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.