Fellhold Session 8 Recap

After last week's harrowing encounter with arm-hungry statues and pit traps, our daring band of adventurers decided it was time to attend to some matters outside of Fellhold's dark halls. Acca, the hireling who lost his arm, survived his grievous injury, and his family was so grateful for the pension his employer offered him that his son Weorc took service in his place. The party set out on a quiet trip to Mickleheim where they once again strengthened their ties to Clan Dagaeca through the steward Cnud, selling them the splendid necklace of fire opals lifted from Earn the bandit chief and discovering that an exotic beast brought in alive for the midwinter festival would  make a fine offering to Hrokr, fine enough that a bounty might be offered.  Bryni also once again besought Mihtig the Mighty, strong man extraorinaire, and found his fee more reasonable after the encounter with the portcullis. Having secured such specialist service and finding themselves flush with more money than they knew what to do with, the group decided it would be best to invest in a permanent base in Silverdelf, and so headed back.

On the return journey, they were ambushed by a group of small trollkin, out in the daytime oddly enough. In their first onslaught they managed to kill the hireling Gytha, leaving her sister Erna distraught  The rest of their attacks were largely ineffective, except for a glancing wound to Yllgrad. When the adventurers responded, Blum once again unleashed his devastating sleep spell, putting half of the attacking humanoids out of commission. The remaining half were dealt with fairly easily by the largely mounted party and their hirelings. They also had fewer qualms with slitting goblin throats than men's, and so dispatched the sleeping trollkin.

Upon return to Silverdelf, they employed the engineer hired to travel back with them from Mickleheim to seek out and survey an adequate spot for a great hall. Finding a suitable spot along the Silverrun river, they employed him to begin construction of a great hall with rooms enough for the party and their favored henchmen and a good stout cellar for the storage of treasure, a stables, a smithy suitable to function as an armory, and a surrounding palisade wall. This project will take quite some time to complete, but should give our heroes a welcome safe haven in which to celebrate and lick their wounds.

Fellhold Session 7 Recap

Our intrepid band of adventurers finished up their business in Mickleheim, recruiting even more hirelings for renewed expeditions. They returned to Silverdelf without incident and discovered that the captured bandits had been sent off to whatever rough justice awaited them in Mickleheim along with the rescued shipment of whiskey. They also caught wind of an armed group buying supplies and setting off in the direction of Fellhold, but for what purpose?

Deciding to deal with Earn and his bandits once and for all, they returned to the bandit lair, leaving Varian and his retinue to guard the baggage train in the ruined outpost. Once again, they managed to surprise a large group of bandits and Blum employed the sleep spell to great effect, downing all ten of Earn's new hires, but leaving Earn himself standing, slightly woozy, but ready to fight. Quickly ganging up on him after a few ineffectual bow and crossbow attacks, our band surrounded Earn and set to with deadly earnest. Yllgrad the dwarf landed a mighty blow, as did Caleb, and the others and their hirelings chipped away at his defenses. At his time to act, Earn proved to be a puissant warrior, delivering blow after blow, but to only limited effect. Once again the party set to him with continuing gradual effect, and one of Earn the Cleric's hirelings hilariously fumbled his morning star, waking an entranced bandit. The remaining hirelings subdued this bandit as the party finished it's exchange with Earn the bandit chief. He landed a vicious and potentially lethal blow on Yllgrad, but Caleb's nurse Alfsigr staunched the bleeding until the newly empowered clerics could see to him with magical healing.

Fittingly enough, Dag, the former bandit sergeant and now loyal retainer of Bryni's, landed the killing blow on Earn, and the party subdued and searched the remaining new bandit recruits. They recovered a magnificent necklace from the vain and luxury loving Earn, as well as a sizable personal stash of gold. After some debate, the party decided that these new recruits hadn't had much time for actual banditry, and settled for disarming them and letting them loose to fend for themselves, after being relieved of their purses, of course. After dealing with these logistics, the adventuring band camped out in the ruined outpost to prepare for further exploration, and besides a shouted alarm at small, shadowy figures observing the camp and darting away, the night passed without incident.

Returning to the dark halls of Fellhold, the party finally had the opportunity to explore deeper into the dungeon. Blum fell into a pit trap and would have been out of action, but for the quick work of Earn, being lowered into the trap with rope, curing his wounds with the power of Dwyn, the Oak Mother, and raising him back out. More carefully advancing, the party found a large room with several openings and two door ways. After carefully checking a small chamber behind one door, they found the second door the trigger to release a portcullis, blocking the way they came! The strongest hirelings in the retinue were unable to lift the portcullis, but Bryni devised a mechanism from a spear, helmet, and several iron spikes, creating a makeshift pulley, allowing almost the entire party to bring their strength to bear and to heroically lift up the gate enough to prop two doors under, so that everyone could crawl through.

Glad to have their path of escape clear, but still desiring to explore, the party proceeded north at the T-intersection where they had previously gone south, and then turned east, discovering a blasphemous and disgusting temple of the Sorcerors who once ruled Fellhold. In addition to the relief sculptures on the walls and pillars of repellent and sensuous revels of humans and demons, there were three large statues of grotesquely fat and vicious frog demons, two with glittery eyes, and the largest on a raised dais with a fist-sized gem in it's obviously hinged jaws.

After some discussion of how best to avoid tripping what appeared obviously to be a trap, they decided it most likely to be a pressure plate, and so tasked a hireling with carefully swapping a waterskin estimated to be the same weight out with the stone. Unfortunately for this poor fellow, the jaws snapped closed, severing his arm immediately! Despite this grisly sight, the group continued to search. Caleb and his helpers removed the eyes from the southern of the two glittery eyed statues and found them to be only glass and to release a cloud of poison gas! After some hacking and coughing, he and his hirelings were severely weakened, but still in fighting shape. Bryni, learning by the examples of his peers, was far more careful with the northern of the two statues, throwing stones until he could dislodge one of the eyes, and found them to be ordinary topaz, and no traps. With the use of crowbars, the party also recovered the unfortunate hireling's arm and the gem. Deciding not to press their luck further, the party left for Silverdelf to have their items appraised and to see to a proper pension for the now one armed former hireling and to see to various other matters of resupply and logistics.

Fellhold Session 6 Recap

Last night, our intrepid band set out on the road to Mickleheim. The first two days of the three day journey passed quietly, but on the third day just after sun up they were set upon by a pack of vicious wolves! Though the only serious injury was to one of Earn's retainers, who was viciously mauled, Earn leapt to his aid and stemmed the bleeding. After the players dispatched one of the wolves, the rest turned tail and ran, losing three more to parting blows and crossbow quarrels. The party made efficient but grisly use of the bodies, skinning them to sell the pelts, and making a meal of the meat to take their strength and save precious trail rations.

They pressed on and reached Mickleheim by nightfall, finding lodging in the Drunken Giant Inn. The next day they checked the Craftsman's Bazaar to see what they could get for their plunder, and were unsatisfied with the prices offered, and spent good coin drinking and spreading the word and gathering information. After three days of greasing the wheels, they discovered the Steward of the House of Daglaeca, a family of some esteem fallen on hard times. They managed to strike a deal satisfactory to both sides, and our adventurers found themselves flush with cash in a way none of them was familiar with.

Varian immediately discharged his ruinous debt, Ulf the lender being somewhat disappointed to see such a potential huge cash flow cut off early. The party jointly secured a larger wagon and draft animals, and several sought the services of more men at arms and other hirelings. The party has concluded most of its business in Mickleheim and will probably return to Silverdelf and Fellhold in our next installment, but their options are open.

Porting Dungeon World's GM Rules, Part 3

Though the title of this post shortchanges the role An Echo, Resounding is playing in my development of the referee rules in my campaign, I figured it was best to stay consistent.

As an example of the role AER is playing, though I'm working my way up to the domain rules, rather than down, I am broadly using the categories and concepts from AER's domain play, so that most of the framework for reconciling Dungeon World style GMing tools with the AER domain play should already be there. So, last night I figured out how I want to work steadings (which include cities, towns, and keeps), ruins, resources, and assets.

The inspiration I stumbled upon was that Gangs in Apocalypse world already provide an example of the intersection of statted out groups with the GM organization tool of Fronts and Threats. Dremmer's biker gang is a "threat" when it comes to figuring out what things are happening off stage and how they will react to player actions and/or threaten things the players care about, but when they throw down in a shoot out, they are a "gang".

So, by way of comparison, in Fellhold, there might be a bandit group that is written up as a threat to help me keep track of them as elements of the world, but if that bandit group starts threatening a domain's trade in a significant way, they'll be statted up as an asset that can move around and interact with other assets at a domain level. If it comes to personal combat, the existing D&D rules (well, Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox, as modified) will come into play as per usual.

I intend for assets to be able to exist for all three domain values: military, social, and wealth. Assets of different types will have different explanatory tags (for example, a social asset like a town council, won't likely have a damage/harm value, nor will it be mobile). But all assets will have a type tag (military, social, or wealth) and a size tag (the amount it adds to the listed value for the steading that owns it, or the amount it possesses on its own).

Assets are basically a way to enable increased granularity than the DW steading rules. They don't supersede them, they just supplement them. So, a Defense value of "Militia (1)" implies that the citizens of the village can be organize somewhat effectively with some real weapons, and it's given as a characteristic of the Village. On the other hand, let's say that we have a big city that wants to detach a small unit to go attack a neighboring town. Its overall Defenses might be "Legion (6)", but the referee decides that its important to keep track of how that military might is dispersed, and so creates an asset to represent the detachment sent away and gives it a value of "Watch (2)" and then assigns it various descriptive tags. At this point it become an asset of type Military with a size of 2. The city's defenses go down to "Garrison (4)" until the asset returns or enough time passes to replace it.

By default, assets should only be prepared for things that have enough of an independent existence to matter (like a powerful merchant guild) or are likely to be dealt with separately from the town as a whole (so, for a big city, you don't need to make an asset for the watch, the garrison, and every unit of the standing army unless and until they become important to game play).

Likewise, groups of monsters can be statted up as assets that live in Ruins or Resources, but this is only necessary if Domains take Domain level action against them, or if you want them to take domain level actions. So, that tribe of Trollkin squatting in the abandoned gold mine can just be written up as a threat as usual if the players are coming to root them out personally with sword and torch, but if a player owns a small domain and sends his troops to deal with the matter, then the goblins will need to be statted up as an asset so they can interact with the domain level troops action.

While I toyed with the idea that Ruin and Resource locations would have monstery/wild versions of population, wealth, and military, I decided that it was a bit forced and hindered the flexibility of threats and fronts. Instead, Ruins will mostly be collections of descriptive tags and associated assets. All Ruins will have a Treasure tag which is like wealth, but finite. So, if adventurers recover 1 Wealth worth of treasure from a Ruin that started with 3 treasure, it now only has 2 unless more is brought in. I probably need to figure out a good conversion from actual gold amounts to treasure, but that's difficult since 1 wealth is supposed to be enough for a small village to get by on. There may be some scaling issues involved, but we'll see.

Resources will also be pretty minimal. All resources will have a "Type" tag that describes what they are, and a "Size" tag that represents the amount of wealth that resource adds to a steading that owns it. A size of 1 will be typical, whereas 2 represents a truly noteworthy reserve, and 3 would be a once in a world source of a resource (something like South Africa is for diamonds). Like Ruins, Resources can have threat and other descriptive tags to make them more than just a place on the map that makes other steadings richer, and they can "house" assets.

At this point, I'm pretty happy with the structure of how tags will work with the categories I got from AER, but I need to dive into AER's methods of generating Ruins, Lairs, Cities, and Towns in order to write more tags and new threat types with new instincts and moves. After that I'll look at Domain Actions in more detail and and combine it with DW's "Updating the Campaign Map" to finalize the domain level rules.


Into the Wilderness (Porting Dungeon World's GM Rules, part 2)

As the party is about to venture forth to Mickleheim, I've started giving some thought to wilderness/sandbox adventure, which I've intended from the start to be a facet of the Fellhold campaign. I cheated a little bit up front by asking my players to do me the courtesy of agreeing that their characters had come together with the intent to explore Fellhold, at least initially, and we'd go from there. This let me devote my initial focus to having mapped and stocked dungeon locations (as it turns out, far more than I've needed so far - before play, I overestimated the speed with which the party would explore). Now they're heading to the big city to sell off some of their more specialized loot, and hopefully get some better prices on fancy things. I was prepared to let them make this trip safely, and only get into the difficulties of wilderness travel later, but they assumed that the journey would involve some play, so who am I to stop them?

So, I'm giving some thought as to how best to handle this. As mentioned in previous posts, I thoroughly like An Echo, Resounding's philosophy of building in later domain level threats and interactions into early play, both because it makes the setting seem more "alive", but also so that when the players start concerning themselves with higher goings on, it won't have come out of nowhere. However, as also mentioned above, I find Dungeon World's fronts (as modified from Apocalypse World) to be a fantastic tool, and so I want to modify them to work here. As such, I'm going to do a bit of thinking out loud about their value and how that will fit into an Old School approach.

First off, for those not familiar with fronts and threats from either AW or DW, they are a fantastic bit of gaming technology thought up by Vincent Baker that quite elegantly reconcile GM prep and vision with wide open player action. The way they manage this is to have a general characterization of the threat (say, a Cult of Demon worshippers) which may be part of a larger "Front" (like eastern front or western front) such as the Incursion of Chaos, or whatever. The GM decides what these things want, and what they will do if left to their own devices, and then figures out some specifics and when/under what circumstances they will happen. So far, nothing that different from what GMs have been doing since ever. Here's the paired techniques that make these something special: first, the GM is specifically charged with making sure these things the baddies are doing will in some way threaten or intrude upon the player characters, and secondly, that these things only happen if the players don't do anything about it. That's where the key difference with pre-planned story lines comes - the GM does not under any circumstances pre-plan a guaranteed outcome about anything that involves player action.

So, examples are more useful than vague descriptions. Under a post Ravenloft/Dragonlance idea of "story" in an adventure, I would probably decide that there's a Demon worshipping cult, and that they are gonna kidnap the mayor's daughter, and then the players are expected to go rescue her, and the climactic sacrifice will be about to happen whenever the players show up. On the other hand, with the fronts and threats system, I'd create a threat about the Cultists, describe what they're like, and what they're prone to do, and come up with a few special things they might do differently than other folks (call upon their Demon lord, make strange pronouncements, whatever) as cues for play. Then I'd decide that if left to their own devices, they'd kidnap and eventually sacrifice the Mayor's daughter. Here's the key thing, though: the timing of those things will be based on the internal logic of the Cultists, not on what seems appropriate to a preplanned idea of the adventure.

So, if the players are astute and figure out the cultists plan and wait to ambush them before they even kidnap the mayor's daughter, that's what happens. If the players don't particularly care about the mayor's daughter for a month or two, well, she got sacrificed while they weren't paying attention. At their most basic, fronts and threats are simply ways of organizing what happens outside of the players' immediate influence, and how to react when they shift their attention to them. For this Old School game, a further difference will be that I'm not particularly interested in pushing on issues of character ("man, this really threatens his core beliefs, let's see how they hold up!") and more interested in pushing on resources, strategic and tactical decisions, and exploration ("man, this really threatens that keep they're building as their new headquarters, let's see how they deal with it!").

What I'm running into in applying these ideas now is that they tend to treat maps as things that should be flexible and vague, whereas there is a lot of Old School value in the map being a key part of the game, with locations just as if not more important than whoever happens to be there right now. Tying threats to locations limits some of their flexibility in responding to player actions, but I feel like without developing theme as a goal, location may provide the answer to "when to push this thing instead of that other thing." And it is because of this desire to link place strongly to play that I put forward last time the idea of "nega-steadings" for dangerous places like lairs and ruins. I didn't have much time last week to sit down and actually put those ideas to use, but I'm hopeful that I'll the time this week, and so hopefully I'll have something more like a finished idea in a few days.

Some Challenges in Judgement

So, I wanted to separate these thoughts from the recap post, as I intend to keep those almost entirely descriptive of the fiction that works out in the game, rather than the rules and inter-player interactions, but we'll see what works!

After accepting a player's more reasonable interpretation of how Sleep affected a group with mixed hit dice, I was faced with the situation where the party got the drop on a lone, as yet unarmed, surprised 3rd level fighting man with a boat load of hit points (here's me realizing some of the dangers of incorporating unmodified AD&D module encounters into my OD&D game). Now, the problem here was the fact that by the combat rules, this guy probably could have eaten a round of attacks from the whole party and their hirelings, especially because he was wearing plate, and then proceeded to cause horrendous casualties while they tried to wear him down.  On the other hand, by my judgement of what was happening in the fiction, you had one tough and skilled guy looking more than a dozen armed folks with weapons to his throat, and he had no idea how tough or skilled they might be (other than suspecting that they were responsible for killing two thirds of his compatriots in prior encounters).

I decided to go with the judgement more related to the fiction and play his actions as a man at sword point (though I was careful to watch for the players getting lax in their treatment of their dangerous prisoners). I found myself a little bit worried that one sleep spell "undid" a difficult encounter, but then I reminded myself of a few things: one, the party has had a couple of dangerous, costly fights with these guys and gotten relatively little treasure to show for it so far, two, that encounters don't always mean fights, a point I've been trying to convey, and three, that my role is not to set difficulty but to create a setting and situation and then adjudicate what happens from there.

So even though it goes against some of my instincts of what the referee/game master is supposed to be about, I think I made the right call. On the other hand, I feel like I may have had the character roll over and be cooperative too easily, even if he didn't want to fight. Oh well, we'll see how it goes in the future.

Fellhold Session 5 Recap

Last night proved to be one of the most successful outings of our brave adventurers yet. Once again venturing under the mountain and into Fellhold, the judicious question of "just how many people *does* the spell Sleep affect?" proved to be the defining moment of the session. Finding the remaining bandits at their midday meal, the magic user Blum cast Sleep on the unsuspecting bandits, and immediately placed all but their leader into a magical slumber. Moving quickly, the rest of the party and their men at arms put this fellow (outfitted in plate and well armed) at sword point and managed to tie him and his followers up. Upon questioning, it was learned that he was merely the bandit chief's right hand man, and not the chief himself. The chief, a man by the name of Earn, had left for Mickleheim to recruit new followers after the many casualties inflicted by the party.

After some debate over different strategies including slitting the lieutenant's throat and giving the bandits the choice of joining them or a similar death, leaving them tied up in the dungeon, or using them as trap detectors/monster bait, the expedition decided on the more humane choice of bringing them to the sheriff of Silverdelf to be dealt with by whatever authorities there may be. Though there proved to be no bounty on these men, the party was allowed to keep their arms and armor and anything else they found of theirs, and this proved to be a serious haul. Serious enough that they once again borrowed the cart of the Silverdelf distillery to return not only the 18 casks of stolen whiskey, but also the rich furnishings of Earn the bandit chief's room. Not trusting either Silverdelf's assayer's estimate on price, nor the local market for luxury tableware and tapestries, the party pooled their more liquid treasure and purchased a wagon and draft horse and set out for Mickleheim the very next day. Will the road be filled with dangers? Will Varian pay off the outrageously high interest on his debt? What else will our brave adventurers find in the twisting streets of Mickleheim? We'll find out next time.

Fellhold Session 4 Recap

Our adventurers were joined for the first time by their magic using companion, Blum. Acting on intelligence gleaned from Dag, a former bandit turned hireling, the party concocted a plan to counter ambush the bandits by disguising themselves as traveling monks of Dwyn, borrowing a cart from the Silverdelf distiller and covering the back with a tent in order to conceal a number of hirelings and Yllgrad the dwarven fighting man. After being surrounded by seven bandits, including the leader, they attacked. Early in the fight, Earn, son of Earn, one of the party's clerics was incapacitated, as were the party's other cleric Caleb and one of the fighting men, Bryni. They were quickly attended to by hirelings so that they would not bleed to death. Blum's attempt to charm the bandit leader fizzled, but he used his staff to deadly effect, smashing multiple bandit skulls. One hireling was killed by a deadly effective spear thrust, but soon after, the bandits, having taken more than half their number in casualties, broke and fled, but our bloodthirsty protagonists pursued them and cut them down, though the bandit leader proved a tenacious foe, he was dispatched by the combined efforts of Dag (now controlled by Bryni's player), Yllgrad, Varian the fighting man, and two of his hirelings (controlled by Earn and Caleb's players).

Searching the bodies of the bandits furnished the party with a small amount of loot, and though in need of some repair after rough treatment, 7 sets of chain mail and some spears and crossbows, with which they intend to better equip their retinues. They returned to town to heal and rest and prepare to retrieve the whiskey stolen by the bandits for a reward of 500 gold marks. Altogether, it was one of their more successful expeditions thus far and marked the first very small step into the world outside of Silverdelf and Fellhold.