Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Session recap 5

This is taken largely from player-written session notes. With any luck I'll be able to do that in the future.

Take heed, and read in awe, the deeds of our intrepid company.

During the last session, our intrepid adventurers regrouped back at the Keep before venturing out once again to thin out the menace lurking in the Caves of Chaos. While in town, they were joined by the large, strapping paladin Borios (and is slightly less-impressive squire, Lars), sent by his order to help root out and end the threat of the undead. Hearing of the Caves of Chaos, Borios was certain that he would be able to lend his sword to good purpose.
Borios was honestly-gotten; after Rori died, the player rolled his stats and got a natural 18 for charisma. Lars was his second character. I recommended he have one in case Borios wouldn't be able to join the party on certain adventures, due to his quest. 
Borios is dedicated to rooting out undead in the eastern marches. He's joining the party because his priest told him there have been rumours of occult worship and possibly necromancy at the Caves of Chaos.
Unfortunately the players didn't really pick up on that. Oh well.
Prior to departure, the adventurers shared meat and mead at the tavern, and learned of the tragic destruction of a merchant caravan at the hands of a gang of orcs and a hulking, monstrous ogre. The merchant was the sole survivor. Surely there was some connection to the increased activity at the caves. While at the tavern the heroes welcomed into their company also a young noble of the house Steelclan, a noted family of Dwarven metalsmiths. He spoke loudly, brashly, and drunkenly of his deeds, and since the company of heroes sometimes does the same, they brought him in.
After recruiting these new heroes to their cause, the intrepid company set out once again for the caves to continue their ill-advised spelunking, mostly due to poverty. First they stumbled upon a cave long and dank, like a corridor before a great hall, piled high with skulls and bones of animals, men, and elves. The cave ended in a door, massive, wooden, and immovable, with a sign crudely scratched out reading "We'd love to have you for dinner." Since none of the heroes were particularly hungry, and since none of the skeletons stood up, wielded rusty implements, and proclaimed fealty to their necromantic master, Borios and the others thought it best to move on.
This was the hobgoblin cave, in case you didn't get that from the description. The players spent a good amount of time discussing whether or not they should break down the door after listening and hearing nothing and checking out the skulls to see if there was anything valuable or informative. Borios' player, who's fairly unassertive when directly asked questions but participates well in the discussions, brought up that there are other caves, and this one seems both difficult and dangerous. So they decided to go down the hill to another cave.
I really like my players.

In the next cave, they stumbled upon a massive ogre, who, quickly outwitted by our elven mage Ellarion, was soon fast and quite magically asleep. Juan Pendleton, helpful as always, made sure he didn't wake up. He then shot a mattress he thought was a bear, making certain everyone knew his predilection for wanton violence was still strong.
The book is fairly clear: from a distance the ogre's mattress of bearskin and leaves looks like a sleeping bear. Nobody got close enough to tell the difference until after Juan shot it and the arrow just sunk in.

This was the ogre who was involved in the assault on the merchant caravan, along with the goblins who live next door.
The encounter with the ogre was actually quite amusing: he heard people rooting around in his other cave and came out for a look. He was suspicious, but didn't immediately attack, partly due to his mercenary inclinations and partly due to the fact that I rolled an effective 10 on his reaction roll. So Ellarion asked if he'd like to hear a song.
Sleep is a very powerful spell indeed.

Within the cave, our heroes discovered the fresh remains of a retinue of men and elves, surely the merchants overtaken on the road. A tragic end to good folk, though they were certainly not the only to fall victim to such a gruesome fate. The ogre kept a vast store of treasure. Coins silver and gold by the sackful, a mammoth wheel of good, hard cheese, and a cask of fine brandy, for which Pious Inebrius most certainly did not trip over the others to claim. Nestled near (or, rather, firmly beneath) the remains of the poor souls who fell victim to the ogre were also a magic scroll and several elegant arrows. Ellarion claimed these, being the only one who knows anything about runes or the proper way to use a bow.

While on the road, the intrepid company was overtaken by a pack of orcs, and Borios, fluent in orc, invited them to take the hard cheese the company found, and refrain from trying to kill our heros. The leader of that filthy band graciously accepted, and left under the slightly misguided notion that the cheese was somehow made from ogre milk.

This was a random encounter on my table for the wilderness around the Keep. The players saw the orcs first, but given they were laden down with treasure and without a sleep spell, they felt it was best to parley. These are orcs from tribe B, though the players haven't taken the time to figure that out. Fortunately for them, with the cheese in the hands of an underling the boss orc of this little raiding party agreed to say he never saw the party if they left each other alone.

Shortly after setting camp, along came a band of merchants, the chiefest of which was rather fussy, rotund, and not particularly friendly. They also being bound for the Keep. The two parties rested separately, and arrived within a short span of one another the following morning.

The dice were hot for random encounters.

Upon returning triumphantly to the Keep, our heroes conducted themselves in a properly heroic fashion. They deposited their hard-earned monetary spoils at the local bank, learning to their dismay that many of the coins were counterfeit hunks of lead in gold leaf. With the remaining coin, they reserved rooms at the local inn. Borios spoke with Theodoric, who commended him for his service, and offered lodging to Borios and Lars both (and free stabling for Borios' monstrously large steed). He encouraged Borios to continue to focus his efforts on the cave.
There was some talk about not turning in the coins and trying to pass them as currency around the keep rather than taking the value of the gold. The banker pointed out as gently as he could that he already knew about these coins, and would be very, very upset if they showed up in circulation.
Theodoric is the curate of the church in the Keep.
The party also decided to rent one of the Keep's apartments for six months with some of their recent windfall. I ruled this would mean that staying in town for a week would cost 2 gold each, instead of 10, meaning it would pay itself off quickly. Minus incidental expenses, of course. 

Ellarion learned from the clerics that the scroll is indeed a divine one and promised to give it to Pious, who should be able to make good use of it provided he's sober enough.

Celebrating, as always, at the tavern, our intrepid company continued to gain in popularity with the locals. They wooed away from the merchant his men-at-arms, John and Teddy, who offered a step discount for their services and promised to recruit their comrades, Otus, Langard, Sigurd, and Helga, to the cause of adventure. Pious soothed the ego of the preening merchant, Edward, and promised to give him first pick of any "liberated" dry goods the company may find amongst the caves. Edward offered an 80% purchase price, far to generous. Pious and Edward then shared in the holy rite of most-certainly-not-Bacchus, and subsequently passed out.
Edward is the same merchant they met on the road, and out from under whom they rented the last apartment at the Keep. Originally he was seethingly upset that the party had done so, but Pious was so persuasive that that's smoothed over now. It helps that he's also a worshipper of Bacchus, so he considers Father Pious as one of his own.
 Just as a side note, Langard is actually an old veteran hireling of the Caves of Chaos: he was hired by the first group I ever ran this module for. As such, he knows a thing or two about the caves.
There were quite a few hijinks in town with Pious getting very drunk and sharing coin and brandy all over the place, not to be outdone by Heinrich or Juan. This was the session I changed the house rules for XP: they had to spend their gold if they wanted to earn anything from it. The results were both amusing and entertaining. 

Where will the adventure take our heroes next? To the mysterious ruins to the south, setting up an expedition to explore and collect artifacts of immense and arcane power? To the town of Hommlet, to combat the growing threat of the Temple of Elemental Evil and its pernicious influence on an otherwise peaceful village? Or will they once again brave the Caves of Chaos, facing down evils both ancient and contemporary, fighting for the honor of their fallen brethren? The world is in need of their efforts, which they will happily lend in full force. After, of course, they attend Mass.
After discussion, the players decided to stick to the Caves of Chaos. There was a good bit of interest in the ruins to the south (which happen to be the Caverns of Thracia), but they finally decided against it after tabulating the costs: they'd have to either set up a nearby base-camp and pay their day-laborers and men-at-arms to staff it, or risk walking both ways through the swamp and jungle each time they wanted to find the place again.

Monday, March 3, 2014

House rules: Other people's house rules

I'm hoping this is the start of a small series of posts about house rules I use. Some I made up, some I snatched from other places. In posting about them, I'm not just going to re-hash what the rule is, but also give some mild analysis on how it affects the game, how it actually plays out, and so forth.

Without further adieu:

Other People's House Rules

Every one of these is something someone else came up with originally.

Ritual magic

Synopsis: This house rule comes from Semper Initiativus Unum. The basic idea is that magic users and spell casters can cast some spells outside of combat without preparation if they pay gold and take a large amount of time.

Purpose:  This gives magic users and clerics a deal more flexibility. The idea is to get their utility spells into circulation, since (especially at lower levels) caster slots are limited, and they tend to go for things that are likely to be useful in combat. Specifically, the rule is structured to make it progressively less desirable to not prepare higher-level utility spells if you want to use them.

Experience: Obviously this hasn't seen a lot of use in my campaign, but it has seen some. We've been very short on magic-users in general, but our elf has done this once with detect magic. Both I and his player appreciated the ability to do so, even if it didn't net him anything in the instance.

Verdict: Cautiously optimistic

XP for gold spent

Synopsis: This is an old one. The basic idea is that PCs earn experience not for simply bringing treasure back to civilization, but for spending it in actions that don't directly benefit them as adventurers. The Mule Abides has a pretty good writeup that ties it to The First Fantasy Campaign.

Purpose: This primarily accomplishes two things. One is splitting the PCs' resources and forcing them to make decisions about what to spend coin on, since buying e.g. armor doesn't count for xp.The other is provide some verisimilitude for xp gain.

Experience: I don't give a fig for the verisimilitude argument, but I do like forcing decisions on the players about what to do with their loot. Not only does it allow me to give them more loot, but it also allows me to restrict how much coin can be spent on adventuring supplies without the players having no recourse but to stockpile coin. Poor adventurers are good adventurers, after all. Further, there's another side effect: it increases player 'buy-in' for the world as they interact with it in ways different from just treating it like a backdrop for the dungeon. Our best session to date was mostly spent roleplaying with NPCs and finding ways to dump coin on them.

Verdict: I highly recommend this house rule precisely because it broadens the players' conception and care about the world. I'm having a lot of fun and the players are having a lot of fun.


Synopsis: This one's simple: if a person is down between 0 and 2 hp inclusive, you can spend a turn to bandage them up. This returns 1 HP, and can only be done once until they heal. Further, characters regain 1 HP per full day of rest.

Purpose: This provides some very limited low-level healing, and it reinforces the idea to the players that they're hurt and should consider turning back - or pushing on, but in the knowledge that they're taking a huge risk. You'd think that the numbers on the sheet would do that for you, but it's nice to have another indicator. Plus it's another chance for a trade-off: do the players want to patch up their buddies, restoring 1 HP but risking the chance of a wandering monster?

Experience: The players like it, and it doesn't seem to significantly cut into the mortality of the game; a lot of PCs and NPCs have still died. It's easy to keep track of, too - you can just do it in your head. Plus, it gives me flavor in describing hurt people and how they feel. I'm in favor.

Not dead at 0 HP

Synopsis: My implementation of this common rule is as follows: at 0 HP you're unconscious, at below 0 you're dead. However, if you go below 0 HP, and someone can bring you back to 0 or above before the round is over, you might live.

Purpose: It puts a small wedge of 'not okay' betweeen D&D's much-discussed 'you're fine' and 'you're dead' without making that wedge large enough to significantly affect vitality. It also gives the players some hope when a beloved NPC or PC goes down.

Experience: Bringing someone back up from negative numbers is a very difficult task, since most spells take the full round to come into effect, which means you basically have to anticipate when someone is going to need healing. However, the 0 HP bit has come up a decent bit more often, and it has been fun for all concerned because of the relief from surviving such a near brush - which the players actually feel is very near, since if the dice had rolled 1 higher, their characters would be dead. It has also added fun in some instances where the PCs weren't sure if someone was dead or merely unconscious and bleeding out. I'm in favor.

XP for gold hoarded

Synopsis: For whatever reason you care to justify, the PCs have to sacrifice their gold for XP without doing anything else with it. This is different from XP for gold spent above because it's not just spending gold on things that 'don't matter' - it's not spending the gold at all until they get enough to level up and make a trip to one of these sacrificial spots

Purpose: This was meant to provide an in-game excuse for the existence of class levels, because I think justifying such things inside the game is cool. It was also meant to put the squeeze on treasure, forcing the PCs to make a decision as to whether to spend their hard-earned gold on adventuring advantages or XP.

Experience: In reality, it meant that the gold either sat there being useless like a millstone around the players' necks, or much more likely they dipped into it too far and too fast, meaning they never accumulated appreciable XP-substitute. Either way, they got no experience whatsoever, so it felt to me and to them that they were stagnant. I really don't recommend this.

Alternative: I still have places I call 'navels of the world' in my game where a person goes to suffer strange and weird rituals and be granted class levels, but now I grant XP for gold spent, as above, and the rituals themselves are a mere tax - the square of your current level * 100 gp to advance.

All in all I'm happy with the house rules I'm using. There are plenty more I have that, so far as I know, aren't someone else's invention. There are probably others that are, but are so central to the usual play for the game that I just don't see or remember them as house rules.