Tuesday, April 11, 2017



Operatic Tactical Warfare in the Spinward Rift

I've always liked tactical wargaming, although I never have time for it these days. Either way, I usually enjoy the list-building aspect just as much as the actual game (especially as I'm never the best tactician). Probably the wargame equivalent of OSR-style rules is Fast and Dirty, which has been a basically open-source, extremely flexible skirmish ruleset for years. (More resources available here. However, there hasn't really been a complete "generic" setting for the game, so here's a bit of a go at it. I use the term "operatic tactical warfare" because I'm integrating more "heroic" aspects than the speculative fiction mould FAD defaults to.

The Spinward Rift

Centuries ago, Earth was drowned by rising tides of water and blood. The survivors clambered aboard scores of generation ships, forging thousands of new identities and creeds during the decades spent en route to their new home.
The ships’ designers had sent them to the Spinward Rift, a stretch of the galaxy with an exponentially higher density of habitable planets than any other ever detected. Even if their flight paths diverged, it was reasoned, crews would be able to redirect to a convenient second, third, or fourth choice, rather than being carried by their momentum infinitely through the void.
Each ship expected that, due to the realities of interstellar travel, they would barely ever have contact with one another once they arrived in the Rift. They were wrong.


Cyclopean gateways, fashioned out of an unknown, iridescent black metal, were spread across most of the Rift’s worlds. There was no rhyme nor reason to their placement – most had twelve or fifteen, some thirty or fifty, and they were scattered across verdant forest worlds, fertile archipelagoes, blasted acid deserts, hellish primordial worlds, and airless rogue planets alike. Nor did they provide instantaneous travel, as their first explorers expected – though certainly superluminal, travel between worlds still took weeks, sometimes even months. Furthermore, they only connected a few of the closest planets, and their energy weakened when transmitting large amounts of matter. And no other sign of their builders was ever found.
Nevertheless, they were exponentially more efficient than the generation ships that brought humanity to the Rift, and soon only rudimentary, system-bound craft roamed through space. The Dreamgates became the exclusive means of interplanetary transportation, and colonists raced between them to discover new resources for plunder, the crashed remains of failed ships, and to make links with the burgeoning cities of the successful ones. But this travel was not without cost. Dreamgate users, in their liminal days within, experienced strange, waking dreams, of fantastical landscapes, strange beasts, non-Euclidean flora, and of the spaces between stars. The initial studies revealed no behavioral or psychological effects, and the dreams did demonstrate continuity of consciousness, which put to rest early fears that the dreamgates killed those who entered them, and simply reconstituted a copy on the other side. So the colonists continued their use, not knowing the seed a select few of them were left with…

The Empire

One in one million Dreamgate travelers, it soon became clear, manifested odd powers. Repeated use made this more likely, and one family of eager explorers – the Porphyrii – began to benefit more than most. The Porphyrii, guided in part by the uncanny intuitions and parapsychological abilities they were developing, devised a genetic test that did what no previous researchers had done, and isolated a stretch of DNA associated with the Dreamgates’ effects. They immediately began locating other psionics and bringing them into the family, or killing them. While other groups soon followed their lead, the Porphyrii had an insurmountable first-mover advantage, and within a generation had unified nearly every colonized world under their banner. They declared an Empire, with no qualifier – there was, after all, no other.

The Collapse

But heredity, even coupled with psionic power, is no guarantor of good rule. The Porphyrii were no exception. For centuries, their abilities and the rifles of their Phalanx kept order in the Rift, even as successive Emperors lost themselves to hedonistic dissolution, grandiose bouts of self-deification, or quixotic attempts to map the ends of the dreamgate network. Worlds chafed under misrule, rose in revolt, or had to be granted forms of autonomy.
Then, Emperor Ouranov, the Empire’s twenty-fourth of their line, found a new object of worship. Wracked by weeks of visions, akin to those felt within the passage of the dreamgates, they felt something calling. Something akin to angels, or aliens, both entities that humanity thought had passed long ago. There was another step, they felt, beyond the rift, beyond even the fabric of spacetime, even beyond the strange beings that built the dreamgates. It was humanity’s time to take that step, even if the masses could never see.
Ouranov first converted the remnants of their family to this insight, and bade them scatter among the worlds, to prepare for their unveiling. Second, they contacted the Phalanx, asking the Empire’s famed army to lock down public plazas and buildings to stave off the possibility of unrest. Unfortunately, they did not react as had been foreseen.
It took time for the coup to emerge, so byzantine were the Phalanx’s ranks. Most were long dissatisfied with the errands given them, by their lack of success pacifying the peripheral worlds and the constant harrying strikes of the few independent holdouts. In the end, though, a cabal of Phalanx commanders sent emergency orders countermanding the lockdown and assassinated Ouranov as they were in the middle of giving a public speech explaining their insights.

Civil War

It has been decades since that day. The Remnant Empire, now ruled by some of the original cabal in conjunction with whichever local despots they bribed into remaining, controls a bit more than half its original territory. Most of the rest is led by the Secessionists, a fractious confederation of rebellious, victimized, and previously autonomous planets seeking to place itself at the head of a new order. The Companions, bereft of an emperor to protect but still dependent on the arcane techno-spiritual fusion that undergirds their engineered psychology, roam the Rift in search of their own inscrutable mission. The Phalanx fights itself seemingly as much as the Remnant Empire’s real threats, as local despots use its exhausted soldiers in their own petty turf wars.
Meanwhile, stranger threats circle the Remnant Empire like flies with a corpse. The Ascended, disciples of the Ouranov’s vision, gather turncoat Companions and distant Porphyrii cousins to nests hidden within its most peaceful core words. Abandoned rimworld factories pump out legions of Processors, deadly battle drones from a secret project whose creators were killed in the war. Dozens of independent worlds have banded together under the banner of the Dualists, a psionicist movement which claims to have corrected the last Emperor’s errors, and which has found a novel means of navigating the dreamgates. Other independent worlds have sent out teams of Scavengers to pick the choicest bones from between the feet of these squabbling giants.
And finally, much to humanity’s regret, it has made its first contact with living aliens. The Locusts are an all-consuming genus of hive beasts which descends directly from space, circumventing the dreamgates. And the Arrivals claim to be refugees, fleeing some terrible threat which has destroyed their home planets, but which they are adamant are unrelated to either the Locusts, or the Ascended.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Session 5: The Peacemakers

Tuan Fen - Fighter 2, overweight and ugly
+Fluffy, his armored wardog
Vlad - Rogue 2, dubiously "improved" by the Temple of Science
Sloth - Prophet (Cleric) 1, of Daog, God of Pits, dyslexic and with a bad back

The party awakes with Sean convalescing in one of the tents. Ricin Dexter and his armsmen have disposed of the peryton corpses.

There's a quick discussion of how the rules are going so far. I'll be posting my house rules pretty soon, but the main one is that I decided that 3d6 take highest for Level 1 hit points isn't my favorite - either it should be a simple hardcore 1d6, like every other level, or the modern "max HP at level 1" - and we decide to do the latter. I made it retroactive for the two Level 1 characters, so Sloth digs a pit and is strengthened by worship of his god. He still has a bad back though.

(My feeling on this is that characters should really start dying at Level 2 or 3, so they have a chance to build an emotional connection first)

The party waits four days in the wild to let Vlad train up to second level, and for Fluffy to recover from his previous injury. They reenter the gatehouse and bring Ricin to inspect the rest of the papers - "Very Scientific! Worth 150 GP. As per the previous agreement, that'll be 75 GP for you guys." As soon as he's out of earshot, however: "Didn't we get a better deal than that?" Nope, no you did not.

They inspect the north door. Vlad and Tuan Fen press their ears against it and hear nothing inside - but they do hear a screeching of metal on wall echoing through the dungeon. Door opens - it's a room with protonium shelving and eleven violently severed automaton heads. Since Tuan Fen is already fat and slow (move 7!) the other characters decide they have nothing to lose by getting down to the first weight bracket and take on all of them. First they show one to Ricin, and he extends his hand and says "The Temple would value that at 40 GP, so 20GP for the three of you." Sloth says, "Oh, in that case we'll just hold on to it." Ricin: "What do you mean? You're contractually obliged to turn it over to me." "Uhhh... I mean we'll take it back into the gatehouse and see if it can be used for anything." Ricin nods and makes a note of it in his Moleskine. 

The party decides to see what the pristine automatons can do with them. Tuan Fen also advocates murdering Ricin, and if the Temple doesn't like it, well they can just never go back to Denethix. Vlad and Sloth are less keen on pissing off the Temple, but agree that Ricin's not going to get that one automaton head, and they'll say they dropped it in combat or something.

When they come upon the automatons' barracks, they find the eight of them seated in a circle, each conducting minor repairs on the next one's back. Vlad produces the first automaton head: "Alas! Poor #FFF263! I knew him well. But at least he has a few useful disks inside." One of the shabbier automatons begins disassembling #FFF263's head and incorporating it into its own body.

The party discusses events with the automatons, discovering that the head room was the original lair of the hated Abomination, and was an unholy place (explaining why they hadn't been cannibalized already). The automatons again request that the party tackles the highest priority janitorial duty - cleaning the "very dangerous" bathroom. Tuan Fen demurs, saying they need the proper gear. This agitates the automatons, who complain that it has been a janitorial priority for hundreds of years, and asks that Tuan Fen inform his manager that they have exceeded the allotted workflow time by 700,000%. Tuan Fen says that management is out of touch, but maybe if they got an escort to catalog any other defects they could make a more accurate workflow. Four automatons decide to tag along.

Vlad opens the door they came in from, finding a gruesome jury-rigged automaton crouching at the door, listening to them. It screeches and flees, but the party chases it into the foyer and destroys it. One automaton drags it back to their HQ.

They move back up to the document room and open the slightly curved door to the east, unsurprisingly finding the emergency generator core. This is a long glass tube filled with green liquid, and the room itself is a 50' tall, 40' wide cylinder, with two ladders down and a bunch of tubes against the wall, some of which are broken. The party is standing in the top 10' of the cylinder, on a black metal catwalk grille. They send the three automatons down first, to scout, and then figure out a plan to lower Fluffy to the ground, as she can't climb ladders. They decide that they'll truss her up using their 30' of rope (the first 20' having been cut off to tie up Terry, I believe) and get the last 10' by tying that to their ten foot pole. Tuan Fen trusts only himself to do the lowering, but Sloth and Vlad begin climbing the ladders first.

Usually I keep a pretty good poker face going, but I seriously could not stop myself from breaking out into a wide grin as I described the football-shaped lumps of green matter loosing themselves from the broken pipes and revealing themselves to be bloodthirsty mutant stirges, attacking just as the two adventurers reached the halfway point. 

Rolling randomly for targets, I found that Sloth had attracted the attention of two stirges, Vlad, three, and the last one flew up to try to get at Tuan Fen. Vlad injured one with a throwing knife, but then tried an Athletics roll to drop down to the last rung - failed! He only took a minor injury from the fall, however, Tuan Fen quickly killed his attacker and then began laboriously coming down. Vlad and Sloth, clambering to the ground one-handed while slashing at their attackers, eventually managed to kill a couple stirges and reach the ground where the automatons helped them out and killed the rest, but both had been pumped with a good dose of the stirges' radioactive bile. Vlad got the better deal - he was looking a little greener, but felt a tad stronger, while Sloth only lost a point of CON. Vlad peered around hopefully to see if maybe he could get bit again, taking him to 16 Strength and a +2 bonus. They only found six green gems in the stirge nest though.

While inspecting the lower section, the southern door flew open and the party was attacked by two new degenerate automatons - these ones nearly eight feet tall! But they and their allies made short work of them, and two pristine automatons left to drag their corpses back to the barracks.

Moving south, they found another strange room - 20' square but with a 40' ceiling, and a rusty cage hanging down from it. Exploring further, they found themselves at the first incursion's batte site, and decided to return up the stairway. 

Marching confidently homewards, they ran right into a group of 6 lesser automatons in the foyer - but these were not immediately hostile. Unnerved, Sloth stepped forwards to negotiate. In a nutshell:

- The Jury-rigged claimed that they were forced to cannibalize human parts because the pristine automatons monoolized scarce resources to keep themselves in tip top shape, rather than sharing equally.

- The pristine one said they were bloodthirsty savages who killed all the humans.

- Neither side had any evidence to back up their claims, as the memories were overwritten by a software update.

- Tuan Fen and Sloth calmed the squabbling bots down and said they should work together to kill the Abomination - perhaps then there would be enough parts to go around.

- The party decided to make the foyer secure and sleep there, as neither side of automaton society trusted the other to leave their sight.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Session 4: Janitor Needed

The woke up to the sound of hellish screeching and the porters shouting about strange shadows - as if of men flapping their arms - passing over the campsite. Sean, Sloth, and Vlad ran out of the tent, as did Ricin Dexter and his Temple armsmen, Meniscus and Beaker. The three PCs drew their bows and sling, Ricin readied a throwing scalpel, and the armsmen pulled out long rifles.

The weird creatures soared low, silhouetted by the rising sun. As they approached, they resolved into huge winged creatures, half stag and half griffon with many sharp-tipped antlers. The humans got two volleys off, with a few arrows and bullets inflicting minor wounds on the perytons. As they approached, Beaker ran off and hid behind a tree. Then the beasts tried to gore Meniscus and Ricin upon landing, but one missed entirely and the other only slightly punctured Meniscus' side. Ricin fought with poisoned scalpels, but the poison didn't seem to affect the creatures.

The PCs moved to defilade positions so they could shoot the perytons without risking much friendly fire. They did this pretty effectively, getting a few good ranged hits in before all charging in to surround the perytons and chop them to death. Meniscus was scuffed up, and Ricin took a wicked slash into his shoulder. 

Sloth knew that Peryton gall bladders could be used to make a potion that allowed a human to run faster, and had Sloth attempt a harvest. He successfully extracted one, but also removed their hearts and roasted them off the open fire. Sloth and Vlad ate them, and Sloth experienced temporary chills and ghostly visions afterwards. Vlad also plucked some of their feathers and claws. 

Buoyed by this victory over huge magical creatures, the group decided to head back into the dungeon, undaunted by the reports of metallic screeching that emanated from the tunnels the previous night. They opened the "Barracks" door and found themselves in a 30' room with two southern and one northern door. Inspecting it closely, they found many footprints and a large dust-free area surrounding the northern door, which they decided was a trap. Vlad inspected it closely and found that the lever door handle indeed had a strange sort of resistance to being opened. After some discussion, they tied a rope to the handle and pulled the door open. On cue, a large black metal pipe swung down and through the door. A broken piece of metal wire hung down from the ceiling.

Beyond was a 30' hallway ending in another door, with two more on the west wall and one more on the east. The group decided to ignore this hall and try the southeastern door. They found that it opened into some kind of bathroom - they recognized the fixtures as toilets and showers, but of a far fancier and technologically advanced kind than they'd ever seen.  There was another door in the west wall of this room, and they opened it to see a group of eight more automatons.

Unlike the others, however, they hadn't incorporated human bones into their frames, and were friendly. They looked at the party in surprise: 
"We're uh a janitorial crew."
"There hasn't been any janitors here for hundreds of cycles! Many things need to be cleaned. For instance, the bathrooms you are in are very dangerous."
"Well we'd be happy to clean, but there are other robots we met, that had human bones in them, and they tried to kill us."
"Degenerates! They are despicable fallen creatures. We only use automaton parts to repair, due to our superior moral circuits."
"Could you come help us as we... cleaned?"
"Yes, we will send four with you, and the rest of us will defend our base of operations."

Looking around, it didn't seem like much of a base - lots of broken shards of furniture, and a pile of human bones in the southern end of the room. Nevertheless, four robots stepped forth, and marched north into the large room.

As they did so, the dust at their feet swirled and congealed, lit from within by static sparks.
The robots exclaimed, "Dust ghosts!" and began to attack. The party swarmed from behind, and found their swords and sling bullets effectively dispersed the ghosts. Only 1 automaton was pushed over during the battle, suffering a few dents.

Sloth asked what dust ghosts are, and the automatons said they were the lingering wills of their ancestors. "Robots building other robots? Sounds good to me," said Sean. 

The group headed north and the four automatons grabbed the hanging pipe and started lifting it back towards the ceiling and extruding thin steel wire. The party told them to wait, however, in case they had to pass that way again and the automatons obliged.

They began opening the doors in this hallway in clockwise order, finding a large single bathroom, with a working toilet and shower, but no sink - just like the communal bathroom they visited previously. Next was an empty 20' square room with plastic hooks mounted on the walls. After that, however, was a 20' square room with a huge floor to ceiling mirror built into the eastern wall, and a hole with multicolored wires poking out of it in the north wall. They found that the mirror couldn't be pulled off the wall, and seemed to conceal a hollow space. Sean and Vlad searched every surface of the room but found nothing new, other than that the mirror didn't seem to have any hinges - clearly the wires were some kind of control mechanism. They consulted the automatons, but the metal men said they didn't even know of such a space. They also didn't seem concerned about the party breaking the mirror, so Sloth wound up his sling and took a crack at it. The bullet ricocheted off, and nearly hit him in the face. He decided they needed more power. 

Next, Vlad and Sean examined the wires, and asked the automatons, which said that there used to be a kind of personal lamp there, but they had no idea when it had been detached.

The group tried the final door in the hallway and found it to be nearly empty, except for an unlocked black metal box. Vlad inspected it and found it to be trap free, but had Sean unlatch it. He found two gold pins with some kind of eagle and star insignia. They concluded they were rank pins. Sean picked up the box and found it to be about 10 pounds, but didn't have the room to carry it with him. 

Returning to the surface, they asked if Ricin wanted to take a look at a few things, and the scientist obliged, ordering his armsmen to keep a sharp eye out while he was gone. Vlad pinned the insignia on him and the automatons straightened up and shouted, "Lieutenant!" and asked him what the status of the Company was. "Uh... good. It's like, good," he said. The party cajoled Ricin into lightly interrogating the automatons, and found that they were charged with protecting the Gatehouse, "where we are now," and preventing anything from leaving the Environment "entry is to the southeast," which was "accident free for hundreds of cycles." The environment was closed, however, and had been when the company left - "standard operating procedure." When asked if anything was dangerous, they said that there was some kind of creature - worse than the "degenerates" - in the northeastern section of the Gatehouse, but that the Environment was "filled with danger and opportunity!" The automatons once again tried to get the party to clean the bathrooms but were ignored. Meanwhile, footsteps echoed from the hallway, coming from deeper within the facility, before fading again.

Ricin was then brought to the wires, which he said looked like mostly power cables, and a couple that weren't power cables. Vlad decided to try brushing some of them together but was unable to trigger anything. They sent Ricin back to the surface and went back down part of the "Subsurface Research Facility" stairs, inspecting the door they had ignored last section. Upon opening, they found another 20' square room, a lever, and a 5' wide black disk in the floor. Nothing they tried could budge the lever even an inch, and Sloth said it probably needed power. Sean grabbed the black metal box and set it on top of the disk, finding that it appeared to be of the same metal. 

Vlad and Sean opened the drawers and found them to be filled with ancient papers, written in Common but still basically incomprehensible. Vlad also noticed that the dust at his feet was pooling and running in rivulets towards the west side of the room... dust ghosts! The three PC's and four automatons were able to overcome the 7 creatures, Vlad finding that his arrows were much less effective than the heftier blows from Sloth's sling or his sword, but three of the automatons were heavily corroded and one of the dust ghosts pulled down Sean, shoving an abrasive, dusty arm down his throat and into his lungs. Even with Sloth's healing spells, it would take the elf nearly five whole weeks to recover. 

Vlad inspected the automatons and decided to return to the last session's battle site, but found only small handfuls of debris - the 15 destroyed bots were nowhere to be found, and there were two 10' scratch marks along the walls. When Vlad and Sloth delivered the parts to the automatons and described what they had seen, the bots shuddered in fear, and said it was probably the abomination. They thanked Vlad and decided they must retreat to their base in order to repair and assess the situation. 

The party decided they would do the same, and took the papers to Ricin, who was visibly excited by the sight of them, and brought Sean back to camp. 

Session 3: Strange Sightings

Back in Denethix, they gave Terry over to the Scientists as vengeance for his cowardice and betrayal. Hexane Deuterium rubbed his rubber gloves together as the armsman was dragged screaming into the labs. Hexane also agreed to a 1,000 GP fee to revive Vlad, and offered to "improve him" - the party politely declined and Hexane said "we'll do our best to honor your wishes." 

The scientists pumped out his entire bloodstream, removing both the poision and Vlad's hemophelia! (I asked him to roll 1d6 to pick a stat to re-roll, and lo and behold, it came up CON - his weakest stat. And the new stat was 14! The revive machine will have to break soon.) 

The party spent most of the next three weeks looking for lodging, after they found that renting was much cheaper than hotels. Tuan Fen did train heavily, gaining a second level, as well as attempting to foster bravery in his wardog Fluffy. Vlad and Tuan Fen decided to split a two room apartment, finding two available on an alley off of the Street of Students - Tuan Fen feeling that he'd rather be off the beaten path. The first landlord, Tefek, wouldn't play ball and give them a discount if they paid a year up front, so they went across the street and met Crush Grimskull, a pit fighting trainer who recognized Tuan Fen from the practice yard and heartily agreed to the deal. Meanwhile Sean and Sloth, unable to convince their rich friends to let them share a room, found a cheap studio on the Street of Industrious Efforts. Vlad bought a new bow, and then they went out to look for cults to join. 

Only the Church of Starry Wisdom advertised, however, and they were rude to Sloth, calling him delusional and telling him to renounce his vows and join them. He did ask what he'd need to do to demonstrate new loyalty if he did join them - but it was a tall order, as the cultists demanded he steal the God's Eye from the Grand Temple. He ended up declining, though they did find that the Church was looking for a "Shining Trapezohedron," which was prophesied to be buried beneath the western mountains.

Returning to the Scientists, the party revealed Harvinius' map (after making a copy) and got the Temple to send Ricin Dexter, two armsmen, two porters, and a big stack of water and food rations up with them to continue the deceased scientist's research. The Temple demanded half of any resulting loot, and the party surprisingly assented. Ricin was a Shadow Scientist (I haven't converted the ASE classes yet, so he's an amalgam of Rogue and Scientist) who used poisoned throwing scalpels and wore a black lab coat. The party was suitably impressed and decided they wouldn't kill him immediately. Hexane also announced that one of the scientist crew had a life monitoring device that would warn him if the man was killed, but he "didn't remember who had it." 

The crew trudged up the mountain. At one point strange shadows of men flapping their arms passed them, but they couldn't see what cast them. Further up, they ran into a caravan, marked as belonging to the Hodo Brothers - six similar-looking men who said they were taking a shipment of pine liquor to Denethix. Tuan Fen decided he'd buy some, and he'd drink off an entire flask of Purple Lighting to make room.

Tuan Fen's intoxication took a strange form, however. His lips turned purple, and a strange man in a purple robe appeared, telling him that glory was to be found beneath the earth. Tuan Fen started poking at the ground with a dagger, and then the man said that his friends were dragging him down and he should kill them. He found this advice less useful, however, and he told the man to shut up, sheathed his dagger, and continued up the mountain.

The rest of the party looked concerned, but ultimately this wasn't too strange for someone who'd chugged a flask of dubious alcohol.

The hiking sobered Tuan Fen up, luckily, and the man faded away. The map guided them well, and they entered a small cave, mercilessly slaughtering the bear inside. Its flesh yielded two rations, though more were wasted as the group lacked a trained butcher. There was a section of worked stone in the rear of the cave, with a six-inch hole and sealed black metal door. They asked Ricin if he'd brought any sick rock, and Ricin pulled out a large lead flask, and had one of his porters unscrew it and dump the fist-sized lump into the hole. They heard no sound afterwards, until the door hissed open, revealing  a brightly lit hall and octagonal room. 

Ricin declared that he and his team would guard the entrance and inspect the party as they exited. It would be their responsibility to face the dangers below. 

The room had a western door, an eastern door, and a northeast door. They were labelled, respectively, "Barracks," "Subsurface Research Facility," and "Emergency Generator Core" in ancient, but somehow still legible, stencils. 

The party decided to open the eastern door, finding themselves looking down a winding staircase. The stairs turned a corner to the south, and there was a door by the landing. They asked Sloth to open the door, but instead he began waltzing down the rest of the stairs, the rest of the group following at a 20' distance.

At the bottom, Sloth hit a T intersection - nothing visible but more hallway to the south, but a bizarre and frightening sight to the north: a phalanx of fifteen strange automatons, built out of corroded metal and bits of human bone and ribcage. The two groups were equally surprised, and the party gathered around Sloth as the creatures' eyes turned blood red.

Battle was joined. The automatons were eventually all destroyed, Tuan Fen's axe scything down two and three at a time. But first Fluffy was knocked out, tossed to the ground with broken ribs. Then Waddell was killed by a metal claw to the head. And the last automaton, bloodlust lighting its LEDs, cut open Tuan Fen's femoral artery, bringing the stalwart warrior down before being destroyed itself. 

The group fled to the camp to lick its wounds. Fluffy would live, but was out for at least two weeks. Sloth's spells and mundane medicine saved Tuan Fen's life, but he would be unable to fight for the next 48 hours.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Two Sessions in Denethix

Here's a recap of the first 2 sessions of my Land of One Thousand Towers campaign, using Roger's 52 Pages ruleset. So far everything merges pretty well - there's some awkwardness regarding prophets and the players are not fond of the restrictive rules surrounding firing into combat. I have a few thoughts about 52 Pages Prophets and ASE's atomized gonzo pantheon which I will post up later. 

Cast of Characters:
Sean, Level 1 Elf
+Waddell the Soldier
Sloth, Level 1 Prophet of Daog. Dyslexic.
Tuan Fen, Level 1 Fighter. Fat and ugly.
+Fluffy the Wardog
Vlad, Level 1 Hemophiliac Rogue

The group had met on the docks of the River Effluent, when Tuan Fen and Vlad arrived in Denethix bearing large bags of gold - gifts from their parents, who had grown rich from prior adventures on the far side of the world (Qelong). Sean and Sloth, and Sean's follower, the soldier Waddell, were hired on to carry and guard the gold.

In Denethix, of course, there is only one place to go to keep large amounts of treasure: The Bank Inviolable. The group looked around at the building's baroque vaulted waiting area, and especially curiously at the machine gun pods of the Custodians of Fiduciary Duty. The bank staff recognized a prospective large depositor when they saw one, and a functionary came out to take the deposit and explain the 50/month deposit fee. He nodded at the hulking Custodians by way of explanation.

However, Vlad and Tuan Fen wanted to sign wills to prevent the loss of their accounts, should either be killed. For this, they would need a legal notary. The functionary recommended Low, Ball, & Sleigh, a few blocks north of the bank. The firm charged 180 for the service, which they grudgingly assented to. Trustworthiness and expediency was worth any price. Less trustworthy, at least to the two rich adventurers, were Sloth and Sean, who had stalked the depositors all the way to the bank, making noises about wills and bodyguarding and their poverty. These went unheeded, but the four adventurers did band together in search of a good bar.

After an hour or so they entered Hursenbuck's, owned by the efficient bartender Mary Hursenbuck. Business was good today, as two heavily armored men named Terry and Phil were loudly lamenting the loss by ambush of the Temple of Science caravan they were assigned to guard.

Tuan Fen sent the pair drinks, and soon enough they had spilled the beans, along with a significant amount of beetle whiskey. They had been guarding a Temple of Science caravan when it was ambushed by a "horde" of Moktars near Chelmsfordshire, and they had dragged away the scientist Harvinius and a huge, heavy chest. Terry tried to negotiate for a cut of the cargo, but the four adventurers silenced that train of thought with harsh glares. Fleeing from duty, they agreed, meant the guards had forfeited their claim on any gold - leading the way to the Moktars was valuable only for redemption. 

So they set out from Denethix immediately, passing through the town of Retennis and the small, depressed village of Chelmsfordshire. Terry and Phil led them to a location an hour west of Denethix, where the group found the smashed and charred remains of the caravan. A deep gouge in the earth disappeared into the forest to the north.

The Moktars had covered their tracks poorly, and soon the adventurers marched up to the perfectly-square entrance to what was evidently their lair. 

Sean ascended a nearby tree, bow at the ready, while the rest of the group shouted into the cave. They heard no response but the unmistakable sound of tomato breathing. Sean lightly descended from the tree and Vlad was sent in to scout. This he did poorly, rustling very obviously through the dry leaves spread along the passageway. In the darkness to the south, two pairs of shining pupils looked back at him. He signaled to the rest of the group, leaned around the corner, and loosed an arrow. 

Sloth brought his torch, and Tuan Fen brandished his battle axe and charged round the corner. As he stepped past Vlad, he heard a click and felt the ground give way beneath him - a pit trap! - but momentum carried him onto firmer ground, where he slew a Moktar with a single blow. Alongside him, a sling bullet and arrow killed the huge wolf the Moktar had been restraining.

There was another loud crack as Vlad overextended his bow and broke it in half (His third fumble in a row - and I admit I misread the crit/fumble chart, he should have just dropped the bow). The two pieces and nocked arrow tumbled into the pit trap. Behind him, he heard angry roars as two more Moktars advanced from the northern hallway. But these looked ragged, with bald patches and open sores. An arrow from Sean lodged in the left moktar's shoulder, and they retreated, around a corner and into the dark. The group heard more loud roars and then a door slammed shut. 

The band regrouped and crossed the open pit, arriving in sort of a guard room with two doused torches lying on the ground. They formed up, opened the door, and advanced cautiously down the hall. This they were right to do, as Tuan Fen quickly noticed eight Moktars, including the two they had seen earlier, crouching in readiness along the wall of the next room. Having nowhere else to go, however, the lion-men were reduced to lambs lining up for slaughter, as the gang used the choke point in the hall to cut them down, two by two, until they were all dead. Even the hulking chieftain, awakened from a deep and terminal slumber by the din, was brought down - though he did manage to club down Waddell and give the soldier a serious concussion. 

Terry and Phil had been no help the whole time, hanging back and offering only cheers and hollers as the adventurers waded through Moktar blood. Now they advanced to spit on the Moktar corpses and congratulate the adventurers on their help. This pleased the merchant Harvinius least of all, and he leaned up from a pile of refuse in the corner to curse them and order them to leave. He also told the adventurers to leave the room, or else they would die! (In 52 Pages, elves don't have dark vision by default, so Sean neither knows of nor can see the sick-light.) The adventurers learn of Terry and Phil's true cowardice while interrogating Harvinius, but he dies after a few minutes. 

The group searches the room and the Chieftain's bed chamber but only find a strange lump of yellow rock. Suspicious that it is probably what sickened the Moktars and Harvinius, they decide to give it, along with some harsh words, to Terry and Phil and send them on their way. 

The adventurers turn their attention to a strange metal plate in the floor of a dead-end hallway south of the Moktar barrack. Vlad sees a lever mounted in the wall next to it an approaches with a ten foot pole, and flips it up. Immediately the plate reveals itself to be the top of an inverted steel pyramid as it flies up and attaches itself to the ceiling with a reverberating clang, revealing a dark shaft. Vlad's weapons also respond, tugging at their clasps but with nothing like the force of the pyramid. The sensation recedes as he steps away.

Tuan Fen is sent forward to test the magnetic field next. As he enters the hallway, his armor begins pulling him up with increasing strength. Soon he's nearly weightless, and he's only halfway to the shaft. He turns back.

Immediately the gang strips itself of metallic weapons and armor, taking up Moktar bone-clubs instead. Tuan Fen selects the chieftain's huge two-handed ceratops femur. Sean tests his arrows, finding that the heads are small enough that the strange force doesn't rip all of them from his grasp - only a few break free and rise to the ceiling as he walks forward.

Sean and Sloth head down first, followed by Vlad. Waddell, dazed but ambulatory, is set to operate the lever if necessary, and Tuan Fen prepares himself as backup, if necessary. 

At the bottom of the shaft is a small natural cave. At the far end sits a treasure chest - doubtlessly the caravan's! - and in the center is a naked, purpled human corpse. Sloth walks right out in the open to investigate... And two huge crab spiders drop from the ceiling. The first sinks its fangs into Sloth's shoulder, and he passes out from pain and poison. Sean begins loosing arrows, and Vlad gets in a few strikes before giant spider fangs find their mark, and he, too, goes down.

With a roar, Tuan Fen slides down the rope and counterattacks, finishing off the first spider and then attacking the second, much larger one, which had been wrapping Sloth's body with silk. (I admit to going easy on the party at this point.) Soon, though, he knocks the creature onto its back and sinks the Moktar weapon deep into its abdomen. 

The survivors take stock. Sloth is alive, though it will take three weeks for him to recover. Vlad is dead, purpled like the other corpse in the cavern. The treasure chest's lock has been smashed off, however, and they are mollified by the discovery of 800 gold coins, and its inch-thick lead lining. They realize it could be used to safely carry the Sick Rock.

Moving the dead, injured, and treasure up the shaft, Waddell greets them raggedly and hands over a parchment he says he found on Harvinius' body. It's a map, to a nearby mountain, with the words "Sick Rock is key." 

The party saunters out of the cave, expecting to see Terry and Phil waiting patiently outside so they can retrieve the rock and put it in the chest. Instead, they see (passing both Notice Detail and Hear Noise checks) the two armsmen leap out of the bushes, snarling with anger! But two drunk armsmen prove a poor match for Tuan Fen's recovered great-axe. Phil is beheaded, and Terry is grievously injured and locked inside the treasure chest with the Sick Rock.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Tower of the Stargazer: ASE Modifications

Going to run Tower of the Stargazer again as a one-off, but this time with a group that might actually turn into a regular campaign. I've decided my main campaign will be Pat Wetmore's Land of 1,000 Towers, so a few things are in order to fit the Stargazer in a little better.

Of course, ASE is gonzo, and the Tower is pretty scientific and nonspecific, so it wouldn't be out of place to just run the Tower straight. However, I do want it to be a good introduction to the ASE style of gonzo, and it will need to hook into the titular megadungeon.

1. The statue. I'm not sure if ASE has any medusas, but some weird folktale just won't cut it. I'm not even sure medusas even exist in the Land. Instead, it'll be a statue of Torpo the Cannibal fighting the Sasquatch Khan, tying in nicely with Obelisk of Forgotten Memories.

2. The prison. While the quasi-spectral undead were pretty effective here, I wasn't quite sure how much I liked that they charged as soon as you open the door. Yes, I get that it's a lesson for listening, first, but not quite in the theme of voluntarily triggered traps. Instead, we'll get a Sasquetron (also replacing the fifteen-armed skeleton) that turns on if the party takes the key ring off the hook. The dead guy and parasite will remain, although it will use the parasite mechanics from Obelisk of Forgotten Memories. 

3. The telescope. The control panel will gain an "aiming" dial, with two black ink marks. The leftmost mark points the telescope (rotating the whole fist) at Mt. Rendon - this is the current setting. The right hand one points it at the Inn of the Alabaster Surprise's courtesan changing room. Other settings do move the telescope but refocusing to get a usable image is a laborious week-long process. However, the beam's deceleration process hasn't yet been figured out, and depending on how it's aimed you will either miss your target and go flying into space, possibly becoming an Orbital God, or otherwise blasting a person-shaped hole in the surface and dying instantly. 

4. The books. Some of the books are good as-is, but all the Eldritch Library books about communicating with space aliens are instead equally deranged histories of the Land of 1,000 Towers.

5. Appearance. Obviously, the tower is going to look like a huge stone arm, with the dome being a clenched steel fist. Plus, when the telescope extends, it takes the place of the middle finger.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Review: 52 Pages & Tower of the Stargazer

Tower of the Stargazer is as great an introductory adventure as everyone says it is. I did go easy on the party (there should have been two deaths) but I'll justify it as a one-off with family, so there's less pressure to use the sheer brutality of the first trap to set the tone of adventure gaming in general. I also really let the players go easy on the ghost, letting my partner's stage-magician brother win with a card trick, mostly because it's the one part of the module I actively dislike. I understand why Raggi put it there, but, damnit, if I sign up to play a game I want to play that game. Running it again, I'd probably just have it be a "ghost barrier" they have to knock out by turning, holy water, magic weapons, or some other ritual. I guess riddles also work. Also, there were a few ambiguities with room descriptions and maps, most importantly being Calcidius' position - the map puts his containment circle very close to the staircase, but the room description says he's in the center, which is probably more accurate, as I went by the map position and found myself momentarily trying to figure out what his reaction would be to the party breaking open the door and then falling back down the stairs in a heap. Finally, I like the delicate risk-reward balance the module has. Failing to get the treasure stash is by no means a failure, as a pretty average 1-2 session haul can be pilfered elsewhere, and the lack of wandering monsters pairs nicely with the deadliness of most of the triggered traps - there are a dozen ways to die, but you can spend a good amount of time contemplating them.

The 52 Pages rules worked very nicely, and I didn't have any trouble integrating them with the Tower. Some adjustment would have been required for Calcidius, as the rules don't approach modeling a magic user of his level, and the magic system is distinct enough from the D&D baseline that I can see myself having to rework any NPC magic users that appear in future modules beforehand. I've put together a PDF compilation of all of Roger's Color Magic posts to help with that, but of course his system has evolved since then. The players didn't really use their knowledge rolls much, although I did pre-roll a lot of their characters which gave them less time to inhabit the world before making their selections. In the future, I think the way character creation is highly integrated with the game rules would be very helpful for quickly getting new players on their feet.

I will definitely be using 52 Pages rules for my next campaign (and hope that the Next 52 will be ready by the time characters start to breach 3rd level!). I'll be running ASE, and although my main group will start out with the suggested ASE intro scenario, I'll probably post a Tower of the Stargazer reskin I'm working on in case I need to do an alternative starting module.