Saturday, July 28, 2012

Putting pieces together in Menkan

The morning after their battle on the dirty side of Mekan, Tetsukichi, Beatriss, and Al-Fitar were nursing their wounds, and eating a late breakfast at The Nice Inn, when who should walk in the door but Golfo’s wife Phi Phong. She was very happy to see them and at the same time very distraught.

Golfo had been captured or killed or had been captured and was about to be killed. She explained what regular readers already know—not long after they left Quitokai in resumption of their mission to find Gwinch, Goyat, and Kawabi, she and Golfo, along with Tsao Ho and the other monks were ambushed by a large group of men, led by a flying sorcerer in yellow robes. Their brave guides had assisted Phi Phong in escaping their assailants, but when she rejoined Tsao Ho and his monks, Golfo was not among them. Two monks had fallen as well and Tsao Ho refused to risk their mission to go back and try to find them.

When it was time to make camp, Phi Phong convinced one of the guides to help her go back and look for Golfo. At the site of the ambush, they found the dead bodies of the monks, but no sign of Golfo. Phi Phong and the guide returned to Quitokai. Some people there knew of Golthar, the flying sorcerer in the yellow robes, that he was in league with the slavers, and that he may well captured Golfo alive, whether to interrogate him or send him to a mine, or for some other evil purpose. They knew that Golthat lived at an ancient citadel known as Xi Ta Qa, but they didn’t know where it was. Phi Phong decided to go to Menkan, both with the hopes of meeting Tetsukichi and enlisting his aid in rescuing his cousin and with the object of finding someone who knew something more about Xi Ta Qa.

Tetsukichi and Beatriss were interested in helping. And they recounted the story of their encounter with Golthat the previous night. They made a plan to return to the scene of last night’s battle, hoping Golfo might be found there.

But first, they were injured, and needed healing. They visited several temples on the north side of Menkan and received some small measure of expert care for their injuries. They also asked various priests if they had heard of Xi Ta Qa, and received a few blank looks and a few vague answers (“in the mountains.”) And when they returned to The Nice Inn, they found a self-styled holy man waiting for them: “I have heard that you are looking for Xi Ta Qa.”
Hermit :) by aufidius
Hermit :), a photo by aufidius on Flickr.
The holy man, who was named Xīngqíliù , said that he knew the exact location of Xi Ta Qa, and that he, with his six brothers, would take them there. “But I will want a favor from you in return. And horses.” Xīngqíliù also agreed, for the price of 30 taels, to accompany them in their return to Golthar’s hideout in Menkan.

When they returned to the dingy neighborhood in the vicinity of the south end of the wharf, they found a crowd of people milling in the alleyway in a state of restrained excitement. The people’s stares seemed less hostile and they gave the party space to pass. Beatriss knocked on the door of the gate, demanding Golfo. “Go away. He’s not here,” said the people inside. There was a woman’s voice among them, probably that of the woman in black robes. After some argument, the party barged in. Besides the woman in the black robes, there were three men, one of them armed with Beatriss’s bow, which she’d dropped the night before. The woman fled while the men held the party at the gate—briefly.

After dispatching with the men, the party pursued the woman through the house and into the street. Here the party hesitated, but then, noting that the crowd was perhaps very subtly hindering her flight, continued the chase. People in the alleyways, with nods and half-glances guided Beatriss into the alley where she at last captured and killed the woman. The party returned to the house, searched it, and found no sign of Golfo. They did however, recover a good bit of money. Now it was time to make plans for Xi Ta Qa. Learning from Xīngqíliù that Xitaqa was on a cliff overlooking the Lam river, they decided not to buy horses, but instead to pay for everyone to go by boat. And so the next morning they set sail.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tough time in Menkan

Beatriss and Tetsukichi had promised Afu-- the Priest from the Temple of the Sun who had accompanied them from Khanbaliq-- that they would join him in making an expedition to the slaver's stockade in hopes of rescuing any captives still imprisoned there. After several months of delay, they decided that they would delay a little longer and instead make a trip to Menkan, to see if they could hear news of how their families were doing. In this they disappointed not only Afu, but also both Tsao Ho and Golfo, who argued that their commission from the Emperor had not been satisfied-- it was not enough to find that Gwinch was no longer languishing in Quitokai, they had to confirm that he was still pursuing the traitors, and be ready to assume this mission themselves. Without argument, Tetsukichi and Beatriss simply confirmed that they were going to visit Menkan and would return to their responsibilities in good time.

 Tsao Ho with his disciple monks and Golfo, accompanied by his wife Phi Phong, set out on the trail of Gwinch, Kawabi, and Goyat alone, guided by three villagers from Quitokai and the area. Afu declared that he would continue to investigate the slavers' dealings on his own, while waiting in Quitokai. Beatriss and Tetsukichi, accompanied only by Al-Fitar, made good time traveling to Menkan, and checked in at "The Nice Inn," their designated meeting place. And then they got ready to wait for one of Sansar Anca's ("Uncle") men to show up and take them to where the herds were grazing.

 While waiting, they got to know the town.
Beyond "The Nice Inn," and the avenue where it sits, the town of Menkan is not very nice. The main avenue-- running from the main gate past the governor's house and the favored temples, and a handful of inns and shops catering to Imperial visitors and other well-heeled foreigners, to an imperial warehouse at the riverside-- is the only street well patrolled by the watch.

The three visitors became the subject of much interest, both official and unofficial. They were questioned by the watch who, finding their papers counterfeit, ordered them not to leave the city until representatives from the Sansar family arrived to vouch for them. A fortune teller warned them that a man in yellow robes was looking for them. A dropped note let them know that they were being targeted as "Gwinch's friends" and that their "secret admirers" were meeting that night at a boarded-up tavern on the very south end of the riverfront. They found the moribund tavern, but rather than venture inside, lingered and watched.
dim lights, faint shadows by Brayo
dim lights, faint shadows, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.
They noticed someone watching them, a hooded figure who, being noticed, ran down an alley. The party pursued, the lightly-armored Beatriss running ahead, and staying close enough behind the watcher to see him enter a deserted house. They entered the deserted house, and in the upper story found the foot bridge connecting it to a fortified compound. And as they entered the compound, they were attacked by close to a dozen armed men. Beatriss, Tetsukichim and Al-Fitar are seasoned warriors; adopting a disciplined defensive position, they cut down their attackers. But then the spellcasters emerged-- a man in yellow robes and a woman in black robes. The sorcerer's magic seized Beatriss's muscles from within, incapacitating her. And he threw bolts of magic energey at Tetsukichi and Al-Fitar. The initial attackers were replaced by stranger foes, half-human beasts with the heads of rats, and with the rats uncanny habit of popping out of small holes and scurrying up walls.
Chinese Horoscope - Rat by Yoyo Miyoko
Chinese Horoscope - Rat, a photo by Yoyo Miyoko on Flickr.

 Al-Fitar lifted Beatriss over his should like a sack of flour and made for the exit, Tetsukichi guarding his retreat and slaying several of the ratmen. But then the sorcerer threw a net of sticky black netting, like the web of spider, both blocking the exit and ensnaring Al-Fitar.

Tetsukichi, unencumbered by any immediate assailants, exchanged his katana for his bow and fired several arrows at the sorcerer who, responded by sailing into the air and out of sight. The black robed woman directed the remaining ratman and her personal guards to attack Tetsukichi, simultaneously offering him a chance to surrender. He hesitated, but then concluded his superior skills still outweighed his attackers' superior numbers (and if nothing else that he would have additional opportunities to surrender) made an all-out counter attack. He swiftly killed most of the his assailants and put the others to flight. For her part, the black-robed woman clumsily clubbed the helpless Beatriss and Al-Fitar and then ran for her life. Tetsukichi did not pursue her. Instead, he cut Al-Fitar's web and together they carried Beatriss across the bridge, and out to alleyway.  They stopped to look for anyone following them, and Tetsukichi spotted the yellow-robed sorcerer, silhouetted against the moon.  As he raised his bow, the sorcerer flew higher, but not fast enough.  The arrow found it mark and a body wrapped in yellow robes plummeted from the sky, crashing the slanted roof of one of the alleyway hovels on its way down.  Their were gaps and muffled cries of surprise all around, but the houses stayed dark and closed.

Treading their way through the slum, the three warriors returned to The Nice Inn.  With some hot water and time, Beatriss muscles loosened and she was back to normal, save for a couple bruises. Tetsukichi and Al-Fitar had suffered some more serious wounds and the three concluded that they should stay at the inn for a few days.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Golthar vs. Golfo (When NPCs collide, SBH can help you decide!)

What do NPCs do when they’re off-stage?
Liming by Brayo
Liming, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.
Probably nothing and perhaps preferably nothing since the player characters must remain always the center of the story. But sometimes NPCs have to do something on their own, and I have struggled with how to resolve conflicts between different groups of NPCs-- especially when the conflict arises of something the PCs did, and the results of that conflict will have a future effect on the PCs.

For example: Tetsukichi recently allowed his cousin/henchman Golfo (and Golfo’s lovely wife Phi Phong) to go off on a dangerous mission without him. The cousins had both accepted the mission which was to  “Go to the Southwest Border Region and find Gwinch.”  But then Tetsukichi decided he had more important immediate priorities, leaving Golfo to continue the mission as part of a smaller, much weaker party.

It would be easy enough to just have it that Tetsukichi never hears of Golfo again, but I decided it would be more satisfying, at least for me, to “know” what happened to him. So I used the rules for Songs of Blades and Heroes, and played out a crucial encounter.
The Southwest Border Region is dangerous, and especially dangerous when you openly announce that you are friends of Gwinch, the foreign-born sohei who recently tore up the slaver’s stockade from the inside out and so upset the balance of power in the region. Golthar, a sorcerer, was a chief ally or associate of the slavers, and had a strong motivation to seek revenge on Gwinch either directly or by way of his friends. And perhaps capture some new slaves in the process.
Street magician by Little Big Joe
Street magician, a photo by Little Big Joe on Flickr.

For the purposes of SBH, all you need to know is this: Side one is hiding in a thick jungle, waiting to ambush side two. Side two is on horseback, following a narrow trail that cuts through the jungle. Side one wins by capturing the non-combatant (i.e. Phi Phong if you like flavor text). Side one wins by getting everyone, and especially the non-combatant away to relative safety (off the board). I’ve done this enough times that it’s not hard to convert D&D character types to SBH rules. For first level fighters, I use an activation score of 3 and a combat add of 1. I think this is lower than what the rules provide for in the case of a “grunt” human infantry, but it gives room for level progression. Golfo, at 5th level, is the highest level guy in the fight and is at 3 (activation) and 3 (combat add). For Golthar, I used the SBH magic rules and also gave him the ability to fly on a successful activation.

Here are the rules as provided to the other players . . .

Everything off the path is thick, nearly impassable jungle.

1. Unless they are running away, figures move through jungle at half-speed.
2. In order to avoid becoming lost, figures must be part of a chain of other friendly figures that leads back to a square that is next to the path.
3. Lost figures move only one square.
4. EXCEPTION—Scouts move at normal speed through the forest, and do not become lost.

All of the good guys, except for the scouts, are riding horses.

1. Horses move 12 squares.
2. In melee combat, a rider on a horse gets a +1 vs. someone not on a horse.
3. Horses cannot go off the path or into the jungle.
4. If a figure on a horse is forced to run away, they must run away on the path. If they run into a bad guy before finishing their retreat, they must dismount and retreat into the jungle.
5. It costs one “success” for a horse to pass one or more other horses on the path.
6. If two horses are next to each other on the path, no other horse can pass by; pedestrians must use a “success” to get around them.
7. Riders can spend one “success” to get off a horse or to get back on.
8. If a horse does not have a rider, either side can use one “success” to drive that horse 12 squares or until it runs into another horse.

Winning: Capturing the non-combatant
One of the good guys is a non-combatant.

1. If the non-combatant is knocked down, a bad guy can use a “success” to capture the non-combatant.
2. If the non-combatant is forced to run away and crashes into a bad guy, the non-combatant is captured.
3. Once captured, a bad guy can move the non-combatant at 4 squares.
4. If a bad guy moves the non-combatant off the map, the bad guys win.
5. If a bad guy moves the non-combatant into jungle and at least five squares away from the path or any good guys, the bad guys win.
6. If the non-combatant moves off the map freely, and using the path, then the good guys win.

One of the bad guys can fly. Jungle is no obstacle. As his altitude varies, he becomes very hard to shoot.
horse offering, Mỹ Sơn by eltpics
horse offering, Mỹ Sơn, a photo by eltpics on Flickr.

The forces on each side . . .

Side one (bad guys)
Golthar (human mage, flying)
Cleric (3 activation, +2 add)
12 militia
5 medium infantry

Side two (good guys)
Phi Phong ("non-combatant" actually a 3 activation and +1 add)
1 mounted archer (Tsao Ho: activation 4, +3)
4 light cavalry (other monks: activation 4, +2)
3 scouts/thieves (villagers: activation 3, +0, special move through jungle)


The good guys (or side two) had a single archer who traded shots with a flying Golthar. The archer had one good shot and that was enough. Not enough to kill Golthar but— according to SBH rules— enough to make him flee one full move. And because he was flying that meant “off the board and out of the game.”

Despite this major setback, the attackers did a good job of blocking either end of the path, and because of their superior numbers, it looked likely that Phi Phong would be captured. The good guys started dismounting so that they could get up to where the fight was happening. It was only after the scout’s leader was killed that the scouts had the idea of helping her escape by moving through the forest. After Phi Phong escaped, the players decided to play out the battle. Golfo ran back to help two of the monks who had been “knocked-down” (SBH rules, temporarily incapacitated and capable of rallying, especially with help.) Instead, Golfo himself also fell to Golthar's minions.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hommelet is starting to wonder if it’s all part of some weird game

Taverne du 10 octobre by Yenna-chan
Taverne du 10 octobre, a photo by Yenna-chan on Flickr.

This time the marauders bypassed the tower of Rufus and Burne and centered their attack on that well-loved tavern and inn at the village crossroads, named (officially) “Wendy’s Inn” in honor of the innkeeper’s daughter. The attack was well-coordinated, with two groups of about half-a-dozen rough and desperate men charging simultaneously from thickets on the north and south sides of the village. The Hommeleteers were caught unawares and the attackers surrounded the Inn, with about half of them gaining entrance to harass, worry, and molest the diverse crowd of travelers and villagers enjoying a drink or their noontides meal. But perhaps the attackers misunderestimated the good folk’s courage and prowess, for no sooner than they enter than they were exited and in considerable disarray both corporate and individually. Those surviving their misadventure were put to flight. Surely, a most wicked, but nonetheless well-devised plan was most poorly executed. Many are wondering, who was behind it?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tunnels! Trolls!

Tunnels & Trolls Ad by B_Zedan
Tunnels & Trolls Ad, a photo by B_Zedan on Flickr.

Last night, we finished a three-session game of T&T. My character, Miłosz, a human wizard, sat out the most dangerous bits, but he did help make some really good soup. And he helped fight the orcs with a dancing skeleton. (Animate dead at first level! "Dead" singular, btw.).

Compared to D&D, there's a lot of unavoidable book-keeping because XP is delivered in little morsels and then converted into incrmeental point-buys. Combat is more honestly abstract as the hit and damage rolls are replaced with one roll and there's no initiative turn-taking. I'd like to be able to incorporate this into D&D-- mainly the sense in combat that everything is happening at once.

Last night's finale was very good. We were holed up in a little shed, fighting off waves of orcs, and then during a lull made a break for it and floated off down the river. (Now I've got a cold!)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Hommelet is done waiting around

After Hommelet was invaded by frog cultists, the village elders asked a group of adventurers, militia members, and soldiers from the tower to take a trip to the moathouse and destroy the marauders.  The group from Hommelet did not find frog cultists, but they did find a band of common brigands, who met them rather more tactical intelligence than the frog cultists might have exhibited.  Indeed, the Hommeleteers even began a retreat and if the brigands, carried away by hubris, had not pursued them, they would have lived to see several more days of briganding.  But the brigands did pursue, and outside of the blackguards dark bunker, the valor of the men of Hommelet (and the chutzpah of that one weird lady-priest) shone through and the forces of law and goodness carried the day.
The haunted prison of La Mola by B℮n
The haunted prison of La Mola, a photo by B℮n on Flickr.
The forces of law and goodness beat a hasty retreat back to Hommelet, those with minor wounds giving support and encouragement to those barely hanging onto life. Which is to say they didn't get to do any looting . . . and there are others in Hommelet who think this might be the perfect opportunity to make sure those brigands didn't leave anything behind.