Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fantasy Football 2013 Mid-Season Update

It's been a bit of a strange season so far.  After blowing out my opponents and getting the highest score in the league in the first two games, I went on to lose four of the last six and current stand at 4-4.  The early explosiveness of having the trio of Mike Vick, DeSean Jackson, and LeSean McCoy turned into a dud as Chip Kelly's offence got seriously derailed.  My early gamble on drafting Rob Gronkowski high hasn't yet paid off, considering he spent the first six or seven games on the bench!  I haven't really had a lot of consistency at any position, as I've started picking up D/STs based on their opponent each week and scouring the free agent list to end up with players who were great the week before I got them and mediocre after.  And really it all starts at QB, as The Wife never tires of reminding me that I could have had Peyton Manning instead of the rotation of Mike Vick, Cam Newton, Terrell Pryor, and Nick Folkes that I've been on.

But despite all of that, I'm still only 1 game behind the division leader!  As I said, a strange season, as parity dominates: no team is better than 5-3 and no team is worse than 3-5.  So with five regular season games left, no one is safe and no one is out of the picture.  If I can squeeze into the top bracket, anything can happen, but I have to admit I'm not feeling optimistic about this team.  Is it a one-and-done "dynasty" or will I be like the Giants and last year's Ravens, who only play well once the playoffs begin?  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sian Suan, Swashbuckling Jedi [RPG]

When I was in law school, Sian Suan was a character I played during a Star Wars role-playing game set in the Knights of the Old Republic era.  The campaign was fantastic, with deep story-telling, some great role-playing, and exciting, edge-of-your-seat action sequences.  The experience is what led me to direct a Clone Wars campaign using the same system (the original WOTC d20 Star Wars rules).  Sian is actually the second character I played in that campaign, and sooner or later I'll get around to telling you about the first, a character I was deeply invested in.

Sian was a Sullustan (like the famous Nien Numb, co-pilot of the Millenium Falcon with Lando in Return of the Jedi).  In the campaign, everyone PC was a Jedi, so I had Sian be a character who didn't have the self-discipline to learn the more esoteric ways of manipulating the Force (Farseeing, Illusion, etc.) but had a natural gift for using it to improve her own physical prowess (through Enhance Ability and Battlemind).  She was designed as a swashbuckler, and fit the role to a T, often dashing around the battlefield pulling off crazy stunts with a blaster in one hand and a lightsaber in the other (I especially liked the system's "Heroic Surge" fear, which allowed extra actions during a round once or twice a day; you could do some really cinematic, exciting things with it).  Sian was a friendly, outgoing character with a taste for pranks and a deep friendship with (and love for) my previous character.

She survived until the time I left the campaign, and was last seen there working hard to stave off an attempted Sith invasion of the Republic.  I had her reappear in the Clone Wars campaign as the only living NPC who had spent time in the Anomaly (thus explaining the "time-travel" element).  I was able to play her as a PC for a few sessions when another player directed a story-arc, and I think she came across fairly well.
Sian Suan
Scoundrel 1/Jedi Guardian 6

Sullustant Species Traits:  +2 Dex, -2 Con; Darkvision 20', +2 Climb & Listen, +5 Diplomacy to Buy/Sell Goods, Lucky (1/day reroll), Deflect Extend/Attack

Age: 18, Gender: Female, Height: 1.4 m, Weight: 50 kg, Eyes: Red, Hair: None

Abilities: Str: 10, Dex 20 (+5), Con 12 (+1), Int 15 (+2), Wis 9 (-1), Cha 16 (+3)

Saves:  Fort +6, Reflex +14, Will +2

Vitality: 49, Wounds: 12, Defence +10, Speed 10', Initiative +5, Reputation +2

Attacks:  Blaster +11/+6, d. 3d6, Crit. 20;  Custom Lightsaber +12/+7, d. 3d8, 19-20

Skills:  Appraise +2, Astrogate +3, Balance +5, Bluff +7, Climb +2, Computer Use +3, Craft: Lightsaber +3, Diplomacy +3, Disable Device +6, Disguise +7, Entertain: Pranks +3, Escape Artist +10, Forgery +6, Gamble -1, Gather Info +3, Hide +10, Intimidate +3, Jump +2, Knowledge: Jedi Lore +3, Listen +1, Move Silently +9, Pilot +9, Ride +5, Search +2, Sense Motive -1, Sleight of Hand +10, Spot -1, Survival -1, Treat Injury -1, Tumble +11

Feats:  EWP: Lightsaber, Force-Sensitive, Heroic Surge (2/day), Lightning Reflexes, Quickness, WF: Lightsaber, WG: Simple, WG: Blasters

Force Feats:  Alter, Control, Burst of Speed, Sense

Force Skills:  Affect Mind +7, Battlemind +10, Enhance Ability +10, Enhance Sense +1, Force Stealth +3, Heal Another -1, Heal Self +4, See Force -1

Languages:  Sullustese (R/W), Basic (R/W), Rodian, Trandoshan

Equipment: 616 Credits, Blaster Pistol, All Temperature Cloak, Comlink, Datapad, Glow Rod, Medpac, Civilian Clothes, Jizana's Recording Rod, Custom Lightsaber, Translator Unit, 2nd lightsaber, Jedi Disk, Antique teacups

Character Background

Unlike most Sullustans, Sian Suan has never lived on, or even been to, Sullust.  Her life has been one of constant travel--occasional respites at some place "safe" followed by quick escapes and long periods of hiding.

It all began on Doromos IV in Hutt Space, shortly before Sian was born.  Sian's father, Wisan, had long been employed as an engineer for the SoruSuub Corporation before he was fired for unknown reasons.  While at SoruSuub, Wisan had begun to develop the plans for a device which, in theory, would allow starships to mask their energy signatures and appear effectively invisible to most electronic sensors.  Unemployed and looking for work, Wisan was approached by an agent of Soergg the Hutt, a reputable businessman and merchant based on Doromos IV.  Soergg offered Wisan a substantial salary in exchange for coming to Doromos IV and developing a working model of the masking device.

Wisan agreed to the offer, and spend almost two full years on Doromos IV working on the device.  It was during this time that Wisan met Sian's other, but Sian has never met her mother and Wisan refuses to talk about her or what happened to her.  In any event, as the project was finally nearing completion, Wisan and the infant Sian suddenly disappeared from Doromos IV almost without a trace.  There are two versions of what happened: the first story, spread by Soergg, is that Wisan realized the device would never work and decided to take his money and run; the second, told to Sian by her father, is that Soergg was planning to have him "disposed" of as soon as the device was completed.

What is known for sure is that a working model of the device was never completed, and that Wisan and Sian spent the rest of their lives on the run, hiding from Soergg's bounty hunters.  Sian remembers one particular incident, when she was about seven years old.  After docking as an orbital space station, Sian and her father stepped into the corridor to see a welcoming sight--a fellow Sullusant was waiting for them, smiling.  But suddenly the smile turned cold as the Sullustan raised a hold-out blaster pistol at them! (Soergg had deep pockets indeed.)  Almost simultaneously, Sian heard both the whine of the blaster shot and an odd hum, and suddenly a real-live Jedi Knight was standing in front of them, deflecting the blaster shots with a lightsaber!  Sian couldn't believe her eyes and almost instantly fell in love with the glamour and mystique of the Jedi.  Sian never got to see the Knight again, as her father picked her up and started to run--but it's an experience Sian has never forgotten.  [Unbeknownst to Sian, the young Jedi Knight would turn into a Master by the name of Gen Brightwater.]

As the years went on, the running continued.  Sian learned how to help her father evade the various mercenaries and bounty hunters that were always pursuing them--she developed good eyes and ears, the ability to hide in the smallest of spaces, and a steady hand with a blaster.  Unfortunately, she rarely received a formal education or the discipline that comes with focusing on a particular field of study.

When Sian was 15, she and her father moved in with the Ta'Tathrian aboard the Triberry.  It was here that Sian met Jizana, and the two became fast friends.  Although often anxious to leave again, Sian's father was reluctant to drag Sian away from the first place she had called "home."  Sian lived aboard the Triberry for almost three years, until one day her father disappeared.  He left a note saying that he was putting the ship in danger and that a life on the run was not the life he wanted his daughter to live.  Sian was almost floored by the news, but quickly decided to find where her father was and bring him back.  [While Sian was looking for her father, Jizana met the Jedi and began training at the Academy.]

After several weeks of looking, Sian couldn't find any clues as to where her father went.  Somewhat relieved that if she couldn't find him, Soergg the Hutt couldn't either, Sian decided to return to the Triberry and find Jizana.  However, while on board a passenger liner between systems, Sian ended up being delayed by almost three months.  The ship's hyperspace drive suffered nearly cataclysmic failure and was forced to limp its way to the nearest spacedock.

Also on board the liner was Eriza Palan, an experienced Jedi Initiate [6th level Guardian], returning from a visit with his family before taking the Trials.  One day this Initiate observed Sian playing a holosim of a space combat game.  To his amazement, the score counter kept getting higher and higher even as the electronic "enemies" whizzed by almost faster than the eye could see.  Sian's reflexes were almost unnatural, and the game ended when the holosim shorted out because it was running so fast.  Eriza immediately realized that Sian had something more than great reflexes--she was channeling the Force to increase her reactions.

Eriza and Sian struck up a friendship, and as the voyage promised to be long and tedious, Eriza offered to show Sian some of the basics of using the Force.  Eriza found that Sian was a quick learner in a few specific skills [enhance ability and battlemind] but had great difficulty in learning other Force skills.  Sian also developed surprising skill with the Lightsaber.  Eriza told Sian that there was a Jedi Academy on a planet called Ossus, and that someday she might apply to become a student there.  Besides learning about the Force, Sian passed the time by developing ever-more elaborate, but always non-humiliating and non-harmful, pranks on Eriza.  One day she reprogrammed the auto-door opening system so that they only happened halfway, or opened and closed before he could pass through.  Another day she added a small microchip to Eriza's Lightsaber so it played the theme song from the holovid "Jedi Knight III: The Dark Side Cometh" whenever he ignited it.

The passenger liner finally reached an orbital repair facility.  It was here that Sian met up with some of the Ta'Tathrian and learned the horrible news about Jizana's parents and of Jizana becoming a student at the Jedi Academy.  With a combination of sweet talk and sob story, Sian convinced Eriza to allow her to come to the Academy with him.

Sian is anxious to see Jizana again and to learn more about the Jedi.  She has always admired the Jedi but never thought it possible that she could ever become one.  Sian is quick-witted and friendly, but gets quickly gets bored doing the same thing over and over.  She loves a good prank, whether its resurrecting a golden oldie or inventing something new.  If she ever becomes a Jedi Knight, she plans on taking care of Soergg the Hutt so her father can finally stop running.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men [COMICS]

Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men was a four-issue limited series pairing together two teams that hadn't interacted before too frequently.  The series came out during 1986, around the time I started getting into comics as a kid, and I'm pleasantly surprised today at how enjoyable it was to read.  Chris Claremont clearly knows these characters inside and out, and in the first issue posits an intriguing question: how could super-scientist Reed Richards not know about the risk of cosmic rays?  What if he intentionally flew into the ray storm on the hypothesis that bodily transformations would result?  It's a storyline that plays perfectly with what we know from continuity but complicates it by putting a different interpretation on it.  Add in good artwork and an appearance from my favourite super-villain (Doom!), and you have the formula for some good comics.

Issue # 1 begins, as pretty much every story involving the Fantastic Four does, with Reed working in his lab on a gigantic piece of machinery.  It's late in the evening, and he's interrupted by Franklin having a nightmare of his father being responsible for the deaths of the FF and the X-Men, and transforming into Doctor Doom.  Franklin is sent to his mother, and finds her unpacking some crates that have finally turned up after years lost in storage.  In one of them Sue finds Reed's old college journal and begins flipping through it.  Exactly what it contains is still a mystery in this issue, but basically it makes it clear that Reed knew the risks of flying into the cosmic storm and wanted he and his companions to be turned into super-beings in order to fight the growing menaces threatening the world.  Sue is flabbergasted by the revelation, by Reed is torn by angst and self-doubt--he doesn't remember things that way, but the account is so plausible . . .  Meanwhile, on Muir Isle, the X-Men are recovering from the Mutant Massacre.  Kitty Pryde is trapped in her intangible form. Her molecules slowly drifting away from each other, and unless she's cured soon, she'll die.  Magneto thinks a certain famous scientists with the initials R.R. could be of help . . .

Issue # 2 sees the F.F. arrive on Muir Isle with the machine to help the X-Men, and as the Constitution requires, a fight breaks out!  Reed's angst leads him to decide that it's too risky to use his machine on Kitty Pryde, but the X-Men don't take no for an answer and try to seize it.  An emissary from Doctor Doom arrives to announce that if Reed Richards' won't help, Doom will.  The X-Men are willing to bargain with the devil to save Kitty, and the F.F. are ousted from the island.

Issue # 3 opens with the X-Men at Doom's castle in Latveria.  Is it bad that I know a lot more about the fictional Latveria than the real Latvia?  Anyway, Kitty tries to off herself!  Fortunately, Franklin's astral body manages to talk her down.  Back in New York, the members of the F.F. deal individually with Reed's apparent betrayal.  Ben heads to Yancy Street (now gentrified) to drink and mope, Johnny finds solace in the arms of Alicia, and Sue mostly just continues to give Reed the cold shoulder.  By the end of the issue, however, the querulous quartet are reunited and off to Latveria as well.

Issue # 4 opens with some sweet scenes aboard the F.F.'s transport between old friends Ben and Sue, and Johnny and She-Hulk (yes, I've neglected to mention she's been hanging out!).  The latter pair discuss stories they've heard about how Reed and Doom were such huge rivals in college, and I imagine there's a lot of good flashback story opportunities there.  Anyway, the F.F. arrive in Latveria, but the X-Men believe they may disrupt Doom's attempted cure and . . . a fight ensues!  As it must.  But Franklin gets the two sides to reconcile, and Reed and Doom together save Kitty.  It's a sweet story of friendship overcoming all and everyone lives happily ever after until seconds later when Sue accuses Doom of having fabricated the journal, knowing it would throw a spanner in the F.F.'s works!

Anyway, all in all, good, clear, crisp storytelling that is definitely worth a read for fans of the genre.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Realms Toowoomba Session # 36 [RPG]

[Flashback to 4 Kythorn 1372]

Having escaped the wolf pack, Markus finds a campsite sheltered from the winds and rests for the night.

[10 Kythorn 1372]

After a successful escape from the peril of undead trolls, the adventurers continue heading west towards Nesme. The air begins to get cooler and cooler as they travel, and snow begins to fall heavily. The group sets up camp at a concealed site. Mellia takes Fargrim and Cain aside for an important talk.  Mellia says that they are the only ones who know about her daughter, and that if something happens to Mellia no one else could rescue and raise the girl. She asks if Cain and Fargrim are willing to stand in her place should the worst occur. Cain offers to place the girl safely in his religious order, while Fargrim says he is honoured by Mellia's trust in him. Mellia provides the two adventurers with details of her arcane order's location and legal documents that will shore up their claim in the event of Mellia's death.

Later, Sha'dar approaches Fargrim and asks if he can have some of the arrows the dwarf carries. Fargrim replies that he needs to think of the welfare of the group overall, and says no. Sha'dar mutters something about a "stupid dwarf" and proceeds to work on crafting his own. During watches that night, Fargrim catches Aloysius attempting to stealthily sneak away for some unknown reason; the gnome claims he was only going to relieve himself.

[11 Kythorn 1372]

Mellia awakens with a start, mildly annoyed to realize that Cain's horse has chewed a large hole in her bedroll. Cain compensates her for the loss. As the group starts to continue their journey west, Sha'dar and Fargrim disagree on the correct direction to take. Cain persuades the two to compromise and take a route roughly in between the elf and dwarf's divergent directions.

Snowfall becomes heavier and heavier as the group continue west, forcing the adventurers' mounts to trudge through deep drafts. Extreme cold becomes a real problem, even as Aloysius warns of another: he states he saw frost giants and clerics of Auril when last he passed this way. The group continues very cautiously and very slowly, and as darkness falls decide to set up camp. With the horses starting to falter from the cold, Terreck builds a partial wall of snow to provide them some protection from the cold. Meanwhile, Mellia reports success in a spell she's been working on for situations just like this one: she conjures access to a small extradimensional space that the adventurers can rest in for the night, free of concerns about temperature and wandering monsters.  Although the horses have to be left below (and Aloysius' magical backpack left buried in the snow), the group enjoy a restful, if cramped, night's sleep in the formless pocket dimension.

[12 Kythorn 1372]

In the morning, the adventurers leave the safety of the extradimensional space created by Mellia's magic. One of the mounts (Aloysius' pony) is near death from a night spent in the freezing cold, but Sha'dar manages to get it back on its feet with a healing spell. The group discusses whether they should push forward through the cold, turn south and then west to approach Nesme from a different direction, head north for the Surbin River, or head straight back east towards Silverymoon. A long discussion ensues, as continuing into the cold seems potentially suicidal, the south is known to be crawling with undead, Cain has important business in Nesme, and Mellia urges Silverymoon. Eventually, the group decide to head north until they reach the Surbin and then follow it east towards Silverymoon, skirting most of the Evermoors in the process.

After a few hours journey north, Fargrim's mount collapses from the cold. As the group halts to tend to it, a huge icy boulder flies through the air and strikes Terreck right in the back, knocking him to the ground. A second boulder smashes into Mellia, and the wind carries the sound of angry shouting. Whirling to face their foe, the adventurers realize Aloysius' warning was apt: a massive frost giant, along with two winter wolves, is primed for battle.

Cain reacts instantly, surrounding the foes with a raging wall of flames. The frost giant and his wolves leap through the flames, but are badly singed in the process. Aloysius and Mellia quickly hurl massive balls of fire, slowing the attackers further. The giant manages to take a swipe at Mellia with his enormous axe, but the magical onslaught continues when Cain shoots rays of blinding light and Aloysius finishes the hapless giant with a scorching blast.  Sha'dar's skill with the bow drops the one wolf who survived the flames.  Terreck, who had disappeared during the fight in a cloud of black and purple smoke, eventually re-emerges. Meanwhile, Aloysius quickly searches the frost giant's corpse and pockets several gems.

The group hurries north and soon leave the cold and frost behind. Reaching the northern edges of the Evermoors as night starts to fall, the adventurers can see the Surbin River winding through a valley some miles distant. Sha'dar finds the group a sheltered campsite in a copse of trees.

Having emerged victorious against a dreaded frost giant, the adventurers rejoice in their success. One of their number, however, knows that the consequences of turning away from Nesme could be dire . . .


Director's Commentary (August 10, 2015)

This session saw the PCs crossing the extremely dangerous terrain and having a random encounter against a frost giant and its winter wolves.  The PCs' teamwork (or sheer individual power) was in evidence, as they handled the attackers expertly.  The idea with the western area of the Evermoors being covered in ice and snow, and the encounter with the frost giant, is to build further one of the major subplots of the campaign: an alliance between the Aurilites (worshippers of the goddess of cold) and a frost giant tribe to establish a new base of power outside their usual domains.

Mellia shows off her new spell (Rope Trick), which is one of those ones that makes perfect sense to use in character if you have it, but actually makes the game a lot less fun because it completely eliminates any chance of random encounters at nightime.  Soon, the PCs will get other spells (gaseous cloud, teleport, etc.) that eliminate all random encounters for cross-country travel.  In other words, we're getting to the part where a lot of people, and I think myself included now, find that D&D starts to break down and become less fun.

Some interesting and very divergent views on what the group should do.  Having six PCs, each with their own personalities and goals, is going to create some excellent RP and some extremely challenging scenarios for the director in the near future!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Realms Toowoomba Session # 35 [RPG]

[Flashback to 4 Kythorn 1372]

Without his having realized it, a cunning pack of wolves have slowly closed in on Markus. Hoping to bring down his mount, some of the wolves dash in to nip and claw at its flanks. Markus wastes no time and spurs the horse in a gallop to the east. Some of the wolves stay behind to finish off the wounded man abandoned by Markus, while others give chase. Markus' mount pours on the speed, and despite suffering some additional injuries, is able to outrun the wolves.  With the sound of howling fading away into the distance behind him, Markus has made it to safety--at least for now.

[8 Kythorn 1372]

Inside the crumbled remnants of Startop Castle, Mellia suggests to the others that the group head for Silverymoon instead of Mirabar. She argues that the so-called Gem of the North is not only much closer and will allow Bearos to receive expert healing sooner, but also that she's been actively studying a spell that, when learned, will allow her to instantly deliver anyone to Mirabar who wishes to travel there. The others, however, are not convinced. Terreck says he prefers Mirabar as he's likely to find a friendlier reception there than in Silverymoon. Aloysius wants to be compensated for his contribution to freeing Bearos, and the bounty on Grim is payable in Mirabar. Fargrim also insists on Mirabar. Sha'dar, Cain, and Ellywick express no preferences one way or the other.

Aloysius and Sha'dar briefly foray into the orc caverns below the keep, but return upon realizing guards have been set there once again. The group thus sets out for Mirabar. As they make their way into the stone tunnel that leads to the trail down the mountain, however, Sha'dar notices a faint, almost transparent puddle of liquid along the path. Sha'dar halts the group so they can discuss what it is, but seconds later, the puddle moves! It flows along the ground and then a huge tentacle reaches up and tries to encircle Sha'dar.  Fortunately, the elven scout is fast enough to duck below it.

Realizing that the puddle must actually be some sort of animate ooze, the party attacks. Although mundane weapons have little effect, Terreck's arrows, Mellia's spell "Nightflower's Retribution", and Aloysius's spell "Pumpernickel's Projectiles of Pure Power" seem to hurt the creature. Hoping to distract it, Aloysius tries to get his mount to walk towards it. The ooze is destroyed seconds later and the pony is unharmed, but an enraged Sha'dar strikes the gnome with the shaft of his bow and shouts that animals are never expendable. Aloysius demands additional compensation for his injury, but Mellia takes Sha'dar's side and says that horses don't come cheap.

The group reach the base of the mountain and set off to the west, looking for the sheltered campsite they had used recently. Although they're unable to find it, Sha'dar finds an even better substitute. The group settles in for the night.

[9 Kythorn 1372]

The group continues to head west. Sha'dar continues trying to make friends with Aloysius' cat, Cain finds success in healing the rotted flesh on Bearos' arm, and Aloysius complains that the group is moving too slowly and cautiously. A light snow drifts across the moor as the group camps.

[10 Kythorn 1372]

In the morning, Mellia starts talking to Cain and Fargrim about what will happen after they reach Mirabar, and asks for their support in returning to Startop Mountain. Before the conversation progresses far, Mellia and Aloysius begin arguing over the latter's tendency to use condescending nicknames. It seems clear that, despite his usefulness, the gnome has found few friends in the group. Fargrim interrupts the dispute by shouting that he has a group to run, and he won't have it arguing. The others seem impressed that Fargrim has taken a stronger, more vocal leadership role in the group, though they're also somewhat surprised.

Continuing west at a cautious pace, the group enter an area full of treacherous bogs. Long, but rickety-looking wooden bridges span one part of the bog, and the group is faced with the choice of taking them to continue further west or trying to find their own way through. Once again, careful scouting by Sha'dar keeps the party out of harm's way. The elf spots large, monstrous tracks heading into the bog and then just manages to make out a form lurking underwater in the middle of a muddy pool of water.

Working together, Terreck and Aloysius concoct an illusion of figures walking across the bridge, and instantly the bridges begin to shake violently. Cain surmises from Sha'dar's description of what he saw under the water that the lurkers may be undead abominations. Drawing deep on the powers granted to him by Kossuth, he channels raw positive energy to force some of the creatures to flee. Others emerge, and it becomes clear what the adventurers are facing: massive unliving things created from the skeletal remnants of trolls. Sha'dar riddles the creatures with arrow after arrow, and together the adventurers make it across the bridges and to the other side safely.

Director's Commentary (July 6, 2015)

This was a session of travelling.  I like this stage of campaigns, as I enjoy random encounters and the sense that it takes time to get places.  It won't be long before the PCs get teleportation spells and magical places to hide, and then the campaign has a very different feel (and is a lot harder on the director, as I can't use random encounters to slow down the pace of the game!).  I'll talk more about this issue in a future commentary.

The group argues about whether to go to Silverymoon or go to Mirabar.  I always enjoy moments like this while directing--I can just sit back and enjoy the players being in character and role-playing well.  As they travel, you can see that Aloysius rubs other PCs the wrong way, but the character was very memorable and played extremely well.  Sha'dar, run by the player who normally ran Markus, is a very serious character who is quite useful in overland travel with his knowledge of nature, tracking, survival, etc.  (a type of character who is unfortunately less useful once teleportation magics and magical hiding places come into the campaign).

I thought the random encounters here were solid, if unspectacular.  I wanted to give the sense that the Evermoors were extremely dangerous to travel through, and the PCs had to decide whether to travel quickly and face more risk, or travel cautiously and lessen the chances of random encounters.

Next Recap

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Realms Toowoomba Session # 34 [RPG]

[Flashback to 4 Kythorn 1372: Markus departs Startop Mountain, riding his warhorse east across the Evermoors towards Silverymoon. After a few hours' journey, he spots a figure laying in a small hollow, futilely trying to crawl east. Wary, Markus keeps his distance and calls out to the man, who is obviously wounded with deep gouges along his back. The figure gasps that he has to deliver a message to Silvermoon: a nightmarish horde of undead armies are marching towards Nesme, and the city will no doubt fall unless reinforcements arrive. Before Markus can respond, he hears the howling of wolves: nearby, and all around him!]

[8 Kythorn 1372]

Morning dawns on the party, bringing with it more cold rain. Mellia looks tired and drawn when she wakes. The adventurers discuss various eventualities that could occur when the group learns whether the orcs have kept their part of the bargain. Aloysius suggests a plot where the adventurers pretend to be re-establishing the slave trade, and can then spring a trap on the orcs. Mellia seems dubious of the wisdom of this. Mellia suggests that if the orcs have Bearos but not the Crown of Horns, the group should remove Bearos from harm and then return in a few days to continue the search for the Horn. Terreck suggests the group simply attack the orcs, to which Aloysius adds that there is no need to worry about the slaves: they are a liability and will simply get in the way.  Sha'dar states his opposition to putting innocent lives at risk, to which Aloysius responds with the debater's point that the group doesn't know the slaves are innocent. After more discussion, the consensus is to try to negotiate first, and fight as a last resort. Mellia elicits commitments from the others that, should the group get what it is looking for, it will leave Startop Mountain.

Terreck organizes the group into a battle formation and the adventurers head down into the orc caverns. Sha'dar leaves the others in the guardroom in order to scout west, past the previously-found slave pits. He sees empty barracks, a bedroom of some kind, and a place where caged animals were obviously kept, but
little else of interest.

When the adventurers reach what is presumably the entrance to the mines, they see the orcs have maintained guards and hostages in the same position as last time. A sleeping Abu Joral awakens, and informs the group that a message in response to the one sent below to the Maestro has not yet arrived; he asks for more time. The group is impatient, but decides to wait a little while longer.  In conversation, Abu Joral says that he came to Startop Mountain in search of the Worldbreaker, a messianic figure from his faith who will turn barren fields into lush pasture lands, turn slaves into freemen, and end wars. Terreck's keen eyesight shows that, past Joral and the blockade at the end of the corridor, at least a dozen more orcs are being awoken and are moving around.

At last, Mellia hears the grinding of stone far to the south, and minutes later a gaunt, scarred man wearing heavy armor and an unholy symbol of the beastlord Malar arrives. Without introducing himself, the man thrusts a scroll in Joral's direction and proceeds to clean his fingernails with a knife. Joral reads the scroll containing the Maestro's response to the group's inquiry about Bearos and the Crown of Horns. It seems that the Maestro is most displeased about the death of Grim, as he was a reliable and profitable source of slaves for the Bleak Theatre. The Maestro goes on to write that, while he has never heard of the Crown of Horns, he is willing to part with the useless slave Bearos for a trifling sum as the arrangement with Grim is no longer valid. However, the Maestro demands compensation for the cost and labor involved in finding a new source of slaves from the surface, and suggests a starting figure of 5,000 gp or 40 common slaves or 6 exotic specimens for his gladiatorial arenas.

The gaunt figure takes over at this point, and with coarse language indicates he wants to get the bargaining over quickly as he has important business to attend to. The adventurers struggle to decide how to come up with the sum of money the Maestro is asking for. Aloysius asks the figure why they should bother bargaining, and he replies that if there's a fight, Bearos' throat will be the first one slit. Terreck decides on a risky ruse to scare the opposition, and recites an incantation to summon the image of a monstrous, fearsome beast; however, the casting was done in full view of the figure and he recognizes that illusion magicks are involved. He says that's one strike against the group, and he's not the sort to give a second one.

The bargaining continues. The figure knocks a small bit off the total based on Aloysius' bluff that he has some contacts in slaving circles that could speed up the search for a new supplier. When the figure makes a crude comment towards Mellia, the enraged diviner immediately begins the gestures necessary to hurl a
massive ball of fire in his direction. Aloysius manages to talk her out of it just in time, by saying the man isn't worth it. Fargrim decides that, if the group can't meet the sum in hard currency, a contribution of valuable items may suffice. He throws the ring he obtained from the severed hand outside of Luskan to Aloysius to examine, and when the gnome starts to throw it in the direction of the gaunt figure, chaos breaks out. Sha'dar orders his elven hound to stop Aloysius, and the hound does so by biting down hard on the gnome's wrist! The ring drops from the gnome's bloody hand. After Fargrim appraises the ring, he shrugs and offers to throw it into the pot along with a chain shirt obtained from Grim that he knows is magical. Cain offers to throw in the thick gold disk obtained from a half-orc, Mellia contributes two gems, and Aloysius closes the deal by adding 1,000 gp and his bag of holding.

With the deal struck, the exchange is made: Bearos is brought forth, pushed along on his wheeled wooden board. He looks well, for the most part, but has large splotches of rotting flesh on his arms. As the group makes their way to the surface, Bearos explains that strange phenomena have affected all those in the Bleak Theatre, and that he is more fortunate than many. Mellia speculates that perhaps the proximity of the Crown of Horns is causing the phenomena and whether Cain and Fargrim's nightmares are related. Bearos goes on to tell the group some of what he saw below: the Bleak Theatre contains areas for slave auctions and massive gladiatorial arenas, but the Maestro is subordinate to the master (named the Thane) of a nearby fortress.

As they begin to set up camp in the old keep, the group discuss what they should do. Fargrim suggests heading for Mirabar in order to return Bearos and collect the reward for Grim's death. Mellia expresses her assent, as Aloysius has presented her with a bill (plus interest) for his contribution to the bargain struck below. She hopes also to conduct research on Myrkul. Aloysius mentions the bounty in Nesme on monstrous creatures and having seen frost giants west of Startop Mountain, but the others express little interest in this line of thought.

Having successfully completed a difficult task in rescuing Bearos, the adventurers settle in for the night with plans to depart in the morning.
Director's Commentary (June 20, 2015)

One can clearly see in retrospect, 70 sessions and a couple of years later, that this was the crucial turning point in the campaign and the place where it went off the rails.  The whole concept of this campaign was that it was an entry-level dungeon crawl "beer and pretzels" game for players new to D&D.  I had dropped something like $ 110 on the Castle Whiterock boxed set and was hoping to get my money's worth, so the entire campaign was to be centered around it.

Alas, this session, about getting about halfway through the second level of a fifteen-level megadungeon, the adventurers leave, and for the entire rest of the campaign, never delve into it any further!

I don't blame them for the particular decision to leave in order to get Bearos to safety.  After all, his rescue was a major achievement.  It's what happened after that which was hard to swallow and started an unfortunate trend of adventurers not adventuring :)  Yes, I'm bitter, but I share in the blame because there was a limit to how much I was willing to force them to go into a particular direction even if it meant the campaign became rather inchoate without it.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Realms Toowoomba Session # 33 [RPG]

[6 Kythorn 1372]

As the adventurers start down the long corridor in search of more orc defenders, Ralkin suddenly stops and announces that he has changed his mind: he will escort Katanya and Flindle to Silverymoon after all. He is tired of their whining, he says, and disappointed in the lack of quality traps in these caverns that might truly take advantage of his skills. Mellia is worried about the group adventuring underground without a skilled trap-finder, but Aloysius volunteers for the dangerous duty. Mellia asks Ralkin to have Katanya leave word for her at a prominent inn in Silverymoon so that the two can exchange spells someday.

With Ralkin gone, Aloysius takes the lead. He removes a lit torch from his pack and tosses it down the corridor near the point where part of the corridor branches off to the west. There, in the flickering pool of light, the shadow of a slowly approaching figure can be discerned: a hobgoblin! The hobgoblin, middle-aged, injured, and advancing with the aid of a walking stick, calls out to the wary adventurers that he intends them no harm. He announces himself as Terreck Valt'kon of Ealefik's Ward, First Tactician, and explains that he and his allies had come to Startop Mountain looking for treasure and found themselves in a series of battles. As casualties accumulated, soon only Terreck was left! Mellia immediately announces that the adventurers will assist Terreck if he can aid them in further explorations, but Fargrim is suspicious and says Terreck's band chose a dangerous place to 'look for treasure.' Aloysius calls Terreck one of the ugliest creatures he's ever seen, and advocates, perhaps jokingly, killing the hobgoblin and keeping his possessions. Mellia reprimands Aloysius, stating that the group are not bandits and will not go about robbing and murdering.

The adventurers continue down the corridor and soon see a foreboding scene: two mining carts have been overturned, and a slave is kneeling with his head down on each cart, and behind each slave is an orc with a large morningstar at the ready. Standing in front of the carts is a pole stuck into a crevice in the rock floor, flying a dirty white tabard. Next to the pole is a dusky-skinned human wearing the frayed and dirty clothing of a slave. The human states in a precise, somewhat exotic accent that his name is Abu Joral and that he speaks on belief of his master, Tarik. He asks the adventurers who they are and why they have invaded the caverns of the White Talon tribe. Mellia and Fargrim do most of the talking in response, and relate that they have come for two things: the kidnapped human Bearos and the Crown of Horns. Joral excuses himself, disappears into what looks like a massive cavern beyond the end of the corridor, and then returns a few minutes later. He states that his master is willing to pass the requests on to a mysterious "bookkeeper" if the adventurers commit to leaving Tarik's domain should the requests be met. Mellia and Fargrim immediately agree, but Aloysius hesitates until Mellia promises him "any sum" if he goes along with the deal. Joral leaves and returns a few minutes later stating that the bookkeeper has confirmed that a crippled human slave near
Bearos is listed in his records as having passed through this area as a special delivery for Grim. Joral states that a message of inquiry will be sent to the Bleak Theatre, but that a response could take some time as the Bleak Theatre, where the "Maestro" resides, is some distance away. Fargrim snarls that the orcs have two days and, after that, all bets are off.

The adventurers return to the decrepit keep on the surface of Startop Mountain.  On the way, Aloysius tries to slip away, presumably to investigate the side corridor below where Terreck was seen coming from, but the gnome is spotted and Mellia insists he take no actions that will put the pending truce with the orcs at risk, and explains that, ultimately, the life of her daughter is at risk.

The adventurers rest and take care of some chores the rest of the day. Sha'dar repairs some broken arrow shafts and tries to make friends with Aloysius' cat. Cain tries (and fails) to repair a damaged short sword. Terreck reveals that he carries a tiny ankheg with him. After Aloysius relieves himself in public, Mellia reprimands him and says the gnome is crossing lines civilized people do not cross and that he should change his ways or leave. Aloysius replies that his strange ways have helped to keep the group alive, but Mellia demands he stay away from her. Later, Fargrim tries to make peace by taking Aloysius aside.

That night, while standing watch, Aloysius tries to repay Cain for earlier dousing his cat with water by playing a prank on him. In the middle of it, however, the sound of shifting rock and an odd chittering can be heard in the next room. Suddenly, massive fire beetles emerge from the room's rubble-filled pit and swarm toward the adventurers. The adventurers quickly dispose of the threat, but not before the group's orc prisoner is devoured. After the fight, Fargrim threatens Aloysius about the gnome's having included the dwarf in the radius of a massive fire spell. Undeterred, Aloysius replies that Fargrim should have gotten out of the way. The gnome and Sha'dar investigate the rubble pit, but find little of interest.

[7 Kythorn 1372]

Howling winds and slanting rain rake the top of Startop Mountain as the group camps inside the partial shelter of the remnants of Startop Castle. Sha'dar whistles and a small jay flying nearby lands on his wrist. After Sha'dar whispers to it, it flies away to the south. While Mellia and Fargrim discuss what the group should do if the orcs are unable or unwilling to provide Bearos and information on the Crown of Horns, Aloysius talks Sha'dar into secretly slipping away and scouting below. However, the elf is stymied by the fact that the adventurers locked the door to the orc caverns behind them when they reached the surface and he lacks a key. When he returns, Mellia refuses to give it to him. Fargrim confronts Aloysius about the gnome's conniving, stating he's tired of his mischief and will kill him if he gets out of line anymore. Aloysius spends the rest of the dreary day intently studying a scroll, as does Terreck.  Cain manages to repair his shortsword, and the party rests for the night, ready to parlay with the orcs the next day.

[8 Kythorn 1372]

The night passes without incident, and the group wakes and prepares for the day ahead.

Director's Commentary (June 13, 2015)

This session sees Ralkin's player deciding to run another character, and the kenku depart the campaign.  But only for a little while, as (we'll soon find out) Terreck is not long for the Realms.  When Ralkin eventually comes back, he sticks around for a long time.  You can see the tension between Terreck and Aloysius, and I'm afraid some of that may have rubbed off on (or been caused by) the players themselves not exactly being the best of friends :)

I was happy with how the scene with Abu Joral (a PC I played very briefly in a past adventure) and the orcs played out.  After the orc chieftan was massacred in a previous session, I had to figure out what forces were left on this level, who would take control, and whether they would flight or flee.  At this point, the PCs could have easily fought through what few defenders the orcs had left, but the PCs didn't know that.  The decision to bargain rather than fight had major repercussions for the campaign, as we'll see soon.

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Realms Toowoomba Session # 32 [RPG]

[4 Kythorn 1372]

The adventurers take up position, open the door, and the battle begins! In a corridor behind the door, three trollhounds, their handler, and a half-orc wearing a gold amulet are ready for battle. Fargrim takes several wounds from the hounds, but the defenders are quickly incinerated by a combination of Cain's and Mellia's fire spells. Ralkin quickly advances down the corridor and finds the room where Katanya's brother has been imprisoned to cut rough pieces of quartz into gems. Ralkin has no difficulty unlocking the shocked gnome's manacles, and he bursts out in the corridor shouting for his sister. The kenku fills his pockets with several small pieces of quartz and takes what looks to be a spellbook.

Meanwhile, the orcs' planned flanking attack takes place, but too late to do any good. Several orc warriors accompanied by a massive orc with a greataxe, his armored hound, and a strange small winged humanoid that Cain identifies as a dust mephit attack the guardroom from the south. The attackers think they have easy prey insofar as it is guarded only by Sha'dar and his hound, but the two adroitly dodge attacks and, benefitting from a spell cast by Mellia to boost their speed, Sha'dar fires four arrows in less than six seconds and kills three of the orcs. The mephit summons a small storm of irritating dust particles, but it has little effect, and Mellia hurls several spheres of concussive energy at the creature. The mephit and one of the orc warriors manage to escape back to the south, but the massive orc decides to try to escape down the east corridor, unaware that Fargrim, Cain, and Ralkin are waiting for him. Suffering from several wounds, the orc then tries to duck into a nearby storeroom and through a secret door that lay inside, but Fargrim slams his greataxe into the fleeing orc's back and kills him. Fargrim removes a blue silk cape the orc had been wearing and eventually gives it to Ralkin.

Katanya and Flindle are joyously reunited, and Ralkin returns to Katanya the spellbook he found in the room where her brother was held captive. The two gnomes try to persuade the group to escort them to Silverymoon, and Katanya even tries tears to persuade Fargrim, but the dwarf remains adamant that he is not leaving until he finds Bearos. The two gnomes decide they'll camp at the keep until the party is ready to depart, but as they're leaving, a newcomer arrives: a short gnome wearing a dirty white robe and carrying a walking stick. Quite an odor emanates from the newcomer, but Ellywick, Katanya, and Flindle seem pleased to have encountered another of their kind. He introduces himself as Aloysius Pumpernickel, and says he's come to Startop Mountain to look for some legendary ancient gnomish vaults--Katanya and Ralkin put in that they had heard of the same legends.

Mellia tells Aloysius that the area is crawling with orcs, and that he would be welcome to join them. His stench, appearance, and mannerisms are somewhat off-putting, and Fargrim is not impressed at being addressed as "cutie." At one point, a furry, ugly one-eye cat pops its head out of Aloysius' robe, and it quickly becomes apparent that part of the terrible smell stems from it. Cain magically conjures a spray of water to drench Aloysisus and the cat, and the cat runs under a table and stares hatefully at Cain before eventually returning to the safety of Aloysius' robes.

The group decides to continue exploring. Aloysius picks up some gem-cutting tools and books on gem-cutting and fungus, and stuffs his pack with what looks like dozens of days worth of dried fruit and meat from the orc storeroom.  Through the "secret" door, the group explores a long tunnel. Ralkin carefully searches ahead and on a few occasions thinks he may have found traps, but it turns out he is just being over-cautious. The corridor ends in what must have long ago been a torture chamber, but it appears it hasn't been used in quite some time. Aloysius urinates near Sha'dar's hound, and the wood elf glares at him. Ralkin realizes the route they've taken has led them back to the slave pens where they originally found Katanya, and the group prepares to head down another long, unexplored corridor to the south.

Director's Commentary (October 22, 2014)

Another good session of hack n' slash dungeon crawling.  This sort of thing is what I planned the whole campaign to focus on, but there's actually very little of it.  After the previous session, it was interesting to think strategically about what forces the orcs had left and how they would arrange themselves to repulse a new round of attacks.  The PCs did a great job and cut down their foes, including the orc leader, without much difficulty.  Of course, they should have had a pretty easy time of it since they were several levels higher than this part of Castle Whiterock was designed for.

Katayna and Flindle are two NPCs that were part of the adventure as written.  I think I did okay with them, but ultimately they were a bit forgettable.

The session is perhaps most important for the introduction of a new player, bringing the total to six.  As I write this (circa Session # 98), we've now had the same group of players for over 65 sessions which is quite a feat and something to be proud of.  The new player was/is an excellent role-player, and his character, Aloysius, was truly one-of-a-kind.  Hilarious and unforgettable, and still one of my favorites the player has run.  Alas, Aloysius was not long for this world, as you'll see a few sessions from now.

Up to this point, I had never run a campaign (in any system) with more than four regular players at the table.  Going up to five, and then several weeks later, up to six, provided some real challenges I probably hadn't counted on.  My thought process at the time, and based on my previous experience, was that more players is always better because players inevitably miss sessions, drop out, etc., and having extras means the campaign can continue on.  But this group of players is and was like nothing else I've seen before, insofar as they are never late and literally never miss a session unless overriding circumstances exist (work or a trip away).  I capped the limit at six because that's how many people could comfortably fit into my living room, and I'm glad I didn't try to fit in more!  With six PCs, each player gets less time every session, encounters are harder to scale, my workload in between sessions (approving feats from splatbooks, etc.) goes up substantially, and the likelihood of the party splitting off into multiple factions increases (this last one has been a big headache).  It definitely was like taking on an advanced degree in DMing, and I don't know if I would do it again.  But on the other hand, I really like all six players, so there's a real tradeoff.

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