Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Assassin and the Ranger

I was told this story as an earnest, cherished example of how awesome secrets between players can be in campaigns.

In a high-level AD&D campaign, there was a hapless ranger who was constantly getting killed and being resurrected at great expense. Mostly to himself, I believe--he was deeply in debt to an order of clerics, at a time when the other PCs were getting rich and building strongholds.

For some reason, this irritated another PC, an assassin. I'm not sure if it irritated the PC, or the player.

At any rate, the assassin player approached the GM, saying he wanted to assassinate the ranger. The ranger had no more money available, so this would be his final death.

The GM and assassin player had an impromptu, one-on-one session where the assassin described his plans for finding the ranger in town once the next adventure was over, and how he would go about trying to kill him when his guard was down.  The ranger was a creature of habit

The GM dug up the ranger's stats, and they duelled it out in a hypothetical street ambush - the assassin PC played by his player, and the GM played the ranger, with the GM throwing a few curveballs to try to understand the assassin's backup plans. The mock fight ends with the ranger dead. Satisfied with his plan, the assassin ends his private session.

Time passes. During the group's next session they return to town, at which time the ranger heads off to his usual haunts, exactly as the assassin predicted.

The GM suddenly declares to the ranger that he's under attack by a masked assailant! Using the strategies the assassin described during the rehearsal fight, the GM plays the assassin as an NPC.

The ranger is dumbfounded - who is this guy? Why is he attacking me? His questions are never answered: the fight goes as expected, and the ranger is dead. As far as the player can tell, a high-powered NPC came out of nowhere and killed his veteran PC, for no reason.

With no more cash to his name and too indebted to them already for the church to take pity, it's his final death.

* * *

Other than the fact that the ranger player doesn't know what happened to this day, that's all I know. Still, I have many questions.

Does this sound awesome or awful to you?

Do you think the ranger player had fun?

Does it matter if the ranger player knew it was potentially a competitive game between players?

Did the assassin player get an "extra turn"?

Is it okay that the ranger player still doesn't know what went down?

Is there a meaningful boundary between the game and the players' relationships?

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Does it end with the Martoi?

Amusing session today, the party essentially ninja'd their way to the treasure, avoiding almost all of the opposition.

The party has been on an extended quest, defending their village from the ghostly reawakening of the Martoi. To this end, they've been visiting the six shrines of Tealwood to pick up magic weapons and curry spiritual favor, in the hopes that by mid-summer they'll be able to defeat the ghost-sorcerers.

This has been going well, but true to sandbox form their heads are starting to spin a little bit with all the threads and loose ends that are accumulating. I try to make adventure locations point to one another (via maps, spells that would be slightly better if only they had a such-and-such), and because it's a sandbox they keep encountering wrongs that could be righted, potential treasure spots they don't have time for, etc.

Mostly this is because they've stayed focused on their goal. The ticking clock is wonderfully focusing: the Martoi have put out word that all the villages of Tealwood are expected to bring 'their best' by mid-summer's day, to pay tribute and swear allegiance.

Last session, however, the party's neophyte wizard finally got her way: a trip to Ganer island where they had reason to believe she might learn something that would improve her control over fire magic.

She's been bumbling along, occasionally using it successfully, sometimes frying herself or her equipment. (She's burned through at least a full set of clothing, mundane equipment, and once torched a spellbook with three spells, before anybody could learn them.)

I used *Chains of Heaven* for the top of Ganer island, modifying it to put a Seree spell engine (like the one in Full-Dark Stone) in the sealed tower. (This is what has been calling to Zero.)

I spent a while last night and this morning mulling over the adventure, trying to imagine how Nacharta or Sigordine might react to the players' arrival but.. of course.. it didn't go anything like I had imagined it.

I started off by having a Nuss scout pull 'Agatha' aside as the spread-out party made their way up to the peak.

I'm trying to portray religion as a tapestry of paganistic half-truths, while the players seem to be coming from a standard fantasy pantheon mindset. They're dying to categorize the gods, figure out what they want, what they're each the god of, and so on.

The same bunch of players (different characters) visited a shrine of Deel in a gonzo one-shot version of *The Coming of Sorg*, so upon hearing that the Nuss serve "the daughter of Deel," they were hooked. The party was very candid in the resulting conversations, so the Nuss decided an audience with Sigordine was a-ok. The players were bursting with questions.

Sigordine is a dark glass construct, made from the remains of Deel when the gods destroyed the fortress. Being nearly invulnerable, she has very little to fear from the hedge wizards of the world, scavening bits of Seree magic, so I decided to play her as quite transparent and vulnerable. Maybe a bit of Mother's Day seeped into my consciousness, too.

It's funny how off-the-cuff decisions cascade. Why wouldn't an immortal construct made from the body of a dying god know about other divine powers? Well, maybe uh.. prayer is a mortal gift. Yeah! Long story short, before ten minutes were out the party had pledged to find a shrine of Deel and one day restore the bond between Sigordine and whatever scrap of Deel's power remained in the world.

With this established, the players returned their attention to the business of improving Zero's fire magic.

Waiting until nightfall, they surveyed the castle carefully. Between their stealth and a whole series of random encounter rolls coming up empty, they were able to get to the pink tower, crack it open, bond with the spell engine, and get out again with only a single hapless sentry to dispatch.

Now what?

At this point, a really interesting discussion erupted, which felt like the clash of two different gaming styles.  The players had reason to believe that a green wizard and her retinue were somewhere in the castle: there was obviously much more "adventure" to be had. On the other hand, this wizard wasn't in their way - they had what they wanted. Could they just.. sneak out of here and be on their way?

It's funny. I think a sort of loss aversion kicks in as they realize how much of my prep they're skipping. But this is actually pretty cool. The more tangible threats and opportunities they pass by, the more tangible the world feels. Owlshade, Gorm, Gadna Many-Arms, the gray thing they let out of the land of the dead, Emn and her brother at the shrine, the dead of Ragdar, the danger at Morton village, the Ricalu and Rilga who opened a way to the underworld.. Sigordine worried about Narcharta reopening the pit, could that happen? They know they're leaving all sorts of stuff behind, but it's all still there, and they can come back to it whenever they want to.

Some of the younger players paused just to make sure that if they defeated the Martoi the game wouldn't end, would it?

"No," I said, "it doesn't have to."

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Mermaids' Knot, 1PDC Edition

I couldn't pass up entering the one-page dungeon contest. Here's the Mermaids' Knot, one-page edition! Perfect length for reading on public transit on the way to a hasty gaming session.