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?

2018 Review

So much has happened over the last 12 months, it’s really been a fantastic year for gaming, so many highlights and excellent regular games played with great gaming folk. I deliberated long and hard about the best way to present this; top 5 games, top events and so on, but in the end went for a straightforward month by month list. It’s somewhat wordier than I expected, turns out I’m a bit of a waffler.

January

I continued playing as the ill fated Remi Sordeau, a priest, a baron and a member of the Knights of the Dagger, soon to have his head ripped of by a were-crocodile in  ongoing Flashing Blades campaign. I was sad to see him go but enjoyed playing his replacement, Durand de Labossiere, an only marginally competent, short tempered and duel prone Dragoon. The highlight of the Flashing Blades campaign was An Ambassador’s Tales, a romp around central Europe foiling assassins, stealing priceless jewels and escaping devious Englishmen. This is a game that deserves more attention…

I was involved in a one-to-one game of Basic Fantasy playing a rather tidy adventure, Blood in the Snow, set in a snow bound remote and isolated village. It lasted just a couple of sessions and was great fun, having GM’d Basic Fantasy in 2017 it was great to experience it from the players perspective.

Forge of FuryI’d started GMing The Forge of Fury (3e edition) at the back end of 2017 and we picked it up in January. We were using The Hero’s Journey OSR system which I’d become rather enamoured with in 2017, however as the party explored the expansive dungeon over the subsequent weeks it started to show considerable weaknesses – most notably that armour reduced damage rather than increase AC leading to some lengthy combats.  This was OSR, combat was meant to be fast! By the time we completed the module a couple of months later, I think we were pretty fed up with it – fatigue had set it, and it was good to reach a conclusion.

February

Roll20 was starting to become a big part of my gaming and this increased as the year went by. I jumped at the opportunity to play in ‘s Night’s Black Agents adventure The Assignment and we started the first of a few sessions in February.  I played Samuel Whitman, an athletic ex-CIA asset handler, and joined a crack team of spy types. It was proper spy stuff with lots of hints about the supernatural, which all felt rather fanciful until that laptop drop-off… Scheduling has meant this game is on hold, I really hope we can pick it up in 2019.

Having only played Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) once in 2017 I was keen to get it back on the radar for 2018. One of the players in my regular Tuesday group offered to run the highly rated Shadowbrook Manor adventure using DCC, and so we played it as a level 0 funnel over a few weeks. It was an interesting idea, but I’m not sure it was best suited to level 0’s – still was good fun.

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I don’t often write my own adventures, although it’s something I’d like to do more. One particular story in the Shakespeare vs Cthulhu short story collection really stood out as the basis for an adventure, and wanting to run some Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP) I decided to create an adventure for that system based around it. I’d been working on The Greater Share of Honour since Grogmeet 2017 and wanted to test run it before offering it as a convention game at Convergence and DevaCon. The adventure was set on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt and offered a different take on the events that lead to the English victory.

As a Con game I would need to run it in a 3.5 to 4 hour slot, so it was crucial to get the timing right. I gathered a cracking group of players for a test run, including three gamers from the USA. The adventure went down really well, but coming in at just over 6 hours I knew it would need tweaking. I’ve since ran the adventure a number of times and mostly managed to finish it within the allotted time – however at Owlbear and Wizards Staff we were only halfway through at the end of the 3.5 hours; luckily they were another great bunch of players who were up for completing the adventure over Roll20 a few weeks later.

March

This was a great month with Convergence in Stockport and an increase in my regular Roll20 gaming. It was my second visit to Convergence, in 2017 I had my first face to face game in over 20 years with @theGROGNARDfile, @sjamb7, @Edinthesand and a few other great gamers I’ve had the pleasure of playing with since. I knew this would be a great con, having had such a good experience with it previously and would also be gaming with some old faces from Grogmeet and new gamers I’d played with on Roll20. The day started with a double session of Golden Heroes, a game I had owned once myself in the 80’s. Queen Victoria and the Holy Grail was GM’d by @theGROGNARDfile, and myself and the other players, mostly other members of the Grogsquad, created some fantastic characters and got stuck into this globe trotting adventure to save not only old Queen Vic, but the world! Character creation is crazy and a real test of the imagination; take a random set of abilities and put them together into a superhero with a backstory. My creation was Captain Spyfly with his main abilities being flying and spying (you don’t say!)

The evening session of Convergence was the first opportunity to run The Greater Share of Honour in a Con setting and a time limit. I feel I’ll keep saying this as it’s true, once again I had a cracking group of players who really got stuck into their characters and engaged with the adventure. It was a buzz and I loved running it. The evening session tends to finish quite late, but on the drive back to Liverpool my head was filled with scenes from the day. Cracking stuff!

510vM6uEnuL@Corsair1973  had backed the Modiphius Conan kickstarter and had a load of stuff that he wanted to run, so we had a pop at that over Roll20. I was impressed with the system and the ebb and flow of combat with the Momentum and Doom mechanics; they really add an extra dimension to scraps and Momentum allows you to do some fantastic stuff. Not so good when the GM brings out the Doom. We’d started with an introductory adventure (the best way to go about it in my opinion), and although it was fairly simple it felt like we were characters in REH’s world. It’s a game we played on an off throughout the year, moving onto more complex and sophisticated adventures – I hope we’ll get to play it some more soon.

I enjoyed a couple of one shots:

  • Robot Imana-665-C, a Paranoia adventure with @theGROGNARDfile as GM. The Bull’s Eye intro music set the tone and the game progressed in the absurd Paranoia fashion we know and love with the computer putting you into situations which break it’s rules. There was lots of backstabbing and quite a few laughs; it’s a perfect one shot game, I’m not sure I could play it long term though.
  • While most of my RPG activity has been organised through Twitter, Google+ has also been a great platform for connecting with other gamers. Through the OSR UK Hangouts Gaming group I joined an LotFP game ran by Dominic over Hangouts. With his homebrew adventure The Gallow Beckons played over Hangouts, Dominic really nailed the Theatre of the Mind style of play; unhindered by maps and other props he created a fantastic world set during the English Civil War. There is a lot of darkness and misery with Witch Hunts, the occult and general unpleasantness. We only played a couple of sessions of this, I’d love to continue with it at some point.

As well as all this  started his Sartar Rising! RuneQuest campaign… at least when it started it was a 6 session season of games, but it just took off and is still going strong. I was never a fan of RuneQuest back in the day, but after a couple of games with @theGROGNARDfile (including a 24hr charity session in November 2017) I was starting to warm to it.  We started with RuneQuest 2e and continued with that until RuneQuest Glorantha was released, then  converted everything over. I’ll tell you, that guy is a powerhouse when it comes to Roll20. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing in this across the year, seeing our characters grow, their relationships develop, their legends spread… it’s what a campaign should be.

April

April was a bumper month with the kickoff of Two Headed Serpent and Lunchtime Lairs and DevaCon and Virtual Grogmeet. So much gaming!

  • THS_Front_Cover_for_web__37568.1486510208.1280.1280Two Headed Serpent is a huge campaign for Pulp Cthulhu GM’d by @theGROGNARDfile, with a plan to run it once a month over a couple of years.  So far it’s been one hell of a ride, our characters taking on horrors beyond mortal understanding and doing it far more competently (in most cases) than regular Call of Cthulhu investigators. Every session ends on a cliffhanger leaving us hungry from more…
  • Since late 2017  and I had been talking about starting an casual lunchtime gaming session in Liverpool. Plans were made and we settled on every Wednesday between 12pm and 2pm at Just Play in Liverpool with the name Lunchtime Lairs; we were aiming for gamers who could swing a bit of flexitime for an extended lunch to get a bit of extra gaming in. We wanted a single simple system that would allow anyone to have a go as GM (we picked The Black Hack which has been a great fit), with each session being a complete adventure. That didn’t quite work out, instead we had adventures running over multiple sessions with ongoing campaign elements shared between GM’s. We’ve now got a small but regular group and have met some top local gamers to boot.
  • It was my first time at DevaCon and I’d put forward my LotFP game The Greater Share of Honour for the afternoon session. Chester isn’t too far to travel and in no time , Dave and Cliffy from Mersey Game Knights had arrived at the very posh Crowne Plaza, the venue for the Con. Unlike other Cons I’ve been to with prearranged player sign ups I was worried I might not get anyone playing my game, but as it turned out I had a full table – indeed the sign up system did work quite well and from what I could see all games went ahead. I played The Words of the Wise, a beginner adventure for The One Ring in the morning session and really enjoyed it; it’s a cracking system (I’ve not played it before, but it was one of the first RPG’s I bought since my hiatus from the hobby). I’m hoping to play it more in 2019. The Greater Share of Honour went down well with some good performances; everyone seemed to enjoy the game and the day was saved! The evening session was the homebrew adventure Sabeurs and Savants for The Cthulhu Hack, written and GM’d by . It was a cracking historical Indiana Jones type adventure with a fine polish of sanity blasting horror.
  • For those unable to attend Grogmeet in Manchester (and greedy gamers who could but wanted more), @theGROGNARDfile organised Virtual Grogmeet, an online version of the Manchester Con. There were a load of games available, some real gems, but due to other commitments over the weekend I was only able to GM one game. I picked Forgive Us for LotFP, a single location creepy adventure that I’d had on my radar for a while. It seemed to go down well; I’d taken time to set up dynamic lighting and sound effects which added to the atmosphere – it’s with adventures like this that Roll20 can really shine. All but one of the characters survived… kind off. And we ended up with the saying “It’s all gone Norwich”

May

Not the busiest of months, but had a ton of prep for UK Games Expo and saw the start of my Thirty Years War LotFP campaign Better Than Any Man (session reports here). I started the campaign with A Strange Storm, a short paranoia inducing adventure from the old Referee’s Guide, added a few other bits and pieces myself and then let the PC’s out on the rampage. The campaign is still ongoing but is drawing to a close; it’s been a huge load of fun and a big challenge for me, not having ran a sandbox game before. It’s a format I’d really like to run more as it offers great freedom to the players, but is definitely harder work than a ‘regular’ adventure.

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Through the OSR UK Hangouts Gaming group I grabbed a place in Dominic‘s Swords & Wizardry Whitebox sandbox campaign The Grim North. Our PC’s were members of the prestigious House of Mercenaries, Sell Spears and Blades for Hire in the expansive frost bound city of Nox Eterna. I really enjoyed the ‘pick your job from the noticeboard’ approach, really we had no idea what to expect from any job, but they were always great fun and full of twists and turns. It was great stuff while it lasted, unfortunately other commitments for the GM put it on hold.

The last day in May was perhaps the best – it was the start of my UK Games Expo weekend. I’d been invited by @M0RT75 to join a one off DCC game run by @BrendanJLaSalle at Weekend Warlords in Loughborough. It was a perfect arrangement since not only did I get to play in a DCC game with one of the @GoodmanGames luminaries, it also meant I had a much shorter drive to UK Games Expo the next day. I had a cracking time, @M0RT75  was a top host and @BrendanJLaSalle ran a great game, Neon Knights, a crazy adventure that saw us dimension hopping in an attempt to save the our city (we failed, but what a way to go out!)

June

UK Games Expo. Say no more, this is the biggest UK games Con going, with just about every game you could want to buy and play available. I tackled the trade hall in the Friday morning (I’d strongly recommend this as it’s when the hall is least busy) with gaming chums @Lintillaz, @OrlanthR  and @TakasakiAndy, bought a few things (Tunnels & Trolls Deluxe and some LotFP and DCC goodies) and just had a great time hanging out with them and bumping into other gamers.

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After dropping my stuff of at the hotel, my first game session was The Promised Land for Symbaroum, wonderfully GM’d by @Asako_Soh. The adventure was perfectly paced and action packed with a good few scraps – I was really taken with the game and nearly bought it from the trade hall (however, I’ve since grabbed it from a Bundle of Holding). Definitely a game I’d like to play again.

Following a catch up with many of the Grogsquad over a bite to eat it was on to the evening game. I’d signed up for Feng Shui as it’s a game I’ve always liked the idea of – action packed crazy martial arts sounds great. The GM did a smashing job running us through The Green Garter Affair, but I struggled with the game, perhaps because I was pretty knackered by this point – something to try again in the future maybe.

The Saturday morning I joined @theGROGNARDfile and @sjamb7 to play HeroQuest, GM’d by HeroQuest expert @ian_h_cooper. On paper the system seems simple (and it is), but as it was quite different to other games I’ve played it took me a little time to get my head around it. In The Noose our characters were to investigate a string of murders that lead to an exciting conclusion, and while the investigation was well constructed I enjoyed the interaction between the characters just as much… it was all very cleverly set up and executed.

My Expo weekend came to a close with a final session, this time me GMing The Greater Share of Honour for LotFP. It was the first time I’d ran it where all the players were unknown to be, but they were a great group and all seemed to have a good time. It was with some reluctance that I packed my stuff away and prepared for the trip home, saying a brief farewell to a handful of gaming friends and to this great event. I knew that many of them were staying for the Sunday and determined that in 2019 I would go for the whole weekend.

June still had plenty to offer though… in addition to the regular Roll20 games started earlier in the year (Flashing BladesTwo Headed SerpentRuneQuest and LotFP) and Lunchtime Lairs we also had the fantastic Free RPG Day. I headed over to Manchester with one of my old mates @TonyLayter where we picked up a few bits from Fanboy3 and Travelling Man and joined a game of The Cthulhu Hack. @boreders (the author of The Cthulhu Hack) was running The Observer Effect, a Delta Green adventure converted over, and it played really well – we had a great time with @boreders showing his Cthulhu GM skills off to great effect. It was a top day all around, ending with a few beers with @TonyLayter and @clownf1st.

Unfortunately at the end of June I knackered my foot which left me with mobility issues for quite a while. This also meant that I would miss out on Lunchtime Lairs for a few months.

July

Besides the great regular games things were a little sparse over July. We did start Judge Dredd on Roll20 with @OrlanthR as GM; I played Judge Muller, a grim and jaded veteran street Judge who saw violence as the solution to most problems. Along with Judges Kowalski and Wily we set off investigating a chain of crimes; many of these have been resolved with new ones to take their place. It’s been great to see this game evolve over the months, @OrlanthR has done a great job of presenting a spider web of crimes, some related, others not – it’s has a real sandbox feel that I like, and captures the chaos, corruption and scale of MegaCity One really well. Changing from the Traveller system to a homebrew Gumshoe version early on was a great move, Gumshoe is a good fit for Judge Dredd.

BurritoConI’d also arranged a small meetup in Fanboy3 with two tables of gamers, mostly Grogsquad members and few other friends or gamers from Google+.  It started out as ImpromptuCon, but because of the general excitement about grabbing burritos for lunch was quickly renamed BurritoCon. My idea was to have two tables and two sessions – a total of four games. As well as Traveller with  as GM and Tunnels & Trolls with Andrew J in the driving seat, I ran two DCC adventures – The Portal Under the Stars (a level 0 funnel) and Elzemon and the Blood Drinking Box (a level 1 scenario). It was the first time I’ve ran DCC and I felt it went down well, I was later informed that one of the players picked up DCC to run with their group.

August

Just regular games and holidays – my knackered foot meant I didn’t get start anything new or go to any Cons.

September

I’d seen a group on Google+ looking for an extra player for an established and regular Swords & Wizardry Complete Saturday night game. This seemed like a good fit as I’d spent most Saturdays at home since injuring my foot, so I contacted them and joined in their The Lost Lands campaign. It’s been a great experience, a proper old school sandbox game with high level (6/7) characters, and the GM Greg runs it rigorously by the rules – 1 minute combat rounds, wandering monster rolls and so on. Unfortunately I’ve had to miss quite a few sessions, so I’ll have to see how this goes on into 2019.

586After completing An Ambassador’s Tales for Flashing Blades,  took a break from GMing duties at our Monday session and @thegrampus started a homebrew three session Call of Cthulhu adventure, Buried Histories, which was very good and involved our party investigating old an WW2 railway site in Germany. With a couple of other sessions to fill I ran The Gates of Hellwinter for Advanced Fighting Fantasy, a system I’d wanted to try out for some time. It’s a tidy set of rules which I planned to also use for Grogfight. Unfortunately we didn’t quite get to the third session to box the game off.

525d4e50-a112-11e8-81c9-1b431fd718bc-rimg-w400-h400-dc1c1c1c-gmirThe highlight of this month was undoubtedly the inaugural Owlbear and Wizards Staff Con in Leamington Spa, organised by @Asako_Soh. A single day Con with a nice social element (curry and beers the night before, yes please!), I was pleased to grab a place at Not in Kansas Anymore, an out there DCC adventure ran by @LeeJNeilson. We were 1970’s civilians transported into a fantasy dimension which we had to survive (although many of us didn’t as you’d expect from a level 0 funnel); top moments include the bus driver PC squashing some monsters with his bus and a DJ decapitating another bad guy with an Abba album thrown frisbee style. I ran The Greater Share of Honour  in the afternoon slot and was lucky enough to get a great group of players; unlike previous Cons they didn’t get to complete the adventure in the time set, so we agreed to box it off over Roll20 later on.

October

@OrlanthR had asked for players for a trial run of his Dying Earth adventure The Hotel Grand Perdusz in preparation for Grogmeet; not wanting to miss out I signed up. It wasn’t what I was expecting, not having read any Dying Earth, but it was a lot of fun – the paranoia and backstabbing elements soon came to the fore and layered on top of the investigation was a great combo. It was an interesting system with story game/narrative elements (like HeroQuest) so it took a little bit of time to get my head around, but once we were stuck into it the game moved apace, moving onto great ending – it could have gone either way based on a handful of dice rolls. And my character ended up being The Mucker for all eternity – nice!

 had been planning for Pink Gins and Googlies for quite some time; using a modified version of The Cthulhu Hack our characters were all members of the Cranford Ladies Cricket Club on a world tour. We were off to a great start in Cairo with some weird occult goings on, it was proper action packed pulp stuff, but with bats, balls and the odd gin rather than a revolver and bullwhip. We’ve had some fantastic adventures with this as we continue our tour and will do on into the new year.

Along with my other regular games of LotFP Better Than Any Man and alternately RuneQuest/Judge Dredd and Swords & Wizardry Complete I also managed to get along to a Mersey Game Knights session over in Wallasey where Cliffy ran Swords & Wizardry Whitebox, a tidy bandit hunt adventure with some nice world building.

A highlight for me was pulling off BurritoCon2. This time I took a back seat of the day and was only a player, but thoroughly enjoyed Traveller GM’d by  and Rifts GM’d by @ConvergenceUK1. I’d only ever played Traveller back in the 80’s and had a fairly low opinion of it, but found that opinion changed considerably – it’s a cracking game with a neat system. I suspect like most games, our opinions are shaped as much by the GM and other players as they are by the system itself. I was pleased that @M0RT75 was able to join us to run Umerican Survival Guide and  @boreders to run The Cthulhu Hack – both went down a treat.

November

What a month this looked like being. As well as Grogmeet and a charity 24 hour RPG event, one of my old mates @Corsair1973 was visiting from San Diego, so I knew there would be lots of great gaming.

The month started with a Roll20 session to complete The Greater Share of Honour from Owlbear and Wizards Staff Con. I was pleased to get the players back together and box this off.

I’d booked a day off to get in some gaming with @Corsair1973 and another old gaming mate of ours, Dave. We had an afternoon playing the Monolith Conan board game – I’ve played this before and it’s very enjoyable, one of those games that is nearly an RPG. The treat of the day was Dave running a short Call of Cthulhu adventure for us; The Winoka Point Research Centre, needless to say, in good Cthulhu tradition neither of our adventurers survived. Dave was the GM who introduced me to Call of Cthulhu back in 1983/84 so it was a real pleasure to play in one of his games again.

Grogmeet kicked off on the Friday afternoon with Grogfight, a multi-table, multi-system bar room brawl with dungeon crawl designed to have players jumping from one table to another. I was running Advanced Fighting Fantasy on my table, while @Corsair1973 was running Classic Fantasy, @Lintillaz Tunnels & Trolls and @theGROGNARDfile The Fantasy Trip. It was fairly chaotic and the table swapping thing didn’t work out as I’d hoped, but it was a lot of fun and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. After dumping my bag at the hotel and grabbing a bite to eat it was on to the Friday evening session. Having developed a taste for Judge Dredd RPGs previously it was a no brainer to jump onto Judge Dredd: An American Werebear in Brit-Cit GM’d by @DailyDwarf using the Savage Worlds system. It was a great setup; I was one of two MegaCity One Judges who had to host and help a pair of stuck up Brit-Cit Judges – right from the start there was tension and a lot of banter. Our briefings took us first into the wastelands of The Cursed Earth and then onto Brit-Cit itself, great stuff. Followed up by drinks this was a near perfect day, but unfortunately I had to cut my Grogmeet weekend short due to my Dad taking ill (he’s making a great recovery now). Besides the obvious concern over my Dad I was gutted that I wouldn’t be able to run the DCC adventure I had prepared, The Carnival of the Damned. I may try that one for Virtual Grogmeet in 2019.

243681Before @Corsair1973 headed back to the USA we wanted to get in another game session – I offered to run Vikingr, a game I’d Kickstarted earlier in the year and was eager to run. I had some notes for an adventure ready to go, so @Corsair1973 , Dave and @TonyLayter picked their Viking heroes from the pregens on offer and quickly got on with the slaughter. Because we’re all so familiar with Vikings it was easy to roleplay well defined stereotypes – The Berserker, The Shield Maiden, The Warrior, and the OpenD6 based system worked a treat. Although Vikingr isn’t on my radar for 2019 I would like to run it again.

I did get a big RPG fix the following weekend though as I’d signed up for the 24 Hour RPG charity event in Southport, this time in the very posh Prince of Wales hotel. Last year I’d played 24 hours of RuneQuest with @theGROGNARDfile as GM, so this year I signed up for the 12 hour Blades in the Dark session he was running. Although there were just two players and the GM it was a great way to spend 12 hours of gaming; Blades in the Dark is perfect for a small party, and the flashback mechanism allowed us to get really creative when digging ourselves out of situations and swinging things in our favour. @theGROGNARDfile was on top form, responding to our ideas and creating exciting situations for us – it felt like we could try whatever we wanted, very sandboxy, dynamic and brilliant.

I’ve written a blog post about these Grogmeet, Vikingr and 24 Hour RPG here.

December

With the year drawing to a close I wasn’t anticipating any new games and knew we’d have a break from regular games over Christmas. However, I was pleased to have another try at HeroQuest, this time with @Corsair1973 starting the Eleven Lights campaign over Roll20. This time the system really clicked with me and I found my character much easier to get stuck into (perhaps because it was in a part of Glorantha I had become more familiar with in ‘s game). So far we’ve had a couple of sessions and it looks like we’ll be continuing it on into 2019, great stuff!

And that was it really, I hope I’ve not missed anything out. I managed to squeeze in quite a bit of gaming in 2018 and hopefully will continue to in 2019.

Here’s the full list of games I used to put this post together.

 

Better Than Any Man: From Monster Hunter to Gong Farmer

Warning: BTAM spoilers ahead!

Having entered the hidden entrance into Goblin Hill the Black Dogs find themselves surrounded by swarms of insects; they get everywhere – in their boots and clothes. Essential lamps and torches attract only more. Knowing they are in a large cavern, but with visibility severely limited the group deliberate on their options while looking over the map taken from Gunther Mohl, the bandit leader and their enforced scout. To their left they see a the cavern floor is covered in mold, while just darkness and crawling emptiness fill the rest of the space. They do not even consider blundering straight ahead into the vastness of the cavern.

maxresdefaultWhile dithering a loud buzzing is heard over the background rustling sounds of insects crawling over insects and before they can locate it, a huge horsefly attacks, no doubt drawn by their light and the prospect of a tasty meal! Despite some of the party being surprised they are able to fight the horrid creature and quickly kill it. Gunther’s loyalty is tested and fails and he takes the chance to flee Goblin Hill while the Black Dogs are distracted.

Realising that time is of the essence in this vile place the adventurers decide to skirt the cavern walls to their right, counting off the passageways as per their map. One of the passageways they pass is wet and glistening and perhaps sensibly ignored. Flickering lights can be seen from another side passage, again bypassed; what treasures and glory can be found along these corridors so readily ignored – I guess we’ll never know. Eventually the party come to the passage that they believe will lead them into the lair of the Burgerfriedensmiliz and the Insect God cult…

Unpleasant smells are a part of 17th Century life and for those living in towns and cities the stench of effluent is all too familiar. This is the aroma that greets them now as they move upwards along the gradually inclining passage; effluent runs in rivulets along the floor and the adventurers have no choice but to stride through it, careful not to slip. As they proceed, the nature of the insect infestation changes – there are now uncountable maggots on the floor and walls, nesting in the faeces, and many more flies fill the air. This is perhaps the most unpleasant place they have been in… so far at least. For some it proves too much as they are unable to contain the contents of their stomach and throw up their last meal, adding to the already overpowering acrid stench.9f8f9604113f48c0802243bedc001e59fbc02287_hq

From along the passageway the party hear faint voices and as Balock scouts ahead  the party is once more attacked. Another giant horsefly, this one bigger than the last, speeds along the corridor towards Balock, while Ingrid, Hemming, Miklos and Genevieve look down to see giant, stinking maggots attempting to latch onto their legs. Trying to stomp and slash at the foul beasts the party manage to kill all the maggots, but not before Ingrid, Genevieve and Hemming are all bitten by them (saving throws all around which only Hemming successfully makes!). The fly, badly wounded makes it’s escape…

15607427415_c07dfb0fb0_bMoving further along the party arrive at a huge cesspit, a massive cavern filled with raw sewage. Voices can still be heard along with the sounds of toilet going and waste splashing into the cesspit. The sounds and waste are both coming from a shaft that leads to a toilet above…

Crawling around the edge of the cesspit and careful not to fall in, the Black Dogs approach the shaft, but none have yet been brave enough to look up it… so this seems to be the secret way into the Burgerfriedensmiliz headquarters.

 

Better Than Any Man: Going to Goblin Hill

Warning: BTAM spoilers ahead!

On an overcast, rain sodden October morning the Black Dogs march out of Thungen, cross a bridge over the Wern and strike out North East towards the heavily wooded hills, the supposed location of Goblin Hill. The ground is slick with the wet first fallen leaves of autumn and the unseasonal carpet of insects crawling over them.

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Gunther Mohl, the captured bandit leader strikes a fair pace and the morning easily passes, however at one point Esmerelda notices figures flitting through the shadows off to the side – for now she keeps it to herself. Close to midday the party spot a lone figure sitting against a tree, and a closer investigation shows its is just a small boy of no more than 7 or 8 summers; grubby from living outdoors, thin from lack of food, yet still with a mischievous glint in his eyes. Hemming’s natural distrust of just about anyone has started to rub of on Miklos as the pair of them fully expect some trap or trickery; Balock is more trusting and of the group comes across as the least likely to cause trouble. None of the new Black Dogs, Ingrid, Esmerelda and Genevieve have any particular interest in the child.

Questioning the boy, they learn his name – Berwic – and that he is in the woods with his sister and a gang of other abandoned children, all looking to survive under the leadership of the oldest boy Wilfried. Eventually the conversation leads to questions about Goblin Hill and what these children might know. Berwic offers to take one of the PC’s to meet Wilfried, but they must be unarmed; the boy points to Balock who he seems to trust the most. While the rest of the Black Dogs wait in the cold and damp, Berwic leads Balock off into the woods; doubling back to hide the trail and make sure he’s not being followed.

At last they come to a small clearing where an older boy, introducing himself as Wilfried, awaits with a couple of other children. Berwic explains that Balock is after information about Goblin Hill – the children call this Insect Hill because of all the bugs there. In exchange for all of his rations and a fine dagger (which Balock had concealed) Wilfried tells the rogue about the north entrance to the hill. He followed a gang of men wearing hoods who led a chained gang of people to the northern doors where they knocked and handed them over. Trying to confirm the nature of the masked villains, Balock pulls a hood out of his pack – Wilfried misunderstands and the kids flee.  Balock realising he doesn’t know quite where he is tries to follow the trail back to the rest of the party, but becomes lost and it is some hours before he finds his way back. With just a few hours of daylight remaining the adventurers travel a little further before setting up camp.

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With no fire, little moonlight and drizzling rain it is a miserable night. However as Miklos and Esmerelda take the last watch they see a glowing figure rushing towards them, moving with an unnatural celerity. Before they can react both are frozen; as the ghostly figure approaches it’s grotesque distorted face halts just inches from Miklos’ and it looks intently at him – the cleric has the feeling it is looking past his physical presence, perhaps into his soul. After just a moment the spectre does the same to the rest of the party; oblivious to it’s presence they sleep through. Then it returns to Miklos and it’s face changes into a warmer, friendlier visage before moving through the whole party and then disappearing.While the characters are not quite sure what has just happened, it’s a pleasure to give the players some good news – between now and the end of the game each character can change the result of any one dice roll.

Rested and fed the party continue their journey to Goblin Hill, fully expecting to reach the dreaded haunt of The Mother and her Insect Cult before the end of the day. A reflective mood comes over the adventurers as they feel themselves moving towards a conclusion; how Hemming’s lack of empathy for his fellow man has only intensified, how Miklos has become far more cynical, less ready to trust, more willing to take life, and how Balock of the three original Black Dogs has held onto his humanity with both hands and still shows a compassionate, caring side.  They are shaken from their reverie by a sad scene – a woman hanging from a tree, dead only a day or two. Hoofprints can still be seen with no evidence of human footprints. How did this poor woman meet her end? Was her life taken by force, or did she bring it about herself, perhaps lost to the despair and suffering this terrible war has brought.

The day moves on and within a few more hours the bulk of Goblin Hill can be seen through the dense trees. Insects now crawl everywhere and the air is thick with mosquitoes and midges. Gunther asks to be set free – he tells the Black Dogs that the back door is not far now. Hemming and Miklos do not trust him and refuse to let him go; he is given one a route to freedom though – take up arms on behalf of the party, lead them into Goblin Hill and when all is done he will be set free. With no alternative the bandit agrees, his hands are untied and he is armed with a spear and dagger.

Moving much closer towards the entrance described by Gunther a roughly carved wooden sign is seen with two words; ‘Welcome!’ in German and ‘Beware!’ in Arabic. Bushes across the secret entrance are pulled aside and reveal a large cave mouth with a tunnel heading down into the darkness beyond. Itching and scratching from the inescapable insect infestation, the party form up, torches and lamps are lit and they advance into the darkness.

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The tunnel floor is made of compressed earth, at least what can be seen through the insects crawling all over it. Every couple of feet a stone rod appears to stretch across the tunnel floor; these could be the edges of stairs, the gaps between now filled with ancient soil. Moving slowly, cautiously with weapons ready and eyes alert to danger the party feel the darkness closing in; the air shimmers with all kinds of insects, many attracted to the glow of the lamps and torches and it takes a moment for the mind to adjust as the floor seems to writhe and surge, thick with crawling bugs. All that can be heard is a constant rustle, the creeping of tiny legs of tiny carapaces, millions upon millions of them.

It takes a few minutes of careful, steady progress before the corridor seems to open into a larger cavern – although it is difficult to tell as the range of their light is limited. Referring to the map taken from Gunther, the Black Dogs believe they know where to go, how to proceed. Onwards into the darkness they go…

Better Than Any Man: Chaos in Karlstadt

Warning: BTAM spoilers ahead!

Having gone a Sorcerer too far last week the Black Dogs flee The Defenders house, both physically and spiritually battered and bruised. How did it come to this – with three of The Seven dispatched, how could they be so easily beaten by the genteel and unassuming Griselda Uhrlitz and her creature? Will they be able to kill one more of The Seven before leaving Karlstadt?

The streets of Karlstadt are in chaos; a multitude of fires started by the conspirators under direction of the PC’s illuminate the early morning gloom, spreading warmth and terror across the town; refugees run, cry, panic and generally get in the way as it becomes clear the Swedish Army really has arrived outside the overcrowded refugee camp; cries and screams of despair from the refugee camp carry through the still post dawn air as the refugees come to understand their fate is sealed. And amongst all this Balock, Hemming and Miklos head to the conspirators house, hoping to rest and heal before taking their leave.

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Before they get too close to the conspirators house they see a distressing scene unfolding outside. Hugo Beck and the remaining conspirators (including Luise Betz who they rescued from the Burgerfriendensmiliz the day before) stand in a line with their hands bound behind their backs. Surrounded by the Milizionare the conspirators are questioned by Ingeborg Stoltz The Watcher who is overshadowed by her two terrible creates, one a floating mound of diseased winged flesh that constantly shifts in and out of focus and the other a huge eyeball in a giant levitating cube. The Black Dogs observe the conversation but cannot hear; remaining in the shadows they move to the rear of a nearby house, hoping they may get an opportunistic strike at The Watcher.

It seems the sorcerer loses her patience and steps back instructing her creatures to attack. As the PC’s watch the diseased creature touches Hugo Beck and he starts to swell with tumorous growths, his body twisting in agony, his ravaged throat screaming in torment. His fellow conspirators do not get a chance to see his doom as they are electrocuted by lances of electricity which stream from the cubed creature; as their leader’s lifeless body crumples to the floor their own flesh is ruptured from within as they writhe and ultimately collapse, their flesh melted, their hearts ash.

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Having positioned themselves in a building not far from The Watcher, Hemming aims and releases his remaining Magic Missile – ravenous chomping skulls fly toward her. Attention focussed on the conspirators, Ingeborg Stoltz realises too late that magic has been used against her and in turn screams as the skulls devour her flesh, her bones, her clothes, leaving only a head on the bloody ground. Before any of the militia or the watching crowd can identify them, using previously acquired Burgerfriedensmiliz hoods they head to the Dammen house where they first entered the city (and indeed through foul murder brought an end to Gawinus Dammen).

Taking pity of Magdalyn Dammen and her son Ruben, Balock convinces the cold hearted Hemming and the world weary Miklos to take them through the tunnel and escape the Swedes. As a group the five find the basement tunnel and leave Karlstadt. The codeword prompt “The Owl hoots twice” is asked by a female voice which surprises the PC’s, but is correctly answered with “but never thrice”… and entirely in character Hemming sends Magdalyn and her son up the ladder at the end of the tunnel into the deserted farmhouse first. When they climb the ladder themselves they are confronted by three women who introduce themselves as Ingrid Kalten, Genevieve Kurtz and Esmerelda Drau – and it doesn’t take long for both groups to identify themselves as Black Dogs. The women are accompanied by a rough and ready man who is bound and gagged who they introduce as Gunther Mohl. Ingrid (a new PC) relates their tale; they were tasked by Niklaus Stein to track down the sorcerer know as The Mother who is believed to be leading an Insect God cult in Goblin Hill. Travelling from the north (avoiding the Swedish Army) they came across an abandoned farmhouse which seemed to be haunted, but investigation showed otherwise – it was the hideout of bandits. When attacked Ingrid and her band fought the bandits killing all but their leader Gunther. Gunther is only alive because he knows of a secret entrance into Goblin Hill and has a map which may prove useful. The bandits also had a small girl with them, but when combat broke out she fled into the basement of the house and disappeared.

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Esmerelda, Genevieve and Ingrid join the crew

Hemming, Miklos and Balock relate their tale to the newcomers and it seems they have a common goal; to kill The Mother. Gunther agrees to guide all of the Black Dogs to Goblin Hill, and so forces are joined and after some healing the party leaves Karlstadt.

Two wagons that somehow made it across the River Main are spotted fleeing to the east and while the travellers wouldn’t take the Black Dogs with them, they offered to take good care of Magdalyn and Ruben. With a day or more of walking ahead of them the PC’s head to Thungen, a village they left an impression on during their last visit. Deciding to rest before taking on Goblin Hill they spend two nights recuperating from their battles. On the first night Ingrid, while on watch, hears two horses galloping through the village heading from west to east; then the next day a father and son arrive, weary and bedraggled. The father tells that the Swedes were slaughtering the refugees, luckily as a strong swimmer he was able to cross the River Main with his son – now they are going to keep moving east.

Despite the insects the party rest a second night, but can’t help notice the yellow glow coming from Karlstadt many miles to the west. The next morning, well rested, provisioned and geared up they head towards Goblin Hill.

 

Better Than Any Man: The Tale of shortly lived Shylock

Warning: BTAM spoilers ahead!

Last session we left the Black Dogs mid-combat, scrapping with The Provider and her creature. Accompanied by a handful of conspirators, Balock and Hemming were joined by a new PC, one of Hugo Beck’s conspirator lieutenants, Shylock the Specialist. A long time resident of Karlstadt and a hunter in the area, he has a good knowledge of The Seven and a strong desire to see them deposed.

The flickering flames across town (started by conspirators at the Black Dogs request) cast dancing shadows and mixed with the cries of terror from the refugees outside the town create a strange and eerie setting in the early dawn light. As Shylock joins the desperate melee Jutte Beckman The Provider also joins the fray, hacking at Hemming with her cleaver while the Magic-User tries to smite the tentacled creature with the holy leg bone of St Burchard. Combatants on both sides are injured, but after taking a heavy whack from a club wielded by a conspirator, The Provider flees into her kitchen followed by Hemming, while Balock, Shylock and the remaining conspirators take on the creature.

UntitledBeckman, now terrified and fleeing for her life runs across the kitchen but before she can escape Hemming, now able to cast a spell sends a magic missile flying after her in the form of a swarm of screaming skulls that tear at the flesh from the feet up… The Providers screams mingle with those of the skulls. After a moment all that remains is the head of the poor woman (the one who tried her best to feed the starving refugees) which Hemming scoops up and stuffs into a sack.

Now armed with the leg bone, Shylock, Balock and the conspirators are able to bring down the creature, and upon it’s death it dissolves into a puddle of black corrosive sludge.  It’s not then long before the voices of more militia can be heard outside and the PC’s run out the back of the house, finding a quiet alley to recuperate and catch their breath.

The Defender is known to live nearby, one of The Seven the group have yet to encounter, and so they set off to her house. Shylock knows The Defender is the only person in the town who has a large house to herself, but it is likely to be guarded by Burgerfriendensmiliz. A quick scout of the area shows a large group of militia stand guard outside the front of the house and a small group of 4 are at the rear. Displaced refugees crowd the streets around the house and watch on with fear, amazement and wonder at the scene that unfolds.

Having arranged for one of the conspirators to draw the four guards at the rear of the house away, Hemming and Balock approach wearing the Burgerfriedensmiliz uniforms they have acquired. When the conspirator throws a rock at the guards, the Black Dogs convince them to chase down the scoundrel while they guard the door. The plan worked as expected, and with the guards temporarily indisposed, it would be an easy job for Balock to pick the lock! Except he couldn’t… after 5 attempts. In the end they smash a window and gain entry through a vestibule to the side of the main corridor.

The DefenderEntering the house they can hear a woman gently singing, her plaintive voice travelling from a large room; they assume the voice comes from Griselda Uhrlitz The Defender, although she is out of sight. A quick check of the ground floor reveals two doors into the room. But the Black Dogs will have to act fast as a large group of milia outside of the building can also be seen – fortunately the front doors are locked, bolted and barred.

A plan is formed. Shylock and a conspirator will wait by one door while Balock and Hemming head for the other, then on cue they will open both doors and throw flasks of oil into the room, then set them alight before closing both doors so The Defender and her creature burn alive. It didn’t go quite as planned, largely because they were unaware of the creatures special power; it drained the best AC, hp, spells, stats and damage from amongst the PC’s for itself and The Defender, leaving the owner of the stolen ability with the lowest, most feeble value. This is what happened.

  • Hemming opened a door, took in the scene and saw Griselda and her horrific creature; a brain suspended in a pod supported by multiple serrated tentacles. Throwing his oil flask he missed by some margin.The Defender's Creature
  • Shylock was more successful and his oil flask splattered across the floor. Then he shut his door but found his movement was slowed.
  • Hemming tried to cast a Magic Missile but found he couldn’t recall the spell, so he shut the door on the advancing monstrosity.
  • The creature moved to attack, ripping the door open. Hemming was surprised as he felt very weak compared to the overpowering strength of the creature.
  • The Burgerfriedensmiliz at the front of the house started trying to bash open the door to save The Defender.
  • Both Hemming and Balock were attacked and badly damaged.
  • Meanwhile Shylock had entered the room and tried to backstab the creature but missed. The conspirator accompanying them fumbled twice, injuring himself and allowing The Defender to escape.
  • As Shylock chased after The Defender, Hemming and Balock, both badly wounded, jumped through a window into the street and joined the remaining conspirators.
  • The conspirators moved in to attack The Defender but were unable to hit her (she had the highest AC from amongst the party!), so Shylock took a further backstab opportunity, missing again.
  • As the Sorcerer fled around the front of the house to find safety amongst the larger group of militia the creature, approaching from behind wrapped it’s tentacles around Shylock and ripped him in two (a series of criticals left him in a bad way). Although he was carrying the leg bone of St Burchard Shylock managed to fling it clear before meeting his grisly end and it was collected by one of the conspirators.

At this point, badly wounded and one party member dead, Hemming and Balock decided it was best to retreat back to the conspirators house, their minds turning to escaping Karlstadt and tackling The Mother at Goblin Hill.

 

Better Than Any Man: The Death of Joy

Warning: BTAM spoilers ahead! Don’t even scroll down if you intend to play this module

Returning to the conspirator’s house following their assault on the church of St Andreas and the assassination of The Defiler, the Black Dogs decide to rest and recover for the night allowing spell-casters to refresh their spells. The noise of the panicked refugees and citizens of Karlstadt persists throughout the night, while the Milizionäre comb the town door to door searching for the assassins.

The PC’s are awakened by muffled screams coming from one of the ground floor rooms in the house; on investigation Hugo Beck (the head of the conspirators) tells them that a group of militiamen came into the house searching for assassins and all but one were killed by the desperate rebels. The surviving militiaman, a young fellow with a beaten face and broken bones, had been tortured for information on The Seven; what are their plans following The Defiler’s death, where are they all now?

329271Schemes are formed as Hemming Kristofferson shows his true chaotic nature and gleefully tortures the poor lad for intelligence to help formulate a strategy [there’s something about Lamentations of the Flame Princess that brings out the dark side of players]. The Black Dogs ask the conspirators to start fires around Karlstadt to distract The Seven, while they target The Joy and The Provider*.

The conspirators split up to make movement around the town easier and avoid Burgerfriendensmiliz patrols while Balock, Hemming and Miklos lead a group of conspirators to the Dammen house where they dumped their gear on first entering Karlstadt. Being properly equipped against The Seven is very important after all. Along the way they encounter a patrol and a gang of conspirators peel off to deal with them while the PC’s proceed to the house. Gawinus and Magdalyn Dammen have the house locked up tight and clearly do not expect, nor want visitors – protecting their only son Ruben is their top priority.

FightHemming formulates another plan (one of many) to trick Gawinus Dammen into opening the back door of the property. Approaching the front of the house he bangs on the door, telling Gawinus that some rogues have been trying to break in to the property around the back. Gawinus buys it and opens the back door to the alley. Balock and Miklos hide out of sight while Hemming tries to convince the unfortunate citizen that said rogues forced their way into his basement. As Gawinus takes a look Hemming tries to knock him out, but by now suspecting treachery he attacks the Magic User. A scrap ensues in which the loving husband and father is killed (oops) and as a result his distraught family have to be coerced into keeping quiet (poor Magdalyn quietly sobbing and Ruben asking for Papa) while the party recover their gear.

Now properly equipped the Black Dogs lead a mob of conspirators to Zum Erleuchteten Hurenbock, the known location of The Joy. As the mob approaches the whorehouse the workers loitering outside panic, run inside and shut the door, but The Joy (the only one of The Seven to have given away her creature) steps outside to challenge them. She is given little opportunity before she is struck down and her head hewn off, to be tied by the hair to Miklos’ belt. The conspirators are even more fired up – taking down The Seven is going to be easy!

The Provider's CreatureMoving on to The Providers house they find the front door open and a seemingly empty reception room within.  Appetising smells drift from the back of the house. The party carefully enter with a handful of conspirators and (no surprise!) are surprised by The Providers creature, a tentacled, octopoid nightmare that rips the arm off one conspirator and the face off another. In the grim combat that follows Balock, Hemming and Miklos are all injured, the creature is hard to hit and damage and some power of the creature prevents Hemming from casting spells. With the end of the party in sight, just in time they remember the Leg Bone of St Burchard, a holy item believed to have the power to smite demons, and once used it changes the balance of the encounter somewhat. Just as it looks like they are making headway against the monstrosity The Provider herself steps out from the kitchen and joins the fray…

* For context, The Provider is a convivial, caring, warm woman, rather overfond of food, who feeds the starving refugee populace of Karlstadt every day. And our ‘heroes’ want to kill her…