DDC on the road

Sunday’s game saw the group on the road in a freshly-bought cart, using dinosaurs as mounts. After an extended journey in the lap of luxury, the minor aches and problems of living rough called for some creative thinking.

First and foremost among that was provisioning, but that was mostly solved with some creative use of the “Create Food and Water” spell, seasoned magically with the aid of a wonderous pouch that magically generates spices and seasonings.

It did lead to the coining of the phrase “holy tofu” to describe the divinely supplied foodstuffs…

Then the practicalities of setting watches meant some opportunities arose both for pranks and some world building.

Late night travellers included one of the steam-driven constructs hauling a merchant caravan owned by goblins, and a cheery wave saw them pass by the camp with no problems. That said, the first evening they were still within settled farmlands rather than the wilds. Travelling further took them past an old battlefield, and into true wilderness.

That’s when the gnoll raiders sprang their trap, and we ended on that cliffhanger.

Unused Scenarios – The Ship That Slays Together

I’ve tried twice to throw this encounter in to the adventures of the last few years, but its never quite managed to either quite fit the action, or has been overtaken by events. The first try was during the goblin one-shot last Christmas where this aeronautic pirate crew were going to be the main villain of the action. We ran out of time on that one, so I kept the encounter loaded up in D&D Beyond as a spare. The second go was during the DDC’s trip on their own flying ship while in pursuit of a mad alchemist who had gone missing, presumed kidnapped. I ended up attacking them with barbarian halflings riding pterosaurs instead, because it fit the flavour of what they were up to at the time and hitting them with a second ship after that felt a bit crowded.

So – the scenario sits in my back pocket and now that the group’s levels have gone up I’ll need to retweak aspects of it. You may find the following entertaining though.

In essence there is a bunch of pirate/slavers with a flying ship. It’s pilot is a swashbuckler from House Lyrandar who works with a wizard, several toughs, a group of warforged, and a big net full of semi-tame mimics. Their method of attack is to fly over isolated settlements and dump out the mimics disguised as gifts which then capture and restrain prisoners so that the crew can descend and carry away their victims. The warforged work as a team to man a large ballista on the ship, only stepping away if needing to defend the deck – so typically all that victims and survivors see is a large shadow overhead, presents dropping from the sky, and then elves descending to steal people away.

This was unashamedly designed as a Christmas encounter. The other switch that wouldn’t necessarily come to light is that the crew is one big polyamorous polycule based on our player group – so the names were similar and the existing relationships and interconnections could be dropped into conversation or hinted at depending on the type of encounter being run. The option was to make this an extended running battle, or a group to be tracked on behalf of devastated communities. In writing this I’ve just thought of another way that this could be used, building on the origins of one lone kobold called Odif.

Anyway, hope this inspires you, let me know what chaos you unleash!

The Sunday Game

We had a good transitional session on Sunday with the DDC. There were no battles, but we had a lot of opportunities for people to roleplay gently and develop their characters while they sorted out provisions and transport for the next portion of their journey to Thorin’s homelands. The lightning rail had deposited them at the town of Marketplace, not far from the border to Breland, and the beginning of the road to Cragwar to the South.

Farewells were made to travelling companions – passionately so in Valenia’s case – and tables outside a pub by one of the main market squares became an impromptu staging point for the group. Caeluma had their first chance to really stretch their new wings, and so took to the skies before finding a group of aarakocra merchants to seek their advice on the care and maintenance of wings and feathers. They learned the importance of dustbaths, and were sold some high grade dust for a luxury experience.

Meanwhile, Valenia and Arwan went in search of transport – observing various drovers and cart sellers before settling on one selling a range of draft and riding dinosaurs. The sights and sounds brought back fond memories of the Talenta Plains for Arwan, and it tipped the balance towards buying something called a Wideback with heavy plating on its back and a balled tip to its tail to pull the cart, and some clawfoot mounts for Arwan and Thorin so they could act as outriders.

Thorin, after a few drinks, went wandering looking for books – and after a little effort found that the mysterious lurid novels named after him had made their way here too. He signed a copy for the bookseller, who was a fan, and promised to come back and sign the new ones due for delivery soon.

Caeluma, perhaps unsurprisingly, found a new pet. In this case it was a mechanical mastiff known as an Iron Defender – a twin in design to the one they had fallen head over heels with when first meeting the Dean of the Faculty of Goblin History. He dug deep into his pockets, and secured it for himself, much to the bemusement of the rest of the group.

Kerne sat at the table all the while, with a mug of minted tea, and looked after everyone’s coats while they studied and reviewed their adventures.

Valenia also found a postcard to send home to her parents:

Corridor Battle

The Sunday game was a pulse pounding battle in the narrow confines of a moving lightning rail train carriage. Assassins had landed on the roof in the night and attempted to separate the cars before focusing on Thorin. We’d left the previous week as a cliffhanger with Thorin and Valenia desperately fighting for their lives as the rest of the group roused from sleep.

This week saw Thorin fighting one on one with a skilled warrior, trading blows furiously while most of the rest of the group were held at bay by a warlock with an unearthly appearance – with tentacles and spikes instead of hair and slightly scaly skin. A detonated bead of force meanwhile had isolated Thorin from Valenia, who was in turn fighting a desperate battle with an orc assassin who was relentlessly beating her defences down.

The turning of the tide came with Kerne being able to concentrate and perform metamagic to extend the lightning of a witches bolt spell to both the warlock and the warrior fighting Thorin, just as the group’s newest member came crashing through a window. They’d climbed onto the roof, avoided the giant bats that the assassins had used as mounts, and made a supremely successful use of acrobatics to swing down between the attackers. As the group managed to finish off the opponents at that end of the carriage though, they could see Valenia fall beneath the blade of her opponent, joined by an assassin who had previously been kicked off the train.

The forcefield generated by the bead of force evaporated at that point, clearing a path for this newest assassin to press the attack on Thorin, while the first attempted and nearly succeeded in finishing off Valenia. It was only through a supreme feat of endurance that Valenia was able to retain consciousness and gulp down a healing potion they had bought before they left home. She barely evaded the attempt to finish her and was able to make a desperate shot with her bow as she lay on the floor to slay her opponent.

Thorin, utterly enraged at this point, was able to slay this new assassin with a fearsome display of prowess and as everyone stood, bloodied and exhausted we ended the session there.

Next week? Well who knows – at the very least some investigations in the aftermath…

Doing The Right Thing (In Games)

I love games that provide at least the illusion of decisions and consequences, where a choice in how yourselves a problem has dialogue or cutscene changed or a lasting effect on gameplay or final endings. Who do you save in the first Mass Effect? Do you shoot Wrex? Or do you complete a game in pacifist mode or genocide mode?

I was playing the Seige of Paris DLC for Assassins Creed Ragnarok and chose the harder fight option of sparing the King’s life. I got a rare achievement called Doing The Right Thing, and a number of nuanced responses in cut scenes from different characters that implied other political outcomes and developments.

That’s what got me reflecting that by and large I tend to choose the more moral and ethical options when gameplay offers the choice. Partly because most games version of being evil is just closing crass dialogue options or being a jerk.

I have to say that the decisions are in line with my personal ethics and morality rather than necessarily being traditional apple pie and vanilla goodness; and so may drift according to a given games ruleset. I suppose the ultimate decider tends to be that I don’t like being rude.

If I can help or be kind in a game, that tends to be the option I take, unless a little cruelty leads to a better result for people/realms/kingdoms/civilisations…

Hmmm.

How Bungie is Breaking My Partners

A regular part of the week is where boy s, Lady B and myself team up to play Destiny, usually streaming it on Lady B’s Twitch channel. It’s usually a bouncy fun experience of teasing, mindless shooting, and putting the world to rights.

Then Bungie released its latest Season of Content and started telling a harrowing story that confronts major characters with loss and regrets in the form of embodied nightmares of people who were important in some way to them. As players, we assist in their attempts to bream free of the grip of these taunting entities.

So far, so normal, but the dialogue and pace and beats of the story have been making my partners cry, and occasionally making me wince, as attempts to sever links fail and instead the characters have to come to terms with accepting these dark shadow sides of their regrets and fears. The nightmares are unrelenting in their taunting and harsh observations, in a way that anyone who has wrestled with their own demons and regrets in the small of the night will find arresting familiar.

Through a mix of cut scenes and in-game dialogue we’re being taken on a harrowing story of the need to forgive ourselves and come to terms with the people and events of our past that still hold on with fierce grips. It’s like being beside people doing deep therapy work, and it’s an unexpected rollercoaster that has been deeply affecting us.

Who would have thought that the new weekly chapters of a shoot and loot game all about space magic would turn out to have some of the deepest and sympathetic treatments of loss and regret across a whole slew of popular media currently available, and would be doing so in an engaging way that keeps us coming back for more and caring ever more intensely for these imaginary figures as they reflect our own fears and doubts back at us.

As the saying goes: “I came here to have a good time, and honestly I’m just feeling so attacked” – and as entertainment that pulls us out of our comfort zone, I can’t think of a better summation

Orcs on a Train

Despite the best efforts of the rain to knock out our Internet connection we spent this Father’s Day evening back in the world of Eberron for the further adventures of the DDC.

Our last session had seen dreams and prophecy mix with nightmares and a redemptive struggle that ended with Caeluma losing some of their infernal heritage and instead growing feathered wings.

By contrast this week saw a brief couple of hours layover at the Lightning Rail station at Passage, where Valenia got lucky and Thorin was discretely quizzed by an Inquisitor from the Silver Flame about the whereabouts of Thorin’s sister and any recent contacts.

And then the journey continued uneventfully for a couple more days. On the second night, a group of assassins landed on the roof of one of the carriages and made their way in. They began trying to separate the front of the train from the rest of it, and seemed intent on isolating and killing Thorin.

The surprise attack was thwarted by Thorin and Valenia both being light sleepers. Thorin grabbed his axe and charged down the orcs leading the assault, while valenia tackled another and kicked them from the train before they could disconnect the carriages.

The rest of the group was roused by the sounds of conflict, and battle was joined. One of the orc assassins dropped a magical darkness in the train’s corridor and a brief but frenzied exchange of blows followed…

And that’s where we left the cliffhanger…

Dinner on the Lightning Rail

We had a good D&D session last night, returning after a couple of weeks where people were unwell. The mighty adventurers are facing possibly their toughest challenge yet: high society. Travelling long distances takes many forms, but by far the most comfortable available at this moment for them is the Lightning Rail run by House Orien – and so they have joined the train in first class, along with a new member of the group and have some time to kill.

Its been a good excuse to pull back from the action and adventure and spend some time with the players reintroducing themselves and doing some reflective roleplay as they get used to both the new surroundings and people. Sometimes railroading can be a useful tool, and this has been very popular with the players as I’ve checked in after the sessions. Their biggest worry has been to decide on what to choose from the menu. Their biggest dilemma has been wine versus cocktails. Their main concern has been how drunk the dwarf barbarian might be getting…

I’m really enjoying going to town with the world-building in this little travelling location, and the players (and the characters) are enjoying it all too – watching the little wonders of the world pass by while retired generals and robust noblemen drink brandy and smoke cigars in the lounge car, and an undead elf tells a dragonborn sage tales of the fall of the goblin empires in the saloon. A tiefling warlock knits scarves in their cabin while their familiar snoozes with a hoard of table scraps, and hangovers are something that won’t happen until the next session…

Time For A Break

It’s nearly a weekend, I think. To be fair it’s been another slightly hectic week between boy s falling ill and a variety of surveyors and engineers needing access at strange times to various buildings – all while covid continued to rampage through my staff.

So tomorrow/today is Good Friday, which at least as far as myself and Lady M are concerned is a Bank Holiday. If the gym is open, we shall take the cub with us so he can swim and frolic – and we will unwind on a variety of exercise machines and possibly dip into the spa. Rude not to use all the facilities available.

On the games front, I’m still mostly playing Destiny2 with boy s and Lady B a few evenings a week. I have also managed to recover my old GOG account so I have most of the old Bioware D&D games to rediscover on my laptop. I even dipped into playing Alpha Centauri for nostalgia this evening. I do have a soft spot for turn based games.

Oh, and an added bonus: Lady M has twisted my arm into taking some leave next week, so that’s going to do wonders for my blood pressure.

A Little More Human

I’m ending up the weekend feeling a bit more rested and functional than I have in a while – I’ve even managed to have a bowel movement four days after the operation so I guess I can start acknowledging that I’m full of crap again 😉 I was starting to worry that my body was so traumatised by the whole experience that I would need to retrain myself.

The quiet worry of it all did end up giving me a headache this morning, I think it was made a bit worse by having agreed to run a one shot game this afternoon using the UnFamiliar kickstarter rules for 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons.

I had only a vague idea of a plot, but had at least knocked up some characters guided by some prompts I’d put into the group chat yesterday.

I ended up pretty much winging it. The background has all four characters being ex-Familiars to a small number of spellcasters who had developed a spell between them to emancipate them.

Lady M played a flying squirrel who used to spy in aristocratic circles. Lady W played a Staffordshire cross that had ended up being a carer for their master in their dying days, the cub joined in with a boisterous frilled dinosaur that knew kung fu, and boy s played a fussy ex lab rat who had picked up alchemy and a few spells along the way.

Their tale involved rescuing a library researcher who had “fallen” into the delivery system and was now trapped in the stacks, locked in a cage as an unauthorised item. Shenanigans ensued.

So, an odd return to the tabletop, but the cub has expressed an interest in playing more, so who knows what will happen next…