TI3.14: West of Atharva

The characters for this session:

Fennec, L3 Dwarf combat wizard

Cauleigh, L3 Dwarf warrior (novice townsman)

Jotunn, L5 Dwarf warrior (apprentice hunter with tracking talent)

Crompton, L3 Dwarf rogue

Accompanied by their allies and hirelings, the Herbal Teas:

Sage the Gnome wizard

Trefoil the Human warrior

Heartsease the Elf warrior

Wolfbane (known as Wolfie) the Wulfan

 

Wild goat, faint mage

Their chosen path is a happy median between the ape foraging range and the shallow escarpment that marks Uruk territory. Jotunn sets the pace into the day’s rising heat. In the middle of the gang, Fennec adjusts his bug-out plan with Sage.

“When we throw Hidey-Hole each throws it over their own crew, and then we get close to each other so as not to lose sight of one another”

Sage nods respectfully. Ahead, Jotunn’s course appears to be edging them close to another belt of forest.

Another hour passes, the second since they reached the sinkhole. Jotunn kneels and appears to be studying something. Tiredly the Herbals straggle to a halt. The other Dwarves, much more alertly. Jotunn holds up a palm-sized round black object.

Arquebus ball? Turd? Yes, a turd as from a deer or goat. But a really big one.

At that point Sage seems to wheel around and look slightly up. Cauleigh hurries to him. The Gnome’s face is white.

“Sleepy Karma” Sage slurs and collapses in a faint.

[It seems time to check how Sage is doing with a night’s march followed by a tense encounter followed by more march. I roll a fail.]

Though most are distracted Crompton [LK SR] catches movement beyond Jotunn as a mighty ram romps up into sight and charges. Crompton levels the arquebus, yells “Bic Flick” and fires. [A fine DEX SR to hit overcomes the penalty for snap-shooting the long gun] The ram cartwheels head over heels and lies dead.

Wolfie is instantly ready with his bladed chain; it doubles as a flensing knife. No-one else wants to tackle the rank meat so he gorges happily.

Cauleigh carries Sage pick-a-back while their packs are distributed and the journey resumes.

 

Forest fringe, old horse

Is the ground rising slightly? It is. What is it we see off to half-right? Some form of depression or declination in the plain. Best keep away? The trees look cool and the Herbals are very tired. Anxious lest they are trespassing on Uruk range, they stumble up the last shallow ledges. They are perhaps a five-minute all-out run to shade.

Tossing manes off left: a horse herd departs. Cauleigh wonders if they are shod. No, but one is shod. Memories of T-bone (left back in Perrol) prompt thoughts of tempting it to join them.

Once they get to a modicum of shade – and an area the herd seems to frequent – Crompton begins whistling and holding out grass clumps. The others relax for a short rest.

“Tough trek for you?” Cauleigh asks Trefoil, sympathetically.

“Aye, a long march,” the handsome warrior agrees, rubbing his calves. “But ’twas more the nervous tension of the fight. I do need to sleep.”

An hour passes and Crompton rubs his BLTG bracer and his new friend, Lucky, is persuaded to eat the grass and have his nose rubbed. Lucky seems a manky beast but then, has not been curried in a long while.

Fennec and Crompton watch while the others doze. The heat of the day rises, and the trees sigh as a gentle breeze carries through them to the plateau. Jotunn stretches, wanders off down a game trail and comes back in a few minutes.

“I’ve found the stream where the horses water. Canteens, all.”

Crompton tethers Lucky to a tree and settles down for his turn of rest, Fennec heals Cauleigh more and he too settles, and Cauleigh helps Jotunn look at the maps. They are not particularly helpful.

“I could speak to a tree,” Heartsease offers.

“Can you do that?”

“No.”

“That was a joke between us when we first got together,” Trefoil explains.

 

Bounty hunters out of the Spire

The second spell of rest is interrupted by a faint chink of metal, far away towards the plateau. Lucky pricks its ears.

[I wait, no-one muffles Lucky’s muzzle]

Lucky neighs. Muttering a curse Cauleigh hurries to the plateau-facing edge of the forest and seeks a good climbable tree. He finds Wolfie there before him. [It’s not far away – they rested at the edge, this is slightly further round] The Wulfan mutters something unintelligible and looks up.

“Yes, I need to climb the tree,” guesses Cauleigh.

Wolfie leaps up. He’s gained condition since they first saw him in Ironbridge and while not as impressive as the Wulfans they fought near Hopespyre his leap scales the first dozen feet. He scrambles higher.

Meanwhile Jotunn is rallying the other five and weapons are readied. [L2 SR on IQ for Jotunn] They elect to ready non-firearms. The breeze is carrying their scent towards whatever it is that Wolfie is looking at.

“‘orsh, ‘an,” Wolfie calls quietly and scrambles back down. By this time the others are ready to depart. They follow Jotunn across the small stream and deeper into the forest.

Wolfie joins Jotunn at the van and repeats his warning. At rear, Cauleigh catches up to Heartsease who is trailing her demilune in reverse to avoid snagging it. The others are in file, following Jotunn, who spots spoor of a sun-loving rock hyrax and veers left on that path. Here, deeper in, the trees are fairly dense and massive.

“Ho! Ho! We know you’re there! Ho!” rough voices call but are ignored until it seems certain they will catch the party. Cauleigh calls:

“Let us hold here, and see what is to do”

And the party sets itself, save for Wolfie who lopes off out of sight. Fennec listens hard for the newcomers’ accents, in case it’s a Perrol party. They can all hear horses blowing in protest at being held off from water.

“Is this a Hidey-Hole time?” Sage asks urgently but being a combat mage, Fennec would rather blow shit up. Cauleigh signals the others that he will head to speak, donning his cape of plausibility and Crompton passes his Missile Dismissal talisman over and mutters how to operate it.

He chooses a point where the bulge of roots offers good cover and challenges. A rough, rasping voice responds:

“I thought there was someone there! Who are you?”

Cauleigh laughs. “I need to know who I’m outnumbered by before I advance to speak. Who are you?”

“We have the law on our side.”

“Whose law?”

“The law of the Prince…” “The Prince of the Spire” calls a second.

“Ah, the Spire,” Cauleigh acknowledges. “We have come a long step.”

“I call you under law, stranger, to declare yourself.”

Cauleigh rises cautiously and at a glance [L2 IQ SR, makes only L1] sees firearms and polearms, at least half a dozen riders, perhaps eight. He introduces himself only and tells them briefly that he has come by way of Perrol. He agrees:

“I hail from Esgaroth. We [tacitly aknowledging there are numbers with him] seek to travel back. We’re trying to stay shy of Uruk territory.”

Here skepticism as to a ‘warband’ of Uruks that includes ‘Trolls and Giants’ bids to escalate the challenge into a fight but Cauleigh does not make things worse, and the incident passes. It seems these are bounty killers hunting four thieves out of the Spire, serving a warrant at the behest of ‘one mighty scary dude’. Cauleigh tells them of the three corpses and spoils last seen on the back of a giant. Again, skepticism.

“I don’t s’pose ya’ll care to have ya pack examined”

They are startled by Cauleigh slinging his pack over to them, but despoil it of its contents and are disappointed by lack of riches. Reluctantly they shove its contents back in, any old how. Then [L2 LK ] the wind shifts, the horses become skittish, and Cauleigh retrieves his pack safely despite a cheap matchlock being readied.

Having warned them again Cauleigh moves back to his party. Heartsease whistles Wolfie in, and Jotunn sets a new course, wind at his left ear, through the woods. Heartsease Wolfie and Cauleigh act as rearguard, just in case the horsemen change their mind. Trefoil lingers to get a closer description of what transpired and check if there is any direction to the Spire, then hurries to head up the march with Jotunn.

 

Snakebite

The deeper woods do have some menace, as Fennec finds. A huge poison snake bites him [fails L8 LK, makes only L3 CON on L6 needed] and he feels his senses reeling! Crompton is in mid-party with him and once again makes a superb snapshot, and the arquebus separates the snake’s head from its body.

Jotunn cuts across the fang marks and sucks blood out. [A CON SR from Jotunn to represent his doctoring intuition, he hits L8. Based on partial CON success and Jotunn’s work, I deduct 25 from the snake’s damage, leaving 27 off Fennec’s CON.] Fennec has passed out by this time and after checking no-one has an anti-toxin, Sage and Crompton pump simple healing mana into the victim. [To be consistent with earlier events I have to rule Fennec is on zero mana and cannot heal himself]

Wolfie skins the snake out and chops it into huge steaks, offering them around. A few are wrapped and tucked away, and Wolfie gorges again.

 

Out of the woods

Fennec is mobile, but limps along in pain. From this point on Jotunn keeps an eye out for useful poulticing herbs. Wildlife in earshot of the arquebus have made themselves scarce and an uneventful stretch of walking follows.

At length, Jotunn feels the ground is dropping lower, and a decision might be called for regarding night camp. Imagining the river to “west” makes the plateau “north” so he elects to head “north-west”. By this time two packs are borne by Lucky, allowing the wizards to stumble along unencumbered. A deepening of the light above the canopy finds them determined to climb a tree and get a bearing. Cauleigh elects to and after some difficult scrambling [Good STR and L3 DEX] gets high enough to see the last of the sun’s glimmer, at the point they had been imagining as “south” and the last of its light reflected “north” on the highest cliffs of the plateau. He drops an arquebus ball true north, and with certain bearings [Jotunn makes a great LK SR] the party decides to follow that bearing.

“I’m pretty sure I have a compass somewhere,” Crompton laughs as Cauleigh regains the ground.

“No, we didn’t have any in the new kit,” Cauleigh retorts and so it is. No-one has one.

Fennec is in a lot of pain but toughs out the rest of the march. It is night by the time they clear the woods and look down at the moonlit Golden River, loud to their ears. Jotunn has kept an old log-race gully (downhill from a coffer dam) on his left, and they have been passing old felling areas and charcoal-burning mounds. A stove-in hut, perhaps left from a hyena-man raid, may have been deserted for a year.

Heartsease and the Dwarves agree they can see a sandbank in the river near to shore. A canteen party gathers water and they pull back a respectful distance and make cold camp. Fennec has Cauleigh drag his boot off, and settles to sleep as best he can.

“Does Wolfie always turn round and round three times before he settles?” Cauleigh jokes.

“That is also one of the things we joked about when we got together,” Sage responds light-heartedly, “but we don’t do that any more.”

 

Night watch and dawn

Watches: Cauleigh, then Jotunn, then Crompton.

Crompton has dawn watch. Fog gathers far beyond the river, which the last of the moonlight makes into a silver road to Ironbridge. The other two have been uneasily aware of a tangle, perhaps of wood or weed, back up the gully. A chittering sound from it prompts him to throw Cateyes up, spotting a small creature’s eyes looking back at him.

He hears a faint chanting, carried who knows how far on the still air. Fennec [teleporting into the scene so I declare him waking in pain] throws himself to an upright sitting posture:

“Hhhuu! What have I stepped in? Oh… poison leg.”

He too listens but makes nothing more of the faint faint sound than Crompton did.

Jotunn rouses himself and in the fresh dawn locates a weed, the bulbs of which are suitable for a poultice. That applied, Fennec splits his boot up the side and lashes it on. They warm hands at Crompton’s little fire and finish the gruel Crompton has boiled. Far, far to the left upriver they can see the outline of a fort or ruin.

 

At Epherin’s Fort, a looney capers and a barge arrives

A short walk, staying closer to the river, tells those with good vision that a few piles stand in the river beside it. Seeing the Herbals walking at ease, party order is reimposed. At one point a ground-cover vine reacts, trying to rope them in, but is easily evaded. [L3 DEX from both Jotunn and Heartsease, since they are avoiding being snared not dodging based on SPD. Could have been either really.] Jotunn decides to move away from the river into the forest and bears around the partially-ruined. The pace of the party is necessarily slow. Having moved perhaps 130 degrees around, they stand within perhaps 100 yards of the ruin. Ending perhaps 50 yards away from the keep, rough palings mark a camp. There’s a very small dot visible, far away, upriver.

Having watched for a time, and with Wolfie unwilling to trot out and scout, Cauleigh elects to approach the camp. He glimpses low-lying dark objects, perhaps logs, within it. He hails the camp. But it’s from the keep that a reply comes:

“Who goes? Who goes?”

“I am Cauleigh… heading for Ironbridge!”

A wild laugh and clatter of boots descending.

“Gnehhahah! Heehee!”

Springing out half-naked over a once-sturdy pediment a shaggy-haired man capers, waving a sickle.

“Have ye come to bury them again?”

“Bury them?”

“I’ve buried them as best I can?”

“Buried who?”

“I think it was… all of them!”

“Do they come back?”

“Well… only at night!”

“Poor fellow! Why not abandon this post and make for civilisation?”

“But…! If the keep falls… we all die!”

At this point the man, clearly deranged, battles imaginary foes, waving his sickle to and fro.

“Do barges stop here?”

“The barges! The barges! The barges! The barges!”

And with an athletic leap he vaults back over the pediment and into his keep.

From upriver comes a hail:

“Hoooo!”

The tiny dot has by now enlarged to be identifiable as a barge. The others join Cauleigh as he hails the barge. The bargees are not about to stop, but line their gunwale and a swift to-and-fro sees them agree to heave to at the piles beyond the keep.

The party circles the keep, to the occasional cry of “Who goes? the barge!” and present themselves to the barge, now roped to a pile. Suspicions overcome by the party being willing to rope their packs across first – not to mention an inoffensive Gnome and a pretty Elf – they board and for 30 gold take passage down to Ironbridge. Crompton waves Lucky goodbye. Lucky seems not to care.

As they approach the plateau Jotunn makes out a number of dry gulches that must lead back up to the declination he spotted near the forest. That’s potentially a good route, by night.

 

The plan for Ironbridge and after – let’s stay hirelings!

Crompton at first asks to be dropped off before town then – since that seems a poor choice – negotiates a hidden compartment in a large crate (marked ‘Edoras’) for the duration of the berth. That costs another chunk of 30 gold. His arquebus axe and bladed chain are to stay with the others.

Cauleigh asks about the ruined fort/haunted isle midway between Ironbridge and Jacob’s Spur. There is no one tale known to be true, but safety procedure is to hove to port and barge during daylight hours.

Sage asks for a briefing, and reminds Fennec about the spell training. The plan:

  • Crompton stays in the crate the whole time
  • The party withdraws cash and books more stabling
  • A rest-up and clean-up, and new boots for Fennec
  • The party returns to attack the dungeon once more

This naturally leads to a negotiation for the alliance to continue. The Herbals sign on for 45 gold per day plus another L3 spell from Fennec plus 10% treasure. “We nearly got killed fighting kobolds but we’ve come a long way since then,” as Sage lightly comments.

Oil flasks are put on the shopping list.

 

Accommodation in Ironbridge

Crompton is tamped in, chokes down his panic [CHR SR] and the barge passes under the bridge – to a friendly greeting from the guard – and moors at the barge docks.

The party exit to considerable excitement – after all the rumour was that the Dwarves were dead – and as they are virtually on the Trader Guild doorstep, make that their first stop. Trefoil remains with them, the other three Herbals head straight for the Rusty Rapier. It is not busy – two town gentlemen are in discussion over by the waiting bench – and the clerk deals calmly with them. His offer of long-term lease is declined. Cauleigh withdraws cash and stores Crompton’s heavy valuables.

As Cauleigh emerges a tiny attractive maid presents him with a card. Apparently at the Easy Hostess, laundry is extra.

“I want to see about this leg,” Fennec muses, “but I want to visit lady Ezra.”

En route to the stables, a young guard, hilarious with drink, hails them and laughs about the Matrona looking for them. Cauleigh explains that Crompton didn’t make it. He passes a silver over for a drink in Crompton’s memory. The story will be told.

Cauleigh Fennec and Jotunn say hello to the ponies and find them fat and out of condition. Fennec books a month’s stabling with extra to be exercised properly. So to the Rusty Rapier.

Sage and Heartsease are there waiting. The bar welcomes them broadly. Except the barkeep, but when Cauleigh sets his chest to the bar the man slides the same ale across as he had last time here.

“What do you know of healing places?”

“You should ask your friend over there”

Cauleigh heads back to Heartsease. She identifies the Green Shrine – a little out of town – that would be likely, if Fennec doesn’t mind trees.

Fennec sets up a time to catch up with Tadiko of the rogue’s guild and teach her the second run of the spell; then overnights at the Green Shrine, on a piece of tree that looks vaguely comfortable.

Over the remainder of the day the others see to their needs, retail their adventures, and rest. They pick up some useful Spire-related information: Halchos, the name/monogram on the stolen gear, is the arch-mage to the Prince. He would probably fund an expedition to regain the loot or take bounties.

 

Orctooth Manor, Sir Tytus Lytera

The following morning, a messenger bearing the Orctooth crest as a cloak-pin summons them to the manor, where Sir Titus Lytera wishes to see them.

“Now would be best.”

Cauleigh – donning the cape of plausibility – Jotunn, Sage and Trefoil are available immediately, and walk along with the messenger to the manor, at the upriver edge of town. He leads them no further than the gatehouse.

“Come in lads!” Lytera calls. Glancing in they see him seated at ease, some five goblets at table. “Make yourselves at ease. I understand you have had many adventures, and have circled the entire plateau.”

They file in as he continues:

“Drink with me. Tell me all about it,” he says with a piercing look, “I’d be very glad to hear more…”

Thare’s a clang outside as the gate shuts with finality.

“And so would someone else.”

Props

The area travelled in the session is all found in the Atharva Plateau map from Dyson Logos’ Dodecahedron 2014, slightly edited in that the forest west of Atharva is slightly larger.

Further west and south-west the Golden River flows to Dolem’s Spire. Beyond all of that lie the badlands (sourced from Dodecahedron 2015) where Fennec’s original goal, the tomb of Colairion, is located.

Ironbridge itself is an enlarged version of Summerford, from the Village Backdrop series by Raging Swan Press.

I haven’t worked in a cliffhanger for ages, it left me with a grin on my face. A quiet session but – except for Crompton – everyone got to spend AP earned after leaving Perrol.

I left it out of the detail but Cauleigh has now definitely linked the Easy Hostess cad/bouncer with Marshal Palweiss who is apparently the white sheep of the family.

The bounty hunter encounter wasn’t a given, but I did want to see what the lads would pick up from them. Not much as it turns out. It would be a very stiff challenge just persuading them to about-face from hostility and suspicion to informative. A chance to get the west-of-Atharva area mapped in went begging, but they do have a link into Dolem’s Spire which might come into play in later sessions.

See you next session!

 

 

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TI3.13: Retreat reinforcement and recovery – but not everything is recovered!

Welcome back! Our four Dwarf heroes Cauleigh Crompton Fennec and Jotunn have narrowly survived an ambush laid by the last half-dozen survivors of the hyena-men pursued this deep below Atharva plateau. Dubbing the dungeon ‘Fort Cullis’ the Dwarves have pushed down to a second level: but to go further would be throw their lives away!

Retreating isn’t as simple as you might think

“Well I’m all right, but I think it’s time we got out of here” Fennec rasps, and suits action to words as he moves back to the stair, torch flaring slightly in the gentle breeze.

Cauleigh sweeps up a dropped torch, grabs his pack and the unseated caliver serpentine, and stares up at the roof, picking out the ‘floating orb’ hard up against it. Jotunn scrambles wearily to his kicked-away bladed chain, then realises he is shedding gear out of his ruined pack. Between them he and Cauleigh turn it into a carry-bag. By this time Crompton has recovered his zapped dagger and the trio limp and stagger up the five dozen steps, wheezing, dripping blood, and using hafted weapons as staffs.

“We may think we cleared all of level one but there’s no guarantee,” Fennec warns as they approach to find him crouching behind one open valve at the top. Indeed the nearest complex of rooms they searched but lightly, after the deadly ghost-smoke fight and pursuit.

Crompton sets off due south confidently and gets as far as the T-junction before his recall deserts him. But after one false turn they find their way back to the ‘ape diner’ marked by the large bas-relief of a maternal ape and drinking fountain.

The apes seem strangely purposeful, but as usual the G chord whistle sends them on their business. That business seems to include raising the northern main portcullis.

From the diner, it’s not a difficult path back to their chosen lay-up point, the gnoll barrack room controlling the eastern small portcullis. An open arch lets to the east-west tunnel to that portcullis, and a sturdy door lets onto another barracks, now with smelly dead Gnoll carcasses. Small scavengers – rats and centipedes – have already been about the dead.

[Perhaps unfairly I push the players to recall layout. Cauleigh makes a fair fist of the layout around the great chamber, but the path from grand tunnel to L2 back to the ‘exchange’ takes SRs and exploration. It takes quite a while, nearly half an hour of real time, and since I narrated them through parts of the return I count 40 minutes or 4 mana recovery. Fennec and Crompton spend a few PB points.]

Jamming a torch into the portcullis windlass once they have it down, they agree on two-up two-down watch and Fennec and Crompton take the first shift.

 

An uneasy watch on an escalating threat

At first the watch goes well, but after a half-hour or so noises begin to disturb them. Apes screeching… a voice muttering archaic Dwarven in an undertone… a clear Elven-accented voice bidding them join forces… and then finally the noise that wakes the sleeping warriors, hounds baying loudly!

“We’re pretty sure there’s a snake-thing beyond the portcullis” Crompton prompts as they ready weapons.

The hound proves to be a magical shadow-travelling ghost hound with acid bite! In the attack Crompton decides not to risk shooting Fennec – Fennec’s pack is ripped away and his robe ruined – Jotunn’s mighty mace Temerity and Cauleigh’s lethal kukri deal fell ruin to the shadow beast – there is a breathing space – an OTIS from Fennec confirms there are no more invisible beings in the chamber – and more baying is heard circling around their chamber!

Crompton bravely [CHR SR] throws a Cateyes on himself and sights his longarm down the tunnel: panic-stricken lizardman thralls are heading in!

[The lads have seen plenty of Lizardmen running away, but none running at them in terror! I am unable to tempt Fennec to expend mana, mainly because he has next to none at this point.]

Crompton lets them pass in through the arch and keeps his sights level. The magical arquebus speaks and in the gout of flame and smoke the others glimpse a huge ghostly hound fading off into wisps.

“If we’re moving it’s time to move now!” Fennec growls, glancing back at the cowering Lizardmen.

“Right, time to retreat north!”

 

A second retreat and a more secure rest

Hustling from barracks to barracks to great chamber they swiftly move to the refectory. There seems no immediate pursuit and they raid the food stores.

[L2 LK SR. Fennec has left his pack behind. That’s going to hurt once he tallies the three useful/valuable things in it – the weird magic cube, the fancy abacus, and the folded up map parchment.]

With only two intact packs, Cauleigh urges them to linger long enough for some foraging in the ‘adventurer last stand’ chamber not far west – the room he got the spoilt rations from. He retrieves two mildew-stained packs and a pair of inadequate torches as bonus, and as hasty re-packing proceeds they now have to make a decision about leaving altogether.

As though to remind them of the dangers servitor apes pass them, arrest a feral ape and drag it back past them and way to the depths of the level. Its family screeches in fear.

“Don’t forget those ape-head guardians” Crompton wisely reminds the others, “we might have to do some more mountain-climbing.”

“I haven’t forgotten” Jotunn returns testily.

“Daytime is another problem,” Cauleigh adds, “apes on the plain…”

 

We march by night! Across the plains to Perrol

Some six hours later the four emerge from behind the illusory wall-mirror. The warriors are a lot fitter and as they emerge from the now-open doors it is full night outside. No apes hinder them as – after brief debate as to the trove in the sinkhole – Jotunn sets a beeline course for Whitespur Creek’s headwater.

 

Some four hours brings them to a few scattered and clean-picked bones, all that remains of their battle with the Lizardmen. More significantly, as Jotunn casts about, he sees that no weapons remain, and he sees paw-prints of wolf-kind and tracks of both Lizardmen and some type of tallish goblinkind who have ridden the wolves.

“That reminds me… I’ve got a lot of gear to juggle,” Jotunn offers, gesturing with Temerity. Maybe one of you two would be better with this dagger-on-a-chain… well, give it some thought,” he concludes as both Crompton and Cauleigh go over the pros and cons.

[Eventually Crompton elects to use the bladed chain. Reminder: +5 to DEX when stunting the blade at a specific target, +5 total adds for quality.]

 

Welcome back to Perrol! Time to spend!

“Howdy Dwarves! Welcome back to Perrol on the Mount! Say, so much fer takin bets on y’all comin back! Warn’t me mind! C’mon in!

“…Say fellas! Them Dwarves are back! Them Dwarves are back!”

And so greeted, the Dwarves make their way up Perrol in the early morning, check the noticeboard, stow their weapons at the Marshal’s office, greet Marshal Palweiss and pretty Molly, head back to the adventurer-approved Barley Sheaf drinking saloon, and break their fast.

As they regale the loiterers and drinkers with their many experiences they have a chance to take stock of their own luck and learn from it.

AP spend is pretty massive as you might imagine after several sessions.

FENNEC is LEVEL THREE!!

CROMPTON is LEVEL THREE!

 

Re-equipment is as good as can be expected

By good fortune Cauleigh and Jotunn find that the town’s locksmith can manage the intricacies of firing mechanisms and the caliver and arquebus are put to rights. Though the town gunsmith reworks its seating, Jotunn’s elite arquebus is left with a notch in its stock to remind him how close he came to death. His coif can’t be fully restored but new links are fashioned to repair it.

[There’s some general looking-up of rulebooks. Perrol is a base for prospecting so has a rough equivalent of an Esgaroth chandler. No need to go into detail. I set 50gp for a well-equipped pack but more than 20′ rope is extra, for double book price. Everyone is as clean as can be expected and has reasonably clean gear. So far none of the acid-emulsing critters they have fought have splashed on boots, so those are still OK.]

People are thankful that hyena-men are no longer raiding – and the Dwarves are given full credit for that – but are beginning to say things like: “Dang! If only them durn Lizardmen ain’t gittin’ so uppity we’d be re-founding our homestead an a’gittin ploughing done.” – though what they think about the ongoing illkin raids is unsaid, at least in Dwarf hearing.

Marshal Palweiss is sorry to hear that Samuel of the Loam’s expedition seems to have come to grief. He says he’ll write the local man’s next of kin.

He was the ‘best local guide’ but since no-one is prospecting the broken lands at present the loss does not resonate as it might otherwise have.

Reinforcements are unexpected and thus twice welcome

On day three, following a day when a drenching rainstorm sweeps down the Badlands, through the forest and clears the sky of smoke haze, the Herbal Teas straggle in looking the worse for wear. Cauleigh hears the word passed up, guesses who they are, and hustles down to greet them. The Herbals are amazed to see Dwarfs alive. Much joy of reunion! Hugs all round (except Wolfbane).

A quick reminder of the Herbal Teas: Level 2 adventurers

  • Sage the Gnome wizard 
  • Trefoil the Human warrior [Oxtongue spear]
  • Heartsease the Elf warrior [Demilune polearm]
  • Wolfbane the Wulfan [bladed chain, tooth and claw]

Once they too have read the town rules they too seat themselves in the Barley Sheaf and explain that tales of disaster at Jacob’s Spur prompted them to seek for the Dwarves and then on up the tributary, and so over Whitespur. Where, according to Sage but not unanimously asseverated, they fought their way through Lizardmen.

They exchange stories and warm to one another’s company over free-flowing drinks, then discuss which way to go. Crompton draws the line at returning to Ironbridge, because Trefoil mentions mercenaries staking out the Dwarves’ ponies and a large older Uruk asking where he is. The two maps they have are not entirely helpful as to safe-havens upriver of Ironbridge. Dolem’s Spire is one possible place, a fort marked something like Eathan’s Fort is another.

To cut a long story short, hiring on with the Dwarves to escort (most of) them back to Ironbridge looks a much better option to the Herbals than staying around and hunting illkin. Fennec promises either one of Glue You or Little Feets for Sage, and the Herbals sign on for 250gp on successful arrival.

 

Across the plains by night again

Night march brings its own difficulties: Trefoil, marching alongside Cauleigh, suffers from the peculiar human difficulty of not being able to see well in moonlight. Luckily his long legs compensate for stumbling and he does not slow the party down.

Party order: Jotunn point, Wolfie free-ranging as sweeper, then Cauleigh and Trefoil, then the two wizards, then Crompton and Heartsease rearguard.

In any difficulty, Hidey Hole seems a good call. Sage and Fennec agree which is going to head forward and which drop back, should it come to pass.

 

Trouble is scented

However when trouble comes it comes with insufficient detail. After they hit Whitespur’s headwater and bear for the sinkhole, Jotunn sees tracks (other than random wilderness wildlife) overlaying one another: their own, lizardmen, and wolf-kind. Wolfie lopes in fast, grumbling “some sort of goblin-kind” and gesturing forest-ward. It later turns out that’s what he scented. Setting the sinking moon to his right shoulder Jotunn wheels and bravely [L2 CHR SR – he actually said ‘if they get too close’ but I interpret this as ‘I believe they are getting close’] walks forward alone, hollering out a challenge!

Not a goblin, but a powerfully-built Uruk emerges from the dark backdrop of the forest. More are behind him, perhaps smaller slighter shapes.

 

Jotunn the instigator

This session climax is pretty random. I originally thought this would be an interesting ‘passing mercenary Dwarves turn down the offer of employment with the illkin’ but it was much more fun than that.

Jotunn challenges them [L1 CHR SR] and they check.

“Not a lizard-man. Who speaks from grass height – show yourself!” the Uruk unfairly growls.

Staunch and proud Jotunn [L9 CON SR] (a full head higher than prairie grass height) faces the Uruks down.

“Whose faction are you? Who do you serve?”

“I serve myself”

“Who is your warband leader?”

“Mighty Cauleigh”

“What is his style?”

“Who are you?”

“True. Challenger should name himself. Know then worthless Dwarf I am ‘Black Gorgun, killer of widows, killer of orphans, mangler of Ogres’. Go back to your warlord and tell him: so be it! I will report to my warlord and we will see you at the boundary marker, the scarecrow.”

It is agreed: the two sides will meet at the scarecrow! …now, where was that?

Like a prairie fire leaping across grass Cauleigh grasps what Jotunn is hinting at as he reports. Heartsease can see ridden wolves in the background and besides, it’s likely the enemy will chase them down if they flee. So it’s a single combat then is it? Righto, thanks Jotunn. [At least he didn’t promise fire and fury the likes of which you’ve never seen…]

Heartsease directs them towards a ‘sticky-uppy-thing with a patch of white on it’ which sure enough turns out to be a dried-corpse-impaled, the boundary marker or scarecrow.

 

Cauleigh the duellist

With a surreptitious Little Feets delivered Cauleigh strides boldly towards a clearer, flatter area below shallow escarpments. He has lightened his load, has shield on back, and holds Temerity.

[LK SR for Cauleigh, poor roll. Introductions take longer than 20 minutes, including the walk from conferring with Fennec to the arena itself. The LF is finished by the time combat actually begins. I also ask Crompton for a LK SR at this point, for a secret, and he scores L3.]

 

Meet Gariag, with mighty axe and vast pauldron

It’s not until they realise the large creature sitting on a shallow escarpment is a fullsize Giant that they scale the assembled illkin. Standing near the Giant are three Ogres, there’s a scattering of goblins and lankier wolf-riders – uncomfortable in the growing light – and a guard of Uruks. At ease waiting for single combat or profound grovelling is “Gariag, striker down of mountains, driver of trolls ogres and giants, first lieutenant to the White Uruk.”

His most distinct armour is one massive plate shoulder pauldron, spiked and chained. He bears a huge double-bitted axe. As Cauleigh’s style is translated the Uruks listen respectfully:

“Cauleigh, restorer of temple and town, defender of widows and orphans”

 

How he survived

Gariag is sufficiently impressed [by Cauleigh and Jotunn’s CHR SRs] that he decides to let Cauleigh take the initiative, and stay on the defensive until he takes his measure. It gives Cauleigh a chance for a giant wrong-foot feint. He darts forward yelling ‘Temerity’, steps big off his right foot [L7 SPD] and leaps around Gariag’s right flank, driving Temerity into Gariag’s right leg [DEX SR, only clears L4] and though Gariag reacts extremely quickly the blow disables the giant Uruk’s leg as his own back-swing nearly kills Cauleigh outright! But Cauleigh’s speed has allowed him to block the axe-head with Temerity – there’s a flash as they meet [L5 CON] and the axe-blade chips – Cauleigh’s helm stops much of the force – and as Gariag draws back, clearly unable to go on, Cauleigh [CHR, doubled by Temerity, SR, makes L8] stands rigid, waiting.

“I did not think – powerful blow be struck – other than Ogre. We go for now – you stay behind boundary”

The Uruk and his warband pull back treeward, or perhaps to the gap left of the woods, as Jotunn hastens to Cauleigh’s side and grabs his shoulder. Cauleigh is out on his feet! [zero CON!]

 

Finding an empty hole – on to greener pastures!

With a quick PB Cauleigh comes to. The deal offered seems a good one, and so the Dwarves move back and down to the sinkhole.

Which has been looted some days ago.

“Oh that’s what that Giant was carrying,” Crompton avers. “Kind of a sling-bag thing on its back – had a chest and bags in it.”

They take a bearing on the plateau and Jotunn guides them towards it, intending to keep close to it, and as the sun draws dust devils up off the plain and haze makes distance treacherous the session ends.

 

The characters for this session

Fennec, L3 Wizard (Combat magic)

Cauleigh, L3 Warrior (Novice Townsman)

Jotunn, L5 Warrior (Apprentice Hunter, Tracking talent)

Crompton, L3 Rogue (Novice Runebearer, Novice Roguery)

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TI3.12: Picking over the bones, pursuit and fell ambush!

 

The characters for this session

Fennec, L2 Wizard (Combat magic)

Cauleigh, L3 Warrior (Townsman)

Jotunn, L5 Warrior (Hunter, Tracking talent)

Crompton, L2 Rogue (Runebearer, Roguery talent)

 

Back they go through the Gnoll leaders’ rooms

It’s been about an hour since the four saw Gnolls abandoning their posts and fleeing the great chamber. With Crompton still knocked about [he’s on 15 of 25 CON] they turn from the unexplored T-junction and Jotunn retraces his path back to the ‘exchange’ – the broad chamber with a portcullis north and east and storage access at two points. The north portcullis is still jammed up.

As a matter of routine Jotunn checks the storage access finding them just as expected. Now to check the great chamber area – they recall a few doors not opened as they fought their way across it! They lever the east portcullis up and jam it up with spars. Then head south up the steps and to less-explored rooms.

Some half hour of cheerful looting turns up a heavy but valuable pelt, a jar with a brain in it (either liquid or brain being magical), and a fancy abacus. Fennec’s pack is now crowded and he has no more room for other stuff.

“Why did I waste so much time carving that Lizardman skin into a poncho, I could have used this tarp,” Cauleigh mutters. The tarp used to wrap the pelt is big enough to cover all four Dwarves.

They spend some minutes prodding the flute-carrying ape statue, but other than triggering a voice:

“Egad, a dead face”

…it proves fruitless.

A second leader’s chamber and the weird room with slits and buttons later, the Dwarves are no richer and head into what used to be the archer-Gnoll barrack room. Here, bales of arrows, crates of food and kegs of drink are eventually pushed aside to reveal four ape-size indentations in the floor matching ape-size concavities in the ceiling. Ancient bloodstains can be detected in each.

Three ranseurs (war-forks) are stacked in a corner and seem to be the most useful thing in the room. They leave them for the nonce.

It’s about this time that Crompton prudently adds 5 CON healing to himself.

 

Through the great chamber finding a useful map

Then, into the great chamber. They pass down out of the defensive breastwork and walk its pillared length re-familiarising themselves with its corners and wings. On the south-east flank they try an unopened door, finding a chamber where perhaps four Gnolls – judging from worn patches on hide rugs – habitually sit playing at dice outside two small cell-like rooms.

[Cauleigh pops back for a ranseur, spotting apes wandering the tunnels, necessitating a second round trip to get the G-chord whistle]

The main chamber has a large parchment stuck to the wall. Studying it Fennec realizes that it includes notes in archaic Dwarven script and appears to give some guidance to distance from the dungeon to various points around the plateau. He pulls it down, bundles it into a packet and stows it in his now-full pack.

The cells seems to have been occupied until fairly recently by shackled prisoners: the shackles remain. Jotunn finds no scratched memoir or even a hand-print.

This has taken some time, Crompton begins counting down another hour and another healing.

 

A message a quest and a cool weapon

They head to the western side of the great chamber and check the fouled bloodied room they battled Gnolls through. Another barrack lies north, and off that a modest chamber where the goblin lived. Live hens cluck peacefully in a crude hutch.

“Live rations lads!” exclaims Fennec happily.

They also find, at last, the windlass for the small ‘eastern’ portcullis. They wind it up and jam it with yet another axe-haft.

A moment’s alarm as the spars propping up the portcullis bangs down, and a lizardman-chef pops out to see what the banging was, then they head north to the mysterious illusory mirror-wall.

Sure enough as they half-remembered there is a door beyond. It leads into a mid-size chamber in which an old dead campfire can be seen. A cairn stands against one wall, and Cauleigh spots a small parchment set next to it.

This parchment pleads for the party to abandon the dungeon, but if they do disturb the remains here to return them to the ‘Scions of Kolbrannus’.

Disturbed by the thought of a geas or curse Fennec leaves the room but stands at the door, watching. He can see another door opposite that the others have paid little heed to.

Cauleigh, not without a scare, disinters skeletal remains of a long-dead warrior. Costly rings adorn his fingers and a wondrous two-hander mace of unusual design rests with him. After some debate about who can best wield it Jotunn takes it and lashes it to his back.

[We agree it’s a heroic or great maul type mace of 7d6 base damage]

The remains are packed down for carrying out, and another backpack is now full. Only two sets of iron rations, delver gear and torches are now carried.

Fennec directs them through the untried door, and they find the ape-ear-trumpet statue – and that door seals behind them leaving no trace.

The ape statue suggests no further action to them. Crompton heals himself another 5 CON.

 

Remains and oddities in a locked room

Next on the ‘we ain’t checked that lot yet’ are the series of doors near the heavy west portcullis and around the ‘fort-up room’ featuring broken bedstead, bones and snakeskin. One door is magically locked [Crompton makes L2 IQ to judge this] and after checking the others – nothing of note there – Fennec powers up a KK [to L4 – his mana is fully restored] that does the job. Inside the chamber –among the usual bed frame – are signs of a fight, a variety of bundles and a rank rotting ape carcass clutching an ivory whistle. Cauleigh takes this latter item, wiping it clean-ish. It sounds a G-chord.

The bundles are adventurer type gear, the food spoiled. Crompton finds a pair of large bootees or moccasins, with a nicely-balanced dagger tucked in them. He tucks that away in his bandolier. Fennec rerolls some parchments sheets, shoves them back inside a tin scroll tube, and ties that onto his pack. Jotunn finishes inspecting female adornments and a mirror and piles them up for Fennec to throw a DetM over. All the other bits they have recently picked up are added.

 

A plague of insects and Fennec fires up

Finally, assuming they aren’t going to probe deeper into the long chamber where they saw long thin white sac-like or slug-like objects lying, there’s the door with an ape-head outline in relief around it. Cauleigh opens it and as torches are thrust to inspect the room beyond, a buzzing sounds and a weird humanoid shape forms out of a cloud of insects.

Cauleigh leaps back! The others draw back respectfully but as no-one slams the door closed, they find themselves in full combat.

Blamm! Boommm! Two arquebuses fire and the balls pass straight through without doing any perceptible damage.

In the combat, Fennec’s TTYF is useful – so he taps his WIZ out casting it again at L4 – Cauleigh’s shield is useful, edged weapons score half damage, and Jotunn ‘tunes’ his great mace Temerity, delivering an impressive amount of damage for 10 WIZ (it’s a whammied mace, triggered by command word, also doubles CHR).

[This is one of two combats where the lads are beat by exactly 100 in a round. Cauleigh (56 pts) and Jotunn (44 pts) deal with this between themselves.]

As the cloud of insects collapses the Dwarves are all bitten and resist whatever toxin they bore [L3 CON no problem to anyone – but the 11 spite shared round proves very important later!]

 

A concealed treasure on high

There is one more chamber beyond that one, and Fennec reads over the relief of the inside of a brain, noting the areas of emotion and intellect scribed there in antique characters. More interestingly as they gaze up around the reliefs Cauleigh [who made a point of saying he was inspecting ceilings last session] notices a subtle change in light around a point roughly at the middle. After moving torches back and forth they decide it’s the size of a small crate. An OTIS from Fennec reveals it’s a backpack. Crompton hooks it down with his grapnel and line, and they explore contents. Items reveal themselves as they are unpacked.

The buoyancy came from a lead-wrapped orb. An ornate tobacco pouch is the most valuable find other than that, and some ten unusual and possibly valuable coins. Nothing instantly useful, though a metal flask smelling of liquor could prove to be. Cauleigh transfers a tinder box to his own gear.

 

Congratulating themselves for finding real treasure, the four trail back to where new trails await.

 

Apes aside, there’s not a lot else to find

The t-junction features a pedestal, about 4’ tall, at its juncture. Tubes project from around its top, and as apes shuffle about in the background a low warbling note comes from them. Worried that the note will make the apes – of which there still seem to be large numbers – do something dangerous, Cauleigh spends time fetching and stuffing expired rations into the tubes. [Fennec’s idea, after Cauleigh suggested cheese]

The west end of the junction leads to what seems to be an ape-storage facility. ‘Stasis fields’ Fennec pronounces mysteriously but confidently.

The north end of the junction leads through a chamber with ape-waiting-rooms off it, to a grand tunnel, fully 20’ wide, leading north again.

[It’s at this time the front doors open again and the pedestal sounds and the apes start ‘work’ – but I’ve dealt with that at the point I described it]

 

Ape tombs and a sudden intangible menace

Aside from occasional fears of apes who either inscrutably tend to duties, or head back to storage – depending on whether the Dwarves are using G-chord whistles at them or not – there proves to be a door in the left side of the grant tunnel. This leads to a maze of ape tombs, connecting rooms, and a small chamber with a very large pot or urn. And from it billows a dread creature of smoke which rises to begin choking Jotunn!

 

The battle is fierce and leaves the warriors bruised more than wounded. Fennec’s unusually sensible choice of combat spell at the outset, a Glue-You, is decisive. Crompton remains back from the action, holding a torch so the warriors can see to fight. [This is the second ‘beaten by exactly 100’ combat]

 

An urge to pursue ends in darkness

From time to time Cauleigh breaks off from the fight to beg Fennec not to pointlessly throw in a TTYF. Fennec boosts him with a LF which proves highly effective. At one of these moments, Cauleigh feels he glimpses the far door to the chamber closing gently.
The fight finished, Cauleigh sounds the alarm and races in pursuit. He outdistances light sources, and eventually has to give up and retrieve some. By that time he has run through more ape tombs, a sooty chamber with two stone troughs, and back out to the grand tunnel as whoever he was pursuing departs through massive double doors at its north end.

 

Mystery of snakes born of woman aside, let’s get going!

He rejoins the party to find them studying two corpses, one a long-dead stuffed ape body tumbled off its shelf with some fang marks in it, and the other a dwarf-like, grey-skinned woman who appears to have died in agony as something burst its way out of her womb. Her open-mouthed agonised grimace reveals sharp teeth. Her body too bears fang-marks. Around the chamber lie shed snake-skins ranging in size from 10′ to 4′, some droppings, and little else.

[Cauleigh is still in extended LF so urges them on, on at each stage]

The four gather at those double doors at the north end of the grand tunnel. They are fashioned of a deeply-carven bas-relief of an ape head. Cauleigh hauls one valve open and the party gazes down broad descending steps.

[100 AP bonus for clearing level one. There may still be wandering monsters.]

 

Ambush! We all have to make sacrifices!

Perhaps five dozen steps down they reach a broad t-junction, the centre of which is marked by an identical stone pedestal with tubes as they saw above. Cauleigh blurs into action: races back up, along to the spoiled rations, grabs the last of them, races back down, and stuffs all of the tubes.

“If we find another one we’re left with the cheese” Fennec warns.

Crompton snuffs the air as Fennec mentions that it seems to be moving slowly left. It smells faintly reptilian. Then he and Fennec see the two warriors struck with missiles and pitch over!

[Level 9 LK SR for both Cauleigh and Jotunn. Cauleigh gets L5 and Jotunn gets L3. Cauleigh has been targeted by the Gnoll archer’s leader and cannot count shield as he is hit – but the LK allows some soak from equipment struck. He missed by only 4 levels so gets 4 back to CON on sacrifice of one ‘precious’ item. Jotunn has been hit by less-aimed hurled axes so there is more leeway. He gets 15 back on sacrifice of 3 precious items. That leaves Cauleigh on 3 CON and Jotunn on 2 CON.]

By freakish chance the well-directed arrow smashes through Cauleigh’s caliver’s matchlock on its way into his back. For his part Jotunn’s coif and arquebus are ruined as hurled axes strike his pack and gear! The floating orb breaks free of its lead wrap and clanks on the distant ceiling.

As Cauleigh and Jotunn scramble up and behind the pedestal, Fennec and Crompton see four powerful Gnolls racing to close with axes ready, a slighter ‘archer’ Gnoll readying another throw-axe and – to Crompton’s horror – a powerful grey-muzzled Gnoll readying another arrow to an enormous longbow far back behind that one! [IQ and LK respectively]

Fennec, who has missed that last element, hurls a GY at the throwing Gnoll while Crompton uses his tempus fugit to unlimber his monopod, aim and fire! As the leader is standing with a bow it’s a slightly easier shot than such a long, in-the-dark short would normally be and it finds its mark – enough to put the Leader’s bowshot off and let Crompton live, sore-wounded!

[It seems fair to allow the damage from the bullet to offset damage from the bow. Crompton takes 35 on armour and drops to 1 CON.]

Cauleigh uses his mace of stunting to trip two Gnolls [L6 SPD SR] but Jotunn fails to disable either of the others. [Disarming one of a flail doesn’t stop it from fighting in any way] The two close and barely manage to survive – luckily Fennec and Crompton also help defend them! [Fighting is now general as neither wizard nor rogue declared a retreat and the Gnolls have overrun the warrior position. It’s also a way of keeping the warriors alive since Fennec can take spite damage!]

The previously-tripped pair of Gnolls leap back up; Fennec spots the leader and sends a huge TTYF in – burning his 3rd-last charge –  as it shoots at Cauleigh as he is kicked clear [loses STR contest by 4 levels] by a Gnoll; the shot strikes stone instead of Dwarf as the leader disintegrates; Crompton flings a zapped dagger to wound the axe-thrower; Jotunn tangles a Gnoll ankle and has his bladed chain kicked away [rolls a fail on STR contest]; Jotunn and Crompton (and Fennec) win a very tough round against three Gnolls! [Again Fennec bears the brunt of spite damage.]

Using his still-enhanced speed Crompton sweeps up his arquebus, levels it along a knee and shoots the axe-thrower, dropping it. Cauleigh, coughing blood [Cauleigh trades in a just-acquired boon as he fails a L1 CON check] races back and smashes a Gnoll behind its knee, felling it. Two remaining Gnolls get around the pedestal, Jotunn and Crompton use axes to win that round, and Fennec shrewdly strikes with his staff to really gain advantage. One Gnoll remains and the warriors close in and finish it. [Fennec takes 3 more spite]

And as Crompton uses his last couple of mana to heal himself to 2 CON and they discuss falling back hastily behind a distant portcullis, the session ends.

I was thinking ‘in hindsight Crompton’s suggestion of resting in Perrol and spending AP was a good one’ but you can’t fault the Dwarves for wanting to be heroic and rescue young women.

Players hate losing gear so exchanging damage for precious items seemed a good idea. I didn’t make specific targeted rolls for the Gnolls – I just portioned off damage from the ambush to give myself an idea of how much might be evaded.

Some surprisingly poor tactical choices in the ambush. I don’t think anyone is in doubt of the Gnolls being tough opponents. Cauleigh’s player tells me he was just trying to change things up with the spot-dive at the legs; Jotunn’s player didn’t offer a reason for the disarm roll. I won’t fault Fennec for using a GY on the axe-thrower because he’d just seen two warriors dropped. Tough fight. 

 

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TI3.11: Return to Fort Cullis

The characters for this session

Fennec, L2 Wizard (Combat magic)

Cauleigh, L3 Warrior (Townsman)

Jotunn, L5 Warrior (Hunter, Tracking talent)

Crompton, L2 Rogue (Runebearer, Roguery talent)

Holing up

They have been running for half an hour. A spall of dust, kicked up by sun-waked dust-devils, begins to murk the light and cover their trail. [I kick the session off with a random 6d6 for number of torches remaining, then a big L5 LK SR for Jotunn to see how accurate his approach will be, and he rolls a fail. I have results for odd or even number fails jotted down so we go to those!]

Ahead, Jotunn glimpses the crowns of forest trees. Then his heels have the feeling of sagging back as the ground he’s running over gives way and a sinkhole caves in!

Fennec has no time to react and falls with the rocks. Cauleigh’s quicker reaction saves him! And running last, Crompton cannot quite stop his momentum and he too falls. [Jotunn running first and Crompton at rearguard need L3 SPD. Cauleigh and Fennec in the middle need L5. Jotunn and Cauleigh make it, the other two fall. Now to the falling!]

Crompton’s pack is heavy and so is his armour. He falls heavily and loses consciousness. Fennec manages to tuck and roll and though winded, loses only his grip on his staff. In the gloom, he can’t see it, but he can see two points of yellow-greyish light! [Fennec misses his LK SR by 1 so fails forward to not have his staff; Crompton misses completely and takes heavy damage, losing consciousness.]

The two safe Dwarves move swiftly to rescue their comrades. A lit torch plunges down and luckily drops vertically, allowing Fennec to sweep up his staff. Something slithery withdraws into what appears to be a tunnel! He also locates Crompton: face down, smothering. Cauleigh ropes down, Jotunn lowering him rapidly [L5 STR SR] and he too sees what Fennec sees: there appear to be two passages.

“Smells bad…” Cauleigh mutters.

“And I think I can hear water running” Fennec adds quietly.Having attached rope to Crompton, Cauleigh ropes back up. As he confers with Jotunn – this may not be a bad place to hole up in – there’s a muffled WHAMM from below!

Two hideous tentacle-mouthed worms of great size, eyes gleaming palely, crawl toward Fennec and he unleashes a L2 TTYF! One writhes and dies! Then Cauleigh lands from high above [L4 STR jump] dead square on the second crawler: gouts of yellow ichor splash and drench them.

“There are actually four passages here, and I’ve worked out where that water is” Fennec notes.

About the time that Crompton regains consciousness, Jotunn joins them. Maps are pulled out and studied by the light of a torch. The idea of a river or stream seems something that needs investigating. As Crompton carefully clears grit from his arquebus they chat about options including a rest here and return to the dungeon.

Time to explore! Jotunn sheds his pack and bundles down the ‘water’ passage, finding a shallow stream that lines up, according to his sense of direction and taste [L2 IQ] with Whitespur Creek’s headwater. As he crosses the stream the passage widens and he’s attacked by more crawlers!

Jotunn’s battle experience allows him to keep his weapons in action. The combat is difficult for Cauleigh and Fennec to join. Fennec stays rearguard, Cauleigh shines as much light as possible. Jotunn gives ground – his armour taking some acid damage – and Cauleigh can join. Crompton smartly whips a torch off Cauleigh and the fight’s momentum shifts. Jotunn’s outer clothing and armour is looking worse for wear! Jotunn and Cauleigh roll past the crawlers into a cavern, Crompton ducks aside, Fennec blasts another TTYF in.To their surprise the small cavern hooks around, the stream reappears through the wall, and on the other side of it there’s a stone ledge with a casket on it. A casket seemingly of Dwarf construction.

[This is quite a find. I’ll skip over the general paranoia. Good treasure including a spell and two magic lockets.]

Despite the foul smell from the crawlers (a few more of which test the defences over the next day) the Dwarves rest, stand watch, heal up, and get to know the contents of the casket.

[I estimate that a very conservative PB policy allows 108 healing from Fennec with Crompton backing up.]

Foraging and a windfall

That being done they foray out and into the forest verge, in quest of more torches. In terms of damaged gear, every one of their outer garments and armour has some damage. It varies: Cauleigh has lost his aketon for example, Crompton merely has some heavy blood staining and cuts. It’s morning again – for they have taken a full 24 hours – but over the past day, the prairie fire of two days previous has extended into a forest off towards Perrol. By chance or good hunter’s instinct [best of four good SRs] Jotunn strikes a lightly-marked trail as the others quest about for mushrooms, beech nuts, acorns and pitchy faggots. On it, he finds the corpse of a man who seems to have fled the woods. It’s perhaps two days old, much pulled about by small scavengers and perhaps buzzards.

The others are summoned and cast about then head along the trail deeper into the woods – not without trepidation – to find a campsite and two more corpses. The marks of a fight are clear. Packs, sacks, bedrolls and weapons lie about a dead campfire. A small glass cube lies near the fire amongst the scattered weapons: it is strongly magical. They count four bedrolls. Many of the sacks appear to hold valuables. Crompton thoughtfully wrenches two fine throw-knives from the breast of one corpse, tests them for balance, wipes them clean and stows them away. Cauleigh loots a well-made steel dagger and locates the throw-knife sheaths. He calls dibs on the best-quality pack, which isn’t saying much. Crompton decides to keep his own pack but transfers a number of getting-out-of-town gear across including ropes and a grapnel.

But the most significant gear is in the sacks. A couple of detect magics later and after laying the loot out, it’s clear they have a major haul from a noble house named Halchos. A house moreover that has ready access to magic items including a wand and some scrolls.
They retrace their steps after another pleasant rest. The loot is stashed back in their own personal sinkhole-cavern. The looted food and torches stay with them!

 

Ape-heads on guard!

And then to the Ape-head statues that mark Fort Cullis. But there is something very different about them. Even from 600 metres away it’s obvious that the eyes in those ape-head glow bright white!

They take extra time and climb partway up a cliff, along, then rope down to land on the entry behind the ‘angle of vision’ of either head. [85 AP each, since otherwise Fennec would have boldly marched forward to try magic]

The door is shut, as they suspected. After some discussion Fennec opens it with a KK. They take up order of march with Cauleigh at front and Jotunn second, and Cauleigh leads the way down steps west then south to the first chamber.

Unfamiliar tunnels, and what’s with the statue?

After briefly checking that all is very much as expected – and that there are no alert guards – they test the east, to see where the first tunnel goes. It leads east and to a rubbish-filled chamber. Here, Cauleigh defends himself from some large rats. That large chamber in turn lets south to an east-west passage with a number of ape heads on pedestals. Here Cauleigh continues entertaining the troops [with a fail on SPD] when one of the heads flies up and attacks him! [CHR checks all round since this event triggers repressed memories of the Black Manse] He heaves it off before it can leech onto him, and Jotunn [L3 SPD allows 1 weapon, dice only] chops it. It was an evil-featured living head, not a stuffed ape-head.

That tunnel in turn lets south to two chambers: one a nasty-looking chamber with long whitish slug-like objects; the other a vestibule-like chamber which in turn lets onto another east-west tunnel. This one looks and is familiar, but they have not explored east here. East, the tunnel turns south, to a stone statue – of an ape holding an ear trumpet to each ear! [The search still feels a bit desultory, in that they skip at least one door at the entry area and test no doors west.]

They make nothing whatever of the statue, but before long make their way back to more familiar ground. Here the arch south leads through to the major tunnel east to the second large portcullis. They test it: it is well beyond their collective strength. Again, they can glimpse two guards beyond, perhaps 50’ back from it. West, the major tunnel narrows and wraps round a few chambers and ends south at the first small portcullis. They check, using a WoW. Three Dwarves later it is heaved up and Cauleigh whips hard right to take the slack up off the windlass.The large chamber beyond has a group of placid apes. The Dwarves check that things are as they were previously – they are – and turn their attention to the fatal second portcullis while the WoW is still up.

Resistance is futile!

Crompton makes sure he activates his Missile Dismissal arrow, and the three heave the portcullis up. [I’m looking for L12 aggregate STR on these small ones] Sure enough a well-flung axe hurtles down the tunnel but Crompton’s talisman knocks it down. Jotunn and Cauleigh whip across the T to what proves to be a tunnel with a flight of steps up. Fennec follows hard on their heels [L1 SPD] but Crompton, who has stayed to retrieve his axe from propping up the portcullis, is in danger!

A mighty Gnoll charges recklessly at Crompton! And as Cauleigh and Jotunn jump in to help, another Gnoll follows that one – and very soon after that Fennec realizes more Gnolls are loping towards him down the steps.

Fennec: WHADOOMMM! Deals a huge L4 TTYF that disintegrates the first Gnoll. As his two flankers hesitate he challenges them:

“There’s more where that come from!” [A feeble CHR SR]

They seem inclined to doubt him: WHADOOMMM! Fennec convinces the sole survivor by burning a Staff charge and repeating the L4. The surviving Gnoll flees. Fennec catches the sound of hissing, somewhere off to his right.

The other three: Crompton fires his unwieldy arquebus one-handed as the huge Gnoll closes to point-blank! [He gets L4 so I’m OK with it] Cauleigh and Jotunn help and that Gnoll dies – but more are piling in! Jotunn’s bladed chain strikes out at one and takes an ankle, Crompton hurls a knife and finishes it, Cauleigh trips one and the three have a big advantage as Crompton regains his ancestor axe and the other two hew in, tripping and leaping.
Fennec follows the other three: he scurries back down the steps and east through an arch, then in a chase north through barracks and east again into a vast part-pillared chamber. It is vaguely lit.

The great chamber and strange phenomena

Had the Dwarves not accounted for so many Gnolls in their previous foray things would go ill here, but a mere few Gnolls still remain alive and rather than defend a broad ramparted dais they flee. As the Dwarves follow up, two guard Gnolls attack from the north, hurling axes. Crompton once again wears it – but his pack takes most of the damage! [33 damage after his pack is ruined, he is on 3 CON] Cauleigh hurls his nice new dagger, and himself into cover: Fennec hits them with an OGA and hides behind Jotunn, who must perforce act as meat-shield. [Jotunn tries a fake-out, scoring a fail] But thanks to the thrown blade and being flanked by Cauleigh and Crompton the Gnolls are easy prey.

Briefly scanning the huge chamber – one corner is well barricaded  and there is at least one other door untried – they check the north. It takes some time but they work out the secret of an illusory mirror-wall. And locate the windlass for the big portcullis and jam it open with a couple of Gnoll axes. There is another door, untried, beyond the illusory mirror. They leave it for the time being and take up the trail of the fugitive Gnolls.

And into new territory

Now at least half an hour behind, they reform and follow what they guess is the escape route of the Gnolls. They find some larger chambers – a rubbish room – a puzzle room –  and another ape statue – this one carved with a flute – and various trophies that may be worth looting. Cauleigh cuts himself a poncho out of Lizardman hide, but leaves it off for now. They find a pair of lizardman thralls doing kitchen duties – the hissing Fennec heard earlier – and so back through to the second small portcullis and so across to the ape refreshment chamber. And by taking the north-east door they move through to a T-junction they have not yet seen, and the session ends.

Interesting but positive dynamic between players on this one, good improvisation around which plan seems best at the time. Cauleigh’s player got his way in terms of returning to the dungeon before spending AP, but I think the others are OK with being heroic and ending the menace.

As was the case in the first attempt, some rather selective exploration going on. For next session, I may highlight the ‘dark patches’ where they may have been aware of a door but not tried it.

I don’t think the lads are quite aware of how much time they were soaking up in looking at the north end of the great chamber and tossing the leaders’ quarters. They are at least an hour behind the fugitives. 

Props: The two outside events are from Off the Beaten Path: Forest Excursions by Thom Wilson, a Kickstarter from ThrowiGames. Treasure from Wizardawn’s generator, slightly tweaked as usual.

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TI3.10: Fort Cullis, or “dang nearly got ’em!”

 

The characters for this session

Fennec, L2 Wizard (Combat magic)

Cauleigh, L3 Warrior (Townsman)

Jotunn, L5 Warrior (Hunter, Tracking talent)

Crompton, L2 Rogue (Runebearer, Roguery talent)

Our heroes have barely avoided a party split! Now the four take stock of options other than “let’s get going right now!” with cooling Gnoll and ape bodies spreading their bodily fluids across their fort-up room, making those curious and unpleasant noises that settling corpses do.

It’s a Dwarf’s right to change his mind!

There’s a fairly involved discussion lasting a full ten minutes as Jotunn suddenly has the nasty suspicious conceit that Cauleigh has the better of an imaginary horse-trade. Finally he accepts that the loan of his coif is temporary, settles Cauleigh’s helm on his own head, and discussion turns to which weapon he might use from behind the tower shield – effectively a Dwarf pavise – that the Gnoll leader bore. Fennec has – on loan – two of Crompton’s zapped throw-blades, and eventually – after a further ten minute debate – a second is on loan to Jotunn. Crompton has Jotunn’s bladed chain (yes, on loan) and Jotunn of course has his own vorpalled Axe.

“Right, let’s roll!” Cauleigh exclaims joyfully, pushing the door. [LK SR] It does not move.

“Let me by,” urges Jotunn, stepping around the heap of corpses and getting his shoulder set. The floor underneath is slick with bodily fluids. [LK SR] His boots get traction in the ash or grit that is all that remains of the Gnoll leader, and with a huge heave he forces the door and its two-corpse block.

Jotunn finishes pushing the door open and catches a suggestion of movement off right. As the four edge out (Cauleigh and Fennec VERY close to Jotunn) they catch a muted ‘thunk’ away in the distance. Maybe there’s a centipede-size clicking as well?

Following the hyena-men trail – into danger!

However, they reach the refectory door unmolested. Crompton checks it routinely and using the shield to good effect (and again with significant caution) they pull it open. Jotunn (Cauleigh and Fennec VERY close) advances while Crompton brings up the rear, uneasy.

Whfft!

Fennec’s torch is extinguished as something flung or projected from his left narrowly misses him. Cauleigh leaps back and left and collides chest to chest with something or someone smelly and strong. It dodges away but not before Caueligh’s kukri takes a good slice through it!

There’s some ineffectual blood-trail-following before Cauleigh (who is no ranger) loses the fresh splotches among many other bloody pools from earlier, then rejoins Jotunn who is directing Crompton to examine the far (southern) door.

“I think we looked beyond here, before…” Crompton muses. The door opens away from him.

“Hang on! Why are we heading deeper?” Fennec expostulates, realising which way the party is facing. “Weren’t we busy leaving?”

Fennec as far as I can gather is running with his original “I don’t mind getting out while those LF are working” and the other three are working on “avoid spending mana, investigate what we can, and keep the line of retreat open.”

Apparently not. Huffily he raises his now-burning torch high and watches Cauleigh kick the south door, which responds by moving a few inches. Jotunn leans his shield into it, and walks it open, revealing a left-right tunnel. There’s a suggestion of another tunnel opening, left and forward (that is, on the south wall of the tunnel); the door blocks sight to the right. Jotunn leans down, examines the stone floor, determines that most tracks lead left. As they swing out left, Crompton looks right, notes a door on that side.

“I thought our aim was to get out,” Fennec complains peevishly.

The others are still happy with their plan. As long as they have a clear run out, killing the things that would hunt them down in the open seems like a good plan. If they leave now it would be full night.

Fennec snorts irritably but speaks no more, allowing the warriors to investigate what proves to be an archway through to a very broad chamber or superior tunnel left and right. There’s a suggestion of ape-foot-shuffling in the dark off to the right. They move forward, Fennec close behind Cauleigh. Crompton uneasily bringing up the rear.

[IQ SR from Crompton and Fennec, Fennec makes L5]

Fennec is virtually certain that apes are off to the right. Beyond the arch, immediately off to the left, Jotunn feels that he can pick out the shapes of two Gnoll-size guards, though his view is not clear.

Sharp, discordant whistles come from far off. Crompton immediately sounds his pleasant natural G whistle, and no attack eventuates.

“Hey, why don’t we use that whistle to control the apes near us?” Fennec suggests. No-one takes him up on it. Instead Jotunn directs Crompton to bring up his long gun and monopod and try a shot at those guards!

The arquebus muzzle noses out of pavise cover then retracts.

“Hey – that’s not a clear shot – there’s another of those blasted portcullises in the way!”

Indeed the guards are a good 40’ back, and the portcullis offers them cover. As Crompton decides whether to insert the arquebus into the portcullis grid and use it as a rest, Fennec notices four apes approaching in a regular, non-ape-like fashion. They don’t seem aggressive so (with due caution) they are allowed to pass by and out the arch. Fennec, who has taken possession of the whistle, stands on tenterhooks until they are gone.

 

Along a winding tunnel into a sand-man lair

Lacking a wink-wing spell or mind control they can’t raise the portcullis so they turn, and head in the direction the apes came from. Some way down it narrows to become a regular-size tunnel, and that gives them the idea that the door Crompton previously spotted leads to the “viewing room” behind their last fort-up room. Ahead on the left another door beckons, so they take that, and Jotunn hauls it open and signals (vaguely) to Cauleigh that there are shapes beyond.

Two shapes, as Cauleigh discovers, man-size and shifting. It’s almost as though they are living sand, beginning to form weapons where hands should be! Fennec brings up a WoW so Cauleigh has better light.

Crompton’s arquebus and Caleigh’s kukri are enough to disembody the sand-creatures and they collapse back to sand again. Their chamber seems barren of all but sand, which partly blocks a far door. A search however turns up their first loot with monetary value – two cubic-cut amethysts, merchant-marked at 60gp apiece. Fennec considers using a spell to detect hidden things but Cauleigh talks him down from squandering mana.

A morbid ape-crypt

Jotunn scrapes the sand carefully back from the door, and they peer out into darkness. Jotunn and Cauleigh glimpse something smallish, up left, as though on a pedestal, in an irregular-shaped chamber. No door is visible and the WoW floating in confirms this. The pedestal is in fact a solid stone shelf set back in the solid stone of the left wall. And what seemed smallish is in fact the head and shoulder of the body of an ape lying flat on that shelf.

Advancing, they realise this body is a preserved and stuffed ape, its orifices stitched closed. Fennec tries a Detect Magic which reveals that everything is vaguely magical! Cauleigh prods the body with the sharp tip of his kukri, it sinks in as though into a stuffed preserved body, and the Dwarves move on – or back to the main tunnel – and then left and along, to the point where a small portcullis blocks the tunnel. Fennec floats the WoW through and Cauleigh reports there are perhaps two other tunnel-mouths visible – and two pair of Gnoll-yellow eyes can be glimpsed in the left-hand tunnel!

And yet another portcullis

“How about we name this Fort Cullis!?” exclaims Jotunn discontentedly.

“How about I force those Gnolls to charge then we shoot them?” retorts Fennec. As he manoeuvres his fingers and sight-line to activate the OGA spell at them, they yip in alarm and leap back out of his view.

Grumbling, Cauleigh and Jotunn decide to try some raw muscle on the portcullis. Their efforts seem to budge it! [STR SR combined, beginning with Jotunn, then Cauleigh. Jotunn DAROs to L7 and Cauleigh makes a fail-forward L5] Though not at all easily. Cauleigh’s remnant of aketon splits and falls off as he strains. Wedging solid items such as axe-hafts under it, Crompton helps [STR L4!] and they pull and push it to the point where the tower shield props it up. There’s a momentary alarm as some agent blows a series of harsh discordant notes, and apes off hard right around the corner screech and beat the floor, but Fennec has it covered with his open-G-chord whistle. The WoW expires and Fennec begins recovering mana again.

The four cautiously enter the broad chamber beyond the portcullis and find the pulley mechanism for it immediately back right in an alcove. Cauleigh winds it taut and up and Jotunn retrieves his pavise. The apes can be dimly seen off in a tunnel right, there are two more doors half-right (south and south-west) while through the other portcullis a t-junction or alcove south can be guessed. Finally, hard left, another door. They start with that.

A large chamber offers many options

It’s an unpleasantly mouldy smelling room with three preserved ape corpses on shelves, the nearer ape furred with a scum of mould. Wisely they decide to not investigate. [Cauleigh makes a good LK SR which covers the risk of yellow mould spores]

Fennec staves off yet another attempt to incite apes. He’s beginning to draw some conclusions about the whistles:

“I believe each has only one purpose. The apes are not controlled in any subtle way. Luckily, I have a “return to your business” pacifier!”

The two other doors lead to storerooms, one via a short tunnel. That will prove useful, later. Each store contains petrified spars, and steel items that might be spares for dungeon gear such as pulleys and windlass gears.

Leaving that for the time being they turn their attention to the second portcullis. Crompton spots a small being, far back, peering round a corner, and with a fine shot wings it – or simply makes it duck back. The arquebus’ muzzle-flash shows that there definitely is a T-junction right beyond the portcullis.

An incautious step drops half the party

Jotunn sees a use for the spars. Three Dwarves are soon heaving at the closed portcullis [not such an impressive STR SR from Jotunn means Crompton is needed] and Fennec wedges a spar under. Finally, the tower shield once more. Cauleigh moves boldly towards the T-junction, Crompton beginning to fumble under his breastplate for his Missile Dismissal arrow while trying to use the shield as cover. Both are hit solidly by hurtling axes! The sheer force spins Cauleigh around and drops him face-first, while bright arterial blood spurts through Crompton’s clutching fingers as he is struck where a gorget should be!

Cauleigh is allowed double armour but not allowed his shield, since he makes a fail on SPD. His CON drops below 0 but not to -10. Crompton makes L1 SPD which allows some cover from the shield; then a L3 fail-forward LK SR to test how dead he is. From the SPD SR he takes the best of either halved damage or 12 protection from the shield. The fail-forward is some uncertainty about how many Poor Baby points he needs to stop him bleeding out.

Forting up in the dark

Half an hour later Fennec and Jotunn are forted up inside the south-west storeroom off that chamber, bulks of petrified wood acting as a barricade along the short tunnel to that chamber, in the dark, the deeply unconscious bodies of Cauleigh and Crompton beside them. Bloody skidmarks along the outer chamber suggest the two wounded were dragged rapidly along on their breastplate.

The maths of PB are confusing and though we went through them twice I still did not get it right. This is partly because Fennec’s Ring of the Sorcerer has not been defined well. 

PB face cost: Level 2 spell, no power ups, 2 per 1 CON.

Cast by a wizard using a staff: deduct Wizard level, minimum 1 cost.

When Fennec waits 10 minutes and accumulates 1 WIZ he can cast a 2-point PB, costing him the minimum of 1. It is a 10-minute-per-1-CON process.

Ten more minutes pass. Fennec mutters – possibly kind words, possibly “I told you so” – and Crompton [who is reserve healer] drifts closer and closer to consciousness.

Jotunn extends his arquebus and shoots! He’s spotted a small, perhaps goblinoid, head, outlined by some vague source of light beyond the barricade. There’s a squawk, and after short pause something barks the small body is dragged away.

An unexpected visitor

The pair pass the time wittily joking about a dragon being next, then there’s a distinct barking – as though to attention – a tramp of booted feet – slithering as of a great snake – and a human male voice pronounces:

“This is Samuel of the Loam! Who am I addressing?”

“Jotunn the wilder!”

“Jotunn the wilder? I admire your defence of your comrades so far, but you must see that resistance is useless. Throw down your arms and surrender and you will be well-treated… as I have been.”

[LK SR to catch an outline of the speaker – Jotunn makes L5 and works out he is talking to a giant man-snake. Now, he wants a target]

The two Dwarves fall to loudly discussing how best to shoot this guy!

“Are you going to use that f**king big gun?” Fennec asks, to which Jotunn half-assents then re-levels his own trusty arquebus. Fennec floats a WoW out the door and through the barricade.

“You anger me!” cries Samuel.

Jotunn fires, but the shot merely glances off stone [L3 DEX is not good enough against a form mostly in cover and hard to see through the barricade!]

“Dispell!” calls Samuel and the light is extinguished.

Fennec hopefully preps another WoW as Jotunn waits for another shot, but it merely shines on an open tunnel. Whoever Samuel’s bodyguard were, they have withdrawn.

With life there’s hope, and new decisions

After perhaps forty or fifty minutes, and occasional healing, Crompton rouses and clutches his neck. Dried blood thickly covers his doublet and breastplate, but the wound is a mere scar. Now, he can heal himself as his own mana rises.

After perhaps an hour Cauleigh too is healed enough to scrabble up, fetch his pack, and quaff a healing potion. [It’s old, from the shatterzone, I turn it into a 2d6 roll of 7+ means ok, use the lowest d6 of the two as the actual CON gain. All healing potions are officially gone – though both Fennec and Jotunn still have Mother Hobb’s short-term d6 potion recorded.]

In his truffling for healing potions Crompton has recollected that he has a potion of plant control. It colours decisions made later.

All four Dwarves are now abreast of the situation and the unexpected appearance of Samuel of the Loam.

“Samuel of the Loam was a human, as I recall…” Cauleigh muses.

“And his mission was to rescue the women and deal with the hyena-men” Fennec adds.

“So he’s done a turnabout,” Crompton concludes, still scrubbing dried blood off his breastplate.

“Well they’ve gone, what say we move out quietly?” Jotunn suggests.

Fennec decides to search deeper

The barricade is shifted quietly and they creep out, don packs and set up party order again. A half-dozen apes stand about placidly. Fennec’s torch reveals that the open portcullis north is still open, and that the huge shield is missing. Jotunn hands Cauleigh back his helmet.

“You know,” Fennec says wryly, “now that we’ve got this far and I have control of those apes, it would be crazy to not check down their tunnel. We can still retreat under the portcullis if need be.”

[I make this a CHR check at +10 since this is such a 180 degrees by Fennec, Jotunn and Crompton find his argument convincing. Cauleigh goes along with it.]

A water source and a swift retreat

With G-chord whistle at the ready the four Dwarves shift west along the tunnel and into a large northward chamber. Three or four apes stand in the northeast corner. A large shallow relief of a maternal ape suckling adorns the entire south. Another tunnel or perhaps arch leads west. The music of trickling water reminds them all they are all very thirsty.

Investigating the apes’ corner Cauleigh finds a fontana style drinking bowl, and beside it a deeper relief of a maternal ape holding out a bowl: the bowl itself juts from the wall. Inspecting it Cauleigh detects a few grain-like motes. He makes an offering of a corner of trail ration, and moves on to the fount. It is fresh rock-filtered water, clean and cold. He drinks deep and fills all three of his canteens. The others, thirst assailing them, follow suit.

Crompton returns Jotunn’s bladed chain and collects a throw-blade from him. Cauleigh hands a torch to Jotunn and he thrusts a torch through the arch. Three more apes stand placidly – one looks exceptionally like a Dwarf, old and battle-scarred.

Cauleigh’s curiosity catches fire and he retrieves the torch and looks at the “Dwarf” at close range. [IQ SR, he makes L1] No – it’s an ape, old, scarred, bearded and handless to be sure, but an ape nonetheless.

Cauleigh retreats hastily!

“Aaaugh! If we stay here too long we turn into apes! Let’s get out of here!”

Regardless of the rational objections raised by Jotunn and Fennec he sticks to his story. The four discuss options.

“We either fort up here and hope not to be turned into apes; or head out NOW because if we delay the ape colony will be foraging.”

The retreat’s first leg against the dawn

And the four retreat. Cautiously. It takes half an hour, and pre-dawn is giving way to dawn. The sun is yet to kiss the plain but they have plenty of water.

Crompton and Cauleigh are by no means healthy so they set out at best march. A few minutes in, Fennec breaks stride:

“How much time is it going to take, Jotunn, if you disguise our trail?”

“Aye, well, if you can think of a way to make our boots look like ape pugs I’ll try. But I got the impression those hyena-men can sniff us out,” Jotunn growls. “Best I can offer is veering off right of a true course, to where we spotted some kind of scarecrow affair. The ground is harder there.”

They agree with this – then insist that he head the party direct for Perrol, after all.

The wind of yesterday has picked up the smoke and flung it into crazy streamers banding the sky. Half an hour of brisk walk later, a banner of smoke filters the sun which is no longer dazzling. Looking back, Crompton catches sight of at least half a dozen Gnolls, perhaps ten, bearing bows and running towards them!

Archers! Take cover!

A quick debate – there is no vantage point – Crompton sets his monopod and aims while Jotunn too tries a shot. Fennec waits to identify the leader. [He makes a fair roll, it will be 2nd combat round before he is sure] Cauleigh, having merely a caliver for range work, casts about for a buffalo wallow or similar dip.

Crompton touches match to powder – and the match fizzles out. [LK SR, he DAROs above 20 picking up a boon] Adroitly he tips the piece to Jotunn who relights the match – and the gunne misfires.

[Two fails on the shot convinces me – the gunne has a damp charge and will need to be shot cleared.]

The bows must be longbows! From some hundred yards or so, the Gnoll archers loose accurately.

Missile dismissal” yells Crompton, brandishing his talisman-arrow, and four shafts are blasted out of the air. Fennec is by now some yards distant, beside Cauleigh in his “shallow grave,” and the warrior uses his small shield to good effect, knocking away a couple of arrows. A few others get close. Altogether, eight Gnolls loose.

Jotunn fires a second time and a second Gnoll is hit [he’s only making ‘group’ size hits but I roll a couple of threes for their saves!]

With a CHUFF Crompton clears his damp charge and begins reloading. And now, Fennec has identified a leader. Who is well back behind even the distant Gnolls, out of normal spell range.

The Gnolls loose again – they seem disciplined – and again Cauleigh knocks a couple clear. Four others are knocked down and the other shafts miss.

Since it is relevant here – because Cauleigh asked to find prone cover and Crompton and Jotunn were already engaged with gunnes, I have mentally placed Caueligh and Fennec quite some distance from the other pair. The missile dismissal will not help Cauleigh in any kind of priority.

Fresh danger and a desperate course

Fennec pushes some healing into Cauleigh. But luck cannot last forever. Cauleigh’s third attempt to deflect arrows fails. A long shaft slams through Fennec’s robe – and pins it to the ground, without harming the wizard. [Cauleigh rolls high, and finally recoups the LK he lost in the black manse. Fennec’s boon token is used up here]

Crompton drops a third Gnoll archer. He looks about: cover?

[L4 LK SR for Fennec at this point.]

Crompton decides to compromise by kneeling by Jotunn who has hunted up another dip in the ground.

[Fennec has DARO’d up to L5]

“There are pincer forces on our flanks!” Fennec cries. Dust has alerted him.

Now things are desperate. There are six archers left, two unknown sized pincer forces, and no real cover.

“I’m going to ram them!” Jotunn calls – in Dwarven – grabbing up his own and another pack and Crompton readies his own pack to do the same but is persuaded not to do that.

“Little Feets!”

The battle and its outcome

Jotunn already has packs as shield and charges the hundred yards with élan. Crompton aims along behind him and takes a Gnoll down! [L4 DEX is a clean hit from the long gun] Five archers remaining!

Cauleigh, caliver ready, runs swiftly behind Jotunn. Fennec follows at a more sedate, wizardly pace. BZEOW!! A powerful longbow send a shaft true at Cauleigh [SPD check again – no fail this time] and the force of it spins him round as his shield knocks it clear. Fennec [IQ SR] marks the shooter for future pain!

A clothyard shaft slams through one of the packs Jotunn is using, along his vambrace and stops at his breastplate. As he gets within handy heave-range the bulky hunter hurls both packs [STR SR, DAROs to L7] knocking a Gnoll off his shot: and closes with the other three.

WHAMM! A crimson-tinged blast rips the right-hand Gnoll off his guard. [Fennec sends this at L2, using a staff charge since he is already low on mana] It grunts and draws a useful-looking short cutlass.

BAMM! A caliver shot, fired at the run, takes Jotunn’s left-hand opponent. Whether by chance or design [DAROs up plenty!] the shot takes the Gnoll in its gaping mouth, punching through and out, taking brains with it. The Gnoll collapses like a wet sack. Jotunn is against one fit Gnoll, and the wretch that took Fennec’s TTYF. He unleashes his bladed chain at the fit Gnoll, a perfect hit round the ankle, allowing a virtually free shot against the exposed flank. The axe sinks deep, ribs show white and guts spill from the gaping wound, and the Gnoll is killed outright.

Jotunn’s battle experience comes into play. He ignores the wounded Gnoll to his right and simply sprints on at the leader – who is surprised! [I don’t roll a fail but a miserable 5 does not allow leeway]

Crompton is busy reloading. Fennec is backing up but with no mana and well behind. Cauleigh, not long delayed, now joins the battle line and feints the now-ready wounded Gnoll onto the wrong foot [good L3 CHR SR] and his kukri rakes through the ribs, cutting a kidney, and with a dreadful tittering howl it dies. Cauleigh too ignores the two Gnolls to his left and races to help Jotunn.

Who is in very close combat! The bladed chain catches the leader’s flail but it becomes a tug o’ war [L9 SR demanded by the Gnoll’s excellent STR roll, Jotunn makes L7 with DARO]. Jotunn is drawn into a hug and the leader champs down on the Dwarf’s shoulder with its massive teeth. But Jotunn has a free hand and deals a massive stab with his (loaned) magical throw-blade as he is drawn in.

As Cauleigh runs and jumps, Crompton fires an excellent shot [just shy of L5] and removes the last ready archer from the field. Two surviving Gnolls flee as Cauleigh leaps, stabs, and finishes the leader.

And a new course set, at the run!

Retrieving their gear, decision are made swiftly. Cauleigh ruefully shakes out his damaged pack, tucks the cape of plausibility under his breastplate, stows the odd piece of equipment and his canteens, and is ready. Jotunn retrieves his own pack and walks back for his arquebus. Crompton tosses it to him:

“Which way now?”

“Suggestion! We could retreat to that line of trees you were talking about earlier,” Fennec suggests, tucking away a couple of items away he’s looted off the leader. [Belt, gewgaw, bone whistle]

“Aye then be ready to run,” Jotunn comments grimly. “We’ll scurry away along the tracks west there.”

[L3 SR on CON from Crompton sets the bar. The others make it easily. Jotunn gets to choose LK or IQ+Hunter for the decision about direction and makes L3.]

“First of all, it’d be the last thing they expect. Second of all, judging by the smoke of yesterday, there be trees.”

And as Jotunn hefts a second pack and shadows Crompton, the session ends.

Wow! What a game! It felt tight and right to me, the players were (by and large) engaged, and the balance between being dead and nearly dead made it very exciting. Lots of doubles, including in urgent need, raised the enjoyment for all. 

While it’s dangerous to count chickens I think next week will involve a woodland environment and new options for our heroes. Stay tuned!

 

 

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TI3.09: Against the hyena-men!

The characters for this session

Fennec, L2 Wizard (Combat magic)

Cauleigh, L3 Warrior (Townsman)

Jotunn, L5 Warrior (Hunter, Tracking talent)

Crompton, L2 Rogue (Runebearer, Roguery talent)

Past ancient stone guardians

The Dwarves check equipment as they march onward into the shadow cast by the Atharva plateau. They have marched through the heat of the day, eking out water, saved from real difficulty by cloth aketon or robe, and sturdy constitutions. And now, dusk gathers. The suggestive seam in the plateau’s flank toward which Jotunn has steered them, now resolves into an east-facing notch, and in it, a gate or stone door flanked by massive ape heads! It is the ruin they have sought in their quest to rid the world of woman-stealing hyena-men!

The ape colony that surrounds this notch is alive with family groups enjoying the cooler hours. For many miles around, the plain bears marks of foraging. Some of the adults are as tall at the shoulder as a Dwarf, and the larger males might be considerably stronger. And large or small, they all have long sharp canine teeth.

Jotunn pauses and studies the bare ground leading up to the door. Many hard-booted Gnoll patrols or raiding parties have come and gone here.

The open door is a single massive stone perhaps 8’ wide, well balanced, and with a keyhole visible in the centre. Beyond, steps lead down west. Cauleigh lights a torch and Jotunn ventures in.

Party order, as a general rule:

Jotunn, ready with axe and bladed-chain and scouting up down and around; followed only a short way back by Cauleigh carrying a torch in his shield hand and with kukri ready; then Fennec ready with staff and close behind Cauleigh; and a short way back Crompton ready with his long gun, keeping an eye and ear out behind.

As Jotunn pauses at a landing before turning south, Crompton notices a circular shaft a few inches across above shoulder height on the left stone wall at the entrance. He summons Cauleigh back and by the torchlight they can see a square steel shaft set further inside. Since neither of them wants to fool around and possibly lose a hand, they shrug and move on.

The stone of this dungeon is of some hard granite, extremely well finished and with virtually no seam in the blocks. There is no trace of abrasion on the surface, either from iron studded soles or steel armour. The tunnel they are descending is broad enough for three Dwarves to fight abreast if need be.

 

Down to a series of chambers and tunnels and many doors

Catching sight of a bloody hand-print at the arch through the west wall of the chamber below, Jotunn heads that way. It’s a tunnel, and from it nervous apes screech a challenge! As the Dwarves ready for battle the apes demonstrate, but are happy to sidle past, guarding their young, away up and out. The tunnel is clear – but it leads merely to another chamber and another choice of doors, south or further west.

The south door leads to a long east-west tunnel, just as broad as the descent. A number of doors are dotted along it. These doors are massive in construction, proof against anything less powerful than a demi-culverin. They typically open out into the tunnel. Which in turn veers south then straightens west ending at a portcullis.

Not wishing to make themselves easy targets the four pull back and investigate one of the doors. This and a second prove locked [actually Crompton rolls a fail on the second]. A third however is pulled open to reveal wreckage from a fierce struggle in times past. Amid the remains of a shattered bedstead, a shed snake-skin of great size is suggestive, as are goblin bones. An OTIS from Fennec reveals a spyhole in the rear wall. And therewith, the travails of the group begin!

 

Braving the hyena-men’s fierce defence

At that point Crompton’s sharp ears catch the sound of stealthy enemy and a fierce fight ensues, the Dwarves defending the shallow corner of the tunnel and a squad of at least five gnolls attempting to overrun them. Crompton’s shot into the melee with his long arquebus is decisive and the surviving gnolls beat a retreat.

The Dwarves follow up gamely and a full scale battle rages across the immovable stone benches of a common room or galley, reinforcements feeding in to the Gnoll defenders from the south and Jotunn and Cauleigh ably assisted by Crompton from the north, with Fennec strategically opening with LF then dropping into a well-chosen hidey-hole as five gnolls rush him!

Tired and scratched, aketons shredded, the three combatants collect Fennec and retire to the broken bed-chamber for a rest.

Enduring desperate battle

Two hours go by and just as Crompton heals Jotunn a little, the Gnolls mount a determined attack, led by a mighty leader-type with ceremonial club, silvered collar, and massive turret shield. Four apes vault over the shield to disrupt the defence. They are swiftly dealt with! As Cauleigh stunts in to take the leader down Fennec spoils his effort by blowing the leader apart with a L4 TTYF. Ten blood-mad gnolls trample over the shield – and Cauleigh – and go for the three other Dwarves!

Jotunn and Crompton share damage to defend Fennec then Cauleigh wrestles his way out from under the shield and pounces one-two, and the battle swings in the defenders’ favour! As Crompton picks himself up from a death-grapple with one Gnoll he notices a bone whistle. It must have rolled away from the scorched remnants of the leader. Eerie whistle notes have been heard in the tunnels, from time to time. He takes it.

 

And since it didn’t work the first time, forting up again

For their part Jotunn and Cauleigh are optimistic. The shield, which is rigged so as to lock onto the shield arm of a wielder, offers a defence-based tactic. Jotunn will tank, Cauleigh will stunt. Jotunn loans his comrade his precious coif of leaping. They turn to warn the other two that the hunt is up – then see Fennec and Crompton are lolling back, enervated and unwilling to move.

And as the warriors grudgingly decide not to split the party, more whistles are heard from the tunnels beyond, but the session ends.

 

I wrap the session early since it feels as though another slog is imminent and perhaps cooler heads and some perspective are called for. Perhaps.

There were some excellent rolls in the session’s early stage, Crompton and Cauleigh both rolling over 20 on dice. Non-essential rolls unfortunately! I gave each a ‘boon’ to be retrieved when things turned to custard. They each claimed their boon early at a non-custard point in the action. Such is life.

I’ve skipped the amusing paranoia about giant centipedes. A bunch of them followed the Dwarves in and down the steps. In the end, the Dwarves didn’t waste resources trying to scotch them, but they definitely creeped Crompton out. His CON is still at the point where a poor roll might mean a fail against centipede poison, so fair enough.

For those interested in the mechanics of how Fennec throws those powered-up spells: he has two key items, one a ring that “scores” his spell-casting rank as though it is a level higher; the other a staff with a fixed number of charges, each charge removing a chunk of the spell’s mana cost.

 

 

 

 

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MechWarrior One-shot/How-to: the Battle for Sally Ridge!

Yo! Etran Ramirez here, that’s Ramirez to you, or if you a green, TO Ramirez. I jockey a Phoenix Hawk, my boss is Jamal in his Hunchback, and my wingmen are Alvin Lansem in a Spider, and Frank Stocker in a Gryphon.

But let me tell you about this one time we got down and dirty on Sally Ridge.

 

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Welcome to this one-shot filler for a week we can’t play our regular campaign. This session, we learn how MechWarrior works, at least for humans outside of the mechas they pilot.

MechWarrior is supposedly the ‘roleplaying’ side of BattleTech but what follows is a very simple skirmish game to show how movement and combat works. We have three players:

  • Alvin, played by DB
  • Frank, played by AL
  • Ramirez, played by yours truly
  • and we have a GMPC named Jamal.

We players provided the roleplaying element of the game by overacting and imagining what Jamal is like. I’ll try to do justice to that since it was the fun element of the session. Alongside that, I’ll outline the rules of movement and combat as I wrote them down.

 

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Stepping away from the dropship’s cycling, Jamal listens to the scout-skimmer reports coming in. Then he wheels and shouts, his mighty afro swaying, the mid-morning sun glinting off his mirror shades:

Yo! Lissen up suckas! Some fools lightin’ up our grunts on th’ ridge ahead! Git yo’ asses movin!

Across the dropship’s other side Ramirez twitchily checks the charges on his flak vest: two spare for the laz-rifle he holds, one spare for his Cutlass autopistol. No glinting surface anywhere. He’s ready to go.

Further back team medic Frank Stocker, big-chinned, red-necked, spits his wad and checks his elevation. He likes to get maximum LOS from minimum exposure. Across from him Alvin Lansem, puffy-cheeked, beady-eyed, buck-toothed, checks his map:

That’s Sally Ridge all spread out for us

Jamal lifts his laz-launcher combo to the vertical so sunlight gleams up and down its length. He yells:

Les’ kick some ass!

And with that the command lance heads to Sally Ridge.

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Initiative, Movement and Line of Sight

At this point the GM has sketched one (1) terrain feature upon our hex battlemap. That is where allied foot, two four-man squads, are and they are taking incoming ground fire.

Narrator’s forces on left, incoming fire from right

How line of sight works: Very much as you would expect (so far). The ridge is too low to completely block visibility either way. As the action commences, friendlies are dispersed and prone, and incoming are off the board.

How distance and movement works: Each hex is 5′. Movement is 1MP per hex to foot and various gaits achieve fixed maximum amounts of movement. Sprint 12, run 9, dodge 6, walk 4, crawl 2. The first two rates prevent fire.

How initiative works: Each character has a Personal Initiative Bonus (PIB) and adds that to the roll of 2d6. High is good. The lowest score declares, moves, shoots and melees first, which gives those with higher scores the chance to react, pick targets etc.

Initiatives (lowest to highest):

  • Enemy rifle platoon
  • Allied rifles/Ramirez
  • Alvin
  • Frank/Jamal

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Round 1

Ramirez sprints [12 hexes] to within a dozen feet of the low ridgeline. From here he can see enemy heads, meaning they can see his head. Alvin sprints [12] not too far behind and to Ramirez’ left. Jamal does likewise, but Frank wusses out a little and runs [9] ending a few feet back.

There are no effective targets, and incoming fire zips harmlessly by.

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How ranged fire works: Again in reverse order of init, targets are declared and rolls made. 2d6 are rolled, the aim being to make or exceed a target number composed of personal roll base plus modifiers from range, personal movement, target movement and other factors.

For example a generic rifleman has a roll base of 4, and firing at long range adds 4. A target walking carelessly forward adds 1 to that. So the rifleman needs to roll a 9 or better on 2d6.

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Round 2

Ramirez crawls forward to sight his laz-rifle in. Riflemen from White squad are within a dozen feet or so to his right. Warm targets are just outside easy short range. Alvin, a few feet to Black squad’s right, crawls to firing position as well. Jamal glances over at Frank:

Yo! Don’choo run, dog! Check my swag!

Jamal pimp-rolls to position, biceps gleaming and afro waving gently. Off to Ramirez’ left Frank walks forward (not really pimp-rolling) and drops down, and they are ready to fire!

[Crawling moves 2 hexes, walking 4; crawling adds nothing to target and walking adds 1.]

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Declaring targets: Again based on reverse order, the enemy riflemen would now declare targets first, then white and black squads and Ramirez, and so on. The higher up range order you are, the better you can react to hits made. Damage is recorded against each figure (though I gather there are quick-play rules that accumulate damage on formations). Those hit remain on the board for the round and effects are concluded at end of round.

Hit points and Damage and Location: Each person has a Body score, which covers a number of abilities. Each can take 10x Body in damage, though any one individual location can be taken out specifically. Therefore, location is important. When applying damage two identifiable dice are rolled, one the y axis and the other the x axis of a location chart. The proportion of damage taken is also important: as damage accumulates, a resistance roll is triggered to see if the combatant  can remain in the fight.

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The enemy riflemen are advancing at a walk, firing. Black squad takes some heat without effect, and Alvin is clipped along his shoulder-blade [5 damage because his flak vest absorbs 1/2]. Ramirez returns fire [target is 5, from his base of 2+2 for range +1 for target walking] and scores a hit. His laz-rifle punches through the flak vest [less 2, because laz-rifle] and burns away the enemy’s left arm. The enemy keels over. [Resistance roll for about 1/3 total – failed] White and black squads’ fire is somewhat effective, another enemy falls. Alvin scores a big through and through on an enemy torso, dropping that combatant. Frank and Jamal score hits but without doing enough damage to stop their target.

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Adjudication: Damage is noted as the round progresses, and effects are delivered end of round. In this session, enemy are not going to have access to a medic in the field, so those completely immobilized are removed. Three are gone right away.

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Round 3

The enemy keep walking forward firing [GM rolls a Learn test for them, fails] without scoring any hits. Ramirez drops another enemy with a head-shot [flak vests don’t protect the head] and Frank takes a leg off his target [ditto the legs].

You messin wit’ the wrong dude suckas!

Jamal opens up with autofire, still not doing much but taking the leg off his target.

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Learn tests: Each person has a Learning (Lrn) ability which covers maximum skills and ability to process information.

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Round 4

Realizing their mistake the enemy begin dodging forward. It makes them less accurate but much harder targets. White and black squads miss. Ramirez sights in on a wounded man:

You ain’t leavin’ this dance early are ya?

And kills him. Alvin drops another of the wounded. Frank takes another target’s leg out, while Jamal’s next shot removes an arm.

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Critical hits: While it’s too time-sucking to factor in crits for the riflemen, the GM applies crits scored by PCs in order to demo them. Frank’s location roll is a double which signifies a critical. He rolls a d6 to determine severity. It is irrelevant – internal bleeding which will make a medic check difficult.

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Round 5

One enemy has closed in to short range and manages to score a minor hit on Alvin’s leg. White and black squads put one down and wound another. Seeing a couple of enemy beginning to cluster, Jamal flicks a selector on his rifle:

Eat grenade muthas!

The mini-grenade drops nicely among a pair of riflemen, dropping one and wounding the second.

Round 6

A wave of enemy dodge to short range! But dodging makes their fire inaccurate and only one hit is scored, and the squad member hit is still in action. In response all of white and black squads hit – but do not put any enemy down! Ramirez and Alvin take a leg out from their respective targets; Jamal drops a third one. In the distance about one-fourth the enemy begin retiring. Frank snorts at those:

Came up short against Sally Ridge

Things are getting hot! White and black squads marked by d6 of that color, command lance in middle. Enemy are colored d10s and d20s.

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Pulling new weapons, standing from prone: Things are getting to melee range now – which is good from a learning point of view! It costs 1MP to draw a new weapon and standing from prone is 2MP. Neither appears to increase firing target. 

Firing into melee: Adjacent hexes count as melee. Those not adjacent count as firing into melee (randomly damaging those engaged), but there is no penalty for using a handgun at melee range.

How melee works: Again, results are decided in reverse order. The same process of 2d6 against a target, the same location chart. Modifiers are a little different – for example dodging into combat is only +2 to target. Frank, who has neither blade skill nor pistol skill, will roll on the default, raw DEX.

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Round 7

Three surviving enemy rush Sally Ridge and pile on, bayonets thrusting! They are targeting the command lance. Ramirez is not directly engaged and stands, drawing his autopistol, and moves one hex [1MP] to close. All other in the command lance simply stand and draw sidearms. One each of white and black squads is also in melee range and draw bayonet.

All three enemy miss their thrusts, while white and black members manage a minor wound each. Ramirez shoots his man in the head, Alvin fires his heavy revolver to score a torso wound and Frank misses. Jamal has nothing to do since he was in melee next to Ramirez, so poses off.

Round 8

The two enemy still in the fight are engage against Alvin and Frank. Jamal and Ramirez pimp-roll over to help. In the melee exchange Alvin is nicked but drops his opponent and Frank shoots his opponent’s foot off.

Jamal surveys the field: two-thirds enemy are dead outright, a few are still crawling away. No friendlies lost.

Nice to get a warm welcome wherev’ we go!

End positions. Red dots mark the fallen enemy.

Frank stoops over his groaning opponent ready to give the coup-de-grace:

Hey Jamal whaddaya reckon on these neck tats?

Ain’t familiya wit’ dat dee-sign sucka, but warlords do patch pledges that way

That explains their can-run cain’t run method

And the others high-tailin’ it thru the horizon!

Figure they be back wit’ more friends an’ better gear

Jamal circles his arm in a rally-up movement:

Let’s git back, send skimmers ta recon their back-trail, an’ git heavy gear outta th’ dropship!

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That concludes the one-shot. Comments that may or may not be of use for the future:

When there are more NPCs than PCs, quick-and-dirty beats individual rolls.

Our GM rolled a couple of ‘summary’ rolls for general firing, which sped things up, but too often, players were sitting watching dice being rolled. 

Role playing needs characters to roleplay

We provided our own fun, mainly by characterising Jamal as an Afro Samurai type of over the top blaxploitation warrior, but in essence this was a skirmish game. Of which there are numerous examples out there, of which a high proportion are far future, and I venture to claim that most are better at activation and action than these 80s-based rules. The key arguments to progressing this as a season of gaming are:

  1. The rules are already around
  2. There is a roleplay component where limited information is provided and characters interact with that limited information and action changes based on that interaction.
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