Archive for September, 2011

September 16, 2011

One Page Adventurizing XP2 (part 2)

(This post may not make a lot of sense unless you read part 1 first.)

To recap, I’m taking the otherwise excellent location-based adventure XP2: Song of the Beast Gods and giving it the One Page Adventure treatment to make it’s existing hooks even more robust, for my sandbox-loving, rails-jumping, plot-ignoring gang of players. Again Thulsa, the author, has created a really good location-based Swords & Sorcery adventure, without any sort of reliance on the players following a set path, any sort of pre-determined events, etc. And for $5 it’s a really good bargain: you get three locations, a bunch of NPCs and his highly atmospheric World of Xoth setting (with Cultural feats, a new class, et al)–all statted out for the Pathfinder RPG. Xoth is shaping up to be my go-to S&S setting.

So here’s my slightly updated progress from last post:

Revenge of the Hyena Princess

The Situation

A long-lost princess has returned to usurp her younger sister’s place and get her revenge, with the help of the Hyena God’s secret cult.

NPC Goals

Evil Princess: Kill opposition to Hyena God Cult. Sacrifice Good Princess when The Stars are Right. Stay disguised as Good Princess ’til then.

Handmaiden: Escape slavery. Free Good Princess. Expose Evil Princess.

And that’s where I stopped. The rest of the NPCs are either minions of the EP or have good reasons to oppose the Evil Princess–but at the moment are in the dark about her conspiracy to sacrifice the Good Princess during a ritual that will transform her and the other cultists into Beastmen and break the hold of the current god on the city.

This isn’t a huge problem, but it does create problems if the players don’t get involved with the Handmaiden, who is the only NPC that suspects something is going on. Even she doesn’t know that the Evil Princess is masquerading as the Good Princess when she meets the PCs.

At the starting point of the adventure, all the Handmaiden knows is that a rich man from the city paid the desert nomads to raise a young girl who disappeared when she came of age. The Handmaiden isn’t able to warn anyone unless she is rescued from the slavers and returned to the palace, where she recognizes that the supposed Good Princess is acting strangely.

Here are the other NPCs with a stake in the Situation. As before, I’m using titles rather than names, because it’s easier to remember: General, Guard Captain, Good God Acolytes, Royal Steward.

NPCs without a real stake (or who can’t do much) who can be regarded as assets: Slaver, Royal Scribe, Senile King, Good Princess.

There are also some goons, hideouts and other useful assets attached to various NPCs.

So let’s give the Evil Princess some serious opposition.

Good God Acolytes: Escape the Palace before we are killed. Get word to our superiors that the Evil Princess is evil. Spy on her with the Guard Captain. Recruit the General with Proof: the Scroll or the Good Princess.

Assets: a pious servant at the Palace, Guard Captain, the loyal Palace Guards, a desolate tomb outside of town, keys to the temple treasury, the Handmaiden (and the other handmaidens).

I’ve rewritten these guys such that their God has let them know not to trust the Evil Princess with omens. They have seen a Scroll that details the upcoming Stars Are Right moment and the secret signs of the cult. They know the Good Princess is missing. They’re in-the-know, have resources, but lack muscle and can’t move freely.

These guys are going to want to enlist the PCs to help them get out of dodge, send messages that won’t be read by the cult, go between themselves and the Guard Captain who manages Palace security, and try to get the Scroll (now hidden) or the Good Princess (missing) to the General to bring his troops to bear on the problem.

Since I’ve made the Guard Captain an asset, I don’t need to worry about his goals. Same with the Handmaiden. They’re the same as the Good God Acolytes–which also means either can stand in for the Acolytes if they’re killed or missing. Now we’ve got some good guys and some bad guys. How about someone on the fence?

General: Preserve my life and position. Keep the army strong and intact. End up on the winning side. Get richer off this argument between priests.

Assets: 400 light infantry (City Guards), 150 camel riders, keys to the city, a tower in the Citadel.

And finally, the Evil Princess in full:

Evil Princess:  Keep conspiracy secret. Prevent the Acolytes from getting help. Make sure the General stays neutral. Sacrifice Good Princess and transform my allies when The Stars are Right. Disguise myself as the Good Princess ’til then.

Assets: The ear of the King, the Royal Steward, disloyal Palace Guards, keys to the royal treasury, the Torturer, catacombs under the Palace, undead minions, a secret chamber in the catacombs, a secret prison, the life of the Good Princess, the Scroll, the Slaver, Slaver Guards.

Smart money is still on the Evil Princess, especially if she recruits the PCs to her side. Of course, that means they’ll end up transformed by her ritual, and may not approve of that. Her Situation is also the most precarious: if the Court or King figure out that she’s not the Good Princess, the jig is up. If the General doesn’t stay out of it, his army can wipe out her band of disloyal Palace Guards and undead minions. If the Good Acolytes get away, a powerful theocracy to the south will invade her little city-state.

What else would I do here to round things out? I’d re-write the Slaver and his Guards as members of the desert nomad tribe that raised her, so she has somewhere to retreat if everything goes pear shaped for Team Hyena.

If the PCs work for the Evil Princess, I’d have the General take an active role in playing the two sides against each other. Offering the Good God Acolytes protection, but not escape, until the Evil Princess has time to make a counter-offer. Putting his soldiers between the PCs, their objectives and the Evil Princess (curfews, an extra guard on the Palace, locked city gates). Even using soldiers to attack the PCs and weaken the Evil Princess’s position.

If the PCs work for the Good God Acolytes, I’d throw everything the Evil Princess has at them, re-kidnapping the Handmaiden, assassinating the Royal Scribe and anyone else in the know. Using them to flush out other allies of the Acolytes. Trapping them with the Guard Captain. Spying on them with Palace servants and desert nomads. Murdering them if they come into the catacombs.

Whew! This is getting me really excited to run this game. :)

Last part. The hook! Replace “hired” with “convinced”, “enlisted by”, “seduced”, etc. as needed.

The PCs…

…decide to rescue/help the Handmaiden and…

…are hired by the Good God Acolytes to oppose the Evil Princess.

…are hired by the Evil Princess to do her dirty work.

…are attacked by the Evil Princess’s cultists and hired by her enemies.

There’s another option I hadn’t thought of before that’s bound to be appealing to Fistful of Dollars/Yojimbo fans:

…are hired by the General to protect the Acolytes and force both sides to deal with him.

In some ways, the General ought to be opposed to either side “winning”. If the Acolytes get away or the Evil Princess does her ritual, the General’s city is probably going to get invaded by the theocracy that worships the Good God.

Well, what do you think? How would you adjust things to make it even easier to roll with whatever the PCs dish out?

September 16, 2011

If your adventure says “by now the PCs will likely investigate”…

… you don’t play with the same kind of people I do.

I kid, but only a little. I was reading an independently produced module, XP2: Song of the Beast Gods, when it occurred to me how spoiled I am by the OSR’s emphasis on exploration and sandboxes. It’s rare that I read what I used to think of as “an adventure” before I got the OSR bug. Even good adventures–and Song of the Beast Gods is a very good adventure–tend to assume a certain amount of player engagement, simply because if you’re playing adventures and not a sandbox, it’s not cool to blow off whatever the DM prepped.

On the scale of assumed engagement, where 10 is Death in Freeport and 1 is Tavis Allison’s White Sandbox, Song of the Beast Gods is definitely on the low end. It’s a location-based adventure, so that means that the author, Thulsa, does not assume any sort of time-line or sequence of events. Instead he lays out some NPCs conspiring to conduct a ritual sacrifice, three separate and detailed locations for the action, and three or four suggestions on how to involve the PCs in the conspiracy.

In this, he’s my kind of adventure writer, because instead of assuming the players care about a Chaotic outpost (B2), some amnesiac priest (Freeport) or the threat of being executed if they don’t murder a bunch of giants (G3), Thulsa gives us a Situation and a couple of ways into it.

The PCs can either cross swords with a venal slaver and rescue some sexy handmaidens–getting as a reward the instant enmity of the cultists–or they can find themselves caught up in an attempt by the cult to kidnap victims for their upcoming crazy-ass ritual. Unfortunately for DMs like me, if they get to the location in some other circumstances, the adventure assumes they will likely start their own investigation. Hence the title of this post.

If you know anything about Red Box Vancouver, you’ll have some idea of how much I laughed at the idea of PCs deciding to investigate the weirdos running some podunk town, when they could just as easily… leave. Or get drunk. Or find some horrible prehistoric beast to murder. Especially since these are supposed to be Swords & Sorcery heroes! They’re supposed to do Conan stuff, not investigate decadent nobles acting a bit strangely, even if it is on the say-so of a drunken guard or an attractive handmaiden.

Then I remembered my One Page Adventure experiment from last year and figured this was the perfect opportunity to road test that idea with a for real adventure that I’m going to run for a couple of friends. So here it is, my One Page Adventurizing of XP2: Song of the Beast Gods. (Spoilers for XP2: Song of the Beast Gods follow.)

Revenge of the Hyena Priestess

The Situation

A long-lost princess has returned to usurp her younger sister’s place and get her revenge, with the help of cultists of a former god of her people.

NPC Goals

Evil Princess: Kill opposition to Hyena God Cult. Sacrifice Good Princess when The Stars are Right. Stay disguised as Good Princess ’til then.

Handmaiden: Free Good Princess. Expose Evil Princess.

And here’s where I run into my first challenge. Other than the Handmaiden, who has already been caught by the slavers at the start of the adventure, every other NPC described is either one of Evil Princess’s minions or has no goals other than “keep the status quo”. There are a couple of acolytes of the current god who would oppose the Evil Princess’s plans, and of course the captain of the guard isn’t keen on any plots that involve impersonating the legitimate princess, but until any of these guys have proof of what’s going on, they sit around eating dates in the palace.

It also means that unless the PCs get hot for the Handmaiden when they run into the slavers at the oasis at the start of the adventure (the adventure assumes that the PCs are heading for the city where all this is going down–which is a perfectly acceptable assumption. Even a OPD has to assume you go into the dungeon!) the DM has to rely on a bit of luck and force to get them involved. The adventure suggests they get attacked by cultists, which in my games usually ends with a pile of enemy corpses, which could make the players curious enough to investigate. Or it could lead to the players deciding to skedaddle.

There is another option, not suggested by the adventure, but that seems really obvious to me if you know the people I play with: they’re hired by the Evil Princess.

If I was an Evil Princess looking to bump off the King, some Priests and other upstanding members of the court to clear the way for a mass human sacrifice to reinstate the worship of an ancient beast god, I’d be hard pressed to find better employees than a team of wandering killers with no connections in town.

So that’s going to be my entry point: barring unexpected interest in the well-being of slave girls and small-time nobility, I’m going to plan for the PCs being propositioned by the agents of the Evil Princess to do her dirty work. So the Evil Princess is going to need some serious opposition, because right now there’s only a slave girl standing between her and apotheosis as the Hyena Queen.

Come back for part two to see where we go from here…

September 15, 2011

Planet Algol Microfiction

This is more or less the first piece of fiction I’ve written since Sexy Deadly, I think. It’s one of several ideas I had for a campaign set in the Verdant Lands of Skla.

Lieutenant Vivian Holloway Among the Bone Men.
Part 7: A Mocking Show of Contempt for the Agogi Oligarchs to the South-East.

Moztar Thegg brought him to the edge of the circle and sat him down by the sandy floor. He was still reeling from the orichalcum-inspired visions, his stomach roiling like a nest of vipers. But he could tell the great hall was much quieter now.

The revellers had stopped up their incessant chatter. The slow and steady tattoo of fingers on a lizard-skin drum rang out through the smoky air.

Thegg and some serving woman, swaddled like her master in black and white from head to toe, eased him down upon a pile of cushions. All at once, knew what it was like to be paint on a Gérôme canvas, or maybe a Delacroix.

How many years has it been since I last felt such luxury? Vivian asked himself. Before the war, surely. Before he had become used to sleeping through the sound of exploding trenches full of mud, used to the sight of death and dismemberment, the world drained of all its colour.

But that was a life he barely remembered, yet another casualty of the shelling and the snipers and the useless charges across No-Man’s Land. Even the war itself paled in comparison to this strange place, this so-called Verdant Land of Skla, with its fogs out of London legend and its natives with skin he could see right through, all the way down to their bones.

Vivian gaped as Thegg’s grey skull inclined itself politely from within its voluminous hood. He wondered for a moment if those transparent lips were stretched in a reassuring smile, or if that was just a trick of the light.

“Now, my friend from Earth so far away,” purred Moztar Thegg, “you will see what arts we have on Planet Algol, in the land of Skla.”

He turned to the sandy ground, surrounded by cloaked and hooded bone men, on their own piles of cushions or standing further back. Some men around the edges had drums and more curious instruments, strangely-shaped flutes and horns and even bronze fiddles they played in their laps. In the middle of the ground lay a large, low brazier, its fire casting a flickering, changeable light across the crowd. He could see two more atop tall spires, standing amongst those who sat at the edge of the bare ground to either side of him. There were women, he saw over the fire, directly opposite him, a huddled mass who hid even their skull faces behind dark-coloured scarves and veils. But now they seemed to part, jostling and pushing against the men around them, until a lone figure emerged.

Through the brazier’s dancing flames, Vivian saw a skeleton step forth onto the sandy ground. Its head was not a skull, but instead that of a beautiful girl, young and pink and hairless. More than just a head, she had a long pink neck as well, perfectly shaped.

But then Vivian realized the truth. She was a bone woman, completely naked but for the bells on her ankles, the bracelets on her wrists, and the pink paint that covered her head and neck and the very edges of her chest and shoulders. At first she swayed, eyes closed, but then the music swooped up and she was dancing, a flurry of twisting arms and shaking hips and stamping feet that sent the sand below her flying in all directions. Her face remained still while her body writhed and shook and leapt around the brazier. As the fire’s elusive light washed over her, Vivian could make out hints of her voluptuous curves, highlighted by tiny golden stars. A thin dusting of some sparkling metallic powder covered her, moved with her, showed her to his eyes that could not see her flesh.

As she danced, the pink paint began to mix with her sweat, and run down her arms and body. Growing thin upon her face and neck, it ran all the way down her spine to her rump, and down her chest, between her breasts and to her belly. It ran not in waves, but in rivulets, enough to suggest, to hint and tease, but only that.

Just like the gamma orichalcum, he thought. I see everything and nothing both.

But as soon as he was sure he had a grasp on that which he beheld, she was gone, spirited away through that wall of women on the crowd’s far side. A roar of cheers and clapping erupted all around him as the fire dimmed and guttered. He felt dizzy, almost as if he were falling from a great height. Thegg appeared before him and seemed to hold him up with his hands.

“My friend, are you not pleased? You are pale as our children’s bones!”

“The fire…” Vivian replied in a mutter, his lips like stone slabs. “Relight the fire…” But then he realized it was not the fire that was growing dim, but his own two eyes.

“Ah, so.” He heard the regret in Moztar Thegg’s raspy breath. “It is the orichalcum vapour. You had too much, too much!”

Yes, thought Vivian as he settled back into the darkness. Too much vapour. Much too much.

September 13, 2011

Wordle for RBV’s forums

Because Johnstone’s post made me curious.

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