Thursday, December 14, 2023

Campaign Stats: First Attempt

"Swordsman with Book" by Evlyn M

"Swordsman with Book,"
by Evlyn M (back her on Patreon!)
Over a recent Discord call, Jenx (player of the doughty Rustam the Relentless) mentioned his fondness for campaign statistics posts, like these two from the Hill Cantons (one, two), or his own (here). I agreed, regretting that it wouldn’t be possible for me to track material like this for Legacy of the Bieth, since I hadn’t kept sufficient notes during each session. But talking with Jenx further, I realized that there were enough notes on Discord for me to calculate some of the relevant stats that the campaign’s had, at least over the (very irregular) two years that I’ve run it over Discord.

Sessions Played: 23 (more or less)
Least Session XP: 0
Greatest Session XP: 4068 per character
Average XP per Session: 608 per character

Total Players: 22
Total Player Characters: 26
Highest Level Achieved: 4
PCs Incapacitated Long-term: 3
PCs Killed: 3
Hirelings Advanced to PCs: 5
“Weird” Classes Played: 2 (Blood Servitor, Lamia)

Going forward, I'm certainly going to try keeping better track of additional stats (including such favorites as "Number of Times Rolled on the Death & Dismemberment Chart" and "Average Hirelings Lost Per Session"). 

How are your campaigns going? Any particular stats that you or your players have been tracking?

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Modified Death & Dismemberment; Campaign Update

During my time playing in the Hill Cantons campaign, I faced far too many rolls on Chris's Death and Dismemberment chart to not have its tension seared into my brain. As a result (and because I am a lazy/overwhelmed GM) I've been using it in my own Legacy of the Bieth sessions. 

After the most recent roll on the chart, my players and I discussed the feel of some of the consequences on the chart. Due to the limited scheduling and times of play, some of the nastier rolls on the table were effectively the same as removing a character permanently from the campaign. Sure, there wasn't a sting of death, but the practical result was the same.

After a few suggestions from Rustam's player (spawned in part from discussion on the OSR Discord server) I wound up putting together a revised Death and Dismemberment table which I think I'll be using, going forward.

Death & Dismemberment:

When a PC hits 0 to -10 HP, roll 1d10.

1: Stunned. Knocked out for 1d6 rounds. At the end of this time, is at 0 HP and able to slowly crawl along, but another hit of any sort will kill the character until they get back to positive HP.
2-5: Lingering Wound. Character is incapacitated for 1 week, and player + GM jointly figure what sort of lasting but largely cosmetic scar the wound has left.
6-8: Lasting Wound. Character is incapacitated for 1 week, and some other permanent damage to the character also results (missing eye, mis-set bone, permanently weak knee, etc.). Again jointly determined by player + GM, but will result in some statistical change to the character.
9+: Dead dead dead

Add 1 to a Death & Dismemberment roll (and to number of weeks incapacitated) for every Lingering or Lasting Wound your PC has taken throughout the course of play.

(This was inspired in part by the game Battle Brothers, where your WFRP-esque mercenary scum can take on lasting wounds if reduced to 0 HP, or through a bad crit.)

Tuco and the one-armed man discuss the
effects of Lasting Wounds on a PC.

On the campaign front, the players have continued delving into the sanctum of a long-vanished wizard, hoping to track down the bandit Red Mansur and recover some anti-mutagenic compounds created by the alchemist the Whisper. 

I attach some notes from Rustam the Red, a bounty hunter and one of the PCs (played by Kalin). These are clearly in no way me shirking the task of writing campaign updates and instead foisting it off on the players. 

(Oh, don't look at me like that. All the players get 100 XP times their PC level for a session report. Hell, sometimes a session report might be more XP than the session itself!)

~~Fragments from the journal of Rustam the Red~~
Sketch of Rustam by Kalin.

Entry 7

Did I forget I had a journal? You’ll never know! 

The last six months were spent in recovery and recuperation. After a mostly successful job, the details of which I shall not put down in writing (because you do not put that kind of stuff down in writing) I was in possession of several rare and valuable tomes. Those tomes were traded in to a witch for an amulet that she fashioned me, and by God’s name my knees have stopped hurting for the first time in the past 10 years! 

NOTE TO SELF: Does it make sense to praise God when a witch did all the work? Is asking this question damning already? Do I care?

[In the middle of the journal is a rough sketch of some blocks arranged in geometric patterns]

Just in time, as we are off on another job. I find myself once again in the employ of Saleema and alongside Krim the Rat. Despite my desire to pursue another avenue of business, I am now yet again off chasing after a bandit. Perhaps this is my punishment from God for the sins I have done in my life? To always be stuck in this endless cycle. 

The band, Red Mansur, is apparently hiding in the lair of some deceased magician. We do not appear to have any magicians with us on this job. That’s a bad sign. This thing is in some cave, there’s green magical images appearing everywhere, some of them harmful, some of them just babbling on in some unknown tongue. Magician stuff, in short.

We find a corpse and a dead end. I missed the first foray into this place, so I make sure the others (Krim, as I said, and a….snake person named Sybaris? I don’t even know if I am actually surprised at this point.) actually do their due diligence.

Lo and behold, they had not. I find a secret passageway behind one of the statues. The passage went into a small room of some kind, a study or a bedroom. There’s valuables in here, this is more like it! Less bandit chasing and more making up the money spent on the previous job.  The lamia could not break open one of the chests and got struck by a needle, ageing her significantly. 

NOTE TO SELF: Commission reinforced leather gloves when back in Maaqil. 

The desk had strange playing tiles on it, arranged in geometric patterns. Some of these were made of ivory, so they are coming with us too. Same with the rugs and the various jewels we found. For the sake of everyone’s health, we did not open the smaller chest. 

Satisfied with the haul, I suggested we secure all of this back at base camp, before we proceed. The lamia kept insisting on finding these anti-mutagen vials that Red Mansur stole. I have no idea why this being is so focused on the task, is it like a guard dog in how it stays on orders? Maybe not my place to question. 

Problem - how to get the chests and rugs out through the stupid obsidian magical image in the entryway? I tried to put a bag over it. I don’t know, I miss Wali and the other magicians from the old crew. They would know what to do about it. The bag worked. The thing went crazy and kept repeating itself, its defensive attack growing weaker and weaker. Krim read poetry to it. He seemed happy with its reaction, so I let him have this one.

We took the loot out. It feels good to once again write those words. 

Personal thought of the Day: Why is it that magicians can’t simply place a poisoned needle in their protective mechanisms like a normal person? Why try and age someone? Who does that??

Entry 8

I suppose this is what I get for blasphemy, huh? Returning once more into this accursed magician’s lair, this time with a magician of our own just to be safe, we did not unfortunately get too far. While back in camp we did realise that the strange brass disks we got last time were, in fact, some kind of magical spell book, we did not get too much more information from Izohr once we were back inside.

Opening the last remaining door we were accosted by those strange lion-headed beasts that appear out of thin air, though Sybaris the Lamia says she saw a strange machine that might be responsible for them.

That thing was a nightmare. It slew two of our fellows but with a slash of its tentacled limbs, nearly managed to kill the last one and almost was the end of me as well. By God’s will I only came away with an awful headache and a nasty scar on my cheek to add to the collection that has been growing there for the last few years. 

I need rest. 

Personal Thought of the Day: Magicians are awful people, but their places of residence are somehow worse. Also, I need to get more flaming oil. It is time to start using extreme measures.

Rustam, post-scar. Art by Kalin.
Entry 9

Writing this in a spare moment. I am done with this place and this wizard nonsense. Going to burn this place down, one flask of oil at a time.

Working pretty well so far. Found a room with loads of skulls and strange helmets. Got one with bat wings on it. 

Killed a strange warrior made of shadow. Fire consumes all, even shadows. Found one box of the anti-mutagens, two more to go. Burned down the nest of an enormous spider too. 

Zaynab is quite competent. She is someone to keep contact with when I need muscle for the future. 

[The notes end as a mess of scribbles.] 

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Bundles of Holding, Bellairs, and a Session Report

Firstly: the Bundle of Holding is running a Quick Deal for the Hydra Cooperative!

It's a heck of a lot of awesome stuff, available for $15 instead of the usual $75. Check it out here!

Next: To borrow Granny Weatherwax's phrase, "I ATEN'T DED." Been over a year since I've updated this! (I'd apologize, but we all know it'll happen again.)

I've started running Legacy of the Bieth again, which I'm hoping will help with both thinking about and actually creating RPG materials (and updating the blog with session reports). There's a golden zone somewhere out there, where social media interaction helps with brainstorming and creating but doesn't wind up taking away the energy for same. Maybe one day I'll find it. 

I did make a serendipitous discovery recently, though. 

Art by Edward Gorey for (presumably)
Bellairs' The Dark Secret of Weatherend,
via Brian Ashcraft

When I was a wee kid, I fell in love with the work of John Bellairs, a YA horror writer. He mostly wrote YA horror-fantasy, centering on kids in white 1950s-era US small towns encountering the eldritch. (One of his books, The House with a Clock in its Walls, got made into a movie a few years ago.) Bellairs wrote one adult fantasy/horror novel, The Face in the Frost, which is amazing -- wonderfully atmospheric and creepy, while also containing a great deal of whimsy and fun. The Face in the Frost made it onto Appendix N, and so has had a couple of folks discussing it in our scene (Appendix N Book Club, Dump Stat Adventures, and a surprisingly underpopulated Bellairs tag at Grognardia) Bellairs wound up passing away in his 50s or so from a cardiac issue, in 1991. 

A couple of weeks ago I found out that:
  • Bellairs had gotten like 1/3 of the way through a sequel to The Face in the Frost, called "The Dolphin Cross"
  • Ellen Kushner, who had worked as his editor, found a copy (perhaps the only copy) of The Dolphin Cross draft in like 2009
  • This had made its way into a Bellairs anthology, Magic Mirrors, released shortly thereafter by the New England SF Association
  • As a Real True Adult with Spending Money, I could purchase a copy of Magic Mirrors and cause it to be delivered to my home
So I immediately ordered a copy, and got to see a favorite author returning to a world I thought would never be touched again. It was a delight. 

The Face in the Frost is a charming novel, that reminds me in parts of T.H. White's Sword in the Stone, with its whimsical tone and complete and cheerful disregard for anachronism. At the same time, it's got scenes of strange magic and horror that absolutely stand out and grip the mind, and spots of quiet and incredibly evocative worldbuilding. There are two parts of the book that don't age well (no women characters at all, and a positive-intentions-but-awkward incorporation of a Kabbalah practitioner), so worth noting beforehand. If those two aren't dealbreakers for you (and very reasonable if they are!), I do legitimately recommend the book.

The fragment of The Dolphin Cross shows what might have been. It doesn't hold together quite as well as The Face in the Frost (which is to be expected, as a fragment of a first draft). But what little we do get, is more of the same: both in the charming and in the quietly creepy-as-hell. 

It's mixed feelings, reading through an unfinished manuscript of an author who you love. The last time I recall encountering it was coming upon the 21st (untitled) book of the Aubrey + Maturin series. Joy at seeing old friends, sadness knowing that this is the last time...but unlike many final volumes, a strange haziness of possibility. Less definite, perhaps, but more evocative of possibilities.  

Oh -- if you do pick up any John Bellairs books, make sure to get copies with the original art if possible (Marilyn Fitschen for Face in the Frost, and Edward Gorey for the YA books). Bizarrely, there are later editions that don't use the Gorey art. 

Another Gorey illo from a Bellairs YA.
Bellairs's description of the hooded figure
with tentacle was actually a slow-burn
inspiration for the Bieth...

Legacy of the Bieth Session Report, 7/15/23:

Three adventurers of Maaqil -- street urchin and aspiring assassin-poet Krim the Rat, Turanian lamia Sybaris, and nomad bounty hunter Uqab -- were on the trail of Red Mansur, a bandit who had stolen a box of anti-mutagens from local alchemist "the Whisper." Saleema the Sparrow, a local fixer who Krim knew, had hired the group to retrieve the anti-mutagens. Red Mansur's capture or death would be an added bonus.

The PCs tracked Red Mansur and his gang to the nearby town of Fara Yeni, where they found that one of Governor al-Hakam's cavalry patrols had serendipitously intercepted the bandits as they were striking a passing caravan. The cavalry troop had failed to take out the whole gang, however, and the PCs set off in pursuit of the escapees.

They managed to track the bandits into a cave complex, which the locals of Fara Yeni had informed them was once the redoubt of a dark sorcerer. As the PCs and their hirelings followed the bloodtrails, they discovered that the cave complex had been expanded at some point into an underground maze of worked stone. The corpses of two of Red Mansur's bandits lay abandoned outside the complex. 

After encountering a magical projection of a robed man that barked strange phrases and hurled a sphere of all-too-real energy at the group, the PCs entered a large room with four statues - three figures in armor (two androgynous statues wearing strangely jeweled armor and bearing maces, and a male warrior clad in chain with a shamshir), and a female figure wearing a robe similar to the magical projection's. Torches burned at the ends of the chamber, with a strange heatless green flame made out of crackling lines similar to an audio waveform projection. 

After briefly investigating the statues and torches, the group entered a door to their right, following a winding corridor to a partially flooded room, strewn with wrecked furniture and the body of another of Red Mansur's goons, this one with fresh wounds. As they investigated the body, the group heard a strange scraping sound approaching them from down the corridor. Electing to use the room's chokepoint and ambush any threat, they buckled down. A flash of green light from down the corridor collided with one of the walls, then resolved itself into a strange creature - leonine in form, but bearing two tentacles instead of a normal head, and the whole of its body defined by more green audio waveform lines. As the scraping sounds receded, the tentacle beast charged the PCs, but was dispatched in surprisingly short order by them and their hirelings. 

Behind the Curtain:

I'm currently kickstarting play by dropping the players at the entrance to a one-page dungeon, a resource I had forgotten about until relatively late last week. The One Page Dungeon Contest is seriously one of the best free resources out there for GMs who, like me, punted their prep until close to the last minute.

I'm happy with the hirelings setup I'm using, inspired by Gus L's start of play setup from Tomb Robbers of the Crystal Frontier (which I used for the previous phase of the campaign). The players will have a pool of faceless hirelings back at base camp (guarding their communal resources), but can also take some into the dungeon with them (at which point the hirelings suddenly acquire faces, personalities, and quirks). If a PC dies or becomes incapacitated -- or a drop-in player joins up -- there's a fixed pool of hirelings (either established or faceless) for them to hop into (but a limited resource while the group is still away from their home base). 

I've got grand plans for the urban and factional side of play, but getting the bandwidth and time to do things the way I want is tricky. So I'm trying to find ways to move forward, and keep the dynamic of play going, while building the structure I want in the background. Having a really committed player who's only going to be available for a limited time will also provide an incentive!