TSM Detail: The Old Fountain

The centerpiece of Rankford Mitte is a large freshwater pond fed by an underground tributary of the old Ranqor River (“Rankford” is a corruption of “the Ford of the Ranqor”) which runs along the northwest side of town before meandering east and heading underground. The pond is encircled by a low stone wall of ancient make, but is well-maintained by the Gnomish families who settled north of town centuries ago, and who also built the Watchtower. Arching stone walkways pierce the wall in three places and converge roughly in the center of the pond in a wide stone platform. A hand-cranked well, circular and weather-worn extends three feet above the platform and disappears into the pond.

The extent of the pond varies seasonally. In wetter years, it has been known to overspill its rock wall. In dry years, the pond has shriveled to a damp shadow of itself, but the well has never failed to meet the demands of the citizens of Rankford.

Families will often queue up shortly after dawn to fill their buckets and water sacks from the well. While many will dip a cup into the pond on occasion, especially the senior members of the community, or those wishing to adopt the mantle of a town elder, by custom the pond is off-limits for other uses, including bathing or play. Drunken miners and adventurer passers-by are promptly rousted by the town militia if they breach this custom, if they aren’t met with a hail of rocks from concealed slingers first.

The Mayor, when Rankford has one, is expected to sip water from the pond, either via the ancient and battered silver Cup of Office that adheres to that office, or by hand, before deliberating on serious issues facing the town. The water, it is believed, contains the wisdom of the ancients. “In Well Water is Wisdom,” it’s said. It is more said that truly believed.

In more recent decades, the Mayor’s office has been vacant and major issues are settled by the Tribunal, who eschew the traditional sipping of the waters.

Items are not permitted to be tossed into the pond or (especially) the fountain, with this exception: when a family produces a new offspring, a small wooden boat with a red (for a boy) or green (for a girl) sail is pushed into the pond water by a senior member of the family. The Mayor or other senior official is expected to receive the boat when it reaches the far “shore” and reads a note attached to the tiny mast, revealing the name of the newest citizen in a ceremony going back a hundred years.

Old-timers claim that the pond is of relatively recent vintage, but that the fountain has survived from an earlier age, perhaps from the time of the ancient Netherese. There are many local claims of Rankfordian artifacts that date back to the Netherese; the antiquity of the fountain is probably the item in least dispute.

Those that live near the Ranqor or the StarWater rivers take their water from those sources, or from other ponds in the greater Rankford area, such as Bentbeak Hole. However, when in the Mitte, most will fill a water skin if they have time. Hugo Brewer is the latest in a long tradition of ale crafters who extoll the virtues of Rankford’s water, his brewery having been built atop the same aquifer.

DM Diary: Pulling out the Rug

This last week, a couple of things happened about which the players were clearly unhappy.  I think that one of those situations involved something that I did that I shouldn’t have done (or at least not have done the way that I actually did); and one involved something that I arguably did OK, but that, had I to do it again, would do differently.

In last week’s session (link here), the PCs were facing another wave of attacks as they attempted to, literally, “hold the fort” versus an enemy encamped at the gates.  They made certain preparations, most of which I respected in how they worked against the marauding foes.  However, I put an item, the Wand of Wonder (which I called “The Wand of Wondrous Might”; just as I have called the Deck of Many Things they have “The Deck of Many Wondrous Things,” into the hands of the party.

The party’s magic user, Norm, tried to use it several times.  Two of the five times he tried, it randomly turned him invisible.  Fine.  One time, it useless spat gems out of the end.  That is meant to be an actual attack, presumably, but the enemy that he was attacking was well beyond the range of the cascading gems.  It was the two other abortive uses that caused the consternation.

On the first use, the die roll to determine the “Wondrous” effect was in the range 21-25.  According to D20.net: “You cast Detect Thoughts on the target you chose. If you didn’t target a creature, you instead take 1d6 psychic damage.”  I clarified when the player attempted to use the item (this was the first actual attempt to use the WoW) that he was targeting an area, not an individual creature.  “You’re not targeting a specific creature?” “No, I’m targeting this area.”  Therefore he took 1d6 psychic damage.  I have no problem with how that played out.

Later, when the player was clearly targeting an area again (I didn’t ask this time, I was wary that repeatedly asking the same question would raise a flag), he rolled a result in the range 98-00.  That result, if not targeting a specific creature results in the wielder having to make a certain saving throw.  As written, if one fails, they are restrained and are beginning to turn to stone.  If they fail by 5 or more, they are instantly petrified.  The player made their save.  However, I still imposed a Slowed condition and they were clearly starting to turn to stone.

This result does not match the rules as written.  And it imposes a penalty, even though the player made their save.  That’s harsh, I’ll warrant.  My plan was to allow them to attempt a saving throw on each turn.  On a failed save, they’d move first to Restrained, then to Petrified.  Each positive save would move them in the opposite direction: Restrained ->Slowed -> Normal.  The players were upset that the individual had made a saving throw but still suffered a negative outcome.  I should have given some flavor text when the got the initial result that made it clear that something bad had happened, and that the save was only to determine how bad it would be.  Having things like the WoW and the DomWT require that the DM be flexible and think quickly on his/her feet.  An example:

On a roll of 63-65 the following result is produced: “An object of the DM ‘s choice disappears into the Ethereal Plane. The object must be neither worn nor carried, within 120 feet of the target, and no larger than 10 feet in any dimension.”  What?  What kind of object would I choose, on the fly?  I guess it would be good to familiarize myself with each of the options and make a note or two on what I might want to do if that object is selected.  Next time.

The other issue was one of tactics.  The players had learned from the previous session that one PC could effectively hold a staircase in the fortress against an unlimited number of foes by blocking their path.  As long as the PC could hold out, the bad guys couldn’t move past that character.  They (not surprisingly) deployed that tactic again in the most recent session.

The bad guys sent a stream of combatants against the stairs, and the PC cleric, AC 18 was easily able to hold them off, since the bad guys, buy and large, couldn’t hit him.  Eventually, with a lot going on, I had a raging berzerker hit the cleric successfully (on a fair roll, not that that matters), do a decent amount of damage, then move past him.  His allies followed on the same turn.  The players objected (not right away, but before much time had passed).  How had they managed to get by the cleric?  Just because he had been hit, he hadn’t been moved or knocked down.

The truth was, in the excitement of the moment, I had considered the hit on the cleric such a success that I had simply discounted the blocking maneuver.  I hadn’t consciously  decided that now the situation had changed.  It just seemed like such a watershed that the cleric had been hit at all, that naturally the bad guys could now move forward.  When called on it, I offered a lame justification.

Much better would have been, between sessions, to have given some thought to how the bad guys might have adapted to the tactics that had failed in the first assault and have them developed a new approach to the problem of the stair-block, given that it was almost certain to occur again.

The bad guys, for instance, could have started “shoving” the person on the stairs.  I had to just search for what that action was even called.  There used to be an “bull rush attack option in previous D&D iterations.  Now you “shove.”  I think “bull rush” or “overbear” sound better.  They could have shoved and probably would have been at least as successful.

But simply letting the bad guys get past the blocking maneuver, when I had previously established that it wasn’t possible to get past it, was not the way to go.

Lessons:

  1. before handing out an item like the WoW: print out a list of all the options and have a note on the sheet of any special results and any special rules you want to implement.
  2. Have some narrative fluff prepared for the outcomes of a new item like the WoW.
  3. If the PCs have implemented a successful tactic in one session, and it’s likely to recur in the next, have a plan that the bad guys would try as a countermeasure.  But live with the outcome if it doesn’t work.

TSM Update: The Long Night

IN OUR LAST SESSION…

…our heroes took a few moments to catch their breath, while the enemy outside did the same.  The heroes made some preparations, reinforcing the western door and eastern gate, building a flammable trap using oil, coal and wood at the front passage.

Reinforcements added to the threat facing the heroes.  It seemed to include several large, fierce creatures who, after getting the foes in line, took charge of the operation.  Construction began outside on what proved to be a covered platform on wheels.  Threats began to be issued by one of the new bosses, hurled at the heroes.

An odd bird seemed to grow in the eastern sky and ultimately revealed itself as a flying mechanical shape which landed rather heavily on the aerie at the top of the keep.  Inside was Carly.  She indicated that Rankford knew of the danger that the heroes were in.  They (she mentioned Marg and Gleamsilver) were trying to ascertain how they might help.  Thad mentioned that he knew that Dirac, the Sage was hiding out in the basement of the long-abandoned brothel.  A group, apparently, stormed over, confronted Dirac and demanded that he help out.  Presumably with great reluctance, he provided the vehicle that Carly had just arrived in (a Greater Apparatus of Kwalish) and also an item he called a Wand of Wondrous Might.  Carly turned the Wand over, as well as 4 healing potions provided by Pearl.  She encouraged the heroes to hold out until morning.  That the Purple Dragons were on the way!  She then took off once again in the strange Apparatus, harried almost immediately by a giant bird, similar to the one that Tia had driven off on Pearl’s arrival.

A mysterious low fog slowly swept through the fortress.  As it cleared, the heroes discovered that the bodies of the foes slain in the first wave of attacks had disappeared.

After a brief period of respite, the battle reignited.  Literally!  The front gate burst into a shower of flames and debris.  Whatever force had tried to hammer through the entrance had apparently set off the waiting tinder keg the heroes had put in their way.  Simultaneous with that dramatic show, smaller groups began trying to slip through the side entrances.  An extended running battle then began, with the heroes falling back into the keep, holding the stairs as they had done successfully at the Southeast Tower, and mostly firing from above.  The ballista was employed against the enemy, very successfully at two occasions: first against the wooden platform, destroying it and killing several inside; secondly against a great wingless wyrm the new captains tried to deploy, slaying it as it blasted its cold breath toward the still-flaming gate.

The Wand of Wondrous Might, wielded by Norm was… unpredictable.  It was as likely to impose a negative circumstance on the wielder as it was to turn him invisible or to… fire a stream of gems uselessly.

The mage from the first wave showed up on the rampart.  He held aloft an item on a gold chain and with a gesture and a word, the unliving corpses of those claimed by the creeping fog emerged from the earth and began to assault the keep.  His Magic Missiles also struck grievously at the heroes.

More and more of the enemy swept into the fortress and assaulted the heroes, who were now steadfastly defending the last bastion: the keep.  The ballista proved a great weapon, but of little utility against individuals.  Dain Skullcrusher managed to hold the stairs against many foes, demonstrating over and over again how he came by his surname. Eventually, though, a raging Northman struck Dain a mighty blow and bravely pushed on past him.  His allies, emboldened, did the same.

The fight then moved to the second floor of the Keep, and the greater numbers of the foes began to take a toll.  Dain was able to drive away some of the summoned undead, but the heroes began to fall, one after the other.  Norm’s invisibility, and the arrival of a new force into the melee were the only routes to salvation.

A horde of chitinous, spider-like creatures of unusual size swept into the Fort from the north.  They attacked in groups and quickly mowed down the enemy that the heroes could see.  The party, each rejuvenated by healing potions were able to slip away in the midst of chaos to the roof of the keep, and secure the lone hatch.  From above, they watched the route of the forces arrayed against the heroes by these crab-like beings.  Huddling in silence, they witnessed the new creatures feed on the corpses of those who had sought to take the heroes down.  Those survivors outside the gates seemingly fled before this unexpected menace.

The heroes are concealed on the roof of the keep, crossing their fingers and catching their breath, while the crab-things feed and a single persistent crab scratches from below at the hatch.

Dawn is at least an hour away.

TSM Detail: The Militia Watchtower

This structure, known simply as “The Watchtower” by locals, is one of the ten buildings circling the great pond and fountain in Rankford Mitte.  It sits between the Temple of Gond and XXX.  The Watchtower is a three-storey building, made of dense stone cut by Silas Stonebreaker himself.

The roof of the tower is crenelated and features a trapdoor leading to the 3rd floor, where the militiamen reside.  The second floor holds the Sheriff’s chambers plus some storage.  On the ground floor is the front desk area and the Sheriff’s office.

There basement is made up of two storage areas and the 2-cell gaol.

TSM Update: Knock Knock

IN OUR LAST SESSION….

…just as our heroes were settling into the Purple Dragon’s fortress in the forest, albeit after poor Garl had an unfortunate stumble off the roof of a two story building, some new friends showed up.

The fortress is mostly made up of a high stone wall with a “front door” facing the road and a large main gate facing east, anchored by towers in each cardinal corner, and a single large keep in the center of the enclosed court. There’s also a stable, a small office building, an outhouse, a small door in the western wall, and various storage areas. A heavy hoist is mounted to the wall on the northern end. The northern wall overlooks a great pit or something hundreds of feet below. The ground along the western and (especially) the eastern walls has eroded over time and is precarious and unpredictable. There is little to no walkway left outside the northern wall.

The main keep inside the fortifications seems to serve as a garrison, mess hall and defense-of-last-resort for some previous soldiery. Atop the keep’s roof, a great ballista was found, alongside a stack of huge wooden bolts topped with hammered steel bolt heads. As is the case with each of the 4 towers, large barrels of oil stand here, next to an iron cauldron, and small barrels of arrows are deployed across the surface.

A catwalk ties the four towers together at the top of the crenelated fortress wall. Each tower is made up of a 2-story circular staircase, with barrels of spears and arrows at the intermediate landing and a trap door at each level, secured from above. A trap door and staircase inside a bulge in the wall separates the inner and outer doors in the western wall and allows access to the catwalk.

The office building in the northwest corner of the fortress is comprised of a single windowless room featuring a desk scattered with papers and a few books, and a single bed and footlocker.

Along the back (northern wall) are an outhouse privy, the hoist, and a pile of coal and firewood. From atop the northern wall, Tovlakov spotted a ledge a hundred or so feet below, and the remnants of a rope ladder descending from it. There was no obvious way to reach the ledge short of a dismayingly difficult climb. The privy at the back of the fortress is literally just three walls, a door and a large hole in the ground with a great drop beneath it.

As the morning wore on, two groups seemed to be converging on the road. One made mostly of elves, dressed in leathers and carrying axes from the west, another, mostly dwarves with hammers and heavy axes from the east. Here and there were individuals in armor, and the occasional torch-bearing Man. Keeping the peace and seemingly in charge of these two mobs was a human, bald-headed and robed. He brazenly approached the front gate and began to bang on it and call within. He was not welcomed inside. As the two mobs gathered together to form a single fighting force, the bald man revealed himself to be a wizard of some stripe, and caused the front door to be unbarred and opened. The heroes inside set about defending the fortress, mostly working from the battlements, casting spells, firing arrows and holding the southwest tower from those who made it inside and attempted to storm upwards. A ladder was employed, mostly unsuccessfully. Small groups attacked the eastern and western doors, those on the east quite unsuccessfully, given the pit trap uncovered there. Those doors though, were shattered under axe blows. One attacker made it through the western gate and pounded the trap door open leading to the catwalk there.

At one point the rival wizard instantiated a green glowing hound which assaulted Norm, but which eventually disapparated.

By the end of the session, the initial attack had been smashed. The rival wizard had faded back to his mob, which had been diminished by approximately one-third. The enemy was still encamped outside the fortress, seemingly gathering their collective breath and considering the next assault.

Morning is still a few hours away.

TSM Update: A Thieve’s Guild? In Rankford?

IN OUR LAST SESSION…

…it appears that the Purple Dragons are coming to town, which news seemed to have stirred Eeger, finally, from his perch.

Garl is pretty tough, it turns out, and fights dirty.  And his cell sits atop the entrance to a subterranean training area for local thieves, with it’s own tunnel exit leading north of town, and perhaps somewhere south as well.

After borrowing Hugo’s wagon under the ruse of taking supplies out to the ‘Dragons outpost west of town, our heroes stashed Garl, in chains, aboard it and headed to the outpost as a remote location for his interrogation.  Along the way, they passed the wood mill, sawing away in the middle of the night and arrived at the fortress outpost.  And just across the Road , so the heroes were told, slumped Count Segur’s residence, a mansion in the woods, though one perhaps not up to the standards — viewed from a distance, that one might expect from the Lord Regent of an ancient empire.

After falling and nearly falling off the cliff atop which squats the fortress, our heroes made their way inside the outpost, bringing with them the horse and Garl, and barred the entrance behind them, secure in the knowledge (?) that the Purple Dragons are due in 2 days.

Along the way, they heard from Garl, not at all reluctant, at least initially, to spill what he knew of the conspiracy.  It involves Eeger, the head of the thieves guild, Count Segur who seems to have some unknown sway over Ruddiger the Druid, and Marver the Warden.  They have some associates according to Garl: Mons Millmaster of the mill, and some “ogre,” supposedly.  Skank, he claims, worked for Eeger as a member of the thieves until he made some misstep.  Garl suggested that the Taledos must have likewise acted against the conspirators’ wishes in some way.

Garl said that the conspirators are simply involved in an effort to smuggle mithral from “a hole in the ground” through Rankford and ultimately to Immersea for sale.  It’s about money.  He said that he works for Eeger now, though he used to work for Millmaster until Eeger arrived on the scene.

Garl, perhaps bluffing, seemed very little concerned with his own death, but was enthusiastic in describing how the heroes were now certain to meet theirs, once the conspirators got a hold of them.  Towards the end of the session, though, Garl seemed more withdrawn.

TSM Update: Tunnel of Love

IN OUR LAST SESSION…

… our heroes (Tovlakov and Tia, anyway) explored the mysterious, previously hidden,  basement of the Taledo Transport shipping house.  The basement contained a series of now empty boxes, all bearing the mysterious symbol that we now associate with Count Segur.  And a tunnel heading north.  There was also a knot of rats fleeing the approaching heroes, as well as one dog-sized rat with red eyes.

T&T headed north, and after creeping along for a few hours, and discovering latent tracks of a heavy wagon previously pushed along the passage, they found that the tunnel met up with a much larger, smoother subterranean avenue heading generally east-west.  The uniformity of this larger tunnel led the heroes to believe that it had been bored by an ankheg.  The fact that there was wagon tread leading up to the ankheg tunnel and reappearing on the far side, but no such tracks of a wagon in the larger, smoother passage, seemed to indicate that the ankheg tunnel was newer than the last use of the wagon.

Eventually, after growing generally more damp, the passage from the Taledo shipping house led to a stairway that let out into a closet with a concealed door inside the Taledo office and residence.  T&T managed to slip out, unnoticed.

The entire group of heroes met up an their new hideout, an abandoned structure that Tia seemed to recall was some sort of ill-fated, low-reputation business from her youth.  The party members hid a number of the mithril ingot here.  There was a general planning session then, due to the extremely late hour, the heroes retreated to the Watchtower.

The following morning, Dain and Tovlakov headed to the House of Gond and met up with Pearl.  They convinced her that there might be memories, perhaps involving prominent individuals that she had lost due to the involvement of the satyr Lytus and that it might be important to regain.  She eventually committed to taking the memory restorative tea herself.

Dain had previously drawn a card from the Deck of Many Wondrous Things. He drew the Star card, and as a result became more wise.

Tovlakov confirmed, while Garl was sleeping, that his boots were muddied and covered with recent ash.

As the session began to wrap up, the heroes plotting what to do next, with Lord Segur presumably returning to town on the morning, an oddly-rapt rat, redolent with rare rationality, realizing the role-players recognition, fled, following the facility’s fragments to freedom.  Tia attempted an arrow assault and attained anticlimax.

There seemed to be some concern that the rat might be a servant of Ruddiger.

TSM Update: How long has this been going on?

IN OUR LAST SESSION…

… Tia and Tovlakov made their way, without incident, to gather more flowers for Pearl to use in preparing the memory restoration elixir.  They both eventually drank it, and relived some uncomfortable memories.

Dain spent some time talking to Marg about Count Segur’s schedule.  According to his typical practice, Segur should be in town in less than 48 hours.

The party visited the Oakstrong Brewery.  Hugo has brewed an oaked brown ale as a celebration of the life of his lost brother.

The party identified most of the items that the Mephit “Mike” had put in their goody bag: arrows of Troll and Wyvern Slaying, a Potion of Heroism and a Deck of Many Things, whatever that is.  There are still a few items (a potion, an oil, a few crystal spheres and books) yet to be identified.

There was a particular jay that the party felt was spying on them.  Tia felled it with a single arrow.

There was a late night fire at the Taledo dock, and it was fully burnt to the ground.  Amongst the ashes, the party found an intact shipping container, marked with a familiar, vaguely triangular symbol.  Having retrieved it, the party found it contained six ingots of what they believe to be mithril.

There is a basement space at Taledo’s, apparently still intact.

Tia is considering pulling one of the cards from the Deck.

It’s the militia versus the mithril conspiracy.

Isn’t it?

TSM Update: Let the Memory live again

IN OUR LAST SESSION…

… our heroes escaped from the War Wizards Tower, with the help of a mephit named Mike.  He offered a nice gift bag as consolation.

We learned a bit more about Lord Segur. Apparently he’s been around more than you realized.

Walter, supposedly, was encouraged to give himself in.  His regret at acceding, at least, was not long-lived.

The elixir mixed up by Pearl for the Taledos worked great.  So Norm tried it.  And recalled a meeting between Segur and Eeger that had been wiped out by the satyr’s magical pipes.  Also, that the druid Ruddiger had magically halted the group after the battle with the Ankheg and torn a page from Norm’s notebook containing a particular symbol, drawn from a blackened and burnt book found at the site of the first murder ritual.

Eeger and Segur?  The Warden Marver?  Ruddiger the druid?

Also, what about Skank?  Garl Gleamsilver?

Who can be trusted?

TSM Update

Last week, our heroes ventured out to the SmokeWorks, with the intention of filling in some of the gaps in their memories from Longshanks.  Tia also hoped to see if they could do something with the ankheg armor plates.  Longshanks promised to get started on the ankheg bits, and provided some forgotten information, in particular as it related to the slain ratcatcher Wolfshead.  While visiting with Longshanks, a stir at the SmokeWorks arose.  An elven lumberjack had collapsed, exhausted, after having fled an attack by strange light-skinned, hooved creatures who, he believed, had murdered everyone in his logging camp.

The heroes decided to try to deal with these monsters, presumably kor.  Dain set out with one of Longshank’s ponies to fetch Norm.  Along the way, he ran into a group of wild, enormous wolves who pursued and at various times stood like a man an hurled a javelin at him and the elf who Dain hoped to bring to safety in Rankford Mitte.  One of Longshank’s horses was slain by the wolves, but Dain and the elf managed to escape.

Having fetched Norm, dropped off the elf and returned to SmokeWorks, the party set out where they understood the logging camp that the kor had attacked was located.  They made their way into the wood, along a logging trail, through an abandoned logging camp site, and came to the bloody ruins of the objective.  As we stopped, the kor had noticed the heroes and were preparing for battle.