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!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dark Sun: The Lady or the Tiger?

Or Both...

"No! Let me go!" The shrieking sobs of a woman being dragged past the barracks had the slaves on edge. Garthak trundled in. "So, worms, how many of you ever heard the story of the Lady or the Tiger? Well today you don't have to choose! You get both! The crowds like heroes so that's what you are today. Just save the lady and the crowds will love ya!" Today's lineup included Sarunin Tay, Dar'ag Tan, Zylyss, Fillin, and Vishrakth.

After the heroes had been equipped  with short swords, bows and arrows, they were led into the arena. Up against the chasm was a large cage inside of which was a smaller cage, tightly woven bones of some sort. In the small cage was the sobbing common woman who had been nabbed by slavers in the city. In the larger cage, terrifying her, was a large tiger, prowling and growling and rattling the bars which were secured with a sliding door and large lock. Toward the other end of the area were two large cages, each holding a tiger. A couple of slavers manned the latches, ready to set them free. "No fair attacking the tigers til they come out to play, boys!" they taunted the slaves.

The cages were opened and the tigers dashed out, half-starved and ravenous they dashed straight for the heroes and struck with vicious bites, their brutal teeth quickly drawing blood. Fillin was bloodied instantly and began shifting to get some distance and begin bringing his wild spirit powers to bear with a volley of arrows. Visrakth traded blows and immediately went into his macetail's rage with a howl. The crowd roared with delight as the big beasts hit the slaves hard.

It was clear this was going to be a tough fight. Zylyss, Dar'ag Tan and Sarunin Tay sent blows at the beasts, doing a little bit of damage here and there. After a bit, one of the tigers was bloodied. Sniffing the blood, the other loose tiger launched itself at it and began trying to finish it off. As the fighters got close, that tiger also snapped his jaws at them, drawing more blood. The heaving chests of the slaves fought to draw in air as they took their second winds.

Dar'ag Tan took a swing at the lock on the cage but to no avail. Zylyss appeard and began picking the lock with a piece of bone that he found on the ground. When the lock gave way, they tried to hold the door as the tiger inside raged against it. At the right moment, they slid it open and the tiger shoved forward to attack. The fighters began hacking at the beast when Fillin, who was a ways away, threw a force push at the tiger and shoved it aside, giving Zylyss, Sarunin Tay and Dar'ag Tan access to the cage. From inside, Zylyss eventually managed to get the small cage open to let the woman out. The crowd was on its feet as the tiger shoved its way halfway into the cage again. Then Zylyss unloaded his sling on the tiger and Dar'ag Tan began slashing it heavily. It was soon bloodied.

The bloodied tiger had gotten up and limped away, watching the battle but losing its will to fight, even in its starved condition. The other tiger suddenly dashed toward Fillin who unloaded his shard spirits upon it, shredding it and sending it howling in a spray of blood and fur (crit!). It limped away, not interested in taking more pain from the seeker. The crowd booed its disapproval.

Inside the other cage, Zylyss flung a stone hard and close from his sling, driving it straight into the tiger's eye and sending it rolling in a shuddering heap of blood matted fur that lay still. Suddenly, the slavers were there, hoop poles around the two bloodied tigers and began tugging them off the battle field. The crowd booed as the slavers dragged the tigers out of the arena but cheered the slaves as they walked the woman from her cages. Yet again, they survived another day of brutality in their captivity and gave some measure of satisfaction to a crowd of Raam's restless citizens.

Game Notes

I'll admit I'm still getting the hang of balancing encounters. Three tigers might have been a little more balanced for a full six fighters but there were only five today. The players continued to learn their powers although they miss some added damage which is certainly to their detriment when they don't remember to deal it out! The fact is that the tigers would have been too tough if they had gone full bore, so I toned them down a bit and had them go after each other too. That's part of the fun of being a DM is knowing when to gently keep the characters alive without making it easy.

The main thing is that the kids have fun. They like to get psyched up wondering what they're going to face each week and so far they've walked away from the table each week with smiles on their faces. Time constraints still limit us a little bit and I have to make sure the encounters fit within about an hour and forty-five minutes or so. The arena nature of the encounters coupled with the fickle nature of Abalach-Re are simple tools to be able to draw an encounter to a close if need be. So far it's been a lot of fun running this campaign and I'm looking forward to broadening the story eventually when the time comes.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dark Sun: Gladiators Galore

Two New Heros

BARLOS THE BATTLEMIND: Human Battlemind (Ben)
Barlos was born in the arena and bred to be a Battlemind. His psionic powers were trained in Raam's arena by the psionic slave tutors whose job is to make entertaining fighters for the arena. Cocky and brash, Barlos lives for the thrill of the crowd cheering to his clever use of his powers to gain the upper hand on his opponents. Barlos is not easily riled but fights carefully, trying to provide a show for the teeming masses who cheer him on. Off the battlefield, he is also relatively unflustered, having nothing to prove but letting his accomplishments speak for themselves. While he loves to bask in the attention of adoring fans, Barlos nevertheless wistfully thinks of the day when he might gain his freedom and go his own way.

VISHRAKTH: Half-Orc Barbarian (Riley)
What better occupation for a half-orc barbarian than to be a thug in a gang on the streets of Raam, bringing some semblance of belonging and order to the murderous streets of this caste-separated cauldron of violence. Vishrakth has no fear of losing his life and would easily fight to the death. But in an attack by some of Raam's Mansabdars, Vishrakth's faithless fellow gang members ran and abandoned him to his fate. He was overwhelmed by these agents of some corrupt noble house and his vicious nature suggested he'd make them some money by being sold into the arena's slave barracks. Only a fool would provoke Vishrakth's temper and his eyes smoulder with the burning hatred of his slave captors, waiting for his moment to bring them down in the roar of his barbarian rage.

Facing the Gladiators and a Surprise

"All right you worm spawn, "roared Garthak the ogre, "off to the arena with you today. Time to fight some real gladiators. With a surprise twist! Hahaha! We'll arm ya with short swords cuz that's what gladiators fight with!" Out they were thrust into the arena: Barlos, Sarunin Tay, Zylyss, Dar'ag Tan, Fillin and Vishrakth. The slaves stood there, the heat from the shimmering ground washing in waves over them, the baking blood red sun in the sky. In the middle of the arena was a thirty foot pillar with a lumpy bundle on top. At that moment, out marched five gladiators, twirling short swords in each hand.

"Fighters fight!" came the serpentine voice of Abalach-Re from her gilded private box. With that, the heroes rushed forward and the battle was begun. Blasts of psionic power and the clash of swords slowly raised the volume of the murmuring crowds. On one end of the line, Barlos was battling one gladiator, another backed up to assess the heroes and another two were fighting with Fillin and Dar'ag Tan. On the far end of the line, Vishrakth was trading blows with another of the fierce fighters.

After a few seconds of battle, with the heroes quipping about who would be able to climb the pillar and get the "presents," the lumpy bundle suddenly jumped up, the covering thrown off. There was a vicious female elf, her longbow knocked, who began firing on the heroes as they fought! Zylyss unwound the sling from his wrist, picked up a stone and sent it flying to the top of the pillar.

Sarunin Tay sent waves of energy at the gladiator in his line of sight when suddenly the fighter charged him, slashing him with both his blades, bloodying him in an instant. Barlos then focused his mind, marking that same fighter to draw him over to him, taking on two at once. Zylyss teleported his short sword to Sarunin who then moved it telekinetically over one of the gladiator's heads, dropping it close by into the ground but missing the fighter.

"Hey," one of the slavers standing in the wings nudged Garthak, "don't that Seeker need a bow?" "Right you are lad," the ogre agreed and chucked a bow and quiver out to Fillin. He grabbed the short bow and began firing arrows, unleashing his ranged primal spirits to harass the gladiator that he was flanking with Dar'ag Tan.

"Bloody fool! You deserve death!" shouted the elf from the pillar and then sent an arrow into one of the bloodied gladiators. The heroes weren't sure whether she had suddenly turned friendly or not. Zylyss knew better. With a trick shot, he sent a stone smashing into her forehead, knocking her back a step where she teetered and dropped from the pillar in a crunching heap. Zylyss dashed forward to grab the elf's bow but the end of the fight was at hand.

With one gladiator and the elf dead, and most of the heroes also bloodied, a mighty gong rang again. The gladiators, followed shortly by the slaves, dropped to their knees to look with meekness at their sorceress-queen. "Brave fighters" echoed the voice of Abalach-Re, "you have fought well. But I grow weary of this combat. Let us see something other entertainments." With that, the slave masters appeared, urging their charges back out of the spotlight. The battle, inconclusive, was done.

Game Notes

Unfortunately, I was late to the session and we lost about a half hour. That's why I had to wrap up the session abruptly. The kids still had fun. Ben and Riley were new players and Risdon was absent. The purpose of these various arena fights are twofold: (1) To offer encounters which can easily be played with whoever is present and (2) relatively simple fights in which the players can learn their characters' powers and how to use them.

One thing I noticed is that our slave heroes tend to work more individually. As they learn their powers, I suspect they'll learn to use them together effectively. When they don't fight together, they get hurt pretty quickly. I figured that level-wise this was a tough encounter and it turned out to be a bit overwhelming for them. I suspect they would have pulled it off but it would have been really tough. They are hampered by the lack of a healer as Nick has been (and will be) unable to play. We may have to get Yvaak in there some other way.

The kids enjoyed the encounter though their rolls were all over. More bad than good but Jacob had a couple of crits of which he was proud. They really did get a lot of bad rolls and I suppose the combat would have gone quicker had they rolled better. I think if we had had that extra half hour that I lost, we would have been able to carry the encounter to its conclusion. As always, the game was a lot of fun. I am enjoying getting into the role of Garthak the ogre and walking around the table at the beginning of the session, growling and lecturing them on the way they get to entertain the crowds that day.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dark Sun: Another Day in the Rat Race

"All right you slugs!" shouted Garthak the ogre slavemaster as he and the slave guards with him kicked our heroes in the ribs, shoving them from their straw pallets onto the hard-packed floor of the barracks. "Up! Up! Today you slugs are going to be the pre-show entertainment! You can entertain the fine citizens of our great city while they fill their seats for the other events in the arena today! Here's the deal: You find the teleportal in the maze and teleport to the top of the hill outside the maze. First one who makes it gets the day off from arena duty. Get it? Now get going and see weapons masters just in case there's anything in there. Hahaha!" The heroes grabbed a few weapons, a tortoise shell blade for Zylyss, a chatchka (three-bladed boomerang) for the seeker and a nice carrikal (double-blade axe) for the goliath who, being an arena slave brat, was given some scale armor.

The slaves were marched to the entry points of the maze. Above them in the hills ringing the arena, the crowds were beginning to arrive, the buzz of chattering citizens rising as they were led out to the maze. The maze was constructed by other slaves, with 20 foot high walls, perfect for blocking the view of those inside but visible to the crowds on the hillsides. "Today," boomed the ogre, "the rats get the cheese! And one more thing: You're the cheese! Hahahaha!" And in he shoved them with a kick.

In they went, Dar'ag Tan leading the way. "So," said Keergnok, the dwarf, "are we allies? Working together?" The slaves agreed that it was probably a good idea to stick together. Zylyss zipped through the passageways and the rest of the party headed in, weapons ready. After some twists and turns, Zylyss heard something above the buzz of the crowds: a skittering and scratching noise. Suddenly, giant rats burst from parts of the maze. Fangs snapping and claws digging, they leapt at the heroes, drawing blood quickly. Sarunin Tay turned to see an even larger rat, fangs and fur covered in putrid filth bounding toward him and sinking it's vile fangs into his flesh. One rat, snapping and biting with a fierce almost intelligent fervor, managed to find the breaks even in the scale armor that Dar'ag Tan was wearing. The rats weren't too hard to dispatch, but the slaves took their licks in doing so.

There was a pause for a bit where things were quiet, the crowd noise growing louder as the stands were filling.  As they proceeded through the twists and turns of the maze, the heroes saw some exits. Except they were blocked by their slave-master guards standing with arms folded, whips and clubs dangling at the ready. The party kept moving. Keergnok, ahead of a couple of the others turned a corner only to come face to face with another really large, filthy and stinking rat! He dashed off, taking some nips at his heels. The party had come to the far end of the maze, and through the blocked exits could see portions of the mound they were supposed to head to. They thought for a brief moment that they could simply move past the guards and get to it but thought better of it.

It was at that point, from two passages, that Sarunin and Keergnok saw doors at the end of the passageway. The center? The teleportal? Zylyss looked as if he could dash to the door and get in the room. In a sudden flurry of viciousness, Keergnok, seeing he could have a chance to get there first, called up his arcane powers and sent a flashing orb of energy down the passageway to hit Zylyss! The energy crackled with light and slammed into the elf, tossing him down like a rag doll and leaving him dying in a heap! A roar of mixed cheering and booing erupted from the crowd gathering in the arena. But it was Sarunin Tay that got there first, to one of the other doors. Dar'ag Tan ran up behind him just as two giant rats came snapping at their heels. Fillin, bleeding from his share of bites, was able to get to Zylyss quickly and apply some skill to heal him a bit and bring him back to consciousness. Zylyss stumbled to his feet and went with the seeker toward the central chamber.

Meanwhile Sarunin came into the room and there stood a hissing kobold with a staff and a necklace of rat skulls around his neck. With a crack of his whip, he lashed the psion and dragged him further into the room. Keergnok was closing on the room too, the dire rat nipping at his heels. It was then that a thunderous gong began to sound. "Wrap it up, boys!" shouted the guards at the maze exits. With a flash, the kobold vanished, appearing on the top of the mound. With a couple more rats chasing them into the teleportal chamber, the slaves jumped onto the teleportal and appeared on the mound, the crowd alternately cheering and booing. Just as the last of the slaves appeared on the mound, a voice boomed around the arena: "All hail our Grand Vizier, Abalach-Re!" With a slam of his staff on the ground, the kobold suddenly vanished in a flash of light with a serpentine cackle drifting on the wind. The slave guards quickly surrounded the mound and then led the slaves back to the barracks where they turned in their weapons and rested before being sent off to other duties during the main events of the arena. The party had survived, but no one noticed the burning hatred in Zylyss' eyes as he pondered the dwarf walking ahead of him...

Game Notes
The arena is large enough to accommodate various events during the day. The slaves worked hard to construct the maze (and it took the DM awhile to draw it). I wasn't sure best how to approach the characters' progress through the maze. I ended up covering the entire maze with paper so that they couldn't see it all at once. As they moved through, we pulled back the papers bit by bit. Since it was clear the players could obviously see more than the characters, I settled on simple Dungeoneering checks (DC 10) in order for the characters to move as they wished upon reaching an intersection. If they failed, they stopped moving. If it didn't completely give the feeling of moving through a maze, it slowed them down a bit to somewhat simulate their wandering and trying to figure out which direction to go. It worked pretty well with the provision that they could follow the character ahead of them without rolling.

Risdon sending an energy orb against Baxter's thief was not something I anticipated, especially since he was the one who initially suggested working together. I thought it was a low blow and out of character. So I sent the dire rat after him. When he objected, based on the rat being against a wall, the fact that there was suddenly a hole there that the rat came through really annoyed him! Turn about is fair play, I guess! The truth is, since they're all slaves, they don't really have a stake in helping each other past just surviving the fight they're in. Since the campaign is not set in stone, it will be interesting to see which direction it takes. I won't say I wasn't surprised or even slightly annoyed. However, Jacob's seeker took the position that life is worth saving (while Jacob took the position that nobody should die on their first adventure!) But it means there's something between the dwarf and the elf now and that's going to be interesting.

I recently broke down and subscribed to the D&D Insider. It's just easier to make the characters that way and keep track of them. (I run the Character Builder and Adventure Tools on Win XP running on Virtualbox on Ubuntu Linux. I mean, if you're going to geek out, do it properly!) Rather than fiddle with notecards and having to keep track of everyone's initiative and AC, etc. I found an absolutely GREAT program that does it. It's called DnD4e Combat Manager and it's a great tool. It imports both DDI CB character sheets and you can paste in monster stats from the Adventure Tools program. The program keeps track of all the order of combat as well as effects and marks, damage, power use and all kinds of other things. It's the first time I've used my laptop at the D&D table and it worked very well. It wasn't any slower than using pencil and cards and it may have been a bit faster even. I'll definitely be using it again.

Finally, the kids had a lot of fun. They're learning their powers and that slows things down initially but nobody minded. We play in a library teen room setting so there are the natural distractions of friends and phones, etc. However, the group was pretty focused and the encounter moved along at a good pace. We're all looking forward to next week's adventure!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dark Sun: Cast of Heroes, Part 2

Here follows more stories of our core cast of Dark Sun Campaign characters.

FILLIN DUSTEATER: Human Seeker, Wasteland Nomad (Jacob)

There are tribes that, if they are not truly peaceful, at least keep mostly to themselves. The wandering clan from which Fillin comes was such a tribe. Its camp was once attacked by a swarming pack of Nightmare Beast Spawn. The echoes of the shrieks and cries of Fillin's people still echo in his ears. He was one of the only survivors, somehow spared from the ferocity of the evil creatures. The attack upon and destruction of his people has left Fillin with a bitter hatred toward all that is foul and defiled in Athas. He has vowed to one day find the lair of the beasts that killed his family and tribe and his rage against all things vicious and evil seethes quietly under the surface of a man who has otherwise dedicated his life to preserving what is natural and good.

Alas, Fillin has not had time or opportunity to make his quest. Wandering bloody and near death from thirst and starvation, Fillin was brought in to Raam by a sweep of slave traders combing the nearby areas for fresh meat for the arena. Such bondage weighs heavily upon Fillin, expecially when confronted with his label of "Dusteater," a name given to him by the slavers who captured him and one which stuck with him. His hatred of all things evil has grown to include not just the mindless beasts of a defiled world but the intelligent creatures which seek to rule over others by bloodshed and oppression. Fillin knows that his opportunity will come to leave the arena. There are nightmare beasts to which he still owes a debt of blood.

DAR'AG TAN: Goliath Fighter, Arena Fighter (Jake)

Dar'Ag Tan never knew his parents. He was born and bred in the slave barracks of Raam's arena, his purpose in life to entertain the masses and probably die doing so. It is possible that one day he could win his freedom. But the odds are that he will perish violently in the spectacle of combat. Dar'Ag Tan early became a servant to weapons and slave masters of the Arena. He was trained by the gladiators that went before him until he could take his place in the arena on his own, to fight and entertain the crowds. He has known no other life but that of slavery and violence and yet a longing for something more--perhaps freedom--sometimes haunts his thoughts.

Dar'Ag Tan is not an evil individual. His natural-born Goliath traits of fierceness and competitiveness have merely been enhanced and sharpened by his life as an arena fighter. Fiercely competitive, he is a raging inferno of rage when provoked in battle. Even outside of the arena, in the dark world of the slave barracks, Dar'Ag Tan never turns down a challenge or lets an insult pass. The slaves who have grown along side him respect his fighting prowess and the slaves newly brought to the arena soon learn to do so. Dar'Ag Tan's olive skin and the whorls and lines of his flesh-markings identify him as a force to be reckoned with both on the battlefield and off.

ZYLYSS: Elven Rogue (Baxter)

Zylyss, like most elves on Athas, is sneaky. A liar and cheat, he looks out for just one person: himself. Zylyss was born into the filthy urban life of Raam and from his earliest days was a pickpocket and thief. One day, Zylyss set himself to slitting the purse strings of a prominent noble's son (who was in the Elven district for no good reason to begin with) and was seen by one of the Mansabdars in the pay of this noblemen's father. He was grabbed too quickly and fiercely to escape. He was sentenced swiftly to see how long his skills could keep him alive in the arena.

Zylyss keeps to himself. He is known for his deadly aim with a sling, able to land a killing shot from the shadows before he is even seen. The other slaves no not to provoke him lest they face their revenge when they least expect it. Otherwise, Zylyss keeps to himself and looks out for himself, not seeking trouble but not shrinking from it when it finds him. He has no particular desire to help others but he does so if it will help him. When he fights in the arena, his interest in the survival of those who fight with him is so that they will help him survive. Zylyss affects disinterest but he is actually quietly alert for he knows the chance will come when he can use his slippery and shady talents to extricate himself from his slavery under the bitter hand of his captors.

Next: Another Day in the Rat Race

Game Notes

These are the main players and their characters who will be our consistent core group on our Tuesday game day. It is likely that I will generate a few more characters, a selection of fighters and other arena types so that other kids can play as they are available and able. Again, by starting in the Arena of Raam, we're able to utilize the characters of players who are present, even if that is not exactly the same each week. We start in just a couple of days and the kids (and the DM!) are getting excited for the adventure to begin!

Dark Sun: Cast of Heroes, Part 1

Here follows the stories of the heroes of our Dark Sun Campaign

SARUNIN TAY: Human Psion, Noble Adept (Josh)

Sarunin is the sterotypical proud, arrogant and selfish child of privilege. Born into the noble House Tay, a trading family of the (now) free city of Tyr, his psionic abilities were early identified. At an early age he was enrolled in one of Tyr's schools of the Way, to hone, shape and train his psionic abilities. While his petulant disdain of commoners and his spoiled attitude of privilege were never wholly subdued, his study of the Way gave Sarunin discipline and focus. He excelled in his studies of the Way and by the time he was a young man, was accompanying the caravans of his father's trading house on short journeys in the vicinity of Tyr. He was thrilled at first to be able to repel small threats to the trading caravans using his psionic abilities. This gave him a thirst for fighting with these abilities and he suitably altered his course of study of the Way in order to train for attack and defense.

While still acting the part of a child of privilege and lording it over the caravan masters and merchants, Sarunin was suddenly pulled from his world of class and comfort. On one of the longer caravan routes along the Great Road, the train was ambushed by fierce desert nomads. There were simply too many. Many of the merchants and guards were killed and the goods plundered. Sarunin fought hard but in the end the numbers overwhelmed him and he was taken. His psionic powers were clearly evident and so he was sold for a good price far away to the arena slavers of the city of Raam. Now, sullen and bitter, Sarunin nevertheless seeks a return to his life of privilege. He fights in the arena now, focusing his powers not simply on survival but on the hope of escape and return to his family and life of privilege and ease.

YVAAK: Half-elf Warden (Nick)

It is well-known on Athas that a half-elves are looked down upon as the half-breeds that they are. Yvaak was born to a human mother who quickly rid herself of him. Such a rejection both by the human and elven populations around him caused him to seek his solace in the natural world. As Yvaak grew and learned of the primal powers of Athas' harsh world, he became ever more hateful of those who would oppress others and anyone who would defile the natural world. Made gentle toward those who are oppressed, in part because of his own circumstances, Yvaak considers himself a defender of a simple and free life. He sought the disciplines of the Warden to enhance his knowledge and use of the primal forces of Athas for his own defense and the defense of others.

While in the city of Raam, trying desperately to find some gainful employment, Yvaak was arrested as part of a city watch assault on an Elven thievery ring. Although he played no part, Yvaak was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The result was his being quickly tried and condemned to whatever fate being a slave in the arena would bring him. Now, Yvaak, confined by the brutal slavemasters and forced to fight in the arena, longs to once again be free and roam the sands of Athas. He fights for survival but not with malice; he seeks to  preserve his own life while making some attempt to preserve the lives of his fellows slaves so that perhaps they too may one day be free.

KEERGNOK: Dwarf Sorcerer (Risdon) 

Dwarves are common on Athas. Dwarves born with the ability to draw on the defiling power of arcana are not. When his clan saw that Keergnok had arcane abilities, they wanted nothing to do with him. Cast out from his clan, Keergnok became withdrawn and gloomy. Nevertheless, he has learned from being ostracized not to do so to others, especially those weak and defenseless. While contemplating his arcane powers may bring moodiness to the dwarf, he has still sought mastery of these forces, wielding them carefully, both in preserving and not defiling as well as in ways that cannot be easily discerned by the magic-fearing masses.

Yet it was the combination of his empathy and magic that brought the attention of the Mansabdars (city watch) of Raam. One day, a gaggle of urchins was being assaulted by a bigger gang of thugs and miscreants. Keergnok saw it and lost his temper, loosing his chaotic power upon the bullies. While there was little love lost for such street punks getting their comeuppance, the episode was witnessed by cheering crowd turned suddenly angry and fearful at the magic use. The scene was also happened in front of some Mansabdars who figured they could profit by it. The magistrate, friendly with one of the arena secretaries, sold Keergnok for a good price (part of which was passed on to the Mansabdars) and he became one more of the slaves destined to fight in the arena. Keergnok walks with a feigned limp but in reality his staff is his sorcerer's staff. The crowds, at once thrilled and frightened of his magic, long to see his powers exhibited for their entertainment. Keergnok, on the other hand, simply uses them to survive and perhaps, when the time is right, to make his move to escape.

Next: Cast of Heroes, Part 2

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Sun Rising...

The blood-red sun climbs into the sky over the land of Athas, a bleak, harsh, and vicious world where sorcerer-kings rule godlike over cities teeming with slaves, corrupt nobles, dangerous city watches and throngs of commoners trying to eke out a living and add a few days to their short, brutish lives.
Like all of the cities on Athas, Raam is ruled by a narcissistic sorcerer-king whose goal is the oppression of those under them. In Raam it is Abalach-Re, a wicked and pleasure-seeking sorceress whose apparent disinterest in the masses beneath her make her city-state teem with corruption, bloodshed, brutality, thievery, competition, and all sorts of violence. Rumors on the wind that the city of Tyr has overthrown its sorcerer-king and is now a city of free peoples (for the most part) have troubled Abalach-Re and she closely watches her citizens so that none dare to seek freedom from her rule while all the while hiding from them, fearful of what they would do to her to end her rule.

Raam, like every city on Athas boasts an arena for the entertainment and pacification of its citizens. Raam's arena is where the Grand Vizier (for so Abalach-Re styles herself) can watch slaves fight for her pleasure and give the crowds some semblance of her power. The arena is a natural one, bounded on side by a hill dotted with viewing balconies. Most of Raam's rabble sits at the other end, adjacent to the Maw, a gaping chasm. They sit there, blocking the path of anyone who would try to interfere with the games...or try to flee them.

Those who fight in the arena are slaves, many born and bred in captivity for the sole purpose of living their lives and dying as the entertainment for Raam's people and the amusement of their queen. Many of the slaves are captured and bought by the arena to provide a variety of challenges, battles, and shows for the sated crowds. Outside the arena, in dilapidated permanently makeshift barracks, the Grand Vizier's faithful minions guard the array of lesser slaves destined to die fighting in the arena. On occasion, a slave might last a long time and perhaps even have a chance at freedom, bought with their fame and glory. Others have tried to escape the misery of these death games but the creatures that Abalach-Re has in her employ are quite effective at ending the attempts of such would-be runners, often to the sickening delight of the arena's crowds.

It is into this milieu of brutal servitutde that our heroes have been thrown. Of varying backgrounds and races, powers and professions, they have all, one way or another, been taken and enslaved, given over to make their life as arena fighters and to survive for as long as they can. This is the world of the Dark Sun, the world of Athas, the city of Raam. Though not chained physically, these poor souls have lost family and friends, have had their lives taken from them, and now live for nothing but surviving the next arena spectacle of which they are made a part. Slaves doomed to die as the entertainment of the restless masses, they are bound by the Manacles of Despair.

Next: Our Heroes Introduced.

Game Notes
Dark Sun is the new campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons. It is set in the world described above, a harsh and brutal one in which the need for heroes and the opportunities to become such abound. This is a campaign that will take place at the Marion Library on Tuesday afternoons as part of our regular Tuesday Game Day. (Done in part because my daughters have band and dance in Marion but also this batch of kids is made up of their friends).

Not all of the regular players are able to make it each week. Sometimes, additional kids want to join in the gaming. The goal of the campaign initially is to start everyone as slaves fighting in the arena which enables me, as the Dungeon Master, to run stories and encounters with whomever happens to be available on a given day. Hopefully this will solve the problem of irregular attendees and give anyone a chance to be a part of the story when they are around.

To immerse the players in the story of their slavery, I myself have created their characters and background stories, not giving them a choice. Perhaps they will play a character they might have chosen to create themselves, maybe not. In forcing these characters upon the players, I hope, in some role-playing way, to give them a sense of their lack of control which will be evident in their characters' lives as slaves. Will they eventually find freedom and greater rewards and adventures? We'll find out!

Dungeons and Dragons(TM) image by Wizards of the Coast(TM).