Better Than Any Man: Imminent Doom

Warning: BTAM spoilers ahead!

Perhaps the aspect of BTAM I’ve enjoyed the most is how open it is – a true sandbox, but with a pressing time constraint (that Swedish Army isn’t hanging around). Like all good sandboxes, it’s never worth looking much more than a session ahead as the players can choose where to go and what to do. Sometimes that means they get themselves into situations that seem… irredeemable. The circumstance they now find themselves in is one such; I was fully expecting to end BTAM with a TPK, after all they were in the heart of Goblin Hill fighting The Mother (a vile sorcerer and fortunately silenced), her monstrous Creature and her cultists, with hundreds of other cultists banging on the door behind them, baying for their blood. Right, a TPK… it has to be. Although I should never have expected anything less, the players surprised me with their creativity and may yet survive…

UntitledWe started the session mid-combat in a room with 2 exits (one magically held), the adversaries mentioned above and a huge stinking cloud. Ingrid was armless, having both appendages ripped off by the creature and attached to its own gruesome body. But the battle was far from over; a carefully placed Magic Missile from Hemming saw The Mother devoured by gnashing skulls, only her head remaining afterwards, a look of agony and disbelief cast on her leathery face. The remaining cultists flew into a frenzy, but were no match for the Black Dogs who destroyed them and the creature, Miklos stepping through and striking off it’s head. Sadly during the combat Ingrid could no longer stand the pain of her terrible wounds and fell to the floor. Throughout all this the much larger mob of cultists were trying to bash down the magically sealed door and it looked like they could succeed at any moment.

Knowing they had not a minute to waste the adventurers push through the other door into the corridor beyond to find a further corridor with a door at its end straight ahead and another door to the right. How could they bar the door into this corridor behind them to slow down the cultists and buy them some time? Of course the obvious solution was to block it with the stack of bodies that they had ‘acquired’… these were propped against the door and Ingrid, suffering from blood loss and her end imminent volunteered to push her weight against the door to further hinder the cultists. As she leant against the door and the stack of corpses wedging it shut a cry was heard beyond and a crack of wood as the outer door was breached by the cultists. It only took a moment before they were banging on this door!

With time running out and the breath of the Grim Reaper’s scythe felt on their necks Miklos and Hemming investigate the room ahead, desperate for a further exit, perhaps a hidden door, while Balock investigates the room to the right (but having no torch is only greeted by a wall of darkness).

the makerThe Cleric and Magic-User have found The Mother’s quarters and find a large bed and a table on which rests a slightly rotting severed head, two spellbooks and the remains of meal, with some uneated human body parts. Briefly the PC’s consider who the head once belong too, perhaps Gabriele Bauer, the 8th sorcerer from Karlstadt? A large chest is pushed against a far well – perhaps it holds significant wealth – but in light of the current circumstance, it is ignored. Taking the spellbooks, as they leave the room Miklos hears a faint ghostly voice “help us”, “we’re trapped”, which seems to come from below the ground. With a very real sense of preservation he ignores the potential distraction and focuses on the problem at hand – how to escape the cultists who are banging ever harder on the door.

dragonborn1Leaving The Mother’s chambers the party gathers in the room to the right and finds a huge mirror which they search and inspect along with the rest of the room… all the while, cultists banging on the door to the corridor outside. Balock pulls the large chest through from The Mother’s room, and after searching for traps picks the lock. Lo! The lockpick is successful, but he didn’t spot the trap and feels a small prick in his thumb. A numbness starts to spread over his hand and he can feel an icy cold crawl through his veins… but this is Balock, and he hasn’t come this far to be killed by some crappy poison needle trap! He grits his teeth and resists, and before too long feeling returns to his hand and the chill fades (he made his saving throw!). Inside the chest are a stack of copper coins, a valuable gold ingot and a treasure map, showing the location of a horde of gold not far from Goblin Hill!

Frustration growing, and beginning to realise there is no other way out of Goblin Hill, Hemming decides to try to hit the mirror with the Leg Bone of St Burchard – perhaps this will activate some obscure magic in the mirror, a portal or some such, allowing them to escape. If only. The bone shatters the mirror and it’s fragments fall to the floor, making a tinkling chorus that sounds like it is mocking them…

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And so a further plan is formulated. Perhaps by using the head of The Mother and some clever disguise techniques one of the Black Dogs could convince the cultists that the ‘intruders’ are dead, killed in the battle outside. With that somewhat crazy and ambitious plan agreed as the way forward, they rush back into The Mother’s chamber. Balock wraps himself in a cloak from The Mother’s wardrobe, hunches and places her head on his shoulders, hood up to hide the detachedness of the head… perhaps the dim light in here will help them. Esmeralda, Genevieve, Miklos and Hemming lay on the floor as though slain in the combat outside.

Eventually Ingrid’s strength fails and she is no longer able to keep the door closed; taking her final breath she smiles, hoping she has given her companions enough time to find a way out. The cultists push through the door and before too long one of them tentatively opens the door to The Mother’s chamber. Balock puts on an amazing performance as The Mother, convincing the cultists that the intruders are dead… and even when one of them points out her creature is dead, he handles it like a pro, telling them “I can summon another one”… and the cultists take their leave to clean up the mess.

enchanted2Hardly believing that scheme would work, they come up with the boldest part of their plan yet. Assuming many of the cultists haven’t actually seen them, they believe they could just walk out of Goblin Hill, only attacking when forced to. Waiting a while for things to settle down they do just that, passing cultists who nod at them and others who have a slightly puzzled look. They engage in conversation with a couple of women they pass, and eventually find their way to the main entrance which is guarded by at least half a dozen unarmed and hooded cultists.

Here they have a choice; head back into Goblin Hill and try to find a further way out, or charge into the cultists at the gates, trying to clear the way. Of course they chose the later, so getting as close as they can to these guards, they charge in and the slaughter begins once more…

Can the Black Dogs survive and escaped Goblin Hill? Will they be able to kill these guards and open the big external doors before reinforcements arrive… and even then will they be able to get clear of the cultists once and for all…

Better Than Any Man: The Battle for Goblin Hill

Warning: BTAM spoilers ahead!

Deep inside the Burgerfriedensmiliz headquarters, home to the Insect God cult, our heroes flee from a mob of enraged cultists. At the end of the last session they had arrived at a junction… to their right the corridor opened into a room with what appeared to be two stone benches, at least as much as their lanterns illuminated. Straight ahead the corridor continued to open into a further room and Esmeralda reported she could hear distant shouting from that direction.cultists

A decision had to be made and quickly. Digging deep, the Black Dogs discovered the grit that makes them monster hunters and turned to fight the cultists, using the junction to good effect and setting up an effective defensive formation that would allow them to get multiple attacks in on the cultists at the front.

Desperate combat ensued as the cultists came flying in even though unarmed. Men and women tried to grapple and pull the PC’s down, trying to overwhelm them with numbers and showing little regard for their own lives (crazy cultist bastards). But with typical efficiency swords were swinging and cultists fell. It seemed like this tactic would work until more cultists charged in from behind. Balock was grabbed by one cultist while another latched onto Miklos, but he was able to shake them off. Pushing the assailants back Miklos struck the head off one cultist, a look of surprise still on his face as his head span through the air, and Ingrid buried her sword deep in the torso of another, kicking the limp body off her bloody blade and freeing Balock.

soldiers-plunderingHearing the bawled instructions of an armed cultist asking to be let through and realising they could be quickly overwhelmed the party retreated into the stone bench room. Hemming, Esmeralda and Genevieve began to explore, discovering the room to be a temple with rows of stone benches and a large throne with a giant ant statue rearing above it. Besides the throne, statue and benches, blood stained tapestries and carpets adorned the walls and floor of the room, both with a pattern of a giant ant head embroidered in them. Meanwhile Ingrid, Miklos and Balock face the cultists at the entrance to the temple, holding their own ground until three armed and more capable cultists join the fray. In an attempt to break the morale of the cultists, Miklos casts a Command spell at the leader of the group – ‘Kneel’ – but it is framed in such a way that it looks to the cultists that this commander has been overpowered by the power of god, and falls to the floor on his knees. This causes many of the cultists to flee for a while at least and gives the three Black Dogs holding the doorway the chance to finish these stronger cultists off.

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Meanwhile Hemming and the others check out the temple. The Magic-user strikes the throne with the Leg Bone of St Burchard to see if it has any effect (it doesn’t), and they perhaps wisely decide not to interfere with the throne any further. Turning their attention to a door leading out of the room, Hemming opens it and a further door beyond along a short corridor. A larger, unadorned room waits beyond and the party moves into it, their plan to secure the door behind them with a Hold Portal spell cast by Genevieve.

the mother's creatureFrom out of the shadows shuffles a horrendous monster which can only be The Mother’s creature. A human torso with a head twisted sideways, and arms for limbs, all in different stages of decay. Following ineffective blows on both sides of the combat a further door flies open and more armed cultists burst in, these armed with shortbows. They are accompanied by The Mother who casts Stinking Cloud in the room, taking Hemming, Ingrid and Esmeralda out of the combat for a few seconds. On recovering Hemming fires a Magic Missile at The Mother which hurts her, but she’s still in the fight. Having locked the door into the room with Hold Portal, Genevieve casts Unseen Servant and the summoned force pushes the other door shut, allowing the Black Dogs to deal with the two cultists who pushed there way into the room. It looks like the adventurers may be about to overcome both the creature and The Mother, when the fiend tears both of Ingrid’s arms off, leading her standing there bleeding….

This fight isn’t over yet, and even when it is, how are the Black Dogs going to get out of here?

Better Than Any Man: The Toilet Gambit

Warning: BTAM spoilers ahead!

The Black Dogs have been standing on the edge of a cesspit, walls crawling with maggots, and flies swarming around since our last session towards the end of 2018.  Human waste rains down nearby from a shaft leading to a toilet and entrance into the Burgerfriedensmiliz HeadQuarter… all they have to do is ascend the shit covered shaft.

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Waiting until all is quiet above Genevieve casts Levitate on Ingrid, and the fighter, carrying her sword and a crowbar with rope attached ascends the shaft…. into total darkness as there are no lamps above. After a moment Ingrid’s head hits a wooden board, a large piece of wood with two holes cut into it serving as toilet seats. Trying to push the board to one side so she can get into the room, Ingrid ends up covered in faeces… not a nice look for anyone! With the board out of the way, Ingrid floats to the ceiling of the room and scrambles around, eventually calling to Genevieve to lower her to the floor and release the spell. Fumbling in the darkness, Ingrid secures the crowbar across the opening left by the wooden panel and drops the rope down the shaft, and one by one the Black Dogs climb into the room.

First to arrive is Hemming who is able to see the room more clearly; a large oval room with the aforementioned toilet, buckets for peeing in and bowls, water and rags for cleaning up. A bolt on the inside of the door is shut by the Magic-User as other party members climb up the rope, some finding it easier than others.

At this stage the party don’t know that the HQ is fairly well populated, and it is no surprise to me at least that a cultist needs the loo… finding the door locked he starts asking to come in as he shouts (and I’m paraphrasing here!) “I’m bursting, open up!”. Hemming comes up with a clever ploy to lure him in and murder him which they easily do… with the rest of the party now in the room, the body is dumped down the shaft.

Much discussion follows a quick inspection of the corridor outside… a dark corridor leads east and west (it seems there are no torches or lanterns on the walls, everyone carries their own lantern), and ahead is what appears to be a refectory… and quite a number of seemingly ordinary men, women and children are at tables eating delicious steaks and veggies. The aroma of meat cooking makes the PC’s stomachs rumble as they realise how hungry they are. The discussion is around a plan… one plan is sneak around, see what’s what; another plan is to wait for people to come to the toilet, kill them and throw their bodies down the shaft.

While they are deciding what to do, there is another knock on the door, and the same plan is put into action – let them come in, kill and dump them. Hemmings ploy is working; while the other party members hide out of sight, the unsuspecting cultists walk into the toilet. Balock and Miklos attack with ranged weapons while the others pile in; three of the cultists are effectively sliced and diced in a surprise attack, but the fourth survives and wins initiative for the next round… oh no, this is bad! The cultists runs into the refectory across the hall screaming “Alarm, intruders!”.

Options are limited; it would take too long for all the Black Dogs to climb back down the shaft, so the adventurers decide to run down one dark corridor in the base. As they flee at least half a dozen cultists come running after them, shouting for their blood (most are unarmed but still look ready for business)… while others may be running to alert futher cultists or cut them off… who knows (not me, hehe)?f1d0de131fc88ddbae64fe5dd74abc9f

Running ahead, chased by cultists, their lantern lighting only a short way ahead, the PC’s turn a corner… could this passageway lead to an entrance and safety, or on towards their deaths? They flee down the corridor and come to a junction – the passageway splits, with what appears to be a room ahead and a further room to their right, a room in which they can just make out the edges of stone benches.

Chased by cultists, the headquarters probably on alert the Black Dogs are in a tricky situation… will they survive the next session?

Grogmeet Friday Old School session initial thoughts

 has asked me to host the Grogmeet Friday OSR session at Grogmeet 2019 – a great honour indeed!  As Grognards have already been talking about this kind of thing on Twitter, I emailed Dirk with some ideas – these are my initial thoughts and will no doubt go through changes before the event. I’m looking for feedback, ideas, preferences and ultimately will need some GM’s for tables. I may take a back seat with GMing on this one and do the organiser and ‘table runner’ role that I think was missing at Grogfight last year.

I’ve got 3 ideas for Grogfringe at the moment. I’m aiming for table interaction and hopefully a bit of an ice breaker. In the order that I prefer them:

Aliens!

All tables use the same rules (something like the free Mothership rules). Adventure starts with the PC’s coming out of cryosleep, alarms blaring, red lights flashing. While they’re dazed and confused a bossy Sergeant tells them the ship has been attacked by aliens and they need to get to escape pods – he puts them into teams which must make their own way there (one team per table). There are other options though; they could head to the armoury and try to take on the aliens, or try to get to the comms room to call in support….

Each team with have three comms links – one for each of the other teams. They can use them to talk to another team for up to one minute. There is a 1 in 3 chance of the comms unit failing after that and they can no longer contact that team. Could either have players going to other tables or use GM mobile phones for more realism…

Would be good to have a full schematic of the ship as they would have some knowledge of the layout etc. Could also put this on a board to track each teams movements.

If a PC dies they move to another table, but this time as a new character, someone that team has come across as they try to escape the ship.

Globetrotting Pulp Adventure

Using different pulp systems (Daredevils, Justice Inc, Pulp Cthulhu..), each table/team is from a Caduceus like operation trying to foil Evil Corp (traditional pulp baddies). Teams uncover clues in New York, Paris, London, Berlin that lead them on 4 separate missions in exotic locations. At each they must all foil the plans of Evil Corp to save the world.

Table interaction could be through telegrams (short hand written notes) that can only be sent and received at certain points.

Deathtrap Dungeon

Using the same rules (maybe B/X D&D) each party is a pre-formed adventuring group ready to take on this lethal dungeon. They are all playing in the same dungeon. First to the prize wins. Would have a board showing progress of each team… they get points for achieving goals, or have penalties for losing party members (which are not killed but knocked out, slowing them down). Those furthest through the dungeon could set traps for those that follow (maybe!).

I’m not sure on the table interaction on this one… would need further thought.
I’d like to keep tables more self contained and minimise table swapping – I reckon players would want to stay on the table they begin with for the main part. I’d also like to reduce the amount of prep on GM’s by having maps good to go (use something like this https://wizardawn.and-mag.com/tool_smap.php), just need a few encounters adding.

Some of this was based on conversations on Twitter immediately after Grogmeet. There was a Pulp thread with @DissectingWrlds, @KiernanEd, @thedicemechanic and others, some fantastic ideas – although I do have my reservations about multiple systems after last year. @dimbyd had suggested using the original Tomb of Horror competition module for this – that could be a great one for a Deathtrap Dungeon option.

Let me know what you think, what you would prefer, any problems you can see – any feedback or ideas at all – on Twitter/MeWe would be fine, but if you post your comments here it’ll be easier to refer back to in the future.