Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Year of the Demon Lord - The Road to Blackstone Ford (Part 2)


A month ago I kicked off my "Year of the Shadow Lord" campaign with about half of Survival of the Fittest; if you want you can read my recap here. A few days ago we got to meet and finish what I was calling "The Road to Blackstone Ford" though we were short one PC. I think myself and the group are getting a better handle on the mechanics and even if I can't keep the terminology straight I can at least keep things moving without too much idleness while we cross-reference the book (I should note it helps that the PCs are all GMs as well and more willing to jump in a look something up while I keep the game running).

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Our Cast:
  • Reudan the Human - played by +Troy Pichelman; Reudan is an orphan and a friar who got abducted by elves due to his better than average good looks, and has now become a priest of the New God....
  • Runt the Orc - played by +Sean Anderson; Runt is (for an orc anyways) a runt, who has lived a hard life and even tried his hand as a town guard. He is now a warrior and a tracker, and perhaps the gruff leader of the group....
  • Holgar Flakkison the dwarf - played by +Brian Ries; Holgar was a warrior and a torturer until he found himself an unlikely convert to the Cult of the New God, within which he is now a priest...
  • Sage the Changeling - played by +Dave Hanlon; Sage looks like an older human woman, but she's really only just into her 20s, Sage may well become the witch that she impersonates, a fact that seems all the more certain now that she has become a magician and necromancer....
  • Fox the Clockwork - played by +Andrew Cady; Fox's sad tale involves a lonely farmer who built a clockwork to deal with vermin but ended up with a surrogate son, unfortunately things don't work out and Fox was the victim of a poorly timed wind-down while trying to rescue his "father" from their burning home. Fox's built-in guile has lead him down the path of a rogue ...
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After banishing the phantasm that had badly injured Ruedan the group we thankful to have no other troubles in the night. Morning finally greeted the group with one fewer member however and Fox was quick to explain that Buckets had left because he had "business to attend to."
Buckets' player wasn't able to make it so I tapped Fox's player to come up with a reason why the goblin was absent in the morning.
Sitting outside the ruined tower they took stock of themselves over breakfast while gathered around the dying embers of last night's fire. Ruedan explained that while he had been unconscious he had received a vision from Astrid herself and believed that he was now blessed by the holy prophet. After the harrowing events of the day before the group all felt a little more capable of handling themselves; after all they say nothing is quite like a trial by fire.

Unfortunately, the smoke from their fire had been seen in the night and early morning and before the group could even finish their breakfast a group of five bandits was upon them. The bandits attacked with limited surprise however, catching only Sage and Runt off guard.
I wanted the bandits to be more than just a force that figured in the first session by way of the ambush, and it seemed reasonable to me that they could locate the group by the smoke their fire gave off. After a Perception Challenge for surprise the bandits only managed to get the drop on two of the group. 
Holgar immediately invoked a blessing on himself and his comrades to aid them during what would be their moments of need. Ruedan, emboldened by his visions during the night called forth divine fire into a beam of celestial light. Unfortunately all he really managed to do was warm one of the archers' codpiece. Fox wasn't close enough for an attack so he attempted to hide, but the mechanical boy picked an odd way to do so, by simply standing still instead. A flurry of arrows followed, wounding Ruedan, before three of the bandits charged the group wielding stout clubs.

Holgar, already showing his prior life's combat experience in his quick reactions denounced one of the bandits. His holy wrath was enough to send the poor bandit to the ground, cowering in abject terror.
Brian scored a 20+ on his Denouncement spell check imposing the Frightened condition and making the target fall prone. There was also a faint smell of urine...
Having recovered from their initial shock Sage and Runt quickly jumped into the action. The old woman called forth a spectral attack of necromantic energies one of the bandits, wounding him. Runt followed up with a brutal attack that eviscerated the man, spilling loops of his guts to the ground and giving Fox an opening.

One of the bandits had taken advantage of the small clockwork's motionlessness to clang an attack off the boy's head. Now Fox returned the favor by using the death of the man's comrade to gain an advantage. The boy clockwork got the bandit to turn and then with the kind of mechanical force expected from a larger construct Fox crushed the man's head with a single well placed and powerful blow. Such was the attack that the man's brains were forced from his eyes, nose, and mouth, a horrifying sight that Holgar would surely remember for some time.

With two bandits down, and both dead by horrific wounds, the previously terrified bandit decided that perhaps this battle was already lost and as soon as he was able to he scrambled to his feet and fled.
I decided that Fox's one hit kill of the bandit warranted a grisly death, and the bandits skull was caved in with such force that the contents burst out through the man's face. Everybody who saw that (the party and the frightened bandit) were called to make a Will Challenge against insanity. Holgar and the Bandit failed. Rather than make Holgar frightened I went directly to an insanity point to emphasize the horror and the novice experience level of the PCs.
The bandit who failed had already been terrified, and so on his turn fled. Holgar's attack of opportunity failed and the man sped off into the forest in a random direct as fast as his feet could carry him.
Now down to just the two archers the group had the clear advantage and pressed the attack as best they could. The first archer was felled under the combined efforts of Sage and Ruedan while Runt chased down the last and beheaded the man with a quick two weapon strike.

The group couldn't see or hear the bandit who had fled and decided he was not worth the effort given the man's state. Instead they set about stripping the bodies of loot as best they could. They managed to salvage three sets of armor and a handful of weapons and some coin. All of which was split up as best as possible between the group, based on their ability to use it.

Such camaraderie would not last however as Sage picked one of the corpses, that of the first to fall bandit who had been eviscerated, and uttered a profane ritual over the man's corpse, finally raising it into her service as an undead minion. Holgar and Ruedan were offended by the idea that the man's soul would be held in the corpse. An argument about the nature of undead servitors ensued as Sage did her best to placate the devotees of the New God by explaining that the undead was just a vessel, and had neither soul nor even true autonomy.
It's nice to have good role players. This whole scene was entirely player driven, and I just sat back and chuckled at how quickly teamwork devolved into antagonism drive largely by Ruedan's zealous nature.
Runt couldn't have cared less and instead set about finding a tree to climb and locate the direction of the road relative to their camp. Clearly the most decisive of the group in matters not related to the New God, Runt lead them to the road and then cautiously toward Blackstone Ford. They were wary of further bandit attacks, but they also knew that their was by far the fastest way to reach the safety of their destination.

After several hours the group was ready to stop for a quick rest and some provisions. At the same time Fox located a small side path that led off into the woods. It did not seem to be one heavily used, but while the others ate the little clockwork snuck off to see what lay down that path. About three quarters of a mile off the road Fox found a small home of rough wood and sod roof. Inside he spied an old woman bustling about a kitchen full of herbs. The clockwork then jumped to conclusions and rushed back along the path.

The clockwork's absence had been noticed and he ran into Runt and the others on the path. He claimed to have found an old hag working magic.  Runt wasn't buying what the clockwork was selling however, and distrusted the accuracy of Fox's news. The group decided to check out this old woman and see what was truly what.
Again, a large chunk of this was PC drive RP that I only needed to carefully intercede in with regards to attempts to lie and discern truth. It's nice to have quality players. 
At the home Sage quickly decided the best course of action was to simply knock and introduce themselves to the old woman. Rena, as they would come to know the woman, was a holistic healer and more than happy to help some down on their luck travelers. While Fox skulked about pilfering innocuous items Rena mixed up a poultice from eleven natural herbs and spices that healed the organic members of the party fully.
Jokes were made (you can see one of them below) about the healing poultice. I decided that even though clockworks are "living" that certain kinds of treatment wouldn't be able to help them, and so Rena was unable to help Fox. It's not that I wanted to punish Andrew, I just like the idea that clockwork are functionally "robots" and feel that what works for them may not work for more traditional living targets, and vice versa. For his part Fox decided to help himself, and stole a pair of crystals. 
When pressed what they could possibly do to repay the woman's kindness Rena finally relented and asked them to deliver a hot pot of medicine to the innkeeper at the Blackstone Ford Inn. She also implied that the cure may be for a condition not entirely without some awkward social impact. Finally the group bade farewell to Rena and made their way to Blackstone Ford at last...
We were at just past 11 pm so I wrapped it there. I asked what the characters would want to do next, and if wiping out the bandits and ghouls from the forest was something that I should prepare for the next session. While the characters were interested, the players felt that doing so might be a bit mundane and so we agreed that when the next session kicks off a month will have passed and the characters will have dealt with those issues during that time...
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Sage learned another power of the magic bone dagger she took possession of (in red) ...

 Crimson Bone Dagger 
  • Necromancy implement (can be used to discover the tradition)
  • Grants a +1 to all spell checks for Necromancy spells
  • Lifestealer - Your recovery rate is reduced by 1. So long as the dagger has "fed" on at least one recovery its blade is preternaturally sharp and deals 1d6 damage instead of the usual 1d3 damage. This lasts until after a rest. 
  • ?? 
  • ??
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Notes to self:

As only the second session of play I was still unsure of how combat would pace out. Since the character had camped in a ruined tower and made a fire I decided to start the session off with an ambush during breakfast since the PCs' fire would have alerted the bandits to their location.

I continued to lean heavily on the gore, and the impact of horrific sights, I'll do less of that as the campaign advances but there are new characters and seeing skulls explode should still affect the PCs IMO.

I also realized that I need to keep my adventures snappy. With sessions lasting 2.5-3 hours tops I cannot rely of getting more than perhaps 3 scenes and a combat.

  • Keep leaning on the horror aspect in even mundane combat for novice PCs
  • Keep combat as snappy as possible. Use RP to allow for enemy morale and such to impact play.
  • Keep the adventure moving, leverage the players to cross check rules.
  • Know your players and your adventure and plan only the most needed of scenes, other scenes will come from your players natural role-play.
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Memorable Quotes (as recorded by the players)


Holy crap he just tore that guy in half! --- CRACK! - Fox using trickery to gain the upper hand on a bandit before bashing their brains out, literally

"I expect Buckets to pop out like a Pinyata." - Runt after eviscerating a bandit

"Have we found Sage's mom's house?" - Ruedan upon seeing the "rustic" home of Rena the healer

"I assure you, woman, these men cannot fly," Fox says.
"Oh, you funny mechanical boy." 
- Fox making a joke after Rena dismisses Runt as being too "flighty" to learn her healing arts

"Who should we say this package is from?" Sage asks.
"My name is Renna."
"I would have guessed Sandra"
- Troy, making a deep cut Col. Sanders joke based on the 11 herbs and spices Rena used to make her healing poultices...

"We've got some very important genital warts creme to deliver now..." - Runt didn't seem to think much of the favor the old woman Rena asked in return for the gifts of her healing arts