Decaying Lands 17: Storming the Fight Club!

PCs Present & Played:

Boris "Iron Guts", Fighter 1 (Vegas)
Caleb, Fighter 2 [farmer kit] (Just Yolks)
  Suzie, a stubborn but loyal mule
Tenkos, Cleric 2 [plague doctor kit]
Viggo Marklund, Specialist 2 [bounty hunter kit]

The session started with a sad announcement: Just Yolks is going to be taking a break! This means that Caleb will be MIA for a few months while Just Yolks pursues some educational enrichment.

They revisited their plan to go in and murder everyone EXCEPT Viggo still wanted to give them a chance to surrender Ralf. After some more discussion they settled on an immediate nighttime raid to try and catch everyone unawares in their pajamas (yes they really did talk about the pajamas again).

Caleb decided to tie Suzie up at a bit of distance so that she didn't give away their position; they wanted to be really sneaky approaching. Viggo then headed off to do some solo recon of the situation.

Viggo sneakily approached under cover of darkness, found a snoring sentry in a tree and not much else after making a loop around the building. Debated trying to climb up and murder him but instead opted to cover the ground around the tree in caltrops. He wanted to avoid any possible risk of failure or alert as long as possible. Actually speaking of that:

"Tenkos since you're the fire bomber you should stay away," said the bounty hunter to the cleric.

Caleb took out his greatsword, put on his great horned stag helmet, and terrified all of his fellow party members. After recovering themselves, they got  ready to have Caleb sneak towards the front door around the edge of the forest with Viggo and have old Iron Guts and Tenkos hang back in reserve.

We used the group stealth rule from Beloch over at Papers & Pencils, meaning that Viggo got a -1 for trying to carry Caleb, net 3 in 6. Unfortunately, that one came up 6 (failure) and the sleepy guard woke up shouting curses.

Caleb charged the big door, Tenkos went for the little door. The big man failed to get through (on several attempts) but Tenkos made it in and started shouting for them to let Ralf go or they would burn the place down.

Meanwhile the guy in the tree was trading pot shots in the dark back and forth with Boris while Tenkos tried to get within range of the building. Neither archer connected much but Tenkos lobbed a blackfyre bomb straight up onto the thatch roof once it became clear that the occupants weren't going to play ball. The roof erupted in glorious purple flames while Caleb and Viggo beat feet back.

Now that the building was on fire it was much easier for Boris to see the archer in the tree and he nailed the poor sentry. Tree guy decided that discretion was the better part of valor and scrambled down the tree, dropping down the last couple of feet. That proved a mistake as he had no chance to avoid the caltrops and landed firmly on top of them. There was a lot of screaming.

There was even more screaming when Boris or Tenkos (can't remember which) rushed over to him so that they could stab him and make sure he was dead. He didn't die immediately, just collapsed a lung and slowly gurgled and choked before dying some minutes later.

Sidebar: My players thought that was just flavor but dude hit -3 HP and in LotFP that means you're dead in d10 minutes with no chance for saving. I like to apply the HP and dying rules on both sides of the screen.

While that guy was wheezing his last Viggo once again shouted out to try and get the occupants of the house out, saying that there wouldn't have to be any more killing if they gave up Ralf. All they heard in reply was the crackling of burning wood.

Sidebar: Just want to note that without Jewel confidently following the trail here they would have no evidence of Ralf even being here. They even debated that aspect for a while before fixing their recollection.

After several hours waiting for the fire to die down the party entered the remains of the still hot structure. They tried to look for any kind of hidden entrances or basement doors on the floor but there was too much burnt debris to find much without clearing things. They did see a large hole revealed where the rear of the structure had a bear skin on the wall that led down into the dirt mound.

The pathway curved and narrowed as it descended back around under the building. It was tight, forcing a single file approach with their big fake knight in the lead. They called out as they curled around but there was no response.

Caleb being in front potentially saved them all from a TPK because a pair of crossbow bolts came out of the darkness and four attackers rushed them. His platemail deflected a ton of blows, despite the crossbows ability to punch through. Their (Wetzel from earlier) hung back and kept up the ranged assault while two of his comrades tried to wrestle Caleb down with mancatchers and two hung back with whips.

Caleb was swinging mighty blows but couldn't connect with anything. Viggo snaked his bladed grappling hooks around the large farmer to strike at his enemies and Boris peppered the leader with arrows from his shortbow. Tenkos held back, hoping that his magic wouldn't be needed.

Even with the plate Caleb still almost went down and in serious trouble with Tenkos bottlenecked behind his comrades.

Once Caleb started connecting, however, he was hewing people in half left and right, pushing into the room. Viggo took the gap and went for the leader, using his 10' hooked chain and rolling a nasty critical. He sliced up his opponent but then went for the free grapple that he gets for his chain and lost the exchange! The leader coiled the chain around his arm and ripped it out of Viggo's grasp. His success was short-lived however as Boris punctured him with another arrow, dropping him.

As the party cut down a lot of the first wave a second group came running in behind them. Boris tried to draw aggro from Viggo (who was getting punished) by taunting the clever lady who had just run in with the rest of the folks. He was quite successful, meaning that Viggo's attempts at parley for Ralf without any more violence fell flat.

Sidebar: There were a bunch of morale rolls called for here with one of the leaders going down and number depleting. They just kept making all of them!

Boris ran up to stand with Viggo to try and take some of the aggression with some rough words about killing her husband, all the while going into a defensive stance. He took some serious hits, called out more bold words, but continued to parry since another shot probably would have killed him. Tenkos swiftly came up behind him to try to mend some of his wounds with magic, staving off defeat for the moment.

Sidebar: There were 9 opponents overall, four with crossbows. The crossbows were balanced out by the subpar weapons used by people more used to catching animals and vagrants and whipping them into a fighting frenzy for the entertainment of others. The party laughed a bit about the mancatchers and whips but I equipped the enemies before I thought about all the weapons that would have been lying around an arena. Still, without Caleb's platemail this could have very quickly turned into a TPK. It's worth noting that Viggo and Boris ended up being pretty defensive too, with a shield on the bounty hunter and life-saving Parry for the... other bounty hunter.

They offered no more quarter and pretty quickly finished off the rest of their opponents. Although the initial passage and combat area was all mud and supporting beams the next room signaled a rather stark change as mud gave way to well made stonework and tiled floors. The structure itself also opened up, showing much more complexity than the party first suspected.

Whole locale is based on this gorgeous map drawn by Guillaume Tavernier. Click for source.

The initial worked chamber was stocked with all manner of melee weapons, many stained with blood. The next was packed with bunk beds and footlockers. The third room was much larger, better kept, and had the furnishings of a well-appointed cocktail room. One set of stairs led up, presumably to the burned house above, and another led down.

They followed the stairs down into a very large space, still all in stone, centered around a pit with a railing, standing tables, and some bar height chairs. There was a counter offer to the side with a wooden plackard, odds still slotted in, and a very large, locked metal chest.

In the other corner there was a tight spiral staircase heading even further down. At the bottom it continued for a bit  before branching. Two side passages led towards the arena with a pair of gates on each one, like an airlock staging area for dangerous combatants.

Sidebar: All this description and exploration of the stone areas and rooms would normally have taken a bit of time but I rushed through it to try and give Caleb's player Just Yolks some closure on this particular adventure prior to taking leave of us. 

Past the arena entryways the stonework finally started to peter out, leading into a more natural, less refined passage. The tunnel continued straight into a large, barred cell before turning a corner. A very large, maybe man sized or a bit bigger, sat inside on its haunches, staring at them.

They ignored the creature for now and turned the corner, coming to a half dozen or so more normal cells at the end of the hallway. In the last one was a rather sticky man, covered in dried blood, blubbering quietly to himself. The blubbering increased dramatically in volume and intensity once he saw the party and it was difficult to communicate.

Viggo eventually got through to Ralf by saying he would bring him back to his mother and father. They tried to get him out of his cell, with Viggo attempting to pick the lock and Boris racing to find the keys. The adoring protege beat out Viggo, who couldn't pick the cell lock, and Boris unlocked Ralf's cell. Ralf continued blubbering and embraced Viggo, getting a lot of snot and slobber on the man in the process. They quickly moved to get Ralf out (sacking the place on their way), but Boris stayed behind, observing the wolf.

The wolf observed Boris right back, sitting calmly with a cocked head. Iron Guts held out a hand by the bars, offering a sniff, and the wolf rose and began to walk forward with a measured step. Perhaps getting impatient, Boris simply rose and unlocked the door.

Annnd end session. Thanks Vegas for giving us a great hook!


Decaying Lands 16: Search for Ralf

PCs Present & Played:

Boris "Iron Guts", Fighter 1 (Vegas)
Caleb, Fighter 2 [farmer kit] (Just Yolks)
  Suzie, a stubborn but loyal mule
Jewel, Really Good Dog 2 (Rudy)
  Buddy, ratter dog
Tenkos, Cleric 2 [plague doctor kit]
Viggo Marklund, Specialist 2 [bounty hunter kit]

The party left off on the edge of the Lordswood east of Bremmlecht on the trail of Ralf Wegener the bovine butcher. The boy had left a trail so erratic that it was child's play for the party to follow between Jewel's nose and Viggo's experience.

The trail got more narrow and less disturbed as time went on but it was still easy enough to follow. They eventually came into a bit of a break, a small clearing. They checked things out and found a other, much cleaner trail leading into the clearing from a similar direction. Jewel found a little depression where a large man might have curled up for a bit, too. The main feature was all of the broken branches and scuffed dirt in the area leading to a much larger trail that went away from the clearing. It looked to their eyes like something large dragging on the ground.

The party's theory is that some people came into the clearing, fought with Ralf, and then dragged him out the other direction. The drag marks got less erratic and eventually settled into a solid path which the party interpreted to mean that Ralf had given up struggling.

Jewel smelled something on the wind off to the side of their trail as they continued and set off to investigate ("sniff the air"). She found a girl foraging in the woods, basket on her arm. She suspected the girl of not being human but a surreptitious sniff (and scratches!) said she checked out as far as Jewel could tell.

After firm assurance that Caleb was not, in fact, a knight of Lord Taylor, the girl opened up about foraging in the Lordswood. She hasn't seen Ralf but hoped that they would find him because he was always so sweet and kind. Despite what she heard the girl was sure there was some kind of explanation.

They made their way back to the trail they were following and continued on, eventually spotting a large shape thru the trees, probably a building. Viggo and Jewel both snuck forward, the bounty hunter circling right and the very good dog heading left. Viggo was silent as a butterfly but Jewel... Less butterfly. A man sitting outside the building caught sight of her, called out, she ran, and he ran after her, shouting to a "Wenzel" inside the house. Her pursuer had a brace of throwing axes hanging from his belt.

Gaze in wonder at my ms paint abilities. That's a big mound of dirt in the back.

A woman walked out and then a man, both armed. The woman's leather apron was bloody, and she had a cleaver in her hand. They went back and forth with the party, Caleb taking point in the discussion and Viggo remaining hidden in the back of the building. Caleb a d company repeatedly talk about just wanting Ralf, these three folks say they don't know who that is and they're just out here trying to scrape by.

Caleb asked to see some of their antler scrimshaw wares to try get an opening to get more info and get Jewel inside. Unfortunately there were too many competing scents for her to pick up anything definitive. Caleb ended up buying a really sweet helmet though.

Something like this, probably, until Just Yolks give me something else.

While they were in there, Jewel pawed at the door. The woman showing the scrimshaw kicked her, drawing out Caleb's rage, and he pushed past her through the door and into the larger part of the building. All he saw inside was a workshop with various skins hanging on the walls. Somehow there was no violence yet and Caleb slowly backed down and out of the showroom.

Sidebar: I am pretty sure that the only thing stopping Jewel and Caleb from just all out murdering everyone was the fact that their players thought everyone else didn't want to do that. Just wait!

Viggo stayed hidden round back (Solid Viggo! Viggo Snake!) while the occupants of the building shouted and yelled and told them to get the hell away. While the folks in front of the building continued to argue about Ralf / leaving, Viggo heard some voices in the back of the building talking frantically about getting ready.

Jewel gave up on human talk and ran around to the back of the building and started digging in the dirt in the rear. There was very nearly bloodshed but Viggo materialized out of thing air (took off his cardboard box), put his hands up, and said that they were sorry and would be leaving immediately.

They debated pulled back to their original planning point, barely in sight of the building, and debated going back right then, weapons out, and killing them all. Jewel tried to draw something in the dirt but wasn't able to get her message across, so they decided to fall back even farther to the clearing.

Sidebar: I made Rudy use his offhand to draw in roll20 to simulate how shitty a dog would draw. He did a pretty good job but they weren't picking up what he was putting down. This is probably the first time that Jewel's inability to talk to her party members has resulted in frustration and real communication issues.

While they were debating what to do they encountered the same girl they had met previously, making her way back out of the wood. They confronted her again, asking a lot of questions about the house in the Lordswood. She knew about them and how they hunt and sell but got quite uncomfortable about it. "Everybody has to eat, right?" Further prodding coupled with their suspicion that the house held Ralf got her to open up more, however.

The girl told the party that while those folks did indeed steal from Lord Taylor and her wood that it was just a front for another, also illegal activity: an arena, often with fights to the death. The Church would not approve but she has personally escorted a number of nobles and guards to the fights. She's never gone inside, only guided the VIPs through the Lordswood, but she was sure that they must bribe a lot of important people to maintain their operation.

The next arena evening would be in two nights. She didn't want to cause trouble but Ralf was always so sweet and oh she just really hoped he was okay. She quickly bid the party goodbye once they didn't have any more questions for her and hurried off, worry on her face.

Sidebar: I should probably explain that I'm not just throwing this lady at the party. I use Beloch's random encounter scheme LINK (which is great). The first time she came up I hit an.. 8 or 6 for "sense of place." Figured someone foraging in the Lordswood would make sense. The next encounter they had was a 6 or 8 (whichever wasn't the first time) so they cross paths with a large many-pointed buck but couldn't get at it before it fled. The third time an encounter came up it landed on NPC (7) so it made sense that they would run into this girl again. All happened pretty organically, actually.

After she left they spent some time discussing various plans. The options were "go back and murder them" or "go back and try to return this stag helmet and create a ruse to get inside."

"Let's just light their house on fire!"
"Well we do want to save Ralf..."

Tentative Plan: Sneak in at night, almost kick down the door, ultimatum of going into the cellar, looking for Ralf or we'll burn your damn house down. "We'll go in wearing armor, they'll be wearing pajamas."


Decaying Lands 15: Bremmlecht BizDev

PCs Present & Played:

Barthelm Schade, Specialist 4 (James)
Boris "Iron Guts", Fighter 1 (Vegas)
Claus Drexol, Magic-User 4 (Vegas)
Jewel, Really Good Dog 2 (Rudy)
  Buddy, ratter dog
Tenkos, Cleric 2 [plague doctor kit]
Viggo Marklund, Specialist 2 [bounty hunter kit]

The party had survived a foray into the abandoned wizard tower of Bremmlecht with only one casualty, and a dog at that. Their linklady Weibke and guard Sandra quickly abandoned them once they left the tower. Despite the fact that the party had doubled their wages they still were worried what the two women would say or not about the night's events. Captain Foofamaloo decided that adventuring wasn't for him and left as well.

They still didn't know what to make of the voice in their heads or if they wanted to go back in or not but their immediate plan was to take a few days to rest and heal.

Sidebar: I had absolutely no idea what they wanted to do this session. Nothing.

Now that they were relatively safe, Claus cast comprehend languages so he could talk to Jewel for real. She came from Cronnon, far to the east and north and wants to establish herself in this "beautiful country", that is "definitely nice." She also treated everyone like they were her vassals but everyone played along.

Jewel, now with the ability to talk, also told Claus that she really opposes his clone spell idea and fears for the integrity of the multiverse. Claus pretended to write it down and tell everyone else but mostly just ignored that part. Of course since Jewel can understand him she knew that but not much she could do about it.

Was Jewel a human? Nope, always a dog.
"Hey how come you're smarter than other dogs?"
"Why does the bird fly? Why does the fish swim?"
"That's the opposite! You are a flying fish!"

They didn't get much resolution there but we're happy to learn something of their canine companion. The next order of business was going over what they had taken from the tower, starting with the chest.

The first instinct was to chop it open, which caused  Jewel and Barthelm to abandon the room. Think this was after Barthelm and Viggo both failed to pick the lock. Barthelm may have also been shy after almost dying to a poison needle in the lock when they  were in the tower itself.

The rest of the party examined the chest and both Tenkos and Claus caught the scent of some common alchemical reagents emanating from the chest. Instead of chopping, they decided to be more careful and attack the chest with a drill and saw. The damaged maybe a quarter of the components (1d100 = 26% value lost) but discovered that in addition to a bundle of normal lab supplies there was also an extra padded bottle labeled "volcanic ash" set by itself and carefully protected.

Next they moved to the three foot long scroll case. Jewel had growled at it in the tower but now she could share through Claus that she growled because it smelled wrong to her, a strange mustiness like the "shit chair" in the tower's entrance floor. Claus popped the cap anyway, curiosity overruling all, and pulled out the tanned torso skin of an adult man. The skin was joined at the left side and went from the neck and shoulders down to the pelvis. It was covered in intricate geometric shapes, tattoos reminiscent of the drawings they had found inside the tower but more complex. Claus stashed it again, maybe to be investigated at a later time.

- Jewel demanded a feast from her underling
- Tenkos went to the post office.
- Barthelm and Tenkos went to the tower and did a stakeout
- Everyone got back together to go searching for Weibke

They found her house after bribing the waiter that introduced them in the first place. Weibke's dog was particularly innefective at guarding, rolling over for belly rubs and quickly acquiescing to Jewel's request to let them pass.

Weibke was less friendly and shut the door in their faces. Viggo shouted that he never would have let Barthelm hurt her (he shackled her hands in the tower but also stood by her) and Claus tried to remind her of how interested she had seemed in the adventuring life. She refused to open the door still but didn't tell them to leave anymore either.

The party backed off a bit to have a private conversation. Viggo liked Sandra better as a companion because she seemed less fazed, but Jewel barked and growled..

"Weibke almost killed us all!"
"Yeah, and so did Claus, and Caleb...."

Claus wanted to spend a lot of time learning spells and making stuff with Tenkos, so he shouted out to Weibke that if she changed her mind he would be waiting for her at their inn to teach her.

Viggo went around to the taverns, looking for a bounty.

* Bandits on the road to the south, sounded familiar to Barthelm
* Farmer entreating the guards to help with her nephew who went crazy and killed the cows, they don't believe her

Jewel wanted to help the farmer out, Viggo wanted to go after the bandits, make some money. Risk vs reward discussion ensued. They figured that the farmer might be a quicker turnaround and decided on that.

Weibke did show up, Claus started talking to her about read magic and initial magical training. This was going to take a while, so Vegas rolled up a quick fighter to party around while Claus is researching spells and doing magic stuff. Boris "Iron Guts" (!!) just so happened to run into Viggo and the rest of the crew while they were out and about!

Sidebar: Vegas rolled some decent stats for Boris, including an 18. Boris got to be "Iron Guts" because he put that 18 into Constitution. That's right, he's so scared of dying he even put his highest score for a throwaway character into Constitution to get more HP.

Boris "Iron Guts" recognized Viggo from their youth! Boris knew him when he was little and Viggo was a teen (he's 36 now) and Viggo knew he'd be a douche even then. Apparently he uses his talent for drinking to wager against local heavies / drunks (he has no talent for bounty hunting).

"Shouldn't they call you silver guts, then?"

Viggo immediately tried to dump him, but Barthelm latched onto the idea of a meatshield very quickly ("Oh is that a close combat weapon?").

They arrived at the Wegener farm to investigate the missing cow killer nephew. Barthelm and Jewel broke into the house while the rest of the party followed the trail of blood and smell of meat into the butchering shed. Jewel followed her nose about, investigated a disheveled bunk, but they didn't come up with too much.

Meanwhile in the shed the rest of the group told Esther Wegener, the boy's aunt, that they were here to help. Apparently Ralf, her newphew, had been a bit strange ever since coming back from Stilton. He was much quieter, beefier, and dumber, but he really seemed to be closer to their dairy cows until the night he snapped and started killing them all just two nights ago. Esther's brother and his wife are too devastated to talk, so Esther took them back to the house to discuss further, leaving the rest of the family to continue trying to salvage what beef they could.

She may or may not have caught Barthelm and Jewel in the house, it's fuzzy (think she did). Even if they avoided that complication, Barthelm doubled down by offering her a single silver piece to help with the near complete loss of all of their livelihood. Viggo facepalmed behind her, muttering "I forgot there was a reason why I do this by myself." Good old "Iron Guts" gave her a business card and it was a wonder that Viggo didn't throw up everywhere.

Esther explained further that Ralf had been sent to Stilton to try and make a deal with the cheese makers there to use the Wegener farm as a supplier of fine milk. The town had recently been put on the map because of their cheese and the stuff was in high demand across the land. Ralf failed, however, and wasn't able to explain what happened when he came back. She offered the party a taste of their special milk but only Tenkos took her up on it.

It was fucking delicious.

She offered the party 200 sp to find the boy and make sure that he doesn't damage the Wegener name and fortunes any further. He primary concern at this point is salvaging the fortunes of her family and its well known dairy farm. If they can bring Ralf back alive and safe, all the better, and maybe his parents will add to their reward.

The party departed, following the tracks from the farm outskirts to the nearby game forest and girded themselves for the unknown.


Decaying Lands 14: The Tower of Bremmlecht 03

PCs Present & Played:

Barthelm Schade, Specialist 4 (James)
Caleb, Fighter 2 [farmer kit] (Just Yolks)
  Suzie, a stubborn but loyal mule
Claus Drexol, Magic-User 4 (Vegas)
  Wiebke Bott, linklady from Bremmlecht
  Sandra Schöll, guard from Bremmlecht
Jewel, Really Good Dog 2 (Rudy)
  Buddy, ratter dog
  Grizzle / Shado, grizzled mongrel
  Wimpy / Cpt. Foofamaloo, escaped housedog
Tenkos, Cleric 1 [plague doctor kit] (Sugarplum)
Viggo Marklund, Specialist 2 [bounty hunter kit] (Peanut Butter)

Full house tonight! Ended off last session with the party discovering a secret room in the corner of a room with a bunch of skeletons and spellbooks in footlockers. The door handle that opened the secret door was in the bottom of a screaming chest, in a false bottom. They opened the door and peered carefully inside. There was a luxurious rug; a desk and chair; and a basket with some tubes in the back.

Jewel picked Grizzle to go in. She definitely liked him the least but also happened to be his turn. They figured odds were high of awfulness. She told the mangy cur to enjoy himself and he did, rolling about and jumping up and down on the finely embroidered rug. It was really nice and looked like a ton of fun until he got closer to the chair. That's when they heard the snickt sound as a large metal spike shot thru the rug, into the dog, and right on out the top. He was transfixed, twitching in his death throes.

Barthelm traced a safe path to the dog and put him out of his misery with an axe. He lifted the desk off the rug so that Viggo could pull it out of the room, Grizzle still impaled by a trap and a second, still untriggered trap over in front of the basket. Barthelm's trained eye identified a really fancy bear trap!

Barthelm: "Did you just give us the greatest treasure of all? As far as Barthelm's concerned we can probably leave now." Choice quote from Barthelm but in general they are all so fucking pumped.

Viggo: "What would someone be doing in here with a secret door and traps and secret rooms?"
Barthelm: "Probably experimenting with awful worm creatures in bottles."

Once the "OMG more bear traps!" exuberance had subsided they examined the desk a bit more. It looked to be of exquisite construction with more ebony inlay on the top surface. There was a single drawer slung underneath the desktop with a pair of handles and a large arc of ebony on the bottom middle.

Desk, front view. Circle things are handles, ebony wood in the curve at the bottom.
Viggo attached his chain to one of the handles and pulled slowly, keeping his distance. The ebony portion of the drawer stayed put while the lighter wood of the drawer pulled out. They could see the dark wood in the back of the desk, full of papers. The light wood of the drawer that got pulled out had some writing on it but they couldn't read it from this distance.

Viggo went up to the desk to try and puzzle out the writing. As he read them he could feel himself getting sucked in for a moment, transfixed, before they exploded in his face and lit the desk on fire! Viggo stumbled back, nearly dead (2hp) while Claus rushed forward to try to save the papers. Unfortunately the wizard was not quick enough and ended up with some scorched hands for his trouble. 

Sidebar: Explosive runes! I have encouraged my players to use their knowledge however they can because the game is hard and unforgiving. After Viggo almost died both Claus and Barthelm's players said "Oh yeah I totally thought that was explosive runes, why did you we say anything?" I don't know, but since Viggo didn't die it probably didn't weigh too heavily on their minds. I'm thinking Claus' player is probably more upset about losing the papers and they should all be upset about losing all these very fine and expensive furnishings.

Once they had healed up Viggo a bit (hey they've got a cleric now!) they got to theorizing. "If this person was a great wizard, why was the secret room in the apprentice area? Was this a secret apprentice who was way more powerful? WTF is the wizard floor going to be guarded by?!" They all cast a meaningful sidelong glance at the remaining dogs (the henchdogs not Jewel, probably).

The only thing they had left in the room was a trio of scroll cases in the corner basket. Two were normal sized but one was around three feet long. They opened the first regular one and it was full of strange and intricate drawings, even more impressive than the ones that were found in the other chests. Sandra seemed ready to kill Claus if need be based on how excited he was about the possibility of new magic (what is obviously an evil thing) but Barthelm got up in her face with a threatening stare.

The second case had a small bottle, a dropper, and what looked to Tenkos' trained eye to be a dosing chart. They just couldn't tell exactly what the dosage was for. Jewel growled at the long case so they avoided opening it for the moment. She also nudged one of the party members to give Foofamaloo a bit of meat to shore up the dandy dog's motivation a bit.

Barthelm went to one of the other rooms and peeked out the window get a sense of time. They'd been in the tower for a full two hours already (maybe more? I dropped the ball on accurate time records) and had a few more to go before dawn. They decided to press on, continuing up the stairs to the next landing. On the way they found three more corpses in chain mail, scrounging what silvers they could from the bodies.

At the landing they all stared at the door. They knew from their outside observation that this was the top floor; the stairs up past this led to the roof. Claus, after a moment, continued on up the stairs around the corner to wait for everyone else to open the door. 

Jewel, hoping to put Sandra more at ease after the confrontation, told Foofamaloo to go lick her hand. When she rebuffed the dog the party decided that she would be the one to open the door. Barthelm checked it for traps without finding anything, Foofamaloo ran up to Claus, and Sandra opened the door.

Bodies, a bunch of bodies. Eight tossed around the room, with one all by itself at the other end of what looked like a highway. Four of the bodies were all burned up, clustered around a charred metal door. The other four didn't have obvious wounds from where the party stood.

Sandra moved into the room and the rest of the party followed. The floor was covered almost completely by another thick rug with intricate geometric designs, similar to the one from the secret room. The hallway straight ahead led to an open door blocked by curtains.

The most impressive feature of the room was the giant statue of a naked, incredibly muscular man standing next to the door. It was posed like a wrestler or a body builder might be and had an incredibly level of detail for a sculpture, similar to the cowled figure near the tower entrance.

"Get the big key! Check alllll the spots"

Sidebar: Hey, HEY, it's another dick joke. This is apparently the kind of game I run. I'm okay with that.

Obce they determined that the  statue wasn't going to come to life and murder them in the immediate future they commenced their usual rummaging around the bodies, taking what they could find. Most of the corpses seemed like normal soldiers but the one closest to the doors had much nicer equipment, including a metal helmet that was completely bashed in and crushing the skull.

They also grabbed a bunch of money, a fancy greatsword, and an intricate eyeglass shaped in the likeness of a yellow cat's eye. Claus immediately put on the monacle and thought it's awesome!

Sidebar: I had been describing all of the corpses as skeletons up to this point when Vegas, Claus' player, started asking me about states if decomposition and skin and evidence of bugs and all sorts of stuff. He thought there would be sunken skin or something if there was no bug evidence (my mistake) and I said nah man been here a long time, just bones. (MAYBE DON'T CLICK THESE) A couple hours of bubbly body research (body farms!) and I feel fairly confident that a tower with open windows would have skeleton corpses instead of mummy corpses. Maybe there would still be bug evidence but I bet even that stuff decomposes after long enough.

As soon as they opened the curtain Claus started to hear a voice in his head. He didn't share this with anyone but went forward in the room, holding a torch and moving towards the large brazier. Barthelm was close behind, and Jewel was near Weibke. Both Claus and Weibke were talking about lighting the brazier to try and make it easier to see. In addition the the brazier there were some bookshelves in disarray, a desk, a chest, and a robed corpse half covering a large summoning circle.

Even a summoning circle was not enough to draw attention away from this brazier, however. Claus got to the brazier and tried to light it.

Sidebar: I think Vegas said something like "Well if no one stops Claus then I am definitely lighting this up." Bless your heart Vegas.

Barthelm stopped Claus from putting the torch in, Weibke tried to throw hers in but Jewel beat her out at initiative, grabbed her, stopped her from throwing. Viggo jumped in and grabbed the torch, put some manacles on her. All this time the voice was trying to convince Claus to light the brazier.

Then Barthelm dumped the brazier contents on the floor. This didn't stop the voice.  It started talking to Jewel but she growled. Started trying to get Caleb too, he seemed tempted by whatever it was saying to him but couldn't quite push him over the edge in that moment.

Sidebar: Managing all of these mental communications with instant messaging instead of just telling them out loud was really cool but became unmanageable the more people I added to talk to individually.

Barthelm exploded further into the room after they had secured the torches from Weibke and Claus. He noted a cell with some kind of child-sized skeletons seemingly fused together. The robe on the corpse on top of the symbol was very fine and Claus confirmed once again that the summoning circle was an intricate, powerful one. All this time the voices continued to Weibke and Claus. Oh and Barthelm threatened to brutally kill Weibke if she even so much as looked at a torch in this room.

"Maybe we can research some way to consecrate the ashes." I don't remember who said this but my response was something along the lines of: "Hey, research! That's a really interesting word that you all have never said before." I need bigger things to hit them on the head with, I guess.

They grabbed a chest in the back of the brazier room, Claus snagged some books off the shelf, and they all got the hell out of dodge as quickly as they could.


One Shot Shenanigans: Troika! Odd Couple

I'm three regular campaign summaries behind at the moment but I wanted to get this session report out to mix it up a bit. Skip down to the postlude if you just want quick thoughts about Troika! but some of it won't make sense without the context.

My campaign has suffered a bit in the past month. I had to cancel one session because I was working a lot and didn't have time to play. This past weeks session I cancelled but managed to reschedule from Thursday to Saturday based on availability. Most of that fell thru at the last minute so I was left with two of my normal six players about an hour after our usual start time. We took advantage of the time to do some lovely catching up and then decided to hit the hay early like responsible adults.

Lies! We didn't sleep, we shot the shit and then I started proposing various one shot recipes for their preparation and consumption. I was thinking Maze Rats or Troika! since they were a ton of fun to run before for IntroCONso and character creation is a snap. One of my regular crew (I'ma call him Peanut Butter) who played in that Troika! one-shot for IntroCONso perked up immediately and the decision was made pretty quickly. Vegas had never played before so we got him spun up and they got to rolling up their characters.

Sidenote: You can see what they've played in the regular Lamentations campaign over here.

Troika! is a retroclone of Advanced Fighting Fantasy and has three stats: Skill, Stamina, and Luck. Doing things is generally Skill, you want a high one, and they both rolled as low as possible there (4). On the other hand, Peanut Butter maxed out on Luck (saving throws-ish). Both of those facts came into play very prominently later as the session got closer to ending. So we had:

Jonice "Jonesy" Tuscany (Peanut Butter)
  Sorcerer of the College of Friends
??? (Vegas)

If you don't have Troika! (why don't you there's a free artless version dammit!!) then you might not know that a Zoanthrop is a person who has willingly had their forebrain removed, turning them into some kind of wild animal man thing. Most likely they're naked, it says. This one wasn't naked, however, as Jonesy made sure to cover him up in loincloth and poncho. They decided that Jonesy probably knew this guy pre-op and has been trying to reign him in a bit after failing to convince him not to auto-lobotomize. Jonesy calls him "Erik" but unclear if that was his name before. Hell of an odd couple though! Guy who just wants to be friends with everyone and spread the love and barely-a-guy. That's the magic that the dice give you in Troika!

We decide that these two don't travel the million spheres on one of the golden barges but that they are aware of their life on one of those spheres. It's small enough that you could travel around it and it wouldn't take your whole life so that's what they're doing. At a local tavern they overheard some anglers complaining of lake monsters and another guy freaked out about trees that tried to kill him. They introduced themselves to the fisherfolk by way of "Erik" jumping forward and saying "spooooooky fishessss!" Vegas got into character real quick.

They asked about nighttime attacks and came up with day trouble only. Their plan was to go out and do some recon during the day in a borrowed boat. Only Jonesy had any skill in swimming and it's not much (5 or less on 2d6) so they were hoping they don't get into trouble. 

Of course "don't get into trouble" and "reconnaissance" turned into "let's hang out on this lake all day and see if we can find the monster." They managed to catch some regular fish before attracting the attention of a fifteen foot long tentacles monstrosity. It started off trying to grab "Erik" and pull him into the water but caught a couple of mighty club hits for the effort. It then went straight for murder tentacles.

Jonesy tried to Jolt the thing which would have been super effective in the water but alas, rolling 5 or less on 2d12 is really hard. Then he declared that he was taking out his knife to which I replied "Oh yeah? Where is it on your inventory list?" Even getting stuff out in combat is a roll based on what number line the thing is on (1-12). Of course poor Jonesy failed that one too even though the roll wasn't so bad (I think?).

Meanwhile "Erik" was just smashing back and forth with this giant tentacle thing. I toned it down after the first exchange because I realized 7 skill and damage as medium monster was way too strong for two starting schlubs with no armor. Oops. Second session of Troika!, still don't have an idea of mob strength yet. It was still close, but "Erik" got in a killing blow and they had until the end of the round before other it started to sink. Unfortunately the black end of turn die came out before they could secure the beast and it sunk into the depths of the lake. That was the only kind of initiative bag trickery that came up in this combat. It also wasn't quite as fun to pull the dice from the bag myself and shove them at the camera; much prefer making the players pull the init dice out.

Jonesy wanted proof that they had killed it so he prepared to dive in. The sorcerer wasn't a very good swimmer (one point in it) but he was still better than his empty-headed companion (no points). Since they both had a base skill 4, that put their chances of actually passing a swimming test at 28% and 17% respectively. Not good. Jonesy was committed though so he took off his gear and I think did some breathing exercises or something. He also created a pair of helping hands on the side of the boat to help pull the like back up once he'd secured it. "Erik" would help pull it up too. Prepped, Jonesy dove into the water!

And immediately failed his check. Drowning is brutal in Troika! (d6 additive damage per failed check) but we have him a mulligan since he was going in on purpose and wasn't really even in the water yet. Didn't matter much though, because now that Jonesy was in the water and dove down in earnest he failed again and started taking damage (d6). He secured the rope on the corpse and tried to use the rope to assist in his assent. He got big bonuses for being able to use the rope, probably needed to make 7 or lower at this point (58%) but still failed (2d6). "Erik" was barely able to haul the spluttering friend sorcerer onto the deck. Jonesy had very nearly died (and not passed a single check the whole time) but they had a big gross monster fixed to the hull. Success!

They returned to town to incredulous celebrations. The townsfolk gutted and salted the monster to leave it in the sun in the hopes of preserving it as a tourist attraction. Jonesy laid up for a bit after his very much near-death experience then spent the festival week casting minor magics and making friends. "Erik" just... did "Erik" things, I guess. He's a weird guy. An old lady, impressed by Jonesy's displays (stuff like Protection from Rain, too stronk) brought him a trio of plasmic cores but warned him of their addictive, destructive properties.

Sidebar: At this point we could have stopped or kept playing. It was general stopping time for our normal sessions but since it was the weekend we kept rolling.

Towards the end of the celebration they searched out the truffle gatherer who had fled the forest after being attacked by trees. He was grateful that they didn't think he was crazy and described the hill where he usually found the best mushrooms, right next to the lake. Jonesy stocked up on oil for the burning and they rolled out.

Found the copse easily enough, didn't approach. Instead Jonesy cracked open his Second Sight (detect magic) and saw an evil aura extending from the trees down into the roots. They circled over to the lake side of the cliff, saw a beech down below, and decided to go down. They had no rope but there was plenty of roots hanging down over the side. "Erik" also detected an acrid, foul smell down there, cementing their decision to go down. The man-beast scampered down the cliff easily enough and next it was Jonesy's turn for a feat of athleticism.

You might think that all of these handy climbing roots (and commensurate bonuses) would make this climb a cinch but nope! Jonesy barely failed his physical task again, taking a decent chunk of damage in the fall. He needed to rest and take advantage of the fact that eating a provision heals in Troika! "Erik" searched about and found a handful of gold coins. Rich! He also found a crack in the cliff, and they both went inside. The dirt turned into more finished stone and they found a mucked up chamber with more than half a dozen cracked eggs. More importantly, they found two miniature lake monsters!

The initiative bag jumped in a little bit here, ending some rounds early before everyone had a chance to act. Initially they were more hungry than anything and the players had an idea of that but then things devolved into blows pretty quickly. Maybe this is actually where Jonesy went for rations in his pack and failed the check to grab it in a tense situation. Either way, "Erik" hopped in front of his buddy and handily slew the two creatures inside of a few rounds between his turns and beating the creatures when they attacked him.

Sidebar: In Troika! someone always gets hurt when there's a melee combat, doesn't matter if it's your turn or not. Makes holding a door or facing off against a bunch of minions really interesting. Also makes facing a single, more dangerous creature more of a gamble for everyone not just the PC that gets attacked on the creature's turn. I love it.

They didn't waste too much time after dispatching the creatures beyond noting the improved stonework and remaining unaccounted for eggs. They coiled underneath that room and went further into the caves, spotting a mass of tree roots. Jonesy slowly approached one and it tried to grab him! He dodged, backed up, and lit them all up with his extra oil. Preparation!

They came to a large room with a pair of sarcophagi surrounded by an oily liquid. "Erik" took a running start and leapt onto the closer coffin. Unfortunately a hideous, alien creature exploded out from it and tried to kill him, letting out a horrific howl.

Good thing "Erik" ain't never scared! Forebrain removal really coming in handy here. Jonesy tested his luck and passed, so they both escaped the effects of the howl.

Sidebar: Luck is the saving throw stat in Troika!. It's got a max set at character creation and goes down every time it's tested regardless of result. It can be restored with rest and some consumables. Players can choose not to test luck if they'd rather save it. At this point they had both tested their luck a few times so the numbers were getting less favorable.

There was some back and forth on top of the coffin with Jonesy trying to provide support from the other side. "Erik" was hurting, and tried to flee back to the outside of the room, but failed, falling into the oil. The creature hopped down too but ended up going prone. Their collective plan was to get "Erik" out of the oil, have Jonesy light it up, and then GTFO before heat, smoke, or monster ended them both. The next few pulls from the initiative bag were pretty tense, but they manged to get "Erik" out of the liquid and onto the stone with Jonesy following up with the Ember to light it up.

Their plan was almost too successful, as now they needed to get out of the room without dying horrible because of all the smoke and fire and heat. Think it ended up being three turns to get out, test luck at the end of every round or take damage, something like that. Jonesy got out pretty safe, with his much higher luck, but "Erik" was in more trouble and fell unconscious just at the edge of safety. Our friendly sorcerer rushed back into danger to save his friend, healing him back up with a provision or some water or something enough to for them both to get out of the fire.


There are some review bits sprinkled throughout the summary but overall I think it should be pretty clear that I love Troika! The general play mechanic is straightforward, the backgrounds are dripping with verve and beauty, and the art inside is gorgeous.

Sidebar: Before continuing, a disclosure: Daniel Sell asked on g+ at some point if anyone wanted review copies of things. He was non-specific, but I volunteered based on the fact that I really loved Troika! and had backed Crypts of Indormancy. It turns out the review copies were for... Troika! and Crypts of Indormancy. I got review copies of things I had already bought and paid for. I don't really know what that means, I guess? I think if I had already bought something that I later got comp'ed it probably doesn't count as a comp but worth noting at least.

The initiative bag does a great job of adding tension and unpredictability to combat. Having speed, coordination, and decisiveness all represented as the number of dice that go in the bag is an effective abstraction. The fact that someone always gets damaged in melee is another good addition, simultaneously solving the problem of a bunch of PCs surrounding a badass monster and the inverse of that when a single PC tries to hold a choke point against a rush of little booger mobs or something. Spells and ranged weapons aren't contested, however, so maybe it just turns everyone into Legolas. I haven't seen that happen in two sessions but it would also be a lot harder since characters are rolled completely randomly on the background d66 table.

That background table is of course one of the other huge strengths of Troika! with 36 unique and interesting backgrounds oozing with implied setting. Creation is incredibly fast which is a great thing when health never improves over the (short?) life of a character. In my first Troika! session I had two PCs die but they were back with a newly rolled character faster than it mattered. I'm really looking forward to seeing the rest of the full d666 table (216 entries) that Daniel has planned for Troika!

I'll also note the inventory system as being incredibly elegant in terms of management but maintaining an impact on the PCs. Everyone gets 12 slots and that's (generally) it. You can carry more stuff but it's incredibly crippling. If you need something in a hurry, you have to roll over its slot number. That's it! No endless inventory but also no need to audit all the time to see if anyone should really be a lot slower when they're trying to run away from the awful murder beast.

Peanut Butter has basically guaranteed that I will be running Troika! at every IntrCONso and random one-shot for a while, too. He also said something really insightful after the session that made me appreciate Troika! even more. Part of the baked in setting is this idea of "travelling the millions spheres," so Peanut Butter pointed out how cool it was that both of the sessions we played were happening concurrently somewhere in this universe. I find this very attractive as a method to mix things up with different spheres, sessions, and characters while still maintaining a sort of continuity.

My only real complaint is that I don't like the second printing's cover as much as the first's.