GURPS · Solo

Jaspin Ward, Budding Necromancer, Episode One – “Corpses by Candlelight”

Right!  It’s time to start the first playtest.  Our nefarious PC (Jaspin Ward, budding necromancer) is going to try to learn to raise the dead.  Now I’ll find out if my draft town adventures system can GM a session for me in anything like a fun way.

I hope so!

Setting Up

First things first – as always when playing without a GM, I’ll start by rolling to determine What’s at Stake this Session.  (Rolling…) 1: “Nothing – we’re just continuing the story”.  Ok, great – that simplifies things!

Now, on to the draft Town Adventures system, which is what we’re really here for.

The first steps are to nominate a desired Reward, and a desired Peril rating. 

What kind of Reward are we after?  In other words, what’s Jaspin’s current goal here in Dunmoss?  Well, that’s simple enough: he wants to learn to raise the dead.  Thus I hereby nominate “Try to Learn Something” as the Reward for this adventure, and shoot for Peril 1 (since he’s only a 100pt character).  This means that if he succeeds, he’ll gain 1 pt he can invest in some sort of Necromancy ability.  

(Side note for those who are interested: if Jaspin does earn this point, then my current plan is to give him some sort of tiny 1-pt Ally (Summonable) advantage, to represent his newly-learned ability to raise a single creature from the dead.  But I don’t want to set this in stone just yet; I’d prefer to wait and see how the story turns out, before deciding.  Who know what’s really in store for Jaspin?  Not me!)

As far as difficulty goes, we’re shooting for Peril 1, since Jaspin might not be able to handle anything higher than that.  Is that how things really turn out?  To find out, let’s roll on the “How Perilous is this Town Adventure Really?” table. 

(Rolling…) 7: “Use the nominated peril rating”.

Great – again, that simplifies things.

Ok – now we’re all set up for the session – let’s do it!

Starting the Session – Introduction

It’s dusk, and Jasper is at home in his little stone hut by the edge of the cemetery.  He’s done not a lick of work tending the graveyard today, but he doesn’t feel at all guilty about it – he’s been far too buried in his books.  He’s been reading about Great Men of the past – conquerors, dark sorcerers, and the like – and as always, he’s found himself lingering over the passages that refer to the power that some such men were said to wield over the Veil that separates the Living from the Dead.  “To bring the dead back into the world of the living!” he thinks to himself.  “Such power – just imagine it!”

He often thinks this, longingly, but he never really acts on it.  After all, Necromancy is an outlawed art, reviled by all good people – and anyway, where would one even begin to learn such a thing?

The moon rises; Jaspin keeps reading.  An owl hoots.

Abruptly, something small inside of Jaspin snaps.  With a mounting sense of horror at his own audacity (or is it his own inhumanity?) he finds himself certain that tonight is the night.  Something in him is already committed.   The matter is decided – he couldn’t prevent it, even if he had wanted to.   Tonight is the night he does whatever it takes to learn the dark art of Necromancy.

Excited, and moving fast because he’s appalled at himself and is half-afraid that if he gives himself too much time to think, he’ll be too ashamed to continue, he considers his options.

What ARE Jaspin’s options?  Let’s find out.  This is the moment to roll on the “Where Do We Go From Here?” Table. 

(Rolling…) 8: A choice between three scene types. 

(Rolling for each of them….) 2, 3, 4: Covert, Mental, Physical. 

Excellent.

Jaspin’s first thought is one he’s had many times before: what if he were to break into the Vault of Brinfeld Hall, beneath Sable Hill?  The Brinfelds are one of the oldest, richest families in Eldervale.  True Eldervaleans that they are, the Brinfields are rumored to possess a vast library of occult lore, some of it forbidden.  Jaspin has been wanting to rifle through their collection for years.  His fingers begin twitching, just imagining it…

But no – it would just be too difficult.  If he were a master thief who could sneak his way into the Vault – or even if he were just a decent climber, and confident of making his way safely over the outer wall – well, that would be one thing.  But Jaspin is a bookish fellow, and though he’s got a pretty high opinion of himself in most respects, he’s not fool enough to think he could pull off either of those things.

No – he’ll have to make do with the books that he has.  Luckily, he’s amassed a small collection over the years – surely if he simply redoubles his efforts, he’ll find something in one of those old tomes that he’s hitherto missed?

Just in case it’s not clear, this is Jaspin dismissing the “Covert” and “Physical” options, and instead settling on the “Mental” one.

(Side note: the way I imagine this system working, you don’t have to give the options you reject any in-game reality – i.e., I could have just made this choice myself, as a player, without ever bringing the rejected options inside the world of the fiction by having them occur to the character.   Thus in this example I could have declared that Jaspin saw only one way to go – the “Mental” way of knuckling down and redoubling his study of the old tomes.   But I find that it’s often more fun to give the choice to the character, if it seems plausible and appropriate – it helps to add some colour to things.)

Scene 1: The Breakthrough

Lighting another candle, Jaspin brings out his most prized possessions: four leather-bound tomes of indeterminate origin, each full of hints of some kind of dark magic.   Reverently, he lays them out one by one on his rickety old table.  Then he gets to work.

This is a “Mental” scene.  What’s the first challenge?  Well, since there’s only one PC, and Peril is just 1, I’m allowed to choose any challenge within the Mental category.  Which to choose?  Well, a roll against Hidden Lore (Undead) seems appropriate, since he’s trying to research ways to raise the dead.  I’ll have him roll against that.

Jaspin has been through these old tomes many times before, so he racks his brain to come up with a fresh approach.

This is going to be a roll against Hidden Lore (Undead).  Jaspin’s skill is 14, but he takes a penalty equal to Peril (i.e. -1), so his effective skill is 13.

(Rolling…) 4!  Wow, critical success!  That’s a fantastic way to start a session, from Jaspin’s perspective – I’m happy for Jaspin, but rather sorry for the world in which he lives….  I’m also a bit sorry for the playtest itself, since I’m not sure if a session that starts in this atypical way is going to be the best test of the system….  But let’s just roll with it, and see what happens.  We can always take this into account when we debrief.

A critical success counts as a margin of Success of 10, so according to the draft Town Adventures system, we can now purchase up to 10 pts worth of “Scene Gains.”  Hmm…  what to choose?   Well, at Peril 1 it only takes 3 pts to win the scene, so I definitely want to do that.  What to do with the remaining 7 pts?  For an additional 4 pts I could choose the next scene type, which could be handy.  But I think I’d prefer to spend 4 pts on increasing the value of the reward, so that if Jaspin successfully completes the adventure, he’ll get two character points worth of Necromancy-related abilities, rather than just one.  That leaves 3 pts, 2 of which I’ll spend to “Gain Something that Might Be Useful Later”, giving me the option either to re-roll a dice or add a +2 bonus in some later scene (maybe the Climax?).  What is that “Something Useful”?  Well, it’s an insight into the nature of necromancy, of course!  I then have 1 point unspent, but I can’t really spend it on anything useful, because the scene is now ending, so it’s wasted.    But that was a colossally good result – for Jaspin, at least!

Jaspin leafs through the well-worn pages of his four black tomes with considerable frustration – it’s good stuff, of course, but he’s read it all a hundred times before.  There’s nothing new to be found here….

…but wait!  Suddenly it strikes him!  The shock of the realization makes him take a sharp step back from his little table, and he nearly knocks over the candle behind him.  All this time he’s been assuming that raising the dead requires somehow piercing the Veil… but in fact, if this line is simply taken at face value… and also (turning now to another tome) that line… and that whole paragraph… then for the simplest workings, one doesn’t have to pierce the Veil at all! 

No, he thinks, in fact for the simplest workings, one simply has to make use of the residue of spiritual energy clinging to the corpse itself.   That’s it!  The residue alone must be enough to raise the body to a semblance of life, without any need to penetrate the deeper mysteries of the Veil.  Astounding!  That must be how Necromancers begin to study their art.

Jasper begins to pace the room.  This is a breakthrough.  What could he do with this new insight?  He laughs.  What could he not do!?

He cackles wildly.

Hearing himself, he knows he sounds a little mad, but it’s hard to care.

“Mad – hah!”  he thinks.  “Soon they won’t dare to call me mad!”

Well, at least that critical success got Jaspin’s career as a campy arch-villain off to a good start…

He tries to calm himself down just a little, so as to work out what to do next.  Starting from that astounding insight, he asks himself, what’s the next step?

It’s time to roll on the “Where Do We Go From here?” table once again.

(Rolling…)  7.  With a -1 for the single scene he’s now successfully completed, that brings us to a result of 6: “A choice between three scene types.”

(Rolling for each of them…) 1, 6, 2: Social, Specialist, Covert.

“It’s obvious – I need a corpse.” he thinks. Then, his excitement growing again, he blurts it out again aloud: “I need a corpse!”

Now, getting a corpse ought to be easy for him – he’s the one in charge of the cemetery.  “After all.” he thinks to himself. “I didn’t take on this demeaning work as a glorified gravedigger for nothing.”  Yet in fact, even though he’s formally responsible for the graveyard, getting easy access to a corpse isn’t trivial, since if anyone else finds out what he’s up to, he’ll be heading to the gallows for certain.  He’s got to do it in secret, or under the protection of some kind of cover story.

“Let’s see now” he thinks.  “What are my options?”  He can think of three.  The obvious thing to do would be to try to dig up a body as quietly as possible, in the dead of night, when no-one is likely to see.

(In case it’s not obvious, that’s the “Covert” option.)

That’s certainly possible – though to be honest, the thought makes him very nervous.  He’d need to bring at least a little bit of light to dig by, and then someone awake late might see the light and wonder why the Gravewarden was trying to conceal his work…

(In meta-game terms, he’s right to be worried about taking this path: his Stealth skill is only 10, which isn’t likely to cut it…)

No, he thinks.  Better not to risk it.  Much better to try to find a way to get legitimate access to a body.  The cemetery is formally under the control of his employer, the Lord Dacre; perhaps he could concoct a story that would convince Lord Dacre’s Seneschal to allow him access to a body for research?

(That would be the Social option, using Acting or Fast-Talk)

But no – that’s not a good idea, either; it would draw too much attention, and he doesn’t want anyone to know what he’s up to.

Then he realizes that the way forward is obvious.  “I’m the damned Grave Warden around here” he thinks to himself.  “What I’ll do is open up one of those old stone mausoleums in broad daylight.  If anyone thinks to ask, I’ll just say that I’m finally getting around to doing some maintenance on the place.  Nothing suspicious about that.”

(This is the “Specialist” option.  One of the possible challenges within the “Specialist” scene category is a roll against a Professional skill, and I thought perhaps a roll against Professional Skill (Grave keeper) would be appropriate here.)

He likes this plan.  Sadly, it means he has to wait until morning to make good on his new insight – but that’s ok; it will give him more time to ponder what precisely to do with the body, once he has it.

Excited, and determined to follow through on his plan, Jaspin continues to read long into the night…

Scene 2 – The Mausoleum

The next morning Jaspin makes a point of going about his business as usual.  He eats a small hunk of bread and cheese for breakfast; takes a preliminary wander around the grounds, pulling up a few weeds here and there just for show, and then returns to the gravewarden’s lodge for a little reading.  Around mid-morning, though, he takes a large sack full of stoneworking tools and heads down to the oldest, richest part of the graveyard, where some of the the important families of Dunmoss have their mausoleums.

Which family mausoleum to break into, he wonders?  The Dacres?  The Brinfelds?  No, he thinks – he wants one of the oldest ones; he wants the mausoleum of a family with no living descendants.  He doesn’t want anyone to come by and notice that the bones have been tampered with.   Ideally, he wants a mausoleum that’s a bit out-of-the-way, too, so he can get the bones back up into his hut without being noticed.

Does he know of such a mausoleum?

Now it’s time to attempt the first challenge of the scene, which will be a roll against his Professional Skill (Grave keeper) skill of 13.  Peril is 1, so his effective skill is 12. 

(Rolling…)  16: failed by 4.

Oh no!  That’s not good for Jaspin.  But it’s actually great for the playtest, since it brings us into a different part of the system, and also balances out some of his earlier amazing luck.  He’s failed by 4, so according to the system, I need to select 4 pts worth of “Scene Losses”.  

After thinking, I decide to choose to have him suffer 1 pt worth of “You’re off balance!” , and 3pts worth of “People Think Less of You!”  This means that as a consequence of failing his roll quite badly, he’s going to get a -1 to his next challenge roll in this scene, and he’s also acquired a minor social disadvantage, worth -1 pt, which he can get rid of if he wins an extra “Social” scene at the current Peril.  I can choose to run that extra Social scene at any time, and I think it might be fun to run it right now, before returning to complete the current “Specialist” scene.

What does all this mean in narrative terms?  Let’s find out…

Scene 2a – Grave-robbing Interrupted!

Jaspin wanders the rows of overgrown family mausoleums, trying to select a good candidate.  Finally he chooses one (though without much confidence), dumps his tool bag next to it, and starts rummaging around to find something with which to open the damned thing,

He’s just begun to lever the stone slab out of the doorway when he’s startled to hear a voice coming from a ways back behind him.

“Oy, Grave warden!”  the voice says.

Cursing inwardly, Jaspin turns around and gives a sickly smile.  “Oh, it’s you, …”  he says.

Who is it?  Let’s quickly head over to the people system to whip up an NPC.

(Rolling, rolling…)

Right – meet Leabrun Tinsend, sick, suspicious veteran!

Name: Leabrun Tinsend
Area of Society: Military
When You Meet Them, They Are: Suspicious towards you (wow, perfect!)
Bodily Appearance: Weak
General Appearance: Russet Brown Hair; carries grooming implement
Memorable mannerism: Speaks with a lisp, rasp, cough, or hissing.

How I interpret all this: Leabrun Tinsend is an ex-pikeman who now works for Lord Dacre.  Years ago, during a military campaign in the Harrowed Morass far to the West, Leabrun contracted a bad case of swamp ague, and it’s been troubling him ever since.  Even today his body is weak and sickly, and his speech is racked with coughs.  He’s a bit vain about his thinning hair, and he always carries a comb to keep it looking its best.  He’s currently a bit suspicious of what Jaspin is doing.  In fact, Leabrun and Jaspin have never really seen eye to eye – Leabrun is a hard worker, and he thinks Jaspin is lazy (which is true).

“Oh, it’s you, Leabrun,” Jaspin says, trying not to seem dismayed.  “What brings you here?”

“I was just wandering by” says Leabrun.  “and I couldn’t help but notice…”

Here he interrupts himself with a coughing fit.  Then he resumes:

“…I couldn’t help but notice that that you’re finally doing a bit of honest work on the old tombs.  So I thought to myself “[cough, cough] “I thought to myself, Leabrun, wouldn’t it be a pity if the gravewarden was going to all this trouble keeping up this old tomb, when my Lord Dacre’s family crypt is just up the way” – he points back up the row of mausoleums – “and hasn’t been maintained properly in years?  What would my Lord say if he found out, I wonder?”

It’s an obvious threat, and Jaspin recognizes as much.  He’s glad that Leabrun doesn’t seem to suspect what he’s really doing here – but still, he’s not thrilled about the situation – he certainly doesn’t want Leabrun painting him in a bad light in front of Lord Dacre.  He certainly doesn’t want to lose his job as a grave warden –  of course, he finds it demeaning, but at least it requires very little work.

So he tries to defuse the situation.

“Of course, of course” he says, trying to sound amiable.  “I’m going to do all the tombs in this row, Lord Dacre’s certainly included.  You know he’s my Lord, too, Leabrun.”

Time for the first challenge in this special Social scene: a roll against Jaspin’s Acting skill of 14.  Peri is 1, so his effective skill is 13. 

(Rolling…) 7: succeeded by 6. Nice! 

Having succeeded by 6, I get to choose 6 pts worth of “Scene Gains”.   3 pts is enough to let me win this little Social Scene, so I’ll definitely do that.  What should I do with the remaining 3 pts?  I think I’ll just spend two to “Gain Something that Might be Useful Later.”  What is that useful thing?  Well, let’s see…

Jaspin sounds sincere, and rather to his surprise, Leabrun finds himself convinced.  Leabrun admires anyone with a hard work ethic, and Jaspin has just said that he’s going to be doing a lot more work around here than he usually does. Perhaps lazy old Jaspin is turning over a new leaf!

“That sounds like a hard week’s work, Jaspin” Leabrun says, his attitude quite changed.  “Good for you.  It’ll be good to see…” [cough, cough] “…the old grounds looking fine once again.  Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.”

“I certainly shall” says Jaspin, a little smugly.  He thinks Leabrun’s good opinion of him might just come in handy later, if he plays his cards right.

He watches Leabrun leave, and then turns to pry at the door of the mausoleum once again.

Right!  I’ve successfully avoided having Jaspin acquire a new -1pt social disadvantage (for the record, I was going to make it something like “Reputation -1 as a lazy worker, only among Lord Dacre and his staff”).  This little Social scene is over, and now we’re back in the “Specialist” scene in which we began.

Back to Scene 2 – Mausoleum

Jaspin uses his small crowbar to pry open the stone slab that serves as a door to the old family mausoleum.  It’s tough work, but eventually he manages to shift it enough to allow him room to enter.  It’s dark in there…

Jaspin has already failed one challenge in this scene (his Professional Skill (Grave keeper) roll).  If he fails three such challenges, he’ll have failed the whole scene, and also the adventure as a whole, forfeiting the Reward. 

Now we have to determine what the next challenge in this scene is.

(Rolling…) 14: “Either roll against Will, roll against Per, or make a Fright check.  All are penalized by Peril.”

Ah, sweet!  That’s a really nice result right now – Jaspin is currently prying open the door of a mausoleum, so of course the GM is going to invent some reason for him to make a Fright Check!  It always makes me so happy when random systems generate excellent results like this.

The question now is, what’s the cause of this Fright Check?  I could just invent something, but I think I’d like to be surprised here, alongside Jaspin.  So let’s ask the Solo 8.  

Let’s start with the obvious.  Is Jaspin frightened by one of the dead bodies in the mausoleum?  (Rolling…) 8: An emphatic “No, and…”.  Wow – that was unexpected.  Ok, so it’s definitely not one of the dead bodies – and maybe the bodies are in some way especially non-frightening?  Let’s wait and see what else comes up before deciding.

Next idea.   Is there something frightening about the mausoleum itself?  (Rolling..)  3: “Yes”. 

Good – that gives me a direction to go in.  Time to narrow it down. 

Is there something frightening carved into the stonework?   (Rolling…) “No, but…”. 

Ok, so it’s not carved into the stonework, but it has something to do with the stonework. 

I have a frightening idea.  Is all there fresh blood splashed all over the stonework?   (Rolling…) 7: No.

Ok, another idea.  Has the stonework been scratched or damaged in a disturbing way?  (Rolling…)  3: Yes.

Ahah!  That’s very interesting.  Does it seem as if one of the old skeletons has been trying to get out?  (Rolling…)  4:”Yes, but…”.

Right.  I think I know what’s been going on here…

Jaspin pries open the stone slab, and then slips into the mausoleum itself.  It’s a bit of a tight squeeze, but he manages it.  Once he’s through, he finds himself in a low-roofed stone chamber, with four niches for sepulchres, two per side.  It’s quite dark – the only light is the daylight coming in through the half-open door.

At first Jaspin doesn’t realize how low the ceiling is, and he stands up too quickly, bumping his head.  This sends him reeling backwards for a moment, and he finds himself leaning back on the stone slab, a little stunned.

He rubs his forehead.  “That was undignified,” he thinks.

It’s at that moment he discovers something odd about the chamber.  His back is right up against the stone of the slab door – he can feel how cold it is.  But strangely, it’s not smooth – no, there are deep, jagged markings of some kind in the stone; he can feel them through his back.  There’s something very disturbing about them, but he can’t quite work out what it is.

He turns to face the stone slab.  In the half-light, he sees them: clear, jagged scratch-marks, obviously made by something trying to claw its way out of the tomb.

That ought to be enough to justify a Fright Check!  Jaspin’s Will is a mighty 16, and Peril is 1, so his effective skill ought to be 15.  But for Fright Checks, a roll of 14 or more always fails, so his effective skill is really 13.

(Rolling…) 8: Success by 5.

Bah!  Jaspin thinks.  He knows that others might be frightened by this, but he finds it excitingWhat on earth left those scratches, he wonders?  Have the bodies interred here already taken on a dark unlife of their own?  If so, that’s thrilling.  Or did something else make those marks?  Another thought occurs to him – were the people interred here interred alive?  

He doesn’t know, but he’s still in the market for a body, so he heads over to the nearest sepulchre, to the left.

Jaspin succeeded by 5, so we can choose up to 5 points worth of “Scene Gains.”  After thinking briefly, I choose to spend 3pts to “Win” the scene, and 2 pts to “Gain Something That Might Be Useful Later”.  What is that new useful thing?   Let’s find out…

When Jaspin pokes his head into the nearest sepulchre, he finds his last thought confirmed: there is a very old skeleton here, but it’s not laid out carefully for burial – it’s all curled up on the floor, like someone who died alone of thirst.   This person was interred alive!  And sure enough, once Jaspin’s eyes adjust to the gloom, he can see a small, worn, hand-sized piece of stone lying on the floor right next to the curled-up skeleton – obviously the little piece of stone that the person used to scratch away at the door, in the hope of escaping.

Well, this is a grim little scene, he says to himself.  But it doesn’t frighten or dismay him  – quite the contrary; it tells him something worth knowing about the skeleton in front of him – whoever they were, they were interred alive, for some reason.  That piece of information might come in handy further down the road.

At any rate, he’s now found a suitable body, and he’s even found out something about how it died.  Now it’s time to pack these bones into his toolsack, and haul them back up to his hut, so as to start his real work.

Well, that’s it for Scene 2 – Jaspin has found a body.  What’s the next scene?  Let’s roll…

(Rolling…)  11, -2 for the number of scenes completed so far, =9: “A choice between two scene types.”  Which two scene types?

(Rolling…) 2 and 2: both “Covert”, so no real choice after all.  “Covert” it is!

Scene 3 – The Funeral

Jaspin pokes his head out of the slab door to see who’s around.  Bad luck!  There are quite a few people in the cemetery – they must have arrived while he was in the mausoleum.   Looking up the hill, he sees even more filtering in through the main gates, arriving in twos and threes.  Damn!

It’s only now that he realizes what a fool he’s been – he’d forgotten that there’s a funeral today – some old man from Sable Hill passed away three days ago, and he’s due to be buried today.  Jaspin curses himself – how could he have forgotten?  After all, he dug the grave himself two days ago… .  It must have been the excitement of his new discovery.  Damn, damn, damn.

This complicates things.

Jaspin ducks back into the mausoleum and looks down at his toolsack, all bulging with bones.  Can he possibly re-arrange the sack so it looks more like what it ought to be, a bag full of tools?  Well, he’ll have to try…

This sounds like a job for Smuggling.  Jaspin has Smuggling at 13, and Peril is 1, so his effective skill is 12.

(Rolling…) 10: success by 2. 

I think I’ll use those 2 points to obtain the “Improve Your position!” scene gain, which gives me a +3 bonus when attempting the next challenge in this scene.

Luckily Jaspin is pretty good at making bulging bags look inconspicuous – he’s happy now that over the last few years he’s spent so much time lugging incriminating tomes around town.  First he tips out the tools onto the floor of the mausoleum, to reduce the overall bulk of the bag.  Then he painstakingly arranges the bones, one by one, so that the bulges look plausibly tool-like.  He takes extra care to conceal the bulk of the hips and skull.  Lastly, he leaves just a couple of tool-handles poking out the top, to sell the illusion.  That ought to work, he thinks.

Nervously, he slides himself out of the mausoleum, into the sunlight, and then brings the bag out after him.  Affecting a nonchalant air, he shoulders the bag and heads up the hill toward the lodge.

So far so good for Jaspin.  What’s the next challenge in this scene?

(Rolling…) 9: “Attempt the same challenge as last time”.   Thus, another Smuggling roll is required.

Well, that’s good for Jaspin, since Smuggling is definitely his best “Covert” skill, but it’s a bit of a pity for the playtest  -he’s really been so lucky throughout this process that I’m not sure how typical these results really are.  But never mind – let’s carry on.  it’s fun anyway.

As Jaspin lugs his heavy bag up the hill, a couple of the mourners give him slightly odd looks – why on earth is that grave warden carrying such a heavy, bulky bag?

Time to see if his preparations paid off.  Jaspin’s Smuggling is 13; he gets a -1 for Peril, but he gets a +3 because he did such a fine job arranging the bones in an inconspicuous way last time.  Thus effective skill is now 15.

(Rolling…) 4!  Critical success!

Man, I really can’t buy a bad dice roll this session.  Ah well!  This counts as a 10-pt margin of success.  I’ll spend 3 pts to win the scene, another 4 pts to choose the next scene type (I choose “mental”, both because that seems most appropriate to the story, and because it’s Jaspin’s strong suit), and then 2 pts to “gain something that might be useful later.” 

Now to decide – what “useful thing” could he gain from doing well in this situation?  Ah, I know…

Jaspin notices the little group of mourners who are taking an interest in him, and to his surprise, he recognizes them – that’s Lord Dacre’s Seneschal, his wife, and her handmaiden!  Thinking quickly, he strides over toward them in what he hopes is a confident fashion. 

“M’Lord, M’lady” he says, bowing his head a little.  “Pardon my intrusion, but I’m Jaspin, the Grave Warden and groundskeeper here, and I just wanted to offer my condolences.  It’s a sad day in Dunmoss, losing a man like Sir Walter.  I’m terribly sorry for your loss.”

The Seneschal seems to think that this is all quite appropriate.  “Very good,” he says.  “A sad day for all of us.”  He pauses for a moment, looking at the bulging bag.  “Say, my man, what are you doing lugging around that huge sack?”

“Oh, you mean this?” Jaspin responds confidently.  “You know me, my Lord – I’ve been working hard at cleaning out the old south row – I’m going to be sprucing up the old Dacre mausoleum later this week.   In fact, I spoke to your man Leabrun about it just this morning.  The bag’s full of tools.”

The fear of it all gives Jaspin a thrill.  He’s almost a bit elated to have all this going on right under the noses of those who think they are better than him. It serves them right to be fooled so, he thinks.  Idiots.  They think they are his betters!  He goes on: “Masonry tools are quite interesting, actually, if you have a mind for such things.  Care to take a look?”

“Oh no, man, no,” says the Seneschal.  “But I’ll certainly let Lord Dacre know that the family monuments are in good hands.  Good day.”

“Good day.” Jaspin bows a little once again, and then continues on up the hill.  In no time at all, he’s got the bones back up into the lodge, and has shut the door behind him.  He’s safe at last.

That’s the end of scene 3 – what’s scene 4 going to be?  That last critical success bought be the right to declare it a “mental” scene if I like, but the rules allow me to roll on the table first, before deciding whether or not to do that.  That’s what I’m going to do, since if I roll a 5 or less (adjusted), then I’ll reach the “Climax Scene,” which is where I want to be.

(Rolling…)  10, -3 for the number of scenes I’ve completed so far, =7: “A choice between three scene types.”   Well, I didn’t make it to the Climax scene, so I’ll simply exercise my right to declare that the next scene is “Mental.”  That plays to Jaspin’s strengths, and really fits the story well at this point, too.

Scene 4 – Lore in the Lodge

Once night has fallen, Jaspin takes out his books, lays the bones out on his floor in a proper skeleton-like shape, and gets to work.  His suspicion that he doesn’t need to pierce the Veil after all fills him with hope – but he still needs to find a way to work with the spiritual residue still clinging to the bones themselves.  Or – he corrects himself – the residue that he thinks is still clinging to the bones.  Honestly, he’s not too sure about that.  But it’s a place to start.

Poring over his books and the bones side-by-side, he tries to find a way to detect the residue…

This a “Mental” scene, so I can begin by attempting any “Mental” challenge that seems appropriate.  I’ll choose Expert Skill (Thanatology), since it seems appropriate here.  Jaspin has this skill at 14, and peril is 1, so his effective skill is 13.

(Rolling…) 8: success by 6. 

And the good luck continues!  Very well.  I have 6 pts.  Now, I could decide to spend 3 to win the scene, but I think I’d like to spend a bit more time here, so instead I’ll spend 4 to “Increase the Reward” once again. (thus if he successfully completes the whole adventure, Jaspin now earns 3 pts worth of Necromantic abilities, rather than just 1).  I’ll also spent 2 pts to “gain something that might be useful later on”, which I’ll define as “confirmation that there is spiritual residue still clinging to the old bones”.

… and now that he knows what to look for, it’s not long before he finds one.  Taking down from his shelf a small horsehair brush, some powdered violets, and a thimblefull of arsenic, Jaspin begins to lay a first coat of preparatory fluid on the bones.   Once the arsenic layer has been absorbed, Jaspin dusts the spinal column with pulverised leech – and then it happens.  The bones begin to emit a faint green glow!

It’s just the faintest of glows – barely detectable, except in this dimly-lit room – but Jaspin is certain he’s not imagining it.  It’s the residue, he’s sure of it – the spiritual residue itself, that the leechflesh has rendered visible to the naked eye.  He was right!

Time for the next challenge.  What is it? 

(Rolling…) 6: “Attempt the same challenge as last time, but with a +2 bonus”. 

Oh, wow, this good luck is getting ridiculous!  Why don’t things ever go this well for Temian?  The damned villains get all the good stuff… 🙂

ANYWAY, I’ve decided just to play it however it lays, so I’ll continue with the playtest – but clearly there are dark powers at work here, trying to screw it up! 

Eagerly, Jaspin rifles through his books to find another test.  Now that he’s rendered the residue visible, can he perhaps find some way to force it to react?

Jaspins’ Expert Skill (Thanatology) is 14; he has a -1 for Peril, but he gets a +2 bonus, so his effective skill is 15.

(Rolling…) 12: Success by 3.

Well, at least that was a more typical dice roll, for once!  Using those 3 points, I’ll “win the scene”.  Simple. 

This might be a good time to roll for the next scene type, too, just to see what we’re in for:

(Rolling…) 14, -4 for scenes completed so far =10: “A choice between 2 scene types.”

(Rolling, rolling…) 3 and 2: “Mental” and “Covert”.  Well, that’s quite a lucky roll, too, since it allows Jaspin to stick with “Mental”, which is what he’s best at.

Tentatively following a hint that he seems to detect in a certain cryptic line from the most tattered of his books, Jaspin takes up his chisel, and starts to carve a few old Thelnic runes into the base of the skull.  He’s not at all sure that he’s doing it right, but he gives it a go, anyway – his reading suggests that the Necromancers of Old Thelnia used to try to harness the residue in something like this manner.

He could be imagining it, but as he performs the last tap with his chisel, the faint glow that runs through the spine of the skeleton seems to straighten a little.

Jaspin finishes tapping the runes into the skull, and then sets it back down at the head of the spinal column, facing the ceiling.  Then he steps back to observe the glow.

Nothing happens.

What if I tried to make it move, he wonders?  And putting out his hand in the most forceful manner he can, he wills the corpse to move.

Nothing happens.

In frustration he grabs the skull and turns it around to inspect his runework.  As he does so, though, he feels an odd resistance – and when he turns the skull around, all the rest of the bones turn with it!   It seems he’s managed to bind the whole skeleton together, using the residue!

Jaspin begins to laugh.  He’s done it!

Well, he can’t will the thing to move yet, of course.  So he hasn’t really done it.   But he has found a way to bind all these old bones together, using spiritual energy.  It’s a skeleton now, and not just a bundle of bones!

Scene 5 -The Bookseller

The next morning Jaspin gets up early to head into the Castle District.  Specifically, he want to meet up with Vinlik Scribeson, a bookseller he knows.  Vinlik has a workshop on the Street of Pages, where most of the booksellers live.

When he gets to the worskhop, Vinlik is already there, painstakingly scraping down a sheepskin to make a sheet of parchment.

“Ho, Jaspin,” he says.  “What are you doing here so early?”

“Do you mind if I take a look at your collection again, Vinlik?’ Jaspin says.  “I’m trying to track something down”

“Do your worst,” Vinlik agrees, smiling.  He and Jaspin have been friendly ever since they found themselves in the same Cult meeting (Jaspin was a low-ranking member of the Cult of Singroth for a while, before he tired of the thing).  They enjoy arguing with one another, usually in a fairly amiable kind of way.

Pleased, Jaspin settles down with Vinlik’s books.  Vinlik has a large collection of manuscripts; part of his work involves making copies of those manuscripts, and then selling the copies.  Many of the manuscripts are religious, and others deal with mundane things that are of interest to rich buyers – bestiaries, herbaries, compendia of Valirothian heraldry, works of geography, and the like.  But Vinlik also has a small but significant stock of occult manuscripts, of one kind or another – many of them banned or heretical, (not that religious laws are enforced much in Eldervale).

Naturally, it’s the occult and heretical codices that Jaspin lugs down from the shelf.

He’s following a lead.  Now that he’s found a way to bind the bones into a coherent skeleton using the spiritual residue, he thinks the next step must be to bend the residue to his will.  But how to go about that?  Jaspin is here at Varnik’s workshop because he vaguely remembers a few lines from one of Varnik’s books that would seem to refer to a process of that kind.

He opens up the first codex – a compendium of fairly lurid stories about the Dunmoss Witch, entitled The True Chronicle and Historie of Juliana Darkhound, Blacke Sorceresse of Eldervale.  Much of the material collected here is pretty dubious, Jaspin feels – many parts seem like they’re just traditional folk-tales about witches retold with Juliana Darkhound as the villain.  But there are a few fragments here that are written in a  different style, and have always seemed to him to have the ring of truth to them.

Eager to check if the line he remembers is somewhere in the book, Jaspin begins leafing through the pages, checking them against what he knows of necromantic lore…

Time for the first challenge in the scene – a roll against Hidden Lore (Undead).  Jaspin’s skill is 14, but he has a -1 for peril, so his effective skill is 13.

(Rolling…) 9: success by 4.

I’ll spend 2 of those on “Improve Your Position”, giving Jaspin +3 to his next challenge in this scene, and I’ll spend the other 2 to “Gain Something that Might be Useful Later.”   What is that new “Useful Thing”?  Well, I’ll say that Jaspin has discovered a fragment of an incantation that it seems Juliana Darkhound once used to raise the dead.

Side note: I believe I’ve now accumulated six “Gain Something That Might be Useful later” bonuses, each of which is good for either a +2 or a reroll somewhere further down the line.  It might be worth recalling what they are in narrative terms:

  • Jaspin has realized that basic Necromantic workings don’t require him to pierce the Veil  – instead, he can simply use the spiritual residue.
  • Leabrun now (erroneously!) thinks Jaspin is a hard worker, and is going to report that to Lord Dacre, too.
  • Lord Dacre’s Seneschal also thinks Jaspin is a hard worker, and is going to report that to Lord Dacre, just like Leabrun is.
  • Jaspin has discovered that the skeleton he is planning to raise from the dead is the skeleton of a person who was entombed alive.
  • Jaspin has found a way to confirm by experiment that there is indeed spiritual residue clinging to the bones.
  • Jaspin now knows a brief snatch of an incantation that he believes Juliana Darkhound once used to raise the dead.

So that’s a lot of accumulated bonuses.  It’s fun to list them here, though I must say that from a playtesting perspective I think this is too many.  I’ll have to change the system to prevent this – but no doubt I’ll say more about that in the debrief, some other day!

… there it is!  Jaspin soon finds the passage he was looking for.  It’s a fragment of an old rhyme about Juliana Darkhound.  There are many such fragments in the compendium, but this one seems different, since the language is significantly gnarlier and more archaic.  Thrillingly for Jaspin, the rhyme seems to describe Juliana Darkhound in the act of raising the dead – and it even quotes some of the incantation that she uses to do so –

An I slaep, slaep thu! 

An I wacan, wacan thu! 

An I gan i niht, gan thu i niht o gaesne hraw!

Is it a real incantation?  What gives Jaspin hope is that it seems so out of place in the rest of the codex – the rest of the book is obviously just folk-tales, but this just might be a real snatch of necromantic magic.

Jaspin scratches it down on a sheet of parchment for his own reference, though he doesn’t really need to  – he’s already committing it to memory by chanting it to himself in his head.

What’s the next challenge?

(Rolling…) 11: “Attempt any challenge within the same scene type, as long as you haven’t yet attempting it during this scene.”

Ok – this means I can choose any Mental challenge, except Hidden Lore (Undead).   That’s nice, actually, since this seems like a great moment in the story for a roll against Poetry

Jaspin both thinks and hopes that the incantation is authentic – but it would be good to get some confirmation.  He takes the next manuscript down from the shelf.  It’s known as The Red Mark Book due to the odd mark on the cover, and it’s a collection of occult poems, songs, and sayings, many of them quite old.

Jaspin has an idea.  Maybe he could check whether or not this incantation is truly authentic by comparing the metrical features of the poetry with other poetry that dates from a similar period?  The idea intrigues him enough to set him off on that path, so he starts leafing his way through the whole Red Mark Book, trying to find any old occult songs or poems that are written to the same meter as the incantation fragment from  The True Chronicle and Historie of Juliana Darkhound

Is this even a vaguely plausible method, and if so, can he pull it off?  Let’s find out.  Jaspin has Poetry at 14,  and peril is 1, but he gets a +3 bonus for having discovered such a significant fragment, so his effective skill is 16.

(Rolling…) 16: just made it!

A success by 0 doesn’t allow me to purchase any special “scene gains”, but it does allow Jaspin to move forward.

It’s painstaking work, but eventually Jaspin manages to confirm that the metrical structure of the incantation is similar only to the earliest examples of occult poetry.  That’s a sign that the incantation is probably very old.   This doesn’t confirm that it’s a genuine necromantic incantation, by any means, but it’s certainly a good sign.

What’s the next challenge?

(Rolling…) 12: “Attempt the same challenge as last time, but base your skill roll on a different attribute.”

Interesting.  Jaspin has to make another roll against Poetry, but based on something else.  Per and Will seem the obvious candidates.  Let’s go with Will, both because it’s Jaspin’s highest stat, and because it gives me a fun idea of a direction in which to take the story.  I believe this will be the first Will-based Poetry roll I’ve ever encountered in a game!

Irrelevant aside: here’s a fun quiz question for serious GURPSophiles.  What would a DX-based Poetry roll even mean?  ST-basedHT-based?  But I digress…

All this time Jaspin has been chanting the verse to himself, just in his head.  Every new page he turns to, he chants the verse again.  Ever time he finds another poem, and wants to check its metrical structure against the structure of the poem, he chants the verse again.  And between those times, he needs to keep the verse alive in his mind, so he chants it yet again.  Chanting, chanting, chanting.

Eventually, he finds himself chanting it aloud, albeit under his breath.  That’s when strange things start happening…

The very final pages of the The Red Mark Book are becoming a little more difficult to turn.  Are they stuck to one another, Jaspin wonders?  No, they’re not stuck; but for some reason they’re just hard to turn.  (An I slaep, slaep thu!)

He manages to turn to the next page (An I wacan, wacan thu!) and at that moment, the whole table shudders a little. 

What was that, he wonders?  Maybe I bumped it.

He come to the final page of the book, closes it, and stands up, still chanting under his breath.  As he completes the incantation (An I gan i niht, gan thu i niht o gaesne hraw!) his head begins to swim.  “Woah…” he thinks for a moment, “I stood up too fast” – but that’s not it.

His vision becomes blurry, and then dark.  HE can see nothing.  But he can feel something – like a vast hollowness, an absence, just in front of him.  No – it’s beneath him – somewhere deep down in the earth, far, fear beneath him: a vast black hollowness; an endless void.

He feels vertigo.  He feels unsteady on his feet, as if he’s standing on the edge of that abyss, about to topple in.  No – it’s as if he wants to throw himself into the abyss – his whole boy, his whole soul wants to cast itself into that endless void and be lost forever – and only the thin thread of his will is holding him back.

Only the thin thread of his will, with the words of the incantation strung along it like black pearls on a silver chain…

Terrified by his own desires,he tries frantically to keep his focus on the words of the incantation…

Can he do it?  here we go!  His Will-based Poetry score is 16, and Peril is 1, so his effective skill is 15.

(Rolling…) 8: success by seven.

Jaspin does it again!  Man, the dark gods of the d6 are on his side.  Those 7 points are just what he needs to Win the scene, and gain the right to choose the next scene type – (he’ll choose Mental again, of course).

“No!”  Jaspin thinks, wrestling his errant mind back to the chant.  “I will not let this master me – it is I who will be Master!”

“An I slaep, slaep thu!  An I wacan, wacan thu! An I gan i niht, gan thu i niht o gaesne hraw!”  Jaspin shouts the chant aloud now, shattering the peace of the bookstore.

Vinlik, startled, cuts his thumb on his scraper and swears.

For a moment Jaspin feels himself awash with the power of the abyss.  He is the Master of that hollowness, deep below – he can bend it to his will.  The feeling is horrifying, and exhilarating.  This is how the great conquerors must have felt, he has time to think.

Then the moment passes, and Jaspin passes out on the cold stone floor of Vinlik’s workshop.  The feeling is gone.

That’s the end of scene 5.  Time to roll for the next scene type, just in case we’ve reached the climax scene.  I hope we do reach the climax scene now.  The story seems to be ready for the climactic attempt to raise the skeleton from the dead, and for my part, I think I’ve learned what I need to from this playtest.  But I’m interested in Jaspin now, so I’d still like to end this properly!) 

To reach the climax scene, I need an adjusted roll of 5 or less.  I get a -5 for the number of scenes completed so far, so really I need a 10 or less.  I’m quite prepared to use my stock of “Useful Things” to achieve this, too…  Here goes.

(Rolling…) 10 -5 = 5: “Climax Scene”!

Wow, easy!  And I didn’t even have to use any of those “Useful Things.”  Well, I’ll blow as many as I can during the final scene, then…

Using the “Scene Gain” I acquired last time, I hereby declare that the Climax Scene is “Mental”.

Scene 6 – Corpses by Candlelight

It’s now the third night since Jaspin fully committed himself to necromancy.  He’s believes he’s now ready to try to raise the dead.

First he purifies himself by washing in his small clay basin.  Then he proceeds around the inside of the Lodge, lighting all the candles one by one.  He takes his best blanket from his bed, and lays it out on the table in the center of the room.  Then, reverently, he lifts the skeleton up onto it, and lays it out.

Jaspin hums to himself as he goes.  He’s happy – very happy – with the way things have been turning out.  Greatness is within his grasp, he feels.  He just has to have the strength of purpose to reach out and take it.

He anoints the bones once again, using his mixture of arsenic and crushed violet.  Then he re-anoints the spine with pulverized leech.

When he places the final bushstroke on the top of the spine, the Thelnic Rune he’s carved at the base of the skull seems to seems to swim a little to his vision, and the whole spine of the skeleton seems once again to integrate itself into a single unit.

Things seem to be going well.

Now he begins his preliminary incantation.  He’s improvised this out of scraps of other incantations, picked up here and there, and he’s not at all sure it will be effective.  But knowing that his task is to harness the residue, rather than pierce the Veil, is a huge help to him…

In case it’s not obvious, this is Jaspin using one of his “Useful Things” for a +2 bonus…

… as is the fact that he’s actually seen the residue doing its work.

  …and there’s him using another one.

Jaspin has also taken pains to work a special reference into his incantation – a reference to the fact that the spirit who lived in these bones was once entombed alive.  He thinks that this ought to help to harness the residue.  Knowing the cause of death is always helpful, but the fact that this body died in a place very strongly associated with dead – well, that certainly can’t hurt.

And that’s another one! 

Finally, he comes to the scrap of incantation that he knows is special – the scrap that supposedly derives from Juliana Darkhound herself.

Yes, he’s just blown four “Useful Thing” bonuses on the same roll.  It’s the Climax Scene, so I’m going for broke!

Feeling confident, he gathers himself to intone those final lines…

Right – here goes!  This seems like a roll against Thaumatology.  Jaspin’s skill is only 12, and Peril gives a -1, but he’s just blown four “Useful Things” worth +2 each.  Thus, for this one roll, his effective skill is 19.

This roll for the adventure!

(Rolling…) 7.  Made it by 12. 

Well, that’s it, folks – he’s done it!  Once again, another very low roll for Jaspin – and this one wins him the adventure.

As far as Scene Gains go, we have 12 pts to spend.  I’ll obviously spend 3 to win the scene, and thus the adventure.  At this stage it seems reasonable to blow the rest on increasing the Reward, too – I can do that twice, for 4 pts each.   The Reward is now worth 5 pts of Necromantic power to Jaspin, which is a big haul.  That comes to 11 pts spent; the last point is wasted.

“An I slaep, slaep thu!  An I wacan, wacan thu! An I gan i niht, gan thu i niht o gaesne hraw!”  Jaspin cries, extending his hand toward the skeleton on his table, and desperately willing it to rise.

Once again his vision darkens; once again he feels the presence of the black abyss.  It’s as if there is a hole in the world somewhere far beneath him – an emptiness so vast it threatens to consume everything – and will do, in time.

Jaspin isn’t frightened.  For a moment he knows himself master of the abyss.

Slowly at first, and then with a lurch and tremble, the skeleton rises.  And a new evil is unleashed upon the world.

The Reward, and Adventure XP

Since the adventure was a success, Jaspin earns the Reward.  At the start, he nominated 1 character point worth of necromantic abilities as his Reward, but during the course of the adventure he managed to increase that to no less than 5 character points.  Pretty sweet. 

We also need to roll for standard adventure XP, above and beyond the Reward.  This probably won’t result in much extra XP, because I didn’t “Raise the Stakes” even once during this adventure (which was probably a mistake, and was a small part of the reason why it ended up being so easy for Jaspin.  But never mind).  I’ll roll for XP now…

(Rolling…) 7. Man, it seems the dice are being kind to Jaspin, right to the end! 

I subtract 4 because the adventure was a “raging success”, and 1 because a full session was spent on the adventure, so the total is 3: “Two character points”.

Thus while Jaspin has earned no money from this Town Adventure, he’s earned a solid haul of 5 character points that must be spent on new necromantic abilities of some kind, plus 2 extra character points can be spent on anything he likes.  Lucky villain!

Wrapping Up

Well, that’s it, folks.  We’ve come to the end of the “Town adventure”, as defined by the draft system.  I have to say, it was a lot of fun for me.  I’m also quite happy with the way the playtest has gone, in that it’s revealed a lot of flaws in the system, which is exactly the point of it.

I’ll be back some time soon with some reflections on what we might be able to learn from this playtest, how to change the system for the next version, and so on.

In the meantime, as always, all your thoughts and comments are very welcome indeed! 

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Jaspin Ward, Budding Necromancer, Episode One – “Corpses by Candlelight”

    1. Actually, Jaspin did fail once, right at the start of Scene 2 – you can go back and check it out if you want a short example of how failure works in the draft system. It shouldn’t be too difficult to understand, I think (it’s just like success, but in reverse!)

      But yes, there wasn’t much failure this session – the dice were ridiculously lucky (which was happy for the villainous Jaspin, but a pity for the playtest). Even given the dice, though, the playtest gave me enough information that I’m adjusting the system a little to make it a bit harder to “win” scenes. But more on that later…

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  1. Although there is a lack of misses by Jaspin (is being lucky a characteristic of any aspiring necromancer? That would explain why there are so many liches in old dungeons nowadays!), it was quite a nice read and the system did play nicely! I enjoyed it a lot and am eager to try it as soon as possible! There are some things I gotta ask, though:

    1) The entire adventure has a nice rythym to it, but it seems it relies heavily on the player’s reading of the situations and on keeping possible door opens – there is a total of 6 scenes for Jaspin’s quest, but you could have reached the climax early, which begs the question: is there any tip you could give on how to keep these doors open and work the rythym of the narrative, or is it purely intuitional?

    2) Much of the blog’s content can be used both as material for solo roleplaying and as material for a group using the “collaborative gamemaster” instructions (something which I am still trying to convince my players to try!). However, I find it would be harder to work this particular system in group play, since the rewards involved are much more personal. Would it be necessary to make some adaptations for a “group town adventure system”, or it should work as is? (I had no time to playtest as of now, but this is an impression I’ve had since I’ve read the system for the first time).

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