|Old and New|
I Feel Like We've Been Here Before
Gen Con 2014. It was late Thursday night, the end of our first full day at the convention, and a bunch of Cypher System fans (my vote is that we call ourselves MCGeniuses, just FYI) were hanging out in the J.W. Marriott as some of the remaining games of Numenera and The Strange wound down. Some of us had just come back from dinner, and all of us were looking for something to do. Lucky for us that I had the Adventures in the East Mark PDF, and a printed copy of the first adventure: The Tower of the Swamp.
Our team included some powerhouse gamers: Frank and Craig have been in my home group for over a decade, Lex hosts the podcast GM Intrusions, Andy GM's for the Ninth World Chronicles podcast, Jeremy is on the Editorial Board for Monte Cook Games, and Gray… well I had just met Gray that night and he has an amazing taste for hats!
Everything was going fairly well with the adventure until one player character hit another with a missile weapon. I can't remember exactly who hit who (I think Frank started it), and it was entirely by accident, but once the "PvP" began, it didn't stop. It really didn't help that each character had random starting hit points, some as low as 1 or 2, so it didn't take much before players were crumpling or tearing up character sheets and grabbing for new ones. Although they cleared the first level of the tower, we didn't get any further.
Later in August I got this kooky idea to play a tabletop role-playing game at the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival. So I rustled up a few players, some of my #GetOutAndGame veterans, and we staked out tables at lunchtime. It was hot. Oh by the gods it was hotter than hell, and Andy, Jeremy, Emily, and I sweated profusely as we chose characters and started rolling dice while getting heckled by costumed Ren Fest folks.
I'm pretty sure I sucked down two extra-large sweetened iced teas in less than five minutes, and I'm still not sure how Jeremy survived the game while wearing not one, but two shirts, including a long-sleeved undershirt. The group made a decent attempt at getting through The Tower of the Swamp, but they never got past the first encounter. Even though I maxed out each PC's hit points before starting the game, twelve kobolds and the evil cleric steamrolled that party in the first encounter.
We game-masters call that a TPK: Total Party Kill.
|No one warned Michael that we weren't doing a Chocobo cosplay|
Norwin Game Knights
My fascination with OSR (Old School Revival) titles often spills over into my local game club, the Norwin Game Knights. Although our club celebrates all kinds of games, from card games to board games, on an average month I'm in the corner running an RPG. For instance, last month we ran Into the Violet Vale, a Numenera adventure, and both my daughter and I have GM'd Basic Fantasy RPG on separate occasions. But for November's Open Game Night we had a request. Ed, one of our regular tabletop board game players mentioned that he could be interested in playing some Dungeons and Dragons, like he did several years ago. When I offered to put together an old-school game, he and his wife Cheryl both signed on. Although there were several OSR systems to choose from, the lure of the Tower of the Swamp called to me.
I wanted revenge.
Michael, one of our younger players, was initially looking at a different character, but ultimately selected Marvesh "No Luck", the party's Thief.
Cheryl had dabbled with D&D years ago, and she came to the table wanting to play an Elf. Lucky for her that Landiel "The Doe of Boceret" was ready for adventure.
Ed may prefer super-hero RPG's, but he's rolled his fair share of 20-siders, albeit a while back. As Maya the Robledan Warrior, sword in hand, Ed would help lead the team to victory.
Although Michelle didn't know it yet, her choice of Kaela the Mage would land her the MVP spot for the night, with some very clever spell usage.
Andy was part of our last attempt at this quest, but played the halfling. This time around he wanted the battle-ax wielding Dwarf named Greybold Grimbeard as his character.
Our other "youngster" Jeremy liked the idea of playing a Paladin capable of confronting evil head on. But Saddin Konnin, wasn't your ordinary knight in shining armor… his greed for treasure might get the better of him.
Ethan regularly plays Swords and Wizardry, so being his first excursion into Adventures in the East Mark he picked one of the more unusually classes: Jaem the Warder the whip-wielding Explorer.
Landiel was the daughter of a wealthy elven noble. Correction, she was the ninth daughter of a wealthy elven noble. So when she went to her father looking to finance a career of adventure, the elder wasn't too concerned about loosing one of his children. After all, he had eight more.
After collecting enough money to buy gear and take on a few hirelings, notably the dwarf Greybold, the warrior Maya, and the mage Kaela, the elf maiden traveled deep into the East Mark towards the city of Robleda. All of the taverns in Robleda were abuzz with rumors of kobolds raiding the road between Swiftpass and the Pasture Moor Inn, and Landiel felt that this was her chance to make a name for herself and her crack team of adventurers. Knowing that a few more hired hands could be useful, Landiel turned to Maya, a Robledan native, to find a few more swords. Saddin the paladin and Jaem the explorer could both prove to be useful, as could the no good, dirty thief Marvesh "no Luck."
But Landiel warned Marvesh, who tried picking her pocket on more than one occasion during their trek to the Great Swamp, that he was on probation.
The Tower of the Swamp, suspected base of operations for the raids into the Pasture Moor, was mostly collapsed and the surrounding area was absolutely desolate. A pair of double doors hung on the outside of the building, barely attached by old rusted hinges. Marvesh wanted to prove himself to his employer quickly, so he carefully crept up to the doors and listened. Voices, and they weren't speaking common. Relating the information to the rest of the team, Greybold asked for the thief to repeat some of the words.
When he heard guttural phrases the dwarf just grumbled, "kobolds."
The hallway leading into the tower's decaying structure was fairly dark, so Landiel offered to peer inside. Using her infravision she informed the rest of her troupe that the next twenty meters were clear, and that several paths could possibly lead to the raiders. Jaem, Marvesh, and Saddin offered to check the open passage on the right, and quickly shuffled into the tower. The room was barren, but there was a fairly large hole in the roof. Affixing a rope to a hook near the roof, both Jaem and Marvesh climbed up while Saddin kept a lookout. But when Jaem tried to move across the old decaying structure he fell through the floor and crashed below.
|Note Andy's character hiding outside. Can you tell that this was his second time with this adventure?|
It was a herbal smoke bomb, and while Greybold, Maya, and Saddin were unaffected, Kaela started to cough and choke, and eventually pass out. Maya dragged Kaela outside, and Greybeard followed while Landiel ordered Saddin into the next chamber on the right. Landiel was fired at with an arrow as she rushed into the room, but saw that the kobolds had created a bunker on the opposite end of the hallway. Jaem remained behind, still shaking his head after the bad fall while Marvesh crashed through the roof into the same room as the elf and paladin, expecting more than just a chamber full of trash and refuse.
Despite the room's apparent lack of importance, the paladin Saddin felt that something special might be in the garbage, so he started digging. Landiel and Marvesh stared in disgust, but were absolutely shocked when the paladin came up with a pair of magic scrolls! The elf took one scroll and then tossed the second to the mage outside, who was just coming to after nearly a minute of gagging. Landiel headed back inside while Maya and Greybold circled the building. On the northern edge was an open window leading to a kitchen… and four kobolds prepping food.
The party started hatching another plan to coordinate an attack, but again took too long, and shouted too much to each other in common: a language that the kobold's captain obviously spoke. The human voice ordered a charge, and four kobolds rushed the room that contained Landiel, Saddin, and Marvesh. The elf pulled her dagger while the paladin swung away with his bastard sword, but when the two looked to the thief to assist, they watched as Marvesh climbed up and out of the room completely!
Not wanting the cooks, armed with ladles and cleavers, to enter the fray, both Greybold and Maya took turns firing their crossbows through the side window into the kitchen, pelting the kobold chefs with quarrels. Jaem heard Landiel call after Marvesh, and after yanking his whip from its belt hook, the explorer came to the aid of his leader. Outside the tower Kaela kept an eye on the main hallway, hoping that her spells could aid the party in some way. Well the mage got her chance! Although Saddin was able to pin down several of the kobolds, to his left from the end of a hallway four more kobolds appeared, the cooks. Not wanting to lose any of his bandits to a dwarf's crossbow, the evil cleric of Orcus leading the raiders commanded his team to commit its entire effort on protecting the main hallway. But Kaela wasn't about to let Saddin, Landiel, and Jaem get swarmed. Pointing her palms down the hallway, the mage cast a Sleep spell knocking three of the kobolds and the evil cleric unconscious.
It was about that time that Greybold grabbed the poorly constructed kitchen window and just tore it straight from the wall. The dwarf was so excited to continue the assault on the kobolds that he carried the window into the tower like a shield, but by the time he got to the battle, the only living kobolds left were asleep. Even Marvesh got back into the fight, although his surprise attack on a kobold archer was met with failure, and Saddin had to bail the thief out.
|It was all coming together nicely for our team!|
Jaem and Greybold took care of slaughtering the remaining kobolds who were still sleeping, and when the evil cleric awoke, Landiel was right there waiting to Charm him. The cleric of Orcus introduced himself as Ganooshe, and told the party where all of the stolen treasure was on the main floor, before letting the cat out of the bag that there was a lower level, with even more danger, darkness, and peril awaiting.
Landiel smiled… that's just what she was hoping to hear.
...To be continued at the next Norwin Game Knights Event in December!
Jim: "How much damage do you do?"
Jeremy: "Two-hundred and four!"
Ethan: "Eh, no, that's 2d4."
"What? I thought he said 'beef!'" - Michelle misheard me say Michael's character class.
"I'm an Explorer, not a ballerina!" - Jaem to the rest of the party.
"Do you know Jiggly-Puff's song?" - The Game Master describing to Michelle how her character's Sleep spell worked.
"This is how you rip down a wall!" - Greybold Grimmbeard felt it appropriate to trash talk Maya repeatedly while raiding the kitchen.
My Take on AitEM
There are three OSR titles that currently satisfy my classic fantasy interest right now: Basic Fantasy RPG, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and Adventures in the East Mark. But of the three, I feel that AitEM is the closest to the rules out of the original red box or the Rules Cyclopedia that I grew up with, so it holds a special place in my heart. I love my old red box rules, and AitEM does a great job tightening up some of details, while keeping virtually all of that flavorful goodness.
Oh, and the artwork is freaking GORGEOUS!
Did this little foray into the Eastmark interest you? Well never fear, you too could have this crazy awesome game at your table!
The PDF can be found on DrivethruRPG.com for under $10. Just want to give it a look? The Quick Start rules are FREE!
If you want a print copy it's available as a boxed set directly from XD Publishing.