ImpromptuCon18 is nearly here, taking place on Saturday 28th July at Fanboy3 in Manchester.
But before we go any further, a disclaimer. It’s not a Con and it’s barely impromptu. It came about because my daughter had called upon dad’s taxi service to take her and some friends to the big ComicCon in Manchester Central on that day. I had a choice – after dropping them off I could either drive back home to Liverpool and pick them up later or find something to do for the day in Manchester. Thus an idea was born…
I know there are a few Grognards in the Manchester area so I made the suggestion on Twitter and now we have two tables with 12 seats. The plan for the day is:
10am start 5pm finish
Two tables, two 3 hour sessions with an hour for a pie and pint in between
I’ll run Dungeon Crawl Classics (maybe a two slot depending on other GM’s)
If you are in the Manchester area and are interested in joining us we have a couple of seats left, or if there’s enough interest and enough GM’s could book a third table – just let me know @nfbenson if you’d like to join us.
There is a small charge payable to Fanboy3 for the table – £3 per game.
I grabbed this game in PDF a while back and had a little dabble, but it just didn’t click with me. Not so long ago I had a notification from the publisher Ganesha Games that the game had been revised and when I looked again I saw a few changes and a lot more support. With the recent spate of lulu.com vouchers I thought I might give it more of a go if I had it in print, so I bought the core rules and the Caves of the Kobold Slave Master module.
This is a small format softback book with a few pieces of black and white art inside. The colour cover captures the tone of the game – we’re off on a big dungeon crawl! The book has 2 pages of content listing and no index and after a read through I feel could do with some reorganisation. Following the RPG standards of intro, character creation and equipment we jump to How Monsters Attack, then the tables for generating dungeons – but after that a mix of encounters, spells, wandering monsters – it could just have done with a little more structure.
Even with a thorough read through this lack of organisation was initially a hindrance during play as it was tricky to find what I was after e.g. elements of combat are spread across the How Monsters Attack and later Encounters section, but after a few encounters it became much easier. There really isn’t too much to it system wise.
Character classes include the four bastions of OSR gaming: Warrior, Cleric, Rogue, Wizard. We have Elf, Dwarf and Halfling as race as class and Barbarian thrown in for good measure. The classes all feel distinct and bring various strengths to the game, but because it is so simple one Warrior feels very much like another.
The mechanism for building the dungeon could’t be simpler – grab some graph paper, roll a D6 and draw the matching dungeon entrance. Select which path to take, then roll for the room that appears. There are 36 room and corridor options in all, rolled with D66 (i.e. like D100 but with D6’s). The room or corridor (which are mechanically a bit different from rooms) can be oriented in any direction and there is guidance on how to handle overlapping rooms and rooms at the edge of the paper. Once the location has been added roll 2d6 on the Room Contents Table; this can give anything from empty rooms to treasure, traps, vermin, minions, weird monsters, boss monsters, special events or special features. Each has it’s own table to determine what happens – maybe an encounter with some goblins, a Medusa or a cursed altar. There’s enough variety here to give some interesting outcomes – bribing monsters, fighting, effects on the party, quests, and magic items, certainly enough to add variety for a few play sessions.
Combat and actions are resolved by rolling a D6 (with 6’s exploding) – if you attack a monster roll D6 plus an Attack modifier (Warriors add their level, Clerics add their level vs undead, Rogues add their level if the party outnumbers their opponents). If you roll the monsters level or higher you kill one vermin/minion or one hit point of damage to a boss or weird monster. Multiples of damage can be caused with lucky rolls – a series of 6’s could kill a boss monster with one attack. When you are attacked you have to roll over the monsters level on D6 adding your Defense modifier for armour, shield or a class bonus. If you fail that character loses 1 health, with some monsters causing other effects such as poison. Actions and Saves are resolved in a similar manner, for example a trap might have a level of 4 which must be rolled on a D6 to avoid.
Combats are quick, however they aren’t the only choice when an encounter occurs. You do have the option to negotiate with some monsters which can result in them asking for a bribe to let you pass or them fleeing the room. If you negotiate and they choose to attack then they strike first in combat; because of this I didn’t negotiate at all and became the ultimate murder hobo. Once a combat is over you may be able to roll on the Treasure Table which can give anything from a few coins to gems, jewellery, scrolls or magic items.
Wizards and Elves are limited to six spells but include the classics of Fireball and Sleep. A choice of 3 spells is made per dungeon although this can be expanded by collecting scrolls as treasure rewards. Clerics have 3 Blessing spells and 3 uses of Healing per dungeon as well.
Besides all this there are wandering monsters, secret doors, clues and hidden treasures. Wandering monsters can appear when exploring an empty room or as a special event. These are nasty as they always get first attack and if you are in a corridor they attack the two party members at the back – often your weakest characters. Secret doors, clues and hidden treasure can be found when searching an empty room. While these all have different game affects clues are the most interesting as when you have three of them you get a nice bit of information such as the location of a magic item.
At some point in the dungeon you will encounter the Final Boss – the chances of this increase as you defeat more bosses and weird monsters and if you explore all of the rooms in the dungeon the Final Boss is in the last room. This boss has one more hit point and attack than the usual bosses, but lots more treasure. After defeating the boss you will want to make your way back through the dungeon to the entrance; it’s likely you will do this but you may well encounter wandering monsters.
As you adventure characters gain experience and can level up. Each time you defeat a boss or weird monster or defeat 10 minion encounters roll over a characters current level to gain a level (two can level with a boss monster). This basic book covers up to level 5 although Four Against the Abyss takes our characters up to level 9.
The book finishes with some guidance and frequently asked questions and presents optional rules for using FAD as a stand alone RPG, followed by a useful flowchart and quick reference tables.
That’s about it. I really enjoyed playing this game and want to give it another run through while the rules are fresh in my mind – I expect the session to be considerably different. The game has an active community backing it on Facebook which gives an indicator of it’s popularity.
With just two players I decided to try a bit of adlib GMing, and so with a few random tables and a bit of brain storming I had a few notes and a starting point – I didn’t really know where it would end up though. Although I had previously said that I wouldn’t come up with narrative reasons certain characters were missing on some sessions, as they were conveniently stopping in the Sword and Flagon inn on Wagner Strass it was too good an opportunity to miss.
Not wanting to waste time Balock and Miklos headed off to the town square, while Hemming, Maldron and The Captain were confined to their rooms, suffering the effects of dodgy food and ale. Scraps of paper on the notice board offered rewards for the heads of The Seven of Karlstadt, pleas for help by the despairing folk of Thungen, news of brigands on the road to the north and a rant about a giant cat made of glass(!?!), but it was Mathilda, a young girl from Werneck who grabbed their attention. She told of vampires in the village, her mother had lost her life to them and her dad was always angry. No one in the village would talk about it or ask for help, so she stowed away on a wagon bound for Wurzburg to look for assistance.
Balock and Miklos were approached by Hermann, a guard from the watch who asked if they were interested in earning some coin; 500 silvers could be theirs if they could find the killer of Emil Traschelman, a young nobleman from a wealthy family. Realising that Werneck was too far away and they couldn’t help Mathilda at this time, they took up Hermann’s offer and started by talking to members of the Traschelman household.
With the information provided by Hermann and after interviewing Girnot the butler, Emil’s mother Lucinda and his sister Berlinda they discover:
Emil was the last of four bodies found down at the Fisherman’s Wharf on the river Main; each was found early in the morning by the night guard
Little was left of the bodies, no more than their skeletons, their clothes turned to mush. Emil was identified by a dagger he carried bearing the family crest.
Emil was only 19 and had no known friends. He was cruel to many of the younger servants, they feared him.
Many nights recently Emil would leave the house late and night and not return until early the next morning. He was known to frequent the Dog’s Head tavern down by Fisherman’s Wharf.
A tortured soul, Emil fancied himself and artist and had an attic studio. While checking this out Berlinda showed them Emil’s hidden paintings – scenes of dismemberment and torture.
Cobbles outside the The Dog’s Head are covered in a putrid slime, but the trail is disturbed and broken by passing feet and can’t be followed. The grimy inn is closed, but never ones to let that deter them Balock picks the lock and they explore the run down and decidedly seedy inn. An empty corridor with curtained doors to either side is discovered in the basement through a trapdoor behind the bar.
Pulling back the curtains to each room reveals scenes of torture, terror and violence and it is while checking the last of these that they find a terror lurking in the basement; a huge mass of crawling slime with body parts of children visible within, still animated by some macabre energy… taking a sensible course of action they flee and decide to return with the rest of the party. Just before leaving the basement a severed head briefly breaks the surface of the slime and in a desperate voice from beyond the veil begs ‘Help us…’
Andromeda and Blegrim find themselves in the court of King Lorkay Longtoes, ruler of the Varks, a race of lesser dwarves who despite being marginally degenerate are still excellent miners with vast underground quarries. Gold seems to be a readily available commodity in the underground city of Varkon.
However, the Varks have a problem. Zinjo the troll has recently invaded their caverns, killing many of their kinfolk and has asked for two gold bars to be delivered each day, otherwise it will go on another rampage. Unlike regular dwarves the Varks are not a warlike people and ask Andromeda and Blegrim to kill the troll; if they succeed they will be given three gold bars and an escort to the above.
Our adventurers agree and after resting are taken to the cavern where the gold offering takes place. Hiding at the back of the cave they watch the troll and see that he appears subdued by a collar. Suspicions already raised after Andromeda recalls that trolls do not value gold, they follow Zinjo and discover that he is controlled by a group of humans; in some way iron collar allows them to overcome the Zinjo’s free will. While deciding how to handle the situation Blegrim charges in, Leroy Jenkins style (again) and soon finds himself in too deep. The leader of the group, a conjurer, casts a Web spell to stop Blegrim moving then blasts him with a series of Magic Missiles. Despite decapitating one of the other humans, he is taken out of action*.
Wisely Andromeda hangs back during this encounter, but before Blegrim is dispatched permanently, approaches the group who she discovers are explorers from the Guardians of Antiquity, an organisation sworn to recover and protect ancient relics, but not averse to acquiring wealth through devious means to fund it’s expeditions. Andromeda tells their tale to the leader, Jens Abram (with small amendments to the truth). Blegrim awakes, it turns out he was only knocked out, and now the leader of the Guardians needs to decide what to do with them.
* The Black Hack rules state if a character is reduced to 0 hit points in combat they are ‘Out of Action’ and not yet dead. After the combat they roll on the Out of Action table with results ranging from ‘Just knocked out’ to ‘Not alive anymore’.
The usual Better Than Any Man spoilers warning goes with this.
With A Stranger Storm drawing to an end and their changeling woes behind them (for now) our 17th Century adventurers head onto the Ochsenfurt to meet their contact Nicklaus Stein. Upon arrival at The Charming Pilgrim, a rundown roadside tavern they discover that Nicklaus has moved on to Wurzburg to gather information. Portents of war can be seen with occasional refugees fleeing south, their carts loaded with all their belongings, fear and sorrow on their faces. The Swedish army is on the way. Spending the night in the Flagon and Bear inn inevitably leads to conversations with the locals and the PC’s learning that there seems to be an annoying infestation of insects that have been bothering people since the summer (it is now October).
Fully rested the group set off for Wurzburg, a journey they hope to complete in half a day. All is well until they encounter a group of itinerant armed peasants lead by a fanatical priest who has fuelled the ire of these good catholic folk against protestants, witches, foreigners and enemies of the empire. He asks if the characters if they will swear an oath of allegiance to the Emperor Ferdinand II and to Pope Urban VIII. While Miklos makes an attempt to reason with the priest it is clear his fervour is too great and rational thought is beyond him. He asks Balock to kiss his crucifix, but not being one to take this kind of manipulation readily, Balock attempts to stab the priest. Combat is about to break out with the peasants readying pitch forks for the attack when Miklos cracks the priest on the temple, knocking him out. The peasants morale breaks and they back off, ready to run. The encounter ends with the peasants fleeing, the bruised and battered priest on their tails.
The delights of Wurzburg await, it’s crenellated walls overshadowed by the magnificent Marienburg Fortress on the other side of the Main. Approaching the town they encounter witch trails, a common occurrence in these desperate times with women held in pens like common animals. Overseen the Prince Bishop Franz von Hatzfeld, these unjust and brutal procedures see victimised women doomed with no route out – admit your guilt or face a trial by ordeal: dunking in the nearby pond. Drowning proves your innocence, if you survive it is by witchcraft. Those determined guilty of witchcraft, either through their own admission or surviving the trial by ordeal are hanged.
The adventurers observe these horrific trials, but are unable to intervene with a crowd desperate for entertainment and the Prince Bishop’s guard keeping an eye out for trouble. When the guard start turning their attention to these armed adventurers they move on and find their way to the Flask and Sword inn on Wagner Strauss, the new meeting place with Stein.
Making contact with Stein, he asks them to meet in his room where he tells them of The Seven, the Sorcerers of Karlstadt who are accompanied by their own creatures. It is only recently that these Sorcerers have come to power and their creatures have appeared. Stein wants the adventurers to deal with The Seven and suggests they check the noticeboard in the town square as there is a notice there from the Prince Bishop about the same matter. The party determine to rest the night before further exploring Wurzburg and checking out the noticeboard.
Following last weeks session Clarky had masterfully split the party and between sessions we discussed how it would work out. After the tree came crashing to the ground, and before anyone could react the ground opened up beneath Blegrim and Andromeda who were both on the same side of the tree. Faqual and Hector continued their adventure to get the Dragon’s treasure horde.
They plummeted deep down into the ground and after an indeterminate time plunged into an underground lake in a cavern faintly lit by some kind of fungus. It didn’t take long for them to clamber to the visible shoreline and determine that they were in a vast underground cavern with two passageways heading off in the same direction. Andromeda could faintly hear a very faint repetitive tinking sound far in the distance.
After a brief rest the adventurers picked a passage and moved on, before too long entering another cave, not as big with a fairly narrow chasm across the top end. The discovered a Cavern Crawler, an unpleasant insect like creature, which following a failed backstab attempt by Andromeda resulted in them legging it for the chasm. Andromeda deftly leapt across the gap, but Blegrim failed and was tumbling into the chasm when the thief grabbed his arm and helped him clamber to safety. The Cavern Crawler tried to climb the walls next to the chasm, but Blegrim acted quickly and knocked it into the unknown depths.
Moving on they followed the passageway for some distance before clambering onto a ledge high above the floor of another cavern. Both of them could see at least two dangerous looking lizard creatures with two tails each. While pondering on what to do next, two sets of eyes were spotted in a recess next to the ledge and the adventurers ended up bargaining with to two small goblin like creatures known as Gretches. The Gretches, Danzig and Potrig, offered to help them get past the lizards if they could get the ‘crawlies’ gold for them. Oh, how they love gold!
With a significant drain on their brainpower the adventurous duo realised they needed to go back to the cave of the Cavern Crawler and see if it had any gold in it’s nest. They headed back and found themselves in a desperate fight with two of the creatures, however, they were victorious and returned to the Gretches with the gold and some other nice items, giving Danzig and Potrig half the gold now and promising the other half when they were safely past the lizards.
Good to their word the Gretches showed the adventurers a route past the lizards. By now the tinking sound was much louder; Danzig said this was as far as he would take them and asked for the rest of the gold. However, Blegrim was in a nasty mood and killed the two poor creatures, taking all the gold for himself. Andromeda now started to worry a bit – honesty seems to be a trait Blegrim is lacking, and she is also starting to doubt his loyalty. Would he betray her for gold?
The session ended with the PC’s entering a huge cavern, an underground quarry being mined by small, dwarven creatures. As they approach the cavern floor a squadron of poorly trained lesser dwarven soldiers comes to challenge them… surely these intruders are up to no good.
This week we had a full contingent of players, with Graham joining us as The Captain. Once more there are spoilers if you intend to play A Stranger Storm or Better Than Any Man.
Last weeks session ended with a pile of five dead changelings stacked in the kitchen of The Incontinent Vicar and a common room full of survivors. While still preventing any of the entertainers, merchants and locals from leaving the inn, in order to determine if there were any more mimics Miklos the Cleric rested and regained his spells including Detect Evil, which the party had been lead to believe would identify the tricky creatures (as well as magic-users, who are chaotic by nature).
Now late afternoon of the second day of their adventure, the PC’s marched the other guests out into yard by the stable because they also suspected that the horses may be changelings (although now there were only 8 of them left). The Detect Evil spell revealed no mimics, and so everyone was left to go on their way – the entertainers heading back the way they came, and the locals returning to their village. The two remaining merchants were continuing on to Wurzburg via Ochsenfurt in their coach and the party ‘encouraged’ the merchants to offer them a lift. Now many hours late for their meeting with Nicklaus Stein and with no sign of the storm letting up, they are at least moving in the right direction.
The muddy road makes travel slow and as light starts to fade they encounter four mounted knights heading in the opposite direction. Their leader, Sir Boris Corsica, asks the PC’s where they are headed and informs them that he is from the Order Medical and seeking shelter for the night having dropped 20 orphans of at the nearby orphanage of St Petra’s. They part ways, the knights riding off in the direction of the Incontinent Vicar and the grim scene that was left there.
Continuing on towards Ochsenfurt through the evening, a short while later they encounter another traveller, Sister Bärbel Zimmerman from the nearby orphanage of St Petra’s. Sister Zimmerman asks if the party have seen knights on the road; they only left paperwork for 20 children, yet there were 21 dropped off earlier in the day. Getting a sense of what was going on, the party left her to find the knights, but with it getting darker and no sign of the rain letting up, a decision is made to stop over at the orphanage.
The PC’s are not allowed into the orphanage as understandably the nuns are nervous about a group of armed travellers, but they offered sleeping space in the stables, where they are able to dry off at least and eat some of the food the nicked acquired from the inn. Watches are set and as the rain starts to ease off the German countryside grows quiet…. until shouting is heard from the front of the orphanage.
This is where it gets chaotic:
Sir Boris is incensed that two of his men have been killed by mimics. Believing the +1 child to be a mimic, in his mind an unholy demon (to be fair, he’s not wrong) – he forces his way through into the orphanage, intent on some kind of revenge. Clearly he has lost his mind because it looks like he is going to kill all of the children!
The Captain stealthily moves around to the front of the orphanage and follows Sir Boris inside – he finds the nuns trying to stop him killing the children.
The nuns unable to restrain him, Sir Boris breaks free and is about to murder a child when Balock, Maldron and Miklos join The Captain to try and grapple the deranged knight – however he is too strong and ends two tiny lives before they drag him to the floor.
Hemming takes a more cautions approach and speaks to the remaining knight who is guarding the horses outside. He is on his way to help his companions when the Mother Superior, Sister Magda, grabs the paperwork for the children and throws it into the fire.
Suspecting Sister Magda of being a changeling (what other reason could she have for destroying the papers?), Hemming knocks her to the floor, just as the remaining Knight comes in. The knight moves to strike, but before any damage can be done, Hemming fries him with a Magic Missile.
Finally Hemming joins the others and knocks Sir Boris unconscious. When asked Sister Magda reveals that she has holy water from the holy land, and the party use it to identify the baby changeling. Clearly a creature of evil, Maldron runs it through.
There is a degree of calm, but the nuns are distraught at the deaths of the children. The Captain, sensing there is a need for justice sentences Sir Boris to death by hanging for the murder of two innocent children. The group drag him outside, make an impromptu gallows and hang him. Sir Boris meets an unpleasant, although undoubtedly deserved end.
The session ended in the orphanage – will the group now move on to Ochsenfurt, or is there still more evil to be uncovered here?