I don't remember many details from Jean Wells's Palace of the Silver Princess (BD&D Module B3), but I've never forgotten the image to the left: Erol Otus's amazing depiction of the hideous decapus. This foul beast may have begun its existence in the Principalities of Glantri, but it seems perfectly suited to life in the Jungles of Qo and Qush. In those trackless wastes, the wild decapus swings through the trees, using its uncanny powers of illusion and ventriloquism to trick its prey. To see through the decapus's deceptions, a hero has to pass a Mind test with a difficulty modifier of "hard" (-2). At the GM's discretion, heroes may add relevant careers to this roll. (Appropriate boons may allow the hero to roll a bonus die on the test as well.) If the decapus's illusion remains unbroken, it has the advantage of surprise and gains a "free" round of attacks.
Tim (Irryn's player in the Friday night BoL game) has asked me to maintain a public kill counter for the campaign. As a generous GM, I have obliged him. Look for it over in the righthand column of the blog.
Of course, it turns out that Irryn is the kill leader . . .
Although I'm running the Friday night campaign with the BoL rules, I'm also using the Mythic GM Emulator (published by Word Mill Games). Designed to facilitate GM-less or low-prep play, this product is essentially a Magic 8-Ball for RPG campaigns: at its core is a Fate Chart that adds a random element to yes/no questions about the campaign setting. There are also rules for random events, and a subsequent supplement (Mythic Variations) allows for genre and theme-specific modifications to the frequency of those events. All of these systems work like an overlay on whatever set of RPG rules you happen to be using at the time.
I decided to use the Mythic GM Emulator because I hate game prep. I get "analysis paralysis," and campaigns die shortly after beginning. The GM Emulator's guidelines for random scene generation (used in conjunction with the logical premises derived from the campaign setup and the players' choices of characters) thus seemed like a way around this problem for me. I would create the first scene of the campaign myself and then let the GM Emulator guide me the rest of the way.
This plan worked out beautifully in prep and play. After the heroes had accepted Radam Tyl's pitch, they were almost certainly going to go down to the docks of Zalut to hire a ship. Rolling on the Event Focus Table for this scene, I got a result of "Introduce a new NPC." Nothing particularly surprising: I assumed at first that this would be the ship captain. Then I rolled for the event's meaning and received results of "release" and "rumor." Those didn't sound like a ship's captain; instead, the two terms suggested that the heroes were approached by a competitor of Radam Tyl's, an alchemist who had also learned about the new clues to M'lor's location. Thus Sorsha was born. I was even able to generate one of the best images of the session randomly: I rolled on the "Event Meaning" tables to determine the nature of Sorsha's alchemical speciality and got "inquire" and "pain" as results. Interpreting these as indicators of her interest in torture, I invented her poor slaves (and their sewn-shut eyes) on the spot.
The next scene of the session was also randomly determined. This time the Event Focus table generated a result of "PC Negative"—something bad happens to one of the heroes. Event Meaning results of "communication" and "disruption" suggested that, once again, the search for a ship's captain would be interrupted. This time a hero's backstory would be the vehicle of the deferral, and a d4 roll made Daneel my victim. Clearly the sorcerous cheaters he was tracking down had decided it was time to remove the pesky investigator . . . permanently. I turned to the page of the BoL rulebook providing stats for tough thugs and told the players to roll for initiative. I was particularly pleased by the GM Emulator in this scene: I came to the table knowing nothing of Brian's plans for Daneel, but the framework for random inspiration provided by the Emulator allowed me to foreground those plans on the spot.
The third and final scene was "NPC Positive." As a group, we decided that the heroes would finally locate a suitable ship and that said ship's captain would be more than eager to provide the heroes with passage to Parsool. After all, they had more than enough gold from Radam Tyl to convince even the most reluctant captain to let them on board. When I rolled for Event Meaning, I was temporarily stumped by my results of "advice" and "postpone"—I wasn't sure how to interpret these to fit the scene. Irryn's player Tim came to my rescue here, suggesting that Captain Tinray knew a storm was coming but didn't think he needed to mention it to the heroes. With Tim's help, I was able to set up the cliffhanger for the session: the sudden darkening of the sky and an ominous wave rearing up over the deck of the Screaming Manta.
Consider this post a positive review for the Mythic GM Emulator, then. I didn't use the Fate Chart all that much or play around with Chaos Factors (an aspect of the system that alters the frequency of yes/no responses), but the Event Focus and Event Meaning tables were pure gold where scene setting was concerned.
On Friday night (the 19th), I ran the first session of my BoL campaign. The set-up was the one I mentioned a few posts ago: having discovered new clues to the whereabouts of the lost city of M'lor, the alchemist Radam Tyl recruits a band of intrepid heroes to travel to the Jungles of Qo, locate M'lor, and return with whatever First Age knowledge survives in the city archives. (The BoL rulebook identifies M'lor as a Second Age city, but that doesn't seem to jibe with its "lost" status—so I moved it back in time.)
Radam Tyl's recruits (and the players' heroes):
Dakar, a Valgardian swordsman whose brief career in piracy ended with him being booted off the ship and left to fend for himself in the port district of Zalut. Played by Dave.
Daneel, a Shamballan gladiator who parlayed his success in Satarla's arena into a noble's title. He has come to Zalut to investigate rumors of sorcerous interference in the Sartalan games. Played by Brian.
Irryn, a dancer turned assassin who left her home in the Port of the Sea Lords to execute a contract on the magician Samaldran. Played by Tim.
Segdral Darkstar, a Halakti assassin who has also been hired to kill Samaldran (albeit by a different client). He and Irryn met while casing their shared target and agreed to work together. Played by David.
The adventure began with the heroes' arrival at Radam Tyl's luxurious townhouse. Each of them was met at the door by Tyl's most notorious creations: his uplifted dinosaur servants. While these small dinosaurs did not prove capable of human speech (forcing the players to endure my dinosaur squeaks and hisses), they were able to mix drinks, serve canapes, and light dreamsmoke pipes. Tyl eventually arrived and made his pitch to the heroes, sweetening the deal with several chests of gold and jewels. (The heroes were also allowed to take whatever loot they wanted from M'lor, provided that they saved the scrolls they found for Tyl.)
With surprising alacrity (and almost no hard questions), the heroes agreed to the alchemist's plans and set out making preparations for their journey west. They decided to first purchase passage to Parsool on a deep-water vessel, then travel via coast-hugger and river-barge to Malakut. There, in the City of the Thieves, they would be able to hire the local guides they would need to survive in the Qo.
Their search for a ship headed to Parsool was twice interrupted, though. They were first approached by one of Radam Tyl's rivals, the alchemist Sorsha. (Tyl is a specialist in animal uplight; Sorsha's palanquin-bearers, slaves with their eyes sewn shut, pointed to her own interests in information acquisition and the pain centers of the human body.) Tyl was apparently not the only alchemist to learn of the ancient document offering hints to M'lor's location, and Sorsha was eager to hire the heroes to serve her interests instead. Irryn was the only hero willing to listen to all of Sorsha's offer, receiving a jewel-encrusted necklace for her "open-mindedness."
The second interruption was far less polite. Daneel's investigations into sorcerous cheating had apparently earned him the enmity of the magicians involved, and they sent a team of thugs armed with enchanted daggers to kill him. The thugs, confident in their numbers, attacked Daneel—and were promptly butchered by the gladiator and his newfound friends. Irryn demonstrated her prowess as a kill-stealer, finishing off thugs Daneel and Segdral had worked hard to defeat. Dakar's massive Valgardian greatsword needed no assistance in parting the thugs' heads and limbs from their bodies.
Cleaning their weapons, the heroes were soon able to find the ship they were looking for: Captain Tinray's Screaming Manta. Tinray had made some bad trades in Zalut and was more than happy to take the heroes' gold with no questions asked. Unfortunately, he also thought that the Manta was fast enough to outrun the storm that bore down on the ship several hours out from Zalut . . .
Inspired by the RPG.net thread "[Tuesday Challenge] Gaga for Gaga," I have gone ahead and statted up Lady Gaga as a BoL hero--see below the fold for details. Her high "Brawl" score represents a unique martial art melding combat and dance moves. Her "Merchant" career is based on her father's background as an Internet entrepreneur; her "Noble" career, on the entry to elite circles gained for her by her performing abilities. The rationale for the "Unsettling" Fault should be obvious. :)
It's been thirteen days since my last post, but I've not abandoned the blog. This Friday I'll be running BoL for my regular gaming group. They've already playtested the game with the pregenerated heroes from the rulebook. Now it's their first time out with their own heroes. Stranded in Zalut, City of the Magicians, for one reason or another, each hero has received a cryptic invitation from the alchemist Radam Tyl . . .
(Expect character posts to go up over the weekend, followed by an Actual Play report.)
Gary Gygax, co-creator (with Dave Arneson) of Dungeons & Dragons, passed away two years ago today. (The image to the left is my favorite of the various tributes to him.) I was never particularly a fan of Gary's: I got into D&D via the various Basic editions of the game, so Holmes, Moldvay, and Metzner were "my" TSR gurus. Gary was always the obstreperous guy writing cranky editorials in the few issues of Dragon Magazine that I was able to locate and purchase during the 1980s. In fact, the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide, Gary's magnum opus, is the one AD&D book I've never owned. I have vague memories of reading one of the Gord the Rogue books (going by the cover images, either Saga of Old City or Artifact of Evil)--but if I did, that novel was the only thing Gary wrote that I ever did read in its entirety.
I nevertheless want to pause and remember Gary today. He wasn't my favorite RPG designer/writer, but I wouldn't have had all of the pleasure this hobby has given me over the last thirty years if he and Dave hadn't gone ahead with their plans to publish D&D. My world has been richer because of Gary's presence in it, and I'm grateful to him for that.