Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Murderhoboes of Devil's Canyon: Session 1

I got a group of people together this past weekend, we rolled up some 1st level Swords & Wizardry characters, and I sent them into Devil's Canyon.  Here's how things went down:

Dramatis Personae:

Johann Borscht, Dwarf Fighter 1
Legolas "Mohawk" Jones, Elf Magic-User 1
Manfrey the Magnificent, Human Magic-User 1
Alf the Elf, Elf Thief 1

These four, meeting aboard a caravan wagon, arrive in the boomtown of Devil's Canyon.  They find that the town consists of a single main street, lined with general stores, smithies, and the lone tavern in town, a local franchise of the popular tavern chain known as "the Chunderdome." Surrounding this main street was a tangle of alleyways lined with shacks and crude cottages rented or owned by adventurers seeking their fortune.

Sitting down in the Chunderdome with a round of beers, the four listened to the flow of conversations and picked up some news/rumors about the cave complex in the nearby limestone box canyon from which the town took its name.  

They learned that a tribe of fierce dog-men are rumored to guard the tomb of a great hero of the Hyperborean empire, a thousand years dead; that a necromancer was rumored to have made his abode in the caves; that the Astrologer Meinrad visits the caves on the nights of the new moon for unknown purposes; and that a month ago, a giant slug with cobra heads for eyestalks emerged from the canyon and almost made it to the gates of nearby Fort Thunder River before being slain.  

Discussing these rumors and debating what treasures to pursue in the caves, they decided to check in at the local temple of the Three Sisters -- the goddesses of Healing, Battle and Death, ever-present in the life of every adventurer -- for more guidance.  From the warrior-nuns here, they learned a few new rumors: that Nujah the Slayer, greatest of the Hyperborean sword-witches, died in battle in the canyon and her flying sword "Eagleclaw" was never recovered; that Violet Elves from the islands far to the west have been seen gathering poison mushrooms; and that the swamp at the far end of the canyon is infested with zombies.  

Legolas Jones also decided to buy a pig and sacrifice it to hir personal god, the ultra-chaotic entity known as "Gary Busey."  A ghostly, disembodied giant head of a human male with wild eyes, unkempt hair and oversized teeth appeared, swallowed the pig whole, and intoned, "The past - is history.  The future - is mystery.  And today's a gift - that's why it's the present.  YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAGHHHHHHHHHHH!" before vanishing.  Legolas was not sure how to interpret this statement, but decided to take it to heart nonetheless.  

Connecting the tomb of the Hyperborean hero that's guarded by the dog-men with Nujah the Slayer, one of the greatest warriors of the Iron Empire of Hyperborea, they decided to brave the wrath of the dog-men to try and recover the mystical sword "Eagleclaw."  They also decided to try and hire some extra muscle; Manfrey the Magnificent befriended a large barroom tough named Burdo by buying him a beer after accidentally embedding a dart in his forehead, and Legolas jumped up on a table and put a call out for henchmen; from the applicants, she selected Murg, a gruff dwarven warrior, and Asheron, a fairly-intelligent (though still basically an ordinary) Rottweiler in a leather jacket and spiked helmet.  

Setting out, about a mile from the canyon they began to hear chanting and bells; rounding a bend in the road as it circled a hill, they came face to face with a band of eight human figures dressed in dark turquoise robes; one of them was waving a staff topped with a brass octopus, and the other seven rang bells.  One of them raised a hand to the adventurers, and asked, "Have you heard the good news? Dread Ktulu shall return! Repent and join us, brothers and sister - sister? - sister! Only through worship of Dread Ktulu shall ye be spared, for he shall devour us first!"

Not interested, Legolas blasted the cultists with a Sleep spell, and then walked over and casually slit all their throats.  S/he took a cultist robe for hirself, as well as taking a few for Murg and Asheron as well.  Manfrey replaced his staff with the octopus-headed staff of the cultists, and the adventurers also discovered that the cultists were carrying about 150 GP between them.  Pocketing this, they continued on to the caves.  

Having heard that the dog-men inhabited the first cave on the right at ground level, they cautiously entered the cave, Alf on point with a ten foot pole.  Suddenly they began to hear a rhythmic thumping from behind them; turning, they saw a half-dozen two-foot-tall humanoid canines, silhouetted against the morning sunlight, their large eyes glowing red.  The figures were thumping their spears against their shields menacingly as they advanced.  



Thinking quickly, Johann threw a bag of raw hamburger he'd purchased in hopes of distracting the dog-men at the humanoids.  They began yipping and yapping among themselves; fortunately, Legolas spoke Yip-Yip and was able to translate.  The dog-men, were cheering for Johann, and announcing that "the prophecy has been fulfilled!" It was at this point, as the cheering crowd of Yip-Yips surrounded him, that Johann noticed that they were all wearing belts made out of Hyperborean hacksilver, the currency of the Iron Empire.  

It turned out that the Yip-Yips had a prophecy that one day, a giant would come and deliver meat to them.  That was it; they weren't particularly imaginative with their prophecies.  Having become an honored member and demigod of the Yip-Yip tribe, Johann questioned them closely, through Legolas as translator, about the Hyperborean hero whose tomb they guarded.  Their king, the morbidly obese King Yap-Nip, showed them the gnawed remains of ancient bones and a bronze chain shirt, which Manfrey claimed, in order to upgrade Burdo's wardrobe from leather to chain.  Asking about a sword, Johann learned that the Yip-Yips' great enemy, the humans in the cave above theirs, had all sorts of swords, including a really shiny, fancy one.  These humans often raided the Yip-Yips' food stores, or shot at the Yip-Yips for target practice.  

Eager to get his hands on the shiny, fancy sword, Johann rallied the Yip-Yips, along their their menagerie of grotesque, hairless, scaly rat pets, and led them on a daring raid of the cave above.  

The assault on the cave proved to be easier than anticipated; the bandits in the cave above were mostly passed out from a heavy debauch the night before; most died without ever waking from their drunken stupor, and only a handful of Yip-Yips were slain in the process - and one of those was killed by a poisonous centipede, not by bandit retaliation.  

From objects in the cave, the adventurers deduced that the bandits were deserters from the Ninth Imperial Legion when it left the region.  Finding a damaged suit of Imperial plate-mail, a silver-and-ivory-inlaid longsword with an inscription from a wife to a husband, and three large, iron-bound and triple-padlocked walnut chests, Manfrey, Burdo and Alf returned to town to buy a mule and wagon, returning to collect the chests so that Alf could open them at his leisure.  They took the sword, not sure if it was the rumored "Eagleclaw" or not, but would investigate more fully later.  

Legolas, Johann, Murg and Asheron, meanwhile, cornered the leader of the bandits; Johann severed one of the bandit king's hands, while Legolas disabled his other hand with a thrown knife; finally, Murg conked him over the head with the flat of his axe, and they manacled the bandit king so they could interrogate him later.  They also found a chest of solid iron in the bandit's closet, unlocked.  Johann opened the chest and then collapsed, paralyzed, from a poison smeared on the edge of the lid.  Recovering a minute later, he directed Murg to open the chest; when he did so, a sudden explosion of steel send Murg stumbling backwards.  

A life-sized cobra sculpted from iron was sitting on Murg's chest, hissing and bearing hypodermic fangs; the Iron Cobra's attack dislodged Murg's beard, revealing that he was in fact a short human being wearing a big fake beard, and not a true dwarf.  Legolas tried shooting the iron cobra with hir crossbow, while Murg struggled and failed to keep the construct from biting him, though he did manage to resist its insidious poison.  Finally, Johann's hand shot out and grabbed the cobra behind the head; getting a grip with his other hand, he tore the cobra in half, killing it.  

At this point, Alf, Manfrey and Burdo returned with the mule and cart, and they maneuvered the three chests (the one which had contained the iron cobra contained no treasure - it was strictly there to punish interlopers) out of the cave, down the sloping side of the canyon, and on to the cart, heading back to town to celebrate an exceedingly successful first foray into the caves.  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Dearth of Cthulhu, and Murderhoboes Ahead of Me

So it's been a little bit since I've posted here.  Sorry about that.

Cthulhu did not happen at Pulpfest as I'd hoped, due to a lack of players.  It happens, and now I've got a fully prepped adventure for the next con I need to plan for, which is Running GAGG XXI in 2016.

In the meantime, I'm moving full steam ahead with The Upcoming Campaign, a sword-and-sorcery-and-science-fiction campaign using the Sword & Wizardry Core Rules.  The first session, including character creation, will be taking place tomorrow afternoon.

An idea I had last night while tossing and turning in bed, unable to achieve a comfortable body temperature to sleep at (throw off covers, too cold.  Pull threadbare sheet back over me, too hot.  God damn it.) and with my stomach churning over a sub-par burger, which I think I'm going to implement for tomorrow's game, is for there to be "Dungeon Crawl Boomtowns."

In this fantasy world, when a cave complex full of treasure-hoarding monsters or an ancient buried temple is discovered, it triggers a "Rush" (much like the gold rushes and oil booms of our own reality), and hundreds of adventurers, speculators, con-men, grifters, religious crusaders, unscrupulous warlocks, horse thieves, cattle rustlers, henchmen, flunkeys, lackeys, bounty hunters, cut throats and desperadoes flood the area.  Soon a town is erected near the dungeon site to support the booming population; taverns and inns are built, some sort of law is instituted (in the case of my game, it's already there as the dungeon site was discovered near a still-garrisoned border fort), and chapels are built to support the spiritual needs of the adventuring population - though typically not quite the same gods as are worshiped in settled, peaceful areas.

The chapels in boomtowns tend to be dedicated to the likes of Mekla, goddess of swords; Bekhara, mistress of healing; and Samar, goddess of death.  Kovar, the god of war and strength is also a perennial favorite.

I think the boomtowns angle is going to give the campaign more of a spaghetti western feel than straight up Howardian sword-and-sorcery, which is fine by me.  "THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY with swords and mutants" sounds like a damn fun campaign to me.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Pulpfest Bound!

Well, in a couple days at any rate.  I have two more days to sweat it out at my current job at the law office, then Thursday morning Gina and I hit the road at dawn, heading deep into the wilds of Ohio.  To make matters even better, Wednesday is my *last* day at my current job; after I return from Pulpfest, Monday morning I start a new job at Rochester General Hospital -- the same building that Gina works in, in fact, which will make daily commutes that much simpler, plus my gym membership will become free since I work out at the RGH Wellness Center already anyways.

But! Thursday morning we set out, Columbus-bound, to experience the excitement of Pulpfest 2015! I've got a list of books I'm looking for in the dealer's room, but the relevant excitement for this blog is the convention's gaming track, something they've never done before but are trying out this year.  And because pulp-style gaming is something I do, I like to think very well, and they are honoring the 125th birthday of H.P. Lovecraft at this show, I'm going to be running a session of Call of Cthulhu on Friday afternoon.

The funny thing is, the game I'm running is a heavily re-written version of one of the convention modules published by Chaosium in the book "Terrors From Beyond," swapping out the locale, the names and occupations of both non-player characters and player characters alike, and the monster in the adventure.  But after I did all this work, I found out that another pulp birthday being marked at this year's pulpfest is the 100th birthday of Henry Kuttner - and the original module, before I revised it, was based directly on a Kuttner story, with a Kuttner-specific monster! D'oh! Oh well, I'm very happy with the work I've done -- I definitely feel like the wholesale rewriting of the module has put me more deeply in touch with the core of what makes the adventure work and running it will be smooth sailing.

Which is good, because since this is not a fully-dedicated gaming convention, I can't go in with any assumptions regarding the players - I can't assume they'll have dice, or know which dice are which, or have any familiarity with terms like "hit points," "sanity rating," or "skill percentage."  Chances are I will be teaching not just the game, but role-playing in general from the ground up during this adventure.

But this is not a bad thing, especially since this is my first game as a Call of Cthulhu missionary GM
for Chaosium.  I'm repping the game and the company, and one of the big requirements is I keep things beginner-friendly.  Pulpfest will be my baptism by fire, in a way.  I'm going in professional, I'm going in clean, I'm going in friendly, and I'm going in prepared - and by the Black Gods of R'lyeh, I will knock these peoples' socks off with the game I'm going to run.

Heck, I even bought a brand new Hawaiian shirt to wear while running this game to make sure I look my best.

And speaking of purchases, my reward to myself for getting the new job was to buy a new canvas-and-leather convention satchel to carry game notes, books, pencils, dice, etc. in when I'm going to and from games.  I'm not sure why olive drab canvas speaks to me so forcefully; my last gaming satchel, which was brutally murdered by Pathfinder books a couple years back, was an Air Force-surplus messenger bag in a similar color scheme.  This bag feels very sturdy and well made, has lots of zippered pockets, and has a very "Pulp" look to it.  I'm looking forward to its comfortable weight on my hip as I explore Pulpfest.