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[Storming the Wizard's Tower] The Ice Age

Started by Dick Page, June 11, 2009, 04:27:18 PM

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Dick Page

[This is going to be an extremely long post because my groups has already completed three sessions of StWT. It's been a while since the first session, too, so my memory is incomplete. Hopefully it will still be helpful/interesting! Also, I've summarized my experience/questions at the end.]

Aegward is an outpost in the most northern reaches of the Leodaern Kingdoms. It protects the Norolad, the Northern Passage, the fastest, albeit most dangerous, route to the prosperous trading cities on the other side of the continent. Aegward is the most northern point of the land of Aefenglom. North of Aegward is the Barrens, a frozen wasteland populated by mysterious and dangerous nomadic people the Leodaern call goblins. Aegward is positioned below the Frozen Gates, a pair of high cliffs that is the narrowest point of the Norolad. Atop the Gates is Castelgard, headquarters of the Northern Guard, who protect the passage. Across the Norolad on the mainland is a druidic settlement. Winter means long, dark, cold nights; summer means long, bright, cold days.

The residents of Aegward break down into several categories. A large population is the soldiers of the Northern Guard, who live in Castelgard but are often seen in town for business or pleasure, including serving on the City Watch or in administrative roles. There are also a large number of hunters and trappers, who are more temporary residents, but well-integrated in to the social life of the town. Merchants can make a relatively prosperous living here, with access to a wide variety of exotic goods. Sailors from both Leodaern and other countries are often seen, but they tend to keep among themselves. Anyone who lives in Aegward has a reason to be there; those who are born in the town almost always move south if they can, and the town's population remains constant only through the addition of those who are leaving something down south. Life is hard. No one is wealthy. Survival means relying on those around you, so ties between people are close.

Aefenglom is the largest of the Leodaern kingdoms in area, but much of it is impassable mountains or dense forest. Any wealth is far south, where the ground thaws during the spring. There is some farming there, logging, and mining. The closest city is Caeldport, a prosperous harbor town, a week's journey by boat along the coast. The Graestream flows into Caeldport from the southwest, and ten days walking along it leads to Anbeorg, the Lonely Mountain, in the midst of meager farmland, where the capital of Aefenglom lies.

Aegward is under the command of Captain Osric, who answers to Cudbert, Lord Aefenglom. Captain Osric is a bold, noble, and fiercely independent officer, so he has no place in Cudbert's court at Anbeorg. Osric is also well known to be cold and practical, and quite the womanizer. He treats his soldiers exceptionally well, but has no such ties with the townsfolk, who are left to fend mostly for themselves, unless they can appeal to his nobler side. Cudbert is resentful of his position in the Kingdom, having grown up in Casteleod, capital of the Leodaern Kings. Cudbert is self-involved but not cruel, a competent administrator who has remained mostly uncorrupted by politics, and if given the chance, could be quite heroic, if only to soothe his own ego.

Northern Aefenglom and the Barrens was once the homeland of a prosperous mining kingdom, who built their power on iron and gems. The Leodaern call these people the Ancients. Some centuries ago,the Ancients disappeared, taking with them much of their wealth, although ruins of their cities dot the landscape of northern Aefenglom. The ancient mines of the Ancients that the Leodaern have discovered have all either been irretrievably closed, or are entirely dry. There may be more mines in the Barrens, but threat of the goblins keeps all but the most bold away. The most bold have never returned.

The Leodaern don't know this, but the goblins are the descendants of the Ancients, who were not only ironworkers but also great magicians. They practiced a magic even older than themselves, whose artifacts they discovered in their mines. In the end, they delved too deep, and too far into lands men were not meant to explore. No one knows if they were destroyed by what they found, abandoned their search in fear or prudence, or if they transcended this world.

Character Types

Trusted administrator of the city
Don't choose this if you have a low command.
Choose 3 arms, 3 maps, 1 gear, 1 from any list but spells, and 1 person
Ability: Tactician

The guardians of the Northern Passage
Don't choose this if you have a low strength and a low endurance.
Choose 3 arms, 3 gear, 1 map, 1 from any list but spells, and 1 person
Ability: Hammerhands

Wilderness expert
Don't choose this if you have a low endurance and a low skill
Choose 3 gear, 3 maps, 1 arm, 1 from any list but spells, and 1 person
Ability: Surviving extremes

Well-equipped and well-known
Don't choose this if you have a low perception and low skill
Choose 3 gear, 3 arms, 1 map, 1 from any list but spells, and 1 person
Ability: Social training

Sarah played as Aewyn, a lieutenant from the South, who sends most of her money to her senile father, and was banished north for getting too close to revealing corruption in the ranks. Shanna played Zith Zander, a trapper and skilled marksman. Joel played Rock Hammerthorn, a bruiser of a soldier with a local prostitute as one of his relationships. I'd like to tell you more, but I don't have the character sheets with me. I forgot to print out my name lists, so we stuck with the ones they'd invented, even though they weren't quite appropriate. Sarah and Shanna both have a little experience playing D&D when they were younger, but Joel had never played an RPG before we all had a few sessions of DitV last year.

For the first adventure, earthquakes were shaking the town - the source of the shockwaves seemed to be somewhere in the north, so Captain Osric put the PCs together to investigate the old mine. I made the following monsters:

(I misread the book and added the damage box values for each element rather than selecting one. This worked out, however, since Vincent has noted that monsters need more db.)

Flesh and Bone
5 Endurance
o o o o o
5W 2R 2G (Frighten)
Attack (Grapple) (2R)
Frighten (Command roll vs 3 before setup
      lost, loses setup roll, -1W)
      2G to Frighten again
      +2 to escape
Stealth (Roll perception, <3 hits, +2red vs in first round)
Suspense: 2 hits and it disappears
Weakness: Sees red - must possess any item with a hint of magic

Fire & Stone
5 Endurance
o o o o o o o o o
6W, 4R, 2B, 3G for knockdown
Big +1 (+4 damage boxes, +2 red, +2 blue) (+2XV)
Swarm (attacks everybody)
Attack - Blast (2red)
Knock Down +1 (3 green for knockdown) (+1 XV)
+1 White
Weakness: weak spot - animating stone

Wood and Stone
4 individual, 12 group traversal, skill
5 W, 2R, 2G to bind
Terrain (+) (3x group traversal as individual) (+2XV)
Attack (Bludgeon) (2 red)
Bind (2G, success in followthrough, bind=successes, roll str vs bind to escape, -1 on next round)
Weakness: Inanimate

The team delved into the mine (which I made a little too elaborate, really slowing the game down. This is good to know - I should focus on things that can be rolled for, like charged conversations or fighting). They were ambushed by the goblins and defeated them pretty easily, but that wasn't surprising. Eventually they got to the bottom, found the lava monster, and destroyed it, claiming a piece of the animating crystal before the mine started crumbling around them.

This adventure worked out really well, and everybody had a great time. It did take a little time for everybody to get a handle on the rules and on strategy. The fight with the lava monster took longer than it should have because I was having a hard time explaining that the players could make a skill setup roll to try to hit the animating crystal, or that the players without ranged weapons could make command rolls to taunt the creature into getting closer. It seems that a lot of the battle is really fought in setup and sometimes even "pre-setup" and this was a little confusing, especially to my players, who are used to saying: okay I want to do this, now what do I roll to see if I succeed? This was especially true for Joel, with the least experience gaming.

For the second adventure, I wanted to add a little moral ambiguity, which I totally failed at.

Tree-man (Friend Ossian)
Flesh and wood, 6XV
3 endurance
o o o o o o
Attack (+2P)
Armor (+2D)
+3 Damage box
Weakness: Weak spot, hitting Friend Ossian, but this will kill him

Spider creature (Transformed Friends)
Flesh and Bone, 1XV
3 endurance
o o o
Attack (+2P)
Armor (+2D)
Weakness: Weak spot, can be flipped over and attacked, loses D until it can right itself

Shadow Demon
Shadow and Flesh, 6XV
2 endurance
o o
6Q, 3P, 3N
Attack + 1 (+3P)
Dazzle + 5 (roll Perception vs. 5 to attack, failure loses setup roll and -1Q for each failure)
Mesmerize + 1 (3N for mesmerize, submit for xp equal to N hits, resist by making command roll vs N hits and lose 1Q for each failure)
+1 Q
Weakness: Can be contained, a successful special roll to make it look in a mirror will cause it to lose its Dazzle ability
(Killing it will trap it in a mirror, either one the players use or a hidden polished steel one under a cloth)

This time, unnatural storms were closing the Northern Gate. A party of druids from the south came to town and explained that normally their rituals calmed the water in the passage, but they had been disrupted by attacks from monstrous spiders. As it turned out, the spiders were druids transformed by the uncontrolled experimentation with old magic of one of their own, Brother Ossian. I thought I had a nice little conflict set up, but the PCs didn't hesitate to slay all the poor mutated druids, let the demon go free in exchange for his help breaking the spell and (not entirely intentionally) set Ossian on fire. So I guess I know where they stand now. It didn't seem right to give them the druid class as a treasure, but I was hoping to attract another player who would love to play a pansexual androgynous tree-hugger, so I fudged the conclusion so that only half the druids were pissed and the other half were grateful.

I tried to make the +5 Dazzle a compensation for the Shadow Demon's lack of armor, but it straight up did not work.

Pansexual androgyne who's in touch with the world
Don't choose this if you have a low perception
Choose 3 spells, 3 maps, 1 arm, 1 gear, and one person
Ability: Wild Instincts

The PCs took an unexpected approach to my most recent adventure too. This time, Rock's favorite prostitute Molly was kidnapped, and the party began tracking an untiring monster wearing iron boots far, far to the north. They were ambushed by a Paradox Demon, which was destroyed on the first round by fluke pair of rolls from Shanna, who got six successes on her setup roll to use her flaming arrows and then four red hits vs my zero to defend. I ambushed them with another one later and this fight was entirely different. Once my Frighten came into play, I was draining white and shutting down setups left and right and the PCs were almost helpless. Like I say, seems like most of the battle is fought in setup. They wiped, but I took mercy and had them picked up by the locals. Turned out to be a group of the Ancients, and the PCs quickly figured out that as they had gone north they had gone back in time, to a period during the fall of the Ancients' empire. They learned that there had been a Great War between the Ancients and the Wizard and that the mechanical man that had kidnapped Molly was a remain from that time. They had a great time trading their stuff with the locals for useful magical items like iron weapons and armor and such, then trekked back north to find the mechanical man. Then they threw me for a loop.

When they came upon the Clockwork Man, I portrayed him as trying to feed Molly, who was kept in a birdcage. Rather than trying to destroy him immediately, which, given their approach to the druids' problem, was what I assumed would happen, they instantly tried to make friends. They suggested that the Clockwork Man could be their treasure for the adventure. I thought that was pretty cool, but I didn't want to just hand it to them and call it a day, so I wanted to figure out some sort of conflict for them. There weren't really any rules for conflict resolution that didn't involve violence, so in the end I said - okay, you can have him, but the Ancients have sent a party after you and they're going to want to see him destroyed. So, the PCs+Robbie (the Clockwork Man), pretty easily wiped the floor with the Ancients, and we called it a night. I gave them XV for one Paradox demon they killed and four Ancient scouts, but not the Clockwork Man or the demon that wiped them.

Clockwork Man
Metal and Flesh (11 XV)
o o o o o o o o o
7W 4R 4R 4B
Attack+2 (Brawl) (+4R) (+2 XV)
Attack+2 (Cut) (+4R) (+2 XV)
Armor+2 (+4B) (+2 XV)
Big+1 (+2 R +2W +3dam) (+2 XV)
+2W (+2XV)
Weakness: Emotionally attached

Paradox Demon x2
Shadow and Teeth (7XV)
o o o o
7W 2R 4B 2G (Frighten) 2G (Drain)
Armor +2 (4B) (+2XV)
Frighten command < 3 in setup, lose setup move -1W for each failure
Drain (command) -1 stat, duration=successes
Attack (bite) + 2R (+1XV)
Jagged (If defense beats attack, attacker takes 1 damage) (+1XV)
Weakness: Harmed by something innocuous - iron
+2W (+2XV)

Fallen Ancientx4
Flesh and Bone (3 XV)
o o o o o o
6W 3R 2B 2G
Attack 2R
Armor 2B
+1 W
+1 damage box (1XV)
Bind 2G to bind, roll arcane vs successes to escape (1XV)
Strangle 2G to strangle, lose next setup, roll vs success for W(1XV)

In the end, I feel like it's really hard to strike a good balance of challenge and threat to the players, particularly with how random the encounters can become. I think increasing the number of damage boxes could help mitigate the randomness, since they will be able to "soak up" an unusually good round. Partly I need more experience with monster design. I'm getting better at making them effective but now I'm making them too tough. On the other hand, I think there could be more rigorous guidelines in the monster design rules - altering the XV of the more vicious specials for example. To be effective Gamism, the balance can't be half-assed - the monsters have to be challenging but not "unfair" and each player's got to have an equal opportunity to step up. Strength seems unusually important, being at the center of every combat roll.

The game didn't seem to adapt well to my player's improvement. I remember the first session being really well balanced, but as soon as they got some loot and some new moves they were walking through my monsters.

There's room for tactics in the combat rules, but they're still a bit complicated, particularly once people have several special abilities and monsters are using several special moves. I know Joel would be much more satisfied if he could just say what he wants, pick up some dice, and roll it.

Do the players always get all the XP in the whole adventure at the end, or just the XV of the monsters they defeated? Should the monsters all be irredeemable threats that demand destruction?

My players wanted to pick up treasure right away rather than waiting for the end of the adventure, especially potentially useful items like new weapons. How should I handle that? Especially if they aren't necessarily going to get all the XP in the adventure. Can I give them a magic sword against XP they haven't earned? I think, maybe, they can pick up however much they want, but at the end of the adventure the values have to resolve - so maybe the magic sword only had a few swings left in it and then it darkens.

One thing I would love to have is some rules for small groups of enemies, say 4-10. For one, its a lot of dice to roll a small party of goblins, but it also seems like one PC can pretty easily kill any low XV monster. Something like: for each member of the group, you get +1 die to each attack and special, but for every X damage boxes crossed you lose a die to each attack and special.

Guess that's enough for now. Thanks to Vincent for sharing his game! We're already enjoying it, so I'm looking forward to the final version!