Our session started late this week, but the PCs seemed to make some headway in finding their way back to Greenwax.
Exploring the secret passage branching off from the vegetation-covered hallway:
- In an adjacent passage they found two corpses who apparently killed each other in a shootout: an android and a human wearing a brown leather jacket and broad-brimmed hat. A quick search of the android’s body yielded a boxlike weapon that fired small silver bolts, extra bolts and a yellow-striped security access card. The human had a revolver in his hand and an old rotted whip on his belt. Benji was attacked by a rot grub during the search; after its messy removal from his arm (and its subsequent bandaging), the corpse’s satchel turned up extra bullets for the gun and a small golden idol.
- The spiral staircase ascended over 100′ and terminated at a small landing and a sealed door. Adjacent to the door was a card slot with a red horizontal stripe above it. Access denied…
Returning to the main hallway, the PCs used their security card to access the quad-brain think machine. After some experimentation, they managed to retrieve the petroglyph sequence that would enable them to return to Satur/Greenwax via the gateway platform. As they stood weighing their options — to continue exploring the Ziggurat in search of finding Ghaelus and “great weapons” to aid Dirjin’s people against the Illithids, or return to Greenwax before the Svirfneblin’s protective enchantment wears off any further — they were interrupted by the sound of booted feet. Coming up the stairs towards them (from the direction of the gateway platform) was a war party that, so far as the PCs could determine, was composed of melee-weapon-wielding clones of Aseret and Mixit, the two fighters who had fingers pricked by the Ziggurat’s double doors… How many clones are there? Are there other creatures with them?
Looking forward to playing out this encounter next week!
I haven’t had enough free time lately to do full actual play writeups, but here are some highlights from the last couple sessions:
- A room containing a pool of bubbling, viscous, lavender liquid. Suspended on a pulley system above the pool is an empty rectangular metal cage. Lining the walls of the room are waist-high tables, some of which are marked with old rusty reddish-brown stains that may have been blood.
- Several impassable doors with card-slots in the adjacent wall.
- After fighting off a vicious gang of mutants (and capturing a stun ray pistol), the party investigated a large cylindrical apparatus with four wired-up brains floating in separate tanks — a technology which Dirjin observed to be nearly identical to the “think machines” built by Illithids. The party opted not to tinker with or destroy the machine for the time being, but to continue exploring in hopes of finding some clues about its purpose.
- A large chamber, dominated by a shallow sandy pit with a pond at one end and some rocks near the center. In five places, steps lead down into the pit. Surrounding the pit are twelve statues of robed figures, all with cowled heads bent attentively toward the center. Closer observation reveals tiny, ant-sized boats sailing on the pond, a cluster of tiny buildings on the shore, and a tiny castle perched atop one of the rocks. A high-pitched horn faintly rings out at irregular intervals.
- A passageway and room constructed of grey fibrous filaments that seem similar to spiderwebs. Inside the room is a low dais with a pedestal set in its center — a gateway chamber, upon further investigation. The pedestal contains a complete set of petroglyph tiles and a card-slot. Elvira remembered the proper arrangement of tiles that led from Greenwax to the frozen plain, but the party doesn’t know the arrangement that will open the way back to Greenwax (if such is possible.)
- An unusual hallway, smelling of earth and loam, with rough flagstones underfoot and walls and ceiling covered with twining vines and creepers. Midway down this passage, the cautious adventurers notice the gleam of metal in a gap in the greenery. Vigorous work with axe and blade clears away the vegetation to expose an old sliding door; further careful examination reveals a trap designed to spray the victim with some kind of liquid. Deactivating the trap, the door is opened to reveal a dark passageway and an ascending stairway.
Report from the 4/14/16 lunch-hour session.
The party left the Traders’ Mound and headed back to the roadside stone platform where they came through the one-way Gate, in hopes of finding some clue that would enable them to return to their own world. The spell of protection laid upon them by the svirfneblin was of little comfort, and few of the adventurers had any real enthusiasm about entering the Black Ziggurat. Not finding anything, they pressed onward, with the faint hope that the ominous structure looming in the near distance contained not only the answer to the mystery of their missing patron, but also a return Gate to the undercity of Satur…
Arriving at the Ziggurat unchallenged, the party ascended the wide main stair, flanked on each side at regular intervals by squared pillars capped with domes of smoky gray quartz. The double doors at the head of the stairs was tall, twenty feet or more, and of a flat black metal. Mixit, one of the warriors, stepped forward to knock; she felt a pricking at the knuckle as her hand contacted the door, and the doors swung silently inward.
The vast entry hall was dark. As they carefully made their way into the chamber, the party’s light sources revealed doors in the east and west walls, two 5′-diameter holes in the floor spaced 40′ apart, with a facedown human corpse between them. The group’s curiosity was piqued by the corpse’s accoutrements: grey mesh-looking suit, metallic belt, and a strange tubelike device. The cause of death was a crushed skull, which Yee Mun (who had some training as a healer) determined to have been received by falling from a great height…
As the party looked up towards the high ceiling, from out of the darkness swooped two spindly, bat-winged creatures with blank visages and barbed tails — Nightgaunts! One of the nightgaunts grabbed a surprised Aseret and proceeded to hoist the warrior up into the air. Mixit narrowly dodged the other’s clawed grasp, and the fight was on. The party managed to slay the unburdened nightgaunt, which swooped to clutch with claws and lash with barbed tail, without much difficulty. Aseret, on the other hand, struggled mightily in vain to free her awkwardly-pinioned arm so to swing her torch at the creature’s featureless face. Yee Mun concentrated and cast a feather fall spell on Aseret — just in time, as seconds later the remaining nightgaunt released the warrior. Rather than tumbling to a messy doom below, Aseret floated down. Seeing the death of its companion, and possibly perplexed by the unexpected behavior of its prey, the nightgaunt retreated up into the dark recesses of the ceiling.
When it seemed clear that the nightgaunt wouldn’t be returning soon, the party warily turned back to their examination of the human corpse’s items. After some careful experimentation, the party divided up the mesh armor (soak 2), force-field belt, flame projector, and boots, resolving at the next session to examine the two holes in the floor.
Strength 2, Agility 2, Mind 0, Lifeblood 10
Brawl 1, Defense 1, Armor 2 (leathery hide)
Attacks: Claws (+3, grapple/lift), Barbed tail (+3, damage 1D)
Traits: Flyer, Stealthy
The PCs have been searching for their missing patron, the sorcerer Ghaelus, who disappeared while searching for the Black Ziggurat — yes, THAT same unspeakably-ancient, multiversal, dimension-shifting fortress/entity. Well, in last week’s session the PCs found a Gate (one-way, though they didn’t realize this at the time) leading from the undercity of Satur to a frozen plain on a dying world. Several miles from their point of arrival was a massive pile of dark stone, the Ziggurat itself.
They encountered two travelers on the road in a wagon drawn by two furred ice-lizards. Dirjin, a githzerai, and Hexil, a phraint, offered the shivering travelers passage in their wagon to a nearby svirfneblin Trading Mound. Gark, the Mound’s leader, provided the PCs with food, warm clothes, and some more information about the Ziggurat’s manifestation on this world:
“In its own way, the Black Ziggurat is responsible for the slow death of our world. Many years ago, to appease their dark gods and their own hunger for power, the wizard-kings of the earth went to war. The Black Ziggurat – as you may have seen its cursed pile on the plain above – was the focus of their struggle, as each vainly believed that mastery of the Ziggurat would enable supremacy over his rivals. To this end, they pursued dark sorceries that drew upon the power of the sun to create mighty engines and weapons that ravaged the planet and depleted the sun’s essence beyond a critical point. Every year now, the light grows weaker. Winters are longer and harsher. Crop harvests yield less. The surface dwellers are struggling to survive – perhaps we dwarves have it easiest, being already conditioned to subterranean life. When the sun finally dies and expends its last rays, so will be extinguished the hopes of all who live on the surface. We who live below may yet live on for a time, drawing warmth from the depths of the earth and sustenance from our traditional food supplies; even then, though, we must face eventual extinction as the planet cools into a ball of ice. This is the future our diviners have seen, and the reality we face, barring the return of the Builders who created this world.”
“The Black Ziggurat is, at its core, a living talisman that feeds on dark energies. It radiates promise – of wealth, power, pleasure, knowledge, security, whatever one desires – and drains those who enter of their spirit. If you go there, you will need wits and weapons to defend yourselves from the physical dangers therein, but more importantly you will need powerful protection from the Ziggurat’s innate magic. Do not tarry overlong, for as the wind and water wear away the stone, even the strongest incantation can be weakened over time if enough force is exerted against it.”
The PCs passed the night in the mound and underwent a ritual of protection by the svirfneblin geomancers. Arioka, the elf archer, traded her hourglass for a vial of powdered fungus with potent soporific properties which, when mixed into a paste, could be applied to arrowheads as a sleeping-poison. The party then climbed into the wagon — Dirjin and Hexil decided that, for the time being at least, their interests lay with the party — and set off towards the Ziggurat.
As we move towards the fifth session of the library game, I already feel like I’m getting better at managing the one-hour game session.
1. Be physically prepared. My kit doesn’t fit in a cool retro lunchbox, but it’s all together in my office and ready to go 5 minutes before the session starts: rulebook (which, ideally, I won’t have to open), dice, mat, mat-cleaning towel, minis, Binder of Important Papers (character sheets, ref sheets, maps, adventure notes), and writing-utensil pouch.
2. Be mentally prepared. In addition to basic adventure prep, consider the time and drop-in nature of the game:
- How much can I reasonably expect to accomplish this session?
- If a new player attends, what is the best way to integrate them into the ongoing campaign?
- provide pre-generated characters
3. “All killer, no filler.” Emulate the inspirational pulp greats (Howard, Burroughs, Leiber, et al) and keep the action flowing. Briefly summarize the action up to this point, set up (or re-state) the PCs’ current goal, and get going. It continues to be something of a challenge to find the sweet spot between the pulp approach (PCs start the session at the adventure location, travel to and from is hand-waved) with the Wilderlands’ default “getting there is half the adventure” hexcrawl style, but I think I’m gradually getting there…
4. Communicate with players out-of-session. As the players become more seasoned, I really do hope that the Wilderlands will be more of a sandbox where their decisions drive the action. In no small part, the realization of this goal depends on me providing them with rumors and adventure opportunities.
More on this subject as I continue to gain experience and reflect.
Bartolo is a prosperous halfling merchant who deals in beeswax- and honey-based products, the most popular of which are Bartolo’s Green Candles (known throughout the region for both their distinctive jade color and insect-repelling properties*.) His family also owns and operates the Honey Drop Tavern in northern Greenwax, which is where his son approached the four PCs with a job offer: protect a cargo boat traveling up the coast to Fort Axilar, a trading post on the Axilar River delta. There, its captain will meet with Bartolo’s partners, a primitive tribe of golden-furred halflings, to trade for a new supply of potent wax and honey (harvested from ferocious, giant jungle bees by mysterious apicultural methods known only to that tribe) and return to Greenwax with the cargo. The PCs were warned to be on guard against pirates, who, in addition to seizing cargo, will commonly carry off prisoners to sell in the flesh-markets of Antil to the north.
The journey was uneventful for the most part, but as they drew near their destination they saw smoke rising from the delta — Fort Axilar was under siege! As the captain urgently sailed to the beleaguered outpost’s aid, two longboats filled with armed pirates raced out to intercept them. Dodging a hail of arrows, the PCs managed to cripple one of the boats with a well-placed arbalest shot, but the other reached the ship. A gang of savage-looking human, lizardman, and ape-man warriors swarmed aboard and the melee was joined. For a time, the two sides seemed evenly matched, but the battle turned when the human sword-maiden Mixit carved a path of bloody ruin through a half-dozen of the enemy. The spectacle thoroughly demoralized the remaining pirates, who beat a hasty retreat. When the ship reached the Fort, the battle was over. A larger group of mixed-race warriors had been repulsed, but not before they caused great havoc: some dead, many wounded, buildings burned, captives taken, and treasure — including the new stores of wax and honey — seized and carried off into the jungle. A war party is being assembled by the fort’s commander to pursue the raiders into the jungle, and the PCs were offered a share of the spoils for their assistance.
A few post-session thoughts:
- The first half of our lunchtime session was taken up with converting characters to BoL and explaining the basic mechanics of Attributes, Careers, the Task Roll, Boons & Flaws, and Hero Points. I was expecting this, and decided to use the remaining time to set up next week’s adventure. If we have additional players show up, their characters can either be survivors of the Fort Axilar battle or sailors who volunteer for the war party.
- I realize that, much as I enjoy improvising at the table, I’m just not that good at creating cool names on the fly.
- Before next session, I need to create a player aid for how to use Hero Points, as it’s one of the few things everyone needs to remember that isn’t on their character sheet.
- As ideas unspool about where this adventure is going, I find myself thinking back to a sadly-short-lived plan to run Dwellers of the Forbidden City with BoL…
* Bartolo’s Green Candle: Made from the wax of giant jungle bees and subjected to secret alchemical processes, this candle will, when burned, give off a pleasant fragrance that will repel insects in a 10′ radius. The candle must be burning to have this effect.
Thursday was the second session of my lunchtime Labyrinth Lord game, attended this time by five players (all from Tech Services, for those keeping track.) The PCs were hired by Ghaelus, a member of the Archivists’ Guild, to retrieve the skull of Krelek, an Orichalan sorcerer and sage, from a tomb on the outskirts of the barrow field. Ghaelus’s ultimate goal was to gain access to Krelek’s personal library, located somewhere in ruins of Satur, in hopes that it might contain the crucial information to confirm Ghaelus’s hypothesis: that the ruined city of Satur was built upon the ruins of an even older civilization. Ghaelus planned to use the skull to commune with the dead sorcerer’s shade in hopes of procuring the words of power that would allow passage through the magical wards and defenses of Krelek’s manse. Equipped with a charm to preserve them from the most potent of the tomb’s magical defenses, the PCs braved the barrow field again. In our one-hour session they fought skeletons, disarmed mundane traps, battled an animated statue, and found the secret antechamber containing Krelek’s sarcophagus. The party returned to Greenwax with the Skull and two treasures: a gem-encrusted dagger worth 200 gold pieces and a silver bloodstone ring which, when properly inspected, proved to have been enchanted with a minor defensive charm to protect the bearer in combat.
By all accounts we had fun, and the players are looking forward to more. This time we only played for about an hour (which started late due to two new players having to roll up characters), and one of the players had to leave before we finished. I did manage to finish the prepared adventure in the time we had, but it definitely felt a little rushed. Following the session’s end and my subsequent conversations with several players, I’ll most likely be switching systems from Labyrinth Lord to Barbarians of Lemuria. (Hmm, there seems to be a pattern developing here!) To that end, I’ve already started cobbling together my “Barbarians of the Wilderlands” document. I have little patience for tracking experience points these days, and I also think that, for players in a casual pick-up game, there’s something gratifying in having one’s character receive experience points at the end of a session and be able to spend them immediately to improve in a certain area.
My intent has been for this to be a drop-in game, that whoever wants to play is welcome. Given that we only have an hour or so to play, character creation for new players — which in either LL or BoL is relatively fast — is a huge time-sink. To minimize this, I’m considering a couple options:
- Have a stack of pregens handy for people who drop and just want to try the game. At some point, players who prove to be regular attendees can choose to either continue with their pregen character or create a new one.
Have a regular cast of pre-generated characters that all the players can choose from. If new player A plays Krongar the Mighty in an episode and doesn’t show up for the next session, new player B could take over that character for that session. A benefit I see in this approach is that I wouldn’t necessarily be constrained to one hour for the adventure — we could potentially end the session with a cliffhanger and pick up the following week without having to deal with new characters.
One of the aspects of old-school D&D play that I want to retain in this game is the emphasis on exploration (and related importance of resource management), which doesn’t really mesh with BoL’s default style of over-the-top heroic action. Yora’s BXoL houserules for treasure and encumbrance have been very helpful in this regard. Heroes of Hellas has provided some additional food for thought, specifically regarding Kleos (as a potential way to model “leveling up” and rising in social stature) and adding followers. More on this as I tinker…
Last week, I ran a lunchtime Labyrinth Lord adventure for three brave coworkers (two of whom had never played a tabletop RPG.) This introductory game met with considerable enthusiasm, and at the end of the session the players expressed interest in continuing. Looks like I may have a regular game group again, albeit one that can only play for an hour or so at a time…
I decided to use the trusty Barrowmaze for the intro session, this time set in the Wilderlands (Necromancer Games version.) The PCs were hired by a nobleman from Lenap to find his wayward son, who was heading to the barrow fields north of Greenwax and the ruined city of Satur (map 11) with a party of adventurers and treasure hunters. With their small retinue of hirelings, the PCs — a human fighter, halfling thief, and halfling cleric — explored a section of the underground labyrinth, fought some stirges, discovered the grim fate of the nobleman’s son, and made it back to Greenwax to tell the tale. There were surprisingly no casualties, due in equal parts to player
paranoia caution and the lack of wandering monsters rolled.
Greenwax has for some time seemed an ideal starting point for me in the Wilderlands, based on this bit of descriptive text in Book II:
Treasure seekers come to Greenwax to explore the nearby ancient ruins of Satur, a once-great city of the Orichalan Dragon Empire, though few return successfully. North of the ruins are many burial mounds. To the northwest about three miles is a tree said to be as old as the seas. The region’s druids hold this tree holy.
Tons of adventure potential within 2-3 hexes. Evil wizards, Orichalan cultists, monster factions within the ruins, druids to the north, cultists in the Barrowmaze. Should PCs want to stretch their sea-legs, Greenwax’s port location provides easy possibilities for fighting pirates or Sinbad-style voyages of exploration.
Well, RPG Diehard has gotten me thinking about library gaming again with his provocative question, “Library D&D: Can it work?” My gaming-thoughts have been gradually drawn back towards fantasy in the last couple weeks, which has resulted in a revisitation of my White Box houserules and the nascent sandbox/megadungeon setting I was working on prior to my work transfer. I’ve been enjoying running Traveller, but there’s just something unexplainably wonderful about running fantasy games… I really should talk to some of my branch contacts and get back into running D&D for kids. Time to turn thought into action. Thanks, RPG Diehard!
When I used to run AD&D 1st ed. games, I would regularly lug around a large bag full of books to sessions – at least 4 plus a large binder for characters, adventure notes, maps, etc. I didn’t really mind, but man did that bag feel heavy after walking a few blocks!
Travel is much lighter running the library game – heck, just about any game I run these days. Walking and public transportation are my principal methods of getting to the Mission Branch, so it makes sense for me to minimize the load when commuting. Fortunately, White Box (and formerly “White Binder” OD&D) makes it incredibly easy for me to pack a lot of gaming into a relatively small space; this would also apply to similarly compact single-volume or digest-sized old-school rulesets such as B/X, Holmes, Labyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy, OD&D, Classic Traveller, etc.. Here’s my standard “travel kit”:
Clockwise from center, we have: the slender 66-page Swords & Wizardry: White Box rulebook; a clear plastic folder containing uncut digest character sheets; the trusty dicebag; a nylon file folder containing maps, notes, houserule reference pages, and character sheets; my Deck of Stuff; a tin for character minis; and a zippered pouch for pencils, dry-erase markers, erasers, Deck of Stuff, etc.
The clear plastic folder can also serve as an impromptu dry-erase board – slip a blank white sheet or a room diagram in there, and draw away! The clear plastic and White Box rulebook fit neatly and conveniently into the file folder, so when everything is packed up it looks like this:
When full, the file folder is maybe 1.5 inches thick. I forgot to include my imitation-LBB Moleskine notebook in the “before” picture, but even after its inclusion the overall “gaming footprint” is quite small. I can fit all this stuff in my bag and still have room for a bottle of water, some snacks, a paperback to read on the MUNI, and the two or three library books I should have returned last week… 😉