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Author Topic: [Cold Iron] First session of Tekumel campaign  (Read 3759 times)

Posts: 468

« on: January 08, 2005, 11:02:03 PM »

I just started new Tekumel game using Cold Iron, my favorite system from college. thought I'd entertain you all with a writeup...

The game started with our new heroes settling in for the evening at a way station along the Sakbe road to Jakalla (the major trading port of the Tsolyanu empire). Present at the way station were:

Thekuto hiDangeth of the Knighted Towers clan, a tomb robber, a  PC
Shenesa of the Amber Cloak clan, a Thumis priest (healer), a PC accompanied by her servant.
Unnamed warrior, a PC
Areli hiSuruma of the Emerald Circle clan, a scout
A person of some status renting one of the rooms, plus his 8 litter bearers
A dna grain merchant with two chlen carts and several servants
A guard contingent
Two food stalls manned by locals and a general goods stall, also manned by a local.
One still squirming (just a little bit) occupant of an impaling stake.

The captain of the guard joined the person of circumstance for wine after his duty shift. Thekuto and two of the merchant's servants joined the litter bearers dice game. Shenesa's servant cooked a nice meal for her using food from the stalls and some of their travel rations. Areli made camp in the crook of a tree at the edge of the clearing. The unnamed warrior checked over his gear and retired early.

The next morning everyone awoke to quite a commotion. Shenesa was wakened by her servant who had been wakened by a guardsman. Several guardsmen were standing guard at the entrance to the way station, while other guards were combing the area. Shenesa was escorted into the way station. Thekuto, the warrior, and the merchant's entourage were all interviewed by the soldiers. Areli was approached by a pair of soldiers and she started scouring the edge of the clearing, suggesting to the pair who were dogging her that a herd of chlen beasts could hardly trample things more. When Thekuto tried to follow her, she muttered about smelly hmelu beasts. The unnamed warrior eventually talked to one of the guards and found out that the personage, one Neshkimura hiNezer of the White Crystal clan had been assassinated.

After some time, Ameli approached the way station with something held in one hand. After a quick conference with the captain, she commandeered a guard and the warrior to follow her. Thekuto was thoroughly searched and then left to dress himself again. He started to follow Ameli and the soldiers into the forest. The rest of the guards started searching the grain carts, making quite a mess.

After some distance into the forest, Ameli dispatched the warrior back down the trail to try and find who was following them, however, he was unable to spot Thekuto. As they continued into the forest, the woods suddenly stilled and all but Thekuto came to alert. Soon, arrows pelted the group. Moments later, Thekuto stumbled into the ambush and was hit with an arrow. The guardsman managed to spot one of the assailants and shot him with his crossbow, knocking the assailant out of the tree. The warrior quickly joined in the shooting. Thekuto dove for cover, but was not quick enough to avoid being turned into a human porcupine (whatever a porcupine is). Soon all of the assailants were dispatched, though Thekuto's crashing into the brush had startled Areli and the warrior twisted his ankle near the end. Only one assailant was not dead, and the guard dragged him back to the clearing while the warrior dragged Thekuto back. Areli continued to try and follow the tracks of the presumed assassin.

The captain took a quick look at Thekuto and declared he could sleep off his wounds. Shenesa was called to heal the assailant back to consciousness for questioning. She thought he regained consciousness, but he seemed to have lapsed back. After another healing spell, she realized he was dead. The warrior suggested looking for a broken tooth, sure enough, Shenesa found a broken tooth. The assailant had made sure he would not be questioned. She did note however that the assailant had an unusual tattoo on his shoulder.

Now it remains to be discovered, just who was this Neshkimura chap and why would someone want him dead, and just who did want him dead?


Frank Filz

Frank Filz

Posts: 468

« Reply #1 on: January 08, 2005, 11:21:22 PM »

Some commentary...

I really enjoyed this session. While I tend to use modules, this was totally off the cuff. I hadn't really thought about what we would actually do if we were ready to play. I was happy to be able to toss in some local Tekumel color.

Thekuto and Shenesa are played by the young couple of my previous game writeups. They had actually been created last summer, so they were ready to play. The unnamed warrior was created by a new player who had responed to a recruitment e-mail last night and was able to join us today. One more player from my previous group is expected but he was unable to make it.

The game system we are using is Cold Iron, a system I have talked about a little bit here. It was developed by a friend back in college (Rensselaer Polytechnic Insitute) back in the 80s. Several GMs in the games club used the system (I have never actually played in the designers campaign, he was actually several years ahead of me). This system could almost be a fantasy heartbreaker, having started as a set of D&D house rules. This is the system that uses the normal distribution chart for open ended resolution rolls.

In todays session, the PCs had a chance to detect the assasin, but no one rolled well (those who had the best chance rolled quite poorly). Several clues were missed (the assasin had arrived in one of the grain carts, in the morning, one cart of course had a somewhat noticeably smaller load). The spotting of the tatoo was a very lucky roll.

One unfortunate thing was that Shenesa's player got left out of things a bit, though she certainly played a quite important role.

All in all, a good change in my gaming though. I had been getting concerned that I might not get a decent group going.


Frank Filz
Christopher Weeks

Posts: 683

« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2005, 07:12:43 AM »

Frank, in reading about your games and talking to you, it has seemed that you're normally very tightly bound to pre-planned stuff.  (Though I'd be first to admit that I don't have enough info to know if that's just a mis-impression.)  I'd be interested to hear _how_ "off the cuff" your play was.  For instance, before the body was searched, did you know there was a tatoo to be found, or did you just figure that the roll was good enough to merit something...or something else?

Also, have you taken any direct steps to change the way you play/GM since coming to the Forge?


Posts: 468

« Reply #3 on: January 09, 2005, 06:51:03 PM »

Actually my preference as to planned vs off the cuff is to use modules and such for maps and plot inspiration, but have a lot of freedom for improv. That did not happen in my Arcana Unearthed campaign partly because the way D20 creatures are statted out, but probably as much due to expectations of the system (for "balance", well, ok challenge - they even call them "challenge ratings" - i.e. the gamist support).

Yesterday's run was totally off the cuff. I had two stats written down for the scout and had no other starts prepared. I estimated the scout's, the guard's, and the assailants combat abilities and just ran with it. This is one reason I really like to run systems I'm extremely comfortable with.

The tatoo was a result of a good roll and trying to come up with a clue for them to find as a result. I had given them one final chance to pick up some kind of clue. I still need to figure out just who Neshkimura, who wanted him dead, and why.

I had really just been figuring on doing character creation yesterday, so I hadn't even though about what to do for actual play. I spent less than five minutes deciding on a basic situation, which then developed as I described things and the players started interracting.

I'm not sure I've changed any play style since becoming active on the Forge, but I'm certainly more aware of what I'm doing.


Frank Filz

Posts: 468

« Reply #4 on: January 23, 2005, 12:28:23 AM »

As the investigation of the death of Neshkiruma hiNezar of the White Crystal
clan at the way station came to a close, one Dowian of the Purple Gem clan
arrived. He noticed the person modeling a porcupine (whatever the heck a
porcupine is) and tended to his wounds. As he was doing so, Shenesa came out of
the way station and healed Thekuta back to consciousness.

Soon thereafter, everyone retired for an uneventful night. In the morning,
Neshkiruma's servants wrapped his body and placed it in the litter and headed on
the road to Jakalla (with some folks wondering how they'll manage the smell
since it's expected to be about 12 days travel).

The unknown soldier, Areli, Shanesa, and two soldiers returned to the woods to
attempt to track the assassin's. Thekuto and Dowian followed along. The trail
led to a hole in the ground and the group made an entry (with Dowian waiting a
prudent amount of time before entering himself). Shanesa provided a light spell
to illuminate the way. After coming to a branch in the passage, the party was
ambushed by 4 Mrur (undead - basically zombies for our English speakers). Areli
was mortally wounded but apparently called the last of her reserves to carry on
for a bit longer. Shanesa demoralized the Mrur, and then started sending them
fleeing. The soldiers were fighting a losing battle, the two soldiers from the
way station went down shortly after Areli. The unknown soldier was severely
limping. Thekuto tried to step into the fray but was pummeled into submission.
Dowian suddenly realized that he was the only thing between the last undead and
Shanesa. Dowian bravely tackled the Mrur (well, more like he tried to trip it
and then it decided to take Dowian down). As Dowian and the Mrur wrestled about
on the floor, the unknown soldier tried to strike the Mrur, but held back for
fear of hurting Dowian. Shanesa ventured near with her dagger. Suddenly,
Dowian's head snapped back and he crumpled in a heap as the Mrur slugged him a
good one (a 1 in 10,000 shot - a 999900 for a +24). The Mrur leapt up and
grabbed Shanesa but failed to do anything before the unknown soldier finally put
the Mrur out of it's misery.

Shanesa burned almost all of her psychic power to prevent Dowian from dying.
Then she realized Thekuto would die without attention, and burned the last of
her psychic power to heal Thekuto (as a result, it would take two days for her
to recover her psychic power). Dowian still had several days before he would
regain consciousness. Shanesa did remember to burn the Mrur's body. The
survivors dragged the unconscious Dowian, the two dead soldiers, and Areli back
to the way station. The unknown soldier and Thekuto agreed to hide the Mrur's
iron tipped spear at the edge of the forest before entering the way station.

Dowian's servant arranged for a litter to take him on to Jakalla in (he did
chastise his servant for wasting money after he recovered, but he did enjoy the
rest of the ride). In Jakalla, Dowian arranged for the iron spear head to be
transferred to a shorter spear for Thekuto's use. Dowian threw a celebration for
Shanesa's bravery and good fortune. Dowian also tried to rally support for
investigating the murder. Tirekumu Boitl hiVu'urtesh of the High Pinnacle clan
(the leader of the way station's guard) was demoted and relieved of his duties.
Mirkitani hiNokor of the White Crystal clan came forward to assist in the
investigations. He suggested going in a little better prepared so Dowian spoke
to his clan and temple and secured some additional support. A cousin of Dowian's
put up 500 Kaitars for the expedition (on the promise of an iron tipped spear if
the expedition was successful, and repayment as best as possible otherwise - a
healthy investment) and two healing potions from the Ketengku temple. Mirkitani
was able to acquire a slightly user armor charm. Dowian used most of the cash to
purchase a 2nd armor charm for the unknown soldier, and to purchase two clay
jugs of oil. He also sent money or sacrifices to the temples each member of the
expedition held allegiance to (yes - even lord Ksarul - who as you will see
later obviously appreciated the sacrifice on Thekuto's behalf).

When the expedition arrived at the way station, they convinced the new Tirikemu
to loan them two soldiers and they set forth to investigate the tunnels again.
This time, the expedition went in somewhat more prepared. Shanesa cast 4 light
spells and entered the tunnel with her Demoralize Undead spell ready to cast at
a moment's notice. The party cautiously entered the intersection, when they saw
movement down one tunnel, they quickly took up a defensive position and tossed
the first jug of oil down the passage. Unfortunately, it did not cover the
entire width of the passage, so as the Mrur came forth, the 2nd jug was tossed
also. Two Mrur also came forth from the other tunnel. After demoralizing the
Mrur, Shanesa quickly sent one of the Mrur packing, unfortunately, the entire
tunnel was not yet in flames. Before too long, Mirkitani was down. Dowian
stepped into the breach to prevent the Mrur from reaching Shanesa and he was
unceremoniously cut down. Then Thekuto stepped into the breach, but he went down
quickly himself. Things were beginning to look grim. The party fell back to a
better position. Shanesa finally got disentangled from the fray and was able to
send two more Mrur packing. With only a single Mrur remaining, it only took a
few exchanges before the unknown soldier was finally able to land a solid blow
and take down the remaining Mrur. As  they dragged the Mrur off the pile (Dowian
and Thekuto were underneath), Thekuto stood up, looking rather sallow, and
rather demoralized. Apparently lord Ksarul gave Thekuto a second chance, of
course the demoralize undead field was still in place... While the new Thekuto
was stronger than before, he is still not strong enough to use the Mrur's spears
(though one day he will be strong enough to use one two-handed), sadly Thekuto
is rather more clumsy than he used to be, though after he shook the cobwebs from
his system, he found it was not as bad as he feared. Dowian commented that the
new Thekuto didn't seem all that different from the old, certainly it's hard to
be much lower than a member of the Knighted Towers clan. Dowian just hopes
Thekuto remembers when to perform bodily functions and when not to (Jajgi, which
is what Thekuto has become do not need to perform bodily functions, but are
capable of everything except reproduction, if they remember to - if they do
remember, they can be very hard to pick out from the living - Thekuto has been
well blessed by lord Ksarul).

Dowian sent the Mrur's spear out to his servant to be passed on to his cousin as
payment in case they don't survive. Shanesa healed everyone as best she could.
The party plans to chase the one Mrur who fled down the first passageway.

The question still remains - just what is going on here?

Frank Filz

Posts: 468

« Reply #5 on: January 23, 2005, 01:15:01 AM »

As you might guess, we had another session of my Cold Iron Tekumel campaign. For this session we had a new player, and the player of the unknown soldier was unable to play.

The new player who created Dowian, who is an aristocrat (with some fighting capability). It will be interesting to see how this choice works out with my tendency to combat heavy games and the mechanics of the system. I think his character was able to accomplish useful things with his charisma, oratory, and diplomacy skills, and he's likely to gain some combat skill.

For this session I prepared a bit more than the first session. I actually thought a bit about why Neshkiruma was assasinated and who had done it. I also wrote up the stats for the Mrur. With a bit of research into the various Tekumel materials I have, it took me about 20-30 minutes to write up the Mrur stats, and I wrote up stats for them for up to 6th level - I used 2nd level Mrur in th encounters, which probably was actually a bit too much (the PCs are also 2nd level in their primary meta-skill/class - so we had 1 PC 2nd level fighter, and 3 NPC 2nd level fighters, but undead are usually significantly tougher than a PC - though Thekuto as an undead is actually somewhat weaker because he was a DEX fighter not a STR fighter and lost 25% of his DEX which was a bigger loss than the gain of 50% STR - though the 50% higher CON will help a lot also - his tomb robbing skills being DEX based suffered).

Fortunately Tekumel does have divine intervention so I was able to fudge things a bit to prevent the entire party being wiped out. It will be interesting to see how Thekuto as undead plays out. He will suffer some because the demoralize undead spell Shanesa casts is an area effect.

The players are adapting fairly quickly to the normal distribution chart, though I did notice one interesting thing that causes a slight hang up. Some people are using the percentile d10s where one die is marked 00, 10, 20, ..., 90. A couple times when they have rolled an 00-X, they have read it as an 00x, not an 0x. On the other hand, there is never a worry about mixing up the digit order of the dice (and they don't have the mixup I have seen when people use a d20 and read 10-19 as a 1).

I have to admit that I thought today a bit about how things would have gone in a different system. I might have to look into Hero Quest at some point, though right now I think Cold Iron is the best system to meet my needs. I'd like to explore how to meld a wargamy tactical combat system with a system that empowers players more in other areas. I can see how it would be cool to empower Dowian's player to direct the greater world's reaction the events as they unfold, while still rewarding the celebration of the setting.


Frank Filz
Christopher Weeks

Posts: 683

« Reply #6 on: January 23, 2005, 09:29:07 AM »

Are the players really enjoying the rolling system or just rolling what you tell them to?  How would you compare the speed of play compared to other recent game experiences?  Are you talking to the players about what they like and don't so far?

I think we discussed inserting sessions of Universalis (or something similar) between chunks of your normal game play, right?  Have you considered that any more?  What do you think the effect of something like that would be on your group's play?  Would they engage?  Would you be comfortable with giving them keys to the world and how much (and in what ways) would you want the scope of the session to be limited?  It may be that there's no particular need in your game for something like that, but I think it would be an interesting experience for you.


Posts: 468

« Reply #7 on: January 23, 2005, 06:59:37 PM »

The new player did make a comment about the cleverness of the rolling system. I'm not sure the players are necessarily "really enjoying" the rolling system, but I don't sense they feel it is a negative thing. I did react to a comment from last summers demo run about too many rolls to cast a spell, and decided to drop the spell success roll (or concentration check to use a D20 term that I'm actually adopting) except when it would be at a penalty. This does change the balance of the system, but not too badly (and spell casters are still penalized for being damaged or trying to cast spells while defending in melee etc.).

Speed of play feels good to me, though it is somewhat slower than D&D. Part of that is because defensive ratings are often better than offensive ratings (especially with a shield). What I hope the players will start to learn is how tactics come into play and what you can do to overcome high defensive ratings (this part of my enjoyment of the system feels to me like there is a gamist element to the game even though overall I feel like sim is what I look for).

The rolling system obviously also adds time. The rolling system of course will streamline some as players get used to it (in fact over the course of the session, there was a noticable speedup).

Ultimately though, we got through a battle that brought the PCs to the brink of total failure in less than two hours, which really isn't different from what I was achieving in D&D (there I was coming pretty close to 1 encounter per hour, but often there would be a climactic battle where several encounters joined together against the PCs).

I have talked to the players a bit, though I never seem to do good at really getting comments out of the players. I should make an effort to get some feedback at the next session (perhaps at the end of the session).

One thing that is interesting is that my posting the writeups to my group Yahoo list has evoked a writeup from the young wife (the players in the game so far are the young couple from my previous campaign, and two totally new players). From her response, I take it that she is engaged with the game which is good because I always have this nagging feeling that she is mostly there so her husband can be there.

As to using Universalis, I'm still not sure how that would play into things. Some kind of narative tool (Universalis or something different - I did pick up Hero Quest today and plan to read through it [even though I already have Hero Wars]) would be interesting to experiment with. I'm not sure how I'd constrain it. My biggest concern with this group is folks not having the same interest level in reading background material (the young couple has indicated they really are not into reading much). With a group of folks willing to delve into the material, I would feel a lot more comfortable with a more wide open narative tool, but without it, I would feel like I want to constrain things to not go to far out of the boundaries of the material (I'm always open to bending things a bit to improve group enjoyment). So I'm open to suggestions. I could use Uni of course and state some constraints before Uni play starts, but what would be more interesting to me is to use a Nar tool tailored for this type of situation (I could see a system that gave the GM a number of override coins, or a system that amplified the value of a coin when the coin is backed up by a statement from the setting text).

It was fun running with the fact that we have a PC who can get things with a silver tongue instead of an iron sword and opening myself up to letting him succeed. I still need to work on things (and here is where a different toolset would be helpful, a combat system with a few notes on how to tack on non-combat skills doesn't guide such play very well) but it's definitely a new direction for me, and was fun.


Frank Filz

Posts: 468

« Reply #8 on: January 26, 2005, 02:14:08 PM »


It was fun running with the fact that we have a PC who can get things with a silver tongue instead of an iron sword and opening myself up to letting him succeed. I still need to work on things (and here is where a different toolset would be helpful, a combat system with a few notes on how to tack on non-combat skills doesn't guide such play very well) but it's definitely a new direction for me, and was fun.

I want to expand a bit on this because while it was fun, it was also frustrating. I really don't have a system for this type of activity.

Dowian had ratings in two relevant skills, diplomacy and oratory. Dowian's player stated he wanted to give a speach to drum up support for further investigation of the murder (and I think also perhaps to demote the commander of the garrison). I had him roll on the normal distribution chart (see this thread) and add the modifier to his diplomacy rating (later I realized I should have been using oratory). Really though all I did was look at his roll and factor in him being a beginning character (Cold Iron is a class/level based system, PCs are starting at level 1 or 2 in their "classes"). It was positive, but not real high (something like a +3). The result of this was Mirkitani joining them.

Then I (through the voice of Mirkitani) suggested that if they could get some cash, they could buy some minor magic items to help. Dowian then decided to approach his clan and temple to try and get some support. This time I had him use oratory plus the modifier from a normal distribution roll for each. With his clan, he got a decent roll, so I came up with the offer of the loan. With his temple, he got a not quite so good roll so I came up with the offer of a couple healing potions (pretty cheap).

I think this worked to validate his character concept, but without a real system behind it, I don't know how I'll keep it up and keep things consistent.

I'm relatively satisfied with how the combats ran, except for perhaps making the opposition a bit too strong. One problem though is that they really didn't engage the players as well as they should. Dowian didn't have a lot to contribute. Thekuto didn't have a much more to contribute. Shanesa had a lot to contribute, but she is played by the player who is least into crunch (see this thread for descriptions of the two "original" players, they are the couple). Hmm, so I guess the combats were fun for me because I was basically playing against myself... Hmm, I'll need to pay more attention to what they players are expressing.

I do need to work on how to engage the wife better, I'm just concerned that it might require being a professional to really succeed. I may have to make some time to talk with her about what she has enjoyed most about the system. Part of me would be happy to see this couple move on, but they are also my most dedicated players, plus I try to be welcoming to all. Given the conversation after the Fudge game we all played in last summer (detailed in this thread), they have definitely developed a degree of trust in me, and it is fun to have them there (even if the wife doesn't always engage - at least she isn't disruptive when she's not engaged).


Frank Filz
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