Dateline – Storm Point

***SPOILER ALERT***

I’m running Tomb of Horrors for this leg of the Storm Point campaign – indeed, for the rest of the campaign. You may not want to read on if you’re playing the game yourself.

***SPOILER ALERT***

This past session of the Storm Point game, we started on the penultimate adventure in the Tomb of Horrors series. The plan is to use this series to wrap up the Storm Point campaign – the series finishes with the characters in the early Epic tier, and at that point the whole group thinks they’ll have had enough1 of D&D for a while. We’ll take a look at other games at that point, and decide what we want to do next2.

In the downtime between sessions, I had the players level their characters up to 18th level, the recommended level for this adventure. This is my way of speeding us along to the conclusion of the adventure and the campaign; by just levelling up to the appropriate level at the start of the new adventure, we get to focus more on the adventure, and have a fighting chance of wrapping things up in the next year or so. I think I was a little too generous with the way I let them pick new magic items, but what the hell.

We started the session with a recap, focusing on the big picture of the previous adventures: someone was using strange necromantic devices to steal the energy of death that rightly belonged to the Raven Queen. This energy was being collected and used to power Acererak’s bid for godhood, and our heroes had messed up two of his devices, so he was going to start gunning for them soon enough. The only chance the party had was to take the fight to him, and put him down before he put them down.

To that end, I started things with skill challenge, letting them try and figure out how to get at Acererak. It was also a way for the players to flesh out what the characters had done during the downtime – each character got to tell a little story about how they had tracked down information. I decided that, when they got to Skull City and the abandoned tomb, they would have to face one encounter before getting to the tomb, plus one more encounter for each failure on the skill challenge, as the various gangs in the city got word from their contacts that the group was coming.

There were no failures in the initial skill challenge, nor in the follow-up to actually get through the city safely, so they only ran into the Brothers of the Black Academy right at the entry to the abandoned tomb. Our heroes, in their own inimitable fashion3 decided not to talk to the folks whose home they were invading, but instead threatened them and tried to scare them off. The Black Academy mages and their wrath spirits were having none of that4 and attacked.

We didn’t make it all through the combat before we had to quit for the evening. Part of that is the fact that it’s a pretty tough fight, and part of it is that the players aren’t completely familiar with their new powers yet, and part of it is that higher level fights tend to be a bit more of a grind. But I was able to dish out a gratifying amount of damage, almost dropping a couple of the characters, and only having one of the monsters drop.

But we were getting tired, so I took a picture of the positions of everyone, and we retired until the next session.

  1. About three or four years’ worth of 4E, and about five years of 3E before that. []
  2. Some of the ideas on the table include Ashen Stars, Night’s Black Agents, Dungeon World, 13th Age, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, and some sort of Fate game. []
  3. That is, as bullying dicks. []
  4. After all, they dealt with bullying dicks all the time. []

Dateline – Storm Point

***SPOILER ALERT***

I’m running Tomb of Horrors for this leg of the Storm Point campaign. You may not want to read on if you’re playing the game yourself.

***SPOILER ALERT***

Last session of the Storm Point campaign, we wrapped up the second installment of the Tomb of Horrors adventures, called The Tomb of Shadows. We had almost a full house – missing just one player – and the group decided that one of the other players would play his character, just to make sure that Thrun the Anvil, defender supreme, would be there helping them out against what they assumed would be their toughest fight yet.

We picked up right after the fight that ended the last session, and they immediately took an extended rest. As mentioned in previous posts, resting in Moil1 is not as effective, thanks to the numbing necromantic cold. Characters do not regain all their healing surges – one less for each extended rest they’ve taken here, plus they get to make an Endurance check against a rising DC or lose another surge.

So, the gang had had about enough of that sort of thing2, and wanted to wrap things up and get out while they could. They continued into a maze of rough passages, many dead-ending in little alcoves filled with sarcophagi. A little investigation revealed that the alcoves were all trapped, and fiddling with the sarcophagi would drop the whole mess down into a pit.

Eventually, they found a place where the trap had been tripped, and saw a passage off the bottom of the pit. They climbed down and found a chamber where a squad of shadar-kai had triggered some sort of necromantic trap and been slain. They were suspicious of this, having not had the best of experiences with the shadar-kai in the past, but Milo was able to identify these ones as faithful servants of the Raven Queen3, and they figured out that these must have been sent to figure out who was screwing around with the flow of death energies that should be flowing to the Raven Queen.

Of course they looted the bodies. What did you expect from adventurers? But the cleric also said some blessings over the bodies.

The next challenge was finding the way out of the maze of trapped passages. They finally found it by tripping a trap and dropping down one of the pits, then noticing the trap door in the ceiling above when Soren climbed back up.  This led them to another “Screw you, adventurer!” room, with four of the demon faces that had done them so much damage the previous session. These ones were not trapped, and had real trap doors in the mouths, so once the gang got over their4 paranoia, they dropped down into the passage that led to the final encounter.

This last room contained the mystical engine that was channeling the death energy for Acererak. They started trying to dismantle it5, but failed on the first roll, which triggered the defenses. Said defenses being the summoning of a skull with jewels for eyes and teeth that tried to eat their souls6. Our heroes immediately stopped trying to dismantle the engine7 and turned their attention to smashing the skull.

It was a tough fight. The thing managed to steal Soren’s soul early on8, and got to heal himself twice – once by consuming a previously stolen soul, and then by consuming Soren’s soul, killing him dead. It almost managed to get Milo and Faran the same way, but they were luckier with their saving throws.

In the end, they managed to take the construct down, and destroyed the arcane machine. Then they used the teleport circle to head back to Belys to get Soren raised from the dead.

We’re half-way through the Tomb of Horrors, now, and I’m letting the characters advance to level 18 before we jump into the next adventure. I just need to decide how to handle getting them appropriate magic items for their level without giving away the store or being too stingy. I think I’ve got a plan, but I need to run the numbers.

Anyway, next game won’t be for a few weeks, due to other demands on my time. We’ll be ready by then.

  1. Well, the way I do it, anyway. []
  2. Also, they’d had about enough of the “Screw you, adventurers!” nature of the Shadow Tomb. They accept it, now that they’ve realized that it’s the nature of the adventure, and no longer blame it on me. So, win. []
  3. Unlike the rebel shadar-kai they had previously dealt with, who had sworn allegiance to Vecna. []
  4. Very well-earned. []
  5. A skill challenge – and not an easy one. []
  6. Actually, it wasn’t a demi-lich, but instead a construct that did almost the same things, just not as well. But it scared the crap out of the players. []
  7. Dunno if that was the best course of action, as dismantling the engine would have seriously weakened the construct. But their motto is “Get ’em!” so I can’t say I’m really surprised. []
  8. Good thing his player had Thrun’s character sheet to run, otherwise he would have had very little to do all encounter. []

Dateline – Storm Point

*** Potential Spoilers ***

The adventure described below is loosely based on the great sword-and-sorcery novel Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed. I think what happens in the game is probably different enough from what happens in the novel that nothing’s gonna get ruined, but things change in play, and I might end up using some plot point from the book that reveals a little too much. I’ll try not to let that happen, but you have been warned.

Oh, and you should also go read Throne of the Crescent Moon, because it’s a fantastic book.

Last Sunday, after a lenghty hiatus1, we managed to get the gang together to wrap up the Throne of the Crescent Moon inspired adventure I’ve been running. It looked – right up to the last minute – like we might have a full house, but then someone had to cancel2, so we had four out of five players.

Because of the long stretch between the last game and this one, everyone was kind of fuzzy on what was going on and why the characters were doing stuff, so we opened with a pretty in-depth recap. I had been completely unsure about what the group would plan to do with the information they had uncovered last time, so I was pretty much flying by the seat of my pants on this session. I had a stack of stats, and some half-formed ideas about various options, but nothing really solid, because I didn’t know which way the group would jump.

After some discussion3, he gang decided that the main goal was killing Mouw Awa, because he had pissed them off the most. Oh, and they also figured that they should probably stop Dhamsawaat from staging a ghul-backed coup of Belys. Investigation of the sewers, where they had last encountered Dhamsawaat, located the entry to the crypt where they had faced him previously. Unfortunately, that entry was a rectangle of runes carved in the bricks, similar to a teleport circle.

This entry seemed to open an actual physical passage to a remote location, rather than teleporting people there. And it was closed with some sort of key or passphrase that the group didn’t know. So, they set up a blind in the sewers, and decided to camp there until the next night without moonlight4. When the gate opened, they went charging down into the crypt, which was once again full of ghuls.

Mouw Awa was there, of course, and he did his level best to mess the crew up. The ghuls were are minions, so were an annoyance but not much more. And in behind them all, Dhamsawaat was working some strange ritual that the players didn’t even notice until about three rounds in.

Because of their history with him, our heroes concentrated everything on Mouw Awa, dropping him to about 8 hp in the first round. Then he possessed the team’s tank and went to town on the others. Things got kinda messy after that, but the group finally realized that, under cover of Mouw Awa and the ghuls, Dhamsawaat had been steadily channeling power into a huge mound of skulls, and that couldn’t possibly be good.

The way I had set up the ritual was that Dhamsawaat could use a move action each turn to power it. After he had powered it seven times (and he was able to power it twice in one round, because he couldn’t see the characters to attack them), a huge bone ghul was going to rise from the skulls and hand the heroes their heads before going on to rampage through Belys. The power was at four or five when someone finally attacked Dhamsawaat and pulled him out of the magic circle.

This broke the ritual5 and released a blast of energy6 that finished of Mouw Awa, dropped the characters’ main tank7, and fried all the ghuls. It also caused the crypt to start to collapse, in best action movie style.

Dhamsawaat8 fell into the cracks forming in the earth, and our heroes made a panicky escape9.

By that time, we were about two and a half hours overtime, so we called it a night. Before the next game, I think I’m going to have the characters take some downtime and level up to about level 14. Gotta look at the numbers before I commit to that, but that’s my plan.

In closing, I just want to say thank you to Saladin Ahmed, author of Throne of the Crescent Moon for writing the book that served as inspiration for this adventure, and for being cool and encouraging about me running it and writing about it. Thank you, sir. You are a scholar and a gentleman.

I’m looking forward to book two.

  1. Caused by the fact that it’s hard to schedule people for a casual game during the summer months, especially when the majority of the players have kids. Also, it’s been a pretty busy summer for me. []
  2. We missed you, Br. Linton! []
  3. Which, of course, ran pretty far afield from the game for a bit. []
  4. I rolled a d8 to get the number of nights they’d have to weight, and got a 7. After two nights, they said, “Screw this,” and went and paid a seer to tell them when the next moonless night would be. []
  5. Initially, I mistyped broke as borke, which also fits, because the ritual was well and truly borked. []
  6. 2d6 per point of power in the ritual, so 8d6 or 10d6; I forget which. []
  7. Though with his triggered actions, he wound up with more hit points than he had before the blast went off. Stupid dwarf fighters. []
  8. Who, at this point, was barely scratched. []
  9. The warlord almost fell to his death a couple of times, saved once by a lightning lure and once by someone grabbing his arm. And one of the others who went to save the warlord almost fell to his doom, as well. It was lovely. []

Dateline – Storm Point

*** Potential Spoilers ***

The adventure described below is loosely based on the great sword-and-sorcery novel Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed. I think what happens in the game is probably different enough from what happens in the novel that nothing’s gonna get ruined, but things change in play, and I might end up using some plot point from the book that reveals a little too much. I’ll try not to let that happen, but you have been warned.

Oh, and you should also go read Throne of the Crescent Moon, because it’s a fantastic book.

Last Sunday saw us return to Belys, and the matter of ghuls stealing families from their homes. When we last left our heroes, they were wandering the sewers, trying to find the source of the ghuls. They overheard a whining, sycophantic voice in one sewer byway that seemed to be making excuses to another person, trying to explain why he had failed his blessed friend.

When the group charged into the room, they found that it had changed between one breath and the next, from a narrow, dark sewer to a vast, decaying necropolis. A pile of skulls sat in front of them, a number of shattered stone sarcophagi lay off to one side, and the floor was split in a number of places with deep chasms. Amid the sarcophagi was a tall, defaced statue, and a figure in red and black robes sat at its feet, conversing with a being that looked like a disembodies shadow and called itself Mouw Awa1.

There was also a whole bunch of earth ghuls and fire ghuls. And everyone rushed to attack.

My plan was to have the fellow in red and black escape the fight, and Mouw Awa and the ghuls keep the characters busy while that happened. It started out pretty well but on the first turn, Thrun managed to make his way all the way across the battlefield and knock the boss on his butt. All of a sudden, his great defensive position was much less great. I managed to get Thrun off him2, and he made his ignoble escape, but it was a much closer call than I might have liked.

Once he was out of the way, Mouw Awa proved to be just the kind of pain-in-the-ass nasty villain I wanted – he kept possessing whoever looked most interesting and attacking party members, all the while keeping up a running commentary on how he was going to feast on the souls of the characters for daring to threaten Mouw Awa’s blessed friend. The ghuls – a mix of minions and standard ghuls – proved to be effective in the large numbers3 to keep the PCs from using their mobility to best effect, and I actually had the fighter to within 30 points of being dead. That’s the closest I’ve got him in many a session.

But we were approaching the hard stop time of the evening, so I had Mouw Awa declare that his blessed friend was safe, and then he fled. All the ghuls collapsed into dirt and maggots and cinders, and we called it an evening.

The purpose of this encounter was two-fold: first, to show them that they’re dealing with something of larger scope than they had first thought, and second, to make them hate Mouw Awa, because he’s one of the coolest villains I’ve read in some time. Success on both counts.

Next, they’re going to need to figure out where they are, and what’s really going on.

  1. I had statted up Mouw Awa, starting from a shadow demon I found in the Compendium, and tweaking his powers and abilities. He’s not the Mouw Awa from the books – different origin, and different powers – but I loved the fauning, venomous nature of his character from the book, and the wonderful, wheedling voice and speech patterns from the audiobook, so I kept those. []
  2. No easy feat. Thrun is a Dwarf Fighter, and is built to stick and hold to any bad guy he gets up against. []
  3. Since I’ve decided to forgo the experience and advancement system, I’m worrying less about building “balanced” encounters for the game. I eyeball the encounter, think about what purpose it serves in the narrative, and then fill it with what looks cool. So far, it’s working. []

Dateline – Storm Point

*** Potential Spoilers ***

The adventure described below is loosely based on the great sword-and-sorcery novel Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed. I think what happens in the game is probably different enough from what happens in the novel that nothing’s gonna get ruined, but things change in play, and I might end up using some plot point from the book that reveals a little too much. I’ll try not to let that happen, but you have been warned.

Oh, and you should also go read Throne of the Crescent Moon, because it’s a fantastic book.

There’s some stuff going on in real life that’s been making it hard to get quorum to play the Storm Point game, so for the next little while, we’re relaxing the quorum rules a bit to make sure the game doesn’t die from lack of momentum. Normally, we play as long as four out of five players can make it, and have one of the players double-up on running a character. But doubling up on a character is a pain, and we’re more likely to get three than four players these days, so I dropped the quorum requirement to three, said no one needs to double up, and decided to keep the entire adventure within the city of Belys to allow a little bit of verisimilitude for changing party composition based on player attendance1.

This sort of ties in with some other meta-changes to our regular game. One of the reasons we had players doubling up on characters was to keep the experience point and treasure distribution even, and so limit the amount of fiddly bookkeeping I was having to do as GM. I’ve decided to move a couple of steps farther in the direction of eliminating fiddly bookkeeping, in the interests of making the game do what the group wants it to do. A few sessions back, we had a discussion about the direction of the game, wherein we decided that we would use campaign downtime to be able to advance the characters without it taking another six years to get to 3oth level2. I’ve decided to do away with handing out experience points3 – instead, I’m just going to tell the characters when they advance in level, and use downtime for bigger level jumps.

As for treasure, I’m still working on that, but I’m leaning towards abstracting that more, and letting characters gain and swap magic items in the downtime. We’ll see how that goes.

Anyway.

I had just finished reading Throne of the Crescent Moon, so when I was looking for a city-centric adventure idea set in a vaguely Arabic city4 , I had a good model right in front of me. I took the main idea of an evil necromancer summoning ghuls for a nefarious purpose and came up with my own nefarious purpose and version of the necromancer. Then, I started reskinning ghouls to serve as my ghuls.

In the book, there are a number of different types of ghul, and I wanted to reflect that, but Belys is all about the Genasi noble families controlling the elements, so I decided that my flavours of ghul were all going to be elementally linked – earth ghuls, sand ghuls, wind ghuls, fire ghuls, storm ghuls, water ghuls, etc. I started with the earth ghuls, using the horde ghoul stat block, and just describing them and their paralysis attack differently – they looked more like putrescent corpses with burning eyes, long claws, and sharp fangs, and their paralysis felt like the earth trying to draw the victim down into a grave.

I’m not going to talk about the other flavours of ghul I’ve come up with, because the party hasn’t met any of them, yet.

So, armed with the ghul stats and the necromancer stats, we started the game.

The characters had become moderately famous in their quarter of the city after their elimination of Channah and their favour for Bitaryut the Blind, not to mention their popular feasts and their ties to a few merchant concerns. When they heard reports of poor families disappearing from the labyrinthine alleys of their neighbourhood, they decided to take a look.

Investigation found that the missing families had all lived in homes on cul-de-sac alleyways, and each had had a symbol drawn on their doors in blood. These symbols, according to the priest and the swordmage, were sigils of dark magic designed to call the corrupted dead to their location. Our heroes found evidence specifically of ghuls – and the priest was able to fill his comrades in on the difference between ghuls and the more common ghouls. The primary difference was that ghuls were created by necromancy, and didn’t propagate themselves the way ghouls did, which meant that someone was creating and using them.

The gang trooped up to the main temple of the Raven Queen, who handles the official graveyards of the city, and managed to only insult the honour of their priests a moderate amount when they asked if anyone had been robbing the graves under their care. The Raven Queen priests huffily informed them that none of the graves they oversaw had been desecrated, but that some in the city performed private burials for their family members, either for religious or financial reasons, and they couldn’t be expected to watch over them.

Putting things together, the party began to speculate that they might have someone trying to build an army of ghuls in the city, starting with some of the non-consecrated graves, and then using those ghuls to fetch fresh materials from the poor living in the alleys of the city. This was somewhat worrisome to them.

Given that their investigation had revealed that the attacks had all occurred on nights when the moon was either new or hidden by heavy clouds, the group decided to set up a watch to try and stop the next attack and, hopefully, gain some more information about where the mastermind was located. They hired a few mercenaries and paid a number of vendors and other street people to keep an eye on things5 and, when a dark night came, they used the hand of fate ritual to narrow down the probable location of the next attack.

They took to the air on their hippogriffs6 to be able to get to any of the three or four alleyways they thought were the targets. And, sure enough, one was. The ghuls were mainly minions, with one tough ghul seeded in the middle, and they took them out pretty quickly. They also spent a fair bit of time looking around for the necromancer they were sure must be on the scene to control the ghuls, but didn’t find him7. They then followed the ghuls’ back trail down into a sewer and another huge mob of ghuls. Again, they were minions, and the gang managed to wipe them out in short order.

That’s where we left things. Tomorrow is the next installment, as they see if they can find out where these ghuls are coming from, and what vile plan is behind their creation.

We’ll see how that goes.

  1. That is, only the characters of the players who attend get to go on the adventure, so no one has to play two characters. []
  2. Check out the link for more details about the discussion and the decision. []
  3. I’m still using experience points to build encounters, because it’s a pretty handy way of balancing things. []
  4. My game city, Belys, is vaguely Arabic. Dhamsawaat, the city in the novel, is much more than vaguely Arabic. This comes from the author having done actual research, and me having based my Arabic city on hazy memories of 1001 Arabian Nights. []
  5. And, of course, they pointed out that, if they had become crime bosses after ousting Channah, they’d already have these operatives on the payroll. I just sighed and rolled my eyes. []
  6. I will never live that down. []
  7. Was he even there? I’m not telling. []

Dateline – Storm Point

This latest session of the Storm Point game was a little different. First of all, one of the players has left the game after many years1, so the group is down to five. Second, we had a request to wrap up extra early, so I didn’t have much time to stretch things out. Given both those things, I decided to take a bit of a chance to see how things would fall out if I tried something the group wasn’t expecting.

As you may have gleaned from these posts, the group for this game is very much of the beer-and-pretzels, kick-in-the-door-and-get-’em style of play. We use the game primarily as a way to socialize with each other, and attentions are such that we play a pretty bare-bones flavour of 4E – we have combats, and we have the scenes that move you between combats. I try to weave enough of a story that the group genuinely cares about what they’re doing when they get into a fight, but not much more than that2.

This session, though, I decided to send up a test balloon to see if they’d be open to something with a little more complication to it. I figured that, if it worked, I could make some changes to the campaign to fill it out a bit. If it didn’t, well, we had a short session to suffer through.

I started the evening talking about the effects of the heroes taking out crime boss Channah the previous session, and letting the players talk a bit about how their characters were fitting into Belys. Then I had Bitaryut the Blind, whom they had met at their feast a few weeks back3, ask them for some help. According to Bitaryut, the scion of one of the genasi families who rule Belys had been disowned by his parents based on information provided by Bitaryut. In revenge, this genasi had stolen Bitaryut’s scrying crystal.

Bitaryut was somewhat reluctant to come out with a lot of details about what this genasi had done that got him disowned, hinting that there were children involved, but not going into specifics. He was able to provide the location of the thief, and offered the group a favour as a reward for returning his crystal. When pressed, he provided some backstory on the family and the thief they were chasing – they were a family who had manufactured war machines in the war which had destroyed the Empire of Nerath, and the thief was holed up in the old war machine foundry outside the city.

So, our heroes schlepped out to the old foundry and found the genasi and a bunch of war machines that he had managed to repair. And this is when things started to go a different direction.

I had managed to instill enough doubt in Bitaryut’s honesty that, for once, the gang didn’t shout, “Get ’em!” and charge. They actually4 tried talking. After a little while and some tentative maneuvering, they got a different side of the story Bitaryut had told them5. In this version, the thief was a victim of politics and Bitaryut’s machinations, and he had stolen the scrying crystal both as revenge and as a stake now that he had to leave Belys.

It was an interesting and gratifying moment for me. I had statted everything up for a fight if it came to that6, but I was very interested in seeing the players take a different tactic. I ran the whole thing as a conversation, with very few rolls – no one tried to intimidate anyone, and I think there was one Insight check to see if he was lying, but everything else came down to straight roleplaying.

In the end, the group convinced the thief to trade them back the scrying crystal in return for a teleport to Storm Point and an introduction to the leaders of the town. Their idea is that he, with his war machines and the texts he’s discovered on repairing and manufacturing them, may be a valuable addition to their old hometown. There was a little bit of threatening here, of the “We’ll kill you if you mess with our town” style, but generally it went without a hitch.

And, of course, I awarded them full XP for solving the problem without resorting to violence.

So, why did I do it this way?

As I’ve said, this campaign tends to focus on creatures to fight and challenges to overcome7. Part of the reason for that is the dynamic and attention span of our group, as I noted above, and part of it is that combat is the thing that D&D 4E does best. I’ve been reading the little bit of information being released about D&D Next, and it’s been causing me to re-evaluate some of the things I’m doing in my current D&D game.

It occurred to me that I was being lazy. I had tried some more elaborate storylines earlier in the campaign, and they had quickly got lost or ignored, so I stopped working on them, instead putting all my prep time into coming up with interesting combat encounters, along with just a few linking elements. And the group seemed to like that.

But we were feeding into each others’ assumptions. I assumed that they weren’t interested in anything besides combat, and they assumed that all I was interested in giving them in this game system was combat. The playtest reports from D&D Next talk about how much freedom of action there is in the game8, and how it emphasizes interaction and exploration as well as combat.

Hell, it inspired me. I figured I’d throw some options in, and we’d see how things went.

What do I take away from this? Just because the game is working doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be improved if I change things up a bit. I can be a bit daring and, it seems, my players will follow. And that’s awesome.

I’ve got to think about how to keep this up in the game. I count it as a great success.

  1. Bye, Pedro! Thanks for playing! []
  2. This is different from other groups and other games I run. It’s just the style that fits the needs of the Storm Point game best. []
  3. And whom they don’t trust. At all. He’s a fortuneteller, and they know I have a deck of many things from The Madness at Gardmore Abbey, so they’re just waiting for him to make them draw a card. []
  4. If I sound somewhat incredulous, it’s only because I’ve been gaming with these guys for many years. []
  5. Well, not really told them. More like hinted at and implied. []
  6. It usually does, after all. []
  7. Said challenges usually involving fighting creatures. []
  8. Understanding, of course, that this is very early days, and the game is in active development. Judgment must be reserved until the final product is available. But it looks really promising. []

Dateline – Storm Point

The last session wrapped up the Channah storyline in the Storm Point game, which was good, but the most valuable part of the game – for me, anyway – was the discussion we had about the direction of the game from here on. That discussion happened at the beginning of the evening, but I’m not going to talk about it until the end of this post.

So, Channah.

Armed with the glyphs for Channah’s teleport circle, our heroes went out and purchased a copy of the linked portal ritual1 and the materials they needed to conduct the ritual. They spent some time making sure they had a plan2, and then teleported in to Channah’s hideout.

I was a little torn in setting up this evening’s encounters. On the one hand, I wanted to wrap things up this session, and our group is slow with combat3 – multiple full encounters meant that we would not finish this evening. On the other hand, it strained my sense of verisimilitude to have the group pop into the big main fight, kill the bad guy, and go home.

I addressed this with minions. After all, when you’re sneaking through the bad guy’s hideout, the incidental guard patrols should mainly be a threat because they can give the alarm, not because they might kill you. So, the party arrived in the cellar store room with the teleport circle to find that Channah, knowing he’s got some folks gunning4 for him, had set a guard.

They were, as I hinted, minions, so the gang took them out pretty quickly, but some bad rolls meant that one was able to give the alarm. There was only one door out of the room, so our heroes barred stood guard on that while they looked through the piles of boxes and barrels in the room. I tried to make it clear that the stuff was mundane supplies, but that just seemed to make them more suspicious, so they took the time to actually search everything.

At which point it occurred to me that there was this teleport circle in the middle of the room, and Channah knew how to use it. So, while everyone was either poking through barrels of flour or watching the door, a full squad5 teleported in behind them and got the drop on them. They mowed down this (larger) group of guards in good time, and realized that, every minute they were spending down here was one more minute Channah had to get ready.

So, out they went, and up the stairs, into the killing ground Channah had set up. I had planned the map to be fairly open to begin with, but with tables, chairs, and the like that allowed for the defenders to set up some defenses if they had a couple of minutes to prepare, which they did. The fight was tough, with some of the party’s tactics turning against them6. I ran into another dilemma during the battle, though.

Channah, unbeknownst to the party, was an oni mage. He usually appeared as a very, very old eladrin, and would appear and disappear using his invisibility, popping up to blast the party with some of his area attacks before vanishing again. Toward the end of the battle, I realized that it would be child’s play for Channah to just turn invisible and run off, carrying on his vendetta against the characters. I considered doing this, having him disappear for now, but come back as a recurring villain.

Then I remembered Jemmy Fish, and realized that wouldn’t work. The group would hunt him down to the exclusion of doing anything else. Ever.

So, rather than doing the better-part-of-valour, live-to-fight-another-day thing, I kept Channah there to end this. I got some good reactions when he unveiled his true form and began laying about with his massive sword7, and his hidden lamp-oil explosion meant that the last part of the fight was in a burning building, but the gang had thinned out his defenders enough that they were able to concentrate on him, so he went down fairly quickly8.

Next session, I’ll need to have something new for my players. Actually, what I’ll have to do is have a few options ready, so they can pick which direction they’re going to go.

Anyway. About that discussion I mentioned at the start of the post.

The previous session, I had mentioned that there was a moment when it looked like the group wanted to end the campaign and start a new one. In retrospect, I realized that we had been running this game for three years9, and it wasn’t a bad idea to take the group’s temperature and see if they wanted the game to continue, or if they were interested in a change. I started the conversation going with the following question on the Storm Point forum:

Okay, gang, last session I (facetiously) put forward a proposed campaign change, wherein you fellows become crime lords in Belys, the campaign ends, and we pick up twenty years later at first level, with you being the oppressed masses out to bring down the massive oppressors. (See what I done there?) Though I meant it as a threat, it is a viable campaign, and it seemed to capture the imaginations of some of you.

So, in light of that, I’m asking the group as a whole what you want to do. Here are the options:

  • Continue with this campaign. We’ve just made it to Paragon Tier. Let’s see if we can make it to Epic Tier and become gods!
  • Become crime lords and reboot. I like the world, but am bored with this character or storyline. The new one sounds better.
  • Let’s try a completely new campaign. This has been fun, but I want the new hotness. Let’s try Dark Sun, or Eberron, or something else. We’ll have to have a talk to pick one.
  • Let’s try a totally different game. D&D has been fun, but I’d like to try a different game system. Cthulhu, or space detectives, or superheroes, or something else cool. Again, we’ll have to have a talk to pick one.
  • Screw you guys. I’m going home. It’s been fun, but I’m going to bow out of the game.

Feel free to discuss below. I am willing to roll with any of the above options, and my feelings will not be hurt if you choose something else. I’m leaving the poll active for one week, but what I’m really interested in is the conversation on the topic leading up to the votes. Revoting is allowed if the discussion changes your mind.

Have at it.

The vote was pretty overwhelmingly in favour of continuing with the current characters, but I wanted to get a better feel for how people were feeling about the game as a whole, and what they wanted to see as we went forward. The talk revolved around the fact that, three years into the game, the group had just reached 11th level.

The upshot is that the group would like to take the characters all the way to 30th level, but don’t want to spend another six years getting there. We talked about varying the progression rate in different ways, and the one that seemed to click for everyone was a technique I had used to good effect back when I was running Broken Chains – campaign downtime.

Campaign downtime means that we run regular sessions, with regular XP, and then, every so often, I say, “Okay, downtime. You’ve got two years. Give me a paragraph or two on our forum about what you do in that time, and level your character up three levels.” This allows the campaign to progress with the in-game stuff being highlights of the characters’ careers, while the out-of-game stuff allows them to flesh out backstory and provides passage of time in the game10.

The other thing we talked about was how the game was going to end. The upshot of that conversation is that I need to start using some of the stuff I’ve been talking about in my posts on emergent campaign storylines to pull together a focus for the rest of the campaign.

Now, one of the players wasn’t at the game, and wasn’t able to contribute to the conversation because of that, but I think we’ll have Milo’s buy-in on this. And it gives me some concrete things to do over the next little while to move the game forward in a way that I think everyone will like.

So, win.

  1. Easy to do in Belys; the city is full of magic, wizards, and various fun arcane things. []
  2. Their usual plan is, “Get ’em!” This plan was essentially, “We all ready? Okay. Now, get ’em!” []
  3. There are a number of reasons for it, and some things that we could do to speed it up, but it comes down to the fact that this is a bunch of friends who don’t see each other that much anymore. One of the big distractions is our socializing and catching up, and I don’t want to lose that. So, we have slow combats, and I’ve made my peace with it. []
  4. Swording for him? Nah, that just doesn’t work. []
  5. Still minions. []
  6. Notably blade barrier. The party used this to great effect, but then Milo got tossed into it, and it left a bit of a mark. He survived, though. []
  7. Heh. []
  8. Well, he did. The entire session ran waaaaay over time, despite the things I tried doing to speed it up when I realized what sort of time-frame we were looking at. []
  9. With a brief hiatus for Gammatoba. []
  10. As an aside, it always strains credulity for me to run a game and realize that characters have gone from 1st level to 20th level in a matter of months, because they go out adventuring every day. If the world were really that challenging and deadly, everyone would be epic level by the time they were adults – or all the people would be dead. Just sayin’. []

Dateline – Storm Point

I’m still a couple of posts behind, and it’s been several weeks since this game, so this is going to be another short-but-hopefully-sweet post. I really needed to get it up tonight because we’re playing the next session tomorrow.

Yeah. I’m bad.

So, at the last session, our heroes were pursuing the bagman for Channah, a local crime boss, through the sewers of Belys, in order to have a frank and open exchange of opinions about why the boys from Storm Point wouldn’t be paying any protection money. There was some discussion about what would happen after that point, with one of the players putting forward a strong preference for taking over Channah’s rackets.

Now, at this point, I spoke up. I told the players that I didn’t want to run a game1where they were the villains. The2 response was that most of the characters were Unaligned as far as alignment went, and that this would be okay. I countered with the statement that anyone running a criminal enterprise that involved protection rackets, prostitution, theft, drugs, and possibly slavery was a de facto villain, regardless of what the alignment said on their character sheets.

As my big guns in this argument, I launched into the following little rant3 to convince them that becoming crime lords was off the table.

Look. I know I generally give you guys a lot of freedom to decide what happens in the game, and what your characters do, and what their goals are. But I have to tell you, I have zero interest in running an Evil game and – no matter how you dress it up – that’s what becoming crime bosses in a big city is. I’ve run my share of Evil games back in high school, and I am not interested in running any more.

In fact, if you insist on going down this path, I will end this campaign. I will let you become the crime lords, but then the game ends, and I start a new 1st-level campaign where you all play4 the oppressed, exploited, downtrodden citizens who have spent the last twenty years under the thumbs of the Storm Point Gang, and the game will be all about killing your old characters and freeing the citizens from their oppression.

I should have known that my little speech was not having the desired effect when I noticed that everyone was quiet and listening to me5, not arguing. When I finished, there was silence for a few moments, then Dan said, “That would be awesome!” And Erik looked at me and said, “I realize you were trying to convince us that this was a bad idea, and I agreed with you, but you just talked me around to the other point of view. I want to play in that campaign!”

Chris just looked at me and sadly shook his big, bushy head.

At which point, I abandoned any sort of reasoned argument or persuasion and just said, “No. Not doing it.”

Now, though, I’m rethinking the whole idea. That could, indeed, make a pretty rocking campaign. On the other hand, we just spent three years getting everyone up to Paragon tier, and we’ve all got a lot invested in the game. I think we need to have a real conversation about this6; if the players want to play in that new campaign instead of the current one, I think that’s doable.

Anyway.

When we got down to playing, the heroes tracked the bagman to a trapdoor leading up into a warehouse down by the river docks. They triggered an alarm bell when they went up, and found themselves facing a couple orcs, a few ogres, and a war troll7. The fight dragged a bit because of all the brutes, but the good guys managed to prevail, and captured the bagman for interrogation.

Under their gentle questioning, they managed to get the bagman to agree to help them get to Channah. In exchange for the glyph key to Channah’s teleport circle, the party would let the bagman take over Channah’s territory – with the party being exempt from protection fees, of course.

So, tomorrow’s session is going to see the assault on Channah’s stronghold. The fights so far have all been below character level for the party, which may have been giving them an inflated sense of their own badassery, but the stuff I’m throwing at them tomorrow is going to be significantly tougher. That’s a little tidbit of a warning for any of my players who happen to read my blog before the game tomorrow.

Should be fun.

  1. I’m a firm believer that the GM gets to have fun running a game. If he or she isn’t, why do it? Thus, if it’s a game I don’t want to run, then I’m within my rights to just not run it. []
  2. Somewhat predictable, really. []
  3. This is, of course, not verbatim. But it captures the rhetoric and the content pretty well. []
  4. And this is where the car left the road. Not even skid marks. It’s like the driver pointed the car at the cliff and stood on the accelerator. Obviously a suicide run. []
  5. I never get everyone paying attention to me at once! Never! []
  6. Probably not tomorrow, though; one of the players is unable to make the game. []
  7. FIRE or ACID. []

Dateline – Storm Point

Wow. I’m falling behind on the posts. Sorry, folks. I’ll try and catch up before Christmas.

We opened this last session of Storm Point with our heroes brainstorming what they wanted to do about Channah, the gang boss who thought it was a good idea to demand protection money from the party. There were some suggestions, but the group was really lacking information about how things worked in Belys. In the end, they decided to spend some time trying to figure out how the Belysian underworld was organized.

Full disclosure time. One of the proposals on the table was that the group find an enemy gang and get them to pay the group to wipe out Channah and turn his territory over to the other gang. I didn’t like that idea for one simple reason: it turns the heroes of Storm Point into petty thugs and enforcers in the big city. Now, part of what I want to do with this phase of the game1 is to show the characters as being in a much bigger pond than they’re used to – they are the heroes of a little fishing town out in the middle of nowhere, and now they’re in the big city, playing with the big boys. But I didn’t want to completely invalidate their hard-won heroic status, and turn them into villains2.

Given that desire on my part, I structured the underworld3 in such a way that getting one gang leader to pay to kill another was not going to happen. I had already decided that the city was ruled by a cabal of genasi noble families4, each of whom controlled a different section of the city. Within their own city ward, the noble family has pretty much absolute power, and is fiercely territorial. Thus, any incursion from another city ward – even by unsanctioned criminals – would be met with devastating force. No crime boss wants to risk attracting that kind of animosity.

I didn’t want to just close off avenues of action, though. I wanted to let the players know that, as long as they kept things fairly quiet and didn’t harm any civilians or attract official attention, the powers-that-be would turn a blind eye to them. After all, the nobles don’t much care if someone kills a gang leader, as long as no one is trying to usurp the noble prerogative.

So, in the end, the group decided to wait for the next visit from one of Channah’s men, and try and get a meeting with Channah himself, whereupon they would proceed with their standard negotiation tactics5. They didn’t expect the bag man6 to agree, so they posted the ranger and the monk on the rooftops to follow him back to the hideout that the group had so far been unable to locate.

It almost went the way they wanted. The bag man had an escort of ogres and a troll, and didn’t seem impressed with the threats the group made, nor with their demands. After all, they were in his city now, and were just country bumpkins from some no-name fishing village over the mountains. So, when they refused to give him the money, and demanded to meet with Channah, he refused. He gave them one last chance to pay, then nodded sadly, and dropped something in the kitchen well and walked out.

I cheated a bit here, and one of the players almost called me on it, but restrained himself7. What I wanted to do was completely wrong-foot the group to show them they weren’t dealing with Jemmy Fish and his halfling pickpockets back in Storm Point. So, I didn’t give anyone a chance to react to the guy dropping his little surprise and sauntering out. Unfair? Yeah, it is. But it was a dramatic choice meant to drive home the fact that these people are playing for keeps, and are good at what they do. Channah is smart, resourceful, and ruthless, and he has some good people working for him. That’s all information the group needs.

And thus the kitchen filled with a vapour of elemental water that started drowning everyone in the room8. They got the kitchen staff out of there, and the swordmage used his fire-based abilities to purge the elemental water before anyone died. And then they were out in the street, chasing the bag man.

Up on the roofs, the monk and the ranger kept pace with the bad guys, following them through the winding streets. They spotted when the bag man ducked out of the middle of his guards and vanished down an alleyway, and flagged down the other characters when they caught up on the ground.

Then it was down into the sewers, where they found themselves led into what was meant to be an ambush9. It turned out not to be a very good one, and our heroes got the drop on the bad guys. It was a fairly long fight, but the heroes were never really threatened. Their opponents were a few trolls, a couple shambling mounds, a basilisk, and a bog hag – none of them were up to the characters’ level, and the majority were brutes. When the hit the characters, it hurt a lot, but the hits were few and far-between. But man, could they soak up damage.

At the end of the fight, we wrapped for the evening. We actually got a fair bit done10, and I’ve been gratified that the last several sessions – and it looks like the next one this Sunday – have had a full roster of players.

We’ll see where they go from here.

  1. The early Paragon Tier, that is. Maybe levels 11-13. []
  2. Arguments can be made about anti-heroes and shades of grey and how most of the group is Unaligned and yadda-yadda-yadda. Y’know what? Don’t care. If you get one gang boss to pay you to kill another one and give him the dead boss’s territory, you’re not heroes. You’re assassins. And that’s not what I want this game to be. []
  3. On the fly, as part of a skill challenge to gather information. []
  4. Just a quick note for those of you who read this post. While the first part of what I wrote about Belys there is accurate, the secret I list is not. What, you think I’m stupid enough to put a secret from an ongoing campaign where my players might see it? Don’t answer. []
  5. “Get ’em!” []
  6. Bag half-orc, in this case. []
  7. Thanks, Erik! I appreciate the trust. []
  8. I handled it like a poison in mechanical effect. +5 vs. Fort, 2d6 damage, and ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends) each round on everyone in the room. []
  9. Channah is smart, remember? He plans ahead. []
  10. For us, at least. []

Dateline – Storm Point

Last Sunday was the the first session of Storm Point since the gang moved into the Paragon tier.

I moved their base from the small fishing town of Storm Point to the large city-state of Belys, upping the fantastical elements and basically turning the dials on things up to level 111. So, the is run by a collection of wealthy genasi families, and the various towers and palaces are topped by minarets flying banners of various elements, and tiny golem-like constructs, powered by sparks of pure element, run errands for the wealthy.

I had also allowed the group to swap out their magic items. I did this for a few reasons:

  • During the distribution of magic items over the various levels, I messed up, and there were a couple of characters who were blatantly under-equipped compared to their companions.
  • Lots of interesting new items have been released over the three years we’ve been playing.
  • The gang likes to tweak their characters, and I figured this was a good opportunity to correct the equipment imbalance, while letting them do that.

What I did was total up the levels of magic item each character had, take the highest value among the group2, and said, “You each have this many levels of magic item potential, and no items right now. You can spend these levels on any items you like, but no item can be higher than level 14.”

So, over the three weeks since the previous game, they leveled up their characters and changed their magic item load-outs.

Now, I had some initial worries about whether they might wind up too well-equipped3 for their level, but I soon got over those. Balance between characters and GM is a fiction, anyway – the worries were just the knee-jerk reaction of someone who played the old-school games back when they were the new-school games. The main balance concern I have in any game is whether or not the characters each have sufficient chance to be awesome and contribute to the cool of the game. If they have too much magic item power? Well, guess I’ll just have to throw bigger challenges at them…

Anyway.

I waxed semi-poetic for a while, describing the city and its environs, and talking about how they used the letters of introduction from the merchant they had helped to secure the magic item exchange, and then we talked about getting lodgings. The group’s first impulse was to find a cheap inn outside the walls4, but I ran down some of the options for them, including better inns inside the walls, renting rooms, and buying a house.

They liked the idea of renting rooms in a manor house, with servants and a garden and such, and really got into negotiating the rents5, settling on a total of 1500 gp for the year, with the landlords providing food, drink, and servants to host four feasts during the year. They then decided that they should have their first feast only a couple of weeks after they arrived in the city, to make their entrance into Belys society, inviting their merchant acquaintances, and allowing them each to bring someone that the gang should meet.

The party went well, and the group met a couple of NPCs that I wanted to get on the stage. The first was a group of Githzerai ascetics, who were suppliers of the Gith plate and Githweave armour that a couple of the party had acquired. The second was a scarred seer and favourmonger, Bitaryut the Blind. He’s there mainly to give the group someone to go to if they need an in somewhere in the city, or a hint about the future.

There was a third NPC who factored into things, though he didn’t come on stage. Channah is a crime boss who is extorting the group’s landlords. He had a couple of his men beat up a couple of waiters, and when our heroes found out, they started asking questions about him, that led to their first fight as Paragon tier heroes.

Now, I set this fight at 9th level, both because it was the first encounter with Channah’s goons6, and because it was the first chance the group had to try out their new Paragon abilities and magic items. So, just a couple of orc bloodragers and four ogre savages7 accosting the gang down by the docks.

It was an interesting fight to run. I was somewhat surprised to see the group focus on the ogres, when they had so much trouble dropping one of the orcs. I was also pleased that they took pains to render their foes unconscious instead of killing them. And, in the end, they intimidated the last orc standing into taking their threat back to Channah.

And because they seemed interested in this plot thread, I decided to up the stakes and send the orc’s head to them next morning, with a note in his mouth saying that Channah had doubled the money he expected.

But that’s where we left it.

  1. Yes, that’s a D&D/Spinal Tap joke. We’re deep in geek country, here, folks. []
  2. I thought about taking the average, but that felt like I was punishing the players with more stuff. []
  3. Heh. []
  4. With <ahem> certain services… []
  5. I was, frankly, amazed. This is the group whose mission statement is “Get ’em!” But I was also pleased. []
  6. When he figures out what kind of hard men he’s up against, he’ll send tougher goons. []
  7. 2600 xp, a level 9 encounter for 6 characters. []