7th Sea: Blood Sails – Session 5

Isabella and Julianne were the two members of the crew most skilled in the arts of stealth. They decided to sneak around the Ussuran mercenaries to the back of the stables to prepare the carriage they arrived in to depart. Unfortunately, Julianne caught her dress on some hedges and knocked over some crockery while trying to traverse a short, stone wall. Isabella slipped into the shadows while Julianne, who realized she had caught the attention of the mercenaries, decided to make a scene of it to keep their attention.

Although no one could understand Ussuran, Julianne understood the meaning of their bawdy jests as they approached her. Men can be such pigs sometimes. Jacques moved closer to his wife’s location but stayed hidden in case he was needed but Julianne kept her wits about her and convinced the mercenaries she was Lady Adeliza Brosseau’s cousin, a resident of the manor, and she was searching for her personal servants. This dissuaded the brutes from making further jokes. They helped Julianne to her feet and left her to continue her search.

While this was going on, Captain Nathan Hawke and Don Diego de la Vega-Borgia took advantage of the distraction and quickly rushed to the stables via the other side of the courtyard. Inside they found an old stablehand and two stable boys. They were joined shortly after by Isabella who had completed her circuit around the smithy and into the stables from the back. The old man was a bit confused and somewhat obstinant but after some discussion (and gold coins slipped to the old man by Diego), the servants were convinced to hitch up their carriage and prepare it to leave.

Outside the stables, Julianne went on her way following the path Isabella had taken before her. It was at this moment Jacques realized he had been left alone but fate favored the young noble. From his hidden location, he spotted Captain Jean Killroy, the leader of the Ussuran mercenaries, appear. The Captain informed his men Hawke and Julianne had been spotted in the manor but had slipped away. The manor had been searched and they were no longer there. He organized the mercenaries into two squads and sent them to check the smithy and the stables. Jacques realized he needed to buy his friends more time.

Pretending to be a drunk partygoer, Jacques stumbled out into the open and intercepted the mercenaries moving towards the stables. The mercs were nonplussed and fumbled about trying to decide what to do with the drunk. One of the, a corporal, started shoving Jacques and told him to return to the party. Jacques did a good job wasting their time until Captain Killroy noticed his men were delayed and began to head in their direction. This was Jacque’s queue to leave and he began to stumble back towards the garden.

The rest of the crew, with Capt Hawke driving the carriage, burst from the stables. Jacques turned and ran for the escaping carriage, leaping to catch the helping hand of Diego. With a headstart, the carriage fled the estate and through the countryside towards Arisent. Captain Killroy ordered his men to give chase but the crew had a good headstart. The carriage has almost reached Arisent when the mercenaries caught up with them. One of the mercs moved up to attack Hawke when he caught Isabella’s blade between his ribs. A second jumped onto the carriage but was shot by Diego and slashed by Jacques. Julianne tossed pillows at the mercenaries still giving chase.

As they reached the city, Hawke took a quick turn into a narrow alley, catching bloomers hung to dry in his face for his trouble, but he managed to lengthen his lead on the mercenaries. Isabella snagged a tree branch and whipped it back to smack the next mercenary who rode by while Jacques cut down the laundry hanging between buildings to slow down the mercs even further.

Bursting from the alley, Hawke drove the carriage over a ledge and landed on a street running parallel to the main canal running through the city. One of the mercs could not negotiate the quick turn and tumbled into the water. Diego grabbed a passing post and swung around to kick one of the mercs from their horse but only manage to land in the fellow’s lap! Realizing his ally was in danger, Hawke aimed carefully and fired from long range with his flintlock pistol. His aim was true and he caught the merc between the eyes. Diego took control of the horse as the merc fell away.

With one merc still in the chase, they exited the canal street and turned onto one of the main roads heading toward the docks. The festival was still in full swing so Isabella cut one of the banners down and tried to target the merc but wrapped up Diego instead. Hawke slowed down so they could help him and Jacques finished off the merc with his blade when he got close enough.

After a good chase, the crew arrived at the docks and raced to the Ruby Star. Captain Hawke yelled for his people to cast off and the ship was quickly on its way. Sailing away from Aricent, they had survived to swash buckles another day.

END OF SESSION

7th Sea: Blood Sails – Session 4

The crew joined the festivities at Lord Petrus Brosseau’s estate and drew the attention of several young nobles. Seeing the PCs making themselves comfortable Crespin Baudet bid them adieu and disappeared into the crowd.

Isabella explored the gardens a bit and discovered another Vodacce woman attending the party. The mysterious guest did not provide a name but flashed the secret signs to let Isabella know she was also one of Sophia’s Daughters. Isabella had been sent on this mission so abruptly that she still wasn’t sure what her objectives were. The agent let her know that events were in motion that could potentially shift political power in not only Montaigne but all of Theah. Although the agent could not explain further it was important that Julianne and Jacques-Louis were successful in their quest and Captain Nathan Hawke should survive to see the end of it as well.

Meanwhile, Don Diego de la Vega-Borgia, using a false name that no one could remember, Julianne, Jacques, and Hawke were introduced to Lord Brosseau. The Montaigne noble was excited to meet new faces and invited them to play Seasons of Arcadia, a game of placing your own stones and removing foe’s stones from a hexagonal board until one of the four lords or ladies had successfully placed 12 stones. Lord Brosseau explained the game involved rather complex strategies and mused watching someone play would reveal a lot about their character. Julianne and Jacques played against Hawke and Diego. The game was tense and exciting but in the end, Julianne and Jacques were the victors.

Lord Brosseau dismissed himself to entertain some other guests while Julianne and Hawke snuck off to find the map. They infiltrated the manor and searched until they found the lord’s immense library. His collection of books and artifacts was impressive. The pair quickly searched it until they found the map Crespin had told Jacques about and Hawke found an ornate saber he felt belonged in his possession more than a Montaigne noble.

As they prepared to retreat from the library, a pair of Ussuran mercenaries appeared. The mercs confronted our heroes and demanded to know their identities. The fools unwittingly revealed they worked for Captain Jean Killroy of the Ussuran navy and they had come to the party to find and arrest Captain Hawke. Fortunately, they did not immediately recognize Hawke. He and Julianne bluffed their way past the mercs before rushing back to the rest of the crew. With map (and saber) in hand, it was time to leave.

The crew rushed to the stables but before they could reach them, they spotted more Ussuran mercenaries standing between them and their destination.

END OF SESSION

7th Sea: Blood Sails – Session 3

Montaigne, with its long history of conflicts between monarchs and knights, and of course, the other nations of Theah, has left us with a glorious legacy of fortified cities. This is doubly true of Montaigne’s coastal cities which must defend against threats from both land and sea. Ramparts, proud towers, and massive gateways ring the city and separate the dockyards from the city proper. Likewise, the people of Arisent fortify their hearts during times of danger and throw themselves into frivolity in times of celebration.

The streets and homes of Arisent are decorated in bright reds, blues, and whites (the colors of Montaigne), and the streets are filled with the sounds of music. It is Fete Nationale Montaigne and everywhere the people of Arisent wear masks. Nobility, merchants, and commoners mingle to sing, drink, and dance; equal in celebration if not truly in social status. Jugglers toss knives, balls, and various random items. Acrobats tumble through the streets and dance across tight ropes strung high above the streets and alleys. Clowns, damned clowns, bumble about making the children squeal with glee. Behind the masks, old identities are left behind, perhaps obfuscated would be the better word.

The crew discussed at length who would go to find Crespin Baudet, the artist who contacted Jacques about his discovery of information that could lead to finding Black Skull Isle. They also reviewed the need to lay low in Arisent, or more appropriately, to not kill anyone and draw attention to themselves. Likewise, they decided to use the Fete Nationale Montaigne celebration to provide some amount of cover. Julianne skillfully assisted each member of the crew with their fashion choices to help them blend in. All but Captain Hawke who was content with just a mask, that is.

Captain Hawke and Mary went looking for rum and a good game of darts and wandered into a pub called the Silver Pelican. Hawke indulged his love of rum and Mary set about winning coin with her skills at darts. Eventually, the crowd did become rowdy and tempers flared. Captain Hawke broke a few noses, made new friends, and in the end was quite proud of himself for keeping his promise. He did not kill anyone.

Meanwhile, Jacques, Isabella, Don Diego, and Julianne went to find the artist. Jacques recalled where they could find Lord Petrus Brosseau’s estate if worst came to worst, but following the gossip proved to be enough. It seemed Crespin was the talk of the town and his most recent collection was on display in a popular salon.

Finding their way to the salon, they met some resistance at the door. The bouncer, Gaston did not want to let them in. Isabella employed her dangerous beauty and charming personality to convince Gaston to allow them to enter and the big lug melted like butter on a hot day.

Inside the salon, the crew explored a bit and found Crespin’s art decorating the walls before they actually found the artist himself. This particular work was technically sound and hit the notes Crespin obviously intended (perhaps too plainly), but Jacques felt they were uninspired. Crespin found the crew admiring his work and immediately agreed. He thought the collection was shit, not ready for public consumption but Lord Brosseau had insisted the collection be on display for Fete Nationale Montaigne. And as Crespin’s patron, he gets what he wants.

Crespin exchanged warm regards with Jacques and Julianne and was introduced to Isabella and Dominique (the name Jacques quickly gave to Don Diego to hide his Castillian nationality). Crespin senses the deception but had no interest in uncovering it. He seemed to have no care who or where Don Diego was actually from. He was more interested in the rumors he had heard about an incident in La Motte between a Montaigne constable and his friends. Jacques slyly explained the incident as necessary without going into the details and this seemed to be enough to satisfy the artist. After all, Jacques and Julianne were nobles and for all intents and purposes, everyone else was below them. They could do what they wanted as far as Crespin was concerned.

The conversation turned to the reason for the meeting, the information about Black Skull Isle. Crespin explained, in a roundabout way, he had seen a map in his patron’s collection he believed could help Jacques but it was quite secure and there was no way to remove the map from Lord Brosseau’s repository. Instead, he proposed the crew join him at a ball that evening at the lord’s estate and find a way into the repository. An acceptable plan except for the only member of the crew who could possibly hope to decipher the map would be Captain Hawke himself.

The crew bid Crespin farewell with plans to meet him in two hours’ time in the city garden in the Commons. They found Captain Hawke and Mary in the Silver Pelican, both quite inebriated and celebrating the festival with new friends. Jacques explained to Hawke the task before them and convinced him they needed to dress him appropriately for the ball. Of course, the method of acquiring said clothes were left up for debate. As Julianne began looking for the right garb for Hawke, he wandered off and found a noble wandering the streets with just the right attire. One quick knock on the head, a duck into an alley, and Hawke were suitably attired.

The crew made their way to the Commons and met Crespin there who had arranged a carriage for the group. Lord Brosseau’s chateau sat outside the city amidst the rolling lands that had been completely converted to either farmland or vineyards. No forest remained as far as the eye could see.

The chateau was a grand estate surrounded by a picturesque moat and their carriage joined the procession line of guests arriving for the ball. In short order, the crew was escorted to the gardens and a waiting soldier took their names and announced their arrival. Although he thought Dominique, ie Don Diego, was a bit strange, he did not bat an eye when introducing them.

END OF SESSION

7th Sea: Blood Sails – Session 2

Tonight’s adventure began with a bit of brainstorming and chargen. I figured the crew of the Ruby Star should be as interesting as the rest of the PCs. No better way to ensure that than to recruit the players to help.

Blinsky the Quartermaster
Doc, the… doc…
Kaylee the shipwright and engineer
Mama Booga the cook with a hook for a hand
Old Man Jenkins the… no one is really sure…
Padre the deckhand
Sammie Gee the cabin boy
Susan the deckhand, and a man, yes, a man named Susan
Talon the hawk, ship lookout, and rat catcher
Wash the helmsman
Wesley the deckhand who is always doing something wrong

Captain Nathan Hawke and Jacques-Louis de la Chateaux Claurent de Mont Toppin had a long conversation about the troubles at the Powder Keg but reached no real accord. Jacques revealed he had an encrypted map but he needed a cipher he believed could be found at Black Skull Isle. Hawke had heard a hundred tales of the isle but treasure hunts had never interested him. Although disappointed, Jacques added he had a lead in Arisent and that would be their first destination.

Doc, drunk again, was trying to sew up Don Diego de la Vega-Borgia’s wounds with a straightened fish hook. Julianne de la Chateaux Claurent de Mont Toppin stepped in and quickly finished the work.

Captain Jon the Black Rose paid Hawke a visit to complain about the treatment of “his” ship. Hawke humored the ghost until it had its say and faded away.

The Ruby Star set sail. Two days into the voyage Talon spotted a ship following them, a military vessel of Montaigne. Hawke wanted to send the larger vessel to the sea bottom but others asked if running would be best. Hawke decided the job given to him by The Benefactor was more important than a fight. The Ruby Star quickly outran the larger vessel until a storm overtook them. The military vessel disappeared into the black of the storm.

For nearly three days the storm battered the Ruby Star but they managed to hold to their course and avoid any damage. When it finally cleared they were only a day from the bustling port city of Arisent.

When they arrived in port it was decided Julianne and Jacques would go find Crespin while the rest remained on the ship.

END OF SESSION

7th Sea: Blood Sails – Session 1

We begin our tale in the town of La Motte on a small island just off the southwestern tip of Montaigne in the Widow’s Sea. Warm summer winds blow salty air across the people of La Motte, a good day for sailing. A good day to stay a new story as well.

In a rundown tavern, the Powder Keg, Captain Nathan Hawke, and his first mate, Mary made arrangements to meet a new batch of passengers for their next voyage. Word was passed to Captain Hawke from The Benefactor two of them, nobles, needed passage on a long voyage that would prove lucrative to all involved although the details were vague. They needed a ship like the Ruby Star which could take them somewhere quickly and without drawing much attention. Captain Hawke’s vessel was perfect for such a task. The other passengers had been found by Mary and Hawke knew nothing about them. The pair wondered if the nobles would be sorcerers, Mary had a disdain for magic users, present company excluded of course, but Hawke did not know much about their noble passengers yet.

Julianne de la Chateaux Claurent de Mont Toppin and Jacques-Louis de la Chateaux Claurent de Mont Toppin arrived, quite intrigued by the Powder Keg and its patrons. They were on an adventure! Their efforts at being clandestine were entertaining to Hawke and Mary and they made their way into a “shadowy corner.” Hawke and Mary made bets on how long the young nobles would go before trouble brewed. The pair ordered some food and tea and tipped Ilya well (more than she would make in a few weeks normally). The food was good for tavern fare and the tea was passable for the common folk. The couple politely thanked Ilya and Julianne reached into her bag of tricks to retrieve something more acceptable to drink. Using Porte she conjured her teapot and something more fitting for them to drink. Jacques-Louis delighted in the cheese and fruits set before them. Again, they were on an adventure and intended to enjoy every bit of the experience.

Hawke, a half-blooded practitioner of Porte himself, detected

Isabella Alunni soon arrived and Mary went to greet her and introduce her to Captain Hawke but nothing before enjoying a round of darts first. Isabella, being both attractive and dangerously beautiful, drew the eye of everyone in the tavern. She faired well but was bested by the skills of her opponent. Mary remarked how she intended to win the upcoming tournament so she could drink free at the Powder Keg for an entire month. Julianne and Jacques-Louis were thoroughly entertained by the competition. Isabella introduced herself to Captain Hawke. She explained she needed passage to hand wave the destination and the Ruby Star had been recommended to her.

Secretly, word had been passed to Isabella from her contacts in the secret organization, Sophia’s Daughters, that she needed to be on the next voyage of the Ruby Star, Nothing was given as to her purpose on the voyage, but these kinds of orders were rarely given and never ignored for good reason. The Vodacce fate witches who counted themselves in the membership of Sophia’s Daughters were rarely wrong. The message also included a warning, “Beware the half-blood on your journey.” Isabella was not pleased with the vagueness of that part of the message, being more obfuscated than the purpose of the voyage in the first place.

Soon after Don Diego de la Vega-Borgia entered the Powder Keg, the last of our intrepid heroes in this tale. The devilishly good-looking rogue drew almost as much attention as Isabella and even more so when he decided to buy a round of tequila for everyone in the Powder Keg. Ilya warned Isabella about Diego’s charms and got a good swat on the bottom for her trouble. She scowled at Diego but others could not help but notice her smile as she walked away. Jacques-Louis had been watching the exchange and completely misunderstood the context. He later gave Ilya a good swat on the butt as well causing much confusion but Ilya said nothing, she still had the enormous tip Jacques-Louis had given her in hand. Julianne sensed her husband had gotten something wrong and seemed more amused than anything. Diego and Hawke continued to chat each other up and Mary rejoined them after finishing off another opponent at the dart board.

Soon though, Hawke and Mary got to see who would win their bet. Diego quickly got in on it too. One of the sailors at the bar, deep in his cups and foolishly emboldened by the recent addition of tequila, decided he wanted a dance with Julianne. He stumbled over to the shadowy corner where Julianne and Jacques-Louis (whom he mistook as Julianne’s brother) were and pestered her about a dance. Julianne politely declined but the stupid drunk didn’t know how to take no for an answer. Jacques-Louis tried to step in and got a good shove for his troubles. The nobleman began to remove his glove to slap the fellow, a gesture that completely baffled the sailor. Fortunately, Isabella stepped in before the situation could get out of hand. Using her charms and persuasiveness, she convinced the sailor his time was better spent drinking than bothering the couple, and he agreed before wandering back to the bar. Isabella introduced herself to Julianne and Jacques-Louis and got to experience firsthand their exuberant perspective on life and this new adventure they were embarking on before returning to Hawke’s table.

Mary and Diego claimed their winnings from Hawke and the first mate went over to introduce herself to the nobles. She pointed them towards Hawke at the other “shadowy corner” and introduced them to the rest of the cast. Greetings were made all around but it seemed their adventure this day had not come to an end.

A brute squad led by Magistrate Regis appeared in the tavern and started working over the crowd but it quickly became apparent their real target was Captain Hawke and the people sitting at his table. The magistrate approached the group and asked them for their “papers” which was an absurd notion since Montaigne has never been in the business of issuing anyone documentation for any purpose (other than the regular orders of Empereur Leon Alexandre du Montaigne XIV.

Jacques-Louis tried to explain to Magistrate Regis who he was but the noble’s lack of a reputation had little impact on the ruffian. Little did Jacques-Louis know nothing he could have said would have deterred the magistrate, he had orders to follow. Diego, always the charmer, tried to talk Regis down but he made the mistake of mentioning he was from Castille, a nation currently at war with Montaigne. Truthfully, this merely served as justification for Magistrate Regis to do what he had already been ordered to do, murder Captain Hawke. As Regis’ men drew their weapons, Regis whispered to the captain, “Your brother sends his regards…” The whole encounter had been a trap from the beginning.

Both sides leaped into battle as the brute squad surrounded our heroes in the “shadowy corner” of the tavern. However, Regis had been sent on a fool’s errand, the heroes were far more capable fighters than he had originally been told, and one by one his men were knocked unconscious (except for the one skewered by Captain Hawke). Diego, who had methodically waited until the right moment to act, fired on Regis with his pistol and knocked the miscreant unconscious. The group cleaned up the last of the brutes from there.

Capt Hawke, having been seriously triggered, lowered himself over Regis’ body and whispered, “He’s my HALF brother.” He then plunged his knife into Regis’ heart. Jacque-Louis was not happy with this turn of events and expressed his concerns as our heroes quickly departed the tavern.

Everyone involved in the brawl took a -10 adjustment in Reputation. Regis had done a good job of demonstrating he was on official business for Montaigne and when Diego accidentally announced he was from Castille, he won no favors for the group. Word spread from the tavern about how Captain Hawke and some Montaigne nobles were working with outsiders, a Castillian rogue, and a Vodacce witch. Unfortunately, life in Theah can be unfair like that sometimes.

As our tale for this evening came to a close, our heroes were on their way to the Ruby Star. The group certainly had some differences of opinion but that makes for good drama and fodder for future storytelling.

END OF SESSION

Fixing Inspiration in D&D 5E

Inspiration in Dungeons & Dragons 5E is a great concept that was poorly implemented. Dungeon Masters rarely remember to award Inspiration and players hoard the resource to use it at the right moment (which rarely comes). After level 5, player characters have so many varied means to gain Advantage they rarely need to use Inspiration. I’ve lost count of how many times my players, and fellow players in other campaigns, sat on Inspiration for weeks and months without using it.

So how do we fix such a poorly implemented but brilliant idea? Easy, you get rid of it. Just joking! Well, not really. Keep reading!

Inspiration is too tightly coupled with Advantage and Disadvantage in D&D 5E. The first thing we need to do is break up that relationship and help the mechanic find a less toxic one where it isn’t ignored so often. Instead of using Inspiration to affect Advantage and Disadvantage, like a thousand other mechanics and/or systems in D&D 5E, we change it to provide the player the ability to reroll a d20. Heck, I’m feeling generous. Let’s let the players reroll their damage too if they really want to. But they have to use the second result, no matter what. Generosity only takes one so far, gotta have some limits! See, that wasn’t so hard.

  • Reroll a d20. Any time a d20 is rolled, you can reroll the d20 check and use whichever result is better.
  • Reroll damage. You can reroll damage from a single attack, spell, or effect. You must use the second result, even if it’s worse.

There, I think that solves half of the problems but the problems with the distribution of Inspiration and encouraging players to use it still remain. Well, I have some fixes for those problems too.

Before I dive into those solutions though, I think a name change is in order. First, I lift the restriction of only having Inspiration once. Then again, saying I have 2, 3, or more Inspirations sounds a little silly. So I am going to change Inspiration to Hero Points. There is no cap to the number of Hero Points a player has, but Hero Points are not carried over to the next game session. Use em, or lose em!

The Dungeon Master should still be handing out Hero Points as they see fit but that should not be its only source. In fact, I think Hero Points should be awarded for a number of good reasons. And the player should be allowed to have more than one Hero Point at a time. The best way to encourage players to use their Hero Points is to give them out early and often. Like when each game session starts, after important moments in the game, when things go really bad, and heck, let the players give out Hero Points as well. Let’s codify that idea.

  • Players begin every session with 2 Hero Points.
  • At the Whims of the Dungeon Master. The DM should award Hero Points for cool moments, great roleplaying, meaningful sacrifice, or any other reason the DM sees fit to award it.
  • After a Long Rest. Each player gains 1 Hero Point after their character completes a Long Rest.
  • Rolling a Natural 1. After rolling a Natural 1, the player gains a Hero Point.
  • At an Encounter’s End. After completing a consequential exploration, social, or combat encounter, the Dungeon Master gives 1 Hero Point to a deserving player. In addition, the players should also choose one player to receive 1 Hero Point as they see fit. These Hero Points should be given to two different players.

These are the changes I have made at my table and it has worked out quite nicely. If you’re not happy with Inspiration in D&D 5E, give my Hero Points system a try to see if you like it better. And let me know in the comments below if Hero Points work for your game.

Zen Impressions – Dungeon Crawl Classics

What is Dungeon Crawl Classics?

Dungeon Crawl Classics is a roleplaying game that describes itself as “a complete role playing game of 1970s Appendix N fantasy.” Hold on, hold on. To some folks, I know that makes complete sense but a lot of you are scratching your heads right now and wondering, “What the heck does that mean?” That is a fair question, so let me explain further.

In the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide (1979), Gary Gygax included a list of “Inspirational and Educational Reading.” This list, annotated as Appendix N at the back of the book, included many of the works Gary considered of “particular inspiration” when creating Dungeons and Dragons. It included such literary luminaries as Edgar Rice Burroughs, R. E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and many others. Appendix N encapsolated the very definition of “What is Dungeons & Dragons?” Thus, the legend of Appendix N was born and lives on to this day, inspiring generations of readers, gamers, and game designers.

Dungeon Crawl Classics, published by Goodman Games in 2012, took a streamlined version of Dungeons and Dragons Third Edition and mixed it with a heavy dose of Appendix N goodness. The end result is a game focused on the great parts of early gaming with D&D while benefitting from the advances in modern game design. To say the game has been an enormous success is an understatement. Hundreds of products have been released not only by Goodman Games but also numerous third party publishers. DCC tournaments and events can be found at almost every convention. One can hardly begin exploring tabletop roleplaying games without finding some mention of the game.

Personally, I have been deep in playing Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition, Pathfinder, and Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition since DCC appeared on the scene. I really did not need another “fantasy RPG” so I shied away from it despite being constantly tempted by the old school art and the din of the DCC crowd enjoying themselves at every convention. Man, those extra dice DCC uses were also a mighty temptation to this dice collector.

While traveling through Central Georgia a few years ago, I found a copy of the DCC core rulebook marked down to $10. The book was well loved by its previous owner (thus, the low cost) and always curious about game systems, the decision to grab it was an easy one. I leafed through the book a bit, marvelled at how much of the book was actually just the spell section, the art was amazing and nostalgic, and the it reminded me of my days playing Basic Dungeons & Dragons with my siblings and friends. However, I was still deeply committed to other ongoing fantasy campaigns, so the book went on my shelf and sat there for quite some time.

Fast forward to late 2020/early 2021 and due to no fault of the games I am playing, I find myself suffering a bit of burnout. That is a topic for another article but while discussing the situation with the Gaming & BS community, many suggested trying other games. Make big changes to shake things up and I felt like that was really solid advice. So I grabbed a myriad of old favorites from my bookshelf, purchased a few recommendations from various places, and also pulled some games from my shelf I had not played, including Dungeon Crawl Classics. I dove into each with the mindset of looking for something new. Low and behold, Dungeon Crawl Classics spoke to me.

I loved the dice, the art, and the old school feel of the game. I knew this before but something was different this time. More than anything, I loved that it abandoned some of the constructs that have become common place in a lot of modern games, especially fantasy ones. In DCC, the player is as much a part of the character as the character. I’ll say more about that below. What was old was new again, so to speak.

I jumped online to learn more and quickly discovered Spawn of Cyclops Con was coming up, so I took the leap. I got a badge and signed up for my first game of Dungeon Crawl Classics, a funnel to be specific. For those unfamiliar, a funnel is a fun romp through a dungeon with a whole mess of level 0 characters. Players often play more than one character because carnage will ensue. The lucky few who survive may have the chance to become level 1 adventurers. Not every campaign needs to start with a funnel but the game designers recommended it, at least for new players, and I thought it was a fun idea.

So how did the actual game go at the table?

Put simply, I had a great time. I did need to adjust a bit as I fully realized not everything I could accomplish would not necessarily be found on my character sheet. I also found I spent more time thinking about who these characters were and what they would do as we began playing. I was seriously getting into roleplaying my stable of characters, maybe more than I would have with a single character in other games. In the past, I had vehemently denied 4E/5E/Pathfinder took away from roleplaying, but having visited the other side of the fence… Well, let’s just say I now understand what people were trying to say, even if they didn’t communicate their meaning or intent very well (and often, in an adversarial tone… funny how that detracts from one’s message, ya know?).

For the record, I played in “Sailors on the Starless Sea.” Trust me, most fans of DCC are nodding their heads in approval right now. Without spoiling anything, our level 0 characters were a mob on our way to rescue villagers who had been taken by raiders, probably because there were no level 1 adventurers around to handle the job. Not that any would have taken up the cause because as the game says, “You are no hero.” In DCC you’re seeking gold and glory using steel and spell! Leave that hero crud for the birds.

Sailors on the Starless Sea by Harley Stroh

The game was challenging especially considering we were trying to accomplish a goal while fearing for our lives. We’re just villagers ourselves after all! I remember thinking about what might have been a bland encounter in D&D 5E took on all sorts of new interesting aspects while we played. I quickly connected, even as my randomly generated villagers fell to [REDACTED] and [REDACTED]. Without trying to wax too poetically, it was magical in a nostalgic kind of way. I had missed that kind of play more than I realized.

The game master totally wiped us by the way. Yep, it was a Total Party Kill, or TPK. One by one, our characters fell to the horde of [REDACTED] as we tried to reach our fellow villagers, explored the adventure locale, and hunted for treasure. We never finished Sailors on the Starless Sea, but that is okay. I intend to play it again. Hell, I am planning to run it myself at this point. I purchased the PDF and a print copy is in route already. Man, I haven’t even played an adventurer yet. I have cast no spells, healed no allies, and performed no mighty deeds! I think its mandatory I play again.

So what is my “zen impression” of Dungeon Crawl Classics?

Dungeon Crawl Classics was created with a lofty goal in mind and I absolutely believe they accomplished that goal. By the time we finished the game, I knew why this game had become so popular and continues to grow. Its an immense amount of fun to play and there is a lot more to explore. I’ve got more to write on this topic but I need more experience (as a DCC player and gamemaster) before I commit those words to blog.

DCC hits a sweetspot and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy roleplaying games. Whether you stick with the game or not, I think you will not forget the experience and you’ll create some fond memories along the way.

Heroes Unlimited: Riff

Recovering from surgery gives me plenty of time to kill. I decided to dig up my old copy of Heroes Unlimited 2E to roll a new charatcer. I decided to use the random options for everything and Riff was the final result. Enjoy!

Riff
True Identity: Simon Jones
Scrupulous Alignment
Level 1 Mutant

Riff is a genetic aberration, a natural mutant. Some would call him the next step in the evolutionary process but normal humans hate to hear that kind of thing. He is has no unusual physical traits.

Background:
Simon never really had many prospects in life. He never much cared for school, aside from the music programs where he got his start playing the guitar and singing. He was the youngest child in a poor family. His father was a career petty criminal and his mother wasn’t much better. As soon as he could, he left home to make a life for himself. He landed a job as an auto mechanic and bounced around from one talentless band to another. From time to time, he would hear from his mother, father, or a sibling, usually to beg for money. He never had much to give and tried his best to avoid them.

He was in his early 20s when his mutant abilities manifested and his entire life changed. He had little use for his heightened sense of smell and radar abilities but his divine aura turned him into the perfect front man. His music career was just beginning to take off when word reached him, his parents had crossed the wrong people. The police found their bodies washed up on the lakeshore. Simon kept telling himself he owed his family nothing. He was following his dreams and he had no reason to look back. Despite all that, his thoughts continued to drift back to the family over and over again. It was driving him mad and he couldn’t focus on his music.

Finally, he decided he needed to put his past to rest before he could embrace his future. He created an identity for himself, Riff, and returned to his home. He had other abilities to call on and he needed to find out who murdered his parents and what happened to his siblings. He returned to his job as an auto mechanic, steady income, and began searching in his downtime.

IQ 13
ME 17
MA 12
PS 15
PP 8
PE 11
PB 10
SPD 19

H.P.: 16
S.D.C.: 60
A.R.: 0
P.P.E.: 18

Experience: 0
Need: 2050

Combat:
5 Attacks Per Round; +3 to initiative
+2 to parry, +3 to dodge, +4 to roll with punch/fall, +3 to roll with impact, +3 to pull punch, +1 to save vs psionic attack, +1 to save vs insanity

Radar (additional bonuses)
+1 Attacks Per Round, +4 to initiative
+2 to strike, +2 to parry, +2 to dodge, no minuses when blinded or in darkness

Weapon Proficiencies:
W.P. Automatic Pistol (+3 to Aimed Shot, +1 to Burst)
Short Burst: x2 dmg, 20% of magazine
Long Burst: x5 dmg, 50% of magazine
Entire Magazine: x10 dmg, 100% of magazine

Skill Programs:
Concealment 24%, Literacy 35%, Pick Locks 35%, Pick Pockets 30%, Play Musical Instrument: Guitar 40%, Prowl 35%, Sing 40%, Streetwise 38%, Writing 30%

Secondary Skills:
Auto Mechanics 30%, Basic Mechanics 35%, Boxing, Climbing 45%, Pilot Motorcycle 64%

Powers:
Divine Aura This major power provides the character with the aura of divinity, like that of the mythical Greek gods. Riff carries himself with an air of superiority, charisma, and of being larger than life. An average person will feel intimidated and may actually believe the character is some sort of demigod.

  1. Awe and/or Horror Factor 14: Enemies must roll a 15 or higher on a twenty sided die to avoid being momentarily awestruck or horrified. A failed roll means the individual loses initiative, one of his/her melee attacks, and is the last to attack in that melee round. In this case, roll each melee round in which the character with the divine aura is attacked or speaks.
  2. Followers: Whether he wants one or not, the “divine” character will get one follower or devotee per level of his experience. The follower devotes their life to Riff.
  3. Power of Command: Once every three melees (45 seconds), Riff can issue a simple, attention drawing command. Roll to save vs psionic attack or obey and lose one melee attack/action. Allies affected by this power gain +1 to initiative, +1 to strike, +1 to parry, +1 to dodge, and gets one additional melee attack.
  4. Power of Voice Amplification: Riff’s voice is deep and booming, heard up to 1,600 feet away. Can be used simultaneously with other powers.
  5. Power of Illusion: Riff can create an illusion of being twice as big as he is. +2 to Awe/Horror Factor

Heightened Sense of Smell An exceptional sense of small that enables Riff to identify any smell he comes into contact with.

  1. Range 100 feet
  2. Recognize/identify specific odors 74% (+10% for common smells)
  3. Recognize poisons, toxins, and chemicals by scent 54%
  4. Track by scent 43%
  5. Difficult to surprise Riff as he is likely to smell a person, robot, or vehicle within 100 feet before it reaches him
  6. If down wind from the source of a smell, the range is tripled

Radar This ability sends out high-frequency radio waves which bounce off objects, returning and indicating the direction and distance of the reflecting objects. This is a crude type of see in the dark ability, enabling Riff to know/sense the location of objects and movement.

  1. Range 500 ft
  2. Interpret Shapes 55%
  3. Estimating Distance 64%
  4. Estimating Direction 64%
  5. Estimating Speed 44%
  6. Estimating Exact Location 54%
  7. Radar does not go through cloth, wood, glass, metal, or people.
  8. Disadvantage: Radar is fouled by rain, snow, dust, or sandstorms, and by similar obscuring conditions. No radar bonuses apply under these conditions. Smoke and fog also fouls radar, but not as severely. All abilities to estimate speed, direction, distance, shape and location are -30% and all bonuses are reduced by half.

Equipment:
9mm Automatic Pistol 3d6 dmg
Combat Bush Knife 1d6 dmg
Knockout Gas (2)
Drowsiness in 1d4 rounds, sleep in 1d4 rounds
Saving throw versus toxins
CB/Radio, Nylon Cord Handcuffs, Utility Belt, Backpack, Duffle Bag, Magnifying Glass, Flashlight, Binoculars, Pocket Tapes Recorder, Camera
Harley Davidson Fat Boy 114
AR 15
SDC 150
Speed 120 mph
Range 350 miles

Funds:
$140 cash on hand

Against the Giants: Chapter 1, Part 11

Chunt, just because you CAN search anywhere on a dead giant doesn’t mean you should check INSIDE him.  Oh, you found a diamond… in his [what?].

Session Notes by Stephen Noa (Cara)

Prized Material Possessions
The session starts with a little background information from the PCs as they share what their most prized material possession is:

  • Theodin shares that he keeps a lock of Alaina’s hair sewn into the cuff of his robe.
  • Shadow’s favorite material object is not any of his tools of the trade. Nor is it any of his adventuring gear or trophies. His most prized material item is a necklace that once belonged to Theodin’s sister Alaina. Alaina and Shadow were very close in the early days. They were not a couple, but they were both close friends. Shadow took this necklace from her body before the party had laid her to final rest. He did not want to be disrespectful to Theodin. He never told him he did this and has never revealed he has this totem. Shadow wears this on his person always and it is never far from his heart.
  • Kargarn loves the stein that was given to him when he took his vows to follow Ninkash. He wears it on his belt at all times and frequently samples from it anytime he finds a need.
  • Chunt’s prized possession is a necklace that wraps around and lays under the thick chin beard that falls from his face and chest. It is a collection of things that represent where he has been and who he considers family. Chunt takes some time to explain the many charms on his necklace, so be sure to especially listen to the YouTube session at 7:02 when he gets to his favorite and final charm.
  • Callie reminisced about the time she awoke from death with the Goddess Yarila’s blessing and how a tree had withered and died, pouring its life force into a bow that she uses to play her violin.
  • Cara revealed a time in her past when she was being lectured by Kargan on her evil deeds and how a lifetime of repentance would still not undo the wrongs she had done when he had gotten angry and splintered off a shard from a boulder. The stone shard remarkably resembled an infinity symbol and Cara keeps the token as a reminder that it is a never-ending struggle spending one’s lifetime to atone for one’s mistakes.

Finishing the Stronghold

The adventure picks back up with the group anxiously awaiting the return of Grutha (Chief Nosn’ra’s lady giant) after Kargan had banished her to the Eleven Hells. The group looked to Kargan for an explanation as to why she had not returned, but the stumped dwarf could offer no answers leaving the mystery unsolved. As a result, the group turned their attention back to looting and searched the bodies in the room.

This turned out to be more difficult than anyone could have imagined. Not because of the loot itself, but because we apparently lost the ability to pronounce words such as “boning” and “retinue”. We’ll just leave it at that. Loot found:

  • Ioun Stone of Intellect
  • A Letter from Evander Dross detailing the plight of the Giants to gather the three relics of Wotan (with the closest one being in Baccho’s Vineyard, but a couple days travel away). The letter also mentions the Scathesidhe (Shadowfey elves) and many other historical hints prompting a large history lesson from those in the party with the knowledge of old lore. Additionally, the letter talks of the giant Rolvog – which the group deduces would be located somewhere in Jotunheim being the Lord of the Frost Giants.
  • A Diamond from inside the chief

The group decides they can get some more information from Evander by raising him from the dead, but Kargan would need a rest first. (They never revisit his body again).

Instead, the group decides to finish looting the now empty stronghold, going room by room to each place they had previously rushed past:

  • Unknown bluish liquid vial with a sliver of a fingernail
  • Vial with a clear liquid bubbling.
  • Curved Tower Shield
  • Some coins and gems

The group then leaves the stronghold and meets up with Draeven, Herzog, and the rest of the group downriver. They catch up exchanging stories while sitting down to an interesting stew prepared by Hoom. Viscount Ered asks the group to escort him to his fort which happens to be in the same direction as Baccho’s Vineyard. The adventurers agree to escort him leaving Hoom somewhat disappointed they were not going to visit the Margreve Forest. However, she does leave a boon with the group that should she run into any Piney in the future, they would help. The group gains +2 status when interacting with the Piney.

As the group rests for the evening, Theodin identifies many of the items gathered from the stronghold:

  • 11 +1 Arrows
  • +2 Spear
  • Flame-Tongued Short Sword (can detect gems and jewels within 50 feet)
  • Shield +2
  • Tower Shield +2
  • Invisibility Potion
  • Potion of Storm Giant’s Strength
  • +1 Battleaxe W/Reach (+5 feet)

In the morning, Morgan and his small troupe of dwarves depart as well as the orc band. Following farewells, the group decides to take the delicious casks of wine with them on the horses they had ridden in on so as to not waste any of it. With Chunt leading the way, they set off in the direction of Baccho’s Vineyard.

The day draws to a close and the group settles in for the night. During the second watch, Callie and Chunt notice some giants heading their way. They wake the group as they prepare for the incoming giants and battle ensues.

The adventurers are able to quickly dispatch the hill giant and two cave giants with ease and find 23 gold pieces as well as an interesting case containing a finely crafted emerald inlaid flute. Closer examination reveals it to be a Flute of the Wastelands (5 charges), which seems to randomly grant helpful and/or harmful effects when played. Curious about what effects may result, Callie decides to play a little diddy and magically casts a Prayer of Healing on the group. With that the group finishes their rest, thereby ending the night’s long rest.

Against the Giants: Chapter 1, Part 10

Ten thunderbolts strike at the same time
A hundred hearts energized in the thundering roar
Simultaneously a thousand colliding thunderbolts
And too, ten thousand lightning strikes in the heavens

Hu – hu – hu – hu…
Hu – hu – hu – hu…

Wolf Totem, Hu


Watch the game session on YouTube at https://youtu.be/Z1STcDyw0l8.

Finally, the PCs had found Chief Nosn’ra and his most dangerous lieutenants. So far, the battle had not gone as expected. Would the Fates truly favor them in the end?

  • The battle carried the PCs out into the courtyard where rain and wind pummeled down upon them. The fleeing stone giant tried to use the pack of fire wolves in the courtyard to cover his escape but the effort was a futile one. The PCs took wounds but finished off the giant and wolves.
  • Cara and Shadow snuck back into the hallway from which they had spotted Chieftain Nosn’ra and his minions but found they had escaped.
  • The group searched the room attached to the hallway and then moved into the room where Nosn’ra had been arguing with the other giants.
  • A skull was noticed on the mantle and Callie decided to retrieve it. She believed it to be the skull of an elf and she wanted to tend to the remains successfully. When she picked up the object, energy surged through her body and he experienced a vision. In the vision, she saw the fall of the Dross family and the sacking of the city of Zobeck (roughly a century before). She witnessed the last scion of the Dross family, a young boy named Evander, hidden in the shadows while his family keep was taken. The shadows spoke to him and he bound himself to the Shadow in exchange for salvation.
  • The PCs realized the urgency of the situation and a mad dash through the steading ensued. Some rooms were searched but most were just run through.
  • In the hallway between the chief’s hall and the main hall were four large orbs of unusual make. They identified them as thunder orbs and decided to go through them (the fastest route to the great hall). They attacked the first orb in unison and destroyed it but the three remaining orbs came to life.
  • Battle the thunder orbs! These PCs are no novices and in good order, the orbs were turned to scrap.
  • Beyond the doors the orbs had guarded was light and the PCs would hear movement.
  • The PCs moved in to the room and were attacked by a pair of hill giants, hidden around the door by invisibility. Finally, the great battle with Chief Nosn’ra was upon him. The chief was protected by his wife, Grutha, a cave bear, and Evander Dross himself.
  • Cara charged across the room to attack the spell caster, her training taking over while the rest quickly dealt with the hill giants. Kargarn banished Grutha to the Eleven Hells to tip the odds in the PC’s favor and the group swept through the rest of their foes.
  • They prepared themselves for Grutha to reappear but when Kargarn dropped his spell, she did not. They waited a bit longer and realized she was not coming back.

END OF SESSION

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