Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Realms Toowoomba Recap # 20 [RPG]

[14 Mirtul 1372]

The group decides to spend the night in Longsaddle.

[15 Mirtul 1372]

Over breakfast, conversation turns to the frog fights witnessed the night prior. The innkeeper, "Trappy" Snulgers, continues telling wild stories of dragons, punching out gods, and climbing down a volcano to rescue slaves.

Cain decides to bring an expert to help craft a new holy symbol, and is directed to a silversmith named Nalanther, who specializes in delicate work (usually involving spurs). Nalanther is quite reluctant to get involved in religious matters, especially for a cleric of a god like Kossuth, but after speaking with Aldarac Harpell he agrees. Several hours later, Nalanther presents Cain with an exquisite, perfectly-formed holy symbol. Nalanther is modest about his achievement, but Cain is quite pleased and promises to spread word about the craftsman's skill.

While Markus looks around for barding for his mount, Fargrim tells Mellia more about his and Cain's exploits on the mysterious island with a temple dedicated to the supposedly dead god Myrkul. The connection between Aldarac's story the night prior and Fargrim's story allows Mellia to make some insights which she keeps to herself.

The group visits an outfitter named The Rolling Wheel and purchases several items in preparation for their journey east. They encounter the Red Ravens there, but Mellia refuses the trio's entreaties that she join them.

That night, a last visit is made to a gambling den where frog-fighting, punching contests, and knife-throwing are the contests of choice.

[16 Mirtul 1372]

The group makes a few final purchases at the Rolling Wheel and then heads east toward Nesme. Mellia asks Fargrim how they'll find Startop Mountain, a potential hiding place for the bandit leader Grim, but Fargrim is uncertain.

[17 Mirtul 1372]

In the morning, Mellia raises the question as to whether the group may be misguided in heading east, as she's dubious that Grim would make a hideout so far away from the Long Road. Fargrim thinks that the nightmares suffered by himself and Cain may be leading them to the Evermoors. There is some debate,
but a consensus is reached that, having come so far, the group should continue journeying east.

While climbing an icy hill, Fargrim's mount's propensity to suddenly stop and refuse to move almost results in injury.

Some hours later, the group comes across a small number of wagons, partially wrecked and abandoned relatively recently. It's clear that some sort of attack took place. Mellia spots figures on a distant hill, so the group decides to hurry on their way before being spotted.

After an hour's journey, the group starts a fire and sets up camp on a defensible hilltop. That evening, a vigilant Markus realizes that a trio of hairy, seven feet tall goblin-like creatures are trying to sneak up on them!  The battle is short and fatal for the Bugbears, as Fargrim levels one with his Greataxe, another slips and is set on fire, and a third is incinerated by a scorching ray of energy invoked by Mellia. A search of the bodies turns up a valuable collection of coins and jewellery, presumably taken by the Bugbears
from previous victims.
Director's Commentary (October 29, 2013)

This is a nice, concise recap compared to the 2,000 word blow-by-blow retellings I tend to write nowadays!  

Cain's request to have a silversmith create his new holy symbol was a rousing success, as the smith rolled a natural 20 on this check and created a totem of real beauty.

In retrospect, I may have been a bit too railroady having both Fargrim & Cain's nightmares and clues to Grim's whereabouts lead in the direction of the Evermoors.  Each story thread on its own makes perfect sense, but together the coincidence may be a bit heavy handed.  I should have perhaps set up more adventure hooks elsewhere in Faerun.  The issue I was trying to resolve was that session after session was passing by, the PCs were levelling up more and more, and the early levels of Startop Mountain were going to be less and less challenging if/when the PCs finally made it there.  I wanted the campaign to have a real through-line and story and not be a true sandbox campaign, but it's still unclear how well this worked.

The PCs did a good job finding a defensible, concealed campsite but then undermined their cause by building a fire and attracting attention.  Much later in the campaign, they'll do something similar by finding a great hidden campsite in the wilderness and then popping a magically-created cottage there that no one around could miss . . .

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Realms Toowoomba Recap # 19 [RPG]

[9 Mirtul 1372]

The battle of Grunwald is over, and the adventurers were on the winning side.  Fargrim quickly heads into the ancient tunnels underneath the village on the trail of the escaped Ironteeth, while the other adventurers are treated as heroes and given many gifts, including a map of the region, provisions, and a shield. Upon learning that the group is intending to travel to Nesme, a warrior-priest of Tyr named Sword-Captain Gyrax asks the group to look into the disappearance of several pilgrims in the area who had planned to lay wreaths at the tomb of Arden Brightheart, a legendary paladin of Tyr who helped carve out civilization in the savage North. Brightheart's tomb lies on the side of a hill several miles southeast of Nesme.

The adventurers rest for the night in the village's only inn, a drafty building that is shared with animals.

[10 Mirtul 1372]

The group decides to spend another day in Grunwald, hoping that Fargrim emerges from the tunnels before they leave. Mellia stays busy scribing a scroll, Markus helps the Thunderbeast tribesmen patrol the area, and Cain finds his way to a grove devoted to Silvanus east of the village and helps the priests of that
deity heal the injured warriors and villagers. At sunset, a victory feast is held and there is much rejoicing.

Trouble comes that evening, however. While most of the village is asleep and Mellia maintains watch, Cain's sleep is troubled by increasingly disturbing nightmares of an army of the dead led by new generals, one a witch-queen and the other a dread knight. The nightmares reach the point where, even upon waking,
Cain is unable to separate them from reality. He bolts up in the night and sees the witch-queen and the dread knight, not realizing that he is actually seeing Mellia and Markus. Mellia tries to calm him down by lighting a torch (since Cain worships Kossuth), but Cain, in his deranged state, perceives this as a threat and readies an attack. Fortunately, he snaps out of it before any harm is done, leaving the cleric tired and confused. Meanwhile, a very drunk Markus slept through most of the trouble.

[11 Mirtul 1372]

Cain and Mellia discuss the previous night's troubles. Mellia bristles when Cain says "and you were the witch-queen!", and suggests that if Cain can no longer perceive reality, he should perhaps be trussed up at night. He agrees without protesting. The trio leave word with the villagers for Fargrim, Ellywick, and Nakor that they are heading on to Longsaddle. Their day's journey south is uneventful. That night, bound to a tree, Cain again has waking delusions of the witch-queen and the dread-knight. Bound, however, he poses no threat and eventually snaps out of it.

[12 Mirtul 1372]

The journey on the Long Road continues. Cain casts a newly-learned spell in an attempt to remove the affliction of the nightmares, but it has little effect.  Fortunately, that night, he seems to pass out of the worst of it.

[13 Mirtul 1372]

The group continues travelling and reaches an area with large livestock ranches. Cain is tied to a tree for safety's sake, but has no more nightmares.

[14 Mirtul 1372]

That morning, as the group rouses themselves awake, Fargrim arrives, having pushed his horse hard to catch up to the group. He relates the story of how he tracked down and destroyed Ironteeth. He is told of Cain's strange behaviour of some nights past, but Fargrim's long nights with little sleep seemed to have
helped him avoid similar nightmares.

Now a company of four, the group continues their journey to Longsaddle. A few miles north of the city, Fargrim suddenly halts his steed. Looking pensive, he says "this--this is where it happened," referencing Grim's attack on the caravan Fargrim was guarding years ago. Saying little more, he continues on.

Longsaddle turns out to be a village with a small permanent population but with several businesses to serve the large number of surrounding farms and ranches.  The village is dominated by a massive, eccentrically-designed mansion laid out on a hill, apparently home to a famed family of wizards named the Harpells.

Seeking information on the Crown of Horns, Mellia travels to the Horn & Hoof tavern to ask about the Harpells. Upon hearing that a certain Ardanac Harpell occasionally stops in for a pint, she decides to leave him a message. Hoping to gather some clues about Grim, she brings a bottle of wine over to a table of adventurers and introduces herself. The three welcome her company, and their leader, a handsome fellow wearing a strange helm, introduces himself as Nphreg and says the three comprise the Red Raven Adventuring Company. He names a portly gentleman with a rapier as Neville Robideux, and a mysterious figure clothed in a hooded robe as the group's cleric, Stantusta. Nphreg tries to persuade Mellia to join the Red Ravens, as they need a mage; she leads them on some in order to get some information about their plans. It turns out they are also headed to Nesme, as the city is reportedly offering large sums of gold to
adventurers and mercenaries willing to come to the city's aid. The details are murky, but it seems that Nesme had been besieged and nearly overrun in recent months.

Mellia notices Fargrim at a nearby table quietly having a drink, and decides to launch a scheme to learn more about the Red Ravens and whether they know anything about Grim. She walks over and tells Fargrim to act very angry that the Ravens tried to lure her away and see if he can get them to talk or think
about Grim (because Mellia can read their minds through an obscure arcane incantation). Fargrim carries out his role as an intimidating and angry adventurer, but does not mention anything about Grim in his bluster. Mellia learns only that Nphreg hopes to seduce her and that Neville is frightened of
the dwarf with the gigantic battleaxe.

Meanwhile, Cain's continued prayers have led him to believe that one of the causes of his poor performance in battle has been a divine curse brought on by his deity's displeasure over Cain's constant use of a makeshift and flammable wooden holy symbol. The cleric decides to fashion a new holy symbol out of silver, and persuades the proprietor of Jasper's Ring of Bells to lease him tools for the task. Markus volunteers to pitch in and help, but the two are at odds about the proper way to cool the silver and the delicate process fails.

The group decides to find accommodation for the night. At an inn called The Gilded Horseshoe, Cain enjoys the fantastical stories of the proprietor, "Trappy" Snulgers. Later that night, the group decides to track down the Red Ravens. They track the trio to a pipe-smoke filled gambling parlor, where
ranchers and villagers play dice, cards, and watch frog fights. The group manages to squeeze themselves around a table where only a single person sits, fidgeting with dice. Strangely, the man immediately tells Cain to watch his steps in Longsaddle, as clerics of Kossuth and their pyromania will not be tolerated. Cain is surprised that the man knows who he is, and the man claims that he is a protector of the village and has information on all suspicious newcomers . After some prompting, he identifies himself as Aldarac Harpell and repeats his warning. When asked about the Evermoors, Harpell states it is a dangerous, war-torn place and that a mysterious forge there has been producing so-called "blight blades" that decay the flesh of men. Mellia asks him about the Crown of Horns, and with a cold glare he tells her not to even inquire about
such an artifact.

Aldarac soon leaves, but Mellia follows after him. Aldarac begins climbing the hill towards the family mansion, and Mellia tries to follow (invisibly), but her progress is halted by an unseen barrier. Aldarac turns and makes it clear he is aware of her presence, and tells her that only those in possession of a
particular ward-token can pass through the wall of force. Mellia prevails upon him to tell her anything he can about the Crown of Horns, pleading with him that finding it is the only means of saving her daughter. Aldarac is at first unmoved, but then sympathy shines through his eyes. He tells her that the Crown
of Horns contains the essence of Myrkul, a deity cast down and destroyed during the Time of Troubles over a decade ago. The Crown could not be destroyed, and so was buried far below the surface of Faerun in the hopes that it would never be found. He slowly shakes his head, and tells Mellia it would be best for her to abandon all efforts to locate the Crown. With that, he turns and continues walking up the hill, leaving Mellia to ponder his words.
Director's Commentary (October 25, 2013)

Another session with no combat, but also no lack of plot development.  The siege of Nesme and the nightmares experienced by Cain introduce the figures of the Dread-Knight and the Witch-Queen, two villains that I assumed would serve as major adversaries for the PCs in the Evermoors.  Adventure hooks from different sources tie into this (the Tyran priest telling of pilgrims disappearing on the way to the tomb of Arden Brightheart, and Aldarac telling of a mysterious forge creating "blight blades").  The idea is that Arden Brightheart has been raised from the dead and turned into the general for the rising armies of undead, while the Witch-Queen uses her alchemical knowledge to oversee the forge to arm those undead soldiers with even more dangerous weapons.  Each of these locations, the tomb of Arden Brightheart (modified from Dungeon Crawl Classics # 14: Interludes) and the Forge of the Witch-Queen (modified from Dungeon Crawl Classics # 17: Legacy of the Savage Kings) were designed to serve as additional locations in the Evermoors sandbox, as either adventures prefatory to the PCs taking on Startop or as a break if that got overwhelmed with a subterranean expedition.  They also gave me an excuse to incorporate some adventures I had bought but never used (and thus, justify further purchases to my self down the line!).  As often happens with the schemes of mice and men, it all went awry.  The PCs very briefly explored a little bit of the Tomb of Arden Brightheart before leaving, and never expressed any interest in the Forge.  At the time I'm writing this (circa Session # 60), they are now way too high a level for either (which is partly my own fault, as the high RP bonus I discussed earlier has made fighting less important to levelling).   Still, they did serve the purpose of giving the PCs options so they didn't feel railroaded, and they helped me flesh out what was going on in what was supposed to be the major area the campaign would focus on.

This session saw the introduction of another adventuring party, something the PCs had yet to run into in this campaign.  I decided it was the perfect occasion to make use of some of my previous characters that had languished in limbo, while still keeping their personal story-continuity intact.  I've talked about Neville RobideauxNphreg, and Stantusta elsewhere in this blog.  The trio make an appearance next session, and then briefly when the PCs reach Nesme, and then once again fall into limbo.  Mellia's trick with Detect Thoughts was a favourite of hers for a while, though she hasn't used it in a long time now.

The players (especially the one who runs Cain) got great joy out of frog-fighting.  Can't remember if the concept came out of a sourcebook or whether I made it up, but I ran with it as much as I could!

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Realms Toowoomba Recap # 18 [RPG]

[8 Mirtul 1372]

As the decapitated corpse of a troll lies burning nearby, Antonov decides he will be better off traveling on his own and trying to avoid attention. He departs, as does Mellia, as she decides to offer to teach her Scorching Ray spell for barter in Xantharl's Keep. With Ellywick setting off to investigate the mysterious cause of the troll raids (and Nakor still absent), the group is reduced to just three. Fortunately, Fargrim has recovered from the strange trance induced by his encounter with the ghost outside of Xantharl's Keep.

The three adventurers decide to head further south along the Long Road. That evening, while Fargrim stands watch, a troll manages to sneak into the group's camp and attack Markus's steed. Alerted by the horse's distress, the group rouses and prepares to fight. The cunning troll literally picks up the horse and throws it into the group's campfire, temporarily blinding all but Fargrim.  The battle between Fargrim and the troll is a brutal one, but the troll manages to stagger away after mortally wounding the dwarf. Fortunately, Cain's healing magicks save Fargrim's life.

[9 Mirtul 1372]

The group decides to head to Grunwald, slightly off the Long Road to the east.  There, they find a collection of a few dozen stone mounds, home to the Thunderbeast Uthgardt barbarians. A pavillion dedicated to Tyr has been established in the south-east part of the village, and, after entering, the group quickly realizes that Grunwald is preparing for battle. A troll warband had been spotted at the edges of Lurkwood, heading for Grunwald. The trio of adventurers generously offer to stay and help defend the village. Markus pitches in by making javelins, Cain finishes constructing a spear, and Fargrim speaks to Gundar, the tribe's chieftan.

That evening, the attack comes. Fargrim and most of the Thunderbeast barbarians are drawn into battle on the eastern side of the village, while Cain, Markus, and the Tyran warrior-priests remain vigilant elsewhere. Suddenly, a low rumbling is heard and a massive troll bursts out from the ground in the center of the village. Adorned with a pale red ring and metallic shards for teeth, the troll grabs hold of Cain and takes a deep bite out of the cleric's midsection.  Markus rushes to his aid, and the warriors are pleased at the timely arrival of Mellia to aid their struggle. The troll leader, Ironteeth, loses his grip on Cain and tunnels back underground, before popping up near the eastern part of the village. His attacks devastate Markus, who had charged over on his steed, but Fargrim rallies the barbarians to charge and Ironteeth is again driven away by their attacks and Mellia's and Cain's spells.

With the other trolls dead or escaped, Gundar concludes that Ironteeth may be hiding out in a series of tunnels that lay underneath Grunwald, part of an ancient Dwarven city. It has long been the way of the Thunderbeast tribe to forbid anyone from venturing into the tunnels, but Gundar communes with his tribal spirits and determines that Fargrim, and Fargrim alone, has the right to enter and vanquish Ironteeth once and for all.
Director's Commentary (October 24, 2013)

This session continues the concept that trolls are swarming all over the area around the Long Road because they've been pushed out of the Evermoors by something even worse.  The hope is that by introducing these story elements organically, the campaign world seems more realistic and the players get the sense they're part of something bigger than a series of random encounters.

I was actually somewhat surprised that the group volunteered to stay and help defend the village of Grunwald, as at the time (and still today) I didn't have a good sense of their overall morality.  Anyway, I wanted to give them a taste of being part of a battle that was much larger than just themselves and some enemies, and the attack on Grunwald featured barbarians, warrior-priests, etc. The battle did show the limitations of playing with limited table-space, as I wasn't able to fit on everything I wanted.  It also showed how it's quite cumbersome to run too many NPCs and enemies in a single encounter in D&D 3.5, and I ended up having to handle the fighting that the PCs weren't directly involved in by generalizing results (all the trolls roll one attack roll, all the barbarians roll one, etc.).  With better preparation, things might have gone more smoothly, but I didn't actually know if the PCs would visit Grunwald at all and there's a point where you don't want to sink too much effort into something that may never eventuate.

The Wife was still in Canada during this session, and always tells a sweet story about it.  We play late at night in Australia, so its early in the morning in Canada.  The Wife called me to chat during a break in the session, but wasn't able to play because she was watching Boomer.  After the call, she said to her mother, with a sigh, "they're fighting trolls . . ."  Her mom was kind enough to offer to watch Boomer, so The Wife dialed back and Mellia arrived just in time to help save the day with her fire spells.

The cliffhanger, with Fargrim designated as the only one allowed to enter the tunnels below the city to fight Ironteeth, had to be handled off-screen because Fargrim's player had one of his rare absences in the next session, and when he returned the story had moved well beyond Grunwald.  In retrospect, with more imagination I could have figured out a way for him to still have that encounter . . .

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The Buffy Comic Project: "Remember the Lies"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 36

(Dark Horse; Vol. 1, 1998-2003)

Creators:  Tom Fassbender & Jim Pascoe (writers); Cliff Richards (penciller); Joe Pimentel & Will Conrad (inkers)

Setting:  Season Five

T.V. Character Appearances:  Spike, Harmony, Dawn, Giles, Buffy, Willow, Anya, Xander, Tara

Major Original Characters:  Yuki Makimura (vampire); Shiden (mentor)

Summary: Dawn, having stormed out of the house, arrives at Spike's crypt to complain about Buffy.  Meanwhile, at the Magic Box, Buffy talks to Giles about the legend of a Slayer missing from the Watcher's Diaries and expresses concern over Dawn's disappearance.  The group decides to start looking for her.  Elsewhere, vampire Yuki Makimura feasts on human prey and then speaks to her mentor about the need to find the Eidu Amulet, apparently hidden in Spike's crypt.  Later, Buffy learns of her sister's location through Harmony, and angrily confronts Dawn and Spike.  Despite Giles' denial, Spike insists there is a Slayer missing from the diaries.  Before they can continue the discussion, a pair of vampires burst into Spike's lair and one of them escapes with the Amulet.  Giles and Buffy argue about Giles withholding information.  At Yuki's underground crypt, an altar of skulls has been built and the vampire proclaims that a "suitable vessel" has been found "to complete the transition" and that "the reign of destruction" will soon begin.

Review:  Again, excellent artwork and solid characterization.  Dawn storming out of the house and seeking shelter with Spike is something we've seen on the show and it comes across as believable.  Willow and Tara have a brief, but sweet moment.  Perhaps the best part is the heated exchange between Giles and Buffy; it's rare to see the two fighting, but very realistically done.  Visually, Yuki Makimura is impressive and memorable (excellent coloring in the comic, something I don't think I've ever noticed before).  Her scheme, however, is likely to turn out to be forgettable.


* Harmony doesn't appear much in the comic, but her attempt to draw up a "trap" for Buffy is a bit funny.

*  The set-up about a missing Slayer is intriguing, but there's a lot of unexplained plot elements.  Still not sure why Spike had the amulet, for example.

*  The one piece of really bad drawing is of Giles near the end; completely unrecognizable.

*  A note on the letters' page indicates that the fellow bartending during the scene at Willy's bar in the last story arc was not supposed to be Willy.  Art fail!

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