Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Rift City - Session 18

We've reached 18 sessions now with the Rift City campaign.

At this session, the party consisted of:

Berg (1st Level Dwarf)
Galen (2nd Level Elf)
Gene (2nd Level Fighter)
Gwynthor (2nd Level Cleric)
Karensa (1st Level Elf)
Marl (1st Level Halfling)
Shazam (1st Level Elf)

The PCs decided to head back to the area they're calling the 'Bath-house of Blibdoolpoolp' - where, previously, they've encountered Kobolds, Orcs, Fire Beetle, Rats, Bats, Undead and Harpies. The Harpies had left the place in a bit of a state, with smashed furniture and guano all over the place, but as there was no fresh guano, it looked like the surviving Harpy hadn't returned since the last session.

Instead, the PCs found that the entrance rooms had been taken over by Bugbears. There were 5 of them and these proved quite tough for the party, as Berg (who was on point) found to her cost, taking a nasty sword-to-the-head that did 7pts of damage rendering her quite poorly. However, the superior armour of the PCs won out pretty quickly, as the Bugbears found it hard to make their attacks count, and the party butchered them (the Bugbears having passed morale tests that might reasonably have seen them flee). Gwynthor immediately healed Berg as best he could with his clerical magic, but she only got a few points back. She spent the rest of the session a bit more in the middle rank after that. Searching the room and the corpses, the party found some coinage, gems, jewellery and a shiny shield, that Berg claimed.

Heading south out of the Bugbears' room, the party crossed a corridor and barged down another door. Inside they found a Snake but managed to dispatch it without incident. It was a very weak snake I have to say, it only had 1hp. I don't remember putting that snake in that room, but I must have done... I wonder now why I did it. Searching around the room, the PCs found an exit taking them down to the second level. Leaving that for another day, they headed back to the areas that they'd already seen.

Coming out of the snake-room, the PCs encountered some Dwarves, who were also on an adventure. Taking the lead, Berg told them about the stairs down. They seemed quite pleased at that and headed in that direction.

Going the other way, the PCs headed for the waterfall that they discovered at the last session. The corridor beyond was dark, so the water acted a bit like a mirror, not giving them much clue as to what was beyond, or how thick it was. It was also cold and not susceptible to infravision. Marl volunteered to find out how far the waterfall extended, and holding his shield above his head like an umbrella, pushed his way in and found out is was little more than a hand-span wide. The rest of the party adopted the same technique with their shields, and they made it through the water-curtain easily and only a little damp around the edges.

Beyond it they discovered that the corridor branched into three, to the right (north), the left (south) and straight on (west). Opting for the right-hand passage, but unable to see the end of it, the party ventured along it until it reached a left turn. After that the corridor continued westward again.

The next room that the party encountered was large, and dark, and had pillars. The party (who mostly have infravision) worked out it was a square with a kind of balcony or gallery round it. Not knowing what was lurking up there, the demi-human PCs tried to cautiously creep around to see if they could find a staircase, while Gene and Gwynthor waited behind out of the way. After a short while, however, there was a shout (though none of the party speak Kobold, they've encountered plenty in the last couple of weeks and I told them it sounded like a Kobold shout) and arrows started to come from above as the party had been spotted. Judicious use of magically-induced sleep, however, rendered the Kobolds comatose and the PCs, finding the spiral stair in the corner, ran up and began slitting their throats. There wasn't much looting to be had however, so collecting their lantern-using colleagues, they pressed on.

Another room, this one apparently empty, and then a third room since passing through the waterfall that was a bit of a puzzle. There was a large and impressive doorway, monumental even, with carved and tiled sections, but unfortunately it was on the inside, and also pretty large. There was no obvious way to take it down or apart in order to get it back to the city to sell as looted art. While they were puzzling about it, some stinky lizardy humanoids wandered in - Troglodytes! Luckily the PCs made a lot of saves v poison (I don't think anyone was affected at all) but one PC (Marl I think) was injured. However, the Trogs were disposed of fairly rapidly and the PCs consoled themselves with looting the bodies before high-tailing it out and back to town before anything else nasty found them.

I don't think anyone went up a level at this session but I may have just forgotten. We shall have to see what the next session brings, when we shall take our annual holiday from our usual venue as February is the time of the Leicester Comedy Festival and paying punters will be using the room. We're decamping a couple of miles away to the abode of Galan and Berg, who have kindly offered up their dining-room table for the evening, so thanks muchly to them.

In other news, I'm a bit astounded that we have kept this going to be honest, 18 months is not the longest I've played in a campaign but probably 18 sessions is the longest I've managed to keep a campign running! This has happened once a month for a year and a half in a public place (except for when we have to vacate in February) as an open table and I'm quite impressed that we have managed to do that - hurrah for us, and thanks to every one of the 20 or so players who've been involved, whether you've been to one session or 15 (I know I'm the only person to have been to every one)! I'll say here's to another 18 months - and certainly I'd be very happy if the Wandering Monster Table keeps going for another 18 months or more. Whether that will necessarily be the Rift City Campaign I don't know but the experiment in 'public-access gaming' I think has been pretty successful so far, and Basic D&D seems a really good game for this format - so long may it continue!

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Questing in Elfgames IX - It Ain't What You Do, It's the Way that You Do It...

I mentioned previously that 'how' the PC can fulfil a quest will depend both on what the relationship is between party and patron(s), and on how open-ended the nature of the task is. I'll be looking at the second of these criteria in this post.

I'm pretty certain that a quest that is too tightly-controlled is not going to be as satisfying as an open-ended one. If the 'plot' is that the PCs must collect the relics of McGuffin from various locations, and the Sage Andonion tell the PCs to "bring the Spoon of Density from the Dank Citadel to the Unpr'Onounc'Eable Temple in 7 days for the Night of the Moon of Blood or all will be lost", this is a pass/fail situation. The party takes four days to get to the Dank Citadel, and another day to battle their way in to get the Spoon. Unless there's a dragon or magic carpet or teleport spell to get them back to the Temple double quick, they've already failed if they can't get it to the Temple in time.

There is nothing wrong with that setup that can't be solved easily, though. The 'dragon or magic carpet or teleport spell' could be real enough. Andonion could give the party a scroll and tell them, 'when you have the Spoon, read this scroll and you will be brought back to this place'. If they ask why they can't just do a 'reverse-scroll' to get them into the Dank Citadel, then the scroll is a homing-spell and will return to to the place it was made (the Temple, not at the Citadel)... Lord Doombad's return-point would be at the Citadel, but they don't have Lord Doombad's scroll. I like this idea, I may even institute it in a game.

Or, there could be a dragon (perhaps an enchanted or otherwise compelled one) who might be persuaded to fly our heroes home. Or the tapestry on the wall might turn out to be a magic carpet that the PCs could fly back on. There should be multiple ways of reaching goals. But putting in time-constraints just for effect is probably not the way to go.

Letting the PCs fail because they ran out of time is perhaps not the PCs fault, it's maybe bad DMing I think. If they've taken too long to get to the Citadel and now can't get back in time because they faffed around in the Forest of Illimitable Mulch for too long on the way there, then their way probably wasn't clear enough for them to do what you expected - unless the idea is that they fail. Which, I'd suggest, it isn't. It should be possible for the PCs to fail for sure, but I think it's peculiar to require them to fail. It's also pretty railroady, as much as requiring them to succeed would be.

'Bring the Spoon of Density to the Unpr'Onounc'Eable Temple because we can use its magical energy to bind Lord Doombad' is better, because there's no real pass/fail condition. The PCs don't know about the Moon of Blood, it's OK if they take four days to get there and a day to find it and four more days to get back, that's fine. But I'd still have the teleport scroll and the dragon and the magic carpet just to be safe (or a flight of hippogriffs or or magic mirror that acts as a portal or some pretty heavy and speedy magical effect like dust that you sprinkle on your feet and you move ten times faster or whatever). If the point is getting the Spoon to the Temple then there should be ways to do that. If the point is the journey, then, maybe there aren't ways to short-cut it, but then, that shouldn't have a time-limit. What you can't have is a time-limited quest with no short-cuts, because that's a railroad.

'Bring the Spoon of Density to the Unpr'Onounc'Eable Temple because we can use its magical energy to bind Lord Doombad - but I urge you to hurry, his strength grows every day' is probably even better still, it puts a weak time condition on things that maybe will still be a motivator not to dawdle (as the 'Moon of Blood' condition) but doesn't have a binary pass/fail setup. Ultimately the PCs will still 'lose' if they take too much time but 'too much' is less clearly-defined.

The way wandering monsters work in a dungeon is in part dependant on how much time the PCs take to do things. 'Get in, don't search for traps and secret doors, kill monsters, take treasure, get out' will result in fewer wandering monsters than 'Get in, search carefully for traps and secret doors, kill monsters, take treasure, get out'. It will probably result in more deaths from traps, and less treasure from secret hiding places, than the second procedure. It's a balance the party must come to between being meticulous and being fast. And as a corollary, searching for secret doors should entail the party getting rewards some (most?) of the time. Else, why bother?

The same procedures can be applied to fulfilling quest-goals. Encounters in the wilderness or at the Dank Citadel should depend on how much time the PCs have 'wasted'. This why '... but I urge you to hurry, his strength grows every day' is probably a better time-condition than 'do this by then or all is lost'. All should not be lost. It may be harder ('...  his strength grows every day' might equate in game mechanics to 'add another Gnoll patrol for each day spent in the Forest of Illimitable Mulch, and increase the level and number of the Undead servants at the Citadel by d6' for example, because Lord Doombad is resurrecting the dead of a thousand years of war in the environs of the Dank Citadel), but there shouldn't be a point where the PCs calculate that a conclusion is inevitable. If the actions of the PCs don't make a difference, then there's no point playing (others may disagree, but to me at least if player action is meaningless, in the end it's just the DM reading a story with the players providing some dialogue. Some people might want that. That's fine but it's not what I do). The loss of time leading to a build-up of enemy forces should be balanced by some possibility of reward (if it's a deliberate loss of time at least), and without it necessarily entailing the PCs breaking the quest.

So, the PCs get diverted in the Forest and go to the Vale of Silky Death in the centre of the woods. There they fight the Giant Spiders, who have nothing directly to do with the quest. The PCs acquire the Wonderweb Cloak (a powerful magic item in its own right that may help them in the quest) and also make allies of the Grubmen (who were the Spiders' slaves), but as a result Lord Doombad has recruited more Gnoll soldiers in the Forest, and when the PCs get to the Citadel there are more, and more powerful, Undead around.

The PCs could have saved time and bypassed the Giant Spiders, in which case, they'd have met fewer Gnoll patrols and faced less serious enemies in the Citadel, but wouldn't have the Cloak or the knowledge of the secret way into the Citadel that the Grubmen gave them. That is a reasonable trade-off, and even though the PCs shouldn't necessarily be able to calculate that in advance (they don't know the Wonderweb Cloak is there, they don't know the Grubmen could give them useful information), they should at least have the expectation that 'having adventures' will not be detrimental to the game. If the DM is penalising the players for exploration and adventuring, then I'd say something has probably gone wrong somewhere.

Going through the Vale of Silky Death, fighting the Spiders, rescuing the Grubmen and gaining the Cloak, means that instead of facing one Gnoll patrol and finding 10 Skeleton guards at the Dank Citadel, they fight two Gnoll patrols and find 14 Zombie guards. If they also go to the Mountain of Mumbling Medusae and fight the residents there, they might get their hands on the Mirror of Madness and befriend the Rockmen; but then they'll find three Gnoll patrols in the Forest and 19 Ghoul guards at the Citadel. If they also go to the Lake of Lachrymose Lycanthropes, the PCs can find the Flying Dagger of Flamfloon and get information from the Purple Pixies, but they'll run into four Gnoll patrols and 23 Wight guards, and so on.

So yes, if the PCs want to go off on side-quests it should be a question of balancing risk and reward (roughly, because they shouldn't necessarily know the specifics). They have been warned that Lord Doombad will grow stronger if they delay, but they should also have an inkling that there is more than one way to reach the destination. Otherwise it's just a railroad.

More, possibly much more, on this to come. With lots of diversions for interesting byways I suspect.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Questing in Elfgames VIII - Mentors and Motivations

There is a very interesting post at Campaign Chronicle, entitled 'Character motivation in OD&D'. It is a d20 table of reasons why PCs are going adventuring. The posts says the table is '...to use as-is or to inspire more original ideas...'. I can see it being useful for a particular campaign, either getting PCs to choose one of the options or randomly assigning them (it makes more sense to have a 'card' system rather than a table I think, so each backstory is only given out once, rather than having a situation where three of the seven PCs have randomly or unknowingly chosen the same motivation).

I want to break the system down however and build a way of generating this kind of stuff from random tables.

The first thing I want to do is give each PC a patron or mentor. A simple system I think for that, I'll limit mentors to PC classes, rather than having the ability for a Werewolf or a Treant or a Centaur to be a mentor (of course I now want a 'Centaur Mentor' because in British English, if not American English, it rhymes. But no, keep it simple, stupid, at least for the moment: PC classes only).

Roll d12 - the PC's mentor is a:

1 - Cleric
2 - Dwarf
3 - Elf
4 - Fighter
5 - Halfling
6 - Magic-User
7 - Thief
8-12 as PC's class

This should produce a distribution where 50% of the time the Mentor is the same class as the PC. A d8 would produce a result where the PC and the Mentor were the same class 25% of the time, a d20 the same result 70% of the time. All of these are possible of course...

I created a party of PCs to test the numbers on. As there are 7 classes I rolled a d8 several times to generate some numbers for class-distribution, with 1-7 standing for the classes above. As luck would have it the first number was an 8 so I decided that was the number of PCs I'd create.

My numbers were 812445667 (I tidied the order of the numbers to make it easier for me). That should mean '8PCs - Cleric, Dwarf, Fighter, Fighter, Halfling, Magic-User, Magic-User, Thief' which looks like a pretty cool party to me. I rolled on the table above to determine the classes of the PCs' Mentors. Tabulating that produces something like this:

PC Class:                          Mentor Class:

Cleric                           9 (as PC – Cleric)
Dwarf                          5 (Halfling)
Fighter                         1 (Cleric)
Fighter                         4 (Fighter
Halfling                       5 (Halfling)
Magic-User                 7 (Thief)
Magic-User                 8 (as PC – Magic User)
Thief                            4 (Fighter)

I decided I'd rather have fewer Mentors than more. There's no particular reason that each PC should have a different Mentor, it may be that some PCs have the same Mentor. So, I decided to double up; any time I had a repetition of a class in my Mentor column, it would be the same Mentor. Thus the two Clerics are one Cleric, the two Fighters are one Fighter and the two Halflings are the same Halfling.

So we have five Mentors - a Cleric (Mentor to a Cleric and a Fighter); a Halfling (Mentor to a Dwarf and a Halfling); a Fighter (Mentor to a Fighter and a Thief); a Thief (Mentor to a Magic-User); and a Magic-User (Mentor to a Magic-User).

The relationship of the PC to the mentor is very tricky. Alignment should be an issue I think but can't work out how (or indeed why) it could (should). It seems like it is adding a layer of unnecessary complexity (what happens if the PC's alignment is different to the Mentor's alignment? Does that make the relationship between them more difficult? Do I want that? If not, what purpose would alignment serve? If it doesn't serve a purpose, why bother about it? So, I decided to leave it alone). There should definitely be some sort of discernible connection between the PC and the Mentor  though. I decided to roll a d6 again and see what connections I could come up with.

I got 6 after some thought:

1 - Parental (or foster-parental, as 3, where this is not biologically possible)
2 - Avuncular, materteral or other family (or inherited, as 4, if this is not biologically feasible)
3 - Foster-familial
4 - Inherited (Mentor is a companion of a relative of the previous generation)
5 - Geographical
6 - Professional

Basically there's some chance the Mentor is actual family, a parent or someone or less-directly related - if the PC and Mentor are not the same race, then there's an automatic bump to foster-parent/friend of the family instead. Then there's a chance that the Mentor was either a foster-parent or a friend of the PC's parents. Finally, there's a chance that the relationship between them is something more societal - I'm not actually sure how I'm defining the difference between 'Geographical' and 'Professional' here. My idea for 'Geographical' was that the Mentor is some kind of local 'power' (the Lord of the Manor; the Priest of the local temple or some such idea); but then, this bleeds over into a 'Professional' relationship (where the Mentor has taken an interest in the PC for some professional reason). I suppose really this latter doesn't rely on much power on the Mentor's part. If a 'Geographical' result could mean "you came to the Lord of the Manor's attention as a likely lad about the village, and he took an interest in your training", 'Professional' could mean "you came to the Guard Captain's attention as a likely lad about the village, and he took an interest in your training". I think 'Geographical' implies 'you sought out the Mentor because...' whereas 'Professional' implies more "the Mentor sought you out because..." but it's a subtle distinction.

Running these numbers with the previous results produced this:

Cleric                    9 (as PC – Cleric)              1 (parental)
Dwarf                    5 (Halfling)                        5 (geographical)
Fighter                  1 (Cleric)                            4 (inherited)
Fighter                  4 (Fighter)                           3 (foster-familial)
Halfling                 5 (Halfling)                        3 (foster-familial)
Magic-User           7 (Thief)                             5 (geographical)
Magic-User           8 (as PC – Magic-User)      3 (foster-familial)
Thief                     4 (Fighter)                           1 (parent)

Assuming that I'm sticking to the idea of combining the Mentors where I get multiple classes, so having 5 mentors, I now know that ...

the Mentor Cleric is the parent of the PC Cleric and the companion of an older relative of one of the PC Fighters;
the Halfling Mentor is the foster-parent of the Halfling PC and has a geographical connection with the Dwarf PC;
the Mentor Fighter is the foster-parent of the other PC Fighter and the parent of the Thief;
the Mentor Thief has a geographical connection to one of the PC Magic-Users;
the Mentor Magic-User is the foster-parent of the other PC Magic-User.

This all seemed reasonable enough but I want to know if this group of Mentors has any relationship to each other. I rolled a d6 for the following results:

1 Old companions
2-5 Thrown together by circumstance
6 Old adversaries

I actually rolled a 1 which is nice but I don't like this table. Maybe if the divisions were 1-2, 3-4 and 5-6 it would be better. Anyway, I tried to generate connections another way, by stealing JensD's idea from Lost Songs of the Nibelungs about using repeated dice-numbers to stand for connections (a lot of this is directly or indirectly inspired by Jens... much of it can be traced back to something I told him some years ago, "every Hero should have been fostered by Dwarves" which was something of an exaggeration but still, I think, has a core of truth to it). As soon as he comes by to tell me where it is, I'll link to it (honestly Jens, I went back through about 5 years of posts looking, I really did).

Anyway, I rolled a die for each of the five Mentors, intending that each Mentor who shared a number with another had a connection with them. I used a d4 so I would guarantee some repetition, and came up with 12413 (the least connected possible result of course). That means the Cleric and the Thief Mentors know each other. I rolled for their connection (only looking for 'old friends' and 'old adversaries' results... I already know they know each other, so results in the middle don't count) and came up with 'old adversaries'. Somehow having two Mentors as old adversaries and the other three unknown to each other doesn't seem as satisfying as having all of them as old companion, though I am pleased it was 'Cleric' and 'Thief' - there may be mileage in dramatic situations to be created there. But I'm sure I shall play about with this aspect somewhat (what I'm currently thinking is that I'm going to use all of it - the five are old companions, and this is the most important relationship, but the Thief and the Cleric have an antagonistic personal relationship).

I decided to set the Mentor's Level at d4+3. Especially when the PC is at low levels the Mentor should be an important personage, at least on a regional scale. However, I think a Mentor should not be a deus ex machina. Nor the other way around, for that matter. The Mentor should not necessarily take any direct role in adventuring, and it should be on the whole difficult to access their help. The point is that the Mentor has set the PC on the quest so that they can learn their true powers, not come running to Uncle Alrund Elf-Lord if the going gets tough. The occasional help with decoding Moon-Runes or identifying a sword should be OK, even helping to find the best Elven weaponsmith to repair that broken heirloom, but not so much kicking down the doors in of Bigbad Central and killing Lord Nasty in the face with the +5 Shining Sword of Ultimate Cool. The PCs should not be outclassed by their own aunts/teachers/random old friends of their dad.

As the PCs gain in Levels perhaps the Mentor can too, but at a slower speed I think, and taking into account level limits. In any case, mentors should probably be capped at around 10th-12th Level, by which time the PCs should be well on their way to overtaking them, if they haven't already. It may even be that the Mentor doesn't increase in level at all and the PCs start to overtake them from about 5th Level. But, it's around 8th-10th Level that PCs start to establish strongholds and I think this seems a natural point to stop Mentor advancement. You establish the Last Homely House East of the Sea, get together some old comrades in arms, build a library, and get on with the business of protecting the Heirs of Isildur through the long dark of the Third Age. You know the score.

The Level results I came up with were 22211. This equates to Levels 5 (Cleric), 5 (Fighter), 5 (Halfling), 4 (Magic-User) and 4 (Thief). I imagine that this is some adventuring party of a previous generation. If you're really together and have access to 30-year-old character sheets this might even be an adventuring party of a previous generation, and you can skip most of the exposition actually. I don't know if I need levels at the moment but maybe I will. I may as well generate them.

That all seems like a usable set of results. I shall mess about with them more in a future post, however, as it's late and this is getting a bit large I'm ending this one here.

Have I mentioned lately how much I hate the formatting on Blogger?

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Questing in Elfgames VII - Quest and Anti-quest

Let us assume that the PCs agree to play a game in which there is a quest. They must, I think, therefore be in favour of the general aims of the quest. Does it necessarily follow, however, that all of them must be in agreement over the methods used to fulfil the quest?

A thought experiment, once more based on Lord of the Rings (not the first time I have done this I admit). The quest in Lord of the Rings is to destroy the Ring by taking it to Orodruin. However, Boromir, in 'Minority Report' style, departs from the consensus and wants to use the Ring as a weapon against Mordor. Both viewpoints are about fighting Sauron, one by destroying a powerful artefact that could be used by the baddies, the other by using the artefact against the baddies. In this thought-experiment version, Boromir takes the Ring from Frodo at Amon Hen. What happens next?

Boromir has fallen under the baleful influence of the Ring, but hasn't changed sides; he is still opposed to Sauron, and wants to use it as a weapon against Sauron for the good of Gondor (as he sees it). He's not going to ally himself with the Orcs in the woods, they and he are still still enemies. The rest of the party... err, Fellowship... wants to 'rescue', not fight, him, even if they fundamentally disagree with his perspective. So, Boromir is still fighting the Orcs, but not allowing the Fellowship to stop him taking the Ring to Minas Tirith. He battles his way to Gondor, and from there the plot takes a different turn as the now Ring-wielding Gondorian forces both resist Sauron and are corrupted from the inside.

There are some successes for Gondor due to wielding the Ring but also increasing jealousy between Boromir and Denethor, as well as paranoia in the Gondor command about 'internal enemies' (not helped by Faramir throwing in his lot with Aragorn's 'loyal opposition'). This leads to a nightmare 3-way war between the forces of Sauron, the Ring-wielding Gondorian faction around Boromir (after a power-struggle, Boromir kills Denethor and takes absolute control) and the Aragorn/Faramir faction, waging guerrilla war from Ithilien, fighting off the Gondorian loyalists as well as Mordor, but also trying to unite all the anti-Mordor forces. Ultimately, Aragorn's guerrillas break into Minas Tirith and steal the Ring before racing to destroy it in Mt Doom. Boromir, perhaps, is unsavable, and resists the Aragornian 'rebellion' to the end, but ultimately the Ring is destroyed and Gondor saved.

Is something like this a reasonable version of 'the Quest'? It's not Tolkien's story but is it a reasonable, workable, even playable departure from it? I think it is. It's maybe a bit more 'Game of Thrones' (or even 'Star Wars') than 'Lord of the Rings', but I can see how it might work. There's no reason why this couldn't be the unfolding story of a game based on the starting-point of 'The Lord of the Rings'.

In the Quest for the Relics of McGuffin, the Sages of the Unpr'Onounc'Eable Temple want the Relics brought back to the Temple so they can use them to defeat Lord Doombad. Let's say the NPC Sage Andonion has roped in Scrofula the Thief, who is a PC, to bring back one of McGuffin's relics, the Spoon of Density, from the Dank Citadel. However, Scrofula, having gone to to the Dank Citadel with his mates (the rest of the party) and liberated the the Spoon of Density, decides he wants to go off-piste and uses it to attack Lord Doombad instead of taking it back to the Sages. Is this reasonable?

It might not be in a novel (I don't know, actually maybe it would) but it should be in a game. A quest does not necessarily imply unanimity about methods, just aims. In 'Lord of the Rings' everyone wants Sauron defeated, but they disagree about how that is best done. That should be OK in a game too, and it should be possible to change course to fulfil the quest. The Sage Andonion has engaged the PCs - somehow! (and that 'how?'still requires some thinking about) - in a quest (getting the Spoon from the Dank Citadel will somehow help defeat Lord Doombad... either because the Spoon is a powerful artefact and it will help to add its power to the good side, or to deny its power to the evil side) but the PCs have autonomy to carry out the quest in the way they see fit. How they see that will depend on the setup, how the information is actually given to them, and how much they trust the veracity or sagacity of their quest patron.

But probably I need to keep picking away at those things, so I'll leave this here for the moment.

Happy Christmas, and whatever else you may be celebrating.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Rift City session 17

So, the 17th session of Wandering Monster Table and the Rift City campaign...

A few of the usual players couldn't make this session, so the party consisted of:

Bonjella the 1st Level Elf;
Galan the 1st Level Elf;
Gene the 2nd Level Fighter;
Gibbet the 3rd Level Thief;
Karensa the 1st Level Elf.

Their plan was again to raid the 'Bath-house of Blibdoolpoolp'. I rolled for Ademus the Priest's reaction - he wasn't having any of it, preferring to follow up on the rumour that Ulfang the Black was in another part of the complex, so Ademus has gone adventuring with another group. The PCs might hear what happened about this when they get back to town.

Today, on approaching the entrance cavern, the party saw that the door was smashed and there was excrement around the doorway. There's no reason for any of them to be experts in animal excrement (except Gene who it's previously established was brought up on a farm, but this didn't look like any kind of excrement Gene had encountered) so they were none the wiser. They wondered if it was Giant Bat guano, as they'd run into one of those previously in this area (maybe last session thinking about it, probably could have mentioned that in the last write-up).

It wasn't bats; the PCs leapt into the room and were confronted by some (3) Harpies who had moved in to the cave entrance. The PCs had surprised them for sure but the Harpies were tough; the 3 Elves, after managing to get some wounds in, all failed their saving throws against the Harpies' song and it was left to Gene and Gibbet to dispatch two of them while the third fled, horribly injured. In the meantime however, both humans took injuries. Searching the room produced a big sack of coins that went straight into Galan's Bag of Holding.

Moving on to the next room, they found the door wedged from the other side (presumably to stop the Harpies getting into the rest of the dungeon). Being 4/5 clad in plate, the PCs barged the door down, and slammed into the next room. Finding some Orcs in there, Bonjella used her Sleep spell on them and the PCs then slit their throats. Looting the bodies and the room produced a big red gem and some Orc swords (which were soon discarded).

The section of 'The Bath-house of Blibdoolpoolp' that the PCs have explored
Heading south out of the Orcs' room, the PCs came to an open area with various doors coming off it. Having already explored quite a lot towards the east (the library, tannery, Kobold temple where the PCs smashed a statue of Kurtalmuk, wine cellar and the 'necro-room', which contained Giant Rats and a lot of skulls and candles had all been explored in the previous two visits), the party turned west. The ignored the teleport room (the small room at the far end of the north-west corridor) and instead made for the room marked 'rats' on my map. Listening at the door indeed allowed them to hear that something was within - not Kobolds however. A somewhat complicated plan ensued with the door being quickly opened and a lit torch thrown in. When the (Giant) Rats inside panicked and made for the door, the party quickly shut it.

Exactly what happened next I don't actually remember. There was definitely a fight with the Rats. The party made short work of the R.O.U.S. (3 dead and the other 4 so panicked that they turned and fled down a small hole), leaving time to search the room. Several things caught their attention. First, on a shelf along the north wall, five large jars stood in a row. Amidst the dust and slime and rat-crap, a small metal chest was also visible. Gibbet searched that, found no traps and tried to unlock it. He succeeded and the chest sprang open. Inside was a was a leather purse containing coins (209GP) and four ceramic vials in the shape of dragons emerging from eggs. Meanwhile, Galan discovered that the vases each contained hundreds of silver pieces. Everything went into the Bag of Holding.

There was also a gaggle of wandering Fire Beetles that turned up. Another Sleep spell dealt with them pretty quickly and the party harvested their glow-glands for sale to Gisuintha back in town. This may have been before the fight with the R.O.U.S. but I can't actually recall.

Pushing on through the Rat room, the party opened the western door. This led to a very strange room indeed. As soon as the door opened, a warm light and soothing music was heard. Having previously been victims of the Harpies' Charm, everyone freaked out and decided that they all needed to stuff things in their ears and wrap things round their heads to block out the sound. Only Gene refused to do so. 

I have to admit that I misread the room description when the PCs did go in. There was supposed to be some smashed furniture and disembodied harp music, but I told them there was an actual harp sitting on a somewhat smashed desk. D'oh. Now instead of a groovy room effect, they have an actual enchanted harp, because of course it ended up in the bag. Bonjella poked around in the smashed furniture, and unfortunately set off a surviving trap, being hit by a spring-loaded bolt, which caused her an injury but luckily not death. There was however also some cash lying about, a purse with coins in it that the trap was meant to protect.

That was about it for that room however, so with the harp and the cash, they opened another door - again, the western one. They could see about 10' away a curtain of water falling but could not see if the corridor continued beyond it. Leaving that for another day, they opened the door in the north wall. As that only seemed to lead to another corridor with several more doors, they retreated back the way they'd come and out of the Rat room.

Deciding that with three party-members injured, only one spell between them and a lot of loot, they might be best of heading back, they opted to try one last room and see what was what, so they chose to open the southern-most door in the wide section of corridor, into the room marked 'beetles' - in this case, more Fire Beetles. The room was some sort of mausoleum, with five large sarcophagi standing about, and the beetles running in between them, partly out of sight and definitely difficult to kill.

However, the party was determined to get them and add some more glands to the pile, so they marched through the room butchering the beetles. The attacks were maybe a little fierce however, as I ruled that most of the precious glands were destroyed and they only managed to get three out of a possible nine. Even so better than nothing and it rounded off the haul for the day. Disappointingly for the PCs, the sarcophagi turned out to be empty.

The PCs made it back to the entrance without incident, and high-tailed it to town with their loot. Totting up at the end of the session, Galan announced that he had also gone up a level. This levelling-up thing is catching. And now, the party has a spell-caster with two spells - what will they think of next?

Monday, 10 December 2018

Rift City Session 16

What can I say about this game?

Cnut the Fighter (2nd Level)
Galan the Elf (1st Level)
Gene the Fighter (1st Level)
Gibbet the Thief (2nd Level)
Gwynthor the Cleric (2nd Level)
Karansa the Elf (1st Level)
Shazam the Elf (1st Level) with Ugulmuk AKA Keith the Kobold, his Charmed henchbeing...

went dungeoneering with Ademus, the NPC Cleric.

The party had a new plan, to head back to 'The Bath-house of Blibdoolpoolp' where they had been in session 14. Ademus asked about Ulfang the Black (he's the focus of Ademus's quest) and the party assured him that there were Kobolds in this area too - it was just a case of finding out where Ulfang was. I rolled for Ademus's reaction and he seemed happy to go along with what the party was suggesting - as long as there would be Kobolds to kill he would be happy.

So off they went - sidling up to the door, where once before they had forced their way in and found Kobolds.

And kill Kobolds they did - and Giant Rats and some Zombies too. They found the key to a previously-locked room, and unlocked it. It was seemingly a kind of Kobold-temple. They searched the library again and stole some more books.

But this was now weeks ago and sadly I can't remember the details very well (I'm rubbish at keeping records of what the PCs are up to, beyond '6 dead Kobolds, 260cp looted' and such like.

What I do remember is that at the end of the session, Gibbet went up to 3rd Level and Gene went up to 2nd...

Monday, 26 November 2018

A co-operative megadungeon proposal

The idea here is a Megadungeon based on the London Tube Map. I'm calling it 'The Labyrinth of Nodnol'.

The iconic Tube Map from TfL
This map is pretty famous (link to Tranport for London site here) and shows a bunch of underground locations. Some of the names are pretty evocative - Baron's Court, Queensway, Redbridge, Barbican, Mudchute... there are two 'Arsenals' (ie weapon-stores) on the map. Some names may relate to monsters, and some of these come in clusters - there are a few in the north-east part of the centre that start 'Totten-' that might relate to undead for example, or in the south 'Peck-' names may be related to Halflings ('Peck' is a pejorative used by the humans about the Nelwyn in the film 'Willow'). Others may refer to Elves, Giants (or KGOHGBO, AD&D 'Giant Class' monsters), hammers and axes (Dwarves?), as well as various birds and trees, and maybe other creatures too. There are multiple routes around these underground locations, with differently-coloured passages that may (probably do) relate to different levels. There's a watercourse running through it.

To me, this all says that this is a megadungeon. I think on a quick and non-scientific count (possibly using a slightly-different version of the map, I used one that also listed the stations) that there are approximately 400 named locations on this map. Were each a room or cave, that would be a largish dungeon.

The way I'm envisioning it, some stations - those that just have a block, like this:

- will just be a room off a corridor. If possible, the name of the station should have something to do with the contents (that might be inhabitants, function either ancient or current, features, treasure or decoration).

Other stations, that are interchanges, are marked like this:

These will be intersections between corridors, entrances (like this one), or both (anything with the old British Rail logo, seen here in red and referring to a connection with the railway network, will be an entrance to the complex... I think there are at least 60 of these, maybe about 65).

The entrances might work like this (I'm assuming as a hypothetical that the Northern Line is Level 2 here, but the intersections can actually come between any number of lines and with the rail network):

Some things will take some thinking about. Stations where multiple lines converge might be stacked, something like this (again, this is only a hypothetical):

Here, the two N-S tunnels are at the same level, but the E-W level is a level lower. The room then spreads over more than one level, and I think that will definitely be the way forward with this. But lines that come to an intersection might not actually be together. The District (green) and Circle (yellow) lines mirror each other a lot. It might be better not to have two sets of corridors between the same locations on the same level.

I need to try to isolate the lines to work out which work best as being 'the same' levels and which would be better on different levels. I also need to work out what this means:

Is that one room accessible by two corridors? Is it two rooms, each accessible by different corridors? Is it two rooms in the same place on different levels? I don't think it can be a single room; that would necessarily make it an interchange (ie a way of getting from one corridor to another). It has then to be two rooms (either on the same or different levels). So I need to up the number of 'rooms' - each time a station like Bayswater appears it needs to be counted once for each line that comes in. Interchange locations are a bit trickier - one big room over different levels, or linked rooms? I guess the situation might have to dictate that. Perhaps one of the other symbols (there are two different wheelchair symbols) might be used to decide it - for example, if there's a wheelchair symbol there's 'access' between two (or more) rooms, where there's no wheelchair it's all one big room.
There are also some other symbols - a kind of 'long' (Latin) cross, a little like this † - which surely represents something. Death, it looks like. A trap? There aren't many of them and putting traps in the same places on different floors or in neighbouring but unconnected rooms (as would probably happen if this means 'trap') would be a bit predictable. Maybe more undead? I like the idea of monsters in clusters but not so keen on having areas of traps. OK if they're connected to a particular kind of monster (Kobolds are the obvious monster for trapping but Goblins and others might also be candidates for setting traps) but otherwise, trapped zones seem forced to me.

There are also seven stations (that I could see) where boat logos are displayed. The best reason for this is that it provides access to the ?underground water-course. I'll have to check the levels carefully to make sure these are all on the same dungeon level, or provide some good justification otherwise - an underground waterfall is fine to move from a higher to a deeper level, but makes travelling 'upstream' really tricky.

All of this I'm sure could combine into an interesting dungeon environment. But... I won't do it all. And that's why I think it would be a good thing to open it all up. Who wouldn't want to be part of building a co-operative megadungeon around the London Underground?