A note on Araneas

I’ve introduced the Araneas in my (heavily-homebrewed) Chult setting when the PCs decided to switch their homebase to Port castigliar. In typical rpg fashion the Araneas had a job to offer to the adventurers: kill as much of their hereditary enemies, the wasp-riding Batiri goblins, as they could. In exchange of what the Araneas offer them superior silk garments. The PCs have yet to focus real efforts in this matter (they did kill some Batiris that they’ve encountered randomly) but I’ve been thinking of adding a few « cultural » quirks to the Araneas.

I must say that I have nothing against spiders. Wasps? Now wasps are real JERKS, to everything they encounter, no doubt about that, but spiders? Nah. I don’t understand the hate. Really, its a modern thing too, I mean, to hate spiders. Mythology gives good roles to spider goddesses, often associated with the all-important art of weaving. Or at worst, a trickster role (agents of change), with spider male deities this time. So, in short, no Lol’th black elves S&M goddess there.

Of course, that isn’t to say that spider-folks shouldn’t feel a little alien to players, they certainly should! Fortunately, real-world spiders have an impressive diversity that we can easily plunder for inspiration.

Female Domination

Female Araneas are at least twice at large as the males and have superior intellect to boot. They’re VERY condescending towards males (note that they often extend that to males of other species). They see them as properties, and a nuisance when they’re not kept busy. Male Araneas aren’t dumb or anything like that, they have to be clever if they’re to survive their numerous ordeals, but female bullying is seen as perfectly normal, inevitable.

Relations with non-Araneas are always dealt through female ambassadors.

Webbing and Weaving

Contrary to popular belief, Araneas don’t use their webs to capture prey. They do enclosure their territory with massive webs, to the point of obscuring the area inside, but it acts as a defense against intruders.

Of course, that’s not the only use of their spidery silk, as can be guessed they are absolutely phenomenal weavers. Aesthetically pleasing, their silk garments are reputed to be nigh indestructible!

In game terms, Aranea garment gives resistance to slashing damage

Nocturnal and Stargazing

Araneas live mainly by night and have a strong fascination with stars which they say form the « great web in the sky » put there by their ancestors. In fact, it’s so important that their leaders are chosen based from their skills as astrologers/astronomers. Indeed, those can even accomplish feats of magic based on their knowledge of stars alignment.

Herbivorous, partly… and cannibals

Araneas have an varied diet which includes plants in it. Males are sometimes sent in hunting and scavenging forays to supplement their menus.

Female Araneas regularly eat males, whenever they feel they can afford to lose some, which is often. They’re delicious they say…

bagheera kiplingi is a spider from central america that eats plants (not exclusively), I had no idea that could be possible!

Stick Men Warfare

Des combats épiques se déroulent à la maison ces temps-ci! Guerriers, archers et magiciens se tapent dessus dans un joyeux chaos de décor vertical 2D.

Isaac, 8 ans:

Pourquoi tirer une seule flèche à la fois quand on peut en tirer dix? Les géants sont méchants tandis que les créatures à tentacules sont, pour une fois, du côté des gentils!

Edmond, 5 ans:

Mais ce n’était que de la p’tite bière à comparer avec ces assauts de châteaux!

Isaac et Edmond:

Et on m’a promis que ce n’était qu’un début!

Merchants of Anuire – Session 3 – Out of the Swamp and back Home

Character Cast

  • Fancey Fleetfooted, Wanderer, Anuirean Male lvl 2 (Edmond)
  • Ciavey the Peddler, Treasure Hunter, Halfling Male, lvl 2 (Isaac)
  • Lucian the Quiet, Scholar, Anuirean Male, lvl 2 (NPC)
  • Dragon the Pony
  • Death-from-Above, Trained Falcon

SHORT JOURNEY- Moderate Terrain – from Spiritsend Swamp (Duchy of Osoerde) to Fairfield (Barony of Roesone)

  • Embarkation roll: 3 (The Keen Eyes of the Enemy)
  • Event roll (1): 10 (A Place Touched by the Shadow)
  • Event roll (2): 7 (A Hunt)
  • Arrival roll: 6 (Grimly Determined)

WEATHER – Cold, Drizzle

Swamp Mummy

Fleeing from the duke’s men into the Spiritsend Swamp, the rebels separated in smaller bands. Ciavey, Fancey and Lucian got together with 3 rebels and slowly navigated the treacherous paths between fetid pools of bubbling water. Night soon fell on them, and with it occured a thinning of the barrier with the Shadow world … An ancient evil manifested itself, skeletons suddenly surged from the dark waters – they seemed everywhere – and a more terrible foe: a swamp mummy! Fancey shot 2 arrows at the mummy but that didn’t seem to wound it very much. They had to get out of there fast! The small band managed to destroy 3 skeletons blocking the way but one rebel (who shall die nameless) got caught by a fearsome blow of the Swamp Mummy and that was the end of him. Another (anonymous) rebel got cut down by another wave of skeletons, with their rusty swords. The survivors managed to get out of the flooded area and finally put some distance between them and the undead.

Another Swamp Thing

Exhausted and wounded, the small band walked another hour before they felt safe enough to take a rest. But as they sat down a strange figure emerged from the ground just a few feet away. Vaguely humanoid, it looked like an upright tangle of roots, moss and decomposing organic matter. And it talked, of course it talked! It presented itself as the Swamp Mage, an ally of the rebels in their fight against the Duke. It told them that it would keep the powers of the Shadow in check, until they could join the rebels’ camp.

Meeting Siele Ghoried

The rebels thought their position in Osoerde too precarious, but they knew they could count on neighboring kingdom of Arenwe to seek refuge from the usurper’s soldiers. Preparations had been made to cross the river, with bargemen from Calrie assisting them. Out of the swamp, the PCs wished good luck to the rebels and parted ways. The next day, in the port city of Calrie, the PCs looked for whatever business opportunities they could find and this soon led them to meet Siele Ghoried the merchant guildmaster. Siele was happy to meet fellow Rosoenian and they had lot to talk together. It thus occured to them that they shared an enemy: Othrien Tane the Merchant/Bandit. They agreed to work together from now on.

To Eclipse the Eclipse Knight

The PCs left Calrie behind aboard one of Siele’s caravan bound west for Roesone. At a crossroad a black & gold armored knight was lying down, maybe sleeping, only getting up when the caravan was almost on him. He then issued his usual challenge, a duel, that nobody was foolish enough to accept.

The Griffon

Almost at the border, with the Black Hills ahead of them, the PCs had to repel a griffon that seemed interested in having a little snack. Fortunately, a well-aimed arrow from Fancey convinced the majestic beast to go look elsewhere for his meat.

The Bandits of Wulfgar the Bloodthirsty

A bit further they were ambushed by Othrien’s men, led by the infamous Wulfgar the Bloodthirsty. The merchants were outnumbered 3 to 7. Or so it seemed… 8 men, selected by Siele Ghoried, revealed themselves from inside the caravan and attacked the bandits. After a fierce but brief struggle Wulfgar, sporting many wounds, chose to surrender. The victorious caravan guards split the spoils and then proceeded to bring the tied-up bandit chief to justice.

Afterward Fancey, Ciavey and Lucian left their new allies and got back home.

DM notes

  • The starting action was nice. Just fighting skeletons would have been boring, but fighting skeletons while fleeing from a much too powerful mummy? That’s what I call a good fight!
  • The kids really wondered what was up with the Swamp Mage, as I’ve decided that his appearance would be disquieting and all. Not every good person have blonde hair, y’know?
  • There’s a lot of politics going on in the background. Of course most of it is lost on the kids, that’s just a thing I do for my own enjoyment but still, it seems obvious now that a birthright campaign is an awkward thing to do with young players… I’ll have to think about that.
  • In French we can use the word eclipse as a verb, I don’t think we can in English. I had a silly wordplay in mind: To eclipse the Eclipse Knight, does it make any sense?
  • The fight with the bandits was boring. Or I wasn’t motivated maybe. D&D combat can quickly devolve on dice throwing for the sake of throwing dice if the DM is not careful.

I3 Pharaoh – Please Loot My Tomb

I’m not really doing a review of this classic egyptian-themed D&D module (by Tracy and Laura Hickman), there’s plenty of them out there , I’ll just highlight a few things that stood out for me as I read it.

The first thing I did mentionned in the title of this post, the premise is an unusual one, the dungeon’s « owner » actually wants you to succeed! For his sins in life and foremost his vanity, the Pharaoh has brought a curse upon himself: he cannot enter the afterlife unless someone steal his most prized possessions. The irony is that of course, before he was cursed, he did took the utmost care to make his pyramid theft-proof!

Another major selling point for this module is the actual design of the lair. It’s archeologically sound. Well, that’s a bit of a stretch… Of course, there’s D&d nonsensical magic afoot but… It’s as near a realistic lair/tomb as a D&D adventure can achieve, I think. For example, there’s a « Plundered Tomb » level to fool would-be defilers into thinking they’re too late. There’s also some few nice instances of verticality in the navigation of the lair that is often neglected with most dungeons. All in all, it’s very well done.

There’s 2 non-hostile factions. The Thunes Dervishes want to protect the sanctity of the Pyramid and won’t allow defiling (looting) around them. At the same time, their leader is missing and is somewhere in the tomb. They could help the PCs, if those talk smoothly, but they’ll turned against them fast if they act as PCs are wont to do… And then there’s the bandits, who’ve had enough of the pyramid and just wish to get out. They’ll take the PCs help if offered, but they could well succumb to greed if they see any wealth brashly displayed. Interesting.

Mummy: the Return of the Tendinitis

Some more random things:

  • There’s a kind of magic healing water supply at the Temple (the entrance of the pyramid). In typical rpg fashion it is specified that the healing water loses its beneficial properties outside of the pyramid’s perimeter. Obviously to foil some players’ idiotic money scheme, I mean, I can clearly see something like: « let’s haul gallons and gallons of this water outta here, set a shop in town and we’ll be rich, nevermind the treasures! » A few years ago I had a player who loved these kind of gimmicks even if it meant, y’know, ditching the actual adventure part.
  • I’m not a fan of silliness (unless it’s my own brand) in purchased adventures. In Pharaoh, you can find a chest (trapped) full of old used orc socks. First, orcs have socks? Second, really? Orc socks in a chest? And there’s also exploding pineapples and oh! Prit the Gnome who digs tunnels with only his spoon! Sigh
  • I like the weak, but unkillable Chabang (mud) Men. The PCs can’t hack & slash away this sort of trouble and have to be clever about it.
  • The BBE (Big Bad Evil), Munafiq the power-hungry High-Priest – of course he’s now undead- is unnecessary. If I ran this adventure, I would refurbish him so he’d be a more subtle encounter.

Merchants of Anuire Session 2: A Bundle of Swords

The boys had to clean-up their playroom as a condition to play in a rpg session with me. They did a thorough job, talk about a great incentive!

Character Cast

  • Fancey Fleetfooted, Wanderer, Anuirean Male lvl 1>>2 (Edmond)
  • Ciavey the Peddler, Treasure Hunter, Halfling Male, lvl 1>>2 (Isaac)
  • Lucian the Quiet, Scholar, Anuirean Male, lvl 1>>2 (NPC)
  • Dragon the Pony
  • Death-from-Above, Trained Falcon

SHORT JOURNEY- Moderate Terrain – from Bellam Castle (Barony of Roesone) to Spiritsend Swamp (Duchy of Osoerde)

  • Embarkation roll: 10 (Hidden from Shadows)
  • Event roll (1): 4 (In need of Help)
  • Event roll (2): 4 (In need of help)
  • Arrival roll: 8 (Inspired and filled with Hope)

WEATHER – Cold, Clear

Hunting a Troll

The Count of Bellam invited the PCs to a more substantial hunt after they had captured poachers. A TROLL was roaming in the contryside, terrorizing everybody. Several patrols were sent after the monster and the PCs joined one. Fancey soon found tracks and not much later they stumbled upon the remains of a slain bear. It so happened that their own patrol found the troll (10% chance)! Peppering it with arrows with another handful of archers, they managed to wound it enough so that soldiers with spears could close-in, immobilize it before dousing it with oil and killing it with fire… 4 soldiers were grievously wounded by the troll. It went well.

The Rebels of Osoerde

An agent of the Spider River Traders convinced the PCs to bring weapons across the border, in the duchy of Osoerde. William Moergen, the true heir of Osoerde, is leading a desperate guerilla war against his late father’s ex-lieutenant, the usurper Jaison Raenech. He’s presently hidden in the Spiritsend Swamp. The Rendez-vous is just outside the swamp at its most western part.

Tumultuous Border

Leaving Bellam county, the PCs walked on a sinuous road through a hilly region before reaching the farmlands of Osoerde. A few hours in and they can see a dwarven caravan being assaulted by miners-turned-bandits. Well positioned on the slope above the ambush, Fancey and Ciavey quickly kill 3 bandits with arrows and then manage to kill the bandit leader with 2 more arrows. The surviving bandits surrender and are free to leave. Mazzik, on behalf of the grateful Dwarves, gives a nice helm to Ciavey.

A few hours later, horseriders want to know the PCs’ business in Osoerde but silver-tongued Ciavey convince the patrolmen of their legitimacy.

Swampfever

The PCs arrive at a small, isolated village that suffers from a plague of swampfever. Lucian knows what kind of healing herbs could help them, if they ever find any.

Payment Interrupted

They finally arrived at the rendez-vous point and were proceeding to the exchange when shouts alarmed them of an incoming enemy patrol. The PCs and rebels fled in the Spiritsend Swamp and evaded the duke’s men.

DM notes

  • The Troll killed the bear gratuitously, meaning its truly a monster and deserving of death.
  • The PCs are almost out of arrows from all that shooting
  • 2 hours is about the max I can do if we’re to play with Edmond, not bad at all

Merchants of Anuire – Session 1 – Wine & Venison

Happy New year!

I’m starting what may be a whole new campaign with my kids. I’ve kept this first session really basic. I hope to get things more imaginative in the next sessions, if we keep at it.

Campaign frame

  • We’re playing in the Birthright (TSR 1995) setting, with the continent of Cerilia. I was fascinated by this setting when I was a teenager and I can make use of the impressive level of details it got for the style of campaign I have in mind
  • Oddly, I’m using Cubicle 7’s Adventures in Middle Earth (5e OGL adaptation), even if it’s not Tolkien’s world we’re playing in, for the implied low magic setting and also, from this book there’s the Journey Mechanics that suits perfectly my purpose for a mercantile campaign of sort
  • In this homebrewed version of Birthright, there’s no blooded scions à la highlander. Maybe there’ll be a simplified domain/regency play but that would be much further in the campaign
  • Azrai is Cerilia’s version of Sauron and is responsible for most that is evil in the world. If someone do evil he’s in fact succumbing to Azrai’s « Shadow ». Too much of this and you turn into a literal monster.

Background

The kingdom of Anuire is at peace but, with the Iron Throne still vacant, war may not be far.

In Eastern Anuire, in the Barony of Roesone…

Mattheus, Ciavey’s Uncle, has been ambushed by thugs, most certainly from Orthien Tane’s gang. Many of his long-time employees have been slain and Mattheus himself is in a critical state. Fighting for his life and facing bankruptcy, Mattheus relies on his nephew (and his friends) to save the family business.

Character Cast

  • Fancey Fleetfooted, Wanderer, Anuirean Male lvl 1 (Edmond)
  • Ciavey the Peddler, Treasure Hunter, Halfling Male, lvl 1 (Isaac)
  • Lucian the Quiet, Scholar, Anuirean Male, lvl 1 (NPC)
  • Dragon the Pony (NPC)

Roads well-traveled

SHORT JOURNEY- Easy Terrain – from Fairfield to Bellam Castle (Barony of Roesone)

  • Embarkation roll: 11 (with hopeful hearts and clear purpose)
  • Journey events roll (x1): 1 (a chance encounter)
  • Arrival roll: 7 (tall tales and great deeds)

WEATHER – Cloudy

  • Talked to farmers around Fairfield, bought sheep wool, bought an old broadsword
  • Reached Abbey of the Lady, sold sheep wool, bought high-end wine. A woodcutter, a servant of the abbey, is missing. PCs chose not to take part in a rescue sortie.
  • Encountered Spider River Traders merchants going the other way, one Hughes said they could make some well-paid work if they go at their outpost in the west
  • Paid the ferry toll to cross Black river
  • Reached Bellam Castle, sold Abbey of the Lady wine for good profit
  • Just in time for an archery contest! Fancey took part with 3 other competitors and won with the best shot after 3 arrows! The prize is a wonderful Trained Falcon which is promptly named Death-from-Above.
  • The Count of Bellam praises Fancey for his win and offers him to become a game warden. Fancey don’t want to settle down and says so. The Count asks if he would do a one-time job then of hunting down poachers for him?
  • Fancey and Ciavey accept the job. Fancey uses his impressive tracking skills and they find the poachers, 2 Halflings, in the forest near a spring. They kill one with 2 arrows, the other flees but quickly surrender when Death-From-Above is launched at him.
  • Gained valuable Red Deer venison and antlers

DM notes

  • The 3 « Journey » rolls were almost optimal, which means less danger on the road and more profitable deals
  • I had a little talk with the boys about killing a poacher after the session. I should have done it beforehand. I don’t want them killing non-monsters left and right just because they can. Something about raising kids properly and all!
  • Mom roleplayed Count of Bellam to great effect!

Choose a Sponsor for your Dungeon Delve

A neat idea from the gamebook Battlepits of Krarth (Dave Morris, Oliver Johnson) is to make you start the adventure while choosing a sponsor as the first obligatory step before entering said battlepits. In pure gamebook fashion you can choose blindly and then of course you risk getting a bad one (one sponsor is actually a vampire who, guess what, is more interested in getting your blood than having champions to compete), or, you know, you could try to get some information first and make a better choice…

Those are « Sponsors » too but they’re a bit, huh, different?

Of course, a Choose Your Own Adventure has a limited scope and so there’s only three sponsors to choose from (others are mentionned but aren’t availaible). One good, one bad and one really bad (the aforementionned vampire). An interesting twist is that the good one, Magus Balthazar, is harder to get, he’s actually picky as to whom he chooses. It’s not like he wants the first boneheads to cross his door to represent him in this prestigious, yearly competion. No, no, no. You will be tested, and if your intelligence is found lacking, well… You’ll have to find another sponsor.

This asshole doesn’t care one bit if you die horribly…

With a Tabletop RPG, of course, you could have a lot more options to choose from, leading to interesting roleplaying opportunities.

But what’s the point of having a sponsor? Well, suppose you get one that’s interested in your prolonged well-being, a sponsor could ensure that your chances of success are a bit better, providing you with starting funds, equipment, henchmen and so on… And, depending on the style of play, maybe a kind of insurance against setbacks (healing services, or even resurrection).

In any case, there would have to be something to gain for the sponsor too. A share of the profits, first bid on precious stuff, etc. In a TTRPG, a sponsor wouldn’t be a simple employer, there’s a long-term relationship (or debt serving) to consider.

If I ever do something like a megadungeon campaign, you can be sure there’ll be sponsors around!

Back to the beach – (meet the crabmen) – review

J’ai à peu près fait le tour des aventures des dungeon magazine (pdf gratuits en ligne) et, pour moi, l’aventure Back to the beach (par Willie Walsh, dungeon magazine 50, 1994) sort nettement du lot.

Synopsis: Un lieu de pèlerinage peu fréquenté devient tout d’un coup le centre d’attention lorsque des ruines sont découvertes sur place. Les agents du Roi envoyés pour démystifier l’endroit sont cependant confrontés à des créatures inconnues d’eux et fuient les lieux en proie à la panique. Un décret royal annonce une récompense aux braves aventuriers qui extermineront ces créatures.

Le gros de l’histoire tourne autour d’un malentendu (j’aime toujours cette prémisse), alors que des « monstres » sont perçus comme une menace devant être éliminée (classiquement), tandis que le scénario est parsemé d’indices pour le percer à jour (pour des joueurs le moindrement attentifs), ainsi que des fausses pistes pouvant égarer les têtes brûlées.

L’adversaire désigné, les Hommes-Crabes, n’en est pas vraiment un. Ceux-ci n’attaqueront que pour se défendre et ils ont des motivations autre que kill! kill! kill! D’ailleurs, chose assez rare dans D&D, l’auteur leur a élaboré une culture assez développée (pour un courte aventure) empreinte d’actes ritualisés et de petits traits quirky. Les Hommes-Crabes potentiellement rencontrés (non-hachés menu par les PJs) ont des noms, des personnalités distinctes, des rôles dans leur tribu, etc. Le tout est très divertissant à lire.

En quelques points:

  • courte aventure principalement d’investigation et de communication
  • peu de locations mais facilement intégrable dans une campagne déjà existante
  • peu d’avantages pécuniers pour les PJs
  • des alliées potentiels de gagnés plus la satisfaction de ne pas avoir massacrées des créatures évoluées!

(not) dying in the battlepits of Krarth-V

C’est un succès! Après 5 essais, c’est pas mal.

Arrivée à Kalugen’s Keep – Intro

À tous les ans, un prestigieux concours a lieu dans les plaines de Krarth. Les Magi se choisissent des champions qui s’affronteront dans le Labyrinthe sous la citadelle; ceux qui parviendront à en sortir vivant avec l’Emblème de la Victoire connaîtront gloire et fortune. Mais la plupart y trouveront la mort!

5ème essai

  1. Isaac – Trickster
  2. David – Enchanter

  • Nous choisissons l’étendard de Balthazar.
  • Au bal masqué, nous arrivons à trouver Balthazar par la toute puissante force de la déduction. Nous le défendons ensuite contre un assassin.
  • Une fois dans le labyrinthe, nous allons voir Larisha. Donne-nous des cadeaux. Allez, allez allez.
  • Nous passons par le miroir/porte secrète
  • Nous suivons les barbares à distance. Nous surprenons 2 d’entre eux dans une pièce, que nous éliminons juste avant que les 2 autres arrivent, qui rejoindront leurs compagnons dans l’au-delà
  • Dans cette pièce, nous trouvons des parchemins magiques très utiles
  • Nous gagnons une partie de Spirales:
« Alors le jeu consiste en… » QUATRE « Euh oh, vous avez gagné bravo… »
  • Nous envoyons des Dirges plonger dans la lave en leur lançant un Joyau de Glace
  • Nous traversons les ponts. Le Trickster se fait voler (cette fois) tout ce qu’il avait sauf son arme et armure. Il en est bien triste. L’Enchanteur ne passe pas par la cascade et se trouve confronté à Guillarme le Cauchemar (cool name), son ennemi d’antan, qu’il parvient à vaincre sans trop de problèmes
  • Nous prenons des potions de sorcières, les non-toxiques, merci
  • Nous prenons un portail de téléportation
  • Nous traversons une rivière de lave en nous servant d’une porte massive
  • Nous nous retrouvons cernés par des créatures de lave, ce qui aurait pu être notre perte si l’Enchanteur n’avait pas réussi un sort de Fuite Immédiate!
  • L’Enchanteur parvient à faire un sort de Enthrall sur l’Homme-Dirge, ce qui le force à nous obéir pour nous aider à traverser la crevasse
  • Nous affrontons Icon the Ungodly (cette fois en bon état), le Trickster est blessé au cours du combat et se met en mode esquive pour la suite, pendant que l’Enchanteur achève le warlock à coup de sort. Icon se sauve en se transformant en brume rouge.

(pro-tip: contre un ennemi unique puissant, un perso en mode defend, tandis que les autres attaquent à distance s’ils le peuvent)

  • Nous trouvons un Maillet de Bronze après le combat, nous nous en servons sur un gong géant ce qui nous téléporte sur un amas flottant en l’air, avec un sarcophage impressionnant dessus. Le Vrai Mage Zyn, désincarné, nous demande d’accomplir sa vengeance. Nous acceptons et il nous donne le coeur fossilisé du Géant Skrymyr. Merci. Mais yeuhk.
  • Nous trouvons les différentes parties disséminées du squelette du géant et nous l’assemblons dans un carcan de métal. Zyn lui insuffle à nouveau la vie
  • Nous soulignons à Skrymyr que nous l’avons aidé, sa façon de vouloir nous récompenser est de nous envoyer à la Mort. Le sacripan.
  • Le Trickster se met immédiatement en mode esquive tandis que l’Enchanter se concentre sur son sort d’attaque le plus puissant. Deux Nemesis Bolt plus tard et nous avons vaincu le géant fair and square!
  • Nous nous emparons de l’Emblème de la Victoire. Nous avons une récompense supplémentaire pour avoir éliminé Skrymyr
  • Victoire Alleluia!