Sunday, July 13, 2014

K33 - An unlikely patch of green

This session is part of a mini-side adventure for the campaign "Reclaiming Khazad-dum". We transport ourselves in the 12th year of the fourth age, some 2-3 years before the start of the campaign itself. The PCs are here a collection of high-powered, A-list Tolkien characters. The outcome of this side quest will determine what Army Group West will run into. 

The Characters

Each players was given complete creative license and 500 cps to create high-profile characters from the Middle-Earth lore. +Paul Stefko decided to play Elphir of Dol Amroth, the heir of Dol Amroth and a damn great Numenorean knight. Paul has posted some design notes on his blog.  +Jason Woollard  create his version of Bregalad (Quickbeam) the hasty Ent. +Arne Jamtgaard traded Bain the Viceroy for Gandalf the White. He modeled Gandalf's magic using effect shaping syntactic magic using the verb and noun variant. Finally, +Alex J. has crafted Beorn. In the next session, +Alex Safatli will be joining the fray with Gwaihir, the Eagle-Lord.

That, friends and fellow gamers, is a 2500 cp worth of protagonists, soon to swell to 3000 cps. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

GURPS Social Academy: Reaction rolls with irresistible PCs.

This post is part of a the GURPS Social Academy in support of my new campaign The Empress of India.

The later posts are the following:
  1. The Reaction Roll
  2. The Unassisted Influence Check 
  3. PCs as targets of Influence Checks
  4. A non-fantasy model for religions
  5. Mitigating the reaction Roll

This post is the outcome of extensive playing with reaction rolls in a Social-Engineering centered campaign. I discuss here things that came up in play.

It naturally follows that... a campaign based on social interactions that the PC are going to grow very good at manipulating everyone. In a way, this is fine: they spend the points and the natural reward is to be able to pull off crazy stunts. Otherwise, someone else would be the main character to that story. 

There is a situation where I feel less certain that kickass-charming PCs are always awesome. This is the case of the reaction roll, which is a non-skill based, non-opposed 3d6. 

In actual play, you'll get Reiko walking into a room and meet a man. She is pretty, has high birth and some charisma thrown into the mix. All in all, she gets a +6 to reaction. On average, she will get a very good reaction. Is this a problem? 

Everyone giggles every time so, not really at first glance. However, being like by everyone will cramp the GM's style after a while so here I propose a few ways to mitigate that:

  1. Make the outcome a mystery -- You tell the PC whether it is positive or not and force them to use their social skills to figure out what is really going on. You'd be surprised how a critical fail lead to funny situations (The hard part is keeping a straight face). Sometimes, awkwardness will affect the reaction as well in the process. Get the PCs to be detailed on how they approach the NPC and select the skill that match the description rather than the best skills to read others
  2. Immediate reactions are capped --  Anything better than good at first glance makes little sense. If the reaction gets higher to very good or excellent, grant +1 or +2 to the next influence check instead. 
  3. Don't be afraid to make it hard on the PCs -- If a NPC has a good reason to be pissed, give a stiff negative penalty and cap the lower bound on reaction levels. For example, Reiko may have +6, but the average Joe in the same situation would be bad (5). This implies a -5 narrative penalty which could be capped at bad because going too low immediately doesn't make sense in this situation. The final reaction roll is modified by +1, which means an expected neutral reaction. A more extreme case: The NPC has a -12 to reaction for a final modifier of -6 but with a minimum cap to poor. This means that only a bit of luck will give something better than poor, but without Reiko's charms and other attributes, it would be nearly impossible to do better than this. The overflow translates into a penalty for a future Influence check as described in point 2. 
  4. Olden school GMs would argue against using dice to decide the outcome... where is the sport in that as a GM? It isn't because that I GM that I don't want to play as well. Main event in my campaign have been decided by a die roll, live: I call this fun to deal with.


I think that we should never penalize a PC for being good: this means that the difficulty of a situation shouldn't scale with skills/attributes levels. Great social characters should breeze through simple situations and it is probably better to simply not bother with the dice. Scaling up like it is done in video games, and pretty much disregards character advancement. 

I think that these three strategies will be at the top of my list from now on to make sure that failure a source of fun happens while respecting the PCs' awesomeness. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

K32 - Insanity and Hatchets

The royal party has freed a mysterious bride from a sarcophagus and pulled her our of her own crypt despite the protest of kleptomaniac wraiths and a hungry hungry black pudding. 

Bain's dream sequence

Bain fell asleep with his body straddling a narrow hallway. They found a safe haven in a side crypt that wasn't defiled like every others that they had run into so far. As Bain drifted to sleep, an aura built around the viceroy. He slipped out of body in the glow if the Eye of Irmo hanging around his neck.  On the other side, he could make out the shapes of his companions. He headed for the Bride, and zoomed into her inner sanctum as he was sucked into a slow vortex. 

He found himself attending a wedding. A large hall, the bride was standing there but there was no groom. She was walking to a sarcophagus. Bain probed the dream, wondering what he could find. He heard the name of the bride uttered: Denma. Bain was wondering whether he could find out whether Denma liked Khazek. His answer came from behind a curtain where Khazek, as a groom, moved forward with a smug smile on his face, and the head of the Balrog in his hand (a tiny version). Bain wondered whether the bride knew about the Balrog. A drop of black shadow dripped from the Balrog's head. The shadow crept along the floor, passing between legs in the crowd and slithering at a dazzling pace until it reached a deep well. Bain felt himself falling and woke up suddenly. 

The conspirators

Khazek was half asleep when he heard the muttering coming from Helg. Helg was on guard duty. He slipped towards the sleeping body of Lathmelen. The elf was, awkwardly enough, wearing on the dowery dress of the bride. By the time Khazek smashed Helg's knee with Oin's staff, Helg had the time to lodge his hatchet between Lathmelen's shoulderblades. 

A lot of dwarves into a small area
Gror was also on guard duty. He ran over his father to wake him up and rammed his forehead into Helg's shoulder. Helg rolled sideways and turned just on time for Gror to smash again through the bridge of his nose. Lathmelen utters an elven word and Helg dropped his hatchet then dropped to the ground. 

In Gror's wake, Nalik followed with his axe over his head. he was responding to the call by Helg to do away with the elf. Bain tripped him. Nalik fell over the bridge and grappled her body. Bain kicked him hard enough to make him snap from his compromising position. 

Rogi moved into the fray, responding to the renewed calls to eliminate the elf. By then, Gror was in a scuffle with Nordan who was trying to save Helg from further harm. Bain let out a loud yell which paralyzed everyone where they stood.

The dwarves of the battleguard were driven nearly mad by the curse by then. Some had convinced themselves that their predicament was the fault of Lathmelen the elf. Many blamed their commanders for associating with her. Thordar, drew a line with his smallsword in the air, Lathmelen said something obnoxious inadvertantly, but in the end Bain explained in no subtle terms that the elf was a mean to an end and was to be used to complete their mission. This seemed to appease the dwarves, but left Lathmelen perplexed. They set out for the known exit of the 4th level before more insanity would set in. 

And thus concludes another Chapter of "Reclaiming Khazad-dum"

The dwarves returned to the towers and made their way back to the Rising hall on the second level. The dwarves of the Bronze Attack had repelled the hunters once without too much trouble. They covered the bride with Thordar's cloak to avoid her curse to ensnare yet more dwarves.  They settled in the dwelling of the Hatchet farmers. 

Gesdrek conjectured that the Balrog's repose must be the seat of the curse. They decided to delve deep into the underdeep to find what is there and deal with it. The little folks won't do: the curse is too powerful. However, the most heroic elements were eager to get going. 

Let's return to Arda's hell: the bowels of middle-earth opened up by those who delved too deep.

Friday, May 30, 2014

K31 - Dear Diary...

This session continues on the dungeon delve involving all PCs deep into the 4th level. They left to find out more about the curse of the Balrog. They found it. The following is the narrative as recounted by the mysterious bride that just got rescued.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

K30 - The Love Polygon

The bride of the unborn reincarnation of Durin had to be put away into a hidden chamber of Khazad-dum until the day of her wedding would come. The viceroy saw her in a dream, and so the Royal party left the Tomb of Arvin in a quest to find that pretty needle in a wraith-infested heystack. What they found was a giant black pudding guarding the sarcophagus of the bride where she lay, at the threshold of bonified death. 

Both Khazek and Thordar saw in her eyes what they interpreted as the promise of true and everlasting love. 

The black pudding is playing with its food

But hey, the job wasn't done. Khazek pulled the bride from the sarcophagus. She was frail, pale and shivering. Her knuckles raw from beating from within the stone receptacle. Khazek pulled her gently and huddled her, careful not to smear her with the acid burning through his heavy chain. He gently kissed her, she was gasping for air. Was this passion? Thordar, boiling with rage lunged forward and punched Khazek in a mad hope to make him drop the bride into his hands. Khazek avoided the blow and misinterpreted it as an overenthusiastic offer to help carrying her to safety.

Lathmelen stumbled while jumping over the pudding, she fell feet first into the caustic mud. Her boots were now smouldering with a brown smoke, but her adarcer shin protector remained unaffected. A foot slipped out, but the second foot stayed stuck. The wraith that was wrestling her for the sword wandered off as she became invisible to it once that she let the sword go. A second attempt to free herself sent her face first to the ground with one foot still mired into the muck. The black pudding rolled over her body and began burning at her clothes and hair.

Friday, May 2, 2014

K29 - The dwarf bride

In the previous episode, Interview with a tombstone, the intrepid royal party has made their way to the crypt level of the old city. Bain, in a dream, can hear the plight of a young female trapped in a sarcophagus. The dream is true alright, as he is wearing the Eye of Irmo, which lets him travels around during his sleeping hours. 

The party is made of 13 dwarves: Bain, viceroy of Khazad-dum (PC ); Thordar, right-hand of the viceroy and daredevil-fencer-rogue (PC); Khazek, irreverent ranger-extraordinaire (PC); Lathmelen, Niece of the Elf-Queen of Greenwood (PC); Gror, son of Bain and frontline commander; Gesdrek, Maiar loremaster; and 7 dwarves from a Battle-guard of the Bronze Attack (Nalik, Rogi, Helg, Kelvar, Volkvak, Rakmir, Nordan). 

Delving silent, delving deep

Gror "butterfinger" faces off with the pudding while a wraith
prances around with Khazek's elven blade.
The night was long for the dwarves as they bunked deep into Arvin's crypt. There was whimpers, and Volkvak certainly lost sleep and looked terrible when the delvers woke up.

Bain explained to the other how to get to the Bride's crypt. The party ate a bit and set out along a major artery to the West. Khazek demonstrated an almost prescient sense of direction and lead the dwarves soon into a side passage in order to keep as close as possible to the description provided by Bain. Lathmelen stayed close behind, as ever impressed by the "young prince".

They wove deeper to the the far reaches of Khazad-dum. Khazek had a close encounter with a wraith and swing wildly into the dark. The wraiths had started to accumulate on their tails, both repulsed and attracted by the dwarves' torch light. The wraiths were particularly interested in Khazek's Ghost Blade and Lathmelen's glowing sword. It occurred to Bain that, after seeing Khazek nearly trip and struck down by a wraith (a pissed one), that if their guide was to go, they would be prisoners of an impossible labyrinth.

Bain's pulse quickened, he started to stumble. He was acutely aware that the minds of his dwarves had started to fade because of the Balrog's curse. He became agitated, jumping around to dodge the real and the imaginary wraiths of his ancestors. Khazek picked up on this and became agitated as well. The other dwarves grew concerned, but did their best to sooth the torment of their friends.

Lathmelen kept a steady eye and found a hidden passage which concealed entrance had been damaged in the past. They wondered about the architectural patterns, but none of the party member could identify details. They proceeded inward to eventually enter a large hall.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

K28 - Interview with a tombstone

We left our intrepid heroes all panting after a dash up a 80 yds high ladder while taking fire from above. By the time that we hit the pause button, many goblins were freshly slained, and Thordar's blood was making a mess on the floor.

The toe-hold on the fourth level

After severing the left foot of a fleeing goblin archer, Gror roared down a flight of stairs. He was preceded by said archer, tumbling down said stairs to land by the feet of two goblins taking on a retreat.

Lathmelen ran to Thordar and dispensed as much of her healing magic as she could muster, leaving her out of breath and barely capable of running. The gash in Thordar's leg sealed, he nodded and ran after the pursuing dwarves. Lathmelen, on the edge of losing consciousness, reached for her bow and followed. She met with Gesdrek, Loremaster, and a group of 7 battle-guard dwarves arriving late to the party.

Khazek took to his feet to follow the other archers leaving through the second passage. One of them demonstrated that these goblins were well capable to walk and walls and ceilings as they fled down another set of stairs.

Gror charged with utmost vigor down into a larger hall where about 10 goblins were scurrying through an open door. The door shut, leaving a small number of them on the wrong side. The beleaguered goblins turned back to fight and slowed the progress of Gror, Bain and Thordar towards the door. Thordar got a four-limb grapple by a goblin which placed him in an awkward positions as the other goblins were dealt with.  The Viceroy pinned one of the demoralized goblin against the door with his shield as Khazek and the other cleaned up what was left. 

Journey to the Arvin's crypt

The goblin pinned against the door was named Mik, or at least this is what Bain heard through the whimpers and decided to stick with it. Once that Mik figured out that he was NOT to be killed, his hopes rose and he became very eager to please the dwarves. There appeared to be very little love lost between Mik and whoever shut him up on the wrong side of the gate.

Gror ordered that two more battle-guards be hauled up to the 4th level while Lathmelen and Thordar tried to recover from their wound/shock/exhaustion. Mik kept on bleating nonsense, but a little usable information could be parsed from him. The hunters were regularly raiding the Snagaii kingdom for food. The King of Snagaiis was located on the level below. The dwarves also learned that goblins were terrified of the crypts to the north since the "great rousal" of the dead dwarves a few years ago. Finally, Mik revealed a hard to find passage to get around the stockades protecting them from the hunters and leading into the crypts.

Once the warriors from the Bronze attack arrived (The Silver-Attack was relieved as they started to go loopy on Gror), they ordered 14 of them to keep the hall while 7 would follow the royal party into the crypts. 

Interview with a tombstone

Gesdrek explained that Arvin's tomb should be about 2 hours' travel due North from their position. Mik walked them through a few side passages to get around the blockades and the party ventured deep into the Crypt level of Khazad-dum. The place was noticeably more luxurious than the first and second levels. As they proceeded deeper into the complex, they encountered little evidence of recent passage. The artwork on the walls became more intricate, the place darker and colder.

Poorly defined shapes seemed to be wandering aimlessly through walls, ignoring the advancing party. By early evening, the dwarves had made it to the far corner of the crypts where Arvin was buried. Arvin was once Durin's butler; a very influential dwarf of his day. His tomb was unusually ornate. They entered the crypt and proceeded through a hall covered in engraved and inlaid scenes. In the far end, a phosphorescent glow could be seen coming from a well in the ground. To their left, there was a chapel, to the right, more crypts of what would have been family or close servants.

Gesdrek prompted all to assist him with the ritual. The dwarves chanted while the battle-guard escort keep watch at the crypt's entrance. Mik refused to go in his own way and told the dwarves that he prefered to stay with them until they'd return to the gates of the Snagaii Kingdom. Something spooked him out of the adjoining crypts and he spend the next few hours tormented by the warriors in the central hallway.

The chanting lasted 4 hours until Gesdrek began a silent interview with the opened sarcophagus. He conversed with moans for about 10 minutes; the room fell silent. Gesdrek explained that the Sarcophagus had been defiled by canine-looking creatures which came to free Arvin's body from its final repose. Arvin, however, was now trapped in the crypt as a wraith. He couldn't really see nor hear the living and therefore was not a threat to the others. Gesdrek also got from the tomb that a dark shadow had crawled into the corpse, suggesting that the spirit of the Balrog indeed was the power that moved the ancestors. "I fear that smashing through them may be freeing the Balrog from its current predicament.", concluded the loremaster. They made a mental note to stop slaying ancestors from then on.

Because it was now rather late, and that they were quite tired from the last day. They decided to sleep in the crypt before setting back to the 4th level's entry point in the morning.

Arvin's crypt

The dreamwalker

When Bain fell asleep, he felt his soul split from his body almost right away. Strangely, he felt safe and secure as he realize that his soul was floating in a sea of dwarf wraiths lingering in the area. The eye of Irmo, the jewel given to him by Queen Ngaii, was glowing faintly around his neck. He wandered around, he could see the dreams of his companions, but walked away towards the chapel where the wraith of an imposing dwarf was praying at the altar. The dwarf didn't respond to Bain's calls. However, a cry in the distance caught the Viceroy's ear. 

Bain proceeded west through walls in the search of this call for help. He approached another crypt, ten times more majestic and ornate as Arvin's. At its centre, there was a sarcophagus what didn't get defiled by the infernals. In it, the most beautiful dwarf female was lying and stirring uncomfortably. 

Bain approached the sarcophagus. He could hear the moans, and other sounds that he couldn't fathom. He peered into the stone altar, held the Eye of Irmo in his hands and tried to pry into the beautiful woman's dream. Unfortunately, he got winded and started to lose control as his soul got aspirated back to his body. 

Bain stirred for a long time before falling asleep again. 

In the morning, Bain told of his journey. Gesdrek told him that he probably had encountered the bride of Durin which, upon realizing that Durin wouldn't incarnate during her lifetime, had the dwarves of Khazad-dum put her in stasis until the right day would come. Gesdrek didn't know any more than this about this legend, but felt confident that this bride must have been the long lost maternal side of the line of Durin.  More importantly, the bride appeared to be still unspoiled by the infernals. 

The decided to seek a path to the West to find the Bride's repose before returning back to their lines.