Tuesday, October 20, 2020

OSR: The Calaveras Campaign 8

This is an ongoing Knave campaign, a smallish sandbox of sorts with new players to the hobby. Read what happened before here.
 
Before this session 8 there was a coup d'état orchestrated by my players. They wanted to change systems from Knave to something new, claiming they were moving past its simplicity and ad-hock rulings. Granted, I could have pushed for Knave++, or concocting a set of satisfying house rules to achieve the same effect.
 
But in the end decided to offer them Old School Essentials and Macchiato Monsters to pick from. To my surprise, they chose the latter. We re-rolled the characters, but keeping their experiences and place in the world, and we put them at level 2.

The cast of characters:
Zemalayou (iagson) - carrying a crossbow and knows some spells. Ranger-like. Face heavily scarred and mutated. Speaks through some tattoos.
Nerisse (Mo) - redhead bow-woman, who wakes up in the first visited dungeon without any memory of how she ended up there. Has some newly discovered Fae-powers.
Angan Enge (Copernico) - beastman of the Biber Hills, assigned by Rhys to accompany the adventurers.
Hirelings/Animals - Ber (a goat that can carry some of their stuff)

Session 8

We open with the group entrenched in the nearest possible building, the barracks, after the fierce attack perpetrated by the flock of crows. Thankfully, Zemalayou had a fair douse of sense in tossing silver coins to distract the creatures for their escape. Even if previously explored, they decide to give the barracks another swipe for treasure and clues, taking in the fact that the space hasn't been sacked before. Unfortunately, no treasure, clues or riches around.
 
Angan takes note of the overflooded latrines to the north, connecting with the barracks. The stench of mud and feces  in the floor is hard to overcome, but peeking inside the space the beastman takes note of a closed wardrobe. He decides the promise of the unknown is worth the effort, and enters the area, disturbing the fecal mud... and getting his boots stuck in the process! Whilst trying to escape, he notices a tiny child-sized hand filled with pustules coming out of one of the over-flooded latrines. An evil grin cast in his direction, a fungal goblin has seen some tasty prey. Another stinky foe is emerging too, making them two. Nerisse sends one to sleep with her (newly acquired powerful) fairy dust, whilst the other is assaulted by Angan and Zemalayou's crossbow. For now, safety, but the group now knows that it is not alone here.

Fungus goblins, illustration taken from the Gourmet Street zine

Leaving the barracks, they go see the Grime guards they left outside with the delobia. Turns out, all but one left to explore the Quastermaster's building to the East. The guard was left behind to check for his drugged companions (the ones from the basement) and the delobia barrel. Angan asks for directions, and gets a menacing response from the guard. They already got things under control. Best check either the tower or the Sergeant's offices South of the camp. Group decides the latter.
 
In the Sergeant's building: broken windows, place has been sacked. Only intact is the taxidermy of a huge dog (a mastiff) in the room, with a strange purple coloration in the tongue. They decide it sure is cursed, enchanted, trapped or worse, so they transport it out of the house and want nothing to do with it. Further exploration of the edifice, they find a bedroom in the second floor (sacked), and a studio/office. Nerisse finds a missive from Lastleaf, king of Grime, named the Eternal, explaining why these hills have been abandoned after the catastrophe, and what the regent's plans are for the neighboring kingdoms. What the players decide to do with it, is unknown yet.
 
The kitchen on the first floor has no food, but some hidden wine with some magical properties that Angan experiments with. But so far it's unclear to the beastman what it's purpose is, other than it colors his ears in flashing rainbow colors for as long as the kick of the alcohol is in his mouth.
 
While Angan and Nerisse are busing looting the premises, Zem is keeping watch through the broken windows, loaded crossbow in hand. It is then that Zem sees the tower lurker, an adult manticore butchering what's remaining of the drugged guards, taking the barrel of delobia back to the tower.


Night falls, group takes Ber the goat into the sergeant's bedroom to rest for the night. Watches are assigned. Angan goes first. Soon after hearing the first snores of his companions, stench and mad laughter catch the beastman. Peeking through the window he sees... 6 fungus goblins, who start to explore and raid the building they are in! Combat ensues, but the party has the high ground and missile weapons. They take a beating, and Ber the goat almost perishes in the process. But this time the group has the upper hand, and dispose of the goblinoids.

Referee Commentary

Transitioning to Macchiato Monsters took a full session creating characters (between games 7 and 8), but this is likely due to the inability of my players to do their homework and read what I send them. There is, however, more involvement in the Machiatto Monsters process, with the traits as well as the free-form spell words requiring (my) referee input.

During play the characters seem rich, more complex and resilient than standard Knave or B/X scoundrels. But we did struggle with the free-form spells (even though it only appeared once/twice in play), and how to adjudicate them. My gut tells me that it's something one has to get experience and comfortable with, and we will warm up to it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

They Cried Monster, Zine Review

This is my attempt at taking a look and reviewing the Zinequest 2 projects I backed.
See some disclaimers at the end of this post.

Overall feel

They Cried Monster is a 24 page-long zine, laid out in front and back cover as singles, and 11 spreads. Two PDF variants are provided: single pages and spreads. It is black and white, with enough black ink so that printing from home could be tough. The PDF has no bookmarking or layers.
 
One of the biggest appeals for me to get this zine was the artwork and aesthetic, and I knew there would be monsters to mine for my campaigns. For me it sits in the category to "pick a small number of neat elements for my own game", and not something I want to apply from start to finish in a game.
 
Have a look at the Kickstarter campaign to get a feel of what this is. This is the 3rd zine I review where Charles Ferguson-Avery was involved. I own Into the Wyrd and Wild, which I consider a helpful toolkit for running forest-wilderness adventures. This zine touches a lot of the same notes as that supplement did. If you liked Wyrd and Wild, chances are you'll like this. The Tyrant Centipede (one of the monsters) has concept and writing credit from Jesse Martin.

The cover perfectly summarizes the contents of They Cried Monster. There are some house rules for Hunters, which is a more heroic adventurer than we are used to see in a standard OSR game. This sits between some rules and tables for generating Settlements (a place to gather rumors and meet key NPCs), and a Bestiary with six creatures in the mid-level of play (given their HD range). I think this is a great cover, conveying the contents.

The first page of arguable content is a Using this Zine background section. References and influences are cited (The Witcher, Hellboy, Mushishi). Claims to be rules system agnostic (citing some recommendations like Knave, B/X, DCC, Troika!, 5e, etc), and frankly in my limited experience that's harder to get right than choosing a system and even loosely sticking to it.

Hunter Rules

There are essentially two proposed house rules, to make play more heroic. It will still require a proper ruleset to play with, since here we only get some dressing and optional rules to tack onto the game of choice. I think they would work better on some systems than others (Black Hack, B/X and Knave vs DCC Troika! or 5e).

It proposes slots (like Knave), and quantum equipment for mundane items (which ones count as unique? it's not clarified). Monster hunting takes some distance from the bean-counting and planning involved by equipment purchases. This is a bit conflicting for me, but I know it can produce great results at the table, depending on the group's preferences.

Then, it encourages games where the Hunter is adventuring alone. Or as the only PC, this could work well on a one player one referee situation. Collateral damage helps for that. The table of 10 Disciplines, essentially small powers/knacks, reinforces that. Descriptions evoke Witcher vibes, a big influence throughout the publication.
 

On Settlements

There are three pages on building settlement settings. A locale currently accosted by the monster, where the Hunters can help solve the pesky problem. The best part is the two random tables for prominent NPC generation, as well as community details (wealth, quirk, etc.). These provide enough to frame the skeleton of such a community. A list of names (both for people and places) would have been appreciated. We get a sample community with three such personalities, ready to be used.

A few further criticisms though. First, the population type numbers make no sense, at all. A city can at most have 150 inhabitants? Second, you're meant to track the attitude of these prominent NPCs towards the Hunter/adventuring party. But the way to do so is only mentioned in extremely broad strokes. It would require a lot of work to make this idea actionable at the table, into an actual, interesting system. Similarly, the mob mentality, while making a lot of sense and providing some guidelines, seems a bit coarse and generalist. Lastly, there is a 2d6 table for Nightly Events, but there are entries for results above 12, and I have no clue what modifiers apply to arrive to that number.

The Monsters

The meat and potatoes of the publication. We get six monsters, each described in a spread, fully illustrated. Fairly system neutral, with things like armor as chain, I wish we had damage also statted that way (armor as longsword, as polearm, etc.), but that's a minor nitpick. The gold values as reward seem very low for a gold for XP system like B/X, and it would be nice to know what system they're intended for. I would just adjust it with some amount per HD of the monster.
Tyrant Centipede, one of the monsters
Tyrant Centipede, one of the monsters


On top of the stats, we get a written description to accompany the visuals, and habits and weaknesses. These are good tools to feed to the players in rumor tables, or as prized information to defeat the foe. I like this. Escalating the conflict with the monster, which should be something spanning one or multiple session, is done in an elegant manner, providing a flowchart with 6 entries per monster, per stage. This provides context when the Hunter arrives to a new settlement of what has transpired already with the monster, before they arrived, and why the community is bothered by the creature.

The six creatures are: Bronzebeak Gryphon, Cindermander, Rivengeist, The Blaakhart, Tyrant Centipede (credited to Jesse Martin), and The Mothman. There is nothing utterly innovating here, or that couldn't be obtained with a spark of ideas. But I could see myself using these as-written in my games, or with only the slightest modifications. And again it's probably the strongest content in the zine.

Some Final Touches


 
Towards the end the zine gets a few paragraphs on the intent of the work, their goal creating this product, and what kind of playstyle should be expected. There's also a decent list of music to set the mood, and a list of credits (no playtesters credited here).

Of note are also the two character sheets provided. One for the Hunter characters, with ample space for the quantum inventory. The second is to detail a settlement, write the number of inhabitants, prominent NPCs, etc. Not something I think I will ever use myself, but a nice touch nonetheless.


This concludes the review. They Cried Monster is a framework to play heroic monster-hunting adventures. It is impregnated with the influence of material like the Witcher franchise. Episodic adventures where you hunt down a monster in a session would work well. I also suspect it would play well in a one-on-one game, given the nature of the "lone-wolf" these monster-hunter narratives fall back to. It's hard to picture a traditional adventuring party.
 
With that said, it will require a lot of work from a skilled referee as well as an accompanying ruleset to come to live. It is bare bones, and provides some interesting rule and mechanic ideas, but they are not fleshed out at all. The best content is without doubt the monsters presented. I would think 5e (of all things) would work well with this.

Disclaimer

- In the interest of full disclosure I bought this with my own funds.
    - I was a backer on their Kickstarter campaign and paid 5 US$ for the PDF version of the product in February 2020.
- Nobody is paying for this review. All of the opinions you see are my own.
- Nobody is approving or reading this post before it goes up.
- I have no relationship with any of the authors of this product.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

OSR: Magical Murder Mansion 3

This session took place a long while ago, and since then the game disbanded and has been cancelled. I still wanted to put these notes here for completeness sake.

We picked things up where we left them running through Magical Murder Mansion (report to sessions 1 and 2 here). The party has explored a good portion of the mansion already, mainly on the North-West tower area. They get an interesting breakthrough during Session 3, and seem motivated to carry on exploring.

Let's revise the characters again:
Wendell - a Human Fighter type, former butcher. Carries a Battleaxe, Bow and arrows. Likes to boss his underlings around.
Gelda Cleanwater - curious Halfling Wizard dabbling in the arcane arts. Also carries a staff. 
Grem - a Spiderling Fighter with two spears and a shield. Likes to poke at things, no matter how big.
Starting Hirelings - Hammerhead (a dwarf with a short-lived career)

Session 3

  • Rooms covered: 16: Coal Storage, 15: Boiler Room, 75: Workshop Door, 14: Storeroom, 13: Kitchen
  • Exploration Time: 1h40 (excluding their visit back in town)
  • Session Length: 3h
  • Fatalities: Hammerhead (dwarf man-at-arms)
  • Battered from the Art Gallery room, Grem decides to grab a painting (the one shedding light), and the group decides to return to town to lick their wounds.
  • There, Grem puts the painting for search of a potential buyer (will take 1-2 weeks, 1000gp potential reward, the Halfling Jeweler will take 15% of the sell).
  • Wendell takes his chances to hire yet another man-at-arms
    • The mercenary guild grows weary, and he only finds a dwarf fool enough to be willing to follow them to the estate, but demands double price, and 2 days pay up front. 23 gp settles it.
  • Back at the mansion, they decide to take in the perimeter, and about 20 minutes walking around the mansion clock-wise they find 1/ stone fence 2/ iron door with coal
  • Gilda opens the door, revealing a room filled calf-deep into coal
  • Wendell makes an interesting argument to Hammerhead to go and 
  • Coal golem fight!
    • Hammerhead perishes on the spot
    • Grem courageously (stupidly?) charges ahead.
    • Gilda casts the Upwell spell. The spring of seawater corrodes the coal and causes significant damage.
    • Wendell fires arrows and they in general damage the golem greatly.
    • They're able to "kite" and lure the dump construct out of the room, to then dart inside and shut the door.
    • The party made it in!
  • Inside, they quickly move to the Boiler room, filled with pipes, knobs, and other handles.
  • Wendell spins a wheel, the mansion shakes a bit, but there's no other effect.
  • Gilda seems keen on a 10 foot pole, and pulls a pipe out.
  • A ghost comes out of the steaming water, and puts its hand on her brain! She ages 29 years, now instead of a young adventurer she's a mid-aged lady.
  • They move north along the corridor, Gilda and her pole at the front.
  • Find door to workshop with 4 key-holes and riddle/clues.
  • Before moving to Storeroom, Gilda uses skirt to avoid slimy handle. Acid exposure saved!
  • Group moves to Storeroom, and decides to take some sledgehammers, crickets, and teeth. 
  • Random encounter: bunch veggie-mites, 17 of them, coming from the eastern corridor! 
    • Like minions, they are chaotic and unruly, but willing to "talk" this time around.
    • They make it clear that they're after fertilizer and soil.
    • Party tosses them the dead crickets, to where they retire happily! Two of them fight for the prize, and one of the Veggie-Mites remains unconscious on the floor.
  • Next party goes to kitchen
    • Wendell gets smashed by flying knives.
    • They explore the kitchen and decide to play "anatomy" with the dead Veggie-Mite, thinking of carving it into a key.
    • The tap of water is open in the sink, with a flowing of magical water. (Note: is the water colored differently, octarine? does it have odor? does it give an electrostatic charge?).

Referee Commentary / Things I Learned

  • Session 3 went smooth as butter. There were a few interesting interactions and encounters, and the players used negotiation and clever tactics.
  • USE REACTION ROLLS!
    • The Veggie-Mites could have been a boring hack&slash, but instead the party tossed the dead crickets to calm them down.
    • Ditto with the Ghost coming out of the pipes.
  • The 4-keys workshop door riddle is nice. Might feel "video-gamey", but it's very fitting for a fun-house dungeon like this. The players greatly appreciated the hints and clues, and see a more focused purpose and approach to the whole thing. Putting that big room in the center was a deliberate good choice. Brilliant.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

OSR: Knave Inventories

Knave is all about equipment. Those sweet Item Slots define so much... and present a limit on what and how much can be carried out of the dungeon. But why stop there? Why, indeed, should a single attribute, Constitution, dictate gear interaction? Why not all six of them?


Let's have a look at the following table.

Score Name What For?
Charisma bonus Patron Slots Hirelings. Mounts, animal companions, beasts of burden, pets, familiars.
Constitution defense Item Slots Equipment, gear, weapons and armor.
Dexterity bonus Handy Slots How many of the top item slots can be interacted with quickly during combat.
Intelligence bonus Mind Slots Languages. Magic dice. Areas of knowledge
Strength bonus Encumbrance Slots Act as extra item slots, but then encumbered. Negative HP fills them with grievous wounds. When all filled with wounds, PC dies.
Wisdom bonus Spirit Slots Attuned magical items. Faith dice. Areas of knowledge.

Hireling Slots

PCs may employ a number of hirelings equal to their Charisma bonus. Alternatively, a patron slot can be used for a mount, animal companion, beast of burden, pet, or familiar.

Item Slots

PCs have a number of item slots equal to their Constitution defense. Most items, including spellbooks, potions, a day’s rations, light weapons, tools and so on take up 1 slot, but particularly heavy or bulky items like armor or medium to heavy weapons may take up more slots. Groups of small, identical items may be bundled into the same slot, at the referee’s discretion. 100 coins can fit in a slot. As a general guideline, a slot holds around 5 pounds of weight.

Handy Slots

PCs have a number of handy slots equal to their Dexterity bonus. These are pouches and items that can be accessed with a swift movement, even in the heat of conflict. Mark the top item slots in the character sheet as handy slots. Swapping those during combat does not require a round of search as usual. Items can be rearranged at any time when out of danger.

Mind Slots

PCs have a number of mind slots equal to their Intelligence bonus. A character can learn a foreign language, filling one of their mind slots. The character can verbally communicate with fluency (granting a 3d6 keep 2 roll to reactions if used), read tomes and inscriptions, etc. In addition, wizards, sorcerers, witches, and other magic-user characters that receive magical training can fill a mind slot with a magic die. This allows them to fuel their spells and enchantments.

Lastly, a character can specialize in an area of knowledge that can aid them in their adventures. See below*.

Encumbrance Slots

PCs may carry items in addition to their item slots equal to their Strength bonus (essentially acting like additional item slots), but they are encumbered when doing so. This will slow them down, make it harder to flee from combat, and so on.

When a character reaches 0 HP, they apply any additional damage into their encumbrance slots. Doing so immediately drops any item in that encumbrance slot, filling it with a grievous wound. Having wounds makes the character encumbered, and gives them disadvantage on all saves. When all slots are wounds, the character dies. With a night of rest and sleep one grievous wound slot can be recovered.

Spirit Slots

PCs have a number of spirit slots equal to their Wisdom bonus. Magic items and artifacts are a burden to the soul. They can be placed in a spirit slot instead of an item slot, freeing the latter. Also, priest and cleric characters can fill a spirit slot with a faith die. This allows them to say prayers and call spiritual favors.

Lastly, a character can specialize in an area of knowledge that can aid them in their adventures. See below*.

 

*A character can specialize in an area of knowledge that can aid them in their adventures. They can use either a mind or spirit slot, in this case they are interchangeable. Doing so adds +2 to a relevant save when applying said expertise (if the referee agrees in the particular application). A maximum of 3 mind slots can be filled with the same area of knowledge. Note that an area of knowledge could apply to a loosely related task, in which case the save is done at disadvantage. For instance, knowing draconic history might be beneficial when dissecting a slain dragon's heart, but only partially so.

Example areas of knowledge could be alchemy, architecture, draconic history, heraldry, foraging, traps&devices, medicine, appraise valuables, etc. Feel free to come up with your own, together with your referee.

This article will see some revision, when I add my thoughts on training costs for areas of knowledge, languages, and magic dice. Faith dice will probably require donations, services, costly pilgrimages, etc.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Published Dungeon (pesky) wish list

There are a lot of modules out there. The OSR and indie publishing communities are booming with content. Over the years I've amassed a considerable amount of them. Some in dead-tree format. Many many many in electronic format. And I'm accepting of the fact that the majority will be just for my reading pleasure. Or to steal that one room out of the 50 page/100+ room dungeon module.

Let's assume evocative and concise writing. Interactivity. Good organization and layout. And some inspiring art to boot. A gem of an adventure. The needle in the haystack! Bryce would be happy! 

But as the pesky consumer I am, there's more. Here is an opinionated list of extras I like to see in published adventures, and are often missed. The cherry on the top.

1. Show me how much treasure there is in your Dungeon

... and what standard your adventure assumes. As easy as mentioning at the beginning: "There are 5000gp in the dungeon. 3000 of it easy to find and safe, and 2000gp hidden, hard to transport, or in dangerous places. We assume the B/X standard." Boom. Done. Unfortunately... this is very rarely the case.

A lot of old school games assume the gp for XP gaming loop, especially in earlier to mid-levels. Making me (the reader) to have to fish out this information is an invitation for frustration. Ditto for magic items. You put interesting, wacky, or overly powerful items in your dungeon? Great! Just let me know in the overview before keying the dungeon areas.

2. Cite interesting monster trinkets, or even better have "I loot the body" tables

This ties with point 1. Look, it happens. Even if combat is a failure state, my players have encountered some action. And with some bloody luck they might come up top. Aside from the boring coin pouches and rusted weapons, having interesting bits and bobs, clues, and curios on the recently slain monsters is a great touch. And something that I usually can't come up with on the fly.
 

3. Involved factions overview

I don't need a full on matrix of all factions involved, like Arden Vul. But I like to know what's in there, and how it can be interacted with. Faction play is a pillar of roleplaying. More so in old school play, with reaction roles, morale, etc. When PCs are not walking heroes, they need all the help they can get.
 
So please, for the sake of Great A'Tuin: present the factions, which rooms they hang out in the dungeon, and what their goals are. These as a bare minimum for me to understand the moving pieces in the dungeon. In the overview section of your adventure, preferably.
 
By the excellent varguyart

Sunday, August 2, 2020

OSR: The Calaveras Campaign 7

This is an ongoing Knave campaign, a smallish sandbox of sorts with new players to the hobby. Read what happened before here.

Let's look at the characters:
Zemalayou (iagson) - carrying a bow and a spellbook. Face heavily scarred and mutated. Speaks through a mouse.
Nerisse (Mo) - redhead bow-woman, who wakes up in the first visited dungeon without any memory of how she ended up there.
Angan Enge (Copernico) - beastman of the Biber Hills, assigned by Rhys to accompany the adventurers. Wants to find his family.
Hirelings/Animals - Ber (a goat that can carry their stuff)

Session 7

  • The adventurers arrive at the southern garrison's tower, a protection point in the Biber Hills. The Grim Kingdom keeps tabs with their neighbors of Diremouth to the West.
  • Short wooden walls surround the camp, as well as the tower. Broken entrance doors give way to the muddy yard. Several buildings in sight, one and two stories short. Two dead bodies in front of the central building, face down, with wooden stakes popping out of their backs.
  • They investigate the bodies (first "parking" the cargo-goat Ber). Then decide to enter that building (Grim Kingdom shield above door). Heavy smoke comes out. Feasting hall, music, and lots of people feasting in here. Big turkey with shiny knife at the center. (variation of Michael Kennedy's room, see Referee Commentary below).
    • They aren't let out of the room! The guards and soldiers get infuriated at mentions of what happened here. Food and drink are actually rotten or gone bad, Nerisse finds out.
    • Knife is found to be magical, and disperses the illusion when being held.
    • They go to the cellar from the kitchen area, all holding the knife. There, they find 3 guards (not illusions!) guarding a barrel. Dizzy and red-eyed. Heavy drug scent in here. What are they guarding? A variation of Delobia, they claim, and in spades.
  • Confrontation is avoided, and the PCs leave the scene. Then, a group of guards/soldiers charge into the courtyard, back from patrolling. Three on horse, with 5 dogs sniffing and snapping around (a lucky entry on the random encounter roll!). Angan and company take to dialogue and parlay, explain what happened, and convince the guards to join efforts to go to the basement and retrieve those drugs. Unfortunately, having authoritative figures present, Angan has to refrain from further investigating the drug.
  • Whilst this is being solved, Zem stays outside keeping watch. He spots the shadow of a big creature at the top of the watch tower. Horse-sized and with wings? The carcass of an animal (deer, pony, or similar?) gets dropped to the feet of the tower.
  • Next they investigate forge; find a dead dwarf within, again with small stakes protruding from the corpse. Small but vicious chained dog barking. Nerisse tames it with a fantastic performance of her harmonica.
  • Move north to a door with several locks outside. Unfortunately, takes them a while, and a flock of crows goes to attack them! (Hitchcock style). Nerisse takes the worst of it, but Zem throws his purse full of silver coins to distract them, and it works! (Of course it does).
    • Using the confusion, the groups hides inside another building, empty inside, which looks like soldiers' barracks. After a few moments it is decided; they will spend the night here.

Referee Commentary

  • The players liked this scenario, the interactions, and the mini-pointcrawl exploration.
  • What I did was to: 1/ grab this map by dysonlogos, 2/ come up with keyed locations (points), including a modified version of this one, 3/ make up a random encounter table. That's it, we are ready to go.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

OSR: The Calaveras Campaign 4, 5, 6

Read what happened on the previous sessions of this Knave campaign. Things are progressing well as we close up the first dungeon crawl, and the group moves to other adventures in the region of Rietikon.

Let's look at the characters:
Pancho (Copernico) - guy with a lance, and a tendency to grab shiny stuff in front of him.
Zemalayou (iagson) - carrying a bow and a spellbook. Face heavily scarred and mutated.
Nerisse* (Mo) - redhead bow-woman, who wakes up in the first visited dungeon without any memory of how she ended up there.
Angan Enge (Copernico) - beastman of the Biber Hills, assigned by Rhys to accompany the adventurers. Wants to find his family.
Hirelings - Daniele (woman-at-arms, sword & board)
*Nerisse joined the group at Session 3.

Session 4

  • They spend a considerate amount of time debating what the next course of action is, still puzzled at the riddle from the thick prayer book: "Place something cold, my Agent, the color of our essence."
    • Zem decides to cut part of his newly lizard-like cheek to let some blood drip, to no effect (other than the damage willingly taken by the attempt).
    • They try other objects, and finally with a bit of the separating curtain get the effect of a nearby human-sized cobra to spill a red liquid. PCs are too afraid to come near it, so they move on.
  • Extremely cautious with the door to the East, Pancho starts working with his trusted lockpicks on the door. After some time (burning torches and resources), he unlocks it.
  • There, they are back at a human-sized statue of a cobra (another one) in the corridor, two gems (green emerald and red ruby) on the eye sockets. Of course Nerisse plops them out. Of course the green one turns to dust and blasts chocking poison damage to the group (albeit not fatal). Red ruby hauled though...!
  • Stairs go down, turning to the right. Stone door needs further exploration. Inside, a temple-like area, with stone statues flanking the space, columns supporting the structure, treasure scattered on the floor (coffers, bracelets, amphora). And this guy, but in a statue made of stone (cool looking obsidian sword on his hand):
This guy, but as a statue instead
  • Pancho convinces Daniele to remove the obsidian sword (treasure!), whilst Zem starts pocketing riches, and Nerisse protects the entrance with her bow.
    • Of course, the statue animates, mauls Daniele the hireling to a pulp (FIRST DEATH), and recovers the sword. PCs are fast enough to flee, and the creature doesn't seem too bothered to pursue them past this room, which they wisely close behind them.
    • ... many torches and plenty of equipment are left behind on Daniele's corpse...
  • Next room explored has another column with manacles (no skellies there this time), and a cryptic graffiti message on the western wall "Kill the False Heir!".
  • Reluctant to waste more time, after investigating the space, they move North to the only available exit. Large corridor, with rubble slowing their steps.
  • They find a new room, with 4 stone lamps, and the skeleton of a medusa on the ground with a dagger on the hand. After some investigations, playing with lighting 2 of the stone lamps, and finding some treasure below the skeleton,....
  • ... a naked kid shows up, lizard-like eyes. Shouts and commands the adventurers to leave this sacred place. Intruders!

Referee Commentary

  • Players learnt the hard way that there are fights not worth fighting.
    Running is a viable (and sometimes very advisable) strategy.
  • Timing a session is extremely hard, no matter how experienced you are running games, or how much you prepared your session in advance. Glad it worked this time!

Session 5

  • Pancho is able to convince the lizard-kid to leave them alone, arguing that they are here to help. This buys the group some precious exploration time, as he disappears leaving the adventurers to their task.
  • After several turns exploring every corner of this area and room, the group is in the brink of giving up. Including the nearby locked door spitting paralyzing darts to both Nerisse and Pancho, when trying to force it open with the lockpicks.
  • Finally, a random encounter is rolled. The dragon-lizard strikes again, this time bigger and meaner. It opens with a tongue of flames, that catch Zem unaware, so the adventurer gets his lower face burned (losing the ability to speak). We all rejoice in how scarred his face is!
    • There's a cruel and short-lived combat encounter, where let's remember, Nerisse is still paralyzed. Pancho is able to convince the creature of their good intentions, by showing it the red ruby they found previously.
  • Too hurt and frustrated at the lack of a way forward, the treasure hunters decide to call it a day, and make their way out of the dungeon. When exiting, they take a secondary tunnel, and detect a foul ogre as the owner of the barking dog, and the Dragon Skull entrance. Party (wisely) walks away from the brute undetected.
  • To cash in their acquired treasure, group wants to go to Rietikon. But it's clear, they will have to spend the night in the Biber hills. Unfortunately, they get two encounters, both with Beastmen.
    • First, just a pair of scouts in the distance. Nerisse scares them off by using her magical spell Disguise.
    • Second, during the camp at night, they get ambushed by a bigger patrol of 7. Weapons are surrendered. But they get positive reactions, and hence get an audience with the leader of the Beastmen, "Rhys".
  • Next day, some rest was taken. With the Beastmen as newly found "guides", the numerous group moves West towards the locals' lair, by a lake. Mid-way they have the unfortunate event of a random encounter with a giant eagle (!) that grabs Pancho and takes to the skies.
    • Beastmen pepper the bird with spears, and Zem gives the final blow with this crossbow.
    • Pancho however... barely makes the fall, and is carried from now on in a comatose state. (SECOND DEATH)
  • With a snail pace, dangers are avoided on the second part of the trek. Beastmen lead the treasure hunters to their lair in the cave system near a natural lake. Carcass of the giant eagle is taken as trophy. And an audience with the leader of the Beastmen is arranged.

Referee Commentary

  • I agree that players should be able to recoup from a dungeon at any point of their choosing. They were just so close... perhaps this is feedback to the dungeon I designed, and some tweaks are necessary.
  • The random encounter proved very fatal. Chance and luck are a pickle. Take precautions, be vigilant. You will die anyway.

Session 6

  • Zem & Nerisse get an audience with Rhys, shaman leader of the Beastmen of the Biber Hills. They find truce and peace, as there could be mutual benefit. She inscribes a tattoo into Zem's chest, helping him speak through a living mouse. An avatar of sorts.
  • Rhys takes Pancho's possessions as payment for their "hospitality". A sour price, but there's not much of a choice here. Promises to try and recover him. However, Nerisse takes a hard negotiation angle, sells off some recovered goods from their first dungeon delve to the Beastmen, and both her and Zem get their first 250XP!
  • Angan Enge gets introduced to reinforce the party. A Beastman hunter in search of his lost family. The floods have taken everything from him.
  • Rhys has a few quests for the group, to aid the Beastmen in reclaiming the Biber Hills:
    • Go kill the fungal midgets that reproduce like vermin! Or at least find out how they come to be. Rhys has a location for the PCs to investigate as a starting point.
    • Recover a bone hookah adorned with runes. Had a seer dream recently, and saw it on a grove of stone trees. It's undeniably important and related to the floods.
  • Marching out to explore the Hills (with re-stocked rations, rope, and a porting goat), after a couple hours they find a grey knight sitting with a greatsword at their lap. "Grey Knight of Bratum"... "failed at my quest; poisoned to death; kill me in a duel to get my title".
    • Nerisse accepts, but then starts skirmishing the knight and raining arrows on him. The knight retreats back to his post, claiming this is not the noble duel tradition mandates.
    • PCs leave him there to die... "we'll pick up his sword when he's dead!"

  • Moving on, they decide to take a de-tour to the South instead of running to the fungal midgets' point. There is an abandoned watchtower, and Angan rightfully points out "It could be a good way to scout the area for possible threats".
  • Midway there, they run into another group of scoundrels, Auriola and the Crows. Reaction roll is positive, and the groups are for talking. Auriola looks for a sparring partner, but nobody is in the mood, nor do they mention the knight. Their wizard, with a big scarf around his neck, has a speaking method similar to Zem's, but through a crow.
    • Groups exchange information; Auriola & co claim to have cleared the ruins of the watchtower already.

Referee Commentary

  • XP awarded for their first plunder was too low? They missed a big treasure haul by a hair. But hopefully this serves as a lesson to bring more hirelings/torchbearers/mules with them next time, and go better prepared.
  • They bypassed several fights. That's good. But maybe Auriola and the Crows should have imposed a more confrontational goal (what do the NPCs want?). I felt they just went past each other, and I didn't give a hard choice. But at least the players know they are not the only treasure plunders in these hills anymore.