Thursday, July 30, 2009

Curse of the Crimson Throne 6

This post contains spoilers.

As mentioned before, I missed the 5th session. In it, the party located the body of some tribal people. It had been taken by a necromancer (or necromancer's apprentice?) and they had to delve into some catacombs to retrieve it. In a post game email, Josh narrated the near hanging of Trinia. At the last moment she was saved by a vigilante known as Blackjack.

For this session we were 6th level:

Raiche - Elven Avenger (Mike)
Saturnine - Tiefling Sorcerer (Scott)
Veegor - Longtooth Shifter Barbarian (Josh)
Renn - Gnomish Wizard (Jay)
Saul - Half Elven Bard (Colin)
Kilhan - Eladrin Cleric (Rob)
Lars - Kalashtar Paladin (Jesse)
DM - Dan

Dan's first session as DM for this new book began two weeks after the last one ended. We each had time to do as we pleased, and had agreed to meet at the Inn where Renn worked and Beor drank. As we sit to discuss recent goings on, Saul is possessed by the Harrow deck. It does a reading, through Saul, and it seems to center on yet more drama surrounding the party. One particular note is that Saul's card is the Survivor, and the first card drawn mentions a sickness in the city.

Veegor, in typical PC fashion, insinuates himself into our conversation. He is there when an old acquaintance of Beor's approaches us. His name is Grau, and he is looking for some help with a sick niece. Since we are heroes, we agree to help and we follow him to her home.

Her name is Brianna. The church has agreed to help her, for the low low price of 150 gp. We know that there is no way on earth that her family can come up with that, and besides, Kilhan, Saul, and Renn all have the Cure Disease ritual. While Kilhan goes upstairs to perform his ritual, and Veegor goes outside to perform *his* ritual (carving native runes around the perimeter of the house), some of the party chat with the priest who was at the house.

His name is Ishanni, and he is the temple's best expert on diseases. He was stumped by this one, and amazed at the divine power that Kilhan used to cure it. In gratitude for our help, Brianna's mother invites us to stay for dinner, and we all have a nice visit.

Afterwards, we each go to our respective hideouts for the evening. Saturnine stops by the guardhouse at the north shore on his way home. We had heard a rumor that the night before Brianna got sick (last night), a singe ship was sunk as it tried to enter the harbor. Saturnine asks around, and finds that the ship was lit with only 1 lantern, and refused to answer hails. The guard sank the ship despite the known convention of lighting a ship with only 1 lantern when there is plague aboard.

Saturnine tells the guard captain that he suspects a plague is loose in the city, and then goes home. The next day, plague is loose in the city. Coughing and other symptoms that we saw in Brianna are everywhere, and we go to Field Marshall Kroft to see what we can do to help.

There we meet Dr Davaulos, head of the Queen's physicians. He is Chellaxian, like all or most of the Queen's cronies, and was somehow summoned the day before from Chelliax, many hundreds of miles away, and arrived just that morning. The morning the plague broke out. He and his assistants all have faintly magical masks they wear that identify them as physicians, and they spread out to combat the spread of the disease.

Marshall Kroft, as always, has news for us. She gives us a letter from Vincarlo Oracini, the man who had hired us to find the Queen's 'assassin'. He would like to meet us later. In the interim, we have some errands to run. We stop by Brianna's house to see how her recovery is going, and to ask some questions. She is coming along nicely, and Kilhan is able to make a breakthrough in our investigation.

In an effort to determine where she contracted the disease, he asks her about her day before she got sick. She hesitantly tells him about finding a chest washed up on the shore, filled with silver. Kilhan buys the chest and it's contents from her, and we take it with us. Disturbingly, the chest is radiating some faint magic, as if it once held an enchantment.

Our next stop is the temple, to speak with Ishanni. As a disease expert, he might be able to shed some light on the transmission of this plague. As he ushers us back, we notice in the light of the temple that several members of the party are showing signs of the disease. Now our search is more than altruistic or mercenary, it is for survival.

Ishanni carefully takes one of the coins from the chest, and promises to do his best. We are now able to make our appointment with Vincarlo Oracini. We travel to the appointed location, and he surreptitiously lets us into his training studio. He wants us to get rid of someone for him.

Not what you think. Apparently Blackjack thought that Mr Oracini would be willing to house the woman convicted of regicide in his studio. He has been doing so, but is unsure of his ability to hold off the guard forever. They would very much like to search his place, having reason to believe that he is harboring a fugitive, and he would like us to fix things before the whole mess gets ugly. He has arranged a place for Trinia in the country, and needs us to escort her past the guard and out of town. We agree.

Our plan is for Renn to cast invisibility on her and sustain it as we leave. While being invisible does not make one hidden, the heavy fog this night should make our mission simple. One snag, of course, is that Trinia does not wish to go to this safe house. She does not entirely trust Vincarlo Oracini's motives, and has arranged her own way out. We bend to her wishes, and escort her to the docks. Once the spell is allowed to end, she walks into the mist, and disappears again. Raiche is able to follow enough to catch a glimpse of her in a small boat as it pulls from the dock.

We have been going all day, but we stop in to see Field Marshall Kroft anyhow. She has a couple of things for us to investigate. She is curious about reports of immune people, but her most pressing concern is Rackers Alley.

The disease is fast acting, and the city has already begun the process of carting away the dead. One route has been mishandled, however, and the bodies are being dumped in Rackers Alley instead of taken to Gray with the rest. We are to investigate this.

Sure enough, when we find the alley there is a pile of bodies up against one wall. We are surprised when figures leap down from the rooftops, but Renn quickly pegs them as vampires and we do what we do best.

Saturnine had been sneaking around to the opposite end of the alley, and was caught away from the group by the lead vampire. Veegor charged over to help him, leaving the rest of us with the handful of regular vampire spawn. They try dominating us, which is less effective. The leader gets a lot of mileage out of draining Veegor's blood when she knocks him down past bloodied, but they were over matched to begin with. As they start to fall, instead of dying they transmute into a silvery mist that blends with the ambient fog and drifts away. We are left with no answers.


That was most of it. After I left they did some detective work in the adjoining building, but I have not gotten the scoop on what, if anything, they found.

It felt like a first session. A lot of talking and running around, and a throw away fight at the end to sate our blood lust.

I have yet to be present at a fight that really tested us. The session I missed had a couple moments, I was told, where the big bad trapped our two defenders in a web. Low magic means thrown weapons run out pretty quick, and they were removing their gear to throw as improvised weapons.

This was our first session with what Josh is calling 'unlockables'. Powers that we get to level the playing field, or make up for the lack of magic. Interestingly, if I remember right I was the only one who tried his, and mine failed, so the impact of these powers is still up in the air.

This disease plot point warranted a warning email before the session. Dan wanted us to all know that things may combine to kill our character in ways we could not prevent, and wanted us to be prepared with a backup. This scares me. I really enjoy my character, but he is weak. Any checks along a disease track will almost certainly end in my death.

Another missed session next week. My luck will ensure that it is the session when I die of a horrible wasting disease.


Friday, July 24, 2009

I don't want to be an adventurer

I have been reading online about Dave Arneson's Blackmoor. A little reading about older D&D, since I didn't start playing until mid 3.5, has given me a lot to think about.

It seems like in their game, and in other older games I have read about, there was no Adventurer class in their fantasy worlds. If you were a PC, you were a vassal of a king, a footman, a magic user, but adventurer was a . . .subtitle.

Naturally, this got me thinking about my own gaming experiences, and how they relate. They *don't*. Not at all. I think that every one of my characters, fully fleshed out back stories to one shot shadow puppets, is an adventurer first, and everything else second.

So I decided to change that. From now on, I will endeavor to give my PC's goals. Goals wholly separate from adventuring. For instance:
- My current PC is a Gnomish Illusionist. Until 10 minutes ago, his only real motivations were story driven. Who killed me? Why? Where is my next reward coming from? This is not really satisfying. A good goal for him to have would be to establish an Academy of Illusion in Khorvaire, to compete with the Academy of Summoning. Since he had a bad experience there, living in poverty just to attend, I can see this as a legitimate goal for him.
- My previous PC (who is at this moment playing chess in a bar in Hammerfast with his good friend Arlarond), had met his only goal, to catch up to his friend. What now? He is a warlock, so his goals could be fulfilling the desires of the powers that hold him to his pact. Perhaps the fey demigod or primal spirit wishes him to build a shrine in a key location in the real world, strengthening their power in the Feywild? Maybe he would like to investigate the accident that caused him to be mired away from the real world. Since I am not playing him, this is all just a mental exercise...
- My backup PC for our Curse of the Crimson Throne campaign is a Warforged. Owned by Dwarves for the first 50 years of his life, and now free to do what he wills, why would he adventure? To prove his worth as a living being? To establish a legal place in this world?

I think the adventurer label is bad. It oversimplifies things. Why does your character need to sink all of his gold into gear upgrades, why not tithe, or build, or loan, or. . .something new? I believe these kinds of things can add flavor to your character.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Curse of the Crimson Throne 3 & 4

This will contain spoilers.

Again, our party consists of:
Raiche - Elven Avenger (Mike)
Saturnine - Tiefling Sorcerer (Scott)
Beor Stoneblood - Dwarven Fighter (Dan)
Renn - Gnomish Wizard (Jay)
Saul - Half Elven Bard (Colin)
Kilhan - Eladrin Cleric (Rob)
Lars - Kalashtar Paladin (Jesse)
DM - Josh

All level 5. Not everyone was present for both sessions. Our next mission from Field Marshal Cressida Kroft was to track down several missing people. Our investigations uncover the fact that they were all jurors in a trial 10 years ago. In fact, all 8 surviving jurors are missing. We travel to the site of the old courthouse.

Turns out that not long after the trial the courthouse was condemned. An adjoining building had fallen into it, and it had not been used since. We split up, and Beor, Saturnine, Raiche, Renn, and Kilhan went inside.

What followed was an impossible to relate mystery/horror story. We found the jurors, and over the course of the night, they all died (save 1). We uncovered a story of corruption and murder, vindicated a wrongly convicted man, and killed a lot of undead. Or re-killed. And fought this horrific intestine/tentacle beast.

While some of us ran around trying to save doomed extras, Saul met up with our new ally, Lars, and they began running down leads outside the courthouse. They followed the judge to his bank, where he withdrew a large amount of money. He met the prosecutor and they entered the courthouse, where we had just had our climactic battle with the intestines of a juror and the intestine controlled bodies of the rest of the jurors. In the confrontation that followed, we solved the mystery, the prosecutor died for his sins, and we captured the judge so he could hang for his crimes.

After a quick prestidigitation to wipe the bile from our lips and feces from our boots, we return to miss Kroft and tell her our story.

Remarkably, she elects to send us on another errand. This time, she has a third party interested in our abilities. Vincarlo Oracini wishes us to expose the sins of the Ambassador from Chelliax. It is well known in the underworld that Darvain, the Ambassador, is a deviant, but our job was to bring evidence of it to light, harming his reputation.

Our initial information directs us to a part of town known as the Eel's End. A series of boats all owned by one man, the King of Spiders. These boats all serve as dens of sin, from prostitution to gambling, and more if you have the coin. We wandered in, and started our attempts at gaining an audience. Lars went to the card table, and after showcasing a great talent at gaming, proceeded to loose his new found wealth to the house, gracefully.

Renn challenged the gaming hall to a game of knivesies. A wrestling game with a couple twists, the diminutive old gnome was a dark horse, but the party all bet on him, and made quite a profit when he tricked the big man he was fighting into stepping off the table and losing.

Still not interest from the King of Spiders, so we shed the cloak and dagger and went straight to his personal boat. A bribe got us in, and some superb roleplaying and die rolling from our faces (bard and paladin, abc this fall...) meant that we didn't even get knifed on our way out. 1000gp of someone else's money bought a sheaf of incriminating papers.

We were sent on another errand by Marshall Kroft. The Queen had announced the name of the King's Assassin. His portrait painter, Trinia, was being accused of poisoning the King over the long period while she was painting his picture. The Marshall was worried that if the Queen's goons got to her before the guard did, that we may never know the truth of what happened. She sent us to pick her up and bring her in first.

This was a skill challenge. We found her apartment, and she was already out the window and fleeing across the rooftops. The game went like this:

The cards laid out are from the Harrow deck. It is a deck of cards made specifically for this adventure path. It can be used like a Tarot deck, or in other ways. Each card is associated with one of the 6 main abilities. To move forward, after the fleeing Trinia, you can make skill checks. The number of checks depends on the number of cards you want to advance. Each card is roughly 1 move action.

The other row represents the ground. If you fall, you move to the other track, and can make checks to get back on the roof, or follow on the ground at a slower pace.
It worked well. Josh chose skills for each ability that came up, so in one case someone had to remember a shortcut (streetwise) and then know that a certain church had a feature they could use to cut even more distance off (religion).

We caught her, and returned her to the guardhouse. We were met by a group of the Queen's men, who took her (over our objections). Field Marshall Kroft was also upset, but there was little we could do.


Good sessions, both. The courthouse mystery would have lost so much in the telling that it was not worth the effort of typing it out. We spent all of one session and the first 1/3 of the second on that one quest.

It is a good example of my love/hate opinion of published adventures. Things like the courthouse mystery are shining jewels of creativity, but there are the dark pits of garbage sometimes. So far, this one has been good. Having a very capable and creative DM helps.

Not everyone enjoyed the skill challenge. There were spots where not many had the skill trained (endurance) and falling down was tough, as it required an athletics or acrobatics roll to get back up. I applaud the method though, and hope we see it again.

Sadly, I missed the final quest in this book. It involved recovering a boy's body from an evil necromancer, and ended with the supposed assassin being rescued by a mysterious man. Next week, we resume with a DM change, Dan will run, and Josh will bring his evil demon of melee doom.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Curse of the Crimson Throne Sessions 1 & 2

These posts will have spoilers.

We all started with a connection to Gaedren Lamm (as suggested by the adventure path). Due to that connection, we all began the session in the Grey (the graveyard district. . .) having risen from the dead to seek revenge on our killer. So, like zombies, but with more cognition, we follow conspicuously placed notes from our pockets to meet at the home of a fortune teller.

We are:
Mike - Raiche the Elven Avenger
Scott - Saturnine the mysterious Sorcerer (Tiefling)
Dan - Beor Stoneblood the Dwarven Fighter
Jay - Renn the Gnome Wizard
Colin - Saul the Half Elven Bard
Josh - DMing, also running an Invoker/Shaman NPC

We are joined in the next several adventures by:

Rob - Kilhan the Eladrin Cleric
Jesse - Lars the Kalashtar Paladin

This party meeting is awkward. Everyone is roleplaying their characters well, and as such there is less in the way of "Hey, you are a PC, we get along!", and more "Hey, I don't have time for small talk, my world has recently come to an end!". After we all arrived, the fortune teller came to the front room and told us our fortunes.

It was one of those moments where you can tell that the game designer (and the DM) had good intentions, but where the venue just didn't suit the great new idea. We all took turns getting our fortunes told by Josh. Fun times, when you were up, but downtime while you were waiting.

We all get to know that Gaedren Lamm is behind our individual miseries. Raiche, who was wronged grievously (and is murderous. Never piss of a murderous person) leaves the shop to confront this guy. We all follow, and end up outside a fishery in a bad part of town.

Through Raiche's mysterious knowledge of the interior of the place, we know what to expect. Renn's familiar scouts out the front room, and we enter. Things slide back to killing pretty quickly, and we hack our way to the floor of the processing plant. There, Gaedren's two lackeys fight us, surrounded by kidnapped children. We prevail, but our quarrel was not with his lackeys, so we press on. We find the entrance to the lower level of the fishery through a decrepit old boat filled with spiders. It is then that the Spiderman trap gets sprung on us:

Crappy labelling courtesy of MS paint, since I am at work. We enter from the bottom left door, and Gaedren has a child suspended over a pit. Inside the pit is a crocodile. If we leave, kid will be fine (just a slave is all). If we enter, kid becomes croc chow.

Predictably, we enter and kick his ass. Raiche has a key part in this fight, as he is able to teleport the crocodile out of it's pit and onto the walkway, where Beor keeps it busy. Saul pretty much solos Gaedren at first, but we mop the floor with him and his silly crocodile. The boy is fished from the water, but before we can interrogate the slime, he leaps into the water. The shark infested water.

Session two began with the end of the world. All hell was breaking loose, and Saul, as a loyal servant of the crown, felt that he was needed at the castle. As we ran there, we learned that the king had died, and that magic was returning to the world. Our quest to aid the king was interrupted by an otyugh and some rats that had burst free of the sewer. Again, we had little trouble defeating them, but a couple of us contracted some foul disease in the process. We decided to call it a day, and spend the evening recovering in an Inn. Our ears to the ground find us a place where we can get some possible cures for the diseases, and after we take care of that we head to the castle for a meeting with the queen.

During the night one member of our party let slip that he recognized some of our treasure as belonging to the queen. Thinking to use this as a way to gain an audience with her, we easily get into the castle, and are soon standing before her. She is happy to have her property back, and in addition to paying us, sets us up with a guard captain in the city. This captain has a lot to handle with the recent chaos, and even with the Queen calling in the Hellknights it is too much for her to keep the peace in her part of the city.

And so we meet Field Marshal Cressida Kroft. She does indeed need our help, and our first assignment is to root out a former guard causing dissent in another part of the city. He had taken over an old butcher shop (All the World's Meat) and was handing out free food to citizens and swaying them to his way of thinking. He hated the Queen. On top of that, he financed this operation by hiring his men out as mercenaries. Both destabilizing influences had to go.

After some halfhearted information gathering, we entered the front pretending to be customers. Little did we know that the men had seen us approaching, and loitering, and had a funny feeling that the heavily armed and armored men he saw did not need mercenaries.

The fights could have been short and straightforward. Some guards, some boars, and some caged otyughs. Instead, we managed to alert the guards, Saturnine ran through the boar pen, and Saul and Renn opened the door keeping the otyughs locked up.

Luckily Saturnine is tougher than he should be, and Renn burned a daily to knock the monsters down so the door could be shut. That just left the big boss and his two henchmen at the top of a narrow staircase. It took all or our collective battlefield control to get past the impromptu barricade and into melee with them. We prevailed, and returned to the Field Marshall to report our victory and collect our reward.


A lot more happened. Raiche headbutted a bum and got filth fever. Of course, he swore his oath on the bum first, so he could roll twice. We learned a ton about the backstory and nature of the city that I will be omitting. We had a spat about how much time we were spending investigating rumors. Saul became a Bard, after starting as a Rogue.

The big thing was the head of the fortune teller we found under the former fishmonger/gangster's hideout. Discovering that she had been decapitated for several days, we deduced that the deck of cards she had used to tell our fortunes, the Harrow Deck, was very powerfully enchanted. The only enchanted item we have encountered in the world, so far. It kind of helped to mitigate that feeling I sometimes have. You know it, after a key event you wonder what is motivating your character to stay with this group of miscreants if their goal is accomplished. The Harrow deck has touched us, raised us from the dead, and we are bound to it.

Of course, that means that new arrivals and character death just got a little stickier. Josh has threatened us with death quite a bit so far, and has not followed through with it yet. I imagine it will only be a couple more sessions before he starts pushing the boundaries of what we are capable of handling. It works out well this way, since without magic items we are a little underpowered.

Parts 2 & 3 to follow. . .

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Curse of the Crimson Throne

If it is not obvious by the two month hiatus from blogging, we did indeed fall victim to the 6th level curse. At least this time, I can kind of see what sent wrong. No chance of me preventing it in the future, as it just seems to be an artifact of me being too nice combining with the nature of pen and paper gaming.

So, our friend Josh started up a new group. He is back in a place where he can and will DM again, so he took the reins back and began converting the Paizo adventure path The Curse of the Crimson Throne to 4e. This is despite his well know bias against it.

Which brings me to my primary reason for the lack of blogging. We are running a published adventure path. It is one thing to share the adventures of players in a homebrew world, and quite another to narrate our progress down an adventure path. I do not think I will be writing up detailed reports on what happened any longer. I will try to stick to observations about the game, it's mechanics, and the quirks of the group. Emphasis on try. In addition to that cop out, my motivation to blog about this is pretty low, since I am not DMing at all. As stated previously, I viewed this blog as a tool to help me be a better DM.

A couple of changes for this group:
- Set leveling schedule.
- Low magic
- Shared background

We are advancing in level every 2 sessions. If we game nearly every week, that puts us getting through epic in about a year. I like this for our group. We have dinked around in low levels for far too long. As long as we can avoid the curse (no certainty of that happening) we will be getting to paragon levels around October. It will be nice for a change.

Of course, to balance that out, Josh has pretty much eliminated magic items. Our group has played 4 sessions now and not found a single magic item. This puts us behind the curve as far as ac and to-hit goes, but we haven't noticed a problem yet. I was kind of irritated at first, since I am playing a Wizard (Gnome Illusionist ftw?). I had planned to make him a strong ritualist, but I will wait and see what the future of magic in this world is like, maybe I will go a different direction with him.

The Adventure path suggests a common link for the PC's, and we have gone with that suggestion. All of us have had dealings with a common enemy, and our initial quest was tied wholly to him. Things have developed beyond that, but I'll touch on that when I start with the writeups.