Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Doria in the Savage North, part 2

Well, this was a ridiculously long period since the last time I was able to sit in peace. At least I got to finish this. The session resulted in plenty of twists and turns in this phase of play. One more part to go to bring it to conclusion.

Rears Its Ugly Head

Three: The Hunt for Jermal

Setup: Doria goes out on the street looking for Jermal, knowing that he is the key to unraveling the mystery and encountering the Zhentarim in Luskan
Position: Disadvantaged (+1)

Does Doria find signs of the madman? Yes…

Does she shadow him unseen? (1FU spent) Yes, and…

It is not long before Doria hears her kinsman frothing at the mouth near the center of town where the Host Tower of the Arcane casts its malevolent four-pronged shadow. Doria remains unseen to Jermal, and…

Seed: Tree

Intersection: the idea suggests the actual Host Tower of the Arcane, which has been described as a tree-like structure rising very high with branches in the four directions. A wizardly person appears at the base of the tower and attempts to take both Jermal and Doria (since it’s the Rears Its Ugly Head phase, we’ll assume they’re savvy and have Doria already on their radar). (Conflict)

Valdaris Blackrot

Concept: Evil Necromancer
Descriptors: Evil Genius, Gaunt, Death Magic, Sick Ambition
Gear: Wand of the Dead
Conditions: none
FU Points per Scene: 1

As Doria watches Jermal under the sinister shadow of the great tower, a black-robed gaunt man suddenly appears. With a simple point of the finger, he has Jermal enthralled and commands him to approach, which he does with the staggering steps of a zombie.

Does Doria resist the effects? Yes… (But using Valdaris’s one FU point, it changes to No, and…) (+1FU)
[X] Enthralled

Doria too is dumbstruck and wanders to the wizard. Through some gate effect, she and Jermal both disappear within the tower she presumes. They are placed in a cell, still bound by the spellcaster, and unable to move or speak.

Story Probe: Does the wizard discuss war plans against the Harpers with his minions? D6+1 = No

Something Different: drawing a mysterious alien face (which I’m interpreting as telepathic; so maybe some mind-flayers) and intersecting against the Story Probe, Valdaris discusses with a illithid he calls Klorpus how to extract some power from Jermal that will allow control of a vast undead army.

Scene Close: Things are looking bad, and Jermal has some hidden gift that the necromancer needs to control a fell army. This clarifies How (and helps lower the DL), and changes what Doria thought about Who. The Harpers are involved somehow, but Valadaris seems to be at the heart of the plot (– DL). Even though she’s suffered a setback (+ DL), it still amounts to lowering the Danger Level for the next scene.

Four: Escape

Setup: Doria attempts a daring escape with Jermal
Position: At Odds (+0)

The two regain their senses (at least Doria does — Jermal is just crazy). She watches the guards assigned to their cell, timing their routine and looking for an opportunity.

Interpreting the intersection of the scene later, this gives Doria a chance to make a break for it first. The intersection will be added later, to see what complication arises.

Does she overpower the guards at an opportune moment? Yes…

Collecting her weapons and leading the insane Jermal along, Doria seeks a way out.

Does she maintain stealth? No, and…

Sneaking through the maze, a magical alarm sounds, and guards pursue them.

Seed: Lightning

Intersection: interpreting the idea as the obvious, this means that hedge mages appear, unleashing destructive magic to destroy Doria and apprehend Jermal. (Conflict)

Hedge Mages

(squad of 3)
Concept: Apprentices of the Arcane
Descriptors: Naive, Curious, Magic
Conditions: [ ] Confused, [ ] Slowed, [ ] Out of Action

Does Doria avoid their magical attacks? Yes, but…

Powerful thunderbolts are released and other energetic attacks. Doria dives to safety, but Jermal is caught in a spell of holding.

Does Doria close the distance to the mages? Yes, and… [X] Magic Dispelled

Like a wildcat, Doria rushes forward. She lays about with her blade and puts the mages on the defensive. One of them who had the hold on Jermal releases the spell in a panic to defend himself.

Does she escape with Jermal? No…

Try as she might, Doria turns down a passage only to run into armed guards. Every passage seems blocked off. There is no other way than to fight!

Tower Guards

(squad of 5)
Concept: Armed Guardians
Descriptors: Duty Bound
Gear: Long Halberds
Conditions: [ ] Confused, [ ] Slowed, [ ] Out of Action

Does she punch a hole through the guards? Yes…

Her vengeful streak fueling her on, Doria smashes through the armed guards with blade and force of will, sending them scattering.

Host Tower of the Arcane

Concept: Mysterious and Highly Magical Tower
Descriptors: Arcane Mysteries, A Maze that Defies Physics, Password Protected

Does she find an exit? Yes…AND!

Flying through strange passages with a pack of angry guards on her tail and an incoherent geriatric barbarian on hand, she flies into some sort of magical gate chamber. A wizard in the midst of some magical research or purpose has an active portal open. Doria flies through the portal, finding herself free of the tower, AND somewhere else entirely…

Story Probe: because of the fiction, no Story Probe needs to be asked.

Scene Close: If I could think of a logical Story Probe, I could go ahead and state it. In this case, an action sequence without furtherance to the plot is fine. The DL goes down one step because I consider Doria escaping Valdaris’s clutches with Jermal is a success in thwarting the antagonist’s plans. We still have answers for only three of the Big Questions, which means we are still in the Rears Its Ugly Head Stage.

Five: the Grotto

Setup: Doria investigates a mysterious cavern complex for more clues of her enemy
Position: Advantaged (-1)

Note: The grotto sounds scary and mysterious. A great place to start! Why here? What details of the system let me to assert this stage? In Perilous Intersections, flexibility and narrative license are built right in. As long as there is reason to frame a scene, the player can exercise any license he sees fit to set that scene in any place that makes sense. For me, a mysterious grotto could be anything… It does not necessarily dictate a real place, such as another city, other part of the continent, different world, or what have you. I did not have to use a Seed or a random idea to generate the setting for this scene.

Doria finds herself in a vast, artificially lit cavern. Water drips in many places, but it is not empty…

Does she investigate in stealth without alerting anyone? Yes, and…

Story Probe: Does Doria find a barbaric slaves exhuming corpses from a mass grave? D6-1 = 4; No

Something Else: using the image of dice, the idea of a game or score intersects with the question to suggest that the (dead) barbarians themselves are undead legions of some great army being housed in the Underdark that is being made ready to be released when the enemy has gained control of the legion (presumably through Jermal). There are human and goblinoid overseers here.

Doria is left with the horrifying view of hundreds of her dead kin. Unsure what to do, she tries to come up with a plan. Her thirst for vengeance now includes the wizard Valdaris in addition to the Zhentarim, who are no doubt involved. She reasons that wherever the cave is, it must be reasonably close to the target of the attack.

Now, I haven’t included an intersection yet, so here it goes:

Seed: Sunflower
Intersection: a sunflower suggests a ripening and giant growth…and also seeds. I’m also low on revelation-type events, and the clock (remaining Seeds) is ticking down. Without changing the personal danger for our heroine, this sounds like when Doria is focused on the scene, Jemal wanders off and is grabbed…“We got you!” says one. “Good,” says a hobgoblin general. “Call Klorpus…when he extracts the seeds from the barbarian’s mind, the army will be ready to attack.” (Revelation)

Doria’s chance to free Jermal again is probably best now rather than later. Even though the DL is low, it makes sense that there are great numbers here. If she fails, that’s a setback, making the final showdown harder. The last of the Big Questions must get answered in the next scene regardless of what happens here. Combat seems likely…and the great numbers will be represented by some squads. If she gets a poor result on some of her FU Beat the Odds questions, that may mean more squads come to the call.

Hobgoblin Overseer

Concept: Big Mean Hobgoblin Boss
Descriptors: Tough, Intimidating, Fighter
Gear: Man-cleaver (huge battle axe)

Grotto Squads

Concept: Mooks for Hire
Descriptors: Duty Bound
Gear: Rusty Sword

The Grotto

Concept: Unknown Vast Cavern
Descriptors: Vast
Conditions: [X] Unknown

Does Doria surprise the captors? Yes…

Doria leaps out and surprises the goblinoids that have Jermal in hand.

Does she free him with a swipe of the sword? Yes, and…

She lashes out like a panther, smiting two of the hobgoblins. Grabbing Jermal by the hand, she dashes out through the nearest passage, and leaves her pursuit confusedbehind her.

Does she find escape? No, and… (+1FU)

Dashing down that way, she comes only to a dead end cavern with more corpses lying on various slabs. Trapped! Turning, she grits her teeth and draws dirk and sword. She must fight for her life to get free.

Does she fare well against the squad? Yes, but…
[X] Reinforced

The wildcat becomes a lioness. Bodies begin to heap at Doria’s feet, but more reinforcements arrive. The overseer hefts a massive axe and orders his grunts forward.

Does she convince the hobgoblin to meet her in single combat? Yes, and…

Doria calls out the leader in single combat. The huge hobgoblin accepts her challenge and agrees that a map showing the way out is hers if she defeats him.

Does she fare well? Yes, but…

The two stalk around taking account of each other then meet in a clash of steel. She is the faster, gouging a wound in his side, but he shrugs it off being trained for worse hurts.

Does she press the attack? No, but… AND
Both participants are [X] Injured

A brief exchange too fast to follow with the eye results in Doria stepping back, wide eyed. Blood begins to flow down her arm from her side where the cruel axe nearly maimed her. The hobgoblin grinned, but staggered. It turns out that Doria’s initial touché was worse than he thought.

Does she press the attack? Yes, and…
[X] Dying

With a final burst of speed, Doria ducks under her larger foe’s slow and clumsy attack. A spin and slash opens up the hobgoblin’s abdomen. He looks down as his innards spill out.

“I’ll be taking that map,” she said as her opponent slumped to his knees. She reached in and produced a dogeared parchment before her foe fell on his face.

“Get back, or the same pile of dead meat will be made of you all!” she warned the crowd of minions.

Does she intimidate them? Yes, and, AND…

The crowds parted for her and most disperse in fear of their commanders, feeling themselves liberated from their unwanted duties. Furthermore, one of the hobgoblins agrees to lead the two to the closest exit from the caves to the lands beyond.

Scene Close: Nothing further was answered this scene. The only question remaining is Why, which must get answered during the next scene (there is only one Seed remaining). The only moving criteria for changing the DL that was met was thwarting the antagonist’s plans, which Doria did resoundingly. The DL stays put for the next scene, since it’s already at its lowest level.

Six: the City

Setup: Doria and Jermal come upon a city
Position: Advantaged (-1)
Note: I don’t know yet what city this will be, but I’m assuming some sort of war will be waged on a powerful enough organization or nation that there will be a city of some sort. I’m also going to mix it up a bunch in this scene, starting with some investigating and building a bit of context for a Probe. Then, I’ll throw in the intersection last. Strategically, we want the DL to remain low, so Doria will try to clarify What — who is this war waged against? The Seed will somehow impose the Why regardless of her efforts here due to the lack of remaining Seeds. Hopefully, if she doesn’t get a setback, these will balance out.

Doria with her hobgoblin escort emerges from a cavern. Below her on the water is a walled city surrounded by shoulders of mountainous rock under a cloudy sky. She does not yet recognize what city it is. She leaves the hobgoblins behind and leads Jermal to the gate of the city.

Story Probe: Is this a powerful city with magical rulers that is a rival of the Zhentarim, like Mulmaster? D6-1 = 5. Yes! This answers What more definitively, and begins to hint at Why (the Zhentarim are using high powered wizards of Luskan to eliminate certain magical rivals). We will get more details later in this scene.

Doria discovers the city’s name from the guards. She considers her options — the Harpers were involved. Undoubtedly, they wanted to thwart this plot, although she has no clue what their true interests are. She also considers alerting the powers that be about the attack, hoping they might give Jermal protection; however, she reconsiders this too. If the rulers here knew that the crazed tribesman was the key to controlling a legion of undead, were they completely unscrupulous (likely) and capable of great magic too, they might just as easily turn the tables against their own enemies. In any case, that would mean the same fate for Jermal and the desecration of the remains of her kin. The last option was to run and hide.

The best option, although hopeless, was to seek any Harper agents here ask for their help. She had no idea how to go about that except in the most blunt fashion as is her wont — find the seediest tavern where dark business is conducted (and hopefully watched by other powers) and call them out.


Concept: Evil Moonsea City
Descriptors: Dangerous, Steeped in Intrigue, Maze of Machinations

The Crying Siren

Concept: Nastiest, Seediest Tavern in Mulmaster
Descriptors: Den of Cutthroats, Legitimate Place of Illegitimate Business

In steps Doria with her mumbling companion. She sets him in a quiet corner and begins her ‘inquiry’. She lays the silver pin of the harp she picked up from her initial scuffle with the Harpers in Luskan on the counter of the bar in front of the barkeep and asks him in a not-too-subtle voice where she could find Harper scum.

Does she get the info she seeks? Yes, and… AND!

Even as she is asking, she notices a figure step up behind her. Two more flank her. They are grim faced men, and one of them bears a similar pin.

Doria spins about to greet the men. “I encountered your men in Luskan,” she said. “I want to talk.”

Warily, the men lead her to a private parlor. She brings Jermal along who begins raving again about the looming war.

The Harpers chastise Doria for openly talking of them, blowing their cover. She counters and tells about their comrades who were looking for the raving barbarian and the encounter with the necromancer. She asks for their help.

They fill in the story.

Note: this is the last scene of Rears Its Ugly Head which will complete unanswered BQ’s. It doesn’t matter how it’s answered, though incorporating the last Seed is a part of it. Without further Probes, a good amount of license will be used to provide details; and, as a result of no available Probe left for the scene, it means that the BQ detailed here is subject to amendment during the Final Boss Fight. Here, I’m allowing the NPC informants to fill in the missing details. It will be colored, however, by the perception and agenda of the Harpers.

Sevae, the leader of the trio tells the story: Anestal Devilsend, an agent of the Black Network, has been bent on recovering the Ring of Fire — a fell circle of magical stones wrought by the wizards of Netheril and buried under what is now a local temple. It is a gate to one of the Nine Hells, and capable of loosening beings of unthinkable power and evil and he alone has the key to unlocking it. Anestal hopes to use his undead hordes to assail Mulmaster, and they, along with the barbarian’s seed are the key to open the Ring of Fire. The Harpers’ mission in Luskan was to track Jermal, knowing he was key to Anestal’s plan, though they didn’t know exactly how he fit. It turns out that the mad barbarian has some curse laid upon him, through which Anestal can wield the power of raising the dead, among other powers. Sevae and his companions were in deep cover in Mulmaster to keep an eye over the temple.

Having those answers, Doria asks what next to do. Sevae only responds that to hide away somewhere is a temporary fix. Some conflict with Anestal is inevitable, and now, it seems, so too is one with Valdaris Blackrot, his colleague in Luskan.

Intersection: Using the last seed, of fire, Doria smells something as smoke begins to creep into the room. Screams from the taproom indicate a fire is burning the Crying Siren. She doesn’t doubt that Zhentarim spies have tried to flush her out. (Conflict)

Raging Fire

Descriptors: Chaos Reigns, Hot Flames
Conditions: [ ] Out of Control [ ] Conflagration
Grabbing Jermal, Doria heads out the door and finds the nearest exit.

Does she find a clear exit? [-2FU] Yes…

Out of the private room, the smoke is thicker and people shriek. Sevae and his men push their way forward, trying to help. Down a back way they go and then into a darkened smoke-filled alley. As soon as they break free of the burning building and into the alley, several dark figures loom out of the shadows.

Zhentarim Thugs

Descriptors: Treacherous, Greedy
Gear: Gleaming Short Sword
Conditions: [ ] Confused, [ ] Slowed, [ ] Out of Action

Does Doria cut through them? No, and, AND…
[X] Unconscious [+1FU]

Without warning, more figures pop out from their flanks. Sevae and his men are cut down. Before Doria can free her blade from its scabbard, a heavy impact hits her hard on the back of the head and she swoons. The last thing she sees is Jermal screaming as figures hoist him over their shoulders and abscond with him.

Scene Close: Well, that could have gone better! At least, it answers the last of the BQ’s, though with Doria’s setback, it’s not only an elevation of the Danger Level, but a trigger for the next phase, the Final Boss Fight.

We are left with a worksheet that looks like:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Doria in the Savage North, part 1

To create more interest in my new Perilous Intersections solo engine, here is an introductory adventure using those new rules. The action is set in the Savage North area of the Forgotten Realms. FU will be my rpg system of choice

First, our anti-heroine:

Doria Nightraven

Concept: Vengeful and Beautiful Northern “Mystra Marked” Barbarian
Descriptors: Quick as a Cat, Willful as the Devil, Swordplay, Vengeful
Gear: Iron Longsword, Stiletto DirksPowers: A Way with Crows
FU Refresh: 2
Description: Dark-haired and pale-skinned, Doria is an attractive yet imposing figure. She hails from the Ride, her home their burned and her people slain or enslaved by the evil Zhentarim. She found her way by virtue of the sword. She has served as bodyguard, mercenary, and adventurer. She wanders, seeking to bring down the sorcerers who have enslaved and destroyed her people.
Conditions: None
Special: as a special charm ability, spending 1 FU point and making a Beat the Odds roll allows Doria to summon a flock of ravens upon need to confuse or bewilder.


Doria, seeking revenge on those Zhentarim she remembers were a part of the raid on her village, she seeks to track them one by one.

Seek & Destroy


Using Rory’s Story Cubes: Happy Face, Sunflower, Tree, Fire, Lightning, Fountain

Something Amiss

This is the first stage of the PI system. In it, scene events are interpreted as to push on the direction of the PC's main thrust. Once two of the Big Questions are answered (Who? What? Why? How?), the system moves into the next stage of play, wherein the antagonistic aggression begins to target the PC directly.

One: Doria in Luskan

Setup: Doria arrives in Luskan where she has heard that a pocket of Zhentarim agents are operating
Position: Advantaged (-1)

Doria wanders into the first dive she sees, the Lazy Albatross and begins questioning in a most unsophisticated way. She’s not against bashing some heads to get some quick answers.

The Lazy Albatross
Concept: Seedy Bar Near the Docks of Luskan
Descriptors: Dimly Lit, Smells Something Awful
Conditions: [X] Crowded

Seed: Happy Face
Intersection: taking the idea to mean friendly or familiar, Doria is shocked to see one of her kin from her burned village — one she was certain was dead or captured, now in his cups, toothless at the bar. Jermal has friends with him — friends with a different mien than she might expect from low-life Zhentish thugs. (Conflict)

Jermal Ashenrod
Concept: Savage-Born Freeman
Descriptors: Feeble, Broken Sanity
Conditions: [X] Inebriated

Mysterious Men (squad of 3)
Concept: Mysterious Guardians
Descriptors: ???
Gear: Fancy Swords
Conditions: ???

Does Doria get Jermal to talk? No, and… (+1FU)

Using her willfulness, Doria tries to get sense out of the man, now a broken freeman with only a shred of sanity. Due to her forcefulness, she has no luck, and attracts Jermal’s nearby friends, who put hands to their sword hilts to protect the aging savage.

Does Doria defend herself? Yes, but…

A fierce fight breaks out, sending patrons scurrying. Doria raises the hellcat within her and beats the three peculiarly dressed fellows back. However, one escapes out the back with Jermal.

Does she chase them down? Yes, but…

Quick as a cat, Doria chases the man hauling Jermal out by his cuff. She cuts the distance, but the two she fought recovered and have her surrounded.

Does Doria defeat the men? Yes, and…

With savage ferocity swinging her sword, and a cunning backhanded flick using one of her dirks, she cuts them down one by one, and rescues Jermal.

Story Probe: Does she find the token of a silver harp on any of the men? D6-1 = 5! Yes

She finds and recognizes a pin in the folds of one of the men’s cloaks. A Harper pin! What were they doing in Luskan — and with Jermal, who she thought was slain or enslaved years ago?

Scene Close: Who answered; DL increases

Two: Doria Holes Up with Jermal

Setup: Doria rents a cheap room and tries to rehabilitate Jermal and get answers
Position: At Odds (0)

Doria finds a quiet decrepit hostelry near a temple to Talos named The Grand Chalet which was anything but. There, she tries to nurse Jermal back to coherence so she can ask about the local Zhentarim. She knows there must be a connection between them, the Harpers, and Jermal’s seemingly random appearance.

Seed: Fountain
Intersection: Seeing the fountain as a spouting forth of endless stuff, this means that Jermal comes to the next day, and begins talking — a lot! Only, none of it seems coherent in any sense. It is a stream of babble, about esoteric stuff. (Revelation)

Jermal Ashenrod

Concept: Savage-Born Freeman
Descriptors: Feeble, Broken Sanity
Conditions: [X] Ranting
Does she get him to talk sense? No, and…
Doria tries to calm him, but in her vengeful zeal, he only gets enraged and streaks out into the streets like a madman.

Story Probe: Did Jermal speak of some esoteric artifact? D6+0 = 4. No

Something Different: drawing a feathered arrow and intersecting against the Story Probe, Jermal was spouting on about some looming war.

Scene Close: An unreliable and sketchy What answered; How is very sketchy, but seems to involve Jermal; DL increases

Worksheet So Far

By the end of our session, we get this for the first two scenes:

Monday, September 22, 2014

Perilous Intersections, v. 1.0

Okay, I made it! This one sat on my hard drive for a long while before I had the chance to clean it up. Nevertheless, I present to you, Perilous Intersections.

Perilous Intersections
Doubtless, this will not be my final version. If anyone has any comments, criticism, typographical issues, please post them and I'll consider them for my next revision. Part of this new solo rpg engine didn't sit well with me as I dwelled on it...the interpretational issues of scene framing, which are at the heart of PI, seemed slow and too ponderous. I felt that it got in the way of play.

However, after giving it some time to season, I think I am happy with the result. At least, there are parts of it that I really like. If you happen to play it, send your thoughts and comments.

Sunday, August 3, 2014


Hello! Well, after promising I would have a new shiny solo engine out by week's end, here I am! It's the new week starting, and still no new solo game. It has turned out to be more work than I thought. What started as an unclear idea seed became a bit unwieldy after setting it down on paper.

I am in the play testing phase of Perilous Intersections. It looks like it's in need of more testing. Some areas are still in need of polish. Once I am satisfied, I'll want to go back through and trim as much as I can. One thing I like are elegant systems with lower page counts. This one is above that optimum threshold to my taste, so there's still work to be done.

Perhaps a preview for you to get the idea out. The tin says:

  • A scene-framing engine for the solo rpg gamer that leaves plenty of room to interact with and contribute to scene details via your favorite rpg system
  • A method of interpretation, whereby conflicts move from targeting motivations to the PC directly
  • A system of slowly revealing an emergent plot line, keeping the player guessing until the end (Great for murder-mystery adventures!)
  • A system that elevates dramatic tension and pushes a final threat in front of the PC
  • Dynamic adventure-building, where the PC’s own motivations and principles are tested, and can change as the threat asserts itself
  • PCs can work to gain edges, gaining or losing leverage, and with it, the ability to stem the final threat
  • Plot twists are naturally introduced through the simple interpretation filter of intersections
  • A system of balancing random prompts with player choice to build a narrative that can feel like the back-and-forth of playing with a live person
  • A simple system for scaling danger that reacts to successful and unsuccessful character action resolution
There are the highlights. I feel like I'm reinventing the wheel here. Hopefully it's not the case...I definitely have many inspirations that I'll credit. No date of completion estimates — but I'll try not to let it drag on forever.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A New Solo Engine

One thing all solo rpg enthusiasts share in common with one another is restlessness...endless experimentation, fine tuning, drafting, workshopping — REVERSE ENGINEERING! All things to get our gaming experience just right. There must, at all times, be thought and improvement. Perfection is but an ideal, and satisfaction is elusive at best.

As members of a fringe corner of the rpg hobby, solo tabletop rpg gamers are pioneers. We have to tinker and do stuff, because the niche is still very new. Of course, things like Fighting Fantasy game books, Tunnels & Trolls solo adventures, and similar pen ’  paper solitaire variants have been around almost as long as the hobby. I'm talking about the current trends of, “how do I create a spontaneous, never-before scripted roleplaying experience with special tools and tables that will let me use my favorite rules where I'm still kept in the dark about what will happen next?” Our searching, sharing, and innovating never stops.

It has been quiet around here...and for a reason. I've drafted ideas and mini solo engines like Epic, modeled after the Mythic GME, the Chapter System, Twist of Line, and other ideas. Yes, I have been working on a new one. This one is turning out to be far more serious and time-consuming than I thought when the first seed of an idea started growing. I have almost finished my first draft. This system I'll keep under wraps until I've had a chance to really playtest it. I'm hoping within a week or two to have Perilous Intersections ready here...

It will have a few new things, but also a well deserved nod to the other solo pioneers who have made great contributions. It will have some guidelines to emulate certain flavors of adventures. I also hope to offer a solution to journaling your adventures to keep the work to a minimum.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Solitarius Ludus Mobilis

aka, solo pocket campaign

Long ago I promised that I would write a blog entry about play environments. How do I organize my own place space? What tricks do I have that make solo play easier? I won’t be able to answer that to everyone’s satisfaction, for certain. Actually, my own way of doing things will not work for everyone. Nonetheless, here are my own methods and spaces real and virtual…

To answer, I must preface first that my own time allotment for play is neither regular nor anticipated. I will happily grab a few minutes here and there when circumstances allow for it.

I have two options that work for me. The first is actual table space on which I can use my dice, scratch paper, iPad, and any other things I need, including rulebooks. This is the rarest medium of play for me. I may only get a few hours of this every few months due to my personal schedule. The more common form of play for me is to have tools on my iPhone, or iPad, that I can quickly do all the things I need as I play.

The former method is probably common to all, so I am not going to elaborate or illustrate any of this. The latter way is my preferred method due to my restrictive schedule, and may have a few interesting or unique elements that might help others do the same.

What do we absolutely need to reduce solo gameplay to a minimalist medium, trimming any fat we can to make things manageable and mobile? This will be a different answer for many. For me, the basics are some form of notation, electronic dice (this is easy), PDF rulebooks that I can reference with some sort of capable mobile reader, a camera, and perhaps a separate app for taking really concise notes or marking game stats, dice rolls, brief notes and the like.

Journal. This one is a must. I use Trunk Notes, which is a great little app for making your own personal wiki. I tend to journal actual sessions right into it. It has a convenient table of contents, tags, and other metadata elements which make searching easier. It also allows me to import graphics or even voice memos if I need to, so organization is a cinch. Maps, sketches, voice notes, or anything else I like are right there. It also backs up to my dropbox account, so that I can keep all those notes synchronized between devices (because I never know whether I might have my iPad with me or my phone). Often I will dictate right into the app if my voice is not going to bother somebody. (Keep in mind voice recognition sucks royally for all those crazy fantasy-inspired names!). More often than not, I will tap right in. I won’t deny that’s a pain in the ass. However, I’ve gotten pretty good at tapping away.

Dice. This is a no-brainer. There are enough apps out there on your digital market of choice that I need say no more. However, a very integral part of my solo game experience includes Rory’s Story Cubes. I now have the complete set, but I can’t lug around a huge sack with me in case a fraction of spare time may grace me. So instead, thankfully, …there’s an app for that!

Reader. Any gamer, regardless of whether they play face-to-face or solo, needs to keep their books with them for reference at any given moment. All gamers love their books. And whether one prefers the dead tree option, it’s always nice to have a portable PDF backup. Therefore, having a good reader is a must for any gamer. I use GoodReader, which is robust to handle large files and has served me well. It also allows me to keep my whole cache of books on Dropbox.

Scratchpad. also important, if not the most important, is to record little bits of notes during the session before they actually get written up into an actual play. (Some forgo any sort of detailed writeups… I’m all for that too, but my personal preference is to take a pretty detailed prose account of the action.) I have discovered Inkflow, a great little sketch pad app that allows me to do several important things for me. It especially works great on my iPad, when I can use a stylus to actually write in little notes and scores. Some of the great features that it will allow me to do is to, for example, import images on top of which I can scribble. I love this for character sheets. I have adapted some character sheets, taking a quick screenshot of them, and imported them into Inkflow, and, Voilà! I can then sketch right on the sheet and make changes without rubbing a hole through the paper with my eraser. Furthermore, I can update it in my dropbox account and keep it synchronized between my devices. For Fate enthusiasts, there’s the new Fate Companion, which has a great mobile character sheet.

Camera. I also find that sometimes, for whatever reason, if I’m not equipped or I have some scratch paper in hand and do things the old-fashioned way, having the camera on my phone or other device is invaluable. Little sketches and drawings made, notes done — these can all be captured on the camera in moments (in case one has to immediately run to one’s next activities).

Mobile Storage. Lastly, a mobile storage space for all your documents, PDF rulebooks, notes, pictures, what have you, is a necessity for keeping things on the go.

My method is not always fast, but it has the great advantage that I’m always equipped and ready to go should the opportunity (and desire) present itself. On those rare occasions when I can actually spread out my materials on a table or work with my computer to dictate sessions, I have not observed much more facility or speed than my mobile method; so I guess it’s still well within the realm of acceptability for me.

What is your play environment? What sort of dirty techniques and tricks have you discovered that helps facilitate your own solo experiences?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Hour of Dream, part 5

At last, a continuation of my campaign, "Last of the Drowsbane." When last I left off, Tengrym had freed his former mentor in a chance meeting. He was tracking down his nemesis, who had made his way to Scardale in order to ship tons of magically enspelled grains abroad in order to subjugate a large number of surface dwellers for the drow. He was also hoping that his brother would be successful in summoning the combined garrisons that occupied the city.

Scene 9

Setup: Tengrym and Ara sneak through the night to find a quiet and seemingly unoccupied granary near the shipyard
CF: 4
Altered? Yes — instead of a quiet place, much activity is afoot

Is it Shandorin or his forces/allies? Yes…

Are more drow present? Yes, and… (some orc slaves)
Are they loading casks for transport? Yes…
Do they outnumber even what the combined garrison can handle? Yes…
Note: Ara fails stealth test
Do the sentinels that spot Ara close in immediately on the two? Yes, but… (they are overconfident and in a smaller number (4 drow minions for each character))

Together, the two padded toward the deeper areas of the dockside warehouses. During this late hour, the place was surprisingly teeming with activity. Dark elves stood guard about the perimeter, and orcs began loading casks onto three carvels. The numbers were astonishing. With the paltry garrison of each nation in Scardale, their combined might still couldn’t hope to be at even footing with the number of dark elves, orcs, and whatever other forces Shandorin had available.

“Where is Thedric?!” whispered Tengrym to himself. Still, they couldn’t hope to succeed without the Cormyreans, Sembians, and all the others.

He turned to Ara to discuss their plan, when he saw several stealthy shapes creeping close. “Look out!” he cried as drow descended upon them.

A group of four got the jump on Ara, striking with such surprising speed and ruthlessness. Somehow, the elf swordsman readied his newfound arms and tried to put up a defense. He took the brunt of the assault and Tengrym thought his old mentor was done. However, he was made of resilient stuff.

Before Tengrym could intervene, four more put him to the test. He was flanked and cut off from his former teacher. Steel clanged, and all of the half-elf’s nerves were tested. A slice got through his guard, but fortunately, his shirt of mail held. He beat them back methodically, not daring to split his attention, and beginning with the weakest member. They were fiercer than those who had escorted Ara to the warehouse. One fell, and then another after relentless and patient blade work. The last was tenacious and put up a firm resistance. At last, Tengrym spun like a dancer, using one of the graceful feints that Ara had taught him.

The swords-master had finished his duel at the same time Tengrym dealt with his four. Though it initially appeared ill for Ara, only the dark elves’ ambush had granted them a momentary advantage against a seasoned veteran.

Does this draw attention from others? Yes, and…* (Shandorin sees and shouts an alarm)

*Twist: Tangential; Cubes — alarm wake-up, ask question, chaos
Interpretation: Hapray wakes up and causes a delay with his questioning and chaos erupts

At this point, the two could hardly catch their breath or share a word. Across the yard between stacks of cargo, Tengrym and the white-haired Shandorin locked eyes on one another. There could be no doubt…the scarred visage was clear even at the distance of a hundred paces in dim lighting. Shandorin’s eyes registered recognition and bewilderment. Those brief tense moments seemed to last a great while. At last, the ally of the dark elves shouted an alarm.

“Intruders! Every man, elf, and orc…bring me the head of the half-elf and any allies!” The scarred renegade’s finger pointed.

Others had already come upon the disturbance having heard the brief struggle. All at once, it seemed the entire bustling throng of the shipyards simultaneously turned toward the two. There was no direct line of escape, but plenty of bolt holes through which a resourceful mouse could scurry. A group of six orcs dropped their arm loads of cargo and picked up axes and clubs, charging forward. From another corner came five more dark elves while another trio rounded a blind.

They were trapped!

Suddenly, a huge form smashed into the surprised orcs, scattering them in all directions. Hapray charged in, swinging his club blindly at anything within his reach. Boxes of cargo splintered and surprised screams cried out.

“Where is that tricksy elf?!” he screamed. A rage was over the great ogre, and friend or foe, it did not matter — he wished nothing more than to wreak havoc on anyone foolish enough to stop before his frenzied charge.

“Split up!” whispered Tengrym to his companion. “Try to delay them until my brother can summon help. I’ll make for the mill — no cargo should leave this city tonight!”

Ara nodded and led a group away. The ill-tempered (but well-timed) entry of the ogre was just the diversion needed to stave off disaster — even if temporary.
Tengrym darted forward into the labyrinth of stacks, losing pursuit and spying eyes. He wove his way further from the fray. Behind him, the ogre was making a tremendous ruckus — all the better!

Does he come across anyone? Yes…*

*Twist: PC positive — creepy face, open treasure chest
Interpretation: Tengrym catches up with Shandorin with a small group of dark elves — he is unwittingly leading Tengrym to the cache of magical grains

The half-elf stopped to catch his breath and get his bearings. He was closer to the mill. Part of the Sember powered a paddlewheel which was now disengaged — nothing turned. He heard the gurgling of the lazy dark waters swirling around the locked paddle. Suddenly, he heard the approach of voices barely audible above the sounds of distant clamor.
Tengrym smiled. Just before him passed the form of his nemesis, the scarred man’s dark cape fanned out behind him as he passed. Several more dark shadows tailed him — more dark elves.

“Follow me!” Shandorin hissed to his unseen escort. “We must secure the remainder of the wheat…”

The figures passed over a narrow bridge and entered the old mill. Quickly and stealthily, Tengrym followed shortly after. Waters gurgled under the bridge as he slipped through the door which was still ajar. Once inside, he crouched and allowed his eyes to adjust to the dark.

Are there more within? Yes…

Are they orc grunts? Yes, and… (several larger bugbear/half-ogre types for sheer strength)
What’s going on with the grain? heart, traveling sack, oatmeal
Interpretation: the remaining grain is being offloaded to casks at the center of the mill space; getting there is not easy
Do the workers have masks on? Yes…

There was noise and loud voices, along with considerable banging and grunting. Beyond a short corridor was a flight of stairs leading to a dimly-lit open area. Tengrym cautiously continued this way, stopping at the landing to survey his surroundings. The mill was an open, dust-covered space around a central stone millworks. Orcs and larger goblinoids wearing masks were busy directing freshly milled grains into wooden casks. Shandorin must have taken some other route not seen. He and the drow elves were stationed on a catwalk overlooking the central area from above. The disfigured half-elf was shouting orders down below.

Tengrym withdrew a few steps and considered his next move. He had no idea what might happen if he were to try and directly disintegrate the poisoned grains. They might be extremely volatile, or spread their deadly sleep effect around a concentrated area, killing many in the town. No…too risky to attempt that route. Tengrym decided on a more difficult route.

Tengrym stepped out into the open and chanted loudly, producing a pinch of sand and an eyelash. The orcs and half-ogre immediately turned to face the speaking voice and abruptly fell asleep, toppling where they stood.

From above, Shandorin commanded his dark elves to descend. “Capture him! Your queen’s prize awaits!”

Then to Tengrym, the disfigured half-elf pointed a finger down. “Stand where you are!” That voice had the power of magic behind it. Tengrym felt the power of it — the sheer will — seizing his motions. Need somehow drove his powers of resistance beyond their norm. He wrenched free of the force as the four dark elves raced down stairs — however, he still froze, guessing well the nature of the fell spell and feigning its success against his will.

When he heard the booted steps of the drow near, he uttered a word of arcane command. He abruptly disappeared and reappeared a mere step from Shandorin, sword in hand. The villain’s face palled and he began uttering another spell while drawing his sword.
Tengrym was the faster.

Shandorin grimaced as a nick opened an ugly wound in his already scarred face. Had he not aborted his spell and pulled back at the last moment, the swing might have taken off his head.

Below, Tengrym heard the ‘click’ of hand crossbows at the ready. Without moving his gaze from his enemy’s eyes, Shandorin put up a hand towards his dark skinned allies. “We shall settle this now,” he said to Tengrym, replacing his scowl with a hideous smirk. The two paced around one another among the rickety heights.

“You are a Drowsbane,” said Tengrym. “What was your price? Or did the drow place some fell enchantment on you?”

What does he answer? Leading a Friend

“You sound like your father,” hissed his counterpart. “The curse is laid upon you…”

“Your blood is thrice cursed if you are in league with these vile villains.”

“Not so. That part of my blood is purged. Give up now…join me and abandon the old ways. Vow allegiance to dark ones, and the Spider Queen may see fit to purge that aspect of your soul for which she thirsts.”

“It’s over, Shandorin. The men of Sembia, Cormyr, and the Moonsea know of your plan. You cannot succeed…”

“Whether this aspect of the plan fails or no will have no effect. It cannot break the curse laid upon the last of the Drowsbane.”

“There is a prophecy…you well know of it. What is it?”

“Join me…I will not ask again,” insisted Shandorin, ignoring the question.

“You must tell me,” repeated Temgrym.

They circled more like quarreling cats sizing one another up in a darkened alley.

“Enough talk!” shouted Shandorin.

At that, he launched himself forward. The two clashed, matching blow with parry, anticipating one another’s feints and lithe steps. For many turns, neither opponent gained ground nor exploited any weakness. This continued for what seemed like an interminable interval. Both were evenly matched. Both were equally trained in arms. Both were astonishingly similar in style and gait.

At last, Shandorin worked Tengrym into cramped quarters and sliced along his arm. An inch of exposed flesh at his elbow opened on his sword arm. Tengrym’s riposte was twice as forceful and three times as surprising as he refused to allow the minor touch slow him. Shandorin limped away, knowing a deep gouge was scored his outside thigh on his right leg.

The two heaved breaths and took a moment to take stock of the situation. Tengrym seemed slightly better off with only a shallow wound along his elbow and tricep and a thin line of red along his left forearm that he did not remember getting.

The drow began creeping up the stairs again, wondering if their ally was done in. However, it was not so.

Shagri-chozh-WAN!” Shandorin cried, gripping a yellow amulet that hung about his neck. It flashed momentarily and the disfigured half-elf launched forward.

With renewed fury, the villain thrashed, foregoing his refined fencing style in favor of barbaric ferocity driven by strength. Tengrym put up a defense parrying the blows. However, some supernatural strength had taken hold of Shandorin’s limbs and Tengrym was numbed by the impacts. Sweat beaded on both combatant’s faces.

Finally, Tengrym’s blade was battered from his grip and skittered across the floor, falling to the ground below with a loud clang. Tengrym uttered a spell of blasting, but staggering back, he stammered and the spell failed in a useless display of light. In the meantime, several of the drow were near at hand, and another had roused the orcs below that Tengrym had put to sleep.

Turning from the scene below, Tengrym faced his nemesis, who had now uttered a word of magic and lunged forward, gripping Tengrym’s neck with a vice-like grip in his off-hand. Simultaneously, a white-hot electrical charge ran along Shandorin’s arm into Tengrym’s body. He swooned and nearly passed out, convulsing from the powerful charge. He fought to draw air through his closing throat.

Do the drow intervene? Yes, and… (A little birdie flies in)

Note: rolling some cubes, I generate appropriate on-the-fly stats and spells for Dynas Dundragon, currently disguised as an owl.
Does Dynas warn Tengrym telepathically (one of his spells)? Yes, but… (not by spell)
Does Shandorin deny the drow their prize? Yes…

The nearest dark elf stepped behind Shandorin. In a strange accent, he whispered, “Release the sacrifice!”

Still clutching Tengrym’s throat, Shandorin shot the drow a hateful look, enhanced by his disfigurement. “Step back, dogs!” he hissed, now fueled by bloodlust beyond reasoning. “This last Drowsbane is mine!”

The two drow warriors drew steel. At the same moment came a screech and flutter of wings as an old owl circled overhead, gaining entry through some shorn roofing or ruined ventilhation.

Shandorin continued his death grip on Tengrym’s throat. Emboldened, the first of the dark elves stepped forward and pushed the disfigured half-elf away. Shandorin fell and Tengrym was released, gasping for breath. Two dark elves descended upon him while the third stepped over the fallen Shandorin.
Tengrym quickly regained his wits and recited a quick snatch of arcane rote. A bright flash knocked one of the drow down senseless, but the other had shielded himself from the bright light. Now combat broke out in two places on the confined upper deck. Just then, the roused orcs were commanded to help one of the drow and they slowly shook off the remaining effects of sleep and grabbed whatever tools they could to aid in the battle.

Suddenly, the owl whooshed down to the floor and morphed into a man — none other than the wizened Dynas Dundragon, the outcast court wizard of the Drowsbane family. The wizard hurled a mighty ball of fire, exploding against one side of the old mill. Screams of the dying sounded as most of the throng of orcs fell into blackened heaps. Flames quickly leapt up the side of the old building.

Tengrym got only a quick glance at the carnage. He noted the inferno licking up the dry wooden walls. He strove against a wicked dark elf with a sword in hand. Nearby, Shandorin was also engaged with a second. Quick sword work dropped his opponent.

The Drowsbane could not guess the source of the explosion. He still fought for breath. The drow attacked, going for his neck with the pommel of his sword. The two danced — Tengrym not so graceful as his counterpart.

Does Shandorin attack the remaining drow? Yes…

The disfigured villain interceded between Tengrym and the drow. A savage slice drove the dark elf back before he finally fell to countless deadly slices.

Tengrym could have uttered a word and teleported out of harm’s way. However, his own rationality had fled him. He could think of nothing but defeating his nemesis — a man who represented the ultimate treachery and antithesis of his proud ancestral heritage.

Instead, he rolled to one side near the ledge overlooking the mill below. Flames continued to lick the side of the building. Now smoke filled the upper portions. At that moment, he saw Dynas’s fierce eyes. He took no time to wonder. He also saw his magical blade below. With a quick two words, the sword was hoisted from the floor magically and sped with a flash into Tengrym’s waiting hand. He turned just in time as Shandorin came in for the offensive.

Rather than meet his blade, Tengrym mustered his speed and leapt, turning and kicking the savage attacker, knocking him through the guard rail and over the deadfall to the mill floor.

Is it a Master [TN 13] fall? No… (it is just ‘Expert [TN 11]’)

Shandorin flailed through the air. He landed hard on his side, the wind knocked out from him. Smoke continued to billow, choking Tengrym where he stood regarding the form below. Dynas saluted him with a sarcastic smirk. He made a frightening gesture, and two remaining orcs that had not been obliterated by they powerful fires ran through an exit. “You’re welcome,” the wizard said to Tengrym.

Tengrym began to cough. He pointed to the form below. “Don’t…let him escape…” Then he recalled the rote to a featherfall spell.

Dynas turned to the man who brought himself to his knees and lumbered after the two fleeing orcs. “Not so fast!” Dynas said, rolling up his sleeves. “Attum brimbiae, salloh NAH!” he shouted. Motes of light shot from his fingertips and took hold of the fleeing figure in black. Where the man had been, now was only a gray tortoise.

“Hmph!” commented the wizard. “That should do it!”

Tengrym controlled his coughing enough to utter the spell. Down he floated through the smoke to the floor to stand beside the wizard. “I haven’t yet forgiven or forgotten, Dynas,” he said.

“I know,” said Dynas, rolling his eyes. “You made that abundantly clear in the Elvenwood.”

Tengrym scooped up the fleeing tortoise and dropped him in a sack secured to his waist. “That’s a humiliating trick you have,” he commented. The wizard only smirked.

“Fine job burning down this place, wizard!” added Tengrym. He now looked at the grains around the mill with newfound worry. “That chaff is dangerous! We have to do something…I don’t know what it will do if ignited.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?!”

Tengrym wrung his hands in desperation and frustration. “Why didn’t I…?! If you had…!” He abandoned it and fled, the wide-eyed wizard running after.

Does the chaff explode? Yes, but… (not immediately — they have time to escape)*
*Twist: Thread (move away) — Hunt down Shandorin and challenge him in single combat

Interpretation: Somehow in the hustle, Tengrym loses the bag with the tortoise…by some means, the morphed villain manages to escape!
Have the garrisons arrived (due to Thedric) to do battle with the enemy? Yes, but… (they are sorely pressed)

When the two fled the building, the battle had renewed. A huge ogre was tearing up large tracts of the port, while a tight ring of drow and orcs hemmed in a desperate few fighters. Many of them bore the livery of the combined garrisons. Thedric did it! He succeeded thought Tengrym. But they were losing.

Suddenly, from behind, an enormous bright flash exploded, followed by an impossibly loud thunderclap. All were bowled over by a tremendous shockwave that leveled the entire mill and much around it.

Do the enemy lose their fight at this point? Yes…*
*Twist: Tangential — low fuel gauge, meteor

Interpretation: without better ideas, this could be some king of portent…low gas, a waning sickle moon, meteor…a comet

Then it was quiet. Before there had been combat and death, but now only eerie silence. It took some time, but the survivors, both allied and opposed, slowly got to their feet.

A lone figure cried, “Look!”

All heads followed his finger toward the heavens. There, they saw a curious sign. High in the sky, Selûne passed through a break in the clouds, now only a sliver of molten silver. Almost more dazzling and crossing at a perpendicular angle was the bright tail of a huge comet. Every beholder knew that they witnessed some great portent, but they could not begin to understand its meaning.

Almost immediately, the remaining drow and goblinoids turned and fled, though their numbers had been previously overwhelming. A charge among the garrisoned forces sounded, and the warriors began to route the enemy. Most of the orcs surrendered, far preferring the doom of men over the crueler dark elves. The latter fled.

Where does the enemy lead? earth, digging hole

Tengrym and Dynas followed after. The drow, passing like shades in the night, fled along the coast south away from the river Sember. There, just beyond the buildings was a thick tangle of woods. They were making for it.

Do the drow get away? Yes, and… (Their underground complex has a magical gate to spirit them away)

The drow had a lead. When Tengrym and the others at last reached the wood, they discovered a stair leading within the ground. The half-elf summoned light and the allies descended. Within was only a cylindrical chamber etched with runes on the wall and a strange design was on the floor.

“A gate,” observed Dynas.

“Can we use it to find them?” asked Tengrym.

“It would take me considerable time, but perhaps…”

“How much time?”

Dynas shrugged. “Hours? Weeks? I cannot begin to know until I begin to research. And I don’t have access to my tomes.”

Tengrym stared at the room in dismay. Yet, there was still the magical grain which was not all accounted for. They had to regroup and have counsel with the powers that were in control of Scardale. At least he had the scheming Shandorin in captivity, he reminded himself, patting his sack. To his shock and amazement, the sack was ripped open! Had Shandorin chewed through the canvas? Quickly, he retraced his steps, but he could not find a tortoise in the chaos. When he returned to Dynas, the wizard confirmed that the spell was not lasting.

"You wanted me to restrain him, yes?" answered the wizard. "A permanent changing is a more difficult spell...not one that is simply cast willy-nilly! It takes time and effort, and the appropriate laboratory if one is to do it well."

Tengrym had lost his nemesis again! There were clearly more tricks up the villain’s sleeve. Tengrym knew that the disfigured one knew much about Baolnor’s tablet.


CF: -1
NPCs: Anoris Shandorin, Dark Elves, Thedric, Illistyl Elventree, the basilisk, Dynas Dundragon, Orlimpar Eveningfall, Arlgoth the Mighty, Soldiers of Sembia, Arafraulyn, Hapray the Ogre
Threads: Find a new safe haven, Stop Shandorin’s plan, Hunt down Shandorin and challenge him in single combat

This was a long scene and climactic. It was great to return. One more scene should satisfy to tie up all the loose ends with the grain...but who knows? Maybe some twists will prolong this one. The protagonist wasn't successful in his aims, but it was exciting nonetheless...and an escaping villain to return another time is great!