Monday, 25 May 2020

Dark Sun #3: The One Where We Got Kanks All Round and Another Mission

Dark Sun, 22 May 2020 (online session)

Fourth session of an on-going campaign. 

Game Master

Wandering Mul Druid (Lv.2)

Human Templar (Lv.2)

Follower: Rajal (II)
Half-Giant Ranger (Lv.2)

Follower: Vacancy
Halfling Psionicist slave (Lv.2)

Thri-Kreen Druid Trader (Lv.2)

Follower:  Vacancy

Halfling Assasin (Lv.1)
Follower: Unnamed Elf slave.

The Story So Far...

Sirdar Kurlak of House Kurlak
Our party had been hired by Sidar Jai Kurlak, head of one of the merchant houses of Urik, to recover his daughter Aspis, who had apparently been kidnapped by a group of escaping slaves.   When we caught up with them, it turned out that Aspis was a willing victim and was aiming to start an uprising that would destroy her father and the basis of the Urik economy.  We declined to assist her, knocked her out and got her back across the desert.

Once we returned to Urik, we found the city under attack from a dragon and in chaos.  Kurlak was preparing to escape to his country estate and was unwilling to pause to pay us.  We reluctantly agreed to act as guards for him and his party.  While travelling across the city, we were ambushed by a party of elves.  Aspis originally helped them, but once she saw her father seriously injured changed her mind.  We defeated the elves and, as the dragon had gone, returned to the Kurlak Mansion.

Aspis Dumps Some Plot

Back at the mansion, Jai Kurlak rested and took refreshments, allowing his daughter to deal with our business (he had received healing from Frayne and Garrok). 

The rebel princess
Aspis found an excuse to send Frayne away.  

She made a half-hearted apology for her actions and explained that she now realised that we were people to be taken seriously.  If we would listen, she could offer us a mission that would not only be of the utmost importance, but would be worth our while to undertake.  

She had excluded Frayne because, as a Templar of Hamanu the Sorcerer-King, she did not know if he was to be trusted.  She explained that she is a leader in a conspiracy to overthrow the king and that the slave revolt was to be the first step in this.  

A similar revolt is to take place in the city of Tyr to overthrow their own tyrant.  Aspis is in contact with the rebels there – a group of mages known as the Veiled Alliance.

A crystal of the
purest green
However, now that the dragon had appeared her plans have changed.  It was known that Hamanu planned to send an army attack Tyr.  She believes that the dragon’s arrival will only hasten this attack.  If the Tyr uprising takes place, that city will be weakened and fall to Hamanu: if that happens, he will be in such a strong position that any attempt to overthrow him will fail.  Both cities will remain under his rule.

She therefore asks that we take a message to her opposite number – Agis of House Astricles – asking him to postpone the Alliance’s plans.  She gave us an olivine crystal as a token to present to him (and with a hint that it may be of other use to us).

Rewards are Dished Out

At this point, Gre’kkt and Garrok pointed out that we had been of much service to House Kurlak already.  We had fulfilled our contract to retrieve Aspis, and had saved the life of the Sirdar himself.  During these actions, several of our retainers had been killed.  We had not yet received payment.

Kurlak immediately saw the point.  With the city in turmoil, he could not give us cash, he said, but he did have several family heirlooms of great value.  He promised that if we undertook Aspis’ mission, upon which the future of his House depended, much more would follow.

First, he wished to compensate Gre’kkt for the death of her nephew, who had been killed during the fight in the marketplace.  He presented her with the slave Fribb.  Fribb “was not very intelligent, nor particularly appealing”, but he was loyal; he had done much reliable service to House Kurlak.  Gre’kkt also received a bladder of the finest brandy and a promise to further her trading ambitions.

Frayne, who had now returned, received a suit of armour and a shield; Geo, a bronze amulet of strange design; Unayra, an iron dagger; and Garrok a bowl of fruit each blessed with miraculous powers.  In addition, and to hasten our passage to Tyr, Kurlak presented with us three mounts with tents and letters of passage as agents of House Kurlak.

Gre’kkt additionally, negotiated for equipment to incubate her silkwyrm eggs and left her broken metal sword with him for repair.   

The Feds Arrive, and Frayne Makes a Choice

As this point, a slave rushed in and announced that a Templar was at the gate, demanding admission.  Kai and Aspis urged the party to retreat to the wine cellar.  Frayne offered to remain, in order to soothe things over, and Unayra hid in a nearby pot.
Antephos and his assistants
The Templar, who was accompanied by four half-giants, turned out to be Antephos – an old rival of Frayne’s late master and his nemesis.  He demanded that Aspis accompany him and face questioning regarding her recent activities.  Frayne’s attempts to talk him out of this were unsuccessful and things looked bleak.  Aspis again took matters into her own hands, casting a spell which destroyed two of the giants in a gout of flame.  In the ensuing fight, Antephos and his giants were killed.  The party concluded that it was time to get out of Urik, and left Kurlak with the task of disposing of the bodies.  It was hoped that the Sorcerer-King never learned of Fraynes part in this.

As we left, Aspis told Frayne that she was grateful for his attempts to protect her: she now looked upon him in a new light...

On the Road

The party took the main road south to Tyr.  In leaving the city, we again noticed the devastation wrought by the dragon: ruined buildings and desiccated bodies. 

We camped through the day, and travelled at night.  We met a slave caravan heading north and, exchanged news with them.  They advised us that they were probably the last caravan to come out of Tyr as King Kalak had commandeered all slaves to work on a mad project to complete his giant ziggurat.  Indeed, they warned, as we travelled south we should be on the lookout for Kalak’s forces rounding up more labourers.

We did indeed see such a pressgang on the road and, forewarned, was able to avoid it.  From then on we travelled off the main highway.  We made camp in the stony barrens.

Several of us had strange dreams, reflecting our worse fears.  Fribb woke to find himself abandoned, his new mistress a diminishing dot on the horizon; Garrok found himself forced into combat with Gre’kkt; Unayra found herself in a cage, captured by the pressgang.  Gre’kkt – who of course, needs no sleep – was on watch and puzzled that Fribb and Garrok were each calling her name in their sleep.  She attempted to wake Garrok, only for him to attack her.  She shrugged him off, and went to rouse the others.

It turned out that a Gaj had made its way into Fribb’s tent and was making a psionic attack.  Both Garrok and Gre’kkt were paralysed with overwhelming fear. Unayra was able to make some hits, and finally Geo was again able to put his trusty impaler to good use.

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Books and Stuff (NS, No 1)

Last night I was taking on the phone to my Kindest Critic and the subject of blogging came up.  She reminded me that back in the day (when I used to blog more frequently) I used to have a regular round-up of what I'd been reading.  These used to be quite popular posts.  And looking back at some of them this morning made interesting reading for me.

What with the lockdown, insomnia and what-have-you, I've been a) reading more, and b) thinking about reviving the blog a little.  I'm not going to do the weekly 'Books and Stuff' posts that were a feature of the early years of the blog, but I may start posting a little more often and record my thoughts on my reading.

So Far in May 2020... tells me that I've completed 25 books so far this year.  These are the ones I read in May.

Michael Bond, More About Paddington

How can you not like the little chap?  This is the second book in the Paddington series, and he's already very much at home in the Brown household.

There's not really much to be said about this.  The stories are lovely.  1959 attitudes to the sale and  handling of fireworks are something of an eye-opener to some-one who was brought up on 1970's public information films though! 

I can't help hearing Sir Michael Hordern's voice when I read the stories (which always makes it a little odd when I watch The Spy Who Came in From the Cold or Where Eagles Dare - oddly enough it never bothers me when I listen to his Gandalf).

Joan Druett, In The Wake of Madness: The Murderous Voyage of the Whaleship Sharon

This is a book by my old friend, New Zealand author Joan Druett.  Here she looks at the events around the 1841-42 Pacific cruise of the whaler Sharon of Fairhaven, MA, which saw Polyneasian crewmen mutiny and murder the captain.  This was of course a great scandal at the time but the causes were covered-up.  Joan examines the financial presures on the captain and his brutality and racism which lead to the mutiny (the turning of a blind eye to such things telling us a lot about the American merchant fleet of the time).

A really excellent read, well-worth looking into even if you're not particularly interested in maritime history.

Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Pulizer Prize-winning novel which tells a story of two Jewish cousins who battle Nazis by creating a comicbook hero.  A great depiction of New York in the early war years that manages to tell us a lot about the Golden Age of comics and their creators.  

My description doesn't do it justice.  It's a great read: I literally sat up all night reading this one!

Michael Bond, Paddington Helps Out

What can I say?  After mutiny, murder, mayhem and Nazis I needed another helping of the kindest bear you'll ever meet.

Robert W Chambers, The King in Yellow

The 1895 collection of short stories that had a huge influence on the Lovecraft Mythos.

The stand-out of the collection is the first story, 'The Repairer of Reputations', a story of madness and a truly unreliable narrator.  The others are a mixed bunch - perhaps the next best is "The Street of the First Shell", a tale of American artists living through the 1870 Seige of Paris.  The stories about Paris perhaps get a bum deal from those who go to the book expecting weird literature (only the first four of the ten stories - with the 'King in Yellow' and 'Yellow Sign' motifs - fall into that category).

Boria Sax, Crow

A study of the cultural impact of corvids.  An interesting little book, even if it did sometime make me a little cross with its generalisations and assumptions.

J D Davies, Gentlemen Captain

First book in the Matthew Quinton series of novels about an officer in the Restoration Navy and the (not insignificant) conflicts therein.  This one is set in 1662 and is concerned with treason in Scottish waters.

It sounds pretentious to say that I was aware of Davies' non-fiction and academic works on the period, but I hadn't tried the fiction.  Well, now I have and I enjoyed it a lot.  I've already ordered a cheap copy of the second book in the series.

Alan Abbey, Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls: Naval Wargame Rules for the Age of Sail

All this maritime reading prompted me to dig out and re-read BBIB.  The immediate results can be read here, more will no doubt follow.

Currently Reading

Peter Le Fevre and Richard Harding (edd), Precursers of Nelson: British Admirals of the Eighteenth Century

Published in 1999 - right in the middle of what publishers of naval history were touting as 'Nelson Decade', ie between the bicentenaries of the Battles of the Nile and Trafalgar - this is a study of British naval leadership in the Long C18th (so from Torrington to Keith).  With over a dozen authors, there's a mix of stuff here.  Solid work though.  Neither a light nor quick read.

Arthur Conan Doyle, Tales of Unease

As the editor says in his introduction (the editions I read of both this book and the King in Yellow were by Wordsworth with introductions by David Stuart Davies), Doyle's work can be overlooked both because of the overwhelming presence of Sherlock Holmes and because of the sheer quantily and variety of stuff he wrote.  His longer works can be a bit thin, but he is the master of the short story though.  

If he'd only written these ghost stories they'd be worth remembering.  They're not as good as MR James, but they compare well with the RW Chambers.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls

It's been an age since I've done any wargaming, so I was pleased when I finally got my act in order to get some solo naval wargaming done (a very long-term goal of mine!).

I pulled out Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls, which is an age of sail (really Napoleonic) set of rules.  Way back in 2014 I took part in a play-by-post game, which I enjoyed (there's some eye-candy in the blog archives if you want to look at it - Clint, the host had some rather nice models he set up for us).

Wanting to do a fleet action, but wanting to keep it manageble, I played using the order of battle for the Battle of San Domingo.  In a reversal of Real Life, this turned out to be a French victory.  My inexperience in ship handling meant that Admiral Louis' division wasn't engaged until very near the end of the four hours that I devoted to the battle, which significantly tipped the balance in favour of the French.  But there are enough variables to give some replayability, so I may set up the scenario again and see how it goes.

BBIB plays well as a solo game.  I think it handles the randomising of turns nicely, as it does damage (which can have quite an effect on the game).  I think that before I play again, I will sit down and write my own crib-sheet: the quick-reference sheet in the book is OK, but it didn't stop me from doing quite a bit of back-and-forth in the book.  I also need to get my head around the rules for boarding.  And next time I'll play on a table rather than the floor - it didn't require as much space as I expected, and by the end of four hours, my back and knees were complaining!

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Dark Sun #2: The One Where We Fought Elves, With a Dragon as Background

Dark Sun May 2020 (online session)

Third session of an on-going campaign.  Seph joined. 

Game Master

Wandering Mul Druid (Lv.1)

Human Templar (Lv.1)

Follower: Rajal.
Half-Giant Ranger (Lv.1)

Halfling Psionicist slave (Lv.2)

Thri-Kreen Druid Trader (Lv.2)

Follower:  Kreekit, her nephew.

Halfling Assasin (Lv.1)
Follower: Unnamed Elf slave.

The Story So Far...

The reward better be worth it...

Our party has been hired by Sidar Kurlak, head of one of the merchant houses of Urik, to recover his daughter Aspis, who had apparently been kidnapped by a group of escaping slaves.  These elves were tracked across the Alluvian Tablelands, where we eventually found that they had been captured by the dwarves of Kled.  After some horse-trading, the daughter and elves were handed over to our group.

It then turned out that this was not as simple a rescue operation as it had appeared.  Aspis demanded that she and the elves be released and that we go to an elven stronghold where she would be able to garner support for an uprising that would free all the slaves in Urik.

We decided to have no truck with this, paralysed her and bundled her onto the back of our beast of burden.

The Return to Urik

The return leg is the south and east
(Ian's map)
We started encamped outside Kled.  Fearing that elves may attempt to rescue Aspis, we had decided to rest before what might be a forced march back to Urik.  We also decided that it would be safer (and hopefully quicker) not to return the way we had come, but to head eastward until we hit the road running north to Urik. 

While still at the camp, the party was rejoined by Frayne, the Urik Templar, who had remained behind healing-up following the encounter with giant hornets, and by Uanyra a Halfling, who he had met on the way, along with her slave.

 A long night-time trek through the sandy wastes proved largely uneventful.  However, even by the light of the twin moons it was clear almost at once that we were being stalked by some large, flying creature.  As daylight broke we made camp and the beast – it turned out to be a silk-wyrm - made its attack.  It first struck the water-carrying kank, giving the camp the chance to awaken.  Gre’kkt’s psionic ability to banish the wyrm gave us the chance to take up positions to despatch it as soon as it reappeared.  Various body-parts were harvested and Gre’kkt recovered a clutch of six eggs.

Two hours after breaking camp, we finally found the Urik road and were from then able to make better time, only pausing to exchange news with a trading caravan heading south.  Before the day was over, we were in sight of Urik.

A Disappointing Reception

Entering the cultivated areas around Urik was a relief.  We took time to pause and refresh ourselves following our long journey through the sandy wastes.   However, as soon as the city came into sight we encountered a mass of fleeing citizens and saw that it was under attack from a huge dragon. 

Both Fribb and Frayne were subject to some form of psionic backwash, each having visions relating to the dragon – Fribb seeing it being surrounded by the spirits of the dead, and Frayne seeing himself plunging a metal spear through its hide.  Our destination was on the far side of the city from the dragon’s attack, so we decided to avoid it and press on in order to relieve ourselves of our burden and collect our reward. 

Our employer
Fribb (who is one of Sirdar Kurlak’s household slaves) lead us straight to his mansion and an immediate audience.  However, we saw that Kurlak wasn’t immune to the quite reasonable air of panic in the city: an evacuation of the mansion was underway.  Kurlak was delighted to see his daughter again, but in no mood to deal with us.  He promised that we would receive our reward on his return to the city, but his immediate concern was to get out of Urik as soon as possible.  He conceded that if the party wished to join him, his household could do with the extra bodyguards on the route up-country to his summer lodgings.  This earned a rebuke from Frayne, who saw the abandonment of Urik as an act of disloyalty to the Sorcerer-King.  Kurlak wasn’t inclined to argue, and the rest of the party recognised that joining his caravan was their best chance of getting paid.  Rajal, Frayne’s retainer made the decision that his master (who was fairly rattled on seeing the dragon attacking his city) wasn’t going to do what was good for him, and knocked him out.

It soon proved that Kurlak was indeed in need of extra bodyguards.  As we pressed through the throng in the marketplace, we were surrounded by a group of eight elves.  The caravan guards were of no assistance whatsoever during the skirmish, during which Aspis used her arcane powers against us.  With Fribb and Geo put to Sleep, things were touch-and-go, and Kurlak was seriously injured (as which point Aspis seemed to realise that assisting the elves had been a step too far).  Gre’kkt and Garrok rallied around the fallen merchant (and his wallet), and Unayra was able to make some telling hits from her hiding-place.  Frayne resumed consciousness and was able to use his authority as a Templer of the Sorcerer-King to get assistance from on-lookers.  However, his loyal and useful retainer Rajal was killed, as was Gre'kkt's nephew and apprentice, Kreekit.

The elves defeated and the dragon having moved on, the caravan returned to Kurlak’s mansion (Aspis in a much subdued frame of mind).  Kurlak was too seriously injured to address the party’s questions, but promised answers (and hopefully payment) soon...

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Gaming in April 2020

One of the unforseen results of the house move was going without broadband for almost a fortnight.  This put a cramp into my participation with the various on-line campaigns that I'd been taking part in and other, multiplying oportunities for on-line play.

First a look at the on-going games without me...

The Black Hack 2: Melcher's Vale

Bolton on sabatical...
Just as Bolton the Mage had made contact with the Eunuchs' Guild of Mudharbour he had to drop out of the game.

In fact he's been doing some in-depth research into various arcane mysteries at Bo Lee Wang's monkey cabaret and over-indulging on dolphin burgers.

Call of Cthulhu: Forget-Me-Not

Episode 3: The Spider Clinic, which we played on 7 Mar has now hit the airwaves.*  Enjoy!

Two sessions went ahead without me (fortunately, Charlie, my character, has tended to fade into the background all along).  Andy has given me access to the unedited recordings of these sessions.

Our TV crew ('The Supernatural Files') rescued their co-presenter from the hospital where she'd summoned an Elder God, were reunited with their van and  finally made their way back to the abandoned farmhouse where we assume all this began.  And then things started getting weird.  In Andy's immortal words (ones you do not want to hear a CoC Keeper say), "well, that escalated quickly!"

We estimate that there's probably only one session left.

Andy is strict in keeping his sessions to a two-hour max.  These are then edited down to a 70-90 minute episode on the podcast (which is why you don't hear any dice-rolling or consulation of madness tables).

*In fact, Andy has been very busy.  His podcast is running six or seven different actual play campaigns at the moment with various Call of Cthulhu, Traveller and Tales from the Loop going on.

Dark Sun/Dying Star

Stolen from Modiphius - their Barsoom
24 Apr

This is GM'd by Dave Aldrige, who also runs The Black Hack sessions.  Although he's still running TBH, he wanted something with more of a campaign feel.

Dave has written a hack under the OGL of Swords and Wizardry Continual Light with an implied setting of DnD's Dark Sun (with the serial numbers filed-off).  There's a draft for play-test here if you're interested.  Our campaign is very much Dark Sun.

I missed the first session, but I have written up the second here.

I've never played in the Dark Sun setting, so can't say how true Dave is being to it, but suffice to say that I had a blast in this post-apocalyptic fantasy world with a hint of Barsoom.  As a friend of the blog said commenting on Dave's description on his podcast, this is definitely 'planet of the bastards'.

We play using a combo of a Zoom meeting and Dave's discord channel.  This latter allowed for the in-game sharing of artwork - which I always find useful - and maps.  There's also some out-of-game roleplay there, with one of our players writing up the session in the form of her character's (a Thri-keen trader-druid) journal.  This I find really helpful in giving some colour.  Actual roleplay is one of my weaknesses (as you know, my write-ups tend to be 'this happened, we did this, then that happened...') and being able to read someone elses RP interpretation helps me focus my own approach.


28 Apr

Jason Connerley offered a one-off, settling on a 'spooky theme' (the alternative was 'cowboys in space').

It turned out to be an odd one!  Four of us played ourselves, returning from a RPG Con on a dark and stormy night.  Our hire-car broke down by a washed-out bridge.  Fortunately, there was a large house nearby on a hill...

Unsurprisingly, there was a strange butler and a mad scientist.

Jason discusses it here.

Solo Gaming: 4AD

Some may remember that I ran a solo dungeon-crawl last year.  This was done using Old School Essentials and a rather complicated system I'd botched together from a number of sources.  As a result it was a little unwieldy and although I enjoyed it, it collapsed under its own weight.  I therefore looked out for a system that can be run out-of-the box for a quick session, and invested in Four Against Darkness.

4AD is pretty basic, but I thought I'd give it a go.  It's ideal for those times you just want to sit down and roll dice for 45mins or an hour with no prep.  There's a good review here.

Time will tell whether there is much scope for repeat play in the system.  If that proves a problem, there are supplements and modules available for the cost of a couple of pints.  It may even prove an interesting exercise to expand the d6 Encounter and Treasure Tables to d66 ones.  I may write up sessions using the Heybrook setting I created for the previous campaign - it will prove the practice I need in creating a narrative out of dice rolls and hack-and-slash.

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