30 June 2014

Session Report 2014-06-26

SETTING: The Sundered Land

CAST:

Daedriin, 1st level Halfling Thief (Specialist)
Fiona, 1st level Human Fighter (Pirate) and her hen, Frederique
Potato, 1st level Dwarf Magic-User
Tilly, 1st level Elf Cleric
Volka, 1st level Halfling Fighter (Hunter) and her hawk, Artemisia

[Potato's donkey, Julius, was left with Cousin Leonard.]

Session II

Having hidden the corpses of the three bandits in the underbrush after stripping them of their possessions and leather armor (hiding the latter under an oak tree off the path), the party continued through the forest until the sun began to set. After an argument about how far off the path they should set camp, they decided on a spot "twenty Potato bodylengths" east, where they discovered a clearing. A campfire was started, and Daedriin, having the only tent and bedroll amongst them, pitched his tent with the satisfaction that he, at least, would sleep comfortably. Volka went hunting and returned with rabbits for their dinner, whilst Fiona provided eggs courtesy of her hen, Frederique, and Potato contributed grass he found growing in the clearing. Daedriin abstained and ate his standard ration instead, which was lucky for him, because Potato's contribution caused indigestion for those who partook. Each took a turn keeping watch as the others slept. The night passed uneventfully.

The next morning they ate breakfast and set off, reaching the end of the wood by mid-day. To the north, they could see tilled fields, a river, and a village. Upon reaching the river, they found an apple orchard, so Fiona and Tilly filled their bags with apples. Tilly waded into the river, testing the depth as she crossed it, and found that it was about three to four feet deep at its deepest. Daedrinn and Volka swam across as the rest of the party waded across (although it was necessary for Potato to hold his breath at one point). Once upon the other side, Daedriin found a rock to sit on and smoked his pipe whilst the others looked at the village.

It was a small village of haphazardly scattered cottages with not a villager in sight. Beyond the cottages, on a rise, they could see a small village church constructed of stone, and a modest stone house beside it. Tilly noticed the sacred triangle atop the church's belltower and jumped for joy, recognizing the symbol of the Trinarian Church, but first she wanted to investigate the village. Fiona accompanied her in case there was trouble, and Potato reluctantly tagged along.

The windows of the cottages were shuttered, so there was nothing to be seen within. Some of the cottages had stables or pastures, but no livestock. Tilly knocked on a door. There was no answer except for a barking dog somewhere. She tried two other houses, but they seemed empty, too. The only living thing they saw was a dog that crossed their path, barked at them, and ran off. The three were unnerved by the unexplained absence of villagers, so Tilly performed a ritual to detect any presence of evil, but none was evident. Tilly decided to head to the church, but just as they passed a cottage they noticed an old woman tending her garden behind one of the cottages. Tilly asked her where all the other villagers were, and the old woman told her they were "at the fair." She was very pleasant, and very interested in dwarves and elves, apparently neither of whom she had ever seen in person before, but she seemed a wee bit out of touch with the present. The only living things they saw or heard in the village, other than the old woman and the dog, were chickens in a coop behind a house near the old woman's. They left the old woman to her gardening and approached the church and the small house.

Without knowing why, they felt a sense of forboding about the church (although Tilly detected no evil). Tilly came close to opening the door, and Potato was uncertain about whether to knock on the door of the house, but Tilly changed her mind and decided to walk to the side of the church and look northward. The rise on which the church stood fell away abruptly and revealed a landscape of moors, stretching far both east and west. Due north, they saw a tower in the distance. Calling to the rest of the party to follow, Tilly and Fiona went eastward to where the hill sloped down to meet the edge of the moors. Potato took the shorter route and simply rolled down the steep incline. Following a trail of dry ground that led to the tower, they had scarcely set off when they heard the church bell ringing. "That's weird," one of the adventurers remarked. Looking back, they saw a human figure emerge from the church, waving frantically at them. They were too far away to hear anything. Volka suggested she send her hawk to the gesticulating person and maybe the hawk could transport a message between them, but a fellow party member reminded her that the hawk would be more likely to attack the person's eyes than convey a message, being a bird of prey. Out of options, Daedriin ran back to parley with the stranger. The figure turned out to be man wearing the garb of a Trinarian priest, and he seemed very distressed.

Daedriin: "What?"
Priest: "You mustn't go to the tower!"
Daedriin: "Why?"
Priest: "Haunted! D-D-D-Demon!"
Daedriin: "Is that all?"
Priest: "You will all die! Don't go there! Y-"
Daedriin: "Goodbye."

Daedriin returned and relayed what the priest had said. There was an objection to Daedriin's lack of thoroughness in questioning the priest, but the party was anxious to reach the tower, so they pressed onward.

As they drew closer they could see that it was a square tower of at least four storeys, and windowless. There was a door on the side that faced east. Nearby, there was a well. The grass surrounding the tower to a radius of about 40 yards was of an unnatural color, somewhere between gray and purple. This was suspicious. Unfortunately, Tilly's ritual to detect evil expired moments before they were within range. Just outside the perimeter of this eerie vegetation, they saw a horse. It had a military saddle, but it was grazing untethered. Tilly approached the horse. Daedriin warned her to be careful of strange warhorses and not to startle it. The horse did seem skittish for a moment, but then it looked her in the eyes and instantly became docile. She petted the horse and looked in its saddlebags, finding a blanket, a bunch of carrots, some spare spurs, and a small pouch containing three gold pieces. Tilly's eyes glazed with greed as she fondled the gold, and fairly danced with glee, but Volka reminded her of her Lawful vows and the consequences if they should be connected with the theft. Tilly regretfully returned the gold to the saddlebag, but took a carrot to feed to the horse, which nuzzled her gratefully.

Meanwhile, Potato had made a discovery. The perimeter of the discolored grass had straight edges. In fact, it was octagonal. Potato had a bad feeling about this, and made it known to the others. Daedriin shrugged and stepped on the purplish-gray grass. It was dry and brittle, crumbling beneath his foot. He shrugged again. Potato, on the other hand, was wide-eyed and open-mouthed, for what he alone had sensed was something akin to a tap on a drum, where the drum was the tight yet elastic fabric of reality itself — or a reality — stretched thin where Daedriin had stepped. Daedriin took a few more steps toward to the tower and again Potato alone felt the vibrations and the delicate tension of the thin layer of reality that was being traversed. Panicking now, he tried to convey his impressions to the rest of the party, but they had no frame of reference as none of them were schooled in the arcane arts and sciences. One of them asked if it might be some sort of alarm, but they all shrugged. Just to be safe, they decided to cross the unearthly grass to the tower's front door one at a time. As they did so, Potato nearly doubled over with fright, experiencing something akin to a psychic drumroll in his mind, but he crossed to the door as well, attempting to convey what he had sensed by drumming his hands on his legs. As they stood before the door, Potato had a very bad feeling about this.

The stout, iron-banded door had a doorknob and a keyhole. As Daedriin reached toward it, the door yielded before him, slowly opening, halting when his hand halted. Daedriin knocked on the stone doorway, but it was solid. It was dark within, but there was a phosphorescent glow coming from somewhere in the room. Daedriin reached for the door again. Again it yielded before his touch, opening wider. Volka lit a torch and they entered. Daedriin predicted that the door would close behind them, preventing their exit. Once they were inside, the door swung shut. Daedriin tried to reach for the doorknob, but an unseen force prevented his hand from coming closer than a finger's width to its surface. Daedriin nodded knowingly.

The chamber was large, with a spiral staircase leading up on the north side of the room and a spiral staircase leading down on the south side of the room. There was a fireplace in the wall to the west, opposite the door. There was a bellpull next to the doorway where they stood. The glow came from something on the mantelpiece. Daedriin shot a flaming arrow at the logs in the fireplace, and eventually the room was illuminated by its fire, although it was still unclear what was on the mantelpiece. Daedriin took a closer look and found that the glow came from a terrarium filled with oozing phosphorescent fungi. Beside the terrarium there were four vials, one of which was filled with a phospherescent liquid. Daedriin pocketed it and poked about the terrarium with one of the empty vials. The others noticed that there was a lighter patch of wall, rectangular in shape, above the fireplace.

Volka: "Ooh! A usurpation!"

They also noticed a bloodstain near the staircase leading down. It conformed with the pattern of bloodstain one could attribute to a corpse that is dragged off. "Maybe that's what happened to the owner of that horse," one of the adventurers theorized.

There was a debate about whether they should explore or announce themselves, whether Syrifex was a victim or perpetrator of the obvious crime that had been committed, and whether this was the tower of Syrifex at all, until someone concluded the discussion by shouting, "SYRIFEX!"

What they heard in answer sounded simultaneously like distant thunder and low laughter.

This unnerved the party, but they decided to explore, beginning with the spiral staircase leading up. On the next floor they found a wide room. There were benches, couches, and chairs along the walls, and two doors in the wall to the south, opposite the stairs.

Daedriin picked the lock on the door to their left. Volka held her torch into the dark room, and they beheld a library. There were full bookshelves, a writing desk with a parchment on it, a chair, and a life-size crystal statue holding aloft a real lantern. Potato was in awe of the library and made a beeline for the books on the far bookshelf, but as he passed the statue, it swung at him. One of its arms crashed into him, wounding him greatly. As he watched the second arm bearing the lantern swing mightily towards him, he was certain he was a goner, but it missed him, and the statue struck itself, causing a web of cracks to spread from the point of impact. Potato rolled through the doorway to safety, where Tilly called upon the mercy of the Threefold Deity and healed much of his injury. Meanwhile Volka threw her harpoon, missing the statue (but impaling a book), and Fiona, standing behind her, threw a hand axe, splitting another book in twain. Daedriin shot an arrow, which found a point of weakness in the statue's structure, and it shattered into hundreds of crystal shards. The party then searched for a book bound in crocodile hide, but finding none, Potato pocketed a few choice tomes. Inspecting the writing desk, the party found that the parchment appeared to be an unfinished letter. It was addressed to one "Kal-Dokk," and implored the addressee not to engage in a particular summoning as it would result in a disaster too close to the writer's own abode. Fiona noticed that the writing desk had a drawer and opened it, finding quills and six small bottles of ink. Two appeared to be normal black ink, but the other four were iridescent colors: red, blue, purple, and green. She pocketed the latter four.

The party exited the library and considered the second door. There was something peculiar about the door's clawlike handle to Daedriin's trained eyes, and he discovered that it was trapped with a spring-loaded spike should the handle be turned the wrong way. He disabled the trap and picked the lock. Opening the door, they found a richly furnished bedroom, the walls of which were covered with tapestries. There was a luxurious canopy bed along the wall to their right, a chest at the bed's foot, a wardrobe opposite them, and a comfortable chair to their left. Potato fearlessly entered the chamber and opened the chest, but saw only blankets and pillows in it. One of his comrades urged him to dig through them, which he did, but as he bent to the task, he noticed an iron box under the bed. Volka loaned him her ten foot pole, and he tried in vain to push it from beneath the bed. Volka finally entered the chamber and pulled the iron box out. Daedriin discovered that it, too, was locked and had a wicked trap. One of the bolts was actually made of putty, concealing a pin coated with a presumably deadly poison. He disabled the trap and picked the lock, and Volka opened it with no further precautions. Within were coins of silver and gold, as well as an engraved silver scroll tube. "WE'RE RICH!" shouted Potato. The engravings on the scroll tube depicted images of men and wolves. Opening it, Potato found it contained a scroll of protection against lycanthropes. Potato jumped for joy. The party plundered the iron box and looked around to see what else they could take. Several took blankets (as they had neglected to bring any on the trip), and the wardrobe revealed fine clothes and footwear, primarily of black, red, and burgundy. Several of the adventurers declared their admiration for the clothing and their desire to take various garments, although many were too large for the littler folk. At last, Daedriin expressed his strong disapproval. It would be a fine thing to confront Syrifex wearing clothes that belonged to him. Sure, he wouldn't know that the gold and silver they were carrying was actually his, but wearing his clothes?!?

They left the bedroom and continued up the staircase, intending to follow it all the way up to the top, but they changed their minds when they reached the next floor. It was one great room, its walls covered with star charts. The ceiling was inlaid with brass in strange patterns. Mounted on pedestals were astronomical devices. Fiona recognized them as being of fine craftsmanship — the finest she had ever seen. There was a sextant, an astrolabe, a spyglass(!), and a fourth instrument that she didn't recognize. She took them all. They were a bit much to carry, but Volka offered to carry them in a box she had. The party wasn't interested enough to tarry in the chart room longer, so they returned to the spiral staircase and proceeded to ascend.

Gains: 400 silver pieces, 40 gold pieces, an engraved silver scroll tube (40 s.p.) containing a scroll of protection against lycanthropes, some books, four bottles of iridescent ink, four astronomical/navigational instruments (including a spyglass), two vials of phosphorescent goo, some blankets.
Kills: One animated crystal statue.
Losses: None.

[This campaign uses the silver standard. 10 c.p. = 1 s.p.; 20 s.p. = 1 g.p.]

[The system used for this session was Swords & Wizardry White Box with a helping of house rules and a dash of Lamentations of the Flame Princess.]

[The session report format is inspired by Patrick Wetmore's session recaps in Henchman Abuse.]

29 June 2014

Observations on My First Swords & Wizardry Session

A few days ago, I ran the second session of a new campaign, which takes place in an original setting I call "The Sundered Land." I used Basic/Expert D&D rules with a mixture of Lamentations of the Flame Princess for our first session, but for the second session I switched to Swords & Wizardry White Box. Thankfully, my players didn't protest, and except for a few hiccups, it went smoothly. I really like the unified saving throw. It reduces unnecessary complexity, and enables a game designer to customize it as simply as adding a saving throw modifier. I like ascending armor class much more than I ever thought I would when something like it was introduced in 3e, and at least one of my players was overjoyed when I announced the change. (I should mention here that I have five players in this campaign. Two had never played a role-playing game before, two had never played an Old School game before, and one thinks she might have played 1e or 2e a long time ago, but isn't sure.) Anything that simplifies the process is good for both me and the players, as I think none of us like to get bogged down in details that distract us from the adventure at hand.

For a 1st edition AD&D and Basic/Expert D&D gamer, it was a revelation how better suited to my gaming style the Original Game and S&W White Box are. I like the absence of weapon proficiencies. That is a level of detail I never needed in my fantasy adventure game. There are no alignment languages, which is nice and sane. I like the unified weapon damage, as it requires no consultation of the rules and encourages weapon choice based on how players envision their characters. I like the unified hit dice system, as it reduces power inflation amongst player characters and monsters. I like the reduced attribute bonus range for the same reason. Most of all, I like the overall simplicity of the game and the vast blank space where I can create whatever I desire without bumping against another rule. That is what makes the Original Game so powerful. Swords & Wizardry White Box just executes it more elegantly. This is my edition of choice.

24 June 2014

Session Report 2014-06-08

SETTING: The Sundered Land

CAST:

Volka, 1st level Halfing Fighter (Hunter) and her hawk
Tilly, 1st level Elf Cleric
Potato, 1st level Dwarf Magic-User and his donkey
Fiona, 1st level Human Fighter (Pirate) and her chicken
Daedriin, 1st level Halfling Thief ("Specialist!")

Session I

During a night of heavy gambling and drinking at the lowliest alehouse in the town of Damford in the realm of West Sundered-Land, arrangements were made between five of the oddest out-of-towners to band together and seek their fortunes. Following a tip that opportunities may be found at a "higher class" tavern (relatively speaking) known as The Two Queens, the party (known as "Daedriin's Heroes" according to Daedriin) headed to a better side of town. Before long, they spotted an establishment with a sign depicting two regal women with crowns beating each other with sticks.

"That must be The Two Queens!" one of the adventurers observed.

Entering the tavern, they found it to be higher scale indeed. There was actual furniture! Looking around, they noticed a handful of patrons scattered throughout the premises. Two men dressed in the rich black finery commonly worn by members of the Goldsmith's Guild were in quiet, serious conversation at one table. The bartender, who was drawing pints from the kegs along the back wall, was a well-muscled man in his sixties with short-cropped gray hair and a possible tattoo.

"Ooh! A man with a history!" gushed Volka.

Meanwhile, a fair wench glided over and welcomed them with a warm smile.

"Dibs!" blurted Daedriin.

They ordered food and drink and inquired about unusual job opportunities. She directed them to the post just outside the tavern. Stepping outside, they saw the post, upon which were nailed various notices. A man was observed nailing such a notice to the post at that very moment. His hair was cut in the fashion of a page and he wore black hose, a yellow tabard, and a sword at his side. The party inquired if the man (who introduced himself as Kren) knew of any jobs that might require the talents of a band of fearless adventurers.

Kren: "Well, as a matter of fact, I was just posting such a notice for my employer."
Party member: "And who might that be?"
Kren: "His name is Tayzhen. Would you like me to take you to him?"

The party agreed and followed Kren to a truly better side of Damford and a richly appointed inn with a doorman. Inside, there was a banquet hall where rich merchants were drinking and conversing. A minstrel was casually plucking a lyre by the large hearth. They were escorted to a private suite on the second storey, where they were introduced to Tayzhen, a man of aristocratic poise. His red hair and beard were cut short and he wore a robe of yellow silk with ermine trim. Tayzhen politely indulged their unrefined manners, perhaps because the novelty of the party's unusual composition amused him, and told them that he did indeed have a proposition. He required someone to deliver a letter to his old mentor, a scholar, and to retrieve from the same a book he had left behind when he had been a pupil. The payment, if the book was brought back to him, would be 100 gold pieces. At this the party's eyes bulged and their jaws dropped. They were immediately suspicious, and asked him why he couldn't do it himself. He answered that he had important business to transact whilst he was in Damford and didn't have time to make the journey himself, however much he would like to see his mentor again. Potato became curious about Tayzhen's origins.

Potato: "Where are you from?"
Tayzhen: "I was born in another part of the realm, although I was educated in this region, as I said."

The party, still suspicious of their potential employer, pressed further, asking him why he would pay such a great sum merely to deliver a letter and retrieve a book. Tayzhen admitted that it was a dangerous undertaking. His mentor's residence lay a few days' travel north on the borderland, where the robbery of defenseless travellers was not unknown. Communication with his mentor was very important to him, as was the return of his book. At this, Potato unceremoniously subjected Tayzhen to a battery of questions.

Potato: "Is the book a very important book?"
Tayzhen: "It is important to me."
Potato: "Are you a wizard?"
Tayzhen (smiling): "I am a scholar, trained as was my mentor to study the heavens."
Potato: "Would you be willing to train me?"
Tayzhen: "We shall see."

Tayzhen told them to think it over and give him an answer the next morning, so they returned to The Two Queens to discuss matters. Daedriin thought he might make a few coins by entertaining the patrons with his lute-playing, but his performance was extraordinarily and uncharacteristically bad.

Wench: "We've received complaints. I fear I must ask you to stop playing."
Daedriin: "How much will you pay me to stop?"
Wench: "..."
Daedriin: "Just kidding!"

The party then deliberated where they should spend the night. The Two Queens was suggested, but Daedriin preferred the dingy alehouse where they all first met, so they returned to The Tower and Clam. Toothless Fred, the proprietor, was happy to see them again, and they soon seated themselves on crates at the barrels that substituted as tables. Fiona bought them a round, and the party set to weighing their options. It was decided that they would accept the generous offer rather than risk losing the opportunity in a search for a better job. They paid a pittance for sleeping accommodations on the floor of The Tower and Clam, and the next morning they returned to the inn.

Kren (whom Daedriin only ever addressed as "Human") answered the door and ushered them into the presence of Tayzhen, whom they found gazing through the window lost in thought. Tayzhen was delighted that the party had accepted his offer. He handed them an ivory scroll tube with a wax seal, telling them that under no circumstances should it be read by anyone but his mentor, Syrifex, and that the seal is there to ensure its confidentiality. Once the letter is read by Syrifex, the party would be able to return with the book, "bound in crocodile hide and bearing the image of a crocodile devouring the sun."

Tilly had another question.

Tilly: "Can we have an advance on our payment?"
[Dramatic pause.]
Tayzhen: "Yes. I shall give you ten gold pieces. I trust that will be sufficient?"

The party was pleasantly surprised by this response, and, after excusing themselves, promptly set about equipping themselves for the journey. It was decided they would travel on foot, with provisions, and that Potato's donkey would be left in the care of Cousin Leonard, who coincidentally lived not far from Damford in the direction they were headed. (Potato's family is a curious one, and possibly the only dwarvish family in the world that resides amongst humans — and certainly the only dwarvish family with a member trained in the magical arts.)

By late afternoon, Damford was no longer in sight to the south, but there was a wood visible to the north. Deciding to remain on the road that led through it, they noticed a trio of hooded individuals loitering on the road where it entered the wood. The party spread out, and one of the individuals saw them and stepped forward, pulling back his hood. It was a man, as were the other two. He smiled and spread his arms in welcome.

Bandit #1: "Greetings! May I deprive you of your valuables, or must I deprive you of your lives?"

Seeing that the party was hesitant to comply, the bandits decided for them, throwing a hammer, an axe, and a dagger at the party. The party responded with arrows, axes, daggers (including the one that Potato kept in his fez), and a staff sling-propelled rock, which caved in the skull of the youngest bandit. This party of mostly diminutive folk certainly surprised the bandits with their courage and martial skill, but the party was likewise surprised by the toughness of their adversaries. The two remaining bandits fought doggedly with swords until an accumulation of wounds convinced them that the party was too strong to defeat. Fleeing in opposite directions, both were pursued and killed, lest they alert possible allies.

After the fight, the party retrieved their missiles and the corpses were looted of their meager coin and their weapons. Tilly said last rites in accordance with her Trinarian faith. (Tilly's ecclesiastical status is a curious one — she is possibly the only elvish Cleric in the world that exists outside of the realm of the elves.) Tilly suggested that they cremate the remains and give the bandits a proper funeral, but Volka pointed out the challenges of creating a fire hot enough, not to mention the fact that it might draw the attention of every bandit in the vicinity, so Tilly acquiesced and the corpses were dragged into the underbrush and left to rot.

Gains: An advance of 10 gold pieces, two swords, one hand axe, one throwing hammer, two daggers, a few silver pieces.
Kills: Three bandits.
Losses: None.

[This campaign uses the silver standard. 10 c.p. = 1 s.p.; 20 s.p. = 1 g.p.]

[The system used for this session was Basic/Expert D&D and Labyrinth Lord with a dash of Lamentations of the Flame Princess.]

[The session report format is inspired by Patrick Wetmore's session recaps in Henchman Abuse.]

[Edit: Corrected a misspelling: "Daedriin," not "Daerdrinn."]