Graveyard of Empires Campaign

automata-title-pageThis blog has suffered severe neglect in recent months, although my RPG-related activities have continued unabated. Besides my ongoing first edition campaign (which recently surpassed five hundred hours of play), I have also been working hard on converting some of that game’s early adventures into publications. The first such adventure is the incident at the tinkerer-wizard Talessin’s tower (see the annotated play reports: first session and second session).

That work is now complete and my first adventure module, Automata Run Amok, has gone live on DriveThruRPG as a PDF with print versions to follow as soon as possible both there and on Lulu.com (spiral bound in the latter case!). This module is being offered for free (PWYW) as an appetizer for what I hope to be a series of publications. Here’s the marketing copy blurb for this adventure:

Out-of-Control automata have driven a wizard from his shop. He would like the PCs to solve the problem (without damaging his creations) while his rival will pay for evidence of the wizard’s dabbling in forbidden knowledge.

This is an adventure suitable for four to five low-level characters written to be compatible with OSRIC and early editions of the world’s most popular RPG.  In addition to full details on a tinkerer-wizard’s tower overrun by rampaging automata, this module includes:

  • Random tables to generate elements of a bustling port city situated in the tropics and titles for books on both magic and techno-magic
  • Twenty unique magical items of variable usefulness and danger with which to tempt players
  • Several unique NPCs and monsters, from a clock maker revolutionary to a brain floating in a machine animated by the spirit of a long-dead racist dwarf
  • Eight illustrations by the wondefully talented Luka Rejec

This twenty-page adventure should provide between four and eight hours of Old School fun. Enjoy!

Here’s a link to the page to “purchase” and download the module.

Dolphin or Devil Fish?

Dolphin or Devil Fish?

[This is the sixth post in a series of session summaries (i.e., a play reports) for the first campaign I have run in the Curabel setting. Each summary was written by one of the players, but I am adding my own ‘DM Annotations’ on these write-ups before uploading them here. These annotations will mostly call attention to bits of the summaries that will be significant later in the campaign (with links to relevant summaries to follow as they are posted) or else explain my rational for my game-mastering choices.

Please note that the summary will be displayed as regular text and my annotations as block quotes throughout.]

Session Six: April 23, 2014

This summary was written by Brian, who played the human cleric in service to the dwarven deity named Xen’Teler (who figures prominently in later sessions). Brian participated in the campaign for the first twenty or so sessions. This particular session wraps up the adventure in the ancient dwarven bathhouse, with the party defeating the Bullywugs and their Devil Fish master in order to appease the goblins guarding the tunnel to the tomb the group seeks.

Frog feet patter on stone in the distance and the party seizes the moment to organize themselves for the battle to come. It is a gruesome engagement, for both the Frog-Men and adventurers. Axel receives a grave wound, but, at the end of the skirmish, there are six dead frogs. The party loots the bodies for a longsword and the small amount of gold that they have.

This was a fun little battle. The bulk of the Bullywugs charged the group from the east, cornering them in the stairwell chamber – the stairs leading up having been blocked by the goblins and those down flooded. During the fighting, a couple of the Bullywugs flanked the party by swimming through the flooded lower level and coming up the stairs. Fortunately, Ir’Alle was able to drop these attackers.

Fearing for their injured allies, the party decides to head back to a safe place to rest. On the way back to the Goblin leader’s room, the party regroups with the remainder of their allies in the large hall and the women they saved. Fires are built to protect us from any assault and Ir’Alle manages to call on the favor of his God, Xen’Teler, and heal Axel. However, soon after the party begins resting, a crossbow bolt is fired. One of our frog enemies pokes his head through the door leading eastwards, but quickly runs in fear. Guards are on red-alert for the rest of the night, but fortunately, no attack comes.

At this point, the Bullywugs have suffered serious casualties and the Devil Fish leading them is growing uneasy. They decide not to abandon the bathhouse just yet, though, preparing an ambush to the east. Not mentioned here is the fact that the party knew one more prisoner, a young woman recently married, is still in the hands of the Bullywugs. Their decision to rest before pushing forward leads to her death, which has unforeseen consequences that reverberate through many sessions and leads to political turmoil in the city above.

On the following day, the decision is finally made to go through the double doors through which the Frog-Man had poked his head. Upon entering, the party sees a large chamber complete with frescos (much more risqué than the previous ones encountered), deactivated Automatons, and the mutilated body of the prisoner who was missing from the cells. Due to of heat vision, the party is alerted to the presence of two enemies hidden behind the Automatons, who are quickly dealt with. Upon closer inspection of the Automatons, it is found that they are pretty much the same as the warrior contraptions that were encountered earlier, albeit much more fancy.

The mutilated body of the prisoner was arranged to catch the attention of the party as they entered – there was even a message scrawled on the floor in her blood about the group being too late. This was meant to distract the party’s attention and give the hidden enemies time to strike. The group was not distracted by this ploy.

With only one way to go, the group moved forward. Passing through the doors before them, they encounter the leader of the Bullywugs and three of his minions. However, there is also something in the water. This strange creature cast magical spells on the party freezing the paladin in place, and the party begins to fall like wheat before a scythe to the Bullywugs. The battle is long and gruesome, but ultimately the party of brave adventurers stands victorious over the ruin of their enemies. On the leader, the party finds a scroll, a flask, and five gems of stunning beauty. However, the victory was to be short lived. The creature in the water, a Devil Fish, that previously cast its vile magic upon the adventurers, returns — this time looking for the party’s help. There is a statue that it wanted, a strange stone carving standing beside the small pool of water. The creature claims that it houses the spirit of one of its ancestors, kept alive to guide his people through challenging times. If we help to move it, we can keep the gem in the statue. After much deliberation, Sthorm bravely drinks an elixir found on the body of the Bullywug leader (allowing underwater breathing) and dives into the depths.

[An early Hold Person spell from the Devil Fish (Ixitxachitl) almost turns this battle into a TPK, taking the party’s paladin and one of the dwarven warriors out of the fight. However, the Bullywug commander is distracted trying to push the strange statue into the water – which it fails to do – thereby giving the party time to pick off all the enemies without being overwhelmed. Ultimately, it turns out to be fortunate the paladin is incapacitated since the party is able to make a deal with the devil fish without dealing with his objections. This cooperation with the Devil Fish also has implications later in the campaign, opening up possible approaches to a future problem that would have not been available if they simply killed the creature.]

 

Sthorm brings the statue to where the Devil Fish requires it and gains a fist-sized gem in return. With our riches in hand and in the company of the freed prisoners, we leave the bathhouse battered and bruised. We returned to the goblin warren and leave with a small sack of supplies, the enchanted Morningstar named “Midnight Star”, and directions to the ancient dwarven tomb.

This was quite the treasure haul, easily providing enough funds via the gem to cover training costs for everyone who gained a level. In fact, the party never really found itself hurting for funds after this point, except for the occasional scramble to pool funds as training costs increased with level. The party soon finds out the gem is more than it seems to be, a fact that brings them quite a bit of attention from the city authorities (both good and bad).They also have the goblins’ blessing to pass through their warren and enter the tunnel leading to the ancient dwarven tomb – where they hope to find the mysterious key the dwarf Desric has hired them to recover.

Upon returning to the surface, the group manages to make a city guard suspicious, but they also manage to deliver the two women from the prison to their homes. Everyone agrees that the women will meet with the party on the following day to tell the tale of their kidnapping so that the adventurers can learn more of the Bullywugs’ plans. With that, the party retires to their townhouse for some much-needed rest.

Nothing else ever came of the Bullywugs – the remaining creatures fled with their Devil Fish master after the last battle and returned to the waters beyond the city via the sewer system. In fact, the Devil Fish has the party’s water-breathing thief maneuver the statue through a hole in the large chamber (hidden among the machines once used to heat the bath water) leading to the sewers. The meeting with the former prisoners and their families, though, does turn out to be important – especially the introduction of the dead prisoner’s bereaved husband.

Roman Bathhouse Mosiac

One of a number of mosaics that inspired my description of the dwarven bathhouse now occupied by warring factions of goblins and bullywugs.

[This is the fifth post in a series of session summaries (i.e., a play reports) for the first campaign I have run in the Curabel setting. Each summary was written by one of the players, but I am adding my own ‘DM Annotations’ on these write-ups before uploading them here. These annotations will mostly call attention to bits of the summaries that will be significant later in the campaign (with links to relevant summaries to follow as they are posted) or else explain my rational for my game-mastering choices.

Please note that the summary will be displayed as regular text and my annotations as block quotes throughout. Also, my original intention was to post my next random generator this week, but it needs a bit more polish. Sorry for the delay on that.]

Session 5: Wednesday, April 16, 2014

This is the second session summary written by Larry, who still plays the dwarven fighter Thorfus Ironhand. You can find his blog here: http://followmeanddie.com/.

After healing up several of our intrepid adventurers purchased lock boxes and hid them about the rented townhouse, each to store his loot. (It was determined that a 12″ x 6″ x 6″ lock box can hold 3024 coins at 7/cubic inch.). We then re-stocked oil and other supplies.

It may be worth noting that my campaign uses a house-ruled version of an encumbrance system that apparently has its origins in Lamentations of the Flame Princess (although I stole the idea from some intermediary blog). Items generally occupy one slot and a character’s allotment of slots are determined by both strength (1 backpack slot per point) and dexterity (1/2 quick inventory slot per point). 100 coins fill an inventory slot, so this chest has a capacity of 30 items. Incidentally, it’s funny that this particular session summary came up this week – one of the players asked after last week’s session (#93) to buy some large chests for his wagon and wanted to know how much they could hold. Somewhat miraculously, I came to the same basic conclusion.

Sthorm stopped an old woman on the street and asked about crime, and learned of the Mad Dogs, the local crime syndicate. They sell drugs and the son of one of the lords of the city recently died of a drug overdose. She pointed out that a lot of seedy types, who might be Mad Dogs, hung around the general store nearby.

As is often the case in AD&D, the party’s thief was the first one in need of finding a trainer for second level. This was the immediate impetus behind the group’s investigation of the local criminal element. Of course, I also used this opportunity to lay out another adventure hook – the young noble’s overdose – although the party never investigated that particular event any further.

Sthorm made contact with a member of the thieves’ guild, a woman named Adwissa who along with her husband runs the general store near our town house. The store is called Wright’s Mercantile. Sthorm learned that it was a good thing that we spared the lives of those who attempted to rob us on our first day in the city since they have some connection to the Mad Dog gang (which controls the thieves guild).

The opportunity to reward the party for their unorthodox decision to spare the lives of their would-be bandits was satisfying – although I would have been equally happy to complicate their search for trainers if they had done the natural thing and left their enemies to bleed out. In the end, the party discovered that Efam and Gartric were the illegitimate sons of some high-ranking member of the Mad Dogs but not who that person was in particular.

The entire party then went looking for Efam’s brother, Gartric. He was still convalescing at the small Ark Shrine. Galron preached the way of righteousness to him and seemed to make him think. Galron then healed him. Galron did cure disease on an old man, so if he had a disease, he does not now.

Contrary to appearances, Gartric was not swayed by the paladin’s preaching. He just thought it would be unwise to insult the warriors that kicked his behind, chose not to turn him over to the authorities, and even arranged for his healing.

We then went to the townhouse to rest for the return to adventure the next day.

We met up with Kottar and Sturloc the crossbowmen at the Flotsam and Jetsam, and located Kilmar the lantern bearer. Kilmar was all set to use his new trident to slay bullywugs, but Galron dissuaded him since he had no armor. Kottar and Sturloc wanted 5 gp for this day in the sewer instead of the normal 1gp. We made a deal of 1 gp now and 2 more gp each if we found treasure.

These three NPCs turned out to be very long-lived. Kottar and Sturloc are still with the party serving as hirelings while Kilmar left to become Galron the paladin’s squire when that character’s player decided to switch to a magic-user. For a while the party believed Kilmar died fighting an undead infestation in a small village (another adventure hook they ignored), but recently news arrived that he may be alive and a prisoner of dark elves – providing yet another hook, this time baited with the group’s feeling of obligation to their former lantern bearer.

We then went to the street in front of the university. The street was more deserted than normal due to rain. It is a cool 80 degrees.

When we got into the sewer, we noticed that the first chalk mark we found now had a big X over it and every chalk mark until we got to the wet slope where we tied off a rope to go down safely.

As a DM, I find that making slight changes to a dungeon/adventuring environment implying the interference of outside forces when the party returns after an absence can be very rewarding. Players often get into a mindset where they believe these locations, even if they are obviously dynamic, are self-contained and that each victory they achieve fills up a progress bar towards completion. The reality – or even just the possibility – that new challenges and opponents could wander into their playground makes it clear that these secret places are still part of a bigger world.

When we got to the big room with pillars where we met the goblins before, we say a pile of 6 dead bullywugs, and a dead half elf, gnome, and halfling. The goblins informed us that these new adventurers attacked them when the goblins asked if they were there to help fight bullywugs. The goblins thought they were us. The goblins killed three adventurers and captured two more. Then the bullywugs came, and the goblins did a number on them this time.

Here the group sees examples of dynamism in the dungeon environment itself (i.e., the war between the goblins and bullywugs doesn’t pause when they leave) and in how the dungeon environment interacts with the outside world (i.e., rival adventurers). Now, without imposing an arbitrary deadline for completing the adventure, the party naturally starts treating time as a limited resource – after all, if they waste too much of it, who knows what other new complications will arise?

There is a shaman type with the tattoos that looked like the ones that glowed on the one goblin and we learned can cause a big explosion when the goblin nears death.

A handy bit of information about the goblin shamans that the party was lucky to discover second-hand; of course, this also meant that their original mediator with the goblins was dead now, but the group still managed to convince the new shaman that they should be allowed to continue their mission.

We inquired after the two prisoners and learned that they were a half orc named Ermengarda and a gnome named Walteris, both fighters. These other adventurers were there at the behest of Talessin and were looking for stone blocks. They were reluctant to tell us what they were sent to find, but we told them we could not help them without information.

Again, the party is forced to deal with the consequences of their actions. In this case, that action was selling the gorilla corpse to Talessin and carelessly mentioning their discovery of an ancient dwarven bathhouse underneath the city. As a rival or their new employer (Desric the dwarf), Talessin immediately hired his own adventurers to swoop in and get the rewards – although that didn’t quite work out.

We convinced the two prisoners to help us kill bullywugs and the goblins reluctantly agreed, but they will not let any of us leave until the bullywug boss and the devil fish are dead.

The goody two-shoes paladin detected evil and learned that the half orc is evil but the gnome is not.

We got their weapons and armor from the goblins and headed back to the balcony.

The group is now a traditional first edition party with the hirelings and NPC associates equal in number to the actual player characters.

We went through the double doors into the big room and ran into two bullywugs that attacked, but we easily defeated them. During the fight, Sthorm attempted to hide in shadows and sneak behind them, but one of the bullywugs impaled him with a spear. Galron saved him before he expired and Ir’Alle healed him so that he is now under his own power.

There was a bullywug on the lower level between the stairs that the archers were shooting at, and one managed to hit it. Axel ran around to the north and came down the stairs and killed it. Axel lit a torch so that the crossbowmen can see to keep an eye on the double doors.

This time the party was ready to deal with the layout of this two-story chamber, rushing to secure its entirety and prevent the kind of flanking that hurt them during their last foray.

We searched the remaining rooms to the south on the upper level and learned that they are saunas.

We came down the southern stairs and worked our way around the south wall and found a door in the middle of the east wall and it opened to a room with some blocked stairs to the north, and a door to the south. There was a bullywug guard in the middle of the room. It was surprised and bolted to the door on the south and pounded on it. We swarmed it and Axel took it down.

We opened the door and met a bullywug. We slew him and discovered a key around his neck. There were four locked doors in this hallway. We opened them. One held a dead man, we later learned was David. Two were empty. The last room held an older woman and a girl, Jocassa and Em. One of the empty cells held another woman, Kaitlyn, but she must be with the bullywugs being tortured. Jocassa said that they were taken from the canals and had been there several days, but not weeks.

This introduced another group of important NPCs, although only Em still figures into the game these days. The party was clearly delighted at being able to rescue innocents, which was good information for me to have as DM in terms of anticipating what kinds of adventures hooks the group was likely to pursue.

Jocassa told us of an opening in the NW corner of the lower level of the big room hidden behind some junk. She also told us of an idol that the big bullywug keeps with him. It is evil and spoke to her mind. It told her that all land dwellers must suffer the wrath of Lysander, the sea deity that embodies the fickle and violent nature of the sea. This deity is usually worshiped by pirates, etc. She also said that the devil fish spoke to her mind in the same way.

This new information about the devil fish and their goals continues to build on information from the very first scene of the first session of play when the party’s boat encountered a ship sunk by devil fish on its way into Midmark harbor. What was previously a general threat to the city now seems a much more real and personal now that the group has rescued NPCs who suffered because of these creatures.

We sent the women upstairs to one of the sauna rooms on the south with Walteris the gnome to guard them since the goblins won’t let us leave.

We then went to the opening behind the junk. Sthorm found a set of chimes set as an alarm, but easily removed them. We moved the junk, which was placed for ease of moving to cover or uncover a 5′ opening.

Thorfus lead the way and we found that it became a standard ten foot passageway, leading to a four-way intersection. To the east and west were doors. To the north is what could be a room.

We elected to go to the door to the west and found a lone bullywug with a glaive guarding a junk-filled stairway going up and a flooded stairway going down. Axel and Thorfus charged in but failed to hit it. Ir’Alle stepped into block the water filled stairway. After much thrashing about, the bullywug wounded Thorfus, but Thorfus cleaved it’s skull in twain.

Naturally, next session will include some Bullywugs flanking the party using a flooded lower-level of the bathhouse (where the heating mechanism for the pools were located) and climbing up the submerged stairs. The party was not completely surprised by that development, though, showing that they are beginning to consider the strategic opportunities and threats built into a dungeon’s layout.

We then heard the sound of approaching bullywugs from the norther passage of the junction.

Will our adventurers prevail? Will the bullywugs bully their way to supremacy? Tune in next week for more of the exciting adventures of our heroes.

It’s nice when you can end on a cliffhanger like this.

So far, we have killed six bullywugs, rescued two adventurers and two female commoners, and only two party members have been wounded. One of the wounded was knocked down, but has been healed enough to be mobile.

Carnivorous Ape (AD&D 1E Monster Manual)

Carnivorous Ape (AD&D 1E Monster Manual)

[This is the fourth post in a series of session summaries (i.e., a play reports) for the first campaign I have run in the Curabel setting. Each summary was written by one of the players, but I am adding my own ‘DM Annotations’ on these write-ups before uploading them here. These annotations will mostly call attention to bits of the summaries that will be significant later in the campaign (with links to relevant summaries to follow as they are posted) or else explain my rational for my game-mastering choices.

Please note that the summary will be displayed as regular text and my annotations as block quotes throughout.]

Session Four

This game summary was written by Riese, who played the paladin Galron at this point in the campaign. Ninety-four sessions on, he’s still involved with the campaign, having just moved on to his third character (his second having fused itself with a giant mechanical worm that makes it difficult for him to continue traveling with the party).

The party was a bit smaller today at least in terms of minds.

Although I cannot recall the exact circumstances, I believe he is referring to one of the players missing the session and the impacted character being present but largely inactive.

We started off by going further into Kermit the Killer Frog’s lair, our light source dimly lighting a large open space (Kilmar the young hireling holds the lantern). The party notices they are on a balcony that has a river of sewage falling from it to a pool below and more croaking can be heard coming from the darkness.

Having the main entrance to the bullywug lair be on a balcony overlooking a large room with a central pool, two staircases to the lower level, and multiple exits was a conscious decision. As with the layout of Talessin’s tower in the earlier session, the idea was to provide interesting tactical choices to the group that wouldn’t be possible in the average 10’ wide corridor.

Soon, a weird shadow is spotted against one of the balcony’s walls – and reveals itself to be another vicious frog-creature. Galron charges and attacks it. He is joined swiftly by Thorfus who lands a hit. Galron, however, consistently fails to injure the creature. Axel also valiantly attacks with his axe. The battle creates a commotion, and soon more frogs are coming towards the party. Ir’alle, guarding the party’s flank, puts down one of the new frogs but it is clear we will be outnumbered soon …

The grim and desperate nature of low-level combat in early (A)D&D is illustrated nicely here. The Bullywugs, with their enhanced hiding ability and leap attacks, are the perfect enemy to exploit the layout of this chamber. Of course, part of the reason I like this kind of desperate combat is the sudden turnarounds in fortune that become possible when players are smart and lucky …

… HOWEVER GALRON’S FIRST KILL HAPPENS MOMENTS LATER! Thorfus murders a frog man, as well, followed soon after by Axel. Finally, Ir’alle scares off the remaining two by loudly proclaiming his faith! Unfortunately, Sthorm suffered a permanent injury … sorry about that …

Characters reduced to -6 or lower hit points are required to roll on a “permanent” injury table. The results indicate what part of the body is injured and are tied to ability score decreases and/or loss of limb use. I believe in having consequences when bad things happen and this house rule allows for that  However, the penalty doesn’t necessary need to last forever, so players are allowed to make a system shock roll a random number of weeks after the injury to recover completely.

A short while later, Thorfus kicks in a door and scares some goblins guarding the back entrance to their area of the bathhouse. After that, he locates the goblin chief’s old room and the party goes in search of loot. The party finds a large amount of it thanks to Thorfus and his dwarven stone-cunning ability. There is a wonderful amount of silver and one beautiful blue gem…

The treasure was hidden underneath one of the floor stones, a fact suggested by the odd arrangement of furniture in the chief’s abandoned room. Discovering the loot involved a nice mix of player skill (recognizing that the furniture arrangement was significant) and character skill (using the dwarven ability to recognize new stonework).

The party decides to retreat back to the surface after that haul. On the way, Thorfus beats the stuffing out of a carnivorous ape … but, THEN GALRON DEALS THE KILLING BLOW!! HIS 2ND KILL!!!!! Thorfus, however, was knocked down and needed to be carried out of the sewer (forcing the party to leave some treasure for retrieval later). We did get a bit lost in the tunnels but eventually found the ladder. Galron and Axel went to retrieve the loot, discovering that some guys in rags were messing with our coin, The two easily scare them off and take the ape’s corpse as well as the loot back to the ladder.

Another example of how dynamic a game can be when the DM trusts the dice. Even one carnivorous ape represents a potential TPK for a first-level party with injuries, but the random encounter roll indicated that one had found the party. A combination of low random hit points and lucky attacks, though, turned what could have been a disaster into another moment of heroism. The effects of enforcing my house-ruled encumbrance system are seen here, too, and almost result in the loss of the party’s loot to some sewer-dwelling beggars (almost indicated by a random encounter roll).

Back on the surface, the party sells the ape’s corpse for 300gp to Talessin. Later, at the Cock and Bull Inn, Ir’alle confronts an old man rambling on about the secret police and its excesses … Ir’Alle asks the man about the so-called Greycloaks and then pays him 2 silver to keep his mouth shut. The party retires to rest after splitting a total of 580 in both experience and gold.

After a successful delve, the party can now enjoy their rest and rewards. Of course, the throwaway bit about Midmark’s secret police (Greycloaks) will wind up having implications in future sessions …

[This is the third post in a series of session summaries (i.e., a play report) for the first campaign I have run in the Curabel setting. Each summary was written by one of the players, but I am adding my own ‘DM Annotations’ on these write-ups before uploading them here. These annotations will mostly call attention to bits of the summaries that will be significant later in the campaign (with links to relevant summaries to follow as they are posted) or else explain my rational for my game-mastering choices.

Please note that the summary will be displayed as regular text and my annotations as block quotes throughout.]

Session Three

Bullywugs, by pachycrocuta-d51ltb8

Bullywugs, by pachycrocuta-d51ltb8

It’s my turn to recap, so here we go!

This summary was written by Antony, who still plays the dwarf fighter Axel. He did not have much tabletop RPG experience, but picked it up very fast. This ability to pickup the game so quickly is especially noteworthy because he lives in England and plays from 1am to 5am his time and has rarely missed sessions.

We continue where we left off, outside of Desric’s shop after collecting the reward for handing him the plans to Talessin’s automatons. He told the party to go and see Elspeth [the proprietor] at the Cock & Bull.

All the names of NPCs and establishments in the City of Midmark were generated using a variety of random tables and scripts, most of which have now been posted to this blog.

Primarily, this happened one of two ways: for NPCs and places I know will be significant (or at least mentioned), I do the generation beforehand and flesh out some further unique details – this was the case for Elspeth and the Cock & Bull. For ‘surprise’ NPC appearances, like the random encounter with Ede Kynge mentioned in the next paragraph, I create large text files consisting of hundreds of NPC records. In that case, I just grabbed the first likely entry, which happened to be for a lamp maker. Alternately, though, I will take just the name and description of a random NPC from my list when the party seeks out a specific vendor or other individual (e.g., they want to find a locksmith, which shouldn’t be impossible in a large city, and I don’t have that specific NPC type at hand).

Before head over to the Inn, Galron stops an older man, hoping to procure a map of the city. The man, Ede Kynge, tells us that we are currently in the Adventurer’s Quarter, and that we can basically find anything we need along the main road here, West Copper Street. A paper market and bazaar are back towards the harbour, and Threehorn Way, an alleyway next to Desric’s shop, has an Alchemist’s.

Kynge, the proprietor of ‘Kynge’s Lanterns’, also urges Galron to try his shop as the Paladin is looking for a custom lamp. Further conversation reveals Talessin’s supposed involvement with foreign contacts, strongly hinted to be elves and perhaps not a good thing.

The party misread Kynge’s hints here – which were aimed at Talessin’s Imperial connection, although there was no reason for me to correct their mistake. The NPC, certainly, would be reticent to make such an inflammatory claim about a well-known wizard any more explicit.

After this, the party enters the Cock & Bull, where we find Elspeth the landlady. She doesn’t seem to think much of us, apparently having seen many a group in the employ of Desric, but offers us the townhouse behind the Inn, which we can rent for 30 Gold a month. The house, though sparsely decorated, is often used by adventurers helping Desric.

While renting rooms at an inn would have been adequate and within the party’s means, I thought it would help the group view Midmark as their ‘home’ if they had a more private (and somewhat more permanent) residence. At the same time, in more practical terms, having them rent a house also meant that NPCs hunting for the group could more easily track them down.

After some discussion, the party decides to trial it for a single night, paying a single gold (though Axel elects to stay in the Inn due to a lack of beds).

After a quick tour, Axel and Galron head out to run some errands, whilst the rest of the party stays at the Inn.

In this time, Ir’Alle approaches an elder elf, a sage called Ferri. He learns the location of a House of the Brotherhood [the temple for clerics of Xen’Teler, the dwarven deity], down at the harbour. In asking for people of importance in Midmark, he learns that Ferri is not a friend of Desric’s and suspects the Dwarf may be a supporter of the unease in the city towards its authorities.

This is an explicit reference to the tension between native islanders and colonial humans in Midmark. Ferri, whose mother killed herself after a long imprisonment by imperials prior to the liberation of the islands, is a strong advocate of the colonial aristocrats and their institutions – a ‘law and order’ type who sees any sacrifice of liberties as justified to prevent the return of the empire; Desric, on the other hand, is more understanding of the grievances of the native islanders (based partly on his research into the ancient dwarven empire’s treatment of their underclass as mentioned below).

Outside, Axel and Galron head first to the Alchemist’s. The shop is closed, but the owner, a rather attractive Halfling lady, humours us. Axel enquires after healing potions, but they are too expensive for the party to currently buy (450g each). The Alchemist begins to get annoyed, but calms down when we reveal our naiveté of such things, being new adventurers.

I tend to agree with DMs critical of ‘Magic Shops’ as something that cheapens the fantastical element of settings. There are always those who will purchase artifacts and magical items, collectors or various sorts and researchers, but having such items on shelves for the public to pick over seems wrong. However, I exempt from this items that could be explained via other means – like healing potions whose efficacy depends on alchemy rather than magic. These things are still expensive given the rare ingredients and secret knowledge needed to produce them, but they are completely natural phenomena.

We then head to the local Ark, whereby Galron donates a portion of his earnings to a friendly female cleric, hoping to secure discounted healing for the future. Axel matches the donation as a show of goodwill.

Back at the Inn, Thorfus asks a blacksmith [drinking in the common room] about acquiring better armour. The smith, Tylic Eraclid, admits he can only really do repairs, but recommends an elven armourer, Orsabet, down by the bridge.

I know some DMs and players look at this kind of ‘shopping simulation’ and see a giant waste of time. However, my experience is that when this type of play is used strategically, it enhances the players sense that they are dealing with a living world rather than a convenient backdrop for their heroics. Sometimes it is enough to tell players they can buy anything in the PHB for a 5% markup from nearby vendors (usually after they have already become acquainted with a city or town), but, as any traveler knows, shopping can be an adventure in itself and tell you quite a bit about a location. By the time they left Midmark, this group had a mental map key neighborhoods in the city and a list of contacts they could ask about items recovered in their adventurers — they treated it like a lived in place rather than a menu.

Sthorm also approaches Ferri, asking the Sage to appraise the book and wand he ‘acquired’ in secret from Talessin’s tower. He is unable to identify the wand, guessing that it could be defensive in nature. The book, he identifies for 70g, and cautiously reveals it to be a basic spell book, and offers to buy it for 270g. Sthorm keeps it for now.

The next morning, Axel ribs Galron about his actions towards the various women the previous day. Although he claims he is just trying to haggle and charm, we all know the young Paladin is a horny teenager. Axel offers to take him to a brothel, but he declines.

The party returns to Desric, where he offers us a job. After some bad luck, a party he sent to Xen’Khel half a year ago went missing. They had been on a mission to open a previously locked up area, but their disappearance destroyed any hope of finding it, as they had the only known key. Desric’s research turned up a second key though, and, several weeks ago, he sent Galdor’s Free Company to collect it from a tomb deep beneath the University in Midmark.

These paragraphs describe the moment when I introduced a rather big adventure hook – one that would eventually bring the party to the nearest mega-dungeon (the Xen’Khel ruin mentioned here). As the game approaches eighty sessions, the party is still dealing with the fallout of their acceptance of this job.

It is significant, though, that the hook actually consists of two parts – a starter dungeon located inside the current city and the mega-dungeon of Xen’Khel. That was purposeful and accomplished two things: first, it made the mission seem doable to the group despite their low level; second, it provided a natural place for a break from dungeon-delving between the starter and mega dungeons if they grew tired of that activity.

The tomb, a remnant of the ancient Dwarven city Midmark is built upon, is supposedly that of a high-ranking family. Galdor’s men managed to locate it, but turned back after they lost a man to trap.

Desric says that if we can finish the job, he would pay us 200g for the key, giving us looting rights to anything else we may find. The key is a disc, roughly 1’ in diameter, engraved with Ancient Dwarven runes. It is likely buried with the family matriarch. He gives us directions to the tomb, and also tells us that Galdor is staying at the Flotsam and Jetsam, near the harbour, should we need any more information.

Having some adventurers the party could pump for information before beginning their quest turned out to be a very good idea. When I ran this starter dungeon the second time, the group ignored this lead and had a much rougher time of things initially because they found themselves walking into the middle of a complex situation with no clues.

Sthorm privately asks Desric as we leave if he wants the book or wand, but the dwarf can only offer 50g for the un-appraised wand.

Following the main road towards the harbour, we stop of at Orsabet’s, where Thorfus commissions some chainmail, to be ready later that evening.

At Kynge’s Lanterns, Galron purchases a hooded lantern, made to hang from a pole, and several flasks of oil.

Next, the party stops at the paper market, where Sthorm seeks out a mage called Velten. He exchanges the spell book in order to get the wand appraised. Velten identifies it as a Wand of Magic Detection, and despite having minimal remaining charges, is probably worth 1000g or so.

The rest of the party finds Garviso, who sells maps, from which we purchase maps of the city and the island of Curmidden.

The group caught me a bit unprepared here – I hand-draw all my maps and didn’t have any scanned copies to share immediately. In addition, the city map contained a bit too much information and needed to be redone for their consumption. Since we were playing online, it wasn’t possible to scribble something for reference while they waited, so I apologized and promised to upload the documents to our campaign’s G+ community page during the upcoming week (which I did).

Ir’Alle takes us then to the House of the Brotherhood to pay his respects. The dwarven cleric he speaks to seems to have heard of him, as a human in a dwarven religion is a bit of an oddity. When asked if Ir’Alle can offer any assistance, the dwarf asks that we see if we can uncover a missing group of surveyors, patrons of the House, lost in a swamp near the city of Vargen.

Although I thought the starter dungeon was the natural next step for the group, the campaign is not a railroad and it was important for me that they had other choices. This adventure hook gave them another choice, although they never followed up on it.

After asking for further directions, we reach the Flotsam and Jetsam. Enquiring after Galdor, the man is brought to us. When asked about the tomb, he tells us it is dangerous, and it is probably better not to go at all. His group, although used to lighter work, are veterans, but they still lost a man to a revolving floor trap.

Further questioning reveals that they had to drive out a Goblin settlement in order to get to the tomb and that their path was marked in chalk, denoted by the initials GFC. He also claims the tomb was weird, full of odd stains and strange noises.

Understanding the significance of the chalk marks and not being surprised by the goblins’ presence were the big advantages of the party speaking with Galdor. The latter fact was probably especially important to making the party’s deal with the goblins possible and letting them avoid an unnecessary fight.

The party decides to spend the rest of the day preparing. We hire a pair of crossbowmen on Galdor’s recommendation, Sturloc and Kottar. The barkeep also points us towards an eager young boy, Kilmar, who we hire to be a torchbearer. Galron promises to buy the boy a proper weapon after the mission.

The party’s first hirelings! While my games as a teenager rarely (if ever) involved hirelings, I wanted this campaign to be a more authentic 1E AD&D experience in this regard – fortunately, some of the more experienced players already understood the benefits of hirelings. These two crossbowmen have been with the party ever since (although one has been possessed by an ancient Devil Fish spirit for the last twenty or so sessions) and the original players are very attached to them despite the fact that they rarely contribute except as treasure bearers. Kilmar’s fate, on the other hand, was not as fortunate.

Returning to Desric, the dwarf admits the tomb possibly could have automated guardians and strong magical protections and traps. In this time, Sthorm sells Desric the wand for a large sum. After Thorfus collects his armour, the party stays again at the Cock & Bull, finally deciding to rent the house for a month.

The next day, we meet the hired help at the sewer entrance, supplying Kilmar with a lantern and a backpack. Entering the sewer, the party finds itself in a chamber housing the remnants of Galdor’s camp, denoted by GFC C1/30.09 written on the wall. Following the only tunnel in single file, we head roughly south, following further chalked signs and descending deeper until we find a cave-in mentioned by Galdor.

Climbing down a steep incline, we see the beginning of the ruins, with what looks to be the mosaic walls of a dwarven bathhouse. The party notes the smell of salt water and something else more foul. Entering a large chamber, we can hear the sound of falling water, and (momentarily) the keen of what could be a wounded animal. Opening a door, Goblins suddenly appear behind the group, brandishing weapons and calling for us to leave.

The summary here glosses over the details, but I used these mosaics (and other architectural features of the bathhouse) to begin establishing the nature of the ancient dwarven empire. Primarily, I wanted it to be clear to the group that those dwarves used humans (and perhaps other races) as slave labor and had little respect for their dignity. This speaks to the importance, I think, of making sure important clues are repeated to emphasize their significance — as later comments reveal, the repetition of the motifs in the mosaics elsewhere eventually caught the party’s attention.

The goblin speaking members of the party manage to talk to the Goblin leader, discovering that we were thought to be Galdor’s men returning to finish them off. Because of this, and the loss of several warriors, the goblin tribe had lost its home to a band of ‘Frogs’, led by the ‘Bad Fish’.

This would be a large group of Bullywugs led by a Devil Fish. As mentioned in my notes on the first session, I had already established the threat posed by the Devil Fish via the wrecked ship encountered as the party entered the city. Meanwhile, I decided to use some of the racial notes on Bullywugs published on Hack & Slash’s blog, making them misogynistic sadists. Hack & Slash’s ecology piece on Ixitxachitl also figured into my conception of the Devil Fish.

After some discussion, the Goblins agree to let us into the tomb, but only if we help them retake their home in the main bathhouse from the Frogs. Following the leader into a smaller chamber, a second band appears from the room we tried to enter, effectively surrounding us.

The Goblin tells us how they have blocked most of the passages after several skirmishes, trying to force the Frogs into attacking from only a single direction. If we attack the Frogs, the Goblins will unblock one of those passages and ambush them from behind. In this time, we see another room with mosaic’s depicting the place of humans in the ancient dwarven kingdoms, that of possibly slaves and servants.

Here it starts to become clear to the players that they cannot make assumptions about who is an ally or enemy based solely on alignment – it’s probably also true that this is when the Galron the paladin’s player began to consider rolling an alternate character. I would not have actually penalized his character in this case — allying with the goblins served a greater good — but it’s possible he saw this situation as indicative of future problems.

As mentioned earlier, this is also where the benefit of repeating important facts/hints is made evident – the subject matter of the initial mosaics did not make enough of an impression for inclusion the summary, but the repetition of the theme caught Antony’s attention here.

We decide to assist the Goblins, and the leader takes us to a set of double doors to the East, following the flow of water. At the door, Galron sense evil beyond, and we push them open to reveal a balcony from which the water falls [into a pool in the large room below]. Upon the balcony, a rather crude and disgusting statue made from the body parts of slain Goblins sits directly in front of the doors along with a Frog.

The first evidence of the Bullywugs’ sadism in the form of some (goblin) body horror.

We attack it instantly, and, after a few seconds of struggle, the Goblin leader caves the creature’s head in with his morningstar. During the scuffle, Galron is able to detect the Goblins alignment. The Goblin turns out to be evil, rendering the paladin unable to assist it in any way, for fear of losing his powers.

At the beginning of the next session, this goblin will leave to accommodate the paladin’s restrictions, although the indirect help provided by the goblin’s flank attack goes ahead (with no penalty to Galron).

We end the session stuck with that dilemma, hearing a final croak from the darkness in the room beyond.

A little bit of a cliff-hanger to end the party’s first real dungeon-delve session.

Dwarven Overseer (just ignore the skull part)

Dwarven Overseer (just ignore the skull part)

[This is the second post in a series of session summaries (i.e., a play report) for the first campaign I have run in the Curabel setting. Each summary was written by one of the players, but I am adding my own ‘DM Annotations’ on these write-ups before uploading them here. These annotations will mostly call attention to bits of the summaries that will be significant later in the campaign (with links to relevant summaries to follow as they are posted) or else explain my rational for my game-mastering choices.

Please note that the summary will be displayed as regular text and my annotations as block quotes throughout.]

Session Two

This summary was written by James, who played the dwarven thief named Sthorm. James lives in Australia and was a great player while we had him. He left the campaign somewhere around session ten due to scheduling issues.

We continued from where we left off with Thorfus wounded and unconscious and Galron in possession of a restrained simian automaton. Sthorm noticed another of the monkey automatons perched on the catwalk near the ladder leading upwards but this one made no move to attack, content to merely observe us.

The creepy monkey construct’s staring and the bit mentioned in the next paragraph about a “sound from below” did a nice job of ratcheting up the tension. The party already knew that the automata could hurt them, so hinting at an imminent attack but holding off on pulling the trigger was fun. It also cemented in the players’ minds that these enemies were not mindless obstacles, but crafty foes working on their own agenda. I have actually returned to this tactic a few times in the sessions since whenever the party seems to be getting a little too confident and it always seems to unsettle them.

Thorfus was attended to and back on his feet when we heard a sound from below. Galron went to the open hatch leading downwards to look but saw nothing aside from crates. He then threw a heavy chunk of scrap down the opening and the resulting noise caused the other sound to halt but otherwise had no known effect. We decided to head down.

In this new room there were numerous crates with markings indicating that they came from the Silver Throne, the largest Dwarven trade company. Some of these crates were open and we saw they were filled with automaton parts. Galron placed the monkey automaton on a crate facing a wall before we advanced cautiously through one of the doors.

The incidental detail about the Silver Throne Company represented the party’s first real contact with the work of a major NPC faction that the party is still tangling with after 75 sessions of play. It would be 30+ sessions before the party identified them as a possible threat, though.

This led us to a hall with yet more doors on either side. Galron pushed at the closest one with his pole and felt a force pressing against it. He tentatively pressed it open just enough to look in and found that a cabinet had been pushed up against the door but there was nothing else of note in the room.

This barricaded room is where poor Osric, Talessin’s missing student, tried to hide before meeting his grisly end (see below for details).

This was the not the case with the next room as upon opening it we immediately spotted yet another monkey automaton though this one was cruder and more simple in make than the others. It spotted us also and began to throw itself at Galron who swiftly slammed the door shut and beckoned to Thorfus, the key holder, to lock it. He did so and the simian was now safely locked away however it continued to make a tremendous racket from within its cell.

Further exploration of the lower level revealed nothing so the group decided to head upwards. The lone monkey automaton was still in the same spot guarding the ladder and watching us intently. Galron decided to restrain the monkey as he had done with the previous one but it was not to be. Sthorm and Axel stood well back on the catwalk with their missile weapons ready, assuming this would be an easy task which would likely not require their efforts. Galron and Thorfus moved up to capture it with Ir’alle behind.

The following episode encapsulates what I find most endearing about low-level play with early edition D&D. Everything goes wrong in such delightful ways – the collapsing catwalk, the friendly-fire, the absolute chaos — before the last-minute lucky strike to avoid a TPK. Please enjoy.

What followed was an embarrassing and lengthy attempt to grab perhaps the most dexterous monkey construct ever created. It easily avoided all attempts to grab it and at one point even managed to overpower Galron causing the Paladin to bang his head on the ladder’s edge and leaving him stunned. Worse still the monkey had access to a number of flasks filled with acid and the clever little automaton repeatedly threw these flasks at the catwalk supports. His first attempt missed but otherwise he threw with precision and eventually that section of catwalk collapsed sending Galron, Thorfus and Ir’alle careening to the lower level. Sadly, the fall knocked out Ir’alle.

Galron being stunned during an attempt to grab the monkey represents a successful use of the house rules for grappling (which involve rolling d6s for each hit dice/level). These rules specify that if the defender wins, the attacker is stunned for a number of rounds equal to the margin of victory.

Axel and Sthorm, suddenly realizing that this was by no means a simple battle and being the only ones still on the catwalk with the monkey, decided to fire their weapons. Sthorm struck it well with his sling, but this only attracted its attention and the monkey leapt upon his head and raked at the Dwarf’s face. This hurt him badly. Sthorm dropped his sling and grabbed for his long sword, but, with the blood in his eyes, was unable to strike the monkey. Satisfied with the hurt that it had inflicted upon Sthorm, the Automaton then focused on Axel and struck him down easily.

Meanwhile Galron and Thorfus were on their feet and headed straight back up the catwalk. Galron fearlessly waded back into the fight, but Thorfus didn’t want to engage the creature in melee again. He drew out his bow, but was unable to find a good shot on the small creature with his allies in the way. Hurt as he was, Sthorm decided to disengage from the fight and left Galron standing against it alone. This gave Thorfus a better shot and Galron called out for him to take it.

Thorfus fired, but the arrow struck Galron in the back and he went down. The situation was dire with three men down and the remaining two heavily wounded. The monkey launched itself at Sthorm who swung at it with his longsword. Miraculously the blow struck, parting the automaton’s head from its body. Thorfus and Sthorm immediately went to check on their comrades and performed some basic first aid to stop their bleeding.

Relieved but exhausted, the two discussed what to do next and they decided a tactical retreat was the smartest option. Thorfus first gathered up the monkey’s head and body and then they carried their fallen friends with the help of Uthrak, who had been surprisingly useless so far, to the tower’s entrance where they momentarily set the bodies down. Thorfus went to unlock the door and, whilst he was doing so, Sthorm snatched up the lockbox that Galron had prevented him from taking earlier and stowed it in his backpack. The door was now open and the men once again gathered up their allies and headed back to the Lucky Gam tavern.

I took it as a very good sign that these players were smart enough (and humble enough!) to know that retreat is sometimes the best option. That’s not always the case, especially now that many players’ expectations for RPGs are shaped by video games. Also, as mentioned in my last session summary post, Uthruk’s player left the group after the first session due to scheduling conflicts and didn’t return for almost an entire year. The aside about his uselessness references this fact. He did, however, end up acting as nurse to the injured characters and, when we retired him from the party after this session, I decided he would pursue his new passion for tending the sick and injured. When he rejoined the group this led to him having some minor healing abilities.

Talessin and two of his students were in the Gam’s common room. They saw the group arrive immediately and their looks of disappointment were obvious. Thorfus told Talessin to wait whilst he saw to getting the wounded accommodations and then generously paid for two private rooms. Axel, Galron and Ir’alle were sent to bed with Uthrak watching over them whilst Thorfus and Sthorm went to talk to Talessin.

When appropriate, the disappointment of NPCs can be a powerful tool for motivation – much more so than ridicule.  Talessin and his students don’t belittle the party or call their skill into question, but still let the group know that they have failed to meet the expectations people have for heroes. Those other possibilities allow the players to respond aggressively to the NPCs questioning their abilities; that’s not as much an option when there’s no direct insult.

Thorfus explained the situation and showed Talessin the automaton they had destroyed. Talessin was interested in the intelligence the monkey had displayed but was disappointed that it and the Dwarven automaton had been destroyed. Sthorm suggested that they could still complete the job if Talessin would give them time to wait and rest, but this idea was received coldly. Thorfus then suggested that healing could be purchased so that we could get to work sooner, but that our funds were limited. Talessin offered an advance payment of 150 gold pieces for the one automaton we had left undamaged and Thorfus gratefully took this and asked for directions to the nearest Ark temple. It was very close so Thorfus set off with the money whilst Sthorm stayed behind in his room and smashed open the plundered lockbox. He was delighted to see that it contained 300 gold pieces which he stashed in his pack before kicking the broken container under his bed.

Much like the free healing the party earned last session for their merciful treatment of the street thugs, this bit of negotiation (and Sthorm’s thievery) rewarded the players for using smart tactics while avoiding the unrealistic notion of everyone waiting around an entire week to heal while the automata were left to their own devices.

Thorfus went to the temple and got a priest to come back with him, though the price was left unclear until the priest had seen how much healing would be required. He examined the wounded and noticed that one of them was a Paladin of his faith. He declared that the cost would be 75 gold each and that the price had been discounted for having a champion of the faith amongst our number. Talessin’s payment was nowhere near enough for all five men, so Thorfus took all the gold he could find on the unconscious members and pooled it with his own gold and Talessin’s. However, we still we came up short. Sthorm finally volunteered 100 gold pieces out of the 300 he had recently accrued and we had the money. Ir’alle was brought to consciousness, but the other two after healing were still out of it. Ir’alle shared some kind words with the priest and Thorfus thanked him and sent him on his way.

Typically, I assume the cost for having spells cast is 100GP * Spell Level + component costs under ideal circumstances (with further premiums depending on the spell). Knocking an extra 25GP off because the party’s paladin shared the cleric’s faith seemed reasonable and not too much of a giveaway. It’s also my experience that being a paladin often means forgoing the monetary rewards available to other adventurers, so this kind of “payment in service” arrangement helps offset that a bit.

We rested the night and, in the morning, Ir’alle prayed for healing powers which he then used on the wounded. He brought them to consciousness, though they were still exhausted. Galron was feeling melancholic after our humiliating defeat and tried to drink the pain away, but even after 4 drinks he felt no different and went back to bed. Thorfus spoke with both Talessin and one of his students, asking for any knowledge or advice that could aid us, but learned little of use. We slept another night and woke feeling refreshed and healthy enough to go back to the tower.

I believe the paladin’s attempt to get drunk was handled with a constitution ability score check that increased in difficulty with each drink (3d6 vs. con, 4d6 vs. con, etc.). His inability to become inebriated was one of those funny things that happens when you leave this kind of stuff to chance – the humor of this, much like the comical attempts to grapple the monkeys, helped the player group bond a bit more — especially since Galron’s player was a good sport about it.

The group went back to the tower and made our way to the double doors leading into the catwalk room. Thorfus and Sthorm listened at the door and heard some distant banging that sounded very much like the banging they had heard previously when the monkey automaton was at the table constructing its fellows. Thorfus opened the doors and we headed through into the catwalk room but fortunately nothing appeared to be different and aside from the destroyed Dwarven automaton there was no others we could see. Galron sensed an evil presence above and immediately made for the ladder leading upwards with the group following behind.

I had decided when the party left the tower that what they found upon their return would depend on the amount of time that had passed. Since it was only the morning of the second day after their last foray, no new enemies were in the lower levels of the tower. If they had needed another few days to recover, that would not have been true.

Galron made his way up the ladder and saw at the top that there a trapdoor with no discernible lock. Holding onto the ladder with one hand he grabbed his trident in the other and used it to lightly press up on the trapdoor. The door began to lift but then Galron felt a sudden force push down upon it so heavily that it knocked the trident from his hand and sent it crashing down to the floor. Galron took out his long sword and pushed back at the trapdoor but this time with as much force as he could muster so that the trapdoor swung up and open. Galron climbed up the rest of the way and found himself in what looked to be Talessin’s personal quarters, with shelves stacked with many thick books, a bed, and a desk. More importantly, in front of Galron was a sort of pedestal upon which was a clear dome topped with a circlet and what appeared to be a brain suspended in liquid within. Behind Galron was another Dwarven automaton and a human boy, but Galron ignored them and charged straight at the pedestal.

My model for these “overseer” enemies were the Daleks from Doctor Who and the Brain from DC Comics (especially as illustrated in the original Teen Titans cartoon). I really wanted something creepy and alien to foreshadow some of the other science-fantasy elements that would eventual arise in the campaign.

Thorfus came up behind Galron and to his horror got a proper look at the boy. The top half of his head had been removed and the brain scooped out. The boy’s cranium was filled with wires and bits of metal and his stare was empty and soulless. The boy punched at Galron and hit him lightly, but he seemed to have no awareness of what of he was doing. Axel came up the ladder and went for the Pedestal with Galron whilst Ir’alle and Sthorm ascended and moved east towards the bed where it seemed safest.

This cyborg-like reimagining of the zombie allowed me to introduce a bit of body horror into the game and foreshadow the way the Ancient Dwarven empire treated the other races who were their servants and slaves. It also let me know that this kind of violation of the individual would be a powerful motivator for my player group — something I would see again when they became aware of a slave-trading ring.

Galron arrived at the pedestal and grabbed for the circlet, remembering Talessin telling them that without it the overseer would be unable to control the automatons, but somehow he missed it completely. The Dwarven automaton behind him did not miss, however, and Galron was knocked unconscious to the ground. Axel then attempted to grab the circlet and managed to put his hands around it. As he lifted it, though, a surge of energy struck him and knocked him out cold. The circlet settled back into place on the dome.

Sthorm attempted to trip the slow and clumsy automaton by wrapping his rope around the construct’s legs and pulling its feet out from under it, but the rope failed him and snapped in the attempt. Having seen
his allies go down and having no fear of magic, Thorfus approached the pedestal and grabbed the circlet. He ripped it off, and, since the pedestal had not been able to recharge, there was no energy outburst. With the circlet removed, both the Dwarven automaton and the boy collapsed lifelessly to the ground.

Ir’alle used his divine powers to restore Galron and Axel to consciousness. Galron got up and for the first time saw the boy and what had been done to him. This filled him with outrage. He felt certain that the brain in the overseer’s orb belonged to the boy and that the automatons could not have performed an operation as delicate as brain removal. He therefore presumed that Talessin must be responsible.

A nice example of paranoia and righteous indignation, another set of useful emotions for motivating players to act.

Galron went to the lone door in the room and beckoned Thorfus to open it with the key. Thorfus did so and Galron threw the door open revealing that it led out onto the balcony. Thorfus looked down into the street and saw Ethan, one of Talessin’s students, watching over the tower as he had been ordered to do. Thorfus called out and beckoned for Ethan to come up. Ethan seemed hesitant, but eventually made his way up.

Ethan arrived and was shocked to see what had happened to his fellow student. Galron and Thorfus questioned Ethan about Talessin’s involvement, but Ethan knew nothing. He could only say that no one had been allowed into Talessin’s room and that the students had no idea about what had been happening up here.

Galron angrily left the room to confront Talessin with everyone except Sthorm following. Sthorm took the opportunity to search the nearby desk and found a locked drawer. He opened thiss with his lock picking skills. Inside the drawer was a book with a silver clasp, a wand, and a pouch full of coins all of which he placed into his backpack. He also searched the bookshelves, but found nothing except some very thick tomes of no interest in him.

The coins stolen by Sthorm were specified in the session as platinum coins; this was significant because the players’ guide clearly stated that platinum currency was not used on the islands’ governments but rather by the human empire. This had already come up during character creation and while the players shopped for equipment, but they failed to catch the significance of this detail. Talessin may not have been a murderer (yet), but he had some unsavory ties that would become significant later. When that happened, it was nice to point back at this moment and show the players one of the clues they missed.

Meanwhile, Galron marched into the Lucky Gam and straight up to Talessin’s room, banging on it with his fist. Talessin opened the door and Galron could see behind him on a table was the destroyed monkey. Galron questioned Talessin about the boy and the brain, but Talessin denied having removed the boy’s brain. However, he did admit that the brain in the overseer was put there by him, but he preferred to not reveal where that brain came from. Galron was uncertain, but calmed down somewhat.

It’s interesting that no one thought to follow-up on where the brain inside the overseer originated. It was never revealed in-game, but Talessin had acquired the brain from one of the City Watch morgues where he sometimes volunteered his magical services to help investigate crimes (and spy for the empire). This connection to the City Watch, though, would become significant.

Talessin was pleased that the situation had been resolved and seemed unconcerned about his student’s horrific end. Galron asked why he should not just go to the authorities and tell them everything, to which Talessin replied that, not only did they have an arrangement, but if the guards were to take the student’s body then he would be unable to investigate the true cause behind all that had happened. Galron still felt uneasy, but suggested he would feel better about keeping quiet if they could find the boy’s brain. The group agreed to go back and look.

Back at the tower the group scoured for the brain, with the exception of Sthorm who said that he felt it was a waste of time. In reality, though, he was just avoiding Talessin. The group’s search took them down to the lower level where they had locked in the monkey (which was now silent). They opened the door and found the monkey on the floor, totally inert without the overseer to control it. A search of this room revealed a second brain, which eased Galron’s suspicions. Finally, with everyone satisfied, it was time to collect payment.

Talessin went to collect the money from his desk, but found the drawer unlocked and the contents missing. He questioned the group about this, but none of them knew anything about it. He seemed troubled by it, but believed them and asked them to wait outside whilst he got the money from his hiding place. Talessin returned and doled out the payment, a total of 400 gold pieces including the bonus 100 for the overseer and 300 for two preserved automatons (but not for the third, for which he had already given money to Thorfus). Talessin also noted that it would be a bad idea to disappoint Desric and so he would give them some — but not all — of his schematics. This would allow them to complete the job for the dwarf, which would serve as a bonus payment for a job well done and also protect their reputation.

Talessin totally didn’t believe the party, but was shaken up by their accusations earlier and threat to inform the authorities about his experiments (which might, in turn, reveal his connections to imperial forces). He was trying to placate them with generosity – the same motivation for handing over some schematics.

With the money and the papers, the group then went back to Desric and gave him the schematics. He was clearly suspicious at how few there were and questioned the party about it. Galron admitted that Talessin had given the schematics to them as a bonus reward, to which Desric asked if they had found any others whilst in the tower. The group honestly replied that they had not because they were more preoccupied with the automatons than searching for notes. Desric seemed displeased with this, as he had sent them specifically to search for the notes, but ultimately he paid the agreed price of 50 gold each which came out to 300 gold.

The interaction with Desric illustrates the drawback of having a paladin with you when trying to play both sides of a deal. Still, they did complete the task for which he hired them.

That concluded the introductory adventure, setting things up for the party to take on a more involved job for Desric beginning in session three. For two sessions of play, I felt it did a pretty good job of establishing player expectations, detailing the world and how it works, showcasing the rules (both standard and house), and allowing the party to coalesce into a more cohesive unit. Overall, I was pretty happy with the outcome and felt the foundation that had been laid for further adventuring was solid.

At this point the session ended.

Temple Ruins (Ta Prohm in Cambodia was built by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university)

Temple Ruins (Ta Prohm in Cambodia was built by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university)

[This is the first post in a series of session summaries (i.e., play reports) for the first campaign I have run in the Curabel setting. Each summary was written by one of the players, but I am adding my own ‘DM Annotations’ on these write-ups before uploading them here. These annotations will mostly call attention to bits of the summaries that will be significant later in the campaign (with links to relevant summaries to follow as they are posted) or else explain my rational for my game-mastering choices.

Please note that the summary will be displayed as regular text and my annotations as block quotes throughout.]

Session 1:

This summary was written by Larry, who plays the dwarf Thorfus. This was fortuitous because his detailed notes set a high standard for subsequent summaries and (I think) inspired the other players to be more observant. He has a blog on old school role-playing at http://followmeanddie.com.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014.

With the exception of a couple of vacations and one or two weeks when there were not enough players for a quorum, we have played every Wednesday for four hours since the campaign’s inception over a year ago. I don’t like cancelling sessions because I want the expectation on the part of players to be that the game is happening regularly and that nothing less than an extraordinary circumstance will keep me from being there. Since I’m not one to harangue players about attendance, this is my way of making the point by example.

Starring:

  • James: Sthorm (thief) dwarf

Australian who stayed with the campaign for the first dozen or so sessions. He had some role-playing experience, if I remember correctly, although not necessarily with AD&D 1e.

  • Brian: Ir’Alle (cleric) Human

U.S. player with a good bit of RPG experience, although not necessarily old school AD&D. He stayed with the campaign for at least the first twenty sessions and returned for another five or so later on.

  • Riese: Galron (paladin) Human

Youngest player who had tried various RPGs, but also had some bad experiences. He is still officially part of the campaign 70+ sessions in, although he hasn’t attended recently since starting college.

  • Larry: Thorfus (fighter) dwarf

U.S. player with quite a bit of experience with 1e AD&D (the most in the group). He is still playing and quickly became the closest thing to the party’s leader/caller.

  • Antony: Axel (fighter) dwarf

U.K. player with no tabletop RPG experience that is still playing. He quickly picked up good habits, though, and I often forget that he hasn’t been playing for decades.

  • Scott/tzx: Uthruk (fighter) half-orc

U.S. player with a good deal of RPG experience who disappeared after the first session. He came back a year later, though, and rejoined with the same character for another dozen or so sessions.

Summary

The hearty adventurers met on a ship going to the island of Midland and its capital and largest city, Midmark.

The hearty adventurers met on a ship: A useful introductory gambit: no one is from the starting location or has unique background knowledge immediately relevant to the campaign (everyone is a greenhorn); not quite the cliché that the tavern meeting is but still provides a logical reason for the party to form – they’re trapped for at least a couple of days on the ship and so talked about their plans in the big city.

We were awakened to what we thought were sailors making ready to dock, but it was actually the crew rescuing the 4 survivors of a wrecked and burning ship. The wrecked ship was attacked by a devil fish not more than an hour before our ship came upon them.

The wrecked ship was attacked by a devil fish: A couple of things here: first, this signals that the world is alive and that things happen even when the party isn’t there to do anything about it. By the time the group arrives, there’s nobody to fight, just miserable people who were victims of some monstrous evil. Second, this foreshadows likely events in the campaign (assuming the party bites on the “starter” dungeon I’ve created) and provides some context for a decision they will need to make there.

After a few more hours we entered the great harbor of the biggest city we had ever seen. The harbor was a forest of masts and rigging and ships of all sizes. The first thing we noticed about the harbor was the smell of tar, giving it the popular name of the Tar-Water.

In the middle of the harbor is an artificial island with foundries belching smoke and dry docks building the ships that make Midland the merchant power of the islands.

Medieval Port by Kurobo

Medieval Port by Kurobo

The docks were packed with people milling, walking and boarding and de-boarding ships. There are huge cranes for loading and offloading cargo. The docks are very high above the water, since with two moons there is a rare double high-tide.

the great harbor … for loading and offloading cargo: I actually wrote out the initial description of the city and its harbor long-hand – this was going to be the base of operations for the party for a while in all likelihood and this was my chance to introduce what was the equivalent of a key NPC. The description itself borrowed heavily from both historical and fictional accounts of Amsterdam during the eighteenth century – especially Neal Stephenson’s work in the novel Quicksilver. As the kind-of sort-of capital of colonial humans in Curabel, who can be described as being like former employees of the world’s Dutch East India Company who became revolutionaries, this seemed appropriate.

docks are very high … rare double high-tide: I did want a little bit of the fantastic to show in the description – although, keeping with my penchant for Gygaxian realism, this expresses itself in terms of how the forces of civilization normalize and assimilate the fantastic in order to function.

A sailor on our ship told us that people at the docks were all the time putting together expeditions to the other islands.

Before we docked, we were met by a boat with one of the customs agents of the Harbor Master, Baswick (something). He told us the rules of the city, which sum up to stay out of trouble, no murder (self-defense is OK), and find work or we will find it for you. We noticed lots of indentured servants on the docks. Baswick then recorded various facts about us, name, where we are from, etc.

He told us the rules … find work: Setting some expectations in game – first, there will be consequences for the characters’ actions; second, the party needs to find something to do (no hand-holding or pre-canned adventure paths here).

We debark to the docks and notice lots of dirty children looking for work.

We asked around and were directed to a grizzled dwarf at a desk by a ship and a tall man next to him. The dwarf, Mortimer, had a golden helm with a built-in eye patch for a missing eye. He was readying an expedition to (the dangerous island). We decided not to sign up and he told us he wouldn’t hire us anyway. We decide to stay local to the island.

The dwarf, Mortimer … wouldn’t hire us anyway: More expectation setting: not every adventure hook is appropriate at every level. If the party had tried to sign-up, they would have had to beat Mortimer’s 5th-level fighter associate in wrestling/grappling. Given the house rules, this is almost (but not quite) impossible. If they had won, I would have let them join the expedition – and they probably would have died very quickly on that “dangerous island”.

We hear of another dwarf, Desric, who sends adventurers locally for dwarven artifacts. There is a hint that he can’t be trusted.

Galron, our paladin, picked out the dirtiest child he could find, who we couldn’t tell if his skin was black or he was just that filthy. Galron gave Efram a gold piece to lead us to Desrick’s. He said it was about an hour into the city. Other boys argued with Efram that he didn’t know the way, etc. Galron made clear we were going with Efram.

Other boys argued with Efram that he didn’t know the way: They said this – they also said not to trust Efram (much like the hint that Desric could not be trusted provided by his business rival, Mortimer). My goal here was to highlight the fact that the party was making a choice and weighing options. I was also showing them that my job wasn’t to tell them what to do or who to trust; they needed to decide based on what their character could see. In this case, they gave the NPC the benefit of the doubt – although they were also on guard for betrayal (which helped them anticipate the ambush mentioned below). Their paranoia has only increased since the beginning of the campaign.

We journeyed N/NW and noticed to the east the town had hills, cathedrals, castles, government buildings, etc. The area where we were had numerous warehouses, narrow streets, and few people.

Unfortunately, Efram appeared to get lost. We soon learned that this was a ploy and that his older brother, Gartric, and some friends had him guide the unwary into a tight street. We did not go down the dead end alley, but met them in an intersection.

Five of them came up to us demanding gold, thinking we were rich. We refused and battle ensued. We dropped three of them and the last two surrendered, but fled at mention of the constable. We patched up the wounded thieves, Galron healed the leader who we soon learned was Efram’s brother.

We patched up the wounded thieves: This turned out to be a serendipitous opportunity to show the group how their actions would have consequences. They could have simply killed the bandits, but instead made sure they would live (even leaving them at a temple for care and healing). Later, when the group’s thief, Sthorm, needed training, the gang/guild these ruffians belonged to would know about the group and have a better opinion of them because of these actions. Instead of making an enemy of “Cutter’s Mad-dogs,” they had a potential ally and resource.

We learned that there was a great canal running through the city, and there are only a few bridges where it can be crossed.

We encountered another shrine of the Ark and a cleric was present. We were all healed for some of our damage. The note entitled us to free healing for a service to the Ark. Normally, there would have been an expected donation.

The note entitled us…: This was an even more immediate consequence for the group’s merciful actions – which also happened to get healing to a low-level group with limited resources.

We finally reach Desric’s. It looked like a junk yard, with ancient dwarven artifacts in various states. Across from it is the Cock & Bull inn & tavern. We banged on the door until Desric let us in, it was early, but other businesses were open. He place was fulls of bits and pieces and lots of books. He told us he got word of an emergency at Talisin’s place. He told us that he was too old and tired to go out in the middle of the night. Desric said that Talisin was doing dangerous things and shouldn’t be meddling with what he was. Desric offered us 50 gold to bring him papers that explained the ancient dwarven automata that he was working with.

Desric offered us 50 gold…: Here is the introductory adventure’s hook – some quick money for looking into some shady business across town. It also introduces the first hint of politics of the world (in this case within the Tinkerers’ Guild) and the fact that there is quite a bit of interest in recovering and messing around with ancient doodads.

Desric told us that Talisin would probably be found at the Lucky Gam, if he was not at his place. He gave us directions to the Lucky Gam.

We find the tavern, and Talisin and two of his three students were with him. The missing student, Osric, has not been seen since last night.

Talisin explained that he and Desric are member’s of the Tinkerer’s Guild and that Talisin is secretary and that Desric wants his office. Talisin has hopes of doing something wondrous with the automatons and becoming president of the guild. We get the impression that Talisin is more honorable and tell him what Descric wanted. Talisin offers us 150 gold (was that right?) for each automaton that is not destroyed.

Talisin explained …: The party is now coming to expect that the initial story isn’t always the whole story and that they need to make judgement calls (see the Efram bit above). They are completely wrong here, but they’re at least being thoughtful (and trying to play NPCs against one another to get a better deal – a fine and profitable art in itself).

What happened is that he built three monkey creatures and two dwarven warrior [automata] without issue. The automaton he was working on last night needed one final piece. Often he has custom pieces made. This one was a custom piece and when put in place the automaton took over the others, he called it an Overseer. He said that if we removed the circlet from its dome, it would cease to control the others. Talisin said that it was directing the others to build more automatons.

This one was a custom piece … to build more automatons: I thought this was suitably unconventional, obviously worth the party’s time, but not too overwhelming “quest”. It also further added to the foreshadowing and preparation for the “starter”’ dungeon and what they would encounter there.

He gave us the key to his place. We explored his shop front and the lower level of the tower, then made our way up the stairs. We encountered a monkey creature in one room and it threw acid at us. Thorfus was the only one hit, but water stopped the acid from doing more damage. The rooms had no ceiling, so the monkey came over the wall, but did not follow us when we went through double doors that took us in to a workshop.

The rooms had no ceiling: It’s not so clear in the summary, but I wanted to make the first “adventure” location tactically interesting. Therefore, I imagined a multi-room workshop with ten-foot walls but a 30’ ceiling above all those smaller spaces. Above the walls was a metal walkway that Talissen would have used to watch his apprentices while they worked below without needing to go into each workshop room. Now, though, this openness became a tactical challenge when fighting mechanical monkeys that could climb the walls and gangway and throw acid.

We heard noise on the other side of the door, but as soon as we entered the noise of work stopped and we were faced with a monkey creature and a dwarven automaton. We could tell the monkey had been trying to put some gears together.

dwarven automaton: In this context, a automaton shaped like a dwarven warrior but taller (just a bit more than man-sized).

We tried to run past the dwarven automaton, some of the party made it, but Thorfus was hit and went down. Others in the party attacked. I believe it was Sthorm that hit the dwarven machine for a little damage, but Uthruk jumped off the gangway above us and hit it for enough damage that it stopped attacking, Galron lept down and grappled with the monkey creature and others helped him tie it up with wire that was there. Ir’Alle came to Thorfus’s aid and cast cure light wounds.

Uthruk jumped off the gangway … Galron lept down and grappled: This was a fortuitous event, as well. The first player, Scott, described what he wanted to do even though there were no clear 1e rules for “jump down off a gangway to stab an enemy.” We talked about it, though, and decided this would be a kind-of charge except that Uthruk would face more dire circumstances (being prone, fall damage, etc.) if he failed to hit. It worked, showing the group that creative thinking would be rewarded and that we would negotiate resolution mechanics for situations the books didn’t cover rather than artificially limit choices. This immediately inspired Riese (playing Galron) to try the grapple maneuver described next and many similar events in subsequent sessions.

Play then ceased for the night just after midnight.

A glorious time was had by all and we can’t wait to continue the adventure next week.