Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Wizard's Ruby

Reading over an old actual play from about five years ago in preparation for getting an old character ready for reprise, I was entertained by this story. The following is a four-scene short solo AP in the form of short fiction.

A solo game wherein the hero starts at a random location in the Forgotten Realms game world, and shit happens to him. This game uses the Freeform Universal RPG and Rory’s Story Cubes.

GAME ENGINE TWEAKS
This one uses FU rules straight-up, with the exception of characters being defined by profession, body/mind, edge, flaw, gear, gear, and a general Basic, Expert, Champion, or Master scale Descriptor used only for scaling the types of questions to be asked and give a clue as to what type of challenges may realistically be met. The profession Descriptor grants a bonus die for everything assumed under a profession’s description. It also uses the optional uses for FU points founding on p. 14 of the rules, namely, “Flip a Pip”, “Use a Prop”, “Stunts and Powers”, and “Taking a Hit”. Also, damage accrues through the logical stages, though spending an FU point can replace a damage Condition with a freeform creative one, such as, “I Can’t hold a blade!”, or “Limping in Pain.”

FU Points are earned from living up to one’s background, such as taking other people’s shit for a thief or kicking ass for a fighter, humorous or memorable description, succumbing to one’s weakness, and emerging victorious by engaging one’s enemy.

GEDRIC TWOBLADES
Description: He’s tall, slender, and grim with long dark hair and an eye patch covering a dead eye. He’s all about himself and cashing in on gold and fame.
Relationships: He’s got nobody except the occasional courtesan and enforcer from the odd disgruntled crime lord. Gedric had it with the cities and left to seek the better company of ghosts and goblins, but had it with that as well. Now he’s back trying to freelance as a petty thief, hired sword, or what-have-you.
Drives: Strong drink, women, and of course the jingle of coin.
Stat Block
Scale: Basic
Descriptors: Thief, Swordsmanship, Clever, Greed Gets the Best of Him
Gear: Twin Sabers, Pouch of Useful Tools

FU Points: 1


Credit: the incomparable Jason Chan


Lord Blade, Xalivar Exalskaiy
Description: Somewhat diminutive with repugnant facial features, Xalivar dresses in dark, drab robes and has a bald head and pinkish eyes. He is one of the ruling Blades of Mulmaster, the only wizard, and without heir or bride.
Stat Block
Scale: Expert
Descriptors: Wizard, Brilliant Researcher, Fearsome Mien, Repugnant
Gear: Wand of Transmutation, Ring of Protection

ONE
crescent moon, building, key, evil shadow

It was dark. The moonlight filtered through the tower window slit of Baron Xalivar’s inhabitance, one of the Towers of the Blade on the rocky sides of Mulmaster’s singular mountain. Xalivar was one of the Blades of Mulmaster, the patriarch of one of its feared and formidable ruling families.

…and it was said, possessed a wealthy house.

Gedric Twoblades worked at the lock of the highest part of the tower said to contain the Blade’s vault. He stopped, suddenly – alerted by some strange sound. Was it the wind? Rats? A passing guard outside on patrol? After long moments of bated breath, the thief continued to work the lock.

Life’s many ups and downs had kept Gedric on the move. How had he gotten to Mulmaster, anyway? he wondered. It was a convoluted road of petty thievery, buggaring of women (some courtesans, others the bored wives of surprisingly grudging fellows of note), dungeon delving, cavern spelunking, and once (and never again) as a caravan guard.

One thing he had learned. Coins – whether earned through honest means or not – were slow to beget and quick to loose, not to mention heavy to carry in any great quantities and capable of attracting undesirable attention by many an envious man or woman. Then, there were trade bars, some in far more valuable denominations. But these, however, also suffered from similar weight and space restrictions. Jewels, on the other hand…

…There it was again… What was that?

Gedric waited out the figment of his imagination, repeating to himself that Lord Xalivar was away, his whole household with him. Now, where was he? Oh yes…

Jewels, on the other hand, were even thousands of times more precious, and small too! A handful of the beautiful colored stones cut into magnificent rainbow-casting shapes were easy to carry, conceal, and highly sought-after – at least to those who knew their value and could afford such luxuries. A buyer was not always easy to find.

It was said that Xalivar had troves of gems, jewels, and precious objects – all tucked away in his vault, by which was secured by nothing more than a fancy lock.

Suddenly, Gedric heard the sweet sound of the tumblers falling into place. He replaced his well-used picks as the door swung open. He defeated the lock, and inside reflecting the pale moonlight were a multitude of dazzling gemstones that even in darkness foretold of many hues, shapes, and sizes.

He stepped in, eager to stuff his pouches full of the precious stones. He heard nothing of what now followed him with violent, hateful eyes. But a queer unsettling feeling stole some of the expectant pleasure, replacing it instead with dread and loathing. He knew not why the sudden change overpowered him. Nonetheless, he proceeded forward.

The feeling subsided somewhat when he saw the jewel-encrusted gold and silver dainties and opals and emeralds and rubies. He stuffed a sack with jewels that spilled through fingers and rolled pearls on the floor, and so tripped the lurker standing but mere feet behind him poised to slay.

magic wand, uncertain face, earth, chaos, speech bubble, tower

The scrape of feet alerted Gedric first. He spun around in surprise, dropping his bag of jewels. A scream shot out and in front of the thief’s eyes materialized a robed form who, moments before, was invisible. In dark garb, a flailing form with a wand in hand fell backwards after sliding on a handful of round bead-like gems underfoot. The form hit the floor with a thud and a the hood fell back revealing a stunned man with bald pate and an expression of shock and anger.

Gedric wasted no further time and snatched up the half-empty sack and leapt over the sprawling form of the man. Obviously a wizard, the man, moments before, no doubt nearly loosened a lightning bolt or similar devastating effect at the back of Gedric’s head. He needed to get as much distance between the two as possible. However, the man must have regained his wits nearly as quickly, latching on to the hem of Gedric’s breeches, bringing him down with a gasp, and sending the sack and its glittering contents across the moonlit floor.

Gedric struggled to free his pant leg from the astonishingly tenacious grip. His twin sabers clanked uselessly under his legs. The proximity from his assailant disallowed any effective use of his blades even if he could draw them. With a desperate kick, he shot the heel of his boot into the wizard’s grimacing face, knocking himself free of his vice-like grip and stunning the aggressor.

Then he was up and off. He picked up a choice gemstone, a flat-cut ruby a third the size of his palm and tore off down the curving stair. Giving the wizard a good kick would have no lasting effect, and who knew of what the wizard was capable?

TWO
Does Xalivar have other guardians? “Yes…”
scary shadow, bee, guard tower, lock, chaos
Details: Dark, Locked Door

Gedric rushed headlong down the winding stairs, escaping the vengeful screaming from above. He came to a landing which opened to an area almost completely dark. From somewhere, moonlight filtered in, but revealed little but a black vastness. He stopped to get his bearings, panting uncontrollably. The area was dark, but echoed his breathing with a stony reverberation. Then he pushed ahead with feeling fingers.

He could tell he was in some sort of lofty area, but no light leaked through any windows here. It was likely a more interior hall or chamber. He shuffled forward to get to the exit. In the distance, he heard more echoes of the wizard’s voice in the distance. He was coming, and suddenly appeared in the room’s center not more than a few feet in front of Gedric. Purplish motes flew away in all directions and lit up the room momentarily.

The two locked eyes on one another, and something else in the upper corner of the chamber caught Gedric’s attention too. It was an evil, toothy grin on a diminutive winged figure. Even now, he could see the thing’s red eyes aglow.

In a moment, the wizard spoke a word of power, and light in his hand appeared, constant and bright, brighter than that of a torch. Gedric wasn’t idle either. He slipped his two sabers from their scabbards and come forward to deal with the wizard before he could loose any more magic.

The thing resting on the crown moulding extended its wings and descended. It was some sort of gargoyle-spawn or wizard’s pet.

Homunculus
Descriptors: Small, Winged, Hideous-Looking, Barbed Tail, Poisonous
Conditions: Out of Action

Two strides brought the thief within striking distance of the wizard, but not before the hideous gargoyle-thing was on his shoulders grasping at his neck with tiny clawed hands. A long, barbed tail snaked over the thing’s head and stabbed at Gedric like a scorpion. The thief let a horrified scream. He dropped one of his sabers to grab at the thing which was latched on with tenacious strength. It growled like a demonic puppy.

Try as he might, he couldn’t get the thing off. Even prodding at it with his sword, the thing would wriggle out of reach. It stung him numerous times about the arm. It didn’t hurt, but now he saw that its tail glistened with something. Was it poison?

The wizard leveled his wand at the intruder, but waited with a grin for the outcome of the brief struggle. “Soon the sting of Jordie will weaken you.”

Even now, Gedric swooned from a sickening, dizzying sensation. Sweat beaded on his face, and he felt nauseated. He was poisoned, but got a grip on the creature and flung it off. He stooped down to retrieve his sword while the imp recovered and launched itself toward him. That’s when Gedric heard the words of power being recited.

Whatever spell it was, Gedric rolled and somehow avoided its effect, coming within striking distance of the wizard. The man’s face once again registered astonishment as the swordsman struck. The blade arced through the air, true and swift. Aimed to gut the repugnant man, it was Gedric’s turn to be astonished as his two blades jarred his arms as though he had struck solid rock. In fact, one of the blades was notched. The wizard grinned.

Then the man’s wicked pet was on Gedric again, stabbing with that barbed tail. Gedric slashed our with both arms, scissoring the creature in two, but the poison had done its trick. He kneeled down on one knee trying to fight the delirium, but the wizard sped up the process, knocking Gedric on the back of the head. The thief went down and knew nothing more.

THREE
tower, stars, magnet, bumblebee
Details: Brimming with Power

Homunculus
Descriptors: Small, Winged, Hideous-Looking, Barbed Tail, Poisonous
Conditions: Out of Action

Gedric felt that he was dying… No, that he was already dead. He did not like the feeling of death. It made him feel thin, stretched, to the point of snapping like a cord. Slowly, pain filtered its way into his brain. It nagged him like an ember, burning its way deeper and deeper. A cry of agony escaped his lips.

“Ah! I see that you are awake,” said a voice.

Gedric slowly opened his eyes, and much to his dismay, he found that he was not yet dead. Reality was slow to come into his perception. A cloudy haze obfuscated his sight. Finally, with a shake of his head, some of that haze cleared away.

The rogue looked around at his surroundings. There was a chill air scented by exotic herbs and acrid odors. The room in which he found himself was round and high. A dome ceiling was vaulted above, and set about the walls that even intervals were burning braziers. At the center of the room stood a large table of black granite. On a pedestal lay open a great tome, clearly of magical origin. Numerous candles outlined the table, their wax running into long stalactites down its sides. It was clearly some sort of conjury or laboratory. Gedric could nearly feel the arcane power vibrating in the room.

Before the book and pedestal stood the ugly man Gedric had met in the floors below when he broke open into the Lord Blade’s vault. Obviously Xalivar was indeed home.

The thief found himself hanging by bonds that shackled his wrists together. He dangled against a wall at the end of a long chain. His cloak and weapons were taken away, and he was left with little but his small clothes. Another one of those small, winged, hideous creatures sat on a perch not far from the wizard, leering down at the helpless hero with an evil grin on its demonic face. Was it the same creature magically mended, or some wholly new counterpart?

“Are we feeling better?” asked the wizard. Gedric could little more than groan in response. “Good! Then let’s begin…”

The man thumbed through several pages until settling on one that satisfied him. His ugly pig-like features contorted to an evil toothy grin.

“Good help is so hard to find these days,” the wizard commented. “The other Blades of Mulmaster abhor my gruesome experiments, but only out of fear and misunderstanding.”

The revolting flying thing giggled and scratched under its wing, its deadly tail swinging left and right.

The wizard intoned the preamble of some rite. The vibrating energy Gedric felt seemed to come alive then with a baritone hum bespeaking of dangerous power. Xalivar Exalskaiy completed the overture, his face displaying great exaltation.

“Now, my slippery weasel, hold still and do not resist what next will take place,” he said. “I promise that the pain will be far greater if you do.” Then, the wizard continued his ritual.

Gedric allowed the pain to clear his dazed state somewhat. He had to get free! Glancing near a wall, he spied a stool upon which his few belongings were laid. Vials and decanters of strange frothing fluids bubbled, warmed over the many burning candles. He also sought the ruby he had filched. He saw it, but it was being toyed with in the hands of the wizard’s pet. A plan quickly worked itself into the bound victim’s imagination.

Gedric waited until the homunculus' attention was on the gem. The wizard was absorbed in the complexity of his ritual, and the thief could feel that power building. He had no idea how much time he had, but he had no desire to discover what horrifying transformation awaited him when the spell was finished. He began wriggling one wrist free of his bonds.

So skillful was Gedric, able to collapse his hands gracefully, that he quickly escaped both bonds immediately and slyly without either the wizard or his pet noticing. He was free of his bonds, and he had the chains in hand. One flick of his wrist would clear the chains from the iron hook on the wall. He waited until the time was right.

The moment was ripe. With a deft flick, Gedric released the chain and whipped it across the table. His intent was not to harm or maim directly, since the wizard was clearly enspelled against such malady, but to set other things in motion. The chains knocked the tome of spells from its podium and shattered two of the beakers and their hot fluids doused the astonished wizard, breaking his concentration. His spells clearly did not ward against boiling liquid that now burned his face. The man screamed in agony.

At that moment, the homunculus cast aside the ruby and leapt down at Gedric. The one-eyed rogue was not idle and leapt on the table, allowing enough room for him to swing his chains effectively.

The chains whistled through the air as once, and then twice, the winged horror evaded his blows. On the third swing, the heavy chains caught the thing mid-flight and cast it in ruin across the chamber. It was dead, but that was all the time the wizard needed to regain his wits and reach for his wand.

“You prefer a quick death, I see!” the man screamed with white-hot rage. He leveled the dweomer-imbued stick at Gedric who was but a step and a leap away.

Gedric wasted no time to fetch his weapons and instead lunged at Xalivar. The rogue sprang on the wizard before the Mulmasterite could release the potent magic, and Gedric wrapped the chains around the wizard’s neck, squeezing his wind pipe.

Through clenched teeth, Gedric twisted and tightened those cold links with all his might. The two went down in a heap together. Xalivar fought with hands trying to free those choking threads from his throbbing, reddening neck. Legs kicked, eyes bulged, and mouth opened vainly to gulp for air. Gedric leaned close putting lips to ear and with hissing voice whispered, “This would have been far easier for both of us if you were elsewhere, master enchanter! Now there will be one less evil conjuror in the world…”

Gedric continued to squeeze, and did not stop until the fat form of Lord Xalivar Exalskaiy, High Blade of Mulmaster went limp and final breath expired. Gedric lay sweat covered and weak, gasping for air with a heavy dead weight atop of him. He had defeated the wizard!

FOUR

And though he did not mourn the loss of so devious a sorcerer, nor did he wallow in guilt nor regret, a part of fantasy often played out horrors in his sleep of the spirit of the wizard Xalivar escaping through that final accursed breath, and living in some malevolent deathless state houseless in a realm of shadow – lurking in the doubt of Gedric’s mind, or perhaps haunting the blood-red stone that the thief later pocketed.

It was not a great enough fear to restrain Gedric from filching the ruby, although he did not seek the vault again for the remaining dropped treasures for fear of encountering more flying horrors. Nor did he take the sorcery-enspelled devices left in the magician’s conjury that might have afforded many more such precious stones. Fencing the wares of wizards would likely draw unwanted attention from other wizards, and Gedric wished to cross no other wizard’s path in the future.

But he was alive, and richer than he was before – at least for a time…

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What's Going On?


I haven't posted much in a while. My last actual play posts using Barbarians of Lemuria (Mythic Edition) were lots of fun, and I may return to that. But my solo hobby allows me to indulge in my gamer ADD desires.

Recently, I've discovered the beautiful game, White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game by Charlie Mason over at Seattle Hill Games. I understand that imminently the game will get a make-over and new name, but it's got my attention at the moment.

I cut my teeth on the old Red Box (Mentzer), and this little gem has got that old feeling coming back. It's also simple enough (Thievery - I'm looking at you!) that I feel I can run a dungeon romp with a handful of characters and not feel overwhelmed. nHere are a few things I'm going to try with it:
  • The Location Crafter. I used this wonderful game attachment by Tana Pigeon for my BoL run back during SGAM 2016. In other tests, I've had more consistently good results. Can this work with an old school crawl? I'm currently finding out. One of the things that helps me set my location results to graph paper is to ask in vague terms of game turns how long does it take to get from one point to another...this immediately suggests dimensions for my rooms and corridors. It also helps me count off resources.
  • The Black Hack. I just love the usage die! Tracking gear is my least favorite part of that old game. This can help me grab an "adventuring pack" with a d12 and roll when I require something. I can even roll 2 or 3 dice, taking the worse result if what I need is rarer or valuable. That's a time saver.
  • Tweaks. Along with tracking gear, I sort of like the fidget-iness of counting encumbrance, but not in a solo game where I have to track lots of other stuff too. Armor will indicate the general movement rate of the character, and a general treasure level chart that I'll devise in increments of impact upon party movement (assuming treasure is easily dividable) will help me see at a glance the effects of a big haul.
Will I post it and finish it? That's to be determined, but I'm having fun at the moment.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Valda and the Desolation of the Fire Coast, part 6


Better late than never? Continued from here, the thrilling conclusion of Valda's adventure as part of the 2016 Solo Gaming Appreciation Month...

11. The Observatory


Location Roll — expected, expected, none (11, 11, 2; reduce location & encounter list by 5 due to over-extending)

Across the domed roof, Valda stared out at the blustery nighttime skyline high above Parsool. She had a choice — to accept defeat, or to finish a most likely intentional improbable task. To accept defeat would necessarily incur the wrath of the city’s war counselor, not to mention King Bley.

No! This was not acceptable. Valda vowed to turn her misfortune around.

The ice princess stole across the granite dome and skittered down one smooth sheer side to a narrow ledge. Following this, she found a slender window space through which to crawl. Having done so, she found herself inside a large area within the dome broken by frequent window slits letting in the night sky. Several outward-pointing spy glasses were set about the perimeter of the observatory. The palace’s master no doubt used the heavens to gather much of his wisdom or to channel the will of his god.

Q. Are there places to hide? (50/50) Yes (7)
Easy (-1) Hide — Calamitous Failure (hero point gained)
Do guards enter? (likely) No (2)
Is it Paol? (50/50) Yes!!! (8)
What’s he like? oddly enormous, cheerfully soft

Paol Steelgard (villain)
Strength 3, Agility 0, Mind 0, Appeal 1
Melee 2, Ranged -1, Initiative 1, Defense 2
Careers: Priest 2, Warrior 1, Blacksmith 1, Noble 0
Lifeblood: 15
Villain Points: 5
Fate Points: 2
Traits: Hard to Kill
Trappings: sword (d6), medium armor (2 protection; -1 agility)

Valda knelt to hide, but heard footsteps. It was too late!

In strode a lean man of hardened muscles and a bald pate. He stepped with the wary deadliness of an andrak, his eyes were wicked yet controlled. He wore the raiment of a priest over a steel breastplate. At his hip was a curved sword which was now brandished in the man’s mighty grip.

“So, you are the assassin come for me!” he said in bass tones. Paol Steelgard stalked slowly around the room, holding his arms out wide. “Here I am, slayer. Have at me!”

Hard (-1) priority roll — fail (6)
Q. What tactic does Paol use? Haggle Plans
Paol attack — hit (9) — villain point spent to get a Mighty Success (Bloody Slash) 13 damage!
Valda — spends a hero point for Shattered Shield

The man lunged impossibly swift. A killing blow arced down threatening to slice her in twain. She had time but to raise her sword in defense. Her weapon shattered into a thousand pieces, though nearly impervious Valgardian steel it was. She dropped to a knee, her arm numbed by the ferocity of the blow.

“Who sent you, wench?” the man hissed, circling.

Valda attack — miss (8)

The ice princess went for a dagger concealed in her boot and sprang. Paol deftly sidestepped at the last moment. “You’ll never know!” she hissed.

Paol attack — miss (8)

The royal counselor countered with a swift riposte, but the deft barbarian woman was already standing opposite him after an acrobatic roll.

He turned to follow. “You are a greenhorn, girl,” he said. “No one of import sent you — or at least meant for you to be the real threat against me,” he said.

Valda attack — miss (6)

Valda swore, slashing wildly. “You’ll find I am more than capable of the task.” Paol deflected her dagger.

Paol attack — miss (5)

“I will let you live,” he said with a half-hearted swipe, “…if you give me the name of your employer.”

Valda attack — miss (7)

“Never!”

“Then, you leave me no choice!” the priest-guardian said.

Paol attack — miss (8) — VP spent for Luck of the Gods — miss (6)
Valda attack — hit (10) — HP spent for Mighty Success (Bloody Slash) 8 damage!

A fierce exchange took place. Paol stepped away to widen the distance, but Valda was relentless, always closing the distance with her swift footwork. He grunted as she found an opening that pierced his armor, drawing first blood.

Paol — spends a VP to Shake Off Wounds (1)
Valda attacks — miss (8) — HP spent for Luck of the Gods — hit (9) — another HP spent to get Precision Blow — 0 damage

The warrior-priest was stunned. Valda did not falter, smelling victory. She wrapped herself around him from the back, and brought her dagger across his eyes. He cried out and thrashed. Blood freely flowed into his sight.

“She-demon! Morgazzon curse you!” he screamed.

Paol attacks — hit (10) — 3 damage
Valda attacks — hit (12) — final HP spent for Bloody Slash — 8 damage

By luck, the speaker of Fyrzon struck a glancing blow. Valda was bloodied but felt not the slice of the blade. She danced close and sank her dagger into Paol’s abdomen. He sank slowly in a wordless curse.

“No!” she whispered. “Nemmereth take you!”

She recovered her dagger when he had passed on to the realm of the dead and scooped up his scimitar to replace her own blade. It would also serve nicely as a token to show Erion.

Hard (-1) escape — success (13)

She slipped out quietly into the night into the sleepless and windy city…

Epilogue


She met with her master the very same night, dropping Paol Steelgard’s sword at Erion’s feet. She gloated over the trophy and her mentor’s passive facade.

“I did it!” she bragged.

Q. Was the timing critical in the mission? (likely) Yes (4)

“You failed,” he said simply, robbing her of her victorious mirth. “Your task was to be completed the same night we spoke — before Steelgard’s meeting with King Bley. Also, the King now knows your face. You cannot work in Parsool again.”

Fires roiled in Valda’s breast. She wished to cut Erion down where he stood. “No matter!” she said, salvaging some composure. “I have the skills I need. It is time for me to move on.”

Q. Does he agree? (50/50) No (5)

“Not yet,” Erion said. “You are reckless and uncouth. You are not an assassin yet. What would complete your skills is an even more daunting task though the King spares no expense to hunt you down. This job calls for subtlety.”

Valda cocked her head to the side, intrigued. “What do you wish of me…?”

Not sure if I will add more adventures of Valda, but I like the process and result. BoL plays fast and deadly, even though it's fairly traditional mechanics. Lots of fun in this little indie gem.