Friday, 28 September 2012

The Drow of Xen'drik (part 1)

These posts are copies of the summary emails I write for our DnD group. The current mini-adventure is an Eberron tale, set in the jungles of Xen'drik, where the party are taking the roles of drow (and one dwarf). Whilst I take great effort to follow Eberron canon, there are undoubtedly bits where my story strays or contradicts stuff. I'm aware, this is my story, and we're not playing to create new canon, but to have fun. So, read on and enjoy!

Two Years Ago

A dream came to the minds of three prominent figures in three different tribes of the drow of Xen'drik: Xen'kar Gen'thac of the Sulatar drow; Ek'ann Torkak from the Umbragen; and, Curra Xar'cha who led the Vulkoori. Each dream showed a tower, through which a great threat to the drow would arrive. The three who shared the dream - known as "seekers" by the wise ones, priests, and other leaders of each tribe - quickly convinced their tribes to search out this threat, and deal with it before it became too great.

The City of Silver and Bone

It was believed that the dreams referenced Shae Tirias Tolai, an ancient and long-ruined fey-spyre lost deep within the jungles. The fey-spire had been the home of the drow's distant relatives, the eladrin. The spires would flutter between the feywild and the material planes, allowing the eladrin soldiers within to break forth and take what they needed, before vanishing for many years more. However, back in the Age of Giants, the spire had its last jaunt - besieged by the powerful forces of the giant nation at its peak, the spire fell, and all the eladrin were killed or taken captive. Since then, it has stood, empty and forgotten; a hollow shell, testimony to the power of the giants of old.
It was decided that the eladrin spire should be found once more. Now known as the "City of Silver and Bone", the mysterious location was sought after by many parties from each of the three main tribes, each wanting to win favour and renown for their families by making the discovery. But as often happens when folk wandered too long in the Xen'drik jungles, the parties slowly died off, or became too weak to continue alone. Some groups merged with other surviving hunters they came across, others vanished without a trace. Yet others dared return without success, and their humility will remain with their clans for generations to come.

The Hunting Parties

One of the Vulkoori parties was doubly blessed in their number - not only did they have one of the three seekers herself (Curra), but they also had a divine avatar of Vulkoor - the scorrow Ryltar. Membership into this party was sought after, but Curra and Ryltar had the last say, bringing in those they knew and had worked with before, such as the druid scout, D'Jhudi'it. After working together to scour the eastern coast of the continent, they picked up their strange dwarven companion, Kami (a long way removed from her home amongst the Lhazaar Principalities), on their way to the Marsh of Desolation. Their numbers were seven now, with the inclusion of the dwarf, almost half of what they had started with when they had set out from home three moons ago.

The Sulatar seeker, Xen'kar, did not join a search party, and instead ran the structured grid by grid search of the surrounding jungles from his library. He connected to each of his students elected to run the teams via camp fires. Through his powerful magic, he could reach out and give instructions to dozens of such teams throughout the jungle at once. The same ritual allowed him to hear reports and check on the progress of all those who would be his eyes and ears. And being hard-working, eager to please drow, they all wanted to fall into line. Because of this, when a campfire was missing, he knew something was wrong.

The night before the two parties met, Curra and her followers had seen great gouts of fire pouring into the night sky, threatening to take over the surrounding forests, and burn everything in their paths. Fearing another Argonnessen raiding party (it was the season for dragons to scour the forests), they watched and waited, everyone ready for attack or flight, depending on the outcome. But the forest didn't burn, and the silhouettes of dragons against the starry sky were not seen. What was seen were three drow bodies, their skin singed and cut, their clothing bloodied from battle. One did not live to see the rising sun, so great were her wounds, but the other two, who gave their names as Quayanorl and Bel'Tarayne, were able to tell of their deadly encounter.

The First Defeat

They were ten in number: four who were trying to win leadership; five who followed, well aware of their powers; and one who outclassed them all. Not enough to truly be feared, but just enough to be the clear leader...until he was taken down a peg. They had come across some ruins - giant in origin, as most ruins in Xen'drik were. Kas'asar declared that they should be searched, and led the exploration into their depths. She claimed to feel the power hidden within, power of the giants of old, power that would aid them on their mission, or at least give rise to their status in the tribe. What they found, however, was an enclave of giants. They, like all other giants throughout the land, lacked the power and magical abilities of their ancestors, but they had numbers on their side. Over two dozen of the creatures flooded out of the ruins, and half the drow were killed within minutes. The remainder fought back hard, but quickly realised that this was not a fight they could win - not this time, anyway. Thoughts turned to retreat, and another of their number, Brenna, held off three giants with her magical flames whilst allowing the few survivors to escape. Only three did, and now, they were only two.

That meeting was almost a week ago, and though Quayanorl and Bel'Tarayne had hoped to find remnants of their former group elsewhere in the forest, none of them had been seen since. The giants still moved around the ruins, making the search for survivors or captives most dangerous. There were mutterings within the group of the need to move on, and though 'Tarayne felt his heart twinge at the thought of leaving any trace of Brenna behind, he realised that by himself, he would not be able to avenge her, let alone have any hope of finding her again.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Our First Foray into Gamma World

The Game

It started a month ago. A robot rolled down from the foothills to the village edge. The Ancient device buzzed and blinked, then blew up. The same thing happened the next day, and the next, and almost every day since. However, on at least four occasions, a robot succeeded in reaching the village periphery, buzzed, blinked, and fired a rocket at the wall - though, the rocket blast had little effect. The whole village was wondering: What the heck is going on up in the foothills
- Intro to "Steading of the Iron King",  found in the Gamma World Rulebook, p139.

And so it was that four unusual folk came together: Penniflotation, the fungoid hawkoid; his partner-in-many-conman-affairs, Fairult, the exploding hyper-cognitive; Fairult's uncle, Polecat the magnetic felinoid; and José, the gelatinous cockroach, who knew Polecat throguh a secret society.  Funnily enough, José and Penniflotation had fought together in the war.

Together, they ventured into the hills, following the tracks of the robots back until they found a steading in the hills.  Approaching the guards (a couple of badders and two porker marauders), it quickly became apparent that they were not going to let them past.  Not without a fight, anyway.  José had already crept part of the way up, making the most of his invisibility, whilst the flying mushroom hovered above the battlefield.  The porkers were roasted quickly - not surprisingly, for hired mercenaries seldom perform their tasks well. 

The remaining badder saw he was done for, and quickly burrowed deep into the ground, as the doors to he steading opened, and out came two more of the guards, prodding a fearsome yexil mauler in front of them!  With no snappy garments to distract the laser-eyed lion-beast, the party was quickly defeated, and all answers as to the strange robots seemed to die with them...

Fortunately, there was one other band of apparent misfits.  Krawler, the plant rat swarm, and his old friend Oakroad (a reanimated nightmare bounty hunter) teamed up with Oakroad's old (and failed) mark, Mentos, a shape-shifter mind-breaker.  Mentos brought with him Heavy Thought, a mind coercer gravity controller, with whom he had been fighting (mentally, of course) over a particular lass in the village.  Mentos had won.

The new team arrived on the scene only moments after the yexil had finished consuming the last party, and with decisive action (and a well-placed hand grenade), quelled the beast and its guards.  Finally, they made it inside the steading.  The immediate entry had little more than a large, noisy machine, set up to recognise and heal the badder guards.  Not wanting that to happen, Oakroad took it upon himself to slowly break it (for his body healed up any injuries he might have otherwise sustained). 

Pushing further into the complex, the team came across a rather nasty nest - amidst a patch of glowing purple-blue moss, two blaashes (radioactive moths the size of a large dog) and three blood birds had set up home.  Krawler was the first in, and had not his latest alpha mutation cruelly backfired, may have lasted more than mere seconds.  Instead, he fell quickly, as the blood birds swarmed him and sucked each individual part of his swarm dry.  Behind him, the others managed to fell a few of the birds, but the moths radioactive beams were too strong; before long, it was only Heavy Thought left standing, and like many folks do when the tables are so badly turned against them, he turned and ran.

The gamma moths made short work of the unconscious would-be heroes, and despite his dash for safety, Heavy Thought never managed to pry the blood bird from his shoulder.  Before he had made it back to the front door, it had clipped his jugular, and managed to have a hearty feed. 


Our group had a change of campaigns, and since I had all three Gamma World sets sitting on my shelf, unplayed, since they were released, I put forth the option to run a one-shot game.  After a few folks were busy or sick, we had four players and myself, and I ran through the first half of the adventure in the Gamma World rulebook.  None of us had played Gama World (in any of its iterations) before, but were all familiar with DnD 4e, and so only had to remember the few differences in the game (second winds as minor actions, the lack of surges, and the craziness of character creation).  We used the character half-sheet origins found here, and found them great.  Instead of having to roll between three books, work out who was using what book, and worrying about getting doubles, I printed off each of the sheets, cut them up, and shuffled them into one large deck.  We also used the great Junkulator to give the characters some amusing (though ultimately, not used) starting gear, and ideas from Fiasco: The Fallout to build relationships.  

The combat was fast and hectic...and lethal, as you would have read above.  The lethality was partly due to our own unfamiliarity with the game (a number of alpha mutations were used that backfired spectacularly), and partly because we went in one man down.  But it was still a fun event, and something that I'd be willing to visit again.


Things were definitely learned on both sides of the DM screen: I discovered that the monsters were definitely up to par as far as damage output goes.  There was no need to modify them further, which is always a nice thing.  The players learnt that just because you can attempt an overcharge, it doesn't mean that you should attempt it.  I found out that, although fun, random items (that is, the junkulator, not Omega cards) didn't really add much.  In a proper campaign, I would ensure that at least some of them had further purpose, or a larger role to play.  And I'd encourage the players to think up further uses for them.  The players discovered that character creation doesn't take too long, once you know what you are doing.  And we all quickly agreed that the official sheets are not quite as nice as others.  We ended up using this, but it is only for level 1.  Still, there are many more out there, should you wish to search for them!

Long Term Play?

One concern raised was how would a Gamma World campaign work.  Would we ever be able to build proper relationships if our characters died roughly twice a night?  Well, I don't think that a campaign would run with that sort of death rate, but if we were playing a campaign, not only would we learn to understand our characters better, but the DM would be more keen to pull some punches for the story's sake, and players would be more careful with their characters.  I think that, with some preliminary work (creating the setting and better fleshing out the characters), the game could run for a short campaign.  The randomness of Alpha mutations and Omega gear might be a bit problematic, but could still be made to work.  I'd like to see how characters and monsters ran at higher levels, and if the simplified 4e-power-structure gave enough opportunities, whilst keeping the game simple.

Further Thoughts

The only other thing to say after the experience is that it is a shame this isn't where "DnD Next", or 5e, went.  There is a great simplicity in taking a class and race and meshing them together (and plenty of possibility to add in the third leg of backgrounds / themes there), simplicity in how actions are made, what items really are, and how powers work.  But even with all that simplicity, there is plenty of room to make things more complex, yet still balanced.  It is also interesting to see that where it is not needed, the rules allow even more simplicity: items are not overly specified, but instead have general stats for various types, allowing the player to describe what exactly they are.  What has been shown in Gamma World confirms that a "simpler" base edition of DnD could have been made, whilst still carrying forward all the advancements of 4e.  It is a shame that WotC did not go this way.