GURPS · Session Report

DF Session 1: Whispers in the Dark

A week and a half ago my new group held its first session – and since then, a number of people have asked me to write up a proper session report.

Gentle readers,  I am, as ever, your humble servant.  Here’s how it went down.

Who are we?

There are four people in the new test group  – 3 players plus the GM (me).

  • One player has played a lot of D&D, plus a little GURPS a long time ago.  I know this player fairly well.
  • One player has played a lot of D&D a long time ago, but no GURPS at all.  Before this session, I’d met him only once before.  Neither of the other players had met him before the first session.
  • One player has never participated in tabletop roleplaying before, though he’s very familiar with CRPGs.  I know this player fairly well, too.

The moral of the story: the group is very green.

We’re all men, alas!  (Another reminder that we need to get more women into gaming, just to have more normal-feeling social interactions in the room)

Sitting Down to Play

I had two players arriving early – they wanted to familiarize themselves with the combat rules, so we decided to play out a fairly silly little fight scene, just for fun.  This also seemed a good opportunity to set up a little back-story, so I declared that we were going to play out a “Prologue” scene, in which two of the PCs meet for the first time,  about two years before the start of the main campaign.

We were just about to begin, when suddenly, in walked our third player!  This was excellent news – the more the merrier.  It did make me wish I hadn’t planned the scene for two, though, because it meant that the third player had to play the opposition rather than his own character in the first scene.  But he was a good sport about it, and didn’t seem to mind.

“Prologue: A Chance Meeting”

Our protagonists:

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Glimden Deepcrag, a dwarf cleric devoted to the “Stone Maiden,” a dwarven goddess of mercy and mining (mostly mining, truth be told: her “mercy” mostly involves smiting evildoers even harder…).  Glimden hails from Dwimilzund.

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Siv, a half-elven bard cursed never to play a true note when someone from his homeland is listening.  He find this curse particularly galling since his homeland is Rasitar, where all the best music critics come from.

This was a very simple scene.  Basically, Glimden (the dwarf cleric) was traveling through the Vagabond Fells, on his way to Valiroth, on some religious errand or other.  He camped for the night on a small rise overlooking the road.  When he woke the next morning, it was already late – uncharacteristically, he’d slept in.  More importantly, he’d been woken by the sound of bandits coming to rob him.

Thus the first roll of the campaign was a Per roll, to see if Glimden would hear the bandits in time to wake up and fight them.  Naturally, I made it a pretty easy roll – the bandits had an ogre with them, and ogres aren’t subtle creatures.  Glimden succeeded easily.

So Glimden got up and confronted the bandits.  Initially there was a scoundrelly-looking fellow together with a very large ogre, but a moment later five further scoundrelly-looking fellows stepped out of the bushes to join them.

Glimden, being a fairly peaceful type at heart, tried to negotiate a bloodless solution, but the bandits didn’t see the upside of that.  A fight was imminent.

(I mean, we were just there to test out the combat rules, after all, so a bloodless solution was never really on the cards)

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Siv’s campsite – though you have to imagine that this flat section sits at the top of a steep embankment.  (Yes, a month and a half after building it, I got to take my campsite battlemap out for a test drive!  Good times.…)

Meanwhile, as luck would have it, Siv (the half-elf bard) just happened to be traveling along the road beneath Glimden’s camp.  He heard a lot of noise, and being curious (and indeed Curious (12) [-5]), he just had to investigate.  So he climbed up the rise, which was actually a pretty steep escarpment on this side (Climbing roll required!), and poked his head over to take a look.

What he saw was a pious-looking dwarf being accosted by a bunch of ruffians.  Naturally, he couldn’t stand for that!

Siv was built more-or-less in accordance with the Dungeon Fantasy Bard template, and has (Code of Honor (Gentleman’s) [-15] So he wasn’t going to stand idly by while this innocent fellow was accosted by brigands.

A pretty fun fight scene ensued: Glimden (dwarf cleric) went on the defensive, while using his “Command” blocking spell to force his enemies to flee for a turn when they attacked him.  Siv (half-elf bard) used his own “Command” blocking spell to force the ogre to take a single step back – which was unfortunate for the ogre, since it was standing on the edge of a small cliff….  He also used “Mass Sleep” on a few of the bandits, stabbed another pretty brutally in the face, and then used “Stupidity” on the Ogre, (who had just climbed back up the escarpment) reducing its already woeful  IQ down to oozes-and-slimes territory.   The remaining bandits fled.  Good times.

A brief digression on the rules we were using

The point of this pretty silly initial fight scene was just to familiarize the players with the combat rules, so I’ll record here the rules that saw the most use.  If you’re just interested in the plot, feel free to skip this next bit!

  • Siv’s player learned how to cast spells in GURPS.  He also learned the basics, not just of fighting, but of fencing: the retreat bonus to parry, the low basic damage (“What’s the use of this silly rapier thing? I can barely penetrate this guy’s chain mail!”), the x2 for impaling (“you mean anything that gets through doubles? Sweet!”), the joy of targeting hit locations to get around armor (“that will be 12pts of damage to the face, thank you!”).
  • Glimden’s player, who is used to playing D&D, was intrigued by the way that GURPS, unlike D&D, allows you to do stuff during the enemy’s turn.  So he spent a lot of time thinking through the tactical implications of Active Defenses, Retreats, Blocking Spells, etc. – all the stuff that’s triggered by an enemy’s successful roll to hit you.  Being used to D&D, he found it pretty counter-intuitive, I think (“But wait, if I have the ability to move an extra step this turn, why can I only do it if someone successfully rolls to hit me?   Why can’t I do it if they miss? Shouldn’t I just be able to do it? Etc.”   All good questions).  Partly as a result of his interest in this sort of thing, he all-out defended most rounds, using his “Command” blocking spell as a kind of counter-punch.

In passing, I should perhaps add that Glimden’s player is in the board game industry, and is really exceptionally quick to grasp the tactical implications of game mechanics.  I don’t say “exceptionally quick” lightly here – many gamers are good at that, but I find that Glimden’s player really is very quick at it indeed.  So I’m giving it about three or four sessions before he invents some sort of uber-tactic, almost certainly involving cascading Waits, and breaks the system…  🙂     More seriously, in a power-gamer this kind of rules-savvy could cause real problems, but here it’s actually a big help, since he seems to just want the mechanics to be elegant and the game to be fair.  An example: when he learned that an attack from the rear denies the target an active defense, he tried to exploit the rule by using a “Move and Attack” to run from in front of one of his opponents to the rear.  So far, so powergamer, you might say – but in fact he was visibly pleased when it turned out that GURPS had a rule to stop this obvious exploit: this was a “Runaround Attack,” and it didn’t succeed in denying his opponent the right to an Active Defense, since the opponent had seen him do the whole thing.  He found this very satisfying, since it proved that the rules had been through through, and couldn’t simply be exploited by cheap tricks such as this.  Nice.

  • Our very patient third player, who was stuck playing the poor, drastically outmatched bandits, was nice enough to give us the opportunity to see a little bit of ranged combat (a single bow shot).  Since he was playing the bandits, who were obviously there to get beaten up, he also kindly demonstrated for us important rules like the effects of injury, and shock penalties, and major wounds, and knockdown and stunning, and reeling at 1/3 HP, and what happens when you’ve lost all your HP, and HT rolls to stay conscious, and HT rolls to stay alive, and how you die in GURPS…  And he did most of those things quite a few times, since he played quite a few bandits.  (As you can see, the bandits pretty quickly got smashed.)

Having defeated the bandits, two of our PCs then met for the first time.

Siv turned out to be quite an odd fellow, even for a bard: immediately after any kind of fight, he has a kind of mania that leads him to try to work it into a ballad, right away.  This mostly involves manically re-enacting the battle while humming snatches of verse.

(When Siv’s player revealed that this is how he was interpreting his “Post-Combat Shakes” disadvantage,  it was a bit of a surprise, and it definitely brought the tone of the campaign closer to “comic farce” territory, genre-wise, than I’d originally thought we were going to go. But Siv’s player was so charmingly enthusiastic about it that I was only too happy to run with it, and it turned out to be a lot of fun right off the bat.  It is Dungeon Fantasy, after all.  Of course, if the campaign continues beyond these three test sessions, then we might use a different disad to model this kind of bardic mania – in GURPS terms it’s really better described as a Compulsive Behavior.)

Glimden was naturally quite confused by the bard’s manic behavior, but since this madman had just intervened with powerful magic to save his life, he was willing to extend the benefit of the doubt.  Eventually, Siv seemed to have got the verse version of the battle straight in his head – or at least, as straight as he was going to get it – and they got to talking.  To make a long story short, they ended up becoming, if not “friends”, quite, then at least happy travel companions, and we declared that they spent the next week traveling down to Valiroth together.

And that’s how two of our PCs first met – and we’d completed our brief “prologue” scene.

Interlude

A quick break and some food followed.  Then: the beginning of the campaign proper.

Now, I should say that at this point I took part of my well-laid plan for the session and threw it out the window.  I’d intended to start the campaign with a scene of Glimden doing research in the Sea Archive of Frith (with much danger and excitement naturally ensuing).  But I felt so bad that our third player had been sitting out for so long, just playing bandits, that it seemed it was time to give him a scene in which to introduce his character.  Thus I skipped ahead to a scene I’d planned for later.

This decision to depart from my plan was to have major consequences for the rest of the session.

But before telling you about those, let me introduce our third protagonist:

a5245a6824b1ae18dfb00f723893dc34Ignus, an Unholy Warrior devoted to Vayadu, the god of betrayals, shadows, deceptions, and hidden things.

At the time the campaign begins, Ignus and Siv (the half-elven bard) have been traveling together for about six months.  Why?  Well, Siv has been cursed by Vayadu never to play a true note while someone from his homeland is listening.  The only way to break the curse is to write a masterpiece celebrating Vayadu.

Thus Siv has taken to following Ignus around, chronicling all his deeds (and goading him to ever more ballad-worthy feats!) in the hope of using him as a protagonist in his masterpiece.  Both Siv and Ignus are fairly sure that the story is going to end badly, but that’s ok – Ignus is world-weary and cynical anyway, and Siv is only too pleased to have a doomed anti-hero to sing about: after all, the critics love a good tragedy!

Ignus does sometimes resent the fact that he’s been saddled with a “embedded chronicler”, as it were – he’s a dark, brooding loner at heart, and Siv is frustratingly optimistic and cheerful.  But what Vayadu wants, Vayadu gets…

(For those who don’t recognize the name, I lifted Vayadu straight from “May the Shadows Guide You,” a Pyramid article by Christopher R. Rice.  Ignus’ player said: “I want to be a devotee of a god of shadows and deception.  Do you have any gods like that?”  and luckily, thanks to that article, I was able to say “Why yes, I have just the thing.”  Thanks, Christopher!)

Ignus is built around the Dungeon Fantasy “Unholy Warrior” template, but given his god’s portfolio, I allowed him to shift a few of the points around, to make him a bit more assassin-like.  For example, he exchanged”Born War Leader” for “Craftiness,” and exchanged Strategy and Tactics for Stealth and Streetwise.  He ditched the 8 mandatory points in Psychology and Physiology and instead used them to rogue-up a little in other ways.  And his Unholy Powers include the ability to cloak himself in shadows, move with uncanny quietness, and to see well in the dark.  Basically, he’s an Unholy Warrior whose abilities lean strongly in a Thief/Assassin/Ninja direction.

Scene 1: The Alleys of Frith

We started in Frith.  I thought it best to begin by offering Ignus’ player a chance to do some characterization, so I started the scene by asking him what Ignus does on a typical day.

Amusingly, it turned out that on a typical day Ignus wanders the seedier parts of town, trying to get away from Siv’s constant cheerfulness.  He goes from tavern to tavern, keeping his ear to the ground, wearing a dark, hooded cloak, brooding alone at shadowy tables in dark corners of the bar.  Yup, he’s that guy.  Lots of fun.

Since it’s no fun to brood in the dark corners of seedy taverns, keeping your ear to the ground, unless you actually hear something interesting, I threw in some rumor-like tidbits.  As follows:

  • Winter is coming to an end, and the good people of Frith are excitedly preparing for the League Festival.  This is a big annual spring fair in honor of the formation of the Sapphire League.  The snow has begun to melt, and the roads have begun to open up again, so supplies are now coming in from all over Armaria and Dwimilzund – with some special orders coming in from as far away as Valiroth.
  • A surprising number of people in Frith have gone missing recently.  No-one in authority seems to have noticed the pattern yet, but if you listen in enough taverns, you start to hear the same kind of story again and again: “Where’s young Danril?” “Haven’t seen him in weeks.  I guess he must have gone traveling.  Come to think of it, though, he never said he was going on a trip….”  Or: “Did you hear Monwyn’s daughter’s left her?  Just went out one night, happy as a lark, and then never came back.  Her sister is taking it pretty hard.”  And so on, and so on, from many seemingly unconnected groups of people.  Again, no-one seems to be putting two-and-two together, as yet, but surely it’s only a matter of time.

Those mysterious disappearances certainly caught Ignus’ attention.  He felt that Vayadu would want him to look into this, so he made some further inquiries (involving Streetwise rolls, and so forth).  This allowed him to discover:

  • Strikingly, many (perhaps all?) of the people who have disappeared are twins. They don’t seem to have anything else in common.
  • Among those who mix in the darkest circles (the kind Ignus likes to frequent), there are rumors about of a new cult of some kind.  These rumors proved very difficult to follow up: no-one seems to know anything concrete at all – or at least, no-one’s willing to talk about it.  But there’s certainly a suspicion, among those in the know, that there’s a new player in town.
  • Many of the town’s soothsayers, fortune-tellers, palm-readers, and the like, have been experiencing bad dreams of late.  This mightn’t be very remarkable in itself, but they all appear to be having the same dream: a dark shadow blotting out the sun.

(Ignus tried a few rolls against Theology, Hidden Lore (Demons) etc to interpret the symbolism behind this dream, but got nowhere.  It seems that, as far as evil symbolism goes, “a dark shadow blotting out the sun” is just far too generic to be of much use to an investigator.  After all, what self-respecting Evil Overlord (TM)
doesn’t use “a dark shadow blotting out the sun” as part of their marketing strategy?   

At this stage, I was ready to move from investigation to action, so I said:

“Right!  You’ve now brooded in the back of taverns for a few days, keeping your ear to the ground and making discreet inquiries.  One day, about mid-morning, you’re heading back to the place at which you and Siv are staying (“The Sleeping Dog Tavern”) , in order to get a bite to eat.  Being who you are, you usually enter, not through the front door on the main square, but through the shadowy alleyway out the back.

When you get to the alleyway out the back of the Tavern, there’s a man there – a fairly big, bulky guy, wearing traveler’s clothes.  When you pass him in the alleyway, he gives you a big, clearly intentional shove with his shoulder, and then steps back and says “Hey!  Watch where you’re walking, Vayadu-worshiping scumbag!”  He’s obviously trying to start a fight.  What do you do?”

The ensuing scene was, to my mind, great fun (and very funny, too).

To see the humor of this scene (from my perspective), you have to realize that the whole reason I’d included the scene was to give Ignus’ player a chance to characterize himself as a cold-hearted bastard, right from the get-go.   I assumed (quite wrongly!) that our Unholy Warrior would have no qualms whatsoever about killing a random thug who insulted his god – especially in a dark alley, with no witnesses.  I’d even emailed the player before the game to ask “Would your character be willing to kill someone merely for insulting his god?  In a dark alley, with no witnesses?”  And the answer I’d received was both very affirmative and very thoughtful – basically: “Yes, he certainly would, and he’d do it calculatingly and coldly, with no trace of anger, just out of pure self-interest, since Vayadu smiles on that sort of thing.”

“Nice!”  I thought.  “I’ll start Ignus off by giving him an opportunity to do just that, so as to establish the character, and show everyone just what a cold, merciless scoundrel he is.”

And in full confidence that Ignus was going to be a cold-hearted murderous bastard,  I’d constructed the plot of the second half of the session in such a way that the drunk man really, really had to die in this scene.

How wrong I was.  What I’d failed to take into account was that this was Ignus’ player’s first time ever sitting down at the table to roleplay – indeed, this was his first tabletop RPG scene ever.  Given that it was his first scene ever, and that he’s used to playing Computer RPGs, he did a brilliant job – but man, he didn’t do at all what I expected him to.  In other words, I really pitched this one to the wrong crowd.  In the last group I played with, anyone would have instantly recognized this opening scene as an opportunity for characterization.  But it was very, very silly of me to expect that a brand-new player would read that cue, in the absence of a more explicit framing.  As it turned out, the brand-new player did a wonderful job of something totally different, so it all went ok – but our mismatched expectations did make for a funny scene.

This is how the scene played out.

The drunk guy shoves Ignus with his shoulder, saying “Hey!  Watch where you’re walking, Vayadu-worshiping scumbag!”

Ignus, the theoretically cold-hearted unholy warrior, in fact turns out to want to avoid violence in practice, and responds “Hey, I don’t want any trouble.  I’m just heading back to my inn”

Drunk man: ‘You Vayadu-worshipers are all the same. Cowards and weaklings”

Ignus, the cold-hearted unholy warrior: “Really, man, I don’t want any trouble.  Have a good night.”  Then he heads for the door to the inn.

At this point I should have seen the writing on the wall.  Instead, I started to think it might be worth pressing a bit harder, just to see if I could get this back-alley murder started…

Drunk man: “You’re pitiful, you heathen bastard. ”  The drunk man attempts to shove Ignus, hard, back toward the wall.  Ignus tries to dodge, fails, and is knocked back a yard.

Drunk man: “See, that’s what you get for worshiping a piece of sh%&#”

Ignus, the cold-hearted unholy warrior, rises gingerly to his feet in a non-aggressive manner, and says, in a mollifying tone: “What’s wrong with worshiping Vayadu?  What god do you worship?”

“Ok,” I think, “this clearly isn’t working.  I need to escalate things.”

Drunk man :”I worship whoever the f*#% I want, scumbag.”  Drunk guy draws his sword.  Ignus draws his sword in response.

“Finally,” I think, “we’re in combat time!”  Ignus has the higher basic speed, so he goes first.  The next blow belongs to the cold-hearted unholy warrior…

Ignus, not wanting to hurt someone unnecessarily, takes an “All-Out Defense” action.

“Damn” I think.  “But it’s ok, we’re in combat now… surely this drunk man’s death can’t be too far away?  I just have to make it clear that he has every intention of murdering Ignus, if given the chance…”  

Drunk guy brutally stabs at Ignus’ vitals.  Ignus parries.

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere.  The next blow belongs to the cold-hearted unholy warrior…

Ignus, not wanting to hurt someone unnecessarily, attempts a disarm, in order to knock the blade out of his opponent’s hand.  He succeeds, and the drunk man’s sword goes skittering across stones of the alleyway.  Ignus picks up the man’s sword.

Damn it!  I simply cannot get this drunk man killed!  But maybe, I think, the cold-hearted Ignus will kill this blasphemer, now that he has him at his mercy in a dark alley, with no witnesses…

Ignus decides to avoid bloodshed, and instead use his (pretty hefty) Intimidate skill to make the guy back down.

Gah!  Sadly for my plans, Ignus’s player rolled really well for Intimidate, and I rolled quite poorly for the drunk guy (plus I rolled the drunk guy’s roll in public -no fudging here!).  So I now had a very cowed, disarmed drunk man standing in front of an armed unholy warrior who just wanted to get home to his inn, and was obviously willing to go to any lengths to avoid harming him.  

Now, at this point any reasonable GM would have abandoned the plan – clearly, this wasn’t working.  But since I’d stupidly constructed the plot in such a way that this guy really had to die, and in the heat of the moment I couldn’t think of a way to revise the whole plot, I doubled down yet again.   I thought: “well, if the drunk guy keeps attacking now, it will obviously just stretch credulity too much.  But luckily I have another trick up my sleeve…”

The back door of the inn opens, and light spills out into the dark alleyway.  A head pokes through.  “Hey!  What’s going on out there?”

Out steps another burly, rough-looking man in traveling clothes.  He obviously knows the drunk man, and he’s rather shocked to find him being held at sword-point in this dark alley.

“Danius, it’s you!  Is this man giving you trouble?”

The drunk man thinks for a moment, and then grins.

“Yeah” he says.  “He’s trying to rob me.  I didn’t do nothing to him, and now he’s got his sword pointed at me, and he’s trying to walk off with mine” he says.

The burly newcomer fixes his gaze on Ignus, and then draws his own sword.  “Come on then, you Vayadu worshiping bastard!” he says, and springs to the attack.

At this point I dared to hope that Ignus would have to kill both these men, just to remain standing.  We were heading for combat time again, and his was the highest basic speed.  

The next blow belongs to the cold-hearted unholy warrior…

Ignus, eager to avoid bloodshed, tries to make both the men back down without a fight. He uses his “Cloak of Shadows” ability to surround himself in darkness, and then uses his hefty Intimidate skill once again, with a bonus for being Callous, rolling very well indeed.

The two men back down.  Ignus shrugs (“what was that all about?) and then pushes past them into the inn.  The first scene is over…

 …and my plot for the session is already in complete disarray!

As far as I see it, the three morals of the story here are (1) just because someone says they want to play an unholy warrior, dark paladin, or whatever, don’t assume they’re actually going to be a cold-hearted bastard in practice – sometimes they just like wearing black; (2) for heaven’s sake, don’t make the mistake of building a whole plot around the assumption that one of the PCs will kill a particular NPC, even if you’ve kind of arranged it in advance; (3 )GMs are never so creative as when they’re trying to keep things firmly on the railroad.  Hopefully by his stage you can see some of the comedy of the scene, from my perspective – how utterly unwilling Ignus’s player was to commit the murder I wanted him to, and how hard I was working to keep things on the rails I’d so foolishly constructed.  (Of course, when planning it I didn’t think was a railroad, since I’d run it past the player ahead of time… but a railroad it turned out to be. 

Scene Two – Ignus and Siv

At this point, Ignus entered the “Sleeping Dog Tavern,” where he and Siv are staying, to find Siv performing in the common room.  Naturally, Siv is performing his (in)famous ballad “The Ballad of San Pievov, the Pious Paladin.”  This slightly stodgy tale tale of do-gooding is a crowd favorite, but has been universally panned by the best, most discerning music critics of Rasitar (where all the best music critics come from).  It’s also the song that got him cursed by Vayadu in the first place.

Even this early in the campaign, we’re already getting a fair bit of amusement out of the “odd couple” relationship between Siv and Ignus – Siv the cheerful, even manic optimist; Ignus the dark, brooding (though surprisingly violence-averse) loner, both required to spend time together due to the dictates of the dark god Vayadu.  If the campaign continues, I’m hoping this develops into really fun interpersonal dynamic, and thus a source of some good running campaign in-jokes.  Time will tell.

I won’t go through this whole scene in detail – instead, let’s cut a long story short.

Siv had seen a “mercenaries and freelance trouble-shooters wanted” notice in town, signed by a dwarf cleric of the Stone Maiden named Glimden Deepcrag…

(Siv: “Hey, I know that name!  Let me sing to you about the time that Glimden and I…”

Ignus: stony silence).

Siv and Ignus had been short of work (and thus short of ballad-worthy adventures) for quite a while, so they were both interested in finding out what sort of help Glimden wanted.  They went looking for him at the Temple of the Stone Maiden in Godcircuit (Frith‘s temple district), where the notice said he was staying.  But when they arrived, the priests told them that he was doing research in the Sea Archive of Frith, so they headed off there….

Scene 3 – Glimden

…at which point we cut to Glimden, at the Archive.

I tell him the following:

  • Your superiors in Dwimilzund have sent you down here to Frith to consult with some people from the Sea Council of Armaria, about a cult problem they are supposedly having.
  • Frith is a very tame area of the world – nothing very dangerous ever happens here, and the people here are pretty soft by Dwimilzundian standards – so you were tempted to dismiss all this talk of “dark cults” as just the Sea Council being panicky.  But you felt like a trip to the archive here, and you had some friends to visit in Frith, so you came down to consult anyway.
  • But when you got here, everyone was busy planning the big springtime celebration known as the “League Festival”, and you were simply put in charge of the whole investigation into this supposed cult, with no assistance at all.  Most vexing.
  • You expected to find nothing, but in fact what you’ve discovered here over the last month has worried you more and more.

I then told Glimden’s player that he had independently discovered the same things that Ignus had managed to uncover in scene 1 : the mysterious disappearances of twins, the strange dreams being had by seers and fortune-tellers, the suspicions about a new cult in town, and so on.  Then I told him:

  • No-one else seems to be joining up all these dots, but you’ve become quite convinced that something really serious is going on.  That’s what your gut tells you at any rate, and your gut is usually right.
  • All of this – dreams of a dark shadow blotting out the sun, twins disappearing mysteriously – rings a bell in your head somewhere. You’ve read a lot of old histories, and you’re wondering where your read about this…. so you’re in the massive Sea Archive of Frith, doing research into this cult by yourself, and cursing the fact that you can’t get more help from the locals.
  • You’ve sent everywhere for good, honest dwarven help – but none has been forthcoming.  For example:
    • Your superiors in Dwimiilzund say it’s not their concern.
    • The smaller dwarf communities in the Shivering peaks say “Dwimilzund has all the resources, ask them!!”
    • In desperation you even sent to your Eastern kin in far-off Duzundigath – and just this morning, you received a very impolite letter saying, in effect, “we’ll be happy to honor our ancient oaths just as soon as you Western dwarves start honoring yours” – which is typical.
  • Eventually, reluctantly, even a little humiliatingly, you were reduced to advertising for help from non-dwarves. (That’s always plan C, at best!).  You’ve circulated a notice to a number of local establishments, and you’re still waiting on a response.

All this was backstory – important, but too much backstory to introduce in a single scene, really, without it feeling like a plot dump.  But hey, I was preparing for this session at the last minute, so narrative standards were a bit low.

Now I finally got to the point:

  • “All morning you’ve been at the Archive, waiting for a messenger who was meant to bring you an important Valirothian artifact that might have a bearing on this whole new cult situation.  The messenger was meant to meet you here hours ago – but never arrived.  You’re hungry for lunch, and you have research to do down in the archive, but you don’t want to miss the messenger, if he arrives late.  What do you do?”

Glimden’s player opted to try to track down the messenger at the tavern he was supposed to be staying at – the Sleeping Dog Tavern.  (“Hey – I know that name!”).  Just in case the messenger arrived while he was gone, he left a note explaining things with the Archivist.

As you might (or might not) have guessed, the messenger Glimden is waiting for is none other than the drunk guy Ignus stubbornly refused to kill in Scene 1.  My initial plan for the session was to start with Glimden, here at the archive, waiting for the messenger who never arrived, and then cut to the scene in which Ignus kills a man, and then discovers an ancient artifact in the man’s backpack (thus revealing to everyone why Glimden’s messenger is late…)  Clearly, though, that session plan was utterly in tatters by this point…

 Cutting a long story short, Glimden arrived at the Sleeping Dog, used his priestly authority to claim the right to inspect the messenger’s rooms, and found an evil-feeling artifact in the man’s backpack.  It was, in fact, this “curse tablet”, though Glimden couldn’t read it yet.

Glimden was just (gingerly) examining the tablet when he noticed strange tendrils of ash-like shadow creeping into the room….  Suspecting that the tablet was exerting some sort of dark power, he tried to get it out of the crowded inn – when he felt a “smash” against the back of his knee: little Bili, the tavern’s 8-year-old errand-boy, was possessed, and trying to kill him with a bottle!

This was quite an amusing moment for me, since there were two NPCs present – Hirald, the innkeeper, and little Bili, his errand boy.  Both made WIll rolls to resist possession… and only Hirald made it.

Resisting the urge to brain Bili with his mace, Glimden dashed downstairs, and out into the town square at the heart of The Master’s Circuit….

Climax Scene: the Battle of Sleeping Dog Square

At this point, we cut back to Siv and Ignus, who were still looking for Glimden – they’d gone first to the Temple of the Stone Maiden, only to be told he was at the Sea Archive; then they’d gone to the Sea Archive, only to be told he was back at the very tavern they’d just come from.  So they returned, somewhat frustrated, to the Sleeping Dog Tavern, at which point Ignus’ keen eye for Evil (TM) noticed a dark, ashy shadow coalescing in the air over the town square, level with the second-story window of the Sleeping Dog.

At this point, a few things happened at once.  Glimden came bursting out of the tavern door, pursued by a possessed 8-year-old wielding a broken bottle.  Perhaps more importantly, the ashy shadow over the square rapidly coalesced into three human-like shapes made of ash and shadow.  At the same time, a whole platoon of the City Guard came marching up into the square, with their pikes leveled at our heroes, and a strange, “we have been possessed” look in their eyes.

And the Battle of Sleeping Dog Square had begun…

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This home-made hex-board served as our town square, with the addition of some extra little hex-boards representing streets and alleyways, plus a wonderful three-story Dwarf Forge building representing the inn, kindly supplied by Glimden’s player.  All the (many!) combatants were represented by decent full-color minis, too, so it all looked pretty swanky – I wish I’d remembered to take photos.

This was the second fight scene of the campaign, and it was a lot of fun, since all the PC were involved, and there was plenty of opposition to go around.

For those interested in the stats: the shadow-creatures were based fairly closely (i.e. with a few adjustments, including removing “Unkillable 3”) on Peter V. Dell’Orto’s Shadow Warriors (see DF Monsters 3: Born of Myth and Magic), so they could only be dodged, not blocked or parried, and they ignored all DR while doing 1d6 fatigue damage per hit.  Luckily there were only three of them.  For the possessed town guardsmen/women, I used the “Basic Warrior” from Matt Rigsby’ DF Adventures 1: Mirror of the Fire Demon – a really handy start block when you need some random fighters fast.

Now, many DF parties would make mincemeat of that assortment, but these were first-timers playing a Cleric, a Bard, and an Assassin-like Unholy Warrior, respectively – which is to say, they weren’t really GURPS tacticians (yet!), nor did they have a real front-line fighter.  So it was a decent fight, though the outcome was never really in doubt.  (especially since I had no intention of playing the opposition in a tactically astute manner).

Naturally, the PCs won the battle.  A few highlights:

  • Siv spent 5 rounds preparing a large “Mass Daze” spell, retreating slowly into a narrow alleyway just off the main town square while the others tried to protect him from attacks.  One possessed guardsman made it through the cordon, though, and kept trying to brain Siv with his broadsword; Siv managed to parry all those attack with his rapier, while retreating and maintaining concentration on his spell (i.e. singing all the while!).  Fun times.  When the spell eventually went off, it was decisive – Siv’s player rolled a critical success, and all the guards were dazed.  The shadow-creatures seemed immune to the spell, though – but the fact that the guards were out of commission meant that they took a beating.
  • Both Ignus and Glimden spent the second half of the fight darting around and between the dazed guardsmen, trying not to snap them out of their daze by bumping them.  Glimden fought defensively once again, using All-Out Defense at lot, in concert with his “Command” blocking spell.  Ignus was more aggressive, and took out one (maybe two?  I can’t recall) of the shadow-creatures by himself.

Basically, it was a fun fight – not really a challenge, but a good time.  (Real tactical challenge will come later, hopefully, once everyone is more up to speed on the combat rules.  If we decide to continue with this campaign, that is).  We left it there…

…and that, dear reader, was how the session went down.  Everyone seemed pretty pleased with it, both during and afterwards, so I’m calling it a win.  (Here are some more reflections on how it went, if you’re interested)

Happy gaming!

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5 thoughts on “DF Session 1: Whispers in the Dark

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