Thursday, 9 December 2021

Rift City catchup...

Well, I'm not doing well posting updates to the Rift City Campaign. Session 49 (August, the campaign's 4th birthday!) has been and gone - as have Sessions 50 (September), 51 (October) and 52 (November). Session 53 is almost upon us...

What can I say? I write fewer notes with the discord sessions, and then it's harder to reconstruct what happened after the event. This makes it far less likely that I'll actually start writing a blog post, and then the next session comes round and I have more to do with less information (and I've already forgotten half of what happened at the session before...).

What has definitely happened is that the PCs have abandoned the tunnels under the ruins that they were previously exploring, and therefore the search for the tomb of Riha the Bejewelled, and instead started exploring down the hill where they discovered an entrance to a different part of Level 6. They fought Salamanders (the PCs got very hot, and turned one of them into a rabbit); they found some Spectres, Berg charged in and the rest of the PCs stood by watching - as Berg was zapped by six Spectres, making her very dead indeed. RIP Berg, there was many a Dwarf that night crying himself to sleep over his beer I'm sure. There were also some 'evil Dwarves' as the PCs called them (they definitely were evil, I'm not going to lie - some were Chaotic Evil, some were Neutral Evil, a few weren't technically Dwarves, but it doesn't really matter - they were for sure hostile to the party and paid the price) in one of the rooms but they were wiped out and all their stuff was liberated for the forces of Light.

Further exploration in the same area over subsequent sessions has yielded some snake-chickens (Cockatrices that is) and some strange big-cats-with-six-legs-and-shoulder-tentacles, which are of course Displacer Beasts, but because I'm using a Labyrinth Lord monster generator (link here) they come up as 'Phase Tigers', which is a very cool name I think. Certainly, if I were a Phase Tiger, I reckon I'd be very disapproving of people calling me a 'Displacer Beast'. Then of course there were a couple of packs of Hellhounds, which Halvor in particular is theologically very against (his god is a kind of version of the Viking god Tyr, and his mythology has his hand being bitten off by a giant Hellhound. The Hellhound is in turn worshipped by Goblins as a great flaming wolf-spirit of the Underworld).

Image of Tyr from Age of Kings, which I don't think is the same of Age of Empires II, but might be. Anyway, this is 'Yrt', one-handed god of Lawful Fighting.

Halvor's divine interventions have proved particularly useful. 'Sticks to Snakes' (one of the spells Halvor uses most often) has allowed the party to considerably increase their muscle-power, as well as giving them poisoned attacks. It's a powerful spell - though, I ruled (because I can't specifically find a rule for it) that they couldn't successfully attack the Spectres that killed Berg.

Web, from Inarra the MU, has also proved useful. In the last session, when the party was attacked by Hellhounds, Inarra webbed them. This led to a discussion on whether Hellhounds are immune to fire damage, and it doesn't seem they are. The reasoning is that, if the Hellhounds' breath destroys the web, it also harms the Hellhounds. Effectively, they spent two rounds fighting themselves by burning themselves out of the web before confronting the party.

What else...? I'm not sure, I can't remember at the moment. If you want some better detail, Lyracian (whose PC is Halvor) has written up some of the sessions on his blog (link).

Monday, 26 July 2021

Changing the ending of the Lord of the Rings

I may have mentioned (just the odd time) that LotR is a big thing for me. I first read it more than 40 years ago and it has exerted quite a pull ever since. But actually, there are problems gaming it (see the 'Questing in Elfgames' label for some ruminations on that - I've mused about this pretty often).

One idea I've been kicking around recently is a 'what if?' pretty much directly inspired by two facebook memes and more generally by some ideas I've had for a while. I don't like the term 'synergies' but I think it is somewhat fitting in this instance. The coming-together of a bunch of fairly disparate stuff has almost tied itself into something coherent (coherent...ish).

The first meme was a pic of Cate Blanchett as Hela next to Carl Urban as Skurge, from Thor: Ragnarok, with some text along the lines of 'Did Galadriel take the Ring?'.

Didn't find the FB meme but this image illustrates the point - Karl Urban (Skurge, Eomer) and Cate Blanchett (Hela, Galadriel) - Marvel's evil versions of good LotR characters in Thor: Ragnarok?  - (c) Marvel 2017

The second meme was called 'When Elves Go Bad' and had a similar theme. There were pictures of Galadriel twinned with Hela, Thranduil paired with Ronan the Accuser from Guardians of the Galaxy, and Elrond paired with Red Skull from The Avengers.

Some random stuff from the net - originals (c) New Line Cinema 2001-2014 and (c) Marvel 2011-2019

These images (and the ideas they provoked) slotted into two bits of LotR 'alternative history' that I've been considering for a couple of years. For a little while, when Game of Thrones was becoming popular, people were using the LotR Boromir miniatures for Ned Stark, as they were famously both played by Sean Bean, cementing his reputation as the actor whose character died half-way through (sorry for the spoilers if you've not seen LotR or GoT), and prompting such famous memes as Boromir standing in the snows of Caradhras saying 'Winter is Coming', and another of Boromir at the Council of Elrond saying 'One does not simply walk into King's Landing'. I remember several GoT threads on Lead Adventures where Games Workshop's Gondor and Rohan soldiers were pressed into service in Westeros. In my own (rather small) LotR collection, there are several Gondor and Numenor soldiers who have had their distinctive winged helmets filed off and their 'White Tree' shields scraped so the design has been obliterated. These had come in an ebay job-lot I got a couple of years ago. I have a pretty strong hunch that they were originally intended for an abandoned GoT project. Not having great modelling skills myself, I put them aside, unsure as to what to do with them. Maybe I'm coming up with a plan... Anyway, the idea of 'what if Boromir survived and got married and had kids?' was something floating around in my brain for a while.

If Boromir survived... Ned and Catlyn Stark (Sean Bean and Michelle Fairly) in Game of Thrones Season 1 (c) HBO 2011

A couple of years ago, I watched a movie featuring Aaron Eckhardt (who I like) and Miranda Otto (who I really only know from the LotR films so it's difficult to have too much of an opinion on her, though I think she pulls off Eowyn perfectly well). It was called I, Frankenstein (Lionsgate, 2014) and though I don't want to give the game away too much (you never know, someone may stumble across this and decide they want to watch the movie... though I don't think it's very good, ask Rotten Tomatoes if you want a review), Miranda Otto plays Leonore, the Queen of the (Were-)Gargoyles in their war with (Were-)Demons. When I saw it originally, I thought 'hey, so this is what Eowyn gets up to when she goes to live in Emyn Arnen with Faramir'.

What Eowyn did next - Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto) in I, Frankenstein (c) Lionsgate 2014

So, already armed with mental pictures of what Eowyn did after LotR, and what Boromir might have done had he survived, and then the idea of Galadriel and Eomer as an evil double act, then corrupted versions of Elrond and Thranduil, I started to wonder how this could all be made to work.

The idea of Galadriel taking the Ring is key here. Her speech (the version in the film is slightly condensed but not, I think, significantly):

“And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!” (Fellowship of the Ring: The Mirror of Galadriel (c) Allen & Unwin 1954)

She then pledges to resist the Ring, to diminish, go into the West, and "remain Galadriel".

But what if she didn't?

If Galadriel took the Ring from Frodo in Lorien (freely offered, not forced) then perhaps the 'Queen' she sees herself becoming would become something like Hela. Ultimately of course - it wouldn't happen immediately. The Ring would have to corrupt her more than just giving in to a momentary weakness to take power when offered it, she'd have to start to actually do bad stuff... out of a desire to good, of course, as Gandalf says.

But what would this 'beautiful and terrible' Queen do?

It seems to me that the first thing she would try to do would be to neutralise potential rivals. Of these, the most important are probably Saruman and Elrond. Gandalf is 'dead' - no-one at this point knows he's coming back; Saruman and Elrond are the main loremasters who could in theory challenge Galadriel. Thranduil, Glorfindel, Cirdan, Radagast... are any of these likely to be able to mount a serious challenge to the new Dark Queen? I'd suspect not, and I'm sure Celeborn would not go against her either. Beyond their basic raw power, Saruman and Elrond also have more Ring-lore than any outside of the immediate ambit of Mordor - Saruman because he has studied it over centuries (to the point of obsession, madness and treachery) and Elrond because he is actually the wielder of one of the Three. So, a war with Saruman looks to me like Galadriel's best bet - especially if she can convince Elrond to stay on her side. Saruman has already shown himself to be a traitor to the White Council, and Galadriel, I think can make the argument that with Gandalf's death, swift action against Saruman is vital to stop Mordor and its allies triumphing absolutely.

As the Mistress of the Ring, who also has a close connection with the last bearer of one of the Three (Elrond is of course her son-in-law) I think it might be possible to persuade Elrond of this course of action. So a direct alliance of Lorien and Rivendell against Isengard seems a possibility. Should Elrond be reluctant, perhaps Galadriel could count on the power of the One Ring to sway him, but that's not certain. The power of the One over the Three is sketchy. Certainly there is no suggestion that Sauron was ever able to influence Galadriel, Cirdan, Gil-Galad, Elrond or Gandalf. But, he was their sworn enemy; Galadriel is Elrond's friend, kinswoman and ally. It might be possible to use the Ring's influence to persuade him... for the greater good, of course.

Sauron meanwhile would be in the dark. The Ring-wraiths have been banished for the time being and the trail of the Ring-bearer was lost at the Ford of Bruinen. Sauron must suspect the Ring was taken to Rivendell but probably not more than that. Saruman is perhaps no better-informed - his agents lost the Hobbits when they left Bree, and though he may have suspected they would go to Rivendell but what else might have happened he can't know. He may wonder if perhaps the Ring would be taken to Lorien, but he cannot be at all certain of this.

Anyway - a surprise Elvish attack on Isengard is my assumption as to 'what happens next'. Lorien would provide the main component of this force, but perhaps Rivendell would provide some support. Tolkien has Elrond send Elrohir and Elladan with the Rangers of Arnor to help Aragorn and perhaps some similar (maybe even larger) force could be a component of any putative Elven attack. Whatever Rivendell's contribution I expect Lorien to be the main gainer in this adventure. Jackson has Haldir lead a collection of Elves to Helm's Deep and something like this can be envisioned as forming a significant part of the Lorien army.

The attitude of Rohan, and I think perhaps perhaps particularly Eomer, can explain the Eomer-Skurge connection. Without Gandalf, Theoden is still in Saruman's power, but if the attack from Lorien were rapid enough, Theodred might not be dead yet, and Theoden may not be utterly in despair (which was of course one of the reasons Grima and through him Saruman were able to gain power over Theoden). But whatever Theoden's attitude, Eomer is already implacably opposed to Saruman. He may think allying with the Sorceress of the Golden Wood against the White Wizard is a good bargain (all for 'the greater good' of Rohan of course), even if it means rebellion against his King... and may even make his 'becoming' Skurge more likely, as he is potentially now even more cut off from his kin - his King is of course also his uncle. Perhaps this even opens the door to a rift with his sister. All in all, it looks like the alliance between at least a faction of the Rohirrim led by Eomer and Galadriel's anti-Saruman Elf forces is a distinct possibility.

Assuming some relative success of Galadriel's assault on Isengard, she is likely to have come away with a greatly-increased armoury both in terms of materiel and knowledge, as well as magical items such as the Palantir. With a Palantir and her own Mirror (that she insists isn't 'magic' but that's  semantic quibble I think) she would be in a much more powerful position to challenge Sauron directly than any of the main actors in LotR. This of course would be her ultimate goal, though I'm sure she would rather Sauron exhaust himself on other enemies (like Gondor) rather than attacking Lorien directly.

But, Galadriel would need further allies. And then, what to do with Nenya? My supposition is that she would make a gift of it to Thranduil, one of the few of the leaders of the Elves who could make immediate trouble for her. With Elrond a potential ally, and also positioned to protect Lorien from any attack from the West (by Cirdan, Gildor or other unknown lords of Lindon who may not share her new ambitions - though, of course, she may persuade them too), Galadriel I think would want to make her north-eastern approaches secure, so a gift of one of the Great Rings to Thranduil makes perfect sense, especially if the idea of potential influence through the power of the One is accepted.

Over time, the corruption of Galadriel's purpose would be mirrored I think in those who would by now have become not just allies but accomplices - Elrond and Thranduil, completing their transformations into Red Skull and Ronan the Accuser. A lot hinges on her being able to persuade them, but hey-ho, I need some process that corrupts three Elf-lords!

Of the other characters in and around the Fellowship - well, if the party didn't sail to its breaking at Amon Hen, then Boromir doesn't need to die there and there's no reason he can't survive, marry and start a family, living something of the Ned Stark trajectory.

Eowyn can certainly survive; she could even become Queen of the Rohirrim. It's not necessary in this timeline for her to meet Faramir, but she may, in which case, perhaps depending on what happens to Aragorn, she might have some role in Gondor too.

Legolas's alternative life is a bit tricky. His transformation into a pirate I'm not so sure about. However, in LotR his journey in Gondor unlocked a 'sea-longing' in him so something similar may have happened in this alternative timeline. Orlando Bloom has been in many other things, but the recent (you know, last 10 years or so) version of The Three Musketeers he was in is even less LotR than Pirates of the Caribbean is.

Mystery female companion and Legolas Greenleaf on the shore of Elvenhome? - Elizabeth Swan and Will Turner (Keira Knightly and Orlando Bloom) in a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - (c) Disney 2007

Not been able yet to track a post-LotR career for Gimli, but this pic may show him in a pre-LotR flashback, when it looks like he was involved in a digging project in Harad:

Gimli's early career? - John Rhys-Davies as Sallah in Raiders of the Lost Ark (c) Lucasfilm 1981

Haldir also might have a dark career in this new timeline, as Craig Parker played the villainous character Darken Rahl in Legend of the Seeker. I don't know much about this but it would perhaps be possible to fit something along the lines of Haldir becoming Galadriel's governor of some possibly southern province conquered by Lorien.

Haldir gone bad? - Darken Rahl and Kahlan Amnell (Craig Parker and Brigit Regan) from Legend of the Seeker - (c) ABC-Disney 2008

Then, there's Gandalf. Of course Sir Ian McKellern is probably as famous for playing Magneto in the X-Men films as he is for his portrayal of Gandalf. Again, he's a Ring-bearer, and if the idea of Galadriel being able to corrupt the bearers of the Three is accepted, it may be that she could do the same to Gandalf, weakened as he is after his near-death experience at the hands of the Balrog. 

Evil Gandalf? - Sir Ian McKellern as Magneto (c) Marvel 2000

I'm now trying to find other fantasy, sci-fi and superhero flicks and TV series that LotR actors were involved in to fill in some of the other possibilities. It'll be difficult for the Hobbits particularly I suppose. Even if I find some they're unlikely to be 3 feet tall. I'm not sure what Aragorn is bringing to this party as I don't know enough about Viggo Mortenson's career to find a suitable image to shoe-horn into the new timeline; equally, the further exploits of Arwen (Liv Tyler), Theoden (Bernard Hill) and Celeborn (Marton Csokas) remain to be discovered. Perhaps If I can discover suitable films I can put in some further speculations on the alternative timeline.

One other character perhaps does have at least a sketch of a further career. Talking to a work colleague recently about some of this stuff, he pointed out that Faramir also appears in Van Helsing - if you've not seen it, Wolverine and Selene from Underworld team up to fight vampires and werewolves in Transylvania, accompanied by Faramir who is a kind of Vatican monk-cum-quatermaster of bizarre equipment (a bit like Q in the Bond films). It is, I think, an enjoyable romp, but doesn't owe much to Bram Stoker's Van Helsing. It can perhaps be regarded as a prequel - Van Helsing in the film is  younger than in Dracula (the film is supposedly set around 1888, a few years earlier than the novel), so maybe it's his earlier experiences with vampires that lead to his appearance in Dracula as a seasoned vampire-hunter. Anyway, the monk character, Brother Carl, in that movie is played by David Wenham, that's the point.

David Wenham (Farimir) as Brother Carl, from Van Helsing, (c) Unviersal 2004 

Perhaps then, if Boromir doesn't die, and the Ring never comes south, and Aragorn doesn't go to Rohan, then Eowyn and Faramir never meet, and Faramir becomes something like Brother Carl, a member of a secret order of monster-hunters - presumably in Gondor - while Eowyn becomes something like Leonore? Events in Gondor presumably take a very different turn if the result of Galadriel taking the One Ring is that Boromir settles down to raise a family and Faramir becomes a monk, but maybe I need to think a lot more about how that happens!

Saturday, 10 July 2021

Rift City campaign - session 47

 Well, once again I have failed to do the write-up of the session before the next one has arrived. However, Lyracian has done a qrite-up here. It contains the bare bones of the story - captured Orc seemingly tries to lead the party into a trap, fight with insects and then a confrontation with some death-cult clerics.

I have to agree, I thought it was a fun session too! What tomorrow will bring... well, I'd say 'watch this space' but if you want your info hot off the press, maybe you shoud watch Lyracian's space, he's much quicker off the mark than I am.

Tomorrow's session will be the 48th programmed session of the Wandering Monster Table, which I'm chosing to regard aas quite an acheivement.  We've only cancelled two session in the last 4 years, re-arranged two for the third Sunday of the month,and had to move venue for a few (generally to Berg and Galen/Halvor's players' house, so thanks for  that) - not bad to be honest given that the idea was to bring an open table campaign to Leicester. I think we can be somewhat proud of how we've managed to do that.

Who knows, maybe for our actual 4th birthday (8th August is the second Sunday in August and is therefore our 4th birthday, even if the opening session was 13th August, the second Sunday in August 2017) we may even be able to meet physically for the first time since March 2020...

Saturday, 5 June 2021

Rift City Campaign - Session 46 and beyond

Well, what is there to say? Lyracian at Playing Dice with the Universe posted up a write-up of this session the day it happened, and I have little to add to that report in terms of events of the session. 

I did indeed completely fluff the whole 'summoning the elemental' thing. Not in control of my sources, that's the problem.  I rarely have much idea what the players are going to attempt (I thought they were heading back to Level 5/6 where they've been adventuring, but they decided to go back to Level 1 and attempt a Summoning instead) and I was flipping between different pdfs and files for rules and location information and maps and what-have-you, realising that I hadn't updated these locations for months (effectively there were still corpses lying about from the party's last visit) and also that I couldn't find some important notes that I know I wrote but couldn't access; meanwhile, trying to re-stock the dead monsters on the fly, I discovered that the Mithril and Mages Monster Stocker (my favoured place for grabbing a quick stat-block) was down... anyway, I was unable to keep everything running smoothly and fluffed some vital processes. Sorry guys, but there's nothing to be done now. Oh well.

I've been pondering XP in the wake of Session 46. The PCs (who are mostly, I guess, 6th Level now, though as I haven't seen their character sheets for more than a year they may be more) have been mollocking around for the last few sessions in a Level 5-Level 6 area. This I feel is more-or-less 'level appropriate'. That's where they should be. Last session they went back to Level 1 and fought a Goblin patrol and some Orcs. Otherwise, they avoided two Insect Swarms. This is not, to my mind, 'appropriate'. The PCs are big heroes now, they should I think be doing more than grinding on low-level monsters.

I've changed how XP acquisition works twice already while the campaign has been going on (close to 4 years now). After about 6 months of playing 'by the book' awarding XP only for monsters and treasure, with a very occasional small bonus for some good piece of play, with very low XP acquisition and everyone still on First Level, I instituted an 'exploration bonus'. This was a bonus based on rooms explored - I can't remember what I gave out but maybe it was 10XP or 50XP for each new room the PCs explored. However, that started to get a bit creaky when different people would come to different sessions - is the room 'new' if half the party members have already been there in a previous session? Do they get the bonus? Do the people to whom it really is a new room not get the bonus? I gave up trying to remember who had explored which room and instead adopted an idea from BECMI (in the Rules Compendium I think), where an exploration bonus of 10% of the average needed to reach the next level is given out to everyone.

This leads to several anomalous situations I think. In the last session, the PCs killed, captured or evaded approximately 120XP-worth of monsters, between I think 6 of them. They took about 300GP of treasure - even if that isn't right, I don't think it was much more than that - some SP, some GP and some gems I think, certainly not thousands of GPs' worth. For the sake of argument, the PCs got something like 80XP each from 'monsters and treasure', which given how B/X is set up are the two main ways to gain XP. At the same time, they each gained an 'exploration bonus' of something like 8,000XP (100 times their 'actual', earned XP!) for rooms that some of the PCs (not to mention all of the players) had already visited. That doesn't seem right to me. I don't think the players should be able to use the 'easy' caverns as a way to lever XP out of the fact that they're already high level. At the moment, all they have to do is take their 6th or 7th Level characters into a Level 1 dungeon and kill a few Goblins, then harvest thousands of XP by dint of the fact that they're already six levels 'higher' than the dungeons they're exploring. They get high XP just for existing.

Another anomalous result of this way of distributing XP is that low-level characters are seen as a drain. This is because the 'open table' format imposes some problems in terms of assimilating new party members, necessitating some minimum level for new players to join at. Up until now, new PCs started at the lowest Level of PCs currently in the game. When Shazam was left to die (no attempt at Elementary Staunching by the other party members, apparently because the bonus is better if you let low-level characters die) I began to wonder if this would break the campaign, with players killing off low-level PCs to get an upgrade for the next session. It hasn't quite worked like that but I think I need to trim how things work. Now seems as good a time as any to put some changes in place to prevent what I would see as 'meta-gaming' the system.

First, I think that any time a party member dies (and this will include being turned to stone and not turned back), there will be no bonus at all. Ascribe it to PTSD or something but I think that when a party member is killed the rest of the party should not be rewarded. It should be a traumatic event. They can still get the XP from monsters and treasure, but not the bonus. It's a kind of 'trauma tax'. This might have the result of making PCs more risk-averse in the future, but I'm prepared to chance it.

Second, when a new PC comes along (because of PC death or because a new player joins) I am no longer going to start them at the lowest Level in the party, I'm going to start them at the lowest XP. If the lowest Level PC is, for example, a 5th Level Cleric with 12,500XP and a new player joins, they could under the current system start with a 5th Level Elf. If the XP total is taken as the basis for the new PC, however, 12.500XP is enough to have a Cleric at 5th Level but only 3rd Level for an Elf. That seems like a better way to do it - though to be honest, I'm not sure why, it just does.

Third, the exploration bonus should be level-dependent. I'm going to try dividing the Dungeon Level the PCs were on by the Character Level they have, and applying that to the bonus. So, if PCs are (like the party now) around 6th-7th Level, but go adventuring on Level 1, their bonus will by 1/6 or 1/7 of the potential bonus. This (working with the second change, mentioned above) would mean that low-level characters would level up faster than higher-level characters - in the example above, if the 3rd Level Elf was adventuring with the party on Level 1, they would get 1/3 of the bonus, whereas the 5th Level Cleric would only get 1/5: so the 8,000 (potential) XP each PC would have got from exploring on their own Level would be trimmed to 2,667XP for the 3rd Level Elf and 1,600XP for the 5th Level Cleric. Conversely, if they go exploring on Level 7, they would gain 18,667XP (3rd Level Elf) and 11,200XP (5th Level Cleric). This (somewhat counteracting the first change, above) might make the party bolder in pushing on to lower levels, or at least, less keen to hang around at the 'shallow end', because it would be less worth their while for the purposes of XP harvesting. So between the 'no bonus for dead comrades' and 'reduced bonus for the shallows, increased bonus for the deeps' I think I'm hopefully balancing the making the party more risk-averse with an incentive towards riskier behaviour.

I hope, anyway. Of course, if I find through the Law of Unintended Consequences that things are still not right I can still tinker with the system.

Sunday, 25 April 2021

Rift City Campaign - session 45

Once more unto the Rift, dear friends...

On Sunday 11th April the Wandering Monster Table had its 45th session, with Halvor, Berg, Inarra and Kate deciding they needed to stock up on silver and magic weapons to fight were-creatures in the ruins in the Rift.

At last everyone was equipped with something that could do damage to lycanthropes and other similarly-enchanted creatures, and they set off for the ruins, under which they encountered the were-creatures in previous visits. Ostensibly, they were there to rescue some adventurers that had been captured by Ogres and enslaved (or worse) by the lycanthropes.

Ironic, given what happened.

Lyracian at the 'Playing Dice with Universe' blog has already written up the session (link here). All I have to add is that the adventure was proceeding in distinctly un-lucrative fashion until killing an NPC party gave the PCs a bonanza of magic items; and, as I just hinted, slaughtering the NPC party was a pretty bizarre end to a session in which our 'heroes' (I use the term very loosely) were supposed to be rescuing some NPCs...

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Rift City Campaign -- Session 44

Well, the PCs had another go under the ruins in the Rift. Halvor the Cleric, Berg the Dwarf, Kate the Halfling, Brigham the Cleric and Gibbet the Thief once more ventured in search of excitement, adventure and big piles of loot.

The first thing they did was finish up exploring the tower. They've been there on two previous occasions and had failed to find the room with the trapdoor down to the lower levels. They also hadn't made a map and ended up exploring some of the areas they'd been before.

In one of the rooms, they came upon some undead presences. These proved a little tricky as the PCs don't all have magic or silver weapons. But with Berg taking two hits and losing two levels, and Gibbet losing one, they did manage to overcome the entities before they were all back to First Level. 

The PCs eventually came to a room they hadn't been before, as it was behind the only door they've found that they hadn't opened. Not in some Quantum Ogre sense, just because it was the furthest from the entrance. In the room, sitting on a rug that turned out to be top of the trapdoor, were a couple of prisoners and some Ogres. They Ogres died pretty quickly, the prisoners did not. Their names were Aben (a female Halfling) and Hames (a male Elf); they begged the PCs to rescue their friends (more prisoners had been taken down into the tunnels, it seemed), and agreed to come and help.

So, everyone rolled back the rug and opened the trapdoor, where they found a staircase heading down to the south. They followed it to a landing where stairs went east and west. The east stair smelled bad (probably Troglodytes down there) so they took the west stair. This opened into a wide E-W hall with various doors and corridors off. Taking a door on the north wall, they found themselves in a room where a man dressed in black was playing a lute and singing to to a female human, a female Ogre, and a couple of Giant Rats The female human was one of the captured NPCs, a young woman called Miranda, and there seemed to be some sort of magic going on. A fight rapidly ensued with the music-man being Held (then killed), the Ogre and the Rats being killed, and Miranda falling unconscious when the music-man died (and his spell was broken). On regaining consciousness, Miranda told them that the other prisoners had been added to a group already in the tunnels but that 'the man with the dark eyes' had taken a fancy to her and told the Ogres to hand her over to him. She agreed that coming with the party (given Aben and Hames were with them) was a good plan. So they looted the room as best they could and, after setting what was left on fire, they left.

On the way out, they ran into a couple of rough-looking fellows who seemed to be some sort of wandering guard patrol. Unconvinced by the PCs' explanation, the guards resolved to 'check with Eldwin' (the music chap with rats and women in his thrall, now dead and in a burning room). As they passed the party, a quick attempt at a surprise backstabbing was made... and failed. These guys too were immune to normal weapons apparently... so a short and vicious fight broke out between the PCs (five of them) and their NPC allies (three) on the one hand, and the two guards on the other. The only problem was that due to the lack of magical weapons, only about 4-5 of the PCs could fight anyway. But obviously, the PCs could deal with a pair of lycanthropes even so. Looting the bodies netted some sacks of low-value coins and a couple of pieces of expensive jewellery.

Deciding that by this point that is really was time to head back to the City, they made their way back to the exit. Heading out through the ruins, however, they ran into another patrol - this time 6 more lycanthrope guards. Again the fight was brutal but eventually 6 dead werewolves netted another 300GP for the coffers - and no-one from the party's side died. No-one was infected with lycanthropy either, though it was pretty close in some cases. 

High-tailing it back up the forest path the party was back in Rift City in time for tea and the division of spoils. What will happen 'tomorrow' is anyone's guess...

Saturday, 6 March 2021

Faith + Magic = Reality

I have too many things on the go... but this will I hope be quick. Then I can get back to writing about 'Labyrinth' or something.

Reading a book at the moment, called 'Coldfire Pt.1: Black Sun Rising' by Celia Friedman. I'm rather enjoying it. It contains what I think is a great idea. The action takes place on a planet where a magical force, called 'fae', sort of sloshes about in tides and streams... in some ways, it's a bit like weather. It means that some places are both easier to cast spells in, and magically more fraught, because with great power comes, well, greater chances for things to go wrong. Magical tsunami sweep the continents, vortices of magical currents swirl around and earthquakes of thaumaturgical energy batter settlements and the brains of the magically-susceptible.

It also affects the local flora and fauna. First, there can be an interaction between fear and fae, which means monsters are literally born of people's imaginations. Fears manifest themselves physically. Imagine a creepy grinning skeletal figure with a paralysing touch, and a ghoul could actually appear behind you.

Then, it can affect evolution. What is believed becomes real so if people think that geese are fish that grow into birds from barnacles (as was believed in Medieval Europe for instance), then, I guess, that's what starts to happen. Over time creatures come to evolve to be the way people imagine they are.

I like the idea that belief shapes the world around us. It seems like it could work well in game terms, for at least two reasons. The first is, suddenly, all those weird monsters in the Monster Manual and Fiend Folio and the pages of White Dwarf make a particular kind of sense. That monster over there with the legs of a giant moth and a trunk and the body of a hyena seems improbable... doesn't matter, someone imagined it in a fever-dream. Who cares if dragons can't fly? If people believe they can fly, then they can. It is, if I can coin the term, a very Pratchettian way of looking at things. Faith + Magic = Reality. This I think has some relationship to what Jens is talking about over at 'The Disoriented Ranger' here, where he talks about how people in different societies pattern reality, and how stories emerge (also of course something Pratchett talked about a lot). Obviously, Dwarves and Trolls and Dragons aren't real for us... and aren't real for us, even 1500 years ago. But they were real for the people who believed the stories about them in Northern Europe during Volkswanderung, the period Jens is exploring in Lost Songs of the Nebelungs. Our lack of belief doesn't change the nature of the world they inhabited.

The second way it works is, it gives you a great excuse to make things suddenly weird, which is sometimes good. I don't think it's fair to do it all the time: if everything is weird, then nothing is is weird, it's all just confusing and I guess quickly stops being fun... the players lose all agency because if there's no apprehensible (spellcheck doesn't like that one) logic then there's no basis for decision making and nothing has meaning. But, perhaps, the weird builds up (in a measurable way) until it breaks through into reality and changes things. I'd love to work on mechanisms for this. Instead of Wandering Monsters, a sort of Magical Mishap table. Of course, if the PCs' fears can create monsters, maybe this is the best justification for a Wandering Monster turning up (see above). 

But, and this is one place I'm having problems with the application of this concept, if the Wandering Monster has actually been created from a PC's fear, it should probably be something that the PC fears... and that might require either knowing in advance what the PCs are scared of (in which case someone I'm sure will claim to be scared of being captured by the very attractive clerics of a sex-god/dess, or maybe suddenly finding huge amounts of money... again, Pratchett talks about this... the 'unexpected money Goblin' or something), or alternatively, it means listening very hard to what the players are saying and incorporating that into the game - so when they go "I hope we don't run into any trolls down here", the next thing they encounter should be trolls. But my feeling is it's difficult to pattern a wandering monster table on the basis of 'whatever the PCs said 2 minutes ago'.

I guess most of us who use wandering monsters have some sort of system like 'roll 1-2 on a d6 every 2 turns, more (frequently, or just a bigger number) if the party is being noisy/careless with lights/setting fire to things/leaving food lying around etc. Instead, this would be more like applying Magical Mishaps if the party did something ritually 'wrong', or if they were tired or distracted, if they had misread the flows of magic... I remember The Angry GM describing the use of wandering monster dice that are stacked up in front of the players so they'd know how noisy they were being or how much time they were taking (in this post here). Perhaps the 'fae detection' could be similar - a kind of 'charge' that builds up depending on the players' actions.

The ability to use magic (possibly even including 'safe' magic like potions or weapons) would maybe require something like a saving throw to be successful. This could be augmented by such things as an accurate map of the magical currents, or maybe something analogous to a miner's canary or Universal Indicator Paper - something that detected fae energy to help with knowing safe levels and places. All of this may require extra systems to check or it could be as simple as a Save. But the effects of (conceptually at least) 'failing' the Save?

I shall be considering this more, no doubt.