(For those who came in late: this is the second session of my GURPS solo-play campaign. Instead of a GM, I use a big collection of procedural tables (see the tabs above!). The campaign is set in a fantasy world I created from scratch in in a previous series of posts, using a procedural world-creation system. Enjoy!)
If you’re just reading for the plot, you can skip the italics!
The PC: Temian Fell, explorer of ancient ruins and all-round hero.
The story so far: Temian lives in the town of Dunmoss, in the heart of the ruin-ridden valley of Eldervale. He makes his living by exploring the ruins, but that doesn’t pay much, so he’s always short of money.
In the first session (“One Evening At the Phoenix…“) he returned home from a week-long trip and went to visit his friend Heralf, who runs The Phoenix Tavern. But while there, he was lured outside and ambushed by two thugs, who intended to rob him. Temian defeated the thugs and was hailed as the hero of the hour – but he soon got himself embarrassingly drunk, and woke up the next morning with a sore head.
Our session ended when a mysterious stranger called Nyssa approached him. Now, over breakfast, she begins to tell him her story…
Scene 1 – Nyssa’s Story
Temian and Nyssa are having a big, hearty breakfast in the common room of The Phoenix.
They’re getting along well: Nyssa liked Temian at first sight…
(…due to a very favorable reaction roll…)
…and Temian is a pretty sociable fellow under most circumstances. After a bit of general conversation, Temian asks Nyssa where’s she’s from.
“I was born in a distant land” Nyssa begins…
A brief digression on the meta-game here…
The little story that follows is all basically just a fun way of introducing the adventure hook we rolled up last time . A brief summary: Temian is looking for work, and Nyssa knows of an ancient ruin that’s worth investigating – but it’s 3 weeks (!!) journey away.
If you recall, we still haven’t decided exactly where that ruin is – but check out the map: 3 weeks means it could be anywhere on this circle, more or less.
(The red arrow points to Dunmoss, Temian’s current location.)
As you an see, a lot of very different places lie along this circle, which means we have a lot of options! Should this ruin be way down south-east, in the terrifying Unshapen Marsh of Sinisthral? Or should it be in the far east, among the equally terrifying (but dryer!) Wolf-kin of Volbad? Or somewhere else entirely?
Without a GM, how shall I decide?
Well, when I rolled for Nyssa’s characteristics, an odd result came up – the system told me that when Temian meets her, she is “sweaty.” Very odd! So ever since then I’ve been thinking about how to work that in. In hindsight, it’s obvious: she’s from a cold climate, and the Eldervalean summer is too hot for her. Once I’ve realized that much, then the rest is easy….
“I was born in a distant land…” Nyssa begins, “… far to the North and West of here. A land that your people call The Snowsprawl. My people have lived there for generations, herding reindeer and fishing in the ice.”
She sighs wearily.
In fact, she does that a lot – as we learned last session, that’s one of her distinguishing characteristics.
“But no more!” she continues. “A great evil has come from the West – its exact nature, I do not know; only that it is very terrible! – and the peoples of the Snowsprawl have scattered and fled. I came south with my family, to find a better life – but my family perished during the journey, leaving me alone….”
Temian has Selfless [-5] as a disadvantage, and so this story gets his sympathy right away.
Eagerly, Temian asks her about her homeland, and she gets to reminiscing, wistful sighs and all. They get to talking…
Recall that Temian also has “Obsession: Exploring Ancient Ruins” [-10]
…and as is so often the case when talking to Temian, it’s not long before the topic of ancient ruins comes up. When it does, Nyssa grows excited. “Ah!” she sighs. “You think you’ve seen ruins? You’ve not seen ruins until you’ve seen the lost city of…
...of what? I’ve got no idea. Just makin’ it up as we go along. But hmmmm… we already know that there are Arctic Elves up in these northern Regions – what if Nyssa knows of an ancient elvish ruin? That sounds good. Let’s roll for an Elvish name!
(Rolling….) 3,3 and 5,5 (wow, odd rolls!). This gives us “Laraithuil”. Let’s split this into two, to make “Lara Ithuil.” That sounds like a decent name for a lost elvish city.
…Lara Ithuil!” Nyssa looks earnestly at Temian, takes a deep breath – and then sighs with longing. “Ah, the Lost City of Lara Ithuil! How its crumbled walls shine amongst the snows! Never was there a ruin more fair!”
Has Temian ever heard of Lara Ithuil? Let’s ask the Solo 6. (Rolling…) Result: 1 – an emphatic “Yes, and…”! Excellent! This is working out really nicely.
…”Lara Ithuil!” Temian cries, astounded and fascinated. “You don’t mean the Lara Ithuil from the old stories? Why, I always thought it was a myth!”
“Oh no – it’s not a myth” Nyssa tells him. “I grew up there; my people lived among the ruins. But those days are gone now…”
Nyssa sighs wistfully once again (of course!), but as she once again begins to reminisce, Temian’s mind is elsewhere. The Lost City of Lara Ithuil! Unbelievable! He’s dreamed of seeing it ever since he was a child, but he was always told it was a myth. To think that it actually exists!
….Recall that Temian suffers from Impulsiveness [-10]…
There and then, Temian vows to go and see the ruins of Lara Ithuil for himself, no matter how long the journey, or what it costs him!
And that, my friends, is what my system calls a Personal Plot. It’s good to have one for Temian, finally! And it also gives us a perfect opportunity to fill out one of his undetermined Quirks, which will now read “Vow: to explore the Lost City of Lara Ithuil.”
Temian tells Nyssa that he’d very much like to go and explore the Lost City of Tara Ithuil, particularly if it’s as beautiful as she’s described. And caught up in the moment, he suddenly asks her to come with him! (Impulsive again). Nyssa is certainly surprised by the question – they’ve just met! She…
Hmmm… how will Nyssa respond to this unexpected question? Will she agree to go with him? That seems pretty unrealistic -they’ve just met, and that’s precisely the place she’s just fled from – but then again, it might make for a fun story. Let’s let the Solo 6 decide. (Rolling…) 6: definitely not!
…looks a bit shocked. “Oh no,” she says. “I’m not going back – it was all I could do to get away! And as nice as you are, I hardly know you. But if you’re really serious, then I can tell you how to find the Lost City for yourself.”
Temian eagerly agrees, and she tells him.
Let’s go ahead and mark the Lost City on the world map. On the map below, one of the red arrows points to the Lost City, the other points to Temian’s current location. You’ll probably need to zoom in to see anything!
That pretty much wraps up this scene, I think. Temian and Nyssa get along well, but they’re just chance strangers who’ve met in an Tavern, after all – and the crucial piece of information has now been shared. Let’s keep the story moving!
Scene 2 – Trouble in Dunmoss
Temian is all fired up with the thought of traveling to distant lands and exploring the Lost City of Lara Ithuil… but he’s currently broke. If he’s ever going to get to the Lost City, he’s going to have to start by earning some money! So it’s time to look for work.
This gives me an opportunity to use my simple “Searching for Adventure” rules. They’re here, but basically, you just choose an appropriate skill and roll on it. We’re in Eldervale, so let’s roll against Temian’s Area Knowledge (Eldervale) skill of 12 to see if he can find a lead on an adventure.
(Rolling…) 12: just made it! Great – now we get to head over to the adventure creation system to determine what he’s found. This involves a few steps…
Right! It appears what we have here is a “Convince” adventure. – basically, Temian has to convince someone to do something they don’t want to do. The pay is 300 sp, and the person he needs to convince is located no more than 2 hours journey away, which is convenient. The adventure is rated at Peril 2, which is about right for a 150 pt character.
Who is employing him, and who is this person who needs to be convinced? Over to the People system!
Ok – It seems the employer is a man named Aed Steadlark. He’s a quiet man, with a pronounced limp. He blinks a lot. He’s involved in religion in some way. When Temian meets him, he’s badly injured.
The person who needs to be convinced is a woman named Juliana Darkhound. She’s physically “dumpy” (sorry, Juliana!), and she wears distinctly unfashionable clothes. She has the habit of fiddling with her food while talking. Perhaps most importantly, she’s involved in magic in some way. When Temian meets her, she will be “desperate for help.”
So what the heck is going on? Actually, all of this paints a pretty clear picture. Let’s see it!
…Broke and in search of paying work, Temian heads over to consult a local soothsayer he knows – Aed Steadlark. Aed is a religious man – in fact, he’s a mouthpiece of…
A brief detour into world-building, in which we invent the oracular cults of Eldervale….
…hmmm… what kind of god does Aed serve? Let’s ask the Solo 6. Does Aed serve as the mouthpiece for a traditional “Order, Morality, and Light” kind of god? (Rolling…) 3: “Yes, but..”. Ok, interesting. Before determining exactly what that means, let’s add some color by rolling for an “Interesting Fact” about Aed… (Rolling) 3,5: “More Moral than he appears”. Nice! Ok, so let’s say that the higher power that Aed serves isn’t really known for being strongly concerned with morality – but that Aed himself is. Consulting the the Solo 6 again: does he serve a goddess, say? (Rolling…) 1: an emphatic “Yes, and…” – so it’s a goddess, but somehow even more so. Ok, great! Let say he serves….
…the Triple Goddess Simara / Timara / Dimara, whose three aspects govern conception, birth, and death. The cult of the Triple Goddess is…
Is the cult local to Eldervale? (Rolling…) 4: “No, but…” Ok – Let’s say that the cult can be found in many regions, but it’s much more common and accepted here in Eldervale. In fact, let’s say that strange, witchy Eldervale is its spiritual home.
… quite well-regarded in Eldervale, but viewed with some suspicion in other regions, due to its supposed amorality – and also because its priests (known as the “Mouths of the Goddess”) engage in occult divination rituals that seem profane to outsiders.
Enough world-building! Back to the adventure!
Knowing all this, Temian heads down to find Aed in his small wooden hut on the banks of the Cairnflood. But when Temian approaches, he hears a cry of pain! Rushing into the hut, he finds Aed on his knees, clutching a wound in his side. Blood is coming out from between his fingers. There’s no-one else present, and no sign of where the wound might have come from.
Thinking quickly, Temian tries to do something to help…
Temian’s First Aid skill is 12. (Rolling…) 13: Oh no!
… but he’s unable to stop the bleeding. Wincing with the pain, Aed pushes him away.
“It’s no good” Aed tells him quietly. “This isn’t an ordinary wound. This is Juliana Darkhound’s work, nothing surer. I was just casting the bones, and then… this!”
Sure enough, now that Temian has a moment to survey the scene, he sees the Triune oracle bones scattered across the dirt floor of Aed’s hut.
Has Temian ever heard that name “Juliana Darkhound?” (Rolling)… 3: “Yes, but.” Ok- let’s say he ‘s heard the name, but he will have to roll against his Occultism of 11 to remember why. (Rolling…) 7 – success!
Temian is shocked. “You mean… she did this to you? Julian Darkhound, the Dunmoss Witch?”
“There can be no doubt,” says Aed, blinking. “I felt her spectral fingers clutching at me when I cast the bones.” Aed suddenly stiffens and cries out in renewed pain. “Ah!” Then more quietly: “She’s still got a grip on me, Temian. For the love of Simara, please, if you want to do an old man a favor, find her quickly and beg her to stop!”
Temian agrees without a moment’s hesitation, despite the fact that tangling with the Dunmoss Witch is bound to be dangerous.
This is “Selfless [-5]” coming in to play again. (Man, it’s an under-priced disadvantage.)
He rushes out of the hut, and as quickly as he can, he makes his way across town toward the Witch’s…
Brief detour to determine where this Witch lives
Hmmm… what kind of place does the Witch live in? Let’s ask the Solo 6. Does she live in a traditionally witchy run-down-cottage-on-the-edge-of-town? (Rolling…) 5: “No”. Alright then, let’s go to the other end of spectrum: is she wealthy and powerful, living in her own stone tower? (Rolling…) 5: “No”. Does she live in an old ruined hill-fort on the cliffs overlooking Dunmoss? (Rolling…) 6: an emphatic “No, and…”. Ah, ok – so let’s say she’d never go near those old ruins, because many of the the ruins scattered throughout the Eldervale contain powers that contest her own. That’s good to know! Given that, does she in fact live in a houseboat on the Cairnflood river, so as to avoid even touching the soil of Eldervale? (Rolling…) 4: “No, but…”. Ok, so she doesn’t live on a houseboat, but she does live on the river. Does she live on a small island in the river? (Rolling…) 3: “Yes, but.” Finally, a “yes” to something! Let’s say that to get to where the Witch lives, you first have to go to a small island in the center of the Cairnflood, just outside of town… but then you have to go into a…. Dark cave? (Rolling…) “No.” Gah! A portal to another plane of existence? (Rolling…) “No, but…”. Hmmm… ok. Thinking. Do you have to go to the island and then conduct a strange ritual, so as to get the witch to come to you? (Rolling…) “Yes”. Ahah! Finally! That proved to be a fun little adventure in itself!
…island, which is in the center of the Cairnflood river, just outside of town. Let’s mark it on the map! (To see it, you’ll definitely need to zoom in)
Scene 3: The Witch’s Isle
The Dunmoss Witch is rumored to live somewhere in the Beyond – but there are ways to contact her, if you’re willing to take that risk. One way is to go to the Witch’s Isle, just outside of Dunmoss.
When Temian gets there, he finds a small, rocky island without much to recommend it. He wades over to it – the water on this side of the Witch’s Isle isn’t too deep, though on the other side there’s a deep channel where the Cairnflood flows swiftly. Climbing up amongst the rocks, Temian fairly quickly finds that the island is thickly overgrown with briars and brambles. It’s not easy going!
Eventually, he manages to make his way through the brambles to the rocky mound at the center of the island. It’s a gloomy and foreboding place, and it is here, he knows, that the ritual to summon the witch must be performed.
Suppressing a shudder, Temian starts the ritual…
… and this definitely calls for a roll against his Occultism skill of 11. (Rolling…) 10! Success!
Temian intones the old chants that many Eldervaleans know – and then makes the secret signs that many of them don’t – and soon, to his fascination and horror, the Witch appears!
Now that we’ve built her up so much, this Witch probably ought to make a really dramatic entrance. So how does she arrive? Let’s ask the Solo 6. Does she simply turn up behind him, as if she’s been there all along? (Rolling…) 2: Yes.
Well, that was easy!
What does she look like? Well, the system has already told us that the Witch is physically “dumpy”, wears distinctly unfashionable clothes, and has the habit of fiddling with her food while talking. To continue with the archetype, does she appear old? (Rolling…) 2: Yes. Right then! It appears we have a classic “old crone”-style Witch on our hands…
Temian senses a presence behind him. Whirling, he draws his sword… and comes face to face with the Witch!
“What isss it you sssseek?” the witch hisses, darting forwards at him quickly.
Temian stumbles back a step before catching himself, all the time trying to keep the point of his (rusty!) sword between them.
The witch gives him a long, hungry look. “Ah, I ssssee. You sssseek the life of the Mouth of Sssssimara!” In her hand she has a bone of some kind, with the flesh still on it – and now she gnaws at the flesh a little, while appraising him.
“Yes” Temian says, a little wanly. And then more bravely, “Yes! Aed Steadlark is dying of your magic! Release him!”
We now come to the heart of the “Convince” adventure – actually convincing the target to do what the client wants! Let’s begin by determining how hard this Witch is going to be to convince, using the system here. (Rolling…) 9: “Quite hard. Roll vs 14+Peril.” Ok- since the Peril rating for this adventure is 2, this means that, to convince her to do what he wants, Temian will have to win a Quick Contest between one of his own social skills and the Witch’s effective skill of 16. But his Diplomacy skill is only 10, and his Intimidation, while better, is only 13. Uh-oh! He’s got very little chance of winning a contest like that. (And see the consequences for Failing to Convince, at the bottom of that page!)
Temian is therefore better off not entering into the Quick Contest right away. Instead, he should try to accumulate some bonuses first, either by buttering her up, or by researching her weaknesses. (And in fact I feel bit smug about how this is working out, since this is exactly how my “Convince” rules are supposed to work: the system makes the contest hard, so as to herd you into making an extended adventure out of it!)
Luckily for Temian, our initial roll on the People tables determined that the Witch is currently “desperate for help” – so the rules for Buttering Up the Target by performing a service for them will certainly apply…
The Witch cackles (of course!) “Releasssse him? Why, morsssel, it isss you who mussst releassse him!” She approaches a little. “Do you truly think that you have sssummoned me? Fool! It isss I who have ssssummoned you! I have caussssed you to come here, to do a sssservice for me!”
Temian shudders. This sort of thing is exactly why he usually tries to avoid anything involving Witches. But he screws up his courage. “And if I help you, you will release Aed from your spell?”
The witch cackles again. “Hassssty, morssel! So hassty! Do thisss sssservicce for me, and then we sshall sssee what we sshall sssee.”
Ok, so what is this service? Let’s head over to the adventure creation system to see.
Ok, so it’s a “Fetch” Adventure ; more specifically, she wants him to “Find a Lost Treasure.” This “lost treasure” is located in a castle, 1 day’s travel away from here. The Peril is still 2. That all sounds fun!
Ok, so what sort of “Lost Treasure” might the witch be after? To decide, let’s visit the People system to find out a little bit more about her. Her hopes and fears? (Rolling…) 2,2,2: She “dreams of Power.” Well, that’s no surprise. What about an interesting fact about her? (Rolling…) 6,3: She “has an odd relationship with the authorities”.
Ahah! That‘s why she’s looking for something from a castle – castles usually belong to the authorities, after all. But one would expect the authorities to be entirely hostile to a witch – so an “odd relationship” here could mean that someone in authority is a bit closer to her than you’d expect. This makes sense, too – we’re in the witchy realm of Eldervale, after all: some of the authorities here might well be mixed up in dubious occult business.
Ok, so let’s add just one more thing int the mix before determining what the story is. We know the type of place in which the Treasure is to be found – a castle. So let’s use that as a basis on which to learn something further. Here we turn briefly to the Dungeon creation system, to determine the Dungeon’s Theme. (Rolling for theme…) “Unsealed”. Right! I think we have enough to go on now. Back to it!
Quickly, the Witch explains that the Baron of….
…of what? Time to roll for a fantasy location name…. Let’s take a “Mountain” term and add a “Historical” modifier (since we’re in Eldervale). (Rolling, rolling…) After a few tries, I come up with one I’m happy with: “Heirloom Peak.”
…Heirloom Peak once used to visit her regularly, on good terms, for reasons she will not go into. (Sadly Temian is not entirely surprised, since rumor has it that this sort of thing is actually fairly common among the strange, impoverished nobility of Eldervale).
Evidently the Baron struck a bargain with the Witch, and she gave him…
… what? I need a random witchy object. Where is my “Random Witchy Object” table when I need it? I could just make something up, but I like taking mattees out of my own hands, so I’ll head to google… I type in “Random witchy object”, and read down random posts until I come to the first suitable object mentioned: “book”. Ok, great! To name the book, let’s roll for an Infernal modifier and a Magical modifier. (Rolling…) “Corrupted” and “Sealed” .
Woah, what an awesome roll! “Sealed” goes perfectly with the “Unsealed” theme we rolled for the castle, earlier. Brilliant!
… the Book of the Corrupted Seal, an ancient tome of dark sorcery. The Baron used it in a subtle way, to gain power over his rivals… But of course, bargains with witches never go well in the long run, and the cursed book eventually wreaked its foul revenge: the “Corrupted Seal” came Unsealed, destroying the Baron and unleashing all sorts of awful nastiness. Now, the Book of the Corrupted Seal sits at the heart of the ruined castle, still surrounded by dark forces…
…and the Witch wants Temian to get it back.
Well, it seems we have our adventure!
This scene has now served its purpose – to keep things moving, let’s wrap it up quickly.
Temian agrees to travel to Heirloom Peak and retrieve the Book of the Corrupted Seal. In return, the Witch agrees not to kill Aed, at least until Temian gets back – at which point, there will be further negotiations.
This is obviously not a great deal for Temian – but really, what choice does he have? Selfless [-5] is a harsh master!
So he gathers his things, and sets off at once…
Well, that’s the session – I think I’ll go back and name it “The Witch of Dunmoss”, since that ended up being the climax, though of course the witch herself didn’t exist at all when I started the session!. Once again, I had a lot of fun – the system keeps generating fun things as we go; I’m just riding it, really. A lot of it fell into place nicely as it came.