2018-05-26

DF Whiterock Session 5: Jailbreak

Date:

2018-05-25


Weather:

Cool, cloudy


Player Characters:

Seépravir (Archon Shiva), High-Elf Wizard, 150 (+20) points
Garreth (Zuljita), Half-Orc Fighter, 158 (+12) points
Ibizaber (Demented Avenger) Human Thief, 150 (+15) points
Durkerle (M.C. Warhammer) Dwarf Cleric, 150 (+17) points
The Redcap (Humabout), Gnome Bard, 150 (+10) points
Bernard (threethreethree) Human Fighter, 150 (+5) points


Significant NPCs:

Dodger, Cat Familiar
Lyssa, Human Wizard's Apprentice
Hugin, Human Caravan Guard
Katanya, Gnome Wizard
Sapphira, half-elf ranger
14 other prisoners
One-horned minotaur
8 Orcs of the White Talon Tribe


The PCs were in the White Talon Orcs' guardroom at the bottom of the stairs, surrounded by 6 dead orcs.  They'd made it past the previous fight mostly unscathed, and decided to press on to the south, where a prisoner had said the slaves were kept.  But first they needed to rest a bit, and search for treasure, and remove scale armor from orcs, and while all that was happening, the door to the south flew open, revealing a human-sized, one-horned minotaur with a long spear.

The minotaur was as surprised to see the intruders as they were to see him.  He checked his spear at Bernard, who dodged it.  Garreth returned the favor with a thrown knife, which stuck in the minotaur, doing significant but not major damage.  Redcap hurled a brutal insult, which seemed to enrage the minotaur into ineffectiveness for a few seconds.  Ibizaber slowly crept through the shadows, try to get behind the minotaur.  Durkerle ran right up to it and tried to smash it with his mace, but missed.  Eventually the minotaur realized it had thrown away its only decent-sized weapon, and clomped away to the south at high speed.

By the time the PCs caught up to it again, the minotaur had found a two-handed flail, and turned to fight.  Garreth got in a great swing that crippled one of its arms, turning the two-handed flail into an oversized, clumsy, one-handed flail.  But the minotaur was so strong it was able to swing the huge weapon in one hand, and landed a solid blow on Garreth, knocking him out.  Redcap taunted the minotaur into running past all the others to get at him, but the minotaur was heavily wounded and running slowly.  As it ran by, Bernard landed a vicious spear stab to its vital organs, killing it instantly.  While extracting his spear, Bernard noticed a key around the minotaur's neck, and took it.

Durkerle used the scroll of Major Healing that the group had found earlier to heal Garreth to the point where he was no longer likely to pass out, but he still wasn't moving very well.  While waiting for Garreth to wake up, the group searched the minotaur's room.  They found a pile of hay, a two-handed axe, a small urn with a few silver coins hidden under the hay, two levers on the wall, and a peephole looking to the south.  Shining a light through the peephole, Redcap saw a large room to the south, featuring a huge pit subdivided into open-topped cells by vertical wooden bars, with horizontal wooden rails running along the top.  There was also a passage alongside the pit to the south, with open portcullises at the north and south ends of the package.

Bernard tried the minotaur's key, and found that it opened the door to the south.  As the PCs entered the large room, they were seen by some of the prisoners in the cells, who shushed them and asked to be rescued.  One prisoner, a beefy young man named human, bore heavy wounds, but asked to be thrown a weapon.  Garreth tossed him a broadsword.  Meanwhile Durkerle got out some rope and started lifting the nearest prisoners out of the pit to freedom.  Dodger the cat apparently knew where his mistress was, and ran across the narrow beams toward the southeastern corner of the room.

But Ibizaber couldn't resist playing with the levers, and when he pulled the south lever down, the south portcullis came down with a loud crash.  A few seconds later, an orc guard appeared in the south end of the room.  He yelled in orcish for reinforcements with crossbows.

Seépravir then came up with a plan: cast Missile Shield, Levitation, and Infravision on Ibizaber, then send him flying toward Lyssa to rescue her.  Redcap went running back to the guard room to fetch crossbows.  Bernard and Gerreth took cover.

Eventually, a squad of eight orcs appeared in the south of the room, six with long hooked polearms and two with crossbows.  Both orcs with crossbows fired at Ibizaber, the nearest target, and both missed thanks to Missile Shield.  Ibizaber flew down into Lyssa's cell and picked her manacles, while Dodger ripped out her gag.  Lyssa rose to her feet and cast a Light spell on one of the orcs, spotlighting the group for the PCs.  Then Ibizaber helped Lyssa to the top of the cells, and steadied her as she ran north toward freedom.

Both orcs with crossbows got off second shots at Ibizaber, and both missed again because of Missile Shield.  Bernard loosed a bolt at one of the other orcs, and got a solid hit.  Two orcs tried to give chase across the beams, but both fell, one into an empty cell, the other into a group of five prisoners.  Hugin, in the adjacent cell, passed the broadsword over to one of the prisoners, and they dispatched the orc.

The remaining six orcs decided the battle wasn't going their way, and ran out the door in the southeastern part of the room.  Seépravir started levitating Ibizaber toward a manacled female gnome prisoner who might be another wizard.  At that point most of the PCs decided it was time to run, with just Lyssa and the two other prisoners that had been roped up, leaving the remaining prisoners behind.  Lyssa wasn't having it, though.  She knew where the orcs kept ladders, in a storeroom to the west, and asked that the portcullises be raised so she could get to them.  A female elf prisoner managed to climb out of her cage and help, and they got some ladders and started herding the other prisoners out.  The PCs grudgingly helped, and managed to get all 18 prisoners out.

At that point they heard the sound of pursuit, so the group ran up the stairs, dodging tripwires, with Garreth dragging one orc corpse behind because he really wanted its scale armor.  Ibizaber used his lockpicks to lock the door at the top of the stairs, and then the group headed for the stables.  They rounded up 13 horses and two slave wagons (with cages and manacles), then headed for Cillamar.  The orcs didn't pursue.

When the ragged band of prisoners and rescuers reached the King's Gate, the guards were a bit thrown off.  They recognized some of the horses and some of the prisoners, and called for their Lantern Guard captain, who in turn had the whole group brought to the Lord's Gate Citadel for questioning.  At that point we broke for the night.


GM's Comments:

We got all 6 players today.  Which is great, but also difficult, because it's that much more talking and that much less screen time for everyone.

This session started okay, with a many-on-one fight against the minotaur, but once the PCs found the prisoners, everything went off the rails.  Ibizaber's curiosity got the better of him and he couldn't resist playing with levers, which dropped a portcullis, which made noise, which alerted the orcish guards.  At that point a 6-on-8 battle, with a bunch of prisoners in the middle, was inevitable.  The PCs were very fortunate that the orcs only had two crossbows, and that they weren't smart enough to catch on to Missile Shield very quickly, or agile enough to run across the tops of the cells reliably.

The 6 PCs had about 8 different plans between then, and then the 14 prisoners added a few more, so that scene was total chaos.  I figured that playing it out one second at a time with that many characters involved would take multiple sessions, and the players wouldn't stand for that, so I did some 5- and 10-second turns and some fast-forwarding, but I fear this confused some of the players.  Plus, only two of the PCs (the ones with Infravision) could see the whole room.  The PCs were lucky that the orcs rolled a critical failure on a morale check and went for reinforcements.

At the end of the session, there was a lot of whining about the trip home, the scene at the gate, being taken to the citadel for interrogation, etc. so I cut things a bit short.  So, rather than the PCs getting a chance to roleplay their return, I'll just dictate what happened offscreen between sessions.  I don't like that, but I don't think the players want to spend the first hour of next week's session doing that stuff either.

Intra-party conflict and dissatisfaction with the game's style cost us a player after this session.  But we recruited a new player from our waiting list.  So, next week we'll be starting in town, with PCs being able to spend the character points and money they've accumulated over the first five sessions.  And then, with their initial rescue mission completed, the PCs will have to figure out what they want to do next.

2018-05-20

How Many Points to Give New PCs in an Existing Game?

The initial batch of characters for DF Whiterock started at 150 points.  (For this post I'm just going to focus on positive points: I'm ignoring points from disadvantages, negative attributes, quirks, and the bonus language at Accented.)

Four weekly sessions in, the most experienced PCs are at 170 points.  Though, other than the Knight with his ability to buy weapon skills at any time, they haven't actually managed to spend any points yet, so it's really more like 150+20.

There's a possibility that next week the PCs will actually manage to return to the town of Cillimar, where they can spend character points and money.  When they get there, it's possible that we will see some new PCs, either due to a new player joining, an existing player wanting to try a different character, or an existing player being forced to try a different character.  (Cue ominous music.)

Through 4 sessions, we've seen 6 PCs played at least once.  So far, everyone has earned 5 points for each full session, 2 points for each partial session, and 0 points for each missed session.  (Don't assume it'll always work that way, though.  There will be bonuses when the PCs accomplish something significant.)  So we have two 170-point characters, one at 167, one at 165, one at 160, and one at 155.

So, now that the original PCs have picked up some experience, it's time to think about how many points new PCs should start with.

There are two extremes that I don't really like.  One is "everyone starts at 150 forever; deal with it."  That's very simple, and brutally fair, and works okay in games with a flatter difficulty curve.  But this dungeon gets much harder as the levels get deeper, and I don't want to send 150-point characters to their doom.  The other is "new PCs get the exact same points as veteran PCs."  That yields a nice balanced party, but removes any real penalty for getting your PC killed, and might even give an incentive to retire PCs and make new ones.  Feels unfair and wrong to me.

The first idea I had is that a new PC gets barely fewer points (maybe 1 less, maybe 5 less) than the least experienced active PC.  The trick here is what counts as "active."  Does a PC who's still in the game but not playing much hurt the starting points of every other new PC?  What if a player toggles between 2 PCs; does that reduce starting points for other new PCs?  That feels not so fun to think about.

The next idea I had was to just give some bonus points to new PCs, based on how deep the party has reached, or significantly explored, or cleared.  (Probably significantly explored, as giving points for just touching a dungeon level and running back upstairs seems silly.  And requiring totally clearing levels seems a bit harsh, especially if there are hard-to-find secret bits, or if restocking happens.)  So if I give 5 points per dungeon level, and I decide the current group has significantly explored level 1 and just started level 2, maybe new PCs start at 155 points.  I worry that this might leak some information to the players, like how much of a level they've explored, or what counts as a level versus a sub-level.

Another idea is to base the points for new PCs on the most experienced PC, rather than the least experienced.  For example, say you get half as many earned character points as the most experienced PC in the game so far.  So, with the most experienced players so far having earned 20 points, a new PC would get 10, added to the starting 150, for 160 points total.  One thing I like about this is that it scales well to total party kills, by just using the most experienced PC ever, rather than the most experienced current PC.  One thing I don't like about it is that it's possible that a new PC would get more points than a current but not very active PC.  What do we do to the inactive PC at that point?  Give out free points to give parity with a new character?  Or just say "tough?"

A final thing to consider is equipment.  New PCs typically start with $1000 worth of gear, unless they spend points for Wealth or extra cash.  DF/DFRPG default characters are 250 points and still only get $1000, so I guess it's reasonable to have starting PCs not get any more money, at least for a while.  I'll revisit this if the game reaches the point where new PCs start well above 250 points.

So far I've listed a bunch of options, but not really picked one.  Because I figure I have at least a couple of weeks, and might have better ideas in the meantime.  And when this actually matters, I might just wing it.  Maybe I'll update this post when we actually have a new PC join beyond the 150-point level.

Update: We're adding a new PC this week, with the continuing PCs at 163 to 178 points.  The new PC is starting at 160 points.

2018-05-19

DF Whiterock Session 4: Orc Ambush

Date:

2018-05-18


Weather:

Cool, cloudy


Player Characters:

Seépravir (Archon Shiva), High-Elf Wizard, 150 (+15) points
Garreth (Zuljita), Half-Orc Fighter, 158 (+7) points
Ibizaber (Demented Avenger) Human Thief, 150 (+10) points
Durkerle (M.C. Warhammer) Dwarf Cleric, 150 (+12) points
The Redcap (Humabout), Gnome Bard, 150 (+5) points


Mostly-Inactive Player Characters:

Bernard (threethreethree) Human Fighter, 150 (+5) points


Significant NPCs:

Dodger Cat familiar
6 Orcs of the White Talon Tribe

The session began in a room behind the ruins of Castle Whiterock, where the hopeful heroes had just defeated a skeletal owlbear.  Redcap, who had been readying the horses in the nearby stable in case the group needed to make a quick escape, wandered in.  After taking a few seconds to catch their breath, they had several choices of where to explore next: a pile of rubble to the west, a door to the east, a pair of double doors to the south, or a hard-to-open secret door to the north.  Or they could double back west into the outdoor portion of the ruined castle.

The cat seemed to want them to go east, and, after some discussion, most of the party seemed to trust the cat.  Ibizaber tried the door, but it was locked.  He immediately picked the lock and opened the door.  It led to some dark, wide, steep stairs heading down.

That started another discussion.  Durkerle said it was dungeoneering common sense to finish exploring the first level before going down to the second level.  Everyone else seemed willing to take the risk, since they were pretty sure the person they were here to rescue was down the stairs.  After much debate, they started down the stairs, with Bernard staying behind to guard their backs.

Seépravir cast Infravision and needed to rest a bit before casting Hush, but Ibizaber got impatent and walked down the stairs a bit.  He didn't see a tripwire on the stairs, finding it with his foot instead of his eyes, but was dextrous enough to avoid falling.  Ibizaber alerted the rest of the group to the trap, and they discussed whether to disarm it or just avoid it.  The consensus was to leave it there, to possibly catch anyone chasing them.  So they all carefully stepped over the wire.

A few yards down the stairs was another tripwire, but Ibizaber spotted this one before actually kicking it.  They avoided this one too.  Seépravir convinced the others to let her take the lead, and she carefully stepped down to the bottom of the stairs.  When she got there, she stuck her head through a doorway, and saw orcs with glaives to both sides, prepared to ambush.  They clearly had heard the group on the stairs, but Seépravir was silent and not carrying a light, so they didn't time the ambush quite right, and she had a chance to jump back onto the stairs before they got a chance to swing their glaives.

Both orcs pursued Seépravir onto the bottom of the stairwell, trying to introduce her to their polearms.  She dodged, retreated, then cast a Grease spell.  As the orcs followed, neither spotted the invisible grease, and both slipped and face-planted on the steps.  This slowed them down for several seconds and gave the other PCs further up the stairs a chance to move down into position.  As Redcap's light got close enough to illuminate her, Seépravir gestured to the rest of the PCs where the grease was, so that none of them would step into it.

The two-yard radius of grease was enough to keep most of the PCs away from the downed orcs, but Garreth had some throwing daggers and a greatsword.  He got in a moderately effective knife throw, mostly stopped by the orc's scale armor.  Meanwhile Ibizaber was hiding in the shadows, hoping one of the orcs would step next to him so he could backstab it.  Durkerle cast Flaming Weapon on Garreth's greatsword to give the one weapon long enough to swing over the grease some bonus damage.  As the orcs struggled to get up, Garreth moved into greatsword range, and Seépravir (the only one with infravision) noticed a third orc with a glaive running up, and three more orcs with crossbows about 50 feet to the southeast, behind a low rock wall.

The third orc ran right into the unseen grease and went down.  Garreth started slicing orcs.  A couple managed to reach their feet and tried hitting back with their glaives, but failed.  Redcap yelled some insults in Common, which at least one of the orcs understood, as he yelled something back.  This let him know that he could try a Song of Humiliation, which he did soon afterward, stunning one of the orcs.  Ibizaber eye-stabbed the stunned orc with brutal effect.  Eventually Seépravir cancelled the Grease spell to let her allies get at the remaining melee orcs, and Garreth finished them off.

That left the orcs with crossbows, who had been patiently aiming, waiting for their targets to come closer and give them an easier shot.  But as the battle went poorly for their allies by the stairwell, one of the crossbow orcs left his position behind the wall, and ran for a door on the east side of the room.  This was outside of the radius of Redcap's Continual Light stone, so the heroes didn't catch on right away.

Garreth debated between doing All-Out Defense (Dodge) and moving toward the remaining crossbow orcs at half speed, or just sprinting at them at full speed.  He chose the latter.  One of them fired, out of the darkness, and Garreth missed his Perception roll to get a chance to dodge the unseen bolt.  He decided it was a good time to use his Luck, made his Perception roll on the retry, and then barely made his Dodge.  Durkerle and Redcap were behind him, but short enough and lucky enough that the bolt whizzed over their heads.

Garreth decided to jump over the low wall and slam the orc that still had a bolt in his crossbow.  The jump worked, the orc failed to dodge, the slam was effective, and the orc went down and dropped his crossbow.  Meanwhile the orc that had already fired a bolt was picking up a second crossbow.  Redcap and his light source moved forward, finally illuminating the back of the room, where the third crossbow orc was trying to sneak out a door to the east.  Ibizaber snuck around the low wall and backstabbed the orc that was reading a crossbow.  Seépravir, still back by the stairs, pulled out a Concussion scroll and started reading it.

There was a mad scramble between the remaining two crossbow orcs behind the wall, Ibizaber, Durkerle, and Redcap.  The orcs had scale armor so the less-strong combatants had a hard time wounding them, but they also only had crossbows that effectively only got one shot each, and didn't manage to hit anyone before they were disabled.  The three managed to kill one orc and convince the other to surrender.  Seépravir stopped reading her scroll.

Meanwhile Garreth pulled out his moonlight-dim Continual Light rock and chased the fleeing orc down a hallway.  Garreth was faster, but it still took him a while running through unfamiliar territory to catch the orc.  He hit it hard in the back with his greatsword.  It spun around and took one shot with its crossbow, which Garreth dodged.  And then Garreth smacked the orc hard enough to knock it out, and dragged it back to the room where the others were.  The chase revealed a couple of closed doors and a fork in the hallway, but Garreth didn't stop to explore alone.

Back together, the group interrogated the captured orc.  It was another game of good dwarf, bad gnome, as Redcap threatened horrible things and Durkerle talked about less horrible things.  The orc revealed that he was of the White Talon clan, that some human and elf and gnome slaves were held to the south, that his leader was named Kaernga, and that the intruders had better get back up the steps to the surface before they all died.  The orcs were all larger than usual, with milky-white skin and flowing cloaks over scale armor.  Garreth tired of listening and put a crossbow bolt through the prisoner.

At the end of the fight, six orcs had been defeated, and the party had control of the room at the bottom of the stairs.  In addition to the stairs up, the room had the door to the east through which Garreth had chased the fleeing orc, and double doors to the south that had not yet been opened.  Both the orc's information and Dodger the cat seemed to indicate that the slaves they wanted to rescue were to the south, so they prepared to head that way, when we ran out of time.


GM's Comments:

Almost the whole four-hour session was taken up by one battle.  It was a six-on-six battle, with a lot of fancy tactics, so I guess that's not too surprising, but I still wish we could go faster.

Light mattered a lot in this fight.  Seépravir had an Infravision spell, and Redcap had a bright Continual Light stone, but nobody else had a light source out (until Garreth pulled out his Continual Light stone for his solo chase).  The radius of Continual Light was enough to see the orcs in the front, but not the ones in the back.  This almost got Garreth skewered with a crossbow bolt he didn't see, but his Luck gave him another chance.  The orcs seemed to do fine with no light, so presumably they had infravision or Dark Vision.

The Grease spell was quite effective, knocking 3 orcs down, but also kept the PCs back behind it on the stairs, where they couldn't do much.  If they'd had an archer, or a second fighter with a long weapon, they could have done a lot better.

The crossbow orcs were effectively one-shot combatants.  They were big strong orcs with big strong crossbows, so that one shot would have hurt a lot if it hit, but none of them did.  Reloading a crossbow takes 4 seconds (3 with Fast-Draw), basically forever.  Picking up another loaded crossbow takes 2 seconds.  It was touch and go for a while, but once they fired their bolt or dropped their weapons, they were in trouble.

We had some issues with the turn order dialog in Roll20 at the start of the fight.  I could see the turn order for all the players, but most of the players could only see the ones that were newly added after they joined the game.  We eventually got this sorted out, but it cost us a few minutes.  Also, I forgot about the little arrow that shuffles the turn order so the current player is always on top.  I'll remember to use that next time.

Also, Roll20 features two kinds of light radius per player.  I'd been using the inner one for bright light (no darkness penalty) and the outer one for dim light (-3 darkness penalty, negated by Night Vision).  But it turned out the players could only actually see the inner one, which was pretty unfair.  So I changed everyone light radius to just use the outer one, so the players could see better.  If anyone without Night Vision tries to attack beyond the bright part of their lights, I'll try to remember to impose the darkness penalty.  But nobody in this group really attacks at long range, so it probably won't matter much.

We played text-only again, with in-game text in Roll20 and much out-of-game talk in Discord.  Unfortunately Discord seemed to distract players from Roll20, so it took people a while to notice it was their turn sometimes.  I'm not sure what the answer is here.  Maybe if I use the turn order arrow people will track their turns better.  Or maybe we need voice to more easily get people's attention.

Four sessions in, nobody has gone back to town (because they're still actively engaged in a rescue mission), so the unspent character points are piling up.  We'll see if they manage to finish the mission and get back to town next week.

Overall, the PCs were very successful this week.  Two traps evaded and six enemies defeated, with no casualties.  (They came very close a few times, between crossbow bolts out of the dark and brave all-out attacks.)

2018-05-12

DF Whiterock Session 3: Fast-Talking The Slavers

Date:

2018-05-11


Weather:

Cool, cloudy


Player Characters:

Seépravir (Archon Shiva), High-Elf Wizard, 150 (+10) points
Garreth (Zuljita), Half-Orc Fighter, 150 (+10) points
Ibizaber (Demented Avenger) Human Thief, 150 (+5) points
Durkerle (M.C. Warhammer) Dwarf Cleric, 150 (+7) points


Mostly-Inactive Player Characters:

Bernard (threethreethree) Human Fighter, 150 (+5) points
The Redcap (Humabout), Gnome Bard, 150 (+5) points


Significant NPCs:

Dodger, Cat Familiar
Ikenvar, Half-Orc Slaver Leader
Melchin, Human Slaver Monk
Artin, Human Slaver "Monk"
Eggther, Human Slaver "Monk"
Alaster, Human Slaver "Monk"
Will, Human Slaver "Monk"
Blood Hawk
Owlbear Skeleton


The would-be heroes resumed immediately where they left off last session, with Ikenvar, the big half-orc slaver leader they had tricked and ambushed, falling unconscious before he could reach the door he'd been running for, his screams for help unheard because of a Hush spell.  They focused on finishing off Ikenvar and looting his body, but he'd made some noise before he was silenced, and it's possible he had friends nearby.

After a few seconds, the door that Ikenvar had been running for swung open, and out peeked a Slaver "Monk" with a loaded crossbow.  But rather than immediately resuming the fight, Seépravir tried a trick: claiming that Ikenvar and the orcs had been ripping off the other slavers, and the party had been sent from Slaver Command to put him down.

It was an unlikely story, with the roll at a significant penalty, but I allowed the attempt.  And then Seépravir rolled a 3.  Maximum critical success.  A 1 in 216 chance.

That generated an unlikely positive reaction, with the "Monks" allowing the party to finish off Ikenvar, and one of them even adding a crossbow bolt.  Garreth noticed a key hanging from a string around Ikenvar's neck, and pocketed it.  The slavers then looted their former leader's body, pocketing some coins.  But then a loud meow came out of Ikenvar's chamber: another monk had come through the door on the other side, and he wasn't fooled like the others.

Garreth tried some more talking, but it wasn't working on the newly arrived monk, who immediately tried kicking him in the face.  That didn't connect, but neither did the attempt to remove the kicking leg with a greatsword.  The monk then realized he was severely outnumbered, with Ikenvar down and the other slavers duped, and ran back through the door at high speed.  Garreth tried giving chase, but the monk was inhumanly fast and managed to get through the door and slam it behind him before Garreth could catch up.

The party went back out with the duped slavers, who were convinced that the monk from the north tower, named Melchin, was in league with Ikenvar and the orcs.  After some additional promises of shares of treasure, the duped slavers went back to their barracks and back to sleep.  (It still wasn't quite dawn.)  Ibizaber went into Ikenvar's chamber, looking for a secret door leading toward the orcs.  With some help from Dodger the cat, he found it, behind an Everburning Torch.  He took the torch, and pulled down on its sconce to open the secret door, revealing a secret passage behind it.

At that point the rest of the party wanted to chase Melchin, but the door to his tower was locked, and Ibizaber, the one who knew how to pick locks, was more interested in the secret passage.  So they all got to wait a bit while he explored.  He found a door at the end of the secret passage, listened to it, then opened it up and found a big room with two more exits.  Garreth followed Ibizaber in case he got in trouble, and noticed what looked like another secret door off the secret passage.  Neither of them could figure out how to open it, though, so they called in the wizard.  She couldn't find a way to open it either, so they gave up on that secret door for the moment, and convinced Ibizaber to come pick the lock leading to Melchin's tower.

He picked the lock, and behind that door was a 100' tall tower, with half of the first floor remaining about 10' off the ground, and none of the upper floors or the ceiling intact.  Garreth threw a light stone up on the partial floor, but it didn't reveal anything.  Ibizaber climbed up, and found nothing of interest.  Durkerle found a pile of straw under the half-floor, probably an improvised bed, but nothing of interest.  Melchin was gone.

At that point Seépravir cast Levitate on Ibizaber so he could climb the 100' tower without risking death if he slipped.  He climbed all the way up, and reached the top just as dawn broke.  He had a great view of the lake to the north, west, and south of the castle.  Also the bluff to the east, and the other tower atop it.  And a fallen tower to the south.  What he didn't see was a hungry Blood Hawk, flying up behind him looking for a meal.  The Blood Hawk achieved complete surprise and managed to bite Ibizaber's ear, but the bite did minimal damage.  Ibizaber eventually managed to recover from his surprise and get a good stab in with his knife, which was enough to stun the bird.  It fell a bit, recovered, and then got as far away from the unexpectedly sharp prey as possible.  Ibizaber climbed back down.

The group decided to finish off the sleeping monks in their barracks, rather than risking them wising up and deciding to fight.  Seépravir Silenced the doorway, then snuck in, hoping to find all the slavers asleep.  One was awake, though, so she instead told him that Ikenvar's treasure had been found and he should come get his share.  The slaver fell for it again, and got double-ganked by Ibizaber's knife then Garreth's greatsword when he entered the silent area.  Garreth dragged his body out of the way, while Ibizaber tried to sneak up to the sleeping slavers and slit their throats.  But he rolled a 17 on his Stealth roll for a critical failure, which meant two more awake "monks" and another round of leading them outside to their doom.  The final slaver was very sleepy and easily dispatched, and the party didn't mess with the large hornet's nest that was in the corner of the barracks.  (Who sleeps in a room with a hornet's nest?)

They grabbed a few coins and a few more monk outfits and fake holy symbols, then went back to Ikenvar's room to loot it more thoroughly.  They found some coins and gems in a pouch hidden in the fancy bed, some papers in the desk (which told a boring story of inventories of mundane objects, but which Seépravir was pretty sure was some kind of code for slaving transactions), a cleric scroll of Major Healing in a hidden compartment in the desk, and a burned paper in a pot with "Underwood Coffins" barely legible.

At this point Dodger the cat was getting restless and headed down the secret passage, and everyone decided to follow him back to the big room that Ibizaber had found earlier.  Durkerle wanted to try the south door, the cat wanted to try the east door, and the party sided with the cat.  However, when they approached the east door, Durkerle heard a loud sound behind him.

A pile of large bones Ibizaber had earlier spotted in the rubble turned out to be the animated skeleton of a large creature with a beak.  It came after Durkerle and almost managed to skewer him, but he retreated and blocked with his shield and just managed to deflect the blow.  Durkerle got in a pretty good shield bash, then Garreth tried to run up and take its leg off.  He initially missed, but with very little time left in the session decided to use his Luck, and landed a crippling blow.  The huge reanimated bird thing went down hard.  Durkerle got a good smash in with his mace, which did more damage than expected (brittle bird bones?), and that was the end of that.  Seépravir thought it was a reanimated owlbear skeleton, and Durkerle though it might be the work of an orcish cleric.

At that point the delvers were out of time for the session.  They had finished off four more slaver "monks", largely through trickery.  Melchin the high-kicking monk was nowhere to be found.  They also drove off a blood hawk and destroyed some kind of huge bird beast skeleton.  And they'd found a secret door possibly leading toward the orcs that they hoped were still holding Dodger's master Lyssa hostage.


GM's Comments

I expected most of the session to be devoted to a big battle against the slavers, but the critical success on the Fast-Talk roll mostly short-circuited that.  No plan survives contact with PCs.  There were three small quick battles this session: Garreth against Melchin, Ibizaber against the blood hawk, and Garreth and Durkerle against the owlbear skeleton.

The players pulled off an excellent ruse, did some solid exploration, and found some hidden treasure and two secret doors.  So while they covered very little actual ground, they made a lot of progress.

Magical silence was effective again, allowing the PCs to defeat enemies in detail without their allies hearing.

After three sessions, the PCs still haven't gone back to town, because they're uninjured and really want to find Lyssa.  Garreth took advantage of the Knight's privilege of being able to spend points on melee skills at any time to raise his Two-Handed Sword skill, so he's the first PC to progress beyond the starting 150 points.  Everyone else will have plenty of points to spend when and if they ever make it back to Cillamar.

We played text-only this time (the vote was 3-1 with 1 player abstaining) and I think it worked well.  I managed to sort out the Roll20 turn order that gave me trouble last time, and I don't think we had any dynamic lighting issues for once.  So maybe things are coming together technically.

Next time: what's behind the door to the east?

2018-05-05

DF Whiterock Session 2: Whiterock Gatehouse

Date:
2018-05-04

Weather:
Cool, cloudy

Player Characters:

Seépravir (Archon Shiva), High-Elf Wizard, 150 points
Garreth (Zuljita), Half-Orc Fighter, 150 points
Ibizaber (Demented Avenger) Human Thief, 150 points
Bernard (threethreethree) Human Fighter, 150 points

Mostly-Inactive Player Characters:

Durkerle (M.C. Warhammer) Dwarf Cleric, 150 points
The Redcap (Humabout), Gnome Bard, 150 points

Significant NPCs:

Dodger, Cat Familiar
Quintus, Human Wizard and Alchemist
Lady Chauntessa, Human Sorceress and Inn Owner
Lyssa, Human Apprentice Wizard
"Monk" #1, Human Slaver
"Monk" #2, Human Slaver
Ikenvar, Half-Orc Slaver Leader


Ibizaber and Bernard came into the Inn of the Slumbering Drake in Cillamar for dinner, and saw Quintus the aged Alchemist pacing and yelling. It turns out he'd just sent a party of four hired mercenaries and a cat out toward Castle Whiterock to rescue his kidnapped apprentice Lyssa, but he was worried they weren't tough enough. Ibizaber was more interested in beer than rescue missions, but Bernard caught the hint of a decent reward, and agreed to go. Lady Chauntessa gave them a quick sketch map to the Castle, a note of introduction to the other would-be rescuers (written in beautiful calligraphy with silver ink, obviously, because that's how Chauntessa rolls), and some food, and sent them off into the wilderness. They managed to avoid any problems on the way, and made pretty good time.

Seépravir, Garreth, Durkerle, and Redcap, who had been ambushed on the way to the castle and made much worse time, had just entered the castle's unguarded gatehouse when they heard the others coming up behind them. They disengaged from the gatehouse, went back up the entrance tunnel and ran into the approaching reinforcements. The letter convinced them that they were all on the same team, and six adventurers and a cat snuck back toward the gatehouse.

When they got there, it was no longer unoccupied. The small conversation door in the gatehouse door opened, and behind it stood a human male in monk's robes, with a staff and a holy symbol. He explained that the ruins of Castle Whiterock were occupied by the reformed Monks of the Dawning Sun, who were seeking to restart the good works of an ancient order that had once dwelled in the castle. He was guarded but somewhat friendly.

Garreth wasn't buying the whole monk act at all, and pushed the door (the lock to which he had bashed open previously) open and attempted to hold his knife to the monk's throat. The monk was quicker than he looked and jumped back, holding a staff. When the door opened, a previously unseen second monk in the gatehouse was also revealed. A combat quickly ensued, and while six (plus a cat) versus two didn't seem like a fair fight, the monks fought hard and well, while Garreth couldn't make a die roll to save his life. Garreth fought one monk, critically failed, burned his Luck to avoid the fumble roll, got his attacks parried a lot, and got smacked hard several times with a staff. Ibizaber circled around with his knife, looking for an opening, but couldn't really get a hit in. Seépravir cast Grease on the floor under the two monks, hoping to cause them to slip and fall, and warned her allies (and thus accidentally also her enemies) of the spell. Bernard set his heavy spear and waited for a monk to come within range. Durkerle was kept busy healing Garreth. And Redcap mostly held up a light source and watched.

Garreth eventually fell back under the onslaught of the staff, and when the monks followed, Bernard's spear finally got a chance to strike. His first stab to the torso did a bit of damage, but revealed armor underneath the robes. His next stab, to the unarmored face, knocked the second monk to the ground, stunned. Unfortunately, Bernard got a bit cocky and took an All-Out Attack at the first monk, ineffectively. The return staff blow to the skull knocked Bernard unconscious, leaving the heroes with only one (theoretically) effective melee fighter, Garreth.

Garreth and Durkerle backed the standing monk into the corner, while Seépravir cast Glue to keep the stunned monk on the ground. The standing monk critically failed an attack and dropped his staff. Rather than trying to pick it up from the floor, he pulled a glass potion vial out of his robes. At that point some quick negotations ensued, with the monk wanting to escape the gatehouse up a ladder without getting stabbed and threatening to throw the potion at anyone who made any threatening moves, and most of the heroes seeming to be okay with that. Not Garreth though. He stabbed at the monk, the monk threw the potion, and the room got very stinky. Fortunately everyone in range made their resistance rolls against the noxious stink bomb, and proceeded to make short work of the now-unarmed monk. Not wanting to take any chances, Garreth chopped at the downed monk until very sure he was never getting up again.

The monk who had been Glued to the floor eventually passed out struggling to get up, the spell was allowed to expire, and the party dragged the surviving monk back into the tunnel, further from the stench and also from any possible reinforcements.  Durkerle healed Bernard, and then when the monk woke up, the group rather amateurishly interrogated him.  It took a while, but they eventually came to an agreement -- the monk got to leave alive, in exchange for telling the party everything he knew about the area, and drawing a crude map of the castle area.  He revealed that the monks were actually slavers, in league with some orcs who lived underneath the castle, that the monk act was a ruse to have an excuse to use the castle ruins, that the leader was a big half-orc named Ikenvar, and that the stairs down to the orcs were behind a secret door in the center of the castle.  The map was indeed crude:


(The slaver explained that the G was the gatehouse, the T to the east was a tower on top of the bluff, the S was stables, the R was ruins, and the T to the south was a fallen tower.  The central part was the intact central hall of the castle ruins, and the downward pointing arrow was about where the secret stairs down were.  Obviously, he lacked Cartography skill.)

The monk was allowed to go, after his mail shirt and monk's robe were confiscated, but with some surplus light leather armor to keep him from freezing.  Garreth upgraded to a mail shirt, and Seépravir and Ibizaber donned monk's robes and holy symbols as a disguise.

The double doors leaving the gatehouse were barred from the other side, so the party went up the ladder and through the trap door to the roof of the gatehouse, then Ibizaber acrobatically jumped down (it was about ten feet, low enough for a skillful jumper to avoid injury) and unbarred the doors.  Seépravir spotted a trail leading up to the tower, but decided there was no benefit to going that way.  Ibizaber opened the stable door and confirmed it was indeed a stable, with several horses and at least one slave wagon (with a cage and manacles) inside.  Redcap was asked to wait in the stable with the horses and prepare some for an escape.  The rest of the group slowly crept to the west then the south, following Dodger the cat, who seemed to know the way.

They walked past some canvas tents, but the one they examined was unoccupied, and Seépravir urged the group to keep moving while they still had the cover of darkness, rather than slowing to search.  They moved south a bit and found a gap in the inner castle wall.  A bit east of there, they found some stout wooden double doors.  The hinges squeaked, but Seépravir cast a Grease spell, which seemed to help.  The group proceeded into what was left of a great hall of a castle, with no roof, a couple of intact doors to the north, and a couple of gaps in the wall to the south.  Dodger seemed to prefer the northeastern door, so the group went that way and opened it.  The two disguised as monks took the lead, while the others stayed outside.

Inside, they saw a big half-orc lying on a bed.  He had heard the door opening and jumped up.  Thinking quickly, the fake fake monks pretending to be fake monks told the leader that he castle was under attack.  He bought it, scooped up his broadsword, and ran toward the door.  When he got there, he got backstabbed by Ibizaber, left-side neck-chopped by Garreth, and right-side skewered in the vitals by Bernard.  The backstab did no damage, but the other two did very serious damage, and Ikenvar was rolling death checks.  He was a tough guy and rolled very well, though, and somehow didn't go down.  Seépravir, rather than attacking, cast Hush on Ikenvar, and he failed to resist.  His tactic of screaming for help was thus completely ineffective.  He ran a few steps toward the northwest door, but then passed out from his wounds.

We broke for the night at that point, out of time for the session.  The party had stealthily infiltrated the castle under cover of darkness, defeated two guards in the gatehouse, and found and taken down the slavers' apparent leader.  So far so good, but had the fight alerted any others?  Check back next time to find out.

GM's comments:

Garreth rolled hilariously badly during the first fight.  Critical fail on an attack (averted by Luck, meaning no Luck remaining for an hour), then several misses on pretty easy defense rolls.  The fake monks were pretty strong, skillful, and lucky.  And they had mail armor on underneath their robes.  But numbers eventually made the difference.

Redcap's player couldn't make the session, so Redcap guarded the rear then hung out with the horses.  Durkerle's player had to leave early in the session, but the party would have been totally hosed without him, so I NPC'd him as a heal-bot for the rest of the session.  He got in two Major Healings on Garreth (one a critical success that I ruled healed 10 HP instead of 8), and one more on Bernard.  Without that healing, I think the PCs probably would have lost.  Everyone rested up to full FP, but, after all that healing, Durkerle's power item is empty.

Bernard All-Out Attacked once, and it got him knocked out on the next turn.  Major wound to the skull, roll vs. stun at -10, with failure by 5 or more meaning knockout.  Fortunately the staff rolled lousy damage, so it was just a knockout, not a death check.

Taking a couple of monks' robes and holy symbols to impersonate the monks wasn't much of a disguise, but, combined with a plausible story, a sleepy victim, and favorable die rolls, it was good enough to get the drop on the big half-orc.  He was tough, but three on one is just unfair.  And the Hush spell to keep him from screaming for help was a nice touch.  We were out of time, so I decided to avoid normal combat turns and just rolled several consciousness checks in a row for him to see if we could call the battle.  I decided his best tactic was to run for help rather than stand and fight, so I rolled consciousness checks to see if he had any chance of getting anywhere useful.  Two passes then a failure, so he got two Move maneuvers (assuming nobody killed him first), but at half speed due to his severe wounds, so basically one full Move of distance.  That wasn't far enough to reach any reinforcements, and the Hush meant nobody could hear him scream, so I just fast-forwarded the end of the fight against him as "he tries to run toward the northwest door and then passes out."  Then stopped the game there, still in combat time.

Some more Roll20 problems this session: the two new PCs' tokens wouldn't show up in the turn order.  Neither would the monks.  And there were some more darkness issues that had me considering dropping dynamic lighting in favor of just using manual fog of war.

We used voice this session, after going text-only the previous time.  Discord voice seemed to work okay, though there were some echoes and background noise sneaking through.  One player could listen but not talk.  After two sessions I think I'm leaning toward text only, but we'll vote on voice or text again next time.

2018-05-03

Adding and Removing PCs Outside of Town

I've said before that one of my goals for the Whiterock campaign was to support players and characters dropping in and out from week to week.  Because real life sometimes gets in the way of gaming, and if you wait for everyone to be available, maybe you wait too long and your game dies.

I don't particularly like artificial moves like teleporting PCs around.  And I'm not a big fan of turning PCs into NPCs ("sorry, your PC died last week while you weren't playing").  So how do we swap PCs around?

The primary plan to achieve that was to have a mostly safe place (the town of Cillamar) where all the PCs hang out between adventures, and then try to get them back there at the end of every session.  Then if someone can't make it next time, their PC is safely back in town.  And if someone new joins the party, the party met them in town.

So far, I'm zero for one at getting the PCs back to town between sessions.  It took almost the whole first session for them to get to Castle Whiterock, the main adventure location, and then the rest to scout up to the gatehouse door, and they have the time pressure of a kidnapped apprentice to rescue.  And it looks like one of the four players who played last week can't make it, and we have two new players who probably can.  So, how to we pull the swap in the field without being too cheesy?

As long as the party has a clear path to the exit, pulling a PC out is pretty easy.  In this case, the PC whose player can't make it had some intra-party conflict during the last adventure.  So he might leave in a huff and go back to town alone.  Or me might be given a time-out and sent to guard the party's rear.

Bringing in more PCs is more difficult, especially PCs that the current party hasn't even met (at least not in play).  But in this case the party has a patron who asked them for help, and it's entirely possible he asked a couple more latecomers to join them.  Maybe he sent them along with a note.  Fortunately the PCs are right near the entrance, so it's plausible enough.

I have a plan that will work this time, but I worry that things will get silly if we have to keep swapping PCs outside of town.  Fortunately players love shopping for new traits and new items, and town is (almost) the only way to do that, so I suspect that most of the time, it won't be hard to get them back to regroup.

2018-04-30

Using Luck on Secret Rolls

Luck is probably my favorite GURPS advantage.  I've said many times that if you don't take Luck, and your character dies, it's your fault for not taking Luck.

For those who don't play GURPS or Dungeon Fantasy RPG, the way Luck rolls is that, once an hour you get to reroll a bad roll, twice, and then take the best of the three attempts.  (And there are more expensive versions that work more often.)

That's simple enough, if the player makes the roll.  You try to parry the boss monster's attack, you roll an 18, you know this will result in both a failed parry and a fumble, you don't like that outcome, you announce that you're using Luck, and you hope to roll better on one of the other two tries.

It's a bit more complicated if the GM makes the roll in secret, but the player knows what the GM is rolling for.  Like, if you have Weather Sense and want to predict the weather for tomorrow, and it's important to get this right, the rule is pretty clear.  "When the GM rolls in secret (e.g., to see if you notice something), you may state that you’re using your Luck ahead of time, in which case the GM will roll three times and give you the best result."  So, if you happened to roll great the first time, you didn't need the Luck and wasted a use, but better safe than sorry.

Where it gets tricky is when the player doesn't know the GM is rolling dice at all.  For example, the Per-based Traps roll to detect a hidden trap is a passive roll: it happens whenever the PCs come near a trap.  But if the GM tells them that he's rolling to detect traps, then if the PCs fail that roll, they will probably immediately switch to an active roll to detect traps again, or go the other way to avoid the trap they shouldn't know about.  So, they need to not be told.  But if you don't tell them, how do they benefit from Luck?

I see a few options here:

- If you don't know the GM is rolling, you don't get to use your Luck on that roll.  Harsh, but simple and following the rules.

- Tell the GM to always use Luck on secret rolls.  Simple and following the rules, but it means you'll probably burn your Luck on rolls that don't matter very much, or rolls that would have succeeded without it.

- Leave it up to the GM's best judgment.  "Hey, if a secret roll goes really badly, use my Luck."  Though this implies that Luck works if you don't know about the roll, which may or may not be true.  So this requires a generous GM.

- Give the GM some specific rules.  "If I fail on a secret roll that would have succeed on a 14, use my Luck."  Or "if I critically fail on a secret roll, use my Luck."  This implies that Luck not only works if you don't know about the roll, but that you can trigger on the details of a roll you don't know about.  This requires a more generous GM.

The Whiterock game features a PC with both Luck and really good Perception who likes to scout ahead, so this will come up constantly.  I need to make a decision before our next game on Friday.

DF Whiterock Session 5: Jailbreak

Date: 2018-05-25 Weather: Cool, cloudy Player Characters: Seépravir (Archon Shiva), High-Elf Wizard, 150 (+20) points Garreth ...