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…

DevaCon 3

Now in its third year, DevaCon is the same small friendly con with a big heart held in the super posh Crowne Plaza in Chester. Stephanie McAlea has done a great job pulling the event together with everything you need for a full day of gaming in one place (ok, food and drink can be a bit pricey being in a big hotel), and everyone there out to have a good day.

In my mind the fun starts when I leave the house, giving a lift to gaming pals Tony, Andrew, Dave and Cliffy. The gaming banter starts way before we get to the venue. We arrived in plenty of time which gave me an opportunity to catch up with some other great gaming mates I’ve got to know in recent times and get to meet some new faces. Unfortunately the start of the event was held up slightly due to a technical issue, but we were soon underway not long after the official 10.30 start time.

This year I had offered two adventures; The Road to Hell by D101 Games, a nice adventure for Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Swords & Wizardry Complete (I picked the LotFP version), and my homebrew Barbarians of Lemuria adventure, A Heart for Madness (yeah, stupid name I know, but you have to call it something). I have already ran the BoL adventure twice before at cons and so while I knew it was a good adventure, I was worried about the timing; it took 4.5 hours at Convergence and 5 hours at Virtual Grogmeet – could I fit it in to a 3.5 hour slot? I had the same concern and a few others with The Road to Hell

Slot 1: The Road to Hell is a fairly lengthy adventure with 4 main acts; while I’d like to go into considerable detail here I don’t want to drop any spoilers. I’m hoping to run the whole thing at some point, but for this 3.5 hour con I knew I’d have to strip it right back; Newt Newport the author had sent me some advice on doing this and so I came to the day well prepared but still not sure of a couple of bits and pieces (I have read the adventure a few times including proofreading for Newt, so I knew it pretty well). I was pleased to have a full table, so characters selected we were soon underway. I could tell the players were experienced and they quickly engaged with the adventure, but I had to work hard to hold their attention, at least for the first half of the session. As things moved forwards they became much more involved in the tale and we ended with a fun and interesting ending. The big takeaway for me for this adventure is that the ‘happy path’ for the players needs to be more clearly sign posted, I have an idea about this for Expo.

Dr Dee’s employees. Yet to travel The Road to Hell

Slot 2: Signups for the afternoon session where a little all over the place. By the time I’d packed my GM stuff away and grabbed a bite to eat most of the afternoon tables were booked (some of them had been filled up before the first slot!) This bit of the con could definitely use some improvement – signups on the day is fine, but it has to be well coordinated so everyone has a decent chance at a game they wanted to play. As it turned out I was happy with the table I ended up on; there was a final slot left for Dragon Age. I’ve played and enjoyed all of the Dragon Age video games so had a passing knowledge of the setting; I was particularly interested in the Age system it uses. I’ve often considered grabbing Fantasy Age, so I was looking forward to getting a taste of it.

The session had been put on as a last minute filler and the GM by his own admission was running an adventure that he last ran/read four or five years ago. I don’t know how he managed it, but he ran the whole adventure from a PDF on his smartphone! The adventure saw us investigating a farm, finding the residents slaughtered and a wounded Dalish Elf the only apparent survivor. We followed the trail of the perpetrator, another Elf who had been corrupted by a demon from the Fade, finally confronting him in a nearby town. It was a nice adventure, but I wasn’t impressed by the system – it felt a little flat to me. Perhaps that’s due to the nature of a one shot; it could be a system that requires more time to get the best out of.

Slot 3: Now more than a little tired I set up the table for my Barbarians of Lemuria game. Like the previous times I’ve ran it we all had a lot of fun. I was much happier with the timing – it took 3hrs 45 mins, so that should be perfect for the 4 hour slots of UK Games Expo. One big take away from this is not to GM for the last slot of an all day con with a bar; I like to keep a clear head when GMing so tend to avoid booze, but fully endorse players enjoying themselves with a drink or two. There are limits though…

Barbarians! Run Away!

A cracking day all in; it’s set me up perfectly for UK Games Expo as I’ve now had a run out of the adventures I’ll be GMing there. Bring on DevaCon 4!

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?

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?

2019 The Big Plan

At the conclusion of a highly satisfying 2018 of RPGing, it’s time to give some thought to the next 365 days. Like all good agile plans this is likely to change and I’m quite happy to accomodate quite a bit of feature creep…

Conventions

  • Convergence (1st-3rd March, Stockport) – I’ll probably only attend on the Saturday as I’ve done the last couple of years. Still undecided on whether to run my Barbarians of Lemuria one-shot homebrew or The Road to Hell for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. There’s going to be more Grognards GMing this year so there’ll be even more great games to play.
  • Virtual Grogmeet (12th April) – will run either Forgive Us for LotFP which went down really well last year, or Carnival of the Damned for Dungeon Crawl Classics which I had planned to run at Grogmeet but had to cancel. Hoping I might be able to play a game as well.
  • DevaCon (27th April, Chester) – because of the Chester link I’ll definitely run The Road to Hell. Also a good opportunity to play something different.
  • UK Games Expo (31 May – 2 June, NEC Birmingham) – my thoughts at the moment are to run The Road to Hell and my Barbarians of Lemuria homebrew, but I also would like to play a game or two. After last year I decided I wouldn’t play so many games as I didn’t get enough time to catch up with people – we’ll see.
  • Owlbear & Wizards Staff (September in Leamington Spa, date to be decided, may conflict with my daughter’s 18th) – hope I can get to this, no idea yet what I’d run.
  • Grogmeet (8th – 10th November, Manchester) – the RPG highlight of the year. I’m hosting the Friday afternoon OSR session again, so it’s time to get my thinking cap on (got a few ideas which I’ll blog about soon). I’ll also run something else, although no idea what that would be just yet, and hope to play in a couple of games at least – the games on offer here are always the creme de la creme in my opinion, all top GM’s and players.
  • BurritoCon 3+ (if I get around to arranging it will be in Manchester) – really enjoyed these last year, but with Cons, regular gaming and Go Play Manchester, I’m not sure where I’d fit them in.

Games

Besides Cons and the games I am regular player in (Pink Gins and Googlies, Two Headed Serpent, RuneQuest, Judge Dredd, Swords & Wizardy, HeroQuest) there’s a lot of GM stuff to do.

  • Finish LotFP Better Than Any Man – we’ve been playing this since May 2018 and it’s been a blast, the characters have experienced some crazy stuff and been pushed to the edge of darkness. They’re moving towards some kind of conclusion, although I have no idea how that will pan out (bound to involve lots of fire and gore).
  • Start Barbarians of Lemuria campaign in January – I’ve had this system sitting on my shelf for a couple of years and having just reread and realised how cool it is I wanted to get it to the table. I’m going to keep it simple right at the start, just a few of the short adventures from the rules in an episodic format (not going to worry about how they got to the start of next adventure, they are just there), then move onto Lemurian Legends and beyond.
  • More LotFP because it’s just the best OSR game: the full version of The Road to Hell, then Black Blade of the Demon King and moving on to the World of the Lost sandbox (although Qelong is quite tempting).
  • Con games: The Road to Hell using @Newtus‘s one shot format and my Barbarians of Lemuria homebrew which I really need to get boxed off. I’ll need to decide what I’ll run at Owlbear & Wizards Staff and Grogmeet, but they are some way off just yet.
  • Keep going to Lunchtime Lairs – this is a perfect midweek face to face session, not sure I’ll be able to do much GMing at it (with other gaming commitments).
  • Get to Go Play Manchester (2nd Sunday of every month) when I can and hopefully run a game or two.

Resolutions

Such as they are, I guess they’re there to be broken…

  • Try really hard to not to get any new systems so I can focus on and get the best out of a handful – while some GM’s love having tons of different systems, I get this weird stress thing because I know I won’t run them and they just bug me (it’s why I’ve sold a few games in 2018). I want to stick to maybe three or four systems – at the moment LotFP, Barbarians of Lemuria and DCC. I love playing new systems though…
  • Related to the above, take a more rational approach to Kickstarter – I backed a lot of projects in 2018 and still have a few to arrive (including new systems!). There has to come a point where there is no point in getting more stuff… Same with Bundle of Holding, just because there’s a bundle going cheap doesn’t mean I need it.
  • Go for lighter prep – I’ve spent way too much time (which I do enjoy) preparing for some adventures. In many cases it has paid off, and as a GM I like to feel prepared, but I think there’s a happier place I can find where I don’t need to prep quite so much.