Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Helgacon 12 - Outdoor Spoliation


The final game I played in for this year's marvelous Helgacon was Delta's perennial favorite, Outdoor Spoliation. In the eight years that this game has been a regular feature at this 'con, our wandering party of freebooters has established a Barony, and are working our way up to becoming Counts.

So I guess there are kinda two tracks that this game has kind of coalesced along, the adventuring in the wilderness part, using the map/board from the Avalon Hill classic game Outdoor Survival and the wilderness rules from OD&D (adapted to Delta's wonderful OED houserules) and the running of our fiefdom part, which seems to have become much more prominent in the session of spoliation I missed out on last year.

Regarding the former, I'm still very enthusiastic about it, and Delta runs a great game of old school D&D. We rolled out to the east end of our territory and met with a flamboyant magic item making mage who was totally owning his throne room with a couple of decorative chimeras, he in turn hipped us to the location of a meteor that had recently fallen in the mountains, that would contain the requisite starmetal ore he'd need to enchant some weapons for us. We also went trekking into the mountains to seek out a famed elf animal trainer whose services we'd be requiring for our burgeoning griffin hatchery to train our fledglings into mighty fighting mounts for our awesome fantasy airforce.

The quest to find the elf turned hairy, or more accurately feathery, when we found that the giant birds he'd gone in search of as a new challenge in animal husbandry turned out to be not just rocs, as initially thought, but in fact roc-atrices. Nawsty!

The big mama roc-atrice went out hunting every day, and we'd make tentative invisible forays to scope out its cave, avoiding the nest full of eight foot tall hatchlings. We discovered a cave full of glowing crystals and petrified people and animals, and thought we were maybe dealing with a basilisk, or at worst a medusa somehow lairing with these giant bird beasts, which we were sure were just garden variety rocs. (Even though Delta did take pains to describe them as very vulturey/roostery with spiky red plumes and a sinister mien.)

As we were mulling that, mama bird came back early, and the fight was on, and we finally figured out what we were dealing with when one of our guys got stoned. It's been a few weeks, and I'm not totally remembering how we killed the big one, I think it was with a Fireball or something explansive like that, and then hacked the hatchlings to death as they mangled us with their sharp beaks and claws. My guy Halig Redsaber used his magic sword's annual Wish spell to bring back our petrified pals.

Once all the dust and feathers had settled we went back into the cave and found a petrified elf, who turned out to be the guy we were looking for. I think we hauled him to our sorcerer friend and got him Stone to Fleshed. Happily, since he'd been sidelined as a birdcage decoration for about seventy some years, he was happy to get a job training our griffins.

Our other mission, a bit farther up into the mountains, was retrieving the meteor. This adventure turned out to be a lot rougher on us. The meteor had burrowed deep into the earth, and had riled up some of the underground monsterfauna. I'm afraid the details are faded a bit in my mind, but I do recall we did a fair bit of scouting with an Arcane Eye spell, and spotted some Beholders and some Black Puddings. The former turned out to be Gas Spores, which thankfully got taken out with either bows or fireballs, the latter turned into a nightmare, as we got severely exfoliated by their rubbery, acidy embrace. I do recall Halig getting horribly delaminated, and his magic sword got destroyed (which is kind of a relief too, since the thing was intelligent and always nagging the poor sap)

Either way, we managed to bull through and finally destroyed the oozes, and grabbed the meteor and skedaddled, stinging from being partially digested by the nasty boogers.

So that, in my mind, was all the awesome that was on tap that session. When it's all about the adventuring and doing daring deeds and whatnot, Delta's games are hard to beat.

Now as for the other aspect, I'm afraid I gotta be blunt about it, I don't think castle/fief management is really my bag. I'd put it down to it being the tail end of the 'con and us all being a bit worn out, but there were quite a few incidents of discussions turning into arguments and even antagonism. People got upset or agitated. I know I said a couple things I regretted in the heat of the moment, and for that I apologize to my fellow players.

One point of contention, and one I still hold to my stance about, is that in a management/fief ruling mode, there's this tendency to delegate, which while it makes sense, is also counter to what I feel that core of the game is about. To paraphrase what I said at the table: It's Dungeons & Dragons, not Deliberation & Delegation. If we'd have sent lackeys to go and parlay with the sorceror, as several members of the group strongly suggested, we'd have missed out on a wonderful bit of role play, and in all likelihood the sorceror would have been offended that we didn't come see him in person.

So while it makes perfect sense that as feudal lords we have people to do things for us, I just don't think it's as fun and exciting to have people go adventure for us. (There's a couple of Monty Python gags that are brought to mind, where the Prime Minister's wife has people to do the household chores for her, freeing her up to play snooker all day. And she doesn't even have to go to the trouble of playing snooker, 'cos she has people to do that for her too.) If you're delegating the fun stuff, then what's the point? Efficiency? "Winning" the game? Is that why we're playing? I'll note here that the most sought after reward the game has to offer is "Experience Points". As in, things we experience. Not things we have someone else do for us.

I've noticed this tendency in games where some kind of hierarchy is part of the world building. I've seen it from the other side when I've run a superhero campaign where the characters are part of a government agency with officers above them and other agents in the organization. They sometimes kinda lose sight of the fact that the whole point of the game is for the players at the table and their in game avatars to be the ones doing all the things.

I'm not saying this exclusively a problem of the players, it might be a problem of the setting and what expectations are being set up as well. In real life we understand that we have bosses and maybe people working for us, and we can't do everything ourselves, so when a game presents that as part of the world folks react naturally by how they've experienced it. But I digress, that's perhaps a subject for another time and another blog post.(Edit: I'll also note that I'm talking about settings in the general sense here, not Delta's setting for Spoliation, which is awesome. The fief part of it is kind of an emergent thing that happened between the players and the game's proceeding over the past near-decade.)

There's a large contingent of Outdoor Spoliation players who are very much into the running the fief aspect that has arisen. If that is the direction the game has gone then I can't begrudge them that, but if that's what it's gonna be about, I think I'll regretfully give it a pass next time. That part of it just ain't my idea of fun.

All that being said, Delta runs a fantastic game and in its free form, wandering the woods lookin' for and finding trouble phase, Outdoor Spoliation is an absolute hoot. I guess I'm one o' them ornery types who's happier on the wild frontier, before it gets all civilized 'n tamed.

Thanks for running a great game, Delta. Whatever beefs I might have with the general consensus, the source material and the guy running it are top notch! :)

And so that, my friends, was Helgacon XII. :D

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Happy Easter!


Christ is risen!
He is risen, indeed!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Helgacon 12 - Knights of the Star Condor: The Green Dome of the Reptozons

The third and final game I ran this year marks the launching point for a new project that I hope to bring to fruition as a campaign book on Bigfella Games later this year. 

The Star Condor campaign world has been slowly taking shape since I first ran it at Helgacon VI and then reprized it at Helgacon XI. It's a multi-layered game experience that draws inspiration from the science fantasy of the early 1980's, the golden age of movies on VHS and syndicated cartoon series that were earnestly following on in the wake of a certain trilogy of movies about wars being fought among the stars. You know the one I mean. While it utilizes the trappings of science fiction and space opera, at its heart it's high fantasy. 

The primary inspirations for the original game were the classic 1983 Parker Brothers game Shadowlord! and Delta's Outdoor Spoliation, combined with Knight Hawks rules for the spaceship fights and Labyrinth Lord for the person to person level stuff. In an effort to make the eventual product I hope to produce more my own thing, I'm moving away from some of those sources and adapting a lot of it to my own content, and I'm also drawing more from my good friend Delta's expertise, by making the game compatible with his excellent OED ruleset for OD&D.

I should pause here with a hearty thanks to Delta for all the advice and feedback he gave me in developing this adventure, as well as for the cycles yet to come as I mold this thing into shape. Usually when I'm putting together a game for Helgacon I'm hunched over my worktable laboring away without any guidance until I lay it on the table at the con. It was a rare treat to be able to collaborate with someone so knowledgeable and cool. So yeah! You're awesome, Delta! :D

On to the game itself, I had 3 awesome players. (I would have had 4, but unfortunately one of them had to stay home due to his kiddo being sick with the flu. Hope everybody's better now, Mr. G. :-\)
I also had a surfeit of characters, preparing 24 of them.


So everyone selected a primary and a secondary character to play. Starriors, Wayfinders, and Astromages map pretty closely to OED's triad of classes of Fighters, Theives, and Wizards. (Although Wayfinders are more akin to explorers and pioneers than rogues.) So we had a nicely balanced party. I'd also prepared handout booklets to introduce my players to the new races and technology I'd introduced.

Their mission was to land on an isolated ice planet to track down and capture one of the most notorious leaders of the Shadow Imperium, the black dracozon Count Gwyth. I gave them the following briefing materials: 
 

Due to the danger to their starships from the installation's orbital defense lazers, the plan was to put down over the horizon and approach the Green Dome using Planetary Excursion Transports. 

As their vehicles, the Badger and the Otter, bounded across the endless ice plains, their scanners picked up enemies approaching to intercept, a squad of Shadow tanks trundling across the frozen tundra. The Wayfinders at the controls of both transports kicked it to full throttle and the battle was joined. 


While the Shadow tanks had heavier armor and stronger weapons, the Alliance vehicles had speed and maneuverability on their side, as well as a powered shield that could soak up a fair bit of damage. They essentially ran rings around the tanks. 
At one point, the first Shadow tank that was crippled fired in frustration on one of its own side. This precipitated the crews of both tanks to pop their hatches and fight it out on top of the smoking hulks. It was revealed that the enemy armor was crewed by hordes of stunted, cold adapted White Reptozons. The Astromage Dimas took advantage of the confusion and launched from the Otter wearing a flight harness, flying over the squabbling tank crews and dropping a Fireball spell on them.
The survivors retreated into the still functioning tank, turned tail and fled. And it wasn't long after that the two hurtling Alliance transports had done enough damage to the other tanks' vital systems that two were disabled and one was quitting the field as fast as its gigantium treads could haul it. The Otter and the Badger double team pursued the last fleeing tank and enfiladed its turret with blasts from their pulse guns, rendering it harmless.
The final talley, as witnessed here on my tracking card for the bad guys, was a destroyed engine, a destroyed cockpit, two destroyed ravager cannons, and damage to the crew compartment and drive treads. The mission team rolled on.
Arriving at the Green Dome, they blasted their way inside the tank bunker, scattering the white reptozons who lurked among the junk and engine parts scattered about within. Using one of the tank boarding hatches as an entry point, they made their way deeper inside the structure. 

My GM's Map of the Green Dome
Making their way down the trench surrounding the dome, they used a spell disk with the Passwall spell to create an entry point, with large gouts of steam issuing forth as the tropical air inside met the freezing atmosphere of the ice planet.

Using that as a potential feint against any occupants of the dome, they headed toward the southeast orbital defense tower, where they repaired and suborned a malfunctioning battle droid unit they found on the first floor using a combination of a Wayfinder's knack for repairing devices and a Charm Machine spell cast by Gaius the artimus.
After they'd hacked the defense tower's computer systems and disabled the guns, they returned to the dome and made their way inward. As they crept through the dense jungle inside, buzzing with millions of insects and the unknown cries of other lifeforms, those among them with a bit more sensitivity to psychic impulses received a distress call from some unknown source:
Mystified and curious, they followed the call to a large ventilation duct in the forest floor near the central control tower. It was easy enough for them to open one of the panels and make their way inside. Once they had climbed down into the underground vent corridors, they found something extraordinary.

Helgacon 12 - Fiasco: Fun With Superheroes



My Saturday afternoon game was a session of Fiasco, run by the effervescent Miz Petra J.  It was the first time I'd ever played this game, which can best be described as tabletop improv exercise. There are dice, but they spend most of the game as tokens that are handed out for good or ill to the various participants for a final roll to determine how badly boned your character is when everything finally, inevitably goes south like a jet powered goose with a GPS pointed toward Antarctica. 

The general theme was superheroes, but at best it flirted with the genre as far as I conceptualize it. I guess the best comparison, tone wise, could be made to Mystery Men, where we're all 4th. and 5th. rate wannabees in the hero or villain biz. Honestly, though, it was less about grand heroics or villainy and more about small people and their failed relationships, foiled ambitions, and bittersweet nostalgia. 

The game starts with the players going around the table and choosing relationships with their adjacent neighbors. I had Paul and his dynamo brother Max to my left & right. With Paul, we landed on Hero: Hunted Vampires in the 70's. With Max, I was Villain: 2nd. Rank Henchman. From that confluence of forces, Morgo the hunchback was born, and let me tell you he was a hoot to play. Paul wound up as my old vampire hunting partner Frank, while Max played my current boss the Great Figdigler, an up and comer in the mad genius biz. The rest of the group was a varied bunch of megalomaniacs, project managers, scientists, and bowling pros looking to make it big or rekindle past relationships.

From there, a lot of romantic entanglements, broken hearts, ambitious plans, industrial espionage, betrayals, flying atomic hat thefts, flying atomic hat chases, Agile project management, and shopping trips to CVS ensued. The whole baroque house of cards collapsed as we triggered a worldwide disco vampire werewolf apocalypse with a weather control doomsday device and an old lady's doctored hearing aid at the climax of the League bowling championships. 

Morgo came out of the whole mess mostly unscathed, but it was a pyrrhic victory at best, because while his fearless leader The Great Figdigler did manage to secure his entry into the League of Villains with his convoluted plan, our hapless hunchback was still compelled to show up for Scrum meetings. 

Eeeugghhh... 

All told it was a lot of fun, even though I was new to the system and was a bit tentative about how hard I could grab and twist the emerging narrative. I'd definitely be down for another game of Fiasco in the future. 

Thanks for a great game, Petra!

Monday, April 15, 2019

Helgacon 12 - The Lost Tomb of Ra Hotep

 Saturday morning started bright and early with the mighty Delta running the storied pre-cursor to the infamous Tomb of Horrors, the Lost Tomb of Ra Hotep. Well... not so bright and slightly late, as I just managed to get up, showered, and dressed and cram down breakfast in time to start. I'd been up late talking to folks the night before. It's an easy trap to fall into at Helgacon.

And speaking of traps, that was what was on the menu for this adventure. I grabbed a dwarf fighter/thief named Belarus Blue Eyes, and since I was stockier (and more durable) than yer average footpad I was up up front doing scouting with Miz K's halfling thief whose name I don't recall at the moment thru most of the game.

At the very start of it all my dwarfly eyes caught sight of a secret magic rune trap around the front door of the eponymous tomb that would have set a bunch of Invisible Stalkers on our tail if we'd crossed the threshold without noticing it. We got past it using a Passwall spell a little bit to the side. (We wound up fighting a bunch of what was probably Invisible Stalkers later on, but I dunno if they were just in the room we were looting (how could you tell?) or if they'd been summoned by runes that we'd missed.)

Fresh from that triumph, I headed down the first hall and fell smack into a 50' pit trap with spikes at the bottom. Thankfully that only half killed me, so I got hauled back up and we kept going.

Otherwise, we did pretty good detecting traps and avoiding them, although another memorable bit is when I thought I was being clever by dropping flat to try to activate what I thought was a horizontally aimed spear trap. If the group hadn't stopped me from following thru with that "clever" plan I would have been smushed by a falling block instead. So... yeah.

Otherwise, aside from finding traps the Tomb of Ra Hotep was all about punchin' mummies for me, and I punched quite a few. Some of 'em weren't doin' nothin' but being dead, but I punched 'em anyway. Got a fancy necklace from one of 'em. The ones in the final grand hall where we fought the lich Ra Hotep and his minions were a bit more lively, and when I got ensorcelled into fighting on the big bad's side I had to switch from punchin' mummies to punchin' my friends, which I wasn't so crazy about. (I tried to loophole my way around doing too much damage to my comrades by being super literal about the orders that ol' Hotep was giving me, but Delta put the kibosh on that. Eh. You try things, sometimes they work.)

The big shenanigan of the game was when Paul's character was summarily evaporated by a big magical jewel as soon as we entered the main tomb area. Having watched his & Delta's livecast and read their blogs, I was probably the first player to twig to the purpose of that sudden and severe HP reduction as setting the stage for Paul playing the Adversary role for the grand finale. He threw himself into the part with relish, particularly against one of the party fighters who'd been trash talking Ra Hotep to aggro a bunch of stone golems we fought outside the tomb proper. I thought that part worked really great, and look forward to seeing more of those sorts of things in future games. I may try it myself someday. We'll see.

So anyway, all told I had a great time with this adventure. Comparing it to Tomb of Horrors, also run by Delta all those years ago in the early days of Helgacon, I'd say it felt a lot more like just a good solid dose of dungeon crawling instead of the merciless exercise in character culling that ToH was. It was challenging and tricky, and Delta was running it with his usual aplomb, but it didn't feel as bleak and desperate as I remember the ToH being. There definitely weren't as many dead ends or any pixel bitching in Ra Hotep. There wasn't this sense that there was only 1 right answer per obstacle and if you didn't get it you were donesville. So I'd say the original adventure was a lot better and more fun than its notorious successor.

So yeah, it was a good session of some nice crusty old school dungeon delving. Thanks, Delta! :D


Friday, April 12, 2019

Helgacon 12 - The Peach Orchard

Friday night brought the opening of Helgacon proper, and I ran the first of my full scale games, the second set in my new feudal Japanese Labyrinth Lord/Oriental Adventures milieu.
Here's the whole razzle dazzle. I like to really put on a grand show for convention games.
Every thousand years, in the remote, fortified mountain monastery known as Momotakara, a certain blessed peach tree brings forth a single, magically supercharged fruit that is capable of working great wonders in the lives of those who partake of it. If only it had appeared a year ago, when the conquering forces of the Akai clan laid siege to the monastery and defeated the rebellious warrior monks who dwelt within, putting those who failed to escape to the sword. Shortly after their victory, the Akai army themselves fled the mountaintop fortress, sealing the heavy doors behind them in fear of the ingenious and deadly traps laid within' by the wily abbot, as well as the supernatural creatures said to dwell in the caves below. The players took on the roles of a ragtag band of outcasts and wanderers who'd joined together to find the Thousand Year Peach and transform their lives.

  I had twelve pre-generated player characters to choose from, ranging from samurai to kensai to wily spellcasters and ninja, with several hengeyokai shapeshifters as well as strange creatures such as tengu or kamejin. I had five excellent players, who chose the following heroes to make up their band of nakama.
L to R: Takenoko the kitsune hengeyokai kensai, Genzo the human shugenja, Shirokaze the human mahotsukai, Zenimon the human yakuza, and Hotaro the human kensai. 

My setting was based on two of Dyson Logos' wonderful maps: The Monastery of Electrum Flowers for the upper structure and The Travellers Caves for the underground caverns beneath. I keyed these up with lots of twists, traps, and encounters, and gave the players these two simplified maps as handouts. (I've learned from years of doing convention games that the sooner you get the players some basic knowledge of the stakes, setting, and layout, the easier it is to have a satisfying adventure in the allotted 4 hour timeslot. You don't have to spell everything out, just give 'em enough info to go on.)
(Actually, I didn't initially give them the cave map. I'd hidden it on the back of one of the paintings in the hall of paintings, but it was running toward the end of the session and once they got down into the caves it was easier to just hand them this than try to get them to map it. Caves are too non-euclidian for graph paper mapping, I've often found.)


I gave all the players a roll on a specially prepared rumor table. They gleaned these bits of info: 

Beware the wrath of the thunder god when invading the Monastery’s precincts, for he defends the sohei’s path. Bid him be still if you would pass safely. (This one didn't really figure in their explorations. It referred to a trapped hallway where a statue of Raijin would shoot a lightning bolt if they didn't say a password to deactivate it.)

A sacred scroll dedicated to the Goddess of War hangs among the Monastery’s collection of sumi-e. If a holy man or warrior reads what is inscribed on the back they can invoke the Goddess’ aid. 

There is a waterfall to the North of the Monastery. In a hollow behind it there is a secret door leading inside.  

Four sacred tablets, enchanted to summon and control mighty elemental forces, are hidden throughout the monastery. They are concealed among their elements.  

While the Akai claim to have sealed the doors of the Monastery, in truth they have converted it into a secret stronghold for their ninja assassins.  (This one was a false rumor, but they didn't know that.)

I gave the players a similar speech to the one I gave to my players for Red Petals on the Road, about what my expectations were for this game. I had laid out a setting and given them resources, and now it was up to them to decide what to do. Armed with their information from the rumor table, the players made their plan and set forth to infiltrate the monastery and retrieve the legendary peach. 

Acting on the rumor about a secret entry, they made their way around the north side of the monastery, where they found the waterfall as promised cascading down from a high cliff into a mountain stream. There was a hollow behind it that contained a stone lantern with a lock mechanism cleverly hidden inside. They opened the latch and discovered the secret door, which led them to the shaft of the monastery's well. There were cleverly hidden handholds leading up to the wellhead, and the shaft disappeared down into the darkness 50' below. (A fact the party rather stubbornly ignored later on when they figured out that to find the Peach they'd have to get into the caves below the monastery. But I'm getting ahead of myself. :-\) From above the tunnel was concealed by a trompe d'oiel that made it impossible to spot. 

Finding themselves in a well room where stacks of rotting firewood was stowed, they crept into the next room, which turned out to be the monastery's kitchen. Prodding among the kamado stoves and the rotting bales of rice hidden in the corner, the party disturbed a nest of hideous 5' long centipedes, which sprang forth to attack them. 

Hotaro chopped one to pieces while Shirokaze pinned one to the floor with one of his arrows. Takenoko rolled a critical fail and fell to the ground with a twisted ankle, with a vicious centipede bearing down on her with mandibles clacking. Thinking quickly, she opened her magic purse that could swallow up to 500 lbs. and sucked the horrible thing inside. The final one was slain and the party took stock, hoping that they'd not alerted any Akai ninja who might be lurking about. 

Taking a tentative foray down the hallway outside, they heard a commotion in the direction where their map said the monastery's famed peach orchard was. There was the sound of thrashing branches and a large booming voice lording over a gaggle of smaller, sniveling voices, all speaking in obake, the language of bakemono and oni. From what they could glean from Shirokaze's translations as the only one among them who could speak the language, it was a band of marauding yokai searching for the Thousand Year Peach. 

Seized by strategic inspiration, the wizard called out "We've found the peach!" in obake, hoping to lure the rival invaders into range so that they might be defeated in piecemeal, and it worked splendidly for them. A hush fell over the monstrous brigands in the orchard, and the booming voice commanded some scouts to go see who'd said they'd found the sought after treasure.The party braced themselves in the adjacent archways of the kitchen as a pair of obakenezu, horrible goblin rats, came loping down the corridor. A cowardly bunch of bakemono peeked out the window, waiting to see how their beastly comrades did. Takenoko held fast but got a sprained wrist for her troubles, as Hotaro was bowled over by the slavering spirit beast despite his magical Sandals of Steadiness. 


With a furious exchange of slashing blades and slavering bites, the obakenezu were slain, but the party had barely any time to catch their breath before the bakemono attacked. These too were dispatched with the two kensai's whirling katana and naginata. 

Hearing the death shreiks of his minions, the horrible oni Gongoro finally decided to see what was going on with his own three eyes, and so he came stomping around the corner at the far east end of the corridor with a crew of bakemono archers in tow. He bellowed threats and taunts as he came, but was knocked ingloriously on his behind when Shirokaze cast an Elemental Burst spell that hit the lumbering yokai right between the horns with an explosion of air. He fell back, smashing his smaller minions beneath him.

Seizing their opportunity, the party leaped to the attack. Zenimon slew several of the bakemono with a barrage of shuriken, while Takenoko and Hotaro strode forth and put an end to the oni with their flashing blades. In the melee Hotaro had slashed off one of the ogre's horns, which he kept as a trophy. The surviving bakemono of Gongoro's entourage, peering fearfully out the windows to the orchard, realized that their master was slain and fled screaming and scattered to the winds. 
Searching the bodies, they retrieved a gourd full of magic potion hanging from the oni's belt, and Shirokaze discovered a beautiful child's plaything, a silken temari ball doubtless stolen from a nursery tucked into one of the sleeves of the bakemono's filthy, ragged kimonos. 
 
The party then proceeded to search the orchard, finding the mess that the yokai had made knocking down branches, leaves, and fruit with long sticks. They'd piled the fallen peaches on moldering straw mats next to a stone bench beneath a particularly profound looking old tree, where the oni had been appraising the fruits and sorting out the ones that seemed magical. The Momotakara orchard had been reknowned for other sorts of magical peaches besides the legendary Thousand Year Peach. In a cracked porcelain bowl was a pile of rosy blushing peaches that were enchanted with healing magic, making them equal to a Potion of Healing if you ate one. The party divided these up among themselves. There was also a tree bearing fruit that would instantly destroy bakemono if it touched them, as evidenced by an exploded wretch whose remains lay at the tree's foot. (The players gave this one a wide berth, not knowing how specific its effects were.) 

Finally, there was a tree that at first glance seemed dead, with bare branches surrounded by a tenuous fog. Upon closer examination, led by the rotting straw ropes and sacred charms that hung around its trunk, they realized that what seemed like dead branches was in fact an upside down root system, and that this strange tree was quite alive. Surely its leaves, and its fruit, were below in the underground caves. They were getting closer to their main objective. 

Exploring further, they investigated the overgrown rock garden to the south end of the orchard. They discovered a couple of the large stones, laid out in the spiral patterns of carefully raked gravel, had been uprooted and taken. They reasoned that perhaps this was where one of the four elemental tablets they'd heard rumors about was hidden, and were proved right as they discovered a stone chest under one of the large boulders, which contained the tablet. 

Deciding to search for the abbot's quarters, they went back down the hall toward the kitchen. Beyond to the west they found the monastery's dining hall, where Zenimon accidentally knocked over long tabletops and trestles stacked against the back wall. The party held their breath, hoping no ninja had been alerted, then continued their search. 

They discovered rot and water damage coming from a swollen shut sliding door to the north that felt hot to the touch. Carefully shoving it open with the butt of Takenoko's naginata and Genzo's staff, they avoided a gout of scalding steam that billowed forth. 

Inside, they discovered a sweltering bath chamber. Everything inside was warped and melted by the heat and moisture. There were two pools to the east end of the room, one empty, and one occupied by a pool of water in which a bronze Daruma figure sat, glowing red with internally generated heat and boiling the water around it.


The figure was scalding hot, and damaged the party if they approached it. In one eye, the kanji for "heaven" had been painted. The other was blank. 

What proceeded here, if I may drop out of narrative into DM analysis, was one of those points where you present a puzzle to the players and they proceed to spiral into ever more elaborate blind alleys to solve it, completely mis-interpreting or ignoring the clues to the solution.

I'll bear more than a little responsibility for this, because they latched on to certain parts of my explanation of what a Daruma signified in Japanese culture and ran with it. I'd informed them that Daruma dolls were often used as good luck charms by people who wanted to complete a task. The person would paint in one of the figure's blank eyes at the start of their task, and then paint in the other when they'd finished it. This is what the party grabbed onto, convinced that they had to complete a task to solve the puzzle. I probably should have left all that "complete a task" stuff out, 'cos honestly all they had to do is write something in the other eye.

So they proceeded to laboriously fill up the other bath tub by drawing bucket after bucket of water from the well over a span of a couple in game hours. Hotaro stripped down and took a bath, which didn't really help, and he got kinda scalded while he was doing it due to being so close to the boiling daruma. 

What I'd failed to make clear to them was that the bronze Daruma's task was to heat the bathwater, and that since it had done that all they needed to do is write something to match "heaven". Since he was scalding hot, I was hoping that they'd take the hint and write "hell" in the other blank eye. Or they could wipe out the writing in the first eye, that would have shut him down too. (This was doubly frustrating as Genzo's player had blurted out that they should write "hell" in the other eye at the start of it all and nobody twigged to it. :-\)

Anyway, they eventually figured it out after eating up several minutes of game time. Happily, they were rewarded with the Fire Elemental tablet, which they discovered in a hidden compartment in the bronze figure's base. So all's well that eventually ends well.

Continuing their search, they decided to head southward toward the monks quarters on the west side of the monastery. They were nearly trapped by an insidious spell that caused the hallway to seem endless, forever extending ahead and behind them no matter how long or fast they walked. Shirokaze's player figured out the way to foil this spell, by not depending on vision. He backed toward the tablet inscribed with the spell and removed it without looking, freeing his comrades from its effects. They found the stricken corpses of some Akai ashigaru who'd failed to escape this trap. One had starved to death in one of the monks' cells. The other, who's hair had gone stark white, had been run thru by a blade of some sort as he cowered by a wall. The hole the blade had left was uncannily cold to the touch.

Ominous...

Proceeding further, they came to a darkened room that had been the monastery's meditation chamber. Inside, they were confronted with the terrifying specter of the Akai general who'd led the assault on the monastery, condemned in death to drive off any other interlopers. 


Hotaro rose to the challenge and drew his woodcutter's blade, the Mokuzaiken, and stood in combat against the vengeful spirit, slashing its naginata's shaft in two. The yurei cast its bisected polearm aside and prepared to draw its sword. Knowing that there was no honor in a restless ghost, Shirokaze read the chant on the back of the Fire Elemental tablet, and summoned a mighty spirit of flames, which burned the Akai general's ghost away in its purifying fire and banished it from this world.

Searching the room after releasing the Flame Spirit and stamping out some of the fires it had left, they found two large, ornate gold incense burners on the meditation leader's platform. After a bit of fox mischief where Takenoko released the giant centipede at Zenimon, causing a bit of minor panic as they slew it before it poisoned him, they sucked the two censers into the purse where they could easily carry it off. 

Working from the map, they found their way to the hall where the monastery kept its trove of sumi-e paintings, seeking to find the scroll of the War Goddess. They found a hall that had been long ago drenched in blood, with a victim slashed to ribbons and dragged away, and the two stones missing from the rock garden laid against the door. The only painting not marred with old dried blood was a magnificent painting of a tiger. This they decided to give a wide berth, especially after figuring out that its eyes seemed to follow them. They found an separate alcove where the goddess scroll was hanging, and reverently plucked it from the wall and rolled it up, another trophy from their sortie, and then slipped out again. 

Remembering that their goal was to find the Thousand Year Peach, they did some figuring and some divining. Among Zenimon's many trademark coins, he had one that he could flip for a truthful yes/no answer 3 times a day. This they used to ascertain where the entrance to the underground caverns, which turned out to be a set of bronze doors decorated by carvings of tortoises in the northeast corner of the fortress. After failing to pick the bronze padlock, Hotaro chopped it off the door with his Kikorido woodcutter technique.

They proceeded past the door and were confronted with two animated wooden guardian figures that blocked their way. After a brief combat, and a haphazard stumble down the mossy stairs beyond, they were down in the deep mountain caves.

In the depths they discovered a stone turtle hung with sacred ropes and charms, with a flat spot atop its dome-like shell. Meditating atop it, Shirokaze heard whispering voices from the deep earth asking what offering he would leave. He carefully placed the temari ball and climbed down.

The group came to a crossroads, and here, the mahotsukai decided to cast his Smoky Form spell, turning himself into a figure of smoke so that he could safely scout ahead. He went down a tunnel to the southwest, where the party could faintly hear the sound of a woman singing and weeping. It was hung with large cobwebs and bones, and eventually he came to the lair of a huge spider who had been the source of the singing, which told him to go away, as it was seeking to lure something with warm blood to it.

The party instead decided to head to the tunnel to the south, which was full of fog that was suffused with a golden glow. There, they found a lush, pristine peach tree growing from the ceiling, its bright leaves floating on the calm surface of a shallow subterranean pool. Hanging about a man's height from the floor of the cave, perfect and jewel like, was the Thousand Year Peach.

Hotaro reverently stepped forward and grasped it, but no amount of pulling or twisting could get it loose. The party turned as a creature that seemed as if it had been worn into shape from the stone of the mountain stepped forth from one of the side caverns. It had the shell of a tortoise, and held the bright silken temari ball in its large, clawed hands. It smiled, and said "You must ask before you can pluck the sacred peach, mortals." With that it turned, and withdrew back into the deep caverns.

After a deep bow and a humble request, the fruit dropped effortlessly into the kensai's hands. And thus the brave nakama acquired the Thousand Year Peach, whose every morsel if eaten could bestow a Wish, and at whose center in place of a pit was a priceless emerald of wondrous size and clarity.

They had succeeded!

ANALYSIS:

This was definitely a successful session all the way around. The players played smart and very in character. (The player who played Shirokaze spent the whole session with a plastic bowl on his head.☺) Aside from getting a little hung up on the bronze Daruma puzzle they made good tactical decisions and worked out things for themselves really well. 

I think the biggest tactical win was changing the context of the confrontation with the oni and his minions in the actual peach orchard. I'd intended it to be a big battleground, but by their subterfuge they siphoned off the bakemono and obakenezu so that they could be dealt with in piecemeal, and left the oni open to attack without his henchlings covering for him. 

So well done, players. I'm definitely looking forward to more adventures in this setting. 

Omedetou! Kampai!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Helgacon 12 - Stay Frosty


The second game I was in for the Premium segment of this recent Helgacon was "Stay Frosty" run by Paul. This apparently was an adaptation of James Raggi's "Death, Frost, Doom" module, re-genred to be more of a military sci-fi sort of setting.

So to give a brief play by play, we were a bunch of grunts from a spaceborne military empire whose dropship had crash landed on a frozen planetoid where we'd been directed to stomp out some kind of cult activity. Since we were close at hand to the center of this cult activity, and lacking any chain of command since our captain and lieutenant had been pulped in the botched re-entry, a gaggle of us troopers following a sergeant had been given hasty orders from some general on the mothership to head toward the most recent satellite scanned co-ordinates, stomp what we could, and as a secondary order of business take out the orbital defenses so that they might get more boots on the ground.

We gathered up our gear and marched to where our wrist comps were pointing us, which turned out to be a small installation on the hillside where our dropship had augured itself in. We hacked the door access panel and got in, and then set about exploring the facility.

The upper levels were totally deserted, and were generally kinda forebodingly nondescript. Then we found a hatch that led down to the lower levels where things started to get weird. There was a room full of severed hands in a grid of tubes, each one hooked up to some kind of apparatus, that we passed on the way to a large chamber that had an assortment of unknown devices, and that's where things started to go south on us. 

One of the main features of the room was all these big chunks of ice hanging by chains from the ceiling, which turned out to be the frozen torsos of humans, once they started melting and dropping off their chains when we entered the room and raised the general temperature. There was this pipe organ deal that was so packed with alien molds and fungus that it killed our medic when they tried to play it. (The rest of us had better reflexes and the sense to step back and drop our facemasks when the spores started to shake loose. Of course Handyman Andy's attempts to revive poor Doc by slamming them in the face repeatedly with a medkit probably didn't help much.) 

Finally, there was this door with a couple of small, liquid filled receptacles on either side, which we eventually figured out would open if you put a tooth in one. So we had Private Nubbins, the jittery young recruit who'd stepped up to fill in for the Doc get some pliers from one of the tool kits and pull a couple out of one of the plummeting corpsicles. 

From there we further explored the complex and found all kinds of weirdo devices. By plugging into the computer terminals and doing some hacking and linguistic analysis, we determined that the prior occupants of the installation had been a bunch of aliens who'd invaded and used the prior prior occupants as subjects for a wide variety of grotesque experiments. 

We followed our wrist comp pingers to the central control of the planetary defense grid, and discovered the room it was in was occupied by this giant, swollen bag of gross mucous that had at one point been a dude. 

This game has a mechanic for tracking rising tension, and it was at this point the freakout meter hit critical. Since my character, Circuits the network tech & cable guy, had a satchel charge, my freakout involved going totally deadpan and arming my bomb, then shoving it into the mass of the gummy bear that was sitting in front of our objective and telling my comrades to beat feet down the corridor. This we did, and the goo-bag went boom, covering us with spluth from all the way down the hall, but we were able to get to the control panels and shut down the planetary defenses. 

Of course, doing that also set off all the waiting waves of nasty horror that had been counting down with the dropping torso timer in the big hall, so a bunch of zombie type guys started swarming us. (Actually, they weren't undead so much as corpses being puppeteered around by 10 inch long alien centipedes, but a nod's as good as a wink for H.R. Giger.)

Private Nubbins got in a good hit that took out a wave of zombies with their satchel charge. Sarge, our fearless leader, had his gun jam one too many times and went apeshit, ripping off his shirt and attacking the shambling bug taxis with his powered stun baton, which sadly ran out of batteries pretty quickly.

We managed to put down the first wave, but more were coming fast if our proximity scanner was to be believed, so we had to think faster. Sarge leapt down the giant nostril that the gumbag thing in the control room had been nestling in, and was lost forever. (Turned out he landed in a big nest of brain centipedes and got turned into a sporty convertable by our alien overlords.) The rest of us scampered down a side hallway, and got gnawed to death by a horde of zombie children when we opened the wrong door. Whoopsie poopsie.

So yeah. It was a fun session, and Paul ran it with his usual flair. I really liked the character creation system a lot. It was exceedingly simple and flexible, and fit the concept of disposable cannon fodder future soldiers excellently. Our plastic space army men were a ton of fun to snap together before the mission started. I'd love to use this system with something like a Paranoia styled game or a genuine Aliens or Starship Troopers style scenario.

One innovation that I really gotta credit him for is the idea that we all just had serial numbers, and that it was up to the other players to give each of us our nicknames. So we had Sarge and Doc, I was Circuits, and rounding out the team we had an intelligence agent who wound up being called Handy Jack, then Handy Andy, then Andy just because he happened to have a toolkit as part of his equipment. (He definitely used it more than his intelligence, not that the rest of us were any brighter.) Private Nubbins was a result of the player who played the late, lamented Doc saying their character had crap stats and Paul telling them the character was probably just a basic private, which suggested a hapless Morty type and that's pretty much how they played it, with the rest of us taking turns as Rick.

I'd say my only critique of the system was that their terminology for their rising tension system seemed kind of counter-intuitive in its symbology. You start at "warm" and go up to something like "super cool" or "ice cold", and the characters get more bonuses until they cross a threshold where they have to roll saves and roll on a chart to see how they freak out. This seems kinda backward to me, with a group under pressure getting more competent until a breakdown occurs. You'd think it would start at "frosty" and then get hotter until the meltdown, with more and more mistakes and fumbles on the way there as the soldiers' discipline and nerves break down. Odd. 

Finally, the setting and scenario just didn't do a lot for me. I'm not much of a fan of horror, especially of the body horror/splatterfest variety that seemed to be on display here. It just felt like they were trying so hard to be disturbing that it just wound up being kinda uninteresting. I'm not going to invest enough emotionally to be genuinely disturbed, and it's not a sensation that I choose to seek out anyway, so I'm left just playing thru that aspect of it and finding other ways to enjoy the game.

So anyway, it was a TPK but that was kinda the point, and we did technically accomplish one of our primary missions, which was to shut down the planetary defenses so that our guys up in orbit could nuke it from same. So I call it a success! 

Thanks for a fun session, Paul. 
Knowing is half the battle! The other half is not letting your brain get eaten!