Thursday, September 14, 2017

Zophiel'sTale: Meeting the Strikers, Then Demons

 This post is a guest appearance by my buddy Kirk.  I'm currently running a campaign based on the Shackled City adventure path by Paizo.  This is the story of how his character, Zophiel, meets the rest of the group and heads off with them on their latest foray.  They have dubbed themselves The Last Strikers and are slowly becoming known around the city of Cauldron.  The Strikers, minus the human mage Abraham, have just raided the Cathedral of Nethys in Cauldron in search of clues about the insidious Cagewrights and their vile plans.  Zophiel comes upon the party and Abraham unexpectedly as she visits the cathedral to inquire about learning some arcane lore.

The City of Cauldron (from the AP boo)

Zophiel in the Wilds, Again

After a brief introduction, I watch the Strikers.  Trenzen does most of the talking.  He leads us through the town to visit an old mage, the library, the captain of the guard, but only after a great inspiring speech in the front of the crowd gathered outside of the Temple of Nethys.  The same crowd that had gathered and I was a part of.  But first, let me continue my story of how I met them.

So, as I was standing in the crowd, I see a man dressed in robes coming to the temple.  From his description, I am guessing it is Abraham, one of the Strikers and a great wizard.  This sends me back to my days of my youth, when I was just 25 or 26, and I saw the Elven wizards so common in my homeland.  I'm a little nervous when I introduce myself and I use what humans call me, Sophie.  I mention to Abraham that I saw one of the Strikers peek out then head back in again.  It is just natural that we can follow and slip into the temple through same side door, unseen.

The inside of the temple is deserted, yet I know they are in here, and most of the others are gone, for I saw two giants, half-orc guards and many gnomes wearing the clothing of their temple running away.  I call out “Is anyone in here?” 

“We are back here!” A half orc’s voice returns.  From the descriptions I got in the bath house, this must be Trenzen, the half orc archer-paladin.  The half orc is busy questioning two clerics of this temple.  I keep silent as he probes them while they prepare a corpse for burial.  I find out that the body is one of the famous Stormblades.  Trenzen handles this like a mystery.  Admiration for his inquisitiveness is worthy to give him, for a half orc.  That is my upbringing talking, for being in the goddess forsaken place I have learned that many are much better than they seem, while others, deep down, are very superficial.  I ask about magic regents and don't get any help.

Soon we are on our way to the captain of the guard and introductions are given to me.  So many names but for me, it is to put names to faces.  I tell them, seeing how they are a ‘just’ force coming to power, I want to ally myself to them.  I'll want tell of my past but not today, as Trenzen is so interested in what I could do.  I tell him of my translation work, and tracking, both humans and animals, and being a scout.  He asks me if I weave magic.  I state that I do and he presses me for if I use books or not.  And well, sometimes I do, but mostly I don't.  Then he asks if I perform. I do not.  I tell him again, what I have done in the past and how I can help.  Apparently, we go in circles.  And finally he asks if I can teach him some magic.  We finally agree that what I know, he doesn't know and has little chance of learning.  I can only surmise, that the orc in him is speaking. 

We arrive at the house of the captain of the guard and Trenzen proclaims the group’s innocence.  When he speaks, it's hard to follow, but in the end, he is very convincing, this is not the orc speaking this time.  The logic doesn't actually confirms his original statements, though.  Since it is to our benefit, I'll let it slide.

Next, Trenzen wants to warn the rest of the Stormblades.  We find one of them in the Cusp of Sunrise.  She tells of how the head of the temple of Nethys wanted them to go underground beneath the city to fight something called the Cagewrights.  Instead it was an ambush and one of them died, which explains the death. 

For the evening, they offer to let me stay with them. 

The next day, we are up early. Trenzen asks if I need a horse, but I decline.  I summon my spirit horse.  All the day long it is with me.  We, the summon horse and I, move as fast uphill as down and more than once I had to wait for the others with their slower animals.  The hooves from the horse are barely seen, for one can almost see through them.  And after a day’s trip, we arrive at Red Gorge.  My horse vanishes when I dismiss it.  But the Strikers take this in stride, that is, magic they are accustomed to, and so, it's a common thing for me to weave the elven song.  We stay at the Redhead Miners Inn and I meet Kaylee, another Striker, and I compliment her on the bathhouse.  I tell her the employees spoke very highly of her and of the rest.  They told me of many tales of their adventures in colorful washes of finely spoken words, while I lay naked in the pool, with a mist rising around.  Not the same mists of the jungle.  The jungle holds mists filled with creatures and plants, magnificent beautiful and dangerously deadly.

That evening, we debate how to proceed.  In the end, we decide to hire boat paddlers to take us down the Seave River to the camping spot with an idol.  The paddlers sleep under the canoes and we rest around a campfire, located on a sandy beach, midway from the river to the jungle tree line.  It's a short distance of no more than 50 or so feet.  I set my backpack down and pull out my bedroll.  I fall into a comfortable meditation quickly under the stars, for I know I am with good company.  They agree to wake me for a third watch.

Shouts, orders, painful shrieks I see and hear in my non awake mind.  I know I must be dreaming, but then I open my eyes and am all too well aware that I wasn't dreaming.  We are being attacked!  A wall of blue and purple flames encircled around us, forcing us close.  There is a reason I can guess and is confirmed not a few more seconds later, when a fireball comes down from the sky and explodes right on our campfire, engulfing us.  The Strikers do their thing, and I stretch my mind for a jungle creature that does this.  But to the Strikers, I appear confused and panicky consider jumping over the fire, or over the ice storm that appears to possibly put out the fire circle.  Or, to jump in the water to swim under the fire.  Then I feel a sudden urge of goodness.  That's my cue to shoot wildly at the creature that is raining fire down upon us.  It will force it to dodge more arrows and disrupt its casting another fireball. I see that an arrow, one of mine hit Toni, the Striker's heavily armored warrior.  I run to her and using my magic, I close some of her wounds.  And I apologize profusely for having one of my arrows hit her.  It's over almost as fast as it begins, with arrows and magic bolts, the creature falls from the sky.  At this point, I can clearly see it is not a jungle creature at all, but a creature not from this world and some of the Strikers conjecture it was sent by a newly made adversary, the high clerics of the Temple of Nethys from the city of Cauldron.

Since the entire night hadn't passed yet, we return to our sleep, a bit more watchful of the sky and of the jungle treeline, searching for whatever could be lurking in the distance.  I finally drift off to my meditation while others discuss if that creature was sent by the clerics of Nethys, something I concluded already.

The next day, I'll be on point.  I summon the Elven magic to give me a clear view of the jungle and the most safe direct route to the Demon Scar.  We don't want to fight anything we can avoid.  A vision comes to me and I recognize the places where natural beasts would lay in wait, catching their next meal.  These areas I avoid.

About mid afternoon, after the usual rains, the jungle give way to a vast desolate circular bowl void of plant life: the Demon Scar opens with a view.  Down below, we see demons and fire giants roaming freely.  I suggest that we can go around the rim.  Before setting out, I call a small woodland spirit.  It looks like a pink semi translucent bird.  Definitely it is not a real bird.  I ask it to scout the rim and to look for large animals or creatures and report back.  When it returns it tells me that there aren't any large animals or creatures on the rim, and it also says that it found ruins where an entrance has been dug out recently. 

When we get there, Jax the "adventurer" and I scout around.  We make too much noise and I realize the day at the bath has softened me some.  We find tracks of three of four people that have passed this way.  It's too difficult to tell if they came or left.  On the way back, Jax and I are much more quiet.

We decide that everyone should go into the building for they think it will be safer inside than out here.  I'm not running this group, but I'd advise against it, if asked.  I call a bat to fly down into the ruins and it returns to tell us of two empty of life rooms below and a collapsed tower with a watery stream running in a tunnel, below.  We move inside and rest in the big room.  I conjure a magic hut so we rest in comfort from the jungle humidity.  That is one thing I haven't gotten use to after a hundred and some years here - the wet heat.  The night passes without incident.

At the end of my watch, I prepare a breakfast for the Strikers...

Friday, August 25, 2017

Pathfinder Themed Gestalt (draft)

As I mentioned in a recent post I'm looking to break out of my gaming group's usual Pathfinder comfort zone and do something different--either a little different or a lot different.  More specifically I'd like to do things we've never done before.  So if we stick with Pathfinder that may be tough because we've played most of the usual classes, archetypes, races, prestige classes etc.  I see two good alternatives; well, easy alternatives.  One is to use the new hybrid classes--just the hybrid classes.  I haven't seen anyone play one of these in our games.  However, I'm not super excited about them and, apparently, neither is the rest of my group.  The other path is gestalt multi-classing, probably with just the core classes because they seem the best balanced.

Okay, but how about taking that a step farther and doing what I'll call "themed gestalt" play.  In themed gestalt all players will share one class (or a choice from a limited group of at most three classes) and add another to that one to individualize.  The shared class(es) creates the theme and provides a background tying the group together.  I played with this idea earlier as a basis for a fantasy oriental game "Righteous Cloud Temple" where all the characters are monk+something dual classed.

So here is a set of themed gestalt ideas using the core classes as a base.

⦁    Barbarian Based - a dream-quest called you all here to meet your ultimate fate as a hero; the druid and/or ranger could be alternate bases

⦁    Bard Based - Hey, Hey it's the Monkees!/Josie and the Pussycats/This is Spinal Tap; came out here to play to the adventurers--hopefully as the only act in town--and wacky hijinks ensue; the sorcerer (with maestro bloodline) could be an alternative base

⦁    Cleric Based - clerics of one deity or small set of compatible deities; could have the paladin as alternate base if that works for the particular deity

⦁    Druid Based - members of a druidic circle are drawn to commune with and heal the tainted wilderness; could have the ranger as alternate base

⦁    Fighter Based - former military or mercenary comrades-in-arms carve out a kingdom for glory and riches

⦁    Monk Based - members of the same temple or --better--all rival temples, seeking the fabled First Temple where the noble study of the martial arts first began

⦁    Paladin Based - paladins of a Lawful Good deity; the paladin theme class could have the cleric, of the same deity or any compatible deity, as alternate base

⦁    Ranger Based - drawn to explore and investigate the tainted wilderness; the ranger theme class here could have the druid and/or barbarian as alternates

⦁    Rogue Based - a gang of "explorers" or  "archaeologists" seek the biggest heist ever

⦁    Sorcerer Based - your inner natures called you together, and now you must find out why

⦁    Wizard Based - find ancient spells and magic to bring back with power and knowledge; the wizard theme class could have the sorceror and/or bard as alternates

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Forest of Fiends: Simple Jungle Weather Tables

I did an earlier post with simple weather tables for a generally temperate climate.  Now, for the new sandbox campaign idea I'm developing, I need jungle weather.

Monsoon Season (November ~ February)
1~4 = Hot; constant torrential rains sweeping in from the sea; overcast; flash-flooding
5~8 = Hot; frequent thunderstorms sweeping in from the sea
9~10 = Hot; frequent light showers
11~12 = Hot; clear

Summer Season (March ~ July)
1~2 = Brutally hot; thunderstorms
3~6 = Brutally hot; clear and sunny
7~10 = Hot; clear and sunny
11~12 = Hot; occasional light showers

Harmattan Season (August ~ October)
1~4 = Hot; blustery winds from the interior
5~8 = Warm; blustery, bringing thin clouds of chaotic fey pollen from the interior
9~12 = Warm; blustery, bringing heavy clouds of chaotic fey pollen from the interior

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Campaign Idea - Forest of Fiends

Okay, so I'm still playing around with ideas for my campaign after this one.  I'd like to do something different.  Different not only from what I've done before but also what my gaming group comrades have run for us.  One type we haven't done is the classic sandbox: the GM draws up a map, populates it with locations and encounters, and unleashes the players on it.

A little while back I read a great sandbox idea over at The Wandering Gamist meant to be done in the Adventurer, Conqueror, King System (ACKS).  It's a take on the idea of a "lost continent" ripe for exploration.  I liked that general concept so I'm doing some prototyping with ideas to see if I can make something come together.  The rules set is as yet undecided, partly so as to not limit my thinking, but also because I'd like to offer the players a couple options and let them choose.  I'm generally thinking "not Pathfinder"--because that's our go-to set and this campaign is meant to be a break from the usual--but I'll leave it up to them.  I'm grabbing the deities from the old Forgotten Realms setting because I've always liked them and because I'm not motivated to do an entire pantheon from scratch.  The working title is "Forest of Fiends" because it will feature a lot of chaos, demons, and jungle.


Background

A thousand years ago the Empire of Pra-Kryush ruled a mighty continent and made war to conquer lands far across the sea.  Their power rested on a blood-soaked alliance with the vile Marilith Queens.  With the aid of demon generals and titanic warbeasts supplied by the queens, the armies of the empire conquered lands far and wide. There they built temples to the Queens where the blood of victims filled the sacrificial basins and all knelt before the abyss.

But there came a time when the Queens' lust for conquest and blood could not be sated and they turned on their allies in Pra-Kryush.  Ravenous demonic things poured from the temples and the empire fell into chaos and fire.  The conquered lands seized the opportunity and  rose up with the help of their True Gods and threw off the yoke of the empire. These liberated lands renamed themselves the Holy Realms.  But the heartland of Pra-Kryush, across the wide ocean, was declared anathema: travel there was forbidden and any who delved into knowledge of summonings, demonology, necromancy, and other hell-arts were burnt at the stake.

Seven years ago Warpriest Chazan, the greatest priest of the god Torm, proclaimed a vision from his god: that the time had come to cleanse Pra-Kryush and establish the light of the True Gods there.  The temples of Tyr and Ilmater, the other two members of The Radiant Triad, joined their ally immediately.  The kings and queens of the Holy Realms quickly responded, both from religious fervor and an unparalleled opportunity to acquire land and treasure.  The kingdoms and temples sent various expeditions but almost all failed for one reason or another.  Pra-Kryush is still a place of doom.

The adventure begins in the town of Tymoris on the riverine island of Light of Fortune, where a sprawling temple-casino of Tymora anchors a ramshackle boomtown awash in fortune-seekers of every stripe.  Crusaders, exiles, colonists, pilgrims, pirates, and desperados all rub elbows in the streets and taverns.   Light of Fortune is located in the delta of a massive river dubbed the Hellflow.  All manner of fiendish creatures swim in it, just waiting for prey.  Rumors say the waters boil up from a cave in a fire-mountain, bringing the creatures up from the depths.  Luckily they generally avoid salt water so ships from the Holy Realms can usually get to and from the seaward side of the island unmolested.

 A forgotten people built a town on the island which scholars claim was called Tymoris.  The island is rocky, with only scrubby grass and stunted trees on the upper surfaces.   Fortunately, the original inhabitants built a reservoir and equipped it with a magical fountain to provide drinking water.  Channels and piping, now restored, carry water to several other small fountains throughout the town.  Despite the inflow of colonists and fortune seekers there are still a number of empty houses on the island, although all buildings legally belong to the Council of the Triad who act on behalf of the monarchs of the Holy Realms.   The days are warm and sunny with occasional light showers sweeping in from the sea, but in a few weeks the monsoon rains will arrive.

The game begins as the ship on which the party took passage approaches the town docks.  The captain of the Brightwave, an elder human named Tio Manzzada, has made the long passage seven times already and regaled the characters during the trip with rumors and stories--some of which may actually be true.

Features of the Campaign

The adventures will include much adventuring in the wild jungles, but also many "dungeon" type locations.  Encounters with demonic creatures, fey abominations, and natural creatures of the jungle will be frequent.  There will be significant political interactions with factions from the Holy Realms, particularly the temples.  There may be some travel by sea along the coast (this is a sandbox type campaign).  Travel back to the Holy Lands is not expected as the focus will be on exploration of Pra-Kryush--and dying a lot.

Pra-Kryush is a tropical jungle land.  Few maps remain from the old days, as most were burnt with their heretic owners to protect the faithful.  Even now there are only partial maps and navigators logs providing any information and even them mostly only what lies on the coast.  Old songs tell of a grand Cloud Plateau far inland, homeland of the inscrutable fey, who are as evil as the demons who presumably still prowl the lowland jungles.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Getting Started with Campaign Cartographer 3+

I've dabbled a bit with hand drawn style already for dungeon maps, as posted a few times here on the blog.  But there are a lot of great maps out there done with art programs or specialized mapping programs.  After looking around a bit I decided to try Campaign Cartographer by ProFantasy Software, now up to version 3+.  This is a very complex program but luckily there are some great tutorials on YouTube to get started.  On a recent Sunday afternoon I went through some of the tutorial videos on the Crawford Cartography channel.  I'm very much a visual learner so watching someone use the program while they discuss what they're doing is extremely helpful for me.  I basically just followed along and came up with this map, done with the Mike Schley style library of objects.  The sizing and placement of things is a bit clunky but I'm pleased with it as a first effort.


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Review: Beyond the Wall

Herewith a review, or at least a set of impressions, on Beyond the Wall by Flatland Games.  So I dropped in at my FLGS a little while back and picked up a copy of this rather nice little game.  I had read a couple reviews and it sounded worth checking out as another approach to Old School Revival gaming.




First off, this game has a definite setting.  Beyond the Wall (BtW) is low magic, and set in a fantasy version of early middle ages Britain, with definite Celtic and "northmen" bits.  So, no kung-fu monks or ninjas here.  Also, the only player races are humans and elves.  Dwarves, gnomes, and hobbits appear in expansion material.  (On the publisher's web site there is also a fun free download for intelligent bear characters.)  The monsters/creatures in the short bestiary are also European themed and scoped mostly to traditional types.  No weird aboleths, cloakers, etc. to spoil your afternoon fantasy medieval jaunt.  You could also drop it into a Tolkienesque Middle Earth--Bree would make a great starting village, for instance.  The implied setting reminded me a lot of the one for the historically-based fantasy rules I started with: Chivalry & Sorcery.  Like C&S it is also an all-in-one book which allows you to play without assembling a small library first (although there are several supplements).  And at $7.99 for the pdf (I bought the dead-tree version for slightly more), it's easy on the budget.

Now for the core of the rules.  For comparison with OSR games:
  • you have the classic six attributes but rolled on 4d6 and drop the lowest
  • there are three basic classes: warrior, rogue, and mage (plus an optional warrior-mage, the Elven Highborn)
  • there are the classic five saving throws
  • you get Fortune Points 
  • initiative is done according to set initiative scores, no rolling needed
  • magic is a bit different, with cantrips which require an attribute check and can go wrong, spells which are cast much the same as in D&D, and rituals which take hours to cast and may also go wrong; also, compared with AD&D and later editions there are very few spells here, which is in keeping with the low-magic setting.
After rolling up the characters as you would in any D&D game, the next step is to build the village.  BtW features collaborative world building to create the characters' home village.  The GM and players take turns adding features to a map which starts with only the village inn at the center.  Everyone gets to add locations and NPCs.  Additional locations and NPC are added during use of the Character Playbooks (see below).

What makes BtW different from most OSR rules sets is the Character Playbooks.  These are tables which the players use to build the background story for their characters and also to link those characters to those of the other players.  The playbooks have names like "The Self-Taught Mage" and "The Village Hero".  They have tables on topics like "How did you earn your name" and "What first caused the witch to choose you".  You roll randomly  and get a bit of background with stat and/or skill bonuses--and other characters can also get a bonus with a shared story.  One example is: "For years you worked for her [the witch] calmly and patiently, and never questioned her wisdom or authority.  The friend to your right often calmed you when you grew frustrated with your lot, and gains +1WIS" and the character gains +2 WIS and the spell "Sanctuary of Peace".  I liked these playbooks because they help bind the group together with a shared history.  They also make building a character background easy for those who aren't into it or aren't good at it.

The book finishes up with two scenario playbooks.  I liked these a lot because they have a core concept which you detail with random roll tables.  The tables make for good replay value, allowing you to re-skin them for re-use later.

Bottom Line: This is a great little book, packing rules, world building, a bestiary, and scenarios into an easy to read, easy to use package.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

"Shut up and take my money" (Reaper Bones 4 Kickstarter)

Alas, now that I have drunk from the enchanted well of gaming miniatures goodness that is Reaper Miniatures' "Bones" kickstarters I can't actually stop any time I want to.  So, yes, I'm in for this one too.  Bones 4 is still happily unlocking away and will probably hit ridiculously high levels of funding due to the hordes of fanatics (hi!) who are already descending on the Kickstarter site.   I'm a little worried because I'm in very early this time, before the core unlocks are all revealed.  But the minis already unlocked are very cool so how bad can it be.  Just as long as they don't throw in any superhero minis...