Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Ruins of Ramat (part one)

What follows is a (poor) write-up of my first solo adventure using the Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells (4S) ruleset and the OSR adventure The Ruins of Ramat.

The party consisted of Razik (warrior), Zanib (magic-user), Kit (specialist), plus Marat and Sim (two hirelings)

The clouds parted briefly and silvery moonlight shown down illuminating the rocky overhang. Razik pulled the vines back to reveal a hole in the side of the hill. Griba the Toothless was right. This must be the entrance to the ancient ruins of Ramat.

"Light a torch," Razik ordered and Marat, one of the hirelings, complied. The flickering light revealed a steeply slanted shaft descending at least fifteen feet before disappearing from view.

Q: Do they take precautions of tying Kit's rope? (Very likely - Roll: 15. Exceptional yes, so rope is secure).

Kit tied one end of her rope to a tree near the hole and then tossed the coil down the shaft. "I'm first," she said, grabbing the torch from Marat with a wink.  (During character creation, Kit's complication came up as addiction to adrenaline, so of course she wanted to jump in the hole first…)

Q: Does Kit make it down successfully? Because of the tied rope, she gets a -5 modifier to her Agility check roll: 4, success)

Eight eyes tracked the acrobat's descent. Hiding in the darkness, the crab spider moved into position over Kit.

Q: Does the crab spider attack Kit before the others come down? (Very likely - Roll: 18. Yes)

Q: Does the crab spider get a surprise attack? Kit must make an agility check - roll: 16, fail. Spider attacks with surprise. Party members will be there in d3 rounds: roll: 3. (*mistake - after the fact, I realized that the others could have been there in 1 round based on the game's movement rules…sorry, Kit!)

My 4S conversion of the Basic/LL Crab Spider: 2HD, bite does 2hp damage plus d4 Physique damage (onset in 1 Turn and lasting for 24 hours); Physique test negates poison….

Just as she reached the bottom of the shaft, Kit screamed in fright as the monstrous arachnid lunged out from the darkness. She fumbled for her sword but could not get the weapon out of the scabbard before the monster was on her. Fangs sank into flesh…

Surprise attack: Spider hits (14) for  1 hp damage. Kit's physique check: 16, fail. Suffers -1 physique in 1 turn.

She screamed for help as she tried to break free from the horror. Razik and the rest scrambled down as fast as they could.

Round 1: Spider hits Kit again (14) for 1 hp damage. Physique check: 17, fail. Suffers -4 physique in 1 turn. Kit attacks and misses (14). Downgrade luck die and attack again (16 , misses again - damn!)

Round 2: Spider hits Kit again (17) for 1 hp damage. Physique check: 9, fail. Suffers -3 physique in 1 turn (The spider has now injected so much venom that her physique will go negative next turn - this means death). Kit attacks (20) and misses. (I didn't employ crits and fumbles this time. Seemed overkill given her situation…)

Round 3: Razik drops to the ground and attacks (16,9) and hits the spider for damage (4). The spider only had 4 hp, and is dead.

Marat and Sim kicked at the dead arachnid as Razik knelt beside Kit. The young girl looked up with pleading eyes, unable to speak as the poison took hold.

"Go swiftly to Crom." Razik plunged his dagger into her heart and the suffering ended.

The musty smell of decay was thick in the halls. Ancient cobwebs were brushed aside as the group made their way deeper into the ancient ruins. The Collector had offered a princely sum for the fabled Spear of Ramat.

Razik led the party down a long corridor, passing a number of empty alcoves to either side. The warrior kept a wary eye out for anything lurking in the shadows thrown up by the flickering torchlight.

Moving into a large chamber at the end of the passage, their eyes were immediately drawn to murals of men in armor locked in combat with foul demons. One depicted a man resplendent in golden armor, wielding a spear against a demon lord.

"I guess we're in the right place," Sim said.

Suddenly from out of the darkness animated skeletons leaped at them with sharp fingers and clicking teeth. Behind them a dark, shadowy figure hovered with eye slits burning red.

(To be continued…..)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells

So, after more than half a year's hiatus, I think I finally found the catalyst to kickstart my solo-gaming - Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells. I came across this game several weeks ago (I think maybe I heard about it on the Old School Blues podcast), and after reading the rules had any instant connection with the swords and sorcery vibe which the rules imparted.

I'm not one to switch back and forth between game systems. I have played Basic or Labyrinth Lord forever and never felt any need to try anything different. But there is something about the Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells system that seems to fit with the type of S&S game I'd like to run / play in. So what do I like about the game?

  • Only three classes: Warrior, Magic-User, and Specialist (kinda miss the cleric, but then again, not so much….)
  • Love the scalable power level that magic-users can apply to their casting. I guess it's similar to DCC, but seems less gonzo to me…
  • Warriors seem to be pretty badass (at least in initial play testing) assuming they have a relatively good Physique score and use their weapon of choice
  • Positive and negative dice
  • Luck dice and complications as part of character development

And a lot more… But of course like any good DM, I have a list forming of potential house rules. More to come on that....

But most importantly, SS&SS has got my gaming interest piqued again. And for that I am grateful!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Return from the Azure Pits

Ale and wine flowed freely at the back table of the Bone House, but the mood  was not light. The party's mission into the Azure Pits to recover the stolen Cloud Gem was a success and the plans of the cultists of the Blue Dark were thwarted. But the artifact of Durik's order was recovered at a heavy price….

Art by the Great One
Poor Boarface was the first casualty. While walking along a ledge deep in the caves of the Azure Pits, the porter was caught by the sticky filaments of a pair of cave fishers and hauled up into the darkness. His screams were brief and with no way to reach him, the party moved on. His loss was especially tough for Fretta.
Then Durik fell, struck down by the spiked club of a one-eyed cave troll. It was to aid the cleric and his church that the party ventured into the darkness of the Azure Pits. But the other clerics of the Order, Therapon, Rhea, and Karpos convinced the party to continue, reminding them of the uncut sapphires that gave name to the Pits.

Shortly after the loss of Durik, a six-eyed cave hunter pounced on the party and Imorfin the elf was killed. The loss of his brother-in-arms stunned  the party's leader, and Thowin spoke to his companions again about their desire to continue. They voted to carry on.

After surviving a few more encounters the party found what they sought in a huge chamber deep in the heart of the Azure Pits. The foul cultists of Nag-Roop were in the middle of performing a ritual, the Cloud Gem held high, as a black tentacled monstrosity from the bottom of the Pits was called forth.

Art by Matt Morrow
The final battle ensued, and this time luck was with the party. The ritual was stopped and the cultists were killed. The Cloud Gem was retrieved, and the foul, tentacled beast was sent back into the Pits. Unfortunately, young Bursus was caught and dragged down into the darkness.

Having completed their objective, although at great cost, the party began the long trek back to Enharza….

Back in the Bone House mugs and goblets were raised, toasts given, and sorrows washed away. But what next for the companions.....

Foes Defeated
Treasure Recovered
5 Orcs
Helm of Protection +1
3 Rock Beetles
2800gp of uncut sapphires
7 Cultists of The Blue Dark
Spell book (3 spells: Allure, Magic Missile, Magic Mouth)
3 Necrotic Leeches
Sword +1
Crab Spider

7 Skeletons

One-eyed Cave Troll

Cave Hunter

Tentacled Horror of Nag-Roop

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Azure Pits (part 1)

Thowin Four Fingers, a fighter, and his torchbearer, Boarface
Imorfin the elf
Durik the cleric
Fretta the Dark, a thief
Balork the Medium, a magic-user and Bursus, his man-at-arms
Karpos, Rhea, and Therapon, clerics of Laex
Shaz, a horse handler

Recap: Durik's order, The Temple of Laex, has asked for help in their struggle against the Order of the Blue Dark, a group of cultists who worship Nag-Roop, minor demigod of the Underdark. The cultists of Nag-Roop have stolen the Cloud Gem from the Temple of Laex, and now plan to destroy the minor artifact in service to Nag-Roop.

Durik's brothers and sisters have learned that the dark ritual will take place in the Azure Pits, an entrance to the Underdark in the Dwarven Hills to the west (Hex 00.04).

The Temple of Laex has sent three clerics to aid the party. They know the way to the Azure Pits, having 'coaxed' the information out of a captured Blue Dark cult member. The Order of the Blue Dark has a full day head start so time is of the essence.

Moonday, 24 Harvester

Art by DRB
We rejoin the party as they pass through the gates of Enharza , heading to the west in the early morning light. Durik discusses the evils of the Order of The Blue Dark with Karpos, Therapon, and Rhea, as he rides alongside his fellow brothers and sister of Laex. Thowin and Imorfin lead the party, having been instructed to head to the Dwarven Hills likely a two day ride from Enharza.

There had been some discussion about exactly why the party was aiding Durik's church since the Order had made it clear their coffers were basically empty. But Durik had talked Thowin and Imorfin into helping with promises of finding caves of sapphires in the Azure Pits. After all, the caves got their name after the colorful gems, which supposedly littered the tunnels to the Underdark. At least the Head Priest of Laex did provide each member of the party with a healing potion, even the retainers.

The adventurers fell silent as the miles passed beneath the horses' hooves. Before long Moonday was drawing to a close and it was decided to make camp for the night.

Godsday, 25 Harvester

The night passed without incident and the party was on the road early. They encountered a pack of wild dogs later in the day, but the animals seemed uninterested in the group. The party didn't provoke the dogs, and soon they were out of sight.

They reached the Dwarven Hills in the early afternoon and pushed on to the west, following the direction of Karpos, brother of Laex. The moon was already rising as dusk fell and they decided to make camp for the night. Just as they were about to stop, up ahead in a clearing they saw  a number humanoids engaged in a fight with a huge, winged beast.

Art by Ben Maier
In the fading light Imorfin's keen eyes made out a band of orks swinging stone axes at a giant owl, as the winged predator hovered just out of reach. It seemed to the elf that the owl was the attacker, as the orks ducked and dived, avoiding the sharp talons of the giant bird. One unfortunate ork tripped in the chaos and the owl was upon him in an instant. The winged beast leapt again into the air, its great wings flapping hard and taking it up into the the night sky. A few of the remaining orks on the ground pulled out crude bows, but the owl was already out of range. It crossed the moon, ork still flailing helplessly in its clutches, before disappearing into the darkness.

(On my random encounter tables I have a less frequent entry which is monster v. monster. In the few times when it does pop-up, I always find it interesting to see which two entries from the table will get drawn up against each other and to imagine how they stumbled upon each other. So when the rolls came up with orks and the giant owl for the last encounter check of the day, this image came immediately to me - a giant owl on a hunting mission at dusk.

The party ends up scattering the orks who are already rattled after the surprise of the owl attack. I ruled that it was 'very unlikely' they would return during the night, but Mythic had other ideas. I rolled a 02 which is an exceptional yes - they do come back, and with numbers!

Luckily the orks arrive during Imorfin's watch and the elf sees them coming with his infravision. Thanks to Balork's sleep spell and some high attack rolls, the party deals with the orks, sustaining only minor injuries.)

(To be continued...)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Hemming and Hawing

Even though it has been forever and a day since I last posted, I have continued to play and the game (story) has moved along quite a bit since my last post. No spoilers, but a lot has happened to our brave band of adventurers in their quest to recover the stolen Cloud Gem from the cultists of Nag-Roop. They've followed the cultists deep into the Azure Pits and (ok, minor spoiler) not all in the party will return to the surface…

But the purpose of this post is to try and articulate the continuing difficulties I've had with writing up the session summaries. When I first started exploring the idea of solo play, I did a bit of research on various blogs covering the subject. On one blog (unfortunately I cannot recall which) I read that session summaries were an integral part of solo play. BUT, that they should be kept short - max a paragraph or so. I agree with this (although I find a paragraph is TOO short), and I have thought about ways to 'shorten' but haven't had any luck…
Artist unknown

Then I realized that the whole reason I play this game is for the story that develops organically from the rolls of the dice, use of random tables and my interpretation of them, etc. I have my notebook with my scribbling and various rolls and whatnot, but I also want to take a stab at putting in the extra effort to convey the images going on in my head as I play. This isn't an exercise in creative writing (Lord knows that's a stretch with me), but I do want to try and tell the story. Who knows, my kids might find it interesting one day when they get old enough.

So, I will move ahead and try and 'catch-up' with the current story. I'll try and focus on presenting scenes that I find most interesting, including commentary of how choices were made, which randomizers I used, etc. Then I will use a very abbreviated, 'fast-forward' format to connect to the next important scene.

Hopefully this format will work and writing session summaries will no longer be the bottleneck it currently is!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Order of the Blue Dark

So what does the party do next?

I must admit that I am getting antsy for the party to explore more of the Southern Isles so I can found out what else is out there. While I think the city exploration of Enharza is working out just nicely, I would like to flesh out more of the sandbox. But even though I, as DM/Player, am getting a little bored of the party's exploration of the same dungeon, I want the story to emerge organically. Therefore I won't decide what the party does but rather create a table of likely actions and let the dice guide the way.

Despite my feelings I figured given their recent haul, a return to Stonehell was a likely option for the party. They know the location and are amassing some knowledge of what is where in the dungeon. And very importantly, they know there is treasure to be plundered.

Certainly I want to have the option for the discovery of new leads as well. This is really how the sandbox will be fleshed out. And Durik and Balork have each already come up with possible story lines during their exploration of the city. Maybe Durik would convince the group to aid the Order of Laex. Or maybe Balork's thief would be the one to pop up…

So in the end, I came up with the below d8 table to roll on:

1-3 Continue exploring Stonehell
4-5 Look for new leads
6-7 Decide to help out Durik's church
8 Visit from Balork's thief (or his partners)

And……..I rolled a 7. So Durik is able to convince the rest of the party to aid Laex. So what all did the cleric learn from his visit to the temple?

The Southern Isles hex map
Durik's order, The Temple of Laex, has asked for help in their struggle against the Order of the Blue Dark, a group of cultists who worship Nag-Roop, minor demigod of the Underdark. The cultists of Nag-Roop have stolen the Cloud Gem from the Temple of Laex, and now plan to destroy the minor artifact in service to Nag-Roop.

Durik's brothers and sisters have learned that the dark ritual will take place in the Azure Pits, an entrance to the Underdark in the Dwarven Hills to the west (Hex 00.04).

The Temple of Laex will send three clerics to aid the party. They know the way to the Azure Pits, having 'coaxed' the information out of a captured Blue Dark cult member. The Order of the Blue Dark has a full day head start so time is of the essence.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Thoughts on solo-play city exploration

Before play resumes I wanted to reflect a bit on how I think the game is going. I'm definitely still figuring things out as I go along, but overall I am happy with the method that is emerging for the party's exploration of Enharza. I think using the Mythic oracle for question resolution coupled with Rory's Story Cubes and my own d4/d6 tables of potential outcomes is helping to take the play into unforeseen directions, which is great as this is my ultimate goal. But I will continue to look for ways to improve. Some additional reflections…

Tables, tables, and more tables! I've always been a big believer in random tables and I'm now finding that they are an integral part fleshing out the sandbox. I have quite a few stashed away but I am ever on the lookout for more that I can use and tweak.

With seven in the party now (including retainers), each potentially heading in his own direction, there is the danger that the time spent on city exploration can get out of hand. I need to find out how to achieve the goal of allowing the sandbox to develop via random events triggered by character exploration while avoiding the potential trap of developing too many threads and bogging down the overall game.

I am not sure how I will do this, but I am contemplating something like rolling a d4 each visit to determine the max number of character threads for further development that visit. These could be already existing threads or new scenarios based on fresh encounters.

In any event, some of the leads/hooks may never pan out, e.g. the thief that threatened Balork in the Mage's Guild may never be heard from again. Maybe he's rotting in a cell or soon to be executed. Or maybe he's already escaped and is trying to track down Balork….

I'll update the current tables I have developed for city encounters with the possibilities for 'unresolved' threads popping up. But I don't want them hanging unresolved for too long, so I will likely put a (game) time limit on them, before they disappear from the radar screen.

And of course, character attrition may take care of some as well. As much as I am becoming attached to the party, I know most of them won't be around for too long!

Now it's time to figure out which lead the group decides to follow…..