Friday, July 26, 2013

Tabletop Minigames

My Tuesday group is participating in a series of athletic contests this coming game. That got me thinking about how to handle contests in a dramatic and mechanically interesting way. I could just have the PC test against one of their attributes, or against the most relevant skill, but boiling it all down to a single die roll seems anti-climactic.

Don't get me wrong, I like when a tense combat all comes down to a single die roll, but that is different. Combat is a long series of actions, reactions and die rolls. It is cool when those events converge at a single, critical point. But, if combat just started as a single die roll... well then where's the fun in that?

On the other hand, most of these games will involve only one, or maybe two, of the PCs at a time -- unlike combat. So, I don't want something that is so involved that everyone else tunes out.

What I have decided to do is create a few mini-games to represent the various athletic events. These games will involve at least one decision and a number of die rolls, but each game will take maybe a minute or less to resolve. This way, the games are mechanically interesting, require some player decisions, and are still quick to finish so the spotlight doesn't stay on one person for too long.

Here are three examples:

Javelin Throw

Step 1: Running up to the line -- The player decides on the difficulty for an Agility test. If they fail the test, they fault and score a zero for that throw. If they succeed, they score "points" equal to the difficulty they chose for the test.

Step 2: Throwing Skill -- The player picks the highest from their skills combat: throw or combat: spear and rolls 1d12 - 1d12 (-11 to +11). They add the die total to their skill and add that to their score.

Step 3: Strength -- The player rolls their Strength Damage Die and adds it to their score.

The final score is their "distance" for that throw. Each participant gets three throws and their best is kept.


Step 0: Generate the Course -- The GM determines the difficulty (armor class) for 6 targets. Each participant will follow the same course and they know all the difficulties in advance.

Step 1: Choose how fast a shot to take -- The player decides how fast a shot they will take in "ticks".
A one-tick shot takes a -1 penalty to hit, and these penalties accumulate for each subsequent one-tick shot the player takes. A two-tick shot takes no penalty and resets the penalty from one-tick shots. A three-tick shot gets a +1 to hit (and resets the penalty from one-tick shots). A four-tick shot gets a +2 to hit, etc.

Step 2: Shoot -- The player rolls to hit the target, accounting for the difficulty of the target, and the penalty or bonus given because of the shot they decided to take.

Step 3: Repeat -- The player then repeats the process, choosing a time and rolling. They have to hit all 6 targets and so if they miss, they have to shoot again.

Once all 6 targets are hit, the total number of ticks they took for their shooting is their score. Low score wins.


Step 1: Intimidation -- If either gunfighter has the Intimidate skill, they can test this skill against their opponent's Willpower. A success gives their opponent a -2 to hit in the coming gunfight.

Step 2: Bid Accuracy/Fast Draw -- Each gunfighter secretly bids for how fast they want to draw. Each -1 taken to accuracy gives a +1 to their fast draw test in the next step.

Step 3: Fast Draw -- Gunfighters make opposed fast draw rolls with the bonuses they bid for last step.

Step 4: Faster Gunfighter Shoots -- The winner of step 3 shoots first with whatever accuracy penalty they bid in step 2. All damage and wounds are resolved.

Step 5: Slower Gunfighter Shoots -- The loser of the draw now shoots. However, if they were hit in step 4, they take an additional -4 penalty to accuracy.

We'll see how it goes this week. Does anyone else use the idea of mini-games for certain types of contests?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Video Game Achievements for Your Tabletop Game

One thing I am trying in my latest campaign is to award the PCs video-game style achievements as they progress. I had toyed with this idea before, and imagined lots of wacky conditions for unlocking the achievements. As I started compiling lists of conditions like "Medicine Man -- Healed 100 people (+1 to heal effects)" I realized how terrible this idea would be in practice. It would require way too much bookkeeping, would be just a bit too immersion-breaking and it would reward silly behavior...

"Leon, why exactly did you charge the dragon head on?"

"I wanted the Trial by Fire badge -- take 1000 points of fire damage (+2 to save vs. fire). Only 921 points to go, baby!!!"

So, that idea got shelved. Still, I liked the idea of individualized perks for each PC based on notable things they did during the campaign, and so I took the idea off the shelf for this latest game and repackaged it a bit.

After 5 sessions, my players have finished the first stage of the campaign. What I did was I went back over the game notes from those sessions and jotted down the interesting things various characters did. Then, I attached small titles to each, as well as mini-bonuses. This coming session, I am going to present each character with a list of achievements they are eligible for and they can record one and get one of the bonuses.

So, for Anatoli, the defensive fighter who has held his ground against no less than five opponents at one time, but whose damage leaves a lot to be desired, I offer him "Desperate Fighter -- +1 damage when facing 2 or more opponents by yourself". To the fighter/acrobat that has been dropped in the last 3 combats, I offer "Pincushion -- +3 hit points". To the characters who were paralyzed by poison, I offer "Rasputin -- +2 to save vs. poison". To the stuffy professor who is continuously spouting off about his credentials (and is appalled that the rest of the group is not properly certified in their respective fields) I offer "Certified -- Once a night you get a +2 to a roll for which you can somehow claim that you have proper credentials".

I figure to make up 2-4 achievements that each PC is eligible for and at least 2 that everyone is able to choose. That way, everyone has a decision to make and something unique to get. Once the next phase of the game is complete, I can add a few more to the existing list and allow another selection.

We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Chris and the Giant Tick

The box had been sitting under the bookshelf for several months. One of my aunts bought it for my dad one Christmas because he had read The Hobbit once.

I would occasionally pull it out and stare at it. I marveled at the sinewy dragon sitting atop his mountain of gold. I wondered about the heroes, who in my mind stood somewhat shakily at the entrance to the dragon's chamber. What hardships had they come through to be standing face to face with almost certain death? Why were there only two of them? Certainly it would take more than a single fighter and a single wizard to take down such a tough looking dragon. What if the dragon breathed fire? Could the fighter's armor save him? Did the wizard know any spells that would allow him to bring the beast down? Drop that torch, man, and start casting!!!

And inside the box? Well, this was like no "game" I had seen. There was no board, no pieces, no spinners. Just a blue book, another booklet labeled "In Search of the Unknown (Dungeons & Dragons Module B1)" and some dice. No let me rephrase that. There was just a blue book with lots of arcane tables and charts and descriptions of elves and dwarves and warriors and wizards and wands... and a set of what looked to be the COOLEST DICE IN EXISTENCE.

I badgered my parents (8-year olds are pretty good at badgering if I remember) and at some point, between the guilt of having consigned my aunt's gift to collect dust under a bookshelf, and the need to shut me up, they agreed to play this very new, very odd game. So that weekend my father, my mother, my uncle (I think he was 16 at the time) and I all sat down to play. My father had read the rules over the course of that week, so he would be Dungeon Master. The rest of us grabbed some 6-sided dice (neither my parent's Yahtzee, nor their Risk sets would ever be the same) and started rolling up characters.

We spent probably the next 2 hours creating characters. I was an elf because I thought the idea of fighting and casting spells was cool... though if I recall correctly, I didn't get a spell at 1st level, either from the rules, or my father's misreading of them.

Oh well, my mother the magic-user would certainly handle the spell casting duties for our group. "Really Mom? Read Magic?" *facepalm*

My uncle made a stalwart fighter... with 3 whole hit points.

Believe it or not, most of our time was spent outfitting our fledgling expedition, going down the price list and discussing in detail what we would need for an extended trip underground. A lot of thought and deliberation went into managing our meager equipment budget. This was serious business and we were prepared for anything!

I wish I could regale you with a detailed tale of our misadventures, but it was a long time ago and I don't remember much. I remember the now famous room of pools, but I am pretty sure we were too cautious to go randomly drinking murky water in such a dangerous environment. I remember my uncle and I meticulously mapping the halls and rooms of the dungeon, determined to be able to find our way out when we were tired and carrying armfuls of loot.

Of course, that all went out the window when we fell into the pit trap! For some reason, everyone at the table found our tumble hilarious and we laughed, holding our sides and tearing up, for 10 minutes straight.

From that point, we continued our expedition, injured, wet and relieved of much of our equipment, trying to find our way out of the dungeon. As we stumbled through the caves we were beset upon by a most horrible beast, the infamous giant tick!!

At this point, my mother and uncle dived behind a rock, both having 1 hit point. My 8-year old self, with a whopping 3 hit points left was like, "Let's Do This!!!" and I charged the foul insect.

We traded ineffectual blows for a bit, but then the tick hit me. My dad frowned as he rolled the d6 on the table for everyone to see... I breathed a sigh of relief. Only 2 points of damage. I countered, hit, and maxed my damage, slaying the beast.

And then we called it a night.

And never played again. We never escaped Module B1. Somewhere, my uncle is still hiding behind that rock. My mom's mage is still waiting for her chance to cast Read Magic.

And I am still the valiant Tick-Slayer, hit for 2 points of damage and 35 years of enjoyment.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Runebearer 3rd Edition

My game, Runebearer, has been around for over 15 years in one form or another. Though I have been mostly ignoring it for quite a while, I recently reworked and tweaked the rules, adding a few subsystems, removing others and generally making things work better. So, I am happy to announce that Runebearer is now getting its 3rd edition. Here is the draft. I am not quite done yet -- there is still some editing to do, but it is very playable. Hopefully, some of you will at least enjoy the read.

Word (.docx format) -- Runebearer RPG Draft

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Runebearer Session Two -- Basement Dwellers

If you missed the First Session, go check it out.

The Doctor Is In

Or PCs start the second session in the house of Ingrid, the town baker and sometime hostess. They discuss what to do about the four weepers stuck in the basement. Their first inclination is to dispatch them as quickly and painlessly as possible, but but because one of the creatures was Ingrid's mother, they revisit the idea of trying to cure the creatures.

The chance is slim. Sylvanus will require parts from a local still, some medicinal herbs and whatever medical supplies remain in town and still the odds are better than even that the townsfolk will remain mindless ghouls. Still, there is a chance, and Anatoli convinces the group that this is the right thing to do. The townsfolk are overjoyed to hear that there is any chance of saving their kin and they go about helping "Doctor" Sylvanus prepare while the rest of the PCs deal with capturing a test subject.

Ghoul Wrestler

A bit of quick planning finds CJ heading into the basement alone, while Darrington waits by the door with a net in hand. The rest of the group is nearby in case CJ needs moral support... or more likely, in the event something goes wrong.

CJ opens the door and warily creeps in. The basement is lined with crates of food and barrels of drink. The back wall is webbed in cracks and oily, black, fetid water seeps in. One ghoul laps at this nastiness, but the others are nowhere to be seen. CJs takes a few steps before she starts to notice some movement out of the corner of her eye -- they are surrounding her.

The next few moments are a whirlwind of punches, kicks, teeth and claws. The weepers come at CJ from all sides. She sidesteps one attacker and blocks the next, but the third scratches her with his claws. She backs toward the door, hoping to lure them closer to Darrington's net. Another set of attacks. This time, CJ gets the upper hand, grabbing one of her assailants and using him to "block" the others.

By now, the others are calling to CJ to get out of there, and so she tosses her ghoulish shield out of the door and flees. With only a few bumps and scratches, the group has Sylvanus' patient.

Medical Miracle

Meanwhile, after a bit of searching around town, Sylvanus has prepared a makeshift surgery for administering the cleansing agent to the weepers. The agent is a powerful alchemical concoction designed to burn clean areas that are infected with the Black Rain. It is not meant for use on living patients and administering it "raw" will likely kill the weepers. Sylvanus will use his herbal knowledge and physician skills to administer an counter-agent that will weaken the cleanser and make it just caustic enough to do the job, but not enough to kill the afflicted. This is all highly experimental, and so Sedgewick is nearby, watching every moment and taking copious notes, hoping to produce an academic paper on the experiment... he promises himself to mention Sylvanus when he speaks at the university... as the medical assistant, of course.

Before the treatment is applied to the first victim subject, Sedgewick uses his Virtues of the Mind rune on the Doctor, clearing his mind and allowing him to better concentrate on the task at hand.
Peaceful Mind -- Your mind is clear and you get a +1 to all skill checks outside of combat.
In addition, Sylvanus prays and petitions St. Alice to aid his endeavors.
St. Alice 
Born to a poor peasant family, Alice was bedridden with leprosy while still very young. She lost the use of her arms and legs, and then lost the limbs themselves. She became known for her holiness and devotion to Aestra. When a temple to the Mother was built next to her home, she had a window cut into the wall so that she could attend services with the priestesses. She later trained to be a priestess, but never attained the rank of Learned Sister. Nonetheless, it is said her touch could heal. Before her death, she was cured of her disease by the grace of the Mother.
 Praying to St. Alice can give a physician a +1 to any checks that involve diagnosing and curing disease.
The prayers and preparations pay off and the procedure is a success! Everyone cheers and Sylvanus is the man of the hour!

The Other Plague

Now that Sylvanus understand the technique required to heal the weepers, he can adjust how much cleansing agent is used so as to be able to treat three victims with a single kit. Still, that means once the pool behind Ingrid's house and the final weepers are purged, the PCs will have run through all of their alchemical cleansers. Sylvanus sends word back to Wallace at the docks and spends the next several days in Roth tending to the afflicted.

In the meantime, the group talks to the village reeve, Bordas about the ratlings that have taken residence in the manor. Bordas knows very little about the rats and their doings. He sent a couple of spies who indicated that they had seen a dozen or so albino ratlings and a troop of captive brown ratlings digging all over the manor grounds.

The PCs figure they have little to fear from the captives, but the albino ratlings give them pause. Rumors say that the albino ratlings are always seeking out ancient magics and devices. What could they want at Rothchild's manor? At this point, both Vitro and Sedgewick offer up the rumors they know about Rothchild having been a mage... perhaps the ratlings' presence has something to do with some magic that Rothchild possessed?

Ultimately, the group realizes they will have to drive these ratlings from the manor and claim it for Lady Riga. A dozen seems like too many to fight, especially behind the manor's walls. So, the group agrees to head up there, scout, and perhaps talk with the invaders and see if they can learn what they are up to.

Upon reaching the manor, the group boldly heads the gate to parley with the rats and try to get a meeting with Grimjaw. The rats agree, but will not allow weapons or spell casting within the walls. After a bit of a discussion, CJ and Vitro decide they won't agree to the ratlings' demands and will remain outside, while the rest of the group heads in.

As the PCs are led into the manor, they see 25 or 30 captive ratlings wearing some kind of metal collar with what looks to be a lock on it. These captives are digging holes, both by the manor house and behind the chapel, in the graveyard. The villager's assessment of about a dozen albino ratlings in charge seems correct, with about 4 of them on the walls at any given time, and the rest milling about overseeing the prisoners.

Grimjaw is an imposing ratman wearing impressive armor and sporting a bit of an underbite. He sits on Rothchild's throne, embellished with totems and fetishes, most certainly placed there by the ratling leader. Sedgewick leads the PCs in the discussion. Grimjaw is polite, but dismissive to the PCs and obviously believes he has the upper hand. The gist of the conversation is as follows:
o    Why are you here? – We are here because for years we have lived like common rabble, in ruins or burrows, content to simply seek shelter from the sky. My mistress has declared that we shall live as a people free of such fears. This land was ours generations ago, before the Borakki and the grunj forced us away. We are here to reclaim it. 
o    What happened here? – I cannot say, but this place was abandoned by your kind long before we arrived here. The only thing left here were corpses. Disease, I imagine. Your kind are so very fragile. 
o    Church/Priest – (nervously) There were no human priests here when we arrived and we have not defiled your church in any way. If you like, as an offering of peace, I will allow you to enter your church to reclaim any religious relics left behind. 
o    The dead – Burned or buried. I mourn the loss of your brothers and sisters. 
o    Digging – Digging? Digging? Oh, that is none of your business, human. Let us just say that I want to plant a garden and leave it at that. 
o    Rothchild – I knew of your Lord Rothchild, but never had the pleasure of meeting him. I have heard rumor that he died on an expedition far north of here.

Albino ratlings are notoriously superstitious and the PCs pick up on Grimjaw's nervousness in talking about the church. They take the offer to reclaim the relics from the church. A group of rats escort them there, but refuse to enter. The PCs are able to search the small chapel and connected rectory in peace.

The Church

The church is quiet and dusty. No one has been here for many weeks. The PCs search and find little until someone wanders behind the altar. On the floor, meticulously scrawled in blood are a set of runes. It is no language anyone knows, and so the scholars copy and study them to see if they can piece together any meaning.

Meanwhile, Darrington is scouring the rectory for anything of value interest. After ransacking the priest's chamber, he hits paydirt in the form of a journal. Most of it is mundane, but the last few entries shed some light on the mystery of Rothchild.
o    “The lord has returned from his latest expedition triumphant. This is good, since I need to talk to him about hiring some laborers from Roth. Both the roof and windows are in need of repair…”
o    “…when I entered his chamber, he was in a heated discussion with Dr. Ombras. Something about an old book, which was seemingly too important for my eyes, as they rushed to close and hide it as I entered. Their concern was strange, since the only glimpse I caught was that of two blank pages. Still, something about that whole scene makes me uneasy.”
o    “I have been meaning to discuss these blasted windows with Rothchild for well over a week now, but Ombras has been turning me away. Father forgive me, but I cannot stand that man. He is behaving well above his station. I will see the lord in spite of him, but he seems to never leave the lord’s chambers, so I will need to be patient.”
o    “Father, please save us! I set out to discuss the chapel repairs with Lord Rothchild and so I waited for an opportune moment to sneak into his chambers. I wish now that I hadn’t, for when I entered, I was greeted with the sight of both Lord and Lady Rothchild in bed, deathly pale, and covered in a patchwork of bandages, ointments and salves. All of this to treat a myriad of horrible, bleeding sores that have appeared on their skin. It was horrible.”
o    “Even more terrible was the surprise return of Ombras, who had gone only to get even more bandages from his office. He chided me for not heeding his warnings and told me that the Lord had contracted some sort of malady, probably from his contact with the Ghost Grunj during his last expedition. But Ombras had been on that expedition as well. Why wasn’t he sick? He showed me his arm, covered in the same sores as poor Lord Rothchild. Ombras was ill too, and when he saw the horror in my eyes, he laughed at me and said I may be infected now as well.”
o    “As it turns out, I have not fallen prey to the same malady as Rothchild and Ombras. Thank the Father. However, the pox have spread to his hands and face, so Ombras is no longer fit to be seen. That means I am in charge of nursing them. I do wish we had a priestess here. They are not recovering. If anything, their skin is getting worse. Indeed, I am alarmed at the amount of blood seeping from their wounds each day. They live, but they are wasting away.” 
o    “One of the soldiers made a disturbing confession today. When he was with Rothchild on his latest excursion, they came across a village of grunj living deep in the wilderness. Rothchild and Ombras were looking for something there and when negotiations failed, the boy said the soldiers were given the order to destroy the village and kill any who resisted. If they found the book, they were not to touch it for any reason, but to tell the lord. The entire village was wiped out, down to the last child.
o    “I knew the end of this story, but I asked the boy anyway because I had to know for sure. What of the book? He saw it, and it was as I feared, a blank book. Rothchild and Ombras killed an entire village of grunj in their search for some relic. And now they are cursed with these sores that will slowly bleed them to death. Am I wrong to be relieved? At least the rest of us will be spared the horror of their disease. But, what else does the curse have in mind for us? I will save this manor by disposing of these three wretched souls and their confounded book.”
o    “My mission is even more critical than I originally thought. Once they passed, their bleeding stopped and the scabs on their skin fell away. They’re not covered in sores. They’re covered in writing… beautiful”
o    “There is an old crypt hidden away in the woods to the north of here. I think it is Borakki in origin. They bodies won’t burn. The book won’t burn. A feeling of unease has come over me that I cannot adequately describe. I must hurry.” 
o    “It is done. I collected the boy and a few of his fellow soldiers and told them it was time to redeem themselves for the murders of the grunj. We broke the seal on the Borakki crypt and threw the bodies of Lord and Lady Rothchild and Ombras inside. Then, we sealed it as best we could. I am seeing them in my sleep. This place feels like a prison. I am not sure how much longer I can remain here. Father bless us all.”

Also, peppered throughout the last several pages of the journal are the same symbols found on the floor of the chapel...

The PCs conclude that Rothchild was likely a mage who got himself into some nasty mess with some grunj relic, and that Grimjaw is here searching for Rothchild's body and the book mentioned by the priest, all of which is fortunately holed up in some borakki crypt which lies somewhere to the north.

Umm... Are You Sure About This?

The discussion of what to do about the ratlings flares up again and this time, the group is certain the invaders must be dealt with now. Vitro, who has been listening to the proceedings using his rune, The Vault, contacts the group inside and a plan is formulated.
Eavesdrop -- You can listen in on a conversation up to 40 meters away regardless of how quietly the participants are talking. Only magical means can hide the conversation from you.
Far Whisper -- You whisper a message that travels on the wind to a target up to 100 hexes away. The target hears the message as though you whispered it directly into his ear and he will know from who the whisper came, but not necessarily where unless you wish him to know.
Vitro figures he can use his portals to get the group back together in the church if he can get onto the wall for a moment. Then, an ambush can be made by luring Grimjaw inside the church. Perhaps if they say they found Rothchild's body and a book, the ratling leader will be convinced to enter the church regardless of his superstitions. He can then be dispatched and the rest of the rats will fall into disarray!

They implement their plan at night. Vitro and CJ manage to scale the wall unseen and portal into the church. The group informs the ratling guard of their find and ask that Grimjaw come at once. He does, but when Sedgewick tells the ratling that they found Rothchild's body and book, Grimjaw simply instructs them to bring them to the manor and turns to leave. After a moment or two of indecision, CJ and Anatoli make a command decision and engage the ratlings.

Damn Overpowered Math Professors!

The combat is frantic. Anatoli and CJ hold the door of the church against Grimjaw's bodyguards. Grimjaw backs away and shoots bolts from a hand held crossbow. Darrington leaps through one of the church windows, flanks the ratlings and pelts them with arrows. Sylvanus struggles to get a clean crossbow shot off. Vitro summons a giant rat. Sedgewick taps into the First Equation and buffs the heck out of the fighters.
Blur -- +3 to your defenses. Creatures that don't rely on sight to target are unaffected.
The group is pretty defensively minded to begin with and this buff just sends them over the top. The ratlings aren't landing many blows, which is a good thing because if one of the front-line fighters drops, everything will crumble. With their shields and buffs, the fighters manage to hold the door. But time is ticking. The alarm has been raised and in a few short combat rounds, 5 more ratlings will show up and defensive buff or not, that will be a mess. A few have already run down the length of the walls and have started shooting down into the fray.

Not able to shoot through the combat to help out front, Sylvanus heads to a side window and puts a bolt into a ratling. Darrington fires another arrow, but then decides to get a better view of the battle and uses his climbing and acrobatics to get to the roof. Grimjaw gets an idea, quaffs a potion and heads around the side of the chapel. CJ doesn't like the looks of this and indicates she is going after him. Sedgewick will have to take the line... he gulps, but then remembers he was intermural fencing champion back at the university, buffs himself and then steps into the fray.

CJ and Grimjaw meet at the side of the chapel and trade ineffectual blows. Neither of them can land a decisive hit. Toli and Sedgewick have managed to drop a couple rats, but more are coming. Vitro sends his summoned rat to intercept, but that will only stop one or two for a brief time. Darrington shoots at the archers on the wall, and they return fire. Sylvanus loads his crossbow and runs over to help CJ take down the ratling leader.

Finally, both Sylvanus and CJ land telling blows on Grimjaw. The albino ratling is bleeding and hurt. He won't take another round like that. He pulls a jeweled dagger with a rat's head carved into the pommel... then stabs himself in the belly and collapses into a pile of 100 rats, all which scatter. His underlings turn and flee as well. The PCs hold the battlefield!!

And then, before the group can mount any pursuit, they hear a popping and clicking from within the compound as all of the captive ratlings grasp at the collars on their  necks and fall to the ground, choking.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Conversation Matrix

This is not a post about Keanu Reeves. This is a post about those times when your party has slogged through the Stinking Swamp for days, searching for information. They have battled snakes, spiders and some half-submerged, icky tentacle thing, not to mention the bugs... oh goodness, the bugs! They are wet and tired, but finally, they have reached their goal. There, in a small hut, on what looks to be the only patch of dry ground for two miles, is the witch. She has the answers they seek. Only she has the power that can stem the tide of darkness that is swallowing the nearby lands. Only she can point them to... The Ring!

And so, our heroes anxiously approach the hut, knock on the door and greet the withered crone. She is a little cryptic, dancing around the topics, but it is obvious she knows something, so they talk. And there is more talking. And more talking... but something's not right.

The conversation isn't going the direction you thought it would. It started well enough, "I don't have the Ring," you said. "I have not had it for a very long time." But now, the talk has turned to the Ring's history. You know the Ring's history, but does SHE know the Ring's history? Would she tell them about her brief time as their beloved King's advisor? What if they bring up those rumors that she is cavorting with the demonic hordes? Why are they asking about the traitorous duke!?

You feel the conversation slipping, and your NPC's answers become more vague and cryptic. The PCs get frustrated as they come to the (incorrect) conclusion that this witch knows much less than they were led to believe. They leave frustrated that their investigation has reached this dead end.

I see this a lot and I used to fall prey to it quite a bit as well. Vague NPC Syndrome is a leading cause of death for PC investigations and plot lines. There are a few reasons this happens. You might be trying to make the NPC sound clever, or mystical, like in the movies. You might find yourself uncertain as to what exactly the NPC knows about a set of topics, or what she is willing to divulge. The NPC ends up sounding vague and the players get lost in the conversation and ultimately, leave feeling like they have learned nothing.

A little preparation goes a long way to avoid vague NPCs and I borrowed a concept from computer rpgs to help me. For every important NPC encounter where I feel the players need to get information I create a conversation matrix. Topics the PCs might mention during the discussion are in the left column, and the canned NPC response is in the right. The very first entry is the "greeting", which acts partly as the NPC's greeting and partly as a way to introduce one or two of the rest of the topics in the matrix to get things going.

As I am writing the responses, I underline important nouns and phrases and use those to create new topics. I also try to see what topics already exist, and mention as many of those as possible, creating a little web of conversation topics and responses. I also annotate the responses. I note where the NPC is lying (in case someone can detect that). I put in any non-verbal cues, or characterizations the NPC might exhibit. I note where skill checks might be used to get more, or different information.

In play, PCs chat with the NPC, when a topic on the left comes up, you give the response listed, which should lead the players to new topics, and so on, until all of the useful information has been learned.

Here is a quick example of a conversation matrix. It's crude and the story is cheesy because I literally made it up just now. However, I think it gets the point across and shows how one of these things looks.

(frowns) Ahh yes, I knew the day would come when someone would hound me about that accursed Ring. Come in, come in and sit. If you are going to kill me over this trinket, at least you can be civilized about it, eh? (walks back in and stirs her cauldron)
(scowls) Gah, that thing is a curse upon these lands, and yet it is tied to them. In many ways, the Ring’s history is the history of this kingdom.
Kill you? (question)
(chuckles to herself) No, I suppose today is not the day. I would know.

But that’s what you are here for, isn’t it? You have read or been told that I was given a powerful magic ring by the demon Tomax and you are here to retrieve it. Tell me, do you wish to tame its power for yourselves, or do you seek it for another?
Kill You! (threat)
(eyes glow red and she moves to a defensive position) Threats is it? Well, you are welcome to try, but know this. I will not bow to threats. You see, I know the day of my death and it is not today.

[Persuade, Bribery DL 12 to talk her down and resume the conversation]
Its Power
The Ring extends its wearer’s life to that of the elder races, and to protect him from all manner of poison and disease, but its true power is to summon the Unfalling Legions from Tomax’s Demon Realm. And then, there is the curse.
Another, King Relias
(looks wistfully away) [Converse vs. DL 12 to continue]

Ahh you see, I didn’t always look like this. This wrinkled face and stooped body are the products of many years of delving into magics into which no mortal should delve. Once, I was the advisor to the great King Relias, and his mistress as well.

(looks very alarmed, reaches out to the PCs) You must go back to Relias and tell him. Tell him not to use the ring. Tell him not to even touch the vile thing. He may think to tame its power, but regardless of the gains, its curse is too costly.
The Demon Prince of Mages, Tomax, crafted the ring many generations ago as a gift to his supreme sorcerer, Damian. Damian used the ring’s power to bring all of the lords under his power, as well as the Church. In this way, he ruled the land for decades.

At first, no one could understand the sorcerer’s military success -- how he could raise such armies and how they could fight with such ferocity and steadfast courage, but soon they learned. It was his Ring that summoned the soldiers from the deepest reaches of the Demon Realm and these soldiers formed Damian’s feared Unfalling Legions.

Soon every scholar and mage, nobleman and burglar in the land was researching Damian’s Ring and trying to come up with some way to steal the thing from his very finger. But their every attempt was thwarted, because Damian had created a spell that could locate the ring without error if it were taken from him.

Damian fell years later when he fell in love with one of his serving girls, who was actually a spy planted there by one of his many rivals. This woman persuaded Damian to show her the ring, and then to actually remove it so that she could hold it in her hand. Damian was normally more careful than this, but he was blinded with love and by the certainty that came from knowing he would not die that day.

Damian’s lover poisoned him, but not with a toxin that would kill him, but one that paralyzed him, slowed his heart and made his skin cold. While the spy fled with the ring, Damian’s servants thought him dead and they buried him in his ancestral tomb.
Spell (of Location)
No one has seen this spell since Damian died, but it was common practice for sorcerers to be buried with their spell books and tomes. It is likely that the spell is still buried with its master.
The ring’s curse is knowing the exact day and manner of your death.

I need to cut that short, but you get the idea...

The matrix does several things for me.

  • While writing it, I am thinking about this NPC's particular perspective on the situation. I may have written a history for this item and these characters, but the matrix helps me focus on what THIS character knows and will tell the PCs. 
  • By allowing each response to segue into other topics, I am anticipating the questions of the players and filling in blanks in the history that I might have glossed over before. Fleshing out these details means less improvising during play and a more coherent story and game world.
  • It gives me an idea of where I want the conversation to go, and how I might get there. If I ultimately want the PCs to learn that the Spell of Location is in Damian's Tomb, I know what lines of discussion will lead there.
  • It allows me to understand where various skills could be used. I only threw a couple in this example, but I could easily pepper more social skill rolls and knowledge skill rolls in there.
  • I can use the matrix to record what items of information my players have heard, and what they haven't heard. Topics they have not heard, but are necessary to move forward, can be given to other NPCs later in the session.
This might seem mechanical and "gamey" to some folks, but in practice it is pretty smooth and you find yourself reading from the page less and less each time. The primary benefit is getting you to think about the details of your scenario, and how your NPCs will present those details to the players.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

I Played Dishonored Wrong, And So Are Your Players

I spent a recent weekend playing Dishonored, a stealth game with a cool setting and a few neat powers. I had a great time playing it, but I finished in just over 8 hours. Now, I am not one to rush through games... I am typically not even that good at games, so 8 hours seemed very short to me. I searched "Dishonored short" on the internet to see if other people had the same experience I did and indeed, I found that many people complained that Dishonored was too short. I also found something else very interesting...

I had totally played it wrong.

I mean, I played it right. I had been told by a friend that the more people you kill, the crappier ending you get, so I was stealthy and pretty non-lethal. I moved to my objective efficiently, getting in and out with little trouble. When I was cornered and detection was imminent, I used my abilities to neutralize the threat. I got the happy, "You Are Awesome" ending. I was a freakin' ninja!!

But, I played the game horribly wrong. See, there are dozens of little nooks and crannies on the mission maps, and those nooks and crannies contain various NPCs, challenges, side-quests, objects to collect, and so on... probably another 8-12 hours game play if I "did it right."

Dishonored sort of misled me. I went into it thinking it was a stealth game. Indeed, the game rewarded me for being stealthy and punished me when I wasn't. Part of being stealthy is not subjecting yourself to undue risk of exposure. If you are in the mansion to kill the duchess, and you find she is in the basement, you don't wander through the third floor looting the place, because that gives you a much higher chance of being detected. So, you go to the basement, kill the duchess, and get out of Dodge... and miss half the game.

That got me thinking about how often as game designers and GMs we pull a "Dishonored" and mislead players. Not deliberately, of course, but by not being clear about our vision for the upcoming game. So, I think the lesson to be learned is to be clear and communicate with your players about your expectations. For instance...

Be Clear About Character Concepts

I admit I have a problem. As a GM of over 30 years, I have gotten lazy and one of the ways this laziness manifests is at the very beginnings of a campaign. I will usually email a quick paragraph or two talking about what the game will be about and then I let people disappear and create characters. Invariably, someone will end up with a character idea that doesn't quite fit, and I will be uncomfortable, but probably allow it anyway, hoping to make it all work later. Now, I have a PC that I as a GM am not thrilled about, and I have a player who thinks his character is fine, won't fix it, and as the game goes on, will be disappointed that his story lines aren't as well developed as the other players'.

My new strategy is a two-pronged approach. First, I will sit down before character generation and create about 2 or 3 times as many quick concepts as I will have players in the group. A quick concept is a one or two sentence character idea that fits with the idea I have for the game. So, "young farmboy longing for adventure among the stars", "charming rogue pilot who says he is in it just for the money, but really has a heart of gold", "noble senator on the run from agents of the Empire" would work. When it comes time to create characters, we all sit together as players choose their concepts, flesh them out, and start rolling stats.

Be Clear About Power Levels

I have seen many a HERO System game turned sour because differing levels of character-building skill led to wildly varying power levels in the game. Similarly, D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder GMs can sometimes find themselves the victims of supplement creep, where players cobble together juggernauts by cherry-picking powers and feats from dubious sources. In the new Traveller 5th Edition, stats play a heavy part in your character's chance to succeed at tasks, so someone with a 12 in an attribute is going to be way better than someone who ended up with an plain old 7.

More recently in one of my games, a player ditched his moderately powered, thiefy character to bring in a min-maxed, over the top, barbarian death machine... which usually isn't a problem, except he now overshadows the other two fighters in the group. And that sucks. And that is my fault for not being clear with the player about what was appropriate given the current makeup of the adventuring party.

So, before your game starts, hash out what you feel is an appropriate power level for the game, communicate that to your players and stick with it. If you are running Pathfinder, what starting stats, powers and feats are appropriate? What supplements are available for players to build their characters? If you are running a point-build system, check characters for poor builds, or cheesy hyper-optimized builds. If your game gives character points for "flaws", make sure no one is piling on flaws to farm character points. If your game has random stats, consider going with an array, or a point-buy system instead.

It is hard to give general advice, but take some time to understand where you want your characters to start in terms of power level, and then be clear and firm to the players.

Be Clear About What Skills and Powers Are Useful

Games that have lots of skills (GURPS, I am looking at you) tend to have an interesting problem. In a given campaign, not all skills will have the same value. If you are playing a game that takes place in medieval Europe, then your Latin skill is great; in post-apocalyptic Australia, not so much. That is a pretty easy example, so let's be a little more subtle. If we are playing a game in post-apocalyptic Australia, should I spend my last few points on Animal Husbandry, or Auto Repair?

That depends on the campaign, of course. If we are drivers who travel from town to town to compete in deadly arena races, repairing cars might be a big deal. On the other hand, if we are playing settlers who are trying to restore civilization to the wasteland, I would want both skills in my group.

The clearer you are about the concept behind the campaign, what type of adventures you can foresee and what kinds of activities you'd like to see the players do, the more likely it is the players will choose useful abilities for their characters. As best you can, narrow the concept and get a handle on what specific types of adventures are you going to run.

  • Post-apocalyptic game set in Australia
  • Characters are members of a "road team" that drives from town to town to compete in races
  • PCs will be drivers, mechanics, and booking agents
  • Adventures will consist of PCs interacting with local townsfolk, trading their services for repair parts and supplies, interacting with other teams, fending off/sabotaging other teams, collecting special parts for their cars, battling bandits in the wild, righting local wrongs when the locals cannot, full-combat races through hostile terrain
  • At some point, I would like to have the PCs stranded in the desert without their vehicles and they have to somehow make the long, dangerous trek back to civilization

So, most of that indicates driving, mechanics, and heavy weapons. But there is also a heavy trading and social aspect as well, so skills like converse, carouse and trade will be needed. Screwing with other teams seems to be a part of the game, so brawling and stealth might be useful. Presumably someone has to get you from place to place, so navigate might be good... and since you think at one point, they will be stranded in the middle of nowhere, you might hint to someone that they should pick up desert survival.

Be Clear About Where They Should Go

I once knew a GM who ran a campaign and he often bragged about how "open" his game was. "Players can do anything they want," he would gleefully tell us. Sounds great, but he ran into a snag at one point and told the story about how foolish his players were being, because instead of following his clues and heading for the city in the mountains (where the bad guys were holed up), they insisted in chasing his red herring and searching for the baddies downriver. He complained that his game had devolved into a camping simulator as the PCs searched for the enemies they would never find.

"So, what did they find downriver?" I asked.

"Nothing! That is the point. They were supposed to go to the city. Dude, were you even listening?"

I love sandbox games, since I feel they embody one of the coolest things about tabletop gaming, the feeling of being able to do anything you can imagine doing. This guy wasn't running such a game. He was running a linear game with a lot of floundering (and camping) as the players tried to discern what was in his head.

Don't be that guy. If you are running a linear game, be clear about it and make sure players know where to go next. If they mess up and head the wrong direction, put a new clue in their way that will right their path. If they follow your clever false clue, have the villains gloat about it. If they are stuck and looking bored... ninjas work wonders. Deception is only fun in a game AFTER your players figure it out, so make sure they ultimately figure it out.

Now if you truly are running a sandbox game... that is a whole other post!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Repost -- Conversation Skills in an Action Game

This is a repost of an article I wrote several years ago... I dug it out because of a recent discussion I had with a gaming buddy.

Conversation, persuasion, oratory and seduction can pose special problems to new and experienced GMs alike. These charisma-based skills are often treated differently than physical skills. When a PC tries to use a physical skill, the GM assigns a difficulty based on the situation at hand, and the player rolls against his skill. A successful roll means the player succeeds at the task. A failed roll means the character fails the task. Of course, it is not necessarily this simple. Depending on the magnitude of the success or failure and the situation, partial failures and successes may occur with their results determined by the creativity and cruelty of the GM. Many intelligence-based skills work in the same way; a die-roll determines the success of the task.

The reason for this is simple. You cannot role-play most physical skills. When the PCs, fleeing a ravenous band of goblins, comes to a chasm and needs to leap to safety, the GM cannot very well ask that the players get up from the gaming table, drive to a convenient ditch and perform the jump to determine the fate of their characters. It's unfair to ask players to be as strong, fast and agile as their characters… and all that ditch digging can be inconvenient. Intelligence skills have the same issues. It is hard to have a player figure out a complicated magical formula when he is struggling through calculus.

Oddly enough, we gamers have a bit of a double standard when it comes to charisma-based skills. When the PCs are trying to persuade the NPC to give them information, the GM generally does not leave the resolution of the situation up to a skill roll. Instead, he will play the part of the NPC and the players will talk for their characters. Based on the real-life conversation, the GM will determine how the NPC reacts and if the PCs get their information.

This “double-standard” exists because role-playing games are nothing more that exercises in imagination and conversation. Thus, it makes sense that any aspect of the game that involves talking would be played out and not just diced. This is the “role” part of the role-playing and the conversations that characters and NPCs (i.e. GMs and players) have give the game flavor and are an important part (some think the MOST important part) of RPGs.

However, this attitude toward charisma-based skills can create a few unwanted situations. For one thing, though a weak player can play a strong character, and in most situations, a player of average intelligence can role-play a brilliant mage, or scientist, a person with below-average people skills will have a difficult time playing the smooth-talking con man, or the diplomat. This is because, unlike his mage and fighter companions, the con man’s player actually has to DO his skills, instead of just rolling for success. He has to talk to the NPCs and be convincing. If the player does not have the conversation skills, he will not be as successful as his character’s skill level would indicate.

Many GMs mix role-playing with die-based resolution. When a charisma skill is used, the player role-plays the situation for a while and then the GM adjusts his skill roll accordingly. This gives the below-average talker the ability to succeed at conversation skills due to his character’s skill, while preserving the role-playing aspect of the game. However, what happens when the player gives a great speech and still blows the roll… or flubs the speech, but critically succeeds on the roll? What about the situation where PCs determine that they are getting nowhere with a particular NPC and in desperation point out that their character has the conversation skill at such-and-such a level and can they make a skill roll? These situations are unsatisfying and can feel contrived.

I suggest a simple change to conversation-based skills. When one of these skills is used, the GM should determine a difficulty and make a skill roll immediately. The GM should not use the results of this skill roll to determine the success or failure of the attempt. Instead, take the skill roll and base the tone of the conversation and the initial reaction of the NPC on that roll. A successful skill roll means the NPC is favorably disposed to the PC, or is caught off-guard by the character, and might have useful information. A failed roll mean the NPC is wary, has no information, or is downright hostile. After this initial roll, the player’s role-playing skills will determine the outcome of the encounter.

For example, PCs are skulking about the city at night. A guard comes upon them and the group’s confidence man uses his fast talk skill to convince the watchman that the group is breaking town curfew to innocently look for the lost kitten of a friend. The GM decides on a difficulty of the skill roll (based on the experience and intelligence of the guard or any other factors the GM wishes to include) and the player rolls.

If the player succeeds in the skill roll, then the conversation begins with the guard favorably disposed to the party and their story. Perhaps he is a green recruit, or gullible. Perhaps he is taken with a female member of the group and if she does the talking, he is bound to believe her story. Perhaps he stopped in a local pub and is noticeably drunk. If the PCs notice and threaten to tell his superiors, he may let them go just to get away from them. Perhaps he will give the PCs a hard time, but is open to graft. In any case, the successful roll does not necessarily mean that the encounter is successful. Instead, it means the GM needs to provide the players with a NPC who will believe a credible story, or has some hook which will allow a successful resolution.

A failed roll means just the opposite. The guard is suspicious. Perhaps there have been some crimes in the neighborhood and the guard is on the lookout for any after-hours activity. Perhaps the PC looks like a perpetrator of a similar crime, or has a feature (or is of a race or ethnicity) that the guard does not like. Perhaps he is just experienced and has heard this story before. In any case, the encounter should be difficult and only the best role-playing (and in this case, fast talking) will get the guard off the PCs' backs.

This approach to conversation skills has a couple advantages. First, it uses both the game mechanics and role-playing equally. A character with a high skill will have an easier time using his charisma-based skills even if the player is not good at the skill. This is because successful skill rolls bring about easier role-playing situations.  On the other hand, role-playing is still required to bring about a solution to the encounter and good role-playing is rewarded with successful outcomes to failed skill rolls.

Second, this approach gives the GM a guideline as to how tough he should be on PC confidence men. How easily should the NPC give in? How gullible should this person be? If the NPC is one that has been written and developed, then these questions are easy to answer. However, in the case of our guard, the GM has probably not prepared any information on this NPC's personality and so the skill roll provides a good guide to how this person should behave toward the PCs.

Third, a good GM can have a great deal of fun with this system. A bit of quick thinking can lead to many interesting and humorous situations. Let's get back to the guard example. On a particularly bad failure, the PCs give their story and the guard, so overtaken with sympathy, offers to travel with them and help find their kitten. This could lead to a wonderful subplot where the PCs have to find a way to ditch the guard, or get their skulking done in spite of him.

Another possibility is that the guard recognizes one of the PCs and, based on his reputation and position, either arrests him on the spot, or causes trouble for him later. Critical successes could lead to improbable good fortune such as a kitten strolling out of the bushes just as PCs finish their story, or the guard in question being an old friend of one of the PCs.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Runebearer Session One -- Advanced Scouts

A Quick Background

In the year 512, an explorer named Rothchild started a settlement in a faraway land called the Caigenhurst. Two years later, a strange natural phenomenon called the Black Rains brought disease and famine to the land. Rothchild's colony has not been heard from for some time and it is feared that the settlers have perished. Baron Pelgrim, who funded the original expedition, has now tasked the honorable Lady Sophia Riga with exploring the Caigenhurst, learning the fate of Rothchild and restoring civilization to the wild region.

The PCs have all been contracted by Lady Riga's steward, Wallace, to act as advanced scouts. Their mission is to explore and secure the docks, the village of Roth, and the manor house in preparation for the arrival of the Lady and her entourage. The group starts the game having traveled for three weeks on two boats, the Swan and the Sparrow, both led by Captain Quillan.

The Old Rotten Docks

It has been nearly three weeks since you set off. Three weeks on the cramped boat, an arm’s reach from the angry sea. The Mother has kept you safe and given you the wind you needed. More importantly, She’s kept the storms from you, for though the sky has been thick and grey your entire journey, you have been subject to nothing more than gentle rain. And indeed when you finally spot land, it is through squinted eyes and the obscuration of a cold, soaking rain.

The boats come within 200 or so yards from shore, but then raise their sails and drop anchor. Quillan has been here before and is still not comfortable navigating the dangerous shoals. He directs the PCs to take the Sparrow (the smaller of the two vessels) in by oar. Wallace, the PCs and 3 men-at-arms row the Sparrow toward the Old Rotten Docks.

The group has quite a bit of supplies -- enough for several weeks here. They also have 4 kits of alchemy equipment designed to clean up areas where the Black Rain still lingers.

(GM's Note: Because of the weeks at sea, and the poor weather, the PCs are suffering the status effect Bad Morale (-1 to all skill checks) until they can find shelter and dry off.)

You row the boat toward land, being mindful of the rocks that glide just inches below you. The shore is close and you proceed toward the mouth of a small, shallow river and what remains of a rotting dock and few structures that have been battered by the recent storms. To the west, you can see the remains of a small fishing vessel stuck on some rocks.

This location consists of the dock, wrecked scaffolding, a couple sheds, some small huts that are not much more than piles of stones now, a warehouse with half its roof caved in, and a small stone house further inland that looks to be mostly intact. The Sparrow pulls up to the dock. Wallace's men start to tend to the ship and supplies while the PCs begin exploring...

Our Protagonists

So, who are these stout adventurers trusted by the cream of Bostonian nobility to engage on the most important of missions? Well, just the usual band of random, rag-tag misfits and miscreants, as adventuring parties often seem to be.
  • Sir Avery Fitzwilliam Sedgewick -- a nobleman scholar from Boston, schooled in various ancient and magical subjects. He is also a mage with the First Equation and the Virtues of the Mind runes bound. His dogged search to find material about which to write scholarly papers leads him into considerable danger.
  • Anatoli (Toli) -- A grunj warrior armed with spear and shield. He travels with Sedgewick and bails him out of the trouble he invariably gets into.
  • Timotheus Sylvanus -- grew up as a member of a nature-worshipping pagan sect, but converted to the Church after having dreams of Stratus, The Father. He has lived several years as a monk. He is a tracker, outdoorsman and doctor, and has the uncanny ability to call upon the Bostonian saints for aid, even though he is not ordained clergy.
  • CJ -- A warrior who uses sword and shield. Somewhat straightforward and blunt, but has a heart of gold.
  • James Darrington III -- Former street performer turned burglar and now scout.
  • Vitro -- A mysterious mage with an extraterrestrial origin. Has powers of summoning and divination (namely the runes Portal and Vault) and a hawk familiar. He is also quite attractive and charming and has the bulk of the group's social skills.
We'll get into each character a bit more as we go. For now, it's probably enough to just know their names.

The Weepers

Once the group hits the beach, Vitro sends his hawk familiar to scout the area. The hawk reports back that there are a number of humans "feeding" behind the stone house. That immediately gets the party's attention and CJ, Toli, Sedgewick and Vitro move to investigate. Meanwhile, Sylvanus and Darrington are helping the sailors take care of the supplies.

As the PCs approach the house, they hear the sound of raspy breathing, greedy lip-smacking and clattering bones. CJ turns the corner.

As you round the corner of the house, you see a pack of humanoids crouched around a large pool of stinking black liquid in which you can see the remains of several partially eaten corpses. They alternate between gnawing at the bones of the unfortunate villagers, and greedily lapping at the vile liquor. Their hands and clothes are stained in blood and gore, and their eyes are welling up with black tears that run down their cheeks.
When they see you, they are momentarily confused and for some reason look at their hands, then the pool, and then back at you. Their eyes flicker for a second and they try to speak. But when they do, only the tar bubbles from their lips. Then they are overcome with rage and they charge to the attack.

The pool of liquid is a festering remnant of the Black Rain. The creatures are Weepers, a special kind of ghoul created by exposure to the rains. These weepers are the remains of the Fishing Master and his family, and though they are overcome by their insatiable hunger, they do retain some tiny recollection of their former life, evidenced in the way they try to disable their next meal -- namely the PCs.

CJ fires an arrow into the group of creatures and hits one of them in the shoulder. The Fishing Master throws a net and tries to subdue CJ, but the net hits part of a nearby fence instead, missing its target. The mother ghoul moves to the side to get a clear sight line to the party and then throws cleavers (of which she seems to have an infinite supply in her apron) at the group.

The "kids" charge the party. CJ drops her bow and draws steel. Toli moves up to support CJ and Sedgewick falls in behind and start casting buffs. Vitro summons a portal through which steps a giant rat ready to defend its master. Finally, the folks at the docks hear the commotion and start running to the house.

Once the groups engaged, the battle was pretty quick. The main scary moment was when a couple of the kids flanked the group and got to Sedgewick, but he just pulled his rapier ("Top of my fencing class at Uni, you know!") and he and the giant rat held the flank.

After the battle, there was a discussion about "saving" a couple of the weepers who had not been killed in the battle. There were one or two of the unfortunates who had just been incapacitated and Toli brought up the idea that the doctor (everyone has taken to calling Sylvanus "Doctor" by now)  could use one of the group's clean-up kits to save the weepers. Though the doctor has no alchemy skills, he does have physician, and I ruled that with a good enough physician check, he could determine a process by which the kit could be used to purify someone who had become a weeper. The doctor considered his chances and refused to make the attempt, being unwilling to waste one of the valuable kits in a failed attempt.

CJ showed the incapacitated weepers the ultimate mercy and sent them to the Father.

Vitro is interested in how the people became flesh-eating ghouls and so he uses a spell that gives him visions of the past and touches the stone house, hoping to get an idea of what happened here.

You see everyone huddled in the house riding out a brutal storm. The mother looks worriedly out the window, but is relieved to see her husband coming up the beach path. He is soaked, covered in the tarry, poison liquid falling from the clouds, but he is home. But then, he kicks in the door. His eyes and mouth seep with black tears, as though he has been filled with the toxin and can hold no more.

Cut to him dragging his wife by the back of her neck, out into the storm, behind the house, where a pool of the filth has accumulated. She struggles, but is no match for his strength as he forces her face under the surface... The scene repeats with the children and then fades.

The group settles down in the house to rest and recuperate. Wallace and the rest of the NPCs join them. Darrington searches and finds mostly junk, but a couple of interesting pieces:
  • A large fish scale (almost the size of a shield) labeled "Grunnich"
  • Some fine fishing gear (+1 to skill checks)
  • 4 doses of some unknown herbal ointment
  • Some petty cash
Anatoli is annoyed at Sylvanus, and humans in general, and so sleeps outside. He makes a lean-to in the broken warehouse and beds down there.

The Survivor

The next morning, Toli has set up a fire on the beach and is cooking breakfast when a rock flies past. "Hey" says a weak voice and another rock skitters on the sand. It is coming from the shipwreck. The wreck is the remains of a fishing boat that got loose from its moorings during the storms and was dashed against the rocks.

Toli calls for the others and they investigate. After crawling on the rocks to get to the wreck, they find a fisher woman named Camille. She was trying to secure the boat when it crashed. Her legs are broken and she has been hiding here for weeks, subsisting on crabs and fish that would stray too close to her makeshift spear. She is near starvation and her legs are mangled and will need surgery to heal normally.

The group debriefs Camille, but she knows very little. She saw the Fishing Master and his family scour the beach and pick off corpses and survivors, but she does not know how he turned into such a monster. She knows that a few people escaped and headed inland toward the town of Roth, but does not know their fate.

She asks if the group happened to see another boat, like the one she was on. Her brother was on that boat, trying to save it, when it was torn out to sea. Vitro starts consoling Camille, when CJ blurts out, "Well, if he was on that boat, then he is almost certainly dead."  Vitro facepalms.

The Surgeon

Sylvanus examines Camille and determines that he will need to rebreak and reset her legs if she is ever to walk again. This is a risky procedure and will require pretty good skill rolls to complete successfully. He sets up a makeshift surgery in the house, then knocks out Camille and goes to work.

He succeeds! Camille will walk again. However, she is going to be unable to travel for some time. Wallace indicates that he and his men will remain behind, secure the docks, and watch over the girl while the PCs head to Roth.

Onward to Roth

The group heads to Roth and travels for the better part of a day. They get to Roth just after sunset and though they are convinced they are going to find a ghost town... or worse, they see lights in some of the windows. Someone is here!

They head to the nearby chapel and meet Father Grimm. Grimm is delighted to meet the PCs and takes them to the village reeve, Bordas. Bordas and Grimm tell the PCs that they thought the mainland had forgotten about them. The group tells about Lady Riga's mission to reclaim the land and find Rothchild and exchange info with the NPCs, learning the following:

  • The people of Roth think Rothchild is dead.
  • His manor (miles away from Roth) has been taken over by White Ratlings led by someone named Grimjaw.
  • Grimjaw has sent a message to Roth offering the humans peace so long as they do not interfere with the ratling's ownership of the manor house and its nearby lands.
  • There is a puddle of black goo in the field outside of Ingrid's house.
  • Ingrid is the town baker and since she has the largest house, she often acts as hostess for visitors.
  • Unfortunately, a few of the townspeople have turned into weepers, and have been rounded up and deposited in Ingrid's basement.
  • One of the weepers is Ingrid's mother.
We'll see what they do with that next session...