Making Their Way to Steelhart

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Preamble

I went around the table, asking for character names, luck scores, and alignments.

As per my preparation and beginning session procedures:

  • I asked the unluckiest character to choose a number between 1 and 16. He picked 9. I then rolled a d16 and got a 9. I’m all smiles – but more on that in future session reports or planning documents.
  • I rolled on the Guess Who’s Coming to Bitterweed Barrow, and rolled a 21; Sylle Ru and Kreig, one of the Jarl Henrick’s thegns, are paying a visit to Bitterweed Barrow. (Upon reviewing the session, I decided that they would arrive on the 10th of Spring’s Laugh).

I also explained two new house rules:

  • Dwarves see in grayscale, except for gold, silver, and crystals (e.g. gems)
  • Halflings may spend 30 minutes eating (one day of rations), drinking, or smoking pipeleaf to regain 1 point of Luck.

The Cast

7 people gathered around a table with character sheets, books, and dice.

The game table ready to venture to Steelhart

Character Class (Profession) Level Luck Alignment Player
Ahm-al the Witness of Cthulhu Cleric (Guild Beggar) 1 ? Neutral Joan
Ungo the Beggar Thief (?) 1 ? Neutral Joan
Obexo the Agent Dwarf (Stonemason) 1 ? Lawful Aidan
Strove (Rutabega farmer) 0 13 Neutral Aidan
Spike the Acolyte of Ramat Cleric (Herbalish) 1 ? Lawful Greg
Fredora (?) 0 14 Neutral Greg
Tink (jeweler) 0 14 Neutral Greg
Argyle (Tax-collector) 0 ? Chaotic Nick
Ralph (Radish-farmer) 0 9 Neutral Nick
Marcus (Mercenary) 0 9 Neutral Nick
Albert (?) 0 13 Lawful Sam
Dave (?) 0 12 Neutral Sam
Badger’s Bane Thief (?) 1 10 Chaotic Marlene
Yeasty (Baker) 0 15 Neutral Marlene
Mainge (Beggar) 0 13 Lawful Marlene
Robin (?) 0 6 Lawful Luke
Mason Stone Dwarf (Stone mason) 0 10 Neutral Luke
Shear Madness (Barber) 0 9 Chaotic Luke

The Session

Before the action starts, the adventurers that cleared the Tower of the Stargazier, traveled to Bitterweed Barrow to recruit help on the 7th of Spring’s Laugh. On the 8th they recruit some villagers, get supplies, and travel with them to Steelhart. They returned to the tower on the 9th. They agree to pay the hired hands – 0-level characters – 50 gp. Twenty-five before and 25 on arrival.

Looting the Tower

The session starts on the 10th of Spring’s Laugh (Amunday), as the adventurers begin looting the tower.

Emptying the tower. Everyone rolls percentiles going in and coming out. Lightning crackles around but does not hit anyone.

Follow the River to Steelhart

They encounter another marionette, a woman, standing on the lake shore looking at an island. The adventurers engage in a bit of conversation; As is usual, the language choices of the woman are awkward. Her name is Alice, and her shoulder keeps sticking up in a partial shrug. She asks for a ride as she hops on the wagon. Note: The first hex had a random encounter.

Continuing their travel along the riverbed and they see a triangle of menhirs up ahead on the bluff. As the wagon continues, they see a wild-haired creature standing amongst the stones; she is wielding a short sword. Note: The second hex had a random encounter.

At this, Alice, hops off the wagon and starts walking back the way they came, muttering “Welp, that’s enough for me.”

The adventurers draw closer. A raven roosting on one of the menhirs, takes flight. It heads in the direction of Steelhart.

The adventurers hail the woman, and strike up a conversation. The wild-haired woman grabs a walking cane and slowly approaches the wagon. As she draws close, they see twigs and brambles in her hair …and was that a mouse scampering out of her hair?

She introduces herself as Esther. She is performing a ritual to Mielikki in hopes of bringing rain to the neighboring village of Sunville. Paranoia is running rather high amongst the adventurers.

The characters ask questions about what she sacrifices; “Oh animals or other chattel of this world” responds Esther. She relies on the rain to wash away the blood.

One of the players asks if he can make some kind of check to see if she’s lying. I say “What do you think? Is she lying?” I don’t allow for any kind of check, and the players allow Esther to draw close.

They strike up a further conversation, asking her about Alice, the woman that left. Esther tells them that the village of Sunville banished Alice.

Alice was once normal, but about 3 months ago, she changed. Over the next 2 months, 3 children were stillborn. Instead of eyes, that had small tentacles. The village agreed and exiled Alice.

Esther asks if she can travel with them for awhile. They accept. And ask why Esther might be staring at the island on the lake?

Oh, there’s a legend that two lovers would meet under the cover of darkness on that island. For a year and a day, their rendezvous continued. They would meet amongst the columns and pillars of the ruins. Then one day, the man decided to come to the island early.

The man saw that what he thought were columns and pillars were infact statues of men and women, some eroded from time.

The characters continue, and Spike strikes up another conversation, asking about folk songs of Sunville. During this time a small contingent ascends the bluff to see if Sunville exists.

Sure enough there is a small village about a half-mile further from the river bed. They can see people toiling in the fields.

The party discusses spending the night in Sunville, but agree a wagon loaded with gold is too tempting of a target. So they continue for a few hours and break for camp.

Around the camp, Esther offers to make the soup. She springs into action as a grandma preparing for Easter dinner. Mixing both herbs from Spike and her pouches.

Some of the characters gather their own food, others opt to eat rations. I ask everyone that is eating her cooking to flip their character sheets over.

When he receives the bowl, Spike (a former herbalist), smells an unusual added herb – Mosshade. He comments and Esther responds “It’s to improve your fortitude for the travel.”

With the food eaten and watches set, I call for a Fortitude save on all characters who ate the soup and were taking first watch. Those that fail fall asleep.

Ahm-al and Argyle are the now awake on watch. Esther, biting her pinky finger tip clean off, reveals her curse, to those that did not eat her meal, she cursed with blindness until the next full moon of Ahurzda. The others will see their fortitude increased (+1 to Fortitude saves).

I call for saving throws from everyone that didn’t eat her food. Four characters end up blind. During this, Esther approaches Spike and with her bloody finger, draws a crescent on the left side of his forehead. Spike wipes the blood away, but a new mark remains.

Esther announces she’ll be returning to Sunville and departs. No one gives pursuit.

Both Spike and Ahm-al chant several prayers, beseeching Ramat and Cthuhlu to remove this blindness. Ahm-al cures one and Spike cures another. Cthulhu, less pleased, demands a follower and Strove is ready and eager to commit.

The Writ of Orcus

Over the next bit of travel, Argyle asks if anyone can read the Writ of Orcus from his dead friend (found in the Barrow Ward)? He unfurls the scroll, and Spike can read the ancient Ramati used to write the Writ of Orcus.

As Spike looks at the writ, the sun dims and he gains a distant vision of death and suffering. He closes the writ and asks that it not come out.

A Foreboding Cave

Note: I was not interested in having 7 players all rolling initiative and jumping focus around the table. I had the player who’s character had the highest initiatve roll for the entire group.

As the party continues along the riverbed, they come upon a powerful stench and a cave about 100′ away. They halt the wagon, and approach with caution. They see bone fragments, and see dung with the powder sign that part of the creatures diet is bones.

They assess that something is in the cave, and begin to set an ambush. Ungo and Badger’s Bane sneak up beside the cave entrance. Obexo and Ahm-al will move to about 20′ out from the cave, where Ahm-al will command the creature to come.

I spend a bit of time establishing the positions of every character. The players know something big is going to go down.

I call for a stealth check, and they fail.

“Ahm-al and Obexo, you move into position. And Obexo, as Ahm-al begins to commandthe creature, you see with your infravision what is a large troll moving and preparing to attack”

And Ahm-al commands the troll to come.

The troll wins initiative, but I give Ungo and Badger’s Bane a chance to ambush. The troll, roaring past the ambush (everyone misses), fells Ahm-al with two brutal claw strikes. The players look with a bit of astonishment and concern. Yes, this game is not balanced nor do I intend to balance it.

Spike calls upon Ramat to Paralyze the troll; His weapon and hands glow with a radiant holy energy. But he’ll need to wait until next round to strike.

A desperate battle ensues. Led by Obexo, the 0-level peasants muster the courage to charge in with daggers, pitchforks, and scissors. Superficial damage, as they realize that piercing the troll’s heavy hide is challenging.

Ungo and Badger’s Bane pounce with surprise, both burn a bit of luck ensuring a successful backstab. Troll sustains major wounds, but keeps fighting. They watch in horror as the most serious energy stitches back together.

A tense moment, as I again call for group initiative. The adventurers take the initiative and continue to press their attack.

In hopes of paralyzing the troll and making it easer to hit, Spike charges with his spear; Missing by 3 points. He anguishes but burns the 3 luck to hit. The troll rolls a natural 20 for its save.

Some of the less valiant (or perhaps more pragmatic) begin lighting torches to burn the troll. Other peasants and thieves swarm delivering the final blow. They begin burning the troll.

The party then looks to Ahm-al. Rolling over her body, she gasps. A massive scar runs from forearm to the back of her left hand (-1 stamina). Ahm-al’s Trauma increases from 0 to 1. When she gets to Steelhart, Ahm-al will need to check for retirement.

I believe this is the first time I’ve used group initiative. And I loved it. There was a bit of planning during the round, looking to optimize effects. There was tension when we rolled for the second round.

Exploring the Cave

Amongst the dung the dwarves (Mason Stone and Obexo) find an emerald hilted short sword. Mason Stone pulls it from it’s nasty scabbard of feces.

Mason Stone feels a pull towards the river. Heeding the urge, he goes to the river. The sword urges Mason Stone to submerge the sword.

He obliges, the sword then urges him to move it back and forth under water. Again he obliges.

Intraparty Conflict

Spike, wanting to restore luck, asks how. I suggest converting followers or destroying the vile Writ of Orcus.

Spike preaches to Mainge about the virtues of Ramat. Convinced, Mainge converts (and declares an intention of being a Cleric of Ramat).

Spike later has a dream that evening, of the ancient scroll of Ramat rolling into a snake. Likewise, the Writ of Orcus rolls into a snake. They entwine, and the snake of Ramat consumes the snake of Orcus.

Intra-party conflict erupts, as Spike seeks to destroy Argyle’s Writ of Orcus. A bit of back and forth. The agents of Law seek to expunge this unholy relic of Chaos.

The tipping point is the party notices that the faces of Marcus and Ralph, who are helping Argyle preserve the Writ, are sunken and have thinnning skin.

In the end, Law triumphs, as Spike and his conspirators cast the writ into the campfire.

As the scroll burns, a plume of vile green smoke erupts. The sighted characters and Argyle, in his blindness, see a goat-faced creature in the smoke. It bellows in Ancient Ramati, “Avenge This Moment.” Argyle and Spike understand these ancient words.

I ask “Which characters are a follower of Ramat?” Spike and Mainge speak up; Everyone else is silent. “You each get 1d3 Luck.”

The session ends on the late afternoon of the 13th of Spring’s Laugh (Ramaday) with the party an hour or so outside of Steelhart.

The party is fracturing as ideology takes root. We’ll see where conflict erupts next session.

In Memoriam

None. Though Ahm-al must check to see if she will be retiring in Steelhart.

A hand drawn map of a river bed. Stamped with a

The map of the battle with the troll.

Observation

With 7 players and 18 characters, I wish I would’ve had a dungeon crawl ready. But the players had massive wealth they wanted to convert to something more portable. I chose to build on that thread. I also wanted to get the characters to Steelhart (having spent some time preparing that locale).

The session was a bit slower going than I had hoped, but the characters are discovering this is a world in motion; with localized customs and worshippers of different religions around every turn. Foreboding continues to be a central theme, and I hope they will use Steelhart as a chance to research and learn more about this area of the world.

Group initiative, I think I love you. We’ll see next time. I’ll make sure to communicate the expectations and procedures to the table.

Oh intra party conflict…it is not ideal, but I want to draw attention to the tensions between Ramat and Orcus. I want the players to see that alignment is important, and mixed alignments are in natural tension.

With this ongoing campaign, and it’s drop-in/drop-out nature, I’ve upped my organizational game. I’m holding many of the character sheets and trying to find each player’s previously played character.

Follow-up

Several characters advanced to level 1. They want to see:

  • Paladin (from Crawl)
  • Ranger (from Crawl)
  • Druid (from Hubris)
  • Bard (from Crawl)

One of the D&D groups that has been playing each week is considering shifting to every other week; The GM of that game wants to play in the DCC game.

The difference?

  • Dungeon Crawl Classic vs. 5E
  • Theater of mind vs. battle mats
  • Me asking “Do you think their lying?” vs. the player saying “I make an Insight check to see if they are lying.”
  • Fragile characters vs. robust characters
  • Random tables and adventure modules vs. adventure path stories

Regardless, I’m off for the next week – my daughter has a band concert.

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4 thoughts on “Making Their Way to Steelhart

  1. I very much enjoyed reading your write-up. For group initiative, you may choose to allow Warriors to add their level *after* group initiative is rolled, making them a little faster than everyone else. After all, this is a primary ability of the class. Other PCs could then potentially spend Luck to speed up their personal Initiatives. Lucky Halflings could be allowed to spend Luck to speed up the group Initiative.

    • I’m thinking that I’d like the group to coordinate their efforts. It doesn’t have the chaos I look for in combat (eg scripted combat) but I’d like them to think about their strategy.

  2. Pingback: Raiding the Ziggurat of Dis Pater | Take On Rules

  3. Pingback: The Portal Under the Stars at International Tabletop Game Day | Take On Rules

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