Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Steampunk Monster Hunters #1: “By The Skin Of Her Teeth”

The first session of the Steampunk Monster Hunters campaign had a bit of a rough time getting going. A couple of players had real-world responsibilities and couldn’t make it, then one of the remaining players had to cancel at the very last minute due to unfortunate circumstances, leaving us with a team of only half strength. Nevertheless, we decided to soldier on – happily, as it turned out, since everybody who made it had a great time.

Who’s Who

  • Lucretia Gasser Buttersnaps, Philanthropist Commando
  • Mercy Patton, Philanthropist Sage
  • Nayler H. Knuer, Philanthropist Techie

What Happened

Our story begins in London, in early May, 1851. Steampunk London is much like our world’s London, aside from the air traffic, mechanical men, and Babbage engines. Mad scientists have gone public; Knuer carries on active correspondence with a Baron Frankenstein, on the Continent, who’s doing amazing things in the medical sciences. The British Empire dominates the world, partly thanks to their early adoption of Babbage’s technology. Steam-powered high-tech revolutions need steam, made by burning coal, which leads to smoke and smog, so goggles (and sometimes, gas masks) are common fashion in London.

Our heroes each received an invitation to a clandestine meeting after hours at the Crystal Palace, the site of the Great Exhibition, in Hyde Park, London. Mr Buttersnaps, a psychic and spiritualist, received an invitation but wasn’t able to make the meeting, due to being locked in his own liquor cellar.

When they arrived, they were shown to a series of rooms that had been curtained off for privacy. Drinks were served. At the bar, our heroes met the Texian, Samuel Colt, who fell to discussing technology with Knuer. Soon, their brainstorming led to bar-top gadgeteering, rapidly producing a prototype seven-barrel shotgun.

The meeting’s hosts, Charles Dickens and Lady Ada Lovelace, introduced themselves, and explained the reason for the get-together. They, along with Mr Colt and some number of others, were members of an Association, who had come to realize that England and the entire human race was under assault by the forces of supernatural darkness. Our heroes were aware of this, having encountered various monsters in their pasts. The Association proposed a mutually beneficial relationship, in which the heroes were given support and information to be used to carry the fight to the monsters.

After clarifying that nobody was proposing the murder of actual humans, only monsters, the arrangement was accepted. Colt celebrated the agreement by presenting Mrs Buttersnaps with a pair of cutting-edge prototype pistols with replaceable cylinders. Miss Patton attempted to approach Lady Lovelace to flirt, but was blocked when Knuer, on the same mission, lured Lovelace away to talk about technology.

Dickens then handed over the group’s first case-file. Lady Estella Havisham is a patient at the Swallow House Sanatorium in Crawley, halfway between London and Brighton. She had reported to a relative about being frightened by a large jungle cat on the sanatorium grounds. While Lady Havisham has a history of depression and binge drinking, her relative had never known her to hallucinate or make up unbelievable stories, and so the story came to the attention of the Association. This prompted Lady Lovelace to perform a Babbage engine analysis, which had revealed a statistically-improbable number of suicides in and around the sanatorium over the past three months.

Our heroes set to discussing the file over drinks. Mrs Buttersnaps mentioned that she knew of several different kinds of were-cats around the world, but none that could disguise their kills as any kind of suicide, while Knuer had known demons to drive people to suicide, but never in the form of a big cat.

Miss Patton opened up her bag and stepped inside, descending into it to consult her library. There, her research pointed towards the likely culprit: a skin-changer, a compulsive serial killer spirit with the ability to take the shape of a person or animal by putting on a flayed skin. A skin-changer might both wear the skin of a predator and drive people to suicide for sick thrills.

Knuer and Mrs Buttersnaps were both startled to see Miss Patton exiting her bag bearing a book with a description of the monster and a detailed illustration. Patton and Knuer combined their knowledge and the contents of the bar to mix up a concoction that could spoil a preserved skin. Mrs Buttersnaps discovered the potion’s corrosive properties when she tasted it, but Knuer was able to provide some quick first aid.

When Mrs Buttersnaps returned home, she found her husband was still locked in a liquor cellar… but this time, it was a different liquor cellar.

That night, Miss Patton dreamed that she was seeing through another being’s eyes as it searched through dusty attics and storerooms. She glimpsed a hazy vision of the being discovering a hidden package. When the package was unwrapped, it revealed a dried monkey’s paw.

The next morning, our heroes left town aboard Knuer’s steam carriage, bound for Crawley. The trip took the bulk of the day, so when they arrived, they obtained rooms and went to discuss the case over dinner. Prompted by the discussion, Knuer went to the local library to do some research.

Back in the days of piracy, he read, Captain James Swallow had made his fortune in the Caribbean before coming back to Crawley to build a sprawling house. After his mysterious death, the house and grounds had gone through many hands before finally becoming Swallow House Sanatorium.

He was also able to find newspapers from the past several months, allowing him to make a list of the dates and circumstances of the recent suicides.

When he brought this information back to the others, they speculated that perhaps Captain Swallow had left behind some treasure that the skin-changer was now seeking. Furthermore, upon seeing the list of dates, Mrs Buttersnaps noticed that there was a pattern to them, perhaps something having to do with the phase of the moon; it seemed that two people died, at regular intervals, for each new moon. This indicated that they had about a week before the next expected event. She also realized that the pattern had started abruptly in early February, with no suspicious deaths in January.

That night, Miss Patton had the same dream again, seeing the discovery of a monkey’s paw, but this time, the vision was much clearer. She saw that the dried paw was clutching something shiny. She also observed enough details to know the paw’s hiding place: stashed in a niche up a chimney in a cellar of the sanatorium’s main house. She felt sure she could find the location again. Likewise, she felt sure that the skin-changer was seeking this thing, clearly some object of power.

The next day, the heroes went to visit the sanatorium, claiming that Mrs Buttersnaps was seeking a place to care for her husband – a story which was, if anything, overly plausible. They made it some ways past the gate before they were intercepted by Dr Lorry and Nurse Pecksniff. The staff accepted the cover story, and were willing to let the heroes tour the facility. Knuer verbally probed the doctor’s medical knowledge, hoping to possibly expose a hidden monster, but discovered that the handsome young doctor knew his stuff.

Dr Lorry summoned Nicholas Smike, the head orderly, to show our heroes around the grounds, then bid them good day before leaving with Nurse Pecksniff. Knuer was somewhat smitten by Smike’s rugged good looks and mutton chops, so as the group walked around the sanatorium, he worked his way close to the orderly and offered a rather direct proposal. Offended, Smike attempted to punch Knuer, who evaded the attack but slipped and fell on the muddy ground. Mrs Buttersnaps quick-drew one of her new revolvers and shot Smike’s smoking pipe from his mouth, causing him to pause and re-think the situation.

At the commotion, the older Dr Provis Magwitch approached, demanding to know what was going on. The heroes introduced themselves, diplomatically smoothing over the incident as a blameless misunderstanding. Still angry but knowing to quit when he’s ahead, Smike stormed off. Kneur struck up a medical conversation with Dr Magwitch, determining that he, too, was a real doctor, if a generation behind on his training.

Playing off their common professional knowledge, Knuer interrogated the doctor about the sanatorium’s staff and recent happenings around the place. He learned that the third doctor, Dr Lizzie Hexam, had only arrived at the facility a few months ago, having arrived in early January from Haiti.

While noting that they needed to see Dr Hexam later, the heroes decided they wanted to see someone else first. Miss Patton mentioned that one of her distant cousins, Lady Havisham, was a patient, and asked if they could please see her? Having been put in a good mood by Knuer’s conversation, Dr Magwitch was willing to go along, and so the heroes found themselves pointed towards an elderly woman sitting watching a croquet match.

The heroes introduced themselves as friends who had been sent to look into her big cat trouble. Relieved, she explained that she had been sneaking around after-hours when she saw the beast. When questioned closely, she told them that she had seen the cat leaving the sanatorium’s ice house. In appreciation, Knuer slipped her a bottle of brandy that he Gizmo’ed out of his pocket.

The heroes quietly slipped away to check out the ice house. After some searching, Miss Patton found a space hidden behind a loose board, where she discovered a collection of large glass jars full of noxious chemicals and preserved skins. The first skin was a jaguar’s. The second was the skin of a human man. The heroes kept control over their stomachs as they pulled the jars out and used their skin-spoiling concoction to destroy the skins. Smelling the chemicals from the jars, Mrs Buttersnaps was certain that she had smelled the same thing earlier in the day, without realizing its significance. Someone they had met that day was the monster!

But what to do now? Lie in wait, in the cold ice house, hoping to jump the skin-changer when it came to change identities? That didn’t sound appealing, especially since they didn’t know how often the monster would change skins. Instead, they decided to go looking for the monkey’s paw.

Moving unobserved, the heroes made their way inside the main house and into the cellars. Miss Patton was able to locate the place from her dream. Reaching into the chimney, she pulled out a leather-wrapped package, which turned out to be a dried monkey’s paw, tightly clutching a gold doubloon!

Just then, Mrs Buttersnaps, on lookout, heard approaching footsteps. The door was thrown open, revealing Nurse Pecksniff. “What are you doing-?” she started to demand, before her eyes widened as she spotted the monkey’s paw in Miss Patton’s hand. Then Mrs Buttersnaps punched her right between the eyes with a two-and-a-half pound pistol.

… to no effect at all. Nurse Pecksniff snarled at our heroes, then, surprisingly, turned and fled!

The chase was on, but it was clear that one of the heroes was much fleeter of foot than the others. Knuer tossed Mrs Buttersnaps his shotgun, and then she was off in hot pursuit. To start with, she was reluctant to draw attention by shooting at Pecksniff. First, she tried to slam the monster off its feet, leading to a sort of running scuffle where neither party was able to harm or slow down the other.

Finally, the chase led into the kitchen, where Pecksniff snatched up a butcher knife. Mrs Buttersnaps tried to shoot the knife out of its hand, but was only able to slightly wound it before it stabbed her solidly in the torso, knocking her out!

When the others arrived, a few seconds later, they found Mrs Buttersnaps bleeding on the floor, but no sign of the monster. Knuer pulled some advanced medical supplies from his pockets and stabilized Mrs Buttersnaps.

Having lost the monster but foiled its plot, the heroes withdrew, claiming that Nurse Pecksniff had attacked Mrs Buttersnaps. They brought the paw back to London, planning to hand it over to the Association for safekeeping.

Cool Point: Miss Patton, for the prophetic dreams that were seen as key to cracking the case

Booby Point: Mrs Buttersnaps, for nearly being gutted by the monster



Steampunk Jetpack

One of the player’s stated goals for Knuer, the techie, is to own a jetpack. He’s an airship pilot, and he needs options for when the time comes to bail out from a burning balloon. Since I need to get comfortable with the GURPS Monster Hunters inventing rules, let’s run through some options.

The standard MH rules have a modifier for “every decade… from general consumption”, which starts racking up quick when you’re talking about a starting year of 1851, especially when folks want to be able to create TL 5+1 WWII-era guns or TL 5+3 difference engines. Therefore, I’m going to instead be using the standard -5 per TL modifier from GURPS Basic Set: Campaigns, page 475.

Let’s see if we can sneak up on this “jetpack” idea, since there might be easier, more steampunk-y options along the way. What we’re looking for, really, is some kind of man-portable emergency flight technology.

We could start with the TL 7 hang-glider from GURPS High Tech, page 232. The modified base cost for a folding TL 5+2 hang-glider would be $8,000, for a complexity modifier of -1. Knuer could roll Scrounging -1 to come up with the parts, or just pay $80 out of pocket. Then, with no more than a couple of hours’ work, he would roll Inventor! at -11, with success meaning accepting a bug in the prototype and a critical success meaning no bug. If he could make a Weird Science roll, he would roll Inventor! at -6, but might have to accept a strange side effect. (Of course, all of these rolls could be affected by spending wildcard points and so forth.) Once built, the prototype would only work for (1d + margin of success) minutes before being at risk of failure.

For comparison, let’s run through the Quick Gadgeteering rules from the Basic Set: A TL 7 hang glider, by price, is Average complexity. First, Knuer would need to make a concept roll, using Inventor! at -2. Assembling a prototype would require 1d-2 hours. Again, he could Scrounge for the parts, but at -2. Failing that, he could pay $6,000 for a facility suitable for inventing hang gliders, and $80 for the materials to build a prototype. He would need to roll Inventor! at -12, or -7 with Weird Science, to successfully build the prototype, but success by anything less than a margin of three would introduce bugs. Barring trouble from those bugs, the prototype would be as durable as any other piece of equipment. In time, he might be able to set up a production line to build hang gliders for sale to the public.

However, Knuer wants powered flight, so let’s run through the calculations using the ram-air parachute from HT, p. 232, a TL 8 gadget with a modifier cost of $28,000. Using MH rules, that’s no more than 3 hours of work, Scrounging -2 or pay $280, roll Inventor! at -17 or -9 with Weird Science.

The Basic Set rules say the ram-air parachute is still Average complexity, meaning the concept roll would still be at -2, and the facility cost would remain the same, but the cost per prototype would jump to $280. The roll to create the prototype would be at -17, or -9 with Weird Science.

Finally, what about a TL 9 helipack (GURPS Ultra-Tech, p. 231)? With a starting price of $320K, MH rules give a base time of 1d hours and a complexity modifier of -3, plus -20 in Tech Level modifiers. If Scrounging -3 doesn’t work, it’s $3,200 in parts. Roll Inventor! at -23, or -13 with Weird Science.

By the basic rules, the helipack is a Complex invention, with a base -4 modifier. The facility cost is $22,500 and each prototype will cost $3,200. The roll to create would be at -24, or -14 with Weird Science.

So: it seems that the MH rules are for field-expedient, “MacGyver-ed” creations. If you want an invention to last, you’ll need to invest in expensive production equipment. And, even spending wildcard points, given his 18- skill roll, Knuer is likely to use Weird Science and end up with an air-ram parachute… but coal-fueled, ghost-attracting, and whistling like a tea kettle.


Steampunk Monster Hunters: Dramatis personæ

Character creation went extraordinarily well! So, who are our heroes?

Nayler H. Knuer: Philanthropist Techie

Part Richard Francis Burton, part Oscar Wilde, an inventor and airship pilot who has traveled the world seeking thrills and made a fortune along the way. He has encountered angels and demons, which he refers to indiscriminately as “jinn”. In between harrowing adventures, he amuses himself by using Medic! to self-medicate, a practice that has left him thin and jittery.

Knuer has Inventor! at 18-, giving him four wildcard points, and Medic! at 15-, giving one wildcard point. His signature invention is a steam-powered jetpack, though he also has his own airship.

In appearance, Knuer is similar to The Thin White Duke, but with more hair. He wears a monocle to make up for his nearsightedness.

The Buttersnaps, Lucretia Gasser and Octavious: Philanthropist Commando and Hired Gun Psi

A married couple who hunt monsters together, while drinking heavily. I gather that they’ve seen some stuff.

Lucretia is American, with all that implies. She’s outgoing, frequently drunk, favors dual pistols, and can shoot the wings off flies. She’s not only a Gunslinger, she also has Gun! at 19-, yielding 5 wildcard points.

She has, by a wide margin, the highest DX in the group. She also has a wide selection of gun-related Perks.

Octavious is an arrogant, alcoholic medium who is involved in a bitter feud with a clown demon. Being a psi, Octavious lacks wildcard skills, but he has much knowledge of spirits and the undead, and is a skilled hypnotist.

He has specialized in ESP and Psychokinesis. He can speak with spirits. He can also see both the past and the future. He’s able to protect himself and move small objects with his mind, but his most impressive psychokinetic power is his ability to draw the heat out of anything (or anyone) he concentrates on.

Margaret Anne Champman, Worlds Greatest Girl Detective: Accidental Hero Sleuth

A precocious 11-year-old girl, mature for her age, with startling powers of deduction. She solves mysteries, which her guardian, Uncle Byron, turns into a popular series of books. This has given her a helpful reputation.

Miss Champman is the most intelligent member of the group, by a very slim margin. She possesses an honest face, a unique steam-powered “grabbering gun”, Detective! at 18- giving three wildcard points, and Talker! at 17- for two wildcard points.

Mercy Patton: Philanthropist Sage

A proper British governess who enchants her bag to be bigger on the inside than the outside. (I suspect ties with a certain famous doctor.) She sometimes has dreams that come true.

Mercy is the group’s linguist, being versed in several ancient tongues. She has Lore! at 17-, yielding three wildcard points. Furthermore, she is well-versed in ritual magic, particularly the Paths of Crossroads, Magic, Matter, and Undead. She carries a combination rapier/umbrella.

“Unnamed Experiment”: Operative Experiment

Created by a shadowy organization, he’s a steampunk cyborg who is just starting to realize that he retains his free will, in spite of what his creators planned. He’ll be working with the heroes while simultaneously playing a dangerous game of do-they-know with his makers.

The experiment has several sensory enhancements, can hold his breath far longer than a normal human, and no longer feels fear. His chosen weapon is a cane, but he’s not above using firearms when necessary. He’s fairly rugged, having the highest ST and HT of the group.

My understanding is that he’s been set up to hunt fae. (Though the draft character sheet I’m reading claims demons – likely a misprint.)



What else could the champions have done to scare up some clues?

Occult research. Is there any history of zombie activity in the area? No, which might point to their magical origin, offering a “what” clue.

The magical source of the zombies might prompt the champions to check with their contacts to see if anyone had recently purchased a grimoire of zombie-raising rituals, which might lead to Bonefat’s purchase of the enchanted goblet. This might be a “who” clue, or if the champions have already deduced the villain, it might count as a “why” clue, used to explain the whole scheme.

Since the slow zombies only last for a few hours, the champions might get a look at the remains. Forensics and a “Detective!” roll could offer some insights. Certainly, a “what” clue, to differentiate magically-raised zombies from, say, restless dead disturbed by poor grave maintenance.

Investigating the identities of the zombies might offer a “who” clue, after realizing that the dishonored dead were all old enemies and rivals of Bonefat’s.

No doubt Miss Dinkley could whip up all manner of useful gadgets that could expose clues. If the champions make enough “when” and “where” deductions, they might be able to set a trap or set up an ambush, eliminating the need for a “who” deduction.

There’s a whole world of clue opened up by tracking. As it happens, none of our champions have the Tracking skill… but they do have a mastiff. In my experience, when a PC pays for a dog as an Ally, that dog is usually half Lassie, half lion, and half bloodhound. Picking up a scent shouldn’t be beyond its capabilities. Tracking zombies back to the cemetery would likely be trivial, but what if the champions took it a step further? It’s not inconceivable that, from the cemetery, they might be able to pick up Bonefat’s trail, particularly if they’ve deduced the timing of the attacks and set themselves to interfere with the next occurrence. That could lead them to the villain’s country house, eliminating the need for a “where” deduction and offering a big bonus to the “who” question. Questioning the servants might yield many more “who” and “why” clues.

If it weren’t for you meddling Yorkshiremen…

It looks like I might possibly have the ability to run a game again soon, sometime in the next couple of months, and I’m leaning towards GURPS Steampunk Monster Hunters. More on that later, as the situation develops.

For those who haven’t seen every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the genre might need some explanation. Mundane humanity is largely unaware of the monsters lurking in the darkness, and that’s really for the best. (Like Kay put it, “People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals…” and if they knew about what was really going on out there, they would just make a bad situation worse.) You are one of the heroes who stands between the monsters and the innocent people of the world.

How’s this done? Mostly through digging up information from dusty old tomes, interviewing witnesses, and roughing up henchmen to get ’em to talk.

“There’s a reason champions are known as ‘monster hunters’ and not ‘monster killers.’

GURPS Monster Hunters 2

This isn’t Dungeon Fantasy, where you can walk down stairs into any old basement and find monsters to slay. The focus here is on solving the mystery, on the investigation, with an eye towards ending the threat. That might mean learning the Big Bad’s weakness and laying an ambush, but it might also mean giving the dangerous ghost what it needs to move on to the afterlife, or putting a stop to the mining that’s upsetting the gnomes.

In an effort to orient the players, and to get my own head straight, I’m going to work through a contrived example.

The Plot

Orson Bonefat, the Earl of Blatherskite, has run up a series of gambling debts. Being an amateur student of magic, he concocts a plan to use magic to enrich himself.

A village near Bonefat’s estate would make an excellent site for a airship mooring tower. If only he could drive off the current inhabitants, he could buy up the land cheap and make a killing!

He has access to an ancient Roman template, a place of power, on his estate. Through his contacts in the mystic community, he obtains an enchanted item, a goblet useful as a magical tool for casting spells relating to the undead. He uses these assets to create charms to temporarily raise the dead as zombies – the “mindless servant” kind, not the ones that are compulsive brain-eaters.

Bonefat begins visiting the village from time to time, ostensibly to attend the cricket matches. On these visits, he surreptitiously uses one of his charms to raise the dead in the local cemetery. The charmed remains dig themselves out of their graves and go on a mindless rampage later that night. They aren’t looking to kill people – their mission is to scare folks off – but they’re not above roughing someone up if they get the chance. They mostly chase folks, bang on shutters, break into barns and chase the horses out, and so forth.

The Mystery

The basic questions to be answered are the Five W’s: who, what, when, where, and why.

Who? The Earl of Blatherskite. He’s made some effort to hide his involvement, but he’s also Status 5. As a witch, he doesn’t have any particular Supernatural Features or Compulsive Behaviors that might give him away. Rolls to deduce his identity start off with a -6 penalty. The champions will be rolling against Current Affairs or Area Knowledge.

What? The monsters are magically-created zombies, but the true enemy is effectively a rogue witch. Rolls concerning the zombies will be against Hidden Lore (Restless Undead), and since they’re simple creatures lacking the ability to conceal their nature, those deduction rolls will be at only -2. Roll to deduce the magician behind the scenes will be against Thaumatology, at a -4 thanks to Bonefat’s attempts to cover his tracks.

When? On the one hand, the zombie attacks coincide with Bonefat’s cricket outings; on the other, he needs to drive everybody out of the village and make his dirty deals before his debts come due. Thus, rolls about timing are at -4.

Where? Linking the zombies to the cemetery isn’t much of a leap, and it’s easy to figure out that the village is the target of whatever’s going on. Anyone trying to make the connection between the village or the cemetery and Bonefat’s home, on the other hand, would be rolling at -10, since he’s going out of his way to keep his evil plans out of his own back yard.

Why? The motive for the whole situation is Bonefat’s desire to pick up cheap land so he can get rich from the airship mooring scheme. This is a plan with a couple of levels, and he’s working through zombie minions, establishing a -10 modifier for “why” deductions.

The Champions

Mr Jones is an Accidental Hero/Sleuth. He has Intuition, 36 points in “Detective!” yielding 3 bonus points, and 24 points in “Talker!” giving 2 bonus points. (Bonus points can be used to buy successes, reduce damage, add things to the environment, etc., within the area covered by the wildcard skill.)

Madame Blake is a Chosen One/Psi, with Psychometry, Spirit Communication, and some minor telepathic powers. She also has Intuition, and a 15-point Destiny, which gives her 3 destiny points. Finally, she has 4 unspent character points saved from previous adventures. (Both destiny points and character points can be spent like bonus wildcard points, but without the restriction in scope.)

Miss Dinkley is a Hired Gun/Techie. She has 48 points in Inventor!, providing 4 bonus points, and 12 points in Science!, giving 1 bonus point. Though she specializes in technology and engineering, she’s been around and seen some things, so she’s picked up a few points in Thaumatology. She has 5 unspent points.

Herr Rogers is an Avenger/Warrior with Gigantism. He’s got a hefty 60 points in Blade! giving him 5 bonus points. He has a mastiff as an Ally.

The Investigation

The champions arrive at the village following a tip. They begin their investigation by asking around and interviewing the people of the village. While meeting several colorful local NPCs, they rapidly accumulate several clues. The first eyewitness mentions being chased by “Old Man Toulouse, what died last winter”, a “what” clue that gives Mr Jones a roll against Hidden Lore (Restless Undead) at -1, effective 15, a roll he immediately makes by 4. We’re dealing with slow zombies!

A second eyewitness mentions details about the zombies that offer another “what” clue. Miss Dinkley rolls against Thaumatology at an effective 12. A roll of 11 establishes that these zombies were animated by magic, likely cast by no more than one or two witches.

After a few more interviews, Mr Jones compares the accounts and gathers a “when” clue. A roll at -3 (-4 starting modifier, +1 for the clue) against “Detective!” gives an effective skill of 13, another easy roll, made by 3. The zombies always attack late in the evening after a cricket game, and the violence of the attacks seems to be increasing, indicating an increased sense of urgency to whatever purpose they serve.

This prompts the champions to speculate. Perhaps the witch behind the zombies is someone attending the cricket games?

After some diplomacy, the champions gain access to the scene of the last zombie attack, where a man was killed. Madame Blake uses her Spirit Communication to contact the lingering spirit of the dead victim. (Herr Rogers grumbles about spooky powers.) Questioning the victim reveals that he had been distracted on the night of his death after a business argument. With good roleplay and lucky Psychology rolls from several members of the team, this counts as both a “who” and a “why” clue, but nobody is able to make a deduction roll. Still, those clues will modify future rolls.

That’s not good enough for Mr Jones, who has really been enjoying being the best detective at the investigation. He taps his Intuition to get another try at that “who” deduction. Before the GM rolls, Mr Jones’ player mentions a willingness to devote 2 “Detective!” bonus points towards turning a regular success into a critical success. The GM rolls an 11, just enough for a success. After conversion to a critical success, that’s enough to reveal Orson Bonefat by name!

Mr Jones makes an intuitive leap. The ghost’s description of the circumstances before his death, plus various incidental pieces of information gathered in previous interviews, points towards Bonefat as the Big Bad. But why?

… and the question of why matters, since Bonefat is a living human being. Nobody makes too much fuss when you chop up a zombie or stake a vampire who “died” two hundred years ago, but they tend to take active interest when a bunch of scruffy murder-hobos bust in and chop the head off a member of the peerage. No fair foiling the plot by murdering humans. Herr Rogers curses with feeling.

Well, if the champions can’t get a stand-up fight, they’ll settle for a caper. They pull off a complex series of actions that puts Miss Dinkley in Bonefat’s private study. There, she goes through his personal papers, using Administration to uncover financial records, a “why” clue. She uses a couple of unspent character points to make sure it’s a good clue, worth +2 to deduction rolls. Still, nobody makes the deduction roll. Even with a couple of clues, a -10 is hard to overcome.

As the team goes over the purloined papers, Madame Blake uses her own Intuition for a second chance, and offers to use all three of her destiny points to make this roll count. The roll fails, but 3 points is enough to turn that into a critical success. She puts together several lines in a ledger and puts together the whole plot. A few nights of bad luck led to an unexpected debt. Favors were called in, but too little, too late. Payments to buy an antique Celtic goblet, just before the first appearance of the zombies. Speculation in the airship business. Notes on the need for a local mooring tower. Property purchases, and offers made on other plots.

With the whole plot revealed, the champions come up with a solution that might not require an unacceptable level of anti-social behavior. With a little more investigation into Bonefat’s estates, the teams turns up a “where” clue and locates the place where Bonefat keeps the enchanted goblet: an old Roman ruin in a quiet corner of his estate.

Finally in his element, Herr Rogers takes the lead. The team loads up for a fight, sneaks onto Bonefat’s estate, and approaches the ruin. There, they encounter a party of slow zombies defending the goblet, and it turns into a fight scene. Rogers spends most of his bonus points being awesome in the battle. In the end, the zombies are put down, and the goblet destroyed.

As a final touch, the next day, Mr Jones calls upon the Earl. In a diplomatic way, he takes responsibility for the destruction of the goblet and Bonefat’s zombie minions, and politely communicates that the team will be keeping an eye on him in the future. No more evil magic, or they will take certain unspecified but ominous “steps”.

And then it’s off to Paris, to see about these reports of a rogue gorilla…


D&D 5E: Dome

The kids’ game had one of the experienced players back, giving us a manageable six PCs:

  • Styx – alchemist wood elf arcane trickster 3
  • Necro – experimental warforged conjurer 2
  • Reaper – noble drow warlock 2
  • RH – noble human paladin 2
  • Gwar – knight half-orc monk/barbarian 1/1
  • August – folk hero half-elf bard 2

This is the session where I blew it figuring encounter balance. When I was putting the adventure together, I was thinking we would have eight PCs on the stage (wrong), I was expecting a couple of them to level up by the time the fateful encounter came about (nope), and I figured a couple of near-dead PCs would be acceptable. (Questionable but moot, since I overlooked a rule that turned “near-dead” into… well, you’ll see.)


In between games, in conversation, I pick up bits of characterization. Not all of it comes up in a play synopsis. Here’s some pieces I’ve gathered.

Gwar benefits from wearing no armor, so his “Sunday go adventurin'” outfit is his boots of the winterlands at one end, his new cap of water breathing at the other, and as little as he can get away with in between.

RH worships the turkey god, a proud and noble Lawful Good deity who rewards those who cook good food and those who smite foul evil. RH does both with enthusiasm. When on the road, he keeps the party’s morale high by turning iron rations and scavenged herbs into an endless stream of surprisingly tasty sandwiches.

Like all warforged, Necro was designed to be a soldier; in his case, he was meant to be a battlefield necromancer. He often feels compelled to act according to that role: collecting bones, seeking necromantic spells, raising undead minions, and so forth. He has vague memories of a life spent in battle, leading an army of skeletons, possibly during the Titans’ War. Later, he was deactivated for some time, only to be (briefly) awakened by “The Creator”, a thin, old man wearing an extravagant handlebar mustache. The Creator’s experiments cost Necro his memory (and, it seems, many levels) but gave him free will and the ability to forge his own destiny.

Styx grew up as a wizard’s apprentice, but personal tragedy and her wild ways put her on a path of thievery. Her education was disrupted by a vampire attack that cost her most of her immediate family. She survived, wounded, but since then she’s avoided bright sunlight, and recently, she’s lost her appetite…

What Happened

At the end of last session, our heroes were attending a feast at Swamp Village, in honor of their baby-rescuing efforts. Gwar and RH engaged in a drinking contest, which RH won when Gwar fell off his log. While lurking in the shadows, Styx ran into an elderly woman who gave her directions towards the deepest part of the swamp. “Those who enter do not return,” she warned. Perfect place to find a hidden artifact.

The next morning, they set out. Where they were going, a wagon would be no use, so they had their dwarf teamster, Angus, stay in Swamp Village. Instead, Reaper located and purchased a rowboat made from a single giant turtle shell, large enough to carry them all but small enough to carry when open water was unavailable. The party chose to proceed at a slow-but-stealthy pace.

Several hours into the journey, they had their first encounter. While scouting ahead of the main party, Styx spotted a group of lizardfolk who were likewise moving quietly through the swamps. After a whispered conversation, the party decided to set up an ambush. When the lizardfolk party came by, they found themselves suddenly confronted by Reaper, in the guise of a lizardfolk warrior, waving his hands and pantomiming a lost voice to cover for his lack of knowledge of the Draconic language. While all eyes were on him, Styx stepped from a bush unobserved, quietly decapitated one of the lizardfolk with her magical “dagger” (in name only, being more of a short sword), and taking the head with her, stepped back into concealment. Finally, Gwar burst up roaring from beneath the water where he had concealed himself (cap of water breathing, remember) and bisected one of the trailing lizardfolk with his greatsword. With all eyes drawn towards the rear, RH charged from the bushes in front, tackling one of the lizardfolk and taking it to the ground to be pummeled. Necro, August, and Reaper set up a barrage of spells, killing two more lizardfolk, causing the last one to rethink the situation and flee.

The party trussed up the one that RH had grappled. They decided to call him “Yellow” (based on the color of his generic plastic mini) and tried to question him without the benefit of a common language. Styx drew a decanter on a piece of paper, gesturing that it was what they were seeking. Yellow nodded, pantomiming recognition of the object and a willingness to lead them to it.

That settled, the party settled down for a long rest in the middle of the day, having blown through a lot of high-powered magic in the fight. They set the two elves and the warforged on watch, since they all only need a few hours of downtime, while the humans sacked out. The elves and warforged commented on the laziness of humans, speculating that they could get by with four hours a day as well if they really tried.

After only about an hour, the party’s peace was disturbed when a huge, animated pile of compost pulled itself out of the swampy water and started moving towards the sleeping party members. A shambling mound! Those on watch raised the alarm, waking the sleepers, and the party moved to defend the camp. Despite taking a couple of hits, the party surrounded the mound and rapidly tore it to pieces. Necro poked around in the stinking compost of the remains, looking for bones, and RH noticed a pouch that proved to be full of coin: a fair amount of gold, and a somewhat larger amount of rare electrum pieces.

The party finished their rest, rising after sundown and proceeding by torchlight, with Yellow pointing the way. He first led them to a location where they found a strange effigy, made from vines, branches, and turtle shells, in the shape of a dragon with spread wings and a pair of large horns. Yellow touched the effigy’s chin, muttering rapidly under his breath in Draconic, then stepped back, gesturing at the rest of the party to also touch the dragon’s chin. All but Styx and Necro did so; Necro was suspicious, and Styx was checking the dragon’s mouth for loose change.

They pressed on. The swamp grew denser. Travel slowed and visibility dropped. The party began to hear strange, almost reptilian cries high above them. They tossed a few quickly-captured fish into the air. Not all of the thrown fish came back to the ground.

After several hours of travel, they broke out from the heavy tree cover to see an open space in the swamp surrounding a huge metal dome! It was clearly old, covered with creeping vines and slippery slime, but parts still shone in the moonlight. It was over a hundred feet high, at the top, and at least a mile across, with a wide area of open water around it. At the top, they could see torn and corroded metal; an opening, perhaps?  “Holey rusted metal,” Gwar observed, pointing.

They decided to climb the dome to take a look in the hole. Styx and RH, being expert climbers, led the way, then dropped ropes for the others. Necro took a few jokes when he couldn’t muster the upper-body strength to climb a rope, but they tied a loop under his arms and hauled him up.

The top of the dome was flat enough to walk around on, and dotted with obscure machinery. They made their way over to the hole, looking down over a drop of about a hundred feet to the treetop canopy of a jungle environment below. They heard animal noises from below. They finally saw the bird-things that they had been hearing, and found them to be winged lizards. Under the far side of the hole, they saw an area rising maybe twenty or so feet above the tops of trees. Two streams of water fell from the pedestal in a pair of small waterfalls. Between the two streams… a black dragon, as big as a horse, curled up asleep.

The party was divided on how to proceed. They could drop ropes and descend to the jungle area. They could just as easily descend to the dragon’s perch. What to do then? Attack it from surprise? Or sneak in, snag the best treasure, and sneak out, leaving it asleep the whole time?

Reaper insisted that they give the dragon the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it was a good dragon, after all! They could offer it a basket of fish as a gesture of goodwill and try to become its friend.

Various schemes were weighed and discarded, until finally Reaper took matters into his own hands. He upended the basket of fish, dropping its contents into a slippery pile right in front of the dragon’s nose. It awoke. The rest of the party scattered, seeking places of concealment. The dragon looked around, sampled the fish, then took to the air, revealing that it made its bed on its treasure. It flew up through the hole and landed in front of Reaper. It clearly spotted August, as well, but didn’t seem particularly aware of the others.

“What do you mean by dropping these fish on me!” it demanded.

“O mighty dragon,” Reaper replied, throwing his hands in the air in praise, “I have traveled far, wishing only to gaze upon the wonder that is you! O finest of dragons, I give you these fish as a gift, because you are so awesome!”

The dragon rather liked all this, but still had some questions. Like: Could Reaper catch more fish like those? After learning that yes, he could, the dragon grabbed Reaper and took to the air, returning to his perch with the two streams and demanding that Reaper fish. Reaper did, and while he did, he noticed that the two streams led back to the rear of the pedestal, near the dome wall. There, he could see their source: the decanter!

Back atop the dome, opinions were badly divided. Gwar was strongly in favor of getting back in the boat and leaving Reaper to his fate. Styx pointed out that they were almost within sight of the object of their quest. Gwar replied that he hadn’t started the day on a quest, he had woke up with a hangover and gone for a ride in his buddy’s new boat; he had surely never signed up to fight a dragon!

Matters came to a head when the disagreement made enough noise to draw the dragon’s attention. It returned to the top of the dome, roaring and demanding answers from August, the first person it saw. In a remarkable display of daring, August used his bardic comedy stylings to render the dragon helpless with hideous laughter!

Sadly, the party didn’t have a unified plan of action, and so they split their efforts. Styx rushed down a rope to join Reaper, who was already running for the decanter, with both passing by the rest of the dragon’s treasure horde. The others initially hung back, but finally attacked the dragon, breaking it out of its laughing jag.

Angry, the dragon moved to line up its shot and unleashed its acidic breath weapon. RH fell, mortally wounded and making death saves. He was the lucky one. August was utterly erased from existence, burned away to nothing!

That was enough for Gwar, who ran for the boat. Styx climbed the rope in record time, carrying the decanter. As soon as she crossed over the edge, she opened the decanter and unleashed a geyser of water, knocking the dragon prone! Taking advantage of its distraction, the party as a whole fled, returning to the boat and paddling madly for the cover of the trees. They were able to make their escape. After hiding for some time, they turned to the slog back to Swamp Village.


For the most part, the party counted the adventure as a win: they met a dragon, only lost one member of the party, and made off with the MacGuffin. Several party members even gained a level along the way.

Gwar, having lost his half-elf half-brother, took it somewhat harder, but is expected to recover and find a new sidekick shortly.

Styx has stated her intention to return to the Chasm of Flies. There, she and Necro will finish stealing the goblin tribe’s treasure, returning through the matriarch’s escape passage. If Necro learns how to raise skeletons, they’ll do it with the help of some skeleton porters, to help carry the treasure. Once that’s taken care of, they’ll use the decanter to wash out all the webs and decay and old titan bones, and see about shrinking that magic gauntlet down to humanoid size.


D&D 5E: Gingerbread

This session, the kids were again joined by a couple of more experienced players. Since the kids have been running two characters each, it was only fair that the incoming players do the same, so we ended up with a greatly enlarged team.

  • Styx – alchemist wood elf arcane trickster 3
  • Necro – experimental warforged conjurer 2
  • Reaper – noble drow warlock 2
  • RH – noble human paladin 2
  • Gwar – knight half-orc monk/barbarian 1/1
  • August – folk hero half-elf bard 2
  • Brian – tribal human barbarian/fighter 1/1
  • Kristina – criminal lightfoot halfling ranger 2

Styx and Necro are just starting a romantic relationship, despite alignment differences. Reaper and RH are childhood friends, presumably thrown together due to their similar backgrounds. Gwar and August are half-orc half-elf half-human half-brothers, working together so that Gwar does heroic stuff and August sings about the heroic stuff Gwar did. Brian and Kristina appear to be partners in crime.

This adventure was largely inspired by an adventure I read once (but can no longer locate) called “Cooking with Auntie Erma”.

What Happened

All the PCs fell in together, the way PCs do. Unusually, they ran in to each other in a library. Or, at least, as close a thing to a library as the mining town offered: the back room of the alchemist’s shop, where the gnome shopkeeper kept a few volumes of lore. When Styx’s research bore fruit, the others became interested – even the PCs who had been standing around bored, waiting for the bookish types to finish up. She had been seeking a way to clear out the Gauntlet of Spiragos, aiming to shrink the artifact down to humanoid dimensions. She found a reference to a particular decanter of endless water which was said to lie at the center of a swamp only a few days’ travel to the southwest. The party formed around this quest, and adjourned to the nearest tavern.

While most of the party were carousing downstairs, Necro went upstairs to set up a brazier with some expensive incense. It didn’t take long to summon his first familiar, a bat. He sent it out to spy on the others and play pranks for a while. Once that got old, he came downstairs, and offered to let Reaper use the brazier to summon his own familiar. The warlock accepted, summoning a spider.

The next morning, they all left, with Angus the miner-turned-driver handling the first of two wagons. The journey was uneventful, until they entered the swamp itself. The road had narrowed to a muddy track with open water to either side. Thick bushes crowded close to the path.

With a cacophony of croaks, a ragged band of bullywugs attacked from ambush! They jumped from behind bushes, surrounding both wagons and attacking with spears. In the first moments of the fight, Angus was badly wounded and knocked out, while one of the horses was killed outright. The party fought back vigorously, incapacitating many of the frog-men and sending the others running off to the south.

While looting the bodies of the fallen bullywugs, they found a scrap of papyrus with some crude hash marks and an obscure rune. After some discussion, they finally identified the rune as meaning “human babies”.

The bullywugs were stealing babies!

This offense could not stand!

Necro sent his bat winging after the fleeing bullywugs, even as Kristina picked up their trail. Leaving Angus and the wagons behind, the party struggled cross-country. After a time, the bat reported that the bullywugs had gone to ground, inside a building. When the party burst out into the clearing, they saw that it was a house… made of gingerbread.

They licked it. Yup, real gingerbread. They tried to peek in the windows, but to no avail – they were glazed.

Styx did her roguery on the door, pronounced it safe, and opened it a crack to peek through. Inside, she saw a huge kitchen, much bigger than the house could possibly contain. For that matter, the table in the middle of the kitchen was bigger than the entire house! Various over-sized, animated cutlery and kitchen utensils were working industriously. On the far side of the room, a normal, human-sized stairway led up to a closed door.

In a decision that would bring later consequences, they left Necro and RH, the louder members of the party, to watch the door, while the others slipped sneakily inside. They stayed under cover, making their way across the room to the stairs. Along the way, they got a peek inside a cupboard, discovering jars full of eyes and similar unwholesomeness.

Gathering at the door, the party burst inside, surprising three green hags at tea!

The room was on the cozy side. The hags were each sitting in an overstuffed armchair. To one side, they saw a waist-high brass cage, with half a dozen babies inside, who immediately set to wailing. With a roar, Brian crossed the room to attack one of the hags with his greatsword. Reaper used the power of his new ring to throw a web at one corner of the room, trapping two of the hags and making most of the room treacherous ground. Gwar joined Brian in applying two-handed weaponry vigorously to the seated witch, whose defense began to crumble under the powerful blows. Styx wanted to call for Necro and RH, but knew they would never be able to join the fray in time.

One of the trapped hags broke free, rushing up close to the party. Her eyes went black as she unleashed the horrible power of the eyebite. This caused a fearful stir among the PCs, but turned out to be more eye-bark than eye-bite; every PC targeted was able to make the Wisdom save and escape unscathed.

With everybody bunched up so close, it didn’t take long for the party to put down one of the hags, breaking the coven. At that point, it became “every witch for herself”. One of the fey creatures was able to slip past the party and escape out the door, but the last one was surrounded. She fell to her knees, begging for mercy, offering to use her magical powers for the good of the PCs.

For a moment, they considered the offer, but Brian was having none of it. He mercilessly lopped off the hag’s head in mid-plea.

As the gingerbread house began to gently crumble, the party got the babies out of the cage and performed a quick search, discovering much coin, quite a few gems, a potion, and a cap of water breathing. They carried the rescued babies back to the wagon and woke Angus. After a bit of searching, they were able to find a small village nearby, where they handed the lost children back to their relieved parents and enjoyed a feast of thanksgiving.

They say the decanter lies near the center of the swamp…


D&D 5E: Scouting and Deception

Since last session, the kids’ schedules diverged a bit, so we ended up having a couple of sessions with varying numbers of players. This provided an opportunity to demonstrate the whole “short rest/long rest” recovery scheme, to both players and DM.

I’ve got this nefarious scheme where I’m trying to leverage D&D for educational purposes. (Hey, it worked on me.) As a part of that, I’ve rejected the seductive path of milestone leveling. When the PCs overcome an obstacle, I award XP, the players do the math, and we see if anybody levels up. I was worried that might slow down the game too badly, but it hasn’t worked out that way. I keep an eye on their XP totals, so I know when they’re getting close to a new level. I try to pace it out so that they level when it’s about time to wrap up for the day.

Reminder, we’re using the adventure, Gauntlet of Spiragos, if only loosely. From this point on, you will surely encounter spoilers. (One thing I did change: the original module has the local goblins being variants with six arms, among other mutations. I left it at just spidery eyes and a poisonous bite. I figured that would emphasize the monstrous nature of… well, you’ll see.)

What Happened

Reaper and RH settled down in a concealed location near the Chasm, keeping watch and eating sandwiches. Styx and Necro went to reconnoiter, approaching the Chasm more closely than before. They discovered that it was a deep, sheer pit. How deep, they could not tell, because a canopy of webs hanging dozens of feet below obscured the view. There were a couple of crude rope bridges, woven from giant spider web, leading from the edge of the pit to a couple of odd stone pillars in the hole’s center.

Taking care to be quiet, the two crossed over the nearest bridge to one of the columns. As they approached, they realized that the column’s surface was riddled with holes, some large enough for a goblin to slip through. Being a slender elf, Styx had no trouble doing the same.

Styx discovered two things. First, upon getting a close look at the column’s surface and interior, her alchemical training allowed her to notice that it was no normal stone, but fossilized bone!

Marveling at the thought of such a large piece of bone, she made her second discovery: the column contained an interior hollow space, dark and thickly coated in cobwebs, that formed a kind of descending spiral staircase. She called to Necro, who was able to squeeze inside with some difficulty. Without keen elven eyes, Necro wasn’t able to see as well in the darkness, so he summoned dancing lights.

They had only descended a short way before they heard something. It sounded like exhausted whimpering, perhaps a wounded creature of some kind. Looking around, they noticed movement a few feet below, behind sheets of webs. A humanoid form?

While they were distracted, the giant puppeteer spider struck! It grabbed Necro around his waist, but wasn’t able to secure Styx. The battle that followed was tense and desperate, fought at close quarters, but in hindsight, the outcome was inevitable. Being grappled by the spider, Necro was an enemy of the spider, within five feet of it, and not incapacitated… which meant Styx could lay down a sneak attack on her every turn. She took it apart.

It turned out the “humanoid form” was really a crude puppet made of webs wrapped around a humanoid skeleton. The spider had worked it like a marionette.

After a shiver at this grisly encounter, the two carried on, taking occasional peeks outside the column to see how they were getting on. Having descended some way, they decided to check the webs outside the column to see if they could support a person’s weight.

As it turns out, Necro is a rather poor climber. Seconds after leaving the inside of the column, he slipped and fell!

The good news was, the webs could support a person, so they quickly stopped his fall. The bad news was, at least some of them were sticky, so he was trapped until he could extricate himself. The further bad news came in the form of a swarm of spiders the size of house cats, looking to see what tasty morsel had fallen into their webs!

Unnoticed on her perch above, Styx reached into her pack and pulled out her lunch. She tossed it in a direction far away from Necro, who held very still. Feeling the impacts on the webs, the spiders were spoofed, and ran off to investigate. While they were out of the picture, Styx quickly climbed down to lend a hand. Working together, they were able to free Necro and return to the dubious safety of the column before the spiders returned.

Descending further, they came to where they could see the bottom of the column’s internal shaft. It opened out onto a makeshift platform, more-or-less filling the entire area of the Chasm. Around the edges of the platform, Styx’s keen eyes could just make out that the Chasm’s walls, at this level, were lined with some kind of metal wall with huts atop it.

Having seen enough, the two quickly and quietly returned to camp. There, they related everything they had seen. The entire party settled down in a concealed camp for the night.

(Overnight, both Necro and Styx leveled up.)

The next morning, the party welcomed back Angus, their dwarven driver, upon his return. Leaving him in charge of the camp, they crept back up to the edge of the Chasm, where Styx and Necro pointed out all that they had seen the day before. Their plan was to retrace their steps, crossing the bridge to the same column, then descending to the bottom of the internal stairway. They set out to follow this plan.

Reaper and RH didn’t care for that plan. Having heard about Necro’s close call, they decided to take the quicker, easier route. They jumped from the edge of the Chasm, trusting the webs would cushion their fall. Reaper insisted that, as a drow, he was good with spiders.

As it happened, he wasn’t all that good with spiders.

The web did catch them, but they hadn’t counted on the stickiness. Reaper isn’t really the athletic sort, so he was quite hampered by it. RH was able to free himself, though, and made his way to the outside wall of the Chasm. The spiders came out to threaten Reaper, who attempted to use drow secrets of spider training, to no avail. In the end, they had to use the same trick as the day before, throwing food as a tasty distraction while they fled.

The party descended in two groups, with Reaper and RH climbing the outside wall while Styx and Necro climbed down the goblin staircase. They hadn’t gone far at all before they realized that the commotion with the spiders above had drawn unwanted attention from below. Inside the column, two small goblins followed by one big goblin were climbing up from below, silently, knives in their teeth! At the same moment, RH and Reaper noticed a goblin climber coming up the outside wall, as well!

RH displayed an unexpected prowess with climbing, moving to defend Reaper, who split his time between harassing the goblin with spells and hanging on for dear life. After taking a few hits, RH used his shield to batter the goblin until it fell.

Inside the column, Necro used dancing lights to light up the vertical battlefield. The goblins engaged with darts, so the PCs advanced to melee. After a short duel featuring several attempts to hide and multiple sneak attacks, the goblins were slain.

Now seeing that splitting up the party has its down side, all four PCs regrouped inside the column. RH helped Reaper as they picked their way across the Chasm on the web.

Reaper took a close, hard look at the body of the larger, “boss” goblin. Reaper is a warlock, who knows Mask of Many Faces, which allows him to cast disguise self at will. While this is his favorite party trick, it hadn’t done him much good thus far, because he can only vary his height by a foot either way. The goblins were too short to imitate. But now that he had a big goblin…

When the party came to the bottom of the stairs, they boldly walked out onto the patchwork platform with Reaper in the lead, disguised as the boss goblin who had just gone up the stairs. They had guessed that the huts around the perimeter were guard posts, so he waved an “all clear” and led the party that way. They had guessed right: a goblin poked its head around the door with a questioning look on its face.

By luck, most of the party speaks the language of the goblins, including Reaper. He explained that he had run into these guys (points at the PCs) who had come to join up with the goblins, since they all worshiped the same titan. This being a religious matter, he had to take it to the matriarch.

The guard saw how this all made sense – or at least enough sense for its pay grade and challenge rating – and so the party was waved towards a big trap door. They slid down on ropes made from webs, descending through open air to a pile of rubble. The elves could see evidence of four tunnels off the main chamber along one wall, and a larger, barricaded tunnel to one side.

They were challenged by a gang of goblins, but again, Reaper went through his “it’s a religion thing” story and again, the goblins bought it. They waved the party through to the barricaded tunnel, escorting them into the presence of the tribe’s champion, a mutated, multi-armed giant of a goblin! Again, Reaper did his song and dance, and again, it worked, at least for a short time.

The tribal champion took the party into the matriarch’s chambers. There, under her questioning, the story started to ravel a bit at the edges. The champion finally put two and two together, moving to attack while shouting a warning at the matriarch. Before she could do much of anything to defend herself, she was charmed, and stood confused while the party dog-piled the champion, quickly silencing him.

Reaper settled down to have a nice conversation with his new best friend. With the keys to the city, so to speak, it didn’t take long for them to get what they wanted. She showed them the goblins’ treasure room, containing several hundred gold pieces’ worth of miscellaneous coin, gems, and jewelry. Then she showed them the tribe’s real treasure, two relics of the titan Spiragos: a dagger and a ring! (No gauntlet, though, even though it had been expected.) Finally, she showed them her secret back door that could be used to escape the Chasm without going back through the entire goblin tribe again.

The party collected the magic items and about 60% of the treasure. (They didn’t want to take all the treasure and leave the whole goblin village destitute.) They then took quick advantage of the matriarch’s secret tunnel, emerging some distance away from the Chasm, and then walking some distance to return to camp. Angus was happy to get on the road immediately, and so they returned to town after three days on the road.

While on the road, RH leveled up, and the party inspected the magic items. It was discovered that the dagger was a +1 weapon with some special poison-related powers, and the ring offered some spider-related spells and powers to warlocks. It was decided that Styx should have the dagger and Reaper should get the ring.

After reflection and research back in town, the party realized…

… (spoiler space, no, don’t look)…

… the entire Chasm had been the gauntlet! The story goes, Spiragos and another giant-sized titan had fought on the site hundreds of years before. At one point, Spiragos fell, plunging one of his hands deep into the earth, where it was momentarily trapped. The other titan took advantage of Spiragos’ situation to cut off the titan’s trapped arm, leaving behind the gauntlet on that hand, the ring on one of the hand’s fingers, and the dagger that the hand had held. Over time, once they were out of contact with their owner’s flesh, the ring and the dagger shrank to human size. The gauntlet remained in contact with the titan’s bones, though, and stayed mega-sized.

Future Plans

Styx wants to go back, take the rest of the treasure, evict all the goblins, excavate all the giant titan bones, and return the gauntlet to human size. It is acknowledged that this might be a higher-level quest.

Everybody wants familiars. Styx wants a pseudodragon, and Reaper wants to research how to befriend a flameskull. (He first wanted a crawling claw, but I guess a skull wreathed in flame is more metal.) Once they get to town and can buy the right incense, though, they’re going to settle for spiders and bats.


D&D 5E: The March

Since the kids’ last D&D session, they had the opportunity to go to our Friendly Neighborhood Gaming Store’s annual D&D camp. There, they were exposed to the 5th Edition. They wasted no time telling me that 5E is superior in all ways to my crusty old version. 🙂

So, we abandoned the Cyclopedia and switched to the modern version of the game. Their characters from camp had made it to 2nd level, and they wanted to continue those characters’ careers. To bump up their numbers, we decided to have each kid play two characters simultaneously.

We picked up 5E play with four PCs.  They are Styx II (female wood elf sage/alchemist Rogue 2, with an eye towards Arcane Trickster), Reaper (male drow elf noble Warlock 2), Necro (male-identifying warforged sage Wizard 1, aiming to specialize in conjuration), and Rienhardt (male human noble Paladin 1, also known as “RH”).

Just like the last campaign, I snagged a free adventure to jump-start things; in this case, that adventure was Gauntlet of Spiragos. I’m making little tweaks as I go along, but be warned, there’s still likely to be spoilers.

What Happened

Styx and Reaper were teleported home at the end of the camp adventure, but something went wrong. While the rest of their old party returned to their lives, our heroes were swept away by a strange arcane misfire. They found themselves on the dirt floor of a crude stone hut, far to the north of their previous location. RH had taken shelter in the hut earlier. His initial surprise at the others’ sudden appearance was compounded when he recognized his childhood friend, Reaper.

While Reaper and RH caught up on old times, Styx poked around in the dusty hut, discovering a coffin-like crate. It was locked, but this presented no barrier to an experienced 2nd-level Rogue. When opened, the create proved to contain a mothballed clockwork “robot” with a crystal face. It slowly awakened when Styx started clearing packing materials away from it. Barely able to speak, it introduced itself as Necro. Styx was drawn to Necro by curiosity, while Necro took Styx to be his creator, and thus worthy of loyalty.

When discovered, Necro had an old piece of parchment clutched in his hand, which proved to be a map. After some discussion and orientation, the party decided that the map pointed towards a location called the Chasm of Flies, and hinted that one might find three magical items there: a ring, a dagger, and a gauntlet. They left the hut and walked up the road a bit to the nearest town, Cragfort, where they got their expedition organized.

Styx and Necro visited an alchemist’s shop, where they became friendly with the gnome shopkeeper and picked up necessary supplies. The shopkeeper provided some scraps of information about the legend of the Chasm of Flies, saying that after it received its name, the infestation of flies had attracted spiders.

Reaper and RH reserved rooms at the inn for the night, and then retired to the common room for carousing. There, they met a dwarf who worked in the local copper mine who liked the way they drank.

Realizing that it would take them several days to travel to the Chasm and back, and being told that opportunities to forage along the way were limited, the party purchased a large amount of rations. Unable to afford mounts, they instead hired the dwarven miner to drive them to the Chasm in his wagon. Bright and early the next day, they left town, heading north. The trip was punctuated with good-natured banter and a steady stream of RH’s sandwiches.

While the party slept on the second night of the trip, Necro stood on watch. He spotted a flicker of movement in the distance. He cast dancing lights, sending the glowing orbs thus produced over to cast some light on the subject while he shouted an alarm. The others awoke to see a goblinoid dressed in black leather, standing surprised and blinking foolishly in the light with knives in hand.

RH came off his bedroll at a sprint. Not bothering to arm himself, he simply tackled the smaller creature, applying a grapple and seeking to beat its head against a nearby rock. The others joined in the dog-pile as well. Once the goblinoid was immobilized, Styx put the point of her rapier against its throat and demanded its surrender. It spat defiance, telling them that people like them didn’t belong here. Styx shrugged and sent it to its reward.

The next morning, they left the hills behind and made their way across the Devils’ March, a wasteland left devastated after magical wars a couple hundred years before. Shortly, they started to hear the baying of hounds in the distance, a sound that seemed to grow closer as they went. They cautiously proceeded, with weapons close at hand. It wasn’t long before the more keen-eyed of the group spotted a humanoid figure in the distance, half-running, half-staggering towards them.

Only seconds after they first saw the person, he was brought down by a pair of large dogs. The party shouted at the dogs, who raised their eyes towards our heroes, revealing themselves to be partially-rotted undead. They howled once, then charged. Their howls were answered as two more undead hounds came over the ridge.

The heroes jumped off the wagon and ran to engage. Styx had to use acrobatics to avoid being surrounded, and would have ran away, if she weren’t forced to run back to aid Necro, who had been pulled off his feet by one of the dogs. RH caved in one of the dogs with a single swing of his warhammer.

In the end, the party stood victorious. The hounds carried no treasure, but each of them was wearing a collar with a tag. The tags bore a rune, something like a simplified sketch of a fanged skull. The party was able to identify the rune as a wizard’s personal rune, but wasn’t able to identify the wizard.

After a short rest, the party carried on into the wasteland. In the early hours of the afternoon, they came within sight of a circular hole in the ground, about 150 feet across. The Chasm!

The party had their driver park the wagon behind a handy boulder, then formed up with RH in the lead to march the last couple hundred yards on foot. As soon as RH stepped out in the open, however, an attacker appeared atop the boulder! It was a strangely-misshapen goblinoid riding a giant spider, who threw a dart at the paladin. The dart bounced off his helmet ineffectively, but then a second goblin popped out of concealment, high above, to harass the rest of the party.

Having no missile weapons, RH drew his warhammer and struck a two-handed blow against the rock, hoping to shatter the surface and bring one of the spider-riding goblins down. It almost worked, forcing the spider to dance quickly upwards to avoid falling.

The magic-users were able to bring down one of the spiders with a combination of acid splash and eldritch blast. Its rider fell to the ground, where it stood to find itself at melee distance. It bared its needle-sharp teeth, ready to fight like a cornered rat.

Styx tried to use her short bow to cripple the other goblin’s spider, but wasn’t able to make the shot. Commenting that she was really coming to dislike the bow, she drew her rapier and ran acrobatically up the rock face to where the goblins lurked. There, she grabbed a handhold and wounded its spider. The spider bit back, injecting its paralyzing poison. Styx was left alive, but unconscious and unable to move, her hand locked closed around its perilous hold.

While the one goblin bit at RH and Reaper and the other played hide-and-snipe, Necro tried a desperate gamble. He cast sleep, knowing that RH was inside the area of effect, but hoping that the goblins would be affected before him. Hoping in vain, as it turned out; while one of the goblins and the surviving spider did fall asleep, so did RH!

The other goblin turned and ran. It ducked for a hiding place, eluding Reaper, but Necro spotting it where it lurked. Found out, it scurried up the side of the boulder and vanished over the edge of the top. After a few moments of confusion, the party spotted it when it broke cover on the far side of the rock, running swiftly for the rim of the Chasm. Reaper stepped backwards to get a clear shot, then took the goblin down with a well-aimed eldritch blast to the leg.

The party rescued Styx from her perch. RH laid on hands, healing her and bringing her back to consciousness, but couldn’t do anything about the paralysis. Necro examined her and concluded that she needed an hour or so to get over it. Accordingly, the group settled down for a rest.

While they waited, RH and Necro performed some interrogation. RH spoke the Goblin language, and Necro loomed threateningly. (He would have engaged in some light torture, just to make sure no lies were told, but RH wouldn’t stand for it.) They learned that the Chasm was home to a tribe of spider-like goblinoids. The captives didn’t know anything about any magical items, but said that if there were any such items in the Chasm, they would likely be held by the tribe’s matriarch.

Having extracted all the information they were likely to, the party loaded the bound captives onto the wagon and instructed their driver to take them some way out into the wastelands and turn them loose. He happily agreed to undertake this task, unloading a day or so of rations before driving off, whistling cheerfully.

The party turned their eyes towards the Chasm and the expected treasures within.


D&D Known World, Session #5: Troglodytes

The kids carried on, without the guest players. Despite the scuffle that broke out last time, they decided to give the magic sword to Timi, the halfling henchman.

What Happened:

Being out of spells and low on hit points, the party decided to camp out in the easily-defended room with the pit trap and the bed. During the night, Kohncrete and Nautical left with the charmed orc, to do some scouting, but they never returned. The next morning, Anya prayed over Styx, healing his wounds, before they set out for the day’s exploration.

Carefully working their way past the pit trap, they paused at the door so Styx could listen and peek through the keyhole. He heard voices, and observed a group of troglodytes dragging a bound woman into place in front of a stone idol shaped like a humanoid alligator. While the trogs chanted, Styx slipped up behind them, making off with a couple of stone clubs and taking up a position behind the dagger-wielding priest.

Shouting war cries, the rest of the party burst from the room and engaged the trogs from behind. Everyone but Styx was sickened by the troglodytes’ terrible stench. Shadow charmed one, while the others fought to the bitter end.

The party took a bit of damage, and used a couple of spells, but was left in generally good shape. Their new troglodyte ally was dubbed Clod the Trog. Once woken, the would-be sacrifice introduced herself as Aniria, a cleric. She healed Styx, who took special pride in the rescue.

For a moment, it looked like there would be a disagreement about who would get the glowing, obviously-magical dagger, but then Styx noticed the alligator-idol’s two gem-set eyes. He climbed the idol to pry out its eyes, in approved old-school fashion, while Shadow put the dagger in his belt.

With that settled, they turned around and retraced their steps. They went all the way back to the room where they had appeared after falling victim to a teleport trap. There, they again went through the “everybody in the room, close the door, open the door” cycle a couple more times, just to make sure they didn’t go anywhere. They didn’t.

Since the trap still seemed to be one-way, they went back the way they came, re-examining the route. Thinking it led upwards, they returned to a stairway they had marked on their map, but discovered that it actually led down. No thanks!

Taking a right where they had previously taken a left, they came to a door. When Styx listened at the door, he heard nothing, but he detected the telltale smell of trogs. Clod wasn’t able to talk to the others, as none of them shared a common language, but he pointed at the door, shaking his head vigorously and holding up six fingers.

Rather than taking a head-on approach, they decided to try for subterfuge. They sent Clod in, while everyone else hid. After a few minutes, Clod returned, bringing one of the troglodytes out with him. Distracted by Clod, the trog was easy prey to a group backstab.

Shadow liked the way that had worked out, but wanted to speed up the process. Pulling a chicken leg from Timi’s rations, he opened the door and waved it at the five surprised troglodytes, shouting “Come and get it!”

Of course, all five charged. Battle was joined, as it so often is, at the doorway. Aniria tried to help, but with no armor and only a stick of firewood for a weapon, she wasn’t all that effective and soon fell back, wounded. Timi was knocked unconscious and Shadow had to drag her out of the melee. In the end, everyone was wounded, some badly, but only one troglodyte remained standing against them. It chose to turn and flee rather than carry on. The party chose to let it go, rather than pursue.

Once more entirely out of spells and low on hit points, the party decided to go to ground again, in the trogs’ old room.


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