Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Cypher System Fantasy - Starfall in Ardeyn - Part Two

A Mountain out of a Molehill

Last night we wrapped up our second session of "Starfall in Ardeyn", an adventure that can be found in +Bruce R Cordell's Strange Revelations.  Strange Revelations is a collection of short adventures that can be prepared in just a few minutes, making them perfect for "pickup" RPG sessions, either at a game club, convention, or online.  I went into detail a couple weeks ago about my first impressions of the adventure, and how I intend to stretch out this "Ardeyn-native" quest into multiple sessions.  My original goal was three sessions, but I'm beginning to think that we can go four or five sessions now.  

This week I'm adding some GM's notes in the adventure summary to share my thought process as I first prepared and then ran the session.  If you're planning on running "Starfall in Ardeyn" in a similar manner, perhaps this can help.  

Living 4 Crits Presents

Cypher System Fantasy Campaign

Ardeyn: Land of the Curse


  • Sister Sariety, a Charming Speaker who Works Miracles, played by Frank
  • Zamani, a Spiritual (Ugallu*) Explorer (Magic) who Masters Foot and Fist**, played by Andy
  • Shenuesh, a Graceful Adept (Combat) who Wields Two Weapons at Once, played by Jeremy
  • Yaren, a Foolish Warrior who Stands Like a Bastion, played by Craig
  • Verrenn, a Spectral*** Adept who Casts Spells, played by Marc
* Ugallu is a race option from Broken Immersion by Ryan Chaddock Games
** Masters Foot and Fist is from Worlds Numberless and Strange by Monte Cook Games
*** Spectral is a new and original focus written by Marc Plourde and featured on his blog, Inspiration Strikes

Episode 6: Starfall in Ardeyn, Part Two

Sana Kyrii, the young girl who previously escaped the Spirits of Wrath, explained to the town elder that her family had been killed during dinner, not long after witnessing the falling star.  Only Sana and her younger brother Tejurin escaped the family's farm.  While Sana escaped the corrupting touch of the undead, Tejurin was not so lucky.  The boy collapsed at a flooded fork in the road along the way to Elefar, but pleaded for Sana to continue on and find help.  Sana shared the farm's location with the adventuring party, warning that the wilderness on the other side of the river was treacherous, and to beware of creatures known as "Wrathbirds."  

Hoping to find out more about the "Screaming Crypt", the party asked if there were any experts in town.  Elder Meena pointed up river and shared the location of "Old Gez", a local hermit, who could possibly help.  The characters were warned that the man was quite eccentric, and would probably ask for "something."  

Old Gez certainly didn't enjoy Shenuesh jumping all over his porch, deck, and thatch roof.  The old man's house was situated atop several high stilts, and when the party didn't see a ladder or stairwell, the lycanthropic adept decided to make himself at home.  The old man first tried enchanting Shenuesh, but that didn't work, so he had to convince the rest of the party to deal with their "problem child."  Once Shenuesh was down, Zamani traded a sample of his own blood (Old Gez had never seen an Ugallu before), for entrance into the man's abode.  

[GM's Note:  For reasons unknown I ended up making Old Gez sound just like Will Ferrell's version of President George W. Bush.]

Old Gez traded some useful information about the Screaming Crypt and falling stars.  The latter, Old Gez says, is most likely a fallen and corrupted qephilim spirit.  With the help of a far seeing cypher from Shenuesh, Old Gez was able to inform the party that the crypt's entrance was definitely cracked open, and several Umber Wolves stalked portal.  As payment for Zamani's healthy sample of blood, Old Gez bestowed a motion sensing blessing (cypher) upon the Ugallu monk.  

[GM's Note:  Old Gez is given a brief mention in the official adventure, so I decided to expand upon this social encounter.  I made his home noteworthy and colorful, adding all kinds of strange sights and smells.  His demand, some of Zamani's blood, could've been more of an issue, but Andy didn't seem to have a problem coughing up some Might Points for the good of the party.  I let Andy choose whether or not to give 2 Might Points, 5, or 8 in "blood" to Old Gez.  2 Might Points would gain access to Old Gez and his information.  5 gained access and a cypher.  I was going to give a relatively weak artifact if Andy had donated 8 Might points of blood.]

It was still evening when the party decided to head north.  With poor Tejurin trapped in the woods, time was of the essence.  Local wrestling champ Danyal approached the party before they could leave on the river ferry, begging to tag along, causing various trouble until he was invited.  His sweetheart and her friend had left just an hour earlier, hoping that they could be the ones to destroy the evil possibly seeping from the Screaming Crypt.  

[GM's Note:  As a GM Intrusion I had Danyal hijack the ferry and start pulling himself across the river.  Verrenn had to throw a stasis spell around the kid to stop him.]

After crossing the river, the team made their way along the road.  Just a few miles into the forest, the party came to the fork in the road.  A nearby stream that would typically run through a small tunnel under the trail had become engorged with rainwater, flooding the center of the fork.  Laying face down in the mud was the body of a small boy.  Sister Sariety and Verrenn went to investigate, but when they flipped over the body, a large, brownish, bird-like lizard emerged from the mud, wrapping its tail around the Spectral Adept's leg.  In a flash, three more of the lizard's appeared ready to strike!

[GM's Note:  These "Wrathbirds" were just reskinned Deinonychus's out of the Cypher System Rulebook.  For a picture I used a Crodlu from Dark Sun.  In hindsight, I should've picked a better name… Wrathbird's, Sprits of Wrath… this is a pretty "wrathful" adventure so far…"  

During the battle the adventurers discovered that the Wrathbirds were quite "tricksy."  They set traps for their prey, and attacked in a coordinated pattern.  Shenuesh and Yaren began their melee assault while Sister Sariety resorted to her crossbow.  Zamani's fists could strike both near and far with concussive blasts of wind.  Verrenn began to cast some spells, but his first attempt accidentally caused the dead boy to rise to "unlife."  

[GM's Note:  Marc rolled a "1" and took the GM Intrusion during his Arcane Light spell, so I decided to make the dead boy reappear as a Level 2 zombie, imbued with Verrenn's spectral power.]

Verrenn quickly corrected his mistake but casting "shatter" on a nearby box of nails left next to a tree, dropping one of the Wrathbirds, as well as the undead child.  

Once the rest of the Wrathbirds were defeated Sister Sariety started healing everyone.  Unwilling to take poor Tejurin's body back to the village, especially if it was a pincushion full of nails, the party chose to bury the boy.  The fork in the road could lead the party to either the Screaming Crypt to the northeast, or the Kyrii farm to the east.  Before going to the crypt, the party decided to go check out the farm.

[GM's Note:  The Kyrii family and their farm were my own additions to "Starfall in Ardeyn."  In the original adventure Elder Meena just speaks of Spirits of Wrath attacking the village, and how they need assistance.  I thought that adding the girl and her farm would give the players the opportunity to expand their exploration and turn the adventure into more of a "sandbox" experience.]

The Kyrii farm's central compound was surrounded by a heavy wooden palisade, eight feet in height.  After a quick search, Shenuesh noted that several of the walls and gates had been recently scratched by Umber Wolves.  At the southern gate there were obvious footprints of sandaled feet heading northeast towards the Screaming Crypt.  There was also a trail of blood.  Danyal's sweetheart and her friend were definitely here recently… and one of them was injured.  

The area was very quiet, in fact the sound of insects and creatures of the night were noticeably absent from the surrounding area.  Using his arcane powers, Verrenn determined that the inside of the compound was under the effect of some kind of debilitating curse.  While dangerous for the living, the Spectral Adept believed that he could enter the area unscathed.  

Once inside, Verrenn found the scene of the Kyrii family's death.  It was obvious that five bodies lay on the ground, but with his undead eyes, Verrenn noticed that all five of the dead "souls" were stuck, unable to travel to the Night Vaults in the underworld.  When he relayed this information to the rest of the party, Sister Sariety offered to assist.  Braving the curse, the sister entered the farm and used her healing powers to repair the tethers that could draw the souls into the afterlife.  

[GM's Note:  I made the "Curse" a Difficulty 5 effect that would cause 3 points of Might damage to anyone who successfully made an Intellect Defense roll.  Yes, that was the GOOD result I had picked!  If someone had failed the roll, they would be "afflicted", losing 3 Might and Speed as well as a level of Might and Speed Edge until someone could remove the curse.  I figured this would mean a trip back to Old Gez possibly… with more Old Gez'ian fun!]

Zamani, who had also braved the curse with Sister Sariety, noticed the nearby well on the farm.  Old Gez had stated that the entire area near the Screaming Crypt had been undermined by ancient dungeons and subterraneans ruins.  Zamani thought that the well could possibly be an alternate path into the Screaming Crypt…

… he was right!

As soon as the Ugallu looked over the edge "something" dragged him down.

To be continued.

[GM's Note:  I totally made this last part up on the fly.  I had intended for the area to be undermined, as the dungeons mentioned in the original adventure were stated as such.  But I found the map for the family farm just an hour before the adventure, and hadn't even noticed that it included a well.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, although I'm sure Andy wasn't pleased!]


"Do you really want to go to the Screaming Crypt at night?" - Frank had a good point.

"You know, at this point if you gave me to an old hermit, I'd rather enjoy it." - Zamani was getting tired of the party's teasing.

"So, what can Old Gez do for you?" - Old Gez
"I forget." - Zamani

"I can carry s**t!  If I can wear armor, I can carry rope!" - Marc noting that his character's "spectral" descriptor didn't stop him from carrying "s**t."  

"Uh oh... he wants to mate with you." - Verrenn noticing Shenuesh looking at Sister Sariety.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Magic is Lazy

A Magical Arcane Sorcery Filled Ruin

An adventuring party enters a forbidden chamber, deep within the dark recesses of an ancient ruin.  Worn and crumbling stone pillars line the room, with a glowing golden throne situated neatly in the center.  A robed skeletal figure rests upon the throne, the fine quality of the long deceased’s garments a hint that this skeleton is out of place.  

The party’s thief carefully sneaks into the chamber first, her confidence bolstered by her enchanted elven boots of stealth.  The wizard quietly whispers a few words, creating an arcane barrier protecting him against opposing magic.  With a swoosh, the warrior draws her giant two-handed sword from its rune-carved sheath, while speaking a secret phrase that causes the blade to glow with white fire.  Fearing for the worst, the cleric quietly calls out to the thief, begging her to keep away from the throne until he has the chance to investigate the skeleton using one of his scrolls.

But it is too late.

While the thief succeeded in being silent as she crept into the chamber, she never saw the dark sigil carved into the stone floor.  Instantly struck by some form of dark magic, the thief falls at the feet of the robed skeleton.  Revealing the truth of its undeath, the skeleton rises and points its finger towards the fallen thief, a faint hum of energy filling the room.  But before the skeleton can act, the cleric charges forward with a holy symbol in hand, as he cries out in desperate prayer to the sun god.  An arc of golden light stretching out from the holy symbol strikes the skeleton in the chest, causing it to collapse.  

The thief awakens just a few minutes later, roused by one of the wizard’s potions.  Once the party regroups they begin to raid the chamber for loot, riches, and magic items.

*     *     *

This is a pretty typical scene for a dungeon crawl in any fantasy role-playing game.  A team of magical or magically augmented characters engages a magically cursed undead creature.  I would venture that most of my gaming-life has been spent in these kinds of encounters, especially as I grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons over any other RPG system until I entered my mid-thirties.  Actually, over the last few months when I haven’t been gushing over Star Wars, I’ve focused a lot of my time on fantasy gaming between my Dungeon Crawl Classics and Cypher System Fantasy campaigns.  

But looking back on the obviously stereotypical encounter I described earlier, as well as many (if not “most”) other scenarios in my fantasy games, I’ve come to discover a dark secret:

Magic is lazy.  

Magic certainly powers a lot of themes and tropes in a fantasy campaign setting.  I guess it is safe to say that the setting wouldn’t be “fantasy” if some kind of magic wasn’t already at work.  Some fantasy settings may use very little fantasy, keeping it mysterious and sinister, while others have entire worlds dripping with arcana.  I remember running Eberron in D&D 3.5 and 4E, where just about everything in the campaign was infused with some kind of magical power.

Need a magic train?  Shove a magic engine inside!  Magic airship!  We’ve got trapped elementals!  

Actually, at least the trapped elemental makes some kind of sense.  There’s a reason that airship is flying, an arcana-infused scientific reason.  Of course then I start thinking about “what is an elemental?”  

Perhaps my recent television and gaming habits are the culprits for my constant need to question everything in an obviously fictional universe.

Ninth Doctor, Ninth World

Let’s travel back to November 2012.  My wife and I were looking for something interesting to watch on Netflix, having just ditched traditional cable television.  We were both fans of Torchwood: Miracle Day, so we decided to start watching the original series.  The two of us were so in the dark at the time that we didn’t even realize that Torchwood was a spinoff of Doctor Who.  Soon we were a pair of neophyte “Whovians”, starting with the Ninth Doctor in the relatively new Series 1, gobbling up episode after episode.  

What captivated my interest with Doctor Who, aside from the many well-written characters, was the way the show handled the supernatural.  A lost spirit wasn’t a “ghost”, rather it was some kind of temporal echo, or perhaps an ethereal alien stranded on earth trying to communicate with its home.  There was a common theme for many of the episodes, of starting a story with something resembling the arcane or occult, but ending with a relatively plausible explanation.  This was unlike anything else I had ever seen on television.  

I simply fell in love with the idea that everything has some kind of scientific explanation.  At the time I was running a regular Savage Worlds homebrewed steampunk campaign called “Clockwork”, and I stole heavily from the Doctor Who and Torchwood concepts.  Nothing was magical; everything had either a scientific or pseudo-scientific background.  

What Doctor Who started, however, Monte Cook finished.  

In the summer of 2013 I got my first look at Numenera, a science-fantasy world where the “magic” and “sorcery” is all powered by a billion years of science and technology far too advanced for a futuristic society to fully comprehend.  A nano (science-wizard) may summon forth a “fireball,” but the flames are not enchanted, but just the air combusting due to rapidly moving nanites.  The healer may pray while closing a wound, but actually it’s her mutation that allows the cells of her own body to assist those of her patient.  

Often in Numenera, neither the game master nor player truly know “why” a power, cypher, or artifact “works”, but can rest assured that the answer isn’t just “it’s magic.”  Even with Numenera’s sister game, The Strange, the idea that an alien dark energy network creating new realities adds a little validity to worlds powered by magic.  

Magic This, Magic That, Magic Everything

By far, my largest “issue” with magic is how it has the capability of stopping the creative process.  Once the storyteller says that something is “magical”, the players stop asking questions.  

Eureka, the item is magical, case closed!  Now let’s add it to our stash!

Perhaps the characters will pick up the item, and make sure that it isn’t “cursed”, but really that’s just another way for something to be enchanted.  If it’s a doorway or portal, they may need to dispel the magic to move on to the next chamber.  Rarely is there an opportunity to figure out “why” something is enchanted, or how it came to be so, unless the item is some kind of artifact.    

Personally, I’ve had more fun placing non-magical yet unique items in fantasy games than magical artifacts.  At least it forces players to keep looking for answers regarding the item, or find more creative ways to use them in the game.    

Magic weapons are by far the worst offenders.  In the many incarnations of Dungeons & Dragons there are many monsters that can only be hit by some kind of unique substance… or a magic weapon.  Finding a handful of cold-forged iron spears or a quiver of silver arrows could make for their very own adventures.  Or the players just grab their regular magic swords (since they all have them by fourth or fifth level) and take down the were-creatures or ghosts head on.  

This is just another reason why I’ve come to enjoy Dungeon Crawl Classics so much… magic is so limited, and so mysterious, that magic items are incredibly rare…

… but me being “me”, I still crave a deeper explanation on what is making something “magic.”  

Making the Typical Atypical

Let’s take that short scenario I crafted earlier.  Here’s a list of everything that could be powered by some kind of magic:

  1. The glowing throne
  2. The thief’s enchanted elven boots
  3. The wizard’s shield spell
  4. The warrior’s flaming sword
  5. The cleric’s scroll
  6. The dark sigil in the stone
  7. The undead skeleton
  8. The sun god
  9. The priest’s light spell
  10. The healing potion

Why do these items/powers/creatures work or exist?  The easy answer, as I’ve mentioned already, is to just say “magic”.  Perhaps your campaign would categorize some as “wizard magic” and others as “priestly magic”.  

But as a fan of both Doctor Who and Numenera, I’m fairly spoiled and want more answers.  If I were to give this a “weird” twist for Numenera the list would look like this:

  1. The throne is surrounded by the glowing guano of mutated bats
  2. The boots are crafted with leather from a very quiet feline creature that lurks the Beyond
  3. The nano’s shield “esotery” is actually a swarm of quickly flying nano-bots
  4. The flaming sword is actually part of a crashed starship’s reactor, and the flames are just exhaust
  5. The words on the priest’s scroll (a cypher), if spoken with the proper pitch and tempo, can allow the user to access a dormant portion of the Datasphere
  6. The dark sigil just marks the boundary of a high frequency sleep inducing harmony
  7. The skeleton is a mostly destroyed cybernetic organism, but the processing unit in the skull still allows minor motor control of the synth “bones”
  8. The sun god is an AI that exists in the Datasphere
  9. The sun god creates a “portal” between the sun itself and the skeleton, allowing a gout of hot plasma to destroy the creature
  10. The healing potion is a perfectly sealed Crystal Pepsi from a billion years in the past

Okay, I’ll admit that my first ten items were very stereotypical, and I spent much more time on the Numenera list, but that gets to my point.  As game masters, perhaps we should be spending this kind of time when we are creating magical items or encounters.  I’ve been running mostly fantasy campaigns since the middle of the summer, and I’m certainly guilty of an overreliance on stereotypical magic-based explanations.  

Let me see if I can find a happy medium between the two lists… a way to embrace the fantasy world while still adding some plausibility to the creation of these items:

  1. The glowing throne is surrounded by bio-luminescent fungi.  Not magical, but definitely worth some gold pieces as alchemical reagents.
  2. The thief’s boots are made from real elf skin, which makes them exceptionally silent.  These could be magical and quite possibly cursed by the ghost of the dead elf used.
  3. The wizard’s shield is conjured from the elemental plane of air.
  4. The warrior’s flaming sword gains its power not through the weapon, but the rune-carved scabbard.  The soul of a long-dead general is trapped in the scabbard, and she imbues the blade with magical power each time it is drawn.
  5. The cleric’s scroll is just a list of directions of things to look for in order to determine whether or not something is or is not cursed.  
  6. The dark sigil in the stone is a cautionary boundary marking the safe distance between the characters and the bio-luminescent fungi.  The fungi is toxic!
  7. The undead skeleton is still simply an undead skeleton, its soul forever trapped and bound to the chamber.  
  8. The sun god may be good and just, but is also parasitic in nature, as a portion of the god’s power actually takes over the cleric’s body and soul as move up the ranks of the priesthood.  
  9. The priest’s light spell is the parasitic sun god letting off a little energy.
  10. The healing potion is a curative tonic that has crossed space and time to find itself in this fantasy world.  In reality, it’s still just a refreshing Crystal Pepsi.  
I may have to use this list in an upcoming adventure now!

Bringing Magic Back

What are your thoughts?  Is magic a complex power source in your campaigns, or an under embellished crutch?  Do you find yourself trapped in worlds infused with too much magic, or have you found some kind of balance?  

How have you been able to keep magic mysterious and wonderful in your games? 

You know now that I think of it The Force is kind of lazy too.  

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Gaming 2015

Happy holidays fellow gamers!

While I've been quiet this week on Living 4 Crits, our family has been crazy busy celebrating.  We went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens twice last weekend, and then spent Christmas with my parents in Delaware.  Santa brought a lot of great presents for the kiddos, but I think they preferred the gifts that Captain Phasma delivered in her First Order shuttle...

This was a fun gift to get into the kids' hands.  Even my wife didn't know that I was letting them have Disney Infinity 3.0, so it was up to me to do the planning... scary!  
I placed a silver wrapped gift behind one of my parents' blinds, that just read "To: Evie, From: Captain Phasma."  When she opened the gift there was a Kylo Ren mask inside.  I told Evie to wear the mask and follow me into my parents' sun room. There, on the floor, was another silver gift: Disney Infinity 3.0.  Evie carried the wrapped gift into the living room so everyone could join in opening the next present from Captain Phasma.  
So the kids were thrilled, and believed that they were just getting the game...

... that's when I told them to go back in the sunroom together, where I uncovered all of the Star Wars figures available for the game.

Sure, the kids will have a great time playing with these figures on the Xbox 360, but I'll probably us them for some tabletop gaming.  The 2.0 figures made great mini's, so I expect no less with these figures.  

After presents and brunch, the family settled in for a long day of hanging out with new toys and presents.  Along with the Star Wars toys and Legos, I got Evie a few items for the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game.  She got a Star Viper as well as another TIE/fo for when we set up some Force Awakens missions.  Not to be outdone, with an gift card I picked up a new T-70 X-Wing, on top of a bunch of Edge of the Empire books...

... and Age of Rebellion... 

... yes, the post Star Wars Episode 7 bug is completely consuming me.

Evie also got a new Death Star play mat for our games, so we grabbed my eldest daughter Carrie and settled down for a little Christmas Day gaming!

Evie flew a trio of TIE fighters (Mauler Mithel and a pair of Academy Pilots), and Carrie had Boba Fett in Slave I.

I brought Han Solo and Chewie in the Millennium Falcon, as well as Wedge Antilles in his X-Wing.

For points, we evened out with 95 points each.

It was a fantastic battle, especially because I won!

(Seriously, how often does that happen?)

In hindsight, Evie was hamstrung by having Carrie as a partner.  While a good player on her own, Carrie wasn't communicating her movements well with Evie, and therefore kept flying off.  In their opening sequence of movements, they led their TIE's in a straight line formation, allowing me to heavily damage one of them, before turning Han and Wedge on Slave I.

By the time Mauler Mithel shot down Wedge Antilles, the battle was already won... Carrie and Evie just didn't realize that the tides had turned.  Although one ship down, the kids' ships were all seriously damaged, with two (including Slave I), barely keeping it together.  Han and Chewie finished off all four of the Imperial vessels one after the other.

Carrie left the table as soon as Slave I was destroyed.  But Evie hung on until the end, donning her Kylo Ren mask in tribute to the fallen.

All in all we had a fantastic Christmas Day, and are incredibly excited for the rest of the Holiday season.  I've got a Cypher System Fantasy game scheduled for Tuesday, and Carrie and I are running a Dungeon Crawl Classics Star Wars tournament funnel called "Wrath of the Gungan Hordes" next Saturday.

Somewhere in the middle of all this I need to squeeze in a little Star Wars: Edge of the Empire as well... as the Force continues to call to me.  I spent much of today reading "Lords of Nal Hutta", and am ready for a Hutt based adventure!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Cypher System Fantasy - Starfall in Ardeyn - Part One

Fantastic Revelations

Far too much time passed since my weekly Cypher System gaming group last gathered on Google Hangouts to sling cyphers and spend effort.  I've been very busy at work, and running a two or three hour RPG session after a ten or eleven hour day can be rough.  But I've missed playing with this group.

I've missed it a lot! 

So I dedicated myself to running a series of adventures with our Cypher System Fantasy - Ardeyn: Land of the Curse characters, aiming for weekly/bi-weekly two-and-a-half hour sessions.  I would just need to find an adventure to play.  I wouldn't have time to write a homebrew adventure, not with all my Cypher Star Wars'ing going on right now.  I also didn't feel like doing an adventure conversion from Dungeons & Dragons to the Cypher System.  

What I really wanted seemed impossible: a fantasy adventure set in Ardeyn but outside of The Strange campaign setting.

Apparently +Bruce R Cordell read my mind, because when I flipped open my brand new copy of Strange Revelations, I discovered "Starfall in Ardeyn!"    

This adventure had everything I wanted.  Just a great quest taking place right in the middle of Ardeyn without any translations to other recursions.  This was PERFECT for what I wanted to do with our Cypher System Fantasy campaign!  


Strange Revelations is designed to allow Cypher System game masters the opportunity to prepare a published module in very little time.  Most of these I could prepare in ten to twenty minutes.  But without any time constraints, I took my time with "Starfall in Ardeyn."  The first four pages of the adventure feature the core of the plot and story, but the last two pages give terrific suggestions for running the adventure over the course of several sessions in a campaign.  

My goal was to turn "Starfall in Ardeyn" into a three session adventure-arc.

I also decided to throw in a few tweaks:

  • I created a tavern called the "Thrice Charmed Demon" that could serve as a base of operations for the adventure.
  • As an easter egg, I threw in Pitricus Sederaste as the tavern owner.  Players in my old D&D 4E Ravenscape (Ravenloft/Planescape) campaign would recognize this character as a beloved but deceased, NPC.
  • I opened up the adventure with an encounter between Pitricus and some local street thugs trying to steal some of his tasty beverage.  
  • The Seven Moons Jubilee reminded me of the Millennial Fair from Chronotrigger, so I wanted to include a few other games that the players could try while in Elefar… one of which I titled Bones.  Believe me, you don't want to try that game at home.  

I'm so happy that we had the opportunity to get back to the table last night!  Sitting down with Marc, Andy, Frank, Craig, and Jeremy felt like being "home" again… 

… and I was certainly homesick for Ardeyn.

Living 4 Crits Presents

Cypher System Fantasy Campaign

Ardeyn: Land of the Curse


  • Sister Sariety, a Charming Speaker who Works Miracles, played by Frank
  • Zamani, a Spiritual (Ugallu*) Explorer (Magic) who Masters Foot and Fist**, played by Andy
  • Shenuesh, a Graceful Adept (Combat) who Wields Two Weapons at Once, played by Jeremy
  • Yaren, a Foolish Warrior who Stands Like a Bastion, played by Craig
  • Verrenn, a Spectral*** Adept who Casts Spells, played by Marc
* Ugallu is a race option from Broken Immersion by Ryan Chaddock Games
** Masters Foot and Fist is from Worlds Numberless and Strange by Monte Cook Games
*** Spectral is a new and original focus written by Marc Plourde and featured on his blog, Inspiration Strikes

Episode 5: Starfall in Ardeyn, Part One

Interested in riches and glory beneath the ancient city of Shalmarn, the party departed  the Citadel Hazurrium and headed east towards the Borderlands.  Only a few days into their journey they arrived in the small river town of Elefar, discovering that the entire population was in the midst of a great celebration: the Seven Moons Jubilee.  Tired from travel, the adventurers decided to find the local inn and spend the night in a warm bed.  

As the characters explored the town, they noticed a scuffle down one of the alleys.  Four street toughs had cornered a bald man carrying a small barrel of ale.  Shenuesh led the team towards the commotion, intent on either stopping the violence or adding to the bloodshed… either/or.  The man, Pitricus Sederaste, was the owner of Elefar's most popular Inn and Tavern: the Thrice Charmed Demon.  Apparently the thugs had lost quite a lot of money in one of the tavern's games of chance, and hoped that Pitricus' small barrel of brew could net them some coin.  

The party had no problem resorting to their weapons, but Pitricus whispered to Shenuesh that the leader of the thugs was Elder Meena's son.  So began a war of intimidation.  Zamani began by shouting some harsh  and pointy words.  Verenn tried to show his spectral face… only to have some rogue dust cover his ectoplasmic visage giving him the appearance of just being a pasty old-dude.

Shenuesh then stepped forward and put his hands on the lead thug's shoulders.  Allowing his lycanthropic power to surge, Shenuesh's claws lengthened, piercing the gang member's flesh.  

"Run," Shenuesh whispered to the man.  The elder's son complied.  

Grateful for his rescue, Pitricus invited the party back to his tavern for free drinks and a couple rooms for the night.  As they walked, however, a brilliant light crossed the sky.  

It was a falling star!  The fireball burned through the air, and fell on the western slopes of the nearby mountains.  Perhaps it was an omen of good fortune.  

Pitricus guided his new friends to the Thrice Charmed Demon.  A dark but cozy, busy but impossibly clean establishment, Pitricus' tavern featured a gorgeous bar, a full kitchen, and several rooms for travelers.  Two of the walls were adorned with ornate weapons, while the wall behind the bar featured the worn and used weapons of former adventurers.  

The party sat at a comfortable table and enjoyed several pitchers of fine ale.  While imbibing the flavorful drinks, Sister Sariety noticed a strange game taking place nearby.  Two farmers nervously stared each other down, laying down coins while calling out parts of their body.

The game was called "Bones", and the rules were simple:  

Start with the toe, end with the skull.

Two players would kneel face to face next to a rack of hammers, mallets, planks of wood, and crowbars.  Each would take turns calling out a bone in their body that they would be willing to break, placing several coins into the pile.  One by one, more important bones would be called out.  Eventually one of the players would call out a bone that the other would not be willing to break, causing their opponent to forfeit.  

That's when the winner would have their own declared bone broken, winning the pot.  

It was a sick game, and Sister Sariety wanted Verenn to play!  She tried to figure out a way to allow her spectral associate to "fake" a bone break.  But when she learned that the two players were playing for their summer's earnings at their respective farms, she changed her mind.  Affter one of the players had their shoulder broken upon "winning" Bones, the Sister healed the man's wound. 

"Arcana!" everyone in the tavern started to shout.  Apparently an unwritten rule of Bones was that no magic could be used in the game.  Being the fast talker that she was, however, Sister Sariety talked her way out of any trouble through her new friend Pitricus Sederaste.  Pitricus suggested that the party head outside and enjoy the wresting matches.  

Obviously the chance to wrestle during the Seven Moons Jubilee piqued Zamani's interest.  The ugallu explorer signed up to fight a local favorite named Danyal.  Sister Sariety signed on to be Zamani's trainer while Shenuesh accidentally found himself assigned to the role of "oiler."  While the Sister called upon the Maker to give Zamani a power inspiration of "aggression" in battle, Shenuesh started oiling the ugallu's fur.  

Unbeknownst to Shenuesh, the oil was made with Silversage, an herb that had little effect on normal humans, but made lycanthropes drunk.  The very pleasant Shenuesh then tried to "sculpt flesh" on Zamani, only to fuse his own flesh to his friend's and then pass out.  So Zamani would have to battle Danyal with a passed out lycanthrope attached to his chest…

… and the crowd loved it!

The wrestling match was heated for several minutes.  Zamani punched at Danyal, nearly knocking him out of the ring, only to be pushed back by the local powerhouse.  But after a few throws, Shenuesh got knocked free from the ugallu's body.  Without a lycanthrope draped across his furry chest, Zamani easily tossed Danyal out of the ring.  


Zamani left the ring and was approached by Pitricus.  The tavern-owner made the ugallu explorer an offer.  If Zamani and the party could bring back a token of greatness to the Thrice Charmed Demon, Pitricus would give them a significant quest.  

The deal was almost prophetic.  Just at that very moment, a scream could be heard from the far bank of the river.  

The party ran across the field and saw a young woman being chased by six shadowy spirits. The woman leapt into the river, swimming frantically towards the party.  Quickly the party began peppering the Spirits of Wrath with crossbow bolts and Arcane Flares.  When the undead realized that their threat was on the other side of the river, they turned incorporeal and flew across the flowing waters.  Once corporeal again, the party let loose their attacks.  Yaren's blade and Shenuesh's claws joined with Zamani's fists and Verenn's spells to dissipate the undead.  

After Elder Meena spoke with the poor farm girl he turned to the party.  The Elder feared that the Falling Star seen earlier in the day had broken the seal of the Screaming Crypt.  

Shenuesh frowned.  "That's the trouble with Ardeyn," the Adept said.  "Everything's built near a Screaming Crypt."

To be continued.


"So… We probably shouldn't kill him." - Verrenn talking about the Elder's son.
"If we kill him we just need to make sure the body disappears." - Yaren's response.

"He's got what you might say is a weak constitution." - Shenuesh referring to Verrenn.

"Oh that's funny, I used to live too." Verrenn joking about his undeadness

"Dibs." - Shenuesh claims the star.

"I just said I'd feel less bad." - Frank on why Andy should break his limbs playing bones.

"Why aren't you betting on me?  You saved me from a gladiator pit!  I'm a gladiator!" - Zamani was ticked off that Sister Sariety didn't want him to wrestle.  

"He will be the one to apply the oils." - Elder
"Oils?  What oils?" - Zamani

"Yeah, I can't let them kill my idiot grandson…" - Marc about Craig

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Villainous Scum - Cypher System Stormtrooper Bonus

Bonus Feature!

I know a bunch of my friends (myself included) are trying to stay away from social media.  Although I haven't seen any spoilers yet, I know they are lurking out there… just waiting to grab my eye and spoil Star Wars: The Force Awakens!  

Damn, the Internet can be a jerk sometimes!

But I need to be on here at least a little bit, as I have work to do.  This Saturday I'm running a Cypher System: Star Wars adventure that I've titled Between the Rocks Waits the Hard Case.  I thought that I had enough pre-gen characters for the game… six really cool pre-gens ready to stomp some Rebel butt.  Of course then I did the math, and realized that I could be a character short.

So I decided to make some stormtroopers.

Actually, I only created one stormtrooper, but gave that character the "Dies" focus out of +Ryan Chaddock's book The Translation Codex.  The focus is designed so that a single player can be a group of minions.  All of the Focus abilities require the character to "die", and then another appears in the next round.  

For example, the First Tier ability, "Hidden Danger", allows the character to spend one point of might to find a trap or threat, but then get killed by the threat.  The character discloses the threat to the rest of the party just before death (or perhaps while they are dying.  One round later a new character appears, with all the same skills and abilities.

As a "bonus feature" for this Saturday's game I decided to feature the Stormtrooper build on the blog.  Enjoy!  

*     *     *


  • "Just a bunch of Stormtroopers"
  • Clumsy Warrior who Dies
    • Tier 1
    • Effort 1, XP 0
  • Stat Pool (Edge)
    • Might 16 (1)
    • Speed 10 (1)
    • Intellect 8 (0)
  • Abilities
    • Practiced in Armor
    • Overwatch
    • Bash
    • Pierce
  • Connection
    • Assigned to Commander Dragoon's team by the Empire.  
  • Secret
    • You have a bad feeling about this.
  • Equipment
    • Blaster Rifle (Heavy), Stormtrooper Armor (Medium), Commlink

You are a Stormtrooper… so… well… good luck.