Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Rescue of Thedric, part 1

The 9Q’s: Questions 1-3


an enemy takes aggressive action against the heroes—magnet
Scene: dark before dawn, surrounded in the inn, amid a vast and bustling city

Before the two could mobilize, Tengrym heard voices outside. He peered through louvered and shuttered windows to see mailed city guards gathering outside The Golden Goose. They were forming a close thicket of pikes. In the distance, Tengrym still saw the smoke rising from the warehouse.

“Somehow, they’ve found us,” he said to Thedric. “No doubt magical tracking was involved, but I don’t know what their game is—I expected that Zuzala would have tracked us or one of the dark elf agents. Either way, I smell a trap. Let’s proceed with caution.”

Thedric blanched with fear.

“Keep your wits,” said Tengrym. “There may be a way out via the sewers. Let’s find the basement. Come!”

Together, they grabbed their few belongs and fled their rooms before the guards entered.

They heard the knocks at the door as they proceeded below. There, as Tengrym expected, they found an iron grate to the sewers, but it was locked.

“I think I can handle this,” said Thedric.

In moments, Thedric worked the lock. Together, they pried the thing up, but it was old and groaned loudly from misuse, betraying their location.

“Quickly!” urged Tengrym, and together they disappeared within the stench-filled darkness.

Tengrym led the way, and together, they managed to lose their pursuit, but no doubt a city-wide search would be under way. The innkeeper would probably provide the city watch with a description. The two needed disguises if they were to work their way out of the city. Perhaps that was Zuzala’s game…


an encounter featuring intrigue and combat—beetle
Scene: all sewer access points are watched, dark before the dawn, the sewers are a maze of tunnels, amid a vast and bustling city

The two snaked their way through the lightless tunnels. Thedric, who was fully of human blood, followed blindly.

They came to a grate near a square some distance away. From the dark, Tengrym made out several city watchmen armed with pikes milling about; no doubt checking all sewer grates. Nearer was a man seated atop a great horse, mailed in a plate cuirass who spoke with someone—a woman. He could almost make out their voices.

“Sir Trevor,” said the woman. “Make sure you capture the street urchin and his accomplice. But beware! That one is armed with magic as well as blade.”

“Fear not, my lady,” said the knight. “Even in the tunnels under Ravensbluff, he cannot get far. My men will flush him out.”

It was the priestess of Loviatar—Tengrym was reasonably sure. And now, the city watch was involved with her little game.

Just then, voices came along with the sound of boots in water from behind. Tengrym could make out the dim flicker of torchlight.

“We need to turn back,” whispered Tengrym.

“But the guards!” stammered Thedric.

“Leave them to me.”

Tengrym said a brief whisper of some arcane command word, and then, the sound of more voices came from further down the tunnels.

“Who was that?” called out one of the guards.

“That won’t delay them for long,” Tengrym whispered. “Come!”

The two skulked away down an adjacent tunnel, all the while ghostly voices sounded here or there. Suddenly, a lone guard appeared before them.

“You!” he cried. He was abruptly cut down before he could call out for help.

The two sped off. They got away from the area and to a junction room with partially demolished walls. It seemed some new construction above was being connected to the tunnels for drainage.

“They won’t know about this way perhaps,” mused Tengrym. “Let’s go!”

They climbed up a muddy way into a base level of a partially-finished building. As he expected, the place was unearthed. Luckily, some old blankets and lumber made for good beggars' disguises. The two donned the garments and hobbled their way to the squalor-stricken and crowded poor district, passing easily through the area of watch.


a twist in an encounter of betrayal and combat—flashlight
Scene: dark before the dawn, amid a vast and bustling city, guards are not far away

The two had not gotten far before they heard a commanding voice speak. Midway across a plaza, they turned to see the cruel priestess, Zuzala, in all her beauty and fury. Her eyes blazed with a strange light, no doubt giving her magical true sight to see through misdirection and disguises. With her was the great half-ogre abomination that Tengrym had killed in rescuing Thedric. He could see by the thing’s empty gaze that Zuzala had raised her servant from the dead as a zombie.

“Stop!” she called, her finger pointed at Thedric. “I command you by the Maiden of Pain to stand where you are!”

“Don’t look at her,” urged Tengrym. He recalled a cantrip to ward off the priestess’s power. To a degree, it worked, but Thedric staggered against the unholy will that strove to freeze him into place.

“Kill that one!” Zuzala commanded to her servant, pointing to Tengrym. The monster lurched forward, massive club in hand.

Tengrym called out words of power and with a wave of his hand, encased the monster in a massive block of ice that materialized around it, stopping it fast in its tracks. Zuzala screamed in fury, which let loose any further hold she had on Thedric.

“Run!” Tengrym called out.

Together, the two broke into a sprint to loose the tenacious priestess, managing to escape.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Solo Campaign Play

It was a fun few hours play testing JF’s Nine Questions no-frills solo rpg engine. Fans of other solo tools for player-alone style rpg play, such as Mythic, should note the wonderful benefits of the 9Q’s — namely concision and conclusiveness.

Although I have had some fun moments with Mythic, tried some solo experimentation of my own, and used other tools like Ultimate Toolbox, being able to wrap things up to a final conclusion can be foiled by endless twists and turns, never knowing when the final scene will arrive. Anxious to get on to the next gaming idea, or having no end in sight can easily diminish enthusiasm. Knowing that in two more scenes I will complete the adventure (or die trying) keeps interest high. The 9Q’s are great for this sake. They are a wonderful way to try that other idea out, rapidly switch genres, or test that new system — ultimately invaluable for the solo gamer. Mythic is wonderful too, but can be a bitfussy, and tends to drag out indeterminately.

Two uses that arise from this rapid momentum are being able to satisfy one’s wanderlust, or, as I have discovered, spin forth a collection of interlinked adventures forming a campaign. Starting in December, 2012, John, the creator of the 9Q’s, did exactly that and launched a campaign to test the D&D Next game currently in development. L’amore tra i mostri is an enlightening demonstration of how such a project can develop, and is complete with stock character representations, and an Italian comic opera feel.

Inspired, I decided to do the same with my Drowsbane character, envisioning a grand arc involving learning the nature of his family’s tragedy and prophecy, to escaping and foiling his enemies, to finally seeing through and realizing his destiny and reclaim his ancestral home. This was a campaign I had sketched for a friend in college before graduate studies interrupted that plan for the foreseeable future.
So, with simple scene-framing techniques set forth in the 9Q’s, this campaign is continuing today in a solo format!

Remembering my last game years ago, I picked up exactly where it left off. To date, it is roughly four adventures in, and I am finding it immensely entertaining and fulfilling. Whether I see a conclusion to the plot or not, I feel, is limited only by my own motivation because of the tools I now have. I will post this ongoing series here.

Here is the prelude that summarizes my actual play sessions from the 90’s and transitions the campaign to its ongoing adventures:


Late Flammerule, Tengrym had tracked another member of the Drowsbane family to Ravensbluff. Thedric was the half-brother Tengrym never before knew he had.

Zuzala, a Waterdavian priestess of Loviatar had also tracked, and successfully captured Thedric and somehow knew his value to the dark elves. Just before Zuzala made a deal with Dhrikzar, a drow representative in the surface world, Tengrym made a daring rescue on a moonlit night near the docks in Ravensbluff, leaving a warehouse in flaming ruin.

Now, he and the fatigued, injured, and malnourished Thedric lay hidden in The Golden Goose. The young lad seemed to know nothing of the Drowsbane legacy. Tengrym filled him in while the boy finished his soup. He told everything—the greatness of the family, the fall of Sullaspryn, the curse of the dark elves and their hunt to extinguish every last drop of Drowsbane blood to appease their dark goddess, and the prophecy of Selûne: that one day, the last of the Drowsbanes would vanquish the drow in the north and rebuild Sullaspryn.

Thedric heard it all and was silent with fear and loathing.

“We must first get you far from here,” said Tengrym, “before that Zuzala tracks you here again. I am thinking to the north—in Tantras, at least the city’s great dead magic area will keep their scrying spells from locating you. From there, we shall come up with another plan…”

The thought of fleeing seemed to invigorate the young Drowsbane. He seemed ready to depart before the sun was up.

“You need a new name, however,” Tengrym mused. “I go by Veldis. You shall be Feldar, my assistant.”

Check back again for part one of the next adventure, “The Rescue of Thedric”, an FU, 9Q’s, and Forgotten Realms mash-up.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Indril's Crystal, part 3

And now for the final installment and exciting conclusion of Indril’s Crystal. Continued from here

The final set of Cubes rolled for the last three scenes are:

The 9Qs: Questions 7-9

Q7. Hand

Not a moment before Tengrym makes the landing to the pool, the wizard Gelfan alights himself after a short magical flight over the water.

“You!” he exclaims, spittle flying from enraged lips. The wizard looks and sees the full sack at Tengrym’s hip, heavily laden by some obviously round, smooth shape. “Thief!”
All in a moment, Tengrym takes in the scene. The wizard has a wand in one hand, and a strange crystal device in the other. Inside the small crystal is a green amorphous glowing blob that dances. The flailing, writhing limbs in the water keep a wide radius away from the holder of that crystal. In a moment, Tengrym guesses it’s purpose and launches into action.

Gelfan the Necromancer
Descriptors: accomplished necromancer, specialist in summoning, an evil genius, physically frail
Gear: master crystal (control of slithering-pool thing), magical wand

Tengrym latches onto the crystal in the wizard’s hand and kicks out, intending to topple him over into the murky water. Though not strong of limb, the wizard is tenacious and grapples with the swordsman, unwilling to let go of the stone. Too winded to attempt any magic, and not free to swing his sword, the half-elf resorts to physical battery to loosen the wizard’s determined grip. With a final push of effort, Tengrym wrests the crystal from Gelfan’s bony grip, pushing him into the water. However, bent on nothing but absolute success, the wizard latches onto Tengrym’s ringlet cuirass, pulling him in with him. Loosing his balance, Tengrym goes into the water as well.

The writhing tentacles search, but still keep a safe distance due to the aura emanating from the stone in Tengrym’s hand. From behind, the surviving skeletal warriors pour from the corridor onto the landing wading in recklessly to hack at the “guardian” of the stone. With the controlling orb still in hand, Tengrym turns to haul himself up on the raft to make his escape.

However, he cannot get far before Gelfan comes up gasping for air. The necromancer aims his wand at the escaping half-elf and utters a single command word. As Tengrym stands and begins hauling himself away from the fray, a black blast of magical energy sears the flesh on his backside. Howling in pain, he continues pulling himself clear despite the attack. Just as Gelfan readies another killing blast, the tentacles feel out the now defenseless disturbers in the water near the landing by the treasure vault. Within moments, a frothing maelstrom erupts around the wizard. His skeletal minions are pulled beneath the surface, and Gelfan fights to pull himself onto dry ground.

As Tengrym lands safely on the other side, he hears the shrieks of the wizard above the thrashing of wet, rubbery limbs and old bones in the water.

“Curse you! Curse you to the Abyss!”

Q8. Arrow

Tengrym flies from the ruin in haste, giddy with delight that his prize is successfully bought. The night is tense, but he is not harried nor confronted, nor does he hear word or sign of Gelfan behind him. Quickly, he makes his way from the acropolis down to the harbor, which is inhabited by outlaws and pirates.

Unable to find passage aboard any vessel from the port, he bribes some scoundrels to boat him across the Tesh aboard an old dinghy. Safely across, he puts many miles behind him and heads to Yûlash to secure a ship bound for Mulmaster. Off the old road and no longer within sight of Zhentil Keep, he at last finds a secluded hollow to camp for the night, bathing in a spring to sooth the wound caused by the wizard’s sorcerous blast. Fortunately, the effects quickly subside.

The next morning, he sets out along the few remaining miles to the Hillsfar-held city. He passes a caravan going the opposite way bound for Voonlar, inquiring about news, when suddenly, someone in the caravan points to the sky.

Tengrym looks up and sees the black robes, now in tatters, of the wrathful Gelfan descending from the sky with his wand extended. It looks as though the old wizard did not fare well in the tunnels under the tower. The chaos is complete as the company of teamsters and cavalry kick up earth and dust trying to organize a line of defense. The half-elf uses the time to put a spell of warding upon himself.

Then, as the wizard lands, preparing a blast of sorcery, Tengrym rushes the man to end the threat once and for all before he can loose the arcane energy. However, the blast hits the swordsman squarely, only partially blocked by the ward he had just placed to protect himself. But perhaps it still saved him. That bolt might have felled an ox. Tengrym grunts through the pain and closes the distance.

The wizard’s eyes open wide as the swordsman looms up and thrusts his blade through his opponent’s abdomen, ending the brief struggle. The onlooking men stare in astonishment as Tengrym sets the wizard down, gazing with regret at the dying man crumpled at his feet. The train does not linger. After building a shallow grave and uttering a prayer to Selûne, the half-elf swordsman continues on to Yûlash.

Q9. Masks

Tengrym eventually makes his way back to Mulmaster, reporting back with the successful retrieval of Indril’s Crystal, and more loot besides as reward for himself. It was a dangerous venture, but his skill, as well as Tymora’s protective gaze, kept him safe and made him victorious in the end. Tengrym’s uncle, an arch-mage of some note is also pleased and locks himself in his conjury to study the secrets of the famous seeing stone.

Although pleased, Tengrym is also remorseful about being forced to kill Gelfan in the end. However, it was a kill or be killed situation—and had he let the necromancer live, Gelfan certainly would have hunted Tengrym down.

Even more remorseful is Gelfan’s apprentice, a young and ambitious man who already has a considerable presence in the Moonsea and lands further west of Cormyr, accomplishments, and holdings of his own. In fact, the wizard Semmemon is now a far more capable and accomplished sorcerer than his master, having later studied with lord Manshoon, and now holding great power among the feared Zhentarim.

Semmemon stands over his former master’s grave, clenching a fist. His magic had led him to the spot where his master’s corpse rots. There will yet be time for vengeance, he thinks.
But that is another tale…


This adventure took approximately six hours to complete, which included the writing phase. For two years, I am even more convinced that the Nine Questions system is a great tool for the solo rpg'er. Most who have tried solo adventures know of Mythic, but the 9Q’s delivers every time. I can fully rely that the adventure will come to some sort of conclusion, which keeps the process desirable and smooth.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Indril's Crystal, part 2

...continued from here.

Our cubes for this portion are:

The 9Qs: Questions 4-6

Q4. Light Bulb

As stealthily and cautiously as possible, Tengrym returns to the tower and keep surrounding it. Before taking further action, he utters the words of an enchantment to make himself invisible.

Meeting no other obstacles or horrors on the monster-haunted streets, he enters the ruined gates of the walls. Immediately surrounding the entrance, four of the wizard’s undead sentries are posted, as the young half-elf had anticipated. His enchantment holds, and he bypasses the skeletons with ease.

He sees a bluish magical light peering from one of the windows lofting above the yard in the partially ruined tower—Gelfan is searching the height, Tengrym realizes.

Perhaps the upper portions does have some unclaimed treasure. However, according to his uncle Messrym’s divinations, the lower portions is where Tengrym ought to look. It is believed the treasure vault is below, and the desired prize within.

He finds an open door to the tower, similarly guarded. Tengrym passes the skeletal sentries and finds a descending stair. Once inside the darkness, he sheds the invisibility veil and calls into being a small globe of light within his left hand. The winding way descends some distance, finally coming to a landing.

He is in the tower’s depths, unbeknown to the wizard who now searches the tower’s broken heights foolishly!

Q5. Fountain

Tengrym continues through a dark arched corridor some distance to end in a great chamber of roughly finished stone. At his feet, a pool of still water reflects his pale fairy light. Opposite stands a great iron door with a landing that climbs by stone steps out of the water.

Tengrym is unsure of the water’s depth, but is certain that the place resembles Messrym’s vision of the antechamber to the vault. This is it! he realizes with a smile.

If he knew what the necromancer was really doing in the heights of the tower, Tengrym might not be so smug about his current action—Gelfan simultaneously searches for the device which keeps the pool’s guardian at bay.

Tengrym, ignorant of the fact draws the raft tethered to a rope, which is still intact, toward himself. Slowly, the small craft floating in the center comes to a rest at the near bank. He clambers on and eagerly begins to draw himself across the dark still water.

From the most shadowed corner of the pool, something stirs in the deep. A single eye opens—an enormous one. Pale blue-green illumination emanates from that ghastly orb, and a great bulk begins to slither toward the raft across the pool’s floor under the water’s surface, attracted by the disturbance. It is slow and still groggy from a years-long nap.

Now more than halfway across, Tengrym pulls strongly, lured by the notion of plucking an easy victory from an imagined hoard of gold and jewels.

Slithering Pool-Thing
Descriptors: bloated amorphic horror in the deep, sinewy slimy tentacles, toothy maw, unworldly evil intellect
Conditions: sleepy

Suddenly, waters froth and several rubbery groping tentacles burst from the surface around the little raft, searching out for living flesh. Tengrym nearly loses grip of the line. Despite his deft slices and catlike balance on the little raft, successfully severing two of the nasty things, a cold slimy appendage wraps around his left wrist, choking out his magical light, and one grasping his ankle. His fist is still tight around the tether strung between both ends of the pool, but the monstrous strength of those flexible sinewy feelers is astonishing. He feels their incredible muscles pulling him down, and it is only his grip on the line that keeps him above the frothing water. Then, the blubbery pockmarked slimy mass breaks the surface, and its loathsome bulbous leering eye. Underneath the staring orb a ghastly carrion-stinking fanged aperture opens, mouthing and licking in anticipation of its next meal.

Urgently, Tengrym hacks at the appendage griping his arm and leg. It is no use, the strength vying against him is too great. However, he manages to loosen the grip about his wrist to bring back his magical torch and free his hands enough to work one act of magical desperation. With three words of magic, he touches his sword hilt with both hands, releasing the tether momentarily to afford one life-saving maneuver. The ball of light from his hand glints, traveling to the tip of his sword.

With one final command of power, Tengrym thrusts the shining point of his elvish blade into that leering eye just before the thing pulls him off the raft and into its mouth. His aim is true, plunging the blade deep within that luminous staring orb. A sudden flash of light explodes and the thing releases grip of the half-elf’s ankle and sinks back into the dark water, tentacles thrashing blindly throughout the pool.

Tengrym quickly rights himself and regains hold of the tether, going forward madly toward the door at the opposite side. He manages to haul himself to the steps, breathing hard from the exertion. Once on the landing, Tengrym approaches the door, with the blind thrashing of the pool-thing still groping anything that moves in the water behind him. He notes the lock, and with another word of magic, opens its magical seal, tumbles in and locks the door behind him.

Q6. ID Card

In moments, he lights a new globe of light and finds himself in a short corridor leading forward. Ahead comes the glint of something metallic shimmering in the faint light. He hastens forward and enters a treasure vault—miraculously untouched during this time of ruin. Gold, jewels, and ornamental baubles litter the floor. At the center of the small round room is a pedestal with a luminous white orb of crystal sitting at its center.

A smile crosses Tengrym’s face, and he quickly snatches up the crystal, dropping the goodly-sized globe into a velvet bag secured at his waist. He also wastes no time in scooping up as many valuables as he can stuff into his pouches, but not so much as to weigh him down unduly. It is wealth enough to last him a good long time.

Giddy of his success, and unmindful of a means of escape or the forces pressing against him, the sudden banging on the door of the vault brings him out of his mirthful disposition. A second and more violent rap on the door bends the iron inward. Then, a magical radiance outlines the frame and rips the door off its hinges. Within the glowing doorway comes a horde of skeletal figures, jaws agape and dripping water. Without hesitation, the throng rushes in. Behind them, Tengrym hears the voice of their wizard master.

“Find the crystal! Kill any guardians within!”

Tengrym is trapped with no other apparent escape—nor should there be one. It is the treasure trove of the dead wizard, Zaryn. Following the apparent orders of their master, the undead things charge the only living thing in the room—the swordsman standing before them. There are more skeletal figures than before. It is beyond Tengrym’s ability to cope with so many. But with no other option than to fight or die, Tengrym takes a fighting stance and utters a quick word of warding around him and smiting upon his blade. He has to trust to his sword, light coat of elvish armor, and skill with blade and magic to cut a path of escape.
Before the group can enter the room proper, Tengrym leaps forward with a cry on his lips. “Selûne!”

Using what tactics are available, he tries to keep them penned within the entry corridor before they can swarm him with overwhelming numbers. This is it, he thinks. My number has come up at last.

Animated Corpses
Descriptors: strength of the living dead, nothing but old bones, slow and witless

The subtle enchantment of his blade and sudden rush, penning the things within the narrow space aids the swordsman in the initial moments. With lightning fast arcs, his gleaming blade hacks away at the old bones and dusty garments. Bone fragments fly through the air as he methodically severs limbs and hacks skulls. One by one, the things start to fall. However, their numbers are still overwhelming, causing Tengrym to loose ground. Slipping on some of the coins underfoot, he stumbles and is surrounded, loosing his momentary tactics.

I am not dead yet, he reminds himself, banishing his fey thoughts. “Selûne, help me still!”
He manages to find footing before being hacked by half a dozen axes and blades and puts some distance between himself and the first few, taking a few more down as he does. Still, the numbers are against him. He sees now that the way is clear behind the throng and desperately makes out a path to dash through the group.

With a burst of energy, Tengrym charges recklessly through, but not without first getting the wind knocked out of him from a crushing axe blow to his abdomen. Fortunately, the light elvish coat of ringlets holds. Gasping for breath, he is nonetheless free and stumbling toward the exit.

To be continued…

Indril's Crystal, part 1

As promised, I will use this blog to post some of my actual plays. I won’t say “reports”, because these aren’t summaries, but rather represent a “write as you go” approach.
This first one features a recurring character that I resurrected for the purpose of solo play. For more thoughts about old characters and plots, refer to my last post, the Ghosts of Gaming Past. This particular character was inspired by the old The Moonsea campaign accessory for the Forgotten Realms, way back in the 2E era. According to the accessory, the Drowsbanes were an important clan of the city of Sullaspryn until the dark elves attacked, sacking the city, leaving the family mostly decimated and scattered. The set suggested that perhaps only one remained of the family.

My ruleset, which I cannot recommend enough, is Nathan Russell’s elegant yet robust FU rpg. A game in which one can make up a character in minutes (NPCs in mere seconds) and resolve entire conflicts in a single simple roll, you ask? Yes, it is a busy gamer’s dream. Along with it, I bolted on John Fiore’s the 9Q’s system for plot direction and GM emulation, which was bran new at the time. This was a play test of JF’s new system.

The protagonist went through many different versions over the adventures. FU is one that tempts tweaking and hacking. However, my most recent version is without many modifications:

Tengrym Drowsbane

Descriptors: Veteran Mage, Swordplay, Perceptive, Principled
Gear: Enduring Elf-blade, Light Elf-corselet
FU Points: 2
Conditions: None

Heroic Motivation: Still in the service of his uncle, Messrym Drowsbane, a noted wizard in Mulmaster, Tengrym’s master has learned that the Seeing Stone of Indril, thought to have been lost under the Moonsea may be in the ruins of Zhentil Keep. Tengrym is sent to find it.
The random idea generator I used for this adventure was Rory’s Story Cubes. For scenes 1-3, I rolled:

The 9Qs: Questions 1-3

Q1. Magic Wand

Our story begins with Tengrym, our intrepid half-elf loner, a swordsman and apprentice magician, sent out to find Indril’s Crystal, a famed Seeing Stone thought to have been lost under the waves of the Moonsea. Now, Messrym, Tengrym’s sorcerous uncle in Mulmaster, believes it may be in the tower of Zaryn, an infamous black wizard of Zhentil Keep. Now dead, and the city in ruins, Messrym sends his young apprentice to seek it.

After an uneventful trip across the Moonsea, Tengrym is deposited at the quays of the ruined city. The ship departs, unwilling to be harried by pirates who haunt the docks of the place now.

Tengrym quickly gets his bearings and slips quietly through the occupied harbor to climb into the dangerous center, where Zaryn’s tower lies. He encounters no one on the way. Upon arrival, he is surprised to see a man in black robes standing just outside the stone walls of the partially ruined tower. Through the yawning gate, Tengrym can see shadowed indistinct figures milling about in the bailey.

Before he can hide or act, the robed figure turns, revealing a gaunt man with a wiry gray beard.

“Who are you?!” the man demands.

“No one of consequence,” answers Tengrym.

“Not so!” the man replies. “I am the wizard Gelfan—and that means I am no fool. In all likelihood, you are here for the same reason as I. And I tolerate no rivals in this endeavor. Minions! To me!”

With that, the figures in the tower yard come ambling out of the shadows and into the moonlight, revealing skeletal faces. Animated corpses descend on Tengrym!

Animated Corpses
Descriptors: strength of the living dead, nothing but old bones, slow and witless

Not wishing to get into a fight, the warrior is met face-to-face by the wizard’s skeletal henchmen before he can react. Steel rings out in the night air as the first few warriors clamber over one another to get at the half-elf. Despite his expert prowess with the sword, Tengrym is ineffectual, and his blows do little to deter the animated corpses. The numbers are too great, and he stumbles backwards taking a shallow cut by a rusty axe to his shoulder.

The swordsman picks himself up off the cobbles and scrambles to get away, but the numbers are overwhelming. He looses most of the group behind him in the darkness, but still two or three stragglers follow closely after him, groping with outstretched claws and jaws agape with voiceless shrieks.

Turning a blind, Tengrym whirls to meet the few assailants still dogging his trail. With only three opponents, the numbers constitute odds the young half-elf can manage. Several parries and thrusts and he reduces the corpses to a pile of broken bones, thanks to his skill at arms and the keen magic of his elvish blade.

Knowing something of the nature of animated corpses, and their mindless qualities, Tengrym doesn’t fear more coming to seek him until he again threatens the wizard that commands them. He looks at his shoulder, but sees that the wound is not deep and should not trouble him permanently. He quickly binds the wound with a swath of cloth.

Q2. Globe

Not far away, the wizard recalls his remaining flock of skeletal warriors to him. Three are missing, confirming to the necromancer that he is dealing with someone with no shortage of skill and uncertain ability. Not wishing to meddle with any more nuisance, he draws his sleeves up and chants an arcane and dangerous spell.

“Come to me, fiends of the shadow realm!”

A dark, fiery-rimmed rift opens before him, and within it, dozens of shadowy servants appear. An evil red light marks their eyes within the insubstance of their bodies.

“Come to me! Find this intruder who dogs my steps! Chase him away, or slay him if it is within your power!”

Shadow Servants
Descriptors: insubstantial shadows, fearsome wail, flight

In the meantime, Tengrym catches his breath, and thinks about what next step to take. Suddenly, the night is pierced by the horrific wails of some otherworldly thing. It is a call of terror. Answering it come several other unworldly shrieks. The half-elf’s heart stops with an icy shudder. Fear wells up within him like an uncontrollable force. If he had been able to control this force, he might have reasoned what it was that chased him.

Without thinking, he runs. He runs without direction or sense, only to flee the terrible things that howl and wail above his head and to his flanks. He runs to loose that sound. Through a maze of dark streets he flies.

Soon, he becomes senseless as to his direction and looses footing and slides down a broken stair to an old plaza with a broken font. The shrieks recede, but he is lost and unable to find his bearings. Have I failed already? he wonders. Now that the fear abates, he knows that the wizard summoned shadow creatures which do not really have much power to affect him. Still, the necromancer proved himself to be a formidable foe.

Tengrym looks at the skies, but a veil of clouds hide the stars. He cannot steer via that method. He tries to retrace his steps, following a direction upward as much as possible back to the broken tower. After much time picking his way among the broken winding streets, nothing looks familiar. However, he comes to another plaza that grants a better vantage. Not far away, he sees the tower of Zaryn. He had inadvertently returned by a different route.

Q3. Footprint

Tengrym quickens his pace with quiet footsteps. He notes the direction and does his best to find a track more or less directly that way. However, the ruins of Zhentil Keep are not empty, though no living man now resides in the old acropolis. Other things now make it their home, and the shrieks of the shadow-things that pursue Tengrym awakes many things from their early evening slumber. From the hollow windows of abandoned buildings, something awakened watches as a lone figure passes below.

It is a thing of the night, a walking shadow of what was once a merchant. That man—Silodan had been his name in life—was given the opportunity to extend his life. Eternal life meant that he could continue his way of exploitation, greed, and extravagance. The thing that sired him sapped him of his lifeblood and replaced it was a few drops of his own. He died, but awoke something wholly different. Since his blood was diluted and he partook of other undead things to try and augment his power, Silodan became something less evolved than the vampires that retain their intellect, or even civility. His craving for blood drove all sanity and intelligence from his mind. His merchant empire was quickly forgotten, all wealth squandered. His contacts shunned him, and he no longer hid his true nature. That was years ago…

He is now a monster.

The monster lived in the ruins even after men fled during the heresies that had burned its greatness and banished its once opulent rulers. He is now a bloodthirsty hound that haunts its empty streets, somehow still attracted to his old habitat where memory lingers on the edge of shadow.

Vampiric Ghoul
Descriptors: hunger for blood, a thing of the night, fearsome undead power, fangs, something less than human intellect
Conditions: hungry

Tengrym is completely oblivious to things around him and behind him as he keeps his sights forward on the looming tower, expecting conflict from that direction. He is taken completely by surprise as something silent and fast comes up like a shadow behind him to hamstring him. Something instinctual warns him of dire peril in the last moment—either feeling the change of air current tugging at his hair, or some instinctual recognition of the revolting horror behind him—and he rolls out of the way and rights himself again on his feet, his sword out in a flash. Before him, the swordsman sees a fanged perversion of a man, covered with tattered moth-eaten garb, capped by lank dark hair, and baleful yellow eyes, like that of a wolf. The thing’s fangs are bared and it lunges at him, seeking to find the half-elf’s neck.

Perhaps living in wretchedness for years had caused the thing to forget wary skilled foes and to protect itself. It had no use of tactics. Seeing this, Tengrym keeps his guard up, using his sword to keep the thing at bay. Like he anticipated, the thing drives itself recklessly into his steel guard, scoring itself in numerous gaping wounds. Still, the monster has no regard for itself, pressing the attack by sheer ferocity. A few more deft moves dismembers the thing, sending its corpse to fall to the old cobblestones flailing like a headless chicken.

Tengrym backs away, but sees that the monster is truly dead. He looks at the doorways and windows that gape onto the streets warily, wondering what other monsters lurk within the seemingly empty buildings. He shudders and presses on quietly, keeping his blade ready.

Tomorrow, part two…

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ghosts of Gaming Past

One of the fundamental things that drives me towards roleplaying games boils down to one thing and one thing only…the fiction.

I know that there are debates about what gaming is, and that there is a divide between rpg gamers and story gamers. An rpg is a GAME involving a gamemaster and players who seek immersion through the perspective of their fictional counterparts, while a story game is like an rpg, but is more about GENERATING STORIES with a collaborative approach to the experience using fictional characters and slightly different mechanics for steering and controlling narrative on a more democratic level.

Although the latter approach appeals to me more, I don’t participate in or give a hoot about these arguments. The bottom line is that it still produces fiction…stories. Whether generated by this, that, or the other approach, we are entertained through participating in, actively, some form of storytelling.

That’s no brilliant or original conclusion, for sure. The thing about this form of active storytelling that I like are the memories of the good ones (and often not-so-good ones) that I carry with me. These are my ghosts…my gaming past.

The older I get, the more this form of nostalgia takes a hold of my tendencies in by-myself roleplaying/story gaming. What would it have been like if that particular cast of characters had continued before all of us moved away? What would have happened if that other game would have taken the alternate course and not gained the king’s favor? I find that reminiscing about old games, or revisiting old characters is something I can fully explore in my solo games. I am more in control of the story themes and direction when I game without others, and I won’t have a disagreement with something another player does that will ruin my fun.

So, why don’t you just write stories?

That’s an argument I read about all the time. What difference does it make to you how I have my fun? That’s my first response — and why would my personal gaming fun offend anyone else? If you don’t like it, then don’t do it. Another answer is that I don’t want to write stories. Firstly, I wouldn’t come up with the same plots and complications if I was in 100% narrative control. Two, I’m not that creative. And lastly, I want to play a game. I freely admit it. I like dice. I like fussy, geeky little rules. I like qualifying and quantifying aspects about fictitious personalities, and I like the unpredictability of outcomes generated by the rpg system I have chosen. Yet, my ultimate goal is that I will find a bit of cinematic conflict unique or memorable, or that I will remember a great campaign, whether in odd moments, or culminating in the ultimate triumph for the protagonist.

Memories of games from days gone are my gaming ghosts of the past, and I find them more and more infiltrating my present endeavors. Since I don’t have other players off of which to bounce ideas, my past serves as inspiration for solo games I plan. It keeps me involved with the exercise, because I already know a lot about the character, and a care about him or her on a personal level. Original characters can sometimes fall flat unless I take the time to flesh out a detailed backstory (which I’m reluctant to do because of my time-challenged nature), and I do need help sustaining the will to carry a solo game on.

That brings me to my hurdles. I have many issues that oppose continuity in my solo sessions (“sessions” sounds too formal — how about “moments”?). Obviously time, or lack thereof, is the main no-brainer. Can’t fix that.

The question is the format of the solo game. How does one go about playing a game alone without a GM? There are numerous tools out there, John Fiore’s Nine Questions for one (a personal favorite), the Mythic GM EmulatorRory’s Story Cubes, and a slew of others. I don’t mean that — although I’ll undoubtedly touch on those tools in future posts — but rather in what form does an actual game take? Do I imagine the action in my head and take a few notes? Do a record a turn-by-turn journal of the action as it is taking place?

I tend to be verbose in the journaling that I do of my solo games. I enjoy reading them, and feel a bit more connected to the story. Obviously, it takes a great deal more time, and time is a roadblock. With few blocks available, anything that slows it down can eventually be an inspiration killer. I can enjoy a form of journaling in which a scene is outlined in a brief paragraph, but somehow I also feel more disconnected from the fiction this way. Where is the balance? There needs to be something —  some form of notation. This is something I struggle with a great deal. In hindsight, however, I do tend to return more often to an adventure or series if the degree of detail is higher. As I read through old games, I tend to get excited after an intervening break and want to return again. They are just painfully slow (to me) to journal.

The other thing that is my bane is a terrible case of gamer ADD. Regarding systems, I don’t really have too many between which I float. I like light narrative-based systems that allow me to move through the action quickly (FU rpgPDQ, and currently I’m on a Fate Accelerated kick). However, a game (character-wise, adventure-wise, premise-wise) has to click well or I’m off thinking of a new setting, character, or idea.

Among other solo gamers, what are your dilemmas?

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Here it inaugural post on all topics gaming (well, actual those particularly related to tabletop rpg gaming, and particularly in the solo/GM-less niche). I’m a bit gun-shy here, and not sure if I really will be able to contribute in a meaningful way to the relevant community of bloggers throughout net-space. My first short post here is to give the reader (as well as myself) an idea of what I’ll be posting about, as well as give a shout out to a wonderful fellow contributor on similar topics who I know has been not only influential to me, but also a great number of other gamers.

In dealing with a busy adult life filled with too many obligations and projects to count (and little else but the growing promise of failure to complete so many of them), I find my old childhood hobby incredibly difficult to maintain. I’ve always been interested in the tabletop rpg industry, and am a reader on and many other gaming blogs. I do the best I can trying to keep up with current systems and trends. My collection is small, but I do buy the odd small press indie now and then. However, having a face-to-face group with which to game, even once in a great while, is something I concede is not a part of my life currently nor for the foreseeable future.

Thank the gods that since discovering Word Mill’s Mythic GM Emulator, I have been able to actually find some enjoyment in this regard during the fragmented blocks of my rare free time. My tendencies in the gaming world have led me to lighter and still lighter systems to facilitate the best of use of that limited time between projects. Here, in this blog, I will occasionally post my “aha!” moments, when and if they happen, hoping that those with whom these dilemmas of time management resonate may find useful content or join in discussions. I am still unsure of my post frequency, so I won’t presume to make any pledge or guarantee.

I also will use this blog as an outlet for my solo gaming journals. The idea of having readers (even one or two) may help to motivate me to continue my gaming and journaling. Many old posts I’ve made on I will slowly port over here. In so doing, I hope to find an incentive to keep those personal gaming projects developing.

Second, I’d like to point to a great source of inspiration for me for the past couple of years. If you haven’t been to JF’s Solo Nexus blog, you should (provided this topic is remotely interesting to you). He posts regularly, has wonderful ideas and content relevant to the solo gaming enthusiast, including updates on the newest kickstarter gaming projects that are geared to our particular unique corner of the gaming world.

He’s also devised the brilliant “Nine Questions” solo rpg engine, modeled after film and dramatic play writing techniques that’s been an absolute godsend for my own endeavors. Full of other great advice, content, and interviews, he’s very effectively brought attention to many issues of solo gaming, and fostered a discussion and supportive community of gamers surrounding this topic.

A tip o’ the hat to John Fiore for his wonderful blog!

For my next post, I will talk about some fundamental motivations for my own solo roleplaying sessions, as well as some recurring obstacles, touching on common perspectives about what gaming means.

Welcome to No One To Play With!