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

GURPS Old West/Horror:

Railway heist... arrest... haircut... murder!

Fantastic session running St. Cecilia's Blasphemous Bordello from One Shot Adventures. Two characters managed to steal a crate of silver from a corrupt mining tycoon on a train. Meanwhile, two others nearly got into a gunfight with a wanted seditionist and managed to arrest him, using Public Speaking to sway the town to support them. The tycoon, instead of leaving town as expected, stuck around to try and find out who stole his silver. The thief, a wily and beautiful grifter named Luella, panicked and convinced the nuns at the orphanage to cut her hair and loan her a more sober outfit so the tycoon won't recognize her. Her tears were real after realizing just how bad the haircut was. Meanwhile the silver was hidden in the Bulgarian doctor's office and the outlaw was locked up in the vault at the former bank. Party sleeps a nervous night at the bank, worried that someone might try to bust the outlaw out of jail. Instead, shortly after midnight, one of the nuns from the orphanage crashes against the window, leaving a bloody streak on the glass. There's been another ghastly murder at the orphanage. Despite accounting for all of the demonic candles, there is still evil afoot. Time to track down the elusive candleman at his hog farm outside of town.

(This was our third session on this "one shot." We like to luxuriate in the characters and setting. I'm guessing we'll play twice more to bring the story to a close.)

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In the middle of the right, our ranger/cleric checked on the stable, and found three halflings dressed in black frantically searching the horses' tackle, saddlebags, and so on. Two of them succumbed to Hold Person, so the third killed them and fled. After careful searching, nothing was missing, but they'd searched really thoroughly.

We don't know what they were after. It might have been one of the things we had in our rooms upstairs in the inn, or they might have been trying to give us the idea that we missed something important at the site of the Fairie battle so we'd go back there, giving them a chance to follow us and locate it.
Once we discussed that, we realised they might have been trying to plant stuff on us, and disguising that activity thoroughly. Searching the luggage that they'd been through revealed a number of assorted pins in the fluff at the bottom. They have varying designs, but all have several scratches that seem to encode numbers. Clearly, they're there so that our locations can be found with some kind of scrying magic: "Scry for pin #19!"

Fortunately we hadn't taken the baggage anywhere important: we had decided to be boring for a little while (it is also the middle of winter) because we'd clearly come to the attention of the ""One True Church of Evil"" as they call themselves, or the "Temple of Evil", aka "toe" as we call them.

We handed over the baggage to the intelligence agency we help on a voluntary basis. They're going to work up a nice little surprise for the Temple of Evil. One of the things I like about Avalon is that nobody there is naïve, and reasonable paranoia about security pays off.


Diane in fact hunts vampires

It’s been a while since we had a session (April 23 apparently). I’ve been busy with other things, but we finally got to play last weekend! I thought I’d need a map for the stirge extermination, but we didn’t even get to that. I guess I should have trusted my homebrew system more to do what it’s designed to do (which is sandbox play without the prep).

We had a couple of big things happen this session. The first was that Tama (the cleric) finally finished working with Jon the Painter to add a holy symbol to her shield. This was a particular triumph because Jon was some crappy apprentice that was assigned to work on Tama’s task last session after she got Mixed Success on her roll. Even with her instruction on the sigil (to let her Work Together with him), progress was slow. It probably took a month in-game to get it done. She got it done though, and now she has a rank +2 shield with a holy symbol she can use for casting in combat.

We also resolved a situation with raiders. While the party was traveling, the clock for the raiders went off. The PCs had antagonized them in the past, and the raiders were looking for them. After the next event roll, the PCs found there had been a lot of activity near their (hidden) camp. I set it up this way even though the event went off because they had gotten Complete Success to hide the camp. I can’t negate their success, but that doesn’t mean I also can’t set them up for a bad follow up situation if that’s what the mechanics require.

Knowing they were facing trouble, the party set up a trap. They left their wagon and supplies in a conspicuous place then hid in the trees for an ambush. They rolled Camouflage + approach to hide. The players thought they were just rolling for the task, but what was actually at stake is how the ambush would happen. They were Working Together on the same method, so they all rolled. The best result would control, and any failures would reduce its total by −2 per failure (unless the leader paid stress to negate the failures). They all rolled pretty well though, resulting in Complete Success. We set up where the PCs were hiding, and the raiders were in position for them to pounce.

The fight itself went pretty quickly. The raiders were surprised, so they did not get an equip phase. All they could do on their turn is try to get away from the PCs (if possible). They also got Mixed Success on their morale check during the next equip phase, which means they would regroup and fight defensively. The PCs had already gotten a good shot in on their leader, and Deirdre got a Critical Success, dealing maximum damage to him and killing him. They told the raiders to leave, and they did. There’s going to be consequences with that faction, but they got the raiders off their back for now, and they got some money (5500 S between the saddlebags) and horses.

Between all that is what prompted the five words.

Dingo (the thief) has a chalice the party found in the last dungeon. If you fill it with blood and drink it, it heals you. As established last time, there was a blood cult that might be interested. There was a funny moment where Dingo wanted to sneak away and search for them on his own, but then he decided to invite Deirdre along with him. Much laughter was had at this poor example of sneaking. Dingo asked around some, and they found out about an “abandoned” warehouse on the edge of town. He and Deirdre bought some cloaks to try to blend in with the locals there. They rolled Camouflage and got Mixed Success. That means they would get what they wanted (access to the warehouse), but there would be a cost.

The warehouse was previously occupied by orc rebels. They had left several months ago to head south to cause trouble for Dyrstelice, but they left people behind to keep an eye on their holdings. The party encountered the watches outside the warehouse. There was some small talk made, and Deirdre pulled down her hood to reveal her identity. The watch was like: oh, you’re that famous adventurer. They were rather impressed with her. Not exactly sure the PCs’ angle here, but Deirdre is all about stroking her ego. The watch had a pretty simple request. There were vampires in their warehouse, and they wanted them out. If the PCs didn’t do them this favor, it was going to mean trouble with the orcs in the future.

These vampires were Natalia’s minions. Natalia is the vampire living at their manor. She had told them she intended to make more of her kind, but only consensually. Apparently the PCs just didn’t give a crap. Inside the warehouse, Deirdre and Dingo found it had been arranged with a “safe” area in the middle where some of the shelves had been tarped over to block out accidental sunlight. They circumnavigated the warehouse looking for anything else, but “all” they found was a smugglers’ tunnel hidden at the bottom of a crate. Dingo crept up to the middle to peer inside and saw two vampires: a female elven (Josette) and a male yuma (Gerard) lying in repose.

What had happened here is Gerard was recently turned. The way that works is once a vampire drains you, you’re dead for three days. After three days, you have to resist being permanently dead and resist going mindless. The latter is called the Curse of Intelligence. All intelligent undead require something from the living to retain their intelligence. They aren’t naturally “evil” (there is no concept of alignment), but it means they are innately in conflict. Undead are also fundamentally a form of elemental (death elemental). Essentially, a corpse is animated with the essence of death.

Dingo and Deirdre decided on a plan. Dingo would reveal himself to the elven woman, and while he was talking to her, Deirdre would announce herself as a vampire hunter. Then some stuff would happen, and Deirdre would get to kill her some vampires. So Dingo goes up and starts talking to Josette. He tries to convince her it’s not safe there and rolls his Deception check. He got a Mixed Success, so she wanted help. If he could help her carry out Gerard’s body, she’s leave. As they’re doing that, Diane the Vampire Hunter appears. Yes, it’s Deirdre in her cloak.

Diane declares she has her weapon equipped, initiating combat. Notably, Dingo does not equip anything, so he is “out” of the combat. Josette equips her energy drain. The combat is one-sided. I’ve done some work on stats, but I still need to hash things out. Diane did some damage to Josette and knocked her back with her Forceful Blow. If she had fought back, Josette would have been able to hurt Deirdre nicely, but she’s a new vampire, and she just wants to get out of danger. After that round, Josette equips gaseous form, Deirdre isn’t able to kill her, and Josette leaves. They stake poor Gerard (who would have failed his resist roll anyway), and that’s the end of the vampires.

After that, the party rested and took care of some other business, then they headed out (ending the session after the fight with the raiders). I was pretty pleased how things mostly ran themselves. I had some bits of information (such as the existence of the warehouse), but I was able to lean pretty nicely on the system to keep things moving and to set up the action.

"It's not procuring, it's matchmaking!"

I've skipped over a few scattered sessions in which we had to deal with the mess that occurred in our hometown while we were in Stygia. Suffice to say that the cult I mentioned a while back really got moving on their plots. One of the ringleaders proved to be a thief from Marco's guild, and Marco went into full-on Godfather mode. (It was a little scary to watch.) But it turned out that he'd just had two newborn children with the prophetess we'd previously met, a boy and a girl.

Of the seven deadly sin sorcery gifts, pride (prophecy) and wrath (fire) are sex-linked in the same bloodline. (Sort of. The genetics in question is magic, and can't always be analyzed with Punnet squares.) Anyway, the prophets are always girls and the flame-conjurors are always boys. This boy and girl have the two gifts, and that's politically explosive!

See, prophetesses are reasonably common, but the fire gift has almost completely died out. And it has plenty of historical resonance, as well as being powerful. Basically, half the continent is going to want this baby boy dead, and the other half is going to want to claim him as their own. So, we thought, why not us? We should be able to hide him until he's old enough to become Marco's apprentice Face, which will hide his fire gift.

Thing is, the kid's mom can foretell the future, AND she's the daughter of a baron. (Who thankfully is not in the know about the cult.)

Long story short - we figured out the cult's plan to spirit the boy away to another country, locate the guy who's supposed to pick up the kid, and after a bit of interrogation, Ludovico takes his place, gives the password, and receives the boy.

(Immortal line from Marco just before that: "I have crystals to craft, you have babies to steal." Surely never uttered in the English language before!)

Anyway, the dice were hot, so Ludovico pressed his luck and bluffed his way into getting the girl too. (The kids are the cult's Chosen Ones.)

After the kids were safely under ward, a couple magical attacks took place on the wards. The second one, Marco was able to get their number in a major way, getting a feel for the casters. Two of them were cultists, but the other one was purely in it for the money.

We've hired contractors from the mages' guild ourselves to help with rituals, so that seemed like a logical place to check. The dice continued to be hot, and Marco really hit it off with one of the officials of the guild. He was able to narrow down who the cult had hired, bribed him to be sick for a couple of days, and warned him that, "Your severance package would have been a knife in the back." With a little more buttering up, we got some information on where the cultists did their ritual.

Ludovico went there in the same guise in which he'd taken the kids, and sold them a story about being the real guy who'd been hit on the head while someone had taken his place to get the kids. Panic mode! In the process of them trying to do damage control, Ludovico picks up some really interesting information - the name of the guy who makes the ritual crystals, and the fact there's a mine nearby in which the special crystals can be obtained.

When Ludovico discovers that the leader is already paranoid about a "shape-shifting spy" infiltrating his people, he feeds that paranoia, getting him to doubt everyone in the organization except Ludovico himself. ;) Between that and the still incredibly-hot dice, he managed to drug all the guards and let in Marco and Jurgen.

We recovered a treasure trove of information. Notebooks with incriminating lists of names, information on many of the cult's plots (some of them stomach-churningly evil - they were even worse than we'd thought), the location of the mine, and, above all, the information that the Conte of the city had been rendered infertile by a curse!

In the beginning of the campaign, we had considered replacing the Conte with someone more biddable, but we came to realize that of the nobles of the city, he was actually the best ruler of the lot by far! Only trouble was, he had no heir, his wife had died, and at least one prospective wife had been assassinated. He was having trouble finding a suitable match.

Long story short, we found the statuette that was the focus of the curse, and the Courier delivered it to the Conte.

(Of all Ludovico's forms, the Courier is perhaps the most fun to play. Supposedly he's the link between the Conte and a shadowy powerful organization interested in stability for the city - but actually to the three of us. The Conte has, after initial skepticism, come to implicitly trust the Courier - he's just brought too much vitally useful information over time not to. Anyway, what makes the Courier fun is his personality. I have a special voice for him, even. He's always urbane, completely unflappable, and perpetually half-amused.)

He delivers the focus of the curse to the Conte, who breaks it and tosses it in the fire. "Now I just need a wife!"

"How can we help, Signore?"

"I didn't realize you were procurers too!"

With an amused smile, "It's not procuring if a marriage results, Signore. It's matchmaking."

The Conte snorts and lists off some of his desiderata: At least minor nobility, fertile, preferably not ugly, and so on.

Recall that Marco's wife Margareta is our spymistress, with a network of women she calls her 'doves'. Ludovico remembers a dove in the palace, Dama Adela, that he'd worked with before. She has a title, and she's very clever and helpful. Definitely single, as the group had gotten her out of a betrothal to a truly vile man by proving him guilty of treason not long before.

So the Courier said, "Have you considered someone under your own roof, Signore?" He points out all the benefits.

The Conte gets suspicious. "She's one of your agents, isn't she?!"

The Courier leans forward with an amused expression, chin on fist, and flips his hand. "And if she is?"

Blink, blink. That rocked the Conte back - clearly he was expecting a denial. He thinks it over, then says, "I must go. I'm sure you know the way out."

When Ludovico got back to base after a couple more errands, this hilarious conversation happened:

Margareta: "WHAT DID YOU DO?!"

Ludovico: "Why, what's happened?"

Margareta: "I just got a report from Dama Adela! She and the Conte are 'getting acquainted'!"

Ludovico: "It's a start, I suppose."

Margareta: "No, they're 'keeping company'!"

Ludovico: "Good, perhaps in time romance shall bloom."

Margareta: "She's sharing his bed, you moron! And if she becomes pregnant, they'll be married within the month!"

Ludovico: blinks "I see. He didn't waste any time, it would seem! But why are you so upset, Margareta? I'd think you'd be thrilled!"


Ludovico: "...Ah. I... suppose I'll take that as a compliment."

(Adela did get pregnant, and the marriage did come off. The entire city breathed a sigh of relief.)

Other things happened, we met with Chloe and her new apprentice - a very shy and abused little girl. Chloe had figured out that we could make sorcery crystals, and wanted to trade for crystals for the two of them... But when we learned that the girl's was purely to suppress her Face power so she could see her newly-healed face, Ludovico and Marco insisted on doing that one for free. This visibly touched Chloe's heart, and I believe we made a good start on restoring the Faces to being a rather weird family.

This session ended a major plot arc. Chloe informed us of the threat the next arc will face: A heretical Morolusian prophet and crusader who was gathering an enormous army to invade Letitia and Fortia.
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finally found the stirge nest

It’s been a while since the previous session. Real life (and Origins) came up, and our schedules didn’t align very well. I took the opportunity to make a few changes to the system, but the only significant one was to Expertise, which now costs MP and provides an extra die to your roll. I didn’t like how this one thing used a different resource loop than everything else.

At the start of the session, I introduced a couple of obvious clocks as consequences. Natalia is at risk of picking up on the fact that the PCs ganked one of her vampires (4 out of 8 ticks). If that clock goes off, Natalia connects the dots. If the PCs pull it back to zero, she’s going to forget about it (more or less). This clock only ticks as a potential consequence when it makes sense. The raiders are also going to go after the PCs using other means (6-tick). When this clock goes off, they’ll disappear some of the PCs’ people. I also added a clock for the return of a red dragon they saw land in the ruins they are now developing. It was using them, so it’s going to show back up when the clock goes off (4-tick). These clocks may tick as consequences but will be checked every week during the weekly event check.

The rest of the session picked up from last time. The PCs continued heading west along the route they’d established before back to their settlement. This was mostly uneventful. They did hunting and tried to avoid using some of the craptop of provisions they brought along. They bought sixty rations for three people. Why even bother? Ah well, it’s their time and opportunities they’re spending. Once they got to their settlement, they met up with the leader of their guard to talk about the current situation. They got some information about the other threat in the area they need to handle, which is a “warp beast” in OSE or “displacer beast” in D&D. I’m thinking of restating it up as a proper couerl though —including having psychic powers. Surprisingly, that wasn’t the first time psionics came up during the session. Deirdre spent some time socializing with the guards (it was one of her goals to make a good impression on them). The rest took care of their business.

The next day the party finally decided to go do something about the stirge nest, which has been a group goal for a while. Except they only know it’s north of their settlement. Their settlement is in a 10km hex, which is ~65km² area to search. North is kind of a bit broad, so they discussed among themselves some tactics they could use to narrow down the area to search. The stirges feed do on animals, so they went looking for animals the stirges had feed upon. Naturally, the rolled a failure on their Skill Check to look for the animals. The consequence was going to be a combined one (instead of two separate ones). They found the animals … being eaten by a bulette. Deirdre resisted this to only about to be eaten. Her approach for her Defense Check here was to use her Wisdom to use a mating call to distract it. It’s worth noting that Dingo tried to contribute, making this a group check. He rolled a 4. He then used Expertise and rolled a 2, giving him a total of six. It was not a good showing for the thief. 😂

A bulette is a 9th level monster. I actually had to get out my monster benchmark spreadsheet because the one I was using from OSE is ridiculous. 4d12 on a bite and 3d6 twice is absurd. I reworked it down to 2d12 and 1d8 respectively, which results in a TTL of less than two rounds for a 9th level benchmark character. The party is 5th level though, so it’s really freaking dangerous. They immediately realized the bad idea they were stepping into, so Deirdre made another call to see if she could completely lure it away. The main consequence on the table is it would be coming for them if her call was not successful. Fortunately, it was, but it was a mixed success. She lured it away, but it was going to come back in a few turns when it found out there wasn’t any action to be had. That still gave Dingo enough time to cut open the carcasses and examine them. His investigation Skill Check was a complete success, so they found flora they knew would be in the area of the swamp near the nest. This is something static and easy to notice, so that gave them something easy to find (and two ticks on the 4-tick clock to find the nest).

Since every attempt to look around the area costs a hex of movement, you only get four per day, and the party wanted to find the nest in the morning (when it had been established via research that the stirges would be sluggish); they headed back to their settlement to regroup. During the night, I rolled quite well on the event check. The bulette followed them back and was interested in their settlement again. Finally, the PCs were going to fight this thing. Except it was really scary. Seleana, the captain of their guard, is a capable marksman. She helped no questions asked. Natalia though required some convincing. Her ask was a coffin for Josette. When Dingo got a mixed success on his negotiation Skill Check, she also added that she wanted space in the crypt that was discovered a while back. The party agreed, and they’ll have to add her stuff to the construction backlog (or perhaps try to craft one themselves). It’s actually funny how Deidre hates Natalia and wants to kill her, but also how she can’t and they keep helping Natalia out.

To try to get an advantage, the party used one of their extra horses as bait. Since a horse is obviously large, that’s +2 degrees of success on the seduction Skill Check to entice the bulette into going after the horse and give them surprise. None of them actually have any ranks in seduction, so they needed the extra degrees. If they hadn’t sacrificed the horse, its loss was going to be a possible consequence, but they opted for the sacrifice. While it nommed the horse, the party lept into action along with Natalia and Seleana. The PCs rolled like naughty word for initiative, but Natalia and Seleana both rolled well. Natalia opened up with mind spike, which drew an immediate WTF from the PCs. Yeah, their vampire ally is a psychic vampire. She’d been a researcher at Mars University prior to her abduction and siring as a vampire by the Blood King. I really need to work out more about how the psionic classes work because I was just winging it off an old stat block. Seleana shot the bulette with her rifled musket. On its turn (which it still gets since surprise only means you lose your equip phase that round), the bulette made its morale check. It figured the PCs were more food that conveniently walked over to be eaten. The PCs were mostly hilarious in that Tama (the cleric) and Dingo (the thief) out-damaged Deirdre. Dingo actually got a natural crit (double-0s on 2d10).

The next round, pretty much everyone rolled like crap again, though Natalia rolled well enough to switch to psi-claws and slash up the bulette some. I’m leaning towards making her a telepath, but since I’m just winging it off the old stat block, I figured I could at least continue to drive home the point about psychic vampire. (She’d also set up a telepathic link with Dingo, though it didn’t really seem necessary in the end.) The bulette critted Deirdre for 24 damage (out of 39 HP). Finally! The PCs were definitely nervous about the current situation. The bulette was pretty hurt at this point, and Dingo finished it off. Poor Deirdre had her kill stolen by the thief. Again, I’m pretty sure. They can harvest the plates from the bulette for shields. If they roll well, they’ll get HQ materials. We need to follow up on that next session though.

In the morning, the PCs went looking for the flora that would indicate they were in the right area. They only got a mixed success on that survival Skill Check, so I ticked the dragon’s clock. There was a shadow in the sky —a dragon-shaped shadow. Now it’s gone from being player knowledge to being PC knowledge. With a bit more searching, they finally found the nest and completed the clock. And then they went home. Back at their settlement, Dingo worked on a map to document where the nest was. Having a map means they’ll be able to return to the location without having to make any checks in the future (just spending the movement to get there).

After that, it was right about stopping time, so we engaged the end of session procedure. Dingo somehow managed to accomplish none of his goals this session. He still got a couple of EXP from helping others accomplish theirs though. Deirdre and Tama each accomplished one. Most of them had goals for killing stirges, which they didn’t get a chance to do this session. It might have happened if they had pushed instead of retreating, but they decided to return back to their settlement, so they can attack the nest at the right time. When they do, there will be two clocks. There will be one clock that will fill up as consequences and attempts. If it goes off, the stirges will scatter. They’ll be temporarily gone from the hex as a threat, but they’ll return in the future. The other clock is a per-attempt clock. If it fills, the stirges will all be roused and will swarm the PCs. That won’t be a good time for them probably.

PF2e Abomination Vaults

Abomination Vaults claims another party.
The PCs continued exploring the library, finding their way into the "Restricted Collection" room, where they found a group of ghouls and cultists attempting to repair the broken shelves to restore the library. One of the cultists demanded to know what the PCs were doing there and when they explained they were trying to find the cause of the lighthouse seemingly being restored again, the cultists stated the priestess would know how to help them. The PCs followed the cultist into the next room while the ghouls continued their work in the library.

In the next room, the PCs found a ghoulish priestess, along with a couple more ghouls. After a brief interaction, she demanded the party throw down their weapons and surrender to her so she can bestow her gift of undeath upon them. A fight broke out, with the ghouls from the previous room joining in and trapping the PCs in the middle. At this point I should point out the ghouls and cultist in the first room were rated as a severe encounter and the room with the priestess was a moderate encounter, which combined to make an extreme encounter. For those that don't play PF2e, there's a very good chance of a TPK. It ended up being a close fight which lasted into the 7th round, but the last PC fell with the priestess down to 7 HP and a cultist at 20 HP. The cleric tried a desperation battle medicine check at one point and failed, so most likely if he succeeded on that check they manage to pull through.

Since we're a little under 1/3 of the way through the campaign, I offered the PCs 4 choices for a path forward.

1. We use the undead archetype rules in "Book of the Dead" to have their characters become ghouls and continue the campaign.
2. The PCs were captured by the priestess, with the intent of waiting for the ghoul fever to take them. I'll then give them a chance to fight their way out and we continue on.
3. They roll up new characters and go into the Abomination Vaults to find out what happened to the missing PCs.
4. We end the campaign and play something else.


Small God of the Dozens
I have a player going absolutely mental that I'm trying to screw him out of one language proficiency because the PHB and later books handle races and languages differently.
I think the funniest thing about this is that languages in most D&D games are vastly underused to point of irrelevance. Perhaps yours is different, IDK.

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