Archive for April, 2010

Session 13 Explorations to the North

April 30, 2010

Again, we were missing the same two players this week. But they had sufficient strength, with their horses and many hunting dogs, to be comfortable exploring around the inlet to the north of Earthstrike. They already explored the inlet to the south, where the palisade of wolf-riding green men was.

They rounded the shores of the inlet and crossed two rivers. Each river had the pylons of an old stone bridge, which they used as support for sapling-bridges so they wouldn’t have to ford the river. Around this time they left the last scraps of the deciduous maple and oak forest behind and entered a mostly redwood and pine forest. They turned back east at the end of the inlet and hugged the coast.

The coast here was overgrown bluff, and the trail was very close to the edge. At one point they fought off a pair of bears that had a cave on the trail. A steep hillside above, a narrow path, and a drop-off to the waves below made for difficult fighting.

Later they came upon a tree with roots grown over the path to form a cage, with scraps of cloth and leather stretched on the outside. A dog sent up ahead found no danger. Inside it was a small hovel, with a dugout cave into the hillside some ways for storage and a cot. It would have been a cheery little campsite if cleaned up. But they pressed on.

The forested coast gave way to grasslands, and inland they saw a great gravel plain of perfectly round boulders and stones. They continued until the coast turned north at the end of the inlet, and to the north their explorer in bird-form found a desert of ashes. They were hoping for more civilized lands, but I reminded them after they asked that this is the frontier. The only known town is Earthstrike.

On their way back they found a fishing village on the coast of the grasslands. While exploring therein they were attacked by great mantis-like insects burrowing from below. At one point, a larger one spit up two globs of acid, one toward a dog and later toward an adventurer. Both missed, luckily. The larger specimen fled once severely injured, but they declined to venture into the burrows.

The trip back home was uneventful, during which they decided to travel normally instead of searching as is their custom. We actually had 14 days in a row, 3 rolls per day, of no wandering monsters.

When they arrived back at the Chateau D’ Awesome, they saw dozens of Giant Black Squirrels fleeing over the walls from the inside. Their supplies and equipment were strewn about and chewed, but there was little actual loss.

Later, on the way to Earthstrike, their hunter encountered a deer with antlers of shining gold, hooves of burnished bronze, and a clean white coat. He gave chase, and the deer led him along until nightfall. He became quite lost, and eventually found his way to Earthstrike by turning into an owl, finding a coastline, and making some guesses.

They were gone in total almost two months, their longest expedition to date.

This session I decided to go back to using party-initiative. That is, the party rolls and the referee rolls, and the winning side goes first. This encourages organized play – little plans every round. It also helps keep players involved rather than zoning out when it’s someone else’s turn. I read a blog post about this the other day but now I can’t find it. So if anyone remembers where it is, I’ll link it here.

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Session 12 Return to the Cemetery, and the Women of the Forest

April 29, 2010

This session we had everyone show up.

They decided to return to the cemetery with their archaeologist (she has Read Languages and is trying to learn this lost language).

Along the way, they stumbled across a grove of trees. The men of the party (not including the one who is perpetually in bear-shape) saw finely-limbed, exotic looking women with tan-brown skin and leaves and flowers in their hair, beckoning to them (separately) from behind the trees ringing the grove. One succumbed, walking into the tree and disappearing into it as everyone saw a woman’s arms come out to embrace him.

They tried to stab at the trees, one causing enough harm to pierce the bark and wood, and blood flowed out onto the ground. They didn’t know if it was the blood of their amorous Halfling in the tree, or of the tree itself, or of the tree-woman. Further assaults caused the tree-woman to eject the stunned and half-clothed Halfling.

Instead of fleeing like the others, another man succumbed to the charms of the tree-woman he saw, and almost stepped into another tree. At this point, another player decided to hack at the tree, evidently trying to destroy it. But the trees were quite old, 10′ across, and his attacks only enraged the tree-women. They concentrated their efforts on him, and he failed against one of them. The others began peppering the grove with Entangle spells to stop his friends from attacking the trees.

They saved him at the last moment and fled all at once, having seen enough of this particular grove.

The return to the cemetery was relatively uneventful. The archaeologist deciphered some writing that suggested the cemetery was more recent than other ruins, and was of lower construction quality. The carvings in the nice tomb with the treasure showed that the one interred (and destroyed last weekend) was an adventurer of great fame. It showed him underground, using his sword to battle vast hordes of gangly-limbed green men. Behind the horde a cruel tower and atop the tower a weird demonic creature exhorting them all onward.

She’s quite close to having enough exposures to the language that she will be able to read it without rolling her Read Languages check. That means she can go back to the few things she failed on and try to figure out what they are, including one book they found several sessions ago. I believe it was in the basement of the Chateau D’ Awesome.

I decided that the grasses of the grove, long though they were, weren’t strong enough to trap someone until the end of the Entangle spell. I gave anyone in grass a new save every round if they spent the round fighting free, at which point they could escape the area of effect. But anyone in the woods, beyond the ring of trees, were subject to the standard Entangle effect (if they failed the save, they were stuck until the spell ran out).

I don’t like using Charm and Geas effects, because it takes away a lot of player agency. But many creatures use those effects, and certainly the PCs have such magic available. So instead of just taking control of the PC, I give them directions. In this case, I explained that there was a magical compulsion to get to the tree and to be blissfully happy with the tree-woman in question, regardless of other responsibilities and friends’ wishes. Love-blindness, you could say. No need to run, but full normal movement toward the tree every round.

This worked fine until one player decided he didn’t want to play along. He tried everything he could to not go toward the tree. He tried to walk through an Entangle spell instead of just stepping a bit to the right to avoid it. He tried grabbing for his friend to join him with the tree-woman, even though he knew his friend was Entangled and could not possibly come with. He did everything short of walking in the opposite direction claiming that eventually he’d go ’round the globe and arrive at the tree by a less direct route.

But then again, if I’m giving the player just one choice, why am I bothering to give him any choice in the matter at all? I really don’t want to just take over completely. In a direct fight it’s much clearer, if a PC is charmed and I say to him that he now views the man in the funny black robes as a trusted friend and his old friends are now his mortal enemies. In these cases, too, there are many potential inefficiencies a player can employ to make sure he doesn’t do too much damage to his friends. And maybe that’s okay – if a Charm merely neutralizes the victim it’s just as powerful as a Paralyze or Sleep effect.

Session 11 The Cemetery

April 28, 2010

This session we had two players missing and one new player. Unfortunately, one of the missing players was the one with Read Languages, which becomes important later.

They had earlier found an old map in a ruined wagon that showed the immediate area, with a mysterious X off to the west. They traveled there this session, along the way getting distracted by trickery.

A woman in white fleeing a gang of horsemen was seen fleeing through the woods. Some PCs gave chase, but only the one on horseback could keep up. After several tense moments of chase, the PCs astride the horse careened headlong into swampy muck. The horsemen ahead galloped across the quicksand and vanished, as ethereal giggling echoed. The whole party helped him clear his horse from the bog and they moved on.

At the X on their map was a valley with a ruined village at the head. Below, orchards and fields overgrown, wild sheep, and some wolves. And a bit of road running from the village down through the orchard and beyond.

They searched and moved down the road into the orchard. The new player, stalking off to the side, happened upon a small dragon and snuck up on it. She blew it out of the sky as it fled, startled, and they rushed to it as it fell. She roped it and healed it, and intends to tame it.

The party continued along the road and found an old cemetery. Previously they had found from carvings that the old civilization here liked to bury their dead deep underground in the Underworld, but here was a surface cemetery. There were walled blocks of graves with headstones, and a hill into which tombs were cut, and a small ruined chapel at the top.

They searched all day, and when night fell the place took on a sinister demeanor. At one point the crickets and toads stopped sounding, and a ghostly glowing woman appeared walking up the hill. Believing it to be more trickery, one PC dashed uphill to confront her. She turned, and I described her countenance and reaction as the librarian-ghost in Ghostbusters. He just barely made his saving throw against instant, heart-stopping death. He and everyone else fled, returning some time later to find her gone.

Searching the tombs the next day revealed them to be full of nice loot. Each had a stone seal on the front, a sort of huge disc. One tomb, much nicer than the rest, held a wiry undead creature of taut muscles and burning, rage-filled eyes. He leapt at them in the tomb’s gloom and their weapons at first proved ineffective. But they had sufficient spells, and one PC with a flaming sword, and they prevailed. The creature fell into ashes, but not before it had struck one of them with its chilling claws. That adventurer felt weak and sick, and their meager healing magic did nothing to cure it.

Among the fine tomb’s treasures were a magic sword, a magic flask, and a magic rope.

On the way back, right at the very gates of their Chateau D’ Awesome, they were ambushed by some Giant Black Squirrels. The squirrels attacked briefly and fled into the woods, taking some small items with them. One PC, enraged, ran after to slay them alone. The squirrels ambushed him in the twilight. The others ran to answer his cries for help, and found him unconscious, scratched and bruised, missing a few pieces of equipment. After they revived him and brought him inside he vowed revenge.

Session 10 The Money Pit and the Giant Ants

April 27, 2010

The adventurers secured their castle, which they renamed “Chateau D’ Awesome” and began decorating it with their various surplus gear and random tchotchkes. Now with someplace to leave things, they set up a smokehouse to cure the meat they’ve been getting and some drying frames to cure the hides of the many bears, wolves, and boars they kill. They passed the winter there, unwilling to travel to town through the snowdrifts, and survived admirably well. Cleanup of the Chateau went well and they were able to finish rebuilding the inner stone keep to the first level. It remains roofless, and originally had another two levels, and the outer wall needs repair. The drawbridge is broken and they replaced it with a bridge of saplings. The portcullises and all the doors and furniture are destroyed. And they talk of building a road to Earthstrike to ease their travels. All this makes for a very happy referee!

They found that the ruined city around the Earthstrike palisade could be used as a supply of quarried stone, saving much time and money. They didn’t begin main construction yet, though, using all the fallen stone in the Chateau ruins to rebuild the first level.

One player decided to hire workers from Earthstrike to build a normal building outside of the town. The workers used the local stone from the ruins, so the player got a pretty good deal there. She’s more interested in helping out the town, and her original goal was to set it up as a schoolhouse. To keep the workers employed she left money for two more buildings. She convinced one of the apprentices of Yojimbo the Death God priest, who now runs Earthstrike, to teach and maintain the schoolhouse. In exchange he gets to use the schoolhouse at night for religious purposes, holding rummage sales, whatever.

When they had originally arrived, the lord of the fort of Earthstrike was a military man, an experienced soldier named Lord … something. I forget. The priest Yojimbo, who was on the same caravan boat as the PCs, replaced him as the leader of the colony. Yojimbo’s negligence and mismanagement began immediately, when he diverted most of the labor of the colony to building a cathedral outside town. Yojimbo is enamored with the ancient culture, you see. So instead of a traditional step-pyramid he wants a cathedral in the local style, which he has no idea how to build. And he changes his diagrams daily, so anytime the construction isn’t plagued by disaster it’s being intentionally pulled down and altered.

While the Lord So-And-So keeps his sanity by staying out with his patrols on long hunts in the forest, Yojimbo has a Secret Project which one of the Polymorph PCs intermittently investigates.

There was some exploration of the woods and hills around Earthstrike, and they found several nests of Giant Ants. The adventurers would attack, then become swamped and try to flee. They had some close calls before they developed a tactic of casting Entangle upon the anthill to trap the emerging ants. Ill-prepared, they spent every spell and arrow and random stone lying about but didn’t decimate the anthill completely.

They vowed to return.

Session 9 More Overland and the First Sea Voyage

April 26, 2010

This session we spent some time traveling overland to explore more of the hex map. One player had comissioned a rowboat to be built because he wanted to explore an island visible offshore of the colony town of Earthstrike. It was finished this session.

They found the island rocky and barren, with crabs and barnacles in tidal pools, and some abandoned fishing shacks. Not very interesting. Two players polymorphed into birds and flew west to explore the inlet south of Earthstrike. Along the way they discovered a palisade fort across the water from the colony town, filled with strange gangly green-skinned people.

The fort also had animal pens. One pen held huge wolves they used as war mounts. The two polymorphers really wanted to kill off two of the wolves to eat their hearts and be able to change into that new form. But the wolves turned out to be intelligent and quite vicious, and they had to flee with just one heart. They ran out of healing spells and had to rush back to the island, as their spellbooks were back there. Remember, they cannot carry much with them when they polymorph into fast little birds!

The adventurers then returned to the ruined moathouse where they fought the rats and the ogres. They descended to the cellar and then down the well to the caves below, which were water-filled and alternately waist-deep to 15′ deep. The caves were full of zombies that pulled them under, and there was evidence of fighting down there in days long ago. One dry shelf held the last stand of some doomed defenders, and they found a magic blowing horn and a magic scabbard there. On another shelf, in a recess, was the corpse of a dwarf who had a lovely turquoise-plated belt and a silver helm (among other useless junk).

The water flowed in from an underground stream, through the caves, and out a series of short waterfalls to a bone-strewn stream running out into the daylight. Ancient metal bars there blocking the entrance were bent apart.

The place now cleared, they set about breaking the dam of fallen trees and beaver-works. They enlisted the aid of the beavers by charming them, but they weren’t able to help much. Once the blockage was cleared the land began to drain, and I told them it would no longer be swampy by next Summer.