Sunday, 9 December 2012

Anyway, I also do other Things

I've mentioned a few times I'm a DJ on Hospital Radio Haven. Here is a documentary about it.

I will stress that I'm cut down to one hour shows every other week at the moment. But Whatever. Still working on that novel.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

So anyway, I hold a world title now. This is true and not a lie.

So I won the title of Worlds Biggest Liar 2012 on Thursday. Some coverage of this can be found below. I'll be updating with any further stuff that might be published.

To be honest, I walked into the competition purely for an interesting night and a few beers at The Bridge Inn with a few friends from work. Having done a little stand up and radio comedy in my time I though it'd be worth a crack at entering. I had a feeling that I'd be out of my depth when it came to the other contestants, some of whom had won it year after year. After getting up and telling my tale of an un-aired episode of Time Team involving a grave of Roman Badger Legionaries, I felt a little more confident with my chances. Didn't think for a minute that it'd win though.

And so, after fifteen minutes of photos and talks with the local papers I was getting interviewed by some Australian radio show over the phone. I didn't get the name of the show, If anyone know it and it's online give me a shout. I'd love to hear how drunk I sound.

For those interested I was originally going to go with a story about American dollars having the nickname 'dead presidents' because they were actually made out of dead presidents. Then one morning I woke thinking of the badger story and the rest was history. Naturally I'll be defending my title next year, but I've also thought of turning my lie, and similar tales, into a small comic book series. It's still in it's uncertain phase at the moment, I'll have to learn how to draw badgers for a kick off.

I'm still working on that novel by the way.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Art Trade Roundup 2012: Art Tradeier

Cometh the hour... no wait I already used that one. Anyway, welcome to part 2 of my art trades round up for 2012 (sort of), I've already discussed in my last update my thoughts on the highs and lows of doing the trades in general, so with this update lets get things going already. Below are the pieces I got from those artists that did respond to my trades, a big thank you to all of those people for taking the time to take my ideas for a spin, It's always greatly appreciated.

All links below go to the direct image on the artist's page. All characters were created by me unless otherwise stated. As with last time, if any artist has any objection to me linking them here, then let me know and I'll take it down.


First up was my trade with PanikSura, and, I've got to say, her rendition of Carnack was so close to how I pictured him it was unbelievable. Great stuff. As a funny aside, Tom Hardy's appearance in Star Trek: Nemisis was apparently the inspiration, and thinking about it, I think the guy would make a great Carnack, especially after seeing him as Bane in the Dark Knight Rises.


Next up KaciKay took on Sakari for her Fifteen Faces project. She never asked for anything in return, which was a shame, since I always like trying to do something to show my gratitude. Hopefully giving a big thank you here will go towards that.


Then the ever reliable Klerrik decided to offer art trades, and you know I wasn't going to miss out on that. Sharp, timely and original, It's always great working with Klerrik, but I'll stop heaping my praises now before I get carried away. It seemed only fitting for Klerrik to have a go at Jocasta this time, since he'd already done his own take on Katie last year. Once again, though he deviated a lot from my original designs, what he came up with worked so well, and I'll probably end up incorporating a little of his design into future renditions of the character.


And out of the blue, General Ebonrose drops her rendition of Damon in return for a trade I did last year. Long overdue, but never unappreciated, It's moments like this that remind me that trades are always worth the time. Damon of course belongs to fellow dnd player Jamie.


In return for my trade with Bluesoulber, is this striking rendition of Zantir, looking every bit as threatening as a dark elf should.


Lore-Necha took on Cardia in return for my trade. I got apologies that the image was a bit low quality, but I don't mind. Its a great, sharp image. Cardia also belongs to Jamie.


A time jump later and yet another one of Jamie's characters, this time Nero by Taurus-Chaoslord. This is the first independent rendition I've seen of my design for the character, and I'm glad to say I think it works pretty well.


Finally, finishing off all our Player Characters, is Nazrin, by Magicpotion. She's missing her signature jacket of course, but the rest of the pic was so solid that none of us are worried about that. Nazrin belongs to another one of our players, Simon.

And that about wraps things up. But what about the future? Well, as my (sort of)'s earlier indicate, I'm up for doing art trades at any time, but I'm currently working on getting designs down for all my characters so that, in future, artists can pick and choose which characters they'd like to do. Maybe this would encourage more popularity with my trades, maybe more people would respond, maybe not. Lets stay optimistic eh.

In other news, I'm off to New York Comic Con next week dressed as Jesse Custer from Garth Ennis' Preacher. SEE YOU THERE PILGRIMS!

Monday, 1 October 2012

Art Trade Roundup 2012: Art Trade's Big Day In

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Or something. This update marks the (sort of) end of this year's series of art trades. If I had to sum up my experience this year, it would be to simply say that my opinion has not changed from the last, and below I'll sum up why.

I had two rules I told myself I would follow this year, which made it a slightly different experience than last time. The first I followed easily enough, the second less so.

- Trades were to be on a more irregular basis, as and when I saw an artist available who was interested, rather than hammering them out over a series of months like last year.

- I would not start work on my side of the trade until the other artist had finished or at least showed some indication that they'd started work on their end.

The second rule may seem a bit harsh and uncaring, but is a direct result of having done so many trades last year and only getting a portion of stuff in return. I scrapped this rule after a while for two reasons; one being that a friend of mine had convinced me that doing the trades, even without getting something in return, would show me to be a reliable artist. The other reason was that if the other artist also has a similar policy then nobody gets anything out of this.

As such, the following happened:

- Just like last year, there were a fair few artists who never got back in touch. As I've discussed in previous posts, If it can't be done, an update or acknowledgment is all I'm after. Being ignored makes me just feel as though my time is being wasted.

- The trades I did get back this year were all astoundingly good. This isn't intended as a knock at the traders from last year, far from it. I'm grateful for anyone doing me a trade or request, but I noticed that doing trades on irregular basis meant I had a broader pick from artists who were better suited to the styles of the characters.

So, in summary, art trades are great for doing something new, interesting and outside your comfort zone, and It's great fun when you see a character rendered in someone else's style. However, when you get no response for your work, It makes it difficult to want to carry on doing them.

So, after all that, lets go ahead with my contributions this year. Images link to larger versions over at Deviantart. Characters all belong to their respective requesters unless stated otherwise.


Uglypanda's asked for “something involving zombies,” and I was in a musical mood so this is what I came up with. Unfortunately the trades did not get off to an optimistic start, and I didn't hear anything in return.

A while later came this black and white piece of Jolene, PanikSura's character.


Working with Klerrik again, I have a go at one of his Gutter Brother's. A good opportunity for playing around with light and shading.


I really enjoyed doing an action shot with Hades for Hellyacross. Alas, It seems a lot of the ones I really enjoyed doing rarely get a response. I may chase the artist up on this at a later date.


Next up was Humele for Bluesoulber


And in quick succession, Dany for Lore-Necha


More experimentation with skin tones, which I've been doing a lot of this year, with Thalassa for Magicpotion.


Back to a more standard piece for Intissaria of their character, Violet. Still awaiting a response for this one.


And finally, rounding it off with a Warhammer themed character, Josephine for Taurus-Chaoslord

Come back shortly for a round up of the, frankly, great pieces of artwork I got in return.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Fight for Your Right to Split the Party: A Bleaker's Gambit - Part Four


Chapter Ten

An Amazing Technicoloured Cavalcade

“Fallon's later travels are often glossed over, but, looking back over the God Maker affair, they show as being just as far reaching as his other work. Fallon was assumed to have fled Farrel to bury his discoveries and disappear into obscurity. What few knew though, was that Magnus Fallon was not leaving his homeland, but returning to it. Fallon's faintly exotic features are rarely picked up on seeing how he was depicted in the woodcuts, but it would now appear that he hailed from the strange people of the far east, many centuries or more ago. Fallon's longevity is often suggested to come from his study of the Palantír, but it is much debated if this was learned from his rival, and later murderer, Rasputin, or vice versa. Regardless, Fallon was to father two daughters, one he would keep to raise as his own, the other he sent with her mother, who died upon arrival, fleeing to the west.”

- Cadmar Worthington – Blood and Dirt: Tracing the Bloodlines of the Realms

There was a lot to get through for this session, and really, I didn't put much forethought into it, so it all sort of mashed together as one. Returning from the feywild, the team left Danya to go her own way back to the tribe, missing out on those valuable experience points and rewards they would have got from returning the golden plated heart to their leader. Instead, the team head back to more civilised lands. On their way they have a chance encounter with a mysterious elven woman, who Jocasta recognises. She explains she is on the trail of a traveling con man, one who is suspiciously similar in appearance to the man they have been seeing in dreams. At this point I'd also suggested a few times that... something... had followed Nero back from the plains, and was giving him a bad reputation.

The elven lass is is bit of a running character between me and one of my friends, but I didn't integrate her cameo very well for its purposes. Likewise, I hadn't yet decided what the mysterious dream man was going to play out as, so this was either a macguffin or a lead in to a sub plot. Either way, the team just wanted to loot stuff and get on their merry way, and thats what they did. Soon enough they reunite with Kerris, who takes the final translation and activates the map room. The Godmaker's location is noted to be in the remote sparrow islands.

As far as crucial objectives go that's all they needed at this point, but there was still the matter of finding the rest of Fallon's bloodline to activate the Nazrin's Modron's function to allegedly control the Godmaker properly. At this point I was going to branch the story two ways depending on if they did this or not, though I can't remember what the branch was now. Either way, Fallon's other child and Sakari's sister was always planned to be Mai from Carnack's eleven.

There were a lot of hints that the group chose not to explore regarding this, and the most obvious was that I'd always depicted Sakari as vaguely east Asian, and Mai was blatantly influenced by this also. Instead I had to sort out a contrived string of events that involved the group meeting with Bastillion (who once again could have crafted some potions for them, instead the group justs let him palm off a load of faulty ones that acted randomly), then failing to converse with Lucas and Kerris (after another run in with the half-orc minstrels), then meeting up with Alrianna again to finally getting to Mai.

Anyway, after that startling revelation it was finally needed to secure a boat to the Sparrow Islands. The group headed to a wrenched pirate hive, get up to some pirate nonsense and secure a journey with Illithid Captain Clodhopper, another character I'd brought back from my old campaign. The group stay at an inn for the night, fool around with the random potions, testing them on bystanders for laughs, and then Trust leads a group of pirates to beat up the half-orc mistrals and finish their nonsense once and for all. Nero also gets super stoned on a massive smoke that Clodhopper gives him.

The following morning they set sail, and are forced to do battle with an entire fleet of enemy ships, suggesting that there is more interest in the islands than they thought. The session ends with them landing on the island that the Godmaker is resident on, and are set upon by enemy archers.

Music used:

Lords of Magic again, Tom Waits was back for the return to Navarre and the return of the half-orc minstrels. More Show of Hands for inn based merryment.

What worked:

This session was pretty chaotic, and was pretty much me rushing the group to get to the Sparrow islands. That being said, coming up with random potion properties was pretty fun, such as inflating a guys head to the size of a room etc. The whole pirate section in general went down pretty well, and was open to violent solutions that other parts of the campaign didn't allow.

What didn't:

After what had come before, I honestly didn't expect the group to be motivated into finishing the Fallon/Modron/Sakari/Mai subplot, especially since Nazrin's player, whom it mainly related to, had apparently forgotten about it. As a result I didn't really plan a logical stream of events to tie it up, instead having to come up with things on the spot. I guess that serves me right for underestimating the players. Also, given the momentum this session (and the campaign in general) was taking, the massive revelation that Sakari and Mai were sisters wasn't taken the way I would have liked.


Chapter Eleven

Piracy, Murder and Failure to Risk Assess

“It was wondered, without access to Fallon's map's, without the translations or the ciphers or the use of the map room, how it was that Rasputin was always one step ahead every step of the way. Rasputin hadn't acted alone of course, he's already mined Alrianna, Tristan and even Duncan's culpability. He's forced most of the information out of Fallon when he'd killed him long ago, and already made deals with demons and fey. Backups of Fallon's data were spirited away by High Commander Vantis from the Farrel millitary council, who had his own ambitions to discredit Megi and secure glory for himself. The mind flayer Captain Clodhopper had subtly recruited knaves across the realms to spy and study those searching for the relic, and a shadow brought back from the negative energy plane already knew their rivals darkest secrets. Is it any wonder then, that this unholy alliance was already waiting for the adventures when they arrived at the Godmaker's vault? All they needed now was the sequence activated by Fallon's blood that could allegedly control the relic with ease. How fortunate then, that this had already been prepared upon their time of arrival.”

- Roma Drangasti – Beyond the Call of Duty: Mercenary Warfare during the Early Malcontent

This session was ultimately a glorified boss fight. After fleeing into the Caribbean-esque jungle, it wasn't long until the group took up Cardia's swamp-sense to find their way. Eventually they find some old ruins, that Sakari translates as part of a locking mechanism. I use this as an excuse to ditch the NPC's as the others move ahead. They finally find what seems to be entrance to the Godmaker's vault, seemingly specifically prepared for Nazrin. Before they can react though, they are set upon by Rasputin, who reveals he has been working alongside Clodhopper and Megi's rival all along, and we throw in Shadow Nero just for the hell of it and as a final face off of all the main villains so far.

The battle was, as expected, long and took up the majority of the session. Along the way the group took the cue to shout out to Duncan, to turn him against Rasputin and give them the upper hand. Well most of them did, Megi's player just wanted to tell him to fuck off. Once the grand battle was finished and the enemies defeated, the group reunite and enter the ancient vault. As I'd planned all along, Carnack returns to doublecross them. As a call back to the Farrel campaign, I had the plinth surrounded by a force shield only the faithless could enter, and then have a massive anticlimax. I'd decided at this point that the chalice would already be gone, and that Carnack would remain trapped within the shield.

Finishing the session, the group traverse through a tunnel in the side of the vault, and come out on a cliff face to see a fleet of ships bearing the sigil of the Bahamut order, fleeing with the artifact.

Music used:

Lords of Magic yet again, and lots of combat music the group could cobble together, mostly from Tron: Legacy

What worked:

The final showdown with the many prime antagonists tied up a lot of loose threads, and I'm sure it was satisfying for the group to give them their ends. The cliffhanger kind of worked, but the fatigue after the combat diminished it somewhat.

What didn't:

Having to dedicate so much time to the battle meant I didn't have as much time to set the scene for the vault. I originally wanted a bigger ruin, with traps and such, ancient locks and other stuff. The Succubus was also possibly intended to return as a mini boss, and Carnack's appearance was supposed to have some more of an explanation rather than appearing from out of the blue.


Chapter Twelve

The Better Part of Valor

“The plan was callous, manipulative and, for all intents and purposes, completely immoral. At the same time, from a certain point of view, for a plan of conquest it certainly would have cut down on bloodshed. The operation was completely unauthorized by The Empire's government and known only to its spymaster and the select few involved. To what extent the recent troubles on the continent were totally manipulated by The Empire is unknown, but it is known that they at least had a hand in the assassination of a Roc-decendant dignitary, pledged funds to the attempted coup in Wardovia, sealed off tunnels that may have encouraged the Drider's anywhere other than Varassia and kept relations between swamp-folk and desert dwellers in Ceaoria frosty at best. By the time of the Godmaker affair, the knightly orders of many nations were heavily under The Empire's influence. The icing on the cake would be to claim the Godmaker relic and use whatever power it had to stage an invasion of a weakened continent. This icing though, had something other than a cherry on top.”

- Robert Winterfield – Splendid Isolation: How The Empire Came out of its Shell

And so the time came for the final session. There were many different variants of the endings I'd come up with after the bait and switch with the Godmaker, but we'll discuss that in a bit. The team leave in pursuit of the knight's fleet, but by the time they get back to their landing point on the other side of the island they'd lost their trail. With Clodhopper dead, the pirates themselves have no allegiance, and with a little bargaining agree to take the group back to the mainland.

The characters return to Andavia to find clues of where the knights may have gone, and upon arrival get a summons from the order of Bahamut itself. First they check with Zantir though, who has been keeping track of the corruption since day one, and found out that the knights whole command structure had been infiltrated by agents of The Empire, the vast mysterious sprawling nation to the north who few had any contact with. Meeting with what is left of the knights, Azreal is told that he is now the highest ranking member, and must take command immediately, as armies of demons and terrors have started appearing all across the continent. A stand has agreed to be taken at Fort Quintus to attempt to stem this invasion.

Here we split the party again, but this choice is more significant. I wanted a big battle for the characters, but knew a standard combat encounter would take too long and wouldn't be significant, so for the battle at Quintus, for better or worse, I came up with a quick turn based strategy mechanic. It was pretty basic, the DM and the player roll a D6 for each unit fighting and whoever rolls highest doesn't die. Units get bonus' depending on their type (pikemen against cavalry for example) and movement like charging in. Whoever stayed behind for the battle got units based on the character they chose. Obviously Azreal had to stay and had a mix of knights and men at arms. Nero was chosen and with him got Ceaorian desert archers and war elephants (insanely powerful), and Megi stayed to bring powerful Farrelite magics to the field. The battle was played out intermittently as the other characters searched for the Godmaker, and would have to hold out long enough because of this.

Moving on, this meant that Nazrin, Trust and Cardia were the ones who would go after the relic. First they needed to get to The Empire though. Kara had her duty to the city guard and had to stay behind, and Sakari did likewise. Katie revealed that her airship from my last campaign had been rebuilt, so they could fly them to the border of The Empire. There were two options now, to get into The Empire itself they could either get help from Loggo and Chrissy again, who had been there long ago, or get Lady Illiarna, the Black Hand mage from my last campaign, out of prison and have her teleport the group in. Secretly the group agree to let Illiarna loose once her job is done, and Kara agrees to let the mage out on parole.

They fly to the walled border of The Empire, and the mage opens an arcane gate to the center of town, Jocasta and Katie agree to hold for their return, but will not stay too long. Trust, Nazrin and Cardia arrive in town and, as comes natural, check the stores for what's on sale. They sniff around for clues based on info Zantir had given them, and hear strange rumors of things going on in town. Piecing some leads together, they hear of some kind of meeting at a local music hall. Because I love my homages, this next bit was right out of Live and Let Die, and nobody noticed. The group go into the music hall, are seated near the front, then a trap door opens and they're lowered into The Empire's spymaster's lair.

Exposition heavy time, but you'll only need the short version. The spymaster reveals he's been working for years to weaken the other nations and infiltrate their organisations. All was going to plan, until having sealed the knights and the Godmaker in an underground bunker for safety, have heard nothing back, and now that the lands are being plagued by demons something needs to be done. Having nothing to lose, he offers the group all the info they need and advises them to head to the bunker to claim what they were after. This was the first time I really had to use a no sell on an attack against and NPC, with trust throwing a dagger at the spymaster and him catching it and throwing it back. If he had died the group would have to fight The Empires finest troops, and I didn't have all night.


“Quintus was the dam to Andavia's traffic. It had long stood at the only real opening across the great river, to protect the nation from raids from the Nordic warriors and other bands in the east. When the abyssal army came through, Andavia and it's sister nations were to make their stand here. If Quintus were to fall, then there would be nothing to stop the enemy heading north, taking the rivers flow to the sea and delivering them an attack route to Wardovia, Farrel and Varassia.”

- Deltiod Brennan – The Early Realms Renaissance

Back in Andavia the battle is underway, and the army is mostly holding its own against the demon hoards. I started to up the ante though. No more siege towers and battering rams, it would be full on teleportation now. At The Empire's bunker, the trio enter to the scene of a massacre, with knights strewn about the place. With his dieing breath the Grand Master of Bahamut revealed that they simply wanted to incarnate their god, but had brought something else into this world instead.

Exposition heavy time again. Waiting for the trio by the chalice is the man from the character's dreams, the one who was supposedly a con man, but is actually an ancient evil. He reveals that there never was a Godmaker, and instead the chalice was created by the other gods to seal him away forever, but he could still influence the minds of men, and perpetuated the Godmaker myth to put into motion a series of contrived events that would break the rituals and set him free. And so, here he was, with an army of demons ready to conquer the land. Naturally there was no more room for negotiation, and battle commenced.

Meanwhile the battle continued at Quintus. The demons were joined by the Succubus from earlier with her demonic superweapons, and Azreal was forced to do battle with her to prevent them from being activated. On the side of good however, comes reinforcements. As the barriers between the material world and the planes starts to break down, Ghost Damon arrives to lead an army of Ioun's finest. Battling the demons for a bit, he then blinks out, to appear at the bunker to aid the others.

I wanted our final ultimate boss to turn into some towering monstrosity for the characters to fight, but unfortunately events conspired to prevent this. Trust's player had an old Warhammer Chaos dragon that I was intending to use, but that was in no fit state, then I tried to find an old T-Rex toy I had as a kid, so no luck there. So we had to settle for his human form, followed by a beholder, litch, and then a giant Russian doll that led to a mental battle of the characters wills. The room was also surrounded by tesla coils, and activating all four would temporarily paralyze the dark god.

And so, to round it all off, the battle as Quintus is a victory, but Azreal loses his life in battle against the Succubus. Azreal's player had already agreed that he wouldn't mind him being killed off, and should have been more dramatic, I also never mentioned that the Succubus had enchanted blades that could kill with one cut, so his death seemed a bit out of nowhere. Likewise, as the gates between life and death close, Damon finds that he is back in a living body. But whatever. After the dark god is banished, Nazrin's Modron appears to reveal that he can actually harness the magics of the chalice but that they would have to act fast, and so Nazrin, Cardia, Trust and Damon head through a portal to Eberron.

And so the campaign ends. Having the epilogue finish up at Azreal's funeral seemed a little too much of a riff on Damon's funeral a few campaigns back, but it seemed the only logical conclusion point.

Music used:

Everything up until this point pretty much made it into the game.

What worked:

I think the dramatic climax worked well to draw people in. I think giving a few options along the way was appreciated. Despite many of the players statements to the contrary, I think the group did like the mix in formula that the siege presented. I think the final villain was threatening enough to feel like a final boss. I think as a finale it felt suitably epic enough.

What didn't:

Like many other sessions (I seem to say this often), I had a lot to get through, so a lot of stuff got squashed and a lot of things could have used better explanations. Controlling two battles at once got messy but I think I managed to keep a handle on it. I wanted the final villain to transform into a dragon or something and I think the lack of a big beast to do battle with diminished it somewhat.



“What would become known to some as 'The Godmaker affair' had ultimately become somewhat of an embarrassment to The Empire. It's leadership denied all knowledge of their spymaster's plans, which meant that they were either lying to save face or drastically incompetent. After the temporary alliance at Quintus, the continent's nations had agreed upon a steady peace. The long period of little communication with Caeoria was starting to come to an end, and an agreement between Wardovia, Andavia and Farrel ended with Navarre being calved up for territories between them. In the face of such an organised land, The Empire decided it would now have to tread carefully, and, for the first time in centuries, a summit was called for dignitaries to meet and discuss relations.

The Empire would have it own problems. As strange planer spheres were noted to have first arrived some months later...”

- Robert Winterfield – Splendid Isolation: How The Empire Came out of its Shell

“Azreal's funeral was a normal affair for a knight of Bahamut, a burning on the pyre, a final salute. In the end Azreal died as he lived, not saying much about anything.”

- Tomas of the order of Bahamut – Oh Shining Day!: The Exalted of Bahamut

“Megi returned to Farrel once again. With Vantis out of the way she had few obstacles in her way politically, though she still had far to go in terms of power. The fact that the librarian's had been sitting on records of Magnus Fallon's discoveries all this time without her knowledge was something that irked her from the start, and she ordered all text's exhumed that may offer further information on Fallon's studies.”

- Crispin Lennon – I Don't Want to Spoil the Party: Famous Farrelites

“Nero returned to Caeoria a conquering hero. Proving himself not only a competent commander, but also a man capable of facing the darkness of the planes. King Jingo offered to return the prince to his former position in royalty. Nero, however, had become infatuated with the north and instead returned to Andavia, and all the delights it might contain.”

- Bostock Conroy – Family Histories

“As always seemed the case, Jocasta and Katie were not tied down for long, and after the Godmaker affair departed for parts unknown. Kara now had more work than usual cut out for the city guard, dealing with refugees and those now made homeless. Sakari was to have the most on her plate though, she now had a sister that she had to get to know, and Mai herself was still largely bemused by customs and traditions in the west. The two would bond during a trip to The Empire, where Sakari had been sent to transcribe the events of the coming summit.”

- Alysoun Mifflinburg – No Dykes to Watch Out For: Mercenaries on the Road Less Traveled

“There he sat, in a strange new world. The ale tasted different. He could not quite put his finger on it.

“Now listen,” said Nazrin, “I don't want you lot making fools of yourselves. I command a lot of respect here because of my heritage and I don't want you giving me a bad name.”

“What?” shouted Cardia, “Are you suggesting that I'm going to give you a bad name because of how I look?”

Nazrin put her head in her hands, “No Cardia, that's not what I meant. Look I'm sorry, It's just we've come such a long way and I don't want you to get in trouble.”

“Fear not dear lady,” said our noble hero, “Since my resurrection I feel the power of Ioun flowing through me all the stronger. Our time here will be spent on righting the most dangerous of wrongs. Also, has anyone seen Trust, and where has my money gone?”

- 'Tripshot' Murphy – Same Old Footsteps: The Adventures of Damon Volume 4

So that was that. I think the biggest difficulty with the campaign was, as usual, keeping it regular. The first few sessions were all done within a week of each other, but when you start to have three to four week gaps then players begin forgetting important stuff mentioned earlier on. Nevertheless, I managed to pack the campaign full of memorable moments, variety and feature every character I wanted it to feature. There were a few things that hit the cutting room floor though. There was to be a section where the group go with Reece to free prisoners from a drow camp in the underdark, for example, and as already mentioned, Tristans Troupe and Carnack's Eleven were to play larger roles, but for better or worse most of the stuff made it in.


As for the overall conclusion, the finale went through several iterations, given that I'd had time to think about it for over a year and a half. I never wanted the Godmaker to do what it was described as, but mainly ended it with it just being a crappy jar after all. The end. This wouldn't have been very satisfying for players though. After this I was going to have the return to Andavia show the city under the control of some nightmare dimension, and the group would team up with Carnack and maybe Illiarna or maybe she'd be the villain again.

Developing this after watching Ironclad at Christmas, I knew I wanted a siege in there. Along the way I wanted the group to hook up with Bostock again, who'd be commanding the resistance, but that got cut, and the battle with the ancient evil was originally going to take place at the top of a tower. The idea of having the dream man as the big bad went on again and off again, and sometimes he was, other times he was just going to be a con man, but pruning off another unnecessary plot thread meant making him the big bad the easier option.

After the siege, they would witness the arrival of reinforcements from The Empire, led by game versions of the players themselves, creating mixed loyalties, and having The Empire claim the lands. I thought this was a bit unfair on the other players and their own created nations though, and thats how the development led into the final battle. And so, what's done is done, and we've got to get together and move forward to the next. As mentioned, I'm already planning my next campaign, and at this rate I'll probably be starting it in August 2014.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Fights Are Harder - A Bleaker's Gambit: Part Three


Chapter Six
Paved With Good Intentions

“Dast wasn't exactly well known as a gate town on the outland, indeed throughout most of the planes it was practically unheard of. This was sort of its point though. Dast existed on the fringes, not quite slipping into the hells themselves. It was the very embodiment of apathy, denial and all those things that make us turn our backs on the seemingly important. The town housed some unusual landmarks such as the illusory 'House of a thousand dads', or the bottomless brown mines. Dast's strange and unknowable nature drew many learned men to investigate its secrets, like most places on the planes though, staying in one place for too long can have a profound effect on an individual.”

- Anteili Moriarty – The Lesser Seen Outlands

At this point Cardia had picked up a disembodied skull that would constantly tease and taunt her and which only she could hear. I honestly can't remember where the skull came from but I think it was after one of the battles on the way to Navarre. Anyway, with this session being quite the weird one, the skull was at its most talkative, and was another tool I used to keep the players involved.

This time following Azreal, Trust and Cardia, the group have to head for the gate town of Dast, which has its fair share of experts that could translate the ancient abyssal. Getting there should have been pretty straightforward, what with Sigil having portals to practically everywhere. Harry had given the team the key, so all they had to do was find the door, and the gang were streetwise enough to locate two large skeletal hands sticking out of the ground. The solution to activating the portal was simple, just push the arms together to form an arch and activate the key. Instead, it took the group quite a while to grasp this, and eventually had to ask a bystander, who helpfully explained it to them. This wouldn't be the first problem the group would take far too much time debating over.

Arriving in town the group head out and explore the demonic landscape. A messenger contacts Trust, stating that her father is waiting to see her. Intrigued, they head for a strange manor house, wherein a large demon claiming to be Trust's dad starts harping on about her birthright. A nearby door starts knocking, and through it bursts another demon, this one also stating to be her father. An argument ensues and shortly yet another demon bursts forth with similar claims. What follows is a farcical turn of events with many different demons bugging Trust. Eventually another group attacks and gives them a window to escape.

Soon enough they find out what had happened to all the academics. Returning from my last campaign is the Succubus they fought in Wardovia, who reveals that after her escape she has still found herself exiled from the hells proper. The Succubus has been using the enthralled scientists (and the ghost of Damon's youth (possibly being revisited in a future campaign)) to construct a magical super weapon for her to take retribution against her enemies. She offers to get one of her thrall to translate the texts, but only if the group can help her escape the town.

Asking around, the group communicate with a demon that collects pain, and offers info in return for memories of some of the groups most painful encounters, as well as consuming the pain held within Cardia's talking skull. The demon reveals that the portal to the hells is hidden by the mines, and guarded by his upstanding brother. Heading to the mines they confront the gate keeper, who reveals that he cannot leave his post until he is confident that his quarry, the Succubus, is no more.

What followed is a long series of lengthy debates between the players on how to solve this problem. Generally I'd come up with several, notably defeat the gate keeper, kill the succubus outright and just free the academics, or rouse the city's inhabitants in a riot against the demons. I can't remember most of what ideas the players came up with, but I remember that they somehow thought that smuggling the Succubus out of the city would convince the gate keeper that she was dead. In the end though, they just decided to do battle with the gate keeper after all, and as spoils Azreal got his massive sword and shield, and Cardia got a new disembodied head to talk to.

Placated, the Succubus makes good on her deal and returns to the hells, as the team head back to Sigil. Finishing off the session, the team head back to Fell for some more tattoos and return to the prime material realms via Sofia's spelljammer.

Music used:

Again, totally overloaded with the outlands/hells music from the Planescape: Torment soundtrack.

What worked:

As far as pre-planning goes, this session went pretty well. Like session two, I'd planned multiple solutions and gave the group free reign to go their own way. The weird Planescape stuff continued to mix things up, and I think everyone found the House of a thousand Dads pretty funny.

What didn't:

Given the amount of time spend debating on the best course of action, maybe I should have made the groups options a little clearer, but then again, I don't want to hold their hands, so maybe this wasn't such a bad thing after all. Also, a battle with Rasputin was supposed to take place here, but it totally slipped my mind.


Chapter Seven
Mammoth Told Me Not To Come

“Nobody quite knew why the tribal lands of Tir had remained independent for so long. Traditionalists will cite the staunch territorialism of its native tribes, mostly dominated by the rivalry between the blue marked Arcadians and the orange marked Golgothans. Others may note that there is very little land of worth on the harsh plains, but look past that and you'll see fertile grassland when you need it, and all the meat you'll ever need if you can take down one of the mighty mammoths. No there was no concrete evidence to show what had stopped a more civilised nation from helping itself to these lands. Perhaps lords and monarchs just like the idea of a land to point to if they need to look superior.”

- David Davidon – Rocks and Robbers: The Feral Lands

This particular session took a lot longer than anticipated. Once returning to the map room, the team conversed with Kerris regarding the translation. While this occurred, Nazrin's now miniaturized Modron revealed that Sakari was one of Magnus Fallon's two descendants, giving hints to nobody about who the other might be. Kerris reveals that he has a contact in the Feywild's Court of the Stars that could translate some ancient fey, but his exile means he can't see to it himself. The only Feywild portal is noted as being on the far side of the tribal lands of Tir, and so the team depart on a quest to decipher the final piece. Some encounters along the way suggest some foreshadowing of Rasputin's involvement, and another overly long combat encounter takes place.

Entering the tribal lands, the group have to undergo some nature checks to make sure they head the right way. Jocasta reveals that she has an old lover in one of the tribes, but mentions she doesn't want to cross paths if necessary. Along the way the team find a group of barbarians doing battle with a mammoth. I was without a sufficient model to represent the mammoth though, so had to draw it on the board for the combat encounter, to which the team bemoaned me of this. Afterwards the team converse with the barbarians, who trade, offer a tusk of the mammoth, and offer general information.

“Being hard and tough was all part of a barbarian's life. You are born, you kill to survive, reproduce and die. There is no room for romantics. So Danya Golgotha's life would have been, if not for a chance encounter with Jocasta Lacroix. As those with past experience of Jocasta know, when Jocasta wants something, she'll be persistent, and for whatever reason at the time, she wanted Danya. To Jocasta, this was just a one night stand, a frivolous fling, but to Danya it was proof that there was more to life than methodical survival. Since then Danya had become the black sheep of the tribe, an idealist, a romantic. Fortunately she was still hard and tough, probably more so than ever, and she may have been a black sheep, but the tribe knew when to offer respect when it was due.”

- Alysoun Mifflinburg – No Dykes to Watch Out For: Mercenaries on the Road Less Traveled: Volume 2


Not long afterwards the group reach a rival tribes settlement. Here they introduce themselves, and are introduced as such to one of Jocasta's previous tumbles. Danya is a character I'd been meaning to do something with for a while, and was one of my previous attempts at hooking Jocasta up before Katie came along. Her main purpose was to annoy Jocasta, and give the group an excuse to throw her into awkward situations, since I think the players would have enjoyed the opportunity to give Jocasta a hard time. As it went though, like a lot else, I didn't have much room to impalement this.

Introductions being over, the group are invited to take part in the great hall feast, after gifting the leader with the mammoths tusk. Since this was mostly a Conan homage anyway, I gave the leader my best Arnie voice, and the team negotiates guidance on entering the Feywild. They find that the portal has been unusually active and the tribes are currently at war with the Feywild's Formorians. The tribe offer assistance in return for putting a stop to these attacks, and give a little side objective of retrieving the leader's father's gold plated heart from the enemy.

Music used:

More Twin Peaks for the dream sequences. I'd grabbed the Lords of Magic soundtrack for the barbarian plains. In fact I don't know why I hadn't done this sooner, since the old Turn Based Strategy RPG had great music for every setting, and I went onto use this in the rest of the campaign.

What worked:

The music really set the scene. The barbarian plains were well realised but also simple. The negotiations felt involved without being overly complicated. The team took the most out of being encouraged to explore. Danya was a forward support character that didn't get in anyones way.

What didn't:

Any combat encounter with all six characters was a bad idea from this point onwards. I wanted more comedy from Danya/Jocasta but didn't put enough work or planning in for it. As for the mammoth, it was painful to have to resort to drawing on the board, made worse that later on I would find a toy of one of those old hairy things the Tuscan raiders ride from Star Wars that was a perfect fit for a mammoth.


Chapter Eight

A Ghost to Most

“And so, once again was our bearded crusader Damon brought back from the realms of the dead to assist his comrades. Presently adorned in a great battle dress bestowed by Ioun, Damon awoke not in the lands of traditional mortals, but the strange and surreal plane of the Feywild. Looking before him, he saw that he had been brought to some strange arena, to do battle with another spirit from some godless land no doubt. Looking up at his summoners, it was only the half-elf Megi that he recognised, but saw that he was in the presence of some divine winged creature, so his arrival must have been blessed with the power of good. So fight he would, and though his body was transparent and intangible, his will was a solid as rock that had just been varnished.”

- 'Tripshot' Murphy – Same Old Footsteps: The Adventures of Damon Volume 4

Once again we kick the session off with an overly long combat encounter. At this point I was trying to steer away from having combat encounters that feature all six characters, but had to have something to show the Formorian's having a presence in the land. Getting through this, the team reach the portal gate but have to activate it first. Earlier I'd hinted that a druidic influence would come in handy for getting to the feywild, and if the team had decided to summon Lilith or Zantir it would have made activating the portal easier, instead Megi insisted she could do it on her own.

So with a few rituals, some gold and a mixture of some of the vegetative crap they'd picked up along the way the portal is activated. I decided to insist on rituals with ingredients at this point because the group kept finding items that were supposed to be used for Bastillion to make potions out of, but they never decided to explore this element I had presented. Anyway, the team enter the portal and as they decided to go in green they end up separated and dumped at a seemingly random location. From this point on the players just control Megi, Cardia and Nazrin, with Danya as a guide.

Stranded in the endless forest of the feywild, the team nonetheless pass a nature check to get in the right direction. I wanted to play up the strange, seemingly trivial sensibilities of the fey during these sections but the group were having none of it. Arriving at a city all they really needed to do was be polite and they'd get entry, instead they pretended to be slave traders and when that didn't work decided they were going to chop down a tree to turn into a battering ram. As DM I managed to work them around it, because if they had gone down this route they'd have just ended up having to fight the whole city, and that would have been no good.

Finally getting an audience with the Court of the Stars, they are told they will be granted assistance so long as they beat one of the councilors champions in order to settle a grudge. The fey being a tricky lot, it turns out that the champion they have to do battle with is an intangible ghost. This part of the plot was all about working the deceased Damon in as a cameo, since everyone did kind of like him as a character. Chosen as the player's own champion, Damon got boosted stats for the fight, and everyones favorite Cascade of Light overkill. Naturally he won it hands down.

In return for the favor, the Court reveals that there is an academy on a nearby island where they can get the final part of the cipher translated, but it is currently under siege by Formorians and will be purged shortly to prevent its secrets being compromised.

Music used:

More Lords of Magic stuff. This time the Earth and Life themes in order to fit the natural setting of the feywild.

What worked:

A bit of a mixed bag this time. The feywild offered a slight change of pace. The ghost battle with Damon went as expected. Danya remained an NPC that helped the plot along and didn't get in the way or overshadow things.

What didn't:

The combat encounter was too long, which ended up splitting one session into two. The activation of the portal was a bit vague, and I think I should have put more planning into how it was to be done. The quirkiness of the fey folk was not taken very well and just caused arguments more than anything. Having said that, the group did get fair warning that fey people don't operate by the same rules normal folks do.


Chapter Nine
Feywild at Heart

“It's unknown if Tristan's Troupe knew what they were getting into with Rasputin. Indeed, the group had been under considerable strain as it was, with Alrianna's infatuation with Azreal and Tristan's constant refusal of rewards. Duncan, being a follower of Bane, was likely the only one happy to remain in the dark sorcerer's employ after his methods were discovered, but even he was starting to question the sanity of the plan. By the time Rasputin had arrived in the feywild, Tristan had already been double crossed in secret, and Alrianna defected shortly afterwards. At this point though, Rasputin had unlocked greater power from the Palantír he held, and most times insisted that Duncan stand back and be little more than a spectator.”

- Roma Drangasti – On the Road Again

I opened this session with an opportunity for the team to check out some of the stores in the feywild. They'd already picked up some epic loot from the planes already, but I didn't want all that money burning holes in their pockets so I gave them the chance to grab some feywild themed kit. Afterwards they were to head to the docks to travel to the nearby island. This being the feywild though, things were never as expected, and rather than traveling by boat they were to be teleported through a magic stone circle.

Upon arrival they come across a battle site littered with formorians and the undead. Once again, they must use their nature skills in order to find their way through the forest. About half way there their path is blocked by a formorian camp. Wanting to avoid any more unnecessary combat encounters, I'd planned this part as a stealth section, with the group navigating the camp carefully. Later on I'd planned that there would be a quick encounter with Rasputin.

Instead, somehow, Nazrin of all people decided it would be a good idea to negotiate with the purple skinned monstrosities that were bent on conquering every last piece of the feywild, and naturally that went about as well as expected. So the planned stealth section ended up as another combat encounter and in the interest of saving time I decided to add Rasputin's appearance to the mix, resurrecting the fallen creatures as his own minions.

After this the group make it to the besieged university, where they reunite with the other missing characters and meet up with Alrianna, who gives some exposition on Rasputin and his whole deal thus far. The group then meet with the headmistress, who explains that the Court of the Stars kill team is on its way to exterminate the whole island, but she can perform a ritual that'll buy everyone a little more time. With a bit of bargaining, Cardia trades the head of the demon she was carrying, which works as a final part of the ritual, and in return they get the translation and the gold plated heart Danya's leader had asked them to obtain.

They are told how to leave the feywild once the ritual is complete. The headmistress does her incantations and stuff, and the group black out. When they awake, in various states of undress, the place has been evacuated. It's up to the player to come up with their own story of what the ritual did. Have fun with that.

Music used:

As usual, more Lords of Magic and some Phantom of the Opera for Rasputin's appearance.

What worked:

Despite the stealth section going tits up at least it showed that the group was free to make their own decisions and had to deal with the consequences. Rasputin was getting about as much hate as I would want a villain to provoke.

What didn't:

Alrianna and Duncan really were supposed to have a greater arc in the story, detailing their gradual defection from Rasputin, but most of this got sidelined because of the amount of stuff I kept putting in. The last three sessions were only supposed to be one, so obviously I didn't put enough thought into pacing, and some stuff got rushed.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Ask Questions Later - A Bleaker's Gambit: Part Two


Chapter Two
It ain't easy but it's Necessary

“In the years before the rift, Alexandria was already facing a massive economic downturn and it's people were massively dissatisfied with the elitism of its leaders, who had monoplolised magic and denied knowledge to the lower classes. When the inviable rebellion took place, magic was given back to the people. Artifacts were handed down, and rituals were taught to those who could spread the power far and wide. The Library, however, Alexandria's largest and grandest construction, still remained in the hands of the disposed government. To this day the Library remains its own insular city state, hiding itself from the rest of the continent behind a stone wall miles and miles in length and breadth.”

- Emilio Whitehouse – Knowledge is Power: A History of Alexandria

So this was the first Cardia, Azreal and Trust only session, and probably the most tightly focused out of all the sessions. I'd planned multiple paths for the characters to take which meant they had greater freedom to choose their own way. The session began with the characters making their way to the free Kingdom of Alexandria, which they chose to travel to via sea. Bargaining for a boat at the first port they get to, the group manage to avoid some of the more dangerous possibilities I'd put in place. Choosing the wrong captain to take them by sea could have ended with a pirate raid.

The group safely make their way into Alexandria, but their main obstacle lies ahead. The library that contains the map piece is part of an independent state, fanatical about security and guarded by the biggest wall they've ever seen. The group shack up at a border town, where low lives make their trade smuggling people across, and mages bluff their way in as an attempt to get to the library's secrets.

I'd come up with several ways for the group to get past the wall. The Guard Captain of the gate was to have secretly been having an affair outside the Library state, and looking in the right places the group could have discovered this and bribed or blackmailed their way through. There was also a weak spot in the wall, which could have been blasted open. With Katie in the team, engineer minded, with the right ingredients she would have crafted explosives to use. Then there was the fact that the Library is open for the study of magical artifacts, and the option to bargain their way in this also presented itself. Finally there was the standard smuggling plot, where some shady characters could have helped the group over in return for some other favor.

As it happened the group went upon a mixture of several solutions. It was revealed that the head of the smuggling operation, Big Bubba, was an old informant of Kara's from her days working up the Andavian city guard ranks. Bubba could get the group over the wall in return for taking care of his hedonistic rival Quintus, who had been hoarding magical artifacts. The plan was tried and tested, the girls pretend to be 'entertainment' with Azreal as their 'pimp'. Azreal though, was voted as no good to take the lead, pretty much by himself, so it was down to Katie to take the lead.

Infiltrating one of Quintus' parties was easy enough, Kara and Cardia distracted the guests, Katie stood guard while Azreal and Trust robbed the store rooms. The magical artifacts he held were sensory stones (familiar to anyone who'd played Planescape:Torment), and on their way back to the main floor, Azreal and Trust find that Kara had turned the 'sexy dancing' into a bare knuckle boxing match, to which Quintus was throughly entertained.

From here on in it was pretty plain sailing. Big Bubba kept the bulk of the stones, leaving the group with enough to bribe their way through the gate with a bit of information regarding the Guard Captain's extra-marital relations. A few other stones were retained as additional reward. The rest goes like clockwork, and the session ends with the group entering the walled tunnel with armed escort.

Music used:

I'm also going to start discussing the music I used to set the mood. Up until this point it'd been a mix of the Assassins Creed soundtrack, The Call of Pripyat sountrack and a few songs from Lord of the Rings here and there. Oh, and some instrumental stuff from Show of Hands, which worked very well indeed. This session I needed some sleazy 70's style music for Quintus decant party, which came in the form of a sample song by somebody called Youth Explosion that was on my phone by default.

What worked:

Pretty much everything, this session was about as tight as it got. It was funny and challenging in places and the dynamics between characters really worked with the situations they got themselves into. The multiple solutions gave the impression that I wasn't railroading the characters, and that they had greater free reign to experiment and do what they thought best. Kara and Katie both supported the game as NPC's but didn't dominate the plot. Every player was also involved in equal measure.

What didn't:

Not a lot else. The stealth sections could have been a bit more challenging, and the start at the port could maybe have been a bit more interesting, but other than that there were no real failings in what I set out to do.


Chapter Three
Carnack's Eleven

“The Library of Alexandria has the reputation for being probably one of the most secure locations in the realms. The massive wall that guards the entire city-state notwithstanding, visitors are escorted at all times, and the structure itself has a standing garrison ready to repel attackers. Along with all this, the library has a complex series of traps and defenses, all controlled my a massive clockwork mechanism that changes its encrypted codes every few minutes. This mechanism activates the building's Guardians, massive stone constructs that demolish anything that moves. The mechanism itself is defended by a game of human sized chess pieces, also Guardians, and the most prised artifacts are kept in a vault which can only be unlocked through seventeen locks simultaneously. Finally, if one were to bypass all these obstacles, they would still have to face the Library's most elite force, The Whisperers.

In truth the Libary's reputation is mostly undeserved. It is built on soft ground with poor foundations, making tunneling surprisingly easy. The guards patrol a gantry when, if accessed, can get you to most parts of the building and the vault's locks are no more complex than that of a standard chests. The only real challenge is the cypher, but bypass this, and take care of the guards and an ambitious villain can be well on his way to some lucrative loot.”

- Zantir Xanderfell - Reflections on the Library of Alexandria

If the entire campaign could be compounded into one session, then this one is probably the most comparable. This was where ambition started getting in the way of things. I'd always wanted to have Carnack lead a team of badasses, and once again I decided to throw it all in rather than save it for some potential future campaign that may or may not happen. Lets not get ahead of ourselves though. Beginning with the groups arrival in the Library's city-state, the players quickly slip away from their escorts, bluff their way into a society presidents house, knock him out and vault his garden wall, bringing them to the front entrance. Once there the guards were currently being distracted by a halfling bard. This was the first of Carnack's group, so lets run through them shall we.

“Carnack Cousland's second attempt at the Library Heist was more well considered than the first. Many of the original team had perished in the attempt or refused to return for the second, so the tattooed mercenary had some slots to fill...

...First and foremost Carnack needed alchemist Bastillion DeRoque, who held the sole responsibility of the previous attempts failure. Bastillion had concocted a sleeping gas that was to knock out all the guards and staff of the library, giving the team safe room to make away with the painting, but Bastillion's gas was not long lasting enough. Unexpectedly, Carnack held no ill will against the alchemist, and Bastillion jumped at the chance to prove that, this time, his gas would work...

...Working as right hand man was Bostock Hawke, an Andavian expatriate of comparable might to Carnack himself. Hawke had been messily involved in the breakdown of the Navarre kingdom, and some say it was he himself that had executed King Ferdinand. In Carnack's opinion though, Bostock's one weakness came in the form of his lover Reece, a former elf slave and swordmage. Reece had his uses, however, as infiltrator for the team, and would be instrumental in helping Bastillion get in place to deploy his sleep gas...


...Returning to strategise the plan was Andavian military commander Lucas Anderson. Anderson was known as genius of his time when it came to military tactics and combat deployment, and it was he who had came up with the original plan and played an influence in recruitment. Anderson would oversee the overall operation, issuing orders and changing plan as the situation evolved...

...Halfling bard Elric 'Moody' Woodstock was to return for entrance and extraction. Elric had a long and strange history that had made him unnaturally charismatic. It would be he who would bluff their way into the library, distract the guards, and have a disguised cart waiting to collect the team when the operation was a success...

...Heading the pincer movement of the plan was Rune Blackforge, a dugrgar who had been raided by dwarfs and was an expert on tunnels and construction. She would create a series of passages beneath the building, allowing the team to quickly abscond if things went sour or move about quickly if plans changed....

...The Library's encoded mechanism was the biggest challenge, but fortunately Carnack had roped in Kerris Etherleaf, probably the realms greatest cryptologist and codebreaker, to handle this. The elderin was working for free on this job, as, since being exiled from the feywild for a transgression against the court of the starts, he filled his time seeking bigger and bigger challenges. Deciphering the mechanism was child's play for him, and was at once in control of the entire buildings defenses mere moments after his arrival...

...Taking care of the locks was Lilith Morau, a drow who had been exiled from the underdark for turning her back on Lolth in the name of her druidic studies. For a drow, Lileth was masterful at the earth magic, and she could manipulate the roots beneath the soil into working their way into the libraries vault locks, doing the job you would need seventeen lock picks for otherwise...


...finally bringing up the muscle was Mai Sukunami, a martial artist from far east who was in the reams on a quest of revenge for the murder of her father. Carnack had promised her aid in this quest in return for signing on for the library job. The other muscle was the undead revenant Garnet. Garnet was the embodiment of justice and retribution but had, in time, found himself bound to Carnack's will. Garnet had no real investment in the heist, but was forced to contribute anyway....

...And in tow, side by side with their murderous leader was Lerissa. Nobody quite knew why she had thrown in her lot with Carnack, but she had a sense of mischief and the power of a maturing warlock to keep her alive. The heist would be another strike against what the authorities back in Farrel had expected of her..."

- Maxil Bluchide: History of the Library: Volume 2

Each character was essentially a challenge. Katie and Kara remained outside to guard the main entrance. It was intended that all characters could be disarmed or persuaded to stand down, since I was planning on them each playing a greater part in the story further down the line. Unfortunately I failed to consider that the most popular opinion of the group was to kill em' all. Bostock bought it against Azreal, which caused Reece to abscond with his body.

I made the players play human chess with an Aztec chess board to get to Kerris, who had to use the defense mechanism to stop them murdering him too. Kerris stood down, because they'd need him later, and the group also managed to free Garnet of his bindings to Carnack. The others all had to flee through Rune's tunnels to avoid the same fate as Bostock, and finally reaching the vault managed to force Carnack into a truce. The final portion of the session was to escape to the roof of the library, perused by enemies, then jumping off it's highest point to land on a haystack and escape with Elric

Music used:

Same as usual so far. At this point each session would start with a character haveing a dream sequence involving a mysterious stranger, tempting them into an unusual deal. These were accompanied by Angelo Badalamenti's Dance of the Dream man from Twin Peaks. These would hint at later things to come in the story.

What worked:

As an ensemble piece it wasn't bad. Each character represented a different challenge that the group would have to change tactics for. Their goal was always clear and present, and securing the map piece essentially sorted their current goal. The Library felt like a well construed concept, and nobody had to spend too long figuring out what to do.

What didn't:

In retrospect what I should have done was present Carnack's Eleven as straight up antagonists. If fighting to the death was given as an actual option then it would have been less frustrating for the players and less frustrating for me wanting them to do something else. Thinking back I really should have guessed the team would just want to kill them, and if I wanted them kept around, should have set them up more as allies than the 'friendly rivals' I portrayed them as.


Chapter Four
X marks the Spot

“The death of King Ferdinand signaled an end to civility in the nation of Navarre. With no monarchical authority, no national identity, and no common belief with which to come together, the country practically imploded, socially speaking. Factions and independent states began popping up and warring against each other. Warlords and troublemakers both rose to capitalise on the chaos. Maybe there was a new future coming for the nation, a better one, but when the bodies started piling up on the streets everyone knew that Navarre was no place for a civilised man to be.”

- Clive Brackstow – The Navarre Civil War

Okay. So by this point the first goal in the overall arc had been completed. Action points and XP had been dished out accordingly. The two map pieces were united and the location of the map room was revealed. Surprising no one was the fact that it was in the recently fractured nation of Navarre that had been unsubtly mentioned a few times already. Just before this, Cardia, Azreal and Megi had the chance to question the remaining of Carnack's Eleven on info that would foreshadow things later in the campaign. A chance they didn't take, oh well.

Once the gang had reunited in Andavia they spent a night at an inn, then hit a trading camp to spend their spoils. On their way to Navarre they had a combat encounter with some mercenaries, which took forever because each player had two characters to control. Once finished, I revealed that it had been instigated by an old rival of Megi's, my first of many attempts to try and get the players to invest more in the story.

Once in Navarre the team are accosted by some armed thugs and escorted to Bostock Hawke's residence. At this point I was still planning for him and Reece to play a more important role later on, so said that Recce had taken Bostock's corpse and got him resurrected by a local priest (what? This is what everyone does when someone dies), Trust was still set on murdering him though, and I had to resort to using an indestructible laser eyed teddy bear (yes really) to keep her in check and stop her ruining my plot thread. Anyway, after all that, the team find out they need to track down the specific location of the map room.

This next bit was pretty inspired, the group are forced to get information from the 'Half-orc minstrels', a bunch of sort of gypsy type mimes. The entire sequence involved Nero trying to obtain information when I was giving it mostly in mime. Nero's player was practically catatonic with laughter by the end, so the whole sequence was fairly memorable and taken in good humor.

They finally find that the room is buried under a temple to 'the ten who are one', which the group eventually track down. This next part was unsubtly taken in whole from the roman numeral sequence from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which everyone failed to realise. After some wandering around the temple following stained glass windows and statues with numerals on them, they finally realise that 'X marks the spot' and smash through the floor.

Music used:

The half-ork minstrel sequence would have been nothing without Tom Waits' Dave the Butcher, from Swordfishtrombones. A few other tracks from that album were also used as well. God I love Tom Waits.

What worked:

Reuniting the group was refreshingly in character and there really felt there was a bit of camaraderie between our in game personas at this point. As already mentioned, the half-orc minstrels were appreciated by all and will be one of the campaigns most enduring memories. Despite nobody spotting the homage, the roman numeral sequence was also fun.

What didn't:

The combat encounter was overly long because of the sheer amount of players. I failed to motivate any discussion with Carnack's band of characters. Bostock felt unnecessary and was never really used again. Indestructible laser eyed teddy bear.


Chapter Five
Bright Lights, Big City

“What had happened to the Modrons over the last half decade was generally unknown. Despite being the spiritual staple of Mechanus, Plane of pure order, their appearances in the outlands had been in decline for many years. Nowhere was this more noticeable than in Sigil, City of Doors, The Cage, The Great Donut, The center of the multiverse. While Modrons were rare even in Sigil, they were still seen now and again as agents or observers. But as the planes changed, so Sigil changed with them, and pure alignment based universes began to see themselves shrink, to make way for new planes of existence like the Shadowdark. In times like these one expects change. Alas though, we were still without an answer: What had happened to the Modrons?”

- Gunter Mackapee – Case Notes: The Foltsom Wainright Case, for submission of review to the Mercykiller Factol

I'm a massive fan of Planescape: Torment. I won't hide that fact. It's my favorite game of all time, and with it come the fondest memories. As a work of fiction, its probably influenced me as a budding writer more than any other piece of literature I've consumed. So naturally, I had to have a jaunt to Sigil and the planes at least once during this campaign. This entire session itself was seeped with nostalgia for Torment, though few of the players themselves felt the benefit of this.

The session began with the group discovering the mechanism of the map room. It's encoded with three languages; Ancient Elven, Ancient Abyssal and Binary. The group recruits Kerris, the elderin codebreaker, to aid them, but he reveals that he can't crack the code without knowing a translation for the cipher, text surrounding Magnus Fallon's original map. Kerris says he'll get to work, but recommends that if you want obscure translations sorted, then you need look no further than Sigil, the titular city built inside a spiral at the center of everything.

For transport, the group get Azreal to track down his some time lover, Spelljammer Captain Sofia Sloan. Sofia is, as usual, bootlegging throughout the multiverse, and agrees to give the group a lift to Sigil, while Jocasta and co stay behind to keep an eye on Kerris. The Spelljammer takes off, and the team have to pass a will check to keep their astral sea legs or throw up as a consequence. During the journey they must do battle with an Astral Dreadnought, though they just have to hold their own for a set amount of turns rather than kill it outright.

Arriving at Sigil, they check in at the Touch of Fey bar with Sofia's associate Harry, who I put my best Ron Pearlman voice on for. Harry can hook the group up with some people who can translate two of the texts, but needs a few favors in return. Azreal, Trust and Cardia leave this session head for a gate town called Dast to deliver a message for Harry, Leaving Megi, Nazrin and Nero to look into some recent thefts. Nazrin, led on by memories of a previous life, finds the fallen Dabus Fell, who creates some powerful tattoos for the group, based upon past experiences.

Tracking down the thief, it seems, whoever he is, is working for a gang known as the beast men. The three infiltrate their headquarters and find that it is the thief is the tiefling Tristan, who has been press ganged into service by the beast men. Megi wants to kill him, but fortunately Nazrin remembers she's Lawful Neutral and forbids it, this still doesn't stop Megi setting fire to his pants though, and Nero, rather unprovoked, punching him in the face. Some bystanders see this, and the formerly well thought of noble starts to get a bad reputation.

With that favor sorted, Harry refers the three to the Society of Sensation, where one of their lecturers, in return for some more of those sensory stones, reveals there is a sole Modron holed up in a secret vault in the undercity. The team battle carrion crawlers and undead in the crypts under the city, where they eventually locate the vault. Inside, a lone Modron has been left with some drones to maintain their presence. The Modron recognises Nazrin from a past life, and is prompted to play a holographic recording by Magnus Fallon. It is revealed that the two had worked together in one of Nazrin's past lives, and that in order to use the God Maker, the precision of Mechanus would be required. The Modron serves this purpose, but can only be fully activated by the genetic structure from two of Fallon's descendants.

The session ends with the binary encryption translated, and more questions than answers.

Music used:

I went hell for leather with the Planescape: Torment soundtrack on this one, which I think drew everyone in. Also used some of Vangelus' Blade Runner Volume 3 for the Spelljammer sequences.

What worked:

This was probably my second best session of the entire campaign. Everyone bought into the quirky Planescape setting. Fell's stat boosting tattoos worked really well and gave everyone a feeling of extra power as well as the personal investment of each boost being unique based on the character and actions they'd taken in the past. The goals were clear and worked well. The combat short and sharp, and the Modron sequence really brought Nazrin's previously indifferent character into her own. Sofia's return also went down quite well as a secondary character (well, nobody tried to kill her at least, which is the best I could hope for at this point).

What didn't:

Summoning Sofia and her Spelljammer was somewhat contrived and convenient, I think I could have come up with a better way of bringing her into the story. As with Carnack's eleven, most players just wanted to kill Tristan, and if it wasn't for Nazrin I would have had a hard time keeping the guy alive.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Ties That Bind - A Bleaker's Gambit: Part One

“So you want to hear the story do you berk? You want to hear about these fair lands and how they were driven apart and then driven back together? You want to hear about Magnus Fallon and the Deva of Eberron eh? About Carnack's Eleven? About the Navvarre civil war and how this whole mess made its way to Sigil, The Cage? You want to hear about the rising of Dast? The formorian war in the tribal lands of Tir? How pirates clashed on the sparrow islands? The siege of Quintus? You want to hear about The Empire?

Nah. There's only one thing you want to hear about. Ain't that right? You want to hear about the God Maker. You want to know if it was real. Well let me tell you son, out there on the planes, the places a man can't get to, they've got a name for this fable. They hang it on the noses of those that see no point in anything. They call it a Bleakers Gambit.”
- An unnamed man during a national survey during the period of malcontent.


Okay. Here we are. After about a year and a half of coming up with ideas, getting models, dice, creating the quests, changing the quests, changing them again, I was ready. I was going in with both barrels. This was going to be one hell of a campaign. Multiple characters, sessions each having a different focus. Thought out loot and random encounters. NPC's with special bonuses to the party. Crafting. Alchemy. Epic weapons and armour. Incidental music. The whole shebang.

Well that was the plan.

The campaign wasn't a massive failure, not by a long stretch. But what it did was teach me were valuable lessons in what works and what doesn't. Problem is, that given it takes us about six months minimum to do a campaign, I wanted to do everything I wanted to do this time, since it'll probably be two years till I get to do another one. I was planning this one right after I'd finished my last one, and God knows I'm already putting ideas together for the next. This long obsession crystallized my desire to go in all guns blazing, and as such overloaded the whole thing with too many ideas. I'll be looking at each session to go through what did and didn't work. But first things first; The Characters.

“After his efforts in Caeoria, Azreal found himself back at the order, filing accounts and dealing with bureaucracy. Despite the fact that he was now considered a worthy hero in the eyes of the Andavian nation, The higher ranking members of Bahamut's Knights were going well out of their way to keep him well out of theirs. Still, that was just how he liked it, and Azreal was happily toiling away the hours in total indifference. As usual, It wasn't long until fate came knocking at his door.”

- Billo Michigen - Another Time, Another Place: The Orders of Bahamut


“As with all Deva's, Nazrin knew not what her divine heritage was, only that she was there for a reason. Having wandered nearly all of Eberron for many years, she had become a competent Artificer, having almost craftsmanlike skill when it came to engineering, though again she knew not where she had learned such talents. Her nature as a force for good repeatedly drew her to adventure, and was one of the first recruited when news of the legendary God Maker relic spread from nation to nation. This job seemed like any other, an ancient relic, an immortal prophecy. This time though, things were going to turn out a little differently for the grounded angel.”

- Matteus Binro – Worlds beyond ours and those who walked upon Them.

As I already mentioned, each player was to have two characters. The intention was that most of the campaign would have them split into two groups of three. This, however didn't always work out, as you will see later. Azreal returned, with the group also being joined by a Deva from Eberron, as a way to introduce a clockwork engineer from that world. As usual Azreal was quiet, stoic and didn't say much.

Nazrin was a new character, with a class taken from Eberron, so I had a bit of fun introducing her into the plot, which I will discuss later. She was a lot more talkative and involved at times, but like Azreal, didn't generally set herself at the forefront of things.

“Due to Farrel's recent expansion, many were on edge with the idea that the small trade nation would soon turn its desires west. Fortunately Megi's presence on the mainland helped ease tensions, somewhat ironically given her self serving character and seemingly afflicted with a superiority complex. When not tied up in the machinations of the Farrelite courts, she would often be found as an ambassador, assuring others that Farrel's ambitions were ultimately humble. Weather or not she was telling the truth remains to be seen, but after the fall of the Navarre monarchy and the subsequent civil war, she soon found more hostility than she initially bargained for, on both sides of the fence.”

- Domasi Aucturis – War on the Mainland: A History


“Time had been indifferent to Trust. While her life flitted between picking the pockets of peasants to working as a hired hand for more unscrupulous types, that big score still hadn't come around. While she still had contacts from the old guilds, the recent upheavals in Andavia had made it difficult to lay any groundwork, and Trust expected that it wouldn't be long till she'd be moving on to greener pastures, though how green and how far even she wouldn't have been able to predict.”

-Ezio de Sirenze – Here We Stand: The Teifling Peoples Road to Acceptance

As always, both and Trust essentially fell somewhere between Chaotic Neutral and Neutral Evil. As always, any attempt at doing something good or charitable was always going to fall short with these two in the party, so I had to make sure that all their goals could essentially be self serving. As always this worked better at some points than others. As with pretty much every other campaign, their player generally took the lead with the party, making most of the choices along the way, so I had to try hard to make sure everyone had a stake in said choices.

“His first year in Andavia had been a good one for Nero Celesious Kah. Despite not currently having any real power from his titles, he was still the man to be seen with by the nobility of the nation. Nero spent most of his days training the King's rangers in more advanced forms of archery, and his nights sampling medicines of a chemical variety, or so they say.

Cardia on the other hand has stayed out of limelight, instead doing more research into the workings of the undead and worship of the Raven Queen. Her tribal upbringing surprisingly did not get in the way of her adjusting to city life, and could often be found spending her free time in ale houses and music halls with the best of them.

All the while news trickled up from Caeoria. The nation had now stablalised, its manipulative city states had begun falling back into line, and the tribal nations were enjoying their independence. It seemed at though the two Caeorian's were truly free to tend to their own lives, which often meant only one thing; Adventure beckoned.”

- Bostock Conroy – Family Histories

Finally we have Nero and Cardia. Generally two contrasting personalities, In this campaign Nero would often find himself trying to look like a badass, threatening, and self serving, seemingly on the same as Megi and Trust's level. This would backfire enormously of course. Another part of Nero's character came from his period in the last campaign where he was pacified through opium, and from this it generally came into common knowledge that the man had little willpower when it came to narcotics. This was something else I ran with throughout the campaign.


Cardia on the other hand was often condescending but otherwise open minded, and tried her best to do the right thing but often found that this never quite worked out as planned. Diplomacy was attempted more than with Nero, but never quite to solid effect, as we will see later. All in all though, Nero and Cardia's player was often the wild card, and I don't mean that in a good way. Some day's he'd been in the mood for dnd, other's he'd hardly put in any effort at all, so I had to do my best to make things interesting.

And finally.

“Despite the passing of time, not a lot had happened in Andavia of late. Jocasta was still flitting between jobs, still not settled on a calling in life. Katie was working a lot in engineering and architecture, trying to push her old airship to be refitted. Kara had been promoted again to greater responsibility in the city guard, and Sakari was still working in the library being the usual bookworm.

Things continued quietly as most people would expect, but it didn't take Jocasta long to start sticking her nose into things, as was usually expected of her. Jocasta first thought something was up when strange goings on were noted in the knightly orders. Azreal being ever the apathetic one, noticed little, so Jocasta took this to local Chronicler Zantir Xanderfell. Zantir began to unravel a whole den of corruption that was beginning to take root, but unfortunately by the time she had gleaned this information, Jocasta and co were long gone, as Kara had heard whispers amongst prisoners about the return of the God Maker, an ancient relic of legend. Had they held back a little longer, they may have found out that there were more to these legends than met the eye.”

- Alysoun Mifflinburg – No Dykes to Watch Out For: Mercenaries on the Road Less Traveled: Volume 2

DM's NPC's are difficult to use as we have seen from past experience. Considering I was going to be including four (and even more later) I didn't want to overburden the party. This worked better at the start of the campaign than it did near the end. Each NPC was supposed to grant a particular bonus when they were in the party, for example Kara granted a bonus to initiative during random encounters, which were cut mostly due to lack of time, and Katie could snipe marked targets as a minor action, unfortunately no character had the ability to mark targets.

Looking back I really shouldn't have used all four so much in this campaign, and tried my best to find reasons to keep them out of the player characters hair as much as possible, but alas I still wanted to make the most out of the models I had, hence they're continued appearance.


Chapter One

In Questionable Company

“Legend has it that the God Maker was created long ago as a pact between the powers. That it is adorned with holy symbols to confirm this pact. The relicry it is contained in is said to rotate between lands, worlds and even the planes themselves. What the artifact does on the other hand, is a secret long forgotten....

.... Magnus Fallon was the only known individual to crack the secrets of the artifact's shifts. It is said that he worked many years with the Farrelite mages, on co-ordinates for an alleged map room that would reveal the present location of the artifact. Not long after that Fallon disappeared, map and all. His eventual fate, like many facts surrounding the God Maker, remains a mystery.”

- Mystra Cropolis – The Relics of Veccna and Other Artifacts of Legend

Our session began on Eberron with the introduction of Nazrin. With a group of companions she is nearing the end of her quest for the legendary God Maker. Finally locating the artifact she must do battle with the notorious mage, Rasputin. After a quick battle Nazrin kills the villain, but as she reaches for the relic is begins to shift between worlds. Cue opening music.

Shortly after we jump ahead to a meeting in the Andavian city lighthouse between most of the characters from the previous campaigns. Kara reveals that she has heard whispers that the legendary God Maker is back in the realms, and that given the civil war going on in neighboring region Navarre, King Richard, or many other leaders, would pay handsomely for such a relic, even if it were just a powerless rusty chalice. Shortly, they are joined by Nazrin, who reveals following leads on the God Maker may be her only way home.

The story of Magnus Fallon is related. The only man who knew the secret of finding the God Maker. It is said he found a map room that would reveal the relics location, and that he made his own map to this location, splitting it in half. Sakari notes that she knows where one half is, as she saw it in the old library of her home village. The other half is deduced to reside in the oppressive state of The Library of Alexandia, where Carnack Cousland once attempted a heist for a valuable painting, suggesting more than a coincidence.

The group track down Zantir, as she was part of Carnack's original eleven who attempted the heist years ago, and discusses its members and tactics. The group then consolidate at the local inn. Trust attempts to track other members of Carnack's group, but fails to find them, suggesting that a second heist will be attempted. Jocasta reveals that the route to Sakari's old village is little known, and not remembered by them as they left by sea last they were there. The only people that recall the way are two old soldiers, Chrissy and Loggo, who have long sworn off adventure. The group mostly gets drunk from here and Nero procures some rare narcotics for his own personal use.

The group split up the following morning, with Trust, Azreal, Cardia, Kara and Katie heading to Alexandria to tackle Carnack. The rest are left to negotiate co-operation with Chrissy and Loggo, who are hesitant at first, then mostly scared off by Megi's offer of money and slaves as reward. Nazrin, being of a race known for being good and pure, manages to talk them round. They then head through the mountain passes towards the village.

Along the way they do battle with frost giants, and then face a rather friendly Beholder, known as a Spectator, who throws some predictions their way. Arriving at the village, they find the residents slaughtered, and face this world's Rasputin who has allied himself with Tristan, Duncan and Alrianna (from my last campaign). They do battle with Rasputin's undead minions as he escapes. Searching the library they locate the map with ease, but the fragile floor causes Megi, Sakari and Nazrin to fall to the ground into a tunnel system leading to a small pier. They procure a boat and do battle with a shark, as they leave the others to make their own way back by land.
What worked:
Generally a pretty good session this one. Most characters got into the diplomacy with other characters, though it was still difficult to stop Megi/Trust just intimidating or scaring people off with non-ethical bargaining. Everyone got a fair bit of session time and seemed interested in the story. They also made a lot out of the non combat parts, like socialising at the inn. As with pretty much all other sessions, the music went down very well. Each character seemed to come into their own, and the world around them felt well realised and interesting to explore.
What didn't:
The sheer number of characters was overwhelming, so the sooner the party got split the better. Also there seemed to be little affiliation to each other within the group. With Megi and Nazrin deciding to bugger off in a boat once Sakari had the map, leaving the others behind. The whole quest to Sakari's old village should have been much longer and more in depth, having Chrissy and Loggo play a greater part in the campaign. Instead, I hadn't planned ahead enough to make the most of this quest, but needed something for the characters to do as we'd have had to finish the session early otherwise.

All in all though, not a bad foundation for a campaign, and it went about as well as I could have hopes. We'll see how well I maintain this as the campaign continues.