Saturday, August 4, 2012

Flashback - Savage Tides of Kalamar - Session 15

Session 15
Grinding is Such a Chore
November 15, 2008


Sean – Dorian Windseeker, High Elf Ranger/Rogue

Gary – Katan, Half-Hobgoblin Paladin

Bec – Arianne, Grey Elf Cleric of The Lantern

Rebec – Quillathe, Grey Elf Paladin of The Lantern

Steve – Tylock, Human Fighter

Sherry – Michella, Human Wizard

Will – Solveliss, High Elf Sorcerer

Dave – Razik, Human Fighter/Rogue

This episode begins in the sewers of Freeport as our intrepid band descends into the darkness to help Brother Egil find Brother Lucius. COming to a major intersection of sewer tunnels, Dorian finds a scrap of grey cloth – perhaps a piece of Lucius’ robes.

Continuing to the next major intersection, the way is blocked by a barrier of metal bars put in place to keep the riffraff out of the sewers in the nicer part of town. A quick examination determines that the bars are cut in certain places and can be removed fairly easily. The group slips through though Solveliss only manages to replace the bars after a great deal of noise is made.

Locating fresh tracks on the other side of the grating, the ranger continues to lead the way. While moving along the elves in the party get a funny feeling as they pass a particular section of wall. The group identifies a secret door, determines a way to open it, and sees a small, dark room beyond it. Half of the party moves to investigate while the other half keeps watch in the tunnel.

While waiting, Quillathe notices Brother Egil begins murmuring to himself, making passes in the air, then he looks down the hallway. “Everyone needs to get into the room” he says. Quillathe offers to stay with him but he tells her that he must prepare something alone. She steps inside. Then the door closes behind her and one solid minute of pure hell is unleashed.

A grinding noise penetrates the room as the floor begins to tilt to the east. The only door in the room is locked – there is no way out. The party members begin to search desperately for an exit or at least something to grab on to. Some notice a seam in the roof and begin looking for a way out there. Others spot the eastern wall separating from the floor and seek aid there. Unfortunately for them the eastern wall is the most dangerous part of the room as it opens up and reveals a large set of machinery built to crush rocks, in perfect working order. Half of the party loses their grip and slides towards certain doom, but all manage to grab on to something – all but Tylock that is, who tumbles out of the room and into the nightmare beyond. The heroes are battered and bloodied and all looks lost.

Desperation leads to salvation – Katan finally forces the roof open along the seam and grabs on, as does the ranger. Solveliss uses the final charge from his wand of dimension door to teleport himself, Quillathe (holding onto his leg) and Arianne (holding onto Quillathe) out into the main sewer tunnel. Michella, headed for a painful end, has a moment of insight and manages to get off a web spell just in time, freezing everyone else in place as the noise reaches an indescribable climax…then it begins to subside, the room settles back into place, and soon the remaining team members are in a quiet, dark room trapped in their own web, but safe for now.

Outside, the passage is deserted. Regaining their bearings, Solvelis, Quillathe, and Arianne penetrate the secret door. The sorceror sets the webs alight, freeing the others with only minor damage. Looking around they realize that they have no idea of Tylocks fate. Katan climbs down the machinery and recovers the pulped body of Tylock, who is clearly extremely dead, though he didn’t go without a fight, as several empty potion bottles attest.

Quillathe seizes Tylock’s body and heads for the temple. The others decide to press on, both to avenge themselves on Brother Egil and to recover Lucius, if he is still alive.

In the sewers another secret door is soon discovered and opened, and this one reveals an almost vertical tunnel down into darkness. Dropping down roughly 100’, the party regroups and begins a search, as this is clearly part of some complex. Halls are checked and storerooms explored until the group emerges into a very large underground room, dominated by a large statue of a horrific being and an altar. Behind the altar is a human in robes. Strapped to the altar is…Brother Egil.

The human is no match for the adventuring band and is quickly dispatched and Brother Egil is freed shortly thereafter. He is afraid of them at first, but does calm down long enough to relate his tale – the group learns he was kidnapped, tortured, and anointed as a sacrifice leaving them uncertain of his role in the earlier debacle.

As the wayward cleric finishes his story, the sound of movement is heard from the main tunnel into the room – a LOT of movement.

DM Notes (2012): This was a fun session as the party had complete trust in Brother Egil - until the rock crusher started up. Fortunately it wasn't really him. The pacing was pretty good on this adventure and the way it played out leading from one interesting situation into another. Tylock's player wasn't super happy about being killed by a trap but he did make a go of it - and who is happy about that kind of death, really?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Flashback - Savage Tides of Kalamar - Session 14

Session 14
Terror Comes to Freeport
November 11, 2008


Sean – Dorian Windseeker, High Elf Ranger/Rogue

Gary – Katan, Half-Hobgoblin Paladin

Bec – Arianne, Grey Elf Cleric of The Lantern

Rebec – Quillathe, Grey Elf Paladin of The Lantern (Previously dead but raised last session)

Steve – Tylock, Human Fighter

Sherry – Michella, Human Wizard

Will – Solveliss, High Elf Sorcerer

Dave – Razik, Human Fighter/Rogue

Our story begins at The Scholar’s Quill, a tavern in the temple district of Freeport, across from the Temple Library of The Mule, god of knowledge. The party is meeting Brother Egil to discuss the new troubles he mentioned in his letter. He tells them that something was in the room he was sharing with his fellow temple worker and that he sees strange things happening all over the city. he is concerned that since Milos was using magic to hide his true form, how much damage did he really do, and how many others like him are in the city right now? he offers 150gp each, plus expenses, plus free room and board and drinks at the Scholar’s Quill, plus one free healing potion from the temple, if the group will loook into these things. The offer is quickly accepted.

Briefed on the situation, the team spreads out. Dorian heads for Milos’ old house, now under guard as the city dismantles the temple underneath it. The rest head for the Black Gull, asking after Milos under his other false identity, but has no luck. Later,after splitting up again, Katan, Razik, Michella, and Solveliss head to the Old City district and track Milos to The Marquis Moon, a somewhat run-down inn. Bribing the innkeeper (his son, really) they gain access to Milos’ old room and thouroughly search it. Discovering a small book, they decide to head back to the Quill and discuss their findings with the rest of the party.

Stepping out of the inn, they see 3 orc pirates accosting a young human carrying a satchel. Seeing some friendlier faces, he turns asks for help. The orcs are not interested in discussing things rationally and a fight breaks out on the darkened street. Once the adventurers gain the upper hand on the thugs, the messenger thanks Michella for the help and leaves. Some minutes later, she realize that she no longer has the book – apparently the messenger in trouble picked her pocket while the fight was going on. Somewhat dejected, they return to the quill.

Dorian has also returned to the quill. He followed a recovery team from Milos’s old house through the city streets until it reached the house of Verlaine, head of the Captain’s Council, the governing body of Freeport, and the Sea Lord Drac’s right hand man. The convoy passed through the gates of the compound and he was not going to try and follow them solo.

Quillathe leads a small team to Verlaine’s to try and get some answers. They are stonewalled by the guards though they do meet the captain of his guards and leave a message requesting an audience.

Another team heads to the city records department and, after establishing a bond with the clerk, manages to get a look at some maps of the city’s streets and sewer systems and determines that the sewers might be involved in how some things are happening.

The next day Verlaine’s guards show up at the quill and ask the party to come with them. The group complies although Dorian, who is not known to the guards, drops back and follows them in the shadows. The troop heads for the justice building, is taken inside, and the company is asked to remove their weapons. Begrudgingly they comply.

A short while later, Verlaine himself walks in. he berates the group for interfering in city business and insulting him by implying that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He is clearly unhappy with their activities, though he thanks them for their previous service in busting up the serpent cult.

Irritated and insulted, Quillathe is preparing to lead the group out when Brother Egil bursts in and stops the meeting, leading the group out of the building. He has used the power of his temple to intervene, declaring them agents of the Mule and thus free from interrogation. He informs them that someone broke into his quarters and carried off his fellow cleric.

Believing they can follow the thugs, the party drops down into the sewer near the abduction point and prepares to take action.

DM Notes (2012) - There is a certain balance between roleplay and combat that my players want, and this session had a lot of walking and talking and not nearly so much hitting things as had been typical. On top of it the city officials were being very high handed with them and that was guaranteed to annoy Bec and Rebec at least. I was somewhat surprised to get them out of the justice building without violence.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Flashback - Savage Tides of Kalamar - Session 13

 Session 13
Who's going to clean up this mess?
October 25, 2008


Sean – Dorian Windseeker, High Elf Ranger/Rogue

Gary – Katan, Half-Hobgoblin Paladin

Bec – Arianne, Grey Elf Cleric of The Lantern

Rebec – Quillathe, Grey Elf Paladin of The Lantern (deceased) Liamae, Human Sorceress

Steve – Tylock, Human Fighter

Sherry – Michella, Human Wizard

Will – Solveliss, High Elf Sorcerer

(Party levelled up, most are 4th now)

Our Heroes begin in the basement of the Vanderboren mansion, catching their breath after a hard fight. Searching the area they discover that Liamae, the prisoner, had not managed to kill herself but was instead attempting to fake her own death and had succeeded a little too well, putting herlself into unconsciousness. The party revivied her, Tylock, and Arianne with some spells and healing potions, but nothing could be done for Quillathe. After a few moments of silence, they headed upstairs, leaving the body of their companion behind.

Moving quickly, the warriors moved up to he ground floor, then up additional flights of stairs. Encountering no one, they continued a rapid search of the house.

On the 3rd floor, the group discovered what appeared to be Lavinia’s room, where a fight had taken place, as indicated by the dead bullyug still in the room. Next door they discovered an undisturbed room they suspected might belong to Vanthus. Finally, investigating the last room, they heard noises inside. Readying weapons, Dorian kicked in the door.

Inside was a disturbing scene – Lavinia, the housekeeper halfling, and 2 more members of the “A-team” were tied to chairs in the middle of the room. All of them appeared unconscious and at least one them was injured. A large, heavily muscled and tatooed half-orc was rolling off the large bed in one corner, scimitar at the ready. A huge, bloated frog-man was seated in a chair opposite the door and was already casting a spell of some kind.

Dorian moved to free the hostages, Katan charged the frog-man while the wizards began shooting at the same target. Katan was briefly double-teamed by the half-orc and the frog priest, while a Fiendish Wolverine materialized among the group at the entrance and scattered the magic-users.

Dorian discovered that the housekeeper was dead, throat cut. he moved to free Lavinia who appeared to be awake but pulled back when he realized her chair was trapped. The Half-Orc pulled out of the fight with Katan and ordered the group to hold as he held his blade to Lavinia’s throat.

Aggressive negotiations ensued when the party tried to convince Drevoraz that His captain, Harliss Javell, had sent the party to stop him. Eventually (Need to know who made that last roll) he was convinced and made a deal with the party – let him leave unharmed and the group could do what they wanted. The Bullywug shaman in the room lost it at this point and began attacking the party. Drevoraz held out of this fight while the band quickly dispatched the crazed frog-man. After this, the half orc left to find his captain and the party began freeing hostages.

Lavinia was alive and mostly unhurt, though she was now clearly done with her brother, Vanthus. She thanked the party for rescuing her, put them on a bigger retainer, then asked for some time to consider her options as she was planning to have them hunt down her brother for justice and not a little revenge.

During this aftermath, the group took the opportunity to recover and refit. Wounds were healed, diseases were cured, salvaged equipment was sold and new equipment was purchased. Some special items were even comissioned.

In the middle of these operations, amessage arrived from Brother Egil in Freeport. He requested the party’s aid in solving another problem, as it appeared the evil they encountered previously had returned and was plaging his temple and the city once again. Our heroes finished outfitting and hopped aboard a ship to Freeport on Pelsday, the 2nd of Sowing, Year of the King 1044, almost a month after thay had left that city. Trading stories with the crew along the way, they were unaware of the danger they were about to face…

DM Comments 2012:

The adventure has a sort of rival team of adventurers working for the Vanderborens in the early chapters and the running joke had been that they were the "A" team while the PC's were the "B" team - this clearly changed as of this session. Also there were some "negotiations" between the elf cleric and a member of the A team that might have led somewhere eventually but I don't believe that they ever did.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Flashback - Savage Tides of Kalamar - Session 12

Session 12
Frogs in the House
October 04, 2008


Sean – Dorian Windseeker, High Elf Ranger/Rogue

Gary – Katan, Half-Hobgoblin Paladin

Bec – Arianne, Grey Elf Cleric of The Lantern

Rebec – Quillathe, Grey Elf Paladin of The Lantern

Steve – Tylock Human Fighter

Sherry – Michella Human Wizard

Our heroes begin in a sea cave in Kraken’s Cove discussing the situation with Harliss Javell, one of the few remaining survivors of a pirate band that was affected by some terrible disease. Having come to her aid, the party has gained her trust and she informs them that her first mate Dravoraz has gone to Sasserine. He is seeking revenge on the family of Vanthus Vanderboren for causing the trouble that nearly wiped them out. She quickly writes a note to Dravoraz that asks him to stop attacking the Vanderborens and rendezvous with her at another location. Harliss mentions she intends to commandeer the only unburned ship in the cove and try to contact other member of the Crimson Fleet. After farewells are exchanged, the party heads for their boat.

Dorian stops off to investigate an unexplored side passage and discovers a few items in what looks like the (now-dead) leader’s room, including a very nice hat.

The party returns to Sasserine hours later with Dorian and Tylock still suffering from their infected bites. The city is in the midst of a major celebration, the Wormfall Festival. The streets are jammed with revelers, complicating travel immensely. A brush with a drunken gnome was swiftly avoided, a runaway parade wagon was dispatched, and things were going well until a group of stilt-walking entertainers turned out to be thugs bent on harming the party for unknown reasons. A short bloody combat began in the streets that sent the crowd fleeing in all directions. The heroes came through in good shape and found that their fight had cleared the way to the Vanderboren estate.

Entering the grounds nothing seemed amiss so the party dispensed with any attempts at stealth. The group ran straight up to the front door, kicked it in, and confronted a trio of frog-like humanoids, clearly warriors, who were occupying the entryway. Battle ensued. Making short work of the creatues (later determined to be “Bullywugs”) the team spread out on the first two floors of the mansion. Lavinia’s office was found to be unoccupied but a trophy room had another threesome of the frog-men who seemed interested in a giant stuffed frog. Another pair were found in an upstairs laundry. There were few clues and little seeming activity in the house until half of the group ventured downstairs to the basement…

At the bottom of the stairs, Quillathe, Dorian, and Tylock saw a human woman wearing a sheet with silverware stuck through it being forced to dance and dodge while a strange-looking creature attempted to bite her. Farther back in the room were 3 more of the frog-men and a hulking frog-man wearing a crown who was clearly in charge. He noticed the intruders, raised his greatclub, shouted “Chunkus – get ‘em”, and a vicious fight erupted in the corner of the basement.

Dorian and Quillathe moved to engage while Tylock went for help. Quillathe went in first and distracted Chunkus long enough for the wounded human to escape through another door. Unfortunately she was the first to find out that Chunkus was a Rust Monster, the party’s first encounter with that type of beast, and he was soon happily munching away on the remains of her armor. She attempted to manuver around behind the hostiles while Dorian took them on from the front two-weapon style, dropping several of the frog king’s bodyguards, and he eventually changed over to paired wooden clubs to deal with the rust-beast.

The other half of the adventuring band soon joined the melee. Michella the wizard had some tough decisions to makeon how to intervene as she was the first one down the stairs. She quickly moved aside and let the heavy hitters step into the fray. Tylock and Katan moved in to help surround Chunkus and the king as Arianne took position at the foot of the stairs and Michella gave supporting missile fire. Chunkus was finally slain after dissolving Tylock’s and Quillathe’s armor. Quillathe was in trouble after losing her armor and was crushed by a mighty swing from the Bullywug King’s greatclub. Not long after, Arianne also met a gruesome fate as she was slammed into the wall by the massive weapon. The rest of the party, enraged, then rallied and slew the frog-man lord with series of brutal hits.

Pausing to survey the scene, the discovered that the human prisoner had committed suicide after locking herself in a closet. Apparently the sounds of carnage were too much for her after the ordeal she had suffered. Katan vaguely remembered seeing her before, possibly a memeber of the “A-team” that was also working for Lavinia.

The troop had defeated the Bullywug King but they had suffered a terrible cost. Quillathe was dead while Arianne and Tylock were both unconscious and bleeding out.

Player comments on the summary:

Steve: At the end it was Quillathe Dead, Tylock at -3, and Arianne at -8. I hope we find so money soon with two cure disease and a raise dead the hospital bill is going to be outrages.

Rebec: I thought it was pretty close except it only got my armor....and the knight went down first  thank you very much. I was just luckier

Sherry: Just to clarify...Katan healed Arianne up to conciousness...not sure what her HP were at that point.

DM: I thought someone was happy about being dead because they were tired of lawful good - was that Rebec?

Bec: No, that was me and I wasn't dead.  Rebec died.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

August Begins With a Campaign Flashback

Since we're loading up the moving van here at the Tower this week* I thought I would kick August off with something a little unusual. I recently ran across my old session summaries from my last D&D 3rd Edition campaign and after a few years they are kind of fun to read and recall. Plus there were some really good runs in there. I only have sessions 12-20 so I'm going to post those up one per day  along with some comments from the players (at the time) or from myself (now) to keep y'all entertained while I'm tied up. So if you can forgive me for a bit of timeshifting, it should make for an interesting campaign snippet at the least.

The premise for this campaign was we wanted a good long run (it was about 18 months), hopefully all the way to 20 (we didn't make it), and we wanted to travel around instead of being stuck in one location (as we had done in the previous campaign). I settled on a combination of the Savage Tide adventure path from Dungeon and the Freeport Trilogy. This would give us a lot of nautical adventure options from 1-10, let us wrap up one storyline (Freeport) fairly early in the campaign, then focus in on the epic threat of the savage tide for the higher levels. This is the one where I put together a special soundtrack to play during the sessions.  I still like it as the core of a wide-ranging campaign - maybe someday I will get to run it all the way through. In the meantime though I will share a chunk of the campaign that we did run - I hope you enjoy it.

* and since I'm going to be largely offline for at least a few days in there until the service gets hooked up at the new place - grumble grumble.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Planting the Seed - A DM's Tool

Barking Alien had a post last week that touched on something I have noticed all week. I'm going to take a slightly different tack on it. Let's call it the art of using someone's imagination against them.

"Ah! Theatricality!"

Well no, not exactly. BA noted that the kids he runs for tend to take things as they are while his older players tend to make all kinds of assumptions even when given very little real information. I have noticed the same thing - it's difficult to drop hints with the younger set because they don't have the experiences that drive the kinds of reactions you can get from adults.

Mainly they don't have the paranoia that can make planting a few seeds a lot of fun. You don't drop threats, you give them information - tantalizingly incomplete information that makes them want more - again,you are planting seeds that will be watered by the imagination of your players, for good or ill.

In the real world this is a skill often practiced when dealing with Ex-Wives - well, for some of us anyway.

In a gaming sense, it's the art of dropping just the right name, or artifact, or mysterious signal that sets off all kinds of alarm bells in the players heads or ignites their curiosity and as a result has an impact on character actions inside the game. Now you have to know your players to do this at a fine level with a subtle touch. In a lot of D&D games it's not something that is used a great deal. In games like Shadowrun though, it's a lot of fun. A mysterious katana that falls in their laps ... a strange program ... a shadowy opponent they just cannot catch - how does it all tie together? Does it tie together? Does it mean something?

Done right, it can drive your players crazy and have them thinking about the game in between sessions like you've never seen. It can lead to some really great things.

Done poorly and they will hole up in a safehouse for a year and refuse to come out. You won't win them all ...

It's often walking the fine line between curiosity, greed, and fear, tempting your players with just that extra bit of something that makes them want to extend their characters just that tiny bit more.

One of my best Shadowrun arcs involved a simple mission: drive a truck from point A to point B, wait 24 hours, then drive to point C and walk away, partial payment up front at the pickup site, the rest upon completion. It got more interesting from there:

  • Starting point - the crew guarding the truck says "good luck - snort" as they walk away - immediate paranoia kicks in for some players. What do these guys know?
  • The tuck is towing a flatbed trailer with something under a tarp. The patron's instructions were to not look under the tarp. This practically guarantees that someone is going to look under the tarp.
  • A peek underneath reveals that it looks like some kind of missile ... with a glowing green substance dripping from a crack in the nose ...  which is radioactive ... tension escalates rather severely with each additional piece of information.
  • The patron does not call with the new destination after the 24 hour wait - tension escalates some more. All kinds of scenarios are discussed.
  • All along the way multiple groups have attempted to ambush the truck, helped to stop ambushes of the truck, and offered to purchase the truck and its cargo. The party is not talking to anyone at this point.
Eventually the tension gets to be too much and they end up driving the truck, cargo and all, off of a pier into Puget Sound and walking away from the whole thing. Note that I never confirmed it was a nuclear weapon on the truck - they got there very quickly and upped the tension of situation in a big way completely on their own. Of course, I never denied it either ...

There's also a benefit to the DM in that sometimes your players will put together something more fantastic than you were planning yourself, and if it makes sense to them then you have a green flag to run with it all the way to the conclusion.

Now this almost always goes somewhere interesting with older players, but with kids I have found they just don't care. A simple mystery is fine but they don't care about deep, layered conspiracies or really even gray areas and betrayals - they want to play the Avengers, or the Autobots, or GI Joe, or Aragorn and Legolas - not the X-Files, or the newer Battlestar Galactica, or the Sopranos - save that for later. The tweens-to-teens group in my experience is looking for a pretty clear division of good and evil and a clear opponent to deal with. The closest you might get to the mysterious campaign is in exploring a new environment - wrecked space travellers or fantasy heroes or the like - OR - a Secret Invasion Lite type approach which they were at least exposed to while watching the Avengers cartoon. To me this isn't a problem to be solved - it's a preference to be enjoyed while it lasts!

The Goal
So anyway, there's my thoughts on this particular tool in the GM Toolkit. The different ages do have clearly different preferences in my experience but aside form this different groups have different preference mixes - and tolerance mixes. With my main group too much fuzziness just annoys them, and there is an implied promise that most of it will be revealed in the end to get them to go along with the secrets. It's good to know your group and how they will handle these kinds of shenanigans, but then again, the best way to discover that is start doing it and see where the game goes.

Motivational Monday