Saturday, 14 December 2019

Rift City - no session 29!

It's now the Saturday after we should have had a gaming session. I'm still on a work pattern that means early starts on a Monday and that really limits gaming on a Sunday.

We may be able to have a session next month at our usual venue - it depends if I can get the following Monday off - but that's not yet certain, and what happens in February is as yet an open question. This new work pattern may see the death of the Rift City Campaign, which will be a shame as it's been something that I and about 25 other people have enjoyed being part of.

However, even if it does mean the end of Rift City, it will not I hope be the end of the Wandering Monster Table experiment in open table gaming in Leicester. I'm sure, with a bit of forethought, the regulars can put together a plan to continue the open table concept. It seems to me that the most important thing for open gaming is that the sessions are discrete, to allow for the changing nature of the group from session to session, whether that's because people can't make it or because new people join. Any game that can handle that, and is not impossibly difficult for a newbie to get into, is I think a suitable candidate for an open gaming table.

One of the things that has been discussed is a Traveler campaign. As long as it is episodic in nature I don't see why not. Something like a Star Trek set-up - a large ship, with the PCs acting as an 'away team' for each session - could work well (this could be for exploration, as in Star Trek, or a military strike team, an investigation into something, or some kind of heist, or any number of other reasons). This isn't the usual Traveler set-up, which tends to feature a team of PCs acting as mercenaries for a series of patrons, or sometimes basically as pirates, while they try to make money to make improvements to their space-ship, but of course this idea (rather more like the group aboard the Millennium Falcon in A New Hope) depends on a fairly stable team, or good explanations as why someone is or isn't there. A large ship or maybe space station, with a large population capable of providing a pool of people from which a suitable 'cast' can be drawn for each 'episode', seems like a viable alternative way of organising an open table sci-fi campaign.

Another possibility that is being aired is a Runequest campaign. This could be organised in a very similar manner to the Rift City Campaign, though megadungeons are not necessarily a major feature of Glorantha. Small exploring parties however, that may change in composition from one session to the next, are very easy to accommodate I think. There's plenty of adventure to be had in Pavis and the Big Rubble, and PCs could easily spend a long time exploring, treasure-hunting and generally being involved in shady shenanigans without necessarily going far from home at all (so, back in time for tea, as with Rift City).

However, all this may be moot. There is a rumour that one of the three gaming cafés in town can accommodate us on a Sunday afternoon, so we may start using them and getting our gaming in earlier in the day, which may solve the problem. I hope we do find a solution that at least allows me to play sometimes on a Sunday. I'm happy to play in someone else's game, especially if I'm only going to be able to play occasionally,  but if I can get there more regularly, I'm also happy to DM - and my favourite system is and is likely to remain Basic D&D, so an earlier slot may well allow Rift City to continue. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few months... as in the old Persian curse, 'may you live in interesting times'!

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Rift CIty - Session 28

Alas and alack!

I had hoped not to have to do this but the Session 28 of the Rift City Campaign has had to be cancelled, at pretty short notice. It should be taking place on Sunday, 10th November, at 6pm. As I type, it's Sunday 10th November, just after 5pm, and I will shortly be leaving town to go to a different city about 2 hours away, where I will stay in hotel so I can get to the office at 6am, so I can get a works' bus to somewhere else, another 2 hours away. Otherwise I'd have to leave here at 4am tomorrow morning to get there in time. This work-pattern doesn't really give me the opportunity to DM the regular session on Sunday evenings.

I don't know whether this will be a regular thing, but it might be. That might put the kibosh on the Rift City Campaign if it's a permanent (or even short/medium term) thing. We may be able to re-arrange of course, perhaps doing it in the afternoon, I don't know, I'll have to consult the current players and the venue and see if it's possible. Or maybe I'll get some clarity from work about whether I'll be doing this in future. Perhaps someone else could run a different campaign for a bit - some people have been expressing an interest in Runequest, and someone else in running a Traveler game. I don't want to just kill the campaign, but it's not possible with the current set-up in these changed circumstances.

Watch this space - I hope we'll be back to normal next month, but I have no idea what will actually happen. I want to continue with the open table concept, I think we've done good work over the last 27 months, but something will have to change if we are going to continue.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Rift City - Session 27

A new day and a new party heading into the caves. Joining our regular party members (Brigham, Cnut, Gell, Gibbet, Karensa, Marl and Nelson) was a cleric, newly-arrived in town - Tanika.

The party established its marching order:

Marl (3rd Level Halfling)
Cnut (4th Level Fighter)
Tanika (2nd Level Cleric)
Nelson (3rd Level Magic USer)
Gibbet (5th Level Thief)
Gell (2nd Level Fighter)
Brigham (4th Level Cleric)
Karensa (3rd Level Elf)

The idea was a demi-human front and back to use infravision (I ruled long ago that Halflings have infravision and speak Halfling, even though neither is included in the rules); then a fighter and a cleric (in case of undead); then, in the middle, the two specialists (that is, the only people not wearing plate).

The exploration started simply enough: the PCs have for the past few sessions been checking out an area of Level 2, and decided that they'd head back there. Unfortunately, though they had a map made by Marl and Brigham, they'd forgotten to get the 'other map' off Galen (who wasn't there but had mapped the first visit to these tunnels). However, Karensa had at least sorted out before the game that she'd collected the Bag of Holding for any treasure.

They entered the cave that led to the corridor they'd previously been exploring. About 120' down this corridor, there is a door, and the party was somewhat surprised to see some people coming out of it - adventurers like themselves. These poor souls told the PCs they'd got lost in the caves and didn't know where they were, so the PCs told them that they were close to an exit, and the NPC party turned and headed back the way they'd come. This may have been a sign of things to come -or maybe it wasn't. The PCs then spiked the door shut that the other party had come through, to stop them heading back that way again - the procedure did cause some noise however, which led to me making more rolls for wandering monsters.

The PCs pushed on, and soon found more wanderers. These three were searching for a lost heirloom, a sword with a skull design on the pommel. Again the PCs talked their way through the encounter, and pushed on - through the room with a pool that didn't have a lion in it any more.

They were moving on to areas they'd never been to before when they had their third encounter. Again this was a wandering monster encounter. I hadn't realised when I prepared the list of wanderers for this area that so many of them were NPCs, but they were. Also, I kept rolling low as they explored so they got several in quick succession (of course there was also the banging, that helped). This time it was a lone Elf, who again convinced the party not to attack her.

A little further on the PCs came to a set of stairs going down. They did debate whether they wanted to go down to Level 3 ("there's eight of us after all!" I heard someone say), but decided that they'd stick to Level 2 and explore further.

They moved north and Gibbet, scouting out for traps, realised that there was some kind of magical effect on a door. Making sure that they could open the door without touching it by judicious use of an 8-foot pole (Gibbet's 10-foot pole had suffered an accident many sessions before), the PCs navigated their way  through, with little ill effect that they could determine. However, there were consequences to this that were not to become immediately apparent.

Pushing on, the PCs entered a room that appeared to have been some kind of evil temple. A pile of candles lay in the centre; a tapestry showing ghouls devouring victims covered the west wall; on the east wall, there were bookshelves covered in dust (but no scrolls). As they were searching around, a gas trap went off - Tanika, Cnut, Gell, and I think Nelson failed their saves and were caught in the cloud of poison. This was not a standard 'Save or Die' poison, which is usual in B/X, it came with specific damage attached (this part of the dungeon is ultimately derived from an AD&D source, and I believe 'Save or Die' is less common in AD&D material).

There followed a moment of shock for Cnut - what I think I told him was 'take d10 damage'. But I might not have done - what Cnut's player heard me say was 'take 10 damage', which would take Cnut down to 4hp I think. But when I asked Tanika, Gell, and (I think) Nelson to roll for their damage, Cnut's player asked why I didn't let him roll, and we realised what happened. In the end, Cnut ended up taking something like 3 points.

But, Tanika was not so lucky. I think that sickly Cleric only had about 7hp to start with and promptly fell over, 'dead' in so far as people are dead at 0hp. Time for the party to apply 'elementary staunching', or at least some sort of battlefield first aid, possibly the kiss of life. The result was, Tanika did survive, but at the cost of losing a point of CON permanently (this point is converted to 1hp), going from 10 to 9. Brigham then used a Cure Light Wounds spell to restore 3 more hp to Tanika.

I'll admit I wasn't sure about this. Cure Light Wounds is not 'neutralise poison' so I was unsure it would work. But ultimately the gas did 'damage' not 'poison damage', and what Cure Light Wounds heals is hit points not some subset of hit points relating to injuries from weapons. So I let Tanika heal the 3 points. Tanika felt able to limp on, so the party kept going, on into the next room.

Here they found another large room, but with few interesting features. While searching around however they did come across a kind of leather-covered notebook with diagrams and notes in an unknown language. Gibbet pocketed it for later perusal, and the party moved on towards the south-west. As they did the rearguard heard something behind them.

The PCs have been guilty of some pretty grim behaviour in their adventuring career. The slaughter of Orc prisoners, for example. An unprovoked assault on some Lizardmen during the last session. This time, it was the slaughter of some Lawful, curious and basically friendly Neanderthals that was not the party's finest hour. Unfortunately, the party didn't have a common language with the Neanderthals, and Karensa decided that they perhaps posed a threat, so she shot at them. This enraged them (they made their morale check) and they counter attacked.

Poor Tanika was having no luck, being part of the rearguard, as one of the Neanderthals' stone-tipped spears found a gap in the old plate armour. Then the Neanderthals were on the party. Down the unlucky cleric went went for the second time. I apologised to Tanika's player, though I hadn't done it on purpose, it certainly wasn't my intention to kill a new character twice in one session.

The rest of the party, apart from Marl and Cnut who were in the next room, made short work of the two Neanderthals, and Gell (I think) volunteered to staunch Tanika's wounds. This also proved effective - but now, Tanika's CON has dropped from an OK 10 to a frankly risky 8. Meanwhile the others looted the bodies, coming up with several sacks of coinage - all copper - which went into the Bag of Holding. The party re-organised itself and put Tanika in the middle, just to try to help with survivability! The new marching order was:

Marl - Cnut - Gibbet - Nelson - Tanika - Gell - Brigham - Karensa

This is the marching order that ran into some Rock Baboons. These are noisy but not particularly difficult for metal-clad, bow-armed PCs to deal with. Also, they don't have very high morale. A bit of shooting broke the Baboons' nerve and they fled without causing any real bother. Then few more rooms - the PCs really were getting through quite a lot of exploration, but they weren't really finding any treasure. Eventually they decided head back.

However, when they'd passed through the room where the poison gas trap had been situated, they found to their consternation that the short corridor that they expected to lead to the top of the stairs to Level 3 took them nowhere of the sort. Instead, they came into another large room. 'Oh,' they thought, 'it must be a magic door, it's a teleporter - let's try again'. But going back and trying the door again produced the same result - the door they were heading south through led to a the north-west corner of a big room.

This caused a lot of discussion. I mean a lot. The reason they'd decided to head for home was because the session was coming to an end, and now they were stuck who-knows-where?  The way the sessions are set up - the very method of the open table - relies on the party leaving the dungeon at the end of the session and it looked like that might not be possible. There was even discussion of activating the Teleport scroll that Nelson carried - at least then they would know the way back to an exit.

They were trying to work their way back to the entrance, knowing where it was but not necessarily which way they needed to go to get back to it. They thought perhaps they should head north-east, but in that direction was a room full of Undead and they didn't fancy that. Instead,  they pushed on down one more corridor, and at the end entered a room that some of the party recognised from having been here in a previous session. They'd teleported for sure, but not actually very far. It would have been very convenient at this point to have Galan's map, as this was the area that he had mapped, but it was not to be.

In the room were some Giant Ants, such as have been encountered in this area before. This time the PCs didn't try engaging hand-to-hand (mano-a-mandible?) but instead used a Web spell to try to immobilise them. Four of the five were caught in the web and the other failed its morale check and ran from the party towards an exit in the south-east.

The party took a different door in the east wall - they knew they needed to head east - and making their way through a couple of smaller rooms, they came to a door that would not open - someone had spiked it from the other side! So, they smashed the door down, Cnut retrieved his spike (for it was that very same door), and finding themselves in the long corridor that leads to the steps out, they ran as fast as they could for the entrance...

I wonder if the reason the NPCs right at the beginning had become disorientated was because they'd got themselves teleported by mistake? It's a thought.

Friday, 20 September 2019

Rift City - Session 26

Every so often I post on various local Facebook gaming groups to advertise the continued existence of The Wandering Monster Table. The point is after all that it's an open table and everyone is welcome. Sometimes, that means we get new players. Sometimes ...

Today (actually, Sunday 8th September), the dice-gods decided that many new people would come along. So along with some old hands, a bunch of fresh young PCs (relatively fresh and young, to make the integration process easier for new people, the new PCs start at the lowest level in the party) joined the party for a trip to the caves.

So, the party consisted of:

Brigham (3rd Level Cleric);
Cnut (3rd Level Fighter);
Feign* (2nd Level Cleric);
Gell* (2nd Level Fighter);
Gibbet (4th Level Thief);
Grimble* (2nd Level Magic User);
Karensa (3nd Level Elf);
Marl (2nd Level Halfling);
Rannock* (2nd Level Fighter)

*characters of the new players

The first thing was getting the two groups together. This is relatively easy, new adventurers in Rift City tend to turn up at the Travellers' Inn at the Rift-end of the High Street. It's about the only place they can afford. But that's also where the PCs meet up for breakfast when they're adventuring, so the two groups were sitting eating and drinking in the inn (pub) next to each other... as they were in real life. Spooky, huh?

Next, deciding where to go. The new members have never been to the caves, so the veteran PCs suggested the same location that they visited twice in the last few sessions - the tunnels with the portcullises (Session 25 link, Session 23 link).

This area is all dressed stone and regular corridors. That in theory makes it easier to map. Hahahaha! More on that shortly...

Venturing into the dark, the marching order was Marl, Rannock and Brigham up front, Gibbet, Grimble and Feign in the middle, and Karensa, Gell and Cnut bringing up the rear. The idea I think was to put a demi-human both fore and aft to use infravision to spot nasties, and of course to protect the rather squishy, non-plate-armoured specialists, Gibbet and Grimble. Feign I think was just being cowardly.

There is a very long tunnel just in from the entrance, and it has a door off it to the right. They headed for the far end of the corridor, ignoring the door.

I don't think I'm giving too much away to say that this is what the PCs have mapped. I'm quite good enough with image manipulation software to have changed anything that is on the map that the PCs haven't found, so they shouldn't take this as a representation of 'reality' - this is, to my understanding, their map of what's been found.

The stairs in the top right come down from a natural cave in the side of the Rift.

The room at the bottom of the corridor has four sconces on the walls that have torches in them; it also contains a pool on the north wall. The room to the west of it, through the door, also contains a pool/fountain, on the south wall this time, and this was where the Giant Ants had been residing in the previous session.

You should be able to see that a few of the 'doors' are marked with dots rather than a block - these are portcullises rather than doors as such.

The PCs decided that instead of trying to lift the portcullis, they'd batter it down. This was pretty successful but obviously made a certain amount of noise. Soon after Rannock had smashed his way into the room beyond, PCs became aware that someone was following them. Whether the the someone - or perhaps someones - had come through the western door they didn't know.

Turns out they were Lizardfolk. One of the Lizardpeople approached the party slowly, but as no-one spoke the Lizardman language, it was difficult to communicate. Karensa decided to end the standoff by shooting an arrow at the lead Lizarddude, and all hell broke loose. The Lizardbeings charged and a short but brutal combat ensued: 6 dead Lizardthings and no dead party.

Looting the corpses produced an unexpectedly large stash, so the party high-tailed it back to town, stashed the loot and scurried back to the caves.

Pushing on from the room with the torches, the PCs turned west. This is where the Giant Ants had been hanging out and sure enough there were more Giant Ants in the room. The party is mostly sporting platemail and is therefore pretty difficult to hit, but Giant Ants are tough cookies and it wasn't plain sailing. At some point during the session I know Karensa was injured (slightly, she's 3rd Level and it was only a couple of hp damage) and I suspect it was here. However, once the Ants were dead, the party did find a cache of treasure in a crack in the wall, so it looked like they'd have a pretty decent haul in the end.

Further exploration beyond the room of Ants led them to a fairly small group of Orcs, who the party butchered in pretty short order. The Orcs didn't have any proper treasure, however, so the PCs pushed on in an abandoned store-room and here the party encountered some Zombies. These were in part dealt with by the Clerics, both of whom took a hand in the Turning, though some still remained, and these proved to be a bit tougher than the Orcs, but at last the PCs had battered them to jelly.

Deciding for sure after all this hard work that it was time to go, the party made their way out and trooped back to town to count their loot after a hard day!

Friday, 6 September 2019

Lists of characters (Rift City recap)

There was a title of a post in my list (saved as a draft) but there was no post. I can't remember what I intended to have here. So instead of whatever I was going to do... have this series of lists, that are something of a review of the first two years of the campaign (up to and including Session 25, the campaign's second birthday).

First is the list of the 26 PCs that I can remember and reconstruct who have braved the caves so far, in approximately the order they joined the 'Rift City Campaign' (those in italics are the surviving PCs of more-or-less regular players):

1. Gwynthor (C)
2. Gibbet (T)
3. Polly (MU)†
4. Redvers (D) (retired)
5. Shazam (E)
6. Ays (H)
7. Frost (F)
8. Sven (D)†
9. Len (T)†
10. Galan (E)
11. Bob (F)†
12. Cnut (F)
13. Berg (D)

14. Karensa (E)
15. Daisy (H)
16. Gene (F)†
17. Marl (H)
18. Bonjella (E)†
19. Flenzack (C)
20. Brüna (D)
21. Bunny (H)
22. Greydon (MU)
23. Karina (T)
24. Elenya (E)
25. Brigham (C)
26. Nelson (MU)

Obviously with PC deaths, new PCs are created - one 'flow' of PCs is Polly-Bonjella-Brigham, one is Len-Bob-Cnut, Sven's player next played with Daisy, and Redvers' player retired him and played with Galan from then on.

Next, some of the NPCs the PCs have come into contact with at the inn - these are other adventurers:

Fanfarron, the charismatic fighter;
Dymphna, the dextrous Elf;
Seggulf, the angry Dwarf;
Vortigern, the sappy cleric - this one I seem to recall is deceased;
Hannam, the ugly magic-user;
Kastarys, the sinister magic-user;
Valakar, the dashing fighter;
Rhigat, the enthusiastic cleric;
Slith, the enigmatic thief;
Zanok, the dependable fighter,
Keln, the carefree fighter.

Some readers may recognise some or all of those names. They're 'found characters' (I changed Seggulf's name from the anagramatic 'Fuggles', which was too much even for me) that I had printed out as pre-gens should anyone at the early sessions want to play with a pre-gen. Nobody did, so these 11 became the other adventurers hanging around in the inn, from which rival parties could be drawn, or NPCs hired if the PCs wanted to go down that road. In the end, two of these characters have been adventuring with the party, which I believe were Zanok the fighter, and Vortigern the Cleric, in the 5th session (post about that here). Vortigern unfortunately was killed, by Giant Lizards, apparently, and so was Fighter Bob, by Stirges, though I couldn't at the time remember that he was indeed called 'Fighter Bob'.

There is another NPC Cleric with whom the PCs have adventured - Ademus, Cleric of Yrt (the same religion as Gwynthor). Some time ago now, he went to the caves, trying to find Ulfang the Black, taking an adventuring party of Fanfarron, Dymphna, Seggulf, Hannam, and another Cleric called Vitalinus. They never returned... even though Ulfang the Black is now dead, at the hands of the PCs. Whether Ademus and his friends are dead, captured, or lost and wandering somewhere in the caves, is not currently known.

Of the non-adventuring denizens of Rift City, the PCs have met Gisuintha, a Magic User who lives in a nice house in a slightly swankier part of town (several of the PCs have visited her, to have items identified, or to sell the multifarious parts of interesting animals); Perla, the Halfling proprietrix of the inn/brothel across the road from their inn (Gibbet has also determined that she's a Thieves' Guild contact); there are a couple of Elves at the Sanctuary (the main Elven temple in town) - these include Corrga, the oldest and most venerable of the Elves, who has performed a Remove Curse spell on Galan, and Eglil, an enigmatic silver-haired Elf who has been searching for a Halfling bard to sing a particular song for his master; there is the Town Clerk, who helped to arrange Galan and Karensa buying a house (but I don't think they learned his name); and there is the Mayor of Rift City, Jasper Grubbily, who is a respectable Halfling member of the business community.

Not sure what other locals the PCs have encountered. There was a wizard who seemed to have been imbibing too many of his own potions, and there were some Dwarves that they met in the caves, that Berg took a liking to (she went to visit them at their inn, the Broken Hammer, round the corner from the inn where the PCs hang out), but I don't recall their names.

There's also Marjory (or some name that sounds like it) who was a Gnome the PCs rescued.

Then there have been several Orcs and Kobolds (usually called 'Keith') that Shazam has enchanted, and of course Ningal ('the Mad Witch', as the PCs call her, though on what basis they've decided she's mad isn't really clear to me), in the caves.

Of course, in terms of named antagonists, there was also Ulfang the Black, dead Kobold Lord, as mentioned above.

Who else? What other NPCs have flitted their way through the adventure over two years? I'm struggling to recall names, though there definitely have been more...

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Happy Birthday, Rift City! Session 25, and second anniversary

On Sunday 11th August, the Rift City Campaign, and my D&D group 'The Wandering Monster Table', had their second birthday. Technically, the second birthday of the Rift City campaign would not be until Tuesday 13th August, but 11th August was the 'the session on the second Sunday in August', and that's close enough as that was the day we inaugurated the group and began the campaign in August 2017. Calendar drift is not my fault! The campaign has been going for two years (and anyway, the 13th was yesterday so it's two years anyway)!

It feels like a decent time to reflect on what we've accomplished. We've had 25 sessions, which have included 30 days of playing-time (if my calculations are correct); we've had 18 players (and me) turn up to games in that time and 6 PC deaths; one of the PCs has reached 4th Level and several 3rd Level; they've explored around 100 rooms on Levels 1 & 2 of a dungeon that I've been building (slowly) that currently contains more than 1,200 rooms (I haven't checked lately, it may be more than 1,500). I suppose an average session has around 6 PCs, though the smallest number so far is 2, the largest I think 11. 22 of the 25 sessions have been in public places where anyone can join in, and that's the point (the other three sessions were held at Berg & Galan's house when we were temporarily homeless). Except one session when I was away, we've played on the second Sunday of the month in that time (I suggested that in order to keep the regular format, someone else could run a one-shot, but the players decided they'd rather I DMed so the session was moved by 1 week). That is a remarkable degree of consistency, I think

I have to mention the great staff at the Black Horse in Aylestone (Facebook page linked here). We've been going down there for the last few months, since our previous venue closed, and they've been very nice to us - making us little reserved signs with messages on saying things like 'Reserved for Elves, Goblins and Minotaurs' and 'Reserved for Questors for the Wand of Wonder' and similar messages. They really are very nice, and it turns out that one of the management used to play fantasy quest computer games back in the 1990s... which ones I don't actually know, but maybe Baldur's Gate? I have told her, she should book a Sunday night off and come and join us. We'll see.

A very different constellation of party-members this session. Of the people who were there last time...

Cnut's player is on holiday, so wasn't available.

Shazam's player was at a family wedding and also was not available.

Nelson's player however was there, the only one from last session.

Of the habitual attendees (obviously, there are a lot more people who've only attended one or two sessions)...

Galan is still suffering from a curse, and I think his player wants him fit before adventuring again.

Berg's player is also on holiday.

Marl's player was at a festival I think.

Karensa's player made!

Gibbet''s player made it!

Brigham's player made it!

Gwynthor's player... well, no-one really knows. He told us he was coming, but we didn't see him!

There was some discussion between Nelson, Gibbet, Brigham and Karensa as to whether they should venture down into the scary Level 2 or stick to the relative safety of Level 1; and as to whether they should hire some meatshields to help, but in the end they decided that it would be Level 2 with no hirelings - the most dangerous (but hopefully most lucrative) option.

The cave entrance they went for was the same as Session 23, the Level 2 entrance on the downhill side of the road. Entering they found it looked undisturbed from last time, but Karensa, remembering that last time they'd encountered a Gelatinous Cube, decided that a reasonable course of action was to shoot an arrow down the corridor and find out if it made a clattering noise or a kind of floopy plop. Happily, it was a clatter, so they crept on. As they ventured down the corridor however they realised that they'd been followed - a mountain lion had strayed inside, seemingly hunting them. They attacked it, and as it (insanely) charged them, arrows already sticking out of it, Nelson the Magic User used his Magic Missile to kill it - just before Karensa and Gibbet both shot it. Gibbet and Karensa retrieved their arrows. Nelson didn't retrieve his spell.

Not perhaps the most efficient use of a Magic Missile but Nelson really didn't want the first encounter of the evening to be up close with a rampaging mountain lion, and who can blame him? Never mind, he still had Web, as well as Read Languages... hoping that some scrolls might appear at some point. Poking around in the entrails, Gibbet found a coin-bag with some copper that the lion must have swallowed at some point.

Venturing on, the party came to wooden portcullis - 'slightly burnt' it said in my notes, as the last time they were here the PCs tried to set fire to it. It had been impossible to open, two days ago - now it opened with ease. On the far side, the PCs found a room, lit by torches stuck in sconces on the walls, that contained a semi-circular pool of water. Of course, what they did was throw the Mountain Lion carcass into the pool to see if there was any magical effect. Isn't that what you would do?

There were two other exits to the room, one opposite the door they'd entered and one to the right. They tried the door to the right and when they got it open, realised that there was a large hall-like room beyond the door. The far end was too far to make out, even with Infravision. Also, near the far end (I randomly determined how far away) there was a collection of gigantic ants. The PCs shot some arrows at them, then retreated to the door so they could control the frontage the ants could attack on. A couple more hits on the lead ant without it going down was starting to worry the players I could see. Gibbet was remembering the last time they'd encountered some, and how much carnage had ensued. This was in Session 21, and then Gibbet had had to beg a Healing Potion from Karensa because he'd sustained some heavy damage. Well, probably, this time he did too. Certainly there was some damage about. But, Nelson cast Web and the giant ants were stuck trying to get through the door.

This was the party's cue to run away (stopping only to definitely kill the one ant that had got through the doorway and grab one of the torches from the wall - Nelson was damn sure he wasn't wasting his own torches if people were giving them away for free), then start shooting arrows down corridors again, in case the Gelatinous Cube was lurking. Eventually, as they traversed a very long corridor, the Cube moved to attack; but they don't move very fast, so the party retreated up the corridor peppering it with arrows until it exploded.

Moving forward again (taking care to once more loot the gooey mess and this time pick up some gold) the PCs turned north, hoping I think to get into the rear of the ants' room. However, as they'd made a mistake with their map (they'd only drawn the corridor as 120', though I told them it was around 150') the corridor they went north up led them to a different room. This one had a sliding door on the east wall, which led to a room that contained some Shriekers, who of course freaked out at the light and noise. Shriekers don't harm adventurers, just summon things that do harm them, so butchering the giant mushrooms quickly became a priority. However, it wasn't fast enough to shut up the Shriekers' alarms, as shortly afterwards some shambling figures appeared in the room behind the party.

Zap! Karensa cast Sleep at them. Oof! the party said, as I told them it didn't seem to have any effect. Another spell wasted, as these were Ghouls. A short and vicious fight ensued, with no-one succumbing to Ghoul-touch, and the Ghouls were defeated, and quickly looted, whereup a nice haul of funerary jewellery was discovered. Also part of the treasure in the room was more coinage, and an axe leaning against a wall. In Basic D&D, Magic Users are only permitted to use daggers, and Clerics are not allowed to use edged weapons, so only Gibbet the Thief and Karensa the Elf could have taken the axe to use anyway; but Karensa already has a magic sword, so Gibbet took it.

Heading out again, the PCs realised that some more monsters were investigating the Shriekers' noise - this time some large flying insects coming down the corridor at them. The party disposed of them but several people were bitten. Again it was giant insects that ended up doing the damage, with the less-armoured Nelson and Gibbet getting the worst of it I think. I'm sure that, by the end of the session, everyone had taken damage but Brigham, and both Brigham and Karensa had used their healing magic (Cure Light Wounds and a Potion of Healing respectively, Brigham I think on Nelson and Karensa on herself).

So, somewhat depleted in resources, the party decided to head for home. As they passed the room where they'd fought the ants, they realised that the web, the ants and the lion had all gone, back they surmised into the room where the ants had been originally. Sneaking past they made a break for the exit - but between them and safety was a bunch of angry giant centipedes. However, they don't have many missile weapons, so the party again peppered them arrows from down the corridor. Five died; the other two, deciding they didn't like the hail of death much, retreated. The PCs ran the last bit I think and made it back into the clean air once more, to fight another day.

Heading for home, they would no doubt have noticed the beginning of the Lunar Eclipse that was a feature of the calendar I'd noticed recently (I generated the calendar some time ago from Donjon's Fantasy Calendar Generator). I'd told Galan's player that this was when the Elves at the Sanctuary would perform a Remove Curse spell for him, as eclipses were especially auspicious times for such magic.

Dividing up the loot the PCs found they'd come away with a decent haul - a couple of thousand in jewellery and platinum pieces and a couple of hundred in loose change, as well as a potentially magic hand-axe, which was OK between four. And nobody died!

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Seven NPCs, and the lifespans of Demi-humans

Here are seven NPCs, one of each of the character classes from Moldvay. Details are random generations from Seventh Sanctum and Seventh Order of the Random Generator, where they aren't directly generated by rolling electronic dice from the WotC electric dice app. I rolled d10 Level; apparent/equivalent age is 20+d20, except if Level is less than 5, in which case it's 15+d10, because if they're less than 5th Level, they're effectively a youngster (and I rolled Level first, instead of making Level a function of age, which would have been more sensible).

These people are essentially magical prisoners, and the magical effect is a kind of stasis. My PCs may at some point stumble on them, but of course, they may not. Apparent age is subjective age - I don't know how long they've been imprisoned, so 'apparent age' is basically 'number of years from birth until magical trapping'; equivalent age for the Demi-humans is pretty much what I reckon the developmental stage of the individual is compared to a human lifespan - which is what leads on to the second half of the post.

Female Cleric - Braeth Carellen - 7th Level: apparent age 23
Str 11 Int 14 Wis 16 Dex 7 Con 10 Cha 13
Content and systematic; she is concerned about the heretic toadmen in the salt-marshes

Female Dwarf - Eida Grimsilver - 10th Level: equivalent age 32 (age in years 128)
Str 15 Int 5 Wis 11 Dex 6 Con 15 Cha 8
Stereotypical, but insincere; she only has one eye

Male Elf - Taraneer Moonsword - 4th Level: equivalent age 19 (age in years - don't know: 19... 100... 1000?)
Str 13 Int 15 Wis 16 Dex 11 Con 10 Cha 12
Shrewd and selfish; has tattooed eyelids (a lion surrounded by petals on left lid chases a winged fish on the right)

Male Fighter - Ryon Crawn - 9th Level: apparent age 25
Str 14 Int 5 Wis 11 Dex 9 Con 11 Cha 17
Alternately savage and fussy; he wants to trap a giant lizard

Male Halfling - Bonifer Warren - 4th Level: equivalent age 23 (age in years 36)
Str 13 Int 12 Wis 9 Dex 15 Con 8 Cha 12
Upbeat and enigmatic; he used to be a gladiator

Male Magic User - Howland Banroth - 6th Level: apparent age 36
Str 7 Int 15 Wis 8 Dex 12 Con 11 Cha 8
Both softly-spoken and fabulous; wears high shiny boots

Female Thief - Thealil Ember - 8th Level: apparent age 35
Str 7 Int 5 Wis 14 Dex 14 Con 5 Cha 13
Comes across as engaging and receptive; is a recovering addict

All of this raises questions. Taraneer Moonsword for example. Why 'Moonsword'? Is this a family name, a gang-type nickname or because he owned a special blade called the Moonsword? If the Moonsword is a thing, does Taraneer still have it, what are its powers and its value? And what (if anything) do his tattoos mean?

Will Ryon Crawn get to trap his giant lizard? Where? How?

What was Thealil Ember addicted to? Is she going to go off the rails now she's been freed?

Why is Braeth Carellen concerned about the toad-men? What is the nature of their heresy? Are they really so bad? And what have they been doing since she was imprisoned?

And that's another set of questions, regarding how long these people have been here. Days? Years? Millennia? Do they know, or will it be a s
hock? Is everyone they know dead? Has the Moonsword rusted, have the toad-men gone to hell with their heresy, are the giant lizards extinct? Or have they only been gone a matter of months or years, and can pick up the threads of their lives?

As for the ages of the Demihumans... I've never really had a settled way of working them out, instead just picking numbers that 'feel right'. I tend to assume something like Tolkienish lifespans for Halflings and Dwarves. I've been a Tolkien fan for longer than I've played D&D - in fact, I got into D&D as a way to 'play' Middle Earth (or something like it), so it's always been a huge influence on my thinking. Playing B/X, my Halflings in effect 'are' Hobbits - a sort of rural race of short Humans who like pie, beer and practical jokes, if they don't take too much effort. Some of them may call themselves 'Nelwyn' and refer to a hero called 'Willow'; some others might call themselves 'Hin' or 'Kender'. Players may have their own ideas about their PCs. All that doesn't matter. Halflings mostly still live in agricultural villages, elect their own magistrates (who are often called Sheriffs) and have big feasts. They are definitely like Hobbits even if not necessarily identical to them.

For Hobbits in the Shire, 'coming of age' is 33 - at least it is for males, and that's all I have to go on. Past 50 is regarded as a settled and respectable age. 111 is a grand old age, 120 is extremely noteworthy. So, more or less humans + 50% I reckon. 33 is close to 21+10.5. 50 is approximately equivalent to 34 for humans, 105 is 70+35, so 120, at 80+40, probably would be noteworthy. As a rule of thumb it seems to work OK. So for Bonifer Warren (above) his 'human' age of 23 - early manhood in other words - equates to about 36 as an actual Halfling age. If I wanted to get really granular, I'd say he's 35, and close to his 36th birthday.

Taking a similar tack with Tolkien's ages for the Dwarves: 100 is still young - Fili and Kili hadn't reached their first century (being 82 and 77 years respectively), and were the youngsters in the Quest for Erebor and regarded as 'rookies'. But more than 200 is pretty venerable; up til now I've somewhat flown by the seat of my pants and multiplied by between 3 and 4 to reach a Dwarf-age. But perhaps it should be 4-5 that is the proper range. If Fili and Kili were conceptually at least in their late teens or early twenties, and inexperienced compared to the likes of Thorin, Balin and Gloin, who were seasoned warriors, but Dain Ironfoot was very old (at 252) at the time of the War of the Ring, that implies the flourit of a Dwarf male (again, pretty much all of the information we have is about males) is approximately from the first to the second century of life. I guess this corresponds more or less to 25-50 for humans. Dain's 252 years on 4x reckoning is therefore the equivalent of 63 for a human male - when perhaps being a war-leader is not generally high on the list of men's priorities, and an old warrior could maybe have expected some sort of retirement, leaving the actual fighting to younger men. Fili on the other hand would be the equivalent of 20, and Kili 19. They might be very well regarded as young and inexperienced. If we take 5x as the base, then Fili would be the equivalent of 16, Kili 15, and Dain 50. These seem low estimates. Of course, Fili and Kili would be young and inexperienced at 15 and 16, but they're young untried warriors, not children, in the Hobbit, and if Dain is 50, that doesn't seem so old that he'd be venerable; so perhaps 4x is about right for Dwarves.

Elves are a problem for many reasons in D&D; one of the problems is age. How old are Elves, exactly? I'm not sure there is a definitive answer. Tolkien's Elves are functionally immortal, and some at least in the stories are thousands of years old. Elrond has lived for more than 6,000 years, Galadriel perhaps between 8 and 9,000 years. We don't really know how old Legolas is; he is the most active Elven character in the stories (at least, Tolkien's stories - I'm not concerned with Jackson's retellings here), the closest to a 'young warrior' and therefore - maybe! - an analogue for the PCs at the beginnings of their adventuring careers. The best and brightest minds among Tolkien scholars seem to think that Thranduil lived in Menegroth in the First Age, making him more than 6,000 years old; he made the move from Southern to Northern Mirkwood, around TA1000, and Legolas seems to have been after this, because it was after the separation of the Elves of Mirkwood and Lorien. However, Legolas was vastly older than the other members of the Fellowship, whom he called 'children' (presumably, excepting Gandalf, but not Aragorn). Aragorn is at this point 87 (approximately equivalent to 29 for the Dunedain) and Gimli is 139 (140 would be equivalent to 35 by my reckoning of 4x). So, if this is accepted, 2,000 years seems to be the maximum age for Legolas, but surely not less than many hundred years for his minimum age. He also says that he has 'watched many an oak grow from an acorn to ruinous age', which may imply he's more than 1,000. In Rohan he declares that the 500 years or so of the history of Rohan are 'but little time' to the Elves. It seems reasonable then that Legolas is around 1,500-2,000 years old.

But D&D Elves aren't necessarily Tolkien Elves. It seems that in different editions of D&D, Elves live for between 500 and perhaps 1200 years, and 'young' Elves beginning their adventuring careers may be between 25 and 125 years (not that I remember that info from any B/X-related material). B/X doesn't really deal with this as far as I've ever found. I've never come across anything to do with it in the modules or stuff from Dragon either. I do have some things from the old Pelinore setting from Imagine, which is a) official D&D and b) B/X compatible - I shall check there and see if there is anything that has bearing on this issue (I don't remember if people's ages are given in the text - if they are, the ages of any Elf NPCs might provide some useful information).

Anyway, 'young' Elves who are mortal and die after about 1200 years (I think this is how it worked in AD&D 2e, if I recall correctly) might not be how it works in my campaign. I don't have a problem with vastly old Elves, as long as it's understood that that doesn't mean that they have extra knowledge - not about anything useful at any rate. Sure they were alive on 12th Grune, 406 years ago, but that doesn't mean they attended the burial of Jarl Ragnald or know anything about what happened to his magic sword. They can however tell you exactly how the light looked through the trees (and what sort of the trees they were, in what season) as Marulan played the harp and Aldriana sang the Lay of Lost Tarathiel (and how her cloak wove patterns in the air, and who wove the cloak, and what the names were of the grandparents of the person who wove the cloak, and what was the smell of the air in the twilight as Aldriana sang, and every single word and how it referred to all the Tales before of the Age-long yearning heartbreak of the Elves...) because at the time, that was much more important.

Now some buzzing Humans want to find a stick or a bauble or something. How does that compare to 10,000 years of tragedy? Why would Elves notice what Humans, Dwarves, Orcs or whoever else was up to, most of the time? Going adventuring might be diverting, especially if involves new things, places, people, but in that case, they're deliberately trying to go beyond what they know, and probably therefore don't have special knowledge about it. Some big-picture stuff maybe ("before the Time of the Warlords, the Ebon Empire flourished - but now that people are like the leaves of a forgotten Autumn..."), but maybe not even that. As Legolas's quote about Rohan shows, even Human kingdoms are fleeting to Elves. Maybe some legends about dragons, but any detailed stuff? Maybe not. Details about a specific time or place might be details about something utterly inconsequential, from a quest point of view. How would they have known, 406 years ago, exactly what they were going to need to know in the future? Elves are pretty clever, but unless they have precognition and already have found out what they will need to know, they may not have better access than anyone else to relevant historical data. Seems like that could be how it could work to avoid the logical problem of the Elven characters being expected to know details that would help the party.

So, I'm rather minded to say that any Elves in my campaign can be as old as their players like, from about 20 (assuming growth of infant Elves at more-or-less the same rate as humans) to perhaps 2,000 (which I'm assuming is about 30, probably at the top end of Legolas's apparent age). This implies that Elves would age on something like the following basis: 1-20 - as humans; 21-2,000 - 1/66 the rate of humans; then maybe 2,000-4,000 - 1/200 the rate of humans (4,000 is about 40?); 4,000-9,000 - 1/500 the rate for humans (9,000 is approximately equivalent to 50). If players want their PCs to be older than 'early 20s or equivalent' they can use this rough guide. One of my players wanted to play a middle-aged human Fighter, so perhaps someone will decide they want a middle-aged Elf too. I probably don't need any Elves in my campaign world who are more than about 10,000 years old, so I'll regard 9,000 years (as I say, Galadriel's approximate age at the time of the War of the Ring) as the top end of Elven ages for practical purposes. But in terms of 'quest-knowledge', the point is that all that time, the Elves weren't paying attention to anything that might be important, unless it directly involved Elves, and even then, maybe they just don't know what Queen Faliria was up to. Would some random Wood-Elf from Lorien know what was going on in the White Council? Probably not; so probably some random Wood-Elf from Canolbarth Forest or some such probably wouldn't know what the Elven aristocracy in Mystara had been up to either, except in general terms.

Whether the PCs should be just 'some random Wood-Elf from Canolbarth Forest' is another matter however...

Monday, 22 July 2019

Rift City - Session 24

For some reason a connection problem meant this post disappeared earlier. So, version 2 of the write-up for Session 24...

A few last-minute cancellations meant that it was a very small party venturing into the caves. However, the intrepid PCs decided to dispense with hirelings or any such nonsense (OK, they didn't want to share the loot or the XPs). So in the end the party that ventured into the caves this time was:

Cnut - 3rd Level Fighter
Nelson - 2nd Level Magic User
Shazzam - 1st Level Elf

They decided that the heady depths of Level 2 were probably a bit dangerous this time around, given their small numbers. The part of the caves they picked was the area around the collapsed ceiling near Ningal (the Mad Witch)'s cave. They've previously been to these caves several times, encountering spiders, Fire Beetles, Gnolls, Skeletons and Kobolds among others, as elaborated variously in Session 12Session 13Session 15 and Session 21; there's also a map of some of the area they have explored here: (a map for my players). However, because Galen wasn't there (because Galen's player wasn't there) the PCs didn't have an accurate map.

This time, they came down from above and explored a small amount to the east (where they discovered some kind of evil altar) before turning and heading south-west. I think around this time Shazam spotted some wandering bugs (actually a Spider Swarm) but the party just moved out of the way (they went north-west a little way, the spiders moved off to the south-east). It's been about a year real-time, and maybe 20 days game time, since they came this way last (and anyway, Nelson has never been there as last time he was Gene) so they didn't remember much about what they'd seen before, but when the monument of standing stones came into sight (the 'octolith' from Session 13), they realised where they were and turned round.

After that they headed back to the evil altar and then tended north-east for a bit, back in the general direction where Ulfang the Black had been hiding out. Negotiating the trap with the pressure plate where Cnut at least had previously thrown a dead Harpy, they went on to try to find out what 'f' meant on the map Cnut had. Turned out it meant 'fountain', carved to look like tortured, screaming faces. As Shazam was poking about in it to see where the water went, they became aware that something nearby had started to shriek loudly. Shazam (using Infravision) told them it was definitely largish and alive, so the party attacked it as it continued to shriek. None of them remembered ever having seen a Shrieker (both Cnut and Shazam have in fact run into one before, in Session 13) but they dealt with it relatively swiftly. The problem with Shriekers is that the monsters they summon (to check out the noise) don't arrive immediately...

Having dealt with the Shrieker, the party moved off, but then became aware that someone was behind them - a group of Halflings, who, like the PCs, were adventuring in the caves. After a bit of chatting, the parties overcame their mutual distrust, and the PCs went to the room where the Halflings were temporarily camped out. Meanwhile the Halflings chopped up the Shrieker and made mushroom fritters. In the room was an unusual statue, that was enchanted to talk, but could only tell lies. The party could have made more of this, but I don't think they believed it only told lies. The application of a bit of logic might have lead them to greater treasure for instance.

But perhaps it was the Hobgoblins that interrupted them (actual Wandering Monsters as opposed to scouts from a nearby room). A short fight ensued, sealing the alliance between Halflings and Big Uns, which left the Hobgoblins dead and quickly looted. However, they didn't have much treasure - a couple of small pieces of jewellery, so the party took one and the Halflings the other. One of the Halflings had been badly injured, so they went back to Rift City while the party pushed on, towards the place where they had killed Ulfang the Black in Session 21 a few months ago. Cnut in effect was leading the party here as neither Shazam nor Nelson had been to this part before (last time the party was here I think it was Cnut, Gibbet, Karensa and the late and lamented Bonjella).

Beyond the fountain, the tunnels became more regular, and started running due east. Continuing on down that tunnel brought the party to a door, which they barged open to find themselves in a large octagonal room with three more doors arranged in an off-centred cross...

A room from one of the many generators I've used for different bits of the cave system in the Rift...
the small squares are 5' across

They entered by the west door, then went to the south door; they examined the large hole in the centre and realised it went down a couple of levels... and realised that this was the room where, many months or days ago, they'd found the remains of a fight between Orcs and Ogres, and where later, Bruni the Dwarf had nailed some dead Orcs to planks as a warning, and made a friend of a strange wooden homunculus creature.

Knowing this, and therefore where they were, they decided to explore just a little further, down to the south-west, where they came across a room with a silver circle and a pentangle made of some glittering material etched into the floor. There was also a chest in the corner, which contained a bag of silver pieces, and a scroll. The scroll turned out to be a spell that would summon the caster back to this room - handy either for a quick getaway, or a shortcut into the complex.

Having made this discovery, the party high-tailed it out of there, having had the luckiest time imaginable with wandering monsters, and provoking no other encounters until they were very near the exit - whereupon Shazam informed the other two that two indistinct figures in the distance had seen them. The figures slowly retreated; the PCs slowly advanced towards the hole in the ceiling. As the party scrambled out, one of the figures called out 'Good luck!' to Shazam in Elvish... and that was that, the PCs scooted of back to town to count their loot (not so very much to be fair) and to ponder their useful information - not least this map, that Cnut's player had stitched together from the pieces of map from the last few sessions in this area:

Cnut's map showing some things from this session and from Session 21
A big shout out to the amazing generators, without which The Rift would have very few caves at all!

In particular...

The generator I used for the sections with the straight corridors (here) - it's the Wizards of the Coast generator that I have used for many parties over the last 5 or 6 years...

The generator I used for the caverns (here) - Donjon's AD&D random dungeon generator that has provided much of the Rift (there are loads of really good generators on the Donjon site, they've helped me loads).

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Rift City Session 23

Coming up on 2 years for the Rift City campaign and we seem to be settling in to our new home at the Black Horse in Aylestone. The 23 session saw a slightly larger party brave the caves - we were joined by a new player for this session and a couple of people who've missed the last few also made it to this one.

In the end the party this session was:

Berg – 3rd Level Dwarf
Brigham – 2nd Level Cleric*
Cnut – 3rd Level Fighter
Elenya – 2nd Level Elf **
Galen – 3rd Level Elf
Gibbet – 4th Level Thief
Karensa – 3rd Level Elf
Nelson – 2nd Level MU***

*as Bonjella the Elf died at the last session, this was Bonjella's player's new character. Rather than have a problem integrating low-level characters into the game, new characters start with the lowest level in the party. Currently they're all 2nd or above.
**new player and new character - for the level, see previous note.
***the MU that was the new character of Gene's player when he dies a couple of sessions ago - for level, see note before the previous one...

In a break with the recent run of things the party chose to go to caves on the right (downhill) side of the road, rather than fight their way to the only staircase they've yet found. They found a rough path down and when it split they chose the less-used fork as that would probably have more undisturbed treasure.

Finding a cave, the party entered and discovered a stairway cut into the rock at the rear of the cave. Following it down it they came to a long straight corridor running back into the hillside. Following this down a little way they came to a door in the right-hand (western) wall. As they reached it, an Orc patrol spied them from further down the corridor, and gave chase. The party piled into the room behind the door and waited for the Orcs to attack.

Barging through the door, the Orcs were met by a hail of arrows, daggers and thrown axes. The PCs made pretty short work of the Orcs (who kept making stupidly over-confidant Morale checks) and soon all were dead, at which point the PCs looted them and found some nice jewellery, possibly looted from an old corpse - which netted the party 890gp back in town (I don't think I'll be spoiling anything to say that at least some of the PCs made it back to town).

They explored the room and noted several exits. There was also a mosaic floor with ghoulish scenes of slaughter and cannibalism. Lovely. This series of rooms seems to have been built by people who are fond of portcullises instead of proper doors as several in this area had them - the party seemed quite fond of spiking them open. They moved north and checked out another rooms, finding curiosities but no monsters or treasure, before heading south and encountering some giant weasels.

These were a little tougher than the Orcs but there were only three. The party killed them and searched the room, where they found a small amount of treasure, in the strange coinage of the Ancients. Then Galan, with his superior Elf-senses (which he no doubt calls 'senses', thank you Aragorn), spotted that a patch of mould in one corner was actually an illusion hiding a secret door.

Going through the door delivered the PCs into a larger room, and here there were giant lizards. They did take a bit more effort to defeat than the weasels, but the PCs overcame them too - with one injury, though I now can't remember whose [Galan's player has said that it was Gibbet, in the report here].

The lizards had also amassed some treasure - some copper and gold coins (these are newer and must have been brought to the caves since their rediscovery in the last 200 years or so). There was also a scroll among the treasure.

Pushing on the PCs were attacked by Stirges, but Sleep and swords dealt with them; then on to another room with a kind of pool in it, where the portcullises seemed to be held by some enchantment because they really wouldn't move. The party decided to set them on fire, but they didn't burn very quickly and the party retreated back they way they'd come, away from the smoke.

Threading their way back the party encountered a group of men who they might perhaps have negotiated with, but violence quickly broke out and again the tossing around of Sleep spells caused the encounter to go in the party's favour. Looting the bodies produced some more goodies.

Somewhere around here, Galan decided to see what was on the scroll. No sooner had he started to read than he felt himself overcome by some form of evil magic - not fatally, but he did feel weakened somehow.

As the PCs made their way back to the room with the exit, an Ogre came towards them. She wore a strange turban-like affair on her head and was surprisingly difficult to hit. Having disposed of her (I think someone else was injured in this encounter... I'm certain at least two of the party was injured at the end of the session, besides Galan's curse) the party looted the body gaining more gold and taking the turban (which, when they got it into the light, was more like a cloak for a human).

And that was that - the party high-tailed it back to town to divvy up the loot. I'm not sure anyone went up a level this time. Ah well, there's always tomorrow...

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Rift City Session 22

Our 22nd session in all and the second session at our new and hopefully long-term venue - the Black Horse in Aylestone - and a slightly larger party this time. The party was made up of:

Bonjella - 2nd Level Elf
Cnut - 3rd Level Fighter
Galan Foxflower - 2nd Level Elf
Gibbet - 3rd Level Thief
Karensa - 2nd Level Elf

Lyracian - Galan's player - has done a write-up of the session on his blog, "Playing Dice with the Universe" - link here. Thanks for the write-up Lyracian!

I can't think of anything in particular that needs to be added at this stage. Bonjella's death was obviously something of a blow, but we have a funny feeling that a Cleric will be joining the party at the next session...

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Rift City Session 21 - A New Hope...

We may have found a new permanent venue. On Sunday, we went to a pub called the Black Horse in Aylestone, Leicester; this is because our previous venue, The Criterion, now seems to have closed.

Along with the usual 'noise' that we get with attendance (people having to work Sunday shifts, or their partners having to do so leading to childcare issues), it was the Easter Holidays, and also the National Student Gaming Championships being held this year in Glasgow. As a result, we were quite a few of or usual participants down this session. In the end, the PCs that made their way down to the caves this time around were:

Bonjella the 1st Level Elf
Cnut the 2nd Level Fighter
Gibbet the 3rd Level Thief
Karensa the 2nd Level Elf

The first thing that it was necessary for me to do was to explain to Bonjella, Cnut and Gibbet that the last 'day' of gaming, because the party at the last session had done a lot of visiting and resting, had taken much longer than a day, and there was now a 'calendar drift' - far from session 21 being also day 21, as session 20 had taken days 20 (exploring), 21 (resting), 22 (exploring), 23 (resting), 24 (resting) and 25 (exploring), session 21 was actually taking place on day 26. So everyone staying at the Inn owed another week's board and lodging.

Adopting a marching order of Karensa-Cnut-Gibbet-Bonjella, the party decided to throw current policy to the wind and go back to one of the partly-explored caves that they'd visited earlier - the cave entrance where they suspected that Ulfang the Black, bandit-king of the Kobolds, might be hiding (as they'd obtained a map with 'kobs' marked on it which they thought probably meant 'Kobolds').
Copy of the map from Ningal the Magic User
Realising that without Galan, they didn't have a reliable map was something of a problem, though Gibbet, Cnut and Karensa had all been to these caves before, and Bonjella too I think (but it may have been Polly). Still they worked out a route that they thought would take them there. Basically by keeping the cave-wall on the left they figured that they'd get there. But, they didn't really reckon with the map not being a literal representation. The corridor immediately north-west of the 'vile crawlers' in the centre in particular was a bit of a problem as it is a bit more complex than shown.

Anyway, they did find their way through in something like this fashion, where the blue dashed line is the outward (inward?) journey and the green line the way back.

First they explored the cave to the east, just inside the entrance, to see that it didn't actually join up, but they confirmed that it was indeed a dead end. And it contained a slime, which the PCs attacked with arrows and, finding that that didn't work, with torches.

Beyond that point they ran into some Giant Bees. The PCs attacked them with missile weapons so convincingly that there were no bits left for Bonjella to harvest.

Shortly after that the party came to a cave where a stone statue stood (marked with an asterisk on the map); graffiti on the wall claimed that it was an adventurer slain by a basilisk; there was also a small imp-like creature that was hiding from them. Quashing the urge to kill it, Bonjella gave it some food but it still wouldn't come out of hiding, so the party moved on, as it seemed it wasn't planning on doing them any harm.

Coming to the large cave at the bottom of the map the PCs noticed a large hole in the ceiling. They'd spotted this before, and some debate was had as to whether or not they'd actually exited from it before. If so, it was ages ago, they haven't been this way for about 6 months, and I don't actually remember.

Pushing on, they tended round to the left in a north-easterly direction, and found themselves in a cave where they were attacked by a Harpy. Originally this was just a randomly-occurring monster, but as the party had dealings with a gaggle of Harpies a few months ago (probably, in game terms, about 11 days previously), there was no reason not to make this the one Harpy that actually escaped, and was therefore out for revenge. But the PCs managed to deal with it before anything too untoward happened.

The Harpy's cave, on Ningal's map, had a passageway off to the east marked 't'. There were many suggestions as to what 't' might mean, but Gibbet did check for traps - and realised that the exit was indeed trapped. This lead to one of those sentences that you have to suspect no-one else has ever said: "we throw the dead Harpy on the pressure-plate".

With the trap disabled, the party scooted through and found themselves in the next cave, where the was an 'f' marked on the map. This, it turned out, was a fountain, carved with tormented faces, with the water pouring out of their mouths, noses and eyes. Also, there was a bunch of skeletons.

Tooled up as they are with Sleep spells, and also adventuring without a Cleric, this left them with few options other than combat, but even 6 skeletons are going to find it tough going against opponents mostly wearing plate. Having smashed them up good, a quick scout around produced a treasure chest with some loot in it, which wasn't trapped; so the party pocketed the treasure and left the chest behind.

Moving past the Skeletons, they came to the area marked 'kobs' on the map - and lo and behold, 19 Kobolds were there to great them, and one of them, larger than the others, was indeed black! Ulfang had at last been located, and here the Sleep spells came into their own. 16 of the 19 were immediately downed as the other three, including Ulfang, charged the party. Even a super-tough Kobold chieftain with two of his tougher-than-average guards is no match for a tooled-up dungeon-party however, and in very short order, Ulfang and his entourage were all dead and the head of the miscreant had been stuffed into Bonjella's sack, to claim a reward back in town.

If they could get back to town...

The first bump on the way back was a small pack of giant Driver Ants. Only four of them but that proved a more dangerous proposition than a gang of Kobolds. Gibbet in particular took a chewing, as he had the worst armour, and it was touch-and-go for a moment; but the Ants were defeated, and Gibbet begged a Healing potion from Karensa, restoring at least some health. Good thing too, because more encounters were to come.

Next up was another group of skeletons; there were seven of these, but in fact were not really any more difficult than the first lot. The party is pretty difficult to hit (except Gibbet and he was definitely keeping out of the way).

Eventually they made it back to the place where the roof had collapsed, planning to climb out - but they discovered that an angry boar had fallen in, and stood between them and safety. Now boars are dangerous beasts and this one certainly proved to be so, taking a lot of effort to kill, but fall it eventually did allowing the PCs to scramble out and make their battered way back to town to divide the loot and claim the reward for doing away with Ulfang the Black.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Rift City Session 20 - what a day we've had!

Firstly, our usual venue was not ready so once again we decamped to Berg & Galan's house - many thanks again to them for their hospitality!

Secondly... some PCs were injured after the last session (Berg in particular) so the decision was taken to wait for a day of game-time (day 20) to let people heal.

That meant that the PCs set off to the caves on day 21. The party at this point consisted of:

Berg (2nd Level Dwarf)
Galan (2nd Level Elf)
Gene (2nd Level Fighter)
Karensa (2nd Level Elf)
Marl (2nd Level Halfling)

and they were joined by a new character, Karina, a 1st Level Thief

They made their way to the area they call the 'Bath-house of Blibdoolpoolp' as their idea was to find their way down to Level 2 where they hoped there might be some more loot.

Approaching the entrance, they realised it had been barricaded. Berg and Marl decided to start shifting parts of it, but whoever was inside noticed (the Elves realised the inhabitants must have been Hobgoblins) and a spear sliced out of a gap in the barricade and stabbed Berg. Karina shot though one of the gaps and luckily managed to hit one of the Hobgoblins. However the party decided that it was too dangerous to be close to the barricade so they covered it in lamp-oil and set fire to it.

After a few moments, obviously deciding they needed to do something about the people burning their door down, two Hobgoblins leapt through the flaming gap. Of course, the PCs were ready for this manoeuvre, and peppered them with arrows.

Berg searched the Hobgoblins as the rest made their way inside. The Hobgoblins all had jewellery, and in the room were some sacks containing coins. The party thought that perhaps the guards were demanding danger money for the extremely hazardous job of guarding this doorway.

As they'd scored some loot immediately and Berg (who is something of a tank and often takes point) had been heavily injured, the PCs high-tailed it back to town.

I'm not really sure of the sequence of events here, I have to admit. It was very confusing. Some of the party advanced a level due to the treasure from the first brief foray (Gene certainly went up a level, to 3rd). But they'd only been to the first room, and we'd only been gaming for about half an hour in total, so they then waited for Berg to heal before heading to the Caves for another go.

So now we were on day 22. The PCs again headed to the Bath-house, found that nothing had moved in to the first room, and headed for the top of the stairs. Entering the room where the corridor with the staircase was to be found, they realised there were some giant spiders there. The PCs made short work of them, and headed on to the staircase. They hoped that this would lead them to the rooms on the treasure map they'd found at the previous session.

On reaching the bottom of the staircase, they found a large corridor with various doors off it that didn't seem to fit the map. Exploring a little further they found a large room that might have been used at some time as some kind of audience chamber, but was at present just large and empty.

Moving back towards the area they'd already been they approached a set of double doors at the same time as two more giant spiders (slightly bigger than, and seemingly a different species to, the others) came through form the other side. Backing up and using missile fire the PCs managed to take them out without taking any damage, and the PCs went on. The doors opened into the original corridor - there wasn't actually a room behind - so the party continued exploring. Coming across an opening from the corridor and seeing what appeared to be an empty room, the PCs piled in.

However, they didn't check for traps and Berg set off a poison gas trap. Unfortunately Gene failed to make his save and died; two of the other characters (can't remember which, but I think it was Galan and Marl) were down to 1hp.

The party decided that they needed to wait until everyone was healed again, so they waited another two days back in town (days 23 and 24). Then they went back to the area again (day 25)...

There was a bunch of encounters with wandering things - and from a 'behind the curtain' point of view, it was very hard to keep up with the restocking. Usually I have the time between sessions to work out the percentages for some other monster moving in and then restocking the lists of wanderers and so on. Here I was answering questions about how long people needed to heal while simultaneously trying to generate new stat-blocks for monsters. It was somewhat chaotic to say the least.

However, the party got back to it. They reached the same point that they'd been before, pushed on through another couple of rooms, and then ended up in a fight with some leaping, shrieking Giant Shrews. They were pretty vicious and leapt on the heads of several party members. But they did manage to fight them all of and finally made it both out and back.

I think that was how we left it...

And now another episode is about to ensue - next session, Sunday evening, if I can get my damned machine with the dungeon on it to work. If not, I'll have to make something up...shh! Don't tell them!

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Rift City - Session 19, on tour...

Due to our usual venue being used as part of the Leicester Comedy Festival, this month our game was at Berg and Galan's house, and a very fine venue it was too, so thanks for putting up with us.

The party consisted, apart from Berg (1st Level Dwarf) and Galan (2nd Level Elf), of...

Bonjella (1st Level Elf)
Gene (2nd Level Fighter)
Gibbet (3rd Level Thief)
Karensa (1st Level Elf)
Marl (1st Level Halfling)

and a new player and PC, Greydon (1st Level Magic User).

Having found Greydon breakfasting in the inn and looking for a party of adventurers to go raiding the caves, the PCs set off again for 'the bath-house of Blibdoolpoolp'.

In the first room, just inside the door, where previously they had encountered Harpies and before that Kobolds, the party found three humans who Gibbet quickly realised were 'legitimate businessmen' of some kind. There were barrels, something wrapped in a cloth, and a couple of chests in the room that had not been there before. Deciding that this must be some of the loot from the missing caravan, the PCs basically provoked the human chaps into starting a fight. They then butchered the men and looted them. It turned out that the barrels weren't stolen property - instead, it looked like the barrels (ale), cloth-wrapped cheeses and chests (of weapons) were being taken into the caves not out of them.

And then...

I don't know any more. Lots of things happened. A room was explored that seemed to be some kind of office, and this map was discovered...

The PCs were exploring round the southern end of this. There were definitely fights with Orcs and evil Dwarves and some snakes and some Killer Bees and more Traders...

Somewhere, another map was found that looked like this (an actual treasure map!):

Map created using the excellent tools at Donjon, with some tweaking

Bonjella got herself a fur body-warmer and some loot was to be had for definite, and then the party split up (I think, Greydon and Galan had passed out in a room that caused unconsciousness, and rest of the party dragged them out and left them in the first room, then went off to do something else)... this ended up with Greydon being hassled by a giant lizard as Galan ran away, if I recall correctly. The rest of the party luckily arrived as Greydon was about to be eaten, so they killed the lizard.

And that was about that...

Next session it seems we'll also have a problem with the venue, so the Wandering Monster Table will be on an extended tour... I hope I'll be better at telling how the next one goes!

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.