Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tunnels & Trolls: The Hunt

Rolled up some characters to teach Rachel and Marc T&T; Risdon's got some knowledge of the game already. Rachel rolled up a leprechaun (I can't pronounce the name) wizard, Risdon a dwarven warrior, and Marc a fairy wizard. (There's just no good way to say that Marc is a fairy but can we just stick to the game, please!?) 

Rudrigg is one of the nobles who had invited the characters to join him in the annual Mistywood Hunt. 500 gold to the hunter who takes down the largest board. The other nobles and hunters spread out, the sound of the barking dogs fading in the distance. Soon it was just Rudrigg and the three characters. After an uneventful day, and as the sun began to head down, Rudgrigg suddenly cried out and charged off to the west. The dwarf and leprechaun spurred their mounts to follow him. (The fairy was riding on the dwarf's horse's head, between his ears). He shot up into the air to look around, easily dodging a hawk that had spied him and dived to nab him.

It wasn't long before the saw Rudrigg's horse standing by itself. There was no sign of the nobleman. His tabard was spotted next in some bushes. Some spears on the ground. A mail shirt. The dense woods suddenly opened into a clearing and they saw Rudrigg's clothes scattered about. But no sign of blood!

After a few moments, there was a horrendous rustling sound and then two huge and two small boars came charging out of the woods. The fairy launched up into the air; the dwarf and leprechaun dropped from their mounts. The smaller boars went after the horses who began pounding them with their hooves. It wasnt' long before they were both taken down.

The fairy hovered, clasping his mistletoe sprig (focus object) throwing "Take That You Fiend" at the big boars. The leprechaun, gripping his lucky charm froze one of the boars which suddenly drooped. The dwarf stabbed away with the rune-covered spear he had found (seeing some magical quality in the big boars' glowing green eyes).

His kremm having been exhausted, the fairy seized his butterfly knife and dove for the smaller of the two big boars. He aimed for the spot right between its eyes but overshot, bouncing off a plant branch! At just that moment, two of the other hunters arrived, driving their rune-scribed spears into the two smaller boars and putting them down. They then turned to help the party dispatch the two big ones.

The fairy was back from his dazed state and his wicked little blade took first one and then another of the smaller boar's eyes. It flailed around, and the claws of the other slashed uselessly against the dwarf's mail as he shoved the leprechaun aside to take the slashing attacks. With the help of the other two hunters, the two beasts finally lay still on the ground. They began shimmering and wavering and soon they boars had gone, replaced by an unknown man and...Rudrigg! He was a wearboar!

The adventurers returned to the little town of Larm where the town elders gladly awarded the party the bounty of 500 gold. The party rested up and the fairy rode a dog into the woods to hide his share of the gold where no one could find it.

Game Notes

This was a good little adventure, found in Trollzine #2 which (along with the other two so far) is a great collection of all kinds of T&T material that has been recently released. They had fun and I did, partly at Risdon's urging, tweak the encounter a bit to help the party out. After all, it would have been a bit tough with just the three. (He's such a whiner!)

The great thing about T&T is that it doesn't really take any more explaining than showing how to do the Saving Rolls and roll the combat damage. A good group will add the requisite drama and descriptions to make it an entertaining story. I'm still getting the hang of balancing the encounters a bit which is not immediately obvious. It would be very easy for a character to die. (The fairy, for example, only has 2 CON, meaning he needs to stay away from close combat.) Anyway, it was fun introduction to the game.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tunnels & Trolls: "For the Love of Money..."

Fresh off The Drunken Dwarf in the town of Knor and with a good chunk of their cash having been taken by the Elven hottie, the party wondered what to do next. Suddenly a little ragamuffin child appeared, pulling at their cloaks: "What say, guv'nors? A bit o' lunch? I know a place not far from here. I'll take 'ee!" The boy led them to tavern that had a barrel over the door, funneling rainwater from the roof down through a hole in the bottom. "The Leaking Barrel." As they headed inside, the nasty little brute manage to snatch some of their coinpurses. Unlucky adventurers! Several lost half their gold from the little thief!

Inside, they were seated to feast upon some cheap mutton, spoiled onions and potatoes and some tepid ale. A mousy looking man in the corner stood staring at them, trying to size them up. Foo Foo went to relive himself and was joined by the man from the corner. "I have a proposition. You lot look like you want some riches and fortune! I've got an offer to make." Back at the adventurers table, the smiling man introduced himself as Pilzo. He had a map that claimed to show a spot of vast riches. Sir Orik, his flashing smile flashing, negotiated 15% for the man and the rest for the party. And then they were off. They found "Captain's General Store" and spent some time buying some basic supplies and they headed out for fame and fortune.

It was to be a two day trip to the east of Knor. Off they went and camped at the end of the day. Fred was nearly bitten by a large spider. During the trip the next day, Knick Knack was surprised by a nasty scorpion which bit him. Being a tough guy, he was all right, but quite sick for the rest of the day. Near the end of the day, they found a large pile of rocks. A large chunk had an opening visible from 20 feet below on the ground. The party climbed their way to the top and Sir Orik threw in a torch. They went in but the chamber was empty except for a chest which contained a scroll and key. They searched in vain for a keyhole until they were aided by Sillypants' magical help. They found the tiny keyhole which triggered a door in the floor revealing stairs down into the dark.

Down the steps, along a hall and into a wide chamber. In the torchlight, gold and silver glittered, covering the floor, surrounding a huge serpentine dragon skeleton. Purple glow told Sillypants the gold was enchanted, confirming his feeling that there was some bad magic here. That didn't stop the whole party from cramming their sacks and packs with as much coin as they could. But in order to make sure the dragon wouldn't be disturbed, they spent a few moments smashing it to bits and tossing the bones around the chamber. But Pilzo found three keys. Sam Urai began searching for a door. He found a secret one in the far wall, revealing a low corridor leading off the room. Packs stuffed with gold, the party scooted down this new hallway, ending at a large meteoric iron door with three keyholes.

Pilzo had a key to the words above the door: "Awaken the wyrm, invite death." After puzzling out the locks, (three keys all turned clockwise), the door was open and they went in. There was nothing there but a chest and and altar with a dragon statue on top, eyes gleaming rubies. Inside the chest were a short sword and pair of gauntlets. A false bottom that Knick Knack discovered revealed a dragon-shaped mithril dagger! After some arguing over who would get the dagger (boy, what a greedy lot!) they grabbed the dragon statue from the altar. A blast of poisonous gas let loose from the altar and the party hacked and coughed in painful spasms. They searched all over the altar but found nothing else. They headed back up the passage.

As they came through the small doorway, they were greeted by a blast of poisonous breath! The wyrm was alive. Fred, choking on the vapors, dropped to the floor unconscious. The party, weapons drawn, attacked. There was a good deal of vicious fighting. Sir Orik managed to flip up onto the dragons head, riding it like a bull and stabbing away. Sillypants slashed with his dagger. Knick Knack's warhammer brought crushing blows to the creature's ribs. With a roar, the beast let loose another vaporous cloud of death, felling both Sillypants and Sam Urai. Dorik slashed viciously, the dragon dagger causing horrid shrieks from the wyrm. With a well placed thrust toward the wyrm's heart and Sir Orik sliding down the creature's back, slicing it's scaly flesh as it went, the dragon fell. Almost immediately, the wyrm began to crumble and was soon a serpentine drift of dust. It was then they saw the shredded body of Pilzo and the green gleam of twenty or more emeralds lying in the dust. These were packed up and the unconscious members of the party dragged back up the stairs and into the warm outside air.

After they revived a bit, the party began its journey back to Knor. After just an hour or so in, the party was beginning to feel weak, every member. Fred and Sillypantswyrm's lair and drop everything they had taken from the lair, except the emeralds which they supposed were not cursed.

But it was all to no avail. They continued to drop, Knick Knack and Dorik finally falling in the scrub land. Soon it was just Sam Urai, who was feeling slightly better and didn't seem to be getting worse and Sir Orik whose solid constitution was rapidly fading. As they came within sight of the city, weakness and finally death overcame even Sir Orik! Sam Urai, who had collected what remaining equipment he could manage from the dead took the emeralds that Sir Orik had and heading into town...

Game Notes
This was a "Five Minute Fortune" which is one of the great little GM shorts found at the Hobgoblin's Tavern. It was meant to be something of a diversion but it ended up being a nice two and a half hour adventure. We laughed at how much fun they seemed to be having just trying to get some equipment. This is a well-written short adventure which draws on the greed of the characters (and players)! The curse was on the gold and they should not have left the cavern with it.

The kids were humorously annoyed that they died. They complained that the campaign was ridiculous, being just two weeks but I told them it was hardly MY fault. "You're not supposed to kill the characters," Josh told me. "You're right," I said, "You guys were plenty dumb enough to get yourselves killed!" Ben made his cursed disease luck roll which is why he survived. But the kids had a lot of fun and that's what counts.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tunnels & Trolls: Down the River on the Drunken Dwarf

It was a ragtag band of characters that met in the market of Khost, at the tents of Friendly and Fair Fil the armorer. Wiped out of their gold by buying some basic weapons, Fil was happy to point them toward the river where he knew of a local riverboat captain looking for extra muscle from some guards.

The band includes the following characters:  
Fredo the Hobb, a Warrior (Riley), Fred the Zombie Slayer, a Dwarven Warrior (Jacob), Dorik the Hearty, another Dwarven Warrior (Josh), Sir Orik, a Dwarven Warrior-Leader, handsome in countenance and short on brains (Baxter), Knick Knack, dwarf Warrior (Jake), Foo Foo the Bunny, yet another Dwarf Warrior (Eric), Sam Urai, an Elf Rogue-Wizard (Ben), and yes, one human Wizard, Sillypants Jackson (Ethan).

The band was hailed by Captain Tardag and his first mate Long Torrm as being the right number for their crew. They could always use some extra muscle but mostly they were needed as guards since there were rumors of river pirates. They were promised ten gold per day but Sir Orik, with his brilliant leadership, managed to eke out the promise of more if possible and depending on how they did. With a shove off from the dock--and only a couple of them falling into the river--the Drunken Dwarf was off down the river.

Sir Orik was instantly smitten by Halalgalatidoofiel a beautiful Elven minstrel. As he was preparing to whisper sweet nothings in her ear, she was rudely shoved aside by Maroo the Marvelous! He was trying to sell magic charms but was grieved to learn the characters had little money to spare.

Some of the characters were picked for lookout duty. It wasn't long before they noticed the river seemed alive and seething. Turns out it was river snakes! The captain was called on deck, excited to have run into a mass of "good eatin'." Long Torrm hopped up on the prow with one of the poles. With a deft twist and flick of the pole, he flipped a couple of snakes up out of the water and onto the deck. A couple of crew members jumped on the slithering critters with clubs. The adventurers figured it looked easy enough and began trying, most deftly landing some snakes up on the deck.

They continued for a bit until they realized that there were more snakes landing on the deck than they could club at once. Plus, the were beginning to slither up on the deck too. They were everywhere. "OK, boys," shouted Long Torrm, "let's get rid of 'em!" They traded their poles for their weapons and began hacking, slashing and bludgeoning them to death. Some of the moves included tossing them into the air and batting them with a polearm or taking a nice golf swing into a pile of snakes with a warhammer. A shriek alerted them to one of the crew who had been overwhelmed. With several snakes attached to him, he quickly blackened and fell into the river. A bit later another shriek was uttered by one of the crew that had slipped and fallen into the seething water. After a bit more smashing and bashing, the last of the snakes on deck were dispatched. Karyla, one of the passengers who was relocating her restaurant to Knor, cooked up  a delicious meal of riversnakes.

During the meal, a couple of the dwarves were smitten by the sad sounds of Halalgalatidoofiel's lute. While they tried to smooth talk her they were suddenly accosted by Maroo the Marvelous trying to offload his charms. "You might have wooed her with this!" he said, producing a piece of paper with a rune on it. He was close to Dorik cleaving him asunder right there!

Three of the party volunteered for the night watch duty. Their eyes were heavy and Knick Knack and Fred didn't see what Sir Orik saw: several large logs approaching the boat. But not logs! Canoes! Knick Knack and Sir Orik slipped into the river as the canoes approached; Fred snuck off to alert the crew. As the canoes approached, they could see that they were filled with some ratty looking orcs, goblins and men. It was Captain Fyke's band of river pirates! And there were a lot. They swarmed aboard, each member of the party engaged with one pirate. Soon others were aboard. The party fought well and after trading lots of blows, the pirates all lay dead on deck or floating in the river. Some jingles alerted them to a few loose coins which they grabbed. Captain Tarndag stood with his foot on Captain Fyke's chest. With a deft swipe of his axe, he sent the pirate's head into the water and the body was tossed over next.

Suna, an old crone who had taken passage on the Drunken Dwarf, applied some poultices and salves and healed the party up a bit.

Just as dawn turned to daylight, the Drunken Dwarf suddenly crashed to a halt right in the middle of the river. River trolls suddenly began swarming aboard. With oily hair and frog-like heads their sharp claws began slashing. More than one crewman was grabbed and taken overboard, their shrieks turning to gurgles as they went under. The adventurers went full bore against the trolls. A warhammer smashed forth but was grabbed and blocked. Punch swords drew blood and pierced organs. Short swords slashed. Polearms thrust into ribcages. Nasty troll claws drew blood but the adventurers and crew fought strongly. After a brief struggle of ten or so minutes, the battle was again over, the boat safe.

Within the hour, the Drunken DwarfKnor. The crew began offloading their passengers' belongings. Captain Tarndag deftly handed each adventurer 20 gold. (The amount promised?) "Ye be welcome back anytime ye want to serve aboard the Drunken Dwarf, laddies! Ye done well and I thank 'ee."

The characters stepped off the boat. Halagalatidoofiel once again was seen, a sad look in her eyes. "What's wrong," they asked her. "I wonder if you could help me book passage further downriver. I must get to where my family was when they were killed by orcs." The party argued for a moment and then split up the sum of 25 gold for her. In a moment, they turned and she was gone, lost among the meandering crowd along the docks. Fuming, the party wondered what to do next...follow her?

Game Notes

One of the fun things was to see the players light up when they were told they could do just about anything they tried, with a simple Saving Roll. "You mean I can cast my spell and then trip him?" Since Combat Rounds in T&T are around 2 minutes,  that gives them a chance to realistically do a little more. The combat, though individualized according to the adventure, is much quicker than in D&D. Without a tactical view, this was roleplaying as I remembered it from my middle school days (though that was D&D).

As always, the criteria for the game was whether the kids had fun. They grokked the system pretty quickly and had a good time hamming it up. We'll probably go on next week; there's another adventure nearby perhaps. In some ways, the game is better for our library setting. The combat resolution makes it easy to have any number of players in the battle without adding any significant time. Downtime seems to be a bit less and there's less confusion since players don't have to know specific powers. While I don't foresee us abandoning our Dark Sun campaign, T&T offers a much simpler and easily engaging alternate campaign for roleplaying fun.

I can't believe I'd never heard of T&T but I'm glad I came across it online. It's a lot of fun and easy to run. We're using the 7.5 boxed set from Fiery Dragon as our version. The adventure we used can be had here, which is great since it's free!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dark Sun: Escape into the Night!

Too Easy an Escape? 

Later that same night, Garthak came in to the barracks. "OK, boys. You get the fun job of getting rid of the dead tonight. Take the cart into the Ghost City and get these bodies to the city's crematorium. I'll send a couple of my guards with you so's you don't try no funny business." It was Zylyss, Sarunin Tay, Dar'ag Tan, Yvaak (played by Kyle), Fillin and Barlos who were in their bivouac at the moment and who were tasked with taking the corpses to be burned.

The cart creaked out on the road. It was a dark night. Four torches in sconces in the corner of the cart were the only light. The track back toward the city was deserted. As they wagon came to a bend, the group thought they heard some stones skittering down the hillside to their left. The slavers, one in front and one behind, grunted for them to slow. The wagon then stopped. The slaves looked around and Filling detected a grunt followed by a gurgle behind them. Zylyss hissed for the front guard to go see why his buddy was missing. But another grunt and gurgle and he saw the guard's shape drop to the ground. Suddenly above and below them on the hills, five raiders appeared, spiked spears slashing and dagger's dully illuminated in the torchlight. The slaves, having been armed for just such an eventuality, sprang into action.

Three were grabbed by the prickly spears of the raiders. Zylyss ducked away from the cart into the shadow as he flung rocks with his sling. Fillin, using his telekinetic power flung a torch from the wagon at the nearest raider but he dodged aside and the torch was snuffed out by its flight.

The raiders were quick and deadly with their daggers drawing lots of blood and bloodying some of the party. They shifted, trying to stay close to the wagon to keep in the light. Dar'ag Tan whirled on one of them and brought down his weapon with might, nearly killing the man outright. Sarunin Tay sent blasts of mental energy eliciting a scream from one as blood trickled from his ears. Barlos moved around the wagon, trying to take control of the encounter and support the others.

Dorvan, the man sent by Sarunin's father to find him, trembled in the meat wagon. The sour stench of urine was amplified in the stifling heat of the still night. Dorvan sat up, saw what was going on and fainted. Around the cart, Zylyss sent rocks hurtling out of the darkness. Fillin continued to scoot back, launching arrows at the raider who continued to advance on him.

After three raiders had been put down, the other two, bloodied, made their escape. They dashed up the hill into the darkness while the party stopped to catch their breath.

Now these slaves found themselves on the road to Raam, the lights of the city dim in the distance, and apparently free! They discussed their plans. If they left the wagon, it would be evident that they had escaped. They briefly discussed taking it on to the crematorium in the Ghost City. After a few moments, Dorvan spoke, having climbed out of the cart. The woman and man who had also still been alive, had likewise hopped out of the pile of the dead and run off into the darkness.

Dorvan spoke. "There is a rendezvous point in the city where Barlass and I are to meet. If we can get into the city, we can find him and get out." He looked around at the others. "You have aided my master's son, Sarunin Tay. Master Tay will reward you well if you accompany us back to the city of Tyr." The others agreed to go along for now.

Sarunin suggested they stage a complete attack scene. Using the remaining torches, they fired the wagon and shoved it down the hill. Hitting a rock, it overturned and landed as a pile of burning corpses and smashed wagon pieces. The party then turned toward Raam...

Game Notes

The kids had fun and the story moved forward. Baxter was excited to use his shadow hiding skills in the darkness during the fight. Kyle, new to the group, took Yvaak whom Nick was never able to play in this campaign. In retrospect, the encounter was on the easy side. (I don't suppose the same raiders who could be defeated by the players could so easily dispatch the slavers, but it was a sneak attack). The point was to move the story forward.

Most of the players had new sheets printed from Hero Lab. I find that we haven't played enough for their powers and abilities to be second nature to them. I think, also, that unless a person makes their own character, it's tough for them to assimilate their alter ego. The environment of the teen section of the library can also be a hindrance. But overall, they had fun and as Ben noted, one of their more successful encounters.

It bothers me that there is still no Dark Sun Creature Catalog information in the Compendium. The subscription service and its integration with Linux (via third party stuff) is still somewhat irritating. But we muddle along and have fun playing and that's what counts.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Universalis: The Really, Really Secret Area 51

Nevada. The blistering desert. Area 51. Meet Bob. Bob is a computer programmer on the Area 51 base. It turns out Bob is actually selling secrets to the Chinese and has written a devastating computer virus that is going to destroy Area 51's entire compute network. He is being pursued by Government officials. It's just near the turn of the Millennium when the Y2K bug is the big scare. There also appears to be some Russian interest in the information in which Bob is trafficking.

Bob is tearing across the desert grounds of the base with government vehicles in his rear view mirror. He flips open his phone and makes a call to a number with an excessive amount of digits. "I'm being chased. I will meet you at the 'old farm house.'" A terrific volley of fire erupts from the SUVs chasing Bob, shredding even the foam-filled puncture resistance tires and bringing the jeep to a quick halt. Bob was heading for one of the isolated hangars of the base, indicated by those codes words "old farm house." There, two Chinese commandos sporting assault rifles and rocket launchers picked up the dust on the horizon and made ready. As the government vehicles circled the jeep, they let loose with their rocket launchers, blowing up one of the SUVs. Bob, taking advantage of the distraction, bolted toward the commandos. Sgt. McHenderickson and Captain Culp dashed off after him. A Chinese sniper on top of the hanger fired at the fuel tank of one of the trucks, causing another explosion. As it turns out, this sniper was a double-agent, working for the Americans. With two precise shots, he brought down the two commandos but was then grabbed by base guards who had climbed atop the hangar. From seemingly nowhere, Bob whips out a gun and began firing as he spun in a circle, kicking up a cloud of sand and dust. When it cleared, Bob was gone...

This was going to be interesting. Captain Culp, it turns out was really a Chines double agent. But he was also working for the Russians, actually making him a triple agent! As the dust cleared bot Culp and McHenderickson looked around. McHenderickson's keen eyesight noticed a handle in the desert floor. A doorway into the ground! He and Culp opened it and went down a set of stairs into the tunnels beneath...

McHenderickson and Culp came to a T intersection in the tunnels below the desert. A sign indicated "Lab" to the left and "Hangar" to the right. The headed left and came into a lab filled with computer terminals and five bodies of some sort in tanks filled with a green fluid. The door through which they entered suddenly slid shut. Looking at one of the computers, McHenderickson saw this flashing on a screen: "Programmed Declination Deprecation underway: -59...58...57..." At just that moment, Bob appeared in the other doorway. With an ally, Culp raised his sidearm and fired at McHenderickson. The gun merely clicked. The Sergeant had seen him in the terminal's screen and laughed as he turned and clocked Culp on the head with his flashlight. "Don't you know we found out you're a spy? We wouldn't issue you a weapon that could do any harm!" The countdown ceased and suddenly the Lab was plunged into darkness. In the darkness, a tapping could be heard on some of the glass tanks...

Red lights began flashing and an alarm began blaring. The tanks opened and humanoid creatures came out. There were five. The computer terminals flashed, "Creature Electronic Locks Disarmed." The creatures came out, shambling toward the Sergeant and Captain. Culp began shaking with fright. McHenderisckson pulled his sidearm and knife, ready for a fight. The creatures hit Culp first, tearing him limb from limb. By now, Commander Genghis (who had previously announced himself over the intercom) had the lights back on. As the creatures turned on the Sergeant, he noticed they had red eyes but with Asian features. Was this the Chinese connection? Bob, recognizing the creatures were extremely dangerous, began firing his weapon, hitting one and sending spurts of neon green blood from its body. The closest creature to the one wounded turned on its wounded comrade and began attacking it and finishing it off. Bob turned and fled, McHenderickson close on his heels...

Bob and the Sergeant exchanged gunfire as they dashed through the tunnels and toward a hallway filled with offices. They realized the creatures were also pursuing them. McHenderickson asked Bob whether he had an iPod with 'N Sync on it. He did! They dashed into one of the offices. "If we're going to survive," Bob said, "we're going to have to work together." They plugged the iPod into the intercom system and began blaring the stale pop music. The creatures slammed against the office window and door, stirred up to a shrieking frenzy by their hatred of that boy band. They began trying to smash the windows when McHenderickson and Bob began blasting away with their guns. Neon blood splattered all around as the creatures were dropped by the gunfire. With the monsters dead, Bob whirled, his gun trained on the Sergeant who also brought up his gun. At the moment of this standoff, Bob announced that he was part of some undercover Chinese experiment. Before McHenderickson

We wrapped it up there. We were looking for ways to wind the story down but couldn't think of any immediately. You will note that the story suffers from inconsistencies not so much in logic as in simple plot: what was going on? This was the second go at Unversalis for the high school kids at the Library. We started earlier in the day and our first try became a strange tale of a dreadnought with no power and no milk products heading to the collision of two planets with a fighter and fleet chasing them. After a little bit of that, the kids wanted to try something that made more sense. So Ben said, "Nevada" and we went from there (no one remembering that Roswell and Area 51 are in New Mexico!) As far as the story goes, it's a little strange but that's because the players are getting used to the idea that whatever they say pretty much happens.

The most important question to answer is whether the kids had fun. They answer was yes. The rules of Universalis give a good structure to how the narration proceeds and the kids quite easily picked up the idea of the coins being paid to interrupt and take control of components. A little more uncertain were how exactly we were to use the complications. Part of it is just a need to review the rules now that we've seen how the game works. I think, had we had more time, we might have developed the story in greater detail. The time constraint meant that the last scene became a bit strange.

The other advantage of Universalis is that the game handles players coming and going quite easily. The story can be recapped quickly and players can come in and go out without messing up the story at all. This is ideal in our setting which involves multiple kids coming and going at all different times. We enjoyed the game and I am looking forward to seeing what else we can try with it. I'm going to have to pick up more "coins..."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Searching for Sarunin Tay

The Executioners

The usual batch was off for the day. They sat in the hot, dry heat of the mess bivouac. The cook, a young kid who was new, was nervously trying to make conversation. "H-h-how did you guys get pulled in here?" he asked in a tremulous voice? Sarunin Tay, Dar'ag Tan, Vishrakth, Zylyss and Fillin listlessly ate their gruel, its putrid consistency revealing bits of some kind of meat and the occasional maggot. They briefly shared the circumstances which had brought them to the brutal servitude of Raam's arena. The heat was oppressive even as the day was winding down yet the roars of the crowd and the clash of arms in the arena were still going on. 

As darkness came to Athas, Garthak marched into the slaves' area. "OK, boys! Time to do yer civic duty! Execution detail tonight! Gotta remind the loyal subjects of her majesty what happens to criminals and traitors and spies. So get yer weapons and head out. You'll be killing criminals by firelight! And you'll be on cleanup duty too, to bring them to the crematory cart, eh?"

They were all quick to comply, though a worried look appeard on Fillin's face. He was a preserver of life. He didn't see how he could take it uselessly, certainly not for anything other than survival. But there was the rub. It was, as always, kill or be killed in Raam's vicious showplace. 

They wandered into the arena, lit by huge bonfires scattered throughout the fighting floor. The drums stopped and then began again, as some slavers brought out a line of malcontents and miscreants as well as a handful of plainclothes individuals who looked troubled. A couple of ruffians and obvious bandits flashed their daggers and waved large bone-clubs menacingly, hatred showing upon their faces. The others were a woman dressed in skins, a fierce look on her face, a couple of younger men in decent clothes and a heavy-set man in merchant type garb who was shuffling and wheezing and blubbering at his fate. 

"Citizens of Raam," boomed Abalach-Re's voice. "Here again we show the fate of those who would commit crimes, become traitors and work as spies! These criminals have been condemned to die in this arena! Our gladiators will be the agents of their punishment! However, we are not above mercy. If one of these can survive the weapons of our fighters, their lives may be spared so that they too may find a place among Raam's arena entertainers. Now, fighters, do your duty!" A huge gong sounded and the slaves made ready to take on the criminals and put them to death. 

A Message from Home

The two bandits jumped back and dashed away, seeking cover near one of the flaming piles of wood. Vishrakth charged the woman only to swing and miss her. The ruffians charged forward and tried to engage Vishrakth. Dar'ag Tan trundled over to deal a thundering blow that drew blood. Sarunin Tay came up and landed a powerful force punch which sent the scowling man backwards into the fire. He flailed and shrieked, and fell back out, a burning corpse. 

The others had scattered. The bandits made their way closer. In the shadow of the northern hill, Zylyss crouched, his sling at the ready. The group had decided that they probably ought to spare the plain-clothes people since it seemed obvious they hadn't committed any crime worthy of death. Or so they thought. In any case, Vishrakth took his swipes at the wild woman to show her who was boss. 

The two bandits had returned to the center of the action. Dar'ag Tan turned just in time to see two glinting flashes in the firelight before a couple of daggers sliced past him. Fillin launched his chatkcha and it swung wide, missing the bandit. One of the criminals was running back and forth along the edge of the chasm. The fat man knelt by the fire, sobbing and imploring the fighters to have mercy on him. Sarunin Tay and then Dar'ag Tan engaged the other ruffian nearby. Zylyss launched a shot from the shadows which sorely wounded the one bandit. They now stood back to back to take on any challenges, a feral, desperate look in their eyes. 

Another force punch from Sarunin Tay tossed the ruffian into the bonfire which immediately became his bier. Sarunin Tay then moved up to kill the next target, the blubbering merchantman. "Wait, wait! I didn't DO anything," he sobbed. "I was sent to find someone, that's all! They took me!" He looked up through his tears into Sarunin Tay's face. "Sarunin Tay!" he exclaimed. "I'm Dorvan! I was sent by your father to find you!" With that, exhaustion and fear overcame him and he passed out. 

Sarunin Tay quickly decided they must keep the rest of the criminals from being killed. Fillin let fly with his chatkcha again; it sailed over the head of the one bandit but on its return flight took the head off the other. The headless corpse dropped and blood pooled in the sand. The crowd, stirred up into a frenzy at the brutal punishment being meted out, was on its feet, "Kill! Kill! Kill the criminals!"

Garthak, observing the slightest hesitation on the part of the fighters toward the condemned men and woman, roared out, "Kill 'em all, boys! Do yer duty! Show the citizens what happens to those who cross her majesty! And remember, you don't come out alive if they live! Hahaha!" 

"I'll check 'em, boys," Garthak laughed as he readied his spear. They dragged the last four bodies of the unconcious prisoners toward Garthak. How would they get them past the ogre? Sarunin Tay looked into the stands and say one of the she-orgres he knew Garthak had his eye on. He mentioned it to him and the big oaf looked over, stealing a smile and wave. But he quickly turned back. Focusing his mind, Sarunin Tay let loose a flash of psionic power. Suddenly, a blank stare appeared on Garthak's face. he looked about oddly for a moment while the crew dragged the bodies out and threw them on top of the cart. Coming to his sense, Garthak looked over and saw the bodies on the cart. "That's right, boys, get 'em ready for taking to the crematorium in the morning."

The slaves dragged the cart out of range of Garthak's hearing. Zylyss slapped the face of the fat man to bring him round. Sarunin Tay questioned him. He was Dorvan, a servant of house Tay who had been sent along with another servant named Barlass to Raam. Sarunin Tay's father has sent several pairs of servants in search of his son to some of the cities nearer to Tyr. They had no idea he was in Raam. "But," he said," perhaps we can get you out since Barlass is still on the outside. If we could just contact him..."

The group decided they might try to take them out in the morning. It would mean a night of suffering for the criminals they spared as they lay in a heap of the dead but what else could they do? Whispering for Dorvan to keep quiet and wait until morning, the slaves slipped back to their barracks to form a plan...

Game Notes

I've been thinking of a way to introduce the first seeds of a possible escape for the party. I wanted to use a skill challenge and decided that the best way would be to have Dorvan appear and mention Sarunin Tay's father. It seemed to work out best to start the encounter like every other, as a fight in the arena and then to morph it into a skill challenge in which they had to decide which prisoners to spare, how to spare them while making it look like they were actually killing them, and getting them past Garthak without him noticing. I gave the barest suggestion that "not everything in D&D is fighting; you can use your skills, too. The players ran with it and did what I  thought was a fairly decent job of giving it a go with their skills. 

Some of the skills used included Intimidate, to get the prisoners to "play dead" when the slaves faked actually killing them. Vishrakth did that. Sarunin Tay tried Insight which he critted, thus spawning my suggestion that Garthak's girlfriend was nearby. Zylyss then tried to bluff him into paying attention to her. The check failed and so he wasn't distracted long. Sarunin Tay then did a Memory Hole which is a combat power but I thought was put to good use to make Garthak forget about them for a moment while they got the bodies past him.

I've been reading up on Skill Challenges and this is really the first I've tried to run. I'd say it was a success. I left it open-ended and let the players help me come up with what skills they want to use. I didn't really record successes and failures but it worked out to something like 4 successes and one failure. In any case, I think they realized how they might try their skills, though they're still in the stage of "I use Intimidate" or "Does Diplomacy do anything?" They'll get it as they learn and get comfortable with their characters. I was also impressed with Jacob's role playing in being uncomfortable in the role of executioner when his character has some Good in him. He did a good job of bringing that out. 

This was another very fun session and some even commented the best yet. The combination of fighting, some skill challenge, and a moving forward of their plot made for a good mix and a lot of fun today. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dancing With Daggers

Slice and Dice

Another day, the usual blistering heat bakes the shimmering  sands in Raam's arena, and Garthak grabs a handful of slaves who aren't otherwise engaged into readiness to once again entertain the citizens of Raam. Some of the slaves were on other duties, but Visrakth, Zylyss, Sarunin Tay, Dar'ag Tan, and Keergnok were all available. "Out with you to dance with the knives, boys," the ogre laughed. "Get out there and put on a good show. You're gonna meet Makliss, one of the Zisin brothers. Knife dancers they call 'em. Try to stay alive but if you're gonna die, make it good for the crowd." He chortled as he passed out weapons to the slaves and sent them out into the midday sun.

"Make a circle," Garthak instructed them. The five spread out. From the sidelines, a thin man came sauntering out. A large earring hung in his ear and he was flipping a dagger, catching it alternately by its hilt and by its tip. He strolled into the circle of fighters, to the cheering of the crowds. He paused, still flipping and catching his dagger, and then slowly turned in a circle, looking into the eyes of each of the slaves. He paused. There was a brief stillness even among the crowds. With a sudden lunge, Makliss darted over to the dwarf, slashing him and drawing blood and then spinning around and over to slash at Zylyss, also drawing blood. It was on!

The knife dancer dashed across the sand, even making a quick tumble across some piles of sand, many of which were strewn all over the arena to make the fighting more entertaining. Vishrakth was quick to engage the man, this time properly equipped with two short swords. Whirling frenzies and slashes drew blood from the knife dancer but he managed to keep moving around the now widened circle of opponents.

Dar'ag Tan manage to get close swinging wildly but missing. Vishrakth managed to once again get on one side while Keergnok and Sarunin Tay sent flashes of energy and psionic waves to pummel their wiry foe. In the heat of the battle, Zylyss forgot himself and decided to close with Makliss. He dashed around some of the sand mounds and managed to flank the fighter. But he was too off-centered and his point-blank shot with his sling just whistled past the dodgy fighter. Snarling at the threat, Makliss spun, slashing Zylyss and spinning around him, bringing his dagger to bear a second time and then rollingin quickly away. That was enough to send Zylyss to the ground, unconscious.

Makliss proceeded to work his way around the circle, with Vishrakth close on his heels. Dar'ag Tan came up to Zylyss and managed to staunch the blood and stabilize him. The crowd booed the help he received but their attention was quickly turned to the knife dancer, who was bleeding from several wounds. Makliss made a dash for Keergnok whose energy orbs continued to fly wide and past him. Vishrakth came whirling with his blades, his frenzy powering his fury. Makliss dodged aside and then jogged over to Sarunin Tay, slashing him viciously. Though weak, Sarunin Tay held him off until Keergnok and Dar'ag Tan could close and cover the slippery little stinger on three sides.

But it wasn't enough as Makliss drew blood from Dar'ag Tan and then rolled away quickly. He was caught by Vishrakth and dealt some serious blows. Keergnok managed to get behind him and with a shuddering blow of energy from his staff, dropped the knife dancer to the sand like a rag doll. The crowds boos and cheers mixed in a crescendo and in a moment the slaves were back out of the arena, nursing their wounds and resting. They had survived--some just barely--another day in their brutal lives of entertaining servitude.

Game Notes

The shorter amount of tie we have with the kids at the library demands simple encounters. The arena is good for this but it's still a challenge to balance the encounter for five or six characters. I found that the Knife Fighter was a reasonable 600 XP, but was a tough opponent since he hit very easily and was very tough to hit for the first level characters. But while he was a challenge, they were able to take him down (and a few crits didn't hurt). Actually, it worked out pretty well; the characters survived but not by a wide margin.

Zylyss was a special case. As a fair-minded DM, I wanted to spread the dagger-slashing love around. But Zylyss, whose specialty is a sling, for some reason likes to shoot at point-blank range. He learned his lesson when he ran up and missed and then the knife dancer did a deadly spin right around him and sent him to the ground unconscious. Perhaps he'll play the rogue a little smarter, which I hope the players will keep learning. They're still move independent in their attacks and haven't learned to use their powers together to complement one another. Until they do, there's probably not much chance they'll decide to work together and find a way out of their brutal servitude.

The encounter was a bit shorter than others but it was still fun. I was pleased that the knife fighter actually got the highest initiative so he could make a dramatic opening move. It was a fun fight and I enjoyed running the knife fighter, that dexterous weasel with a nasty bite!