Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Castle Mordha, the 13th Age, sessions 1-2 synopsis

I'm going to bullet point key events to make sure things are clear
  • Backtracking the trail of the bandits led to finding one bandit dead in the jungle. Birch & Danyah's forensic analysis identified that the bandit had been fleeing back along the trail, away from where the party presumed the rest of the bandits were, and that he had been killed by two wounds that carried poison. Inside one wound Danyah found a pointed tube that likely carried the poison. Trap? Plant defense? In any event Autumn takes the bandit's tabard for later use.
  • The Bandit camp was abandoned, with te valuables gone but the sailcloth tents intact. Birch was able to find the entry into an underground complex nearby, with evidence that the bandits moved inside the complex. The party followed.
  • Inside the first chamber had four possible exits - the path ahead into a bat filled cave, the one west which is blocked by a swollen wooden door, the one east which tracks indicate the bandits took, and the one down into a spike filled pit that nearly did Aimes an injury save that the pit was already occupied by a bandit corpse. The trap has to be manually reset, which means someone came through and reset the trap after the bandit's death. But who? Perhaps the gnome who left his maker's mark inside it? 
  • The party heads east, and learns that the walls of the complex swallow sound - good in that it keeps their motion quiet, bad in that it keeps them from hearing others approach. The long passage opens to a room holding piles of bandit goods (including a mule), the entry to a stripped armory, a tapestry that shows exactly what is happening right outside the cave complex, and a passage south that is blocked by a portcullis. Two levers in the room are found to control the portcullis rising and locking, and steps are taken to keep it from locking behind them as they go deeper into the complex. 
  • Just on the far side of the portcullis is a blood puddle and an abandoned short sword. The portcullis falls behind them when they step on a hidden trigger, but their rigging of it earlier allows some to slip through and manipulate it again. This time they take extra steps to really really block it, and then head in. 
  • An encounter with the bandits reveals that they are predominantly human, panicked at being locked in, and are being picked off by some unseen enemy. Birch learns this by approaching wearing the recovered tabard, but before he can learn more the bandits see through the deception and leap to the conclusion that Birch killed the man on watch at the gate and is trying to shape shift into his form. The battle is close and bloody, with the PCs unable to take any prisoners.
  • This part of the complex appears to be a mercenary barracks. 
  • Autumn, Kale and Levi investigate the blood puddle back at the portcullis, and eventually find the entry to a hypocaust network under the floor, locked from the inside. The only party member of the right size to investigate is Selwyn the gnome wizard, who is unwilling to do so. 
  • The next room reveals a) a chandelier emitting a bright blue light b) one arm of the chandelier broken off in the floor and c) an orcish body, badly burned, under a tarp in the corner. 
  • The room past that holds a small group of orcish bandits, any one stronger than a member of the adventuring band, but the force of numbers sees the heroes through a battle, and they are able to take one prisoner and exit the dungeon to interrogate him. 
End Session 1
  • The interrogation is interrupted by the arrival of Sustrai and Arryn, the two other members of the company who were on guard in Mordha's Town. The town is under threat by ankhegs; the company splits, with Sustrai, Arryn, Autumn, Levi and Kale finishing the interrogation while the others head back to Mordha's Town. Their prisoner reveals that the bandits had 1) also tried to block the portcullis but something undid their work and trapped them there; 2) split along racial lines, with the humans giving the orcs one of the mules to forestall further conflict (Kale confirms that full-blooded orcs have strong issues with eating cooked meats) but that the orcs knew sooner or later it was going to get bloody; 3) there was something picking the bandits off - the orcs believe that the complex itself was trying to kill them. 
  • Kale brings the bandit back to Mordha's town while the others press deeper into the dungeon. Their initial push is met with a human bandit ambush as the portcullis falls, but Autumn is on the far side and able to reopen the gate before the sheer mass of bandits overwhelms her friends. less than a dozen bandits escape into the jungle, when they started at more than 40. 
  • Exploring other rooms reveals some sleeping rooms, a lavatory, what was likely NCO quarters (exploration of which reveals a cache of weapons that are unharmed by the centuries, vial of Oil of Preservation, which is applied to several of their own weapons, a map that Arryn suspects might be of the Mines of Mordha, entered somewhere in this complex, and a color coded crystal lock, the manipulation of which opens a secret passage). 
  • When they enter the kitchen connected to the barracks they surprise another small group of orcish bandits. The conflict nearly kills both Sistrai and Arryn, but Autumn's limited training as a field medic for wounded assassins sees the men through. It seems one orc in five is all but unkillable. 
  • Pushing on, they find a pantry that still has some preserved food, a room with hooks hanging from the walls whose ambient temperature is well below the rest of the complex, and two more blue-light fixtures, one of which being the trigger to a secret passage out of the kitchen. 
  • Following the passage behind the color coded lock, the quartet head deeper into the mountain, uncovering a suite of cells off of a long, fog filled room. The fog is coming from one of the rooms that, like the cold pantry, is well below the rest of the complex in temperature. All the cells contain beds, desks, chairs and collars chained to the walls. They all also have unique characteristics 1) the brazier of cold and fog, 2) a yellow mold that has taken over the room, 3) a brazier of fire that has lost control and melted the door shut, 4) a mosaic of greens and blues that when Autumn examines it bring on deep, almost suicidal melancholy, 5) a mosaic of oranges and reds that they don't closely explore, 6) a completely empty room which the men think contains an invisible prisoner who has escaped his collar and left the room otherwise in perfect order (a theory Autumn finds absurd) and 7) a prisoner, still alive despite a century of confinement. 
  • That prisoner is Geo Waggoner, a Shankill merchant whose trading house was in conflict with the Mordha's a century ago. Malcom Mordha responded by kidnapping Geo, stealing everything of value his family had, performing some ritual that made Geo immune to death from, at the very least, age, starvation and dehydration, and locking him away in a room with the treasure he had amassed in life. Geo is in fine condition, save his clothes, which are shredded and barely cover him.
  • After some consideration the party decided to free him, and Sustrai worked out that the lock on the collar (which Geo could not feel) was based on a color code similar to the one on the prior lock, only coded for the Waggoner's family colors and not Mordha's. The party found Geo fresh clothes and escorted him back to Mordha's town (taking some of his family treasure, with his blessing, and leaving him some to start a new life). 
  • One last item - where the 8th cell door would be, there is instead another of the full size colored crystal arrays. Everyone assumes that will open a door deeper into the complex, perhaps to the ceremony rooms that Geo mentioned were used to facilitate his curse of agelessness. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Castle Mordha, the 13th Age, sessions 1-2

So far the party of highly disparate adventurers has gathered in Mordha town, directed by dreams, nudged by wizards, hired by guildsmen and dispatched by the Old Man to see to the bandits harassing the trade route across Shankill Island. The elusive bandits were discovered to have been trapped by... something... inside the vast complex under the remnants of the collapsed castle that once held the Mordha Family, the Hawks of Shankill Isle.

More details to come on the specifics, but the map of the exploration so far is below.







Castle Mordha: the start of the 13th Age

Whereas the last campaign sprawled across the peninsula with several major battles against slavers, drow and liches, this one was smaller, urban and much more inspired by Thieves’ World and Lankhmar than what had come before. Shankill was a big city at this point (I was enamored with the ideas in the “Lankhmar – City of Adventure” book that TSR put out, even if I didn’t want to have the specific wizarding restrictions). The players were gamed out of high heroic noble heroes and descended gratefully into the port city’s underbelly or the island’s steamy jungles.

(It turns out a large swath of Shankill Isle was unpopulated jungle filled with family crypts, abandoned forts, mad hermits and wizard’s enclaves; all the real wealth came from its harborage and trade routes and the always sparsely settled interior of the island had been mostly abandoned over the decades. I would love to say that my younger self had planned all this out in advanced but it was all pretty much on the fly. It sounds much better here as I dredge it from memory and filter it through my adult gamemaster sensibilities. I just wish I could remember the names of any of the PCs)

Jesse’s PC was the first to play and made use of a piece of pure rules manipulation: he played a thief character solo (though Mike might have been there for some of them) for a few weeks to get him to 2nd level, then used to the stolen money to pay for a magic-user apprenticeship. We picked up the story a few in game years later with said PC now a 2nd level thief/first level magic user under the old AD&D human dual-classing rules, and the PC had sufficient disguise skill to make himself look like a half elf. For some reason it was important to Jesse that no one be able to pin down the character’s background, and I remember Dylan being driven to distraction one night trying to figure out how Jesse’s PC worked mechanically. Every time he struck on the idea of dual-classing Jesse brushed it aside with “but half-elves can’t dual class”, which was true, and the idea that the PC was just a skinny man with fake pointed ears never occurred to Dylan (and why would it?) The character was a rogue, second story man and con man, with a high enough dexterity to eke every last bonus out of his level limited thief skills.

Mike had two PCs in this game: the first was a straight up thief, a magsman and lock expert. One memorable night Mike and Jesse ran a Violin Scam (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ViolinScam) on a hapless young fighter, convincing him that only the most powerful magic weapons didn’t glow when drawn or radiate magic. I had said fighter mentioned a few more times as being a successful adventurer since the placebo effect of his ‘magic’ sword made him more daring, but Jesse and Mike just wanted his money (they eventually found the poor sap petrified outside a basilisk’s lair – I recall Mike thanking him kindly for the warning and the group deciding to just skip entering that cave; they might even have taken the sword back). Mike’s other PC was a more noble paladin type whom the rest of the PCs would contact whenever their latest caper involved something to do with evil or the undead – said PC was being directed by a coutal who claimed he had a grand destiny if he helped these diamonds in the rough. This was very likely true, but it was mostly an excuse to have this Paladin occasionally help out our ‘rogues with hearts of electrum’.

Dylan, deeply inspired by Cook’s Black Company books, was playing a former army/mercenary wizard who was taciturn to the point of silence. (One night Jesse had had quite enough of that and started badgering Dylan until he said something, anything, and then started proclaiming that he had “cured this poor mute!”) I think Graham was playing a fighter type who was from the same company as Dylan so the two worked together. These days I would have found things to do with the shared mercenary backstory, but back then it was stated and forgotten.

Pat was playing a half-ogre fighter who spent adventures on end saving up money for some ogre sized plate armor; he had it for maybe two sessions before I introduced a rust monster into the next crypt in, what I can admit in retrospect, was a pure dick-move as a GM. Sorry Pat. Even still the PC had an enormous two handed sword that let him intimidate the hell out of everyone and a 19 Strength that made him a pure terror in combat. Steve was playing a fighter-thief of some sort, if memory serves, but I couldn’t tell you anything about him.

Greg and Peter might have played a couple of sessions with these PCs, but if so have no recollection of it.

Back to the seedy underbelly: these rogues found ways to sneak into the walled off ‘gold gate’ part of the city and rob the houses of the wealthy while refusing to join the thieves’ guild. They took questionable jobs from disreputable sorts in seedy bars to act as bodyguards, thieves and tomb robbers – but drew the line at being assassins. When one of said disreputable patrons was killed they broke into his house and stole his collection of papers and maps to scour for hints of other old ruins and tombs on the island. OK, they also avenged his death on general principles but they also wanted to cut out the middle man on the tomb robbing stuff. Either avenging that death or some other antic got the thieves’ guild to sic an assassin on Jesse’s PC; our heroes caught rumors of the hire and split themselves between pre-emptive revenge on the guild and guarding themselves from the assassin. A good third of Shankill’s shantytown was torched when Jesse unleashed a flaming sphere against the assassin while fleeing from him across the slum’s rooftops. The gang war got so out of control the army came in and Jesse’s PC had to fake his death to give the thieves’ guild a face saving reason to stop the war before the army crushed both groups.

Our heroes split town after that for a bit – there might have been smuggling involved? – but by then these PCs stories were wrapping up. To give you an idea of the difference between the games the end of the last one was an epic quest to slay a demi-lich. In this one it was an informal competition with a thieves’ guild group to loot the ultimate ruin on the island, a long-abandoned wizards’ school (stolen from a Dragon Magazine module, possibly “Into the Forgotten Realms”) where the headmaster had become a lich and was completely bonkers. They learned about the lich from a lemure (a slug like minor demon) that was claiming to be a polymorphed young wizard and who spent the adventure riding on Jesse’s shoulder and advising them in a high screechy voice; eventually someone detected evil on the thing and whacked it in half. Knowing the lich would slaughter them the PCs started pretending to be students, got the lich on their side, sicced him on the thieves’ guild group and scarpered with whatever they could lay their hands on. We played that session from 7PM to 7AM, and I remember the fresh daylight streaming through the window behind with at least one player asleep on the floor of my room. That is the only all-nighter I have ever pulled as a GM and IT WAS AWESOME.

And that leads us to the current 13th Age game...

Castle Mordha: the end of the 12th Age

Back in 1984 I started my first real D&D Campaign -  The Shankill Isles:

A peninsula where each island had a slightly different culture, dungeons and problems, with the PCs living the island city state of Shankill, a major port city on the largest island. While everyone lost a few PCs early on Jesse, Mike and Steve got PCs up to 3rd level and with that increased durability their triumvirate of the paladin Cathoris of Haven, the magic user Elf (he never shared his name for mysterious reasons) and the monk Rasputin became the core of the party. Johnathan played a succession of ill-omened fighters, Peter had a cleric (until he switched to a psionicist due on a Dragon Magazine article that no one ever entirely understood) and Greg was playing a fighter not because he wanted to but because he wanted to have a bard and in AD&D that required 5+ levels of fighter and 5+ levels of thief, so he was slogging through those on the weeks he made it to play. Alas, PCs names escape me in my dotage.

The group had some fun: They dealt with a Sumatran rat plague and the undead spawning it. They cleared an island of giant ants and ankhegs that were devouring the livestock of a new colony. They tackled a vast slave trading consortium from the TSR Slavers modules and my own design (cribbed from the Guardians of the Flame books). I discovered that players really, really, hate having their stuff taken away from them at the start of module A4. They worked their way through part of White Plume Mountain, secured Blackrazor and then went home, only to lose the sword shortly thereafter when Cathoris determined it was very truly evil and threw it into… something. The sea? A volcano? I don’t recall.

Cathoris hunted and slew a dragon that had been menacing trade routes but then had to hand the horde over to a clan of dwarves that claimed it was theirs, leading to Jesse’s refrain of ‘short little ugly little greedy little stupid little…’ muttered under his breath whenever dwarves turned up. Mike insisted that Elf also wanted to be a Bard but couldn’t due to race restrictions on the class, and so he content himself with making up self-aggrandizing ditties on his ukulele. (“Elf is back and he’s better than before! Hey la, hey la Might Elf! With spells and power and magical lore! Hey la, hey la, Mighty Elf! Hey, what a great and powerful guy, yeah, he can touch the sky! Hey la, hey la, Mighty Elf!”) Rasputin had several run ins with an evil monk leading to a three part macguffin quest across the islands – I’d like to think we had the good sense to make John’s fighter a sailor for some spotlight time, and we might have, but I really don’t recall – that culminated in a spiral mountain dungeon containing an artifact gemstone that took over Rasputin’s body, leading to an epic Paladin vs. Monk battle to free Rasputin’s soul.

One stop on the MacGuffin quest was a Drow Giant tree Fortress (also from Dragon Magazine) which they survived by holing up in a storeroom to have Peter’s psionicist heal everyone, then foray out, kill stuff, run back and repeat. That got them into contact with the Drow, which led to the players insisting I run the Drow modules, which I had just purchased. We got a little bit into D1 but no one really wanted to do the logistics that went with such an expedition, so they made some tentative raids into the underdark and then pulled back. Jesse told me later he really wanted to finish the series but I don’t remember ever actually running it. I do remember running D1 on the back porch at Steve’s house and them facing one of those floating eye spores and not getting much further. Everyone preferred shorter adventures that worked for days people couldn’t make it, so I developed more ruins, lairs and evil towns/slaver outposts for them to battle.

The last thing I remember running for those characters was Tomb of Horrors. As with the Drow module the players found out I owned it and insisted on tackling it. Greg’s PC, who had made it to Fighter 6/Thief 5 I think and was in spitting distance of his goal of Bard-dom, stepped on a pit trap 70 feet in, fell onto poisoned spikes, missed his save three times and was stone dead 10 minutes into the module. Again, I’d like to say we elevated one of the henchmen to PC status and got Greg back in the game but no, he was upstairs reading and playing computer games for the rest of the night. 25+ years on and I still feel guilty about that.

Anyway, the other PCs dragged his body out, stripped it of key magic they might need and left it with some henchmen for revivifying later. One ‘borrowed’ magic item was Greg’s sword which, unbeknownst to him, was a Luck Blade with one wish left. Cathoris had it slung over his back in case something happened to his own weapon. The group hacked, schemed and spelled their way through to the false lich/actual mummy chamber with its illusionary earthquake. During the course of things Cathoris’ shield had been eaten by acid so he was fighting two weapon style, holy sword in one hand and the luck blade in the other. Seeing how bad things looked Jesse/Cathoris said “I wish we were at the end of this!”

BAM!

And there they were in Acereak’s chambers, facing the soul-eating floating skull, trying to find some way to kill it. Johnathan’s fighter (he was on his 3rd or 4th for the campaign, or perhaps had been resurrected a few times, or both) was quickly dispatched, and Pete’s psionicsit/cleric followed. Cathoris managed to resist the effect once, but everyone knew time was against them. Their salvation came from a historical oddity: Rasputin, having been nearly consumed by a soul sucking gem once in the past, was now immune to such attacks. It said so right on his character sheet from something that happened a year before I even read Tomb of Horrors! That protection gave them just enough time and wherewithal for Rasputin, Cathoris and Elf to triumph and shatter Acereak’s skull, banishing the deli-lich’s spirit.

With two of the regular PCs permanently dead, all of Cathoris’ equipment disintegrated, Elf at the elven Magic-User level cap and Greg just a little peeved that his gear got to save the day when he was upstairs bored, I decided it was a good time to end the campaign. The players agreed. Cathoris used a share of the treasure to pay for reviving Greg’s PC, gave the rest to him to found a bards college and then retired with Rasputin to that worthy’s monastery (claiming he was dressed only in the magic scrolls recovered from the tomb wrapped around him as a loincloth) and Elf sailing off for the “Elf lands far away”, having earned his place among them.

I don’t recall Greg, Peter or Johnathan playing D&D after that. The next set of adventurers in Shankill was to be very different.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Earth 10: Timeline and Time Travel

With the player set so far we have one PC and one team member (Superman and Flash, respectively) with time travel, one PC and one team member with immortality (Vigilante and the Hawks, respectively) and one PC as a legacy hero with heroics going back 90 years in her family (Zatava). This means I have to give some thought to the timeline and key events both past and future. So here we go.

Note: many of these plot ideas come from things in the Best of Fenix anthology, which is just wonderful.

The first rule of time travel is that it’s relatively easy to get to a period about 512 years ahead or behind of the current day – this is what 0 AP of Time Travel gets you. Each AP after that lets you get half again as close to the current day and twice as far away. Superman has 2 AP of Time Travel, which means he can get as far back as 2048 years from now (or 0 AD more or less) and as far forward as 4060 AD. He can also get as close as 128 years ago (about the Reconstruction era, as close as 2140 AD. The more powerful a time traveler you are the closer you can get to the absolute now, which is where the real power is in possibly being able to effect things. The further away you are the more likely the time steam will wash over the changes or break off a separate stream rather than change absolute now.

9 to 23 AD – Wang Mang’s China

The period when Wang Mang was emperor of China, this is the far edge of how back Superman can go with his time travel. Wang Mang is one of Superman’s most bitter foes, seeing him as the embodiment of everything that is not classical China. Once Wang Mang lears of his existence and, by extension, the events of the next 2000 years he puts into place a two millennia conspiracy to restore proper culture to the world.

64 AD: Nero’s Rome

When Jimmy Olsen puts Superman in contact with a historian looking for specific critical information on the early Roman empire Superman agrees to bring Jimmy back to ‘get the story’ – there they uncover a plot by ancient Egyptian cult of Ammut, the crocodile god of dreams, to replace Nero with a homunculus. When Egyptian magic reduces his power Superman is forced into a gladiatorial bout as Jimmy manages to reveal the faux Nero. The last remnants of the Ammut cult are destroyed in the fire and the proper Nero returned to power. Superman recovers his power enough to return Jimmy and himself to the 21st century.

1174: Between the Second and Third Crusade

In the chaotic period between the second and third crusades, as the crusader states are intriguing against one another in the wake of the second crusade and Saladin is gathering his power in the East, a small group of crusaders following clues from an ancient Chinese scroll accidentally wake a huge red dragon. One of the survivors of the dragons first attack on a small crusader unit was Etienne of Navarre, as he and Isabo were travelling to Jerusalem in hopes that the True Cross could break their curse, and survive only because a red and blue angel appeared to defeat the dragon. 830 years later the Hawks relate the story to Superman after their first team up, and the Man of Steel travels back to fulfill the time loop, barely defeating the enraged magical beast. He strongly suspects this was a planned assassination attempt on him by Wang Mang. (Note that the Hawks don’t have their flight gear yet, as it was Da Vinci’s design)

1770: Revolutionary Dating Triangle

Because part of me adores the old silly stories of Superman time travelling, there definitely has to be one where Superman travels back to the pre-revolutionary war period and gets into a romance triangle between the forceful and passionate Mary Ludwig (future Molly Pitcher) and the beautiful Elizabeth Phoebe Griscomb (future Betsy Ross). Is this entirely illogical? Well, no, both women were alive and unmarried in 1770, but other than that yeah, it’s totally absurd. We are therefore doing it anyway. I think we tie this to a fictitious precursor event to the revolutionary war (the Boston Massacre is on March 5, the Golden Hill Incident is January 17, so it’s right in that time period). Two possible options are that this is a story of Superman when he was a boy and young Betsy Ross sews the first Superman costume for him to wear while preventing another massacre, or it’s another one of those wacky “Jimmy Olsen convinces Superman to time travel and they end up double dating Molly and Betsy” stories. I could go either way.

1881: Rockets in the West

Nikolai Kibalchich, a Ukranian engineer and anarchist, built the bomb that killed Tsar Alexander II. He later escaped from prison, and then the Russias, with a solid fuel rocket of his own design. Making his way to the American west he perfects his designs and tries to use them to foment more anarchy in the US but is defeated by a team up between Vigilante and the Hawks. (The Hawks now have their glider wings, but don’t yet have the full flight capability because they haven’t yet been upgraded by the Wright Brothers.)

1927: Arthur Conan Doyle

Towards the end of his career Doyle became deeply involved in the Spiritualist movement even as he perfected the art of modern detective work. He wrote about the latter in his fictitious Sherlock Holmes stories, and the former in his non-fiction accounts of discussions with his spirit guide and the completion of final novels by other writers who had passed on. In 1925 he predicted an enormous upheaval of earthquakes and floods in 1927, but later told people he was wrong because he and his spirit guide were using the wrong calendar! The truth is that this was the first rumbles of the Mayan Apocalypse of 2012, forestalled by the combined work of Doyle, Vigilante (who was there learning detective techniques) and a young Zatara (who was mastering his ability to speak with the dead).

1931: New York City

The construction of new towers allows the ancient gods shadowy access to Manhattan, influencing people, manipulating effects, forming cults and otherwise trying to alter the world. Only the works of Zatara prevent moldy Babylonian gods from appearing in Central Park West to tear up the city.

2130’s: the Arctic Circle

A series of enormous solar flares has shut down much electromagnetic technology and communications, and combined with existing warming trends to melt the polar ice and reveal a whole new landscape to the North. This is exactly Ken Hite’s “wild west in the future arctic circle” article from Fenix, it takes place at closest future timeframe Superman can access and Vigilante is, of course, right in the thick of it because it’s a Western. A whole arc of the “Vigilante as immortal in other times and places” comic “Legends of the Vigilante” takes place here.

26th Century

500 years in the future, the only thing I know from here is that it’s where the Reverse Flash comes from. Yes, we have a Reverse Flash because shut up Reverse Flash that’s why.

31st century: Legion of Super Heroes


With the conclusion of my X-Men PBEM my next likely play by email project will be a rebuilt from the ground up Legion of Super Heroes. If that’s the case they will totally be part of this timeline, explaining part of where Superman was between developing his powers and going public as Superman. It’s a full on bright Gernsback future where a group of teenagers use their non-human powers to emulate the super-heroes of the 21st century.