Friday, April 12, 2024

Session #12 & Adventure Sites Compilation

Firstly, I wanted to let everybody know that Adventure Sites I by Coldlight Press is now available as a free download on DriveThruRPG. It includes my own "St. Durham's Home for Wayward Youths" which is set in the same area as Melonath Falls and Brink of Calamity (but will not be included in the latter work, only by reference to this compilation) along with seven other old-school D&D-compatible adventure sites each designed to be inserted with minimal effort into an ongoing campaign and to provide one or two sessions' worth of entertainment (there was a strict size-limit of no more than 2 pages of text plus one page of maps per site). I'm honored to be included among the other authors as one of the top 8 entries in a recent contest, and the price is right so there's no reason not to grab a copy of this and see what you might be able to use in your own games.

On to other business, session #12 of my ongoing Brink of Calamity playtest was held last weekend. Because two players canceled at the last minute and the remaining players were hesitant to engage in any heavy exploration short-handed I shifted gears a bit and decided to lean heavily into Grain the thief's wedding (which had been set up by a random "character catch-up" roll a few sessions back) and use it as an opportunity to introduce a bunch of the NPCs and plot-hooks that I had tied to the Casino chapter of the book, which the players had heretofore been utterly uninterested in engaging with. We had already determined that Grain's spouse-to-be works in the casino as an "elvish impersonator" (whatever exactly that means), so since the casino is also/technically a Temple of Boreon (god of luck and chance), it made sense that the wedding would be held there and some of the casino regulars (i.e. my detailed NPCs) would attend.

PCs in attendance:
Grain - gnome thief 4
Thron - half-orc fighter 4
Thorn - half-elf ranger 3
Tares - elf cleric of Boreon 4
Eldin - human magic-user 4
Glyptus - human fighter 1 (henchman of Eldin)

Among the attendees were the following:

The casino proprietor and Boreon priest Bix Grimaldi, his assistant Carlos, and second assistant Elayne. Elayne is the cleric who who already serves as mentor/trainer to the two cleric PCs so she was already familiar. Through observation of Bix, they noticed that he doesn't actually seem to do much priestly stuff, leaving all of it to his two assistants, which came to a head when he was performing the wedding ceremony but fumbled the vows and had Carlos step in to complete the ceremony. Since prior to the session starting, while waiting for the other players to arrive, I had rolled up stats for Vylma the bride-to-be and determined that she is a mountebank (as per The Heroic Legendarium) and the players learned about the class and that one of their abilities is "impersonation," the players have begun to suspect Bix may also be less than he appears...

Boss Taggart, his half-ogre bodyguard, and a friend Franciscus, a visiting merchant. Taggart is the extremely wealthy proprietor of the lumber mill in the village of Veirona and is considered a VIP around the casino. Rumor says he is at least partial owner of the casino, which is why he was able to just show up at the wedding uninvited. Franciscus the merchant has recently arrived in town from the nearby town of Haven ostensibly to arrange a large purchase of lumber, but Thorn the ranger thought he looked familiar, and eventually recognized him as one of the men seen leaving the Perlammo Salt Mines in the last session. These three mostly stuck to themselves, whispering to each other.

Geromini, the curio-shop owner and mentor/trainer to the PC magic-user. He was revealed to be a sloppy drunk and compulsive gambler.

Sheilah, a warrior-princess from the town of Amazona, accompanied by several servile bondsmen. She was there mostly to cause trouble for any PCs who attempted to flirt with her but nobody took the bait so she ended up getting into an altercation with Geromini instead.

Loras Flaxentop, halfling professional gambler, with his pet spider-monkey. The monkey caused assorted mischief including at one point almost making off the with the wedding rings.

Mr. Stearns, distinguished older gentleman traveler from "the west" accompanied by his two adult daughters, Giuliana and Rafaella - the former of whom is plainer but friendly, the latter beautiful but cold. Mr. Stearns took immediate interest in Tares the cleric'c glowing blue crystal staff and wanted to know where he had acquired it, which they did not tell. He warned them that he was sensing an aura of evil from it. At one point a waiter spilled a drink which Mr. Stearns immediately caught, displaying amazingly (superhumanly?) fast reflexes. He also inquired whether the party had been doing any exploring in the elf-woods and when they shared the rumor they had picked up last session about the village of man-eating elves he became very intrigued and was seen flashing a sign to his daughter in Rafaella in thieves' cant telling her to watch this group.

Despite the party having left an invitation in his erstwhile lair within the Salt Mines, they were disappointed that their ogre pall Lumph did not show up. Glyptus the henchman also declined his invitation, stating that he prefers to steer clear of the casino and has had some run-ins with the people there. The party has heard rumors about an underground fight-club at the casino and are pretty convinced both that Glyptus was once a fighter there and that Lumph is there currently (but don't seem all that interested on doing any sort of follow-up investigation).

Midway through the ceremony there was a brief interruption by Boss Taggart's factotum MacDougal (who the party had previously met) who hurried in and whispered something quickly to his boss, who showed some alarm at the news. He quickly shared word with his bodyguard and guest and all four of them quickly departed. Later in the evening rumors began spreading through the crowd that a party including Lord Mayor Bowlton's daughter Liesl was en route to Taggart's manor in the village of Veirona but has failed to arrive, causing considerable distress to the Lord Mayor and his confidantes.

Grain the thief was disappointed to learn that the ring of invisibility she found last week has the unfortunate side-effect of draining away her strength and constitution, and was forced to pay almost the entirety of her savings to date (including her bridal dowry) to purchase a remove curse and dispel magic combo from Carlos the priest, even at "friends and family" rate. However, she decided to keep the ring anyway, figuring that once the PC clerics (both currently 4th level) hit 5th level and are able to cast those spells that it will still be worthwhile to have the invisibility option, especially if she only wears the ring for an hour or two. 

Thorn the ranger, who has a Quirk allowing him to speak with birds, also took delivery of a trained hawk that he had ordered several weeks back.

Asking around the next morning if there was any news of the mayor's missing daughter and learning that a search was underway but no news had been heard yet, they decided to go back to the familiar Salt Mines to continue exploring around the blank areas on their map. [Some of the players were surprised that they weren't being asked to help with the search, but other players reminded them that they have gone to great lengths to keep their adventuring career on the down-low and that only a handful of people in town - mostly their mentor/trainers - have any knowledge that they are adventurers at all.] During the trip there (the mines are about 3 hours' walk from town) the hawk informed Thorn that they were being followed by someone, who they suspected and then confirmed was Mr. Stearns' daughter Rafaella. Great pains were taken to shake her off their tail, during which they learned that she also has preternaturally fast reflexes like her father. One of the players wondered aloud if perhaps they're some kind of cat-people.

Making a very roundabout way to the mines, they first checked Lumph's old quarters and found no sign that he had returned but that the wedding invitation they'd left for him was gone. ["Do you think maybe the smuggler guys found it and that's why the smuggler boss showed up at the wedding?"] Shortly thereafter, still on level one, they ran into a wandering band of janussarians who immediately attacked. Between their removable and interchangeable heads (which they also use as missiles), their unshakable morale, and damage resistance to blunt and piercing weapons, they were reminded why they had such a hard time with these guys the first time they met them down on level two. They eventually wiped the whole group out but used up so many resources doing so that they decided to make a quick retreat out of the dungeon. Instead of returning to town they decided to find the farmstead south of the mine that had been rumored to be under attack by werefoxes. Showing off the tails of the gopines they had slain in the dungeons they confirmed that the werefox attacks had stopped and were treated to food and hospitality by the grateful farmers and the session ended there. In about 5 hours of play the total net treasure haul was 0 and the total XP haul was 66 apiece, but they met a lot of new people and picked up a lot of new hooks and rumors that they will (hopefully) begin to follow up on in the next session on April 28th.

With the smaller player group and gathered around a smaller, round table which allowed us to be closer and more easily communicate it was a nice change-of-pace session with a lot of talking both in and out of character. Grain's player was especially thrilled by all the attention and extra detail she got (which included, among other things, detailing her entire family including 9 older siblings of gnome turnip farmers) and after several combat-heavy sessions I think it was a nice reminder than there's more to the game (and, specifically, to this adventure) than just fighting and looting.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Playtest Sessions 8-11

I stopped posting session summaries for my games a few months ago because it seemed like nobody was reading them, but I recently heard from a couple of people who mentioned that they had been following them, and although scheduling conflicts since the holidays have caused the frequency of play to slow down, we are still playing, so here's a quick catch-up of everything since my last update.

Session 8 (December 2023): Continuing to explore the Perlammo Salt Mines, the group ventured into the Experimental Mine where they encountered the janussarians (living automata with detachable heads) and beat a hasty retreat. The established party was joined by two new members in this expedition: Kane, a halfling bard, and Glyptus, the fighter henchman of Eldin the magic-user, who's a total arrogant jerk and a lot of fun for the DM to roleplay. I believe it was during this session that they also learned that their ogre buddy Lumph had gone missing.

Session 9 (January 2024): Rolling on the character catch-up table in Midkemia Press' Cities to see what happened to Grain the thief when she was absent in session #8, we learned that she had received a proposal of marriage, which she accepted. Her spouse-to-be was determined to be Vylma who works at the casino as an Elvish impersonator (though what exactly that means beyond the pun is not entirely clear), with the wedding to occur in two weeks game-time. Wary of another encounter with the janussarians, the group instead ventured down a different stairway which led them to a flooded chapel area populated by various slime-creatures who their weapons weren't able to affect. Eventually they encountered a strange hermit priest with a blue crystal staff that was seemingly able to command the slime creatures, so naturally they killed him and took the staff. Although they didn't bother to learn the command phrase (didn't pay attention when the priest said it...) they found that just wielding the staff was enough to keep the slime creatures at bay, so they looted the priest's treasure (including a nice cache of valuable gems that helped a couple of them level up) and left that area behind. 

Session 10 (February 2024): With everybody (except Glyptus the henchman) now at 3rd-4th level the group finally felt up to challenging the lotus smuggling gang who they've known were in the dungeon pretty much since the beginning but had been studiously avoiding. Thorn the ranger wasn't available, which was okay because he was off training with the druids atop Mt. Hexengippel anyway. On the way out of town they learned that their ally in the outlying shanties, Madame Sanspirella the fortune-teller, had been murdered by a halfling whi gave the name Mr. Underhill and they noticed unfriendly looks being directed by the shanty-dwellers towards their own halfling companion. Upon arriving at the mines, the group ventured down the mechanical lift to level 3 where they found a group of human and half-orc guards waiting for them (the lift makes a lot of noise). Negotiations pretty quickly broke down and a large melee ensued. Sleep spells were deployed, reinforcements were summoned, four half-orc flunkies were convinced to change sides and gave their new boss (Kane the halfling) a brief overview of the level, including where "the giant" lives. Alas, while all this was going on in-game, in real-life the store where we play was literally flooding (this was while Los Angeles was having torrential rainstorms) so we had to end the session early and pause with the party still deep in the dungeon (which I hate to do, but was pretty unavoidable in this circumstance).

Session 11 (March 2024 - yesterday): Eldin's player wasn't available so both he and Glyptus "mysteriously vanished in a way the rest of the group didn't find to be alarming," leaving the group as follows:

Thron: half-orc fighter 4
Grain: gnome thief 4
Kronk: gnome cleric 4
Tares: elf cleric 4
Kane: halfling bard 3 (using the Heroic Legendarium version of the class)
4 half-orc men-at-arms (NPC followers of Kane) - I think he may have named them but I didn't write it down

To start with they counted up and looted the bodies from last session's battle - there were 25 of them in total, from whom they recovered a substantial amount of electrum, gold, and platinum coins, a few gems, and two potions. Grain identified and kept the potion of polymorph (self), Kane was unable to identify the other potion but kept it anyway. Once again nobody bothered to check whether any of the deceased enemies had magical weapons or armor. Instead of heading home they decided to explore some more, and quickly triggered a trap that sent Thron and Grain down a long slide. Kane tied a rope (two ropes) around himself, anchored it to the trap mechanism (a set of gears causing the floor to tilt) and lowered himself down after them. 

At the bottom of the slide Grain and Thorn found themselves in a natural cave where the shadows seemed unusually thick and oppressive, so even their infravision was impaired. They soon realized they weren't alone and some of the shadows were moving. Remembering their previous encounter with such a creature in a previous session (and that now there were 6 of them) they fled down the nearest passage deeper into the unknown. Kane arrived on the scene after they had left, and fled in the same direction, but lost a couple points of strength on the way. On the way out he sent a voice throwing yodel back up the slide telling the rest of the group to follow and help. Both clerics (whose players are kids) decided to slide down the chute head-first ("whee!"), and were immediately ambushed by the shadows, losing multiple strength points. Tares waved his magic staff at them no avail. Kronk remained prone and turtled up but also waved his holy symbol at them, which caused 4 of the 6 to cower away. After some confusion and a couple more lost strength points Tares was convinced to also try using his holy symbol, which successfully turned the other two. About that time the severed rope came tumbling down the chute. Kane's sense of betrayal and anger was palpable. 

The group eventually managed to reunite and set to exploring looking for a way out. The gnomes attempted to estimate their depth underground - Kronk was convinced they were 500' below the surface, Grain thought it was more like 200'. Based on previously having been about 150' down and being able to traverse the chute with 2 50' ropes they suspected Grain's estimate was more likely to be correct. They found another stairway leading further down and decided not to take it. They then found a set of stairs leading up, but only 10' leading to another large shadowy cave occupied by a large number of black-furred dogs. Tares used a speak with animals and was able to convince them not to attack and, in exchange for some rations and assorted monster-bits (which Kronk carries a large a large collection of), get directions towards another up-staircase. After a LOT of climbing, which was invigorating and helped them restore their lost strength points, they arrived at a familiar-seeming location and were able to connect the last big gap on their map, the one unexplored staircase on level one. 

Heading back to the elevator room they didn't seem surprised to find the elevator platform on this level. As they were about to head back down they met up with their companion Thorn the ranger (late-arriving player) bearing news - while training atop Mt. Hexengippel a half-elf named Greenthistle arrived with an alarming take about having been hired to guide a group of adventurers into the Whither Woods, encountering a group of evil man-eating elves who tried to drug and capture them, and following them back to a massive diseased oak-tree with a tunnel opening at its base which the others descended into and never returned [attentive readers may note a non-coincidental resemblance between this account and session 7.5]. Also, upon arriving at the mines, he witnessed a group of around a dozen men - most of them armed soldiers but a pair of civilian-types in robes - leaving the mines, piling into a boat hidden under one of the jetties, and departing. One of the two civilian-types looked like he was being dragged along and didn't want to go.

Back down on level 3 they continued exploring around the south part of the level, avoiding the area where the half-orcs had told them the giant lived, had a nasty encounter with a tentamort ("beach ball with tentacles") that due to some lucky die-rolling ended happily before anyone's viscera got liquified, recovered a ring which Grain the thief was thrilled to learn made her invisible at will, and found the barracks of all the guys they killed last session, but were frustrated not to find any more people (and, strangely, didn't seem to connect the dots about the lift being on level one and the group of guys leaving the dungeon with the fact that these rooms were empty, but whatever). They found a 4' high secret passage but instead of exploring it decided to block it up by barricading junk in front of it. 

Feeling frustrated at not finding anything more to kill, they returned to a chamber they had scouted out earlier and Grain invisibly scouted and found a family of giant lizards dwelling there and a lot of silver coins scattered about. Using a bunch of oil they'd looted from the guard barracks they started a big fire, slew the lizards as they fled from it, and Thron the fighter was happy to discover both that his magic sword has extra potency against reptiles and that the ring he'd looted from one of the smugglers was giving him extra protection, lowering his AC to 0. Kronk dissected the lizard corpses (as per his usual practice) and was happy to find that one of the adults had swallowed several gems. Alas, as they were gathering up the silver coins into a wheelbarrow they heard the sound of heavy footsteps approaching, and quickly fled in the opposite direction back towards the lift. 

As they made their way down the wide central hallway they glanced back and saw a 9' tall hideously deformed being wielding a huge club in one hand and an enormous conch shell in the other giving chase (despite his uneven legs and shuffling gait) crying out "what have you done to my pets?!" Definitely wanting nothing to do with that, Kane used the brambled refrain to block his path, giving the party enough time to pile onto the lift platform.

All in all a pretty enjoyable time was had by all, and after 6 weeks off it felt good to get back into the flow. Kane the bard pocketed enough unshared treasure to allow him to hit 4th level, and due to his magic ring Thron is getting close to hitting 5th. Next session should include Grain's wedding at the casino, and we'll see what else they decide to do now that they've pretty well cleaned out the mine dungeons and have a ton of other active hooks to explore.

Still no ETA on the eventual release of the book, but I'm very happy with how the playtest has gone so far and have picked up assorted minor editing and cleanup notes but nothing that requires major retooling. The guy who's re-rendering my hand-drawn maps has sent me some WIP drafts and they're looking great! Artwork is still TBD but the recent Hungarian-language release of Melonath Falls includes a ton of great original commissioned art that the publisher (Gabor Lux of E.M.D.T.) has been kind enough to give me the rights to re-use in my own English-language version, which will definitely help. 

Friday, February 9, 2024

Adventure Site Review

Hi everybody. I wrote two page mini-adventure for the Coldlight Press Adventure Site Contest and it got a nice positive review:

Once all the contest entries have been reviewed (there were 18 of them) the top ones will be compiled into a free pdf, as was done with the NoArtpunk contest. If mine makes the cut for that I’ll let everybody know. If it doesn’t, I’ll probably post it here. It’s set in the same area as Brink of Calamity so could be added to that book instead, but since that manuscript is effectively done (pending future playtesting-derived editing) I think I’d rather make this a stand-alone add-on, like an old fashioned “web enhancement” from the early 00s.