Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Butterflies. Every time.

I will be playtesting an upcoming module for Stephen Newton this Friday.

There are a handle of aspects that have me nervous about this:

-It's a funnel (not my forte)
-It's a small table (5 players max, odd for me)
-It's my first time running anything at this particular store
-The FLGS owner(s) may also be playing (their first time with DCC RPG)
-It's been nearly two months since I've picked up The Tome
-It'll be my very first time judging whilst being recorded (by the author's request*)

Okay, so the rest of the above items all add up to, "No pressure, really!" and I'm sure I'll get over them. It's really just this last tidbit that sets my teeth on edge. I think it would be less harrowing to have him sitting there, taking notes -- or even just watching via a Hangout or some such. The concept of such material being available indefinitely - especially with no visuals to put things into context - makes me wince.

But, hey - it'll prime me up for some of the more publicly-viewed venues such as ConTessa and Gary Con, right?


*Not sure why? Check out the latest Spellburn episode, wherein Mr. Newton himself talks about his multiple methods of playtesting adventures!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

External Game Review...

...in which I veer - not stray - from the DCC RPG path to gush about the glorious new offering from Repos Production. 7 Wonders: Babel caught my eye while on the shelf at Gateway Games & More in Cincinnati, to where we'd made our second pilgrimage of the year just to meet up with the Mutant Murder Hobos for the night.

Could I have waited & ordered it from Amazon? Hell no. Had to support our favorite FNSLGS (friendly not-so-local game shop)... and, well, truth be known, I'm a bit of a fiend when it comes to 7W. It's eerily similar to my fascination with DCC.

I was initially concerned about the size - I mean, 7 Wonders is already a great game, with or without the existing expansions. But this box contains TWO additional "modules" to add to your play. After reviewing all the pieces and parts, it was a smart move to package them together, rather than issue each separately with a $20+ tag on each.

The packaging needs to be this size primarily for the first expansion, Tower of Babel. Granted, the base board could be thinner/smaller and still impart the same feel, but after repeated use it - and the tower segments - would probably disintegrate quickly. This first expansion allows you to affect costs, penalties, and bonuses for the entire table, throughout the Ages (they do not reset at the end of each Age). All of the visuals fit in perfectly with the preexisting art, but I do wish the main the board had a little more to do with the regular gameplay. I am chomping at the bit to play this with 6 others, as it does lose something in a 2-player game (the "blind" Free city has no impact). Combining the two seems preferable in this case.

The second expansion, Great Projects, places one card in the middle of the table (just a little larger than the normal Wonder boards) and all players have the option to cooperatively help build the project within one Age for a considerable bonus, provided they can produce a building of the corresponding color. There are a lot of strategic opportunities here -- if you discard or bury the card(s) your opponent(s) are looking for, you could stick them with the hefty penalty for not completing the project after starting it. It is possible to participate with each hand, and for each participation token, you gain that many instances of the reward upon completion.

The first thing the insert tells you is that these expansions should be played separately before combining them together or with the other expansions (Cities, Leaders, or the Wonder Pack). They're not blowing smoke. If you try to jump into one (or both) without easing your way in, it could be very frustrating. Do yourself a favor and allow 5-10 minutes before play to go over the rules, and you'll realize the strategic value!

(Incidentally, it's the first actual review I've had been "published" on Amazon.)

Hope this helps nudge anyone who's on the fence about getting this one -- but please, suck up the retail price and support your FLGS!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Closing out Autumn

Since the last update here:
*The DCC RPG table had one mostly-sandboxed session after the last posted wrap-up. 
*The Dark Master finally graced "the Judges J" with his presence! Check out the Spellburn episode, if you haven't already.
*Spent approx. 1/2 of November away from home - and away from gaming! The horror! No DCC RPG for an entire month...I'm pretty sure the pain is physical.
*Completed many proofings of the upcoming "Treasure Vaults of Zadabad" from Stormlord Publishing. It's a biggie.
*I had the pleasure of attending a super-secret playtest of a certain mythological post-apocalyptic game setting. I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of such, nor the caliber of awesomeness.

This week: 
*Wednesday, Dec. 3rd - Redeux of "The Dying Aereth" tournament at Gateway Games in Cincinnati. As much as I loathe cold weather, I love this group enough to stay in snowland for one extra day!
*Registering for Gary Con!
Next week: 
*I'm hosting a playtest of the next product from Thick Skull Adventures at Dungeon Games, the newest FLGS in SW FL. 
*Also need to post the next game wrap-up before the last open table game of the year. (Only one on the calendar for December.)

*Finessing the event schedules for Gary Con...
*Potentially picking the biweekly DCC group up and moving it to the newer FLGS. It's a smaller venue, but far more welcoming. If it means limiting the table size, that might be a blessing at this crucial sandbox crossover point.
*Copy-editing and proofing is on deck for the Thick Skull product, as well as a few others in the wings. (I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying/thriving on this!)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Corruption Aboard the Black Mariah ~ 10.12.14

James (“Captain Bloodbeard”): Warrior/4
*Bjorn Berber: Dwarf/4
Wilber Wifflelinks: Halfling/3
Krum: Dwarf/1
Amariah: Wizard/1
*Toad: Thief/3
Maladian the Red: Wizard/2
*Growlen: Thief/3
Remus: Cleric/2
Rielle: Halfling/1
Thistle: Elven Forester/0
Terezi: Thief/3

*We begin this episode with some background action…

While Toad was off having all the fun, Maladian the Red set himself to learning the magic shield spell from a scroll that’d been yoinked from the Emerald Enchanter’s citadel.

Bjorn continues drinking the pub - newly named the Devil's Head Tavern, with a logo that's probably drawing flies by now - dry, in an attempt to create demand for Dead Goblin Ale. So he's spending money with the intent of earning it back later. Krum keeps him company...pretty sure the dwarves have to help each other up onto the barstools. Remus keeps an eye on Bjorn, deeply concerned for his friend’s mental state (having lost half his Intelligence while fleeing from eyeballs in the walls).

Toad is intent on looking into the local slave traders, as he escaped the chains before becoming acquainted with his owners. In his covert diggings, he uncovers a reference to House Tormanu, but he’s not sure if they’re the buyers or sellers in the city of Great Bell.

Amariah, finding herself a fledgling wizard with a dim future, has been spending a bit of time dancing in some seedier establishments in order to gain a few extra coins.

Terezi, formerly a ropemaker for the gallows, is all about finding people with bounties on their heads, as they must be brought to justice. She is a bit surprised, therefore, to find a wanted poster tacked up in the thieves’ guild with woodcuts of very young images of some of her companions. A collage of six individuals (Bjorn, James, Garrett, Nalo, Morgren, and Wilber) is squeezed onto one page, and the caption declares the group “Wanted for acts of Piracy.” Instead of a “report to” or “see so-and-so for reward” byline, there is only an image of an eye, and the words “Squalor Court” stamped below.

She brings this page directly to their home base, Paragon, docked in the northern piers of Great Bell. Terezi demands answers of James and the accused halflings, who of course plead innocent (this is especially hilarious given James’s moniker and uniform of red captain’s coat, taken as spoils after killing Savage Quenn eons ago). They see no way of following the lead except to ask for directions to “the Court of Squalor” from a nearby deckhand. Soon they are wading through the tents of a crowded market, finally finding one stitched with weird sigils. The beaded curtain gives them pause, as they push through the tiny skulls of birds and vermin to enter. The crone inside has a third eye tattooed on her forehead and they’re sure they’ve found the right place. She bids them sit and shuffles a stack of cards, placing them in front of Rielle, the halfling gypsy, to reveal each.

First draw: The Moon. “The Matron’s cycle is one of give and take, exhaustion and renewal. She will remember the stillborn with the next waxen turn.”

Second card: The Fool. “Foolish is he who tries to undo the past. Better he is to return to his beginnings, and there rid himself of corruption.”

Next flip: The Beggar. “The home of the Lonely Mermaid has fallen, just as House Tormanu. The greedy one wishes to make the Tower rise once more.”

Last one: Death. “Death laughs at the ploys of forgotten women. Feathers, scales; skyward of skin-bound asea; all gamble the lives of their followers.”

Snarky comments follow each draw from the onlookers, but the old woman ignores them. Each person then selects a card they identify with, in return for a various boon of sorts to assist them in them in their perilous endeavors…although they’re not certain where to turn. The crone suggests they go play chess before deciding, so they immediately head to the Devil’s Head, hoping to join a game while filling in the dwarves on the madness thus far. There are no active chess boards, but as the group is regurgitating all of this to Bjorn and Krum, a deep voice chimes in from an old, dark-skinned man, who informs them that they have made a terrible enemy of Brady. Bjorn has the niggling sensation that he’s seen this man before, and James finally places him as Rook, the old seaman who helped them out back at the Lonely Mermaid, the first tavern they hit after taking over the Dead Goblin Brewery. Maladian puts the name to the clue from the fortune-teller, and the party presses Rook for further information. Brady, the merchant who sent them out to the cursed tower for the Black Pearl (“and then screwed us over,” Bjorn adds), has been after them ever since they so rudely refused to sell Paragon to him. Brady sent other sailors south on the Empyrean Ocean to catch up with them when they left the little shanty town. The Black Mariah (Quenn’s old ship) is currently in town – in the quiet/seedy south docks, away from the commercial traffic.

They head to the south docks immediately (I don’t think they blinked before making that decision), and sure enough, a black caravel with a particularly attractive figurehead is docked alone. Save for the sound of waves lapping at the hull and the occasional shifting of the dock planks, it’s eerily quiet. Wilber wants to burn the ship. James is steadfastly against this. As a result, they are the first two on board, and James leaps up to the quarterdeck, where he is set upon by men in sailing garb with blue skin who seem to…flicker, as if having trouble remaining in existence. While he has no problem connecting with them in combat, they are not easily felled. Wilber encounters the same men on the main deck, including one with a tricorn who is dubbed the “Captain” of this semi-corporeal crew. Wilber, pipe in mouth, stands on the hatch and opens a vial of oil, then blows the lit ash down belowdecks, spending 5 pts of Luck for the action. (He is unable to see below and does not know what happens to it afterward.) Down on the dock, Terezi pines for a way to break into the rear cabins without having to wade through combat, so Amariah lends her a grappling hook and Terezi secures a rope inside the porthole so the two can begin scaling the rope. One of the blue sailors up on the quarterdeck wallops Wilber for his troubles – with a black stream of pain! Rielle and Thistle aren’t sure they can hold their own, and remain on the dock, firing arrows at the swarm of foes trying to overtake Wilber. Maladian sees the magic coming from the quarterdeck and retaliates in kind with his own magic missile. Remus remains on the dock as well, but casts paralysis and successfully pins 3 of the sailors on the main deck, making them easy targets for Krum, who runs up to assist Wilber in providing targets for the captain (the dwarf can’t land a hit to save his life, even against the paralyzed foes). James kills the first of the blue men, and the corpse flickers a couple of times…and fades from this plane. Wilber scores a critical hit on the enemy captain, but is nailed with the same in retaliation, killing the halfling. Terezi makes it into a disappointingly empty cabin, but Amariah falls off the rope into the harbor! Maladian uses force manipulation to create a disc to carry Wilber off the ship and back to the dock, where Rielle nudges Wilber. The crazy halfling makes the Luck check by 1 and comes to, murmuring, “I gotta go, honey, I’ll see you soon,” presumably addressing “his wife”. Many arrows are fired, only to land in the harbor on the other side of the caravel. The blue wizard on the quarterdeck is alerted to another magic-user’s presence by the floating disc, and directs a pair of black missiles to hit Maladian. James kills another couple on the quarterdeck, as a benefit of Mythender’s cleaving ability. Wilber clutches the home-spun doll gifted to him by the Carnifex (aka “his wife”) and pledges his eternal love to her…and feels a little better. Amariah crawls out of the water. Remus heals Wilber before the crazy little guy can run back up the gangplank. Maladian follows up, casting burning hands upon the paralyzed sailors. Krum finally hits, killing the blue captain. Amariah makes it up the rope finally, in the cabin. Terezi leads the way out onto the deck, garrote at the ready, and attempts to strangle one of the paralyzed sailors but she’s weak and he’s still way too healthy! Amariah casts ropework again, this time with the intention of entangling the remaining enemies; instead, the spell misfires, and two ropes appear and immediately begin attacking the nearest targets. James (the red captain) rolls yet another critical hit, this time dealing out 32 pts of damage to the last remaining flickering blue sailor (the caster). He jumps down to join the group in cutting 6 ropes into short wicks, for Amariah has failed to cast ropework yet again, with the same misfire result! Amariah herself is killed by the flailing ropes (later rolled over by Remus). As things are tapering down, the hatch at their feet flies open, and before them stands a short woman in damp, tattered robes, covered head to toe in a mass of crabs that scuttle down her body and beeline toward Wilber. Wilber yells out that he smells oil, and Maladian points his burning hands toward her, lighting her up, while Wilber and Krum stamp out the crab infestation. Rielle is instrumental in finishing the ropey threat, with the mighty scissors she inherited from the duke’s barber.

Wilber, determined to sink this ship, wastes no time in flinging himself below deck. With just the light from the hatch above, he bypasses the cabins and goes straight for the hatch down to the hold. Terezi, meanwhile, has searched the captain’s cabin as well as the wardroom, and is surprised at how spartan everything has been. Following Wilber, she makes for one of the officer’s cabins below, and finds a letter inside a drawer with only a few words not blotted out by the wetness of the environment: “Meet me at the Lonely Mermaid,” it reads. Remus and James join in the cabin search on the lower deck, hoping to find a crewman they can question. Instead, Remus is puzzled by an intricate carving done in half of a human tooth, and James is worried to have come across a weapon that looks a little too familiar – so much so that he makes sure his gloves are secure and finds a heavy cloth in which to wrap the chaotic scimitar. Maladian chooses a door and finds a ledger with vague notes such as, “Empyrean North: Cargo acquired,” and a debt shown to House Tormanu.

Wilber finally gets the lowest hatch open, and lowers himself and a lantern very carefully – and, miraculously, does not drop the lantern when greeted with the faces of six lampreymen. He hangs there for a few moments, trying to gauge whether or not he’s going to be their lunch, noting that the walls and bottom of the hold have been smeared with a thick, dark substance. The creatures themselves – later dubbed “prison-fish” – do not leap toward the hatch to attack. Their gaping maws working ineffectually in the lantern’s wavering light, they mill in small circles, and Wilber finally realizes they are chained to the mainmast in pairs. He calls to Amariah, who casts comprehend languages like she’s been doing it all her life, and she is able to deduce that the captives have been taken from their home unwillingly. Wilber sets to freeing them, with the help of Thistle’s 10-ft pole (!) and his own cast iron frying pan.

Meanwhile, Krum mills about the tight space, gawking at the prison-fish, and an elf in sodden leather approaches him from the dark corner not yet explored. The elf’s exposed skin is covered in coral, and the sharp edges scrape Krum’s face, inflicting 3 pts of Strength damage as he is poisoned. James rushes over and kills it in one blow, but the damage is done. Krum runs into one of the empty cabins and attempts to purge the poison from his body. Thistle, the ever-helpful elven forester, offers him a pinecone, and many bets are taken as to whether he’d benefit more from eating it than using it in the privy.

Maladian, curious about the one door on the lower deck not opened, is greeted by the cooks’n, who’s been waiting for him. Maladian is knocked to half health and thrown back several feet. Remus was approaching to share notes on their finds, and lands a glancing blow on the rude person who just hit his party member. Unfortunately, he comes into range just in time to be attacked by a huge moray eel that bursts out of the cook’s chest -- and into his. Maladian casts magic shield on himself, to prevent the need for more work for Remus. The cook’s subsequent attacks miss, although the eel keeps doing damage to Remus. Amariah tries to redeem herself and casts ropework again while everyone cringes – but it works this time! Sadly, the cook makes his Reflex save with a Nat 20. Maladian casts animal summoning, gaining a pair of dire wolves that gradually come into being, skeleton first, then muscle and skin and fur. (Legitimate question raised by all: Do wolves get seasick?) James leaps in, ever the hero, and with one mighty swing, he nails the cook to the ceiling of the galley. Rielle gingerly attacks the moray, not wanting to do in the poor cleric, and with group efforts the thing is finally killed and detached.

By this point, Wilber is ushering the lampreymen up out of the hold, but the creatures continue to mill about, mouths opening and closing uselessly, still looking dejected and defeated. Amariah, on a roll, casts comprehend languages again, this time succeeding well enough to get full words instead of just a general understanding. “They took our young.” James, retrieving Mythender from the galley, looks over to the corner, spotting a large tub, about three feet deep, filled with water and...countless eggs. When revealed, the change that comes over the prison-fish is easily evident to all: They scuff the remaining black goo off their feet, willingly climb the ladder without assistance, and they work amongst themselves to maneuver the tub up to the main deck. Amariah finds out they have been gone for more than one cycle of the moon, and their home is north, not far from the strange tower in the water but apparently not far enough away from land. “Your kind often takes our young, sometimes to eat.” When she asks if they want to go home, the party is weirded out by the expression of hope and uneasy trust that enters the eyes of the monsters. Once off the ship, the creatures take turns submerging and refresh the water in the tub of eggs.

Before the last party member disembarks, plans are made to get Paragon to the south dock straightaway, where the prison-fish can be loaded safely, and the Black Mariah shall be presented to Duke Magnussen as a gift from Oak, the fresh-faced warrior who’s been working on his wooing skills, for he desperately wants the duke’s daughter.

Reference Credits:
Tower of the Black Pearl – Harley Stroh / Goodman Games
Blades Against Death – Harley Stroh / Goodman Games
The Sea Queen Escapes! – Michael Curtis / Goodman Games
Stormwrack: Mastering the Perils of Wind and Wave – Baker, Carriker, Clarke-Wilkes / Wizards of the Coast

Post-adventure math:
Amariah: +15 XP, +3 Luck
Rielle: +15 XP, +1 hp
Thistle: +15 XP
Krum: +15 XP, +7 hp
Remus: +14 XP, +7 hp
Growlen: +1 XP, +2 hp
Wilber: +15 XP
James: +15 XP, +3 Luck
Terezi: +15 XP
Red: +15 XP, +4 hp

Party Treasure:

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sandboxing is harrowing...and rewarding!

In the spirit of full disclosure, since I alluded to it in the last episode:

I did it! I stepped outside of my comfort zone and happy self-contained module boundaries and friggin' sandboxed a game. First. Time. Ever.

I've been enjoying creating little tidbits here and there to tie things together. I mean, let's face it; for campaign play, even when strictly running modules, you still have to connect them somehow. Whether it's taking the party straight from Sailors to an ocean-faring adventure, or stringing together a bunch of land-locked escapades, the storyline needs to contain a cohesive part or three that give the players a sense of continuity -- and a desire to build upon it.

But it almost becomes a new game – with new rules for the Judge – when you take away the tried-and-tested module and replace the meat of the session with something that comes from your own brain. Even drawing inspiration from other sources, you’re not using a script or plot that’s been penned by noteworthy authors and fully playtested. There is no telling where the story will go, because you’re also giving the players a chance to fully participate in the “cooperative storytelling” I so love to tout at my table.

I’m not saying any of these things are bad. I’m just illustrating that, as far as my self-confidence went? All bets were off.

It’s no secret that the weeks leading up to this was full of nail-biting and nerves. (C’mon, you can’t tell me none of you got nervous the first time you started your own game, whether you were 12 or 40!) +DougKovacs kindly nudged me toward using an idea I’d come across that really strikes a chord with me: “You can draw from anything, but it should mainly be of interest to you.” Well, of course. I need it to be something I’m passionate about, rather than a blasé, “Sure, you can explore that. Why not?” I’d much rather smile and respond, “I’d love it if you’d check that out.” Not only will it ring true, it’ll unnerve the table – and if you’re not trying to elicit a response from players, why bother Judging? While I won’t reveal the root of my inspiration here or on Spellburn (I don’t want to spoil anything for my current or potential players), I’ve already touched on in the past. Why not make it the official underlying plotline?

I started by making a list of the recurring characters and recalling the histories and goals that they’ve been playing up, then the events they’ve already set into motion and current party issues (e.g., a petrified pseudodragon familiar). I then sat down to come up with some intertwined quests that will solve some of the PC’s current and projected problems, fleshed out some NPCs who will be recurring, cobbled together a combination of critters for encounters, and devised a couple potential adventure directions. The prep time for this game session was comparable with the last, and to be perfectly honest, I’m still working on the path(s) they’ll take. But the Muse is thriving on it.

A wise bit of Kovacs advice: “When your imagination embraces a concept your players will follow and eat up anything you present to them.” Boy, did they – especially the ones who’ve been with me since the early days. The morsels of campaign history that were disseminated (“You find [this item], and it looks oddly familiar”) were pounced upon (“I make sure my gloves are on and wrap up [the item]”). The only constructive criticism I would give my table is this: When given the chance to choose a direction, you gotta tell me which way you want to go. They’ve gotten very used to me having a set game plan, and the offer of something that didn’t involve a railroaded plot stymied them at first.

For the encounters, I pulled a monster out of the core book that I’ve wanted to use for over a year. Based on the sheer number of PCs, I doubled the recommended HD – and then a handful of the PCs declared they were going to try to circumvent the combat altogether, which earned the players dirty looks from the ones involved in the fighting. {Phew, dodged that one.} The combat took over an hour, but the players were still enthusiastic and involved. There were a couple of other one-on-one encounters that others could jump in on, and I’d been on the fence about the third big group of monsters. At the very last minute, I turned them into captives that needed rescued, and it was amazing to watch the expressions around the table – I surprised everyone with that decision, including myself, and it made for some great role-play and solidified the group’s mission for the next game. Interestingly, their new focus takes them completely away from one of the adventures I’d prepped. So be it.

However, there are still a number of choices they could make during the course of the next session, so I will be prepping at least two directions/paths, as I loathe the idea of being caught flat-footed. I’ll improv as multiple NPCs for as long as it takes, but I’m simply not comfortable with the idea of coming up with encounters & stats on the fly. I don’t know if I’ll ever be comfortable with scrawling “maps” either, but the group has been very patient and forgiving.

The Acolyte is taking baby-steps…be gentle.

{…2014 Worlds Tour/Road Crew session #14 report to follow.}

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Debut of a Boon

The Carnifex was released a while back. After the party fought on her behalf, she handed out a couple of small favors. Wilber received a small doll. Using Prayers of the Forgotten as inspiration, I made it an official relic. The boon was used for the first time in today's adventure, and the "heartfelt declaration of devotion" was nothing less than I'd expected to come from the insane halfling who thinks he's married to her now.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Back in session!

The opening of another FLGS in our area has spurred me into action. I've been all kinds of productive for my Road Crew game, which reconvened last Sunday:

  • tallied treasure & XP totals for the regular/returning PCs
  • assembled the campaign's modules & notes into one cohesive binder for reference at the table
  • created magic swords to reflect daggers that were commissioned for production...and a couple others to have on deck
  • crafted info cards/sheets for complex magic items in play
  • statted an artifact the Carnifex gave out at the end of the last game (see here for Muse info)
  • statted a dragon
  • started notes for the next game**

If you haven't already done so, I highly recommend you create a magic sword using the advanced magic rules in the Judge's section of The Tome. I found it to be both eductional and inspiring. (For more advanced magic tidbits, check out Episode #30 of Spellburn! ...Don't tell me you didn't see that coming.)

And no, I'm not burying the lead here. They haven't come across a dragon (yet), but the assembly is a bit time-consuming and it's not something I can just pull together while they wait. That, too, was educational...and a bit scary.

**Possibly the most frightening part of all: I'm considering stepping outside of a module for our next session. That's right:


...It's terrifyingly exciting.

The 13th Skull ~ 09.28.14

Finally getting the band back together after a three-month hiatus... My 13th game on the 2014 Worlds Tour Road Crew, and I couldn’t tell you how many 13’s were rolled/scored today.

Woodrow: Barber/0
Rielle: Halfling Gypsy/0
Oak the Woodcutter: Warrior/1
Toad: Thief/3
Eridan: Wizard/3
Bop Dogwood: Cleric/1
James (“Captain Bloodbeard”): Warrior/4
Krum: Dwarf/1
Bjorn Berber: Dwarf/4

The group has been able to reconvene after being “accidentally” split into two different directions thanks to the drunken Magmar the Lucky. Magmar and Remus (cleric, previously seen in Jewels of the Carnifex) have both had time to heal from the resulting confrontation about being given the wrong map – possibly twice.

No large sums of loot were brought back from either expedition, but there is a bit of buying & selling to be had, and Eridan and Toad are able to pick up the daggers they’d commissioned from the local apothecary and his brother (made of Odontotyrannus teeth and an obscene amount of emerald shards). Terezi (thief) promptly takes the Avenger of Candara from Eridan - the alignment was all wrong for the chaotic wizard. Toad was pleased with the Seer of Coryx, as its driving goal of freeing prisoners hit close to home (himself being a former slave). Wilber (insane halfling) was happy to loan Bop a bit of gold to armor the first new cleric of the Carnifex. (Tied to Her as Wilber believes he is, She would be upset if something happened Her shiny new cleric and he’d not done anything to help prevent it).

True to stereotypes, the dwarves are holding down the bar at the usual pub (creating supply and demand, and all that) while everyone took care of their errands. The noises from the street outside swell, gaining their attention for just a moment before Bjorn and Krum go back to drinking. Those outside see the makeshift scaffolding that’s been erected in the square, and Duke Magnussen watching from his balcony. The peasant awaiting execution has had a burlap sack tied over his head. The axe swings. Instead of dropping into the basket, the head rolls off the scaffold into the crowd, the burlap falling off to reveal the duke’s face! The crowd gasps as one, and the executioner rips off his hood to reveal a skull where his head should be – a brilliant silver skull! Before the duke’s men-at-arms can ready an arrow, the sun is blotted out by a giant flying creature that swoops down and clutches the duke’s daughter with one claw, and grabs the silver skull in the other. In a fit of fury and fear, Duke Magnussen cries that he will grant “a fortune” to whomever returns his daughter safely. The townsfolk erupt into chatter, tidbits of local legend reaching different ears.

The lure of money is all this group needs, and Woodrow skips them ahead of everyone else in line for a private audience with the duke with his position as the royal barber. Confirming very little, the duke does concede to have his men lead the group to the Magnussen family crypt, housed beneath his keep. Woodrow’s desire for job security confirms this will be the party’s immediate concern.

Reaching a very dark hallway, the guards leave them to their own devices. Adventuring gear is brought out and they proceed as if this is all “old hat” to them. Toad “unlocks” the door into the crypt, and doesn’t tell anyone else about the vision he is given (so nobody is aware of the penalty borne by all who enter without being in possession of the Magnussen family crest in some fashion). Woodrow saunters in first, unknowingly sealing his own fate.

The crypt stretches out before them, with 13 coffins along one side and uncovered skeletal remains jumbled into shelves on the opposite wall. Eridan and Bop immediately start out for the furthest coffin, while Toad wastes no time using a prybar on the stone lid of coffin #1. The remains of the body of Duke Magnussen I are held within a rotted royal robe and are intact save for a missing skull. Toad scoops out anything that glints in Oak’s torchlight, failing to hide his actions from the other four watching him. “Just in case this is the body the silver skull came from,” Bjorn leans in and pummels the skeleton into dust so he can’t rise again. About this time, Rielle and James notice some of the shadows within the crypt behaving oddly: It’s normal for there to be multiple shadows for each person, given multiple light sources, but shouldn’t the shadows follow the forms that cause them? The unnatural beings are immediately set upon but don’t seem to be affected by half of the party’s weaponry. Bop attempts to turn them, but fails (for the first of many times today). Meanwhile, Toad sets to the task of uncovering the second coffin (failing time and time again), and it takes him being sapped of a point of Strength to turn his attention to the shadows. Lanterns are trained on them and they flee, and James dispells 3 of the 4 with Mythender., but not before half the part takes stat damage. Eridan and Bop decide to rejoin the group, and they go about systematically searching (and sacking) each coffin. The skulls of the prior 12 dukes are missing, as well as different body parts: a leg here, a spine there, a pelvis missing from that one, and – most disturbing to Bjorn – the upper and lower halves of a rib cage have been removed, from separate coffins. Rielle predicts the results early on, and fairly bounces with glee when the 13th coffin proves not only to be empty, but to contain a hidden set of steps into a passage below. She and Oak lead the way…

Toad hangs back to investigate the large stone door at this far end of the crypt. He can’t discern a trap, so he pushes – and just barely makes his Reflex save to avoid being crushed by the granite slab that falls onto the threshold from overhead. He sees a pair of crossed halberds in front of another large stone door, with shields on either side. He’s unable to find evidence of another trap; perplexed by this, he moves to catch up with the rest of the party.

The narrow stairs wind down into an immense cavern, where an underground river rushes out of the cliff face to the north. There is a massive pillar in the middle of this river, leaning precariously, but their first concern is the circular arrangement of skulls with a full set of mismatched remains in the center. Of the 13 concave places for skulls, only 12 are filled, the silver skull nowhere to be seen. Bjorn warns the party away, enters the circle, and slams Thunderblade against the ground. All but 3 skulls are turned into piles of dust.

Rielle and Oak explore closer to the exiting waterfall, trying to get a better view of the cavern wall on the other side of the river. A doorway of sorts on the other side sets them to finding a way across the river. Oak figures it’s about five feet deep, give or take, and he and Bjorn devise a method of tying an iron spike to the end of a rope and looping it around the giant pillar in the middle, then tying another rope to the first person to cross (only 5-6 feet of the pass would be unassisted). The current is strong, but Rielle hops up on top of the secured line, walking it like a tightrope, and leaps across to the other side with downright flair (nat 20). The dwarves have a bit of a rough time – with the water being over their heads – but their reflexes and James’s prowess got them all the way over.

Once on the other side, James starts investigating this point in the river before the pillar, where a five-foot-wide “hole” seems to defy the gravity of the water. A little yellow steam emits from it, and he looses an arrow into the hole, prompting the expulsion of three worm-slug-like things with hands for feet, heading right for them. Bjorn’s battle cry of, “I’ve never killed one of these before!” precedes one’s death. James deals with another swiftly. Oak and Woodrow do their best, but their weapons seem oddly ineffectual – then Eridan, of all people, rushes in with his wizard staff and cleans up the mess, earning a whole new respect from the dwarves.

The pile of corpses nearby is poked at, but the smell makes Eridan recoil and the group turns as one toward the entrance to a shiny room, walls being made from hammered brass. Inside stands a pedestal with a book made of metal plates, seemingly guarded by two statues of armored men. Eridan discerns that this is a Book of Planes. The image currently displayed shows the room they are standing in. Much deliberation and arguing ensues, and Bjorn finally reaches over and flips forward in the book by two heavy pages. Suddenly they find themselves standing on a sandy beach. The book, pedestal, and one guard remain with them – but the guard now seems to be made of solid water. The nightmarish creatures shown on the page do not have time to materialize, before Rielle decisively turns back one of the plates.

The hellish scene takes them by surprise, and none have time to react before the spindly coal-made demon shoots out a shower of barbs – killing the girl tied helpless inside the pentagram. Rielle, ever the lucky one, dodges…but Woodrow was not so lucky. Toad rushes for the bound girl, as she is clearly worth more money than his fallen comrade. Eridan uses the Wand of Force to create a shield for him. James activates the flaming blade on Mythender (burning 3pts of Luck) and wallops the demon. Bjorn jumps in to try for another creature he hasn’t killed yet, aiming to disarm the wicked-looking athame (burning 2pts of Luck). Everything happens so fast; before they can draw a breath of relief, everyone starts feeling the oppressive and sweltering atmosphere and takes damage from heat exhaustion.

James sweeps up the dropped dagger, Toad scoops up the duke’s daughter, and they waste no time in turning the Book of Planes back to the hammered bronze room’s page. Realizing this mission is worth nothing unless the girl is alive, Bop appeals to his goddess, the Carnifex, pleading that this is not the death she deserves, and rolls a Nat 20 for Divine Aid. (This brings his disapproval range to 13.) Allendre sputters and comes to, weakly, and James offers her one of his last healing potions. She is (blissfully) oblivious to anything that has transpired, and knows nothing of the silver skull or family curse. The group guides her protectively back across the river, using the previously-rigged rope, and up the secret stairway and through the crypt – “Oh no! My lady, someone must’ve robbed your family’s remains!” – and back to the guards standing by the connecting tunnel to the keep.

Once again in the duke’s audience, a brief account is given. Duke Magnussen is told of the hole [pit] in the river below, and even of the shiny room. He is also apprised, somewhat tangentally, of the Carnifex’s return to the people of Great Bell. As Bop’s luck would have it (Nat 1) the duke recalls the legends of yore, and he is willing to assist in reinstating Her name and position among the people. Excavation shall begin on the collapsed ruins immediately.

Now, the duke is ever so grateful for the return of his daughter, but he expresses concern about the silver skull. Learning that it has not been destroyed does not make for a happy duke, and he declares the mission as yet incomplete – for how can Allendre be safe with that thing still out there? He agrees to put them up for the night but orders that all exterior walls are off-limits to everyone, especially his little girl, in case that flying thing comes back. The evening is uneventful…a welcome change for everyone, since there was a bit of RL drama at the FLGS right about then.

…Once more into the breach – but this time with a level-1 halfling!

Everything looks pretty much undisturbed since yesterday’s visit, if a mess from their own deeds. They beeline for the chamber beyond the granite slab trap that Toad discovered, and stare indecisively at the crossed halberds guarding the next door. Finally, Oak reaches for the handle on the door, and as expected, the halberds jump to life. Unexpectedly, the shields leap from their mounts on either side and act to block the party’s attacks. Eridan casts flaming hands and damages one of the halberds – and immediately takes nearly the same damage from its retaliatory swing. Oak and Bjorn converge on that animated weapon. Rielle decides she’s squishy, and hides behind a stone chair behind the action, cheering everyone on. Bop, Krum, and James leap into the fray, dispatching one of the animated weapons. In response, the other halberd leaps at him with a blow hard enough to knock out five of his teeth. Oak roars and swings hard enough to turn the remaining halberd’s handle into sawdust (crit answered with crit).

As the silence settles, Bjorn sets to examining the huge stone door, and realizes it’s been mortared shut. He channels his dead brother, Borg (the blacksmith), and chips away at the edges until a good kick can nudge it open. Good thing he didn’t push, or put his back into it, for there is a fifteen-foot gap between the mourner’s chamber and the top of a round pillar…it seems to be listing a bit to one side, much like the one they ignored in the cavern yesterday…and yep, all the way down there is that river they just dealt with. Most importantly, there’s the silver skull. It sits motionless in the center of a white circle. A couple flickers of light emit from its sockets, but this is nothing like the lights that Wilber’s best skull, Vinnie, gives off. The idea of knocking the skull off the pillar and into the river (or the pit) doesn’t even occur to the party. Instead, James grabs the trusty rope and ties it to a crossbow bolt. He nails the shot, impaling the skull, and is lucky enough to not disturb the white circle surrounding it. As the strong menfolk pull to retrieve the skull, it flickers twice more, and Bop, Oak, and Bjorn are caught in a chain of lightning for a whole new sort of pain. (James manages to dodge, with the aid of Rielle’s good luck.) Bop is lucky enough to send a “hop” through the rope to the skull to get it over the white line without breaking the circle, and they haul it to their feet. In a mighty sundering action, James smashes the skull for far more damage than it can handle, and they gingerly pick up the few remaining identifiable pieces so they can bring the proof to Duke Magnussen.

Negotiations don’t go so well after the fact. They managed to cajole a proper burial for Woodrow, but a “fortune,” to the duke’s mind, was what a normal bearer of each profession can retire on. Luckily, the duke doesn’t do his own shopping, so he isn’t likely to notice his family’s heirloom gems recirculating on the market…

The 13th Skull - Joseph Goodman / Goodman Games

Post-adventure math: Rielle: +15 XP, +1 Luck
Bjorn: +16XP
Eridan: +15 XP
Toad: +16 XP, +1 Luck
James: +15 XP, +1 Luck
Bop Dogwood: +20 XP
Oak: +15 XP
Krum: +15 XP

PARTY LOOT:  75 GP/ea from crypt jewels + coinage as per starting treasure

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Red Pen has been whetted...for now

I suffer from a condition called perfectionism. You may have heard of it, particularly if you are one of my kindred souls who cringe when you come across a typo while reading. It's even more infuriating if that error could've been easily addressed by someone merely reading the material before it's published, vs. scanning for errors -- or worse, relying on certain word processing software to find spelling errors when it's a case of to/too/two or the like.

I also suffer from pride...that is, as a member of this fine gaming community, I am inherently proud of every DCC RPG-related product that hits the shelf. This makes the first condition all the more pronounced. {Caveat: This is just the way my brain is wired.} When asked, I am more than happy to give something a once-over before it hits the printer. In these cases, the Red Pen of Doom is being used for good instead of evil! And, hey, what better time to jump into some proofreading/editing, than when my game is on hiatus?

The first project I was honored to be a part of in this "official" capacity was "Prayers of the Forgotten," the second release from Stormlord Publishing (Carl Bussler, helmsman). Many of you will recognize Mr. Bussler as the one who recently put out the zine/digest-sized funnel, "Well of Souls".

This puppy is available in digest-size print and PDF. No fancy edges on this one, but don't mistake the lack of frill for a lack of content. You'll find everything you need for creating Boons and Relics, as well as three ready-to-play encounters. I must say, the timing on this one could not have been more perfect. I'd been dreading fleshing out the aftermath of my players released the Carnifex and returning her to power, and this little sourcebook was exactly what my Muse needed to take off.

Just a week later, I took up the next project: "Stronghold of the Wood Giant Shaman," the third DCC RPG-compatible publication from Thick Skull Adventures (spearheaded by Stephen Newton). If you're expecting a follow-up to "Attack of the Frawgs!" or "The Haunting of Larvik Island," you have to sit tight: This ain't it. But it is a fantastic homage to a particular module of yore. It is obvious that a lot of thought and effort went into composing it in a manner that is both respectful to the original source of inspriration and evocative of the flavor that makes DCC so special. It clocks in at nearly 30 pages, and the maps were done by my podcast brother, +Jeffrey Tadlock. With all this in addition to appendices detailing new magic, new monsters, and even an entirely new Crit Table, what's not to like? I can't wait to run this...without warning, of course.

Side note: I think we should all bug Stephen to get more of these cool shirts made! I could probably get away with this logo 7 days a week. =)

I totally blame +Dak Ultimak for giving me the editing bug. I'm loving it. Can't wait to tackle the next projects from both of these fine gentlemen!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sezrekan says: Suck it up, princess.

This summer has been quite the funnel.

Harbingers of doom and elation:
-Interstate DCC RPG Road Crew. / +2 hirelings
-FLGS closed. / -4 turnip farmers / +14 sad faces
-OMG GEN CON!!!11!!! / +1 billionty faces put to names / +18 friends / -4 bards / -1 voice
-Commit to playtesting without having a group in play. / +2 Chutzpah
-New FLGS, roughly the same distance from home. / +1 Luck
-Next DCC game is officially scheduled...nearly 4 months after the last game. / -3 Confidence

Okay, so I haven't posted since the first two items. Which is silly, when I think about it, since it is still easier at this point to type than to talk! (Evidence: Spellburn episode 28.) It's been nearly 2 weeks since we left Indianapolis, where we were singing, talking, yelling, hawking, and gaming - in that order - for 5 days straight (and, on my end, forgetting to eat for two of those days). I still feel rough around the edges. Con lag?

Gen Con reviews have been done. I'll let them lie as is, particularly with the latest Spellburn episode already hitting the web {because +Jim Wampler is amazing}. The best blog recap I've seen is this piece from +Edgar Johnson.

That said, there are a few tidbits I didn't prattle on about with the Judges J earlier...

Rather than prowling for gaming and chance interactions, this year it seemed that I was on the periphery of everyone else's awesome experiences. I was fortunate enough to witness some of the happiest (and even most personal) moments of some people's con. I found myself content to stand back and watch other people having a great time - not because I was spent (although the lack of food may have had some effect, in retrospect) - but because I needed to witness the glory that was 30-40 DCC RPG fans crammed together and interconnected in play while spread across 5 tables, whether they realized it at the time or not. I was in the right place at the right time to assist with the 3PP sales, thus being thrown into the instant camaraderie within the Goodman Games booth.

Truth be told, losing our FLGS and a dear friend (whom we'd expected to see at Gen Con) within the same week ripped the rug out from under me so badly... I needed to get my breath back, find my legs again, regain some steam and rejuvenate my enthusiasm level. Immersing myself within the DCC community - and being so heartily embraced by it in return - really did my soul good. And it's YOU that I have to thank for that.

(Stop looking around. You know I mean you. Whether you took time out to ask how I was doing, offered me food or coffee, or it took you a minute to realize I was "that Jen", you were exactly what I needed, and I hope your con experience was just as great.)

Side note: Holy crap, that first autograph request was humbling. "You mean you've never signed a CD?" came the response. Of course. But there's still a level of anonymity there. The listener takes home a disc and hears me (and others) do the same thing over and over. They may be able to pick my voice out of the group, but they don't progressively get to know me by way of a semimonthly recorded conversation where I don't get a second take if I flub a line. There's a weird level of intimacy, somehow. It's both thrilling and terrifying.

Cover (Kovacs, of course) for an upcoming release.
My players may recognize parts from one of last year's playtests...

Now, on to current events...
A new friendly semi-local gaming store (still ~90 mi r/t) opened in Fort Myers, exactly 2 months to the day of 2D10's closing. Their major selling points are two private rooms, 400 and 500 sq ft each, and owners who are excited about us running open tables. We're going to start with the hubby's 1st Ed. D&D game for a couple of weekends so we can get used to the space, and I can try to catch up with everything [including real life crap] that's waiting on me. I pray to Sezrekan that I'm able to swing it with only minor corruption.

"The Chronicles of the Carnifex," as I've come to think of them, shall resume on September 28th.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Get your DCC RPG on at Gen Con!

Chances are, if you've been playing DCC for any amount of time, you have some (if not all) of the 3PP out there. But do your friends? Bring 'em over to Goodman Games, booth #525, and get them stocked up on all the crack! Party members can't make it to the con? There's still time to take their orders & money! If you're new to the game or to the community, it'll be your perfect chance to get your paws on these...

Crawl! - the staple for any judge, featuring the brand-spanking-new Issue #10

Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad - turning DCC up to 11, Issue #2 will be out just in time for the madness [of Doug Kon]

Crawljammer - part DCC + part Spelljammer = all awesome

Crawling Under a Broken Moon - entertaining Thundarr-inspired seeds for taking DCC off the beaten path

Well of Souls [not pictured] - newly-published level 0 adventure, already a must-have

We also have a limited number of Tales from the Fallen Empire, if you're one of those people (like me) who hasn't gotten around to ordering it: full setting book {and screen} for post-apocalyptic play in ancient realms. Available in hard cover and trade paperback.

Don't forget the ongoing DCC RPG events: 

The Seven Pits of Sezrekan, the first DCC RPG funnel tournament. (I'm posting the image because I'm hopelessly smitten with this work...oh, and it may help you with your scheduling.) The only tickets required are generics, so it's perfect for those of us who weren't able to get into any of the on-book games. I know I'll be trying to jump in whenever I can sneak off-stage and out of the Goodman and/or Marooned booths...

Wednesday through Saturday evenings, join us in the Embassy Suites lobby for after-hours shenanigans, fondly referred to as Doug Kon. This year, bring your favorite PC from another game (especially the Sezrekan funnel) and try to Escape from Catastrophe Island.

Friday evening at 8:00PM, we'll all be gathering at the Crowne Plaza for the "What's New with Goodman Games" seminar. It promises to be just as entertaining as the Gary Con precursor. (Doug Kon will commence afterward that night.)

I look forward to seeing everyone! **

**Teeny-tiny personal caveat: Thurs/Fri/Sat, I will be in costume from open to close. Do not judge. I AM NOT COSPLAYING. This is my uniform. It's why I'm here in the first place, guys. Gen Con has asked us to be here because we're not plastic, off-the-rack pirates. =)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Vindication via Vance

Apparently, I'm a heathen for not being 100% enthused about this little read the first time I picked it up.

I am happy to report that I have since learned a few very important personal lessons:

(a) Don't try to hit up new-to-me authors of Appendix N - especially when going at it from a research point - at 3:00AM, particularly when expected to be functioning in another 5 hours. Hey, knowing my own limits is good.

(b) Do try to allot a time & location for perusal of such material that will allow uninterrupted reading. Seriously -- I got a maximum of 3 pages in before each new interruption every time I picked the thing up. (And it's an older book that hadn't been particularly loved or cared for; bits of pages flaked off at each touch. I was afraid it was going to disintegrate before I could finish it.) Toward the end of the story, I did growl more than once at those who would bug me, demanding to be left alone.

(c) Don't bother writing about it until it's finished. I daresay my "Brothers J" were tempted to disown me -- Judge Jim in particular.

So... Now that it's been fully digested...


It's not just the genre, but the style of writing.

My primary exposure to Appendix N in the past has been Lovecraftian. His works are more...ethereal, intangible. And gawdawfully wordy. (Caveat: Does not mean I don't enjoy it, but man, I gotta be in the mood to jump in there.) Once this one got rolling, I can see how a periodical re-read may be in order (if this copy survives being handled that much). The dark despair was present, but as more of an undertone than an overriding arc. I think my favorite part about Vance's writing is that not every new concept has to be explained immediately upon introduction. Syrup sacs, for instance, were mentioned half a dozen times before their function was described. Rather than frustrating, I found the earlier mentions leading to something I wanted to discover at the rate it was unfolding. And y'know, I'm intrigued to see if each of his pieces are created in a similar fashion.

I can also see the interest in studying his works and learning from them, as a new entry into the field. (Autobiography, anyone?)

No real time for away-from-desk time between here & Indy, so I'll hit some Vance on audio while I work next week. Hoping to soak in as much as possible, priming my brain for the craziness that is sure to explode at Gen Con (and "Doug Kon", the unofficial after-hours gaming that's becoming eerily official).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Eine kleine Nachtlese

Taking some forced time off from DCC this month. Due to the demise of three FLGSs in our area in June, I'm using July's hiatus to kick out as much work as possible while preparing for another long road trip around Gen Con...but I started getting twitchy when I realized it's been over a month since I've gotten to sit down and fully digest a good module as part of my Judge prep. So I made time last night to catch up on some of the smaller reads in the stack -- because we all know I'm gonna have to give a progress report on the next Spellburn recording!

First up: Crawling Under a Broken Moon, issue 1. Pretty cool stuff! I appreciate the post-apocalyptic feel vs. an out-and-out spacey theme. I'm grooving on some of the concepts, particularly the class offering. (It also reminded me that I really really *really* wanna get my paws on Mutant Crawl Classics, as the two would blend nicely.) 

Next: My first Vance. Should be commemorated, no?

An Ace Double book! You know you're
done with first one when you reach
the pages with upside-down print.
The first 3 pages could've been a short story unto itself. Wonderfully evocative, and I love delving into the "old language" that's since devolved into, "Like, y'know" and related tripe in today's mainstream fiction. I'll admit my reading speed suffered as I went into research/study mode, analyzing each turn of phrase, and sometimes having to re-read a segment because of a creative use (or lack) of commas. But the flavor kept me there.

The next couple of subchapters turned it from a self-contained landscape into a full story line. Even the Meks' creation, history, and current motivation were fully (and satisfactorily) explained within one page of third-person revelation. I actually wanted to read more about the precursors to an event. Brilliant. Taking notes. 

Then I got to chapter 3, which made me wonder if I was still in the same book. (Yep! I checked. I could tell because the text was still right-side-up in this little Double Book from Ace.) The chart on p.8 of tribes and families and the key at the bottom explaining how things will be abbreviated throughout the story from here on out...for a 40-page story...  Um. Suffice it to say that 3:00AM may not have been the prime time to try to jump this hurdle. For all of Mr. Vance's skillful painting with words, it feels like this piece started to take itself too seriously -- or, again, it could've just been my sleep-deprived brain -- but stuff like this is the primary reason I had a hard time getting into sci-fi/fantasy as a teen (I went the horror route instead). I glared at the cover's proud proclamation of its Nebula Award, started flashing back to terrible experiences of falling for award-winning books in the school library, and decided it might just be a good time to call it a night.

I'll try this gem again this evening. When done, I've got a stack of Curtis, Lee, Leiber, Moorcock, Norton, and Stroh waiting on me (listed solely in alphabetic order). I daresay the little yellow spines are in good company.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

{interim posting for appearances' sake}

Sadly, when one is self-employed and loves to over-prepare for running a game, there isn't much "free time" left over for blogging. While people may desire more frequent updates here (or ~gasp~ a full catching-up on sessions to date), they're far more loquacious about their demands for more Spellburn episodes. And, truth be told, it takes far longer to recap a 6-hour game session with the level of detail I like to include than it does to herd all the cats into one internet space for a couple hours of recording.

Also prepping for some travel. Our group is performing this coming weekend, June 21-22, in the Peoria, Illinois area, and we're driving up from Florida to meet our bandmates flying in from Vegas. I was so bummed about the crossover in dates (this conflicts with both my regularly-scheduled DCC RPG game and Free RPG Day, dagnabbit) but the crew's indulging me in finding a public spot to run something Saturday evening after all the contractual obligations are met. It'll count as a session, so I'll get to do a write-up on that one, too! {The Tower out of Time should make an entertaining funnel...}

So... In the meantime, go enjoy Spellburn! I'm trying to be a little more sparse on the spoilers when discussing my game with "The Judges J" so there will still be shenanigans to read about over here, when I finish the umpteen drafts. If you've already been through the last year's episodes, I recommend another listen to the spellburn duel with guests Harley Stroh & Michael Curtis. I always pick up a nuance I'd forgotten each time I hear that one. =)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Jewels of the Carnifex (part 2) ~ 05.25.14

Two brand-new DCC RPG recruits at today's open table, we ran over 6.5 hrs, and had one of the best surprise endings in DCC history!

Wilber Wifflelinks: Halfling/3
Terezi: Thief/2
James (aka "Captain Bloodbeard"): Warrior/3
Remus (aka "Outlaw Lepus"): Cleric/2
Bardle: Beadle/0
Matilda: Hunter/0
Honey Dew: Dwarven Blacksmith/0
Bop Dogwood: Potato Farmer/0
Maladian the Red ("Red for short"): Wizard/1

Back in the city of Great Bell, Red find a couple of people who'd been curious about leaving their mundane lives in search of adventure and glory and ... oh, who are we kidding? He scruffs a handful of unsuspecting local schmoes who happen to be sitting nearby in the tavern as he drags the details of the latest "map quest" out of Magmar the Lucky, and Red & Co. hurry off after his friends. Descending below the city, following the directions to a tee, they find the open door to the undertemple...on the other side of a chasm and busted sewer function. Hardly stopping to blink, Red jumps across the fifteen-foot gap of doom and through the icy current of the city's offal, leaving the new kids to catch up or die trying. [No fatalities. Yet.] Seeing the bloated mess of what was once an arachnid at the threshold, they continue in, and can faintly hear voices ahead. They press on and descend into a dark, pillared antechamber. The voices are louder now, coming from an area shrouded by a pale green mist, but they sound familiar -- but the frog-like...man...thing rushing toward them with giant, mad eyes and multiple tongues flailing behind it as it gallops wildly away from the mist -- that ain't at all familiar, and all 5 newcomers press themselves into the shadows, against the walls, hoping to avoid detection. It races past without a glance, and Red peers out to announce himself and the newcomers. Introductions and threats about Magmar's future well-being are made.

Catching up on the situation, the group weighs their current options: Door #1, wooden, carving of emaciated child begging for food; and Door #2, hammered bronze, image of arrow-pocked warrior on his knees bleeding from multiple wounds. Door #1 is clearly less foreboding, and James moves to open it. The handle dissolves in his grasp as the door rots away before his eyes, and he is greeted by the sight of a transparent starving urchin, holding his empty bowl mournfully. Without hesitation, James drops a handful of his rations in the bowl, and the visage fades. Beyond is a small chamber, wherein a tiny skeleton lies half buried in soil and debris. A faint yellow light shines from above, betwixt enormous, half-dead roots that hang from the ceiling. Remus moves in to bless the child's remains while Terezi scampers up to the source of the light. She emerges into a small, narrow hallway that is nearly choked off by heavy vegetation. She sees a door within reach to one side and a clearer area in the other, where the roots seem to die off or have been cleared away. Most disturbing is the sound: A slow, methodic bass note, as if from a large drum. After not being attacked during her moment of deliberation, she calls down to the others and checks for any obvious methods of harm on the door. Remus pulls himself up, remarks that he's not comfortable with brothels (based on the noise) and starts to approach the opposite side, but is stopped in his tracks by a deep-seated feeling of dread. Wilber is next up, and sidles out the door. The drumming gets louder and the remainder of the intrepid group scurries up.

The door is opened into a long underground chamber with two other openings (doors, perhaps?) along the same wall, and there is a long stone stairway leading some twenty-five feet above to the next level. The ground is overrun with black moss and lichen and sickly yellow roots hang from cracks in the walls and ceiling. The cloying smell of rot assaults everyone's senses in time with the drumbeats.

Wilber starts toward the next opening on the far wall, and is surprised by a javelin sticking into his arm. The drumming suddenly stops. James, next out, returns fire up onto the balcony. Beadle tries to sneak out and gets a javelin for his efforts -- but his response is to remove it and throw it back in kind! The drumming resumes, and the party negotiates its way across to the stairs over the next few rounds, dealing a few critical hits to the two visible assailants. Terezi attempts to hide in the shadows as she emerges from the cramped hall, and takes a javelin that nearly knocks her unconscious. Before James ascends the stairway, he sees a worm-like thing on the first step that looks a bit like a slug, roughly five inches in diameter, but it makes no move to stop anyone climbing the stairs. By the time James reaches the upper level, the two guards are felled, but the drummer waits until combat comes to him to cease pounding the instrument. James takes a running start, leaps onto the head of the drum, and comes down on top of the drummer, but only lands a glancing blow. Downstairs, Red fails a spell check and Remus fails to heal Terezi. Bop and Honey Dew, following James up the stairs, rush over and provide additional targets. The party convenes to finish off the third ... person here. They are very uneasy at the creatures that seem to have started out in a basic humanoid shape but are now disfigured or mutated or diseased or...something. The hoods that are tightly sewn shut over their faces really make the new recruits a little green under the gills. Red slams his staff into the critter on the bottom step before coming up, earning disgusted moans from the party for killing the "plague banana slug". Inspecting the drum (human skin, of course - "It's the other white leather") brings more grimaces, especially realizing the mallet had been a human femur wrapped in rat skins. The cache of prepared torches and makeshift javelins are collected for later use. Remus, having tried a couple more times to help his fellow party members and failed miserably [2 deity disapprovals in a row], hides in a corner to pray and recenter himself.

Paying little heed to Remus, the rest of the group deliberates on their next exploration. Should they check the hallway beyond the arch that Wilber saw downstairs? Or the door on the far end, which is chained shut? Or do they attempt to traverse the overgrown jungle that this level has become? It is eerily quiet now, but the fact that there are torches - albeit guttering and smoking - set into the roots and mounds of moss in the area not ten feet away lure them in.

The barrage of incoming javelins strikes almost as soon as they commit. Firing into the mess of hanging roots is far too ineffectual, so James charges in to close with one of the concealed attackers. Unfortunately, few realize the impediments involved, and everyone else stays back to either use their ranged weapons [Wilber, Terezi, Red], cower on the stairs behind [the new guys], or keep praying in the corner [Remus], leaving the opponents free to continue tossing pointy hurty sticks. Red spellburns to try his spell again, and summons a dire wolf to his defense. Bardle finally tires of hiding and attempts to tie a torch to one of the javelins, hurling fire through the dense vegetation, though way off the mark. Terezi quickly realizes the incoming fire is more efficient than hers, and she ducks back. Matilda moves up to nag Bardle (it was more effective than her shot) and becomes the first recipient of a critically-thrown javelin that pins her arm to her chest for nearly five times the amount of damage she could withstand. Bop stood up to help throw stuff and suffered a near-death experience [re: Judge recalculation/retcon]. A few victories are had by the party, but the battle seems interminable.

When the dire wolf drags down their fourth kill, the light gets brighter about twenty feet ahead of James, and a powerful, disembodied voice comes from that direction: "Hold." James holds his swing, and three figures move out from their positions of cover to stand stock-still. "Would you be interested in a parlay? Clearly we are on the same side, if you have come to destroy what remains of the evil cult of the Carnifex." He says the last word with an audible sneer, and seems to be directing his inquiry to James. There's a bit of a kerfuffle among the rest of the party as they pipe up with question after question (this even brings Remus out of his reverie) yet none are addressed. A brief conversation is had between the perceived party leader and the prideful voice who reveals himself to be Azazel, Scion of the Light. Highlight reel: "The Carnifex has been imprisoned, but we require your assistance to destroy the Jewels of the Carnifex and make it permanent; individuals less holy than myself or my Swords are the only ones who can touch them; you're welcome to the remainder of the treasure hoard so long as you destroy the Jewels." In true obtuse NPC fashion, vague answers are given to more detailed questions. In answer to the request for healing: "Do you not think I would have my beautiful Pious restored, could I do so?"

As there only seems to be one option, the group agrees to the request, and they slowly emerge from the overgrowth into a large area cleared out to make space for nearly two score pallets around a fire pit. At the far end of the room is a towering (fourteen feet tall) idol composed of woven roots and reeds and stuffed with black moss and lichen. When the last of the group trails in, a squadron of ... people ... resembling the ones fought earlier comes seemingly from out of nowhere to follow them in, thereby closing the ranks. Two of the Pious shuffle to an exit in the west wall and gesture to the stone steps below. With no small feeling of foreboding, the group files in, descending into a natural grotto. The uneven rocky chamber and its pools of moisture are carefully bisected by a line of dozens of candles set along the floor, each spitting and sparking unnaturally. The true item of focus, however, is a five-foot-tall statue made of jade ("Not emerald!") in the form of a bizarre, monstrous worm. Unbelievably large rubies are set into its two claws and weird beak. Remus finds it difficult to approach the statue, and skirts around to a natural alcove. No instructions are necessary for the rest: Wilber swings his cast iron frying pan at the base of one of the gems to dislodge it from a claw. Wilber is seriously put off by the fact that Vinnie still hasn't glowed, even when they were surrounded, but Vinnie briefly flashes when Wilber prepares to smash one of the jewels with his frying pan. He finally breaks out a ring found earlier this year, and uses it to cast Speak with Dead to see if this is a good idea. Sadly, he gets no response - at least that anyone else can tell. The dire wolf has no problem wresting the ruby from the other claw. Red takes the jewel back up to the temple -- causing Red and every ... person ... to shy away from him -- and asks how they need to be destroyed. He gets the haughty and noncommittal answer, "You can probably figure that out." Terezi makes a great shot with her shortbow, knocking the jewel out of the creepy mouth, but the stone beak lashes forward and snaps shut, cleanly severing the arrow in half. Knowing that could've been her hand, Terezi goes quiet.

In hopes of guidance of some sort, Red invokes his Patron [netting a +5 to his next spell check but nothing further]. Remus casts Second Sight, invoking Aristemis, demigoddess of strategy, knowledge, and diplomacy. Based on the amount of praying and repenting Remus had put in recently [and the spell check result], he gets a little more than a yes or no answer to his carefully-phrased, "What happens if we break the jewels?" The response is disjointed, but essentially, "Your power will be diminished; your death will come sooner rather than later." Predictably, reporting this to the party only results in more tail-chasing.

Grumbling about the collective misdirection, the rudeness of "Sparky" upstairs, and the observation that they are outnumbered and possibly underpowered vs. twenty-plus minions, they decided to explore further into the grotto. Accidentally knocking over one of the candles as he crosses the line, the dwarf notices that the candle, its wax shot through with flecks of gold, has a faint green glow to it. He immediately relights it from one of the others and carefully puts it back in place. (Nobody wants to disrupt whatever's being warded -- in or out -- until they have a better idea of what's going on here.) The worn steps continue downward and open into another natural grotto, but a massive boulder blocks the way. Inscribed on the boulder are a series of runes, and there is a thick layer of wax around the stone's edge. At its base is a pool of inky water, in which rest three skeletons. The dead here are kept with their ruined armor and holy symbols as were the ones found in the undertemple; these starburst symbols are quickly recognized as the ensign of primal life and light. Red easily translates the runes for everyone, and anyone who could do basic math could tell there were four names listed as sacrifices, but only three bodies rested here. The last name was Azazel's.

The party knows there's something wrong at this point but they're uncertain of which direction they should face or avoid. All are suffering from low health and low inspiration. Finally, Wilber calls out that they were tired and hurt and would destroy the jewels tomorrow, after they get some rest, and they tuck themselves into the alcoves of the grotto. *1*

Day 2: Nobody disturbed the night watches. Too easy. Wilber's ring, which can only be used once per day, is now available again. He skips down to the lower grotto and activates the ring, targeting the spell on the poor bloke in the middle [and burning 7 pts of Luck to add 14 to the success]. "Hi! You're dead! Wake up! We need to talk!" *2* Through the course of what is, to everyone else, a one-sided conversation, it is unclear if Wilber's actually conversing with someone or just bat-shit insane. (Jury's still out.) But after a few exchanges, the remains of Bauherm slowly rise to a sitting position in the pool, and the skull pointedly turns toward the bones to either side of him. It peers at the skull on top of Wilber's helm, tilts confusedly at the halfling's enthusiastic response, and remains still for some time. (Bauherm, once a brother in arms and peer of Azazel's, was awakened from the sleep of the dead to find that he was duped into being sacrificed for the "greater good". He sees little reason to aid the fanatical godling, and prods the intruders into doing that which Azazel fears.)

Trying to ignore Wilber's continuous prattle, Terezi examines the boulder and the wax seal, and discovers there is a complex trap that could seriously screw up her day unless the huge sections of wax - which appears to be of the same type as that forming the candles on the floor in the upper grotto - are carefully heated and removed in the order in which they were originally set. Red and Remus assist Terezi in figuring out the order, and as soon as Wilber communicates that it's a good idea, begins the process. Wilber contentedly sits on the edge of the pool and slings an arm around the long-dead shoulders of his new buddy and introduces him to Remus, sharing the details he's gotten. Once the wax is fully stripped, Bauherm is carefully laid back to rest and the four PCs put their all into moving the boulder out of the rut it's been in for at least a century. James is called from his lookout post in the upper grotto to join them below...

...and James catches sight of a barrel being pushed down the stairs from the chapel. He leaps to the safety of an alcove and the wood shatters when it hits the jade statue. Seeing that it's suddenly a lot...wetter in the grotto than just a moment ago, he calls out a warning to the new guys to regroup below, and flees the area himself as a cask with a piece of burning cloth sticking out of it is hurled into the grotto. Oil ignites, aided by the giant molotov and the mystical, gold-flecked candles, and the area explodes as the four heroes dive down the rough, rocky stairwell to join their compatriots -- just out of range.

The behemoth stone finally gives, revealing a sooty grotto beyond, and Terezi catches just a glimpse of a swishing serpentine tail in the gloom -- but a moment later, a woman emerges in a hooded cloak. Her pale, flawless face approaches each of the four present, thanking them individually for rescuing her. Her voice is low, soft but with a hint of power, her words kind and sure. The effect is one of beguile...especially to Wilber. (His former wife - Fiance? - I thought she was just his girlfriend? - No, now Ivrian's considered his wife - But she died, you know, so now he's a widower - Pay no attention to the fact that he was the one who threw her head into the ravine...) The Carnifex's movements are sharp, jabbing and jerky, at odds with her words. She graces each of them with an icy cold kiss. Remus is hit with a strong aversion and recoils, murmuring a prayer for strength. Wilber holds up a plain ring to his future ex-wife.

James, Bop, Honey Dew, and Bardle hear rustling overhead as they book it down the steps, and they are buzzed by a large black raven...which flies into the lower grotto and settles onto the shoulder of its queen. The Carnifex approaches her other four saviors in kind, saying little other than expressing gratitude and quickly kissing each of them. From the sounds above, it is clear that they are going to have to fight their way out, and the group looks to the woman, expecting her to lead the way and blast the mutated fighters into oblivion. Instead, she asks gently if they would grant her one last boon. Wilber cries, "Yes!" and Terezi has to physically restrain him from launching himself at the Carnifex. The woman bends to meet the halfling's gaze and growls, "Cut a bloody swath through my foes." Wilber nods emphatically, and Bop has a 'light bulb' moment...resulting in Terezi handing over the silver chain with the three-headed raven. *3*

Judge Notes: 
*1* Azazel sees no harm in giving them a false sense of security. Let 'em feel refreshed when they die.
*2* Yes, that's how Wilber greets him. I kid you not. If this dude had a lower lip, it would've trembled. That's a horrible way to wake up someone who's dead!
*3* When we next convene, the charge up to the chapel will be led by the first cleric of the Carnifex known to exist for centuries -- and it's one of the new players! I am stupidly excited about this.

Jewels of the Carnifex - Harley Stroh / Goodman Games

Post-adventure math:
Wilber: +12 XP, +1 Luck
James: +12XP
Terezi: +12 XP
Remus: +12 XP, +1 Luck
Beadle: +10 XP, +1 Luck
Bop Dogwood: +10 XP
Honey Dew: +10 XP
Maladian the Red: +12 XP

PARTY LOOT:  18 makeshift javelins / 3 giant rubies / 1 pissed-off demigoddess