Sunday, December 10, 2017

Campaign Journal: World of Prime #1

So I finally started a new campaign set in my World of Prime. I'll thought I'd write it up as it goes, because I am sick to death of writing/reading about politics, and besides otherwise I'll totally forget what happened by the next session.

We started with my beginner's adventure (cleverly called Humble Beginnings), which is a bit different than usual. Rather than spend the first session drawing up 1st level characters, the group began as 0th level peasants. They got to pick their father's profession, which gave them 2 points in a craft skill and a single attribute at 12 (with the rest at 10). We had two miners, two farmers, a lumberjack, and a shepherd.

They each got a sheet of paper, wrote down their profession, their bonus attribute, and their name. And then we started playing.

Humble Beginnings

I was a bit rusty - it's been a few years - and I had some trouble getting into the first few NPC characters. Fortunately my players were even rustier (including three total newbs) so they didn't notice.

A group of young people, just a few days or weeks before the age of majority when they will become adults with adult responsibilities and therefore consigned to the bleak, miserable future of serfdom, are standing outside the village tavern, looking disconsolately at the one poor consolation that adult offers. When they turn sixteen they'll be allowed inside, to spend what few copper coins they can scrape together on trying to drink away the meaningless of their short, hard lives.

The worst of it is knowing that when they die, Baron Darcio will harvest their souls to fuel his sorcery. There is no escape from servitude, in this life or the next.

A traveling peddler by the name of Gareth takes a bit of pity on them. He offers them a drink - but not at the tavern's prices. He has a couple of kegs with his mules in the tavern's stable.

The players were instantly suspicious and had a bit of debate about whether they should go into a dark stable with a creepy old man. Kids these days... no respect for their elders.

While they have a drink, Gareth drops a few hints about the wider world. There's Wild Lords out there, making their own fortune, and always eager to hire ambitious lads. It means running away from home and becoming a fugitive, but it also offers a chance to rise up in the world, without Baron Darcio's foot on their heads. He's had a few mules go lame, so if the boys are willing to carry his supplies, he'll put in a good word for them. And if they don't like it, they can come home in a few days. Sure, it'll mean a whipping, but that's a small price to pay for a bit of adventure.

The players very kindly took the adventure hook and ran with it. Otherwise it would have been a pretty dull campaign.

So in the middle of the night they creep out of bed and out of town. They were allowed to take a winter cloak and one item from their homes, without any harm to their families' economic situation: a choice between a) a bag and three torches, b) a knife, c) flint and steel. The stuff of grand adventures! Over the next few days they walk through the wilderness, following the old man's lead.

At this point I asked if anyone wanted to make a Survival check to see if they could mark the way home. The goal was to slowly introduce aspects of the game, such as skill checks. Instead, the players refused. They were all-in; they didn't want to know how to back out. I was very happy to see this level of role-playing from even the newbs so early on.

Also, it became obvious that the party would be playing for Team Good, as no one tried to rob their families blind.

As they're strolling through the forest on the third day, a shower of rocks flies out of the bushes. Gareth, their NPC leader and guide, takes a plot-coupon to the head and drops unconscious, and eight hobgoblins charge out waving stone-tipped spears. A tense and yet hilarious battle ensues, as the party realizes they have no weapons. The shepherd starts picking up rocks and throwing them back with incredible effectiveness, murdering two hobbos in a row. Two characters pull out torches and put that flint and steel to use lighting them. The two with knives draw them and charge into combat. The last one runs over to the unconscious Gareth and takes his shortsword. He starts to toss it to another character, thinks better of it, and just hands it off instead of throwing a sharp piece of steel around.

It's a good combat, what with people getting stabbed, some flanking and maneuvering, flaming hobgoblins, and lots of hunting for rocks to throw. The lumberjack goes down, having fought bravely but futilely - against uncooperative dice the dogs themselves contend in vain. At least he makes his roll to not bleed to death. It looks dicey for a moment, but then several hobbos drop in a single round. The last two try to flee but don't get more than twenty feet.

Hobgoblins on Prime are short, stunted semi-intelligent humanoids, more akin to traditional goblins but less sophisticated. My goblins are a civilized but evil race of medium-sized humanoids known for their stealth and trickery.

They patch up the wounded lumberjack, leaving him at negative HP but conscious (as long as he only takes partial actions). He reasonably suggests they head for the hills in the distance and try to find some high ground to fortify. On the way, he spots a blue gleam in the hills. They toss him on one mule and the unconscious Gareth on another and keep moving - but not before collecting all the hobgoblin heads. Turns out taking a sack was a great idea.

In the World of Prime, players don't get experience points. Instead, they harvest the souls of the dead to fuel the supernatural powers of rank and class. They do this by boiling the brains of sentient creatures for a purple dust called tael.

A storm blows in and it starts getting dark. Hobgoblins in large numbers begin shadowing them a few hundred feet out. The lumberjack directs them towards the blue flash he saw, which leads to a cave mouth. They have a brief discussion, but as more and more hobbos are appearing, they quickly decide they have little choice. The torch-bearers fire up their torches and follow the brave miner inside.

It's a smallish cave, perhaps forty feet across, full of old bones and dust. At the back of the cave a gleaming sword with a blue sapphire is stuck upright in the ground. While most of the peasants are smart enough not to touch anything valuable, knowing they'll just get hung for stealing, the brave miner proves a bit too brave. After some hesitation he reaches for the sword.

At the same time, the hobgoblins make a mad charge for the cave. The sword disappears from under the miner's grasp and reappears in the hands of a ghost at the mouth of the cave. The ghost swings; several hobbos explode and die; the rest run off into the night, howling in fear.

The ghost is Tyvek, a paladin who led his party into this cave years ago, only to fall prey to hobgoblins. He soon realizes he is a ghost, and after a bit of grief, tells the party to help themselves to what is left of his. Which is to say, sufficient tael to advance each party member to the second apprentice rank of a class. The shepherd becomes a bard; the lumberjack goes for ranger; one miner goes for priest and another one for wizard; the brave farmer becomes a barbarian and another chooses druid. He also heals the lumberjack, but declines to heal the comatose Gareth, saying he doesn't play for that team. However, he makes it clear the party cannot murder Gareth, as the man is their sworn leader.

At this low rank they have only the attribute point-buy, weapon proficiency, and skills of their class, but none of the other goodies. There was a pause in the action as we worked all this out. I hadn't succeeded in developing skills on the fly; instead they spent most of their points here. It was all a bit confusing but rather than focus on the details I kept the game moving. After the session I reviewed the character sheets and corrected a few minor details.

In the morning the ghost is gone. The party spends the day exploring and getting a feel for how safe they are; a lucky roll finds the goblin village, though they don't get too close. That night the ghost reappears, but with no memory of the previous night. He goes through the whole ritual of grief and acceptance again, including the part where he refuses to discuss the existence of the sword and his eyes turn red if anyone gets within a few feet of it.

The next day Gareth comes around. He sees the sword and immediately advances on it. The party, having concealed the existence of the ghost and the fact that they now have some apprentice ranks, keeps mum. They want to see what happens.

Much to their surprise, nothing happens. Gareth claims the sword and explains the Wild Lord will pay handsomely for it. But he's still too wounded to travel, so he sits down again to rest.

The party isn't sure what to do next. They absolutely don't trust Gareth, but they haven't got a better plan yet. Most of them go out foraging and exploring; while hunting a rabbit they sneak up on a pair of bandits hunting the same rabbit. To his everlasting credit, the wizard talks everyone into applying diplomacy rather than violence. He and the priest stand up and say "Hi."

A brief conversation ensues, which does not go well, as the two bandits are half-mad with hunger. Violence follows as they argue over who owns the rabbit that no one actually caught. One of the bandits draws a sword and charges; the other fires his bow at the priest and misses. The ranger and barbarian try to sneak into position to attack the archer, fail miserably, and the ranger gets rewarded with an arrow to the shoulder. That guy has no luck at all.

But the party has blossomed, thanks to their apprentice ranks; both bandits go down to one hit each. The party strips them of weapons, armor, and boots; the druid even takes one's clothes. The archer wakes up, being at only 0 HP, and proceeds to pledge his loyalty in exchange for an apple. He's really hungry. He terrifies them with tales of how vindictive his Wild Lord is.

They take their prisoners home to see what Gareth's reaction is. It's as bad as they feared; the vicious Wild Lord that Par the archer tried to threaten them with is the same Wild Lord Gareth has been leading them too. Both Par and Gareth immediately fall to bickering, asserting that the Wild Lord Boros will kill the other one for being such a failure (one for getting captured by peasant boys, the other for not showing up with the supplies). Much swearing and arguing occurs, and the sun starts going down; the party discreetly retreats outside the cave.

As soon as it gets dark, a blue flash explodes in the cave. Par the archer comes running out, screaming for his life, and throws himself at their feet. Eventually the barbarian sneaks back up to the cave mouth (did I mention he was brave? Perhaps foolhardy is a better word). The ghost is there, but he's red now; no one dares approach him any closer. They all sleep under the stars.

In the morning the ghost is gone. Gareth and the unconscious bandit they had left in the cave are scattered around the floor in pieces. The wizard makes his Knowlege: Arcane check and realizes they need to move the sword back to its original place to reset the ghost. Par tells them they're in deep trouble, because the Wild Lord is going to hate them for stealing his supplies; he's come completely over to their side - well, as loyal as a man of his character can be - due to the fact that they have food and apparently a pet ghost.

Now they're plotting their next move. Should they flee into the wilderness? Although they seem rather under-equppied for that. Should they sneak to a different town and try to buy gear? They don't know the way and they don't have a lot of gold. They do have some left-over tael, which represents a fortune, but peasants dealing in tael would be extremely suspicious. Should they attack the goblins? They had been inclined to ignore them, since the hobbos weren't actively hurting their kingdom, but now they think they may need their tael to take on Boros, who absolutely is preying on people from their home. Should they confront Boros now, either with violence or to try and make a deal?

Tune in next month for another thrilling installment!

All in all, the game went quite smoothly, though we only got through half as much adventure as I had expected. Mostly I was worried that the very small scale of the game would make it too boring, given that D&D is often very High Fantasy, but I think the spareness of the process really worked to put them in the role. It's a very sandbox world; I've used my Sandbox World Generator app to map out the entire continent, so they can totally march off in whatever direction they want; but it would be nice to get them to 1st level before they do that.