Ren Fest Gaming
We've had a pretty sweet time with our #GetOutAndGame functions this summer. We've played Numenera in a couple of local parks, a Panera, a Five Guys Burgers and Fries, and finally at Romano's Pizza in downtown Irwin. It's been a great experience, and I've had the chance to not only share one of my favorite games with some great people, but also introduce a few of them to the role-playing game hobby. For two of our Norwin Game Knights regulars, Emily and Jeremy, their first experience with a tabletop RPG was playing Numenera at a #GetOutAndGame function. While it was amazing watching both of these new players pick up the ins and outs of the Cypher System, I came to the realization that neither of them had a chance to experience some real, hardcore, old-school gaming like the I did growing up in the early 1990's. So for one final #GetOutAndGame function of the summer of '14, I wanted to go out and showcase a traditional OSR (old school renaissance) game at the only place suitable for such an experience:
I wonder if we were the first RPG'ers to do this at the Pgh Ren Fest
Now I had quite a few OSR titles to choose from, so deciding which game to bring was a bit challenging. Basic Fantasy RPG is typically my go-to OSR of choice, and it was tempting to delve back into my original D&D Rules Cyclopedia. But there has been another game on my mind lately, a little gem of a product called Adventures in the East Mark.
Originally known as "Aventuras en La Marca del Este," this Spanish title was brought to the English-speaking world through a Kickstarter campaign courtesy of Extra Dimensional Publishing.
The view from behind my screen
Although a new game for me, one look at the cover of the box and I was hooked on the product! A few weeks ago I devoured the rulebook in a single afternoon, and was amazed at how the game held fast to the some of the truest concepts of OSR. Armor class that scales downward, races as classes, quick and deadly combat, and other concepts were all folded into a gorgeous new book with original artwork evoking the feel of gritty, dark fantasy.
Jim (me), Andy, Emily, and Jeremy
Our Cast of Characters
I brought the pre-generated characters that came with my PDF copy of East Mark to the Ren Fest, and let the players chose their personas. I promise, all of the players used the stock names, even Andy:
Jeremy called dibs on Jaem the Warder an Explorer armed with a Heavy Crossbow and a Whip. In AitEM an Explorer is very similar to a Ranger.
Emily quickly grabbed Landiel the Doe of Boceret, an Elf carrying a Heavy Crossbow and a Dagger. Emily's choice of accent and voice for Landiel was that of a chain-smoking woman from New York.
We all begged Andy to play the Halfling character, because the name was simply amazing: Wein Everlast. He came equipped with a hatchet and sling.
The Tower of the Swamp
Hired by a local noble in the city of Robleda, Jaem (pronounced "Jim"), Landiel, and Wein made their way across a dark and treacherous swamp towards a long abandoned tower. Rumor had it that the tower, built by humans to watch over the surrounding territory, was now infested with fell minions of evil. Being a brave and noble explorer, Jaem the Warder was the first to approach the tower, but as a pragmatist, quickly realized that if the tower were truly infested with despicable creatures his team was most likely outnumbered and destined to die. Turning to Landiel and Wein, Jaem asked if the mission was really worth the risk. Both the elf and halfling reminded Jaem about the reward that the noble offered for clearing out the tower, which bolstered the explorer's resolve... which in the end would be most unfortunate.
Wein Everlast was the first to approach the tower, quietly and carefully checking the broken crates and boxes adjacent to the massive double doors at the front of the structure. Broken bottles and water-damaged packages of hard-tack were all that was left of a caravan's belongings, but the halfling still pocketed a few crusty wafers for safe keeping. Not wanting to enter the main door to the tower, which would most likely be heavily defended by minions of evil, Wein scouted the building's exterior. Although most of the windows were boarded up, there was a portion of the structure's northern face that had a small gap, large enough for a halfling to enter and for an elf or human to squeeze through.
Careful to remain out of sight, Wein approached the crack and peered into a rather busy kitchen full of kobolds. Motioning for his fellow party members to come closer, Wein counted four kobold cooks in total, and saw that the most choice foodstuffs were strewn all about the room, including a pair of large casks of fine wine. But while there was interesting food on the tables and floor, the choice of meat the kobolds were stewing was rather horrid. From out of the largest cauldron near the hearth was a single human leg, the boot still attached. Full of rage and with a desire for vengeance, Wein, Landiel, and Jaem hatched a plan to enter the room quickly and slay the dark beasties without causing much of a commotion. First Jaem fired his crossbow at one of the wine casks, the bolt piercing one side of the barrel and exiting the other. When two of the kobolds ran up to plug the holes in either side of the cask, Wein slipped into the room and used his hatchet to carve up the kobold head chef. The kobold acting as sous-chef turned towards the crack in the wall only to end up face to face with Landiel and her sharp, pointy dagger. With two kobolds down already, the pair that was plugging the cask pulled their own knives and forgot about the wasted wine. Although they charged ferociously into combat, they were no match for the party, and were quickly dispatched.
Wein searched the rest of the room and found more tasty food to pocket, including jars of both honey and butter. Both Landiel and Jaem gave the halfling an odd look for taking the food, but Wein insisted that the jars could come in handy to make things either slippery or sticky as they made their way into the tower. There were two ways out of the kitchen, one leading into an old storeroom, and the other into a main hall. The old storeroom was full of various dry goods and fine leathers, so the party determined to bring some of these with them once they were done finishing off the kobolds. Listening close to the door to the main hall, the party believed that there were more kobolds ahead, but since none of heroes spoke the draconic language, they were not sure what was being discussed. But whatever they were saying, the kobolds didn't seem to realize that four of their kin had just been carved up.
Knowing that they would have to face more of the insidious kobolds, Wein opened the door to the main hall with hatchet in hand, however his bravery started to drain away when he found that the party was facing eight more of the little brigands and an evil human Cleric of Orcus. Faced with the choice of fleeing or attacking, Wein swallowed his fear and charged headlong into the fray with hatchet in hand. The little halfling missed the cleric entirely, and was quickly surrounded by the scaled minions, armed with short-swords and light bows. Not about to let his fellow adventurer die alone, Jaem moved into the room and lashed out at the cleric with his heavy whip. The leather device wrapped itself around the cleric's neck, slicing through vein and artery while simultaneously choking the robed priest. Jaem dragged the cleric into his arms and turned him to face the kobolds. The explorer was hoping this act would intimidate the minions into dropping their weapons and running, however it had the exact opposite effect. The kobolds became even more aggressive!
Kobold warriors attacked Wein while charging Landiel and Jaem. Wein was able to parry the rusty short swords with ease at first, and was even successful in striking down one of the small lizardlike creatures with his own hatchet. Jaem was not so lucky. First his shoulder was pierced by an arrow, and then he took a pair of sword-strikes to the abdomen. The explorer's entrails poured into his arms as he fell forward and gasped his last breath. Horrified, Landiel continued to fire her crossbow bolts at point blank range, but the enemy archers made short work of the brave elf, who would be the next to die.
The brave halfling Wein again had a choice of fight or flight, but with grim determination decided that the kobolds would have to pay for what they did to his comrades. Slashing and hacking away Wein chopped down one kobold and then another. The kobold warriors with their rusty swords had great difficulty landing a hit on the halfling, but the archers were making up for the poor accuracy of their kin. Wein raised his axe for the last time under a hail of arrows, fell to his knees, and rolled forward... dead.
Dear Emily and Jeremy, this is what we GM's call a Total Party Kill... or TPK!
Quotes from the Game Table
"Wait... why are we doing this?" - Jeremy wasn't certain that exploring an old, kobold-ridden tower "just because it was there" was worth the risk of death.
"Excuse me guys! I brought my dagger to the party!" - Landiel shouted just after striking down her first kobold.
Jim, to Jeremy: "Roll an eight-sided die."
Jeremy, to Jim: "I got a 10!"
Something tells me he picked the wrong die.
"... and Wein stood no more." - Jim the GM's last words as the Halfling fell to his death.
I think "new gamer" Emily was a bit surprised about the TPK
Despite the complete and utter death of our adventuring party, we had a fun time playing at the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival. But the day was not without it's difficulties. You may not be able to notice from our smiling faces, but it was hot. REALLY HOT! The temperature climbed into the upper eighties, topping out around ninety by the end of the game. There was also no shade, and none of us started the game with any sunscreen. Thankfully my wife was there with her mommy-bag, and gave us all a little protection so that we could play. We even managed to draw a few onlookers and commentators during our little game. Two folks from the Ren Fest staff asked about what we were doing, and I could hear some folks nearby comment about us playing "D&D." Of course that just means that we have to do it again next year and try to drag in some new friends!
Photographer Evie has a way with action shots
Pictures by Evie
I have to thank my very cool and amazing eight-year-old daughter Evie for doing most of our photography for this crazy gaming session. Evie received a Nikon camera for her birthday this past July, and has been wanting to contribute to my blog for quite some time. Great job Evie!