Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Tag: PC death

The Portland Apocalypse, Session #3: “Giant robots?”

DRAMATIS PERSONÆ:

  • Bro, the large dog formerly known as “Big Bad Dog” (PC)
  • Cauliflower Jones, finally getting the respect a skilled gardener deserves (PC)
  • Cyprys Hill, paying the price for one misstep (PC)
  • Hanna Marlow, quick with a tire iron (PC)
  • Steve Borden, master of the kitchens (PC)
  • Robert (“Bob”) T. Builder, putting together a to-do list (PC)

In the background:

  • Farrah Fawcett-Adler, sidelined by two crippled limbs and an indisposed player (PC)

What Happened:

When we left our heros on the afternoon of 22 December 2012, they were all frozen by fear at their first sight of a hundred-foot-tall walking metal tripod. Steve had fainted with a laden hand-cart hung up on top of him, Cyprys and Hanna were both in panic, and Bob had suddenly got religion. Upstairs, Jones was just getting to the door to the fire escape. When he caught sight of the tripod, it was with a building between them, so he was only momentarily stunned at the sight. Still, he chose to keep quiet and observe.

The tripod advanced, moving in a clearly unnatural manner, following the highway. There was a sound of gunfire from the far side of the highway, and the tripod paused. It seemed to hunt about for a moment, then went rigid as it located its target. There were three sharp pops from the tripod’s hemispherical top, and fiery explosions across the highway.

While the tripod was thus distracted, our heroes started to pull themselves together.

Hanna yanked the cart off Steve and started pushing for the fire escape. Bob ran after her and passed her up, pulling the keys from his pocket; together, they opened a ground-level storage bay, rolled the cart inside, locked the door behind them, and then sprinted for a door.

Cyprys ran for the door that the attackers had come from during the ambush. Sturges, the attacker who had had his morale broken by Farrah, made a split-second decision, and decided it would be best to rack up points with the PCs: he left Albert, his former comrade, lying wounded in the parking lot, while grabbing Steve (still unconscious) and dragging him to cover. “Hold the door!” he shouted, and Cyprys complied. All three, plus Big Bad Dog, landed in a pile on the floor, kicking the door shut behind them.

[GM note: I just realized, we never explicitly said anything about Farrah. Presumably she staggered her way to the door in time to get inside with Bob and Hanna.]

Finished with laying down retribution, the tripod’s attention turned towards the area where the PCs were hiding. It advanced along the highway, then stepped down into the parking lot.

Everyone was holding their breath, as quiet as possible, when Cyprys’s nerve broke. “Oh god oh god we’re all gonna die!” Sturges tried to shush him, but when he failed, he was forced to punch Cyprys in the jaw, knocking him out. Cyprys’ glass jaw was duly noted.

Outside, the tripod seemed interested in Albert, bleeding and unconscious. It extruded a tentacle, picked him up by his collar, and pulled him up inside its hemispherical body. Some time went by. Steve came to, finding Sturges wildly gesturing “Quiet! Friend!” while standing over Cyprys’ unconscious body. Assuming he was a captive, he threw his hands in the air and stayed quiet.

Eventually, the tripod opened and let Albert back down to his original position. It then straightened up, climbed back onto the highway, and proceeded east along its original course at a rapid pace.

After a few minutes of watching, our heroes regrouped. Sturges begged Steve to vouch for him. He claimed to be terribly sorry for helping ambush them, saying he was misled by bad companions. When the PCs didn’t seem to buy it, he pulled out his backup offer: if they shared their food and didn’t hurt him, he would lead them to something of great value. Food? No. Weapons? No. Better — a doctor.

This sounded interested, so they pressed him for details. He said that he was friends with this doctor, who lived just up the hill in the residential area, just a few short blocks from the barricaded grocery store. He suggested that it would be best to stay put for the night, since it was already getting dark, and get a start with the daylight tomorrow. The group found this to be acceptable, so they made the deal.

Everybody went to check on Albert. They found him with the top of his head shaved and fitted with a metallic skullcap. Uncertain what to make of this, they armed themselves with the attacker’s discarded baseball bats and woke him up. His demeanor was one of comfortable befuddlement. He claimed to have no recollection of being inside the robot, nor of much anything else. He was eerily pleasant and agreeable. In the end, they suggested that he talk a walk in a random, pointed direction. He nodded and ambled off.

So, weird, but all’s well that ends well. Everybody and the food got together in the third-floor campsite. While Cyprys entertained the group with stories, Steve prepared a feast for the entire group.

Dinner was interrupted when the heroes heard someone opening one of the exterior storage bays downstairs. The able-bodied members, led by Hanna, grabbed up weapons and charged down the fire escape. There, they found a man with a heavily-loaded shopping cart, apparently homeless, in front of the open door. When confronted, he raised his hands in the air and offered no resistance. When asked who he was, he responded “My friends call me Jesús.” Under questioning, he explained that this was his storage area, and he was just stopping by to gather some equipment. What kind of equipment? Oh, camping stuff, mainly — a camp stove, a tent, some tarps…

This was enough to satisfy the PCs. Jesús was declared to be a member of the group and invited upstairs to dinner. He gladly accepted.

Everyone has having a relatively good time, under the circumstances, when Cyprys developed the nosebleed.

It rapidly became clear that something was badly wrong with Cyprys. His thinking was clouded, his nose would not stop bleeding, and he was clearly feeling poorly, even after he stopped responding to conversation. What to do? Sturges offered to help throw Cyprys outside. That solution was rejected, but everyone agreed with Sturges’ basic point, that it might be unhealthy to sleep near him. Finally, they decided to quarantine him. They took him down to the ground floor, to one of the external storage bays, and locked him inside on a makeshift pallet.

Remembering that Cyprys had tasted the pink snow, it became the fashion to wrap something about one’s lower face. Hanna and Jesús were already doing so. Now, everybody scrounged up some bandanna or scrap of cloth.

The next morning, when the sun came up, they returned to check on him. Hanna was the first. She had to fight to control her stomach. Cyprys had grown much, much worse through the night. He was bleeding heavily from head to toe. He could no longer speak. Carol fed him his share of breakfast, while Bob, Jones, and Jesús put together an improvised travois from several brooms and some tarps, to be dragged by Big Bad Dog. Careful to avoid contact, they gently loaded him up. Jones, Hanna, Steve, and Bob went along, following Sturges.

Sadly, they had barely made it to the top of the hill when Cyprys stopped breathing. They concealed his body as best they could, and carried on.

(At this point, as he transitioned to full PC-hood, it was revealed that “Big Bad Dog” was just what Cyprys called him. The dog’s real name is “Bro”, because whenever anybody asks him, “What’s your name?”, he answers “Bro…”)

The group scavenged as they went. In particular, Hanna discovered a dead policeman, and was able to overcome her squeamishness long enough to recover his pistol.

In time, they made it to their destination, a nondescript home with a greenhouse in the back yard. There was no answer when they knocked at the front door, so they went around the side to the gate into the back. There, they met an older gentleman, who agreed to speak with them if they would return to the front. He joined them on the front porch to talk.

In the beginning, the man wasn’t interested in their plight. They explained that they had been in a train crash. He pointed out, if that’s all they had been through, they were doing pretty good by current standards, and recommended that they go to the hospital like normal folks. Why were they bothering a poor retired fellow who had his own problems? They explained how Sturges, who had been hanging back, had offered to introduce them. There didn’t seem to be any great warmth between the two, but the old man offered to get down to brass tacks: why should he help them?

Hanna cheerfully offered, “Well, we’ve got this gun!” If it had been anyone else, this sentence would have been taken as a threat, but delivered with Hanna’s trademark perkiness, it was correctly understood as an offer of trade. There was a general sigh of relief when the old man agreed to take the gun in exchange for giving the wounded a checking-over. Times being what they were, he said, an extra gun might be a handy thing. He invited them inside, introducing himself as Hershel.

Jesús announced that now that they were where they needed to be, he would be taking off again. He was on his way to Kelly Butte, where there used to be an old civil defense installation, now long since condemned. He claimed that some of his friends had been inside. He figured a buried structure built to withstand a nuclear war on top of a steep hill would make a wonderful place to hide from giant, three-legged robots. Wishing them well, Jesús left on his own.

Medical care took up the rest of the day, so Hershel shared dinner — mostly salad and vegetables — with the group, and offered to let them spend the night. At dinner, after trading stories, he became engrossed in conversation about gardening with Cauliflower Jones. [GM: Activating the reaction bonus from Jones’ two levels of Green Thumb.]  His growing fondness for his fellow gardener prompted Hershel to take Jones into his confidence. He invited Jones to go out back and take a look at something.

That something, as it turned out, was an illegal marijuana growing operation. (“Oh, that’s how Sturges knows this guy — he was his dealer!”) He led Jones to the back yard, into the greenhouse, and through a concealed trap door. The foundation of the greenhouse was over a basement area, packed with now-dark grow lights and potted plants. They discussed how he had used a generator, but it had gone out, along with all the other electrical devices around, in the general blackout, and how he wanted to move the crop upstairs but wasn’t going to be able to do all the work himself in time. Between the two of them, they thought of a deal, in which the PCs could stay and finish getting patched up, if they pitched in around the house and helped get the place fortified and set up for current circumstances. When the others heard of this, they agreed.

[GM: During the private conversation, the other players loudly insisted that Hershel was working up the nerve to hit on Jones.]

The group spent the 23rd fortifying Hershel’s house. Bob was able to rewire the generator and get it running again, saving a bunch of labor and making them the only house on the street with even a little power. Bob made a point of putting the slacker, Sturges, to work. (Memorable line, after getting Sturges to admit that his main skill was in playing video games: “If you’ve got time enough to lean, you’ve got time enough to clean!”) He also started mentioning making a trip down to Oregon City to collect his family. Hanna brought up the possibility of locating a working car, or one that they could get working between the two of them.

On the 24th — Christmas Eve! — the fortifying continued. Bro made the trip, solo, back to the storage facility. [GM: By this point, they were referring to it as “the other settlement”.] He checked on those left behind, finding them safe but hungry. Farrah had improvised a sling, and was sitting at the top of the fire escape, practicing with it. Satisfied, but unable to deliver any message, Bro returned to Hershel’s. Going both ways, he kept an eye out for game, but didn’t find anything. [GM: He did crit fail the Survival roll coming back, though.]

When Bro returned, the others were scattered around the place working on various projects. Bro went to the gate, where Bob let him in. Seconds after he latched the gate, it was struck on the other side by some large mass. Someone, or something, was trying to ram its way through the gate! Bob and Bro raised the alarm.

Jones heard the ruckus from where he had been working in the greenhouse basement. He quickly moved to close the trap door, concealing himself underground.

Steve took a look out the window from the kitchen, where he had been trying to figure out how to can vegetables with the available equipment. He was able to see what was pounding on the gate. It was a pink and purple worm-like thing, nearly the size of a man, with eye-stalks and thousands of sharp teeth! The space worm! It had followed them! The shock was too much to bear, and he fell to the floor in a swoon.

The others went on the offensive. Bro jumped the fence, closely followed by Bob and Hanna. Between the dog’s teeth, Hanna’s trusty tire iron, and the shovel Bob grabbed, the worm found itself outmatched. After taking several hits, and with a successful Intimidation attempt by the growling Bro, the worm had enough. It turned and fled, displaying speed that none of the PCs could match. They guessed it was running at over 30 mph!

Bro wasn’t about to give up the fight, and made to follow the worm’s trail. Bob borrowed the pistol from Hershel and went to follow the dog. Jones emerged from his place of concealment. After Hanna filled him in on what had happened, the two of them armed themselves and went to back them up.

The trail led up the block, around some houses, and into a small neighborhood park. There, Bob and Bro were confronted by an obstacle. The trail led directly through a crowd of “zombies” — glassy-eyed, bloody, aimlessly-milling people affected by the pink snow. They cautiously circled around the crowd and picked up the scent on the far side.

It led directly into the playground area, to an elaborate play structure. It went straight up the slide to a raised enclosure. There were other entrances to the enclosure, but as Bob discovered, to get to them, one had to go to the other side of the structure, climb a stair, cross a rope bridge, and crawl on hands and knees through a child-sized opening. He paused there, uncomfortable with presenting himself to a cornered space worm in such a posture.

Back covering the slide, Bro decided it was time to flush out their target. He set up a ruckus of loud barking. This startled the worm into running out its back door, right into the unready arms of Bob. Hearing this, Bro scrambled up the slide and entirely through the enclosure, aiming to take the worm by surprised.

The inside of the enclosure was an unsettling place. It was like crawling into nest built by human-sized wasps. Luckily, the worm didn’t seem to have any friends along with it.

The battle on the play structure was tight and desperate. The worm bit Bob badly in the abdomen before it was forced to defend itself against the dog’s ripping teeth. While the two animals wrestled back and forth, with the worm snapping at Bro’s throat and Bro gnawing tenaciously on its eye-stalks, Bob tried to bring the pistol into play. After missing four times at point-blank range, he finally managed to put a bullet into the injured worm, putting it down, just as Hanna and Jones arrived.

* * *

Cool Point: Posthumously awarded to Cyprys, for not dying nearly so quickly as one might expect. As it happened, Cyprys’ death was a lot more agonizing than I let on. “He was sick for twelve hours, then he died,” sums it up, but we rolled out every HT roll along the way. If it weren’t for the massive penalties he was under because he stuck the pink snow in his mouth he might have pulled through. Instead, we stepped through four or five cycles of the sickness, as the damage mounted up. The player described, with some relish, the progress of the delirium and Cyprys’ feeble attempts to find some relief. Nasty, but moving…

 

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“Corbin, Inc.”, Session #15

DRAMATIS PERSONÆ:

  • D’arth Loathing, just a corpse-eater in the right place at the right time, being a good neighbor (PC)
  • FuBar Bombad, sewer-troll who needed eyes in the back of his head (PC)
  • Mississippi Jedadiah Walker, flinging spells like a ninja monkey throws… shuriken. (PC)
  • Needles, thief-swashbuckler who might be getting another song after this trip (PC)
  • Posy, long-distance artillery and a terror for eyes everywhere (PC)
  • Trevor, making his money the old fashioned way: winning it off the new hires (NPC henchman)
  • Pai, cat-folk cleric of Mielikki (the Finnish one, not the other one) who more-or-less follows Posy, when he’s not on the catnip (NPC henchman)
  • Poutine, a humble misen chef, compelled to follow FuBar on a quest for really exotic cuisine (NPC henchman)
  • Höss, Jack, son of John, and John, son of Jack: carriers of heavy things and losers at cards (NPC hirelings)

The entourage of Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Adventure:

  • Alric Redbeard, stung by his new bee-cat in a training incident (PC)
  • Gabby the Cabin Girl, likewise, stung. It’s a long story. It has penguins in it. (PC)
  • “Dobby”, nursing the wounded and practicing his penguin-whisperer technique (NPC henchman)

Rumors Gathered:

Jed was mostly forced to keep his ear to the ground.

  • A band of goblinoids was captured trying to sneak over the walls of Tembladera. When questioned before their execution, they claimed to serve something named “Shauldula”.
  • Lady Abergavenny has been trying to hire shipbuilders who are willing to go into the mountains for a job, but she’s having trouble finding takers. They doubt her sanity: who would build a ship on top of a mountain, miles from the nearest ocean?
  • Sir Hugh has returned from an expedition into the interior jungles, bringing many captured elves and crates of their treasure. If you ever wanted to buy a pair of elven boots, now would be the time!

Still, he got in a little time with the heavy books.

  • The chronicles say that the last of the dwarven kings made a pact with “beautiful creatures from the edge of time” to protect the dwarves’ most precious secrets. There is little recorded detail about these creatures, aside from general agreement as to their invincibility in battle.

Needles picked up the word on the street.

  • A dragon’s been sighted flying over the mountains near Tembladera.

What Happened:

As expected, Jed survived the resurrection process. His apprentice Trevor handled the arrangements, and Trevor’s getting a reputation for both diligence and luck. They stitched his bits back together and brought him back to life, if not health. That was taken care of by a healing potion and a couple of days’ light duty.

Even hampered by Jed’s illness (if that’s the right word for losing your head), and by Gabby and Alric being bedridden with bee-cat-stings, the party still got a lot done around town.

Needles piled up his coin and invested in one of the more expensive, 2 point blessed buttons. The others weren’t so extravagant, sticking with the cheaper, 1-point, bronze buttons… but those, they handed out like candy. All the henchmen got one. I’m pretty sure they’ve got some spares rattling around in the bottom of someone’s pouch.

Furthermore, Needles went over his load-out with a fine-toothed comb. He and Jed hit the armorers’ shops around Tembladera, replacing bits of his kit with new pieces of armor, specially tailored and enchanted to be as light as street clothes. By the time he was done, he had dropped his load enough to be unencumbered. (He’s been lightly encumbered for some time now, believe it or not.) He also picked up a spellbook and learned his first spell: Haste.

Needles wasn’t the only one making capital investments. Posy picked up a wide assortment of arrows, including some spell arrows. (She also picked up a Perk to let her choose her arrows accurately without searching through them, explained as carving coded notches into the shafts.)

Jed hit the books and picked up some new spells. He cast one of those new spells, Seeker, in an attempt to locate his once-friend and now-nemesis, Jim Kadabra. He was able to get a very detailed vision of the illusionist’s location:

Green felt. A table covered in green felt. Playing cards, really expensive hand-painted ones. On the other side of the table, a red-skinned humanoid with horns growing out of his head, wearing a fine silk vest. The other speaks some words, and passes a wooden box across the table towards the viewer.

From his recent studies in demonology (having put points into Hidden Lore: Demons), Jed was able to identify the red guy as a “demon of old”, similar to the ones the party met before, in the Pit of Darkness. Skinnier, though. More like the geekier younger brother of those guys.

FuBar dedicated a lot of time to meditation. Jed dropped a koan on him:  “What was in Kadabra’s box?”  After much pondering, FuBar’s harmony with the Cosmic All brought back the answer, “Cards, for gambling, which is just another dirty trap tying the unwary ego into the illusion of reality.”

It seems like everybody was making friends this week. Posy ran into another cat-folk, a cleric of Mielikki named Pai, who decided to tag along with Posy on her adventures. FuBar ran into a misen cook and saved his life. (“I won’t eat you until after you’re dead.”)  This was enough to gain the cowardly little beastie’s loyalty, and so now the trash ninja has an entourage.

Around mid-week, Mamu delivered a harshly-worded letter from Strang, the party’s sometime-patron:

Friends,
I must express some frustration with your recent activities. I have provided you ample information – at no small cost in time and money – and you continue to dawdle with this worthless pit. Now, you have seen one of your company fall victim to these unnecessary side-trips with nothing to show for it. Again, I feel it necessary to remind you that finding these orichalcum artifacts is of utmost importance!

Additionally, I must ask you to be on the lookout certain hexagonal rooms that I know to be present within the area near your search locations. I believe these rooms are key to my research and, as such, I must ask you to TOUCH NOTHING when you find them. Regardless of your own perceptions of value or relevance, I need these rooms to be pristine and whole. Kindly catalogue and map the rooms, but do not move any of the contents. I believe that these chambers will ultimately be mutually beneficial, and I will certainly share my good fortune should my requests be met. However, you risk my ire by proceeding recklessly.

Friends, we are close to unlocking something wondrous. Do not delay!

D.S.

Upon having the note read to him, FuBar remarked on how it was awful that “your guy’s‘ boss” was mad at them. He’s a free agent, don’t ya know. 😉

The question of payment for FuBar’s services on the last delve came up. Rash promises had been made, concerning the party obtaining a ninja-to and black ninja suit for the sewer troll.  (Well, actually, it was more like “some of those awesome black pajamas and one of those cool straight swords to go with it”.  FuBar had a dream to someday be accepted and trained as a ninja. He had admired them from afar. Nobody else know anything at all about how ninja operate — or even that they’re called “ninja”, really — and so nobody realized certain very important facts about them. Like, they don’t just sell that kind of stuff, to anybody….)

Jed asked around, and was given directions to the place where all the fancy black suits came from.  The foot of the stair is just outside of town, just at the edge of the rice paddies, and it travels steeply up to the top of a near peak. All the non-vertical space at the top of the mountain is taken up by an extraordinarily tall castle with multiple roofs. The stairway is carved out of the sheer cliff face, making several switchbacks along the way.

Like this, but more vertical. And on top of a mountain. And swarming with hidden ninja.

A peasant with an ox was standing near the foot of the stair, and passed a few words with Jed. The bard started up the stair and soon came to a wider area, high above the fields below. A section of the path was dug out about six feet, and the hole filled with cut bamboo stakes, forming a grid. A monkey was hanging upside-down from a small tree growing out of the cliff-side, gripping a small bamboo staff and wearing a vest. “What’s your business?” it asked.

Somewhat startled but willing to play along, Jed discussed things with the monkey, who introduced himself (unsurprisingly) as Monkey-san. It turned out that the ninja aren’t willing to let just anybody come up to the castle and do some shopping. Mr Monkey explained that there would be a series of challenges, and that he was the first of them. He asked if Jed cared to try his luck, but the bard declined. They parted respectfully, and Jed walked back to town.

There, he explained the situation to the others. They agreed, the whole party would go up and give FuBar a hand. So, they made the walk to the edge of town. When they returned to Mr Monkey’s station, they found him (seemingly) asleep on his tree branch. FuBar started gathering himself for a sneak attack — the ninja way, after all — but Jed spoiled it by calling out, saying hello to the monkey. After some pleasantries, Mr Monkey offered to give FuBar a shot at the title.

Monkey-san jumped down from his perch to take up a position balancing atop a couple of the bamboo staves, and gave FuBar the classic “bring it” gesture. With the rest of the party cheering him on, FuBar raised his fists, jumped atop… well, ok, not so much “atop” anything. Actually, he missed his footing. Rather than his foot landing on a staff end, he slipped and took the end of the staff directly to the groin. Even the monkey cringed. FuBar slid slowly to the embrace of the soft sand below.

Figuring this was a sign that his mind and spirit were not in unity, FuBar pulled himself back together, bowed to the monkey, and started the long, slow march back to town. “These things take three tries anyway,” he observed. “That’s one.”

Saturn’s-Day came at last. The party hired Höss, their favorite brute, and two laborers: Jack, son of John, and John, son of Jack. The four PCs were also joined by their loyal henchmen: Trevor, Pai, and Poutine. Without the mounts usually provided by Alric and Gabby, the group only had one donkey between them, so the hike was longer and drier than usual. Still, they made it to their usual campsite near the entrance to the dungeon.

Needles took point, confirming that no ambush was lurking inside the door. The party formed up with Needles in the lead, followed by Posy, then the main group, with FuBar trailing, walking backwards, keeping an eye out behind. Between Posy’s nigh-superhuman tracking skills and FuBar’s frankly-superhuman sense of smell, they came to realize that another party had followed the same path not long ago. FuBar was able to identify the scent of Bjorn, one of the members of the Company of the Thunder-Raven, another party of adventurers.

Jed cast another one of his new spells, Seek Earth, to determine the nearest source of orichalcum. It was quite a distance away, in a sort of “over there and down some” direction, more-or-less consistent with the expectation that there was a find to be had in the Pit.

They made their way through the now-familiar halls, stopping briefly at the old goblin kitchens. Poutine was impressed with the room, pointing out how it would only take some cleaning to make it usable. FuBar noted how he had considered moving out of the sewers and into the dwarven dungeons on a permanent basis. The kitchen would make an excellent foothold. FuBar ordered Poutine to stay behind, clean up, and make the kitchen as operational as possible. They scrounged up a plank to prop the door shut, in lieu of a lock, and proceeded on.

As they traveled, they continued to notice signs of another party following the same path, without deviation.  This continued until they reached the Great Bridge.

Mindful of the sniper from the overlooking tower, they crossed the bridge cautiously. Posy took up a concealed post at the door and kept an eye on the tower. First, FuBar went out alone, crossing the entire span doing back-flips, backwards. He made it unscathed. Needles went out, displaying his full sneakiness. Then it came time for the hirelings. Given Trevor’s level of athletic ability, it was decided that John and Jack would just carry him across. The three linked arms, wheezing apprentice in the center, and hustled across the bridge.

They made it about halfway before one of the J’s stopped dead in his tracks, bringing them up short about halfway across. “The dead walk among us!” Trevor shouted, as the possessed laborer yanked him away from the other apprentice-bearer.

The possessed John, or possibly Jack, started dragging Trevor towards the edge, shouting “The ring! Return the ring!”

Everyone but Posy ran to help. As they were running, Posy saw a target appear at the tower window. Her arrow passed the incoming crossbow bolt, which took Höss in the chest. She was certain she had hit her target, which didn’t re-appear at the window. Considering her work here done, she shouldered her bow and strolled across the bridge.

Meanwhile, Trevor used his free arm to draw a bottle of holy water and smash it across the head of Jack-or-maybe-John. This, or the gang tackle, or possibly both, was enough to shake off the possessing spirit’s influence. Dragging their wounded with them, the party again set up camp just inside the door on the far side of the bridge, resting and healing. Pai deigned to share some of his healing prayers with the hairless apes.

After resting up, they continued up the hall. Again, they found signs that Bjorn had passed this way, and taken the right turn up the stairs to the overlook. They followed the same route. After playing with the animated goblin statue for a bit, they trailed Bjorn to the edge of the Pit of Darkness.

The last time they had been there, there had been several dead goblins scattered about. They were gone, now. Furthermore, the big chain down into the Pit had been augmented with the addition of several ropes around the Pit’s edge.

“I’m getting the idea that these guys might have gotten away with some of our treasure,” Needles observed. The others nodded agreement as they collected all the free rope. An adventurer can never have too much rope.

From way, way back in Session #2!

From way, way back in Session #2!

Consulting the map they had picked up from Strang weeks and weeks ago, they decided to go directly to the second balcony down. FuBar led the way, tossing around several pebbles previously enchanted with a candle-strength light spell. Once he had determined that the balcony itself seemed deserted, they others came down to join him.

There, there was some debate. They didn’t want to waste a lot of time searching the place. (Curiously, Jed didn’t think to cast Seek Earth again.) The map said to go west, but it also had a big “X” on the east side of the square representing the Pit. They chose to check out the east wall, sending FuBar through the big open doorway in the center of the wall.

As on the level above, this room turned out to be a dwarven restroom, with several curtained alcoves. Unlike the room above, this one smelled terrible. The source seemed to be the three curtained alcoves in the middle of the row of alcoves. FuBar figured they were dealing with some rotten zombies, and so he might as well take care of things himself. He tossed a bottle of alchemist’s fire into the middle stall.

It wasn’t zombies. Three clouds of disgusting green vapor came boiling out. They were some kind of toxic demon. Hearing his shouts, the party ran to give FuBar some backup. Jed threw down a Wall of Air, which initially threw the demons into disarray, but it turned out that they were fast enough to simply go around it. It also became clear that arrows and swords don’t work well against clouds of noxious gas. After taking a little damage, the party mostly withdrew. Jed blasted two of the three to bits with magical lightning. The third withdrew back into the darkness of the restroom, hoping to draw in victims to pick off one by one.

While this was going on, Needles and FuBar ended up wandering back to the room where they had previously fought the cat-demons. At one point, FuBar looked back at Needles, just entering the room, and said, “You know, you’re standing right where Jed died.”

Needles looked down, at a small bloodstain, then at the wall, at a somewhat larger one, then took a couple of quick strides to one side.

The two rogues looked over the exit on the far side of the room, deciding it didn’t seem to be trapped. Needles picked the lock while FuBar kept an eye out, then threw open the door. He was confronted by a big, beady-eyed, multiple-armed thing sporting enough swords to outfit a squad of infantry, atop a body like a snake. It boomed out a shout of defiance, something about no one disturbing its master.

Needles politely shut the door again.

The rest of the party was just trying strategies to draw out the toxic demon when the two rogues came scampering back. Informed of the news, the others dropped the subtlety. Jed popped into the room with cover from Posy, and blasted the entire right-hand side of the room with explosive lightning. They paused long enough for the bard to gather the remains with a whisk broom, then returned to the site of Jed’s demise.

The arm-thing hadn’t pursued, so the door remained shut. The party held a conference in whispers, then deployed their forces. The general idea was that Jed would make almost everyone else Invisible, while Needles tossed off a couple of Haste spells (easier said than done, as it turned out, but he managed to get himself sped up, at least), and then Jed, pushing himself to his limits, would charge up a gigantic Concussion spell.

The plan was, once Jed gave the sign, FuBar would throw open the door and Jed would unleash destruction. As soon as he started singing that one high note his Concussion spell requires (since he’s a bard-wizard, with song-based magic), though, the door was flung open from inside, and the snake-arm-thing came rushing out.

From its point of view, the only person immediately visible was a wizard in a top hat, in the corner on the far side of the room, clearly casting some kind of spell. Its headlong rush to crush this annoyance was interrupted when it barreled headlong into Posy, standing invisibly in front of Jed! Things got messy, as one by one, the party struck at the creature and became visible. Suddenly, it found itself surrounded and beset. FuBar jumped on its back, likely hoping to apply a choke. Posy hadn’t been knocked back by the impact, so she came up from a crouch and put two arrows into the thing’s eyes at point-blank range. Finally, Pai became visible, violently presenting his holy symbol and shouting “Back, accurséd thing!”

Disconcerted, the demon reeled backwards, seeking better ground. Of course, FuBar was carried along, still clinging to its neck. Unfortunately, that put him square in front of the second demon-thing, coming out the door to see what all the commotion was about. Even forewarned by his keen sense of smell and his uncanny danger sense, FuBar wasn’t able to parry six attacks coming from behind.

He was hit four times. Two of those were critical hits. Both came up “maximum normal damage”. The other two were just above-average damage rolls. FuBar went from “undamaged” to “below -5 x HP” in one second, and died without even a HT roll.

The party went into a frenzy of vengeance. Pai continued to apply the power of his faith and his goddess, stepping forward and forcing both demons back into their lair, even as the others wreaked bloody vengeance. Even with all the damage the party was handing out, though, they still weren’t falling.

At one point, Needles found himself facing the second demon, all alone. It turned all of its attention to him, striking six times at his vitals. Dodging like wild, Needles was able to evade all the attacks!

Posy planted a couple of arrows into the first one’s hands, pinning them both to the outside of the door, as it tried to pull the door shut behind it. Needles hacked at any parts he could reach, while Jed finally got to throw a spell through the door. Between Posy putting arrows through hands and Needles cutting at arms, it wasn’t long before the first demon was entirely (ahem) disarmed. It then fell apart into ectoplasmic goo, the way summoned beings tend to do.

Now that they knew the trick of it, dispatching the second one wasn’t too difficult, even inside its own lair. The only bit of a kerfuffle came when Needles found himself being attacked from surprise by a trio of undead, animated hands.

Like that, but more gnarly and evil.

The first took a wild leap and tried to gouge out his eyes, but he was too (Hasted!) quick and dodged. Another tried to land a foul blow, but as it turns out, Needles’ most heavily armored location is his groin. He’s a street-fightin’ man, after all. His parry impaled one, and the others scurried away to escape the burning power of Pai’s faith.

The party was in some disarray at this point, mourning their fallen comrade. Not so much that they forgot to loot the room, of course, but some.

They found that the demons’ master was long dead. They found a dwarf skeleton in repose on a fine couch, clutching a wand and an iron lockbox, wearing the traditional poncho-and-skirt combination of the dwarven empire. They found a quartz IOUN stone under his pillow. Furthermore, there was a small cabinet full of clothes and bronze jewelry.  (“What’s a nasal?”)  They packed it all up for later inventory. Without Alric along, they were forced to leave the fine couch.

While they were getting organized, they were hailed from the doorway. D’arth Loathing, who had previously tried out for the team and been turned down, was standing there, two-handed sword in hand. (GM: In-game substitution for the fallen FuBar, since the character sheet was on hand.) After some tense negotiations, it was established that both sides were in agreement that FuBar’s death was a bad thing.

In fact, it turned out that FuBar’s short will (“I, FuBar, bein’ only mildly chewed today…”) named D’arth as the recipient of all FuBar’s worldly goods, including Poutine. Being down a man, the party made a rough bargain with the corpse-eater: he would help them carry back all the treasure, he could have FuBar’s valuable, edible corpse and all his stuff, plus some pay to boot.

Getting re-oriented, the party went to the west side of the balcony, with the exception of Posy and Pai, who remained on the eastern edge, poised to act as snipers. (Well, sniper and hanger-on.) As on the floor above, there was a large open doorway, with two closed doors on either side of it. They could heard the sound of trickling water as they approached.

A fountain with a statue of leaping carp was inside, running with clear, clean water. This was an oddity. D’arth boldly stepped up and drank a palmful of water. “Mmm,” he remarked, smacking his lips, “tasted like roasted elf. I haven’t tasted that since…” (looks around at the humans) “…. I mean, wow, that was filling!”

Intrigued by the magic fountain, Needles also took a drink. In his case, all his little aches and pains went away, and he was restored to full Fatigue. Feeling as rested as if he had just risen from bed, he too praised the waters. Seeing this, Jed took a sip, and found himself as satiated as if he had just eaten a big dinner of roast beef, mashed potatoes, and fine ale. Jed took a couple of samples in empty potion bottles.

Back to business. They went to the left door, where Jed did his see-through-doors trick. Empty, trash and ruined furniture. They didn’t even open the door.

On the right, though, they hit paydirt. Jed could dimly see the forms of several dwarves wearing bizarre armor, hanging around tables covered in glassware, apparently some kind of alchemical lab.

Spreading the word, they again set up for door-opening. This time, they applied a Glue spell just in front of the door, then put one of their siege stones on the door, and had Posy shoot it from across the room with a blunt arrow. BOOM!  The door fell in. Jed threw a full-power bolt of lightning at one, knocking it down and seemingly out. Posy shot another in the eye (!), doing only a little damage but driving it berserk. It moved ponderously forward, “rushing” towards her at the rate of a quick walk.

The other dwarves shuffled a bit to take cover, then maintained their positions. D’arth used his sword’s great reach to poke one through the open doorway, hoping to provoke it into stepping into the gluey area, to no avail. Needles decided to hang back, sensing that something was off in this whole scene.

He was proven right when the one that Jed had knocked down stood back up. “Ok, that’s no good,” he said, even as the berserk one stepped into the glue. “Time to go.”

Everyone else agreed, they didn’t want to mess with any self-resurrecting dwarves. Luckily, since the dwarves were so weighed down by all their armor, it was easy for the party to make an organized withdrawal.

In possession of new knowledge and (more importantly) interesting treasure, they decided to head home. The trip was uneventful, aside from the talk. The entire walk home was spent discussing exactly who owed who what. D’arth was of the opinion that, in accordance with FuBar’s will, he should get everything the sewer troll owned, including several expensive potions that the party had purchased for him just this morning. Jed disagreed, claiming that the potions had only been issued to him, not given to him. D’arth pointed out, correctly, that FuBar had considered them to be his own. Furthermore, D’arth claimed that the party still owed FuBar a fancy sword and suit of black clothes, but since he was a reasonable corpse-eater, he would accept their value in coin, instead. Jed pointed out that the ninja toys had turned out to be a dream, anyway, so nothing was owed on that count. Finally, as keeper of the party’s coin purse, Jed wanted to keep the payment for service rendered to a minimum, since D’arth had only participated in the one fight, and that hadn’t been much of anything, anyway. Of course, D’arth claimed that signing on at all entitled him to payment, even if the expected risk hadn’t turned up.

When they arrived at the gates, D’arth pulled his hood down low over his face and managed to make it past the gate guards without being ejected.

Back in town, Needles picked the lock on the dwarf wizard’s lockbox. He made an attempt at pulling some sleight of hand, but Jed’s sharp eye prevented it. Inside, they found a magic ring, some gems, and a pile of mixed coin! After identification, it turned out that the ring was a Ring Of Breath Holding, and the IOUN stone could cast Grace with its own dedicated power reserve. They were very impressed with the shininess of it all, but decided they could use the coin more, and sold both.

In the end, a full share worked out to over $18,500 each. As is the practice of Corbin, Inc., the party fund got one full share. Somewhat light-headed with the sudden influx of precious metals to his financial system, Jed agreed that D’arth could have half of FuBar’s expected share, with the other half going to the party fund.

* * *

Even if the monetary award was exceptional, experience points were relatively low, what with a dead party member, no completed quests, and comparatively little exploration. Needles was unanimously voted the Cool Point, for being the recipient of six highly-skilled attacks and coming away without so much as mussed hair. Of course, FuBar was awarded the Booby Point, for losing sight of the classic adventurer’s rule: “Always check your six.”

In accordance with FuBar’s will, D’arth took posession of the Booby Point, as well as all that savory sewer troll goodness… “Yum, yeah, no fear in this meat…”

 

“Corbin, Inc.”, Session #14

DRAMATIS PERSONÆ:

  • Alric Redbeard, barbarian philanthropist (PC)
  • FuBar Bombad, infamous trash ninja and swinging bait (PC)
  • Gabby the Cabin Girl, catching up to the others just in time for all the really good violence (PC)
  • Mississippi Jedadiah Walker, bard/wizard who gains a really unique perspective (PC)
  • Needles, the famous monster-slayer — really, he’s got a song and everything (PC)
  • Posy, cat-folk archer who’s so Woo she’s got her own doves (PC)
  • “Dobby”, Alric’s goblin henchman, left outside the dungeon and thus not appearing in this episode (NPC henchman)
  • Trevor, apprentice wizard who got to be the party’s chief wizard, for a while (NPC henchman)
  • Brother Bob PattsonBruce the Brute, and Jack, son of John, flunkies who get put in a corner (NPC hirelings)

Rumors Gathered:

None, because we picked up with the party still in the dungeon.

What Happened:

(GM Note: This is the second half of the dungeon delve that started last session. We pick up only a moment later.)

“Hey, guy, what’re we looking for?” Gabby asked, joining the bulk of the party at the edge of the Pit of Darkness. She had missed the party leaving town, and only just now caught up. She had cut cross-country and left her rope hanging down the cliff face to the Great Bridge. (GM: If I caught the story correctly, that rope made the difference between encumbrance levels, so leaving it behind was a win.) The others quickly muttered out the story, over the screams of the shriekers, explaining that FuBar had gone down into the Pit of Darkness, and they were waiting for the screams or the mad dash for escape, whichever came first.

Like this, but with wrinkles, a snout, two big ears, and random tufts of orange hair.

Down on the first level of the pit, FuBar was reaching for the backpack, when he heard the creak of door hinges. The door in front of him was slowly opening. Thinking quickly, he acrobatically made his way up the wall and clung to the ceiling, “River Tam style”. Luckily, he was able to win the war of stealth. He saw that a humanoid figure was lurking just inside the door. Deciding to abandon the backpack, he dropped a flask of alchemist’s fire in front of the doorway and made a wild, leaping dash for the exit.

Hearing the ruckus, Needles and Gabby jumped to climb down the chain and provide support. Posy kept her overlook position, in case of bad guys exiting the pit, but became increasingly restless. Alric also maintained his position, axe at the ready to chop any climbing hands. Jed held a missile spell at the ready, splitting his attention between the pit and the surrounding area, directing the hirelings to watch in all directions.

Inside the pit, there was a bit of a standoff. The monster, whatever it was, was lurking inside the room; apparently the slick of fire on the ground hadn’t caused it much difficulty. The three PCs tried to draw it out, to no avail. Finally, they entered the room. The creature, a humanoid figure made entirely of  darkness, managed to pop up being FuBar. Its sneak attack was somewhat spoiled, thanks to FuBar’s finely-honed sense for danger and a desperate, behind-the-back parry. Still, it got one hand on him, and he could feel the icy fingers of death tearing at his very soul.

FuBar and Gabby moved to engage the creature, while Needles edged around the fight with his eye on the backpack. Just as he made it to his goal, Gabby launched a successful attack that put a rapier into both the creature’s eyes. Dead before it hit the ground. The backpack turned out to be full of less-than-epic loot. The most interesting items were a dungeon-camouflaged cloak — for some reason, the party is wild for cloaks — and a vial of Luminous Dust.

They checked the next room in, where the shadow-man had come from. There, they found the skeleton of a goblin, still clutching a mace in one hand, and a sack in the other. Obviously, a failed treasure hunter. Checking the sack, they found a couple of silver buttons and a wand-like object; when investigated outside, in the light, it turned out to be a unicorn’s horn, covered in scrimshaw, worth nearly $1,000. While they were investigating, a handful of zombies approached outside on the balcony. They made short work of them.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party was still on watch. Trevor drew the others’ attention to the far end of the room, saying he had seen movement. Investigation revealed nothing, which might have actually increased their level of paranoia. Reconsidering their position, they had Posy call the rest of the party up to the top of the pit. The whole group retreated to the far end of the room, to the old dwarven storeroom. The two groups compared notes. They decided that the high-powered members of the party could handle the level of hostilities in the pit, but the henchmen would be at risk. They posted the hirelings there, in the storeroom, behind barred doors, and returned to the pit.

Everybody climbed down the chain, except for Jed, who used his Wallwalker spell to avoid risking a fall. The experienced hands pointed out items of interest to the newcomers. There were two large open doorways, on walls opposite each other, each flanked by two doors. The other two walls each had three doors.

The party started working its way clockwise around the level, starting with the door to the right of the door that FuBar had originally entered. The first room was a small chamber with no exits. Next came one of the large doorways, which led to a tiled chamber with curtained alcoves, where FuBar discovered quite a prize: a fine chamber pot.  The next door was spiked shut, with a chalked message, saying, “Do not enter! Dead!”

After a quick conference, the party left that door alone for the moment. They backtracked to the first door, then proceeded to the left. The other big doorway led to a room with a dried fountain, with a layer of sticky green slime in the bottom. As is usual in these situations, there was a nervous conference to determine if this was just green slime or if it were Green Slime!, the bane of unwashed adventurers everywhere. Alric announced it was just common pond scum, and FuBar volunteered to give it a taste to make sure, surviving the experiment unharmed. In another room, they found a huge mess of shredded paper and broken shelves (sad Jed) around a lectern bearing a single, untouched, closed book (happy Jed!). Wary of curses, they swept it into a bag and packed it away for later examination.

By the time they made it make to the “Dead!” door, they had started to get an idea of the layout of the place. As they put it, “There’s the one suite, but it’s mostly studio apartments.” Most of the rooms had been looted already. While FuBar slowly accumulated a hobo’s stew of unspeakable components, nobody else was making any profit.

At the “Dead!” door, the party discussed whether they should mess with the door or leave it alone. Jed declared that he would do some reconnaissance. Now, through this part of the trip, Jed had been carrying around a missile spell. To free his hands for other casting, he tossed the spell over his shoulder.

The resulting lightning bolt and clap of thunder took everyone by surprise. The shriekers stopped screaming, which freaked everybody out even worse than the sudden thunder. Gabby bolted for the chain and didn’t stop until she was back at the top of the pit. Looking back over her shoulder, the only thing she saw was FuBar’s new chamber pot, spinning like a top. Everybody else had dove for a hiding place. Even Jed, surprised when everyone else vanished, found a place to hide. Slowly, over the course of several minutes, as nothing came screaming out of the bottom of the pit, the party came out of their hiding places and returned.

There was much whispered discussion about the virtues of stealth, in the dungeon environment, and the general lack of wisdom inherent in giving away their location to every bad guy with ears within a half-mile radius.

Back at the “Dead!” door, Jed did his see-through-doors trick, confirming that the room was, indeed, crowded with zombies. The party sorted out their battle line. Alric used his maul to trigger a siege stone, blowing the door to bits, and Jed blasted through the opening with a full-power breath of flame. This tore up the first rank, but there were plenty of zombies to fill the gaps. Battle was joined. Posy put arrows through eyes. Gabby did the same with her rapiers. Needles put his trademark head-lopping move to good use. Jed even rolled up his sleeves and went to work, bashing in zombie skulls with his purple-flaming quarterstaff. Alric was somewhat hampered by fighting with his maul, rather than his great axe, but he still caved in his share of undead. FuBar worked around the edges, with his most notable move being when he caught a flying zombie head, thrown from Needles’ last adversary, on the point of his sai and used it as an improvised throwing weapon against the next zombie in line.

Sadly, the only payout was a pile of badly-damaged corpses in dirty loincloths. Having cleared level one of the nigh-legendary Pit of Darkness, the party put their heads together. Pickings had been slim thus far. It was unlikely that they would show a profit from the trip, if they called it a day here. Unanimously, they declared that they would try the second level.

This called for some discretion and examination. They sent FuBar down the chain to take a look. He returned, declaring that the whole next level’s balcony was crowded with zombies. Furthermore, he reported, there were several gathered around some kind of object, in one corner, that he couldn’t get a good look at. Posy worked her way around to see if she could get a good shot, finally getting an angle on the lower body of one. She put an arrow into its groin, spurring it to action. It staggered forward in anger, arms outstretched… until it toppled over the edge of the balcony, falling to its doom.

Inspired by this, the party put together a plan. They tied FuBar on a rope and dangled him over the edge, so that he could “run” along the wall below the second level. He joyously teased zombies until the entire crowd had stumbled over the brink, chasing him. He signaled for the rest of the group to join him, then went to check out the previously-hidden object… which turned out to be a chest with a bear carved into the lid. Needles unlocked it after examining it for traps, opened it, and saw that it seemed, at a glance, to be full of fine clothing. Satisfied with that, the party closed the chest and strapped it onto Alric’s growing bundle of loot.

Getting their bearings, the party realized that the chest had been sitting in the same corner as the two-room suite on the level above. Based on the theory that the floors’ layouts would be similar, they opened the door that should — and did — lead to the big apartment on this level. Needles checked it over, then handed the door over to Alric, who gave it the boot.

Inside the room, they found two cat-headed humanoids, sitting on two benches, facing each other, with swords across their knees. They were obviously not cat-folk, despite the similarities: they were far bulkier, with fangs overhanging their lower lips, glowing red eyes, and licks of flames coming from their eyebrows, ear-tips, and so forth. They turned their heads and snarled. With no specialist on hand to identify them, they were classified as “demonic cat-folk”. Accordingly, the party rushed in the room to engage.

Before any of the heroes could actually reach them, though — it was a tight doorway — the cat-demons were in motion. Both stood. One brandished his sword and sidestepped in an effort to flank the incoming party. The other stepped to the center of the room, drew breath, and exhaled a tremendous cone of flame!

Nearly everybody dove for cover. Alric ducked to the side and used his heavy cloak for cover. FuBar had already stationed himself against the wall, outside the door, and hadn’t rushed in, so he was out of danger. Jed held his ground, trying to use a Command spell to cause the creature to aim its attack at its partner, rather than the party. Sadly, the demon resisted his bardic mind tricks, and Jed was blasted, full-force. Though badly wounded and swaying, he kept his feet.

… for about a half second. The cat-demon who hadn’t breathed fire jumped into the middle of the party. The nearest standing enemy on its side of the fray was Jed. Accordingly, the beast stepped up to the dazed wizard, swung its sword once, and lopped off his head!

(GM Note:  PC down!  PC down!  Here’s the funny thing:  Jed’s player had finally obtained an appropriate miniature, top hat and all, and even got it painted. The running joke, up to this point, was that by putting his money down, he had tempted fate, and now Jed’s days were numbered. As you see… the omens were right.)

As designated thrower- and catcher-of-things, FuBar recovered Jed’s severed head before it rolled too far, and popped it into his pouch, right next to his treasured chamber pot. Posy didn’t even bother getting to her feet, she just started raining arrows, two at a time, through the doorway. (In fact, she remained prone for the rest of the battle.) The others stood and tackled the demons, with Alric and Gabby double-teaming the fire-breather.

The sword-favoring demon had the misfortune of ending up with Needles to his back. The thief-swashbuckler went to work, lumberjack-style, on the demon’s neck, but couldn’t manage the trick of decapitating it. For that matter, he couldn’t get it to stop moving!  It kept backing up, as it fought, trying to get outside the room so it could get a good angle on the entire party for its own breath of fire. It just had to get a couple of yards outside the door to be able to hit nearly everyone. When it stepped outside the cover of the doorway, however, it came within sight of FuBar, who had been preparing for this moment. He flung an ice potion at it, dousing it in alchemical cold. It howled once and went down dead, and nearly headless.

Observing this, Needles turned and returned to the room, where Gabby and Alric were busy unloading damage into the other demon-cat, who also refused to die despite receiving many should-be-mortal wounds. Needles pulled his own ice potion and shoved it down the demon’s throat! It tried to roar, failed, and fell dead.

The party gathered up the rest of their dead companions’ remains and searched the room. They found that the demons had been sitting on either side of a locked chest, which was sitting on a fine run covered with geometric figures. They took both. (GM: And maybe the benches, too. They were iffy on them.)

No jokes about “just one more room” this time. The party didn’t even argue their next move. They left the Pit, returned to the storeroom to collect the henchmen, and left the dungeon using Gabby’s previously-prepared climbing line. They returned to town without further incident.

There, the party split into two teams. The first group took Jed’s corpse to The Church. It was determined that Jed’s spirit was willing to leave behind the afterlife to continue working in the mortal realm. It was further determined that between Jed’s stored-up goodwill with The Church (GM: cough-cough-DONATIONS-cough) and a few thousand copper from Alric’s personal fortune, they could afford to pay for a resurrection. The service was paid for and scheduled. (GM: … but I haven’t fully investigated all the ramifications of being brought back from the dead, so there might still be rolls to make and consequences to address. For the moment, we assumed that Jed was back in the land of living, free of any hair or trace of eyebrows from his flame-bath, pale and weak, but able to issue orders for Trevor to carry out.)

Loot inventory back in town revealed that the two cat-demons had been guarding a chest full of scrolls, written in the dwarven manner, on sheets of metal. The zombies’ chest was full of fine clothing — a cap, a poncho, a bright red skirt, a silver bracelet — which the party did not sell, suspecting it might be of ritual significance and would bear further investigation. It also had a quart bottle full of dwarvish peach brandy, which Needles took away from Trevor; the bottle was used to toast Jed’s death and return.

The delve was declared profitable for the party as a whole, though Jed and Alric might very well have walked away with less wealth than they walking in with. Jed received the Cool Point for dying dramatically while taking one for the team… though it was observed that we’re slowly turning the Cool Point into the Consolation Prize, “Here, Buddy, Walk It Off” Point.

There’s always another quest

The question came up in conversation, since Gabby’s about ready to make her one-chance-only roll for healing her crippled arm… what happens if she fails?

The short, glib answer is, she gains the One Arm disadvantage and carries on with a reduced point total. This would be a considerable bummer, what with Gabby’s basic concept being “I’ve got a pointy thing in either hand and a bloody-minded whim of iron in between”. She’s invested a bundle of points in fighting with a weapon in either hand. Losing half of that would be a serious blow.

Would it mean the end of the character’s adventuring career?  Well, that depends…

If the player is tired of the character and wants to try something different, well, then, sure. Gabby retires from the adventuring life. She can be occasionally seen down by the docks, arm in a sling, mending nets one-handed, smoking a corncob pipe. When new 250-point characters get off the boat, she gives them the “I used to be an adventurer like you, until I took a zombie Mongo to the elbow” talk.

But if there’s interest, there’s a way. This is Dungeon Fantasy, where even death is a temporary setback, if you’ve got friends with coin. Or a good enough reputation. Or goodwill with The Church. Or 25 points to spend on an Extra Life for a heroic, pulp-style escape.

In fact, this is Dungeon Fantasy, where it’s entirely acceptable to replace Bob The Fighter with his identical twin brother, Rob The Fighter… the only difference being earned experience.

Generally speaking, I’m in favor of anything that keeps the story going. It’s a cinematic world, so there’s plenty of cinematic solutions to any situation. In fact, I’ll go a step further:  it’s not just cinematic, it’s comic-book cinematic, it’s Saturday morning cartoon cinematic, where the only solid rule is the Rule of Cool. The solution to just about any problem is going to be “Go on a quest!”

So let’s rewind from Gabby the Mender of Nets, and see what other options there are. Yeah, sure, in the short term, the spell fails to restore her arm, she picks up a colorful sling and a new disadvantage. Her friends and allies swing into action, and browbeat Trevor the Apprentice into doing some research at the library while they’re “gathering rumors” at the bar. By strange coincidence, a quest turns up, offering a ray of hope! It points the way to:

  • A reclusive hermit of such holiness that the one-time-only restriction doesn’t apply, allowing a second attempt at magical healing… if his odd sense of divine justice can be satisfied.
  • A foul necromancer who can raise parts of a subject’s body from the dead, who might be willing to turn the broken arm into a zombie arm… if someone were to complete her collection of hand-blown glass kittens.
  • A grumpy old Scotsman, famous the world over for his skills as a teacher of sword-fighting, who could put Gabby through a 1980’s-style training montage to retrain her reflexes so she could take points out of dual-weapon fighting and put them into… other things. Enhanced Time Sense, maybe. Or Extra Attacks. If only he weren’t so depressed after the realization that he’s tried all the strong drink the world has to offer…. If only someone could offer him a rare liquor that he hasn’t tasted before…
  • My personal favorite:  a clockwork mechanism made from orichalcum in the form of a sleeve, covered in rods and gears, which could brace and re-animate the crippled arm, so long as it is kept wound. It just needs to be recovered from the vault where it is held, guarded by… oh… let’s say…. a gang of stone golems.

But… you know… now that I think about it, using any of these ideas would just be an exercise in self-indulgence. There’s no need to come up with a special tailor-made quest to be The Search For Gabby’s Arm. There’s already a pending quest that could take care of it, easily.

See, there’s this halfling who knows where to find something, or someone, in the dungeon, that grants wishes. And, funny thing, but: that halfling’s on a bit of a quest, himself. It’s called “Get my Precious (cough) I mean, my ring, yeah, my ring, get it back from that Gabby the Cabin Girl person who took it off me”.

 

Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys, Season 2 #5 – “Scurvy Sea Dogs”

It might be helpful, at this stage of the story, to know something about the “guest starring actors” in the story at hand. The conceit, remember, was that the game was based on a TV show that never was. We bounced back and forth between different visions of the show. At one point, there was talk of the Little House on the Prairie intro, for the 1970’s western version. On another occasion, we joked about the opening theme and credits montage, if the show came from the 1980’s and aired opposite The A-Team. I liked to think of it as a contemporary program (on cable, of course) that spent a lot on cutting-edge special effects to simulate the look of crappy 1970’s special effects… 

At any rate, I made a point of casting memorable guest stars.

I knew this story was heading towards the wind-down of the campaign. Since Jasmine’s plot involved bringing aboard a group of pirates under the cover of being paying passengers, I took special care with the cast, knowing they would step out of the background and onto center stage.

First, there was the leader of the little group, Mick Colquholn (pronounced like “Calhoun”), played by Lenny “The Guv`nor” Mclean, seen here in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels:

Why, yes, I did just figure out how to embed images from remote URLs. Why do you ask?

Before the mutiny, Mick took pains to come across as a benign, slightly daffy older gentleman. Afterwards, he took on his more accurate “hard man” persona, as can be seen below.

I was absolutely dying for someone to ask him about Jasmine, so he could say “Well, she’s a fookin’ feef, now ain’t she?”, but it sadly never came around. These things hardly ever do, if you think of them ahead of time, it seems.

Mick’s second-in-command was Roger Sutton, played by Steve Sweeney, also appearing in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.

Notice the theme, yet? I was really trying to tip ’em off, really I was…

Next, we have Dirk Hackett and his putative young son, Waylon. I found their pics by searching for “soccer hooligan” on Google Images, rather than picking out famous actors (which is why I’m not sharing). The kid looks about five, and he’s throwing a vigorous bird at (one hopes) the opposing team. The guy cast as the father has a shaved head and a long-suffering, half-exasperated expression. As it turned out, the two weren’t actually father-and-son, but (as I recall) brothers. Waylon wasn’t even really a kid. He was in his 30’s, but his growth had been arrested during childhood by advanced biotech. The pirates had used his apparent age as cover, concealing weapons in toys and so forth.

Finally, there were the two guys that the pirates had hired as muscle, Earl Perkins and Jamison Connelly. For them, I went local. Earl was cast as the player of Osolo (and TKotBO, in the DF game), while Jamison was a player in the original Old West game that got us going with 4th edition. This choice, originally a bit of a joke, turned out to be something more in play, when Osolo came face-to-face with his true self. From what I understand, the player found this to be an unexpectedly powerful moment.

* * *

Psychic powers. Yup, I never said “No!” to psychic powers. Way back when originally putting the game together, I had a list of things that would never, ever appear. Magic was on the list, but psychics weren’t. In fact, back during season 1, we had talked about it, and I pointed out that if you looked at the crew in the right light, they were all psychic, somehow. Osolo and Bubba had their psychic twin connection. Hal warped probability, being lucky, unlucky, and equipped with Serendipity. Mel, Dr Nanika, had Empathy and sufficient exploits in-game to support being somewhat telepathic. Samale’s skill at piloting was nigh-supernatural, such that he could claim to be “strong in the Force” and nobody would have room to dispute him. 

So, the surprise wasn’t that Jasmine had psychic powers. It was that a player finally decided to break the seal and go overt. Jasmine was a little telepathic, enough to add a devastating +4 to her already-high social skills. At least once, she failed a telepathy roll and gave Osolo a weird feeling, which (being unfamiliar with telepathy) he explained away. 

And, yeah, she had been built from the ground up as a PC meant to betray the group. This experience caused me to re-think my approach to PC secrets. It’s a big reason why I’m trying so hard to play the DF game “cards up”, to the point of having Needles’ player announce at the table when Needles is ripping off the other PCs, and having the contest of Perception versus whatever-sneakiness-he’s-committing rolled in the open.

There’s probably a whole post, if not more, that could be dedicated to this one incident… so rather than get into it here, I’ll just note it, and leave the re-opening of old wounds for a later date.

Hal had Intolerance (Pirates) after previous bad experiences.

What Happened:

The pirates spread out to secure the Cabra, leaving Jasmine, Mick, and the Hackett kid in the kitchen. Mick mentioned that he had overheard Jasmine mention reading minds. She claimed it was just a bit of misdirection. He said that’s what he figured, because otherwise, she would read his mind right now. While verbally scoffing, she, of course, peeked into his mind, as she had done before, when hiring him.

The first time she had read his mind, Jasmine had been amazed at how much of his thoughts were taken up with the game of soccer. This time, he revealed that the wall of soccer statistics was a cover for his true thoughts. Then, he showed her his first memory of her, as a half-starved waif in rags, selling matches in a small asteroid spaceport, directly contradicting her own memories of a wealthy childhood in the Core Worlds. Finally, he let her see his memory of just before coming into the kitchen, when he told the kid, “And while’s she’s looking at me, you shoot her in the fookin’ head.”

There was just enough time for her stomach to heave once before a laser killed her.

* * *

Osolo awoke slowly, still groggy from the drugs. A half-familiar woman’s face came into his field of view.

Uncle Osolo? Wake up, we need you. And don’t kill the guy, he’s OK!”

It was Haloes Nor, one of the passengers on the other cargo ship. Or, rather, the image of Haloes, on a tablet being held by a fearful Earl, one of the junior pirates.

Osolo listened as she filled him in on the events of the last few hours: During routine scans, Abe had observed someone coming out of the Cabra, through the engine room airlock. He had assumed it was Hal, doing some kind of middle-of-the-night maintenance. The figure had thrown some things into space, and shortly afterward, the cargo ship’s sails had suffered severe damage from multiple explosions. Caleb had gone out to attempt heroic repairs, only to die when the sails violently decircularized, cutting him in half. Since then, chaos had reigned, with the brothers being distraught and overwhelmed with the emergency. Haloes reported that she had gotten them mostly headed in one direction, but it was rough going. They had figured out that something bad was happening on the Cabra, but could offer no assistance. No one had responded to the radio, so she had turned to the ‘net, with no luck, until she made a connection with Earl.

Earl interjected that he had just being going along with his buddy Jamison’s plan. They had just hired on for theft, he said, not killing – nobody was supposed to get hurt.

Osolo took all of this in, then asked one question of Haloes: “Who are you?”

She removed her veil, revealing herself to be a surprisingly grown-up Rahne. (“Haloes Nor” being an anagram of “Rahne Solo”, naturally.) She quickly explained that she had cranked up the speed of puberty when she had realized she wasn’t going to stay with “those a–holes”, referring to her two stepfathers. Finally up to speed, Osolo asked for some privacy while he got dressed and ransacked Jasmine’s room.

Meanwhile, having been bought off by Jasmine before she was “paid off”, Felix had the run of the ship. He idly wandered down to the sick bay, finding the place torn apart by a previous search. He also discovered Mel, lying unconscious on one of her own beds. After an efficient look around, he turned up a half-full box of smelling salts, apparently the target of the previous searcher, as well. He applied the stuff, bringing Mel around. After a quick summary of everything that had happened, including how Felix had accepted the pirate’s offer in an effort at subterfuge, Mel was ready to hunt down the pirates and throw them out the airlock, one and all. And Jasmine, twice.

On the upper cargo deck, Hal came to, with both his squirrels working together to smack him awake. He skulked about, making sure that he was alone. Looking out through the windows in the cargo bay door, he saw that the ships were no longer flying in formation. One of the other ship’s sails were missing, while the other was far more distant than it should have been. At the same time, he heard the distinctive sound of magnetic boots on the ship’s hull over his head. Considering the evidence, Hal concluded that they were in the hands of pirates. Declaring that having his sails working for pirates was an insult beyond bearing, he entered the engine room, ready to take it back if he found it occupied. Luckily, it was not. He went directly to the main controls for the sails, and cut the power, causing them to instantly go slack.  (If the Cabra were a car, this would be the equivalent of throwing sugar in the gas tank. If it were a sailing ship, it would be like setting fire to the mainsail. Hal was righteously furious.)  All around the ship, people were thrown off-balance as the thrust from the sails unexpectedly stopped.

Felix and Mel proceeded up to the control room, planning to take control of the ship, with Felix leading the way. Outside the control room, they found Terreno, sleeping, cuddling his bottle of drugged tequila. They woke him, using more of the smelling salts, and entered. Inside, they surprised Jamison having a moment with his bong, causing an unfortunate spill on the controls. Terreno applied a sleeper hold to the hapless hireling while Mel surveyed the damage, which turned out to be fixable, but not in a hurry. While the control room crew took care of business, Felix headed towards the engine room to see what could be done about the sails.

Back in Jasmine’s room, Osolo discovered her stash of TL10 makeup, but little of use. Having a sudden feeling that Bubba was alive and in trouble, he dropped his search and left. Taking Earl with him as a lookout, he went to his room to arm up, then moved towards the central cargo bay through the ship’s crawlspaces, with an eye towards manning his cargo loading suit.

Rahne made contact with Mel through the ‘net, briefly, and filled her in on the details. Aside from what she had already told Osolo, she added that they had observed two people on the hull. The connection failed as Jarvis began acting in an erratic fashion. In short order, the program failed entirely under external attack. Having had enough of all this, Mel moved towards the kitchen, looking to take down as many pirates as she could.

Hal suited up to go out and knock whoever it was off the outside of his ship. As he was entering the airlock, Felix arrived. They conferred briefly before Hal went on ahead, leaving Felix to find the spear guns. Outside on the hull, Hal found two suited figures already engaged in a cat-and-mouse shootout. He tackled the closer of the two, which gave the other, larger figure an opening. The big man put his fist through the grappled man’s helmet visor, exposing him to raw vacuum. Hal released the wounded man, turning towards the other. Just as he was about to attack, the other man raised his visor shade, showing his face.

It was Bubba. (!!) Hal reacted with understandable enthusiasm. Meanwhile, the pirate staggered away, making for the airlock in a desperate struggle for life. Just as he made it to the door, the airlock opened in front of him, revealing Felix, suited, bearing two loaded spear guns. Between a rock and a hard place, the man gestured wildly for several seconds before losing consciousness from lack of oxygen. Hal and Bubba grabbed him and hustled them all into the airlock. After introductions and some discussion, the three crew members left the airlock, then cycled it with the pirate still inside. Bubba declared that he was after Mung, but displayed a wanted notice with Sabra’s picture on it. (Sabra, remember, was the Core Worlder passenger who had been travelling with her own cargo since the start of Season 2. She had been all but forgotten in all the excitement.)

In the control room, Terreno finalized the course calculations. As it stood, the Cabra was headed for a landing on Earth-That-Was. Without the sails, even stretching the rockets to their utmost, they could not make stable orbit.

Mel found herself under the gun of the Hackett kid before she made it into the kitchen. Thinking quickly, she managed to dive for cover without being wounded, then took to the crawlspaces to flank him. Sneaking to a position over the dining room table, she peeked through a ventilation duct, seeing Mick and Sabra, the long-term passenger, playing a TL10 card game. She was just about to leap down in a frenzy of destruction when a voice in her head told her to come down and join the game. Unable to resist, she complied.

At the table, Mel realized that Sabra was in charge here. During their talk, Sabra revealed that she was the real Jasmine Mung. Their “Jasmine” had actually been a front the entire time. She had started life on a poor asteroid, then been picked up and given psychic brainwashing to give her a new identity. Her telepathic powers had actually been on loan from the real Mung. Playing on her insight into psychology, Mel finally distracted Mung and gathered enough willpower to take back control of her body, at least enough to drive a hypodermic into Mung’s hand – a previously-prepared hypodermic full of curare.

Her victory was short-lived, however, as Mick hit her upside her head with his pistol, knocking her unconscious.

In the main cargo bay, Osolo made it to his loader. Just as he was getting ready to slide into the bench seat, he was interrupted by the sound of a triple-barrel shotgun being racked and a voice ordering him to freeze. It was Dirk Hackett, the apparent elder of the two Hacketts. When Dirk quickly got tired of Osolo’s verbal sparring, he moved to shoot him in the knee, but Osolo dodged and threw a knife at the pirate, taking him in the abdomen. This caused the man to sit down and re-think his career choices, while Osolo quickly moved to secure the shotgun.

Mick interrupted the crew by announcing over the ship’s intercom that he had Mel. He demanded that everyone gather in the main cargo hold. Faced with a hostage situation, the crew mostly complied, and gathered to lurk in the hold. They rapidly barricaded many of the entrances, hoping to channel the pirate into a door of their choosing. This fell through when the kid came on ahead and blew open one of the welded doors with his laser pistol.

Mick entered, using Mel as a shield. He began to explain his take on things: while there was plenty of reason for hard feelings on all sides, the thing to do at this point was to work together to make sure everyone survived. His speech was cut abruptly short when Felix came out of the shadows and put a knife to his throat.

Mick was willing to give up his weapon, requesting only that they pry the cat off his leg. Looking down, Felix discovered that Nuku-chan had apparently had enough, too. She was latched on to Mick’s leg with both sets of front claws and her fangs.

Since he could see that things were going wrong, the kid was still a threat. Felix directed Nuku-chan to “go get ‘im!” She ran off. There was the sound of laser fire and screams of pain, then silence… before Nuku-chan popped up in the doorway, dragging the kid’s unconscious body by the scruff of the neck.

In the aftermath, Mel and Felix agreed to split Jasmine’s makeup stash. There was no particular protest to the idea of throwing all of the pirates, including Jasmine’s body, out the airlock, with the exception of Earl and Jamison, who were placed under lock. The crew got the bad news about their course from Terreno.

While securing the ship, the crew heard a banging from the shuttle bay, as if someone were ramming the van into the walls. Upon investigation, Bubba found that the van had been broken loose from its moorings, and the walls were badly damaged, particularly the rocket fuel. With no gravity, the entire shuttle bay was filled with floating balls of fuel. One of the shuttles was badly damaged, as well.

Free of pirates, the crew faced the problem of being adrift and headed towards Earth-That-Was.

 

– – – – –

A note about the crunch:  when Jasmine saw into Mick’s mind, I called for a Fright Check roll, with a penalty for learning that everything she thought she knew about herself was actually a lie. The dice and the system came together perfectly, giving a result that set her up, in accordance with Mick’s evil plan, to be blindsided by the “kid”. 

Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys #12 – “Nail The Colors To The Mast”

It’s been a slow week around here, but I couldn’t leave y’all hanging on the finale episode of Season 1.

What Happened:

The crew and Seth discussed the Lo Pan situation over the trip to Ganymede, but came to no certain conclusion. Despite her words, Nanika refused to sign up for killing the man, even though she saw no other way out of their situation. In the end, nothing was resolved.

Bubba had lost custody of Rahne thanks to the recovery of her mother’s previously-lost survey vessel. One of Rahne’s stepfathers had sued for custody, basically using the cowboy lifestyle as a basis. Among other things, her ‘net connection logs were called into evidence, showing how interplanetary transfers on a small ship had interrupted her access.

When entering the treacherous magnetosphere of Jupiter, the Cabra was given the usual offer, from JCS Traffic Control, of a local pilot to guide them through to Ganymede. Feeling confident, Samale turned them down. Nanika, working the sensors, saved him from a misstep that would have led to disaster, doing it quietly enough for him to save face.

At Ganymede, the crew worked around the clock to unload the ship’s freight and refuel, eager to get to the reunion. The gathering itself was in a long orbit. Dozens of ships were lashed together, with flexible connectors between airlocks, forming an impromptu ziggy space station. Seth announced that he had made arrangements for the crew to meet with Grandma in a few days.

Osolo was swept away to spend time with many “aunts”, sharing gossip and recipes. Hal and Bubba located a likely lad to take on as an engine room apprentice.

When the time came, Grandma listened to the entire story, making no comment. In the end, she agreed that Lo Pan was a threat to the family, and should be dealt with, one way or another. After talking over several different approaches, it was decided that Grandma would come along on the trip to the Ag’, to be used as a demonstration of the effectiveness of the “fountain of youth” drug. Two young roughneck cousins, Randal and Cob, were recruited as muscle.

The crew then set course for the Ag’, carrying freight that Grandma arranged for at Ganymede. During the trip, Nanika resisted the urging to load the second canister with a lethal agent, instead deciding to fill it with a drug that would simulate the symptoms of a heart attack. When they arrived, they took pains to make this trip seem like any other.

While out drinking, Hal spotted Du Yi, one of Long Tong’s right-hand men. After passing this information along to the rest of the crew, he fell in with Leo Donadoni, bentlam addict and son of a Martian Mafia higher-up. Hal brought him back to the ship to meet with Samale and Osolo, who hooked him up with the bentlam and thereby became his new best friends. Conversation determined that Leo’s “family” was also nursing a grudge against Lo Pan.

Osolo caught up with Bustah Capp for dinner. The conversation turned to Osolo’s motives in allowing the RIAA to declare him dead. In the end, Osolo finally decided to accept Bustah’s offer of help, and stay on the Ag’ to fight for his music when the ship left.

The crew’s investigations revealed that Lo Pan had left the Ag’, in light of the escalating violence of the ongoing gang war. He was spending his time in an undisclosed location, somewhere near the Ag’, instead. They got in contact with his organization, using their previous contacts to get an appointment with Lo Pan’s Walken. Samale started the negotiations by attempting to titillate the Walken, which didn’t work out at all well. (Reference was made to the famous “Christopher Walken is watching you pee” picture.) Osolo took over as crew representative while Bubba and the young cousins took Samale into the hall for an educational roughing-up. Samale swore that the Walken would pay for misleading him so badly.

The Walken agreed that Lo Pan would pay $10 million for the fountain-of-youth drug, if it were proven by demonstration… passing up the offer of $8 million and an end to their association. The meeting and demonstration were set to take place in a few days’ time. Originally, the Walken placed restrictions on who could appear during the meeting, but he was convinced to allow the entire crew, as well as Grandma (for the demonstration) and Seth (as her attendant).

The guys talked Leo into trying to set up a meeting with his father. This fell through, but he was able to call in Silvio Manfredi, a trusted agent of the family, instead. After discussion and negotiation, Silvio agreed to work with the crew. The plan was made that the crew would go in first, and set off a beacon to reveal the location of Lo Pan’s summer home. At that signal, the Martian Mafia’s men would swoop in and clean up. The end goal would be to end up with Lo Pan dead, his Walken alive, and his sanctum in mob hands. In return, the Martian Mafia would look upon the Cabra with favor, and also pay them $8 million.

On the morning of the meeting, Samale concealed a holdout pistol upon his person, then used his smuggling experience to conceal Randal, Cob, Cleo, and Han in the shuttle. (The plan was, once the advance team with Grandma started a ruckus, the four surprise members would strike and join them.) Nanika, knowing she would be involved in unpleasantness (including violence and telling lies), gave herself a sedative. Bubba concealed several smoke bombs, obtained from the juvenile delinquents back at the reunion, inside a necklace he had machined, and gave it to Osolo to wear. Osolo announced, even if they all survived, he was going to stay on the Ag’ and pursue his music career, finally making his decision public. Grandma was gently moved onto the shuttle, and they were off, using coded flight instructions provided by Lo Pan’s organization.

There was much evidence of tight security on Lo Pan’s private space station. Thanks to the crew’s meticulous preparation (and, in Samale’s case, willpower), though, none of their concealed weapons or co-conspirators were found. They were taken into Lo Pan’s presence, where Bubba talked Lo Pan into nearly clearing the room, leaving only the crew, Lo Pan, and his Walken.

Everyone watched as Nanika administered the drug to Grandma. Shortly, she regenerated into her much-younger self.  Satisfied that the drug was real, Lo Pan questioned Nanika. Thanks to her forethought in sedating herself, she managed to lie to his face, convincingly. (Possibly a first, for her.)

While this was going on, Samale was quietly moving for position and drawing his weapon.

When the “drug” hit Lo Pan’s system, he was in obvious distress. Walken went to pull a gun. Suddenly, everyone was in motion. Samale tried to shoot Walken in the knee, but missed. Grandma and Seth went to cover the doors, with Grandma delivering a high kick to the first guard to stick his head in the room. Bubba and Hal went to help control the doors. Osolo moved to get control of Lo Pan in the most direct way possible, by sitting on him, then dropped one of the smoke bombs, filling the room with thick smoke.

At the sound of Lo Pan’s ancient bones breaking, Nanika dove to provide medical assistance. In response to the resulting slap fight, Osolo got off the old man. Nanika picked up Lo Pan – still breathing, though badly injured – just in time for the Walken to open fire. In the poor visibility, he managed to put three slugs into Lo Pan, which was more than enough to finish him.

Bubba gave the signal for the cavalry, but the crew was still presented with the problem of surviving until they arrived. Sealing doors as they went, the crew retreated to the last room before the long hall back to the shuttle. Grandma and Bubba agreed, if they tried to make it as a group, they were doomed; the guards would either break in or circle around, and the crew would be fish in a barrel. They also agreed, anyone left behind to cover the escape would be taking on a suicide mission. Making a quick decision, Bubba sent Grandma, Seth, and Nanika in the first group. He gathered up spare weapons, then sent the others on their heels.

Then Bubba squared his shoulders, raised his pistol, and went back into the smoke.

 

How bad can it get for the PCs?

I’ve seen a couple of threads on the SJ Games forums (here and here) that got me thinking. One is talking about the maximum damage one should use against PCs. The other is discussing the assumptions behind Dungeon Fantasy, including how often a GM should do things like nerf the wizard with an anti-magic zone or use flying enemies against parties limited to ground movement. The question is, how bad can (or should) the GM make life for the PCs?

My answer always seems to be: “Pretty darn bad.”

Is it OK for an adversary monster to do enough damage to drop the party’s squishies to where they’re making death checks?  Sure thing. Particularly if that monster is some sort of berserk, slobbering, ten-foot-tall monstrosity with nigh-inappropriate piercings. It’s just false advertising to field something that ugly and have it hit like a feather. Is it OK for a gnome to punch like that? Probably not… unless there’s been some mention of how this gnome wears a Girdle of Giant Strength, or some other clue that this gnome is unusual.

Is it OK to throw flying adversaries at the party, even if they don’t carry missile weapons and will be generally helpless?  Absolutely! It shouldn’t come as a shock to encounter flying enemies in a fantasy world. The game that made dungeon crawls a thing to do was named after a monster that can fly, after all. The movie Jason and the Argonauts had a harpy fight, and it came out in 1963.

Is it OK to sprinkle around things like anti-magic areas, monsters with magic resistance, and meteoric iron locks to offset the power of magic to solve problems? Yup. If the PCs can do it, so can others. There’s a spell to remove mana from an area, and there’s another to provide magic resistance. Meteoric iron is available to anybody who’s willing to pay the markup. It’s a sure bet, if your PCs were worried about being ripped off by wizards, they would quickly pursue all three.

If you’re going into the dungeon, you should be prepared to meet (like the song says) “things that crawl, and things that fly, and things that creep around on the ground”, things “that’d make a strong man cry with fright”. You should know that it’s a hostile environment, chock full of creatures that want nothing more than to eat your braaaaiiiiiiins…. and some are surprisingly clever and go in for things like setting traps and laying ambushes. If the monsters aren’t that smart, your fellow adventurers are. Anything your party comes up with is fair game as a tactic for their rivals and enemies to use.

For verisimilitude, and for the challenge, the GM has to include things that the party can’t easily handle. If the PCs can waltz in and make off with the MacGuffin without any trouble, you’re faced with the dual problem of explaining why somebody hasn’t already done so, and figuring out what to do to fill the rest of the evening.

Furthermore, there has to be a real risk. If the party pushes too hard, goes too far, overextends themselves… they’ve got to pay the price. If they refuse to believe that there are things out there that are too much for them, they need to learn. Education is often painful.

I’ve seen a lot of talk about how consequences aren’t fun. You can even see it in the evolution of monsters over time: the first rust monster would just outright destroy metal items with a touch, then it was updated to destroy some items eventually, and ended up performing some sort of alchemical transformation so the PCs can reclaim their lost items. Or something of that nature, anyway; I lost interest after hearing how it’s no fun to have to risk your character’s precious magic items. Sometimes you hear it about game mechanics. I saw something in passing, the other day, about how it’s no fun to be knocked out of combat, so monsters shouldn’t have special attacks like paralysis, or stunning, or whatever.

Of course, if you follow that line of logic to its tragic end, you realize that it’s no fun at all to have to sit out half the combat because the dragon killed your character… and you end up standing up cardboard cut-outs of dragons to hold the place of the real thing until they’re knocked down by a band of hooligans with duct-tape-and-rattan swords. Nobody misses out on the fun, then, you see. All the risk is sucked out. Seems to me, the fun gets sucked out, at the same time.

It’s no fun for anybody at the table to have the PCs roll over all opposition.  (Maybe on occasion, but not a steady diet.)  If the bad guys can’t touch ’em, they won’t be effective and the PCs will own them. The players will get bored and you end up with PC-on-PC violence.

Likewise, it’s no fun to watch the PCs die helplessly, either. I might joke about wanting to kill PCs, but there’s no enjoyment to be had in watching someone’s PC introduce himself shortly before slitting his wrists. (Seriously, if your character is suicidal, at least gear up for some sort of epic last stand. Distract the dragon while the other PCs sneak in to steal its treasure. Do something interesting. Think of your fellow players!) I’m not going to put a monster in the dungeon with the powers of “takes no damage from PCs” and “kills PCs at will”, because that would be boring for me.

If I, as the GM, wanted the PCs dead, I could just call for a plague to sweep the land.  “You all wake up dead. New characters all around!”  I could have the next random encounter be with a planet-killer asteroid.  “Even with Deflect +3, I don’t think your large shield can parry that.” Neither sounds like fun to me, or anybody else.

The sweet spot, the place where everybody has the most fun, both player and GM, is where the PCs are challenged but not overwhelmed. If there’s something they can’t take, they should be able to gather that information, and avoid it. If they’re walking through opposition with a yawn, they need to face steeper opposition. If they get hit, it should hurt… because that’s what makes it a fight worth having.

Every PC Is Expendable, or, Why We Template

My ruling is, every PC needs to stick to the template, mostly. I’m biased towards the original set of “classes” from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 1, but I’m open to anything from any Dungeon Fantasy supplement or issue of Pyramid. (One exception: I’m not allowing the profusion of specialist clerics from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 7. Clerics can either be holy or unholy, or they can be “neutral” and actually be a Druid.)

I’m OK with a bit of deviation within the template, like moving discretionary points from one category to another. If, say, you’re making a Barbarian, and you’ve got 28 points in Advantages and want to spend the other 2 in Skills, go right ahead. I’ll also allow things to be swapped in to the template, if we discuss it beforehand; this is how we got a Holy Warrior with One Eye, when that Disadvantage does not appear on the Holy Warrior template. (It’s worthwhile to note that One Eye does appear in the list of suitable Disadvantages in the second chapter of DF1.)

If you want to buy things from the lists from Power-Ups and The Next Level, that’s fine, too. Each character has access to the list for their template. Anyone who takes a “multi-class” lens can choose from the items available to either “class”, once they’ve paid for the entire lens.  If the character is a Knight with 10 points invested in becoming a Knight-Bard, that character can choose anything from the Knight lists, or the remaining items from the Knight-Bard lens. Once the lens is paid off, that character can advance as either a Knight or a Bard, and take items from the list of either class.

Perks and Quirks are such a personalized thing, I’ll allow a lot of latitude there. Just follow all the usual rules about the limits on Perks based on points invested in combat abilities and so forth.  (To be honest, I usually apply those rules by guesstimation. If you’ve got three or fewer, I’m likely to call it good. If you’ve got six, I’ll start adding up totals.)

Compared to the usual “anything goes” style of characters in previous games, this is restrictive. Here, I aim to explain why.

First, the minor point:  “Why no specialist clerics?”

Because I’m aiming for a feeling that’s half the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon and half 1st edition AD&D. As I recall, we didn’t get specialists until 2nd edition. (Am I wrong on that? It’s been so long…)

Because, in my experience, when you start splitting religion too fine in a setting, you end up with religious wars between factions. I want to keep the focus on the good-versus-evil conflict, there, not the political maneuverings of the Church of Thor to undermine the support for the Temple of Athena.

Because, there aren’t seven different kinds of Knight and twelve different flavors of Bard, so why put that much emphasis on just the Cleric? When it comes to fluff and background, the characters can claim whatever god or gods they want, with whatever traditions. There are many orders within The Church. But, at the end of the day, it’s the Good Church against the Demon Worshipers, and the mechanics support that.

Now, the main point:  “Why lean so hard on the templates?  If I want to play a dwarf with Dwarfism who traveled back in time with TL 6 equipment riding a genetically-engineered psionic dinosaur, what’s to stop me?  GURPS can handle it! Freedom!”  (You’ve got to read that last bit the way they did it in Braveheart, donchaknow.)

Well, sure, GURPS can handle it, but I don’t know if I can. Here’s why.

First, the templates are really well-made. I mean, seriously, kudos to Dr Kromm (Sean Punch) and everybody who worked on them. You can tell some deep thought went into them. When it comes to poking around in the dungeon – the problem space we’re talking about – they’re really well-optimized. Everybody has a niche, and it’s easy to avoid stealing each other’s thunder. Personally, I have my doubts that my players and I could do better. I figure, if we start tinkering, we’re likely to break something, and if we go out on our own, template-less, we’ll end up overlooking something important. Maybe the character will be missing some vital component (like boots!) or maybe it will overlap with somebody else’s job, but it’ll end up inferior. (Yeah, I’m a pessimist.)

Second, if everybody is following the templates pretty closely, I don’t have to closely examine every character sheet. I’m going to reminisce a bit about the Supers 1200 game, since we’re done with the retelling. Back when we were making those characters, I had to double-check, over and over, to make sure they wouldn’t just explode into red mist in the first combat. Even though the game was consciously anything-goes, I also had to make sure that nobody was trying to slip through anything too outrageous. As I recall, we had to go through several iterations as I built up the checklist. I don’t want to spend that much time and effort on a character for a dungeon delve. Supers live forever.  Life is cheap in the dungeon.

It’s not just that I’m lazy, either. (Though, I won’t fight against the accusation…)  It’s a matter of priorities.  I’ve only got so much time in the day, being mortal and lacking time travel technology. I’ve got to split my time and energy a lot of different ways. I’ve got something that resembles a real life: work, kids, a significant other who deserves attention, a mortgage to pay, exercise to be taken…  I want to extract the maximum bang for my gaming buck, here. That’s among the main reasons why we shifted from story-driven games to the dungeon delve: because it offered a greater return on investment.

I’ve got a choice. I can spend an hour on stocking the dungeon, extending the maps, coming up with better set-piece battles, writing up monsters than I can re-use, filling chests with interesting treasure, generating clues and maps and traps and tricks… and that time goes towards more fun for the entire group.

Or, I can spend an hour on Bob’s unique, special snowflake of a character, who will be a perfect expression of Bob’s artistic aspirations… and who will, within the first 15 minutes of play, likely as not, grab a doorknob, fail a HT roll, die of poison, and be looted by the other PCs.

(cue sad trombone music)

And the trouble doesn’t end there, because now, Bob is sitting there without a character. (Unless we spent a lot of time writing up a lot of special, unique characters who might never actually see the light of play.) Now, I can either tell Bob that his gaming day is over, or I can tell all the other players to take a break while Bob and I work out a replacement character.

I would much rather stick to the templates, and use my time for the benefit of the entire group. Then, when Bob’s not-quite-perfect-but-close-enough-for-our-purposes character dies, Bob can go off alone and bust out a character in minutes. By the time the party has looted the dead guy, the new guy can be ready to be dropped in. Play continues for all. PC death is a speed-bump, not a show-stopper.

Templates also help to organize intent. I remember several times, introducing GURPS to folks for the first time, back in the day, when they would ask “What kind of character can I make?” and I would answer, “Anything! Anything at all!”  The deer-the-headlights looks were terrible… So, over time, I’ve developed my “Just say no – to everything!” philosophy. If you can do anything, you’ll be overwhelmed by choices, but if the options are cut down to just a few, you can move forward.

If everybody’s working off the same short list of templates, the PCs will become distinctive in their personalities and their roleplay, rather than their stats. For example, when setting up for the Space Cowboys game, I had a list of things I gave a hearty “NO!” to, before character creation even began: no aliens, no super-science, no magic, no cinematic skills… and we ended up with a group of characters with personalities, instead.

Seriously, though, I don’t think it’s all that restrictive. Remember, I’m trying to re-create the games I played in junior high. That means 1st edition AD&D. Back then, you got to roll some dice, arrange the scores if the Dungeon Master was feeling magnanimous, pick one from the “race” column and one from the “class” column. That was it, unless you made a spell caster and needed to pick spells, and even that wasn’t much in the way of customization; I seem to recall a lot of random rolls being involved in the spell-choosing process. (“Chance to know”, right?) Compared to that, or the amount of options available when making a character for Diablo or Final Fantasy or World of Warcraft, I’d say the DF templates give a fair amount of room for customization. I know I’m not worried about having two Swashbucklers in the party, since there’s plenty of room for them to distinguish themselves.

In the end, the templates are all in service to the driving goals of the DF game:  Streamlined. Efficient. With laser-like focus on the action, in the dungeon.

Everything that doesn’t serve that goal gets pitched overboard.

 

“The Delving Band With No Name”, Session #3

DRAMATIS PERSONÆ:

  • Alric Redbeard, northern barbarian, giver and taker of big damage (PC)
  • Needles, one with the darkness (PC)
  • Rho-Nahld, cleric known more for his faith than his agility (PC)
  • The Knight Of The Blood Oath, faith healing holy warrior (PC)
  • Jim Kadabra, illusionist and would-be dungeon delver (PC – very, very briefly)
  • Mississippi Jedadiah Walker, bard from the far-off mystic land of Mississippi (PC)
  • “Dobby”, Alric’s goblin henchman and keeper of the stable (NPC)

Rumors Gathered:

None.

What Happened:

Our heroes had holed up in the old kitchens, spiking the doors behind them. TKotBO set about healing the wounded through faith until he was exhausted, with Rho feeding him energy, then meditating to restore his own reserves. Within moments, Gabby got bored and climbed out of the dungeon through the chimney.*  Everyone was fully restored and ready to go within twenty minutes. During that time, they heard a scratching at the door, but nothing seriously tested their fortifications.

Mindful of that scratching, they took care in planning their exit, with TKotBO using his tactical skill to deploy the party. Needles yanked the spikes and threw the doors open, taking cover behind them. Alric and TKotBO set up a battle line just inside the door, with Rho close behind, staff at the ready.

Just outside the door, they found a pile of oil-soaked firewood, nearly knee-high. The goblin on the other side of the wood had a lit torch in his hand and a shocked expression on his face. Other goblins, bearing spears, surrounded the door on both sides, with an obvious shaman bringing up the rear. Despite their ambush being interrupted, the goblins made the most of it:  the torch-bearer dropped his torch onto the pyre and stepped back, readying his own spear, while the other goblins pressed forward.

Rho prayed, creating water which soaked the firewood and snuffed the dropped torch. Alric jumped over the barrier in among the goblins in a highly aggressive move, which immediately backfired as he was surrounded by half a dozen spear-goblins and pierced multiple times. TKotBO moved up into the doorway and Needles took a shot with his short bow at the chanting shaman. Alric staggered back, clinging to consciousness long enough to get some healing.

Things were looking grim. TKotBO was engaged in a give-and-take duel with one goblin on the right-hand side of the doorway, with both taking damage but neither able to decide the issue. Even so, he and Needles were able to control the doorway well enough that the goblin horde couldn’t work up the nerve to rush the room. Rho threw a sunbolt, crippling one of the goblins, who staggered away down the hall. The goblin shaman created a zone of concealing darkness on his side of the doorway. Throwing down his bow in disgust, Needles drew his short sword and dove into the mass of goblins, ducking and weaving past them all to get inside the shaman’s darkness in a bid to get at the goblins’ leader. The first rank of goblin spearmen took advantage of the gap to enter the doorway, looking to flank TKotBO.

Finally, TKotBO got Alric healed up** and the northern barbarian turned back towards the fray. He performed a risky All-Out Attack to hack down the two goblins in the doorway, shouting a battle cry. The portion of the battle at the doorway turned into a battle of attrition, with the warriors knocking down goblin after goblin. Over the course of a few seconds, the goblins went from pressing the attack to scrambling for escape.

Meanwhile, Needles was engaged in a desperate brawl in impenetrable darkness with the shaman’s three bodyguards. He slipped in the muck and fell prone, wildly dodging the goblins’ spears. Reasoning that Needles was a master of stealth and would only be aided by it, Rho added a zone of silence overlapping the shaman’s darkness. As it turned out, this apparently did work in Needles’ favor: as he returned to his feet, he was able to take the offense and take out all three bodyguards. The shaman, however, had already scampered off.

Fearing counter-attack, the party dragged the dead and unconscious goblins into the kitchen and re-spiked the door. During the process of moving the bodies, Needles pocketed the contents of two of their pouches, even as Rho kept a watchful eye on the whole thing.

Again, they rested and healed up, while looting the bodies and discussing how to deal with the prisoners. Alric had a solution, which he put into immediate effect. He chopped the first goblin’s head off. Rho objected strongly, parrying his attempt on the second goblin’s head, and pointing out that they could use information that the goblins could give them. Seeing the sense of this, Alric retired to the far side of the room to brood.

Being the only one who could speak Goblinistani, TKotBO conducted the interrogation. After the first few questions and answers, the party became suspicious of being conned, and so Rho prayed to compel the goblins to speak the truth. After that, the questioning proceeded swiftly.

The party wanted to know the location of two things: first, the bridge, and second, the lair of Ghorbash. They had reasoned that between the loss of their leader and the rout they had just suffered, the goblin tribe would be easy pickings. Their prisoners were able to give directions to both. In the end, they scratched a rough map in the dirt and grime on the floor.

Having gotten answers to his questions, TKotBO announced that it was time to keep his promise to the prisoners, and set them free for their cooperation. This didn’t set particularly well with the rest of the party, who pointed out the folly of turning loose spies who might take word of their plans to the enemy. In the end, they reached a compromise. Since TKotBO was still resting after his healings, he would stay in the kitchens with Rho, while Alric and Needles would escort the prisoners to the outside of the dungeon. Alric promised that the prisoners would “leave [his] presence in good health”. Needles went further, swearing oaths upon his honor and the grave of his mother that the goblins would be released unharmed and well-treated.

Of course, they marched the prisoners out front and threw them over the cliff into the river. Alric’s word was satisfied, since the goblins were in fine health, until meeting misadventure after a few steps, and many yards, of travel. Needle’s word, on the other hand, is as good as the stone it’s carved into…

Luckily, the side trip didn’t involve any random encounters, and the two pairs came together without incident. Having again refueled, they formed their marching order and proceeded down the big hallway. Following the map scratched out by the goblins, they bypassed a door and a smaller side-hall. At this point, they took special care, as the goblins had warned them of “a hole that isn’t there”. TKotBO’s grasp of Goblinistani was incomplete, so they weren’t sure what to expect, exactly, but they knew to expect something.

Needles was leading the way, keeping his eyes on the floor and probing ahead with the party’s six-foot pole. As his poked, he found an area where the floor appeared no different, but had no substance. He drew the party’s attention to this prodigy, dragging the stick around to outline a ledge crossing nearly the entire width of the hall. Only a narrow strip of floor on either side offered passage. Pondering upon this, Rho declared that it must be an illusion, and prayed for insight, determining that there was a magical effect here. He then prayed to dispel it. The illusion of the floor melted away, revealing a pit, about thirty feet deep. The bottom of the pit was awash with dirty water, but they could see spikes as well.

“Tiger pit,” Alric announced. “Must be tigers in the dungeon.”

The party made their way across the ledge, sticking close to the wall, one at a time. Needles danced across with a spring in his step. TKotBO made it over without undue trouble. Then, it was Rho’s turn, and he slipped, and fell onto the spikes, and died.

Alric tried a diving grab to catch Rho before he went over the edge, but it was no use. He climbed down into the pit and retrieved the cleric’s lifeless body. The party gathered around at the top of the pit. They mourned the loss, with TKotBO performing the appropriate religious rites. Then they looted the body. (Well, of course they did!)

There was some talk of retreat in the face of this disaster, but the three survivors decided to press on. They passed another small hallway and two more doors. TKotBO was able to detect the presence of supernatural beings behind the right-hand door as they quietly crept past. Finally, they came to the archway that led, according to the goblins’ account, to “many stairs” followed by a long hall to the bridge. Noting the archway, they decided to investigate the room claimed by Ghorbash, where the goblins had said to expect goblin women and loot.

The party followed the hallway around a left-hand turn, coming to another pair of doors on either side. The left-hand door was reputed to be the entrance to the lair of Ghorbash. While the three debated their next steps, the left-hand door was opened by one of Ghorbash’s harem.

Forced into action by the shocked goblin’s appearance, TKotBO hustled her back inside, finding over half a dozen harem members. They rushed for a rear exit, but he managed to head them off and cow them through intimidation, promising that they were safe so long as they were docile. Keeping an eye on the women, the party searched the place.

Unbeknownst to the others, Needle found a fine set of ivory pai-sho tiles, which he pocketed. The party gathered a fine haul of loot, including a box full of coin and a huge pile of fine fabric. The pile was mostly silk, but they also found a few bolts of samite and one oversized bolt of spun moonbeams, a magical cloth used by enchanters. High-fives all around, at recovering the long-rumored cargo lost by the cloth merchant. Then the realization set in: they were looking at over a thousand pounds of cloth.

Luckily, they had a willing barbarian with a remarkably strong back. They fashioned bundles for themselves. The other two worked together to lift a massive load onto Alric’s back, then shouldered their own loads. Moving at a ponderous crawl, they warned the women against following, and headed for the entrance, with all possible stealth.

As they approached the giant stone head at the intersection of hallways, Needles spotted a lone figure standing in the hall without a torch or lantern. Laying down his burden, he crept up behind the man, noticing that he was human. Even so, he was disinclined to trust anyone met in a dungeon, so he gave him a firm tap on the head with the pommel of his short sword. The man – Jim Kadabra***, though they never got his name – went down, unconscious.

As the party could see daylight through the main entrance from the stone head, they were able to drag the unconscious man out front without any further misadventures. There, they stripped him of his possessions, particularly a very nice staff. Vaguely reasoning that he might be worth something alive, they bound him.

The party called Dobby over, leading Alric’s battle-cat and Rho’s donkey. He reported that Gabby had stopped by earlier, declaring boredom, and taken her own mount. They loaded up the beasts and themselves with heavy loads, tying their prisoner atop the donkey’s load, and set off for town.

As heavily encumbered as they were, the trip took the rest of the day and well into the night. It was after midnight before they came within sight of the walls of Tembladera. Unobserved by the weary hikers, Jim came to along the way. He was able to call upon his stagecraft and work his way free of his bonds. As the party relaxed at the sight of their destination, he slipped off the top of the donkey and ran, naked and screaming, into the night. The three looked at each other and shrugged, too weary to give chase.

Once safe in town, they were able to use the box of coin to secure lodgings, where they secured their haul, and retired to the bar for a well-deserved meal. There, they met “Mississippi” Jedadiah Walker, a self-proclaimed bard, who fell in with them.

“Mississippi?” Needles exclaimed. “I’ve been there!  Great place! Put ‘er there, buddy!” He enthusiastically embraced his new friend… and made an attempt to pick his pocket. Being the streetwise sort himself, though, Walker wasn’t keeping anything valuable in a vulnerable place, so while he got away with the attempt, Needles came away empty-handed.

The next day, Walker acted as the party’s agent in disposing of their treasure, in exchange for a percentage. They sold the lot on the open market, with the exception of several goblin axes, which went unsold (the “fine patina” was actually terminal rust), and the bolt of moonbeams. Knowing that the latter would be attractive to those who dabble in magic, they took a chance on offering it to Strang, through his man-servant, Mamu. As it turned out, Mamu was quite willing to take the magical cloth off their hands.

In the end, they cleared over $2000 for those who had been in-dungeon, with a $300 fee to Walker for his services.  All were satisfied with their take. They put up Walker in the inn, along with Needles, while TKotBO went to sleep in the church’s stables and Alric returned to his accustomed campsite in the wilds.

* We had a missing player, and this seemed a convenient way of getting the character off-camera.

** … for appropriately small values of “healed up”. Strictly speaking, he was sitting exactly on the boundary between fighting at full capacity, and having his Move and Dodge cut in half.

*** Jim was meant to be a PC, stepping in as a replacement for Rho. A wandering monster check came up, and I figured “another adventuring party” would be a reasonable and convenient way to introduce a replacement. Sadly, he encountered rougher diplomacy than expected. Luckily, the player in question prides himself on having a deep stable of backup characters, so when the one fell through, he just switched to the next.

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