Tuesday, October 29, 2013

RotSM, part 2

...continued from before, this is part 2 of “Return of the Shattered Mail”. As promised, it is an NPC cut scene derived from freely interpreting a random set of nine Story Cubes. This chapter will be about building some NPCs and plot. I have rolled nine Cubes and arranged to taste to accomplish this free story-telling segment. This will help build a reason for Mitra to raid the king’s tomb, building some intrigue. I can’t wait until my MIX set arrives this week! In any case, here it is:

City of Four Towers


Luskan. The City of Sails. Marked by the immense four-spired Host Tower of the Arcane, the northern city was the last hub of trade before the forbidding north sealed the landscape with inhospitable cold and deadly ice.

gate, pill

At the north gate of the city, a lone figure was challenged by a guard. “My business is my own,” said a slight cloaked figure. There was something innocuous about the figure — something about his garb or small stature that one might easily overlook in a crowd — yet when one inspected the plain-faced personage under the gray cloak for any duration, the was a not so innocent mien. Dark guarded eyes stared back at the tongue-tied guard for a moment before speaking. There was something underneath the exterior that might have been equally capable of kindness or great maliciousness.

The guard was at a loss, and only stepped back with an apologetic nod to let the stranger pass. Continue on his way the man did without a look over his shoulder — that is until he had passed through the trading coaster yards of the Red Dragon, turned down the Street of Sails, and through areas of low repute. Only then did the man duck under the darkened eave of a brothel to study the street behind him. The coast clear, he changed his course through narrower alleys until he came to a forgotten cul de sac of refuse and rain gutters waiting and watching.

turn corner, amoeba

After some time did another figure appear from an adjacent alley. This one was large, bristly, and unclean, wearing a brown frock that might have been that of a brother of Ilmater. He was a hulk of a man with a more than ample gut and detestable visage that attested to gluttonous appetites both culinary and amoral. The swagger of his step and the contemptible smile on his piglike face clearly illustrated the man’s arrogance and dislike of his counterpart.

“You’re late,” spat the slighter cloaked man in a harsh whisper.

“And no doubt you were early, Aseneth,” the larger said with a stifled yawn.

“Quiet that fat tongue!” hissed the short one. “You are a fool, Hacarthor.”

The fat man’s eyes narrowed and his bored expression fled him, replaced by an intense glare of warning. “Be careful! Remember to whom you are addressing…”

asking question

“I am reminded almost daily that you are a high brother of the arcane host, master Aengrilor,” said Aseneth with barely veiled derision. “What news do you have? Is she still on the trail?”

The wizard, Hacarthor Aengrilor did not answer at first, relishing his contact’s discomfort at any prolonged meeting. “Patience, inquisitive one. Your master has no reason to be displeased…”

“What does that mean?” asked Aseneth impatiently. “She has the mask?”

“All is still according to plan,” purred the wizard.

arrow, hand, key

“The Damaran still must cross dangerous lands to bring it here. She could easily be harassed or robbed over those many leagues. At this point, the risks are high — it is the last piece to a lifetime of work.”

“What difference does it make to you?”

Aseneth did not answer. He recognized the bait Hacarthor laid. Although a skilled assassin, Aseneth was little more than hired help — a skilled servant. However, he was notorious and successful enough that he could have accepted far more lucrative options for himself. Hacarthor was both testing his loyalty to his master, and simultaneously reminded him that he could do better. The assassin sneered in contempt realizing that there were few secrets from an information broker with magical means, who likely knew the details of Aseneth’s contract terms. In truth, he was tired of being his master’s errand boy; yet, there were still future opportunities to be explored.

“Relax,” Hacarthor continued, enjoying teasing the little rat before him. “If impending danger approaches the mercenary, you will be informed.”

Aseneth was not so sure. “Then be vigilant — even if it means no gambling, fewer wenches, and less swill.”

“I never drink swill!” the wizard retorted.

The assassin thought Hacarthor was being facetious for humor, but he saw that he had actually touched a sensitive spot. He dismissed it and turned to leave. “Keep to your crystal ball!” he shouted.

“…And I don’t use crystal balls!”

That was a fun free association. It was just enough detail to build some interesting potential antagonists, and introduce that some sort of plot is afoot, but yet not enough to really let me know what's going on. My interest is piqued. Next chapter, I think, will be devoted to the travel and overcoming some obstacle to get to the northwest of the Realms still with the mask in possession. I still don't know why she was tasked to take the item. A simple contract? Sounds more like either blackmail or some other motivation.

Monday, October 28, 2013

RotSM, part 1

Return of the Shattered Mail

Tomb of the Naive King

…beauty, weather, leading to gold? …happy, innocence?

As mentioned in my previous post, we will go with the motivation, “follow the map leading to the naive king’s tomb, where the golden death mask is said to lie” that will also be the adventure’s title.

Whenever I come up with a blank, it's time to roll a Cube. That could be a new scene, or just a new threat or element to appear within a scene. The “Die of Fate” (“DoF”) will give a context for the Story Cube. Subsequent sessions will build out the plot from cues given by past events. I rolled a few Cubes and came up with the campaign title, “Return of the Shattered Mail”, but I have no idea what that means.

Mitra cantered to a stop…

…as she entered the forested dell. Majestic mountains arose about her, capped by snow, jagged peaks lost on cloud. She removed the dogeared map from her bosom and confirmed. Here, of old, lay the crypt of the last of a dynasty of men that ruled a small empire long before the coming of the Dalesmen settlers from the Vast and the Vilhon Reach. It was here that the former mercenary hoped to find the death mask of the naive king that suffered an untimely death. It was said that the mask was gilt of pure gold and crusted with gems. Won in a wager in Daggerdale at cards, Mitra would discover if the map was real.

DoF: 4

…a light in the distance? …the way is illuminated?

Reading the map, the first clue in Dethek runes began to make sense. When molten gold falls between the hammer and the anvil, the way to the threshold of the king’s rest shall be paved by light.

Now, she saw that the setting sun sank between two peaks — one was calledDorithon, the Hammer of the Earth, and the other was called Relacthin, a flat peak opposite it, or the Blacksmith’s Platform. In the narrow wedge between the two, the sun sank, passing a shaft of light between as could only happen at the autumn equinox. Luck again struck the former Black Dragon, as it was now two days to Highharvestide. Still, it was close enough that the golden ray shone in the direction of a wood that covered the side of the valley wall opposite the mountains.

Mitra clicked and set her black charger on a forward course, marking well the direction.

By the time she reached the forest…

…the sun had sank. Before her was a thick primeval forest that exuded eerie silence, mystery, and even a sense of malice.

DoF: 5

She dismounted Umbril, her black steed, tethering his reins to a nearby sapling. She then drew forth her sword. Under the overgrowth of moss-covered trees, she saw two old statues flanking an overgrown flagstone pathway. The statues were in the form of mailed knights, though their features were all but worn away. She had found the king’s threshold! Slowly, she continued forward, with eyes alert and senses wary.

The way continued more or less straight forward, gently winding between great boles of trees. Ahead, Mitra made out a mound overgrown by foliage and shrubbery. Slowly, she inched forward, ever cautious of her surroundings.


DoF: 1

What’s this? Glasses? Something smudgy? Hard to see? A displacer beast!

Displacer Beast

Descriptors: Tentacled, Savage Magical Predator, I’m Not Where You Think I Am! Fearsome, Claws
Conditions: ☐Angry, ☐Trapped, ☐Injured, ☐Dying, ☐Slowed

…from out of nowhere, a dark beast leapt out. Umbril nickered nervously and pulled against his reins. A flurry of movement bewildered the warrioress. She saw the massive frame of a great cat bearing its fangs. However, this strange creature had black tentacles sprouting from its shoulders. The thing struck out with these.

Does Mitra defend herself? No, and…

She cried in surprise as flailing appendages lashed out. Mitra was scarcely able to bring up her blade to ward these off. The terrible thing’s yowl was terrifying, and the swordswoman’s courage failed her and she gave up ground. She wanted to turn and run, but doing so would mean certain death.

Does she find a more defensible position? No…

She leapt aside and tried to put a great tree between her and her predator — however, the beast was too fast. She cried out again, and leveled her blade against the thing. She had no choice but to put on an offensive assault.

Does she strike the thing? No, but… (1 FU spent to change from “No, and…” with a re-roll)

She swung against air with a slice that should have skewered the thing from shoulder to breast. However, steel split naught but empty air. The powerful blow overbalanced her, and she tumbled head over heels down a ferny embankment and through overgrowth and bramble. Although she had fallen, she was unhurt and had put some distance between her and the monster. She quickly got to her feet and scanned for a defensible position. She spied a mound flanked on two sides by trees that would serve such a purpose.

Does she gain a tactical positioning?Yes, and…

With four large strides, she mounted the turf and spun into a defensive posture. Having an advantage, her fear fled, replaced by hardened experience. From above, evil yellow eyes regarded her hungrily. Another terrifying yowl heralded the monster’s approach. With a great leap, the thing bounded down, tentacles writhing.

Does she strike the thing? Yes…

Mitra ducked out of harm’s way as one tentacled arm thrashed. She saw the thing crouched before her, but the yowl it made came from the left. She remembered about such mythical creatures that could throw their own image beyond their actual presence through innately magical means. She let her ears guide her and she struck true. The beast roared furiously.

Does it run off? DoF: 3

Does she finish it off? Yes, and, AND…

The creature launched itself through the air with a mighty leap ready to take down its prey. Again, Mitra had to gauge the actual trajectory of the thing, knowing that some property of the beast’s shiny coat or other magical nature caused it to always appear in a different place than reality. She lowered herself to a crouch and braced her blade as the thing impaled itself. She twisted out of the way as the creature fell, clear of harm and also pulled her blade free. Heaving great gulps of air, she stared with horror and relief at the horrible monster that nearly caused her demise. She gave it one last look, cleaned her blade, and resumed her quest.

Returning to the path…

DoF: 6

…Mitra approached the mound. Evidence of stone works lay under thick foliage. Thanks to Tymora, it looked as though it was undisturbed for ages. Poking around carefully, Mitra found the telltale signs of an archway filled in by erosion, forest growth, and time.

She went back to Umbril and soothed her horse. Getting out her tools from her pack as well as a lantern, she got to work.

Does she open the tomb easily? Yes, and…

It was not long before her shovel hit more masonry, and much of the mortar had given way under her light touch, breaking the seal. Immediately, old still air rushed out, blowing ancient dust and decay into her face. Quickly, she opened the entrance further, revealing a dark antechamber with a stairway descending from its center.

She descended…

The obvious interpretation? Maybe. What else could it be? A burrowing monster? Something with a shell? Umber hulk? Too “on the nose”. Going to go with a scientific explanation of a ‘sheathed wing’ or blade trap.

…arriving at a landing some hundred feet below. Mitra held her light aloft. A passage led forward which opened to a larger room. Statues of knights in the service of the forgotten king flanked the passage. The warrioress stared at these in wonder as she stepped forward. The room opened to a square chamber with two rows of supports. At the end was an elevated slab upon which rested a sarcophagus.

With eagerness tempered by practiced caution, Mitra stepped slowly forward. The light cast shadows in the form of flitting phantoms that darted behind pillars. At last, she stepped up to the tomb of the king.

Old Trap
Descriptors: Concealed, Fast Bladed Weapon, Old Mechanism

Does she avoid the trap? Yes, but… (2 FU spent to re-roll)

As she drew closer, she could make out the relief carven upon the sarcophagus slab in the likeness of a young man with smiling face and closed eyes. Suddenly, a metallic shriek ripped through the stillness as a hidden blade lashed out from the stones around the tomb. Crying out, Mitra fell back, avoiding a grievous maiming wound. However, she dropped her lantern, which shattered and doused out, plunging her in darkness. She cursed, but got up and dusted herself off.

She tried again, this time crawling on hands and knees, searching for the trigger mechanism. She found the pressure plates and so avoided them. Getting to her feet, she pushed on the slab, which was immensely heavy.

Descriptors: Heavy Slab

Does she remove it? No, but…

With all her might, she pushed, bracing her feet against a stair. It was too heavy, but a grating scrape let her know that it was possible with a little ingenuity.

Returning to her steed, she fetched many lengths of rope and lit torches. She tied one end to Umbril’s harness, and the rest she fed into the stairway. Rigging the rope around the slab below as best she could, she whistled to her courser. The sound was loud enough to wake the dead many miles further than the tomb. Nonetheless, Umbril pulled.

With his help, does she succeed? Yes, but…

The grating sound of stone against stone rumbled in the chamber. The slab moved, but broke in half, some of it falling into the tomb. Dust and the old smell of leather filled the room, choking her lungs. Coughing, she awaited until it cleared. When it did, she saw that she would have to wriggle under the ruin directly atop the corpse to pry out any valuables.

And this is how I’ve become a lowly tomb robber, she thought. 

Nonetheless, it was her job, and she could get little dirtier than she already was.

Wriggling inside the sarcophagus…

DoF: 2

What does this mean? Sounds like the job of a Cube!

A tree? Growing things? Fungus? Something old and gnarled? I’m going with undead…

Descriptors: Vastly Strong, Dead, Tough, Grasping
☐Slowed, ☐Maimed, ☐Out of Action

…Mitra continued to choke on dust and the tatters of decayed and desiccated things that disintegrated under her touch. She shrank in disgust from the feel of old bones. She crawled closer to the corpse’s face to find the bejeweled object she sought. It was close. It was black. It reeked of death.

Suddenly, something immensely strong grasped her arm! The thing was not fully dead. She screamed and kicked, yet its unholy grasp was relentless. Her torch dropped from her hand and guttered out. Dry bones held her thin wrist in a crushing grip.

Does she get out? No, and…

She struggled, but failed to break free of the crushing grasp; and as she struggled, the thing’s other arm slowly reached up and opened, taking her neck in its cold and dry embrace. She fought furiously as pressure began to crush her windpipe. The cold realization that death was close washed over her; but still she fought with every fiber of her being.

With desperation, she hoped that the rope was still attached to some part of the sarcophagus or the broken slab still partially covering the morbid container. She whistled with her last bit of wind.

Does Umbril break more of the sarcophagus? Yes…

She heard the strain of hemp and the remaining shard of covering came off. All she had to do was break its grip. She now had more room to maneuver.

Does she break free now? No, and… (Spent 1 FU improving the roll and 1 to re-roll, but no dice!)

The thing was too strong and willful, even in death. Though she staggered to her knees, the grip was ever at her throat. Her breath came in painful wheezing gasps and her perception wheeled nauseatingly. She now saw the bony apparition, something glinting in the dim light that fell away to reveal hollow sockets. She was dying; but the embers within still glowed red with defiance. She had survived great battles and terrible betrayal, hunting a man across seven realms, and had survived a deadly winter. She could not give up!

Does she cut off the things arm? Yes…
☑Maimed, ☐Trapped

With one final effort, she swung her blade awkwardly while in the narrow embrace of the dead king. Bone shattered, and she was freed from the deadly grip. She spilled over the lip of the stone coffin and gasped choking gulps of air. The one-armed thing rose from its resting place fueled by unquenchable wrath.

Somehow, she pushed away, finding a column at her back. She managed to gain her feet as the shadowy shape of the fell king swept forward in its tattered shroud. Its eye sockets gleamed with an unholy hatred.

Does she vanquish the thing? Yes…

On shaky legs and nearly blind in the dark, Mitra kept herself propped up with the help of stone to her back. When the hissing thing came within reach and she could feel its undead presence, she sent her blade arcing through the air, crushing bone and severing the skeletal king in two parts. Bones clattered, and it’s force of existence suddenly fled in defeat, leaving naught but old bones.

Slumping down in terror and exhaustion, the warrioress gulped in more air. She sought about the stone floor next for the object. She first found the wet evidence of spilt oil and cut her hand on broken glass from the lantern. Then she came across a heavy mask, presumably of gold. It was studded with precisely cut jewels and stones.

The death mask of the naive king!

With her prize claimed, she fled the tomb and did not look back.

...Up Next: NPC Cut Scene

The next chapter will be about building some NPCs and plot. I will roll nine Cubes and pick to taste to accomplish this free story-telling segment. This will help build a reason for Mitra to raid the king’s tomb, building some intrigue.


Well, October is wrapping up, and with it concludes a long project that will gradually free up some time. Don't get me wrong — I still don't have anything copious in quantity, but I can at least look at some odd gaming again.

So, what's up now? Recently, John posted a nice concept and write up about freestyle solo delving on his blog after some discussion around the ’sphere on the subject of dungeon crawls. John came up with a nice simple system for inspiring improvisation as you go.

As most who read this know, simple is my motto. I thought that any solo GMless adventure can run this way. So I've modified this concept somewhat for my own purposes. I don't have a name yet for this, but here's what I'm doing:

The rules are simple — FU RPG provides the engine, but Rory’s Story Cubes provide the inspiration. The adventure starts with a randomly determined (2 Cubes) motivation that ties in with the character’s backstory. A two-Cubes adventure title provides the context for events. From that point forward, roll a single cube to inspire a new scene or element. The “Die of Fate” (borrowed from John Harper’s World of Dungeons) will provide a context for the scene/obstacle/element’s interpretation.

The first adventure's anchor and character’s motivation must be explicitly defined and short-term in scope so that it is attainable in a few brief scenes. When the motivation has been met or the character fails, it proceeds to the next adventure/chapter. At that point, select or roll a new motivation. If none can be found, write a narrative cut scene featuring an antagonist produced spontaneously by rolling nine Cubes and freely interpreting. The Cubes will answer Who? What? When? How? and Why? building a motivation for the enemy that will help build new adventures and bring future conflict into the protagonist's life. These motivations need not be (and perhaps shouldn't be) clearly defined — they should only heighten the suspense, danger, and provide new hooks to build adventures. I will try to include at least one antagonist cut scene for every two or three adventures/chapters.

This will, by no means, be limited to dungeoneering. I will use this to develop a new campaign set in a familiar setting. Meet our protagonist:

Mitra of Gauntharia

A native of Damara, Mitra took part in the wars with Vaasa until Damara was overrun. Since, she had joined the Black Dragons mercenary company, rising to the rank of a captain. During this service, she worked for, among others, Zhentil Keep, doing some regrettable things until she had to leave. She is tall, not entirely unattractive with a muscular build and square face. Her once wild brown hair is cut short, military style.

Relationships: Xavier Zalibar—a Zhentarim agent who she once served and betrayed. Sanbar Axegrinder—a dwarf and former mentor and friend. Other enemies include former colleagues of the Black Dragons, and other members of the Zhentarim.

Drives: Seeks to right regrettable wrongs done during her time with the Black Dragons.

Descriptors: Tactician, Tough as Iron, Fencing, Uncompromising
Gear: Trusty Broadsword, Headstrong Charger
FU Points: 1
Conditions: ☐Angry, ☐Trapped, ☐Unconscious, ☐Scared, ☐Dazed, ☐Injured, ☐Tired, ☐Dying

☑ = checked

And for the cubes that build the short-term motivation...

…beauty, weather, leading to gold? …happy, innocence?

We will go with the motivation, “follow the map leading to the naive king’s tomb, where the golden death mask is said to lie” that will also be the first adventure’s title.

Shout Out

Lastly, a shout out to another great new actual play solo rpg blog! Welcome Carsten and his blog, http://solospelunking.wordpress.com/

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Chapter System, continued

I’m working on a few new things. With a major non-gaming project coming to fruition in three weeks, my time is very tight. However, my Chapter system still allows me to plug in a scene while I’m waiting between appointments.

In other news, I’m still finishing the next chapter in my Drowsbane campaign, and I found myself sketching out a couple of original fantasy characters — something I haven’t done for a while — and revisiting one of my favorite systems, Jaws of the Six Serpents.Trying to find balance, I don’t want to completely abandon gaming even when my work project intensity spikes.

In any case, here’s the next in my Chapter system experiments with the random title anchor.

More of Doria:

Chapter 2: The Knights’ Crusade


Rain continued to pour. Doria picked herself up and considered the direction of her horse. Just then, a figure approached draped in a voluminous cloak and masked by an old helm with a respirator. He introduced himself as Blazespawn and beckoned the warrioress to follow. “Your horse has no doubt been captured and sold,” the man said in a metallic voice as he led the warrioress through a maze of backstreets lit by the occasional bonfire around which vagrants stood listlessly. Inside an abandoned building, he led her deeper into a guarded room behind a steel mesh fence.


Inside was a round, dimly lit chamber of concrete and steel. Doria looked warily into the room. Suddenly, she was shoved within, and the door to the steel cage was slammed shut behind her. With an oath, she whirled with sword and dirk in hand. “What is the meaning of this?!” she growled. “What do you know of the cult of the storm bringer?” the man asked. “Nothing!” she swore. After came a slew of questions, including what she knew of the Balarhen skyships. She admitted that she had seen many as a girl in the north, and had even been brought aboard one before she fought her way to freedom, but she could remember little. “That should suffice,” the man said cryptically. Suddenly, he flipped a switch on a control panel, and a metallic behemoth of a construct whirred to life within her cell, grinning a display of yellow and red blinking lights. The thing rolled forward, chopping the ground repeatedly with a massive cleaver attached to a bionic arm. She rolled out of the way as the mechanical monster rent the concrete she had occupied. She saw coils of fluids at the base of the thing’s armored dome top, and worked her way closer with a series of parries, spins, and dodges. With her blade, she sliced through an exposed hose. Hot fluid sprayed out and an even louder buzzing and squealing filled the room. It slowed significantly. Next, a different mechanical arm extended bearing some sort of long chrome barrel. Doria leapt aside as a brilliant beam of hellfire ripped through the steel mesh behind her. She ducked again, and took the opportunity to leap through the sizzling hole. The armored man who stood at some control panel panicked. With a sword leveled at his throat, Doria commanded, “Shut that thing down!”


The man did so and cowered, sobbing behind his metallic mask. “Please,” he cried. “Spare me! I am the last of the rune-knights who seek to undo the cult and see the shackles they have placed on these people thrown away. I have waited for years to find someone worthy…I have waited this long for my replacement — I have waited for you!” Blazespawn related that his knighthood was a divine order sworn to protect the folk of the Blackened Bowl from their oppressors — the priests of the cult and their sorcerer allies who flew in on the old warships to take slaves and materials, leaving all under the domination of the priests of the cult. “Please! You have the skills to defeat them!” he said. “You can defeat their technology! Will you not take my cause?”


Doria regarded the man, unable to see even his eyes through his visor. “I am no noble knight, sir,” she answered. “I am a sell-sword, and no more. You seek another.” “But you are wrong!” answered the man. “I have been shown the only path to salvation, who shall cometh as a woman radiant of the darkness, who shall cleanse the unnatural overlords with shadow and blade…she shall herald her coming by condemning a feared and powerful Padh to righteous justice where all others have failed. This prophecy names you, my lady. Wouldn’t you want to exact justice on those same ones who obviously enslaved and ravaged your kin?”