Friday, April 26, 2019

Ashes of Angels Sessions 9 and 10, plus Mid-Campaign Assessment

I’m a bit behind on my session reports, and the last two sessions have been kind of light on plot, so I’m going to try and keep things to bullet points. After that, I’m going to mull over some thoughts on where the campaign is, where it’s going, and how well the system is working for us.

Our Heroes
Belinda Kage: Serpentblood 2, Midwife
Madeline: Specialist 3, Grave-robber
Mortimer: Alice 3, Librarian
Gerrit Liddstadt of Worms: Fighter 2, Soldier
Jacob: Cleric 2, cultist of Balor

Ana Fischer: Witchy henchwoman
Ekans and Arbok: Belinda’s doggos
Svetlana: Innkeeper's least-horrible daughter

Session 9
  • The party returns to Kotstadt and prepares to return to Pagan’s Well to dig out the collapsed tunnel.
  • They hire two laborers, the brothers Kolin and Rolf who claim to have “dug the finest latrines from here to Berlin!”
  • J’s new character, Jacob, joins the group. He’s a secret cleric of Balor—and old man in a rough brown robe and an eye patch. He hides his holy symbol in his empty socket. Dreams have lead him to Pagan’s Well.
  • Back in the Well, the party discovers a large bloody handprint on a wall. It wasn’t there before. Madeline feels like there’s something watching them in the dark and mist. The diggers are spooked, but a big pile of coins convinces them to stay.
  • They clear the tunnel and discover a round stone door carved with one-eyed skulls. The door rolls away easily.
  • Beyond the door is a burial chamber. Seven partially-mummified corpses with rusted armor and weapons and shiny gold torcs. One corpse clutches a large and sinister-looking spear.
  • Belinda grabs the spear, and of course the pagan corpses (draugr) rise up and attack.
  • The fight goes very badly. Jacob’s leg is badly injured, and Rolf dies. Kolin's morale breaks and he runs away, disappearing into the misty tunnels of the Well. The party isn’t landing any hits. It’s time to retreat. Jacob flings his lantern, lighting one of the draugr ablaze.
  • The party retreats from the crypt. The round door is harder to close than it is to open, but they manage to seal the tomb once more.
  • Back at Kotstadt, the clearly-injured party faces a lot of questions as to what happened. The diggers' father is very distraught and wants to know what happened to his sons. The party lies, and tells the villagers that they were looking for treasure in a (fictional) cave, when the roof collapsed, crushing the brothers.
  • The villagers (who are, remember, all very stupid) believe the party, but the diggers’ father insists that they go and dig out his son’s body. That’s when Kolin stumbles back into town, raving about monsters, the walking dead, his murdered bother, and the party’s witchcraft.
  • The party explains that Kolin has clearly gone mad with grief from his brothers’ death. Again, the villagers believe them, but there’s still a bunch of unrest. Father Hrothgar, the burly-but-friendly village priest mollifies the situation. “These are troubled times, and misfortune can break a man’s mind. Let’s all go to bed. In the morning we will take our visiting friends and a dozen stout men to go retrieve Rolf's body from this cave and ensure a proper Christian burial.” The rest of the villagers approve of this idea.
  • The party decides to skip town in the middle of the night before the villagers discover their lies. On the way out, they run into the innkeeper’s least-horrible daughter, Svetlana, who is obsessed with Belinda. They agree to take the girl away with them.
  • The party plots a circuitous route back to the Abbey of St. Agnes so they can retrieve the Lucifer mirror.
  • On the road, they come upon the village of Grossbeck, which has seemingly been abandoned.
    There are no people or animals to be seen, the homes are still intact, but most of the furniture and possessions are missing. A large black monastery lurks on the hill above the town, with an ancient cemetery at its base.  Hooded figures can be seen at a distance, entering the monastery doors. (I stole this entire set-piece from The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart.)
  • The party finds an abandoned inn to spend the night in. Around midnight, they hear the monastery bell toll thirteen.
  • In the morning, the party decides to explore the cemetery, hoping to find a passage to the Ghoul Market.
  • Inside an old crypt, they discover a secret passage beneath a statue of St. Drogo (patron saint of the ugly and deformed, true fact.
  • The underground passage splits in two. One passage continues towards the monastery. The other bears the white-ankh mark of the Ghoul Market! The decides to continue towards the monastery for now, hoping the monks there might have knowledge of the Market.
  • They encounter and easily defeat a giant albino spider. Jacob fails to harvest any venom from its fangs.
  • The passage terminates at a secret door that leads to the basement hallways of the monastery.
  • Session ends.

Session 10
  • There are several doorways in the torch-lit hallway. To the left, the hallways slopes downwards and out of sight. To the right are several doors, which they choose to investigate. One leads to a privy with a dead monk at the bottom of the cesspool. Another leads to a laundry room. One leads to stairs going upwards. And another leads to a pantry full of rotten and worm-ridden foodstuff.
  • They go back down the other way. A short flight of stairs leads to an iron-barred cell with casks and chests visible. Two robed and cowled figures hold antique longswords and guard the door.
  • The party lusts for that treasure, so they attack! The faces of the “monks” are revealed to be
    rotten and gray with clay-like flesh and moldy beards, like something out of a Spanish-Italian horror movie!
  • The monsters are tough! One claws Garrit, and his muscles freeze up, paralyzing him. The undead monk continues its onslaught and chews Garrit’s shoulder down to the bone. Belinda’s Shield spell protects Madeline, who puts her pickaxe through the monk’s head. Blades and bullets finally put down the other monk.
  • In the treasure vault, the party finds a chest full of 1000 silver thalers, a gold chalice, a couple vials of holy water, and a glass reliquary that seems to hold the blood of St. Drogo. The party packs up and leaves, declining to explore the rest of the monastery.
  • Spending the night in the abandoned inn again, the party hears someone (or something) lurking outside in the darkness. In the morning they find six sets of sandaled footprints. They decide to leave the abandoned town.
  • The part cuts cross-country to make their way through a small neck of forest before they make it to the Abbey of St. Agnes.
  • Making camp in the forest, they are approached by a group of eight orphans, refugees from a village to the south. Belinda and Ana determine which of the orphans are first-born (for later use). The party will take the children to the Abbey with them, hoping the nuns will take care of them.
  • On the way to the abbey, the party is attacked by a large bear. Garrit is struck down, but is not killed. After a desperate fight, the PCs manage to put the beast down.
  • They arrive at the abbey the next day. The place is on lock-down. Sister Catherine guards the door with a large musket. Garrit is taken to the infirmary.
  • Things haven’t been good in Hegendrof since the PC’s left. Old Man Hagan’s house burnt down, and a demon haunts the city, killing people and livestock. The witchfinders have been called in and are expected in the next few days.
  • The party goes to the shed they rented from the nuns, where they stashed the Lucifer mirror, to consolidate their loot and ask Lucifer some questions. They take the Nihal, the brattiest of the firstborn orphans with them.
  • Belinda casually shanks Nihal and asks Lucifer where they can find a Writ of Protection to let them safely enter the Ghoul Market. Lucifer tells them they can get one from Baron von Winter, representative of Dracula, in the Black Forest. The party has their new travel destination!
  • The party drags Nihal's body to the woods so they can blame his death on the roving demon. They go to report the boy’s abduction to the nuns.
  • The nuns are horrified. Doughty sister Catherine (fighter 1) grabs her musket and insists the PCs help her find the body.
  • Of course, they run into the demon itself while out in the woods. The demon looks like a giant protein crystal atop five scaly legs. It glows with an alien light. Sister Catherine opens fire and the PCs run away. They hear the sounds of combat, but don’t look back.
  • Mortimer the Alice voices his Exasperation, and the PCs find the grown-over door to an old abandoned root cellar from a long-destroyed building. They hide there for several minutes until they are certain the demon is gone.
  • When the PCs return to the abbey, Sister Catherine is there, badly wounded, but alive. She said she was able to drive away the demon with a vial of holy water she always keeps on her. The nuns are grateful that the witch hunters are only a few days away.
  • Party performs charity work around the abbey. Mortimer gets adopted by a three-legged, wall-eyed sheep. Mensch, the insane eunuch from the Pale Lady adventure, decides Madeline is his new best friend. ("Can he hold a sword? Then he's in!")
  • The PCs move Lucifer and the rest of their loot to the hidden root cellar, figuring it will be a more secure location.
  • Session ends.

Treasure from Both Sessions

  • Ancient war spear with a bone shaft wrapped in man-skin and a head of meteoric iron. 
  • 1000sp
  • Gold chalice worth 500sp
  • 3 vials of holy water in silver vials
  • Blood of St, Drogo
  • Miscellaneous mundane goods salvaged from abandoned Grossbeck

Mid-Campaign Assessment
I’ve played in a number of sandbox games, and I’ve greatly enjoyed them. This is the first time I’ve run a pure sandbox game, and honestly, I’m not sure my home group is the right match for the style. They aren’t bored, and everyone seems to have a good time, but the party wanders a lot and leaves a lot of half-finished jobs and fractionally-explored sites.
I think a lot of this comes from the horror setting. We had similar pseudo-problems with the Silent Legions game. My players are smart and genre savvy, with good survival instincts. But there’s a fine line between “playing smart” and “missing all the cool stuff.” The party has fought a lot of humans and animals, but not a lot of monsters (Pale Lady notwithstanding). I put some fun, goopy monsters in the Pagan’s Well and the Black Monastery, but the PCs bugged out before they encountered them.
I have laid down a bunch of plot hooks and breadcrumbs for about six different modules. I’ve been trying to rely on my players’ own curiosity, and trying to avoid the whole quest-giver “hey I got a job for you” thing. I may need to rethink that. No railroads, but maybe some road maps.
Let’s talk systems. This game started as Lamentations of the Flame Princess game with a bunch of house rules. I’ve added even more house rules as the game has progressed, mostly to make the PCs more adaptable and survivable. At this point, it doesn’t really resemble LotFP, but rather a mulligan stew of various B/X based games. From what I’ve seen the DIY/OSR scene, this isn’t unusual.
I like lethal games. I pitched this campaign as a lethal game. But I think some of my players might be getting frustrated. Maybe not so much with the lethality, but with how ineffective they are in combat. I know old-style combat is supposed to be swingy, but that draugr fight in Pagan’s Well took five rounds before anyone scored a hit (the draugr only had AC like leather armor and 2HD). After a point, swingy becomes tedious. I’m already taking on some rules to address this. I’ll post those later.
This all sounds negative, but I’m still really enjoying the game, and my players are still having a good time. I really enjoy playing all the terrible villager NPCs. We’ve just been in kind of a slump the past couple of sessions. If they stick to the plan to go visit Baron von Winter, that gives them a solid goal. He can definitely give them the old “If you want this from me, I need you to do me this favor” thing, which will lend some much-needed structure to the game.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Crovoborge

This guy will show up in my game the next time my players travel to the Ghoul Market

The Crovoborge guards one of the several tunnels that lead to the Ghoul Market. He is a man-sized, but short, with a head like the skull of a crow. He wears black-lacquered scale mail and a plumed helm and carries a halberd that flickers with purple witch-light. The Crovoborge does not talk, but the two scarab beetles that live in his skull speak for him. Tom lives in his left eye socket and has a voice like Eddie Deezen. Danny lives in his right eye socket and has a voice like Clancy Brown. Both carry their own tiny little halberds.
  • AC: 16 (mail); HD: 5 (26hp); Morale: 10; Movement: 120’, AL: N
  • Flickering Halberd: +5 (1d10 damage, plus take 1d6 each round until a save vs. magic is made. Wound drips small purple snails.)
  • Tom the beetle can see invisible creatures.
  • Danny the beetle can cast Magic Missile (as a 3rd level MU), 3 times a day.
The Crovoborge demands 25 thalers from any person who wishes to pass by his gate. He collects these coins in a battered tin pot and sends half of them every month to his mistress in Hamburg.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Troika Backgrounds (Hobomancer, Sneaky Snake, Moleman, Prodigal Vampire)

Daniel Sell's Troika! is really something special. I love the crazy, loosely-detailed setting that mish-mashes all sorts of psychedelic science-fantasy world-hopping weirdness. The whole thing encourages you to create your own new backgrounds for characters. So that's what I did!

The Hobomancer and Sneaky Snake come from the (Ennie Award-winning!) Hobomancer RPG and Hobomancer Companion that I helped write for Hex Games. I've written about Molemen on this blog several times, but they're inspired (shamelessly lifted) from John Hodgman's The Areas of My Expertise. And as for the Prodigal Vampire... well, I just like vampires.

The Songlines span the entirety of the multiverse. The Hobomancers travel along this network of Creation energy, often on magical trains. Many of these trains find their way to Troika. As a hobo, you have forsaken your old name and taken up a life of travel and freedom. As a Hobomancer, you have been initiated into fraternity of wandering mystics and shamans, dedicated to protecting The Song.

  • Bindle (+2 carrying capacity, damage as a staff).
  • Banjo, fiddle, or harmonica.
  • Bottle of hooch, cheap but potent.
Advanced Skills
  • 3 Secret Signs: Hobomancer
  • 2 Panhandling
  • 3 Train Hopping
  • 1 Folk Music
  • 2 Trainwhispering (Lets you communicate with trains of all sorts)
  • 1 Bindle Fighting
  • 2 Second Sight
  • 1 Spell: Mulligan Stew
  • 1 Spell: It’s Right Here in My Bindle!
  • 1 Spell: Random
When rolling into town, you can find temporary employment if you make a successful Luck roll.

New Spells
Mulligan Stew (2)
By mixing together a bunch of normally inedible items (shoestrings, empty cans, a rock, whatever you can find) into a pot of boiling water, you can create a tasty and nutritious stew. If successfully cast, the spell creates a number of provisions equal to your roll. The stew must be eaten within an hour or it turns into inedible slop.

It’s Right Here in my Bindle! (1)
Name a mundane, non-food, non-weapon item able to be held in one hand and worth less than a half a day’s wages. Make your spellcasting roll, and if you succeed, it’s right there in your bindle.

Sneaky Snake
Your ancestors ruled over vast, interdimensional empires, commanding mighty golden armies of armored dinosaurs to trample fledgling human tribes. But your kingdoms fell into decadence and complacency. Loinclothed, sword-swinging human heroes toppled your onyx pyramids, shattered your temples, and trod your high-priests into the ground. Ten-thousand years later, the descendants of the fallen Serpent Kings still lurk in the shadows, practicing the arts of deception and planning for the return of the Empire. The Sneaky Snakes are almost ready to rise up again, and have been for several dozen centuries.

  • Fancy robes.
  • Disguise kit.
  • Ornate, wavy-bladed dagger.
  • Fangs, with atrophied venom glands (damage as modest beast).
Advanced Skills
  • 3 Disguise
  • 3 Parseltongue (Lets you speak to snakes and other reptiles)
  • 1 Stealth
  • 2 Poisons
  • 2 Spell: Illusion
  • 1 Spell: Assassin’s Dagger
  • 1 Spell: Random
  • 1 Spell: Random

You are a native of subterranean realms. You have large teeth, tiny black eyes, and hairless pink skin covered with a thin layer of luminescent mucus. Despite your hideous appearance, you come from a sophisticated culture that values industry and learnedness. Your ideas of natural rights and representative democracy are alien to most other cultures.

  • Powdered wig.
  • Frock coat.
  • Stack of pamphlets and handbills.
  • Fencing saber (damage as sword).
Advanced Skills
  • 3 Rhetoric
  • 2 Natural Philosophy
  • 2 Political Theory
  • 2 Comparative Religion
  • 2 Mathmology
  • 3 Spelunking
  • 2 Sword fighting
Once per day, you can produce a wad of luminescent mucus that sheds light like a lantern. This light lasts a number of hours equal to your skill and can be stuck to any solid surface.

Prodigal Vampire
When the Sunshine Collective conquered the world of Chornabos, the vampire nobles that ruled the Black Cities were forced to flee in exile. Many of these displaced vampires settled in Troika. Now you’re trying to maintain your dignity and rebuild the network of influence and prestige that you once enjoyed.

  • Fine clothing, several decades out of fashion.
  • Sword-umbrella.
  • Fancy jewelry, worth 2d6x10 silver pence.
  • Bat wings (fly as fast as a man can run).
  • Retractable fangs (damage as modest beast).
Advanced Skills
  • 3 Etiquette
  • 2 Bite Fighting
  • 2 Flight
  • 1 Stealth
  • 1 Spell: Amity
  • 1 Spell: Fear
  • 1 Spell: Befuddle
You cannot eat normal provisions. When you make a successful bite attack, you can choose to immediately slurp up some of your target’s blood (assuming they have blood). This doesn’t cause any extra damage, but you gain the benefits of consuming a provision (regain 1d6 Stamina). You can only feed like this three times per day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner).

You automatically fail any Luck rolls while you are exposed to direct sunlight. While in the smoky city of Troika, beneath the Hump-Backed Sky, this is rarely a problem, but keep your umbrella handy.