Guess Who’s Coming to Bitterweed Barrow?

Since our first session at Better World Books – Goshen, players have tested their mettle through four 0-level character funnels.

Surviving characters have joined in the larger campaign. I’ve decided that each of these adventures started in Bitterweed Barrow. And with such drastic changes, I need a procedure to emulate the gold rush.

The Procedure

With the news of grave goods in the Bitterweed Barrow environs, many aspirants are seeking their fortunes or at least opportunities in Bitterweed Barrow.

For each two weeks of in-game time that has passed and for each session that has passed since the character’s have been in Bitterweed Barrow, roll on the following table to see who has begun coming to Bitterweed Barrow:

d30 Guess Who’s Coming to Bitterweed Barrow?
1-12 1d8 0-level commoners (50/50 chance of adventuring or seeking work)
13 A merchant peddler with supplies for sale
14 Adventurers: 1 – a group of 1d3 + 1d5 adventurers (level 1), 2 – a lone adventurer (level 1d3+1) and 1d6 hirelings, 3 – a group of 1d7 adventurers and 1d4 hirelings
15 1d6 acolytes of: 1 – Set, 2 – Orcus, 3 – Justicia, 4 – Nergal, 5 – Ramat, 6 – Other
16 A traveling bard with other tales
17 A tax collector and 2d6 soldiers in the name of Duchess Zelene Oči
18-19 Raiding party (2d12): 1 – Orcs, 2 – Human brigands, 3 – Hirot, 4 – Another kingdom
20* Jarl Henrick, his thegns, and Sylle Ru (from Hirot)
21* Sylle Ru and 1d3 thegns of Jarl Henrick (from Hirot)
22* Master Jenks, Oleen the Imp, Catkins, Wee Tocs, and Wolf (from Hirot)
23* Lloré and Morgan Haverson (from Hirot)
24* Brother Aker (from Hirot)
25* 1d3+1 of Iraco’s hunters and 50/50 chance Iraco (from Hirot)
26* A time traveller
27* An astrologer with outlandish prophesies
28-29* A journeyman smith and 3 laborers; Replace with a trained craftsman
30* A chronicler from the great city (Punjar, Lankhmar, etc)
* – When rolled, replace with a new entry

Unless they are coming from somewhere specific, where are they coming from?

d10 Where are they coming from?
1 North
2 Northeast
3 East
4 Southeast
5 South
6 Southwest
7 West
8 Northwest
9-10 [Roll again 1d8] of Hirot

For each adventuring party send them through the Paul Wolfe’s Virtual Funnel in Gong Farmer’s Almanac 2015 (Consolidated p332) in between sessions.

Preparation for Session 2 of DCC Better World Gaming

Between the 0-level funnel of Nebin Pendlebrook’s Perilous Pantry and the first session of Doom of the Savage Kings, I did some preparation. I didn’t publish this as I didn’t want to tip my hand. I scratched together two random tables to seed the start of the session. These are things that still could be happening.

With a map and deed, I assumed the characters would be leaving the village. I spent a bit of time laying out a flow-chart of distances to nearby locations. After the second session, the geography set a bit more and I’m working on a localized map.

D8 In Bitterweed Barrow
1 A small troop of dwarves (1d4+1) arrive in Bitterweed Barrow to claim their ancestral gold. The have come from the nearby foothills of the Trolltooth Mountains.
2 Varooth Moss sends a letter asking to meet at midnight at the well outside Nebin’s house; He has important news and needs help. To help him, he needs Sylle Ru captured or killed.
3 Nebin Pendlebrook’s ghost haunts the village; food is going missing.
4 A druid has come to learn of the sprite fountain. A foul corruption is growing in the west.
5 Chip, slain potato farmer, rises to seek vengeance for his death (see Ensorcelling Corpse Plague).
6 Last night, the village sot and goat herder helped birth a two-headed goat. He swears that before it died it said “Beware, Beware the Eyes of Green.”
7 Hearing of the fountain, a band of reavers assumes that Bitterweed Barrow may be the resting place of the Abbot in the Woods.
8 Roll 1d7 twice.
D10 Leaving Bitterweed Barrow
1 Lionel Left-Leg, a seasoned peddler warns that Hirot is on edge; They are sacrificing each other to appeas a demon.
2 Constable Landria is on the trail of a poacher. She may conscript the party.
3 Elianda, a pilgrim on a vision quest. She seeks a lone tower to free an ensnared angle.
4 A small road-side shrine with a clay bowl and 5 silver coins on offer.
5 A group of brigands heading to Bitterwood Barrow to lay claim to the wealth.
6 Evidence of a massive hound having shred an elk
7 Farmer Chip gives pursuit; He is getting stronger
8 A band of performers setting up camp. They invite you to share their food for the afternoon and evening.
9 Varooth Moss meets you on the road insisting that he travels this side of the mirror.
10 Roll 1d9 twice.

 

Random Tables to Help Preparation for the Unexpected

At the end of my last DCC session, we left off with the players saying “We are leaving the village in the morning.”

I’m not entirely certain where they are going. They have two similar looking maps with minimal information. I spend a few minutes drawing those up as handouts.

I’m spending an hour whipping up a random encounter table for the region.

Random Encounters near Bitterweed Barrow and Hirot

Every 5 mile hex, roll 1d6. On a 6, see below. Outside of the Barrow Ward, roll 1d7. Inside the Barrow Ward roll 1d7+3.

d7 Random Encounter
1 Devil Frog (1) [DCC 402]
2 redacted
3 redacted
4 Orcs (1d6x5 and Boss) [DCC 423]
5 Troll (1) [DCC 429]
6 Witch (95% 1; 5% 12) [DCC 434]
7 Men, Bandits (2d6) [DCC 432]
8 redacted
9 Varooth Moss (1) [Nebin Pendlebrook’s Perilous Pantry]
10 redacted

In addition to the above table, I’m looking at the introduced cast of characters and setting a few of them in motion. I’m using Sine Nomine’s An Echo Resounding and Wizard of the Coast’s Birthright as a rough planning tool. Regardless I want to make sure a few things happen behind the scenes.

All told, I’m not entirely certain where we’ll start the session; Some players may need to level up their characters.

The Rise (and Fall) of Session 0

I’ve seen an uptick in Session 0 rules for RPGs. And their usage.

The general idea is that before you play your first session, you have a collaborative session to prepare for the game.

You do a little world building (as per Diaspora, Dresden Files, or Fate Core). You might leverage Microscope to build the campaign setting.

Then move into the involved process of character creation: Pick your traits, feats, backgrounds, skills, etc. What shiny bobbins do you want this character to have.

One notable difference between Session 0 and Session 1 is that they are different activities. Where Session 1 is playing a character (or characters), Session 0 is preparing to play the character(s) by playing at world building. It’s analogue to making a Magic deck vs. playing Magic against an opponent. Both can be enjoyable, but they are two different activities.

Session 0 may also be a natural consequence of an involved character creation; Or rules baked into the game system.

While the goal may be admirable – to build consensus and a shared understanding of the game – there is peril.

Where Session 0 Falls Flat

The peril is that Session 0 creates a social contract and understanding that emerged through a different mechanism than the other future sessions.

Session 0 is not about playing to find out what happens…its about building what has happened beforehand. Your character is not taking risks nor in danger – unless you are playing original Traveller in which you could die during character creation.

Session 0 builds the initial conditions that the GM should bring to the table for Session 1. Its now on the GM to live up to those speculative constraints. Its also possible that the player’s initial constraints may not reflect what they discover they want to play in the future sessions.

In other words, in the advice of seasoned programmers: Avoid premature optimization. Get something running as soon as you can.

Making Session 1 the First Session

When the group gets together for the first time, the goal should be to start the charactersen media res as soon as possible.

This assumes:

  • Players know what they are playing that day
  • There is immediate action
  • Characters are quick to bring to the table

Players Know What They Are Playing That Day

Set expectations; What do they need to bring. What will you be doing. What are you trying to get done in the first session.

I ran a DCC 0-level character funnel and did a poor job setting expectations with one of the players. She later expressed frustration at the game.

I should have said:

We will be playing a Dungeon Crawl Classics character funnel. Each of you will have 4 fragile characters to start. The goal is to make it through the dungeon with at least one of them alive. The survivor(s) will be your character(s) in further adventures. It won’t be easy, and you should think of your characters as pawns. Don’t risk them all at once.

There Is Immediate Action

Grab an introductory dungeon and have the characters start there; Either at the threshold or scouting out the approach. If there are random rumors for the adventure, give them a couple.

Do not worry about how they met; They are there and rescuing the puppy, seeking treasure, or ridding the area of monsters. Worry instead of playing to find out what happens.

Suggested Adventures

Characters Are Quick To Bring To The Table

If character creation and equipping is fast (e.g. 15 minutes or less), let them make characters. Keep it time bound. If you have a straggler – cough Matt cough – have them catch up in the dungeon (or find them as a prisoner).

If character creation is longer than 15 minutes, give the players pre-made characters to choose from; If you have time give each player 2 characters and let them pick one.

The goal is to start playing to find out what happens.

Postscript

If character mortality is high (e.g. B/X D&D, Dungeon Crawl Classics, etc.), make sure there are opportunities for replacement characters.

Encourage or give them a some hirelings. In the dungeon add some bound prisoners that can replenish the ranks. Don’t worry about verisimilitude; worry about engaged players.

If character creation is slow, make sure you have some spare characters prepared.

Burning Sanctuary – Session 1

We met for our second session of Burning Sanctuary. Some of the players had not completed their beliefs. So we spent some time finalizing both characters and a bit of the world. This took about an hour of our 3.5 hour session.

Preparation

Without knowing the players starting beliefs and instincts I wasn’t able to plan as much as I had hoped.

There was Shrewsbury Abbey (and clergy). One of the players provided beliefs related to smuggling something out of the Abbey.

I focused on writing various impressions and bits of scenery for Shrewsbury Abbey:

  • Stooped monks harvesting squash and onions
  • Moans of the injured
  • Dripping water as bloodied clothes are wrung out over a bowl
  • Chanting prayers as tallow candles crackle and flicker
  • Hushed conversations in stone halls
  • Wretched poor seeking alms
  • Unarmed soldiers walking idling about
  • Cool stones in open air passages
  • A small girl asleep under an ancient oak
  • A bell tolling

I used the above to add color to the environs. It provided a means for tredding water as we felt out the scope of the game.

Character Burning

What follows are a list of beliefs; not precise as they were workshopped during the session, but instead the notes and recollections that I’m working from.

  • Aneúpin [Nye for short] (Welsh Scout):
    • B1: Wants solitude and to get back to the wilderness
    • B2: Needs to get possessions back so I can be self-sufficient
    • I1: Always looking for new cooking ingredients
    • I2: Always fall to the back of the group.
    • I3: Always watch the nobility out of the corner of my eye.
  • Raimund (Anglo-Norman Smuggler):
    • B1: William was supposed to supply an artifact to me as part of the deal, but it’s sealed away at Shrewsbury Abbey. I’m to meet his contact there, obtain the artifact, and deliver it to Ranulf.
    • B2: I need help to escort me back to Chester.
    • B3: I will advance my status and wealth to return my family to the peerage
    • I1: While at ports, large markets, or trade fairs, always chitchat with fellow merchants and look over their wares. Prioritize the exotic and foreign.
    • I2: Never pass by a rare or exotic good without inspecting it.
    • I3: Always carry a packet of herbs to ward off the disease-ridden miasma.
  • Old Travis (Anglo-Norman Elder):
    • B1: Find the family of Clovis FitzTravis, my son.
    • B2: I want to be known for my writings, but I must learn to compose. So I will study the manuscripts of the abbey.
    • I1: When prattling on about travels always be assessing my surroundings.
    • I2: Always take an afternoon nap.
    • I3: Always work patiently when mending
  • Edmund Thatcher (Anglo-Saxon Doctor):
    • B1: I will get my sister (Adwyn) out from the control of Robert of Gloucester. I will take her to Chester and seek an audience with Earl Ranulf. (wants to improve her station)
    • B2: I have an academic interest in these relics, I know someone wants them I’m going to find out who.
    • I1: Always provide medical attention to the injured

Procedures

I’m adopting the procedure of having the players go around the table reading their Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits. It is a helpful reminder for everyone since each players BITs drives the Artha awards.

In this session we went around once to flesh out the beliefs. We then went around again to restate the more “formalized” beliefs. It was a collaboration.

World Burning

Mixing throughout character burning was some world burning. We fleshed out the primary deity and the details of the relics.

Shirat, the Illuminating Eye

Instead of using a “vanilla” Christian God, we came up Shira, the Illuminating Eye. The “Catholic” church venerates her.

  • Sun
  • Water
  • Time
  • Knowledge
  • Labor
  • Forethought
  • Augury
  • Law
  • Written Word

Relic Smuggling

We discussed that Raimund is smuggling relics to Ranulf. The players know that these relics are Fey related. They are also being positioned along ley lines. The characters know none of this.

The Session Proper

We spent much of the session getting the characters into a common orbit.

  • Edmund Thatcher became a local celebrity through his miraculous healing of one of Robert Gloucester’s men (Roger FitzWallace).
  • Travis spent time fixing up the Abbey, always conspiring to gain access to the scriptorium and its books. He learned that Brother George had a key to the storeroom.
  • Nye focused on gaining his equipment; Things went awry when he sought the help of several fellow Welsh men.
  • Raimund was busy tracking down his contact and laying out an initial plan to smuggle out some “holy” bones.

The session drew to a close when they all noticed the Welsh men carrying out a corpse of one of the priests (Brother George). The church bell rang, raising the alarm; The abbey awoke; In the general chaos Raimund and Nye begun forming an alliance.

NPCs

The NPCs introduced throughout the session:

  • Gwyir – a Welsh traveler and spokes person for 3 other Welsh men. They have sought an evening respite at Shrewsbury Abbey; They are not wealthy. They came with a wagon of wool.
  • Abbot Gerald (Vicious and Precise) – Abbot of Shrewsbury
  • Brother Michael – contact for Raimund
  • Brother George – oversees the storeroom.
  • Brother Ferand – tends the kitchen
  • Brother Albert – an elderly monk with one eye blind from cataracts

Tests

  • Faith (Ob 4) for Edmund Thatcher:
    • Task: Seek guidance for the surgery to come
    • Intent: Gain guidance
    • Consequence: Brother Albert, the chatty old, will mark you a blasphemer.
    • Result: Success. A glowing nimbus and a bead of sweat forms on Edmund Thatcher’s brow.
  • Surgery (Ob 4) for Edmund Thatcher:
    • Task: Stitch up this severe wound
    • Intent: Get him healthy and on the road to recovery and even ingratiate himself to Earl of Gloucester.
    • Consequence: He’s a bannerman of Gloucester and Gloucester will find out about it.
    • Side note: The player rolled 3 successes. But one of them was a 6 and was the dice from astrology. With the open-ended dice, they got the 4 successes.
    • Result: The bannerman is on the road to recovery. And Brother Albert is extolling the virtues of a miracle.
  • Persuasion (Ob 5) for Travis:
    • Task: Persuade the abbot that this place is falling apart and you can help clean it up.
    • Intention: Ingratiate himself with the abbot so he can gain access to the books
    • Consequence: You draw the ire of the Abbot and he assigns someone to watch over you.
    • Result: Failure
  • Stealth (Ob 2) for Raimund linked into Inconspicuous:
    • Task: Moving through the abbey without being seen
    • Intention: To observe each monk.
    • Consequence: You draw unwanted attention as it is clear you are singling someone out.
    • Result: Success, one over OB, so the linked test gets +1D.
  • Inconspicuous (Ob 2 linked from Stealth) for Raimund:
    • Task: Mingling without drawing attention
    • Intention: To find Brother Michael without drawing attention.
    • Consequence: You are unable to find the brother as he is out-of-town. This one was weak. I was thinking perhaps a Circles test.
    • Result: Success. Raimund finds Brother Michael.
    • Side note: I really should’ve called for an Inconspicuous test then an Observation test.
  • Scavenging (Ob 3) for Nye:
    • Task: Find something that could be used to pick a lock.
    • Intention: With a tool in hand, he’d pick the lock to get into the store-room.
    • Consequence: you draw unwanted attention. Opted not to test.
    • Result: The player stepped away from the test.
    • Side note: With the Ob set, the player backed down. Instead going towards Rumor-wise
  • Rumor-wise (Ob 2) for Nye:
    • Task: Poke around a bit regarding these Welsh men’s mode of operation storeroom
    • Intention: I want them to help me bust into the store-room
    • Consequence: These Welshmen are very bad news; burn down the Abbey, mass murder.
    • Result: Success. These Welshmen are ready to help.
  • Mending (Ob 3) for Travis: I’m drawing a blank on this one, but I believe it was along the lines of you aggravate Brother Michael and he assumes you are stalling.
    • Result: Success. Travis has begun ingratiating himself with Brother Michael.
  • Inconspicuous (Ob 2) for Raimund:
    • Task: Pull Brother Michael aside to talk
    • Intention: Determine what and where the relics are that Raimund needs to smuggle out
    • Consequence: You are deep in conspiring and someone stumbles upon you.
    • Result: Success. The players.
  • Persuasion (Ob 3 untrained, so Ob 6) for Nye:
    • Task: Convince the Welsh men that there are valuables in the
    • Intention: Get them to help me bust into the store-room
    • Consequence: They’ll help but its going to escalate into the abduction/murder of a priest. abduct/kill a priest.
    • Result: Failure (untrained got 5 successes).
  • Observation (Ob 3) for all:
    • Task: Looking into the evening.
    • Intent: See if they spot the people leaving through the sally port.
    • Consequence: You don’t see the events transpiring in the courtyard.
    • Result: The players see four men carrying the body of another.
    • Side Note: I wasn’t sure how to proceed. The party was not coordinated in their effort. So I called for individual tests.

Closing Scenes

Abbot Gerald (Vicious and Precise) insinuates the Edmund Thatcher’s miracles could draw pilgrims to Shrewsbury and bolster their coffers. The Abbot wants to talk with Edmund in his chambers.

Nye and Arnolt have their first conversation. Arnolt offers cash to Nye if he will help get some relics to Chester. The beginnings of a plan take shape. We end the session.

Precedence

I am keeping a running log of what we establish via Wises and Duel of Wits. Both resolutions are manifestations of the Let it Ride principle.

  • The Four Clovers are a band of Welsh rebels; They despise the English. They are destabilizing England. (via Rumor-wise)
  • The relics are three leg bones from the Abbey crypt. These bones are in a prominent spot.
  • At temples of Shirat, at least one brother or sister maintains a nighttime vigil for Shirat’s return.

Observations

I also like to reflect on the sessions that I’ve run. I have personal notes for where to go with the next session; But I’m not going to publish those at the moment.

Task and Intent

I was insistent on players providing both Task and Intent. In doing so, we were able to map tests to beliefs. This made the end of session Artha awards smooth and meaningful. The wrap up discussion concerning Artha award categories was helpful for me; We were generous in interpretation. It also felt like we ended on the same page.

An interesting note, no one earned Artha for character traits. There are a lot of parts, and I believe those traits are something that is hard to pay attention to in the first session.

Once we completed the session wrap-up, the players saw some of the reward cycle. They now have greater clarity on how to write their beliefs. They can also focus their beliefs to the immediate situation.

An interesting observation is that I think User Stories (from Agile software development) are an excellent template for writing beliefs. They have the following form:

As a ____, I will ____, so that ____.

Odd Getting Started

The players are not well aligned; I believe this is a failing on my part. The initial situation (everyone has declared sanctuary) doesn’t have enough teeth to join them. I also didn’t lead them through group creation.

I’m not worried about keeping the characters together, but hope to nurse the aligning of goals.

Then again, it’s a first session. Everyone is feeling out their characters and intentions. I imagine the next session will move better.

Back on the Gaming Treadmill (maybe)

It would appear that running a lengthy session of Dungeon World for a table of five was great for a few reasons:

First, the dwarven judiciary is only slightly less terrifying than the dwarven actuarial system. Together, their justice is both exacting and miserly. And with 10% interest on debts accumulated each month, adventure is mandated!

Second, roaming bands of halflings are dangerous. They lay “surprise siege” to a city/village by first entering, eating all of the food, then leaving the city and setting up a blockade for all arriving caravans. All of this in search of a coin on one of the player character’s person.

Third, playing with a new player that doesn’t know all of the old tropes of D&D is revelatory…realizing a curse is an opportunity for even more adventuring.

Most important , playing with a great table is hands down one of the best parts of role-playing. It took a lot of questions to get a sense for why a Templar, Cleric, Halfling, Druid, and Mechanic would all stop around together, but we eventually built some cohesion and a good adventure was had by all.

So yesterday and today, I’ve been sharpening my RPG tools, gathering up raw resources, and beginning some work on a potential campaign. I spent about an hour on Friday morning cataloging what system I would want to run and use.

The contenders were:

My heart initially said Burning Wheel Gold. So I started with reading the Adventure Burner, an excellent resource on getting campaigns going.

And I got to thinking, Burning Wheel Gold is great; The system speaks to me. But it feels very tightly coupled. There are lots of intertwined elements, crafted to work in concert. I have no doubt the game would be amazing.

But it pushes hard against several of the play styles of the gamers I have available. In some cases, I think the accounting would be overwhelming. In others, the odds are too much to overcome. This also knocks Ars Magica out of the running (as not everyone wants to play a wizard).

So I set aside Burning Wheel and its sibling Torchbearer. I gave Dungeon World a brief consideration, but it is my goto game for one shots, it is not what I want for longer games.

As an aside, I’m considering lifting Discern Realities from Dungeon World and bringing it as an option for any game; I’ll need to normalize the probabilities, but it is a good “We are stuck, what comes next” release valve.

While Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Sword & Wizardry, and Labyrinth Lord appeal to me for their bare-bones systems, I am looking for some additional “tech” to provide for the gaming group.

This leaves D&D 5E, Stars without Number, and Pendragon up for grabs, though I’m leaning heavily towards D&D.

I spent some more time poking around in the DMG 5E. There are an awful lot of house rules to push things in a direction that I believe will work best for the table and for the type of game I want to run.

Next steps are to figure out who all can play, a schedule for a character creation session and mini-adventure, and a plan for what to do when someone can’t make it.

A Bizarre Ritual of Mine

I wish I was more organized with my note taking, preparation, and storage of character sheets. I don’t believe Matt has forgiven me for losing one of his characters – alas poor Spike X, we barely knew him.

I now have a system for character sheets – it involved purchasing an accordion binder and placing everything in there. But other information…there’s a notebook somewhere.

I never picked up good study habits, because I always felt as though things came naturally for me. Most of my notes from class were often doodles. And now, as I balance the reality of full-time job, remarriage, and teenage children, I wish I were better at my note taking and preparation.

I find that my hand written notes are much easier to remember than anything I type. However, this creates a challenge, because I don’t always write them in a reasonable notebook and they can inevitably get lost in the shuffle.

I would turn to the computer, but for me, it represents my workspace. And as I said earlier, I know that there are better ways to store the information – I could create an ontology and begin mapping the information for storage and retrieval. But would I rather work on a game? Or work on the meta-game?

Over the past three weeks, I’ve been in somewhat of a funk. I started a new job, learning from and helping others. I’ve been mentally drained as I stepped out of the marketing environment of content management and into the library environment of cataloging, archiving, and discoverability – There are similarities, but there are real differences as well. There is a lot to learn.

What I realized today, as I was picking up a birthday present for my daughter, is that I buy a new notebook and pen when I’m ready for a change.

There is some catharsis in choosing a new notebook. A whole new opportunity to record thoughts in a blank book. A book devoted solely to whatever idea is trying to break forth from my skull.

Inevitably, the notebook’s original intent, which was likely not very clear, gets muddled. With its initial purpose sullied, the notebook languishes. For some reason my brain abandons this once promising virginal book to undertake a stygian journey of mindlessness.

For now, the notebook is new and fresh. I know there are ideas to come, so now, it is time to sit with pen and paper and capture those thoughts.

And I’m looking forward to reading “Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Session Prep.” I’m certain there will be some helpful advice.