Monday, September 12, 2011

Game 03: Swagfest

Running this game was like starting all over again. I handed out the now-expected issue of The Shipping News, along with a "Player's Guide to the Eastern District" that I put together by extensive Copy + Paste from the Pirate's Guide to Freeport PDF. This is why I like to own both the PDF and print copy when possible. PDF always, print when possible. Print makes for easy reading, PDF makes for easy creation of player handouts.

The game picked up six years following the last game, with the players having a base of operations, having taken up residence at Zellara's former residence. They're squatters, and no one's interested in buying the property, even though it's now up for sale, having passed the years of escrow. Whenever someone comes around, Zellara scares them off, and so the place is known locally as being a haunted house. The Ghosts gang has to leave and enter at night, to maintain the illusion that the place is abandoned.

I started the game with a double-meditation to get into character. I'm a cinematic DM, and I run games like episodes of an ongoing television series. So I played "Southtown" by P.O.D., with the instructions to contemplate their characters' past six years. Near the end of the song, I gave a guided meditation of all the Ghosts except Ra'id (who had gone to prison) doing a heist - a smash and grab robbery. It goes bad, and guardsmen show up. I gave the impression of being trapped, and unable to find a way out, and ended it with Ra'id showing up silhouetted in a doorway, beckoning everyone to follow him.

I then played our Freeport opening credits theme, and allowed them to contemplate their characters in general.

The game proper began in the basement of the Ghost's house, where excavation is underway to build a basement. The game began with Hutch and Gar working on the basement. After the Ghosts took over 3 Lancet Street as their home, it became apparent it wasn't an ideal space for someone with Gar's line of work. The Alchemist's kit had to be taken down or set up at regular intervals, and stolen or smuggled goods sometimes jockeyed for space with the kitchen table. It became apparent at some point in the Ghosts' careers that a basement would be needed. To that end, floorboards were pried up, and digging began. It's taken six years for a few reasons:
1) They're teenagers. What teens do you know are that motivated to do back-breaking labor, even if it will ultimately benefit them?
2) They hit a very large rock and had to dig it out.
3) They hit clay and it slowed them down.
4) Everyone but Lucky and Tuck got too big to get into the crawlspace until they'd excavated further.
5) They can't remove the dirt very quickly without attracting attention (noise of excavation + piles of dirt just outside renders the Haunted House idea moot pretty quickly)

The hole is now big enough for a few bodies to dig, and Hutch is in there, throwing all of his considerable weight into the shovel falls. Hutch's shovel strikes stone: he strikes harder. A sound of stone grating on stone, and then silence, followed by a loud splash. The scent of effluvia: someone brings a lantern. Tuckery is lowered through the opening, the lantern illuminates a branch of Freeport's sewers, and with Gar shouting something about sewer gas, the halfling brawler is hastily pulled up. An alternate light source will be needed for further investigation, but in the meantime, there is a party to attend.

One of the things I love about my players is how much they've embraced playing the Ghosts as young men. Older and wiser heads would have put off a day of bacchanals and debauchery to properly close up the hole. The youths simply slap a loose board over it, and head out the door to deliver Gar's firework commission to the island they'll be launched from. Ra'id secures a ride with Dimetrios, a well known boatman on the Docks. The delivery goes smoothly, and all the characters are given a close up view of Drac's Folly, the lighthouse so much of the city's funds have been poured into. They notice missing stones on several of the levels, as though they are waiting for more masonry, but have continued building despite these gaps. Before they can quite the island, Ra'id finds himself face-to-face with Torsten Roth for the first time since he's been out of the Tombs. Ra'id counters Roth's snide dismissal of the Ghosts by asking "How is Dalloway's son doing?" to which Roth is somewhat perplexed and possibly shaken.

NOTE: In actual play, Shane/Ra'id had mistaken Roth for Walter Dalloway's father. Ra'id murdered Roth the night before. In later discussion with George/Gar, he suggested we employ a "reshoot" house rule, that players can yell "CUT!" for a scene where they blew something their character would clearly have known. We covered for it at the time, but have since employed the reshoot approach to making the narrative consistent. 

At this point, I inserted a "cut" scene, since Taylor/Hutch had elected not to accompany the other players to the island, and had been waiting their return very patiently. To reward him, and set up Swagfest, we gamed a conversation between Hutch and Finn, the crime boss of the Eastern District. Finn has invited Hutch and the Ghosts to join the Eastern District - to indicate their acceptance of the offer, their job during Swagfest was to protect Captain Jacob Lydon from assassination: Lydon owes Finn money, and is a likely candidate for Captain's Council. Finn wants Lydon to be in his debt, and know it. So the Ghosts are to do two things: protect him from other assailants, and then win the Rat's Race at Swagfest, so they can shake Lydon's hand with a specially treated glove. The glove would administer a poison Finn has the antidote for, permitting him to "rescue" Lydon and emphasize his relationship with the crimelord halfling.

Swagfest was originally a web enhancement from Green Ronin's "Focus on Freeport" series, called "Holiday in the Sun." The main modification I made to the adventure was to jettison the Aranea’s lair filled with cocooned festival-goers at the very end. My players know I'm moving along plot lines, and I don't want to stick random beasties in the game just for a bit of combat.

Swagfest is a Freeport festival, one of those excuses to party based in the history of a place. As stated in the adventure, Swagfest is "one of the city’s most important holidays. Celebrating the Great Raid of Sea Lords Drac and Francisco, in which the fleet of Freeport terrorized the maritime nations for three months and brought back loads of booty, Swagfest is a day long party that shuts the city down with revelry." The characters were made aware of two events, One Eyed Jack's Stand and The Rat's Run via this game's issue of The Shipping News.

The issue also included plot hooks in the form of advertisements and an article on a missing priest from the temple of Abadar: I messed up here, in my haste using the original text from The Freeport Trilogy, so that it says The Temple of Knowledge. But I'm trying to weave in the element of keys from some ad-libbed moments with the PCs, so it should have read "temple of Abadar."

To simulate the chaos and noise of a party like the one in "Holiday in the Sun," I cranked up my soundtrack, which was comprised of the following songs:
1. Throw Them Overboard - Abney Park
2. The Derelict - Abney Park
3. Aether Shanty - Abney Park
4. The Gaelic Reels - Carter Burwell, from the soundtrack to Rob Roy
5. The Blunt Reels - Capercaillie, from the soundtrack to Rob Roy
6. Lowlands Low - Bryan Ferry, from Rogue's Gallery
7. Rolling Sea - Eliza Carthy, from Rogue's Gallery
8. Boney was a Warrior - Jack Shit, from Rogue's Gallery
9. Good Ship Venus - Loudon Wainwright III, from Rogue's Gallery
10. Jericho - Subway to Sally
11. Mit Dans is all die Werit genesen by Corvus Corax
12. Gaudalier by Corvus Corax
13. Goigs de la Nostra Dona by Corvus Corax
14. Estuans Intrinsecus by Corvus Corax
15. Venus Vina Musica by Corvus Corax
16. Urmawi by Corvus Corax
17. Scotus by Corvus Corax
18. Villemann og Magnhild by In Extremo

I imagine Abney Park as the standard Pirate band, followed by a few "open mic" artists, with Subway to Sally, Corvus Corax, and In Extremo as a half-orc band. I got the idea to use Corvus Corax for this back when I was doing the steampunk Middle-Earth campaign. It works really well, and my decision to turn the music up forced us all to shout like one has to at a live event. If you're wondering where amplification comes from in a medieval/pirate setting, you need to revisit the Bard spells. A world of magic could produce music like this.

I then set the Ghosts loose in the party: they made perception rolls to check out who might be seeking to kill Captain Lydon: anything less than a full success, and I passed them one of the NPC cards of a pretty girl. These are young men, after all! This lead to some contacts made: Hutch met a belly dancer who works as a tavern maid at Kafe Ilkin, and Ra'id met Lexi, a courtesan at the Serenity House. Ra'id also spotted his ex, Vikki Tarjay across the crowd, but there was no altercation. Gar thought he saw a woman who was a dead ringer for his mother, and Tuck bumped into his girlfriend, Lilly. Lucky and Mokey had assumed a rooftop position to watch for trouble from above.

Both Hutch and Tuckery participated in One-Eyed Jack's stand, which Tuckery won by a small margin. Dimetrios was the competition in this event, having beaten all but Tuckery's score.

It was after that event that the assassin strikes. A cloaked and masked figure with a crossbow attempts to shoot Lydon. Hutch forces Lydon to the ground, while Mokey and Lucky give pursuit across the rooftops.
And here's where I made my big mistake.

I had grabbed the rooftop chase from The Edge of Anarchy, the same Paizo adventure-path-book I took the plot-points for "Game 02: Lamm's Little Lambs" from. I won't give away the details, but it's an expansion on the chase rules from the Pathfinder Game Master's Guide. It works great, but my explanation was rushed, and for whatever reason, I had placed all the PCs on the roof. This was a bad idea for several reasons, namely that not all these PCs belong on a rooftop. It was a less than stellar moment, but thankfully it all worked out more or less. I think it would have been better had I kept it to Mokey and Lucky and allowed the other players to game their own scenarios. Ah well. C'est la vie. Mokey ended up shooting the runner with his pistol, and so the Ghosts were able to turn the would-be-assassin over to Finn. Again, this was an error. I think Hutch wanted to interrogate the assassin, but I was railroading the game along, falling back into old habits that are based in goal-oriented-gaming. It was late, I was tired, and I wanted/needed to get more of the story out of the way before the next session. I think the only reason the chase ultimately worked was my kick-ass choice for chase music. Again, I included some anachronistic pop: "Trip Like I Do" by Filter, as remixed by Crystal Method. I then switched to "I'm Not Driving Anymore" by Rob Dougan and "24 Ghosts III" by Nine Inch Nails. Both worked nicely as chase music, though again, I wouldn't have used them outside this Freeport campaign. For whatever reason, these non-epic pieces are really working for this gritty crime story.

I've learned my lesson from that experience though, and had I to do it over again, would have cut the game short to pick it up for Part 2 of Swagfest.

However, at the time, we just soldiered on, with the finale being the Rat's Race, which Ra'id ran in. It was a touch and go affair a few times: Ra'id nearly got beaten out of the race, literally. The violence of the racers nearly crushed a child at the start, and only Tuckery's fast reflexes saved the boy, much to Lily's appreciation. Finally, when the rat entered Scurvytown, he made his way ahead of the other contestants, to follow the rat into an abandoned building. In the original adventure, this is where he'd have met the Aranea, but instead, Ra'id discovered a trap door with stairs leading down. He retrieves the rat, who strangely won't go any further beyond the stairs, and wins the race. The Ghosts deliver the hand-shake, and the poison. I finished with a "cut scene," wherein Ra'id discovers that the double-headed snake amulet is missing - stolen, from the Ghost's home.

My other regret in not extending this story to two sessions was the absence of Gar's excellent fireworks, which I included in the next issue of The Shipping News. I think it would also have been a chance to expand on character relations, which will continue to be a key in the upcoming games. Nevertheless, it was a good time, and decent "restart" of sorts to our campaign.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

In-Between Games 01: Six Long Years

Between games two and three, the PCs aged six years, and for those who hadn't, grew out of adolescence into either young adulthood, or adulthood proper, bringing them up to full stats. However, to simulate the years' happenings, I used the "Random Events Chart" (REC) from my last post. Here are the results in narrative form. 

Ra'id Telour (now 16 years old):

Shane requested to make a number of diplomacy rolls to make contacts around the city, and I wove those into his six results from the REC:
1. Had a good, but short, relationship with a girl. Details to follow! Give me any thoughts on any of these to help me flesh them out.
2. Killed a major player in Freeport - again, details to follow. Was this an accident (bar fight gone wrong?) or assassination?
3. Minor contact with Freeport individual (any contacts in particular you're looking for?)
4-5 Did time for major crime (stole one very "rich" item), and ended up in the Tombs, Freeport's landbound prison.
6. Made influential friend, who pulled strings and got you out of the Tombs, which is where you've just arrived from when the next game begins.

Shane rolled a one, a fumble, to contact Torsten Roth, but wasn't aware of his failure at the time. Later, Ra'id remembered him saying, “There used to be standards in this district (Merchant District), you know. Now they just let anybody in. Oh, don’t take offense. Let’s just pretend I wasn’t talking about you and get back to business.”

Torsten Roth (male human journeyman) is forty-five, well-dressed, and one of the richest men in Freeport. He is head of both the Guild of Merchants and the powerful Roth merchant family (with interests in mining, fine wines, and exotic goods). He’s also an annoying, self-aggrandizing, condescending snob who thinks most people (including his fellow guild members) are beneath him. He has plenty of money, but what he wants more is political power—power that could make him even richer. He publicly supports Milton Drac in the hopes of being elected to the Captains’ Council. Ra'id suspects Roth was caught up in the events that got him incarcerated in the Tombs, but can't be sure. 

He then had a moderate success in contacting Vikki Tarjay, which I made his short and good relationship. Vikki got Ra'id into the Joy Boys, a gang of rich kids interested in raising hell. The Joy Boys are a gang—more of a club—of spoiled rich kids, the bored lesser scions of wealthy merchants and noble families. While they pretended to be criminals, they aren't much more than thugs. They beat up merchants, rob the working class, and get into bar brawls for fun, not because they needed the money. Vikki stopped dating Ra'od once she realized he wasn't part of the merchant class.

His third roll was another fumble, for Walter Dalloway, Walter Dalloway is a typical member of the Rakeshames, and Vikki's on-and-off boyfriend (Ra'id was a rebound). The dissolute fourth son of a large banking family, Walter feels little pressure from his family to enter the family business, marry well, or do well at his studies. He's spending his teens drinking, whoring, and learning aristocratic swordsmanship, and yearns to do something with those skills—something unpleasant. Handsome, well-dressed, and remarkably free of manners, Walter was the one who got Ra'id put in jail by requiring the Azhar to pass a test of initiation (a way to get in despite not being of the Merchant class (at least, not Freeport merchants)). The test was to steal an item from High Priest of the Temple of Abadar, Thuron Abacot. When Ra'id broke into the High Priest's chambers (hoping to get Vikki back), he grabbed the first thing he could find. He brought it back to Walter, and went home thinking he was in with the Joy Boys, and all was well. In the middle of the night, the Watch came for him, and he was taken straight to the Tombs, without trial. There were mentions of the word of a major player in town against yours, and both Torsten Roth and William Dalloway (Walter's father) against Ra'id's. While the details are still fuzzy, Ra'id was clearly set up.

The rest of Shane's rolls were moderate to good. Here are the results, again, woven into the REC results:
Ra'id almost made friends Jessapine Holimon. Tall, ethereally beautiful, and as tenacious as a pit bull, Jessapine Holimon has worked hard for years to reach her current level of success (unlike a certain rich-born guildmaster). She is the most successful importer and retailer of women’s clothing in Freeport, and the daughters of the guild leaders wouldn’t purchase their gowns from anyone else in town. Jessapine is quite influential within the guild, and she is convinced Torsten Roth is leading it on the road to ruin.

Shane requested two-weapon combo for Ra'id, so he had to have a teacher. Ra'id trained with Rex Nash (clearly not his real name), a half-elven swashbuckler and well-known womanizer/wealthy rake who resides on a double masted schooner called "The Waveroller." The boat is parked at the Merchant District Marina.  He shares the space with a series of beautiful women of all races, as well as his servant, a female Drow (Ra'id naively suspects she is a lesbian, as she is indifferent to Nash's charms) named Nanji, who is a skilled martial artist and excellent bartender.

The last roll incorporated the influential friend roll from the REC, and introduced the Tombs, Freeport's prison:

The Tombs are Freeport's jail: The main prison in Freeport is located inside the Fortress of Justice and is known throughout the city as the Tombs. They’ll tell you the building got its nickname because it was based on an elaborate mausoleum from the Jungle Lands, but the denizens of the underworld know differently. Many criminals who end up in the Tombs are never heard from again. building is solid brick. There’s a main floor above ground, with bars on all the windows, and reinforced walls that are three feet thick. The roof of the building is shaped like a ziggurat—it has no real reason for its appearance except to look massive and foreboding. The first floor is the headquarters for the jailer and guards. There’s also a mess hall, kitchen, larder, and chapel to the God of Penitence. Small groups of prisoners are taken here daily to hear sermons, sing hymns, and pray for forgiveness.

The prison cells are located on two levels underground. There are sixty cells on each floor, each cell approximately eight feet by six feet. Each can hold three prisoners, but most hold several more. The walls of the cells are constructed of large, stone blocks. Prisoners are fed twice a day with meals slipped through the small slots at the bottom of the cell doors. Some popular menu items—gruel, boiled bones, stale bread crusts, and fish head soup. Meals are served with a small cup of dirty water. Many prisoners go hungry, and some have even died of starvation. Other ways to die inside the Tombs include death by venomous vermin, food poisoning, succumbing to disease, and being murdered by your fellow cellmates. Prisoners kill each other over food, scraps of clothing, insults, vendettas, and grudges—or sometimes for no reason at all.

The Tombs hold a motley assortment of criminals, from vile rapists, raving murderers, to political prisoners that have somehow fallen through the cracks to spend their remaining days languishing in the bowels of Freeport’s terrifying prison.

While incarcerated, Ra'id met one of the Tombs’ oldest residents, Marius Edgel, who has survived in this inhospitable prison for almost a decade. At the peak of his career as a notorious crime lord, he managed upwards of a dozen operations, including smuggling, extortion, larceny, and even murder. In particular, Marius managed a small circle of assassins in Freeport and on the Continent, and several high profile assassinations fell squarely on his shoulders. The Continent’s efforts to extradite the man had all failed since Freeport had no intention of turning over one of their citizens, so a team of killers came for Marius instead. After thwarting eight attempts on his life, Marius realized he could not continue to run his business on the “outside,” so he voluntarily turned himself in. Allies in the legal system made sure that his time in the Tombs was for show, and he was free to come and go as he pleased. In the ten years he’s been a prisoner, Marius has actually spent less than a year in the Tombs. Much of his time is spent in a state of semi-retirement at his house in Libertyville, which was the connection to Ra'id. When he discovered the Azhar's connection with Evil Eye Fleagle, he had Ra'id moved to his private cell. When Marius returns to Freeport, he visits his posh offices in the Tombs, where he manages various businesses. His filthy cell is just a front. A cunningly concealed door against the back wall leads to a comfortable apartment that has tunnel access into a house in the Merchant District. Once Marius checked out things with his contacts, he discovered the nature of Ra'id's frame up, which was mainly Walter Dalloway's doing, out of jealousy for Vikki's attentions.

Although he’s nearly sixty, Marius is in great shape. He has short brown hair and brown eyes. Marius arranged for Ra'id to go free: Ra'id went to a bar Watler Dalloway frequents, and murdered him.

Gar Irontooth (now 15 years old)

Both Shane and George are very involved players, so George's Half-orc Alchemist provided me with a lot of back-and-forth emails. These were focused more on the mechanics of the alchemist class, and what kind of money Gar could make in six years. Geo is a math professor, and excels at Excel. He sent along a spreadsheet, demonstrating the rolls made, which ones went poorly, and how much money he could have made, which ended up being 2110 gold - in serious excess of a second level coffer! Enter the danger of having characters get six years to sit around and effectively do whatever the hell they want. Luckily, Gar was going to school at the Freeport Institute for many of these years, so I was able to sink the money into tuition and books. I solved this problem with Shane/Ra'id's merchant dealings by making him pay for sword-fighting lessons with Rex Nash. Furthermore, I had to consider that not every thing Gar makes was necessarily sold at the price he hoped for, if it sold at all. That's one of the realistic aspects I think an urban setting should entail. Since everything is available, that awesome shit you stole from the dungeon won't sell immediately. It might not sell at all, and potentially, if it does, it might belong to someone powerful. Likewise, the market might not be interested in new potions. After all, Gar isn't the only alchemy act in town. (If anyone is interested in seeing how we resolved Gar's gaming mechanics, let me know and I'll post the conversation between George and I).

In the 6 year gap, Gar studied and engaged in alchemy to support himself financially, support the gang with alchemical items, and so establish both an above board alchemical trade and an illicit drug trade.  He obtained alchemical items for himself by producing two batches of the item when a customer orders it, keeping one, and selling the other to the customer to recoup the cost.  

Here are Gar's REC results:

1. Due to your life in school, Gar is often bored, finding school lacking the colour of his underworld connections.
2. Discovered ruins on a school field trip, and has only confided in Hutch regarding this discovery.
3. Was convicted of drug dealing in connection with Aporcus Beadle's expulsion from the Freeport Institute. Thankfully, all the Institute demanded of you was a fine of 100 gp. Gar paid this without trouble, as per the discussion regarding Alchemy's big bucks. He had been dealing with Beadle since their first meeting, and continued to provide him with both drugs and poison.
4. A second conviction of drug dealing, also in connection to Beadle, got Gar a flogging, which nearly killed him.
5. The resulting illness from your public flogging resulted in a stat deterioration of his strength by 1.
6. In the wake of Gar's flogging, he was kicked out of the Institute, but Delinda Knorbertaal took pity on him and gave him a job at Knorbertaal's Herbs. Her health has been failing for awhile, and Gar is worried about her. Beadle still lives with his aunt, but he's usually out trying to score a hit. Gar stopped dealing with him after your second infraction, as you suspect it's his stupidity that keeps getting you caught. Delinda gives Gar a discount on items in the store, and he has access to the providers directly through ordering, so Gar gets his supplies for Alchemy at even lower prices (I felt like I was cutting my own throat letting George get his supplies so cheap, but seriously - this is how retail works!). Instead of 1/3, I went with 1/4 the price.

Hutch (now 19 years old)

Taylor was still struggling with how to play Hutch, until we discussed playing him as a sort of mix between Bernie Mac in Ocean's Eleven crossed with Samuel L. Jackson. It's spruced up Taylor's gaming considerably. Here are Hutch's results from the REC:

1. Hutch attempted to befriend Ethie, after his initial bad first impression. As it turns out, Ethie is genuinely glad to see Hutch is still alive when he goes back to Strebeck's, and discerns the quality of his character.
2. Hutch experienced a few months of utter boredom and ennui while living off the earnings from the first game - this prompted him to go looking for a job.
3. Contracted a cold that didn't go away for three months, but was never very serious.
4. Ethie offered him a job working as a dishwasher at Strebeck's. Hutch was promoted to providing muscle as a bouncer in later years as he grew up. (Hutch has a bit of Troll blood back in his family, and stands 6"8 and 250 lbs).
5. Convicted of assault and battery - was given a fine of 50 gp: I gave Tay the choice of paying the fine and  subtracting it from his money, or enduring a flogging. Hutch took the beating, and recovered. He has plans for his funds...
6. The Ghosts, via Hutch, were offered membership in The Syndicate, under the halfling crimelord, Finn.


Mikey kicked things off with an email inquiring about the status of his mother, as he felt this would directly affect his decisions about whether to become a, for lack of a better word, "Cleric" of Luck (and yes, he chose the Luck Domain). While Lucky is not a Cleric per se, he is a devotee of Olladra, an Eberron deity. I took Olladra over Pathfinder's Callistria, because it didn't seem right that a hobbit/goblin would have anything to do with a deity as Elven as Callistria. Olladra made more sense in both mine and Mikey's mind, since one of her forms is a halfling woman. Lucky came to this decision through his studies at the Freeport Institute. The Pirate's Guide says that the Institute occasionally takes in people of lower classes, and it fit with Lucky's goals. Again, we're trying to create a sort of Cleric who isn't Clergy. As Mikey put it, "I am going to play it so subtle. As roguey a cleric as possible. No lavish prayers (his faith is internal, prayers silent). A private faith. The most pious he'll get is his nightly hour spent quietly on the roofs, thinking. The others probably don't even know exactly what's up. And no one would call him a priest, except possibly a mentor of his at the institute."

Here are the results of Lucky's REC rolls:

1.You were accepted to study at the Freeport Institute through a special scholarship deal you suspect Finn had some hand in. The fact you could pay your own tuition didn't hurt. This is where you got your interest in probability/luck theory (like chaos theory in a fantasy world!).
2.Your mother had a very good year with an investment deal she had paid money into, and was able to retire from work at the brothel. She now lives in a small apartment in the Eastern District
3. You were given a set of throwing knives by your mom. They have terrible balance, but you carry them for sentimental reasons, and as a last resort. They look really badass, which is a good thing. -1 in combat, but +1 to intimidate.
4. You helped solve a minor crime in your neighborhood, which involved going to someone's house with clubs, bats, and saps, and telling the perp to leave Freeport and never do what they did (threaten a young girl a few doors down) ever again.
5. You broke your arm in rooftop running and were laid up for awhile.
6. You were given your own set of thieves tools by your mom, but they aren't very good. You use them for sentimental reasons, even though they don't provide you with a bonus. You're wondering about asking Gar to give them some boost.

Mikey informed me, right before the third game, that Lucky commissioned a masterwork crossbow with the words "Good" and "Luck" on either side of the lathe (crosspiece).

Blaine isn't a big fan of gaming in-between games, so his six years was a straightforward process without much back-and-forth.

1. Got in a relationship with a girl, and it stuck. I asked Blaine, "Does she clean Tuck up, or is she just a tavern wench or prostitute?" He went with tavern wench, a halfling girl named Lily, who does her best to clean him up. Blaine gave a very cool "reveal" of this to the other players, in-character-voice, repeating the phrase, "We're just doing our best" several times.

2. Discovered some ruins outside the city while drunk one night and it started raining. You slept just down the first flight of stairs, but were slow to enter further. This happened a week ago.

3. Lost a few months in one of the years drinking heavily and doing very little of substance. You went gambling to generate drinking money, and currently owe the house 50 Lords (gp). You're looking for a job to cover that cost, as it was a few months back, and Finn is threatening to take it out of you with a few thugs.

4. You stole a very expensive item a few years back. You may choose one +1 weapon to add to your arsenal.

5. You made friends with Poppy Bragg, head of the Longshoremen's Union, who keep the docks a safe place. He hires you as muscle on an ongoing basis.

6. One night when you were wandering drunk, you're relatively convinced you found the doorway to that realm Sophie Steadman told the story about. Terrified, you've never gone back, but you know exactly where the portal is, up in Drac's End.


Jeff is also not much of an "in-between" gamer, but like Blaine, he did a great job of incorporating his six years into game play.

1. You bumped into Sophie Steadman (the storyteller) two years after you left Cleaves. She had changed her name to Trinia Sabor because Simon Midwich (the leader of the Fork and Knives) had been following her around. You struck up a relationship, which became a romance. You've been with Trinia since.

2. You pulled off a major theft, and are now the owner of a visiting pirate's +1 Dragon flintlock gun, masterwork. It's a very impressive weapon, and since the pirate left town, you're free to brandish it on a belt you keep slung across your chest.

3. You pulled off a second major heist, adding a Gorgon Rifle to your armaments. You'll still be awkward with the weapons unless you choose to pursue firearms as your preferred weapon (you have to choose either archery or two weapon fighting as your level two feat, but given that you're in Freeport and you're an urban ranger, I'll open it up to include firearms as well). If you're totally nonplussed with this and wish to stick to your archery, I'll change those items. (Jeff chose to run with the firearms, which worked out well in the third game.)

4. You laid low in the wake of those two heists, as you didn't want to generate too much heat in your direction. You were sick with the flu.

5. Tovac offered you a position as a deputy of the guard in Drac's End. (Which Jeff accepted for Mokey - the way he sees it, he polices Drac's End, but works with Finn's Syndicate in the Eastern District because there is no law enforcement there taking care of business.)

6. You lost a lot of money gambling recently, and currently owe the house 300 Lords. You're looking hard for a job that pays very well.

There it is! Six Long Years, on the record! I recommend one roll/month or year, depending on how long the "break" is. I had six years to do, so I went with one roll per year, because there was no way I was doing 72.

Random Events Chart

I said I wouldn't be writing until after the next game, but I wanted to share the process by which we facilitated the jump of six years. As I've mentioned before at the blog, we used to be hardcore Rolemaster players. While many of the complications of Rolemaster have been jettisoned, I occasionally consult tables that were extremely useful to me over the years. One of those tables is the Random Events Chart from Rolemaster Companion IV.

Unlike many random events charts in RPGs, the Rolemaster version was dedicated to small events, not big world events, although Rolemaster Companion 7 contained such a chart. The one I used was intended for "generating events when a PC or group of PCs rest or retire for a period of time." As with all things Rolemaster, it uses percentile dice, and a roll of 01-05 results in an open ended negative "fumble" roll (re-roll and subtract the result from your initial roll), and a roll of 95-00 results in a open ended positive "critical" roll (re-roll and add the result to your initial roll).

I went through my books, tracked it down, and used it with some modifications for our six year jump, making one roll for each year. Here is my adjusted version, scaled for a criminal element urban campaign in Freeport (all apologies to the copyright holder, but I'm hoping my modifications exempt me from an act of copyright infringement - also, this table is too cool to languish in torrent PDF hell):

-100-<: Jailed in the Hulks - permanent: once you go in, you don't come out
-99-98: Run afoul of/hunted by evil deity
-97-95: Run afoul of/hunted by major evil cult
-94-92: Cursed/branded/marked
-91-89: Death of friend/close relative
-88-86: Make major enemy
-85-83: Lose major magic item
-82-80: Lose major amount of money
-79-77: Major wound--stat deterioration STR, DEX, and/or CHA based on location
-76-74: Major mental illness (use rules for insanity)
-73-71: Major illness -- stat deterioration
-70-67: Convicted of major crime
   -66  : Roll again, add/subtract 66 and take both results
-65-63: Friend/relative convicted of major crime (should not be another PC)
-62-60: Academic/training/experimental error
-59-57: Thrown out of guild/society
-65/54: Run afoul of minor evil cult
-53-51: Minor accident/injury
-50-48: Lose minor magic item
-47-44: Lose minor amount of money
-43-40: Accident/injury to friend/relative
-39-36: Out with society
-35-32: Involved in local Disaster
-31-28: Minor illness
-27-24: Lose a job
-23-20: Run afoul of authorities (was originally bandits/thieves, but my players are the bandits and thieves)
-19-16: Lose mundane item
-15-12: Convicted of minor crime or misdemeanor
-11-08: Went hungry/starved
-07-04: Political goof/out of favor
-03-00: Beat up by local toughs/bouncers/muggers
01-04: Social faux pas
05-25: Life is boring/uneventful
26-35: Offered guild/societal membership
36-45: Short, troubled relationship
46-55: Short, positive relationship
56-60: Accused of, but not convicted of minor crime
61-65: Discovered/explored ancient ruins/abandoned house/warehouse
   66:   Roll again, add/subtract 66 and use both results.
67-71: Mundane award/recognition (this is important for our game, as we're about to include reputation points, as in the Iron Kingdoms line)
72-76: Long, troubled relationship
77-81: Long, positive relationship
82-86: Make minor influential friend/contact
87-91: Friend/relative successful
92-96: Gain job opportunity
97-101: Travel to another country
102-106: Good health: (increase one physical stat by 1)
107-111: In good with society
112-116: Gain normal item
117-121: Gain normal monetary sum (For my players, successful heist!)
122-126: Marked by a deity
127-131: View different realm or plane
132-136: Slay major monster/menace
137-141: Save important personage
142-146: Make major friend/contact/ally
147-151: Gain a rich item
152-156: Gain rich monetary sum (a big strike! According to Iron Kingdoms, this may mean you can't practice your wrongdoing in the place you pulled this off in ever again.)
157-161: Offered admittance to a special/secret society
162-171: Influenced/quested by a deity
172-176: Accused of, but not convicted of, major crime
177-181: Major award/recognition/title
182-186: Prevented local disaster
187-189: Travel to different realm/plane
190-192: Gain artifact
193-195: Gain very rich monetary sum
196-197: Meet deity
198-199: Befriended by deity
    200:    Deified

There you go! Hope it helps y'all in your gaming. I recommend one roll per year or month, depending on how long your break is. I went with years, because there was no way I was going to do 72 rolls.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Game 02: Lamm's Little Lambs

As I mentioned last post, I'm mixing a number of sourcebooks as adventure hooks. Last game, one of the hooks I threw was the beginning of Edge of Anarchy, the first book in the Curse of the Crimson Throne series from Paizo. The full adventure path of Curse of the Crimson Throne doesn't work perfectly for my urban Freeport PCs, so I've adjusted certain adventure points in the series to suit my needs.I've also included the map image from the inside of the Pirate's Guide to Freeport, which I found online. I recommend getting the map from Green Ronin, as it's always awesome to point to a location for PCs. I reference our wall map regularly, and once you start reading this post, you'll see why.

The game began with a few housekeeping items, and the realization we were missing Tuckery/Blaine, the halfling drunken brute (Barbarian archetype) who was going to make contact with Mickey Beestinger, leader of the gang Tuck belongs to, the Stingers. This was to get extra muscle. Without Blaine present, I made the quick adjustment that he'd already gone to make contact, and ended up needing to go along on a job with the Stingers. To keep the assistance Mickey would have given, I had a note delivered to Cleaves, telling the PCs to go to Strebeck's Beer Hall in the Eastern District, where they would meet their contact, Ethie.

The PCs then went about a few "day in the life of" moments that were all aimed at getting them prepped to carry out their first job as a crew: to kill Gaedren Lamm, an old thief who runs a crew of orphan pickpockets, and treats them poorly in the bargain. Hutch, a 13-year-old Survivor, and self-appointed leader of the group, accepted this job from Zellara, a fortune-teller who lives near the boundary between Scurvytown and the Docks. Mokey, and 11-year-old Urban Ranger had been along to accept the job, and both were very impressed with the gold coins Zellara had given them as an advance on the job. As they flashed their "Lords" (the Freeport coinage is Lords (gp), Skulls (sp), and Slash (bp) - we're using the Gamemastery coins to have actual coins on the table. Highly recommended - there's nothing like a coin for a prop), Lucky, our 20-year-old gobling rogue, scoffed that it wasn't enough money for killing a man, and challenged whether any of these kids had actually killed someone. There was some great banter and bluster in this scene, with my players adopting brilliant character voices, arguing in a manner reminiscent of the kids in Stand by Me or more recently, Super 8. Finally though, they agreed to do the job, with certain conditions and cautions from Lucky.

Everyone dispersed to their odd-jobs they are farmed out from the orphanage for. Ra'id, our 12-year-old Azhar rogue (this new Freeport/Pathfinder race are related to efreeti in some way) went to his job at Omar Nkota's Fang and Claw, a seller of exotic beasts. There, he located a few tools and secreted them on his person for use in the evening's work: a hammer, a crowbar, and a chain. All of these, along with nearly all the gear, are distributed to players using Paizo's Gamemastery Item Cards. If I had more time, I'd be happy to make my own custom cards, but as a father, husband, graduate student, and full time post-secondary instructor, there ain't enough time in the day. These cards are life-savers. To those, we've added all the Gamemastery Face Cards from the Gamemastery decks, which I'm slowly but surely assigning to Freeport denizens, occasionally printing off custom cards of individuals who are either not ongoing NPCs, or who have no corresponding card in the Paizo decks.

While Ra'id worked at Fang and Claw, Lucky was trying to procure items for the group's 9-year-old half-orc alchemist, Gar Irontooth, who wanted to make a poison for the assassination of Gaedren Lamm. I had distributed a front page of The Shipping News, Freeport's newspaper at the beginning of the game. The only complaint I have with The Pirate's Guide to Freeport: A City Setting for Fantasy Roleplaying is that it doesn't have separate sections for PCs and DMs. This is good for the DM, since everything is organized for their benefit, but precocious players who love reading Player's Handbooks are left with nothing. So as a solution, I'm doling out exposition via The Shipping News. You'll note I have an ad for a herbalist's shop on the front page, run by a woman Gar met in the last game. Now, Lucky has contact with Delinda Knorbertaal, and so we make repeat contacts, firmly embedding the NPC in the player's minds. Anyone familiar with the adventure in the back of the Freeport Companion: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Edition: A Sourcebook for the Freeport Campain Setting will know that Delinda plays a major role. I wanted the characters to have a connection before unfolding those events.

As a rabbit trail, it's fascinating to read adventure modules and adventure paths with the idea that the characters are ignoble and denizens, rather than visiting wanderers and altruistic heroes. It really changes the dynamic, but makes certain moments far more interesting, since you don't have to spout a lot of clunky exposition about who they're talking to: if it's a first meeting, there will likely be more, and if it's a second or third, you're building on those initial meetings, doling out information bit-by-bit.

Lucky failed at getting all the ingredients for Gar's poison: Delinda was suspicious and refuses to sell him everything. He is left needing to find salt-peter, which is likely found at an armory. In this case, at Otto's Baldrics and Blades in the heart of Scurvytown. Lucky's plan is simple, and aimed at keeping some of the money left over from the Lord given to him by Mokey to procure the supplies for the poison. Gar wants to steal some knives, since Mokey had said to get him knives in addition to the poison components. Gar reasons if he can get the knives and salt peter for free, he's up a few skulls.

Meanwhile, Gar has been sorting books at Finnegan's Books, when Delinda Knorbertaal enters (yeah, there are some minor timeline issues here, but I imagined her closing up shop after Lucky left, and accompanying her godson/nephew, Aporcus Beadle, to the book shop). Delinda brought Gar matches as a gift, encouraging him to try and figure out the compounds needed to make these fire-strikers. After she went in search of a new book, Beadle, youthful loser he is, asks: "Hey kid, can you make snake weed?" Gar arranges to make the snake weed, a drug, for Beadle, if the older boy brings him the raw ingredients.

Ra'id and Lucky come by Finnegan's Books and pick up Gar from work, as the noonday sun climbs over Freeport. The friends take a rickshaw across the city to Otto's Blades and Baldrics, making their plan as they go. At the same time, Hutch and Mokey are getting lunch with Oskar Broadhammer, their foreman on odd jobs in the docks district. They'd spent the morning working at The Shipping News, hanging out with newsboy Curbside. Hutch suggests Strebeck's Beer Hall as a place for food, since it's not far from The Shipping News, and Oskar obliges. Once there, Hutch makes contact with Ethlyn Strebeck, who is aghast at Hutch's age: Tuckery has left weapons in a bag behind the counter, and while she is remiss to hand them over, she finally does, muttering about the depths the city is sinking to. Apparently Tuckery and the Stingers, along with other gangs, are massing for some big event in Drac's End that evening.

Gar, Ra'id, and Lucky arrive at Otto's Baldric's and Blades. After casing the joint for some good hardware, Lucky exits, the signal for Ra'id to distract Otto while Gar throws a stink bomb. Gar's stink bombs are potent devices - a failed Fort save results in nausea. While Ra'id and Gar hold their noses, Otto Parsam, former adventurer and normally very formidable opponent rolls a one on his Fort save. I'm a fan of the "fumble" from my Rolemaster days, and went with projectile vomiting, diarrhea, and an allergic reaction. Otto ends up in the street, reeking of puke and shit and trying to breathe properly, while Gar and Ra'id loot the shop: a Reflex save was needed by them - any number above the success resulting in a grabbed item. Gar ended up with the Salt Peter and a punching dagger, while Ra'id grabbed a Star Knife. The boys were witness to the depravity of the town guard under Boss Tillinghast, as two guards in the street reply "fuck it" to pursuing the thieves or helping Otto.

The PCs are reunited at a prearranged rendezvous point in an alley in Scurvytown, where they reveal their weapons. Tuckery's gift bag to Hutch and Mokey contains two kukri knives, a dagger, a club, two hoods, two masks, and some war paint for disguise. While the boys are distributing the weapons, two men step into the alley and call to Mokey: they turn out to be Tanko and Tovac, two good cops in a bad city. Aleksander Tovac (pronounced To-Whack, "Like what it's going to feel like when I hit you with the sap") is the brains, a Sherlock Holmes in the making; Tanko Sandek is the muscle. I use a Polish accent for Tovac, and a Cuban one for Tanko, which quickly endeared my PCs to these guardsmen. Tovac asks Mokey to keep his eyes peeled: the guards are looking into yet another bloody death in Drac's End by some manner of beast, and reveal there have been more, but there isn't much left usually. A foot, a hand, sometimes just a bloody smear. They are mystified, but assure the gang it isn't Omar's beasts. Sadly, the gangs of Freeport seem to think it is, which is why they're massing - to assault Fang and Claw.

Shane as Ra'id was brilliant here, showing genuine concern for Omar. Tanko assuaged these fears, reminding Ra'id of the height of the compound wall at Fang and Claw, as well as of the nature of the animals inside, Omar's own experience at staying alive, and the trained guards he employs. "And what are you going to do about it? What are two cops going to do about it?" Tanko asks. It would have been a mint diversion in a game with some powered heroes, but as you'll see, these kids weren't much of a match for low level fighters, let alone a hundred or so gang-members bent on a lynching.

The group scouts out Lamm's hideout, a fishery south of Scurvytown. Lamm squats in abandoned buildings like this one. Observing likely hiding places and entrances, the group waits until nightfall, consequently witnessing a gorgeous sunset over the ocean. Once night falls, the group steals into the fishery by stealth. It was pretty brilliant, albeit frustrating, as I'd blown up the fishery map from the adventure path and made it into a battlemap (another digression - why can't Paizo release these as printable PDFs? The map folios would be far better, and worth my money if they included battlemaps of the encounters in the adventure path books). All that work for the upper floor was for naught, as the PCs beelined for the lower floor. This was, again, the result of having a character with connections: Hutch had worked for Lamm previously, and so had some idea of his habits and strategies.

I won't go into details as those have spoilers for the Edge of Anarchy adventure path, but suffice to say stealth was successful, and Lamm met a bloody end. I had the killers make Will saves or sick up from the realization they'd just killed a man. The old man's screams woke his compatriots, particularly a half-orc named Giggles, named for what he does when he's in a killing mood. Apparently my maniacal giggle, combined with the threat of a flail and an acrobatic jump that brought them face to face with this killer was the right mix, as my players confessed a bit of PC terror towards Giggles. Again, it's funny to see how much the dynamic changes when PCs have no means, and little means of procuring better means. You can hire them for a gold coin, and really threaten them with a CR2 orc.

The gang escapes through a bedroom window, having killed Lamm, stolen a footlocker and a hatbox, and evaded Giggles. Their evasion is short lived, as Scurvytown guards, greedy for what's in the footlocker and certain of being able to kill a bunch of kids and a gobling, give chase. The situation got grim quickly, as Lucky and Hutch were stabbed and cut. The others turned to help them, only to see a massive orc step out of the night shadows and dispatch the guards summarily. "Is Gar safe?" is the only thing the mystery orc asks before trotting off into the night. The group nods mutely, returning to Gar, who is safe, standing guard over the footlocker and hatbox.

With the characters beaten and bedraggled, I switched the soundtrack drastically from tracks from The Illusionist, The Social Network, and Inception, playing Jay-Z's "Hard Knock Life." I never use pop songs as gaming soundtrack, especially rap, but our players have given the game a definite gangsta feel, so it was appropriate under the circumstances. A late night visit to a pawn's shop nets the group 200gp apiece, some 150gp each short of the deserved price of the items in the footlocker (the joys of being a DM in a crooked town!). Drunk with wealth, the group holes up at Strebecks, having been warned by Tovac not to bother trying to get back to Cleaves with all the gangs looking to assault Fang and Claw.


Looking in the hat box, they find a head, but assume it is some friend of Zellara's, and go to bring her the bad news.  When they arrive at her home, they find it empty, and clearly abandoned for some time. The smell of incense, so strong in Hutch and Mokey's last visit, is absent. Only their previous footprints decorate the dusty floor. There is the sudden epiphany as the group puts "black hair" on the head in the box and the image of Zellara on the Paizo face card together. Hutch removes the head from the box, to find a red velvet box at the bottom, containing a Harrow Deck. This was one of my favorite plot lines from Edge of Anarchy, and in addition to the child-thief ring, made it a must-have for the Freeport story line. I've long been a fan of tarot imagery, and love the work Paizo's done on the physical Harrow Deck. As the PCs fanned out the cards, hands appeared, then arms, and finally, the rest of Zellara. I ended the adventure with these words: "Shall we see what the future holds?"

The next game is in two weeks, and the players will be aging six years, and going up to level 2. I'll see you then.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Game 01: Cleaves' Home for Foundlings and Wayward Children

I can't give away any secrets, but I wanted to chronicle two things in this post. First, the books I used as prep to set the stage, and the events that took place.

As I stated in my last post, I got the idea to do a Freeport campaign over Christmas break '10. I previewed some of the books in PDF format by grabbing copies off sharing sites, and once I decided Freeport was the place to be, ordered The Pirate's Guide to Freeport, one of the best campaign sourcebooks I've ever seen, the Freeport Companion: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Edition, so I didn't have to go making up character stat blocks, and Denizens of Freeport, so I'd have a massive cast to draw from. I love giving the sense of a lived-in world to my players, and sadly it's never been something I've pulled off to my satisfaction, even though I knew Middle Earth up and down, backwards and forwards by the time I stopped gaming in Tolkien's world.

Simply put, a world is more than enough. World-spanning adventures are quests. You don't get to know people along the way. I wanted to run a game that had the feel of the Ben Affleck film The Town to it: people grew up, lived, and died here, and there were adventures to be had within that context. I'm also a long-time fan of Robert Aspirin and Lynn Abbey's Thieves' World series, and relished the idea of running episodic adventures set in a world where larger machinations were taking place.

Accordingly, while I have all the Freeport adventures save Black Sails Over Freeport, I won't be running them in the standard fashion jamming adventure hooks down my players' throats. If they take the bait, that's one thing. If not, there are points down other adventure paths that will intersect with those larger events. One of the big reasons I chose this route was that I found the Freeport Trilogy exceedingly contrived in its execution. Further, most of the Freeport series of adventures assumes your party is from out-of-town, and is good-of-heart. This campaign was supposed to be about being a citizen of Freeport, and being a bit black-hearted. All the players are one stripe or another of neutral. So much of the Freeport adventures just don't work whole cloth. Instead, I'm looking to weave that material into my own storyline of Freeport criminals rising to power. What this effectively means is that I will occasionally have the players run into the events of the original Freeport series, starting with the Freeport Trilogy. While they're rising from urchins to underworld masterminds, it's Freeport sleuth Aleksander Tovac who's solving the mysteries of Freeport Trilogy. As he's been a friend to one of the characters, Tovac will occasionally tap him as a "source of information," involving my group of ne'er-do-wells in his courageous exploits.

'For the starting point of the adventure, I chose one of the orphanages in Freeport. Cleaves' Home for Foundlings and Wayward Children is off the beaten path, appearing in Cults of Freeport. All characters were required to start as children, using these adjustments to abilities and scores, or as goblins or halflings - anyone who could pass for a child.

The Players and Characters:
  1. Taylor: Hutchins "Hutch" - a human survivor (New class from the Freeport Companion: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Edition) - 13 years old
  2. Blaine: Tuckery "Tuck" - Halfling Drunken Barbarian - 25 years old
  3. Jeff: Mokey - Human Urban Ranger - 11 years old
  4. Geo: Terrance Garside / "Gar" Irontooth - half-orc Alchemist - 10 years old
  5. Mikey: Jamie "Lucky" Goodcakes - Gobling (goblin/halfling mix) - 20 years old
  6. Shane: Ra'id Telour - Azhar (New race from the Freeport Companion: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Edition) rogue - 12 years old

I began the game with a quick "guided meditation" to the music of Two Steps From Hell. Two Steps From Hell create trailer music, and I was using the track "Fallout" for the opening title music of our Freeport campaign, were it an ongoing television series. I like a cinematic approach to DMing. Following this, I switched to "Secret Plot" from the soundtrack to The Illusionist by Philip Glass. That soundtrack formed most of the music for Cleaves Home for this first game.

With this music playing, I got the game underway. The 25 year old halfling Tuckery is woken up by Hutch, finding he's been shanghaied and left to play the part of orphan. Intrigued by the plight of the children, Tuck decides to stick it out for awhile and enjoy the free room and board. Ra'id discovers Lucky in the fireplace (cleaning it out - he's a chimney sweep), and the two make a pact of convenience: Ra'id needs someone on the outside to get him things, and Lucky wants to attend class and make a better life for himself. Moreover, the gobling has a crush on 13-year-old Sophie Steadman, who tells the children bedtime stories. Gar, new to Cleaves' and still reeling from the violent death of his half-orc mother, is terrorized by Cleaves' bullying gang, the Forks and Knives, which the other children pejoratively call the Forkin' Knives, or, more crassly, Fuckin' Knaves. Hutch creates further enmity by expertly lodging a fork in the shoulder of Simon Midwich, the Knives' leader.

The group was split up for their daily work assignments, and was introduced to Freeport citizens via banal, everyday encounters. I introduced Delinda Knorbertaal and Alain Finnegan (of Finnegan's Books) to Gar; C.Q. Calame and the Shipping News crew, specifically newsboy Curbside to Mokey, Hutch, and Tuck while they were out helping Oskar Broadhammer, a dwarven jack-of-all-trades, with odd jobs. Ra'id and Lucky worked the day at Omar Nkotan's Fang and Claw, mucking out stables and cleaning the chimney respectively. This was the "day in the life" portion of the game, and was entirely open-ended.

While working, the urchins were given opportunities to search for objects on the street. One of these became a mysterious letter from Zellara, a woman of mystery, to Hutch, speaking directly of Gaedren Lamm, Hutch's former employer. Zellara and Lamm are NPCs from Edge of Anarchy, the first adventure in Paizo's Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path: as I said, the PCs will engage in their own track of adventures, while parallel events from the Freeport Trilogy are unfolding. None of those events have occurred yet: Drac's Lighthouse is being built, but the events of Death in Freeport are still five years away. My plan was to run two games with the PCs as children, then give them a five-year fast-forward to level 2, and full stats. Then, the events from Death in Freeport would be taking place on the periphery.

The adventure hook works, and Hutch, Mokey, and Tuck end up at Zellara's where she reads her Harrow Deck (I was so impressed by this aspect of the Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path I decided to include it in my storyline. No spoilers from that just yet!), and asks the three to take vengeance for her murdered son upon Gaedren Lamm, a local criminal who uses children as his workers. They agree, seeing as Zellara is willing to pay them each 1 gp in advance, and 1 gp upon completion (when you start PCs dirt poor, a Gold Piece as reward goes a long way). They return to Cleaves before curfew, and get ready for bed.

The bedtime story told by Sophie Steadman is from the sidebar "Ruler of Skulls and Shadows," found in The Pirate's Guide to Freeport. At this point, the characters have three possible routes to run with their storylines, but are only focusing on the first, and most obvious involving the hit on Gaedren Lamm. Everyone but Hutch and Ra'id nod off to sleep: these boys end up in trouble with one of Cleaves' Matrons for staying up late. I had done repeat visits of the Matron, which created a false sense of security for when the Fork and Knives entered the dormitory to put a literal hit on Gar and Ra'id for an earlier insult involving a stink bomb. The ensuing combat sees Gar badly beaten with clubs before the Knives run. Tuck nearly kills one, bludgeoning him senseless with a paperweight inside a pillowcase. Hutch beats one of Ra'id's assailants nearly to death with his bare hands (the Survivor class is the pugilist/table leg equivalent of the Monk) before the Matrons arrive. The rest of the Fork and Knives have retreated, to lie in wait for a better opportunity.

While these events have been unfolding, Lucky has been returning home, to the Devil's Luck, an Eastern District whorehouse and gaming hall, where he was born and raised. On the way, he runs into Thurber Sime, an artist with a strange gift: though blind, Thurber can see - the interior of the soul. He draws other realities, one might say, and has drawn an image of numerous goblin-ghoul creatures walking the streets of Freeport. Sadly, he cannot say who he was drawing, for he only hears them. "Children," is all he can offer. "I think they were children." But which children - those of Cleaves, Lamm's little Lambs, or some other group of juvenile street toughs?

Gar and Ra'id spend the night in the infirmary, and in the morning, plans are laid to go and deal with Gaedren Lamm. This final moment was played out with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' "Pieces Form the Whole" from the soundtrack to The Social Network. It's my "heist" music.

One last gear note. We're using almost all the face card sets from Paizo, as I want to have the characters be able to remember NPCs, if only by a face or action. The face cards are passed around when a new character is introduced. If only one PC meets the NPC, only they see the card before it is slid into protective card collector sheets hung on the wall, which will act as an ongoing Rogues' Gallery.

This game was played on Tuesday, June 21 from 7:00-10:00 p.m.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

We're Back! Freeport/Pathfinder Campaign begins next week!

Well, it's been over a year since the "Steam Lords" run of adventures ended and I hung up the DM's hat. We switched from Rolemaster to Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, then made the jump to Pathfinder in September of last year. While a few of my players were apprehensive, everyone is sold on it now, and having a great time rolling characters up in a fraction of the time it used to take! We've lost three of our crew, but that's made for a much more manageable table. I've vowed to never run a game with more than six people playing.

My transition to player was a trip down memory lane, though somewhat adjusted: Shane O. took over for me and ran the first adventure I ever played, Palace of the Silver Princess. I bought Palace back in '81, and convinced my dad to be the DM for our first game. He killed us off in the first 30 minutes, and closed the books and left the table. Kudos to my dad for doing it at all--however, that was the day I decided I needed to become a DM. I was one of those frustrated DMs, trying to play a character and be the DM, which meant few of my early adventures had much depth or complexity. I'd been just DMing for over a decade when Shane asked if I'd ever played without being the DM. I told him the story of Palace, and he decided that would have to be our first game - we needed to right that wrong, complete that story, storm that dungeon.
I was a Cleric of Heironeous with an appetite for baked goods. It was a standard group of heroes, and some of the best fun I've ever had.

In the fall, Shane ran a Planescape campaign, and I played an Aasimar/Human Bard, a reluctant hero who just wanted to play a great venue. Shane became a father in December, so he was relieved of duty. Longtime player George H. took a try at DMing in January, running the Pathfinder adventure path Rise of the Runelords. We made it through the first adventure, Burnt Offerings two weeks ago. I played a Paladin of Erastil, a backwoods hick with aspirations, based on a mix of the trio from O Brother Where Art Thou? and Tommy Lee Jones in Lonesome Dove. It was another really good time.

However, while I've enjoyed the break, I've been chomping at the bit to run a campaign again since Christmas. While on vacation in Houston, TX, I went to a pirate exhibit at a museum, and started thinking of running a pirate campaign. I also watched The Town and wondered about running a game with criminals as PCs. A web search turned up Freeport, and after looking over some PDFs of the books online, I ordered a copy of The Pirate's Guide to Freeport and the Freeport Companion: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Edition. I thought about running the classic Freeport Trilogy, but decided to go more freeform instead. I can't give any details yet, but I'm running a combination of the Freeport sourcebooks and two of the Pathfinder adventure paths: Curse of the Crimson Throne and Council of Thieves. What I can say at this point is that I'm starting the group out as children, with their stats adjusted according to this table. We have six players: Taylor (human Survivor (Pathfinder Freeport Class)), Jeff (human Urban Ranger), George (Gar Irontooth, half-orc Alchemist), Mikey (Gobling (goblin/halfling) Rogue), and Shane (Azhar (Freeport race) Rogue). I'll post character profiles in the coming weeks. For now, I just wanted to say that the Steam Lords blog is back, albeit with a new story and system.

I'll be sharing some of my setup process once the first game has come and gone. That will include what we used for Battlemaps, and some thoughts about how awesome Green Ronin publications is.