Friday, April 27, 2012


Hommlet is a bit miffed by Brayo
Hommlet is a bit miffed, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
Messrs Rufus and Burne: We don't care what you do in that tower. And if you want to pose for portraits in front of it wearing turnip-colored armor, that's your business. But we thought we had an understanding. And that understanding was this-- if we are going to allow a couple of non-Hommlet-born "adventurers" to build a tower in our village AND to sit on our council of elders, AND to maintain an armed force of former brigands (if you want to refer to them as "badgers", again, that's your business), then we expect that we will not have frenzied frog cultists in our pantries. Pantries. Our kitchens. What we're saying, Messrs. Rufus and Burne, is that it's all very well and good to have crenallations and catapults, but when invaders bypass your little fortress to assault goodwives in the heart of our village, then it should fall on you and your well-trained soldiers-- and not on the casual militia and wandering preachers to hold the line and repel the attack. Are we together? Please Messrs., do you understand our concern and frustration? What plan can we conceive to make sure that this doesn't happen again?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Play Report: Menkan to Kāi'ěrwén

Beatriss and Tetsukichi said goodbye to Sansar Anca who left them to meet his herds at the grazing grounds to the west. Mekan was the seat of the new governor of Chu Yuan, and while the town itself was orderly to the point of feeling repressive and claustrophobic, the lands outside it were reputed to be nearly lawless. The party spent a few weeks in Menkan, long enough to hear some vague rumors about Gwinch and the village of Quitokai where he had taken up residence, but no definite information—not even how to get to Quitokai—except that it was in the jungle to the south and that someone in the one of the other riverside towns to the south would know the way. Even without Anca Sansar, it was a large group that set from Menkan, following the flow of the river: Beatriss, Afu and his assistant Ju-May, Naron, Tetsukichi, Al-Fitar, Golfo and his wife Phi Phong, Tsao Ho of the Shining Mountain Path Monastery in Khanbaliq and 10 of his disciple monks. They followed a wide and flat, packed dirt road that ran next to the river, through mainly empty land. They saw signs of former agricultural activity and also sample evidence of why it had ceased—a dead man, shot with arrows by the side of the road. And toward midday, they were ambushed themselves. Several monks fell under the first fearsome volley of arrows, but the party spurred their horses into battle and routed the brigands, killing most of them, putting several to flight, and capturing one prisoner. The prisoner boldly proclaimed that he was a member of the Black flowers and that his brothers would avenge his death. The party did not press him for information, and although they marched him along the road with them, when he fled into the bushes, they did not pursue him. By evening, they reached Bùqiāng bīng, a small settlement in the bend of river, featuring an impressive stone temple. The locals were quietly, but decidedly uninterested in talking to foreigners, but the party did strike up a conversation with some other travelers they met at the inn. These men were curious to know how the party knew Gwinch and said that they’d heard all kinds of rumors about him. The party declined their offer to serve as guides to Quitokai. “In that case,” the men said, “just follow the river and you’ll get there.”
Congaree I by Brayo
Congaree I, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.

After following the river Lam downstream south and west for five days, and— after meeting first a lone traveler (who asked to share their campfire) and then a small group of weather-beaten soldiers (who charged them 5 tael each for “papers”)— who all told them they were going the wrong way, the party wondered whether they had misread the would-be guides from Bùqiāng bīng, and decided to go back upstream, and ask for others’ directions at the place where the Lam was met by two tributaries flowing from the north and east. There was, in fact, a large settlement there, known as Kāi'ěrwén, that they had bypassed on their way down the Lam. In Kāi'ěrwén, the way to Quitokai was well-known, although difficult to describe. A merchant who had plans to trade in Quitokai offered to show them the way in exchange for their protection from any bandits. There had been a lot of trouble in Quitokai and the other villages on the edge of the jungle. As the merchant explained, the hunter tribes who lived in the jungle had been attacking the agricultural settlements. Beatriss mentioned that she knew Gwinch, the foreigner whom the merchant praised—with some equivocation— for rallying the people of Quitokai to defend themselves against the raids. The merchant was glad to know this and wanted to know more, but Beatriss had little information to give. The next morning, before setting off, the merchant suggested that they go together to one of the temples in Kāi'ěrwén and ask for traveling blessings. Beatriss agreed, but was a little suspicious. The ceremony itself, at a solid, little temple devoted to The Path, was short and almost pedestrian. Beatriss talked to the officiating monk and found no reason for her vague suspicions. But the merchant apologized to Beatriss and Tetsukichi that he did not think it was the correct day for him to travel and that he didn’t know when he would be ready. He provided them very precise directions, advised them of the pros and cons of alternate routes, and warned them that the people of Quitokai were wary of outsiders, and very able in protecting themselves, even against powerful foes.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Play Report: Khanbaliq to Menkan

The caravan traveled for several weeks without major incident. Everyone had their reasons to be glad that the city was behind them and their reason to hope that something new and good— whether a commission from the Emperor, a title, or just good grazing lands, a more secure and peaceful life, unfettered freedom, and fresh air— lay before them. But after a few weeks, and as they reached Chu. Yuanprovince, not only did they begin to weary of travel—they also found the way more challenging. Bad government had taken a toll on the people’s spirit and on the land itself. Farmers did not welcome nomads with their herds of grazing animals and the townspeople did not welcome anyone associated with the same distant Emperor who had sent General Goyat and General Kawabi. As they moved south, they encountered more outright hostility. While the large group of warriors were not seriously threatened, Sansar Anca prefer to avoid being forced to spill the blood of hungry people into order to protect his cattle and goats. So, rather than continue through the most devastated parts of Chu Yuan, he divided the caravan. The main body—comprising most of the “civilians” (including Beatriss’s children and servants as well as Tetsukichi’s wife and daughter), his herds, and a good number of warriors— would head Northwest, taking the long way around the Lincang Mountains to reach the grazing grounds that were their final destination. Sansar himself, with a smaller number of experienced warrior, plus some goats and herders would escort the party to the border as originally planned, but would also take an alternate route from what he had first intended. They would limit their exposure to bandits and angry peasants in Chu Yuan by travelling over the mountains.
白馬雪山 by oeyvind
白馬雪山, a photo by oeyvind on Flickr.

The trip was arduous and at times dangerously cold. On the morning of the second day of travel, some of the herders reported finding unidentified footprints in the snow field near their camp. During the worst of several storms that delayed them near the top of the pass, the travelers found a stone structure, the long abandoned outpost of a former empire. As their rations dwindled, they decided to slaughter a few of the goats. Despite these challenges, after about 10 days, the travelers reached the other side of the mountains and arrived at Menkan, the last Imperial town in Chu yuan.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Khanbaliq Play Report: Final week in Khanbaliq

One of the features of a sandbox campaign is that sometimes you spend a whole session just watching the player characters figure out what they want to do with their lives. Because I've run a lot of adventures in Khanbaliq-- and for a number of adventuring groups involving a variety of NPCs and developed locations, I think I did a good job of approximating spontaneity. Here are a few of things that happened that led to Beatriss and Tetsukichi's decision to leave Khanbaliq:

-- Phi Phong pushed things to far with her father-in-law Ansa. Not only was he not going to just "give" his adopted a son a title he had not earned, but we was thinking about throwing him and his nephew Tetsukichi out of the house so they could go out and make something of themselves.

-- Afu still believed that Gwinch had a large part in the slaving operations and was in the southwest border region raiding villages.

-- Imperial guards showed up one morning to question Anca. Beatriss the dutiful quasi-niece went along and was also questioned about her history in Khanbaliq. When asked about her fiance, Beatriss answered that she didn't know him well and that because he didn't seem serious in his intentions, she considered the engagement ended.

-- During another night out in Fun Town, Phi Phong sucessfully "re-directed" the unwanted amourous advances of a street thug onto a stray ("don't you think she's more your type?"). Somehow, this made Beatriss feel better about Phi Phong.

-- Members of the Zipangese diplomatic community-- just clerks it seemed-- were being arrested.

-- The new abbot of the Monastery of the Two-Fold Path made a surprise visit, seeling help with their ant problem.

-- Tetsukichi was summoned to the Imperial City . . .

IMG_2238 by Brayo
The interrogation room, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.

. . . in the course of interrogation, Tetsukichi mentioned that he was thinking about leaving Khanbaliq to visit relatives in the Southwest border region. "Oh, really? We may have a job for you . . . "

The Emperor, it seemed, was also concerned about Gwinch. Slavery wasn't mentioned. Instead the Emperor's concern was that like first Governor Kawabi and then General Goyat, Gwinch too, had been turned from his commission since arriving in the Southwest border region. And now it was Tetsukichi's turn to go down there and find out what was going on and to punish any and all traitors.

Anca was also ready to leave Khanbaliq and the next several days were preparing a caravan that include Anca, his family, his warriors and their families and their many herds, plus a small group of monks from the Emperor's court, and finally the PCs and their family members, henchmen, and servants. Buyuk sent Beatriss a letter, apologize, and asking her to reconsider leaving. She tried to see him in the Imperial City, but finding that he was unavailable, left a terse message of farewell. And so the caravan left Khanbaliq, in a cloud of dust.

IMG_2234 by Brayo
Look back . . ., a photo by Brayo on Flickr.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Khanbaliq Play Report: Beatriss and Tetsukichi's Guide to Fun Town AND Family Life

Although Beatriss’s nemesis Madam Guto has finally been “dealt with,” Beatriss and Tetsukichi noticed with some alarm that one of her former charges, a charming young woman named Phi Phong was actually really really charming. Golfo had married her. Fair enough, he is a man who appreciates an attractive and vivacious woman and doesn’t care about the misfortunes of her past. But Tetsukichi’s Uncle Anca Sansar had adopted the big-hearted but loutish and low-born Golfo as his son and seemed to delight in giving both Golfo himself and especially his daughter-in-law a place of prominence in his household.

Tetsukichi sought an audience with Afu in the Forbidden City, but was diverted from his goal of seeking the Priest’s assistance in divining Phi Phong’s powers and intentions. Because Afu had something else on his mind. Two things. First, he believed that Gwinch, the foreign sohei was directing slaving operations from the Southwest frontier region. AND he believed that “Fun Town”—the entertainment district where out-of-town laborers spent most of their wages— was also the secret base of the Slavelords.

Beatriss and Testsukichi agreed to investigate Fun Town. Following a tip from a drunk, they ended up at the tavern of the White Warrior and enjoyed a quick, greasy meal. Beatriss struck up a conversation with a monk and asked him about Phi Phong and whether he might help determine the source of her powers. Of course he could help—or at least he knew someone else at the monastery who could and he was on his way there now. And which monastery was that? The Monastery of the Two-fold Path, right outside the city. Ok, maybe another time. Leaving the tavern, they saw the ghostly form of a woman jumping from the third-story window of the building next-door. Shrugging off this oddity, they returned home.

Beatriss and Tetsukichi enjoyed quotidian life for a few days. There was a naming ceremony for Tetsukichi's daughter, who was had been born during the winter. Afu presided over the ceremony. Afterwards, he talked with Phi Phong and reported to Beatriss that she seemed like a very nice young woman. (Arrghh! Beatriss resolved that she would NOT leave her kids with Phi Phong.)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Play report: The really bad thing about cobras spitting poison in yourface . . .

Blind Warrior by nkimadams
Blind Warrior, a photo by nkimadams on Flickr.

Our party (two fighters, an elf, and a cleric) took refuge for the night in what seemed to be a nice enough place—no beasties, secure doors, and enough room to stretch our limbs a little. But doors secure against other people are not secure against spitting cobras. We had a watch, but we were badly prepared for the surprise intrusion. The potion we’d purchased in town saved the life of Lobo the fighter, but Aberdeen was blinded. (The cobras got all deaded.) Also, although "special pants" are a good defense against cobra spit, rubbing the pants on your already-damaged eyes is inefficacious.

With a mixture of defiance and fatalism, we got up, put on our armor, and delved deeper. Aberdeen accepted his new role as torch bearer and walked with one hand on someone’s shoulder.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

SNAKES! And chutes, and ladders. Also rats.

A long-time player took a turn at running a game last week and she's doing a great job running a dungeon based on the "chutes/snakes & ladders" boardgame. This may be her entry to the one-page dungeon contest so I won't give too much away, but will instead talk about my character . . .

On second thought, I'll make this brief: his name is Aberdeen, he's fighter, and his movement rate is 3.

This is the first time I've applied encumberance with any exactness. The Labyrinth Lord rules make it inexcusably easy to calculate and the GM said we should know how much we weigh. Chainmail, shield, weapons, food & water plus standard dungeon equipment like rope and torches. And I'm encumbered!