Cycles Part IV

Our playtest of cycles at the convention went phenomenally well. I hope to sit down and write all of my notes for game play and have a 16-24 page rulebook soon.

The game needs oracles to get things moving and a chart of “mirrors” as I call them to start/end scenes.

The interludes were great and someone recommended using this for “therapy.” I’m sure he meant monetary gain.

The Haranshire Campaign : Part 9.5.

Since Weston was unable to make session 9, we ran a few moments of Stauff’s 3-day holiday from the party at Orccon, in between sessions of light-brite.

Stauff returned to Milbourne to find the town in disarray. The townsfolk had moved the gypsy camp north of the town, more patrols walked the streets, and in general the tension was up. The dead gnoll in the cage of the center of town was really starting to stink as well.

With nothing to do, he worked Strom’s stables and spoke more with his friend about the pressures of responsibility. Imagine a 14-year old believing his has to save the world, and not in a cheesy Hollywood ending kind of way. Strom once against tried to reach out to his young friend, reminding him to rest, relax, and not worry about saving the world everyday. Stauff decided to take a short break and rested, but by 2pm he was up and helping in the stables.

Around 3pm, Stauff watched as Aidan and his entourage entered the town. The young noble checked his horse into the stables, and walked with his escort to the Carman estate. Two men stood outside to guard, the other two went in with Aidan.

During dinner with Strom, Stauff recalled the words of Lady Carman and the value of a dead Baron and nephew. He asked Strom what he thought of that idea. Strom about spit up his soup as he told Stauff that regicide was the worst crime one could committ. If he was caught, and he WOULD be caught, he would be killed and his family would be killed. Stauff continued asking pedantic questions about the value of a dead noble and Strom continued to deflect his thinking. “I cannot condone this.” Strom left the room and Stauff went into the village to wait for Vasya and Nadia.

While waiting, he walked to the gypsy camp and found young Helga — the daughter of Mikael, the gypsy leader — and danced with her. He spoke to her, laughing, etc. showing a side of himself we’d not seen before and even Helga was confused by this. After a while, Stauff asked her if she would look after his family if something happened to him. She was confused by this, of course, having only spent an hour with the young boy. Stauff professed that if he should survive this ordeal with his friends, that he would marry her. Helga, being only a year older didn’t know what to say. She fumbled for a bit and told Stauff that she needed to speak with her parents first.

Stauff walked to the Inn and met with Vasya and Nadia who had returned with several more (albeit smaller goblin heads) and were now drinking up. Vasya and Stauff spoke briefly about going to the orc caves the next day, before Nadia (noticing how physically fit Stauff was) pulled him by the wrist back to her room. [Sidenote: It was established earlier in the campaign that Nadia was looking for someone to take care of her needs.] Vasya raised his wine goblet to Stauff, as the young man was whisked away. Inside their room, Nadia — ever the pragmatist — began to wash up in front of Stauff before disrobing completely. The naive, innocent boy, not knowing what to do, looked away, stammered, and fled back to Strom’s confessing, “I’m not sure I… No. No.”

The next morning, Stauff gathered up the dogs, escorted the pair across the river and down along the banks to Hog Brook before settling across from the orc caves. Vasya instructed Stauff to wait here as the two went into the caves. They were gone for many hours before emerging (in haste) with three orc heads. They gathered Stauff up quickly and ran to the river. “The sun is setting, boy. They will be upon us in no time. Lose the dogs and we’ll swim across the Churnett.” Stauff refused, of course, and ran along the riverbank as fast as he could as the orc war party gave chase. After about an hour of running, it was clear that around a dozen orcs were 100 yards behind. And they were fast. He would never be able to outpace them without crossing the river.

But he refused to let the dogs go, until the orcs were right upon him.

The next few hours were a blur. A beating, followed by being force fed the fish poison, followed by unimaginable dreams. Stauff woke alone, further down stream from where he was caught. The dogs had long fled. His body was sore, his mouth tasted of dead fish, and his brain was filled with inexplicable thoughts. Twilight? Death gods? Undersea moons and suns? Or was the a sea without a sun? Stauff stumbled back to the village. It was morning, Strom stood there disappointed once again in Stauff, the one becoming more and more, “the boy who cried wolf.” Stauff’s belongings were long gone. There was nothing to store. He merely cleaned up, walked back to the tavern, grabbed Nadia by the wrist and whisked her to her room.

And that’s where we ended things.

The Haranshire Campaign : Part 9.

We played without Weston, so Stauff was sent back to Milbourne to wait for Vasya and Nadia. What happened to the other three may be one of the most significant events of the campaign so far.

After leaving Ingram’s cottage and traveling toward Huntly Keep, the PCs encountered Aidan (and his escorts) who traveled to Milbourne. An uneasy exchange transpired as the two groups passed, trying not to give too much away about their objectives. Crandel was surprisingly tight-lipped. It was learned that Aidan was going to see Darius Carmen to get an update about the status of Skye, albeit the PCs mentioned they had not found her. But more importantly the PCs discussed afterward what Aidan might really be up to. It was a significant change in how they dealt with the NPCs… clearly they weren’t buying into all the of the lies, anymore.

Arriving at the Keep, the PCs discovered a bevy of activity as an architect walked the groups exploring the possibility of expansion and/or fortification. Other laborers worked at general tasks (transport, surverying, etc.) and the guard count was up. Ian approached one of the guards (he surmised would be amenable to a bribe) and started a subtle conversation with him about delivering a message to Luther. Eventually two copper coins emerged and the guard escorted Ian up to Luther’s chamber. Finally, meeting Luther was in sight. However, no one answered and it was clear Luther was not there. Ian took out a few more coppers to get inside the cell and alone for six minutes to leave three letters in Luther’s unkempt and untouched room — it appeared that Luther hadn’t been there for a while.

After a short investigation inside the room, Ian found a map and a secret door, leading to a set of very unsafe and dark stairs going down below the foundation of the keep. Not having the time to investigate, Ian closed everything, left the map, and met his friends outside. A short discussion ensued about where the stairs might lead and the three marched East into the Halfcut Hills (damn TSR naming conventions). After 90 minutes of walking, they discovered a sunken area of earth, about 100 feet in diameter with numerous cave openings. The sun was going down however, and the party determined that staying here was unsafe.

Returning to the keep with plans of sleeping in an abandoned farm, Crandel spotted the strange priest (who served a “twilight” kind of god) from Session 3 or 4. The two walked in silence before Crandel began asking questions of the faith.

This of course led to some irritation for the priest, who quickly found an opportunity for conversion. He offered for Crandel to come inside and learn more, guiding him passed the guards, up the stairs, and into his private cell, which was spartan except for some furniture the typical accoutrement and ritual tools of a priest/monk. He poured some wine for Crandel, adding in three drops of the fishy smelling liquid. Crandel could smell the liquid and recognized it from the tunnels, but was unsure if it was safe to drink, but seeing the priest wasn’t talking yet, he slowly consumed the concoction. As the effects of the brew swirled inside his head, Crandel listened to the words of the priest as he described a landscape he’d never conceived, a frame of mind beyond his comprehension, and a mythology that opposed his understanding of the three gods his faith. The priest spoke of a place of twilight between light and dark, a place the all-father did not want you to know about, a place where one could live forever. As the potion took hold, Crandel started to understand that the axis of good and evil was just another axis in a universe of axes.

And while Crandel was being drawn into the faith (quite effectively) by the words of the priest, Verner and Ian were being escorted into the keep as well. They too were ushered into a cell, this one next to Crandels, and not far from Luther’s room that Ian had already been inside of. Verner and Ian shared similar experiences, albeit, they were seduced with women loyal to the faith to drink from the cup and hear the words of the priest. They experienced similar visions, witnessed a sea under a moonless night, and imagined a giant eye at the bottom of a river bed staring up through infinitely black water.

Crandel was the first one up the next day. Not knowing his friends were inside the keep, he marched down to Thurmaster to seek out his friends. Realizing the barge was already gone, he marched all the way to Milbourne, stopping at Ingram’s cabin, all the while dreaming up an excuse to tell the others for why he was late.

The other two, woke very late in the day and escaped from their cell, sneaking into Luther’s cell which coincidentally had been left unlocked. They searched the room, found the map again, grabbed some candles and headed down stairs into a small storage room. Paintings leaned against one wall, a massive trunk lie against another, and brass and silver odds and ends littered floor. Ian and Verner searched the room and found very little of value, except for some linens and a nice candelabra. Examining the paintings, they discovered a long line of very ugly rulers from the past in Huntly keep, leading right up to some woman who may have been Uther’s mother, if the name matches the rumors. After inspecting the last painting, they found a rough hold in the all wall, tall enough to crawl through, which revealed a 10-12 foot long passage into another tunnel system on the other side.

Quickly, they were able to figure out that the tunnel was part of the orc tunnel system they found before. And after miles of walking underground, with a single candle for light, they found another fork. Estimating where they were, they presumed the left fork went south (deeper under the Thornwood), and the right fork went closer to Milbourne. Heading right, they found themselves at a 3-way intersection that they recognized from before. Ian and Verner established that one tunnel went up into the stairwell where they fought the orcs. The other tunnel led back, north, toward the Rockdale. With their candles running out, they moved as quickly as they could (hard to do with 10-feet of light) to the safety of the tunnel. There they rested and then come sunlight, marched down to stone pillar that had healed them before.

Ian wasted no time in touching the pillar, as pain wracked through his body, trying to wrench the poison from his system. He convulsed, as his psyche worked to undo the “brainwashing” he suffered from the elixir. The headache was awful, his mouth tasted of fish bile, and his limbs were weak. But the control the priest had over him was diminished. Verner followed quickly behind, and he too wrestled with the poison inside of him, his body rejecting it through sweat and piss. And as he convulsed to the ground, now free from the hold of the poison, he knew they’d have to find Crandel and do the same for him.

Gathering their belongings, the pair walked to Ingram’s cabin where they found Crandel, alone, and enjoying some rations from the larder. Crandel was happy to see them, and surprisingly lucid. They men all talked for a while about what they had seen and done, and then argued about the potion they’d all been fed. Crandel believed in what he saw, the other two knowingly understood that the images belonged to a philosophy that did not exist in their notions of right-vs-wrong, good-vs-evil, just-vs-mighty, and so on. Seeing he would not go willingly, Ian threw a cloak over Crandel, and carried him to the pillar (a mere 8-mile walk uphill). They forced him to touch it, making his experience the same rattling detoxification they had to endure. This left them all a little “hungover” and disgruntled with one another. Crandel was especially upset because he now questioned whether this perfect belief system he once embraced was utopian because it made sense or because the potion “made it make sense.”

As they three talked, and walked back to Milbourne, they discussed what they remembered of the priest’s words. Names, places, ideals. Everything vague images and notions. Nothing concrete. And as they wrestled to make sense of it all, one word came to Ian’s mind…

Dagon.

Orccon 2012 Report

Had a great con. Some low points, however.

But, I’ll stick to the highlights.

1. Cycles playtest went great. Will post soon about that.

2. Everyone loved Dice Crawl. Version 2.0 coming soon.

3. Blood Bowl “Frenzy” was great. I ran a game that is similar to the grade school playground game “smear the queer.” Each player selects a race and two figures for that race and rushes to the center of the board to get the ball, and then hold onto it as long as you can. I will post the map soon, but there’s a picture on facebook of me teaching some people how to play.

Strategicon

4. August 4 was a mess. Needs a lot of work. Great advice from Jeff Siadek.

5. John Davis and I played Sweet Agatha. At first we mocked it for some of its art-ness. By the end we were eating crow. So seriously good. But then, he and I are good players.

6. Tried to play Fiasco Dirty Cops. People came in and made a lot of noise. Game stopped at half-way point.

7. Fiasco Fantasy was amazing. Among the best sessions of Fiasco we’ve ever had. Jon and I walked away with the gold. Albeit, I was a little beat up from the experience. Not a single NPC appearance.

8. Weston and I played out Stauff’s missing Haranshire session (in between on things at the show). He surprised me with a lot of his decisions. When I post session 9, I’ll be sure to update his session 9.5 as well. Eerie how similar the events were.

9. Sold $400 worth of old game junk at the flea market and then proceeded to spend it on food and booze (read, Ale and Whores)

10. Played Microscope. We never got around to finishing it, because the stoners I played with had to eat. But I liked it. I didn’t love it and I wanted to. But it really needs oracles and/or systems of magnitude. Right now, it’s just a hipster index card fest.

11. Martian Dice was unnecessarily brutal for another risk/reward drinking dice game.

12. 12-player adventurers was boring. Boulder barely moved.

OrcCon 2012

It’s about 14 hours before I leave for the convention. I’m still hammering out details on Cycles (which I fear will not be ready), and packing clothes. In addition to my normal fiasco gaming, my two RPG events, and my board game time with friends, I am also bringing a few new designs to explore:

A kid’s game

A time travel game

A “Smear the Queer” variant for Blood Bowl

Dice Crawl

Jeff Siadek also promised to show me a new game that he says, “I”m sure to hate.” Well. Looking forward to that, Jeff.

I may just crank out one more thing before the night is over, but I doubt it. My list of TO DOs is just riduclously long at this point.

I hope to see you there and come bother me and I’ll show you the new stuff.

And if you need a place to crash, let me know.

The Haranshire Campaign: Part 8.

Another strange session of the Haranshire Campaign. A lot of hostility, emotions, and finger pointing. Everytime I think the group is taking a step forward, they find a way to take two steps sideways.

The entire party is staying in Vasya’s room inside the Baron of Mutton (Inn) while he is away. The game session opened with Brandy (Skye’s mother) on the side of Verner’s bed — in the middle of the night — lamenting the disappearance of her daughter, and blaming herself for her their last argument. This was a very personal moment and Verner was not sure how to respond. His attempts to leave the room with Brandy were met with an awkward pause. Brandy showed concern and caring for Verner in an awkard mix of “I hafven’t been needed in a long time and I’ll do anything to help my daughter.” As such, she felt herself behaving in an unladylike manner. Nothing happened, however. But once she composed herself and realized her error, she walked out of the room and out of the Inn. Once outside, she and Verner were spotted together by a town patrolman who was hired to help keep the village secure at night. Of course, Verner made small talk with the man before palming a silver coin into the guard’s hand — who we learned was brought up from Haralton to aid in security. For some weird reason he had a cockney/Aussie accent.

The next morning, Stauff found himself whisked away to breakfast at the Carman house where Lady Helga Carman spoke in a general way (and never directly to Stauff) about how much better the Haranshire was before Aidan grew to power and the Baronet (“Count”) grew his self-importance. Stauff of course didn’t really understand any of it, and simply enjoyed his breakfast before roaming the mansion. An odd few moments to be sure. Verner walked over to the Mansion during this time, had a one-on-one conversation with Darius, which resulted in more coin going into Verner’s pocket in exchange for a small favor — the scouting of his two recently acquired farms inside the Thornwood. Darius mostly spoke over Verner and got distracted by the many issues plaguing the area at the moment (having recently hired Vasya and Nadia to explore his mire-engulfed farm, and also keenly aware of the missing children, the local orc issues, and the dead gnoll in the center of town), so Verner left without getting any help with the mine issues.

A short conversation back at the Inn with Roth, revealed that Roth had just failed to assuage Old Grizzler’s aid in the Carmen mines. Roth then spoke into his mug for a while, bitching about everything that he was responsible for and generally damning himself for not acting sooner. Crandel enjoyed hearing Roth admit he was wrong, since the two do not get along. Ian and Roth had a brief private exchange where Roth expressed that taking care of the town was more important than worrying about four strangers. It was also mentioned that Crandel was really getting on Ian’s last nerve.

I don’t recall how the group concluded that Wallace was the next loose end to explore, but the party headed out into the Thornwood for the first time ever. And within a few hours were lost. As the sun would soon set, it was decided to try to find a way out. Panic gripped Crandel and the group found a place to camp along the Churnett River. At some point in the middle of the night, wolves could be heard nearby and Stauff woke everyone. As the howling approached, Staff’s dogs grew more nervous and everyone stood ready for the worst. From behind a dark shadowy patch of forest, Vivienne stepped and approached Verner. But only Verner could see her, although once he paid attention Ian could too. Using some kind of magic, Vivienne silenced everything else, so she and Verner could talk uninterrupted.

He explained that they were looking for Wallace and she said she would lead them to him. Verner found this odd considering two weeks ago she didn’t know where Wallace was. Vivienne said she would return at sunrise to collect them and that she too needed their aid. Upon leaving, the magic subsided and a short argument amongst the group revealed the images and water spirit sightings were happening to all of them. Was Vivienne’s visit even real?

For Stauff this was the last straw (or second to last, as you’ll see). He took the lantern, the dogs, and his spear and began walking back to the town of Milbourne in the dark. Crandel chased him down and the two argued, using the amazing conflict resolution system of Dogs in the Vineyard. Stauff chose to escalate the debate to a physical confrontation and then eventually to fistacuffs. Sadly, he hurt his hand very badly against Crandel’s jaw and lost the argument, which in this system indicates that he lost what was at stake (re: come back, you’re part of this). Stauff begrudgingly walked back where he had an exchange with Ian, who was less worried about Stauff and more angry about his childish mannerism (again, Stauff is 14). The four sat around the campfire in silence until dawn, at which point Vivienne returned to collect them and walked them deeper into the Thornwood.

She brought them to Hog Brook, to a small outcropping of rocks where Wallace was living out a feral life eating raw fish. Naked and unable to communicate, Wallace did not notice Stauff’s approach. A short exchange of stern glances (resolved through die rolls) showed Stauff to be an alpha pack leader. Wallace took a submissive stance and shared his fish with Stauff. Verner also approached and the two tried to communicate with the young boy. He didn’t understand anything that was said to him, but the word orc resonated for some reason. Stauff started to follow Wallace to the orc, but Verner stopped him. All the while they argued, Ian, Crandel, and Vivienne had a discussion about other things, but the lack of cohesion in the group gave her pause. She even said to Ian, “I wished to ask for your help, but I am not sure I can now. I will wait over there by that oak. Find me when you are ready.”

Verner and Stauff’s discussion also erupted into pushing and showing, but Verner quickly backed off when Stauff punched him (with his left hand). Stauff trundled off into the forest, following Wallace toward the “orc.”

While Stauff was gone, the three party members discussed their young friend’s recent change in temperament as well as the “magic of the elf.” But the GM didn’t listen too much to that. He was too busy drawing a map for Stauff, showing him the cave openings (four in all) at the bend in the Hog Brook, that was easily hidden from view by anyone walking through the area. Wallace refused to enter, even though Stauff (who moments before was sick of heroics) wanted to cross the brook and examine the caves. Stauff decided against it and walked back to rejoin his friends. Along the way, Stauff noticed details about Wallace that escaped him at first, which the GM explored in a fascinating way. Just ask him.  This young boy was the son of farming family, and his parents were sure to worried about him. The fact that Stauff was now over a month gone from his own home resonated with him as he felt the weight of this boy’s fate parallel his own situation. It was a deep moment for the two.

However, Stauff returned in time to see Crandel storm off toward the tree where Vivienne waited, while the other two watched Wallace hunker down against a rock and look at a faint drawing of his (obvious) family. Crandel spoke briefly with Vivienne, found out that orcs were close by (in the direction Stauff went), and hurried off before promising to meet her that evening at Ingram’s cottage. The party then argued about what to do with Wallace, but Ian turned to Verner and told him no (also using the dice). So they trundled off, and explored the same track of ground that Stauff had just walked, finding the same cave openings as well. They then followed Hog Brook all the way to the Churnett river.

Terrified of the thought of more water spirits (a common superstition in the world) and unable to ford it with the dogs in tow, the party walked all the way back to Milbourne and double-backed to Ingram’s cottage. In Milbourne, they saw briefly that the gypsy caravan had arrived, but had little time to talk with them. It was obvious they children and young adults would be pocketing anything that wasn’t nailed down and the townsfolk were not prepared for them. A short conversation ensued between Vromme and Stauff, before they headed out.

At the cottage, they discovered Ingram, Vivienne, and a five foot tall swan inside. Ian and Crandel were stunned by the size of the swan and mention was made by Verner that it was “natural and certainly not magical.” Ingram escorted the swan into his fenced in yard and sat with the party inside. So far, every meeting with Ingram and Vivienne has been positive for the group because they bring pragmatism and levelheadedness to the conversation that other NPCs have been unable to bring. So questions began to form.

Could the party interfere on behalf of some peaceful goblins who were being slaughtered by Vasya and Nadia? Would they help relocate them? Would any good come of explaining to the Harlton reeve that the goblins they are paying to kill are not the threat they need extinguished?

Why did Skye have a vial of this liquid? Is she did serve a “warlock”, what purpose did it serve? What value did it hold? Was she abducted in the caves after going back for more? Is Luther the only one who can identify the liquid?

Is Wallace affected by this liquid? If so, how would she know the boy?

Vivienne asked “Had anyone smelled the liquid? Drank it? Were there any effects? After two days? After several?”

Could they get in now to see Aidan? Or Luther? Or the Baronet?

What is up with that swan?

The session ended there, with lots of unanswered questions, but the goal of heading to the keep in lieu of making their meeting to see Vasya.