Saturday, August 30, 2014

#GetOutAndGame - Pgh Ren Fest OSR - Adventures in the East Mark

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. 

All of this OSR goodness gets me fired up, but how would my "new-school" players handle a traditional dungeon crawl?  

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

"Yeah... I got Wein." - Andy seemed so thrilled to pick the Halfling

"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!  

Friday, August 29, 2014

Numenera - Tales of the Broken Mask - Session 2

The Stonebound Monk


  • Chase Rombek, a Mystical Nano who Sees Beyond, played by Frank
  • Jak, a Mutant Glaive who Constantly Evolves, played by Craig
  • Glyquorg, an Exiled Jack who Controls Animals, played by Andy
  • Elehar, a Tough Glaive who Rages, played by Scott

Non-Player Characters of Note

  • Bel, owner of Bel's Bar and Coffins in the Traveler's Den
  • The Coin Changer, the Shin-to-Bit Transaction Overseer in Rathide Row
  • Ennuan, an old associate of Chase who was an Aeon Priest and now belongs to the Three Swords 
  • Administrator Theodus, manager of the First Tier Churn Foundry 


The trade city of Nihliesh is a place of wonder and shadow.  An amazing discovery, believed to have once been an enormous walking construct, Nihliesh now forever rests, nestled between the Steadfast and The Beyond.  The mutated citizens of the upper tiers are fat in both physique and shin-bag, and live in beautiful bejeweled structures made from churn-brick.  Those who live in the lower level, the First Tier, toil and struggle in the churn foundries, with dreams of further mutation for their children so that they may one day join the Fahat, the ruling caste of Nihliesh. Along with the workers of the city, the First Tier is also populated by merchants and travelers from elsewhere in the Ninth World, given access to the many-legged city by invitation from a citizen.

It was by such an invitation that Chase Rombek, Jak, Glyquorg, and Elehar found themselves resting in Bel’s Bar and Coffins in the Traveler’s Den of the First Tier of Nihliesh.  Having received the pass to enter Nihliesh’s First Tier, the party of novice Unmasked Seekers entered the massive structure and made their way through the cramped and filthy halls and corridors of this lower ward.  This section of Nihliesh was full of factory and foundry areas, with the primary product being a building material called "churn."  The structure of the city itself mysteriously created the churn, and the poor workers who inhabited the First Tier refined the substance, crafted it into bricks or blocks, or assembled it into furniture for those living in the Second or Third Tier.  Merchants and travelers comprised the remaining portion of the First Tier’s tightly packed population, and at Bel’s the party found themselves surrounded by worker and trader alike.
After renting pod-like rooms from Bel, nicknamed "coffins", the party settled in for part of the day. Following their successful training mission the bounty hunters believed they would be contacted by a "Fixer" within the Sacred Order of the Broken Mask for their next mission.  One small detail that fascinated most of the party were the oddities used to adorn each coffin: small cloth blankets that smelled ever-fresh.  These items had a pleasant fragrance, and could be used for a variety of reasons.  Chase sought out Bel and asked her about the items, stating that he was surprised more of them weren’t stolen.  One of these cloths was impressive, but to have dozens was amazing!  Bel laughed, and showed the party that the cloths, when taken past the pod area, would disintegrate and then reform in the coffins by some kind of magic.  Why this happened was a mystery to Bel, but she was certain that this area was once a barracks of sorts for the previous residents from a prior world.  Chase seemed to enjoy Bel’s company and her conversation.  The mystical nano seemed so relaxed that he even offered up some of the information about the party’s goals to the young woman, telling her specifically that his team was "pretty good at finding things."  When the conversation ended Chase went back to the coffin room and continued to play with the oddity cloths.

It wasn’t long before a strange man entered the bar, looked up into the coffin room, and locked eyes with Jak.  The man had a drink, took something from his pocket, and placed it under the overturned glass.  Jak quickly moved down the stairs and to the bar, flipping the glass.  The note read as follows:
"Heard you were pretty good at finding things… find me: G-E."

The team of bounty hunters was both intrigued and confused.  They expected some kind of contact from the Broken Mask’s fixer, but not another training exercise.  Bel stated that she didn’t know who "G-E" was but seemed to know more about the note than she would admit.  Asking around for places to get more information the party was directed towards Rathide Row.
Filthy and full of food carts in deplorable sanitary conditions, Rathide Row was where the churn workers feasted during lunch and after their shifts. At least a dozen stalls lined the long corridor, none of which with any clear indication of what kind of food they were serving.  Hoping to come across the initials G and E, the party fanned out and perused the stalls.  Regrouping, the Unmasked Seekers were stumped.  The only signs that were up showed food prices in a strange unit of measurement called "bits."  Noticing their confused countenances,  as well as their out-of-place clothing, a man known as the Coin Changer approached the party.  He explained that he could take the party’s shins and break them into "bits" that could be spent on food or other purchases while in the First Tier.  Asked about "G-E", the Coin Changer didn’t surrender any significant information until Chase tossed him five whole shins.  With a grin the Coin Changer remarked that G-E was two entities in one body, tipping off Jak that the person they were looking for was a type of visitant known as a lattimor.
The party bid the Coin Changer farewell and travelled south through the narrow tunnels until they reached the visitant community of the First Tier.  A small, circular room with perhaps a hundred "coffins" lining the outside wall, creatures of all shapes and sizes called this part of Nihliesh home.  Glyquorg was about to lead his team into the area when he was stopped by a rather terrifying looking man.  The gentleman appeared to be missing half of his head, the left side from crown to chin, with a clean cut right down the middle.  Although not appearing worse for the wear, the man screamed at Glyquorg, accusing him of being a man named "Skyro", and that he wasn’t welcome in the visitant quarters.  Glyquorg wasn’t about to be bullied by a man with half a head, so he popped a cypher that made him incredibly quick on his feet. With an explosive burst of force, the Exiled Jack charged into the room knocking the crazy half-headed man unconscious. The rest of the visitants seemed to be a bit scared of the party at this point, even the bucket of intelligent jelly that was playing cards with a mutant human on the floor.
Now having the attention of the room, the party started looking for lattimors.  Only one was in the chamber, and after simple introductions the party found themselves speaking with "Meet."  Meet seemed hungry, so Glyquorg offered her some rations, claiming them to be meat.  Meet was not amused, but the sudden anger that filled the lattimor’s "bursk" personality allowed the "neem" state to take over.  Now the party was talking with "Wol", the more cerebral portion of the entity known as Wol-Meet.  Wol knew of G-E, and said it was most likely Gurn-Ellohesh, a fairly well regarded Lattimor who lived in the Second Tier and had many connections with powerful agents in Nihliesh.

The new Unmasked Seekers were stumped.  They needed to make it to the Second Tier, but that kind of access was only given after months of petitioning, or some kind of special trade with a ranking member of the Fahat.  Luckily for the party, something of worth happened to fall into the characters' hands.  While relaxing at Bel's Bar, Chase noticed a familiar figure walk by.  A human male with a shaved head and strangely long neck, clad in dark robes moving quickly through the crowd.  Chase ran after the human, and called out a name:  "Ennuan!"  The man turned, locked eyes with Chase and tried to get away.  The mystical nano caught up with his old "friend" and had Elehar the glaive pull the robed figure into a small alley-like hallway.  Ennuan was an Aeon Priest and past associate of Chase Rombek.  He also was not terribly interested in sticking around for some questions.  

With Elehar's powerful hands pinning Ennuan against the wall, Chase searched the man wondering why he was acting so strangely.  Around his neck was a cypher that would protect him from deadly gas, and on his flesh was a tattoo of three blades in a triangle.  Jak arrived at the scene very soon after the chase ended and recognized the symbol as one of the Three Swords, an organization of Angulan Knights who had infiltrated Nihliesh's tiers.  Under the pressure of the party's questioning Ennuan admitted that he had placed a deadly corrosive cypher in the Churn Foundry.  He begged Chase to let him go, and to the surprise of the rest of the group (and to the GM), the mystical nano agreed.  As Ennuan slipped back into the crowd, Glyquorg knew that the party could possibly trade the information about the corrosive cypher with a member of the Fahat for access to the Second Tier.

Engaging his running cypher again, Glyquorg charged through the halls towards the Churn Foundry.  Weaving back and forth through the mass of people, the exiled jack made it to the entrance of the foundry in just minutes, with the rest of his Unmasked Seekers still several minutes behind.  Glyquorg got the attention of one of the guards and warned him of the coming blast, but realized that the party forgot to ask Ennuan for the location of the cypher.  One of the administrators who overheard the conversation ordered Glquorg taken into custody, and the various chambers of the foundry placed in a lockdown situation.  Since there were thousands of workers, there was no way to evacuate them all, but the blast's effects could be minimized.  A few minutes later the loud "boom" reverberated through the facility, and a dozen or so wounded people, as well as four dead bodies, were carried out of the Churn Foundry.  Administrator Theodus interrogated Glyquorg for nearly an hour before the exiled jack admitted that he had some friends nearby… so Theodus dragged them in for a stern questioning as well.

Despite some of the suspicions that the Administrator had for the Unmasked Seekers and their odd story, he let them go.  Slowly the party wandered back into Rathide Row and started telling their tale of woe to the Coin Changer.  They were hoping to get access to the Second Tier for their good deed, but the Administrator offered nothing.  The Coin Changer asked the party if they let the administrator know that they were offering the information with the intention of payment.  Chase admitted that this was never discussed, and so the Coin Changer reminded the novice bounty hunters that everything in Nihliesh was for sale. Quickly the party returned to Administrator Theodus and asked for access to the Second Tier.  Surprisingly, a one day pass was granted!

The Second Tier of Nihliesh was quite different from the first.  Beautiful buildings of churn-stone lined open-air streets, and the pedestrians moved about freely and with an air of peace and serenity.  There were shops and taverns, and multi-level homes, each owned by a ranking member of the Fahat or other mutant of note.  While they strolled down the street, the strange man who left the party their first note approached the party and handed them a cypher.  They were told to carry this into a nearby tavern.  The party did as instructed, but when they entered the archway to the tavern, they were instantly teleported to a massive room of bright white.  The floors and walls were completely devoid of color, and no noticeable ceiling existed.  There was a single wooden table with chairs, and at its head was a lattimor.  

He announced himself as Gurn-Ellohesh.

The lattimor fixer asked his newly appointed Unmasked Seekers to have a seat and proceeded to give them their first official mark: a monk known as Raa-em.  Gurn-Ellohesh described Raa-em as a mystic who owed a local wealthy merchant family, the Vaeshir, quite a bit of money.  The patriarch of the Vaeshir family recently passed away and the family was trying to close accounts.  Why this monk owed the money was unknown, and so Chase, Jak, Glyquorg, and Elehar were ordered to seek out Raa-em and return him to Nihliesh and the Vaeshir family…

… alive.  


"What are you doing here?" - Bel (played by the GM) to Chase (played by Frank)
"I'm not sure I'm the one to answer that question!" - Frank to the GM

"I wave my furry green hand." - Andy may need to explain this statement.

"Yeah, we tipped 'em!  That was us!  We're the tip!" - Glyquorg telling his awesome tale to the Coin Changer, after "tipping off" the Fahat to the Three Swords' bomb.

"Did you actually ask for permission to go to the second level?" - The Coin Changer
"No, that slipped our minds." - Chase


I have to thank Scott Bourgeois and commend him on his terrific Ennie winning podcast The Signal!  When I was preparing to write this adventure I wanted to provide a little extra backstory for my players, so I had them each listen to the Nihliesh episode.  The Three Swords plot link is directly from Scott's podcast, and who knows… I may have to pull a bit more!  If you get a chance, make sure to take a listen!  

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Strange - Dingo and the Cosmos - Session 1

Inaugural Game 

It's late August, Monte Cook Games' The Strange released just a couple of weeks ago and here I am, already a "veteran" of the game talking about some "inaugural" session.  While many gamers are just now cracking open their books and creating sly and cunning agents of The Estate, I've had the pleasure of being a playtester for The Strange, and have been exploring the Dark Energy Network regularly since last December.  A little over a week ago at Gen Con I ran a pair of terrific sessions, introducing nearly a dozen players to the setting and the Cypher System.  But while all of these playtest sessions and one-shot convention games have been incredible, tonight was the first time that I was able to play The Strange at my favorite game table, with my favorite people.  So for me, tonight felt like my first "official" game with Bruce Cordell and Monte Cook's marvelous new game.  

So being a first session for my gamer family, we had to spend a lot of time getting ready.  My daughters love playing dress-up, and when given the opportunity to do a little "secret agent kid" cosplay, Carrie and Evie jumped at the chance.  Earlier this morning we finished their characters, and my wife's as well, so we had an idea of what each future agent of The Estate looked like, and how they handled challenges.  It was fun listening to them rustle about their room for clothes, jackets, sports gear, and one very hard to find magnifying glass, and Carrie was thrilled that I let her borrow our Apple TV remote to use as a cypher.  

The results were right on target!

To make the evening even more special, my wife's cousin Sean dropped by.  Sean was an old veteran of my Eberron an Deadlands campaigns years ago, and when he showed up for dinner he offered to sit in on our very first game.  It had been at least a year since he rolled the twenty-siders before, and was completely new to the Cypher System, so I'd have the chance to show off the rules to a newbie again!

Agent Dossiers

Arianna Cosmo - A Graceful Vector who Looks for Trouble

Ms. Arianna Cosmo is a middle-school student who lives in suburban Pittsburgh.  Physically adept, and highly skilled at sports, Arianna excels in soccer, soft ball, dodge ball, and dance.  Her exceptional skills have earned her a special scholarship to a "special private school" located in Vermont and funded by an organization called The September Project Foundation.  Arianna is the biological daughter of John and Wendy Cosmo, owners of Cosmo's Pizza in downtown Irwin.  John and Wendy pushed Arianna to apply for the scholarship, and have insisted that she leave home at the end of the summer to go to the private school.  

Crystal Cosmo - A Strange Paradox who Works the System

An orphan with amnesia, Ms. Crystal Cosmo is the adopted daughter of John and Wendy Cosmo.  Having no specific recollections of her life with the exception of the last six months, Crystal mysteriously possesses incredible knowledge and understanding for her age.  Investigations show that Crystal is highly proficient in the sciences, and has a working knowledge of the Strange.  Crystal has reportedly experienced wondrous dreams and terrible nightmares of a place full of strange machinery and biomechanical organisms. She is a "person of interest" within The Estate. 

Jacqueline Dingo - A Skeptical Spinner who Solves Mysteries

Ms. Jackie Dingo is an agent of The Estate currently assigned to the Pittsburgh area.  Working undercover as a local librarian, Ms. Dingo's current assignment is to seek out and observe a pair of children.  One has been on the Estate watch list for some time and is suspected to be a native of Ruk.  The other appeared only a couple days ago, and is being actively watched by agents of the September Project.  The second child is most likely not native to Earth.  Ms. Dingo was specially selected for this mission as she herself is a Qephilim.  

Teddy Horton - A Sharp-Eyed Vector who is Licensed to Carry

Supposedly an heir to the Tim Horton's family, Mr. Theodore Horton is a Canadian who opened a bar and restaurant along Route 30 in Pennsylvania just before his inheritance ran out.  After discovering that he was Quickened, Teddy was recruited by The Estate, given a gun, and paired up with Ms. Jackie Dingo.  Teddy has been given three corrective actions while in service to The Estate, his next to lead to a three-day suspension.   

The New Kid

Estate Agents Dingo and Horton were on a stakeout across the street from a local suburban Pittsburgh middle-school.  They were observing three things at the school's playground: a local child named Crystal Cosmo, a second child lurking near the playground, and a silver impala with a pair of suspicious individuals observing the children as well.  Agents Dingo and Horton had been watching the first girl, Crystal, for the past few months, but the other girl was new to the area.  Given their distance to the other vehicle, Dingo and Horton were not sure who in the schoolyard the suspicious individuals were observing.

Arianna and Crystal Cosmo had a better look at the "new kid," though.  From across the schoolyard it seemed like the little girl, possibly eight or nine years old, was dressed as if she were headed for a renaissance festival.  She wore leather tunic and an old-fashioned floral dress.  A ring of alien flowers adorned her head, however her hair was tussled and caked with grass and debris as if she were sleeping on the ground at night.  The Cosmo girls started to approach the girl, but didn't make it before local school bully Chip started picking on the poor child.  Mocking her dress and appearance, Chip started to make the new kid cry, which made both Arianna and Crystal furious.  Both of the girls jumped to the new kid's defense, but couldn't get Chip to back down.  Crying hysterically, Chip's target fled the schoolyard and ran down to the soccer field.  Unable to strike back physically, Crystal tried to quickly hack the school's website with her laptop, to lash out at Chip, but got discovered by the school principal who was actively monitoring the firewall at the time.

Crystal couldn't hack the school computer

Meanwhile, as soon as the new kid started running away from the schoolyard, Dingo and Horton watched at the two suspicious characters got out of their Impala, tasers in hand, and started jogging towards the soccer field.  The Estate agents grabbed their gear and took off in pursuit.  Assuming that their two new targets were possible rogue agents, Dingo and Horton were ready for action, but had to keep things quiet.  As soon as they caught up to the thugs, Horton pistol whipped the first one while Dingo used her whip to trip the other.  Dingo then pulled her revolver and ordered the two rogue agents to stand down.  The rogue agents turned with their tasers in hand, both firing at Dingo but missing.  Horton tried to pistol whip again but missed, throwing his pistol into the dirt like a lawn dart.  When it seemed like one of the rogue agents was going to get the drop on the sharp-eyed vector, little sporty scrapper Arianna showed up with her baseball bat.  Arianna clubbed the one enemy agent right in the stomach, knocking him out.  

The Estate agents feared that they blew their cover, so Dingo tried to act as if she was a member of whatever group the rogue agents belonged to.  Even though she wasn't entirely convincing, Dingo was able to confuse the rogue agents enough so that they disengaged from their search for the now missing out-of-place girl.  Dingo ordered them to return the Cosmo girls back to the schoolyard, and then grabbed Horton so that they could continue their search.  Crystal and Arianna were not about to walk away with a couple of nefarious strangers, so they quickly slipped away and followed Dingo and Horton into the woods.  

Arianna made faces at the two rogue agents as she slipped away

When the four couldn't seem to find the odd girl, Arianna started calling out that she could take her "home." Immediately the young girl climbed out of the trees and to confirm what Arianna meant.  The girl told the party that her name was Anya, and that she was from Shalmarn.  Anya didn't know how she got to this "weird place full of machines that move," but she wanted desperately to go home.  Neither Crystal nor Arianna knew where Shalmarn was, but Agent Dingo sure did.  Shalmarn was a long ways away, located on the recursion of Ardeyn.  And if this girl, Anya, came to earth dressed in the traditional garb of her home, that meant that an inapposite gate was nearby… which was bad news indeed.  


"He bro, what are you doin' to that girl?" - Arianna shouts at Chip the Bully during his encounter with little Anya.  

"Yeesh!  M.I.B.!" - Sean exclaimed when he heard that the rogue agents didn't have fingerprints.

"What part of 'low profile' do you both not understand?" - Jackie shouts at the two rogue agents, pretending to be a superior agent on their side while not knowing what side they were on.  

"Believe me, that part's going in the report." - Teddy tells Jackie, referring to Arianna's all out assault on one of the rogue agents with a kid-sized baseball bat.  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Avernus Availed - An Accursed Bedtime Story - Session 5

Carrie, Cooper, Jen, Evie

Dramatis Personae

  • Avarice Avernus, Mummy Matriarch and Skilled Duelist, played by Jen (Mommy)
  • Annaria Avernus, Dhampir Daughter and Scout, played by Evie
  • Adelaide Avernus, Shade Daughter and White Witch, played by Carrie
  • Rudolpho, Cranium Rat Spokesvermin, played by Cooper (4 years old)

If this is your first time reading our Avernus Availed stories, please feel free to check out previous posts before reading ahead!

Expedition to Arachnis' Lair, Part Three

Ahead of the Avernus family was a locked door.  The trio plus one (can't count out Rudolpho, no longer an NPC) worked out their lockpicking plan, and Annaria and Adelaide put their undead noggins together so that they could enter the chamber ahead.  Once through, the party found themselves in a large chamber with a raised dais and alter in the center.  On top of the alter, embedded in a small notch, was a beautiful ring.  Avarice recognized the jewelry as her enchanted engagement ring, given to her by her missing husband Alistair.  The mummy matriarch was filled with emotion as she saw the ring, but as her eyes moved upwards, she saw that the women were not alone.

Hanging from the ceiling was a massive spider, hissing from it's horrific mouth, and with venom dripping from four terrible fangs.  It was the demon-spider Arachnis!  Slowly the spider lowered itself to the floor and demanded that the party tell them why they were in her lair.  Annaria, the most positive and upbeat vampire-touched scout you'd ever meet, tried to put a positive spin on the encounter, asking Arachnis to just hand over the ring peacefully.  The demon-spider turned this down immediately, and demanded that the Avernus family leave her presence.  Although she admitted that she was not interested in devouring a trio of undead, she threatened Rudolpho's continued existence several times.  Avarice tried one last time to reason with Arachnis, offering to pay the spider for the ring, but was pushed off one last time and threatened with death.

"Come get some," Avarice growled.

Annaria was the first to jump into action, very quickly and quietly melting away from the demon-spider's field of view before climbing a wall so that she was just perched to launch herself on the monstrous beast.  Knowing that her sister was preparing for a special attack, Adelaide pulled out her component bag and crafted a spell that stunned Arachnis with a blast of positive energy.  As the spider reeled back, Avarice converted her sarcophagus armor into a bladed wagon and slid herself under Arachnis chopping off a pair of her legs.  Rudolpho entered combat behind the mummy as well, using his prehensile tail to rip one of the legs off of the demon-spider.  

With Arachnis still in shock, trying to regain her senses, the Avernus family continued their assault.  Adelaide fired her pistols at the beast, Avarice slashed with her two blades, and Rudolpho turned into a boxer using his tiny fists to pound away at the demon-spider's body.  But it would be quick thinking Annaria who would create the biggest distraction, dropping down onto Arachnis' huge body and using her bar of soap to blind the creature.  With all eight eyes stinging, Arachnis started to think about escaping the scene entirely.

Avarice tried to get her girls to press the attack, but before any of them could land a finishing blow Arachnis pulled back into another chamber.  The trio plus one followed the giant spider into a perfectly square room with a giant spiral staircase descending into the floor, but before they could react Arachnis closed a doorway at the top of the stairs.  The route was completely blocked, and if they had not seen the portal close the Avernus family would not have realized there was a door in the floor at all.  Quickly Avarice grabbed her ring and put it on, giving her a mastery over all abilities related to her spirit.  Their adventure could've ended there, however the Avernus family still wanted to settle their score with Arachnis.

Luckily for the group, Adelaide had her shade power to become incorporeal.  The youngest Avernus family member lowered herself into the floor to look for a latch or lever to operate the door.  Unable to find one, Adelaide crafted a spell to increase her strength by an incredible factor.  Annaria and Avarice were incredibly surprised to see little Adelaide lift the giant stone slab and push it aside, opening a path to the depths of the dark caves below.  

At the bottom of the stairwell the party found themselves in a large, open cavern and Arachnis was there regenerating in a pool of fetid water.  Arachnis cursed the Avernus family, and demanded again the they leave.  Avarice and Adelaide were ready to strike down the foul beast that had terrorized the lands surrounding Augsing when Annaria just smiled and called out to Arachnis:

"We can be buddies!" 

Annaria asked her mother to let Arachnis work for the Avernus family at Muridae Manor.  Not one to tell her children "no," Avarice turned to the spider and demanded that she lay down her… fangs… and submit to her new undead overlords.  Surprisingly Arachnis agreed to this, knowing that her only other option was death.  All three members of the family, plus one cranium rat, high five'd each other and led their new housekeeper back to the Avernus family estate in Augsing.  

Friends forever!


"I want the blood!" - Carrie was pretty excited that Mommy was serving red juice that we were calling "blood" through the adventure.

"Mommy, you are just like a 'rescue bot' on Transformers!" - Cooper's take on Mommy's transformation into a blade wielding wagon.

"If you step out of line, we will have to kill you… but as long as you don't kill any of Mr. Rudolpho's friends, we'll be cool." - Avarice Avernus, with the help of her two daughters, talks Arachnis into being the party's new housekeeper.  

Evie drinking "blood"

Special Thanks

I have to thank my amazing daughter Carrie for crafting a special Rainbow Loom wristband for me while I was gone at Gen Con 2014 this past week.  Knowing that the three colors on the Accursed book were red, black, and grey, Carrie made me my very own Witchmarked Wristband!  I wore it during the game today, and will be certain to wear it often!  

We're continuing to use Glynn Seal's amazing map from MonkeyBlood Design.  Please go check out his work at his website!

Finally, if you haven't had a chance to check out Accursed yet, please make sure to give the game a look at!  You mean you haven't done this already!?!?

Like Father Like Daughter - Carrie Runs Basic Fantasy RPG

There are those moments in a parent's life that they will never forget.  First steps across a living room floor.  First time they go to school.  First vacation to Disney World.  If you are a geek dad, like me, there is one more of these important "firsts" in your child's life that you will treasure forever:

First time behind the Game Master's Screen on their own!

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that, along with my family, I run a local game club called the Norwin Game Knights.  We have board games, card games, dominoes, and all sorts of tabletop fun at our events, but there are quite a few of us who are avid role-players, including many kids.  That being said, even though we never have a shortage of players it's been a challenge to find folks willing to game master events.  It was especially difficult this week, because I wanted to play.  Bad!  My pal Craig, who went to Gen Con with me last week, was going to run Savage Worlds Fantasy, and to date I have never "played" Savage Worlds.  Certainly I've run the game, fairly regularly in fact, but to grab a wild die and spend some bennies, I was chomping at the bit!  

This is how I chomp at the bit!

Craig agreed to take all adults willing to play Savage Worlds (four of us in all), but we would need someone to take on the kids game.  Well Carrie, my 10 year old daughter and long-time player, stepped right up to the plate!  Grabbing her Basic Fantasy RPG core book, an OD&D clone by Chris Gonnerman, and the adventure "Fortress, Tomb, and Tower: The Glain Campaign," Carrie spent the last couple of days researching the adventure, cross-checking rules, and making sure everything was ready for her big debut.  She was a little nervous, because this time she'd be running the game… SOLO!  

Technically this wouldn't be Carrie's first time behind a GM screen.  Actually there were two occasions recently when Carrie helped me run an old school Dragonlance adventure with the family:

OD&D Dragonlance Family Game 1
OD&D Dragonlance Family Game 2

But to run a game on her own, with very limited help (I was on the far side of the room in which she'd be GM'ing), for a quartet of loud-mouthed kids, this was a first!  And I gotta say: Carrie had a lot of guts!  

From the sounds of it Carrie did a phenomenal job!  She was able to hold the attention of 3-4 kids at any given time (they started with 4, one dropped out and another joined in later), and they finished the segment of the adventure that they started.  But I hate stealing my little girl's thunder, so I offered her the chance to tell you  all about her epic excursion into the glorious realm of game mastering herself!  

Carrie's Corner (Written by Carrie herself!)

Character Time!!!!!

Our heroes were:

Ralph Redarm - A Mountain Dwarf Fighter, played by Jeremy 
Eric The Cleric - A Human Cleric, played By Tristan 
Doraleous - A Human Fighter, played By Dylan 

Getting Started

Since this was my first time GM-img by myself, I was kind of nervous, but I got over that pretty quick. They started out in front of the fortress.   There was one gate in front of them and two behind the first one. Seeing as the bars were bent, they decided to go through but, it was cover in green glowing light.  Ralph and Doraleous got through without being harmed, but poor Eric was fat (they all agreed on this.)  So he decided to suck in a ton of air, and squeeze through. Eric barely got through, but made it through safely. 

Then, they had to get through the other set of gates.  Choosing the one on the left, Ralph used his mighty strength to open the gate.  Now, they were in the first corridor.   Dylan and Jeremy said something about a trusty rock. At first I had no idea what they were talking about, but then they explained that it was a rock of trap deceiving abilities.  So Ralph threw the rock and nothing happened.  So Ralph thought it was ok.  Turns out, he fell down a 20 feet deep hole through a trap door on the ground.  Surprisingly, he survived with 3 points of damage taken away.

Ralph was now STUCK.  So Doraleous got out his rope and threw it down there and attempted to pull him up.  After several tries, Ralph decided he would climb up himself. Gladly, he was out of the hole.  Eric, being so tired, was resting aside on the wall and stumbled upon a secret door!!!!  Having nothing being in that hallway, they went out the other door at the end of the hall.  After wandering around a bit, they finally stumbled across an Anteroom with to crystal statues.  The statues seemed normal, but as they got closer, they saw that….. IT’S ALIVE!!!!!

2 Crystal Statues were about to attack!  Doraleous being swift, quicky grabbed his sword but failed.  Then came Eric!  He took out his mace and just made that thing explode!!! Having killed one, there was still one left and Ralph tried and axe swing and missed.   Now, it was the Crystal Statue’s turn.  I kind of based them on Weeping Angels form Doctor Who because it didn’t say their attacks.  So, Eric demolishing the first one, the crystal statue was mad.  He grabbed his wrist and was ready to break it.  Luckily for Eric, Doraleous took out his sword and cut the thing’s head off.  Now that that was over, they kept looking. Eric seemed a little tired so they looked for the lounge.   

When they got there, they saw a sleeping UrGoblin. Ralph thought about taking his long sword.  He did it, but woke up the UrGoblin.  So the UrGoblin tried to punch Ralph. He failed, and Doraleous did a swing and a miss with his sword, and Eric’s wrist apparently still hurt when he hit the goblin thing.  Finally when Ralph came around he stuck his sword from the UrGoblin right in his head!!!!!  When they finally got upstairs, they came across what looked like Kyleene and Vadarin as statues with an giant emerald underneath them.  They heard a voice inside the emerald saying something a Ralph took it and then they saw tons of chests on money and jewels galore!!!!!  I asked Jeremy to add it up at the end and it looks like they got 13,500 gps!!!!  After a little more looking though, they found the Duke’s bedroom with an emerald holder.   Ralph stuck the emerald in and the holder rose up and shined with a yellow glow.  The emerald then said, “ NO!!!!! YOU BETRAYED ME HOW COULD YOU!!!!!??????” And they did it! They won the adventure!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Once Upon a Gen Con

It's been a while since my last post, but I promise that I had a good reason to be absent from "Living for Crits."  This past week I attended my very first Gen Con in Indianapolis, Indiana and it was the trip of a lifetime!  I know that's a very cliche term, but its incredibly fitting for such a terrific trip.  Along with four friends of mine (Frank, Craig, Melinda, and Dante), our crew of "Norwin Game Knights" took to Route 70 and trekked across four states to the promised land where "the best four days in gaming" occurs each and every year.  

But I couldn't just go to Gen Con 2014 to "play" games, I had to take on the mantle of "game master" for the masses, just like I do here in Pittsburgh each and every week.  Thanks to the terrific folks at Monte Cook Games, I had the opportunity to help run events for their two incredible RPG's: Numenera and The Strange!  In fact, I ended up with an absolutely crazy schedule, running six games in all:


12pm - 4pm:  Numenera, Into the Violet Vale - Only had three players show up, but they blasted through the adventure in just over three hours  What a team of ninjas!

10pm - 11:30pm: Adventures in the East Mark - I ran an unofficial, after-dinner pickup game of eXtra-Dimensional Publishing's steamy box of OSR goodness and managed to kill off most of the party… with the help of the other party members.  


10am - 2pm:  Savage Worlds, Weird Wars Rome, Appian Slay - The gladiator army of the slain Spartacus descended from their crosses and the players had to deal with the terribly brutal ramifications with a crack team of Roman Legionaries.  


10am - 2pm:  The Strange, Eschatology Code - In which the party used Twitter and an over-40 fan club for an ex-child actor to take on the forces of evil.  

4pm - 8pm:  Numenera, Into the Violet Vale - Taught six brand new Numenera players the ins and outs of the Cypher System!


10am - 2pm:  The Strange, Eschatology Code - Incredible mission planning led to a extremely well organized and precisely executed assault on Father Foss's compound!

The Top 5!

But with all this role-playing awesomeness, intermixed with shopping, dining, perusing, carousing, and general lollygagging, there were some stand out moments that I wanted to share!  Please note, that these are in no particular order of favoritism…

… except for the last one, which is FREAKING EPIC!

Jeremy and Lex at Scotty's Brew House in Downtown Indy

A Lovely Dinner With Friends

Following a successful run through the Ninth World with a trio of Numenera Hunters on Thursday afternoon I was hungry… real hungry!  I grabbed my friend Frank and headed out to the food truck area, looking for something to scarf down.  But after I finished my chicken pot-pie, and Frank his mac-n-cheese, we were left with nothing else on our schedule we wanted to do.  We both had board games scheduled, but neither of us really wanted to sit down to another four hours of gaming just yet.  Much to our delight, two members of my Tuesday online adventuring party, Jeremy Land and Lex Starwalker (our celebrity!) texted me wanting to know what I was doing.  I grabbed Frank and we took our whole crew down to Scotty's Brew House, where we met not only Jeremy and Lex, but Mrs. Starwalker (Nikki) and Gray Detrick (whom I had never met before).  Soon after my buddy Craig showed up and it was a party!

Even though Frank and I weren't hungry anymore, we didn't mind sharing some drinks, nachos, and gaming stories surrounded by cosplaying waitresses and a whole mess of Imperial soldiers guarding the front of the restaurant.  Jeremy even got accosted by a local homeless man while in the restaurant!  It was so great to just sit back, relax, and think about the amazing events to come at Gen Con.  Afterwards we strolled down the JW Marriott to see what was going on in the Monte Cook Games room before settling in for a semi-drunken game of Adventures in the East Mark.  Good times!

Matt lost it when Brian started praying to his dice so that he could hit another player

Savage Worlds Weird Wars Rome Education

I love Savage Worlds, but as much as I consider myself a "Savage", I really don't play anywhere near enough to be a rules expert.  So when five experienced Savages show up at my Friday morning game, each looking me up and down with that "so you're the GM?" look, I gulped and started to shake with fear.  The last RPG four of the players played the night before didn't go so well, and they were demanding satisfaction… or else!  So I carefully spun my four-hour yarn, hiccuping on rules here and there, and withstanding a few minor corrections while I crafted a tale about Roman Legionaries dealing with some supernatural ramifications of the Third Servile War.

In the end the party was victorious, Spartacus' revenants were re-slain, and there were grins all around.  The crew's "leader", Brian, approached me at the end of the game and looked me straight in the eye.  I was waiting for a "talking to", a few comments about how I needed to polish my Savage Worlds GM'ing skills and do a better job writing adventures.  I'm a big boy, I can take some positive criticism, or even negative criticism.  But no.  Brian commended me on the adventure, it's pacing, and the fun the team had playing the game.  I learned so much with this team of experienced players, and  I know I've got a ways to go before I've mastered Savage Worlds, but I left Room 312 feeling victorious!

David and Fred watch as Becki tries not to roll a 1

Accidental Pickup Game with Grumpy Cat

By Friday afternoon I was starting to drag a little.  Following the Savage Worlds game, Craig and I did a little shopping in the exhibitor's hall before catching an absolutely delightful Doubleclicks show!  Craig never heard the duo before, but I've been a fan for a couple years.  Afterwards we had dinner at Panera with Melinda before wandering back into the convention center.  I let Mel have my ticket to a Dragonlance storytelling event, and when she and Craig waltzed off I slumped against a wall and sat down.  Carrying 30lbs of books in a messenger bag is hard work!  I was tired, and needed rest, but after a few minutes felt terribly alone.  It could be a while before I saw my friends, and there really wasn't anything for me to do.  But that's when I saw "Grumpy Cat!"  

Fred Ramsey is a fantastic "art-finder" on the Numenera Facebook Group, searching the internet for images with a special Ninth World flair, and while the picture he finds are spectacular, his distinctive profile pic is of a stern, authoritative dignitary… just like Grumpy Cat.  

Which made it easy to pick out in a crowd!

"Fred!" I yelled, and he turned to me with this look of "who the hell is this guy?"  But after introducing myself Fred told me that he and his wife Becki were headed to the Open Gaming room where they would be playing Numenera… and Fred invited me to tag along.  Within minutes Becki and I rolled up brand new characters, and soon we were joined by David (now a new friend!) and Craig, who's Dragonlance event ended earlier than expected.  Fred's somber visage melted away as I experienced one of the greatest Numenera adventures I've played in the last year!  Each of us was smiling ear-to-ear, and Fred's adventure, a home-brew which perfectly embodied Monte Cook's vision of "the weird", was outstanding.  I was so incredibly lucky to have had nothing to do Friday night, and I can't wait to play in one of Fred's adventures again!  

Dante, Mike, Mike, Ray, Shannon, and I take on Father Foss

The Greatest Game of The Strange Ever

Have you ever heard of L.G. Babcock III?  In Bruce Cordell's adventure, The Eschatology Code, one of the characters (L.G.) was an ex-child star turned agent of The Estate.  How lucky were we that one of our players, Mike, decided to chose this character and play him to the limit!  In one scene, where the characters were dealing with terrorist/gremlin activity on a plane, Mike rolled a "1" for his initiative prompting a GM Intrusion.  L.G., waiting to get into the fight, turned to the right and locked eyes with a dozen older women, each a member of the L.G. Babcock fan club.  The women charged across the aisle screaming "we gotta save L.G. from the lasers," restraining him from aiding the rest of the party for a short while.  Well Mike took this scene to a whole 'nother level!  

After learning that the fan club was gathering at a local Dunkin Donuts in Sioux Falls, where the evil Father Foss was preparing to aid in destroying the Earth, the party engaged in an all out Twitter war with Foss and his parishioners.  Images of L.G. were photoshopped alongside the dark pastor, with tweets like #FrFossLuvsLG inciting rage within the All Souls Church.  Soon, L.G. had enlisted the aid of his fan club to cause a distraction at the church, allowing the party to gain easy access to their target: a quantum computer.  

I'm pretty sure we had the only team of Estate agents that used Tweets as an asset while at Gen Con.

Shanna, Monte, and Bruce had to hear me tell a "my player" story

Idol Worship

It's well known that most RPG player LOVE to tell stories about their characters.  In fact, at a gaming convention it's pretty much expected.  But to tell stories about your characters in Numenera and The Strange with the creators of Numenera and The Strange… well that's the epitome of awesomeness!  It was Saturday night, around 10pm at the Monte Cook Games fan bash, and I was getting the chance to rub elbows with all of the luminous folks who make my two favorite games possible.  We were telling various stories of our games, both from the convention and at home, when Matthew MacKrey and Jeremy Land started sharing a picture by Justin MacAuley portraying my character, Serbrus, and his epic tale of woe in Robert Schwalb's adventure, Beyond All Worlds.  In our regular campaign, run by Lex Starwalker, Serbrus (a Doomed Glaive who Consorts with the Dead) was looking for his wife in a "prison" called the Mouth of the Devourer.  Not to get into too many details, but my glaive found that a certain corpulent villain had a cannibalistic encounter with Mrs. Serbrus.  In an act of disgust, vengeance, and sorrow Serbrus struck down the evil bastard, then reanimated him and cut him down again.  

Well Justin MacAuley crafted a terrific, yet NSFW, artistic rendition of this scene which Matt, Jeremy, and I shared with Bruce Cordell while I told the somber story.  Bruce seemed to love it, and he grabbed Monte Cook so that I could tell it again while showing off the art!  In return, Monte Cook shared his own story of horror, terror, and disgust in a Robert Schwalb crafted adventure involving a blast of maggots with human faces!  More stories were traded, laughs shared, and I was so sorry to see the night end. 

Parting Words

The four days went by too fast, and Monday crashed like a terrible wave against the euphoria of this phenomenal experience.  When I walked into work today everything seemed faded, dull, and completely devoid of color.  Being that this was my first Gen Con, I wasn't prepared for the sudden flood of emotions.  My wife Jennifer often tells me that my time at home in the evenings and on weekends playing games with my kids and friends is my "real life," and that the drudgery of my work week is the illusion.  I lean on this sometimes, using the promise of the weekend to keep me warm when life is cold and hard. I can always say "just a few more days until the weekend," and the problems of everyday life melt away.  Gen Con is a bright shining beacon to those of us who enjoy telling stories, sharing games, and learning new things.  It's a place of wonder, acceptance, and cooperation, and so the memories I took with me from this last experience are especially powerful.  

Luckily for us it's just a few days (346 to be exact) until the next Gen Con!