Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Campaign Checkpoint

We have now played four game sessions in this Ptolus campaign of ours. Here are a few of the random thoughts (things I've learned, re-learned or confirmed mentally) I've had outside of game sessions so far:

1- It is good to have fun and laugh out loud at the game table. The end goal of a role-playing game session is to have fun. Verisimilitude only matters so long as it increases the fun of a game session. If the players want to have fun through jokes and movie lines and you, as a DM, stop them from doing so because you'd think the believability of the game is the only thing that matters, you would have to seriously question your train of thought and re-prioritize the aims of the game.

2- Using game materials from other sources than RPGs, including plots coming from computer games such as Baldur's Gate II - Shadows of Amn can be great fun. Having played this game many times and loving it dearly made me feel the actual plot elements I used in the Ptolus game much more intensely. Maybe not something to do all the time, but variation is good.

3- Speaking of variation, playing a campaign with some sessions using miniatures, some sessions without, and/or sessions with varying types of visual aids (dioramas in 2D, 3D or all at the same time) is feasible and keeps the game fresh for versatile players who like all these different aspects of tabletop role-playing. It requires some organization on the DM's part, but it can make for a better play experience when done right.

4- Running a game with fewer players makes it tougher for me to DM because I feel the attention of the players is more often driven to me. If I make a mistake, the players are thus far more likely to notice it, whereas, when playing with numerous players around the game table, they are more likely to interact with each other than pay attention to this or that ruling of mine.

5- Running a game with fewer players makes it easier for me to DM because they are more likely to be focused on the adventure at hand rather than sidetrack and debate over the next course of action for a long time. I have less policing to do, as far as the social part of the event is concerned.

6- It's tough to plan a game without first having an idea of how long it will go on. I expect I'll run more than one campaign using Ptolus, and thus do not expect to stop the Praemal Tales any time soon, but this game we are playing may end in a few months since some of the players may leave the place we live in for good. It's particularly tough to plan a short campaign and make it a worthwhile or somewhat "complete" experience for all the people involved.

7- Having dinner before the game can be great, because it re-focuses the game on the actual social part of the whole thing. We play the game because we like to be together first and foremost. The game can be great and fun all we want but the bottom-line is that we wouldn't play together if we weren't getting along first outside of the game.

Food for thought, indeed.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Session 4 - Unusual Crafts

Sunday, November 13, 2006 from 5:15 PM to 9:15 PM

4th of Rain

After meeting with the Keepers of the Veil at the Siege Tower and accepting their offer to investigate murders for them, Beket, Hennie and Simone are determined to find out the source of all the troubles in and around Exposed Street.

After taking care of their duties to their employers in the morning they meet at the market not far from the crime scenes. They walk amidst the stalls for a moment, looking for the beggar a city guard described to them the night before. This beggar, they were told, would have been a witness to the murders they are investigating.

They are debating their next course of action when Simone catches a glimpse of something or someone hiding behind Beket. It turns out this is Hamrick, the halfling they met down in Ghul's labyrinth, who's attempting to rob the monk of the Old Man! Of course, Hamrick protests to the sudden hostility of his "friends", saying he is just trying to make a living.
"For my children's sake," he professes.
"You don't have any children!" Beket retorts.
"I might one day..."

It soon becomes clear to the adventurers that Hamrick may be of some use, after all. He is quick to precise he knows the area fairly well, and indicates he knows some of the beggars of these streets, "out of professional interest", he adds.

Soon after, they find the beggar they were searching for. The poor old man is being mugged in a nearby street! Beket is quick to act and almost falls when one of the criminals attempts to stab her. The fellow sneers and shouts insults at her while his two companions, a sturdy, muscular man and a mean-looking dwarf, keep on kicking the beggar lying on the pavement. Hennie springs into action and concentrates. The man who just stabbed Beket cries in pain as dozens of spikes emerge from his body in a split second! He falls to the ground, dead, while Simone tumbles past him and takes care of his friends. The dwarf manages to escape, but the sturdy man does not: he is knocked out as he tries to reach for the roofs and stumbles down the street.

The adventurers give him to the authorities after they interrogate him. He says he has been hired by a sinister fellow who showed up at the Skull & Sword (#293, Guildsman District) gave them a description of the beggar to kill and some hard cash to do the deed. They do not get much more out of him, but find a letter of credit signed "KK" on the dead mugger's body.

The beggar, Rham, fears for his life. Beket proposes to take him to the Farmer's Rest (#106) at the other side of the North Market and pay for him to stay for a few days there. He agrees, and talks during the walk. He found the first murder victim, the male halfling going by the name of Ryon selling fruits on the market. He describes how he found him badly mutilated and almost entirely skinned. He also found some kind of piece of hide he would like to keep but agrees to lend to his saviors. This looks like a very pale skin of some exotic animal.

After letting Rham at the Farmer's Rest, the adventurers, still followed by Hamrick, decide to head to the Skull & Sword to start to get some answers.

Sure, they almost start a brawl there -again- but this time they indeed receive some valuable information. They find out there that the piece of hide they've got comes from an elephant, and that the sinister fellow who hired the muggers wasn't much of a talker. "He had a strange appearance though. His hands, see? They were like all red, as if tainted by pigment he'd use over and over again."

Of course, the adventurers also ask about Zalathar, feeling these events may all be related somehow. They learn that the harrow elf was indeed meeting some people here from time to time. It seems like they were no friends at all, judging by the hostility you could cut with a knife when walking close to their usual table, but they were always coming back a few weeks later to discuss some more. Zalathar was always talking of his "master" and how they would clean-up the streets of Ptolus when they would be done with their "project", as he called it. It seems like his drinking buddies were once members of the Ironworkers' guild. They have been rejected from their ranks some time ago. No clear answers for sure, but the adventurers now have new leads.

Before investigating the mystery of Zalathar's pet project any further they want to figure out the murders' mystery once and for all. Putting all the pieces together, they guess the murderer may be working with hides, skin. His hands are tainted. Maybe some kind of exotic tanner of the Guildsman District? They ask around, and with the help of Hamrick, determine there is indeed a tanner known for his particular work in Ptolus. His name is Valenus Savius and he lives near the North Market, just besides the Shrine of the Oracle (#165) of the Temple District, in a rich mansion he recently acquired.

Beket, Hennie and Simone resume their search and decides to head straight for the mansion. The house itself is located right in the middle of a park which is part of the property. The park itself looks wild and luxuriant. Without waiting much after they called from the gates, Simone decides to pick the lock. She succeeds. She and her companions sneak into the property.

They soon realize the undergrowth is alive. They are attacked by some wild animals and amidst the chaos of it all fend their way to the main door. Whoever this Valenus is, he doesn't want anyone coming to the property, visitors and intruders alike.

When the adventurers finally reach the house, they knock. An imp opens the door and greets them. He presents himself as Lord Savius' majordomo, and shows them inside. In the mansion's main dining room, they see an ogre present. The imp turns to them, flying around, and asks on an unconcerned tone whether they broke into the property or not. As soon as they try to justify their actions, the imp turns to the ogre and simply says: "They bore me. Kill them."

Hennie has to fight the imp itself after he fires a magic missile at her. Meanwhile, Simone and Beket join forces to fight the ogre and bring him down as quickly as possible. This is a violent yet efficient battle on the adventurers' part. They now start to acknowledge each other's strengths and weaknesses and use them to their own advantage.

Soon the ogre and imp lie dead in the dinner room. The girls search the place and finally hear some faint noises coming from the basement. They locate a trap door in the corner of the dining room and do not think twice before climbing down the stone stairs beyond.

They soon reach a vast room with a fountain. There, Simone decides to drink. The water is icy cold and extremely refreshing. All around the fountain, some chains secured to the inner side of the pool plunge deep within the waters. Simone pulls on one of the chains and makes a gruesome discovery: at the other end of the chain she finds a large human arm has been fastened to a hook. It bears some runes that have been etched into the flesh somehow. All the other seven chains around the fountain lead so similar body pieces etched with runes. They belong to different individuals of various races. Whatever this tanner is doing in here, he has been doing it to a number of people already.

They hear some noise in one of the corridors ahead. They rush there and peak around a corner. A strange being is walking down the vast corridor ahead of them: it seems to have been utterly skinned and then has had some different patches of leather and skin sewed to his flesh. The monstrosity comes to them. The girls have to fight for their lives once more. During the combat with this hulking horror, Simone finds herself suddenly short of breath. She feels her skin shrink during a split second, and beneath, her blood vessels explode! She feels dazzled for a breath or two but manages to turn and meet the cold eyes of a fair-skinned, dark-haired human who would be none other than Valenus Savius, the tanner and serial killer of Exposed Street. He swears: "You! I knew I was right to tell the elf to finish you before you could wake!"

The combat is fierce but ultimately, Hennie, Beket and Simone find themselves victorious. They have defeated Valenus and his servants. They search the whole place, find the notes of Valenus and a few other items of value, but they mostly now have a confirmation of their darker thoughts: Valenus and Zalathar knew each other! What is this project Zalathar was working on? What type of experiments have been inflicted upon them? To what purpose?

They are now more decided to find the answers to this eluding mystery than ever before. And what of Hamrick the halfling? He came with them through the park and was a witness of the fight against the imp and ogre, but disappeared soon after. It seems like he searched the ground level for something and left whether he found it or not.

The adventurers try to sort all the elements of the puzzle after they leave the mansion. They explain what happened to Phadian Gess at the Siege Tower, and she thanks them for a job well-done despite some failings to observe the property laws of the city. She doesn't seem disappointed in them though. She gives them a reward of her own (in golden imperials) and tells them Zade and the folks of the Ghostly Minstrel won't have to worry about the Keepers of the Veil for the next while at least.

They then leave the tower and bring back these news to the Minstrel. Zade is also grateful, and pays them what he originally promised. It seems like Hennie, Simone and Beket are starting to leave their mark in the City by the Spire. They hope for the best, and fully intend to investigate the conspiracy behind Zalathar's project as soon as they can.

XP Breakdown
Characters are all Level 2.
- Saving Rham from the muggers - CR2
- Defeating the Wild Animals of Valenus' property - CR2
- Defeating the imp and his ogre "pal" - CR4
- Defeating Valenus and the Skin horror - CR4
Total XP earned: 3,900. XP per PC: 975 (3 PCs with Hamrick the Halfling).
Total XP earned in the campaign per PC: 2,125 XP.