Commentary thread for that “Describe your game in five words” thread.

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"Undead Pharaoh matryoshka - run away!"

(Not literally a Pharaoh - we decided that Stygians use Calormene titles from Narnia instead. So the ruler is actually a Tisroc. Next rank down is Tarkaan, next rank below that (Ludovico/Moshiyah's) is Kha'an.)

We decided to leave Giovanni behind on the little island to keep an eye on the path to Asim's ritual site. He wasn't terribly happy about it, but consented. The guy putting him up seems to have designs on his future, but we'll see.

Our ship captain somewhat shiftily notified us he'd have to stop at a "private port" on the way to Stygia. That's... really suspicious, to say no more. Furthermore, it turned out to be in the midst of what are, with good reason, known as the Cursed Islands.

Being adventurers, naturally we were intrigued. Ludovico bought a round of drinks at the local tavern, and discovered there were some sort of ruins elsewhere on the island that people laid claim to seeking ancient treasure. We rather quickly discounted these, surmising it was a cover story for some sort of smuggling ring.

So Ludovico, being our resident sneak, went snooping - but he took a magical signaling device in case of trouble. Good thing, too! Because the ruins proved to be home to a young Tisroc possessed by the ghost of an ancient undead Tisroc, along with assorted armed minions. (!) Whose magic managed to mesmerize Ludovico quite thoroughly, but not before he broke the signaling device to let the others know there was trouble.

We were all rolling incredibly poorly - Marco nearly impaled himself on a barricade. But Jurgen saved the day with an incredible Athletics roll, grabbing Ludovico, steadying Marco, and grabbing the necklace off a guard while disabling him.

We burst into the tavern where Bergdokken is studying.

Ludovico: We're leaving. Now!
Bergdokken: Why?
L: There's not one, but two Tisrocs up there!
B: That's not even possible, what...
L: A living one possessed by a dead one!
B: We're leaving NOW! :)

Turned out the necklace was the cartouche of an infamous Tisroc necromancer known as Kharatom. Bad, bad, bad news. Suffice to say that he's already returned from the dead once before to take over Stygia, and now he seems to be at it again.

The question of the hour is, how many sides ARE there? Are the First Line of Faces in league with this guy? (Maybe? If so, do they know what they're dealing with? Almost certainly not.) Is Hakar in league with them? (Probably not.)
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PCs got lesson in leverage

After the session from post #224, one of the players suggested they consider their prior group goal complete and adopt a new one to get the treasure they found (~1.56M S) out of the dungeon and back to town. We normally complete and change group goals at the end of the session, but I thought that was fair. This one was running long, and I did get notice at least.

This session was shorter than the last. We started off with a small conversion. I reworked the skills list a bit, so we needed to map the old skills into the new ones and refund/rebuy a few skills. There was a funny moment when Deirdre’s player looked at Dingo’s character sheet confusingly because the thief (Dingo) did not have Sneaking. Dingo’s player had made a mistake and accidentally put his Sneaking ranks into Seduction. Whoops. 🤣

There were only a couple of big things that happened this session. Deirdre (the barbarian) was displeased with the reward the Prismist gave them (just information) for dealing with the werephasms and freeing her husband, so she tried to use implied threats of violence to get more. That was a Complete Success. (This is the situation where Dingo’s lack of Sneaking came up because she wanted Dingo to sneak about and set her up to emphasize the threat with a scare.)

After that, Dingo and Deirdre went with the Prismist and her husband to follow the river out of the dungeon to find the other entrance. Initially they wanted Dingo and Kitty (thief retainer) to do it, but neither of them have Survival. I thought it would have been hilarious for them to go out into the wilderness to find their way back to camp and show up hours late exhausted due to failing their Skill Check, but the players didn’t share my sense of humor. 😅

While that was happening, Kitty went instead with Tama (the cleric) to talk to the kobolds about hauling and guarding their treasure. The kobolds were there to collect crystals to entice someone to fund a proper mining operation. The party probably had the capital to be their patrons if they really wanted, but that would have cost most of their treasure at least. Instead, Tama decided to make a shorter term offer to guard their treasure for them (and the PCs will pay).

This is where the players got to learn about negotiation. The kobolds’ opening was for a share of the treasure. They figured it was dangerous work. The cleric’s player was like: but there’s a price list for guards. The kobolds had leverage. If the kobolds noped out, the PCs would have no one to guard their treasure. You’re in a dungeon! No one is going to accept list price just because you want it. Fortunately, this is exactly the situation the game’s mechanics are set up to resolve.

One of the things I like about the way things are structured is I can say what happens no matter how hard of a “move” that is. Given the situation, it definitely makes sense the kobolds would want significant compensation. The cleric then prepared her counter offer: 100k S, which is close to but a bit more than what list price would involve. I don’t get to decide whether that’s good, that’s for the mechanics to decide. This is how I can respond with what makes sense without being unfair.

Tama and Kitty made a group check. Tama used Negotiation + Intellect based on her reasoning why this was a fair offer. Kitty used Negotiation + Wisdom. She has experience with vantage points, so she would also tell them where how they could use the environment to watch from safety while still being effective. I was playing Kitty at this point, so I wanted to remind players of how Wisdom works to draw on your experiences. The roll itself was a Complete Success thanks to Kitty’s Expertise.

With that, the two of them worked with the kobolds to move the treasure into place. There’s a beach near the river, so the PCs should be able to bring boats next session to haul the treasure away. After that, everyone returned back to camp to meet up with Dingo and Deirdre. During Camp Activities, Dingo worked on his map while Deirdre went looking for prank berries because one of her goals was to prank Dingo this session. Tama just spent EXP to increase on of her skills.

Next session, they’ll be finishing up their haul most likely. Dingo got a Mixed Success on his Cartography speciality, so he was able to make his map, but the route is going to take them past trouble they’ll want to deal with. Their path back also wasn’t as good as they’ll like, so they’ll have to portage their boats part of the way since there is dry ground between the river and the rest of the swamp where they are now.

The party didn’t do anything about the necromancer in the crypt, so that may be a problem for the kobolds. After the treasure is out, we should be done with The Incandescent Grottoes. The plan seems to be going back to clearing the hex around the PCs’ manor, but they’re still deathly afraid of stirge nest to the north. There’s only like 40 stirges or so. A direct assault couldn’t possibly go wrong.

Transmute ice cream to napalm!
We did this, a few years ago. It was a Monster Hunters campaign set in the Florida! of Tim Dorsey and Carl Hiaasen. Once we'd realised that World of FroYo (a frozen yogurt chain) was selling a flavour that turned people into semi-vampires, our witch regarded transforming yogurt into napalm as obviously sensible tactics. There were probably about 50 tons of it in the factory's main vat . . .

We are trying to track down the burial sites of thirteen important historical figures, who occasionally manifest as the Wild Hunt, with catastrophic results.

We had a clue as to the location of a site, and were very interested to get hold of a lay that was written over their time as a party. . . . We got the whole of the unknown part of the lay.
This evening, we went to see Count Tegel, of Tegal Manor, and asked him about the events in the lay, since he's old enough to remember them. He's a 3,200 year old vampire paladin. He didn't remember them at first, but it started to come back to him after a while, and some consultation of his journals. He needed an Atonement spell because he needed to break an oath. Everyone relevant apart from him has been dead for around 3,000 years, but if you're a paladin whose faith is strong enough to remain Lawful Good when you're a vampire, you don't break oaths lightly.

With that done, he was able to confirm many details, and provide locations. Our paladin is worried: the abbey where his religion was founded, about 40 years ago, is on one of the burial sites.


“Ug, Doomvault. Doom to roleplaying.”

I have been running D&D campaign with our kids since last June. Started with Phandelver and lots of home brew since. They have been trying to reactivate the Faerun standing transportation gates/portals that went haywire and stopped working after the Time of Troubles or the next thing (least that is how I remember it, and how my version is running). Went to Candlekeep, where they realized somehow they had “forgotten” about the gates and couldn’t even remember any books about them.

Intrigued and agast after the Candlekeep Great Reader Teles Ahvoste did a little scything to see what happened, realized the Red Wizards had somehow wiped the Sages memories of anything dealing with the portal network and gotten the books out beyond the protection magics. Realized they took them to the Doomvault to experiment on how to use the network to suck power/life out all around Faerun… perhaps reactiving the gates/portals and siphoning whenever anyone uses it.

The players (and me) just want the gate network working again for fast travel. But now they are foiling the plans of Szass Tam, and making a serious recurring enemy for the higher levels of their adventuring lives.

At least that was before I realized how crazy boring a dungeon crawl was with kids… I remember moving them in the 80s. About 3/10ths of the way through (not including final area to destroy the phylactories)… yeah. They are going to get enough books to get some knowledge to reset the gates, and I always used Navigators to use the gates to setup any “standing” navigator-free time based destinations, and then if you want to go somewhere cheaper than a mage would charge your for serious teleportation magic, at will, one-off “custom” destination use… so the two captives are Navigators and can help find other Navigators and reteach them why they yearn for travel…

Anyway, yeah. My five words were all about how much the Doomvault is close to ruining the campaign.

Our news frightens the government.
This evening, we went to see Count Tegel, of Tegal Manor, and asked him about the events in the lay, since he's old enough to remember them. . . . he was able to confirm many details, and provide locations.
We went back to the capital and reported to our handler at the intelligence agency. Fitting the story together frightened him a lot. Here are the high points, with some background.

In another part of the continent, north of our country, there is the realm of the Fairie. The Summer Court, the Winter Court, the Queen of the Fairies, the whole thing. They agreed, long ago, to confine their power to their own boundaries. They're appallingly powerful, whimsical and unpredictable. They're also prone to heroic drama, as will become clear below. Our government pays them an annual tribute; they notably do not do that for a far larger and more powerful-looking state, Greensward, that has a border with them to the south. Everyone knows that, but it looked like a settled issue that nobody worried about.

Archaeology, and interpretation of the lay has revealed some very worrying facts.
  • The thirteen individuals who make up the Wild Hunt are not humans, contrary to what everyone has thought for millennia. They are fairie nobles, who were exiled, for helping the King of the Fairie's daughter, Aine, to leave the realm without permission (they thought she had it) and allowing her to get away from them (they didn't think they had authority to stop her).
  • So they hunted across the continent for her, and were killed, one by one or in a few cases in small batches.
  • Their leader, Garanhir, was related to the king and/or queen (it's not clear).
  • The remnants eventually found Aine, along with a different fairie noble, Duine, who she'd been assigned to marry. She'd left Fairie to escape this marriage, but that had not been known to the thirteen. Duine offered to abandon the marriage if she would move from the Summer Court to the Winter Court. So it seems to have all been due to a political move within Fairie. She took this idea very badly, and a battle broke out, in which Aine, Duine, and several of the 13, were killed.
  • Garanhir set off with his two surviving followers to take the Aine's body back to Fairie. They didn't get there, and that was over 3,000 years ago. The Queen may be a bit cross about this.
  • The reason they didn't make it was the then King of Greensward, Arnold. The party had been noticed traversing Greensward, and even in their reduced state, were powerful enough to worry its government. After negotiations, they were granted safe-conduct through Greensward, and given an escort/hostage, the paladin who later became Count Tegel.
  • However, Arnold went back on his oath and staged an attack on the party. The paladin, being extremely honourable, reckoned his life was forfeit and invited Garanhir to kill him. Garanhir declined and granted him his life, sent his two followers away with Aine's body, and fought Arnold's forces himself. He seems to have defeated them, but died in the process.
  • The paladin went to Arnold's court, denounced him as an oath-breaker, fought a duel with him and killed him. The heir could not really argue with his reasons, but exiled him. On his journey north, he found the battle site and buried Garanhir.
  • The followers were attacked by werewolves on their journey north, who killed one of them, and mortally wounded the other. He inscribed the final verses of the lay (the poetry is a lot simpler than the earlier parts) and died. They seem to have remained undisturbed until the party found them a week or so ago.
There's more, and worse, but that's enough for one post.
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New GM wants a narrative.
I played in a GURPS occult WWII campaign from 2007 and 2021. Four of the six original characters made it all the way through the war, but had not, of course, been everywhere or been involved with a large fraction of the war's events. The original GM did not want to continue, so I and another of the players are running separate strands in alternate months.

I've taken a while to get the hang of how best to play with Zygmunt's GMing style, but today I got more to grips with it. He likes the players to take almost complete control of the narrative, which is a bit challenging when we're operating undercover and have to spend a lot of time maintaining cover. After a while we realised he was, to some degree, offering us extra chances to mess things up, and wasn't offended when we stuck to our cover.

"Death curses ruin one's day."

A short, but very eventful session!

As we were preparing to sail away from the smugglers' port, the Tisroc sent Ludovico a rather polite messenger offering him a job as his Left Hand - basically his spymaster. Ludovico politely declined, what with serving mind-controlling undead monstrosities not being high on his list of Things To Do.

The messenger acknowledged this response was expected but urged him to consider the plight of Stygia and its people, who needed a capable ruler to restore their former glory. Ludovico guardedly allowed that he'd keep his eyes open.

While sailing to Stygia, Jurgen caught one of the sailors furtively dropping something overboard in a way he found highly suspicious. He confronted the guy, and things quickly became tense.

Accusations flew, the captain got involved, and then the sailor desperately 'admitted' to being counter-intelligence and following Ludovico. (It comes out that he knows about Faces. Unfortunately Ludovico's in Stygian form and can't tell if this guy is one.) Ludovico points out that if that's true, he can't exactly be the crewmember he claims to be, so where is he, hm?

The sailor tells the captain that he has documents that will prove his story, and asks to show them in private in the captain's cabin. The captain consents.

Ludovico is beyond suspicious at this point, and uses the crystal to surreptitiously become a Face again. (Thankfully it's night.) So when the captain comes back out, he knows the guy's a Face. (Almost certainly the apprentice of the Second Line - a master surely wouldn't be this incompetent.) He tips the others off, and a scuffle ensues.

Jurgen restrains the guy... who gets this despairing look on his face and then drops dead. Marco slips past them into the cabin (finding the captain's corpse), and Ludovico takes the captain's form to calm the crew down. He orders the mate into the cabin and there they lay the cards on the table for him - the real captain's been murdered (we explained the face-shifting as being a temporary ritual spell).

The mate agreed to drop us off as contracted, but said he never wanted to see our faces again. We agreed solemnly. Investigation showed that the dead apprentice was killed by a death curse - a bit of ritual magic that takes considerable prowess in wizardry to pull off. Either his master is a serious piece of work (Faces are supposed to be like family!) or else someone else was pulling his strings.

"Betrayed - except by friends, enemies."

This was a long, in-person session in which a big plot arc came to a head. We reached Stygia, which was pretty clearly a corrupt, miserable backwater, much as Kharatom had said. The port city we landed at did still have an astonishing and ancient library, which we descended upon to try to learn more about the situation.

(When you pay the library fee, you get an enchanted wooden necklace that protects you from the wards that defend the place. "If you lose your necklace for any reason, don't move! Just call for help. If you do that, the wards probably won't kill you.")

Suffice to say we learned a fair bit about Kharatom, about Ludovico's family (including his illustrious ancestor Tisroc Rakhash, whose ring Ludovico is wearing) and, most importantly, about the ritual that our enemies were attempting.

We found that Bergdokken, through no fault of his own, had faulty data to work with - the date shouldn't matter for draining Ludovico's master's powers, but the location shouldn't matter for draining Ludovico's - which is what Hakar and company want to do. Do our enemies not realize this any more than Bergdokken did? Seems unlikely... What are they up to?

We came to the realization that the Master of the First Line was trying to consolidate all of the Face power in himself, and then use Ludovico's Stygian power (which already has a three-level hierarchy) to leverage himself as the new Grandmaster of Faces, with unheard-of powers and also control over the new masters and apprentices of his choosing

On our way to the ritual site, we begin a protracted wizard's duel (ritual magic being painfully slow). We used our advantage - the focus crystals we stole from a cult in our first adventures - to the hilt.

Suffice to say we used the sympathetic connection between Ludovico and his master (and also the Second Line apprentice's hair) to bust through our enemy's wards - we got a bit lucky, he's really good! - and managed to place a nasty curse of Forgetfulness on him. That should hurt the ritual preparations! Meanwhile our wards protected us from his counterattacks, though it was a near thing a few times!

Meanwhile we decided to put Ludovico's Face sorcery completely into the crystal to prevent its being stolen. (Of course, if anything happens to the crystal, it's gone forever!) And we wove a blessing around him to help protect him from other kinds of draining.

Along the way, we meet a mysterious cloaked Stygian figure. Ludovico, who's back in Stygian form, can sense this person isn't actually Stygian, so he grins and says, "Hi, Chloe!"

The result was gratifying - she started and blurted out, "How'd you know?!" "We all have our little secrets."

She told us her master had basically cut her out of his plans. Which she actually didn't approve of - Faces are supposed to jockey with each other for control, yeah, but this is more than a bridge too far. They're supposed to be a fractious family, not whatever this is! "I suspect the old masters would be disgusted with all this."

She informed us how many guards would be waiting for us, and confirmed that one of the Stygians with him matched Hakar's description. And she handed Ludovico a pouch of poison - "Toss it on a fire and stay away from the smoke if you can. Though it'll be worse for them... They took the other component in their food last night.". She also gave us her best guess as to the sites where the Second and Third Masters were in stasis.

The ritual site proved to be cloaked in an illusion - we accidentally stumbled into it by mistake before we were ready! All of a sudden we were face to face (ahem) with the First Master, along with Hakar and an elderly Stygian man leaning on a cane. Along with plenty of Stygian guards. And a crap-ton of swirling magical power, the ritual has clearly already in it's initial stages. There's an altar with three large clay tablets on it, and a fire before it.

The First Master proceeded to monologue about how everything was going according to plan and soon Ludovico, having been thoroughly drained, would be but a memory.

Ludovico responded that if he's going to be dead soon anyway, can he at least know what's going on with his family?!

Hakar scoffs that Ludovico isn't really family at all, he should be dead! Asim was in a coma for trying to become Kha'an not knowing I was alive!

But the older Stygian cuts him off, and announces that he's my father only in the sense he'd sired me. The family had sold me to a stranger to make ends meet and as far as he was concerned I was just a foreigner who couldn't die quickly enough so Hakar, his real son, could inherit the family power.

Ludovico inquires, shaken (this wasn't exactly the family reunion he'd dreamed of!) if they expect him to go out without a fight?

Hakar says contemptuously that we can't oppose so many guards, and gives the order for me to be restrained.

Ludovico: "Yeah, no." And uses Stygian sorcery, green eyes glowing, to get the guards to stop in their tracks. (Didn't roll well enough to turn them completely, alas.)

The First Master, half-admiringly, "You little bastard! You figured it out! But it doesn't matter, you're here and everything is in place."

He, Hakar, and "Dad" resume the ritual... And Ludovico activates the Forgetfulness curse - the guy fumbles the words at a critical moment, and the magical forces start to go awry.

It's nothing that an experienced wizard couldn't get back under control... If he had time, which we didn't give him.

Jurgen tackled Hakar, Marco flipped a knife at "Dad"... and Ludovico threw the pouch of poison on the ritual fire, which began emitting a noxious purple smoke.

Needless to say, things became rather... fraught.

We carried the day, but not before the First Master seeing all was lost, announced that he'd not die alone! And plunged a knife into the clay tablets, which crackled with lightning, before he died.

By the time the dust settled, we had the powers of all three Master Faces stored in Ludovico's crystal (the First Master had already absorbed them both), which was now dangerously full and on the brink of shattering.

We managed to very carefully let out Ludovico's apprentice power, and then the Third Line power went to him readily - so he's now a Master Face. Then we had to decide what to do with the other two. Marco was interested in getting one, but Jurgen declined. If we could have been sure of holding on to the crystal indefinitely, we probably would have waited to choose a third...

But the crystal was still dangerously stressed, we didn't know what would happen if the Second Line's power vanished into the ether with nobody to hold it... And Chloe had done us a good turn.

Jurgen managed to track her down and bring her back. "So Chloe, you've probably noticed you aren't a master yet..."

We drove a fairly hard bargain. She had to sign a binding magical contract not to betray or work against us - we agreed to the same, of course - and she consented. (She did manage to slip in some awkward wording too, the sneaky wench!) So she's now the new First Line master.

Her master proved to bear the ritual scars of a Morolusian eunuch. Chloe: "He did all this just to get his balls back?!"

The crystal was now stable enough to last a couple months, so Marco decided to hold off on becoming the master of the Second Line. (He didn't want to spring it on his wife!)

The clay tablets proved to bear death curses on the Second and Third masters, as well as Ludovico. (He was protected by his Face power being sequestered.)

So it didn't seem likely that they had survived, but we tracked down their bodies anyway (Chloe's guesses were pretty good) and buried them. But first we did some divinations to find out the details of what was going on.

It turned out that the master of the Second Line was a reasonably decent chap who was concerned about the disappearance of Ludovico's master. He'd consulted with the First Master about it, been poisoned, and in an impressive display of martial prowess had damn near killed the First Master before the poison knocked him out.

The Third Line master, Ludovico's adoptive father, had been in on the plan from day one. :( He was actually the First Master's cousin by blood! They had betrayed each other over wine as the plan neared its climax, but not before Ludovico's "dad" had cracked wise about hoping Ludovico would get a clue soon so they could sacrifice him!

So, having been betrayed by two father figures, Ludovico found his true family to be his friends... and an erstwhile enemy, Chloe.

We returned home to find that everything had gone to Hell in a handbasket, but this post is long enough already!

But I'll add that when they picked up Giovanni, Ludovico made him his apprentice, in the process formally adopting him - resolving to be a far better father than those in his own life!
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There's more, and worse, but that's enough for one post.
The really bad thing was the suspicion that Aine and Duine's spirits became the core principles of good and evil within the world of Avalon. There is no hard evidence for this, but there's a lot of circumstantial evidence.

This week, we got to talk to an expert on the fay, and to the chap who's been keeping the spirits of the Wild Hunt asleep for about 2000 years. The conclusions were:
  • Aine was probably the Queen's daughter. Since she was killed via a plot of the Winter Court, the Queen probably won't hold the human countries liable for her death. This is welcome news: the army of the fay would have to travel through our homeland to reach Greensward, and the collateral damage would have been significant.
  • The Queen may well want revenge on the Winter Court, but that's within Fairie.
  • Garanhir was probably the son of the Fairie King, Ailill, by another fay. The king may want revenge on Greensward, but one fay lord and his warband will do less damage than a whole army to our homeland.
  • The fay may well not be aware that Aine, Garanhir and Duine have been dead for over 3,000 years. They would naturally have lived far longer than that, and their spirits have apparently not returned to Fairie, as far as anyone we have access to knows. Garanhir's certainly has not, its location is known.
So our next mission is to recover the bones from the site of the battle where Aine and Duine were killed.

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