BurritoCon3 been and gone

After many weeks of organisation (which wasn’t a great deal) and looking forward, BurritoCon3 finally came along, and last Saturday 27th July, twenty or so gamers gathered in Manchester to play some great RPG’s. In the lead up to the event I was delighted by the response of gamers on Twitter, with plenty of GM’s offering their services and players eager to join in. Last year there were two BurritoCon’s, both with two tables, so this year being able to scale up to four tables felt great.

Like the previous events this was held at Fanboy 3, a venue that has great facilities, shelves full of gaming goodies and a great attitude to small events like this. If I had one criticism it would be that it’s not in Liverpool…

After dropping my daughter and her friends of at ComicCon I headed up towards Hilton St; my plan was to grab a coffee and bite to eat in the cafe across the road from Fanboy 3 which didn’t open until 10. Turned out most folk had the same idea and so a load of us gathered there first; it was a great to catch up with gamers I know and put faces to Twitter handles for those I didn’t. All in a great bunch of people.

When the doors of Fanboy 3 opened at 10 we headed over to get games set up and get things moving. I didn’t have any kind of sign up for games; previously I had avoided it and trusted the players would more or less be happy to try any game, but was just a little worried it might not work with more attendees. Everyone was great about it though, and when players weren’t able to get their preferred table they happily jumped on another one (at least that’s how it seemed to me). For future events I may go for a more formal game sign up with something like Warhorn.

Morning Games

Marvel FASERIP: Escape from New York

The Code of Steam and Steel: The case of the missing Prince Albert

Shock photo of @squadronuk without gaming persona cap

Monkey: Peaches Fallen From Heaven

Old School Essentials: For the Honour of the Tribe

In my photo taking frenzy I forgot to take a photo of my table… an amateurs mistake I know. I was running a classic Imagine magazine adventure, a proper old school affair where the tribal heroes @BudsRPGreview, @daveygriff82, @jaje7406 and Tim set off to retrieve the holy mace Iron Lure from the evil wizard Bayn Tamarind. It’s an adventure I’ve ran before using other OSR systems, I felt it worked particularly well with Old School Essentials. The players were great, throwing themselves into the adventure, with all but one of the characters surviving.

Afternoon Games

Dungeon Crawl Classics: Frozen in Time

@mcdie88 holding the players attention so much they didn’t even pose for a photo…

WEG Star Wars D6: Everyone Comes To Squig’s

You must remember this… @fechtbuch‘s Casablanca inspired Star Wars adventure. I hope we can… play it again, Andy

Project Cassandra: Ich bin ein Berliner

Seems I also can’t play games and take photos. Apologies to the GM @whodo_voodoo and the players, no photo for this one as well. This was a cracking cold war, psychic agents save the president adventure with some really nice set pieces and some great GMing. @whodo_voodoo was testing out his own system, Project Cassandra, which is perfect for one shot play – easy to pick up and get into.

HeroQuest Glorantha: Wyrmghost Ruins

@ian_h_cooper cunningly deploys his giant hypnotic dice while he gems up on his adventure

@squadronuk and @whodo_voodoo both blogged about BurritoCon3:

Finally, a huge thanks to everyone who turned up and made BurritoCon3 a great day – I know quite a few of you travelled some distance to get there. Extra thanks to the GM’s who put the work in and ran great games.

I’m starting to think about BurritoCon4 already…

UK Games Expo 2019

A week after the event I write this with tears in my eye, tears of joy for Expo was truly awesome, and a tear of sadness now that it is over. Friends, games, food, beer and a single game of footy made it a weekend of epic proportions. Just how did it go down?

Thursday 30 May

Invited to Bean Gaming in Leicester by @M0RT75 for a Dungeon Crawl Classics session with DCC master Judge @BrendanJLaSalle, I was very much looking forward to this. The spiritual if not actual start to my Expo weekend, plus it would be much quicker to get to the NEC the next morning compared to driving direct from Liverpool.

It’s the second game I’ve played with @BrendanJLaSalle and as expected he delivered in bucket loads. His boundless energy is infectious and draws you into the colourful scenarios he creates; even with a table of 8 players he keeps things moving and the adventure keeps flowing. On this occasion we were playing The Inn of Five Points, one of Brendan’s published adventures – without giving spoilers we fought foul beasts, took a wild ride and battered a big bad, all living to tell the tale. Gordo Ironarm will fight again!

Friday 31 May

A very early start saw me on the way to Expo. The prepayment for parking meant I didn’t need to queue and before too long I’d met up with gaming chums @OrlanthR and @Lintillaz. We visited the trade hall with our own individual quests; what games would we buy, what surprises lay in store. Maybe it’s because I’m an old hand (my 3rd Expo) I wasn’t too overawed by the scale of the thing and was able to focus on the stalls I wanted to visit. The highlights for me were F-Side Games (the best little game store in town), Soul Muppet, Mottokrosh Machinations, LotFP, Melsonian Arts Council, but there were many other worthies including All Rolled Up/Just Crunch and Squarehex. I love these smaller publishers and the materials they produce.

After a locating my hotel and dumping my goodies I returned to the Hilton for some RPG goodness. I was running my tried and tested Barbarians of Lemuria adventure, A Heart for Madness; as expected the players were great and really got stuck into the Swords and Sorcery vibe of the game – cutting down swathes of rabble to take on the evil villain and his band they were victorious. It was the fourth time I’ve ran the adventure and it always seems to go down well… keeping it simple really seems the way to go for con adventures.

Despite trying to move things along I ran over slightly (I always struggle for time, something I’m working on) and so only had a little time to grab a bite to eat and catch up with a few Grognards before heading off to my evening game, Ironsworn with GM Graham S. This is a narrative game inspired by PbtA, not the kind of thing I’d usually go far – I couldn’t get my head around Dungeon World, so I hoped this might make this type of gameplay clearer. Plus the setting sounded fantastic.

Graham ran a cracking game and the other players threw themselves into the setting. There are some interesting mechanics that dictate the flow of the game such as journeying; there was an endpoint we had to reach, and based on rolls of our guide degrees of progress were marked on the journey track each day, with various encounters also stemming from the rolls. When combat breaks out there are no rounds as such, just a narrative flow; if a character can trigger a Take the Initiative move in response to an enemy attack they get to act. Then you can Enter the Fray to join the fight and so on. I think a good grasp of the mechanics would be useful for players (a couple were already familiar with it), but overall it made sense.

The adventure itself was very good, our band of Ironsworn had made an Iron oath to help out another village many days travel away. The land was mystical and dangerous, our characters primitive and superstitious, decisions had an impact. We were victorious, although as with all great stories the nature of our victory was somewhat ambiguous, we knew this was likely not the end of this tale. Unfortunately as the evening wore on I was becoming increasingly tired and I don’t believe I gave the game my best (apologies to Graham for that, he was a top GM); maybe I will avoid any evening games next time and just head to the bar.

Saturday 1 June

An early start to the day saw me at the table of another great DCC Judge, @LeeJNeilson  to play the classic Sailors on a Starless Sea. It’s an adventure I’ve heard great things about and wanted to GM myself; however before reading it I wanted to play it through. Once more a group of peasants roped in to carry out an impossible quest, we took on monstrous challenges and as we progressed our trusty band of heroes lost comrades, one by one meeting a grizzly death. The death stamp is so much fun! Another bonus was catching up with an old work colleague I’ve not seen or heard from in over 10 years, he was playing in Lee’s game. Unfortunately I didn’t get his contact details as I had to leave the game before it finished… maybe I’ll bump into him next year.

With another trawl around the trade hall I picked up a gifted copy of Best Left Buried Deluxe (for my editing contributions), Mothership and Winter’s Daughter. Then it was off to the afternoon game.

According to Expo I had six players signed up for The Road to Hell by D101 Games which I was running with Lamentations of the Flame Princess rules, however only four players turned up – something I’ve not experienced before at Expo. I had clearly flagged the game as 18+ as there was some dark and twisted content in it, and in the lead up to the session I had the controversial incident of the previous day at the back of my mind… I hoped nobody would be offended by the game. As it turned out I had a great group with @carlclare who I have gamed with for a while now and three Scottish chaps; John, William and Alex. Investigating the mysterious goings on at the Inn of the Cock in a weird and mystical Elizabethan England, they really threw themselves into it, it was a great session that left me exhausted and elated.

I had kept the evening clear to catch up with gaming friends in the Hilton bar, and as it turned out there was also the Champions League final and we know how that turned out. All in it was a fantastic day.

Sunday 2 June

My final game of the con was a Lyonesse adventure called Coddifoot’s Stipule, GMd by top Grognard, @theGROGNARDfile. The Lyonesse RPG isn’t due out for a little while yet, but the Design Mechanism sent a copy of the rules to @theGROGNARDfile and put together the adventure for the event. What an honour! Not wanting to give any spoilers I’ll just say that the adventure captured the feel of Lyonesse as I understand it from my recent reading, full of charm (and food) and no small measure of humour (and food), wrapped up in an easy to understand d100 system (with food), and pleasingly served up in tasty portions of adventurous fun by our masterchef GM.

A bit of lunch and a final potter around the trade hall with @theGROGNARDfile, @sjamb7, @DailyDwarf and @OrlanthR saw the day out. A little sad that it was over, yet still buzzing from the event I headed back home, although sadly not in time to catch LFC’s parade through the city.

And finally…

To sum up, I had a great time, everyone I talked to was having a great time. We talked, we gamed, we spent money, we ate, we gamed! Catching up with the folks I game with online and chat with on Twitter was a huge pleasure and a great part of the overall experience; these games would be nothing without great people to play with. Saturday night in the Hilton bar was amazing for so many reasons…

So my mind turns to future cons. There’s BurritoCon3 in Manchester, 27 July, Owlbear and Wizards Staff in Leamington Spa, 21 September and Grogmeet in Manchester 8-10 November, with a few Go Play Manchester‘s thrown in between that lot. Hope to see you at one…

Hold my hands up to this one – I’m pretty rubbish at taking photos at events, so while some of these photos are mine I’ve nicked others off Twitter and MeWe…

One Weekend to Rule them all

You know you have those weekends, the special ones, the ones you look forward to for weeks or even months in advance. Maybe it’s to celebrate a big life event, a break away with the family, or a gaming weekend (especially gaming weekends!). Whether it’s a one day con or a whole weekend like UK Games Expo or Grogmeet, when it’s first booked and many months away it’s given an occasional thought… maybe you have to write an adventure or do some other preparation. But as the event looms closer it occupies a much bigger slice of your waking thoughts, and then when it arrives it’s just like Christmas.

I’ve just had one of those weekends, and I would suggest it is the best gaming weekend I have had ever, certainly it’s right there at the top.

Wrapped up in a bundle of great company, gaming talk, hearty food, plentiful beer, fine whisky and a roaring fire, the focus of the weekend was Cubicle 7’s Tolkien epic, The One Ring. We all owned the game, but none of us had played it much (as far as I know only me and @OrlanthR at DevaCon last year), and so we wanted to set that straight. Tolkien whizzkid, top GM and all around nice guy @kinnygraham was keen to run the game and so in preparation we created characters in advance online. Our fellowship was formed of two Dwarves, the noble Vidar Stonesong of the Blue Mountains (@OrlanthR), his companion, the wayward Hanar of the Grey Mountains (@Lintillaz), a Dunedain Human Ranger, Iorlas (@oilpainting71), and my character, the optimistic, inappropriately adventurous and naive hobbit, Brogo Burrows. I have met and gamed with @kinnygraham, @OrlanthR and @Lintillaz at events before and we often play online so I knew I’d get along with those chaps, and it was great to have @oilpainting71 along as well – it’s always a pleasure meeting new gamers and we all got on like a house on fire.

Our adventure started on the Friday afternoon and took us through to midday on the Sunday. I reckon we had somewhere in the region of 16 hours solid gaming; a sufficient amount of time to give The One Ring a great play through and explore the area around Bree. Our company was thrown together on the road heading east and settled down in the comfortable surroundings of the Prancing Pony. All was peaceful until young Thomas Heatherton ran in with tales of a monstrous white skinned creature in the graveyard… the rest was pure Tolkien inspired adventure with some true epic moments.

In the preceding weeks I had read a fair amount of the rules. There are a few fiddly bits, but the one method of resolution (a d12 feat dice and a varied number of d6 skill dice to beat a target number, usually 14) means you always know what to roll. It didn’t take too long before you get into the swing of things. The One Ring has subsystems that capture the feel of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings; travel plays a big part as does the ever present threat of Shadow, overcome through Hope. Each time the dice are rolled all players are keeping an eye on the d12 feat dice for the Gandalf rune (cheer!) or the Eye of Sauron (groan); the former gives an automatic success while the latter is worth zero and makes it much harder to be successful. The Gandalf rune and Eye of Sauron are reversed for evil creatures – their evil overlord powers their actions, while the light of Gandalf deters them. And if a roll is successful, a 6 on any d6 gives a great success and a second 6 gives an extraordinary success; on the funky The One Ring Dice each 6 is marked with a t symbol which is a Tengwar rune. Even dice rolling felt flavourful and thematic.

Highlights of the weekend included some fantastic props such as a hand-drawn map of the area around Bree; the paper had been treated (dunked in tea, burned and marinated over a cigar) to make it look old and dry. The first mystery of the map were the dwarfish runes which we translated (through a combination of @OrlanthR‘s Middle Earth knowledge and the internet) , but then our delight only grew as we discovered the secret of smoke runes! Utter genius. A big fight with a Troll allowed us to test the combat system and explore tactical options; it really felt like an epic combat.

I was just a little sad when the weekend was over, but we had such a fantastic time. Huge thanks to our GM @kinnygraham for running such an amazing game and putting in so much prep, to @OrlanthR for arranging the whole thing, adventuring companions @Lintillaz and @oilpainting71 for being excellent fellows, and of course to @theGROGNARDfile without whom we wouldn’t know each other. Hope we can do it again soon.

Convergence 2019

This small, friendly con is my first in 2019 and holds a special place; it was the first RPG con I ever attended two years ago now, and the first time I met some of the great gamers I enjoy playing with still. As the first con of the year I like to think it sets the standard for cons to come…

After the date was set and the call went out for GM’s, I knew I’d want to run a game. Last year it was The Greater Share of Honour, a homebrew adventure for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. This year I wanted to try something a bit different, indeed something considerably different from the OSR games I love and usually run. Earlier on in the year I started running a Barbarians of Lemuria campaign on Roll20 and have found it to be great fun – it’s a fast and simple system that makes a ton of sense while offering a style of play which is far more heroic than my usual OSR fare. My game choice to run then was BoL. There are few published adventures for the system and a few more in the core rulebook, but I felt that none gave me what I wanted from a con game, so I rolled my own adventure A Heart for Madness and put it forward for the morning session at Convergence.

I had four players for this early session, all but one of which I played with before. Barbarians of Lemuria really delivered; it didn’t take long for the players to get into the swing of things and before long they were mowing down rabble, battling toughs and defeating villains, all the while tempted to spend their hero points which make them totally badass. It also gave me a gauge on timing to work with when I run it at Virtual Grogmeet and UK Games Expo – I ran over by nearly half an hour so I’ll need to trim it a bit to fit the 3.5 hour slot of Virtual Grogmeet. A huge thanks to the players Brendan, both Steve’s and Tom.

After a quick lunch (because I ran over by a bit) I joined Dirk the Dice‘s Strontium Dog game Bringing Akill-Ease to Heel, a homebrew using the Savage Worlds system. A ragtag gang of the weirdest muties in the galaxy, we were sent from the Dog House to the planet Caytor with a fistful of individual warrants and a group warrant to bring the criminal Akill-Ease in alive. It was easy to imagine our characters appearing in an episode of Strontium Dog; my character GlassJaw Vargas was a huge and hideously strong and deformed mutie, yet he was far from the weirdest, and could be considered a norm next to The Grimby Reaper. From the off it was proper Strontium Dog comic book stuff and the Lego props and huge table were used to good effect. It’s the second Savage Worlds 2000AD homebrew game I’ve played (and I’ve signed up for more at Virtual Grogmeet) – it seems to me that SW really works with 2000AD settings and characters (sorry World of 2000AD folks), with it’s easy to understand system, Edges and Hindrances which help characters stand out, but still keeps it simple. Bennies always give you that epic moment of action or a get out clause provided you use them carefully. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I would say if you get a chance to play it you really should.

The evening session was GM’d by Kris, one of the Convergence hosts; Star Wars, the West End Games 2nd edition. I’ve developed a real liking for the OpenD6 system, and having played in one of Kris’ games before I knew we’d be in for a great adventure. I played a Brash Pilot, a young, enthusiastic, optimistic, willing to do anything for the Rebel Alliance kind of guy. We were sent on a mission to track down Crying Dawn Singer, a Shashay entertainer kidnapped by criminals out to discredit the alliance. Our adventure took us far and wide from an abandoned research centre to the bustling planet Narg. This was a huge amount of fun, Kris really captured the Star Wars vibe; the templates help players quickly understand their character, and the D6 system works incredibly well (although one thing I would change is how rolls of 1 on the wild die effect outcomes, it seems that a series of bad rolls could lead to a chain of unrealistic complexities). Another bonus was playing with a chap I’d worked with 20+ years ago and have only met briefly once since at an earlier Convergence – if I’d known he was a gamer back then…

This was a long day in the best way possible – a very early start, then picking Clarky  up in Liverpool, and not getting home until after midnight – but with so much great gaming in between. Kris and Snowy run a great con, it’s friendly with good facilities and a load of great games on offer. I’m really hoping it will run for a 4th year in 2020, if it does you should try to get there. Next, onto DevaCon, 27th April in Chester.

Better Than Any Man: The End and Closing Thoughts

Warning: BTAM serious game ruining spoilers ahead!

Caught in a desperate and bloody combat inside the main entrance to Goblin Hill, the Black Dogs are scrapping with half a dozen masked and unarmed cultist Burgerfriedensmiliz who stand between them and the huge iron doors that lead outside and to freedom. The alarm has been raised deeper inside the cultists lair and distant running feet and shouting can be heard behind them… not sure how much time they have before a horde of cultists capture (and maybe eat) them, they throw everything into the fight.

Hemming closed in on one of the cultists while the others kept their distance and tried to pick others off with missile weapons, Balock with a hastily picked up shortbow and Miklos with his crossbow. Once cultists started to fall Esmeralda threw herself into the fray, brutally cutting more down while Miklos relieved one of his head. As more cultists come tearing down the corridor the Black Dogs overpower the door guards just as Genevieve and Esmeralda push open the huge front doors and the cold night air floods in. Two guards await outside and are stunned to see the intruders pour out past the corpses of their dead companions.

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With more heavily armed and no doubt competent cultists just behind, the adventurers take the sensible option and flee into the forest…

An effective escape was on the cards but Esmeralda lingered too long, attacking a cultist that was trying to kill Genevieve. Initiative can shaft you sometimes. As the rest of the Black Dogs ran into the darkness, the plucky rogue was grappled by one of the guards who was trying to pin her down until his fellow cultists arrived. Other cultists come streaming past chasing Miklos, Balock and Hemming and all looks lost for Esmeralda, a fate of torture, tenderisation and ending up on a cannibal’s dining plate await her. As a last minute thought (as he was focussed very much on his own survival) Hemming fires his final Magic Missile at the cultist wrestling her, and as his flesh is devoured by chomping skulls, Esmeralda is able to flee into the darkness as well.

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Knowing the dangers of following the party into the woods, the cultists withdraw. It is a little while later that the Black Dogs meet up, take stock of their situation and head back to Thungen with a plan to head to Wurzburg, hand over the heads of T

he Defiler, The Joy, The Mother, The Provider and The Watcher in a bid to save Wurzburg (knowing Karlstadt is already lost).

Outside Thungen they encounter a Swedish patrol and discover they are already too late. Wurzburg has been raised to the ground, the garrison of the Marienburg Fortress wiped out and the citizens of the town slaughtered. It seems they were too late by only a day or two to save the thousands of innocents who perished… Maybe they can still claim a reward for the heads, but who would pay it?

Aftermath

A montage of scenes would show the Swedish army rampaging across the area; remains of the walls and buildings of Karlstadt, shattered and blackened by flame and cannon fire, ruined bodies lining the streets, hanging from gallows and impaled on sharpened stakes, amongst them The Defender and The Reminder. Their creatures are nowhere to be seen. A large contingent of the Swedish army are still camped outside, ensuring none escape Gustavus Adolphus’ vengeance.

Wurzburg has fared no better. The Prince-Bishop Franz Von Hatzfeld has long since fled with his entourage leaving the people to their terrible fate.

Swedish patrols scour the area cleaning up stragglers while witch hunters sentencing many poor women to the hangman’s noose (after all, if there were seven female sorcerers in Karlstadt, there could well be more). One patrol reaches Goblin Hill and before too long it is torn apart and all the cultists within, men, women and children are executed.

Did the Black Dogs prevent the Insect God from awakening and enslaving humankind? A foul and alien deity, the Insect God will slumber deep beneath the ground for now, probing, broadcasting it’s dreams until some other desperate and damaged soul can be manipulated to raise another cult to serve it…

Then there’s the characters themselves – they’ll be level 4 at least after this. What is next for them? Retirement, further adventures?

Balock, Specialist (top left) – the only character to maintain a shred of human decency, even at the end considerate and looking for the best in people; only dealing death to those who deserved it.

Hemming, Magic-User (bottom left) – like most who dabble in the arcane arts, he was aligned to chaos from the start and this only continued as the game progressed.

Miklos, Cleric (top centre) – a true man of God. Perhaps we saw the biggest change in him, in Wurzburg he was a big softie, by the time the hunt for The Seven was truly on, a demented Scimitar wielding death dealer, all too ready to remove a head or two.

Ingrid, Fighter (RIP) (right, standing with peg leg)- an experienced Black Dog who had one job in mind. Kill The Mother and stop the Insect God cult. She lost her life to see the job through.

Genevieve, Magic-User  (right, sitting) – a newer addition to the Ingrid’s Black Dog gang, nevertheless she was happy to throw around magic and wield a sword in battle.

Esmeralda, Specialist (right, standing with arquebus) – tricksy, sneaky and handy with a bow, Esmeralda is an accomplished all around monster slayer.

Maldron, Fighter (RIP) (bottom centre) – a fearsome warrior from the beginning, happy to wade in with his terrifying greatsword. None would have thought he would be the first to go, yet he was undone by The Defiler’s creature and it’s infinite stomach dimensions…

Shylock, Specialist (RIP) (not shown) – a guide from the Karlstadt Conspiracy to overthrow The Seven, he showed great potential until he was ripped in half by The Defender’s creature.

If nothing else, those who survived deserve a well earned rest.

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The player with the most dead characters award goes to Tony for his outstanding contribution to making me feel like a proper OSR GM.

Closing Thoughts

I’m happy and sad.

Happy because we completed Better Than Any Man – it’s the first adventure of this scale, effectively a mini-campaign, that I have ran and completed in a long time. And while it had some troughs, I thought it had many more peaks. The players (regulars , , ,  and an early appearance by were excellent, throwing themselves into their characters and every grim and outrageous situation I threw at them (well not me really, James Raggi the author), and really engaging with the setting and adventure. It was a demanding game as well, a time sink, particularly in the earlier parts… it’s a sandbox adventure that presents some unique challenges to the GM. It’s a bundle of stuff with a glorious historical backdrop, a load of locations, some ideas, crazy NPC’s, encounters and a few dungeons and the GM has to pull it all together to make it sing.

116452Sad because it’s all over. I really enjoyed learning about the 30 years war (I must confess to some ignorance before I started planning this; RPG’s are educational, yay!), planning how to start the adventure (I used A Stranger Storm as a lead in), throwing in some adhoc stuff and watching the players squirm was all great fun. Their morale compases were put to the test and changed direction many times. And using LotFP – damn, I love that system. It’s pure, refined OSR gold to me, as masterful B/X D&D variant – it just works perfectly (well saying that I added a few house rules).

There were a load of locations the party didn’t get anywhere near; the Farmhouse, the Mound, the Infinite Tower and the Realm of the Insect God. Part of that was my fault, I threw in a few distracting side quests, and then when the time pressure was on (with the Swedish Army heading into the area) they because really focussed on getting the heads of the Seven, ignoring the teasers to these other locations I put in their way (a child kidnapped from the refugee camp and a glass tiger prowling the hills nearby; I wasn’t keen on the Infinite Tower and had already decided to skip that). Having a sandbox adventure and a tight timeline is not an ideal mix (in my opinion) and it’s unlikely they could be separated in this case as the Swedish Army’s presence is crucial to the whole adventure.

What would I do differently if I was running it again? Early on I made the choice that this would be entirely human centric, no dwarves, elves or halflings; I still feel that was a good decision. I’d start with A Stranger Storm again for sure, that is a cracking paranoia inducing adventure, setting the tone and player expectations of what was to come. I would have them approach from a different direction – coming to Wurzburg first tied them up quite a bit. If they had come from the northwest they could have encountered the Farmhouse and the Mound before hitting Karlstadt or Wurzburg. Travel was quite slow, so I’d make sure they had easy access to horses, and most likely try to start the adventure a couple of days earlier, so if they are sidetracked they still have a chance of getting to Wurzburg to pick up the ‘Heads of the Seven’ quest and perhaps succeeding in it. Plus there would be a greater opportunity to have more of the excellent and disturbing random encounters.

Would I recommend running it? Hell yeah! It’s fantastic and well worth the time investment – there are dozens of hours of great gaming in this, and considering it is PWYW on DrivethruRPG there is no reason not to take a look.

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?