Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Absence Makes the List Grow Longer

Space Kraken.  Dangerous and Delicious.
     It has been many months since I have had time to write for the blog.  In the interim, the Sunday Night Pathfinder campaign has moved on, and gotten substantially stranger.  I have a lot to cover even to sketch the outline of the campaign -- there has been sabotage, inter-dimensional travel, regicide, space-based taco entrepreneurialism, and a variety of characters popping in and out.  I am on a big writing push right now,l which often pushes me to write more blog posts, so we'll see.  I am going to try to fill in bits and pieces for my own amusement, and get to the point where I can give session updates that are not nonsense.  
     In non-Pathfinder news, I picked up the new Iron Kingdoms RPG from Privateer Press, and am left with mixed impressions.  I really like the setting and the rules work well for resolving big, fast, deadly combats, but the skill system seems a little bit like an afterthought.  Without taking it for a test-drive, I'd say that the rules as written need a lot of tender love and house-ruling, and that the book is not as in-depth and gritty as the previous D&D 3.5 iteration.  A full review might be in my future, but for now I am knocking together some material for a future campaign and some of that material is destined for the blog.  It'll be tagged as Iron Kingdoms, to differentiate it from Sunday Night material. No promises, but I do have a book full of ideas, and some of them might just be worth the typing . . .

Much of the campaign has been just about like this . . . . 

Tobin Larks, Ex-Cygnaran Trencher.
Journal of Tobin Larks, Caspia, Kingdom of Cygnar.  608 AR

     I found Finnegan Braddock sitting at the Red Mare, in the dockside district of Caspia. My old captain had told me that Finn’s Free Company used the Mare as a base when they were in town, and I spotted them the minute I came in the door.  I dropped my pack and rifle at the bar and walked over to make my introductions.
     “Excuse me.  Are you Sir Braddock?
     The man with the wild red hair looked up from his ale and looked me over.
     “Finn Braddock, at yer service.  No “sirs” involved.  What can I do for you?”
     “My name is Tobin Larks, Sir, er, Mr. Braddock, and I am here to apply for a position in your company.  Here are my references, from previous commanders.” I handed him the thick sheaf of parchment. He took them, glanced at the seals, and handed them to the man sitting next to him. 
     “How’d you hear we were lookin?”
     “Dougal Becks of the city guard is an old friend.  He told me, and I looked you up immediately.”
Braddock laughed gently to himself.  “Is that so?  Well, if Dougal likes you, you can’t be all bad.          Godwin?”  He glanced at the massive man next to him, who was looking over the recommendations. The man had a long jagged scar running from his forehead to his chin, and rubbed at it as he handed the parchment back.
     “Looks good on paper.”
     “Huh,” said Braddock.  “Have a seat kid.” He gestured to the empty chair opposite him, and glanced at the parchment.
     “So you were Cygnar infantry, huh?  Where’d you serve?”
     I sat down, and waived for an ale.  “I was a Trencher in the 3rd Army.  Served on the coast, defending against Cryx.”
     “How many actions?”
     “I was in the field two years, and .  .”
     “How many stand up fights?” said the huge man next to Braddock.
     “Well.  Two, sir.  The Havarak Coast siege and the defense of Fuller Village.”
     The huge man sipped his ale.  “Fuller Village was a big fight.  So you’ve seen a little action, huh?”
     “Yes sir.  A bit.”
The huge man offered an equally massive hand. “I am sir Godwin Albrecht, formerly of the Stormblades.  “Nice to meet you.”
     “It’s an honor, sir.”
     “Bah.  None of that, kid. Well, Braddock, he seems . . “
     An axe thudded into the table, and shortly behind it came a massive Trollkin, green-blue hide peeking out between  rough leather and mail.
     “Who’s the kid?”
     “Kid, meet Grimley Mossback, lead scout of the Free Company.  What’s the word, Grim?  Where’s Mort?”
     “I’m right here, you ass.”  A small green gobber climbed into the chair next to me, and grabbed my ale.  “Looks like we got a job.”
     A woman sitting at the rough bar walked over and sat down next to Mort.  She wore a dark cloak over dark leather, and twin pistol handles stuck out from beneath the cloak. 
     “Finally.  I am getting bored.”
     “The meet went fine.  Couple of local magistrates from a town about a week west.” Grimley Mossback snatched a pitcher of ale from a passing waitress and took a long pull.
     “What’s the job?” asked Braddock.
     “It’s a headhunt.  The village has been attacked by a band of Farrow who set up shop nearby.  They want us for house cleaning.  They’re offering 10 crowns a head for killing the Farrow, with another 50 if we get the chief.”  Mort poured a few drops of a pink liquid into his beer, then sipped it. 
     “That is not much.  Anything up front for travel?”
     “Not a coin.  But it’s what we’ve got.”
     ‘Where’s Kaylee?”  Braddock looked around the bar.
     “She’s at the smithy, getting parts for Lug.  She votes yes.” said Mort.
     “I’m for it.  I like hunting pig.”
     The woman stared at the table for a long moment.  “I vote no.  I say we wait for something better.”
     Mort finished his ale and belched loudly. 
     “I wanna do it.  I’m tired of being broke, and the coffers are running low.”
     Braddock considered for a long moment. “Alice, I wish there was more gold in it, but Mort’s right.  I vote yes.  We’ll take the contract.”
     “Excellent.” Said Mort. 
     “What’s the plan, boss?” Grimley polished off his ale and leaned forward, the table creaking under him.
     “We leave tomorrow.  Mort, you and Kaylee lay in supplies and pack the wagon.  Grim, see what you can find out about the area, and plan a route. Alice, you and Godwin are in charge of reloads --- we need powder and rounds before we leave town.  I’ll meet with the magistrates and sign the contract. Oh, and somebody find Crowley.  Try the gambling dens.”  He glanced at me. “Can you leave town tomorrow morning, kid?”
      “I . . yes sir.  I can.”
     “Everybody, meet . . . what’s your name again?”
     “Tobin Larks, sir.”
     "Meet Mr. Larks.  He’s our new rifleman, on a trial basis.  If you work out, kid, you’ll get a full share and a position with the company.  If not, a half share or a Farrow spear in yer gut.  What do you think?”
     “Sign me up, sir.”
     Braddock stood up and dropped some coins on the table. ‘This round’s on me.  Let’s get moving, people --- we’ve got a job to do.”
     The massive Trollkin Grimley slapped me hard on the back. “You any good with that bang-stick?”
     “Best shot in my regiment, sir.”
     “Don’t sir me, kid.  I work for a living.  And now you do too.  Welcome to the Company.”  

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Wayfarer's Kit

Field Report from Simon Mendelsohn (Apprentice Mage) to the Pathfinder Chapter in the City of Almas:

Dear Sirs,

     My travels with the caravan of adventurerer mentioned in the last letter continues.  We recently encountered an odd character on the road, and offered aid in the form of spell and sword.  On the plains south of Egorian, we met with a man called Vishnu the Liar, who was being pursued by summoned air elementals, the wrath (he claimed) of a distant enemy.  We aided him in dispatching these elementals, and offered him food and safety for a night.  The man told wild tales of travel to other planes of existence, though he had indulged heavily in the whiskey supply of Porks, our cook, and gave his own appelation as "the Liar."  In the morning, he used rather advanced magics to summon us a reward for our aid, then disappeared into the wastes.
     A rosewood box labelled as a "Wayfarer's Kit" was the most interesting of his gifts.  Within this small box were a pair of magical scrolls and a small roll of vellum explaining their use.  Each of the scrolls was capable, when the inscription was read, of transporting a large group of people to any place that they had knowledge of --- the box could easily have taken us to Absalom or Egorian, and the vellum implied that even more exotic locations were possible.  The scrolls were presumably paired to allow transport to and from a place, and they radiated a strong aura of magic clearly visible to those with The Sight.  At the base of the box is a small sigil unknown to me, which appears to be a maker's mark.  It may be that where Vishnu the Liar comes from, such kits are commonly produced, though they clearly represent a scale of magic common only to Archmages.

Simon Mendelsohn

One additional note: On the back side of the vellum, in a crude had, had been scribbled several names, presumably of cities.  To my knowledge, none of these are the names of cities known to the geographers of Golarion, though the learned scholars of the Society may correct me.  The list is reproduced faithfully here:

Escumbia the Bright





The Hollow Sphere


The Sleeping City of Aesenof

How many miles is that by wagon?  Oh hell no . . . . 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Jon "Grishnak" Doe

Marching towards doom again, eating only hard tack and goblin?  Sure, why not?

Orcs have a pretty sad lot in life.  They're usually nasty, brutish creatures, pulled forth from the ether to act as cannon fodder for marauding bands of PCs looking for a quick gold fix.  Quick to anger, none too tough and just dangerous enough to be scary, Orcs get used a lot.  Most don't even get names, unless they are nasty bosses with names like Gutrender and Gorkus One-Eye.  Sure, they get detailed in some campaign settings and recent books (Eberron even tried some sort of peaceful nature-orcs), but one gets the feeling that for every fleshed-out orc with a back-story there is a ravening horde of green-skinned monsters, waiting to die for the chance at a lucky stab at a player character.  
     So here's the deal.  I have this orc here, and he needs a story:

Who am I again?

Where's he from?  Some cessspit under a gloomy mountain? The orcish zepplin fleet?  New York City?

What makes him tick?  Why does he get up in the morning?  Where'd he get that awesome belly band?

Write me a quick history of John Doe Orc here, and stick it in the comments.  I'll pick one and put him in my game and see if he gets killed.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mapping the Imaginary

     I think of myself as an old-school guy.  I started out drawing my own maps and making up my own worlds for rpgs I was playing.  My best moments as a GM have come when I went off-script or off-setting to create something unique for my players.  But I am also a junkie for imaginary worlds, and for the kind of unique world-building that has been done by game developers over the last thirty years.  This bad boy lives on my bedside table most of the time.  I love the grim/dark feel of Warhammer's Old World, enjoyed my time in Eberron and Athas.  A good GM can take worlds that other people have written up and make them their own, but in my experience there is always a tension between staying true to the setting and telling your own stories.
     I am very impressed by what the guys over at Paizo are doing with Golarion, the setting for their Pathfinder game.  At a time when Wizards of the Coast is taking D &D in a decidedly protected, "buy our stuff" mode, Paizo is taking the Open Gaming License idea even further than WOTC, and allowing some of the fluff that comes out as part of their print line to be used by the community.  I just signed on to use their "community use" package, which comes with some great stuff and fairly easy to understand rules about how you can use 'em.  This is good, because Y'cak keeps bugging me for maps.  So, here's one, courtesy of Paizo:

My current game is set in Golarion, mostly in southern Avistan.  I use some Paizo print material, but re-purpose and re-write while we play, putting what I need where I need it.  Luckily, the world is big enough that there are lots of blank spots to fill, details to tweak, and ways to make the world feel the way I want it to. 

Here's the text I am supposed to post for using the map:

This website uses trademarks and/or copyrights owned by Paizo Publishing, LLC, which are used under Paizo's Community Use Policy. We are expressly prohibited from charging you to use or access this content. This [website, character sheet, or whatever it is] is not published, endorsed, or specifically approved by Paizo Publishing. For more information about Paizo's Community Use Policy, please visit paizo.com/communityuse. For more information about Paizo Publishing and Paizo products, please visit paizo.com.

Throwing Bones

Gambling games are an excellent way to turn this . . . . 
"Bones" is a popular dice game originally played by  Varisian travellers, but now popular in gambling dens and inns throughout Golarion.  There are myriad local variants, and each Keeper has his or her own style.  The generally agreed upon rules are detailed below:

The Game

The game is run by the house or a "Keeper" who throws the Skull.  This is a single die carved of dense bone, usually with twenty sides (thorugh some skulls have twelve, ten or eight sides).  The players each purchase "bones" --- dice with the same number of sides as the Skull ---- for the cost of the buy-in (usually a copper or silver piece).  All players roll their dice at the same time.  Each Bone that rolls higher than the Skull pays out double, with ties going to the house.   Bones that roll below the Skull are losses or lost souls.


The Keeper will sometimes call a "trip," a number that pays out triple (or more) if it is rolled on a bone.  Generally, if the skull roles a trip, it is a blanket win for the house.

Down the Steps
Players can choose to go "down the steps," choosing to throw a die smaller than the skull (such as a twelve sided bone against a 20 sided skull).  Each step down increases the payout by a factor of one (while reducing the odds of winning).

The Chasm and the Keep
These often used rules mean that bones that roll a 20 (the Keep) pay out triple, while any bone that comes up a 1 (the Chasm) makes all other bones rolled by the player into lost souls.  These rules are not usually combined with playing down the steps.

 . . . into this.  AS if my players needed help starting fights.

Gm Note:
We played a variant of this game one night when most of my players had gone home, and it was pretty fun.  The odds are pretty close to even, depending on rules variants, so nobody lost or made too much money over the course of several games.  I'm thinking that this will come up again, with the newly codified rules.

Clockspittle Lock'Orange

     Last night my wife yelled something at me from another room which sounded like "Clockspittle Lock'Orange?"
     And I said "You mean the famous gnomish pirate?"
     She did not.  She meant something entirely ordinary like "Stop leaving the bathroom light on."  But then she wanted a bedtime story.   So here it is:

     Clockspittle Lock'Orange was born into a family of industrious gnomish tinkerers with blonde hair.  The Lock'Oranges had maintained the Grand Clock of Egorian for ten generations uninterrupted, and made their home in the clock itself. Clockspittle was a remarkable child, but only in the sense that he was neither  industrious nor blonde, the hallmarks of his family.  The Lock'Orange penchant for hard work was twisted in him into a sort of brilliant cunning, and Clockspittle has always valued cleverness over hard work.  At the age of ten he could be found running the streets of Egorian with local toughs, booby-trapping the city watchmen's barracks and removing parts from anything not chained down.  When his family asked him to leave the giant clock, he graciously complied, heading to sea on the next ship that left the docks.  It took him only a few months to fall in with a crew of pirates, and not much longer to ascend to captaincy.
     Captain Clockspittle Lock'Orange has become infamous for his unconventional tactics and unparalleled success.  Early successes landed Clockspittle a large pile of gold bullion, which he invested in refitting his ship and hiring a competent, loyal crew.  His ship, the Cotter Pin, is a marvel of modern technology --- among the first refits were an experimental steam turbine which runs twin paddle wheels on the side of the galleon, giving it extra speed and maneuverability.  Rigging and sails are controlled largely by clockwork servitors, freeing the crew for combat.  More recently, Clockspittle has had all the hatches and gun ports covered in oiled leather, and has installed an adjustable ballast system.  This allows the Cotter Pin to seal itself and sink beneath the waves, sitting just below the surface to ambush merchant ships.  The twin masts have been hollowed out like giant snorkels, and an elaborate mirrored periscope allows Captain Clockspittle to watch for prey from his underwater raider.  Many a ship has surrendered quickly after the Cotter Pin rose to the surface amidships, guns trained and ready.
     Clockspittle is a successful pirate, but also remarkably fair.  He accepts surrenders in exchange for three quarters of all coin and valuables on board a ship, and will often take hostage only the captain, treating him or her to lavish hospitality until a suitable port can be found as a drop-off point.  His men are all well armed with the most modern matchlock pistols and rifles, and can generally outgun merchantmen and escape fights they can't win.  Several nations of the Inner Sea have taken to hiring the Cotter Pin to harass the shipping of their enemies, either covertly or with privateer warrants.  Clockspittle has thus retained safe ports of call throughout the Inner Sea, though he is rumored to make berth on a secret island workshop near Mediogalti island.

The Cotter Pin explores a region of the Frozen Sea.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Brass Velocipede

Field Report from Simon Mendelsohn (Apprentice Mage) to the Pathfinder Chapter in the City of Almas:

Dear Sirs,

     I write to you  to report of my encounter with an unusual magical object of some interest, I believe, to the learned gentlemen of the Society.  I include a brief sketch of how I came to encounter the Brass Velocipede below, along with my first-hand observations of the device.

     The troll Urluk and his band of gnoll raiders were known to prey on the  Almas-Elidir road some 10 leagues north of the Frogswamps at the headwater of the River Foam.  I was travelling with a group of caravan guards out of Falcon's Hollow (after a disastrous mission for the Pathfinder Society left me friendless and coinless in northern Andoran) when our caravan was attacked by Urluk's gnoll reavers.  They ambushed us from cunningly made blinds along a low cliff top, raining javelins on the caravan before closing to attack with cruel barbed spears.  Luckily, we were arrayed carefully in the wagons, and managed to run off the raiders after a hail of spells from the motley party of adventurers guarding the caravan.  I myself played a small part in the defense.  After moving the wagons, a group of us set off to stalk the gnoll raiders, intent on revenge.  We discovered them in consultation with the troll Urluk himself, and after a series of cunning counter-ambushes, were able to divest the countryside of one of its more persistent threats to commerce.

     Urluk's cave proved to be a cache of his ill-gotten gains, which we took as payment for our service.  Coin and gear were plentiful, as were potions and unguents thanks to a recent raid on an alchemist's caravan.   Among the treasure was a brass velocipede, a very rare and wonderful device whose function was ascertained after a fair amount of experimentation.  The device takes the form of a delicate brass figure, which we found wrapped in oil-cloth.  When given a command word, which we found etched onto the bottom, the small figurine expands to a 6 foot tall wheeled mechanism which looks a lot like this:

     Once a rider is secured by a leather strap to the red velvet seat, the device can be commanded to take the rider to any destination at great speed and in only minor discomfort.  The Velocipede can travel at a speed of twenty leagues to the hour, for anywhere from one to eight hours before reverting to it's miniature form --- the period before the device is exhausted seems to be random.  It can only travel on roads that are somewhat maintained --- a cart path is sufficient, but a footpath is not --- and will refuse to travel on roads that could damage its clockwork mechanisms.  The Velocipede can be activated up to three times in a seven day period.

     This rare and wondrous device is not in my possession, but I thought it prudent to report on it first-hand, since such a device is otherwise unknown to me.


Simon Mendelsohn

Monday, April 2, 2012

On Pocket Dimensions, Windows and Tallow

From the Archives of Toluz Zekhat, Osirian Chronicler:

     The early life of the Archwizard Zanzibar Felts is largely unknown.  His diction and linguistic peculiarities suggest a Taldoran extraction, or at least training in Taldoran schools.  He is known to have lived in Egorian and Absalom, though scholars such as Torian have suggested that he spent time in both Qadira and Katapesh under assumed names.  I have elsewhere published my doubts on this issue, which in my view is largely irrelevant given the clearly northern flavor of his later dimensional theorums --- Felts may have been familiar with Garundi schools of magic, but they have very little influence on his important works. The records of the Arcanimirium show that he lived and worked at that institution for more than four decades, producing some of his more famous written works.  Felts' expertise with pocket dimensions is nearly legendary --- his refinements to the rope trick spell have been nearly universally adopted in both human and elven magical schools, and mark a major move forward in stable temporary pocket dimensions.  Other notable inventions include Felts' technique for harvesting the bones of elementals, and the use of refined elemental essences to create dimensional membranes. It is known that in 4601 AR Felts left Absalom for a period of at least 30 years, much of which was reportedly spent on other planes of existence.  In his unpublished journals, Felts describes the effects of putting dimensional membranes inside one another, warping material planes into spirals and other shapes, and dilating time within pocket dimensions.

I imagine Felts' maps all looked something like this.

     Felts returned to Absalom in 4632, but had aged tremendously and was at least partially mad. Zanzibar Felts gave a frantic series of brilliant, rambling lectures at the Arcanimirium in the summer of 4632, the notes and transcripts of which have formed the largest and most famous of his academic works.  The Serpent and the Window: The Last Lectures of Zanzibar Felts is the definitive work on extra-dimensional spaces, the creation of demi-planes and theoretical space-time bubbles. During these lectures, Felts was known to for challenging his audience to give him complex theoretical questions.  He would then step sideways into warded pocket dimension in which time was severely dilated, returning instantly with answers, written out in long hand and exquisitely researched.  These demonstrations of dimensional time dilation made him quite famous, but have lead to the speculation that Felts had extended his life in unconventional ways.  Near the end of the summer of 4632, his lectures grew less and less focused, and he made extensive use of pocket dimensions, reportedly stepping sideways at dinner parties only to return seconds later, aged and bearded, mumbling incoherent spatial formulae.  He disappeared in the fall of 4632 and  other than some apocryphal notes attributed to him from the late 4700s, he has not heard from since.

Clearly something awesome
trapped in there.
     Though his theoretical contributions stand on their own, Zanzibar Felts is also known for his unique magical devices.  The Felts Confabulator is a large device which pierces multiple planes of existence simultaneously, distilling their essences into a unique (though unstable) pocket dimension.  This device, as well as Felts' working notes on dimensional melding, are held in the Arcanimirium in Absalom.  The Feltzian Bag of Holding is one of the few examples of multiple nested pocket dimensions incorporated into a physical item, and The Serpent's Window is a large mirror that creates what appear to be unique copies of material planes, allowing for the creation of divergent futures.  Among his most infamous creations are the Black Candles, powerful magical items thought to be constructed from Balrog tallow.  The Black Candles allow their user to create a stable, sealed pocket dimension that is only accessible while the candle is burning.  All known examples have been used as powerful magical traps, exiling dangerous beings or objects to extra-dimensional prisons.   The fate of those inside a pocket dimension whose corresponding candle has been entirely melted is unknown.

Zanzibar's bag of holding had bags of holding in it.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Session Recap: Big Game

So we had a big game last night, both in terms of what we got done and how many we packed in.  I've got lots to write about --- awesome.

Session 11
Party: Tokteh, Vai, Hishomi, Trilliam, Cecil, Valerious, Hodg Q (The Q is Silent), Grorgnorb

Yeah, that's a big ol' party.  Bolstered by their numbers, the party continued to explore the Dwarven monastery nestled in the foothills of Droskar's Crag.  They first discovered a dwarf, long dead by self-administered poison, as well as a mysterious coat-room.  Hishomi is now wearing a cloak made of turtle shell scutes.
Gold?  Of course.  Just give us a hug?
     The party bypassed a room with a desecrated shrine to explore a partially submerged library in the corner of the structure.  The sharp-eyed Grorgnorb noted and avoided the toxic black mold all over the books, and managed to retrieve a single unmoldy tome.  Of course, it was in Dwarven, so no one can read it.  Next they bypassed a crude deadfall trap guarding the guest quarters and surprised a drunken kobold named Wickle, who was woken to Hishomi's fist.  After tying up the unconscious Wickle, The party backtracked to the desecrated shrine and were tempted by a large treasure chest in the corner.   This was naturally a Mimic which tried to eat Vai's face off.  Ambushed by a pair of the sneaky polymorphing creatures, the party used a rather massive volley of spells, arrows and meta-game thinking to kill the things, then pocketed their shark-like teeth.
Wickle wonders if you could
please stop hitting Wickle
 on his head.
     They next encountered a massive talking wolf named Greypelt who asked them rather politely to leave his monastery.  A previous adventuring party had apparently come by to check the place out, and Greypelt has apparently eaten all but one of them, who was left chained to a wall for later.  He seemed like a reasonable giant warg, though, and was willing to talk things out.  He agreed to share the ironbloom mushrooms they were looking and give back his prisoner for if they eliminated an unpleasantly loud and stinky mass of zombified dwarves left by the monastery's previous residents.  Once they healed up Wickle, who it turns out was Greypelt's servant, the kobold lead them to the dead dwarves.  They'd been stripped naked, painted in pastel body paints and packed into three jail cells, where they gnashed quietly together in a pile.  After ruling out burning by reason of terrible stench, the party got the cleric Grorgnorb to channel divine energy into them, turning quite a few into a fine white dust.  Unfortunately, his channels were tapped out for the day, so they settled down for the night in the abandoned watch tower that had previously housed the giant spider.  Wickle brought them food, wine, and the warg's prisoner, a wizard named Simon.  All were cautiously accepted, though Simon was much less cautiously accepted by certain elven women in the party.  Other than a tense exchange between Greypelt and Valerious on the roof, the night passed quietly.
     In the morning,   Grorgnorb cleared out the rest of the zombie dwarves, and Greypelt made good on his promise to deliver the goods.  Ironbloom mushrooms in hand, the party set off for Falcon's Hollow, with Simon tagging along.  Another late night private body hair snatching alerted the party to the continued presence of their sneaking poltergeist companion.  When they reached Elara's Half-Way House, the party plotted an ambush.  After a much needed bath washed away zombie dust, mimic slobber and various kinds of gore, the party settled in for a night of poltergeist catching.  When Hishomi's stolen shrunken head caught the invisible intruder, the party proceeded to flour the hell out of it.  Or him.  So Skitter the Quasit finally revealed himself, and after slapping some farm girls proceeded to call a breakfast demon-dealing session.  He's got a scheme for all the gold you can carry, you see, and all the party has to do is go into this pocket dimension created by a candle. Skitter gave the party a month to think about it, and a bone whistle to call him back when they decide.  He also handed out a couple gifts as good will gestures, insulted Tokteh's mom, and offered Vai a weapon mighty enough to defeat his sworn enemy, the nation of Isger.  He'll be back when they call.
I paid first and last month's rent on this place! Back off!
Oh, would you like some un-poisoned ham?

And that's where we ended the night.  With a party that big, we had to shift things up a little bit -- going around the table for initiative order, for example.  One of the things I enjoyed was the use, for a little while at least, of a caller who summarized the party's plan to the GM.  This might work well in the future for large games.

I have lots more to write . . . it'll come up as I have time.

Monday, March 12, 2012

4D6 Rooms

Okay, so we had an awesome game of Pathfinder last night, and I have a lot of things to write up.  But it's a busy day, so while I find time to work on those things:


I have been thinking a lot about old-school randomly generated dungeons,  inspired in part by maps like the one above, from this blog that I like.  So here's the Challenge:

Write short (~ 100 words) descriptions of dungeon rooms, with dimensions no larger than 50 ft to a side. No named treasures or detailed item lists --- describe the room quickly, and don't stress the details.  Write 4, and post them in the comments.  Each set of four will have one randomly chosen room (via the roll of a 1D4) incorporated in my next dungeon and into my game --- more than one, if they are awesome.  But at least one.  Once it would no longer encourage certain players to cheat, I'll post the whole dungeon here.


A heavy wooden door opens on to this small side chamber.  In one corner, a low sill surrounds a well about four feet across, with a bucket and a coil of rope nearby.  A wooden rack against the far wall holds a few rusty swords and axes.  A large table to the left holds a single guttering candle, a steak slowly turning green, and an open book.  A pile of stale hay in the corner reeks of urine, and a small broken mirror sits near the door.  

The delicate oak door to this room is warm to the touch.  The room is covered in multicolored tiles set in vibrant patterns, and 10 large tubs dip into the floor.  Two large platinum drains open in the floor of the room, which tilts gently down to meet them.  The walls are lined with decoratively carved busts of children with gentle jets of steam puffing from their mouths. Shallow pools of water fill all the tubs but one, which is filled instead with a leathery amphibian husk. 

A partial roof collapse here has let in a mass of twisting roots, wet with a foul dark water.  In the rubble pile that dominated the center of the room, five huge red mushrooms glow softly. A tiny blue man smoking a pipe shelters under one of the mushrooms. holding a tiny shovel and looking distressed.

a 20 foot by 20 foot room of crudely hewn stone.  6 goblins with cleavers and a large ham.  One locked chest.  One scared chicken of medium quality.

Post 'em in the comments.  I'll use 'em.  Though maybe not like you expect.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Bounty: Tork the Troll

*****************BOUNTY POSTED****************

POSTED BY: The town of Hogshead

BOUNTY: 500 pieces of Gold

The TROLL known as TORK the GROSS has recently been sighted EAST of the town of HOGSHEAD.  The Council of Yeoman offer a bounty of 500 PIECES OF GOLD  and 15 SPRING LAMBS to the individual or fellowship that brings PROOF of Tork's removal or death before the Council.

DESCRIPTION: Tork can be identified by his exceptional NOSE, missing left EAR, and marked STENCH.

Tork the Gross was last seen removing 3 sheep from the east field of Farmer Potcropper to the area of Alisson Slough. 

Skitter, Part 1

     Skitter wasn't born, no.  Skitter was hatched in the dark.
     A long time ago, it was.  How long is not important.  Skitter slithered free surrounded by brothers and sisters, yes. All slippery, all strong and screaming.  All biting.  Skitter ate them, yes.  One by one, then faster, crunching them in my teeth, tearing them.  Pulling, snapping.  Yes.  All the others.  They are in Skitter's belly now.
     The Abyss is my home, yes.  But no fun to be had there.  Big ones, stronger than Skitter.  Smash and bite, make you fly here, fly there.  Eat the scraps from their tables.  Ooooh, dry bones.  Powdery bones.  The slightest scent of blood left on them, just the slightest.  But Skitter is clever.  Knives in the dark.  Ears listening.  He found out the way, and flew high high high, up the cliffs, into the black. Up.  Heard him whispering from the cracks, old Salizar Hender.  He was younger then.  Energetic, fast blood, arrogant.  We made his deal, signed in blood.
     And the crack opened, and I crawled through into this world.
     Salizar was so proud.  Skitter was his little pet.  And Skitter was a good pet.  Helped him learn, shielded him from his enemies.  Showed him where to look, to see the dark things that crept into his mind like worms and latched around his soul.  He was good to Skitter.  Meals of fresh meat, mead.  Then slowly, fresher meat.  Blood. He'd turn the other way, not watch Skitter.  But he wanted power.  And Skitter helped him find it.
     But you meat-sticks are weak.   Salizar got old, brittle.  Too much yellow fat.  No energy for delving and searching.  For slaughtering.  He slowed down.  But Skitter did not.
     Salizar died because he was old and weak.
     Things came from the Abyss, to return Skitter to the darkness.  Things that slithered and ate and were hungry.  But Skitter is clever.  Old Salizar's soul was riddled through, rotten, but mine. Years it took, to slip it from him.  Skitter thinks he didn't ever know.  Except perhaps at the end.
    Skitter traded that soul (so dark red! so delicious!) to the things that came, and the things that came went away.  No one looks for Skitter.  So many meat-sticks to play with.  He won't come back until he's ready.  Until the fun's been had.  Skitter is clever, you see.  And now, Skitter is free.

Monday, March 5, 2012

History of the World

Like Risk, but with better figures.  And an end to the game.
     In lieu of roleplaying, we spent last night playing a delightful game of History of the World by Avalon Hill.  This is a Risk-like game that takes place across seven historic epochs, where each player takes the role of a civilization that strives to expand across the world.  The civilzation that you play in each epoch is semi-random, which means you can have a big epoch as the Mongols, then a sad one when you get a lame civilzation (I'm looking at you, Hsing-Nu).  This means that there is enough randomness in each game to keep things interesting, but a significant amount of strategy is necessary to do well.  Unlike when playing Agricola, where I can't tell whether I'm doing really well or on the verge of starvation, there is usually an obvious front runner and you can look ahead a few turns and lay out your plans.
     I'm a New World archaeologist, so I was a little saddened by the relative unimportance of the Americas in the game (at least until the final two epochs).  It was fun to watch an alternative history play out on the board -- what happens, for example, when no player draws the Turks and they disappear from history?  Or when a tradition sea power like Portugal decides that, because of the conditions on the board, they are going to strike in-land and take northern Europe, abandoning their naval aspirations?  The whole night I was wishing that we had taken some kind of stop-motion video that would show the expansion and collapse of these historic powers, all in technicolor, spread out across the board.  With infinite time, one could write an alternative history of the world based on the results of a session of the game.
Portuguese Land Galleons strike deep into Gothic Northern Europe. 

     I'm a sucker for alternative histories, so I enjoyed watching Charlemagne fail miserably and seeing the Goths  consolidate Northern Europe and hold it for centuries.  I also enjoyed kicking ass through the entire middle of history, just to be obliterated by globalization and coming in third.  In honor of imagining historic processes, I went back and re-read R.E. Howard's essay on the Hyborian Age, an awesome alternative history that Howard used as the backdrop for his Conan and Kull the Conquerer stories.  An adaptation of that essay can be found here.  The evening also put me in mind of the Age of Unreason series by J. Gregory Keyes, a man directly (and indirectly) responsible for a few of my scars.  Greg imagines a world where alchemy works, in which the Age of Exploration is drastically altered by scientist-sorcerers like Newton and Ben Franklin and their meddling.  It is a great read, and since Greg is an expert in Native Southeastern mythology and folklore, there's some good anthropology in there as well.

     No session update this week --- presumably the party hung out in the courtyard of that Dwarven monastery eating dried trail rations and talked about how unpleasant it is to be shot through with arrows. Stay tuned for next week's adventure, which may feature a wyvern, a pot roast, and/or the inconvenient melting of various PCs.

Mel Brooks knows a little something about historic truths. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Garabaldi's Arboretum

 Timald Garabaldi grew up in the rigging of a merchant ship plying the trade routes of the Inner Sea.  The son of a bosun, Timald enjoyed the market stalls of distant Katapesh and Qadira more than the desk of a ship.  He was taken on as a porter for a botanical expedition into the Mwangi Expanse, which began his lifelong love of plants.  After leading a wildly successful expedition into the jungles of Mediogalti, Timald returned to Absalom and established Garabaldi's Arboretum, dealing in exotic, dangerous and magical plants gathered from the far reaches of the world.

Garabaldi's notebooks are full of wonders.
Wonders and poisons
     Garabaldi's Arboretum is built at the very edge of the Puddles district, in a building bought cheap after the earthquake of 4698 AR.  Visitors to the two story shop are greeted with a wide variety of potted plants, tinctures and dried herbs that make the shop pungent and warm.  Garabaldi carries rare magical components, most of them derived from plants grown on site.  The most unique part of the shop, however, is the extensive green house.  Using imported soils and temperatures controlled through magically created sunlight, Garabaldi has managed to cultivate plants are rare as the Mwangi death flower, dream lotus, ironbloom mushrooms and red pesh cacti.  The greenhouse is somewhat dangerous, and Garabaldi himself controls access.  The large number of carnivorous plants and soporific spores provides security, and thus far all attempts at breaking into the shop have resulted in burglars heavily dosed with various poisons, missing limbs, or driven mad by the narcotic pollen released as part of the plants' defensive mechanisms.  Mages from the Arcanimirium and other arcane institutions are occasionally granted leave to study in the greenhouses (at their own risk of course), though Timauld Garabaldi is notoriously protective of his secrets.
     Garabaldi is a cheerful, ruddy man in middle age, with fingers stained by plant juices.  He lives above the shop, and keeps a pair of employees, Saul and Astrid, who run the shop and help out in the greenhouse.  He  has also managed to "tame" a shambling mound and several small myconids, who busy themselves either in the yard or in the various greenhouses and provide additional security.  Garabaldi's prices are far from inexpensive, but since he is has effectively cornered the market on many of his products, customers pay what he asks or leave empty handed.  He is known to pay hard coin for unique specimens and has occasionally commissioned botanical expeditions to increase his inventory, though such trips are usually fraught with danger, and many of his agents have failed to return.
Our friendly and well educated staff of fungus men are here to assist you.

Shoplifters will be fucking EATEN.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Madam Tindrey's Boarding House

     Located in the Westgate district of Absalom, Madam Tindrey's Boarding House is a popular home for students, laborers and tradesmen just starting their careers.  Built in the remains of an multi-story warehouse, no two rooms in the boarding house are the same.  A maze of doors and remodelled hallways ensures that only Madam Tindrey and her tenants can find their way around inside the boarding house.  For ten gold pieces per month, Madam Tindrey provides small, well-furnished rooms, cold breakfasts and hot dinners.  The large rooms on the top floor are less expensive, since large bay windows and a leaky roof makes them drafty and cold in the winter.  Tenants are expected to be relatively quiet, and students from the Arcanimirium are expected to practice their magic elsewhere --- there have been a variety of explosions, transmutations and curses in her rooms over the years, and Madam Tindrey is only tolerant to a point.

 The bottom floor of the building is rented out to a halfling baker named Fortius Bibbles, owner of Bibbles Breads and Pastry.  The bakery does a brisk business, selling fresh bread and sweets in the streets of Westgate, and providing special orders to the large estates of the Ivy district.  Tindrey takes a portion of her rent in bread, which she provided fresh to her tenants each morning with pats of fresh butter and herbs, when she can get them.
     Tindrey herself is a plump, middle-aged woman, generally cheerful but often busy and slightly flustered.  Her own room is situated just above the bakery's ovens, making it the warmest room in the building, and she often invites tenants to tea in her comfortable, cluttered sitting room, especially in winter.  For her long term tenants, the sight of Madam Tindrey bustling into their rooms with a tray of bread and piping hot tea is a pleasant reminder of what makes the Boarding House a home away from home.

Wulgruf Banginhorst

A thick apron and stout gloves are
Wulgruf's best friends.  After the
Cockatrices, that is.
Wulgruf is a dwarf from the old and proud Banginhorst clan, hailing from the Five Kings Mountains.  A tall, stout dwarf with a luxurious beard and smile lines like deep canyons, Wulgruf lives in an isolated grove outside of the Isgeri capital of Elidir.  He makes his home in a giant petrified tree, long ago fallen and turned to stone in a titanic battle between the Cockatrice God and an elder druid.  An alchemist by trade, Wulgruf has filled his hollow log with shelves and benches covered in arcane ingredients and technologies used in the distillation of various potions and elixirs.  .  His life-long ambition is a realization of the Kimiya-yi sa'ādat or the Alchemy of Happiness.  Now semi-retired from adventuring, Wulgruf spends his time chronicling his travels and inventions in a collection of giant tomes of home-made parchment, brewing heirloom ales or tinkering with his antique velocipede or safety cycle.
     Wulgruf was raised by a diamond miner, though his father was tragically consumed by a bulette while he was still a youth.  Wulgruf travelled the Five Kings Mountains,  gathering obscure ice mushrooms and various kinds of magical moss.  He composed his magnum opus on the uses of cold weather plants in alchemical potions, and is now widely considered one of the world's foremost experts on the subject.  He soon left the dwarven capital of Highhelm to travel the world, documenting rare ingredients.  Wulgruf is most famous for his piece "The 7 Distillates of Cockatrice Blood and Their Uses" which required years of work with the dangerous and ill-tempered beasts that are its subject.  With several fingers partially petrified, Wulgruf is far from unscathed from his research, but he has developed quite a knack for cockatrice handling and now keeps several as pets.
This is one of Wulgruf's pets.  His name is Chuck.

     When not at home, Wulgruf spends his time expanding his library by combing through the back alley book shops of Elidir and Almas, before stopping in to the dark taverns and public houses to pick up new secrets of the trade and new methods of transmutation. He has sponsored several expeditions to Numeria to recover arcane technologies and ingredients, and will often purchase relics recovered from the wrecked magical vehicles of that land.  Wulgruf smokes an elaborate narcotic of his own concoction, blending the soporific leaves of Kyonin with the fluids that leak from Numerian ruins.  He is also a connoisseur of dwarven ale, and keeps a large number of kegs in his hollow tree, for what he calls his "thinking times."
He lives in a hollow log, but it is a BIG hollow log.

An antique velocipede, rescued from the Bin Men.
It is the only way to travel when pursuing protoscience

Friday, February 24, 2012

Mila Dragosani

This girl is prettier than I.  With fewer scars.
 Mila Dragosani's account of her life, given in a tavern in the city of Highhelm in Druma.:

    I was born somewhere in Isger, I think.  We traveled a lot then, and my mother was never quite sure.  Born in the back of a wagon to a family of Varisian wanderers, and raised the same.  Mom read fortunes and told stories for coin, and my father was a carpenter of no small skill, and put up half the barns in the River Kingdoms.  When I was old enough, I did simple chores and borrowed unattended objects to sell in the next town.  When I came of age, my mother took me out of camp and showed me the first of the secrets of Sivanah, who has been the secret mother of the Dragosanis for centuries. While my parents were wearing the roads of Avistan thin with their wagons, they were also gathering the mysteries of the 7th Veil, guarding our Goddess's secrets and spreading tales of illusion and wonder as gifts to our lady.    And now I was in the family business.
     All that came to an end one night in Isger.  We were camped out side of Elidir, in a little farming village, when the horde came.  They lurched out of the night, driven by their infernal masters, and fell on us like beasts. The bodies of dead farmers, dead milkmaids, and dead soldiers tore into us with cold claws and broken teeth.  They pulled my parents apart, as they killed the entire town in an evening.  The Isgeri necromancers walked behind them, animating the corpses of the slain to swell the ranks of their undead army.  I survived locked in a box of books, concealed in the wagon until the zombie mob moved on, watching though a chink in the chest.  When it was over, I killed the things that had become my parents, and swore my revenge.
     Yeah, I know --- poor little Varisian girl seeks vengeance.  It's the kind of story that ends with a body in a back alley, dying of blood loss and frustration.  But that's not me.  My parents taught me well --- how to blend in, disappear in plain sight.  How to wait.  Sivanah is not the Goddess of Direct Assault, after all.  I can bide my time, be patient, be thorough.  There are evils in the world to be put down, not just my personal evils.  I fight on my own terms.  But my enemies should make no mistake --- their doom will come to them.  It will come from the shadows, wrapped in fine paper, or as a silver bolt in the night.  But I will come for them.
My dad had a thing for mustaches, and awesome shoes. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Session Notes, Retrograde

Goblins are bastards.
1st Session
Party: Norm, Vai, Hishomi, Tokteh, 

Hired by Godric Gorm in Absalom to retrieve a map from one Tonz Hardwagon.  Headed out of town toward Verna, 3 days travel in the hills of the Kortos Mounts.  Attacked by a band of goblins on the first night, and confiscated a parchment map of the area from one of the bodies.

2nd Session
Party: Norm, Vai, Hishomi, Tokteh, Godric Gorm

Continued on to Verna, spread rumors about Tonz to turn the town against him.  Found Tonz at a lumber camp outside of town, he ran but was was caught by Vai.  Under interrogation, Tonz drew a copy of the map from memory; the party took his stuff and sent him down the road.

3rd Session
Party: Norm, Vai, Hishomi, Tokteh, Godric Gorm

Cut through the forest to a place on the map marked "The Black Door."  Accidentally camped in an owlbear's nest.  Tokteh now wears his skull as a hat.  Found the Black door and got it off the hinges after a lot of lamp oil was lost.

4th Session
Party: Norm, Vai, Tokteh, Grorgnorb the Half-Orc Cleric, Godric Gorm

Explored the crypt behind the black door.  Killed a lot of undead guardians.

Why don't the dead guys ever just stay dead?
5th Session
Party: Norm, Vai, Hishomi, Tokteh, Trilliam, Cecil, Valerious, Godric Gorm

Met up with Trilliam, Cecil the Sorcerer and Valerious.  Killed a giant undead frog and some reanimated ogres, found both of the spider keys to open the crypt.  Some poor jewelry decisions were made. Camped outside the crypt.

6th Session

Party: Norm, Vai, Hishomi, Tokteh, Trilliam, Cecil, Valerious, Godric Gorm

Opened the crypt door.  Argued about what to do about the large black casket chained shut inside, while chains broke off one by one.  Emos the Silken Tyrant awoke from centuries of slumber to an angry gnome and a sorcerer trying to smash his head.  He was not best pleased.  The party ran, shutting the crypt behind them to the cackling laughter of the lich.  Good job releasing the ancient evil.

7th Session
Party: Norm, Vai, Hishomi, Tokteh, Grorgnorb

Fled to Abasalom, sold off a lot of loot and reported Emos to the Pathfinder Society.  Parted ways with Godric Gorm and boarded the Silent Tide, a merchant vessel bound for Almas.  After Norm bought a lot of rice, that is.  Several days into the voyage, two flying Hounds of Yeth attacked the ship.  Carved in the skull of one was a note from Emos, implying that he was not pleased with the party.  Arrived in Almas, the capital of Andoran, during the middle of a month long trade fair. Norm sold a lot of swords.  Vai found the local low-lifes, and ended up taking some unseamly work from Molki, a local pesh dealer.

8th Session
Party: Norm, Vai, Hishomi, Trilliam, Cecil, Valerious, Godric Gorm

Left Almas once Norm had sold all his rice.  Took work guarding the caravan of one Kurtif Grantz, a dwarven merchant hauling cargo north to Isger by way of Falcon's Hollow.  Two weeks in, the caravan was attacked by a large group of sellswords lead by a figure in a dark mask.  They foiled the robbery attempt, which was aimed at a case of old books.  After a short interrogation, the party killed the cleric of the Dark Tapestry who had been captured.  More specifically, Cecil the sorcerer stabbed him to stop the argument over how they were going to kill him.  They opened the case of books, discovering a variety of necromantic and occult tomes.  Once th case was opened, the party began to be pestered by an as yet unseen force.  It stole Vai's boots and returned them full of shit.  It chewed through the wagon spoke. You know, mischief.  The party pulled in to Falcon's Hollow at the end of the session.

Kurtif deals in books, exotic salt, and various small hand tools. This is not his wagon.

Session Notes #1

I am going to try to write out short synopses of each session, so that I can keep track of what has gone on.  Players are welcome to write their own in the form of character journals, which I will post here as well. For now, I will have to work backwards from last night.

The Darkmoon Vale, in north western Andoran.  It is full of fucking wolves.
Session 9
Sunday the 12th
Party: Norm, Vai, Cecil the Sorcerer, Trilliam, Valerious

After three weeks of travel, the caravan crossed the River Foam and pulled into the logging town of Falcon's Hollow. Kurtif hauled his wagons to the High Market to sell goods to the Lumber Consortium, and the party rented rooms in the Sitting Duck.  Cecil and Trilliam went hunting for drugs in the High Market and got thrown out after the purchase of some fine dwarven bacon.  The local alchemist asked the party to give her a hand treating a local disease, and they decided to set off into the Darkwood to hunt three rare ingredients she needed --- ironbloom mushrooms, elder moss, and rat tail root.  They set off in the morning, hoofing it north through the area timbered by the Consortium, reaching th real forest by late afternoon.  After being decidedly not welcomed into a lumber camp, the party set up camp in the forest and were set upon by wolves.  Lots of wolves.  After lupine population management, the night passed rather uneventfully, except that the camp trickster decided to use wolf entrails as garland for the local trees.  The next morning, the party ran into a pair of loggers who gave them directions to an semi-abandoned witch's hut.  In a dank, mushroom-covered bog they found the hut, guarded only by an ornery animated cauldron (which Norm and Vai proceeded to knock over and tie up.  It is now angry).  Inside the hut, they  found a variety of rotten herbs, including the rat tail root that the alchemist Laurel asked them two retrieve.  One ingredient down.
Yeah, we should definitely burn that down.

Session 10
Sunday the 19th
Party: Tokteh, Vai, Hishomi.  New additions: Grorgnorb the Half-Orc Cleric and his brother, the alchemist Hodg Q. 

Began in the abandoned hut of a swamp witch.  Looted odd ingredients, including the musk glands of various foxes, then burned down the house (which screamed).  The party set off through the Darkwood vale, searching for the oldest tree in the forest.  Found twin dead pixies staked to a tree, which they later buried in a stream.  After Tokteh decided to free a fox from a trap, the party was ambushed by a hobgoblin trapper and his hunting apes.  Hishomi beat them to death, and Hodg lit a lot of the forest on fire.  They spent the night in the hobgoblin's camp, then it was on to the oldest tree in the forest.  Vai used magical trickery to grab eldermoss from under the watchful eye of a giant serpent, then they headed on toward the ruined dwarven monastery of Droskar's Crucible.  They spent a wet and dreary night in the woods, during which Tokteh and Hodg both found themselves meddled with by the persistent camp pest. The monastery was a short walk from the evening's camp, and the party easily cleared the yard of threads (there were none) and dealt handily with a giant spider living in the watchtower.  It was as big as a pony.  Tokteh smashed it's head.  It was cool.

Creepy dark forest.  What could go wrong?