On 12 December, we played the second session on the Stage in the setting of Verden. We tested some new rules on the Defense skill and some upgraded rules on equipment, which served to reduce 1) Encumbrance points; and 2) the massive Bonuses to damage and the relatively high B/A/D’s for some weaponry. Overall, I think it was a success, and much fun was had.

Read about the first session here! (Also check out this campaign log and this Dev update for some more information about the new rules!)

Spoilers ahead!

This adventure is set in the world of Verden, a setting for which I am currently writing a sourcebook. Many of its characters and events will become part of the first adventure that is likely to be provided as part of the sourcebook, so there may be some spoilers ahead. Consider yourself warned! 

Some technical details

The previous time, we played using Skype, and we were annoyed by the fact that some players overruled others when speaking. So we decided to experiment using Teamspeak this time. We wanted to use it in combination with Skype (with Skype mike and audio disabled) so we would have video and could still stare lovingly into each other’s eyes.

Unfortunately, the combination was no good: Teamspeak and Skype interfere with each other, mess with each other’s mike settings, and were generally pretty bad sports about the whole thing. Using both was also very taxing for my extremely slow internet connection (that I still pay a lot of money for). We ended up using only Teamspeak and we had to play without seeing each other or sharing a screen (for battles), which was quite annoying. I think we all preferred Skype to this, but we will go on to experiment a bit more with other solutions, such as smoke signals, drums, carrier pigeons, and telepathy.

Alright, enough about that. Let’s get into the story.

Day 8

When we last ended, the players had returned to Bern, the high priest of the Wendel in the village of Glemkant, with the remains of the Høstbarn.

Bern thanks them for their services, concludes he was right to trust them, and pays them the remainder of their reward. He has another request of the players. Now that the body of the Høstbarn has been retrieved, Bern wants to reinter it at the holy Blomfjell plateau. To bring the body there, he would join the procession of pilgrims that leaves for the Blomfjell in a few days.

However, the road to the Blomfjell plateau is dangerous; it leads nowhere else but to the Blomfjell and as such is only used once per year. The previous king of Althring had commissioned the construction of watchtowers along the Blomroad to protect it, but it proved too expensive to keep them manned. The towers were abandoned and became home to Trow and other vile creatures. These days, the pilgrims that partake in the Blomfjellgang often fall victim to attacks, some of them are even killed. This reflects poorly on the Blomfjellgang itself. Bern wants to prevent that this time around as this ‘special’ Blomfjellgang needs to be safe and untainted by murder and robbery. His proposition to the players is that they should secure the road ahead of the procession.

The players ask some clever follow-up questions and get Bern to reveal that it is not unlikely that Bugganes dwell in the area. Bugganes are huge Hulderfolk, covered in black coarse fur and with large tusks. They are not highly intelligent, but they are extremely strong and very dangerous.

The players decide to discuss it back at Jorn’s shack and will return to Bern with their answer on the morrow.

Day 9

The following day, the players return to the temple in Glemkant to speak with Bern. They’re willing to help if the pay is good enough. Bern can offer them 5 Silvermark. He also points the players in the direction of the merchant who came from the capital of Althring to trade, Ervild Herleifsonn; he might want to employ them to transport some wares to the Blomfjell plateau.

The players agree and take an advance payment of 50%. As the Blomfjellgang begins in 5 days, they’ll have to leave on the fourth day after today. The players also pay a quick visit to Ervild to offer their services. Ervild is willing to give them a discount on some armor and equipment if they’ll move some of his wares. Jorn and Swenne agree and buy some equipment for a premium price.

Day 9-13

The players wait around in Glemkant for a few days.

Day 14

On the fourteenth day, the players leave early to say goodbye to Bern, pick up Ervild’s cart with goods, and set out on the Blomroad. Along the way, they encounter two wooden watchtowers, both of them abandoned, and spend the first night on the trail in one of them.

The Perception skill

The players decided, rightfully so, that the watchtowers posed a significant threat as they knew them to be used as lairs by the Hulderfolk. To deal with the towers, Jorn would scout ahead to see if there was anything hostile in them.

This time, I remembered that you can spot characters that have hidden with the Guile (hide) skill check by using the Guile skill (one of the previous session’s lessons). The rationale is that someone who is good at hiding, should have an easier time spotting others who have hidden. In practice, this kind of sucks, because as a GM, I have to ask, ‘roll a Perception check or a Guile check,’ making it stupidly obvious that the player is probably looking for someone who is hidden.

As a result, I’m considering removing this mechanic for the Guile skill. It’s okay in theory, but it doesn’t really work in practice.

Day 15

The Blomroad proceeds into the hills and the group come across signs of a fight on the road: there is blood on the road and a trail of it leads away, deeper into the hills. Jorn studies the tracks and concludes they are the tracks of a large humanoid, perhaps a Buggane, and two large wolves. The creature apparently killed someone or something here and then dragged it off. The players leave it and continue down the road.

Mission failed I

As the mission was to make the route to the Blomfjell plateau safe, I was actually quite surprised that the players simply shrugged and went, ‘meh’, when they were confronted with the trail of something that was obviously a threat to travelers on the Blomroad. It seemed obvious that they would need to follow the trail and deal with the Buggane so that the procession was safe, but that might be because I came up with the adventure... Whatever the case, they didn’t follow the trail and chose to continue down the road.

I might need to tweak the adventure to have Bern actually commission the players to kill the Buggane. On the other hand, I’m not sure if I mind that players make the decision to not deal with the Buggane. The consequence is that they fail the charge, as the Buggane will attack members of the procession, and Bern will not pay them the remainder of the reward.

At night, the players find another abandoned watch tower to rest in. Jorn decides to carefully open the crates that they’re transporting for Ervild: one of them is filled with small, wooden talismans that depict Nena, goddess of purity; another is filled with weapons. They leave the cart with Ervild’s goods outside during the night (it would take a while to lift all the goods into the tower, which is accessible only by a ladder).

Day 16

When the players wake up the next morning, the carts are stolen.

Mission failed II

The players chose not to actively guard the goods they had been hired to transport. Instead, they left them outside of the tower and out of sight. Part of the adventure was a nocturnal visit by Trow who were not so much in the mood to fight and could be scared away easily, but would take whatever they could steal.

Since the players had a watch rotation system, I rolled randomly to see during whose watch the thieving Trow would pay them a visit. It turned out to be Ossiaan’s watch. Ossiaan doesn’t actively guard, but meditates and stares at the stars, so he heard nothing. I allowed the others a Perception (hearing) skill check to see if any of them would wake up, but they didn’t.

The carts were stolen, and Ervild was not likely to be very happy.

The players decide to follow the Trow tracks. They find the carts just a short way away. The crates have been opened and the barrels have taken. The amulets of Nena have been buried and some have been urinated upon; the weapons have been taken. Jorn decides he is not going to dig up and clean the individual amulets, so the players just leave them. They follow the Trow’s trail for fifteen minutes to see if they can find the Trow lair, but the trails go deeper into the hills and the players decide not to waste any time and return to the road.

At the end of the afternoon, the players come across another watchtower. They employ their usual method of operation: Jorn scouts ahead. He gets to within a few meters of the tower when a rock flies past him; the Trow who had thrown it quickly takes cover behind the tower's battlements. Jorn decides not to return to his friends but instead waits to see if the Trow will show its face again. Suddenly three come out and start pelting Jorn with stones. Jorn manages to fire an arrow at one of the Trow, but the creature manages to dodge while the others barrage Jorn with sharp and large rocks fired from slings. It’s too much for Jorn to fight; he is overwhelmed, and when he finally takes a big rock to the head, he dies.

Stoned Jorn

Jorn died because of a very real risk in the Stage: being overwhelmed. A character has 3 AP to spend in a Round. As such, he can only dodge 3 attacks. The Trow used slings, which have an Attack rating of 3, meaning they can be used to attack 3 times per Round. Jorn was open to 9 attacks per Round. As he was spending all of his AP dodging these many attacks, he a) had no AP left to fight back; b) had no AP left to flee. He tried to use his armor and it stopped some damage, but the usefulness of armor against such a barrage is limited, since using armor costs 1 Stamina point every time.

Numbers heavily influence combat on the stage. Jorn is much stronger than an individual Trow, and he could easily handle three of them if they came at him consecutively, but three at the same time means he’s going to get swarmed, and with the rest of the players about six Rounds away, the Trow overcame him.

The other players rush towards the scene to try to help Jorn, but they can hear the Trow’s victory cries before they get there. Once arrived, they quickly set to work and dispatch the Trow.

Details of the battle

As said above, individual Trow are weak. Three Trow shouldn’t pose any threat to more than three adventurers. Swenne alone managed to kill two with his mighty, two-handed hammer. Anton used his Soul splice spell to give himself some combat Bonuses and easily dispatched of the other.

We used the new armor mechanic when Jorn and Swenne were attacked. I don’t have much to say about it yet, other than that the mechanic does indeed simplify things.

I do, however, need to clarify in the rules that a player should be allowed to hear how much damage he receives before he decides to make a Defense skill check. I feel it would be a bit too harsh to have players sacrifice a Stamina point and make a Defense skill check while they are still unsure if a) they get hit at all; or b) the damage dealt surpasses their armor’s Resistance score.

Once the battle is won, the survivors decide not to journey on. They loot the supplies that the Trow had stored in the watchtower and they share a drink (the Trow’s mushroom ale) to the memory of their fallen comrade.

Day 17

When the players continue on their way, they start their ascent of the Blomfjell. Along the way, they encounter a small shrine with a statuette to the Wendel goddess Ualla, the Pale One. Ossiaan investigates the shrine and finds a small hole under the statuette. He pushes the statuette aside and retrieves a sculpting of a Gettefolk skull, with a diamond set in the forehead. He feels magical energies emanate from it and analyzes it to find out it has been imbued with a Ritual of Decaying.

Identifying imbued items

To let Ossiaan discover the effects of the skull, I allowed him to perform an Infusion (detect) skill check, as the skull was imbued with a Ritual linked to the Infusion skill. The Action difficulty is 6, as the spirit inside the skull has a Body level of 6. Ossiaan succeeded and I told him the effects of the skull. That’s where I’ve gone wrong, as he’s not supposed to find out what the exact magic effect is (see Supernatural Rulebook, page 47).

Lesson learned for the next time. The only way right now to find out what a supernatural effect does is by casting the Identify spell, a Psionics spell of the third Circle. Maybe I want to change that, as that Spell is not readily available to all.

At the end of the day, the players arrive at the Blomfjell plateau: it’s a beautiful, peaceful place with a large lake at its center. There is a large statue of the goddess Nena, close to a sizeable cave. Flann and Swenne decide to bury Jorn’s remains here on the plateau, while the rest explores the cave and the area. The cave appears to lead nowhere, and the players spend the night here and wait for the procession to arrive.

Day 18

When the procession finally arrives, there are many wounded among them. Word quickly reaches the players that the procession had been attacked by a Buggane (surprise, surprise); some people have died fighting it. There are still about a hundred pilgrims left, who slowly file onto the plateau.

Bern approaches the players and tells them that he is disappointed: they did not manage to do what he paid them for. While he sympathizes with their loss and shall miss Jorn, he will not pay them a single Mark beyond what he already has. The players are furious, but decide there’s not much they can or want to do right now.

When Bern is done with them, Ervild the merchant approaches the players. He asks Swenne where his wares are, and Swenne tells him that they were stolen. When Ervild gets mad and demands compensation for a shoddily done job, Swenne pushes him to the floor and intimidates him. Flann insults his mother. Ervild disappears into the background, throwing scornful glances at the party.

At night, there is a festival and the survivors celebrate their arrival at the Blomfjell plateau. Among the pilgrims is Berend Carsonn, Jorn’s player’s new character (see below). The players meet him and Flann makes some excellent music to commemorate the event. Berend invites Flann to stay for the duration of the Blomfjellgang (7 days) to liven the mood with music and compensate for all the piety during the day.

Berend Carsonn

Berend Carsonn is a Sorfolk Kerel (a frontier noble specialized in combat) who is a member of the royal family of Althring. He hails from the village of Lundeby and has been sent by his family (who financed Bern’s efforts to retrieve the body of the Høstbarn) to keep an eye on this new religious activity and make sure it’s not a revolt or uprising. Berend focuses on Close combat and Defense and is a capable rider as well.

Day 19

Berend tries to get some more information from Anton about the players’ quest to Kongshode. He is interested in the Velv, the Etter vault that they saw, and that night, Berend and the rest of the group share a meal to speak of their quest to Kongshode. Ossiaan (who is the group’s expert all matters relating to the Etter), however, refuses to say anything about the Velv. Flann manages to recall some extra information about the Etter and also shows Berend the symbols in the Etter language he had copied from the altar at Kongshode.

Berend eventually asks the players to join him on another trip to Kongshode. He would very much like to see the Velv for himself and is willing to pay the others if they’ll join him.

But before the players manage to finish this discussion, they hear mounting cries of amazement behind them: Bern and several other people are talking to a wounded rider who has apparently just arrived. The players make their way to the front where they hear the wounded rider cry out, ‘The dead walk in Glemkant! The village burns!’

A slight panic breaks out and Berend tries to take control. He steps up and tells the crowd that they must remain calm: this is the time for heroes as the Høstbarn: everyone must follow him to Glemkant to relieve the village. His words have a varying effect: some mercenaries scoff at him and depart immediately, while others agree or simply seem hesitant.

Berend then has a chat with Bern and the man who has just arrived to bring the dreadful news. The man relates of how he was working when he and the other villagers heard a terrible cry come from the temple. When they went to investigate, Olrik (Bern’s cousin and the other priest of Glemkant) came out of the temple, but he seemed different somehow, as if he were another person, perhaps possessed. With a single motion of his hand, Olrik killed two villagers. The man then fled, able to get away because he could rely on his swift horse. As he rode away, he saw hundreds of the dead walk from the hills towards Glemkant, and when he got further away, he saw the village burn in the night. He rode non-stop to the Blomfjell plateau to deliver a call for aid.

Berend discusses this with Bern and they decide that the survivors must flee to Lundeby. However, as the road to Lundeby goes through Glemkant, they will have to pass the village closely and cross the countryside to avoid it. Bern reluctantly agrees, but says he does not think it is a good idea to take all of the survivor to Glemkant.

Berend performs a second speech, supported by Flann and Anton, which is much better than the first and re-establishes some order.

Berend’s Speech

As they did the previous time, Flann and Anton combined their powers to grant an extremely high Bonus to Berend’s speech. This time it was +18 (on a 2d roll). That’s outrageous and needs to be kept in check. I’ll have a look at this overpowered mechanic for our next session.

Day 20

Early in the morning, the group makes ready to depart. Overnight, more than two thirds of the people have fled, leaving only thirty or so men who will follow Berend. Berend appoints Ervild, who has offered to share his shipment of weapons to arm the remainder, as quartermaster.

As Ervild goes around to pass out weapons, Flann follows him and sings an insulting song about Ervild’s mother. Ervild, who is holding a sword, finds this to be one slight too many and strikes out at Flann and wounds him before Swenne steps in to disarm him. When Ervild is disarmed, Ossiaan uses his Skull of Decaying to wound Ervild.

Morals

The way that Ervild was treated (and how he responded) triggered me to think about alignments.

There is no alignment system on the Stage as there is in many other tabletop RPG’s. I’ve not included this because I think objective ‘Evil’ is a load of crock. I like the idea of gray areas of morality, I enjoy it when evil or good are subjective things, and I think it's fun to see players struggle with hard decisions that are neither ‘good’ nor ‘evil,’ but a little of both.

A side-effect of having no alignment system is that players have no code to act by at the outset and have to show what their position is on certain matters by role-playing. As such, a player’s ‘alignment’ usually develops over time as the character grows. In my experience, players tend to end up with an uncaring (if not slightly malicious), cash-driven attitude; with no one to be a protector of good who must to adhere to a certain set of morals and herd the rest, mercenary characters driven by self-interest are everyone’s fallback position.

I can see the group clearly going in that direction, and, while I don’t mind at all (the setting is quite vile and lends itself for brutality and ruthlessness), I’m not so sure if other GM’s or groups would enjoy this as much as I do. Maybe this is something I can think about for a next setting; I have some great ideas and some black and white morality might make these even better! More about that later…

With the combatants disarmed, Berend steps in to try to get everyone to prepare for the return journey. But Ervild is heavily insulted, points his finger at Flann, and challenges him to Holmgang, a duel to the death. In Sorfolk culture, refusing a challenge to Holmgang is to admit that you were wrong and implies retracting your statement or insult. Flann refuses the Holmgang and Ervild appears pleased with his moral victory. The other pilgrims in the group tend to his wound and he vividly relates the tale of his victory to them.

In the ensuing excitement and confusion, Berend notices about five more people have left. He gets the caravan ready to depart and they set off for Glemkant, where the dead walk…

It was another fun session, although it’s a shame to say goodbye to Jorn, who was a fun character.

Lessions learned

  • Rethink the use of the Guile (hide) skill to spot characters that are hiding instead of the Perception (sight) skill. Allowing a player to use it pretty much gives away that someone is hiding somewhere. I’ll have to take a look at other Skills, such as Manipulation (lie), that might have the same problem.
  • Clarify the new Defense skill rules: a player is allowed to know how much damage he receives before he must decide if he wants to make a Defense skill check.
  • Use the detect application of the Supernatural skills as it was intended! Maybe consider an alternative for identifying magical objects (or tweak the detect application to allow Spellcasters to identify with it as well).
  • I should think about a fix for the overpowered combined effects of e.g. the Soul splice spell and an Icon’s powers. Bonuses of up to +18 are too high and make everything a sure success.
  • Think about morals and ethics for the next setting (it doesn’t really belong in Verden).
  • During the conflict with Ervild, Swenne wanted to knock Ervild unconscious and not kill him. There isn’t anything in the rulebook right now that allows a character to knock another out without killing him. I might want to think about a solution. Maybe add a special attack (like trip and disarm) that knocks a character out if he has 0 or less Stamina points left).
  • When building his new character, Jorn’s player came across the problem that his starting gear was simply too heavy, even though he has spent a fair amount of Character points on Body level. Encumbrance points remain a problem, and I might want to think about other solutions.

Read about session 3 here!

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