Friday, June 26, 2015

Hannibal's Wake - Adventure Summary & Design Notes

Behind the Screams


It is a pleasure contributing play summaries and adventure reports on Living 4 Crits.  Sure, remembering everything that happened during the previous day's game can be difficult, but I thoroughly enjoy reading the summaries months down the road.  Typically I write up the events that occur during play sessions in more of a story format, with a few quotes tossed in at the end.  Every once in a while I'll even include a game master's note, just to give the readers a glimpse on what's going on in my mind at any given time.

[GM's Note:  Maybe I'll bring up game mechanics, or some kind of crazy happening at the table that doesn't belong in the summary's text.]

This post will be a bit different from my typical adventure summary.  Not only will I be sharing the exploits of our Celtic Scouts from last night's Weird Wars Rome one-shot, I'll also be giving you continual snapshots of actual game mechanics and what went on in my head.  It's my hope that some of you can use some of the stuff I created in your own games, whether its the rules tweaks, pre-gen characters, or some of the actual scenes.  

Adventure Background


The year is 218 BC and the Second Punic War is about to begin.  Seven days ago the armies of Carthage, under the command of military mastermind Hannibal Barca, started their trek through the Alps into Italy.  The characters in this story are a small Celtic scouting party who belong to the Ceutrones tribe.  Their tribal leaders feared that the Carthaginians and their allies would devour and destroy everything in their path.  No creatures… including people for that matter… would be spared.   

An aging Gallic Mercenary captain, Orgetorix, led his team around the massive army of Carthaginians, taking count of their numbers and learning their path.  The lands behind Carthage's forces was completely devoid of animal life, and none of the former Celtic inhabitants remained.  Once the scouts realized that Hannibal would take his forces straight through the Ceutrones' village, they tried to return home, hoping to report their findings and evacuate their families.

Unfortunately a small company of Iberian mercenaries, under the command of a lieutenant named Derthos, discovered Orgetorix's squad.  The scouts were locked in animal cages, and placed under guard while a large fire pit was built.  The Iberian mercenaries looked were looking hungry…

… and their hungry eyes were staring at the scouts!
[The adventure title, "Hannibal's Wake", is inspired by "Punic Nightmare", Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcast about the Punic Wars.  In the podcast, Dan talked about what it must have looked like to see this army of thirty-thousand or more humans along with horses and elephants passing through the Alps.  He discussed how some of the generals talked about getting their troops used to eating human flesh, because they knew food would be scarce.  Sometimes the best horror stories can come from humanity itself.]

Dramatis Personae


Since I run Hannibal's Wake as a convention compatible one-shot, I always have pre-generated characters ready.  It isn't often that players have spare Celtic Scout's in their game folders anyway.  Just in case you'd like to use these in your own game, here's a look at each build:

Orgetorix - Mercenary Captain, played by Alex
An aging soldier who has fought for several Celtic tribes, as well as some Italian and Roman generals. 
  • Attributes:  Agility d6,  Smarts d6,  Spirit d8,  Strength d6,  Vigor d6
  • Rank:  Novice (0 xp)
  • Pace:  5,  Parry:  6,  Toughness:  8(+2),  Charisma:  0
  • Edges:  Command, Pugilist [Martial Artist reskinned for Weird Wars Rome]
  • Hindrances:  One Eye, Obese, Stubborn
  • Skills:  Fighting d8, Riding d6, Persuasion d8, Knowledge: Battles d6, Notice d6, Intimidation d8
  • Starting Equipment:  Lorica Hamata Armor, Clothing, Blue Cape, Wineskin (empty), Metal Spoon


Duratios - Wolf-Blood Warrior, played by Andy

A "Celtic Berserker" with a terrible attitude and a penchant for disobeying orders. 
  • Attributes:  Agility d6,  Smarts d4,  Spirit d6,  Strength d8,  Vigor d8
  • Rank:  Novice (0 xp)
  • Pace:  6,  Parry:  7,  Toughness:  9(+2),  Charisma:  -4
  • Edges:  Berserk, Brawny
  • Hindrances:  Bloodthirsty, Big Mouth, Death Wish
  • Skills:  Fighting d10, Throwing d8, Notice d6, Swimming d4, Riding d6
  • Starting Equipment:  Horn Scale Mail, Clothing, Wineskin full of "clear brew", Fur Cloak, 3 Carrots


Gutuater - Gallic Scout, played by Daniel

Sharp-eyed, nimble, and resourceful, while not a warrior, this hunter occasionally helps his tribe track dangerous foes.
  • Attributes:  Agility d8,  Smarts d8,  Spirit d6,  Strength d4,  Vigor d6
  • Rank:  Novice (0 xp)
  • Pace:  6,  Parry:  4,  Toughness:  6(+1),  Charisma:  -2
  • Edges:  Woodsman, Quick
  • Hindrances:  Overconfident, Ugly, Vengeful
  • Skills:  Survival d8, Tracking d8, Stealth d6, Notice d6, Shooting d8, Fighting d4, Climbing d4
  • Starting Equipment:  Leather Armor, Clothing, Black Clay (3 uses, +2 Stealth until washed away), Sling


Viridovix - Druid, played by Steve

A mystical holy man who can hear the whispers of spirits.  
  • Attributes:  Agility d6,  Smarts d6,  Spirit d8,  Strength d8,  Vigor d6
  • Rank:  Novice (0 xp)
  • Pace:  6,  Parry:  5,  Toughness:  6(+1),  Charisma:  0
  • Edges:  Arcane Background (Miracles)
  • Hindrances:  Clueless, Pacifist, Vow
  • Skills:  Fighting d6, Notice d6, Throwing d8, Riding d6, Faith d10, Healing d4
  • Starting Equipment:  Leather Armor, Clothing, Heavy Fur Cloak, Hunting Horn, Antler Blade (Str +d4 Damage, weapon breaks if a 1 on the Fighting Die is rolled, regardless of the result of the Wild Die.)
  • Powers:  Beast Friend, Entangle


Hannibal's Wake


It was late afternoon and the Celtic scouting party was slowly realizing that they were in trouble.  Trapped in a well-guarded encampment with two dozen Iberian mercenaries, the scouts were individually bound and kept within animal cages.  At the center of the camp two enemy soldiers prepared a large fire pit, but unless the starving mercenaries were going to consume their horses, there was no other obvious food available.  The cages were under constant guard by three Iberians, each armed with a single spear.  

"Hey goatbugger, come over here and I'll show you what a 'real' man looks like!" the Wolf-Blood Warrior Duratios shouted to one of his captors.  

The guard smirked, and mentioned something to one of his partners but Duratios couldn't understand the words.  Like the Ceutrones, the Iberians were also of Celtic descent, however their language was still strange and hard to understand.  But not for the well traveled Gutuater.

The Gallic Scout caught Duratios' attention.  "He says they are going to eat you first."

Duratios continued to curse in his own tongue, nearly frothing at the mouth in anger.  One of the guards laughed and walked over to the fire pit where he started loading a small pot with hunks of fat.  During this scene, Gutuater overheard one of the nearby guards whisper to another something quite ominous.

"If we eat these men, do you think we will become like the others?" the guard said as he glanced into the forests.  Scanning the rest of the soldiers, the scouts realized an inordinate number of Iberians were keeping a lookout.  

[If the party didn't escape soon after this I was going to have the guards try to pour hot lard over Duratios causing 3d8 damage.]

Viridovix realized that the party needed to escape as soon as possible, and hidden beneath his cloak was an antler blade.  Unfortunately with his hands bound it would be very difficult to free himself.  Even so, he drew the blade in a way so that his friend Orgetorix could cut his own bonds.  

Once the druid and captain were free, Viridovix focused his efforts on creating a diversion.  There were a pair of horses nearby, and with the druid's Beast Friend spell Viridovix was able to get control of one of their minds.  Immediately the druid had the horse rear back and start bucking, throwing off the chariot to which it was attached.  It took six guards to hold the horse still.  Viridovix was proud of the distraction he created, and was about to cut the rest of the party free when Duratios grew impatient.

With a crash the Wolf-Blood Warrior stood straight up, pushed the cage off of himself, and broke a piece off to use as a club.  It was fighting time!

[An improvised weapon, the medium sized broken piece of cage would deal Strength +d6 damage.]

Three of the soldiers responded to the scene, the rest still focused on the horse.  Gutuater struck one with a sling stone, knocking him out cold.  When a thrown spear landed next to Duratios the crazed barbarian picked it up and charged the nearest Iberian.

"How do I taste now!" Duratios screamed as plunged the weapon deep within the guard's abdomen.  He was then struck by a spear.  With a mighty roar, Duratios cried to the heavens and went into a full rage!

[Courtesy of the "Berserk" edge in the Savage Worlds Deluxe rules… that edge, combined with Bloodthirsty and Deathwish ended up being a pretty tough choice for a pre-gen in an adventure with opportunities for subterfuge.  In the future if I run this game I may tone down this character.]

Before the last remaining guard could react, Gutuater struck him in the neck with an especially sharp sling-stone.  Cutting a deep gash into the soldier's neck, the Iberian had to hold the wound shut distracting him from the oncoming Wolf-Blood Warrior.  Duratios left the spear in his first foe, and grabbed for the wounded soldier's weapon.  But when the Iberian let go of his neck to brace the spear he bled out and died.

[Interesting resolution here.  Gutuater hit the guard with a raise, as did Duratios.  Rather than just have another "overkill" scene, it seemed more cinematic to have Gutuater's cool attack earlier have a lasting effect.]

With the guards down, the party of Celtic scouts decided to break free and run off… all but Duratios.  Orgetorix and Gutuater each fled camp, grabbing whatever they could find before making off into the nearby woods.  Viridovix was almost gone, until he realized that the Wolf-Blood Warrior was preparing to charge the remaining twenty-one Iberians.  With a few soothing words, the druid was able to calm his berserking friend, and the two followed their comrades.  Once outside the party took stock of the items they were able to acquire:  a dagger, a cudgel, a short bow with a quiver of arrows, a wineskin, and a strange chunk of meat.

[This was a place where Death Wish combined with an active Berserk edge could cause the demise of a party member.  Andy didn't seem very interested in disengaging from combat, and rightly so… he was playing the hindrances I gave the character.  So when Steve offered to have Viridovix sooth his friend I allowed a Persuasion roll.

For the three characters not going absolutely crazy with rage, I allowed a Notice roll to grab gear on the way out of camp.  A simple success of "4" meant the player grabbed a light weapon and a wineskin.  A raise gained the player character a unique weapon, in this case the short bow with arrows, and a piece of human flesh.  If consumed, the character would instantly realize what it was, causing "The Shakes" as per the Disorders Table in Weird Wars Rome.  A successful Spirit roll made at a -4 would allow the character to get rid of this disorder after a full day.]

Once in the forest, screams were heard from inside the camp.  Whatever the guards were trying to keep out must have made it through one of the gates.  

[What ate the Iberians?  Wendigos out of the Deadland Reloaded Marshal's Handbook!  A little tribute to "Ravenous", these terrors were waiting just outside of the camp's wooden palisade.  If they had climbed the timbers without creating a distraction, the Wendigos would've gone for the scouts, but I figured that the horse distraction definitely gave the monsters a chance to go after what they really wanted… the weakened mercenaries who had once been their kin.]

It was clear that there was no going back, so Gutuater weighed the options.  The scout knew three paths back to the Ceutrones' village:

  1. They could travel straight through Hannibal's encampments.
  2. They could take the cliffside path that led around the encampments.
  3. They could travel through a deep ravine below the encampments.  
Knowing that there was less risk of falling if they took the ravine pass, the party chose that route and set off.  Unfortunately it was incredibly dark and by the time they reached the ravine the party realized they would have to take the pass ten feet at a time.  At least the fires of the encampments above lit some of the path.  

[The team didn't want to set any fires or torches, and they certainly didn't want to make camp and wait for whatever devoured the Iberians.  Between the starlight, a crescent moon, and the light from Hannibal's camp I declared that it was just Dark, not Pitch Black as per the Savage Worlds Deluxe rules.]

Each step through the ravine was treacherous.  As Gutuater led the scouts, he used a spear to keep himself steadied in the inky blackness.  Perhaps taking pass on the cliff pass was a good idea, the party realized after finding several dead bodies lying at the bottom of the ravine.  It was a long drop from the encampments, and falling along a rocky cliff had a terrible effect on a body.  But as they walked amongst the corpses, a cold feeling drifted over the scouting party.

"Earth, air, land, and sea, tell me what be going on here be," Virodovix muttered to the spirits of nature.

The response was as expected: this place was cursed!

[I split the ravine into four segments.  Traveling through each segment required the lead character to make an Agility roll at a -2 penalty due to the darkness and the rocks.  Using the spear, I let Gutuater get offset the penalty.  The curse simply gave the party an additional -2 penalty to Spirit rolls to resist fear.  At the end of the second segment there was a surprise…]

Eventually Gutuater came to a large object blocking their path.  Easily ten to twelve feet wide, the smooth object seemed out of place compared to the craggy ravine's typical boulders.  Believing it was just one more obstacle to navigate, the Gallic Scout carefully climbed above the mass and started helping Duratios across when the warrior lost his footing and fell onto the object…

… and struck its fleshy surface.  

This object was not a stone, but rather a large dead war elephant! 

[Steve foreshadowed this scene perfectly outside of character: "Please, please, please don't let this be an undead elephant."]

Disturbed by the living, the body of the elephant started to move and shift.  Slowly the bones of the once majestic creature pulled up through the flesh, and sloughed off decaying muscle and fat.  As the party stared in terror, a massive undead War Skel-ephant prepared to charge!

*     *     *

War Skel-ephant

I used the War Elephant found on page 88 of Weird Wars Rome, combined with the Undead Monstrous Abilities from Savage Worlds Deluxe.  I wanted the creature to be difficult, but not impossible to fight for a group of four novice characters so I had to make a few changes:
  • Toughness 16(2) rather than the 20(2) it would be if I really combined the 18(2) of the elephant with the +2 Toughness of Undead.  I didn't want a TPK!
  • Once during the encounter the War Skel-ephant could cause fear at a -2 penalty (-4 with the ravine's curse). 
I have to apologize to the players now for forgetting that as a Huge creature they would have a +4 bonus to hit.  Oops.  

*     *     *

Immediately Gutuater fired a volley of arrows while Orgetorix tried his spear and Viridovix his club.  None of these weapons seemed to have an effect.  That's when Duratios let out a mighty roar!  

Charging the creature, the Wolf-Blood Warrior grabbed the Skel-ephant's ribcage and pinned the beast against the wall in an amazing feat of strength and resolve!

[Yes, Andy rolled a successful Grapple against a Size +8 creature thanks to massively exploding dice, a dismally poor roll for the War Skel-ephant, and lots of benny usage.  I allowed the Grapple to distract the beast (granting +2 to hit), since there was no chance in hell that Duratios could cause damage to the War Skel-ephant with his arms… or so I thought.]

To further keep the creature from charging, a successful Entangle spell from Viridovix locked up the War Skel-ephant's legs.

[I really thought the party would try fleeing at this point.  That's what happened the last time I ran the adventure straight through back in 2013.  But no… that's not how this played out.]

Unable to move, the War Skel-ephant emitted a wave of fear, causing both Gutuater and Orgetorix to flee in terror.  The Mercenary Captain stumbled while running, almost knocking himself unconscious as he fell into a pit.  The War Skel-ephant then made the mistake of knocking Duratios against a wall, causing him to become shaken momentarily, but more importantly inciting a berserking rage.  The mighty Duratios started to squeeze the ribs of the War-skelephant, cracking two of them.

[Yes, Duratios did enough damage, 17 total, to "shake" the War Skel-ephant, although the Hardy special attribute limited the effectiveness.]

The War Skel-ephant kept up the attack, alternating its attack on both Viridovix and Duratios.  The druid dodged an impalement, but the berserker was thrown onto the ground.  Grabbing a nearby spear, dropped earlier by Gutuater, Duratios charged the behemoth.  The vicious strike broke the connection between several ribs and the spine.  A second hit immediately after broke the creature in half…

… the War Skel-ephant crumbled!  

Cheering, Viridovix ran up to Duratios to embrace his friend in triumph.  Duratios returned the "hug" with a spear to the gut, instantly killing the druid.

[This was a very twisted scene!  Here's how it played out.  Andy was rolling to hit the War Skel-ephant, but was rolling poorly.  After some benny-usage, he finally came up with a hit and a raise on the wild die, but a "1" on the Fighting die.  Great hit, but this meant that an adjacent ally would be struck as well… thanks to the Berserk edge.  Andy went with the attack and caused 20 damage to the War Skel-ephant killing it.  He then rolled 28 damage against Viridovix.

This is the first time I've ever seen one player kill another accidentally… congrats Andy!]

With the both the creature and Viridovix gone, Orgetorix and Gutuater carefully approached the scene.  Duratios was finished raging, at least for the moment.  Taking the bloody spear from Duratios' hands, Gutuater went back to leading the party out of the ravine.  It took another hour of trudging through dead soldiers and broken stone paths before reaching the end of the ravine and a trail leading away from the Carthaginians encampment.

With a little luck the scouts could let the rest of the Ceutrones know that death was coming.  

[Credits]


Epilogue


There were few other encounter that could've been a lot of fun, if the party had taken those routes:
  • As I mentioned before, there were three Wendigos that were hunting for meat, and would attack the party if they tried to camp.
  • Lighting a fire while in the ravine would cause an archer attack from the Carthaginians above.
  • The party could've taken the chariots and there would've been a chase scene with Iberians on horseback.  
I hope this gives you a little insight into how I run a Savage Worlds game.  If you have any ideas to help make this adventure any better (because I'll probably run it again) please let me know!  Also if you happen to use any of these characters or encounters I'd love to hear the tales!

If you enjoyed this game concept, please take the time to check out Pinnacle Entertainment Group's page for Weird Wars Rome!