extra layers of complication to boot. ...sister? Potion maker? Black tentacles?!

DM 
...Really, I mentioned black tentacles?

Tilly 
Yep, beyond the stone golem and beyond Annabelle's room. ...right? Or am I imagining things? lol ๐Ÿค”

Morti 
 Purple tentacles, right?

DM
Oh, those!! Yep, you're right. Purple ones. I was so tired by then, forgot I mentioned 'em. But they're definitely there.

Morti the Gnome artificer
  1. I love a good kill steal
  2. Morti's concept is working: either you behead someone with a glancing hit or you can't chop your way out of a wet paper bag.
  3. Liked the variation in Brent types and the clever use of potions
  4. Password!**
  5. My steampunk mini rhino Uni ๐Ÿฆ„ did something useful ๐Ÿคฃ
** "Tilly is a stinking bastard". Divulged by a Brent under interrogation, then promptly forgotten by the group. Came back to them in the last few minutes of the game, when they tried to bullshit their way into a safe room full of Brents. Was it smelly, ugly, nasty,...?

Lomin the Elf rogue noble son / Human noblelady
  1. Interrogating a captured Brent. Lomin turning out to be more trustworthy than Tilbรธrd Oathbreaker. And Brent getting executed by axe fetishist Morti. With a living axe.
  2. Infiltrating the great hall where the basilisk used to live. The big Brent battle. Morti turning out to have an even bigger axe fetish than I thought.
  3. Tilly's wide smile as he helped Original Brent out of the cloning sarcophagus and into the grave. Chills to the bone.
I had a great time and I'll miss Brent ☠️ Well played, DM! 

Ready to enter the Basilisk Hall (basilisk had been set free long before, not that the current PCs new that. The mini was there just to freak people out :D




Morti
I won't miss him, I'm just afraid what the next thing will be that the DM throws at us... and well played indeed!
As to point 2: Morti is actually the axe, the Gnome is just a pet ๐Ÿ˜ˆ

By the way, DM, what's that infernal cloning contraption worth anyway? I have inspiration, ahahaha!

DM
From session 4's (!) log:
Fungal resurrection chamber - 5000 gp, weighs a ton and a half - 40 points of inventory.

Lomin
For sale: Fungal copier. Serious bids only please๐Ÿ˜‹