Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Tag: Rho

Nerd Rage! or, Fighting When You Don’t Know How

The PCs in the current mid-apocalyptic campaign start with only 50 points. They are not fighters. No one has Combat Reflexes. Several characters have instances of Squeamish, Honesty, and various flavors of Pacifism. A couple have combat-oriented skills of questionable utility. What skills they have are hampered, either by improvised weaponry, or low damage, or unwillingness to use the skill to its full lethal potential.

This is all according to plan, but it takes some adjustment. We’re coming off a run of Dungeon Fantasy, where if a character can’t deliver 3d cutting every turn or so, they’re off the front line, and if they can’t take 3d cutting without breaking a sweat, they’re considered squishy. The scuffle at the end of last session really demonstrated that combat with knights and swashbucklers is a lot different than a fight between nerds and slackers.

First, your band of non-fighting, modern-day pencil pushers and couch potatoes is going to have a harder time landing a hit. DF characters have combat skill levels of 14, 17, 21… where normal slobs roll against their DX of 10 to land a punch at default. To review: a skill of 14 means a success 90% of the time; skill of 12, a 75% success rate; skill 10 means 50-50 chances; skill 8 only lands 25.9% of the time; skill 5 is about 5%, or the same as “roll a natural 20”. To put those numbers into character context, Rho the short-lived priest of Anubis started out with Axe/Mace at 14. An average mid-apocalyptic Portlander throws a punch at a 10, kicks on an 8 or less, and swings a baseball bat with a skill level of 5 (all defaults from DX 10).

Next, average non-fighters tend to not do a whole mess o’ damage. In the world of DF, even a wimpy spellcaster hanging out in the rear is going to have ST 12 and a small mace. The apocalypse PCs tend to hover around 1d-2, 1d-3, at best. We had an excellent demonstration, last session, when the scrappy Farrah was landing punch after punch on her adversary, only to roll 0 damage time after time. (I fully expect to hear “I would like to roll Scrounging to improvise some brass knuckles,” next session — assuming they aren’t all wiped out by the oncoming tripod.)

There are plenty of familiar combat options for DF characters. (“Shoot it in the eye” comes to mind, followed closely by “Stab it in the eye” and “Cleanse it with fire”.) But what’s J. Q. Citizen supposed to do when it’s the end of the world and things get confrontational? I’ve been flipping through the books, and here’s some thoughts.

All-out… something

If a character performs a regular Attack maneuver, they keep their active defense. When a DF barbarian uses a regular Attack to lop off an orc’s head, that barbarian is ducking and dodging and keeping an eye out to both sides. If the dead orc’s comrade pops out from behind a tree and throws a spear, the barbarian gets a chance to dodge.

I don’t see non-fighters doing that much multi-tasking. When Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris face off, there’s lots of punching and blocking. When Bubba Lee and Charley get into a brawl, there’s a lot more missed wild swings and cowering. I envision non-fighters as doing a lot of All-Out Defense (Increased Dodge) as they approach and look for their opening, followed by some kind of All-Out Attack when they think they’ve found it. That AOA is necessary to offset either their poor chance to hit or their poor damage.

My players are fond of using Extra Effort to get effects like All-Out Attacks without sacrificing their defenses. I expect this is the difference between a well-fed, well-rested combatant, and one who hasn’t eaten for some days. As their available Fatigue shrinks, they’ll change their ways…

The sucker punch

Applied when you’re the only one who knows there’s about to be a fight. This is where you Evaluate three times, then hit the target.

By the rules as written, that’ll give a +3. One could combine that with an AOA (Determined) and aim for the target’s face, for a net +2. That would give the hypothetical average character a 12 to hit, which isn’t bad at all. If you can take the victim by surprise — probably a question of Acting rolls or the like — they won’t get an active defense. If you can deliver any damage at all, you’ll force a knockdown roll, which could lead to a stunned (-4 to defenses) and prone (a further -3 to defenses, among other things), if not outright unconscious, victim. In the movies, this is when the poor guy on the ground starts getting kicked…

Body check

The slam never got much love in the DF game, but I think it deserves a second look, through the eyes of the unskilled fighter. It defaults to DX, no training required. A normal, ST 10, Move 5 character is going to be doing 1d-2 (still better than a 1d-3 punch) with a running slam, while the somewhat huskier characters with ST 11-12 will be doing 1d-1. You could also add extra damage from an AOA (Strong). If you do at least as much damage as your target, the target has to make a DX roll to keep their feet! (And we know what falling down means, with the kicking…)

Let’s say a ST 12 bruiser does a slam at Move 5, using an AOA (Strong), against a hapless ST 10 target. The bruiser is rolling 1d+1 for damage, while the target is rolling 1d-2. In five out of six match-ups, the target is rolling DX to keep its feet. On average, the target is taking 4.5 points of damage, verging on “major wound” territory, while the bruiser is taking 1 2/3. If the bruiser’s got a bit of armor… say, some appropriate sporting goods…

Stand behind something and chuck rocks at ’em

A classic favorite of disorganized mobs surrounded by rubble. The default roll to hit a person with a thrown rock is DX-3, or a measly 7 for the average character. An AOA (Determined) can bump this to an 8, which may not seem like much, but it’s the difference between a 16.2% success rate and 25.9%. The real secret to landing a thrown rock is to bring along a couple of dozen buddies to all throw rocks at the same time.

For maximum damage, a normal, ST 10 character is going to want to look for a 10 pound rock, which can be thrown up to 8 yards for thr+1, or 1d-1, damage. Lighter ammunition improves distance but decreases damage.


Ground Rules For The Apocalypse

I’ve been pondering on the ground rules for the post-apocalyptic game for a long time, just kicking different things around. Here’s what I’m thinking, at this point. Some of it’s old news, some of it’s new thoughts, and a lot of it is just a gelling of vague ideas into solid decisions.

The general vision of the game is, it’s the end of the world as we know it (or, TEOTWAWKI, because it gets repetitive typing “apocalypse” over and over). We’ll pick up some time before The Last Good Day Ever, do some “day in the life” stuff so everybody gets a feel for what civilized life felt like. Some number of characters will live through The Really Really Bad Day. Survivors make their way in an uncivilized world that’s been radically altered by events.

My vague hope is that they would start trying to kick-start the human race again, maybe plant some crops and so forth, but I’m not too worried about it. I figure that’s such a long-term goal, we might never even get there. Still, I would be tickled all the way down to the ground if they were to, say, end up weighing the relative merits of pickling the okra for the winter versus trading it, fresh, for homebrew beer made by the settlement down the river.

The nature of the Bad Day should be a surprise, so I’m going to try really, really hard not to give it away. I might not decide until the time comes, just to be sure. I have previously sworn, though: I shall not run a Zombie Apocalypse. There you go. Big shades-of-green rainbow and everything, “I establish my covenant, never again will I run a game where the human race gets wiped out by the risen dead. Not even those 28 Days Later scalawags.” Stuff that’s similar to zombies is still on the table. Hypnotized crowds, shell-shocked victims, things of that nature, all possibilities. Just no zombies. So, having promised that, rather than give away any secrets, I’ll use the zombies in any examples.

PCs start with 50 points, no more than 5 quirks, and unlimited Disadvantages.

Unlimited Disadvantages?!?  Yup, I’m not putting any particular cap on how many Disads a PCs can have. If you want to play the blind monk from World War Z (the book, not that other thing), or the hapless pater familias herding around a bunch of screaming, sniffling potential hostages, or a clumsy, under-educated, socially-awkward heroin addict with a bad knee… well, more power to ya. I wish you all the luck. I reckon these things are self-correcting.

Now, this specifically doesn’t mean, take a long list of pointless 5-point disads hoping they’ll never come up. I’ve already sworn, the next time someone brings me a character with “Phobia (Sex)”, I’ll throw ’em out of the game, just on general principles. You can take any Disadvantage you want, but I aim to enforce those Disadvantages ruthlessly. To kinda riff off Steven Wright for a moment, if you’re bold enough to bring me a character sheet with “Intolerance (Jewish cowboys)”, then you can be sure that your character’s very life will depend on working closely with a guy named Bucky Goldstein.

(Me, I just don’t get the list of 5-point disads that come up once, maybe. When I build a character, I want a big, splashy Disadvantage, something I can chew on as a role-player. In fiction, you get the best scenes when the disads kick in. The defining moments, really. Bob, from Walking Dead, trying to decide if he should reach for the bottle or not. Bullseye, dangling over the abyss, choosing between self-preservation and his hatred for Daredevil. Two out of three heroes of ancient Greek myth, and that time they were too proud for their own good…)

I’m skeptical of claims that one can role-play 100 points worth of “color and personality”. The goal isn’t to open the floodgates of goofy comedy characters, it’s to allow enough latitude for some character concepts that might otherwise get overlooked. Like, normal slobs, folks who want to get out and exercise more but never do, the people with glasses and bad knees. Not the usual Hollywood heroes.

Acceptable, even likely, PC. May not put points into Engineer (Spaceship).

Speaking of comedy characters… Look, I live in Portland. (Even worse, I plan to locate the game here in town, at least to start with.) I’m thoroughly aware that the world is full of interesting characters.  If you bring me the character sheet of a tall-bike-riding mountain-climbing luchador who raises chickens in his backyard, participates avidly in roller derby, and makes specialty cheese for a living, well, I can’t very well say anything other than “Howdy, neighbor, did they put my bills in your mailbox again?” And admire the useful post-apocalyptic skill set, of course. But, I can say that the game world won’t appreciate your special, unique snowflake any more than it will a more restrained character. A unicycle will not magically outrun the zombie horde just because it’s an amusing visual. That luchador mask will not be taken as a charming affectation, but as a sign of mental instability; it will provide no armor, but might just obscure one’s vision at an inopportune moment. So it goes.

Just like the Space Cowboys game, the assumption is that a baseline character will have Reluctant Killer. A character with Combat Reflexes will need an explanation for how it was earned. I intend to fully embrace all the “killing changes a person” tropes. (Note to self:  figure out what’s being rolled when one movie character has another at gunpoint, and the target looks deep into the gunman’s eyes, and says something along the lines of “You ain’t got it in you, I can see it in your eyes.”  I wonder if it’s not simply a case of noticing Callous.)

Supernatural traits of all kinds are forbidden. No vampires (but there’s this Delusion…). No ghosts. No aliens. Alien abductees are fine, let me show you this nice Delusion with optional Odious Personal Habit. No psychic powers. Fortune-telling is fine, but it’s the “cold reading” sort, not the spooky precognition. No cinematic action hero Perks. No Gunslinger, nor Trained By A Master, nor Weapon Master.

Luck isn’t supernatural. Ridiculous Luck is.

I’ve already promised one player that he can play two dogs, a big one and a little one. I’m open to the possibility of offbeat-but-not-unnatural characters. If we end up with a party made up of three dogs, two cats, an elk, and that Elvis impersonator, I’ll hang it up and we’ll play Car Wars for a while. 😉

Actual PC prototype.

Did you notice how it’s “two dogs”? That’s consecutively, not concurrently. The hope is that this campaign will have a high “life is cheap” factor. Yeah, yeah, Gabby’s been walking around Tembladera muttering about how there can be only one, but cast your mind back:  remember how Rho died from falling down a hole?  The post-apoc characters aren’t going to be 250+ points, they won’t have access to magical healing, they likely won’t have a bunch of armor, and they live in a world with ready access to firearms. (Unless the zombies eat all the guns, anyway.) We’ll start with a three-character minimum. That’s one to play, and two backups, to be brought in as soon as is practical after the first one dies horribly. Those hoping to game the system are welcome to lead with their sacrificial mook of choice.

We’ll take a page from Dungeon Fantasy, and skip most of GURPS Martial Arts, as far as character creation. No points in Techniques, no Styles, no Style Familiarity perks. If you want to play a master of some particular martial art, take Karate and/or Judo and give it a name. This isn’t going to be the kind of apocalypse that has kung fu warriors wandering the land, righting wrongs and borrowing couch space in the dojo from each other. Though that does sound pretty cool. Maybe next time.

For that matter, all the other traits that would short-circuit the apocalypse are at least closely-scrutinized, if not outright forbidden, as well.  No Claim to Hospitality. No Signature Gear, no Gizmos, no Doodads. I’m not entirely certain how we’ll be handling Wealth, but at this point, I’m leaning towards “it only affects Starting Wealth” and “when I say ‘Starting’, I mean ‘right after TEOTWAWKI’, and when I say ‘Wealth’, I mean ‘whatever you’ve gots in your nasty pocketses’.” That could lead to a person of high pre-TEOTWAWKI Status being build with a low Wealth, if all that person has is a suit of attractive, and impractical, clothes, while a Boy Scout with a packed knapsack might need to buy up Wealth. It might also require the invisible, but heavy, hand of fate making some economic readjustments, but I’m comfortable with that.

The genre leans towards guns, weapons of opportunity, and boards-with-nails-in. We’ll be heavily using both GURPS High-Tech and GURPS Low-Tech, when it comes to equipment. Of particular interest is the “Improvised Weapons” sidebar on pg 63 of Low-Tech. If anybody starts improvising armor out of salvaged phone books or anything like that, we’ll dig out LT’s make-your-own armor rules. That should cover just about anything anyone might want in the way of available gear.

In stark contrast to previous games, I will not be allowing quirks to be filled in after the points are awarded.  It’s a pay-as-you-go world. You get a point for a Quirk when you’ve recorded it on the character sheet, not before. Way too many character sheets have ended campaigns with “Unused quirk #1-5” still listed. Furthermore, I’m going with the definitions listed in GURPS Power-Ups: Quirks on page 4:  if it’s not a tiny disad, or some active bit of roleplaying characterization, it’s not a Quirk. No more “always well-dressed” or “says ‘Giggity’ a lot” for free points.

It’s hard times all over.

Tell ’em, Dusty!



Arguments and Alignments

I was thinking about the big argument at the end of last session. Well, “argument” probably isn’t the right word. It’s just a new phase of the same old bickering. This leg of the journey had to do with the execution of FuBar’s last will and testament, and the appropriate reward for someone who just happened along during the second half of the delve.

But, either way, it got me thinking.

First off, I think I owe all four party members another experience point. I try to toss one out whenever anybody does themselves a disservice through displaying their “role-played” disadvantages. I say “try”, because I regularly forget it… and I think I did so, here.

And I realized I owed a roleplaying award because I was thinking about how the argument was a natural expression of the mental disads involved. D’arth Loathing isn’t a nice guy: he has Bad Temper, Selfish, and Stubbornness. Of course he was going to insist on clinging tight to anything owed to him. Of course he was going to hold a grudge against anyone who got in his way.

Jed, on the other hand, is a little more complex. He’s got a Quirk that amounts to a preference for fair play, but then he’s also got a Sense of Duty to his comrades. D’arth isn’t a comrade, not until he’s walked in the front door of the dungeon alongside the party a couple of times, at least. Jed likes to announce how honest he is (“Ask anyone, they’ll tell you I can be trusted!”), but, strictly speaking, that’s not true. Or, rather, it’s lower-case “honesty”, not the upper-case “Honesty” that means you’ll follow the law and give everybody a fair shake. It’s true that Jed wouldn’t (for example) outright steal from the party fund, but that’s not because he won’t steal.  It’s because he won’t steal from his comrades

Maybe Jed supports the idea of honoring wills, in the abstract. Perhaps he’s a fair dealer, in general. But, when it comes down to some corpse-eater making claims against the party’s living members, his SoD kicks in. He’s pretty much compelled to try to bargain D’arth down. Perhaps if FuBar had lived longer, Jed would have formed more of an attachment to him, and his SoD would compel him to see FuBar’s final wishes through. As it stands, his loyalty is to the party above either FuBar or D’arth.

The way it played out, when they got back to town, they discovered that they had hit the jackpot. Then, Jed’s quirks on fair-dealing and his Xenophilia came along, and D’arth ended up with a half share. Not bad, really, for the short while he was on the scene.

* * *

… and all of that got me thinking about honesty and morality in characters. What Saint Gygax would call “alignment”, in other words.

I see Alric as Chaotic Good, tending towards Neutral Good. He’s pretty easy-going, gets along with everybody, but has no problem going his own way. We know that he’s willing to drop everything — drop treasure! — and put himself through a rough cross-country ride to save a friend. We know he’s willing to go into battle to defend the weak (even if they did turn out to be disguised bad guys).

There’s actually a picture of Gabby in the dictionary under “Chaotic Neutral”. She’s motivated by greed, like all adventurers, but beyond that, there’s simply no telling what she’ll do next. She picked a fight with a mostly-peaceful ogre, once, on a whim. She discovered the hidden ledges on the outside of the Great Bridge when she went over the edge to avoid a fight, again, on a whim. I keep expecting her to light herself on fire… because when you’re on fire, the ninjas can’t catch you.

I would say the same about FuBar. Chaotic Neutral. He had a guiding goal in his life, but in the little time he had, he didn’t really get to show it. Ah, well. At least he died the way he lived: with a full stomach.

D’arth is pretty much evil by definition. Really no way around that, what with being a monster who worships something other than the pantheon of good gods. I would put him down as Lawful Evil, and probably closer to the Lawful side than the Evil. Of course, we haven’t seen much of him, so my first impressions could easily be wrong.

In my opinion, Mississippi Jed is Neutral Good, maybe with a tendency towards Chaotic. As already mentioned, he’s loyal to his friends, all the way to the bitter end.  (Literally.  When he died, he was trying to use a blocking spell to shut down a demon’s fiery breath, to protect the entire party. As it happened, the rest of the party are a bunch of stealthy, agile types, and they all jumped out of harm’s way on their own*, but it’s the thought that counts.) He’s got a couple of specific Quirks about slavery (against) and fair-play (for) that strike me as characteristic of CG. Jed’s also a something of a stickler for “the rules”: he’s the party accountant, quartermaster, and hammerer-out of contracts. If Corbin, Inc., ever wrote out a real charter, he’d do everything but the signatures.

Ah, Needles. As nice a guy as he is, I figure him as Chaotic Evil. He’s a liar, and a thief, and an all-around scumbag. His one redeeming quality, such as it is, is his Pirate’s Code of Honor. He’s loyal to whatever band of thieves and cutthroats he’s fallen in with, at any particular time. For all of that, though, he’s a pleasant enough guy to hang around with, and the party respects his skills, both with sword and lock-pick.

Posy is mildly Neutral Evil, I’d say, like most cats. She gives off a vibe of “eh, I can take you or leave you, I just happen to be headed in the same direction”. She rather enjoys the suffering of others, but not so much that she goes out of her way to inflict it. (Quirk-level Sadism.) She’s not much for taking prisoners. She doesn’t have any particular Sense of Duty, even to long-time comrades. Instead, she makes do with a Pirate’s Code of Honor… so at least she won’t stab anybody in the back while they’re on the job.

* * *

Time to do like the song says, and add it up. Looking only at the living members of the party, nobody shares an alignment. They’ve got everything covered except Lawful Good, Lawful Neutral, and plain vanilla True Neutral. As far as that goes, I would argue that Rho was Lawful Neutral and TKotBO was Lawful Good. Knock a Druid in the head and throw ‘im in the wagon, we’ll have a counter on every square of the classic alignment checkerboard.

Put that way, this party should have turned inside-out long ago. Back in the day, playing AD&D, I don’t believe any of my GM’s would have allowed it. Even if they had, the players wouldn’t have; there would have been a PC-on-PC murder within the first twenty minutes. (And it might not have been the so-called Evil ones that drew first, either!) These guys have been getting along reasonably well.

Well, once they got rid of the Lawful types. Hmm. That doesn’t bode well for D’arth…

– – – – –

* Even if Jed had pulled it off, it wouldn’t have worked out like he wanted. His thought was, use Command, cause the entire attack to go somewhere else — towards the other enemy, I believe — so nobody would need to give ground by diving for cover. But, even if he had been able to overcome the effects of range and the demon’s high Will and send the attack astray, everyone would have still gone for cover. Remember, everything’s happening at once. The others see an attack coming. They’ve got a split second to decide what they’re doing. (If I remember correctly, I emphasized that nobody really knows how big the area of effect is going to be, so it’s possible for one to decide to dive out of the way, and still end up inside the area, because it was bigger than one guessed.) Anybody who held their dice to see how the Command worked out would be essentially declaring that they weren’t jumping. When a grenade lands in one’s foxhole, one does not stand there looking around to see if anyone else is going to jump on top of it.


The Barbarian Guild offers a Claim To Coarse Brutality

Way, way back, during the original character creation, one of the players asked me about Claim to Hospitality. The character in question was Rho, the cleric, and so the player had seen mention of CtH in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 7: Clerics.  His thinking was that young Rho would live the life of a monk during the week, sleeping in a cell for free, eating free brown bread and drinking free Trappist-style ale, maybe putting in some time on the chants.

The Advantage isn’t on the list of acceptable traits for Dungeon Fantasy characters from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 1: Adventurers. On that basis alone, I shot it down. At the time, I declared that the $150-a-week cost of living was the major prod forcing characters into the dungeon, and I didn’t want to tamper with that, right out of the gate. Later on, I found that the rules-as-written seem to support that decision. CtH is listed as a power-up suitable for any sort of character.  Not a starting trait, but a power-up.

Not too long ago, the same player came around again, with the same question… but this time, the subject was Mississippi Jed, a character with some miles on ‘im. He’s gone from being a magical bard to a full-fledged song-based mage, and then worked his way up in a mystic order, the Order of the Sun. Furthermore, he’s rapidly working his way through the Order’s curriculum of spells. It won’t be long, I reckon, before he’s knocking on the doors of the oldest, longest-bearded members of the organization, the ones so skilled that they can actually keep a beard (and eyebrows) while throwing around cosmic fire spells, trying to find someone to teach him the super-secrets spells. The ones that don’t really exist. The big boom.

This time, I was more open to the idea.  The last I heard, the party slush fund has grown to the point that they could outright buy any three starting characters’ loadouts. I don’t think it’s quite large enough to buy a starting character (maybe a thief, their points don’t show), or to bring someone back from the dead — maybe I’m behind the times on those points, I haven’t kept super-close tabs — but it’s surely enough that, even on a bad week, nobody’s going to sleep on the streets. Except maybe Alric, by choice, and FuBar, by ugly, of course.

So, I told the player, sure, you can buy CtH.  At the moment, Jed is learning the Major Directed Effects. Once he’s learning from the Transformations, he can petition to get the gold star on his membership card for the local Solar Center, which gives him access to the guest rooms, the kitchen, and the private bowling alley in the back. Naturally, that petition will require some sort of quest…

This got me to thinking. I don’t want to favor the wizards over others, and CtH is meant to be a power-up for all.  Thus, I should toss out some other options, for other sorts of characters.

So. Options.

* * *

There aren’t many Barbarians around Tembladera, what with them all having that Social Stigma (Minority Group). Of those few, some have formed hidden camps outside of town. Those from The North, for example, have a log house in the mountains, Barbarians from more jungle-style environments have a little village in the trees, and so forth. These micro-tribes are organized in a haphazard fashion, without clear leadership, and with a constantly-changing membership. If one gains a place in the tribe, one can camp with them, for little more than some occasional chores. The trick is gaining a place. To do so, one must locate the tribe — a feat of tracking, in itself — and accept the challenge that they put forth. The challenge varies according to the whim and sobriety of the judging members. If the applicant enjoys a good reputation among the members of the tribe, the challenge is often much easier than one given to some young scrub fresh off the boat. Either way, the challenge tends to be something along the lines of climbing a tall mountain, walking across the treacherous glacier, finding the nest of some rare and vicious raptor, and coming back with no less than three perfect tail feathers. Stuff to make that Outdoorsman talent earn its keep, in other words.

Clerics might earn a place at the Church, but there’s a long waiting list. To even be considered, a cleric needs to have picked up an extra level or two of Power Investiture. Once you’re high enough “level”, the Church starts paying your expenses. Druids have a similar system, but the accommodations have better views and poorer insulation.

Holy Warriors and Knights can both earn their keep by swearing allegiance to some person or organization. There are quite a few nobles around Tembladera, beyond just the well-known Strang and d’Hast. There are also various orders of knighthood, some more popular and powerful than others, that might offer a CtH. (In theory, there’s an “Order of the Blood Oath” or the like out there, somewhere, minting new Things of the Blood Oath.) It helps to have a good Reputation, when applying for membership. The world being what it is, most orders will demand the fulfillment of a quest before considering any new applicant.

There are a couple of schools of the martial arts that maintain compounds in Tembladera, including a quiet one where all the members wear head-to-toe black costumes all the time. Those who are accepted as members often enjoy benefits, including a CtH. Getting accepted requires passing a test, which generally involves snatching pebbles from old men, toting around heavy cauldrons full of burning coals, or walking alone into dark spooky caves while a little old dude assures you that your weapons, you will not need them.

For the rogues, there are a variety of so-called thieves’ guilds, including at least three styling themselves as “the” thieves guild of Tembladera, as well as an uncountable variety of gangs, crews, adventuring companies, and so forth. Join a gang, and the members will put you up. You’ll have to impress them before they’ll let you join, though, and what they find impressive varies from group to group. For example, Gabby might be able to patch things up with her old captain, and sleep on board ship when it’s docked. If all she has to offer is wealth from her delving, she’ll just be renting a hammock, and she’ll pay full cost of living. On the other hand, if she (say) organizes a band of merry cutthroats to take a ship, and delivers that ship to her old commander, she would be able to claim a place as an honorary crew member for life, and buy a Claim to Hospitality.

Some of the non-human races have enough of a presence in Tembladera to support a CtH. There are non-trivial populations of dwarves and goblinoids in and around town. There’s a nearby tribe of elves that are technically still at war with the city, but have decided that attacking the place isn’t profitable. During the day, they’ll even tolerate polite human visitors, admittedly with a certain air of hostility. At night, they keep up a low level of banditry around the edges of civilization. The graveyards probably have thriving groups of corpse-eaters, even if nobody in town would ever admit it out loud. If one were to perform a service for some race’s population, one might gain a good enough reputation with them to be taken in. Obviously, being of the same race would lower the bar, but it’s still possible for elf to befriend dwarf.

The Bards in Tembladera might talk a good game, as far as supporting each other and their art and so forth, but it’s mostly just talk. Off ’em a contract, and most will stab their buddy in the back and “go solo”. Bards don’t offer each other a CtH. When a Bard is being fed for free, you can bet it’s because that bard has been retained by some noble who finds their artistic output amusing. Mostly, that’s because it reflects well on the patron, but sometimes it really is all about the music. As with every other way of earning a CtH, it’s a question of reputation and finding the proper target, followed by a quest to give that target what it wants:  find a bored noble with money, figure out what would cure the boredom, and deliver it. Lots of nobles are fond of songs and stories about daring adventurers, incidentally.  If they weren’t, they would rapidly get fed up with Tembladera.


The Review of the Blood Oath

I think I’ve picked on everybody else, at one point or another, so I might as well take a swipe at The Knight of the Blood Oath, usually known as “TKotBO” because there’s virtue in brevity.

TKotBO is a Holy Warrior/Knight. The original concept was the heaviest of heavy fighters, wearing every piece of defensive armor that could be welded on and carrying the largest available shield, sacrificing all else in the pursuit of being able to Take A Punch. He was meant to be a tank, in the World of Warcraft sense. He likely would have been a Knight from the beginning, but the player was talked into the idea that the party needed more healing on hand, as a backup to the cleric. Of course, Rho, that cleric, almost immediately fell down a deep, dark hole onto some rusty spikes, ending his promising career as a rabble-rousing peasant priest — much to the relief of the church authorities who had originally sent him to the New World — and leaving TKotBO as the party’s main healer.

It’s questionable how well TKotBO has filled the “tank” role. When he’s had the opportunity, like when he stood toe-to-toe with Mongo long enough for the rest of the party to regroup, he’s managed it quite well. The problem is, he so rarely gets an opportunity…

The problem is, he’s at Medium encumbrance, which drops him to moving only 3 yards per second. No other member of the party is at so much as Light encumbrance, and even the slowest moves at 5. (Among the hirelings, Dean and Roman are at Light and Medium, respectively, but in the end, they’re both still moving at 4.) What seems to happen is, the party will encounter some opposing force at a bit of a distance, and everybody moves: Needles vanishes in a cloud of sheer greed and will to cause harm, Gabby takes off at a sprint with Alric hot on her heels, and Jed falls back for the long bomb. This leaves TKotBO struggling to catch up with the front line, where a working tank belongs. It’s noteworthy, I think, that on the occasion of TKotBO’s greatest triumph, everybody else was unconscious or had fled. They finally weren’t standing between him and the monsters.

There are ways to remedy this situation, and he’s already working on a couple of angles. As I recall, his very first experience point expenditure was for Lifting ST. We’ve talked about following the lead of WoW and having the tank taunt enemies to enrage them into attacking, and I finally (finally!) went and looked up the details.  TKotBO would have the best luck with taunting demons (with Religious Ritual) or Elder Things (with Psychology).

At this point, I notice two things.  First, if we’re talking about making monsters angry, the party’s best bet is Jed, who could use Singing to perform embarrassing satires and rile ’em up.  This isn’t really surprising, but it is something they haven’t tried yet that could turn out mightily amusing. Second, TKotBO could lecture on the physiology and psychology of Elder Things. He knows more about either than he does about the rituals of his own church. It’s clear that TKotBO is a working holy warrior, not one of those desk-bound holy warriors you see hanging around in the Old World. It’s also clear that he should be bat-**** crazy.

Ah, well. “Crazy” seems to be the next best thing to a job requirement, in the dungeon.

Folks in town tend to assume that TKotBO is the leader of the Delving Band With No Name. He’s the one with the nice, clean clothes, since he put a point into the Sartorial Integrity perk, and he’s wearing shiny armor and has a pretty picture on his shield. (That’s the famous Shield Of Rol-X, with the magical power to tell the time of day and report the weather.  As the player would put it, I’m sure:  “He’s wearing a Rol-X! He must be rich!”)  Having put points into Leadership and Born War-Leader, he’s got the attitude. What he doesn’t have is a party that’ll listen to him, what with them all being Impulsive and rugged individualists, besides. Due to that, I rarely give them the advantage of his Tactics skill in encounters. Next time, though, I think I’ll be using the extended rules for Tactics from GURPS Martial Arts — always should have been using them, really — and I think that might shake things up. I find that people generally don’t appreciate the usefulness of effective leadership until they’re trounced by it once or twice.

TKotBO is missing an eye. This isn’t readily apparent, though, since he rarely takes off his helmet. Between the two, he often seems a little slow on the uptake. One of my running jokes is to point out the difference between what the rest of the party is seeing, and what TKotBO is seeing. He’s got the same point of view as someone hiding in a closet and peeking through a crack. At one point, he was attacked from stealth by a bit of dungeon vermin (a wimpy knock-off of the classic carrion crawler) while everyone else was distracted, and dispatched the creature before he even really knew what it was. It made a noise, he turned and raised his shield, something hit the shield from the darkness, and he whacked it until it stopped making noises. Between his built-in vision penalties and the darkness, he never saw the thing.

TKotBO uses a morningstar in combat, and has picked up the Slayer Training power-up to target the skull of his enemy. His standard approach is to sidle up slowly, keeping his shield between him and his target, and then whack ’em in the head until they lie down, or it becomes apparent that they aren’t impressed by head shots. It is his habit to shout out his battle-cry (“Thwappity!”) when making a strike to the skull.

Yeah, he’s pretty much the very opposite of “stealth”.


“The Delving Band With No Name”, Session #8


  • Alric Redbeard, a barbarian learning the wicked ways of civilization, deadly from any position (PC)
  • Gabby the Cabin Girl, a two-rapier swashbuckler who can take ya with one hand tied behind her back… luckily (PC)
  • Mississippi Jedadiah Walker, flingin’ spells faster than he’s ever flang ’em before (PC)
  • Needles, swashbuckler-thief with no love for ranged combat at all (PC)
  • The Knight Of The Blood Oath, practitioner of the way of the turtle and collector of rings (PC)
  • “Dobby”, goblin henchman and griller of bratwurst (NPC)
  • HössDean, and Roman, hirelings who barely appeared, and then had no lines (NPC)

Rumors Gathered:

None, since we pick up with the delvers still in the dungeon.


What Happened:

As we left it last session, the party had barricaded themselves in an unexpectedly well-furnished apartment off the caverns of the fiery creatures dubbed Flame Lords. With them were two prisoners:  Jim Kadabra, rendered unconscious (yet again) by Needles, and the invisible halfling would-be assassin. TKotBO had taken the halfling’s golden ring, claiming it as his share of loot due to his religious fixation with “the rings of Saturn”. When he picked it up, he found it unnaturally heavy. Furthermore, his surroundings seemed suddenly more gloomy and threatening. Slightly dismayed at these oddities, wanting his hands free, and completely lacking pockets or pouch, he passed the ring off to Gabby, who put it in her own pouch.

Upon recovering his senses, the halfling began to desperately plead for his life, offering directions to someone who could grant wishes. Jed attempted to question him, with the (questionable) assistance of Gabby and TKotBO, who both attempted to add further intimidation in the background. As it turns out, Gabby’s not all that intimidating.

In between intimidation attempts, the prisoner managed to babble out bits of a story. “I used to be an adventurer, just like you guys,” he began.

“Until you took an arrow to the knee,” Alric commented from where he lay on the rug before the fire in barbaric splendor.

The halfling gave him a curious look. “How did you know?”  He continued with his tale. His party had been attacked and badly defeated. The survivors had left him for dead. Wounded, lost, and short on supplies, he had wandered deeper into the dwarven ruins. Finally, at the end of his strength, he had found a guarded door. They had taken him in to what he described as a casino, and wonder of wonders, opened him a tab.

The party marveled at this in silence for a moment.

At the casino, the halfling continued, they had given him an opportunity to gamble, where he “got lucky”. (At this point, Jed’s lie-detection skills were triggered. It wasn’t luck.) Finally, he had played a game against “the owner, or one of the owners”. When questioned about the identity of his opponent, he tried to avoid the question, first saying that they wouldn’t believe him. He finally admitted it was “a giant flying eyeball”. Winning this round, he was invited to meet a shadowy figure, one who owned his own table at the casino, where he made a deal to have a wish granted.

“What did you wish for?” was the next question.

“The power to sneak out of the place,” was the answer. He elaborated, explaining that his enhanced invisibility was a product of the encounter. He also indicated that he was a relatively innocent bystander with no beef with the party, in itself. He blamed the entire misunderstanding on Kadabra, going so far as to make an attempt to kick him while he was down, claiming “the whole scheme was his idea”.

As they talked, the barred door was taking a pounding from outside. Tensions were high. The attempts to frighten compliance out of the prisoner finally seemed to cause him to lose his composure. He ran towards Gabby, as if he were trying to take refuge behind her. Luckily, Gabby’s education on the pirate ship didn’t leave her as the trusting sort. She caught him trying to dip a hand into her pouch, but grabbed his wrist in time. TKotBO backhanded the halfling across the back of the skull, doing no actual damage (rolling a 1 on the damage roll for a punch to the skull, absorbed by the skull’s natural DR 2) but setting off a storm of whining protest.

It is worth noting, at this point, nobody had indicated any intention of accepting the halfling’s offer. They had no map, nor directions, just vague rumors.

The halfling’s desperate attempt to pickpocket the ring drew the party’s attention to it. Jed had already seen that it was magical in some way, but the specifics were still a mystery. Gabby took the ring from her pouch, looked it over, shrugged, and put it on.  “Do what you do,” she thought… and immediately vanished.

This wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it was still startling enough to draw the gaze of all the party members, leaving the halfling momentarily unguarded. He took advantage of the distraction, diving through a curtain and down the hole of his privy. Needles had the quickest reflexes, but wasn’t able to snag the halfling himself, only the frayed edge of the curtain.

The part of Gabby’s invisibility that came as a surprise was the cost in Fatigue. Everybody was tired from their recent fight outside the door, so the cost of activating the ring was enough to take her to 0 Fatigue. She staggered, suddenly exhausted, and barely managed to sit down in the rocking chair formerly occupied by Kadabra before her knees gave out on her.

The pounded at the door continued. Seeing the halfling’s route as the only possible exit, as they knew they couldn’t fight their way through the entire crowd of angry Flame Lords, the party hurried to get itself organized. Jed saw that the big man, Alric, had no chance of wriggling through the small space, so he cast Body of Air on the barbarian. With a shouted “Whee!”, Alric dove down the hole and gave chase.

The rest of the party proceeded more slowly. Being closest, and the most agile, Needles went first. The privy hole opened into a small natural passage, steeply sloped downwards, with a trickle of foul, ankle-deep water. The rocks were slippery and slimy from use. Being an experienced climber, this was no obstacle for Needles.

TKotBO, next in line, however, is not known for his climbing skill.  He slipped as soon as he entered the vertical section of the tunnel, sliding down in a shower of clanking, cursing, and crud (which somehow fell all around him, but left no stain on TKotBO — cleanliness is next to godliness, after all) and sprawling prone.  Needles had to squeeze himself against the wall to make room for the holy warrior’s rapid descent.

Jed threw a rope around Kadabra’s shoulders so he could drag the unconscious illusionist behind himself. “Come on!” he shouted to Gabby, still sitting droopily in the rocking chair, and lowered himself and his dead-weight burden into the privy. Like TKotBO before him, he tried to climb down, but ended up making a semi-controlled slide to the bottom.

“Don’t worry about me, I’ll catch up,” Gabby replied, waving the bard off and fighting to stay awake.

Rushing ahead of the others at the speed of the wind, Alric quickly caught up with the fleeing halfling, who was able to stand upright and therefore was making much better speed than the humans, who had to travel on hands and knees. In the darkness, the halfling didn’t realize that he had company in his flight, but Alric could do nothing effective to stop him, either. Being an untutored barbarian, and not an experienced enchanter, he didn’t understand how to end the spell, and even if he could, he wouldn’t, because he would then be trapped in a passage somewhat narrower than his chest. At a stalemate, they continued down the tunnel.

The others, minus Gabby, began crawling down the tunnel after them. Jed was lagging a bit, due to his burden.

Back at the apartment, Gabby realized that she could smell smoke. Wisps were coming through the cracks in the door. Clearly, the Flame Lords were directing some hostile intention towards the apartment. She staggered to her feet and followed the rest of the group, fighting the urge to lie down for another rest. As she crawled to catch up, she started to notice evidence that the Flame Lords had put the entire apartment to the torch. Bits of burning debris started to float past.

Alric and the halfling finally made it to the surface. The tunnel came out on a sheer cliff face over a rushing river. While the halfling paused briefly, caught his breath, and began to scale the cliff, Alric was faced with a decision. He decided to linger at the tunnel entrance, rather than get too far ahead of the rest of the group. In doing so, though, he lost the trail.

Then, Gabby heard the sound of many rats, approaching from behind. Unable to fight back, she was torn by the rats as they stampeded past. Luckily, her armor kept her from major injury. “Rats from behind!” she shouted.

Thus warned, Jed was able to plan for the assault. He readied a Wall of Wind spell and dropped it behind himself and Kadabra, dispersing the rat swarm and sending them flying.

At the cliff face, Alric heard the commotion, and came to wish that he were solid, and it was so.* One by one, the others gathered. Based on the distance they had crawled, and the map, Jed opined that they must be looking at the same river that the Great Bridge crossed. In fact, it should be just around the next bend. The climbers of the group — Alric, Needles, and Gabby — went up the cliff to the top and hiked cross-country in that direction, while Jed cast Body of Air again, upon himself and TKotBO, so that they could fly ahead.

At the bridge, the two cloud-form adventurers noticed themselves being noticed by several goblins at the overlooking arrow slits. They threw a half-hearted “We come in peace” in their direction, then landed inside the covered area in the center of the bridge. They returned to solid form, while Alric and Gabby climbed down to join them. (Needles was feeling paranoid, and stayed at the top of the cliff, about eighty feet above.) Packs were opened, rations were shared around, and being nearly exhausted, they threw themselves to the ground to rest for the next three-quarters of an hour. Then, they took another half-hour for TKotBO and Jed to set up the Faith-Healing-powered-by-Lend-Energy engine and heal all the party’s injuries.

Just as everyone was feeling better about their situation, there was a commotion from behind the arrow slits. “PRETTY LADY!” roared a thunderous voice. Goblins screamed. A couple of them, fleeing whatever was going on inside, either jumped, fell, or were pushed from the arrow slits, falling into the river below. Interested, but not really worried, the party members looked in that direction.

They were surprised to see Mongo, the Seige Beast, obviously dead and risen as a zombie, shamble forth from the doorway on the far side of the bridge. He broke into a sprint, foaming at the mouth and waving his hammer-hands in the air. Most of the party rolled to their feet and got out of the way. Alric, on the other hand, kept his seat while readying his great axe. He took a stance, ready to chop the undead creature’s legs out from under it when it approached.

It was a sound plan, but it didn’t work out. Too excited to wait for the beast to come to them, Gabby drew her rapiers and charged forward to meet Mongo a few yards in front of Alric. Mongo lunged forward, attacking with all his speed. Gabby was able to avoid the first blow, but the second shattered every bone in her right arm, crippling it and forcing her to drop one of her treasured rapiers.**

Gabby retreated, dropping her other rapier and pulling a healing potion from her bandoleer. Needles got out his bow and tried to line up a good shot, but was defeated by the range modifier; he eventually packed it up and started climbing down, knowing he couldn’t reach the bridge before the fight was settled, one way or the other. An angry mob of goblins came to the doorway and began to approach at a measured pace.

Without his previous target, Mongo was free to approach Alric. Again attacking with a pounce and a two-fisted assault, he managed to deliver a grievous blow to the barbarian’s groin, reducing him to -12 HP. While still conscious and cursing, Alric was in no shape to carry on.

Jed blasted the undead Siege Beast with lightning, then threw a Concussion spell into the midst of the goblin mob, ending their advance.

TKotBO attempted to disarm the beast, but realized there was no way he was going to penetrate Mongo’s armor plating. Taking stock of the battlefield, he dropped his weapon and stooped to grab at the creature’s ankle. When Mongo threw both hammer-hands into the air while standing over Alric, TKotBO grabbed and heaved. With an assist from below by the prone barbarian, he was able to throw Mongo off-balance and over the railing, to the hundred-foot drop into the raging river below. (And earning himself the Cool Point for the evening.)

The party moved to secure their line of retreat, returning underground through the smaller door on the “near” side of the Great Bridge, after getting Alric on his feet with some slapdash healing and recovering Gabby’s dropped weapons. Needles took the lead to scout, as is their way. They passed through the long hall, to the stairway leading down to the main dungeon on that side of the river, without incident. At the doorway at the foot of the stair, they paused so Needles could peek around the corner.

A good thing: the next door down the hall was the one leading to the statue room outside the Flame Lords lair, and two of the fiery men were there, gesturing wildly and breaking up the wooden statues. The dry wood burst into flames from their touch, and they were throwing the burning wood out into the hallway.

After a quick discussion, it was decided that Needles would sneak out to get the drop on the Flame Lords. He was given a couple of the remaining ice potions to arm himself with, and Gabby offered him the halfling’s ring of invisibility. When he took it, Needles felt the unnatural weight of the thing and felt the aura of gloom settle around him. After thinking again, he declared he would rather take his chances without it, and dropped the ring, which Gabby later retrieved. He left, slipping into the shadows and becoming at least as invisible as the ring could have made him.

While Needles was moving quietly into position, the others waited with bated breath. Gabby heard a noise coming from the top of the stairs, a noise that reminded her of loading barrels on board ship. She drew the others’ attention to it, as the rolling-barrel noise gave way to a barrel-banging-down-stairs noise. Outside, the Flame Lords looked that way, their attention drawn.

All the delvers at the foot of the stair aside from Alric pressed themselves against the wall to let the rolling barrel pass. Alric, on the other hand, took up a kneeling position in the middle of the stairs, holding his axe in a defensive grip. When the wooden keg came barreling (heh) down the stairs, he parried it, causing it to explode in a soaking, but harmless, gush of beer.

The Flame Lords were very interested in this, and moved to investigate. Needles took advantage of their distraction and quickly doused them both with ice potions. They fell. The party moved quickly past… but not so quickly as to forget to collect the valuable residue left behind by the Flame Lords’ deaths.

Needles nearly forgot about the infamous pit trap, but noticed it before falling in. The board bridge was missing, though. They figured that it had been collected by its caretaker, Zing the Unworthy, and sent Needles to climb across and recover it. The man’s in-dungeon “convenience store” was in disarray, however; the door had been knocked down, the shelves torn from the walls, and the chamber smelled strongly of burnt pork. Needles couldn’t find their board, but improvised from the wreckage. The party crossed the pit, then salvaged a few meals of iron rations and a good deal of rope from the shops’ remains.

Finally, they made it back to the indoor giant stone head. Here, they paused, knowing they were only a short distance, in a straight shot, from the dungeon entrance.

“Well,” Jed said, “we haven’t recovered enough treasure to show a profit, and we’re in pretty good shape. I say, we explore a room or two before we leave.”

“‘Good shape’?” the others exclaimed. Gabby shook her useless right arm at him for emphasis, while Alric made a barbaric allusion to his own wound.

For his part, TKotBO just shrugged, shook Jed’s hand, and said “Best of luck to you.” He turned and started making his lumbering way towards the entrance.

He probably expected to have company, but apparently Jed — and the jingle of coin — are powerful motivational speakers. The others agreed to kick in “just one more door”. They agreed to check out the so-called “troll room”, the one beyond the door concealed behind the stone head, the one where two trolls had made their nest. Jed had never seen the place, and had mentioned a powerful curiosity about it in the past.

Nothing interesting. Two exits, one right and one left, offered themselves. The party chose the left door, finding themselves in a wide hallway. They quickly determined that this hallway was just the next portion of the hall with the stone head, just further up and around a corner. It carried on further past the troll room, so they continued in that direction.

Around the next bend of the hallway, they found a pair of double doors to the left. Needles checked for traps and locks, and finding neither, pushed the door open. Inside, he found a large auditorium. They were at the back, behind the rows of seating. Down below, at the focal point of the room, he saw the goblin shaman who used to work for Ghorbash, flanked by a couple of hobgoblin mooks. The shaman threw a quick spell, and Needles found himself struck blind.

Even without Needles, TKotBO, or Gabby’s good right arm, though, the three goblinoids were no match for the party. The hobgoblins split up, with one moving up either side of the room. They were met by Gabby and Alric, who both easily won their own duels. Jed took the shaman down with magic with no great trouble, as well.

Needles recovered his vision, to his great relief, in just a few seconds. They searched the room, turning up a brass gong and a couple of decorated, sealed urns. Needles found a collection plate full of coin, and only took the copper and one piece of silver before announcing the find.***

Deciding the urns were interesting, but the seals weren’t worth tampering with, they packed up the loot and moved back into the hall. Still without a clear profit, they continued on.

Outside, TKotBO made it back to camp. Realizing that he was alone, he sighed, gestured for Höss, Dean, and Roman to follow him, and turned back towards the dungeon, planning to rejoin the rest of the group and lead them out to safety.


The party came to a door to the right. Needles checked it over and again opened the portal.

Inside, they found a room filled with refuse and fungus, with a giant, animated, angry mushroom. It charged them. They returned the favor. Everybody took a whack at it, but Alric was the one to put it down: he voluntarily dove into the thing’s gaping maw to attack its soft innards.

TKotBO and the hirelings rejoined the group while they were searching the room. Gabby found a potion, and opened it to take a sip. Luckily, she realized it was (ironically) an ice potion before she drank. Jed discovered a pistol crossbow, highly decorated and obviously magical, judging by the shower of blue motes of light that it shed when moved.

This, they realized, was enough to show a profit. Furthermore, TKotBO’s Rol-X shield showed that it was getting on towards sundown. Time to go.

However, when they returned to the hall, they found a pair of Flame Lords approaching from further down the hall.**** The flaming men tossed fireballs at the party as they approached, while the delvers readied their last pair of ice potions. Luckily, the PCs’ aim was true, and the two Flame Lords fell. Again scooping up the pouch-full of coals left behind, the party moved quickly to leave the dungeon.

Outside, back at camp, they found Dobby cooking up sausages for the whole group. Packing up, they hurried back to town in time to make it inside the walls before night fell.

Back in town, there was some debate about whether to sell the ring or keep it. In the end, they decided to keep it. Jed’s research indicated that the pistol crossbow used to belong to a priest of Anubis who was lost in the ruins — thus completing the quest that Rho had left undone before his death, to recover the two relics that the priest left behind. They were still able to show a profit without selling the ring.

With the experience points gained, TKotBO was able to complete his multi-classing into Holy Warrior/Knight. Alric declared that he would be studying with Gabby to come a Barbarian/Swashbuckler. The party unanimously agreed to pay for Gabby’s restoration, which will nevertheless take a month to complete.

The only remaining piece of loot to dispose of was the pair of urns. When the party showed them to the priests at the temple, the clerics turned pale, hustled everyone out of the room, locking it behind them, and called for a young priest and an old priest. TKotBO volunteered for the position of “young priest”. In the exorcism attempt that followed, the old priest faltered; TKotBO’s faith wasn’t enough to finish the task, but was enough to let them escape the room. The priests re-locked and sealed the door.

Upon reflection, the party realized that the auditorium was some sort of evil temple. TKotBO and Jed declared support for a mission to return and exorcise the temple.

* * *

* … and at this point, I come to realize, there’s a lot of tricky spells in GURPS Magic, and I really need to keep a closer eye on things there. First, we played it as if the recipient of the Body of Air spell could end it at will, but now that I’m looking at the book, I’m not seeing any such thing. No big deal, it wouldn’t have changed anything if Jed had just dropped maintenance when everybody gathered at the cliff face. Second, the spell description speaks of up to 6 pounds of clothing coming along, which would have greatly complicated events, considering that Alric carries around a bag full of treasure and a big axe, and TKotBO has an obvious armor fixation. For now, we’ll say there was some complex “fox, goose, and bag of corn” arrangement, in which the party was dragging Alric’s gear through the tunnel and Alric, in turn, carried TKotBO’s armor up the cliff while TKotBO himself traveled in his long underwear. And I shall wear a mighty oath to examine the spell descriptions more closely when spells get cast.

** First crippled limb!  Though, TKotBO did come awful close in the first session, inspiring the name of the blog and only escaping with his foot thanks to a mis-reading of a rule…

*** For Needles, this was an emotional confession of loyalty to and love for the group.

**** I do roll for wandering monsters.


Prophecy vs. Rumor

I was a really big fan of David Eddings’ Belgariad when I was a kid. That’s where I lay the blame.

When the time came for me to run fantasy, I leaned heavily on the prophecy as a way to kick-start the action. When I started a fantasy game, you could guarantee, you would meet a mysterious guy, likely wearing a hood, in a tavern. Half the time, he’d hire you, and half the time, he’d lay some prophecy on you.

Of course, the prophecy-driven campaign is nothing but a plot railroad. Just by having a prophecy, you’re asserting that the future is set, to some degree, and cannot be changed. If these four scruffy adventurers are destined to meet Darth Hostile on the summit of Mount Craggy on the first full moon after the Festival Of The Ice Weasel, then those four adventurers must be protected by fate until that time. Whatever happens, it can’t keep them from their date with destiny… even if they decide to ride as hard as they can in the opposite direction and take up careers as wandering mendicants.

There’s ways around it. You can phrase your prophecy so as to allow some latitude. They say that’s how the Oracle at Delphi did the trick. It’s also hard work and heavy thinking, and doesn’t solve the root problem: the players feel like their characters are going to end up on the spot marked “X”, no matter what they try to do.

If you want the drama and stage dressing of prophecy, without the railroad plot, I would recommend GURPS Power-Ups 5: Impulse Buys, where it talks about using Destiny Points to buy favors from fate.  Designate your “Chosen One”, and make up gibberish as needed. The character with the destiny gets free will, but with the little extra boost that assures that whatever the situation, that character will be extraordinary. Then again, if you don’t want the hassle, you could just give the Chosen One an appropriate level of Luck.

I think it’s all too much trouble, myself. At least in this game.

In point of fact, part of Rho’s back-story was that he was some kind of reincarnated Chosen One for a sect of the cult of Anubis. He had a couple of odd traits for a cleric, since he wasn’t so much a part of the organized temple, as he was a hero of the common folk. None of it really had much time to come out in play before he slipped and died at the bottom of a pit trap.

Dungeon Fantasy isn’t a genre where you can count on having a long time for the subtle points of a character’s personality and history to shine through.

Instead, I’ve been leaning hard on rumors as a driver of action. I was tentative to start, but since then, I’ve come around to be a believer.

See, I remembered reading a published adventure, back in the day, that had a table of rumors. Some were true, others were false. The true ones didn’t strike me as terribly helpful, but I can’t say if that’s because they weren’t, or because I was too young to put them together… but the false ones just seemed like dirty tricks. I didn’t care for that, so I ditched the entire idea of organized rumors.

Then, it seems like, for a long time, I had troubles with players who expected everything spoken by the GM to be the truth. Including the words of NPCs. If they ran across a liar, or an unreliable narrator, they became quite upset. If I had tried to use rumors then, the way I’m using them now, I would have faced a rebellion the first time they ran into a rumor that was only mostly true. (There, at least, is one way in which my current group of suspicious paranoids excels. They never expect the truth from an NPC without a really good reason.)

This time around, I was consciously trying something different. Before the DF campaign came up, I had been reading a lot of blogs and such about the Old School Renaissance, mega-dungeons, player agency, all that sort of thing. When I ran into the rules suggestions for rumors in DF, I was primed to give it a try. I put together a short list of rumors while stocking the first level of the dungeon.

Then, by pure blind luck, the events of actual play came together with one of the rumors that the PCs picked up for that same session. The party heard the rumor about the lost priest of Anubis, and then found a holy book carried by that priest in their first foray into the ruins. Since then, they’ve been really attentive towards the stories they hear in the tavern.

Thus, the players get to decide what direction they head in first, what goals they give priority, which stories to research and look in to further. The PCs become actors upon the campaign world, rather than responding to events. Paradoxically, tailoring the world to the characters might make them important to that world, but it took away their actual power… while a world that ignores the PCs entirely gives them more power to affect the flow of events.


“The Delving Band With No Name”, Session #6


  • Alric Redbeard, the thinking man’s barbarian… but you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry (PC)
  • Mississippi Jedadiah Walker, surprisingly taking a role as the party’s conscience (PC)
  • Needles, always one step ahead, but you really don’t want him standing behind you… (PC)
  • The Knight Of The Blood Oath, bringing the swift vengeance and the furious anger (PC)
  • “Dobby”, Alric’s main goblin, charged with guardian the camp (NPC)
  • Höss, a brute working a laborer’s job (NPC)
  • Dean and Roman, earnest young shieldbearers (NPC)

Missing, but mentioned:

  • Gabby, suffering from an epic hangover after enthusiastic celebration (PC)

Rumors Gathered:

  • (Jed) Ryleh the Clever came to Tembladera to research the process of becoming a lich, decades ago, and they say he managed it in the end. Before he vanished into the ruins forever, Ryleh laid claim to an old dwarven watchtower, somewhere in the mountains. His servants said that he had uncovered a source of magical knowledge inside.
  • (Alric) There is a pool on one of the lower levels of the dwarven ruins that can raise the dead. For those who understand the ways of magic, it can do more than that.
  • (Alric) A long while back, an elderly goblin came to town with a bag full of old dwarven metalwork and sold it to Dekter Strang. The goblin took his payment in ironware: chains, gears, and tools.
  • (Needles) There’s a cavern under the mountains that has a false sun in its roof. There’s a forest that grows in the cavern, but the trees and animals are totally different than what you find around Tembladera. Some of the trees grow gems instead of fruit.


What Happened:

After leaving the dungeon early during the last trip, Needles went directly to his favored fence, Kajeet the cat-folk merchant*, who bought the agate that Needles had lifted off the ogre. Needles got 25 copper for it, which he immediately spent at the tavern.

When the rest of the party returned from the battle on the Great Bridge, they sent Mississippi Jed to pawn the loot, as is their custom. By luck, he, too, went to have dealings with Kajeet. When Jed arrived, he found the older Kajeet and his nephew, a young apprentice wizard, gloating over the jewel, making the chattering noise that cats make when they’re watching a bird they want to kill. Jed recognized the jewel’s magical aura. Mentioning that he was looking for a gem to decorate his cane’s head, he asked how much they would take for it. Kajeet dismissed his nephew with a glance and answered that he could not part for the gem for less than 250 gold. ($20,000!)

One double-take later, Jed admitted that was a bit steep for his wallet.

After finishing with the rest of his business, Jed tracked down Needles at the tavern. He informed the thief of how he had observed the pilfering, and how badly Kajeet had taken him when buying the loot. While denying that he knew anything about any jewels, Needles still learned a valuable lesson about evaluating possibly-enchanted items.

The thief-cough-scout and the bard talked over possible responses to the situation. Notably, Needles suggested that the world would be a much more satisfactory place if they were to take the gem away from Kajeet. While this course of action has obvious potential for profit, it would also break the meta-game truce that says that town is safe, absolutely… for just so long as nobody turns it into a field of conflict. With this in mind, they decided to consider further before making any rash moves.

In accordance with custom, the party enjoyed a week off. Alric’s craving to be the life of the party overcame his barbaric yearning for the wilderness, so rather than spend the week camping outside of town, he paid to drink at the inn. During the days, he spent his time playing an old Northern game with the local barbarian class trainer: they would each take a shot, both would throw their shot glasses at a target as hard as they could, then the trainer would punch Alric right in the face. After a week of this treatment, he was able to add +1 ST, Hard to Subdue, the Throwing skill, and the Focused Fury perk.

Somewhere along the way, Alric woke up with his pouch considerably emptier than it had been the night before. With a philosophical shrug, he took the reversal of fortune in stride, making his stoic Northern ancestors proud.***

During the week, Jed gathered trade goods to take back to the orcs on the far side of the Great Bridge, mainly blankets and distilled spirits. He also went to Strang to obtain distilled magical essence to tempt Gort, the goblin wizard. This appeared as a glass ball filled with sparkling blue light. He devoted $3,000 to the essence, which could be used to rapidly enchant magical items, and got 75 energy points’ worth.

After discussing the possibilities of bringing home more treasure if they had more people to carry it, the party retained three hirelings for their next delve. The more expensive was Höss, a Brute by trade, but hired as a high-priced laborer, charged with carrying that which was heavy. Dean and Roman cost as much together as Höss did by himself, as they were still young and green; the brothers were hired as shield bearers and (with luck) bearers of additional treasure.

Towards the end of the week, the talk of the town was about how a local peasant girl, a milk maid, had been kidnapped by “evil humanoids”. Both TKotBO and Jed were inspired by this news and eager to mount an investigation. Alric seemed indifferent, but was willing to go along with any plan that involved whacking things and taking their coin. Needles, too, was up for a trip to into the ruins, but questioned the need to search for peasant girls, as they, by definition, don’t have any money for rewards. Gabby didn’t express an opinion either way, as she was entirely too drunk and/or hung over from the night before, and so the swashbuckling cabin girl was left in town to recover as best she could.

At TKotBO’s suggestion, the party gathered at the temple to receive a blessing before they left town. They chose to invest in the medium-sized, 2 pt blessing for each party member.  (Looking back, I’m not sure if they paid for the hirelings to be blessed or not. Need to clear that up.) They also had Continual Light cast on several torches, which were distributed to the hirelings. TKotBO went a step further, having Continual Light cast on his helmet, but paying extra for designer colors, getting red light on one side and blue on the other. That way, he reasoned, his comrades would not only be able to locate him in the press of melee, they would be able to see which direction he was headed in.

The four left the town through the north gate and arrived at their usual entrance to the dwarven ruins by noon. With a mind towards the entrance hall possibly being re-inhabited, the party assembled in their usual marching order, with Needles moving ahead of the group to scout a course. When they got to the entrance, Needles crept inside stealthily. He saw a humanoid figure, standing in the center of the entrance hall. As he approached, Needles recognized Jim Kadabra, Mississippi Jim’s old buddy and the man that Needles had sapped shortly after Rho’s death.

The illusionist made no move until the rest of the party, with TKotBO in the lead, came into view. At that point, he announced himself: “Greetings! My name is Jim Kadabra. I am a prisoner in a Flame Lord prison camp. Great rewards await those who free me from my captivity!” When greeted and questioned, he repeated the same message, in the same tones, with the same gestures. Jed identified the phenomena as an illusion, programmed to respond to certain stimuli. At the sound of Jed’s voice, the illusion identified him by name and added an additional plea for help.

Jed said that the party had to see what they could do about rescuing his friend.  TKotBO remarked that the distressed damsel was the higher priority mission. Needles pointed out that neither one would make anybody any richer, as far as he could see.

Discussion broke off when Needles noticed that someone had been camping out in the nook behind the stone head. Moving aside a tarp that had been carelessly thrown aside, he discovered a locked and trapped chest. He casually disarmed the trap, recovering a poison-smeared needle, and unlocked the chest. Inside, he found a mace and a pouch. By the time he turned around, the coin in the purse had somehow made its way up Needles’ sleeve, leaving only a pair of bone dice. The mace went to Höss, previously unarmed, and Jed requested the dice as a souvenir.

The party proceeded along the path they have traveled many times before: down the hall, through the rough ground once used by the Red Hand goblins for ambush, and to the pit trap. The illusion was back, so they identified the spot by the marks TKotBO had made in the wall nearby. Alric tossed Jed and Needles across without incident, but TKotBO felt this was beneath his dignity. He went back to recover the broken door from where it had stashed it, in the room that they had dubbed “the closet”, the empty ten-by-ten room containing only a broken dresser.

Wondering what was causing the delay, Jed came to the edge of the pit and called back to Alric, who went to follow TKotBO. As he stood peering into the darkness, Jed heard a breathy “phoot!” noise from the pit. A glob of acidic slime came through the illusion from the hidden pit bottom, hitting Jed squarely in the chest. Needles took several prudent steps back from the pit, while Jed went into a frenzy of scraping. He used his glove-covered hand to clean the slime off his chest before it could penetrate to his skin, then managed to discard the fouled glove into the pit without getting any on him.

Meanwhile, TKotBO had been delayed at the closet. When he had gone to open the door, he had found it barred. A sliding door opened at eye-level, and a man inside challenged TKotBO, telling him that he was “either buying or shoving off”. TKotBO turned on the charm (and flashed his Rol-X) and got the man to open the door. He introduced himself as Ning. As Alric joined them, he offered to sell them iron rations and rum. Ning had taken over the closet and turned it into what the PCs described as a convenience store. His goods were stacked on makeshift shelves on the back wall. One of the shelves was made of the board TKotBO was seeking.

Hearing Jed’s shouts from down the hall, the two turned to leave. TKotBO grabbed the shelf and ripped it off the wall as they went, saying he would return it shortly.

As the two returned, Needles and Jed warned them that the pit was inhabited. Alric tossed a smoke bomb (one of their new purchases since the previous trip) into the pit, blinding whatever was lurking down there, while TKotBO threw down the plank to help cross the pit. Alric jumped across. TKotBO was alone on the near side of the pit when he realized something was creeping up behind him. He turned to face a carrion crawler, which moved to attack. He calmly took the creature’s paralyzing tentacles on his shield and bashed in its skull, then joied the others. The party continued down the hall.

Shortly, they came to the point of decision: would they turn right, into the room full of statues and then on to confront the flame lords in a bid to free Kadabra, or would they continue on towards the Great Bridge. A hurried consultation established that nobody felt that they were equipped to deal with the fiery people Alric and Gabby had seen. They passed on.

Needles led the way, slipped quietly into the side passage with the stairs leading up to the long hall to the Great Bridge. When TKotBO passed through the door, a glowing pixie flew up in front of his face. Thanks to his missing eye and great helm, he didn’t even notice, and brushed right by. The pixie recovered and delivered its message to Jed, the next in line: “The Flame Lords down the hall have no stomach for battle, but they do have wealth: gold and gems torn from the roots of the mountain!” Realizing that pixies don’t ordinarily glow, Jed poked it with his baton, causing it to burst like a bubble. Another illusion.

The party pressed on, stopping at the Great Bridge until they were acknowledged and allowed to advance. Gort the goblin wizard and Grogmar the orc ranger, the leaders of the orcs, came down to meet the party. Seeing that they had brought goods to trade, the orcs allowed the party to come back up to their chambers. Jed, Gort, and Grogmar went into the back room to negotiate, while the rest of the party stayed in the antechamber to carouse with the tribe.

Alric fell to drinking with two orcs who told him the story of their exciting morning, which included kidnapping the peasant girl and using her as bait to distract the demons while they went down into the pit. Simultaneously, TKotBO grabbed one of the goblin slaves and asked him if he know anything about the girl, receiving the same story:  Gort had come up with the idea of throwing the demons something to take their attention, they had grabbed the girl and thrown her into the pit, then several orcs had been lowered to grab what treasure they could find.

TKotBO dropped the goblin with thanks, saying he would grant the slave a boon.  “Leave this place now,” he said, then turned towards the back room. He knocked on the door, which was opened by one of the orc rabble. Getting the nod from Gort, he let TKotBO in.


The scene just before everything went to hell. Minis are PCs, except for the all-white one, which is Höss. Paper minis are named bad guys, with Mongo being the big’n. Pennies are orcs, silver coins are dire wolves.


Green discs are goblins. The one yellow disc is also a goblin: the one that TKotBO interrogated, fleeing the room in fear.

Inside, the negotiators were gathered around a stone table. TKotBO went to join them, standing in between Jed and Gort. He kicked Jed in the ankle to get his attention, then put his hand to his morning star’s grip and tried to give Jed a significant look to signal his intentions. This didn’t work out very well, what with the great helm and all…

Which is why Jed was actually more surprised than Gort when TKotBO raised his weapon with the clear intent of bashing in the goblin’s skull. Everyone in the room was even more surprised than that, when Needles — who had quietly slipped into the room when the holy warrior had entered, unnoticed by all concerned — popped up behind Grogmar, fatally stabbing him once in either kidney before anyone could move.

“What-?” Jed began.

“They took the girl,” TKotBO snapped.

Jed sighed once, but his bardic training had included much practice in knowing which way the wind was blowing. The door guard threw open the door, shouting a call to arms to his comrades. Jed whistled up a “fear” spell, causing several of the orcs and goblins outside the door to flee. Gort scrambled away from TKotBO and cast a spell allowing him to breathe fire on the holy warrior, but the damage was not enough to stop the fall of the morning star, which cracked his skull and ended his career of evil. Seeing that the goblin slaves were no threat, Needles ran out into the antechamber, slipping along the wall in a bid to flank the orcs.

The carousing orcs, meanwhile, were slow to get organized. While they were busy getting it together — readying weapons, getting up from the floor, figuring out what direction to move in — the two biggest figures in the room, Alric and Mongo, sprang to their feet and moved towards each other. Just before they came together, Jed summoned a magical bolt of lightning and blasted Mongo. Mongo’s welded-on metal armor was no great defense against the electrical onslaught, and so he was greatly injured, but still standing.

Alric looked around him, at the orcs who had been drinking with him moments ago and who were now drawing weapons to come for his blood, and found himself outraged. He turned this fury on Mongo, striking him with two powerful blows to the torso with his great axe. The beast tried to defend himself, but wasn’t up to the task. He fell, unconscious and badly wounded, but still breathing.

At this point, TKotBO charged out of the inner chamber, bellowing a challenge. “Your leaders are dead! I swear by the rings of Saturn, any goblinoid bearing arms in three seconds will follow them!”  Shocked and disarrayed, leaderless, with their greatest weapon taken down before they knew what was happening, the orcs dropped their weapons.

The scene after the battle, with the orcs lined up against the wall.

The scene after the battle, with the orcs lined up against the wall.

Shortly, the party was shaking down the orcs, who they put up against the wall while they freed the goblin slaves and searched the two rooms. The ranger’s body yielded a gold ring, notably. They took a rug, a portrait of a dwarf in historical costume, and a pouch of spices from the inner chamber.

During the search, Jed and Needles discovered a secret door and the means to open it, on the back wall of the inner chamber. Inside, they found a small workroom, covered with dust, containing a table with a gilded platter and some fine crystal. There were two exits, a doorway straight ahead and a closed door in a foyer to the left. As they looked over the scene, Needles felt a passing moment of dizziness and disorientation, but didn’t think anything particularly of it.

Having looted the place, they still had not located the orichalcum orb. “Nort!” the party cried, remembering the old goblin engineer from their last visit. “Where is Nort?” The freed slaves were happy to show them the way. Keeping the disarmed orcs at the point of swords, they moved the crowd from the common room to the area around the demons’ pit, where they met Nort, who took the change in leadership in stride. It didn’t take much talking to uncover the orichalcum orb, which went directly into the party’s bags of loot.

Up until now, the party had assumed that if the girl had been thrown into the pit as a distraction, she must be dead. To their surprise, as they stood talking with Nort, they heard a scream from below! They began to discuss the best plan for rescuing the damsel. They considered the idea of sending down some of the captive orcs, but Nort laughed at that idea, being dismissive of the orcs’ ability to do the job. He pointed out that they wanted someone quick to do the job, so the best candidate looked to be Needles. For his part, Needles wasn’t all that eager to enter a pit full of demons to rescue some stranger with no reward offered. Finally, TKotBO volunteered to make a trip down the hole to look around. However, if he were doing it, he wanted to pull the distraction trick, too. Mongo, being unconscious and likely to go berserk upon regaining consciousness, was immediately volunteered.

Nort quickly attached a cable to the scruff of TKotBO’s armor. Mongo was bound hand and foot, then lowered first. Just before he passed out of reach, TKotBO reached over to lay on hands and heal the siege beast’s wounds. Mongo awoke, gnashing his teeth and foaming at the mouth, struggling to get free. Then TKotBO stepped out into space.

They lowered him down through the narrower entrance “neck” of the cavern, to the point that he could see the balcony of the top floor. He dropped a torch the full length of the chamber, retaining one for his own use, while Mongo continued the trip down. As his cable played out, the noises Mongo made went from aggressive cursing to frightened whimpering to howls of pain and terror.

Meanwhile, TKotBO looked around. He noticed that the edges of the balcony had been painted with a message in many languages. The one in the common tongue, at least, said “Send more zombies!”****  TKotBO tried to climb over to solid footing, but wasn’t able to do the trick. Instead, he put himself into a slow spin. Giving in to the inevitable, he gave the agreed two tugs and was quickly pulled back up. There was another scream from the girl, which seemed to be coming from the top level, rather than somewhere lower.

After the holy warrior quickly described what he had observed, everybody wanted to go make the trip.  (Even Needles, albeit somewhat reluctantly. While TKotBO had been dangling, Jed had been describing the riches to be found in the pit.) For one moment, they actually planned for all four party members to be hooked to cables. Then, they realized the peril they would be putting themselves into. Instead, they decided to leave Jed on watch, while Alric, Needles, and TKotBO descended. Nort happily rolled up more cranes. Alric bit his lip and put himself into the hands of the evil crane technology. Down they went. Before they dropped out of sight, Jed enchanted them all with a song of bravery, and furthermore improved Alric’s already-keen hearing.

Needles went first, holding a line attached to TKotBO. He climbed across the chamber ceiling, as Gabby had the time before, pulling TKotBO behind. Being plenty agile himself, Alric had no trouble joining them. He stood on guard, while the other two ventured further, seeking the girl.

The found an open archway and two closed doors. The scream had seemed to come from the direction of the archway, so they checked in there, first. Inside, they could see that the room had once been dedicated to a now-dry fountain, with a statue of a laughing female dwarf carrying a cornucopia. Since the days that the fountain had run with water, someone had apparently used the room for butchering meat. Poorly. But with great enthusiasm.

Behind the fountain, they found the girl, cowering in fear. She was glad to come with them, of course. As they turned towards the door to go, Alric cried out. His anchoring line had gone slack.

During this same time, up above, the orcs had realized the odds. They were fourteen strong, if disarmed, orcs, being guarded by one distracted bard, one dull warrior with poor gear, and two boys who were still wet behind the ears. They jumped the humans. Two ganged up on Jed, who had been leaning over the edge asking for updates on the situation. Luckily, he noticed them before they were able to pitch him over the edge. While they struggled to get a good grip on the wiry bard, Nort had pulled out a sharp knife and started cutting ropes, beginning with Alric’s.

Realizing the import of the slack cable sliding into space, and reasoning that the run-of-the-mill orcs he had drank with before were not fluent in human languages, Alric shouted “Cover your eyes!” in the common tongue, quick-drew a flash bomb, and threw it in an underhanded bank shot, up through the relatively narrow neck of the chamber. Jed and the others heard him and were able to close their eyes just before it exploded, blinding most of the orcs and throwing them into disarray.

Seeing that time was short, Needles and TKotBO ran to leave. The holy warrior took the girl in one arm and swung out into the void, calling for someone to crank them up. Needles wasn’t waiting; he started scaling his own rope, hand over hand. They both grabbed at Alric’s loose cable.

At this point, Alric felt his blessing dissipate. His comrades were able to get a grip on his cable and yank him off his feet, turning a sneak attack into a near miss. He got one look at a humanoid form made of solid darkness with cold stars for eyes, putting a clawed hand through the place where his heart had been, before he, too, was hanging at the end of his rope. It hissed at him, angered at the near miss.

Meanwhile, up top, Jed, Höss, Dean, and Roman had managed to shake off their blinded attackers. Jed and Höss jumped to crank TKotBO’s crane, while Dean and Roman fended off the feeble resistance offered by the orcs. Shortly, Needles was able to join them, and then it was a relatively simple matter to regain control of the situation and get everybody’s feet on solid ground.

Jed chased down Nort and dangled him over the edge of the pit until the orcs regained their sight. Making sure that all eyes were on him, he dropped the elderly goblin, screaming, into the depths.  “And I liked him,” he announced, giving the signal. The hirelings shoved the orcs over the edge after him.

Loading up the loot, the party left the formerly-enslaved goblins in charge, saying that they’ll be back soon. Taking the girl with them, they hustled back across the Bridge and back to the entrance. They made it back to town without incident, returning the girl to her family, gaining much in reputation but nothing in the way of hard coin. Even though the loot was lighter than they had hoped, they still managed to make over $1,200 each.

Nominally, at least. In point of fact, TKotBO claimed the dead orc ranger’s golden ring as his share. Since the ring, itself, was most of the value of the loot, this didn’t set well with the others, but he didn’t seem concerned, saying they could count it against future earnings. The conversation seemed to be leaning towards making the fire lords a priority for the next trip, with an eye towards freeing Jed’s old friend, before the question of the ring came up and drowned out all other considerations.

* Yes, “Khajiit has wares, if you have coin.”  Named the NPC after a Skyrim joke, I’ll admit it, I’m not proud. Changing the spelling to avoid confusion of the search-fu. I have a feeling this guy will be turning up again in the future.**

** Footnote off a footnote. Told ya I wasn’t proud. Anyway, the behind-the-scenes went like this:  As part of answering the questions around the enchanted gem that Needles had lifted, Jed’s player asked about the community of fences in Tembladera. Half-joking, I pointed out that Tembladera is like the towns in Diablo: there might be a huge marketplace with lots of NPCs standing around as window dressing, but really, there’s only about three merchants in the whole town, each having a couple of stock dialog options. The guys then pointed out that in that case, all Jed had to do was go around checking the “Buy Back” tab until he uncovered the missing gem. And, in the end… that’s pretty much what happened.

*** Behind-the-scenes:  Alric’s player lost his printed character sheet, where he had written the amount of cash he had on hand. Upon realizing this, he announced that Alric must have gotten himself rolled. We offered to go through the notes and come up with an approximate value, but he waved it off. You want to talk old-school?  That‘s old-school. In the source literature, folks like Conan and Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser are always freshly-broke, having “squandered a pouch full of rare jewels”… and in the old D&D days, the way we played it in junior high, if you didn’t write it on your sheet, it vanished while your back was turned.  This fed in to the tie-breaker vote at the end of the session, which once more awarded the Cool Point to Alric.

**** When Mongo started crying out, Needles’ player turned to the rest of the group and said something along the lines of “Oh my god, have we created Zomb-mongo?”

Edit 9 June 2014: Forgot about the carrion crawler and Gort breathing fire, so added them.


“The Delving Band With No Name”, Session #5


  • Alric Redbeard, the barbarian with a heart of gold (PC)
  • Gabby, sailor-turned-pirate-turned-adventurer, whose love of gold outweighs her sense of self-preservation (PC)
  • Mississippi Jedadiah Walker, singer of songs and teller of tales (PC)
  • The Knight Of The Blood Oath, like a rock (PC)
  • “Dobby”, goblin henchman and keeper of the sables (NPC)

Missing, but mentioned:

  • Needles, rogue who doesn’t know the trouble he’s got in his pouch (PC)

Rumors Gathered:

None, since this was the second half of their third trip into the dungeon. No rumors, but plenty of good intel…


What Happened:

Picking up where we left off last time, the party had made it to the far side of the Great Bridge and through the door. Inside, they found a hallway, much larger and more impressive than the halls of the area they had left behind. The chasm shadowed the door, so the sunlight only went so far. From the darkness beyond their sight, they could hear the sound of many approaching feet, the cracking of whips, and angry bellowing in a disturbingly deep register.

“I’ve got an idea,” Needles said, then faded into the shadows, to be seen no more this session.

Quickly discussing their situation, the party decided they could better fortify themselves back on the side of the bridge where they had come from. “We’re running?” Gabby asked. When she got the nod, she tore off at a full sprint.

Before the others could really get their retreat in gear, the orcs’ first wave came in sight: half a dozen humanoid slaves in loincloths, chained to a battering ram with a crude “cow-catcher” on its front and running full-tilt with their heads down. With sinking hearts, the party saw the plan. The enemy hoped to knock them off the bridge to their doom as they fled.

Knowing that there was no way TKotBO could outrun the sprinting slaves, Alric grabbed him by the collar of his armor and took off dragging him. Being fleet of foot, Alric seemed to have the speed advantage, even with the extra weight.

Jed wasn’t as fast, but he was plenty quick. Dodging around the door, he avoided being caught by the ram. He jumped astride it as the slaves ran by and used his Rapier Wit to distract them all. Losing their teamwork, the group became tangled up and fell in a heap, Jed among them.

Meanwhile, the second wave came into view, observed only by TKotBO, being dragged backwards. First came an enraged, bellowing siege beast, a goblinoid creature even bigger than Alric, with bands of metal crudely welded around its entire body and huge metal hammers enclosing its fists. It was closely followed by two orcs with whips, snapping at its heels to encourage it. They, in turn, were followed by a gang of ragged, armed orcs.

Meanwhile, Gabby had continued her headlong flight, paying little attention to the sounds behind her. The one exception was when she heard the arrow coming towards her back, from the windows overlooking the bridge. She narrowly dodged the arrow (to a chorus of “She used to be an adventurer like us” jokes), making it to the cover of the bridge’s central structure. She would make it all the way back to the door that the party had originally come through, then stopped there, panting, before looking back.

In a moment of pure team spirit*, Alric spun in a tight circle, using his free hand to grab up Jed from where he was struggling free of the wreckage, and carried on running away, with the bard over his shoulder and TKotBO dragging behind, sparks flying. This prompted a cheer from the observers at the windows, twenty feet above. The equivalent of “Hey y’all, watch this!” in Goblinistani came from the right-hand windows… and a streak of light flew from the window towards Alric’s feet.

Thinking quickly, and with very few options remaining, Jed used his bard’s magic and spoke a Command to Alric: “Throw!”

Burdened as he was, and carrying his two comrades the way he had been, Alric, too, had few options. He chose to interpret the Command as requiring him to try for distance. He spun and flung TKotBO before him. The heavily armored warrior flew nearly five feet before plowing into the paving stones.

Then, the explosive fireball went off at Alric’s feet.

Both the bard and the barbarian were hurt. Jed went down, unconscious and on the verge of death, while Alric struggled on. TKotBO felt the heat of the blast, but with the extra distance from being thrown, his armor was sufficient to protect him.

While all of this was going on, the siege beast had trampled over the fallen slaves, crushing them beneath its metal-shod feet. The wreckage somewhat hampered the escorting orcs. After the fireball went off, the beast was able to close the distance. It hammered Alric into the ground, unconscious, to a round of cheers from the watchers above.

TKotBO made it to his feet during this time. Shouting at Gabby to save herself, he turned his shield towards the siege beast and stepped forward, prepared to hold the bridge.

This drew another round of cheers. As the two combatants closed the distance between them, the same voice from above jeered, “I’ll put ten copper on the knight!”

TKotBO shouted back “I’ll take some of that action!”

Then the melee was joined. The orcs stood back and cheered. Gabby took advantage of the distraction to return, going over the edge of the bridge and climbing along the side, where she eventually discovered a narrow ledge to run along. TKotBO and the siege beast — inevitably christened “Mongo” — went at it hammer and tongs, with neither able to land a telling blow. TKotBO was dripping with sweat, burning Fatigue at a breakneck pace, to keep up an impenetrable defense with his shield. He repeatedly landed shots on the beast’s head, trying to find the chinks in its armor.

As he did so, TKotBO kept side-stepping to the right, slowly rotating the fight around his opponent. Finally, he had the beast turned entirely around, facing back the way it had come from. Gabby took advantage of this to spring back over the edge of the bridge and try to sneak up behind it. Her rapier wasn’t able to penetrate the beast’s armored hide, but it was enough to distract the thing. TKotBO had been playing the long game, getting into position, and that was the opening he had been looking for. He had been holding one of the party’s new healing potions in his shield hand the entire time, just as a standard precaution. He threw the vial onto Alric, shattering it and dousing the barbarian with the potion. Enough entered his wounds to bring him back to consciousness, if only barely.

Now, the siege beast faced three opponents, using wolf pack tactics. TKotBO shouted to Alric to hang back, then joined Gabby in harassing the beast. Amazed at the spectacle before them, the orcs began to cheer on both sides. Alric grabbed another healing potion from Jed’s bandoleer, bringing him back to fighting shape. Ignoring TKotBO’s warnings, the barbarian entered the fray, joining the line alongside the holy warrior.

The big man’s great axe made all the difference. With several mighty strokes, and another head shot from TKotBO’s morning star, the siege beast fell. It was unconscious, barely. TKotBO was ready to drop from fatigue, while Alric was still badly wounded. They quickly slipped Jed a healing potion, which brought him back to the land of the living, then turned towards the rest of the orcs.

Luckily, the enemy was impressed by their performance. The owner of the voice, Gort the goblin mage, and his partner, Grogmar the orc ranger, came down to meet the party and parlay. Jed was shaky, but on his feet, so he took over the diplomatic negotiations. TKotBO staggered about, administered first aid, while Gort and Jed talked. As it turned out, Gort’s mocking wager had earned him some winnings, so he was kindly disposed towards TKotBO and the others, while the orcs respected the show of strength. Sips from flasks were shared. TKotBO did some first aid on Mongo, then gave him one of the party’s lesser healing potions. Gestures of goodwill were made on all sides. Alric found that he shared a certain rough kinship with these people. Finally, the orcs invited the party upstairs for drinks.

They were taken back to the door on the far side of the bridge, then perhaps another eighty or hundred feet down the hall. In consideration to the humans, the orcs lit torches. While the hall continued on, there was a broad stairway off to the right, which they took. At the top of the stairs, they found a curtain of moldering tapestries and lengths of chain, hung to foil sneak attack, which the orcs parted for them. Beyond the curtain, they found a landing where the stair turned before continuing up. Several dire wolves were here, along with bedrolls and such, indicating a standing watch.

At the top of the second flight of stairs, they came out into a crossroads of wide halls. In the middle of the juncture sat a statue of a subjugated goblin in rags and chains, sitting on a pedestal. As the crowd approached, the statue moved, seeming to tilt its head to listen to the hubbub. The party remarked upon this, but their hosts waved off their questions: “Oh, don’t worry, it does that.”

Jed approached the statue to investigate closer, with the orcs and Gort following along. He tried speaking several words to the statue, to no avail, until he finally hit upon the Dwarven word “treasure”. The statue straightened up and pointed towards the right, where the orcs obligingly held up torches to display a set of double doors, further down the hall. “We never have gotten those open,” Gort commented. TKotBO went to check out the door more closely, while Jed tried a few more words on the statue. At the word “armory”, the statue pointed to the left.

Satisfied, Jed went to join TKotBO. The two noticed a brass plate over the doors. They wiped off the soot and mold of years, revealing the word “storeroom” in dwarvish runes.  “So are we drinking or what?” Gort asked.

“Drinking,” the party answered. Gort and the orcs led the party to the left, in the direction of the “armory” indication, and brought them through another set of double doors into a large room. The room had clearly been a fine place in its day, with extensive carvings and goblin gargoyles holding up the corners of a vaulted ceiling. It had windows looking out on the Great Bridge, and signs that this was the orcs’ common room. A place of honor was given over to an elaborately painted barrel of dwarven beer. Drinks were drawn for all. Jed wisely let Gort take the first toast before joining in on the revelry. TKotBO was just happy for a place to sit down and rest.

As the carousing went on, the party offered to act as go-betweens with Tembladera’s merchants on behalf of the orcs, hoping to set up profitable trade. Gort seemed somewhat interested in the idea. When asked what sort of goods they would be interested in purchasing, they were told “Strong drink!”

When asked about the dead slaves, Gort was dismissive. “If we need more, we’ll go across the bridge and take some more,” he said. As far as Dorgob, the dead orc knight, the goblinoids’ position seemed to be that since the party killed him in a fair fight, that he had agreed to, his stuff was their loot. Nobody made much mention of their treachery during that duel.

For his part, Mongo didn’t seem to have any hard feelings about being beat down. He had been given healing, which was somewhat more than he was accustomed to, and then Alric poured drinks into his mouth. For a siege beast, that’s a good day.

TKotBO mentioned their quest for orichalcum, which prompted Gort to call for one of the orcs’ treasures. It was a globe of orichalcum, outlined in curved bars with thin wire in between. The party was properly impressed. Jed made an offer to trade many “goblin cigarettes” for the thing, which drew a laugh from Gort. “We can’t sell it, that don’t mean we don’t know it’s expensive.”

Eventually, Gort offered to show the party what the orcs “farmed”. He led the party, and the horde of orcs, down the hall to a large room. On the right, there was a profusion of hanging chains, pulleys, and cranes, with an elderly goblin moving among them with an oil can doing maintenance. On the left, they saw Mongo’s nesting place. In the center, the floor fell away into a dark well, perhaps thirty feet across.

Everyone looked over the edge into the impenetrable darkness. TKotBO could sense that the pit was just chock-full of supernatural beings, including demons.

Gort called for a lit torch, which was passed up quickly. He tossed it over the edge. As everyone watched, the torch tumbled for around a hundred feet, then was suddenly snuffed out. The way the torch went out was strange; it didn’t seem to go out like you would expect if it had, for example, fell into water, but the distance was too great to be sure.

“May I?” Jed asked, making as if to drop a second torch.

“Go ahead,” Gort said. “We do it all the time.”  As Jed leaned over, he added, “It makes them mad.”

The bard used his magic to enhance his vision, and threw the torch over. This time, he could see something like hands of darkness reaching out to take the torch. Comparing notes with TKotBO, they combined their knowledge of demonology and thaumatology, concluding that they were seeing the work of Demons From Beyond The Stars.**

Gort and Nort, the elderly goblin, explained further. The orc band’s main occupation was “farming” this pit. They had found it, full of darkness and demons. (“But they’re thicker towards the bottom,” one of the goblins confided.) The demons had apparently occupied the pit since the days of the fall of the dwarves, since the pit was still full of ancient dwarven treasures. They would tie ropes around searchers, then lower them into the pit to grab what they could, before the demons gathered to tear them apart: high risk, high reward.

The party met one goblin slave who had made the trip.  “Three times,” he proudly announced. He described the general outline. The pit descended for some distance before opening into a wider shaft. That shaft was surrounded by balconies and ancient dwarven apartments.

TKotBO announced that his destiny would be to go down in that hole, but not today. It would have to wait for proper preparations. Strategy. Gear. Planning, and contingency planning.

“There’s treasure down there?” Gabby asked. This was confirmed.  “Give me a rope,” she said. The orcs cheered.

A crane was brought up to anchor Gabby while TKotBO and Jed tried to talk her out of going in. Alric’s response was more direct: he took his ax to the crane, citing its untrustworthy technological nature. As everybody passed around a “is the barbarian drunk?” look, Gort had Mongo and Alric led away for more drinks, while Nort had a replacement crane brought up.

Gabby could not be talked out of making the descent. Taking one of the party’s enchanted torches, she waved off her comrades and rappelled into the pit. When she hit the section where the wall fell away, she free-climbed across the blocks to get a better look at the situation before jumping in. This turned out to be wise, as she found three zombies standing over a corpse on the nearby balcony. There was no rail along the edge, but she could see the holes where they had likely been anchored. It seems that the wooden railing and stairs had rotted, or been torn, away.

Scrambling back, she reported what she had seen. TKotBO still protested against any further descents until they had improved their situation. Of course, Alric and Jed declared that they had to make the trip, too. TKotBO was talked into supporting Alric’s rope, so the barbarian wouldn’t have to depend on evil technology. The three descended.

Gabby repeated her free-climbing escapade, but Alric and Jed couldn’t match her performance. They swung around to get a grip on the edge of the balcony, while Gabby flanked the zombies, dropping in behind them. The party members tossed one of their enchanted torches on the corpse to better light the scene for the fight with the zombies.

To their surprise, the corpse rustled when hit. Then, three creatures shot from the corpse towards the delvers’ faces. Leaping leeches!

Gabby side-stepped hers, which splatted against the wall and was rapidly stepped on. Jed was barely on the edge when he saw the leech flying towards his face, so he simply stepped back one step and let the rope take his weight. The leech sailed out into the darkness to fall to the bottom of the shaft.

Alric’s leech, on the other hand, hit him squarely between the eyes. It rared back and tried to drive its fangs into his skin… and failed. Northern barbarian hide is some pretty tough stuff. Seeing that it was harmless, Alric ignored it for the rest of the fight.

…which was really short. Gabby put her rapiers through one zombie’s head multiple times. The other two were tricked and/or shoved over the edge, following the leech. The three happily looted the corpse, finding some unexceptional armor and one quite exceptional gold ring***, set with a piece of polished amber. They tugged on their ropes and returned topside.

The orcs cheered to see that all three had lived. Gort happily slapped them on their backs and said, “Next time, we’ll talk about payment for a dive.”  Apparently, first trip’s free.

The party parted ways with the orcs on good terms, trading final toasts and promising to return with trade goods. They quickly returned to the familiar areas of the dungeon. This time, rather than trying to climb around the pit trap that claimed Rho’s life, they sent Gabby on ahead to fetch the broken door from the ogre’s room, and used it to bridge the gap. No further injuries occurred.

Hustling back to the stone face where the party met Jim Kadabra, they paused for a moment so Jed could take a closer look. He discovered a live-capture mouse trap behind it, containing a piece of cheese. He tried to steal the cheese, but managed to get his hand caught. Alric had to tear the trap apart to free him.

The party returned to Dobby and the mounts, then made their way back to town without further incident. Each received nearly $1500 as a share, easily enough to pay their bar tabs for the coming week.

* … which did, indeed, earn him the Cool Point for this session…

** And, oh my YES did that get a wide-eyed stare of disbelief. 🙂

*** First gold!


This Party Only Hires Targets

This post over here got me thinking about something I’ve noticed about my PCs: they don’t like hiring folks. I pitched the idea of hirelings at the last session, but nobody bit.

Rather than hire a torchbearer, they got two torches enchanted with Continual Light by the Church. Alric carries one, and I think TKotBO carries the other in the shield hand. When battle starts, Alric needs both hands to grasp his ax, so the plan is that he should drop the torch. Since they’re enchanted, there’s no worry about the torch going out in the muck. I don’t know if the players have thought through a plan for when the fight moves away from the dropped torch, or what happens when they bump into a no-mana zone.

While discussing the plan for disposing of loot, the idea of hiring an agent for such work came up. Considering the mistrust among the party members, I didn’t think anybody would be too keen on handing all the loot over to Mississippi Jed. With Rho gone, I figured they would be happier splitting up the loot pre-sale, then handling their own arrangements for sale. Silly me!  Everybody’s happy with Jed taking away the loot and coming back with five sacks of coins, despite having no firm agreement about handling fees and the like. None that I’m aware of, anyway.

They didn’t know that they would find themselves in the situation when they left town, of course, but at this point, they’ve got to be asking themselves if a few men-at-arms wouldn’t come in handy right now, as they find themselves facing “a couple dozen orcs” in a congested hallway.  They’ve mentioned, more than once, how they’re weak on ranged attacks, but they’ve never considering hiring a local with a bow.

They really could have used a couple of bearers, when they were packing out the stolen fabric. They barely managed to drag it all back to the mounts. They’re really lucky the wandering monster rolls didn’t have them meet the ogre on that trip.

Speaking of the mounts, they bring to mind one place where the party does have a follower. Alric paid points for Dobby, to make him trustworthy, and now they use him to keep watch over the animals. That’s good, honest work, I’m sure – and it keeps me from wiping out all the mounts as soon as the first wandering monster check comes up – but it’s not like Dobby’s on the fast track to management.

The inspiring post brought up a use for hirelings that sounds like it might be really useful for this party: as a source for replacement PCs. Remember, the first replacement PC was Jim Kadabra, who ended up mis-identified as a necromancer, mugged, stripped, and nearly sold as a slave. (There’s even been some idle jokes about every player owing the group their first replacement characters as a sacrifice.) If it had been a case of “Jim Kadabra, who hired on as a scribe and drawer of maps, but now rises to the occasion after the death of his employer, Rho”, I think Kadabra might have survived long enough to introduce himself.

Personally, I’ve always thought the best use of hirelings was filling out the odds when the GM rolls to see who the cave fisher targets, but that’s probably just me…


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