The Lonely Coast – Shadowed Keep On The Borderlands – Session 12

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Session 20 (2nd Mar 2015)

For the second adventure in our Lonely Coast campaign I turned once again to Raging Swan.  This time I went to the brilliant Shadowed Keep On The Borderlands which got amazing reviews and makes for a totally different style of play from the groups previous adventure Retribution.  If you’d like to read the whole campaign’s adventure log it’s posted in order here.  The previous session can be found here and the whole of the Shadowed Keep sessions here.

Note if as a player your GM is likely to run Shadowed Keep On The Borderlands by Raging Swan please do not read any further, the adventure is one that will be wrecked by spoilers.

Four figures advance warily from the broken doors of Ironwolf Keep into the muddy courtyard.  The drizzle is getting heavier as the morning wears on and the clouds darken. A shout from the hooded figure standing, bow in hand, atop the watchtower battlements raises their spirits and they increase their pace with more surety in their steps.

Minutes later the group are reunited and swapping stories, everyone relieved that nobody was badly injured in the foray beneath the keep.  A rest is on everyone’s minds as the emotional and physical stress of the morning weighs on them.  First though some sort of plan needs to be made.

Elrohir volunteers to continue to stand guard while the others rest, his spirits bouyed by the knowledge that his companions are alive and safe.

The bodies of the bandits slain in the taking of the tower had not been properly removed and before the main dormitory could be used to rest it was going to be necessary to shift them. Not wanting to risk the courtyard the group spend an unpleasant time carrying the corpses, now two days old, up to the roof where they were piled.

As they work Dvadi finds himself brooding on the tales told of ogres by the old warriors of clan Anvilbeard.  The fury of an ogre unleashed, finding half eaten corpses of friends and kin, showing even in that state signs of terrible tortures.  Knowing how often patrols of veteran warriors had been decimated by battles with these vile adversaries he finds himself turning over in his mind their last battle below ground. Were they just lucky, are they close to being out of their depth?

Arris is likewise lost in thought, trying to balance the euphoria of survival with the dark terror through which he had just lived. Fighting with the Church armies against both human foes and gnoll slavers had steeled him to standing within a field of whirling blades, the smells and sounds of battle overpowering his senses. Those had not been the claustrophobic darkness of subterranean corridors. The reality of the stories his comrades had told him of the battle beneath The Priory is sinking in as he reflects on his recent experiences.

The now heavy rain did not improve the work and having finally finished Elrohir ys goodbye to his comrades as he prepaes himself for sentry duty while the others wearily descended the stairs towards a well earned rest.

Before the companions could even reach the bottom of the first flight of stairs a deep bellow sounded in the courtyard. As Elrohir turned he heard the gutteral sound of the goblin language but from the throat of no goblin. Even the cursed bugbears would have sounded shriller than this deep bellow.

“Humans… humans…”, the voice hung in the air, loud even through the splattering of the rain on the stones.

Elrohir turned and moved towards the edge of the roof, bow in hand. The sight that met his eyes stopped him in his tracks. The ogre that they had slain in the lair of the Bloodmoon Clan had been huge but the infernal beast that stood before the doorway of Ironwolf Keep was vast. Fully ten feet tall this spawn of evil sprouted horns from a huge bald head, his vast belly sagged over his loin cloth, muscular arms and legs hidden by plate armour. In his hand he held an enormous falchion, fell runes etched into it’s blade and spikes running down the back of the blade. Behind him stood three large female goblins holding two near naked men between them, haggard, beaten and terrified. Six more goblin warriors stood ringing them, their eyes burning with hatred, axes held in their hands.

As Elrohir became visible atop the tower the beast roared again.  “Those who dare to challenge the might of the Bloodmoon Clan should fear their vengeance.”

Two of the female goblins forced their captive to step forward, holding his arms wide. Terror wracked the man’s face and he struggled feebly between his captors. The vast figure drew a vicious dagger from his belt and slowly slit the man’s belly open, the scream from his victim rising endlessly in pitch as the knife cut deeply. As his guts and intestines spilled out the goblins let their screaming and spasming victim drop into the mud. Behind them the other captive screamed and thrashed, terror not being enough to allow him to break free of his captors.

Hederas, Dvadi, Arris and Armitage reached the wall in time to see the dying man fall to the floor. Suddenly there was a loud twang from their left and an arrow buried itself deep in the chest of the remaining captive. Wheeling round they saw Elrohir unhurriedly nocking another arrow to his bow as the cries of terror in the courtyard turned to that of pain.

“What the hell was that for?” bellowed Hederas at the elf, amazement and anger vying for attention in his mind. Dvadi, next to Hederas, was simply staring at the elf, unsure of what to think of his actions.

Ignoring the reactions of his comerades the Elrohir called down, “I thank you for the tribute to our greatness.”

“If you’re going to shoot him at least kill him.” called Dvadi.

The elf sent a second arrow into injured captive leaving the surprised goblins holding a corpse.

“Should I put him out of his misery?” asked Elrohir gesturing at the victim of the ogre’s brutality, his screams turning to gurgles as he slowly died.

“If you have enough arrows.” replied Armitage.  Another arrow flew straight to the dying man and having jerked once more he fell still and quiet.  Arris clasped his symbol of Darlen praying for the souls of the dying prisoners as they passed to the next world.

“Do we take the battle to them now or wait?” the elf asked, nocking another arrow to his bow.

“What were you expecting to achieve with that?” shouted Hederas into the courtyard.

The gigantic figure raised his massive sword, pointing it to the companions. “You may stop your comrades suffering but you will still die a slow and painful death at my hand.” he bellowed.

“They were not our comrades.” the cleric retorted.

The ogre turned his attention to the goblins, “See how they cower with fear?”

Hederas walked to the stairs and quickly descended, his companions swapping questioning glances between them.

Dvadi’s blood was boiling with anger at the ogre.  The execution of the prisoner and the obvious delight that the beast took in the pain he inflicted beat in his head, inner voices urging him to take whatever steps were necessary to join battle.  Had it been possible he would have simply jumped to the courtyard and charged.  The best he could manage was an ancient curse aimed at the creatures mother.  His comrades did not understand the giantish language but it was obvious from the reaction in the courtyard that the barb had sunk home.

In the cells in the basement of the tower Hederas addressed the oldest of the captive bandits.  “The goblins in the basement, what was your relationship with them like?”

“That scum?  We’ve been fighting them for months.”

“But you live in the same building?”

“Yeah?” answered Adhearne, as if he didn’t hear the question in the statement.

Hederas’ mind went back to their first impressions of the watchtower.  “So it was them who set light to the tower door?”

“What do you think?” the aging bandit grunted back.

Shaking his head the cleric unlocked the goblin prisoner’s chains and dragged the struggling goblin out of the cell and up the stairs.  “I’m not going to kill you” he grunted in the terrified creature’s own tongue.  Hardly reassured the goblin at least let himself allowed himself to be towed up the tower.

On the first floor Hederas met Dvadi who was on his way to guard the main door of the tower and check it was fully secured.  The dwarf’s eyes showed a blankness as he struggled with the conflict raging in his head.

From the roof Elrohir, Armitage and Arris watched Ruknar and the clan.  Finding his son’s mutilated corpse in the guardroom below the keep had come as a terrible shock.  Discoveing that the tribe’s shaman, his guards and the bugbear mercenaries he’d hired had all also been killed, for the first time since he had killed the orc who had previously ruled the tribe, Ruknar could feel doubt in the minds of his warriors about his leadership. The ogre could feel the insults being slung from the tower, first by the dwarf and now by a cursed elf, challenging his superiority in the clan’s eyes still further.  Raising his falchion he roared and charged the tower, not even feeling the sting of a crossbow bolt as it bounced from him.

Elrohir fired arrows into several of the goblins who paused before following their leader while Armitage pulled out the wand he had recovered from the clan’s shaman waiting to time his one remaining shot for maximum effect.

Ruknar hit the door to the tower with a blow that splintered the massive bar holding it shut.  The tremor of the impact ran through the tower, on the first floor landing Dvadi spun to face the top of the stairs, ripped from his thoughts and certain from the sound that foes would soon storm through the broken door.  Planting his feet he weighed his axe in his hands preparing himself for the onslaught to come.  Yar, the goblin prisoner held by Hederas, panicked at the sound and struggled free of the cleric.  Bolting for the stairs he almost made it past Dvadi when the dwarf’s reflexes took charge, the creature was dead before he reached the third step.

In the courtyard Ruknar drew back howling, preparing to slam the door a second time.  The Bloodmoon Clan had swarmed up to him when Armitage spent the last charge from his wand.  A line of webbing drew a line in the air from the halfling’s outstretched hand to the ogre where it spread at incredible speed binding not only his mighty bulk but almost all the goblins, in thick and sticky bands.

When it had become obvious that the clan would attack Arris had finished his prayers and realised that, as grizzly as it was, the obvious choice was to use the bodies of the bandits to attack those below.  By the time the Armitage had entrapped the clan and their leader the first body was plummeting over the side.  It struck Ruknar and the goblin nearest to him with a sickening wet slapping impact momentarily stunning the mighty foe.  As Elrohir poured arrows down from the top of the tower Arris continued to heave bodies with terrible results.

Seeing the carnage below Armitage quickly dug through his belongings for the scroll case that he knew he carried.  As his eyes scanned the scroll the summoning spell sprang from his lips as if it had been pent up inside his head for months desperate to be free.  Focusing on the largest beast he could think of which the spell allowed him to call the air shimmered above the battlements, twisting in impossible ways.  Suddenly the air snapped back but where moments before there had been nothing instead a large aquatic beast lay tottering on the battlements.  The companions barged it and several hundred pounds of flesh and bone fell into the middle of the havoc below.  A wall of sundered flesh lay piled against the door, only three goblins remained alive and free of the web and at this last terrible impact those turned and ran.  Armitage cast a sleep spell, feeling the last of his magic ebbing from him as he did and the closest of the goblins crumpled.  The last two stumbled slightly but pressed on, the fear of what they had seen overcoming the slightly weakened spell, and they fled into the darkness of the donjon.

Hederas witnessed the final destruction of the clan’s chief from the first floor door to the battlements.  As the final goblins fled he walked out into the pouring rain, scrambled down from the battlements and strode over to where the female goblin lay sleeping.  The pause as Hederas questioned what he should do was longer than the watchers expected.  This was the same man who had returned from the tower with the heads of both the shaman and ogre as grizzly trophies of the battles.  With a sigh he raised his mace and brought it down hard into the head of the sleeping form in front of him.  As the blood flowed into the puddles, the rain flowing down his arms washing the gore from the mace head Hederas was a different man to the one who had only short days ago arrived at the tower eager for the fight.

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Savage Sands Of Time

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My youngest son just seems to keep coming up with interesting ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of.  This time he asked if we’d be able to run a Prince Of Persia: Sands of Time game.  I’m a massive fan of Arabian Nights type games, I’m running an Al Qadim campaign, am looking forward to getting my copy of Southlands by Kobold Press which I Kickstarted last year and am seriously tempted by Hellfrost Land Of Fire by Triple Ace Games so the idea of running a Prince Of Persia game sounded good.  The characters would need to be low armour and high agility knowing that lots of acrobatics would be expected.  The interesting thing was my son’s immediate assumption that at least one character would be able to turn back time like you could in the computer game.

While walking to the car from my “local” games shop (Gamer’s Guild in Redhill) he was chatting to my brother and me about ideas for the game.  My brother suddenly suggested that you could simply give the Dagger Of Time it’s own bennies.  Very simple and the mechanic is almost built into Savage Worlds as it stands.

I’ve spent a week or two thinking about how to tweak it, encouraged by youngest who keeps talking about it.  Like several of my game ideas I doubt if I’ll ever run it but it’s fun to think about.  So this is what I’m thinking at the moment…

  • While it is simple to have the dagger simply allow for a reroll as a normal bennie I actually like the idea of making it rewind an entire combat round (for all combatants), either back to the last time that character had their action or simply to the beginning of this combat round giving the character with the dagger a joker for his initiative.
  • Reloading used bennies to the dagger obviously has to be something that has a penalty to it.  My current thought is that if you attack and get a raise then you can choose not to wound and instead get a bennie back for the dagger.
  • The dagger will have to have a maximum number of bennies.  I’d probably start with three but allow that limit to rise by one if it’s reloaded when at maximum four times in a row (e.g. if you’ve got three bennies in the dagger, don’t use any of them and reload the dagger four times in a row you’ll end up with four in the dagger and a from then on the maximum number of bennies in the dagger is four).

If anyone does run a game with these rules I’d love to hear about it, or hear your thoughts on it even if you don’t.

Savage Worlds – Space 1889 – Flip Through

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I was involved recently in an online conversation where someone pointed out the vast difference in cost between the core rules for Savage Worlds and the various settings books. I understood his point but in text, without posting long paragraphs of explanation, I couldn’t explain adequately what I thought he was missing. The video flip through is partly to show what the Space 1889 setting book is like but also why it’s worth nearly four times what the rules cost.

I say in the video that there this isn’t a review of Savage Worlds (although I do love the system) or of Space 1889 if you’re looking for those check out.

Frank Frey’s Video and Blog or the RPG Net review.

Al Qadim – The Vizier’s Turban – Session 5

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We ran the fifth session of my first online campaign tonight (you can find the rest here) aside from some technical difficulties it went pretty well.

I recently Kickstarted Kobold Press’ Arabian Nights setting for Pathfinder – Southlands.  I’m really looking forward to getting those books at the end of this year however in the meantime I really fancied doing some Arabian Nights inspired roleplaying (my band Secret Archives of the Vatican have long been inspired by those stories).  A friend suggested I look for the old TSR setting Al Qadim and I really liked what I found.  Initially published for 2nd edition AD&D it took some time to convert it to Pathfinder but my players (most of whom are also in my “in person” Lonely Coast campaign) thought it sounded like fun.

So here it is the fifth session of my Al Qadim campaign…

Dungeon Dressing GM’s Miscellany – Flip Through

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This is a video I’ve wanted to make for a while. As you’ll realise watching the video I’m a massive fan of Raging Swan Press and especially this book. I recorded the video a month back but didn’t get round to recording the audio for the introduction until today, the result isn’t as clean or concise as I’d like it to be as a result. Apologies for the rambling nature of it.

Raging Swan’s website can be found at – http://www.ragingswan.com

Their page for the Dungeon Dressing GMs Miscellany which has links to places to download/buy it can be found at http://www.ragingswan.com/gm-essentials/gms-miscellany-dungeon-dressing

For a better review than the above check out Endzeitgeist’s site at http://endzeitgeist.com/gms-miscellany-dungeon-dressing

The Dungeon Dressing complete line is at Drive Thru RPG – http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/browse/pub/3311/Raging-Swan-Press/subcategory/5631_9060/Dungeon-Dressing

For anyone interested in reading adventure logs for Retribution or Shadowed Keep On The Borderlands they’re here on the blog. Bear in mind they’re the first games I’ve run in more than 20 years with players who are new to the hobby or have been away a long time.

The Lonely Coast – Shadowed Keep On The Borderlands – Session 11

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Session 19 (16th Feb 2015)

For the second adventure in our Lonely Coast campaign I turned once again to Raging Swan.  This time I went to the brilliant Shadowed Keep On The Borderlands which got amazing reviews and makes for a totally different style of play from the groups previous adventure Retribution.  If you’d like to read the whole campaign’s adventure log it’s posted in order here.  The previous session can be found here and the whole of the Shadowed Keep sessions here.

Note if as a player your GM is likely to run Shadowed Keep On The Borderlands by Raging Swan please do not read any further, the adventure is one that will be wrecked by spoilers.

The cold light of the early morning filters through the drizzle that fills the courtyard. An elf wearing a black wolf fur cloak, the head forming part of the hood, backs from broken double doors. Obviously unsure of whether to watch the courtyard or the dark entrance that he has just stepped through he descends the three curved stairs from the doorway swinging to try to watch the whole area. He holds an arrow nocked to the string of his bow as he blinks the rain from his eyes backing towards the sentinel like watchtower that stands against the opposite wall. Reaching the tower he takes his hand from the arrow and bangs on the door behind him, his eyes never stopping their scanning for possible enemies. After a short wait there is a hurried conversation through the door and he steps into the tower. The sound of the bar inside the door dropping back into place echoes around the empty courtyard.

A large room is lit by a roaring fire against one wall, a spitted animal turns above it cranked round by two goblins, their heads seemingly too large for their bodies and the mouths too large for even those heads. The room is crowded with goblins, warriors as well as women and children, some eating and laughing while others argue or doze. At the far end of this room a goblin child charges, breathless, into the scene shouting out to any who will listen. Instantly the mood in the room changes, warriors grab for weapons or adjust armour, women grab children and hurd them into side passages, not a single hand lies still.

Three goblin warriors run into a large chamber, its vaulted ceiling held up by four slender pillars. They stop in their tracks at the sight of the fallen, hewed bodies lying scattered around the room. One sprints back down the corridor while the two who remain unsheath swords and anxiously scan the few other exits from the room.

There is the sound of a fist pounding on a wooden door lit by the flickering of firelight. At loud grunt the banging stops, seconds later a vast shadow falls across the door and the door opens. Stood in the doorway is a goblin warrior, his face a mixture of eagerness to tell news and fear of the figure he stands before. Leaning back in order to look up into the face of this figure he quickly starts to give his news. A gigantic mailed fist lifts the handle of a vast falchion, it’s blade covered in fell runes glints in the light of the fire.

In a high ceilinged room, it’s walls daubed with eldritch symbols two figures, a halfling in dark clothes and a man wearing armour, stand the only illumination an almost too white light streaming from the human’s chest. The corpses of two dead goblins lay by an open doorway through which a dwarf, his beard singed, blood still seeping from a vicious head wound and a tall man stagger panting from the exertion of battle. The halfling stands with an ear pressed against the other door, a mixture of concentration and fear on his face…

Seeing the huge gouge in Dvadi’s head and the fatigue on his face from his ferocious battle with the goblin shaman, Hederas called on Irori to grant healing to his comrade. The divine power caused the wound to close and the blood to stop flowing. Behind him Arris prayed to Darlen for his healing light and felt his spirits lift as his wounds closed and his pain eased.

Dvadi and Arris searched through the wreckage from the altar and found some undamaged candles to light while Hederas searched the shaman’s corpse and room. Unfortunately the wand that was being used by the shaman turned out to be useless having been fully expended during the fight however the chest and table in the room revealed a cache of potions and scrolls that must have been stripped from unlucky travellers and adventures as well as a bone wand which Armitage identified as being able to cast massive webs.

A little more than ten minutes after the battle with the Shaman finished the group had put together a rough plan and felt recovered enough to risk fighting their way from the lair out to the surface.

While there had been the sounds of occasional footsteps running along the corridor outside nobody had tried to enter the room but the group knew this wouldn’t last. As soon as Dvadi confirmed the corridor was clear of goblins Armitage used the wand he had discovered to ensure nothing could follow them from deeper within the lair. This precaution attended to the group moved at high speed back the way they had come, pausing at corners to check they weren’t running into an ambush. Having skirted the large pit and webbed the corridor leading to the living quarters of the goblins Dvadi led the way back to the guardroom at a full run. As he turned the corner he spotted movement in the room which quickly resolved itself into a group of goblin warriors moving the bodies of the fallen. These were being directed by a huge figure, around nine feet in height hefting a large spear. Not slowing his speed the dwarf tore into the room and launched a huge attack on this vast foe. As several of the goblins grabbed their bows and leapt for cover behind the pillars in the corners of the room Arris bore down on one of these. As Hederas two companions reached the room he suddenly saw the room’s occupants who had been hidden from sight until that point. Raising his crossbow he shot a bolt into a warrior the far side of the cave who was not even aware of their approach.

The battle between Dvadi and the gigantic figure fully twice his height was a blur of axe and spear. As a goblin warrior drew his sword flanking the dwarf and forcing him to take some of his focus from the bulk in front of him things looked to be grim however Armitage again brought the wand into play, webbing shooting from it forming a barrier that blocked half of the room and ensnared not only this ugly giant but also several of the goblins.

Under a hail of arrows Arris cut down his chosen target before turning to take the pressure from Dvadi by engaging the goblin at his back and as Hederas drew his mace to attack one of the archers Hederas used a vial of alchemical fire to burn the web and it’s occupants.

The battle was hard pressed and chaotic, smoke and fire, mixing with the ringing of axe, sword and spear but in less than a minute all was over. The gigantic corpse of Dvadi’s foe lay blackened by fire in the centre of the room, his ribcage opened from a huge rising swing of the dwarf’s axe. One goblin had fled, that entrance now webbed by Armitage, while another had been cut down at the foot of the stairs while trying to escape. In total five goblins lay dead alongside their gigantic leader. Hederas added the head of the leader to that of the shaman that he already carried and the group moved to the bottom of the stairs hoping that they would meet no further resistance on the way to the tower where hopefully they would find Elrohir waiting for them.

LV426 – Savage World

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A few weeks ago I ran an impromptu Savage Worlds game at very short notice (we decided to play something about four hours before the game started). I can’t remember why Aliens came to mind but the idea of running an LV426 (the planet from the film Aliens) scenario seemed like a good one and on discovering a fan made Aliens vs Predators setting was already in my archive I felt far more confident than I otherwise would have done.

The game went far better than I was expecting. I often find that it’s really difficult to know how into a game the players are when sitting behind the screen.  After nearly an hour and a half when we took a break little had happened and I was feeling like I was running a really boring session. As it turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong, the players were really on the edge of their seats and had spent the entire game feeling really tense, which was great news to me. We ran out of time in the end and while we finished the scenario I didn’t cover as much ground as I was hoping to and actually ended the game without a single fatality (definitely not the plan).

I ran the game without maps and very much by the seat of my pants which I’m not normally comfortable with but I thought I’d share some of the ideas I used, particularly as I focused on mood far more than anything else and it seemed to work. I also should name check Graham Walmsey and his excellent book Stealing Cthulhu (it’s also available on DriveThru as a pdf) which discusses various techniques for building tension and horror in games. In particular I was very concious of the need to start with a slightly spooky, empty base and gradually increase the proximity and knowledge of the danger. The game plan in my head was more a map of the “volume” of the game over time than it was a map, flow diagram, etc.

Although I only had three players I realised that I really needed to have two squads of marines in order for both the players to survive early encounters of the adventure and also so that I could increase the emotional impact of the horror when their comrades started to be dismembered. In the end I settled for three squads, two that would go on the mission and one that would stay with the commander in the APC as backup (more on that later).  Savage Worlds is designed for players to run NPCs which was yet another reason why I think the system was a good choice for this game.

Like the various alien movies, I knew the game needed to start slowly and build tension before anything actually happened but I equally like to start any game session with a bang if possible as I want to capture player attention and state “okay, the game has now started”. To do this I started with the players already strapped into the APC, itself loaded in to the dropship. The opening introduction for the game was along the lines of…

“Suddenly you feel your stomach rise into your mouth as you plumet downwards, everything is shaking and banging, the noise is a pressure in your ears as you’re pushed into the harness keeping you in your seat. You feel the engines kick in and the direction of the pressure changes as you’re slammed deep into your seat, the noise rising to a level that you almost wouldn’t believe possible. As you glance around the cabin you see the rest of your squad all harnessed into their seats and remember the briefing. Contact with the colony has been lost and you need to investigate to see what’s happened. Suddenly you’re slammed deep into your seat as the dropship touches down, everything tips forwards as the ramp lowers and you feel the APC accelerate away, bouncing over the rough ground. Holding on tight you release your harnesses, stand and gather your kit as the comander yells out that you’ve got two minutes until evac. As the APC comes to a halt, the door slides open and you pile out into the open.

You’re stood in a large open space, dim, yellow, unhealthy light filtering through the clouds above you. As the rain splatters off you there are a mixture of smells in the air, most strongly ionisation but with a harsh chemical overtone. Between you and the double doors thirty feet away oil slicked puddles cover the tarmac, several piles of crates lie closer to the buildings. What do you want to do?”

The players agreed that by starting the game in this way (loud, confident, fast and full of sensory information) when I handed over control to them they felt an urgency to act, highly exposed by the space around them and that the sudden silence was unsettling. Although much of the game was quiet and slow that opening enforced a juxtaposition rather than the game simply being a bit slow and without a lot happening. I also downloaded the soundtrack for the film Aliens which gave a great spooky tension to the evening (provided I remembered to keep it on the spooky tracks rather than the big martial ones). The motion tracker app on my phone added a degree of immersion as well.

Assuming that you’ve watched the film Aliens I don’t really need to describe the engineering rolls to get into the base, them finding the command and control area, getting the power back up and running and finding that the colonists implants showed that they were clustered underneath one of the atmosphere processing plants. I did forget to have a motion tracker lead them to a lab where mice ran around in cages but actually I’m not certain if that would have heightened the tension or not.  What I really didn’t want to do was have a Newt type character in the game, I wanted the characters to feel completely alone.

As mentioned above I had a captain and a third squad on the APC as backup, I also used the captain to direct the squads that were in the base. This meant that I could suggest directions, etc to the players but it also gave them the feeling that someone had their backs. It allowed for some great roleplaying where the squad sergeant had to report what he’d found to the captain and discuss the situation and best course of action. It also gave me a way to prod the players forward, in directions that they knew they didn’t want to go, further and deeper into the darkness and confinement.

The players obviously had to go and investigate the location where the colonists were and I had several things planned that upped the tension which I think are worth a mention. Firstly although I’d told the players that the colonists were in a sub-basement that was three levels below ground but that the only route they could take to get there was back out into the open (obviously leaving them scanning the shadows for danger and feeling exposed) before climbing two floors up to gain entry to the atmosphere processing plant. They didn’t need to explore the APP as they had plans and knew where they were going however each time they descended a level I described the wide corridors and stairs gradually getting narrower and closer thus increasing the claustrophobia of the environment. I’d asked for tips on RPG Brigade Facebook page (I got some great responses and suggestions from the guys on there) and had ended up with a list of words that conjured up the environment I wanted.  Having a list of descriptive mood words in front of me when running the game helped me to keep my descriptions appropriately flavourful. Eventually the wide staircases gave way to narrow staircases and eventually to metal, spiral stairs allowing for metallic echoes as boots fell on them.

One of the ideas I got from Stealing Cthulhu was that of distance from the horror.  Starting with a lot of physical separation between characters and whatever they’re afraid of and moving closer over time. An example of this in a classic Lovecraft setting is hearing vague newspaper reports of the situation, then speaking to direct witnesses, then seeing the aftermath and then seeing the horror itself. What I decided to do with the Aliens game to up the tension but without actually having the PCs encounter everything was to wait until they were well inside the tunnels and corridors and starting to feel claustrophobic before having the APC attacked by something. Not only did the players get to hear screams which foreshadowed and reinforced their fears but it also cut off their backup and help in decision making. The players afterwards said this was really effective in suddenly making it feel like everything was closing in on them.

Savage Worlds makes a lot of use of spirit rolls in combat to check whether characters can take actions based on their mental state. During the game, when emotionally charged incidents occured I got players to make spirit rolls and asked them to react to those rolls. This definitely seemed to have a positive affect on the game without removing player agency, for example in several situations a character pressed on because they made a spirit roll when the player was quite keen to retreat.  It’s something that I’ve introduced to my Pathfinder campaign since, using will saves to make players consider their actions rather than actually forcing something on them as a result.

In my game, which didn’t start until late, there was eventually an Alien attack from which the troops retreated from. As I needed to end the game due to time constraints I allowed them to call in the dropship and it got there in the nick of time as hordes of aliens started to appear. I was planning for the marines to find a couple of dead colonists, post chest burster, then witness a chest burster happening before eventually, hopefully, rescuing a couple of colonists from being impregnated.

Although we ran out of time the game really did go well and hopefully some of the above might be use to people. Definitely interested in what people think and what other tips people have for running this kind of game.

Hadramkath

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At some point in the future my players will most likely discover the lost city of Hadramkath and a couple of sessions back the characters found a map detailing part of the city.  For a number of reasons I’m not going into pertaining to spoilers which I’m worried my players of my Lonely Coast campaign might read I have taken my time giving them the map but it’s finished and I thought I’d share it.

I’m not going to say which of Dyson’s awesome maps this is taken from in case it comes as too much of a temptation for my players and they take a peak.  I downloaded the maps below from Dyson’s site (if you’re not already following Dyson then why not, the guy supplies amazing maps free of charge, although he also accepts money via Patreon)…

https://rpgcharacters.wordpress.com/maps/

https://rpgcharacters.wordpress.com/maps/

Then in photoshop I joined the two together and added some text to get the following…

https://rpgcharacters.wordpress.com/maps/

The text reads…

The Marble and Bronze Halls of Hadramkath

The vast marble hall of Hadramkath truly one of the wonders of the legendary city. Carved and polished by the masters of old. Those who are lucky will be led to it via the fabled bronze halls where the statues of the original kings of Hadramkath stand guard.

Now as I’m planning to give this out I then went through the techniques I got from The Outsiders 68 video (and I wish I’d thought to take photos as I went but I didn’t)

  • Rubbed the paper all over with an old tea bag.
  • Cumpled it up.
  • Folded it carefully into four.
  • Unfolded it and baked it for about eight minutes in the oven.
  • Cut round the edges.
  • Coloured the edges with a black marker.
  • Folded it up and pressed it between several heavy books.

This is the finished article ready to give out to my players, as you can probably tell I’m pretty pleased with the result.

Hadramkath - Finished Player MapThe paper feels beautifully old and textured from the time in the oven and when I gave it to the players tonight they loved it.

 

Squarehex Dungeon Desk Pad (Kickstarter)

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I hesitate to advertise Kickstarters on this blog but I thought I’d put this out here.  I’ve backed both the A6 and A5 Gamer Notebooks recently and they’ve run to time and been really great products.  The latest Kickstarter they’re doing is for A3 Dungeon Desk Pads which look awesome but are a product I don’t think I’d personally use.

“The sheets in the pads are A3-sized and feature a 34×34 6mm grid for mapping, flanked by two large columns for notes. Beneath the grid, are three smaller columns ideal for writing lists, tables or additional notes. Above the grid there is space for a title and byline and a key for multi-part maps. The key has a 6×4 grid of boxes which may be shaded to show how the map on the sheet relates to neighbouring maps on other sheets.”

For more details check out their Kickstarter page.

The Lonely Coast – Shadowed Keep On The Borderlands – Session 10

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Session 18 (2nd Feb 2015)

For the second adventure in our Lonely Coast campaign I turned once again to Raging Swan.  This time I went to the brilliant Shadowed Keep On The Borderlands which got amazing reviews and makes for a totally different style of play from the groups previous adventure Retribution.  If you’d like to read the whole campaign’s adventure log it’s posted in order here.  The previous session can be found here and the whole of the Shadowed Keep sessions here.

Note if as a player your GM is likely to run Shadowed Keep On The Borderlands by Raging Swan please do not read any further, the adventure is one that will be wrecked by spoilers.

Leaving the doorway through which the sound of snoring came Armitage crept back to his companions. Leaving Hederas and Dvadi to guard them from an ambush Armitage returned to the door with Elrohir and Arris. Having thoroughly inspected the door he lifted the latch as silently as was possible and after a brief pause took a deep breath and gently opened it a crack. Peering through the narrow opening, in the dim light from where Hederas stood further up the corridor, the young halfling saw a sparsely furnished room with a large shape, larger than even a large man, half sat, half lying in a bed in the corner, the snoring came from this creature. Taking another deep breath he stuck his head further into the room, peering behind the door and barely made out in the darkness similar shape on a second bed in the far corner. Hoping that if the alarm had not been raised so far they would be able to dispatch these creatures without wakening them he drew his dagger and pointing Elrohir to the far corner opened the door. The elf and the halfling entered the room together but as the light from the now open door allowed a better sight of the occupants Elrohir froze.

The elf’s mind flashed back to the fateful day that he had allowed his cousin Aughron to continue to scout ahead while he had returned to bring the patrol. As he had rounded the bend in the path with the patrol he had seen the vicious furred thing, holding the broken, bleeding but still living Aughron in front of him. As the vile monster had caught sight of the patrol, as the cry of anguish was leaving Elrohir’s mouth, it had simply taken the head in one paw and turned it until, even at that distance, he had heard the snapping of bones. It dropped the lifeless body of his cousin, turned and fled into the woods. The patrol had pursued it, caught it and killed it while Elrohir cradled the still warm body of his fallen kin. His guilt of allowing Aughron to go alone had driven his hatred of goblinkind from that day.  The sight of the sleeping bugbear before him brought with it the bile of rage and hatred.  As he turned towards the more shadowy corner of the room and the second shape it spoke, it’s deep, harsh voice issuing a challenge even though it was barely awake.

Armitage sprang towards his target, plunging his dagger into the slumbering monster’s throat bringing a quick and clean end to the beast. Elrohir launched an frantic attack even as his target reached for it’s spiked mace stopping it from standing under a flurry of blows that it could barely defend against. Hearing the fight breaking out Hederas redirected his light spell onto a coin and threw it into the doorway, thus illuminating the room for it’s occupants. The light brought focus to the elven figure raining furious blows down upon his hated enemy. Elrohir barked to Arris to back off as the paladin ran to his aid. Ignoring his comrade’s words Arris joined the fray, eventually responsible for the killing blow. Wiping the gore from his sword and casting a filthy look at the paladin Elrohir stalked silently from the room. Not trusting himself to speak he took solace in his own thoughts in the dark corridor. Armitage meanwhile started to search the room for possible loot, quickly finding a key under the table that was an obvious fit for a chest in the corner of the room.

As the sounds of the short fight died away Hederas quietly walked past the fuming elf to the unexplored corner of the corridor and recasting his light spell, plunging the room back into darkness behind him, checked to ensure that nothing was approaching from this unexplored direction. Satisfied that around this corner there was only another empty corridor, two closed doors leading off it, he returned to check that his companions weren’t in need of aid.

Minutes later, having rearranged the room as best they could to disguise the slaughter from a casual investigation, the party were prepared to press further into the lair. Armitage and Elrohir took their normal position well ahead of the group, their way dimly light by Hederas who followed at a distance with Arris while Dvadi stayed as a back guard relying on his natural darkvision to spot pursuers.

The first doorway smelt bad, the stench of burnt meat mixing with that of faeces and the rank smell of goblin. From beneath this new door came a gentle light and the muted sounds of one or two quiet goblin voices. Gambling on the room’s occupants staying put Arris and Hederas advanced to this doorway as Elrohir and Armitage continued towards the next.

The second door was sturdier that the others that the party had seen. Again a gentle light emanated from beneath the door and while there were no voices there was the sound of life from within. Armitage closed his eyes and focused on sensing any arcane auras beyond the doorway but could sense nothing within. At their beckoning Arris and Hederas crept down to guard this doorway while Elrohir and Armitage crept on to check around the next corner before tackling this room and its occupants.

As they approached the corner Elrohir’s mind was still racing with memories of his past thrown up by the encounter with the bugbears and stench of goblins. Distracted by these thoughts he missed a slightly raised flagstone and tripped, bouncing his head off the wall and only catching his balance as he stood exposed to the corridor that they had not yet surveyed. As his vision cleared the corridor came into focus, his gaze slid over the doorway halfway along and fell on the four goblin children playing at the far end of the corridor. The child facing Elrohir raised his eyes, attracted by the sudden movement, raised his arm as his mouth dropped open. The other children turned to follow their playmate’s gaze and as they did so Elrohir began to run towards them, sword drawn.

Behind him Armitage peered around the corner to see why friendiend had suddenly run off and also spotted the children. Summoning his power once more he focused on the children sending out the same energy he’d used to cause so many of their enemies to sleep. Two of the children suddenly collapsed, succumbing to Armitage’s power, however one turned and fled as Armitage was barely halfway down the corridor. Seeing he could not stop the alarm being raised Elrohir turned on his heels and returned the way that he had come. As he reached Armitage he continued past him telling him to run as he went. Armitage saw the final child drop to her knees, trying to wake her friends before turned to see Elrohir passing Arris and Hederas and hearing him telling them to run as well.

Armitage ran to the door that Hederas and Arris were next to, seeing the question in their eyes. On the assumption that the room contained Ruknor, he threw open the door and dived inside. Seeing their companion taking decisive action Arris and Hederas followed their small friend into the room. As Elrohir passed Dvadi he barely slowed as he told him to get back to the surface. Seeing his other three companions entering the room Dvadi decided to check what they were doing first.

Elrohir had run almost back to the room where they had encountered the bugbears before he realised that he was alone. The darkness had closed around him and behind him lay only utter blackness, with no sign of Hederas’ light. Unsure of where his friends were and unwilling to be discovered alone in the blackness when the alarm was fully raised he decided to press on and get back to the tower. With nothing to guide him but his hands on the walls and his memory of the rooms they had passed through he skirted the tremendous pit they had passed, feeling it’s yawning blackness in his mind. Only when he finally approached the guardroom did the dim light become enough that he was more comfortable. Passing by the corpses that lay where they had fallen he mounted the stairs and eventually found himself in the daylight of the courtyard. Running for the tower he hoped that Rethnic was awake and alert enough to open the door quickly for him.

Below ground the stench grew suddenly stronger as Armitage entered the large, high ceilinged room. His eyes took in the slender pillars that held up the roof, the fell symbols painted in what looked like blood on the walls and the large altar, covered in burning candles, in a recess. What he focused on though were the two guards sat on either side of a door on the far wall, both of whom looked up in surprise as the diminutive figure leapt into the room. Almost without thought again he felt the power rise within him and again focused it on the sentries who slid back down as they were beginning to rise, both were asleep before Hederas and Arris pushed past into the room.

Hederas ran to the door between the sleeping sentries, checking that they hadn’t missed anyone else by the altar on the way. Dvadi arrived just as Armitage was appraising Hederas of recent events. Closing the door behind them Armitage pulled out a scroll that would allow him to magically lock the door and listened hard for sounds in the corridor outside. Dvadi ran to the sleeping guards and despatched the closest one of them, Hederas lowered his crossbow and finished the second. Hederas turned his attention on the door and listened carefully while Arris turned his attention to the altar and the symbols on the rear wall. Casting his mind back to his lessons he studied the symbols and came to the conclusion that these were designed to look impressive but actually lacked any real power or significance. The altar on the other hand was dedicated to dark powers and the cloth covering it bore the signs of sacrifice. Once satisfied that there were no voices behind the door Hederas strode over to the altar and heaved the covering and it’s contents onto the floor. With the candles extinguished the only illumination now came from Hederas breastplate, glowing from divine light.

Taking over from Hederas, Dvadi stepped up to the door and listened carefully. Suddenly he realised that while there were no voices beyond the door there was definitely the sound of quiet movement. Arris crossed to backup his comrade as Dvadi called out to warn the group and grasping his axe tightly he lifted the latch on the door and opened it gently. As they peered through the gap into the pitch blackness inside a wave of flame leapt out searing both companions and lighting up Dvadi’s beard. The relative darkness of the room briefly flashed into brilliant light as the flame crawled across the wall. The dwarf dropped his axe and jumped back desperately trying to extinguish his beard. Hederas spun as the light in the room blossomed and called on Irori’s power to create water directly above his comrade putting out the remaining flames. The searing pain of the heat played across Arris’ chest and called out to Darlen for healing, feeling the divine power pushing the pain of the burning back.

Dvadi scooped his fallen axe from the floor and stepped through the doorway into the dark room. His dwarven eyesight took in the bed chamber behind the goblin that stood in filthy robes in front of him. Hederas raced over to his friends in order to light up the area for Arris who moved to step up beside Dvadi. Arris swung his great sword in a huge arc but it sliced just above his foes head, clanging into the wall. Fire leapt from the wand in the goblin’s hands slamming into the wall above Dvadi’s head, leaving the stones on the wall glowing a brilliant red and cracking as they cooled. Dvadi’s blood was pumping in his ears as his axe swung for the goblin, as it leapt backwards he carved a deep wound the whole length of it’s body and into its thigh. Arris swung his blade back, this time slightly lower, but as the goblin staggered again the blade missed however this time as it continued on it’s arc it connected with Dvadi’s head slicing a deep wound into him. Blood poured down the dwarf’s face as the goblins wand lit up the wall behind Arris. Blinking the blood from his eyes the next blow from the dwarf’s waraxe again went wide. The goblin slapped Arris open palmed and Arris felt a chill force emanating from the touch but fought against the sensation and felt it quickly fade out. As Hederas called on Irori to heal his comrades Dvadi took a final swing at the goblin slicing him into two and splattering his entrails across Arris. The sudden silence within the room was only broken by the sounds of heavy, painful breathing and occasional groan of pain as the warriors gingerly tested the extent of their injuries.

In the corridor outside Armitage could hear the shouting of goblins obviously raising the alarm that intruders were in the lair…