Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Session Summary: Nazgul!!!

Well, I guess the title spoils what happened during this session.  This was once again my second TOR campaign (the one that's actually active), so it follows the adventures of Grimwine the Beorning, Ranulf the Barding, and Lowthesis the Dwarf of Erebor. 

In Pursuit of Orcs

Just to re-cap, at the end of the previous session the company was ambushed by orcs and wargs, with the surviving orcs fleeing north.  Attempts to catch/track these guys failed, and so the heroes were forced to simply head in that general direction.  They eventually reach the ridge-top that Ranulf saw when he climbed a tree to get a better view of the land, and Grimwine noticed an area near a cliff with some charred trees.  Heading that way, they reached what looked like the main orc encampment.  A "lawn" of burnt and trampled vegetation strewn with junk lay about the bottom of the cliff, with the tall surrounding trees left intact (to provide a canopy that the orcs could use to move about during the day).  Grimwine approached the wide cave opening leading to a single large chamber while Lowthesis rifled through the junk looking for anything of interest (or value).  Finding nothing, he and Ranulf joined Grimwine as he entered the cave.  It was empty, and also strewn with more orc-trash.  Grimwine surmised by examining fresh droppings that the orcs were here within the last day or two, while Lowthesis searched the cavern.  He found a small stash of loot (1 treasure point), which he kept.  Since he'd already loaded up to full carrying capacity on treasure in the cave, Grimwine had to carry it for him.  Finding nothing else, they left the cave and Grimwine searched the area for tracks.  It looked like the group had scattered, singly or in twos and threes taking separate paths generally north through the forest.  As Grimwine examined the tracks, the group heard a Woodmen horn blowing a distress signal in the distance.

The company rushed toward the source of the sound, finding Grimwine's hunting companion Hathus taking down an orc, with two orc bodies and 1 Woodmen lying dead on the ground.  Hathus bound this orc, intent on interrogating him.  Grimwine rushed up to aid him, and rolled an extraordinary success (with a Gandalf too, I think) on his Awe roll to intimidate the goblin.  With one hand he held up his greataxe menacingly, and with the other snatched up the goblin and threw him to the ground.  Moisture appeared from the crotch of the goblin's pants.  The company learned that the orc chieftain, Gazmog, had ordered the group to disperse and head north.  When questioned about the artifact stolen from the cave, they learned that "The Mistress" had bade Gazmog to hide "the Egg," and Gazmog took it himself.  The egg was described to be large, heavy, and shiny like mithril.  Being of no further use, Grimwine slayed the captive (in hindsight I probably should have given him a shadow point for this).

Sending Hathus back to Woodland Hall with this new information, the company headed back to the orc encampment to pick up one of the trails.  Grimwine searched for larger tracks, and finding a set he followed them.  What followed was a pursuit that was never meant to be successful given the full day's head start that the orcs had.  Grimwine pushed full steam ahead, however, leaving Lowthesis and eventually Ranulf behind.  A hazard was rolled, in which I invoked Lowthesis' "Grasping" flaw.  Basically, they heroes had to climb a waterfall out of a shallow gorge, and while climbing a piece of treasure slipped out of Lowthesis' pack.  He tried to catch it, throwing himself off balance and falling onto the slippery rocks below.  He was wounded with a sprained wrist (luckily his full endurance allowed him to recover with one night's rest, but it did prevent Grimwine from regaining a point of Hope at the end of the session).  The orcs were tracked for a full 7 days with Grimwine getting the bare minimum amount of sleep and leaving Ranulf trailing a full day behind, and Lowthesis, who eventually gave up and built himself a bed, even further.  Finding signs that he was gaining on his quarry, Grimwine was relentless in his pursuit, which eventually led him to a pair of orcs.  He slayed them, but after searching the bodies didn't find an egg.  He collapsed from exhaustion, was joined shortly by Ranulf who eventually caught up, and then the two eventually met up with Lowthesis on the journey back to Woodland Hall (which took 10 days). 

The Folk-Moot

The heroes reached Woodland Hall to learn that the elders were all away at Woodmen Town for the Folk-Moot that would decide who was to represent their people at the Council of the North.  The journey south was relatively uneventful, though they did meet a pair of hunters, one of whom gave Grimwine a hunting knife in appreciation for tales of his valorous deeds.  When they reached town, the guards in front of the Hall of Balthi would not admit them since the Moot was currently in progress.  Impressed by Grimwine's awesome bearing (literally, resulting from his high Awe roll), he offered the company refreshments in the guard house and sent a messenger to them as soon as the meeting was adjourned.  They met with Beranhild (The Sage), who didn't recognize the orc's description of the Egg.  When shown Ranulf's rubbings of the names from the cave, she visibly blanched at the sight of the circled name, from the fake sarcophagus that the egg was mounted on:  Akhorahil.  She simply said that he was an ancient terror from deep in the forest beyond the ruins that Grimwine stumbled upon.  She could not aid them further, and bid them to seek Radagast for advice.  Despite being quiet in the background, Lowthesis surmised from a good Riddle roll that she was truly terrified, and probably knew more than she was letting on but didn't trust herself to give counsel on what was clearly a very important matter. 

The company rested for a day in Woodmen Town, with Ranulf traveling to the Dusky River to nap in a boat (fishing without bait), Grimwine working on a leather sheath for his new hunting knife, and Lowthesis moping over the general lack of forges in these lands.  During their evening meal they were joined by Walcaud (The Shepherd), the elder from Woodland Hall, and learned that he would be traveling to Dale with Amand (The Tall), an elder from Woodmen Town who was chosen to be the representative at the Council of the North.  

Back to Rhosgobel

The journey to Rhosgobel was punctuated only by an encounter with a merchant from Mountain Hall, Amalina.  She had just dropped off a shipment of weapons and armor in Rhosgobel and was traveling back home to do some smith-work.  Lowthesis noted this, offering to teach her some Dwarven techniques if he ever made it her way.  After finally reaching Rhosgobel and heading straight for Radagast's hut near the hedge, the company sees an old man cloaked in grey sitting around and smoking with 4 Dwarves.  As they approach he introduces himself as Gandalf the Grey, and chuckling in amusement at Grimwine's attempt to Awe him.  The Dwarves introduce themselves as Dwalin, Balin, Ori, and Oin, all bowing low.  They exchange pleasantries and brief tales while waiting for Radagast to return (Lowthesis in a visibly better mood resulting from the companionship of some of his kinsmen).  At one point Gandalf blows smoke rings that take the form of an orc, and then followed by an axe that "decapitates" the orc-shape.  Laughing, he tells Grimwine "I got one, too!"  Grimwine replied with "mine had more blood," to which Gandalf responded with a sparkling display of red flashes that emanated from the smoke-shape of the orc. 

Once Radagast returned the company began to discuss their recent adventures, asking specifically about The Mistress (which Radagast had not heard of, but noted that Mirkwood is filled with many dark creatures that could potentially organize orcs) and Akhorahil.  Gandalf blanched at that name, explaining that he was a deadly servant of Gorthu (Sauron) - a Black Numenorean given one of the Nine Rings.  He explained that Akhorahil still walks the earth in wraith-form, and is rumored to be in Mordor with the other Nazgul.  He was deeply concerned that the orcs were seeking an artifact of his house on the orders of this Mistress. 

Gandalf insisted that the heroes accompany him to Dale to report their tale during the Council of the North.  This was clearly a major development, and input from the leaders of all the northern peoples was critical.  He told them that Radagast would be leaving for the northern route around Mirkwood in about a week with Amand The Tall, Walcaud The Shepherd, and a retinue of Woodmen guards (Grimwine told Radagast that his friend Hathus should be considered for membership in this elite guard).  Meanwhile, he had planned on assisting the Dwarves with their mission to scout out the viability of the Old Forest Road.  They had planned on meeting up with Oin's nephew, Gimli, who would be waiting for them with boats in the Long Marshes. 


After making preparations for 3 days, Gandalf and the Dwarves departed with the company of heroes, along with a pack pony (Folí) and Gandalf's horse, Bregolad.  The week-long journey from Rhosgobel to the road as it emerged from western Mirkwood was relatively uneventful, but the heavy rains did fatigue Grimwine and Ranulf.  When they reached the road they saw a stark contrast with the relatively well-maintained road to their left (leading to major paths north, to the land of the Beornings, and south, to the realm of the Woodmen) and the overgrown mess (leading into Mirkwood) to their right. 

During their first few days they encountered a few old ruins (of Dwarven make) along the road, which broke up the monotony of clearing a path through the overgrown vegetation and logs (for the horse and pony) and dealing with the dark, stifling air of Mirkwood.  At one point they encountered spiderwebs, including a large one across the road.  Though its sticky strands proved difficult to burn with torches or hack with axes, Gandalf casually tossed a flaming pine cone at it to clear the way.  He advised them "don't look left, it'll only worry you," at which point Ranulf looked left and saw several sets of large spider-eyes retreating into the shadows.  Shortly afterwards the air got even darker and stuffier, and they passed ruins of jet-black rock which Gandalf urged them past quickly, though they hardly needed his help after sensing the malice of that area for themselves (corruption test).  Gandalf marched them until almost midnight before they made camp (not that they could see the sky to be sure, in this gloom).  The next day (well into their fourth day in Mirkwood they heard a loud, piercing wail too close for comfort.  Gandalf stood stock-still, the heroes made Fear tests, and all the Dwarves but Balin were paralyzed with fright (Balin ran up to Folí to restrain him, as he was struggling to run ahead).  Lowthesis ran to Balin's aid, while Ranulf nocked an arrow and Grimwine drew his axe.  Gandalf looked at them briefly and yelled "what are you doing?  Fly you fools!"  As they turned to run Gandalf added "and take those Dwarves!"  At this point Grimwine tried to inspire them to make a stand against this foe, and a ridiculous extraordinary success combined with a Gandalf inspired me to cause Dwalin to temporarily reach for his Mattock, but then regain his senses and, recovered from his swoon, aid the heroes in getting Ori and Oin moving. 

As soon as they were just about ready to flee they all heard another wail, this time much closer and accompanied by a strange clicking noise.  Gandalf mounted Bregolad.  A Nazgul burst through the trees onto the road riding a giant spider (whose chitonous joints were making the clicking noise)!!!  A quick exhale pointed in the direction of the travelers called for corruption checks.  All but Lowthesis fell into a swoon from the Black Breath (and gained 2 Shadow points), but even the stout Dwarf was partially frozen and still gained 1 Shadow despite his strong will in the face of this servant of Sauron.  Ranulf and Grimwine both drained a point from the Fellowship pool to avoid becoming Miserable.  The pony bolted.  With a bright shaft of light from his staff and a quick slash at the spider's leg from Glamdring, Gandalf drove the Nazgul off.  He quickly turned to Lowthesis and commanded him to guard his companions and make sure that the mission got completed.  He then sped off after the Nazgul, leaving a very frightened Lowthesis guarding his unconscious friends and kinsmen.  They finally came to after nearly 5 hours, during which Lowthesis build a fire.  The "camp" was soon surrounded by spiders, but being a smaller variety (by Mirkwood standards) they refrained from attacking. 

And that's where we ended.  Exciting stuff!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Emphasizing Description in RPGs

Yikes, it's been longer than I thought since I've posted!  Needless to say, I've had other stuff going on and haven't played recently.  I just caught this article on Dungeon's Master, though, and had to share it:  How a Blind Player Improved Our Game.  I've noticed that to some extent I tend to describe things in a little more detail when I play The One Ring compared with D&D, and TOR's lack of minis/grid is certainly a contributing factor.  One interesting observation involved the mini that I used for my Shaman's spirit companion; despite my briefly mentioning that it was a panther and continually reminding everyone that it was a spirit (and looked the part), everyone basically just called it "my dog" because I was using a wolf mini.  Annoying, but when I used the same mini to represent my Druid's Pack Wolf summon, the DM assumed that it was pretty much "the same" (specifically, he never attacked it because he thought it worked like the Shaman's SC and would just come back while I took reduced damage).  In this case the mini outright overrode my descriptions in the minds of everyone else at the table (for both characters), which is certainly a problem. 

As a player I really enjoy looking at maps (as I like cartography in general), but there's definitely a such thing as relying too heavily on them.  They're extremely helpful for communicating the tactical bits of 4E, but I tend to use them as just that.  My maps are very simple, and I'm just as likely to write down a symbol or written abbreviation to represent a terrain feature as I am to draw it out in (relative) detail.  In short, from my point of view as a DM the map is meant to supplement descriptions, but I'm not sure my players always get this message.  Or perhaps it's just easier to relate to what's in front of them on the table. 

Anyways, there's ultimately no "right way" to describe (or interpret) the scene in an RPG, but I think this article is definitely some interesting food for thought.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Session Summary: The Cold Cave


I'm going to preface this by saying that barely any of this adventure was actually "planned."  I'd thought of a few quick hooks to follow Words of the Wise, and while the players sort of half bit into one, it went into a really unexpected direction.  So here's what happened during my first "non-scripted" TOR game.

To re-cap, this was with my second group so the players are Grimwine (Beorning), Lowthesis (Dwarf), and Ranulf (Barding).  The Fellowship Phase following Words of the Wise was spent opening up Woodland Hall as a Sanctuary.  The company became familiar with the 3 most powerful Elders of this settlement, Beranhild (The Sage), Rathar (The Silent), and Walcaud (The Shepherd), as well as getting to know some of the warriors, hunters, and guards.  Grimwine spent some time attempting to mentor Hathus, a young up-and-comer who was orphaned at a young age, but he was unwilling to leave the life he'd finally established for himself to start adventuring.  Ranulf mostly hung around with the fishermen at the Dusky River, and Lowthesis basically just talked with as many people as possible.  Other notable events around town were the upcoming Folk-Moot to determine which Woodmen elder would be accompanying Radagast to the Council of the North, and the hunting of the remnants from the orc assault on the village.  After a little over 2 weeks (April 26 2946 of the Westron calendar) our company's next adventure begins.

Finding the Cold Cave

A young messenger returned from the forest reporting a sizeable orc band, and Heva (with her captain Ingelram) invited the PCs to accompany her on a reconnaissance mission.  The elders wanted to know where these orcs were camped, and what their numbers were.  After crossing the Dusky River into the dark depths of Mirkwood (Corruption test) Ranulf scouted out ahead and reported a major game trail that would speed their travel.  Just a few hours travel on the path led them to an area where the main trail diverged into many smaller (fainter) trails, but ahead along the path a fresh gut pile was spotted.  After cautiously investigating the area, Grimwine crept forward following a track where the deer's body had obviously been dragged through the forest.  After about 100 yards he encountered a small clearing of trampled vegetation and various bones before a rocky cliff face (~50 feet high) with a narrow cave opening.  No signs of fire were present, which Grimwine found odd (being very learned in Orc-lore).  Lowthesis investigated the opening, finding some rough runes scrawled into the rock near the cave.  Grimwine recognized the letter "c" in an orc-tongue.  Also notable was the fact that a noticeable breeze emanated from the cavern, and it was colder than would be expected.  With Ranulf, Heva, and Ingelram waiting in the bushes with bows drawn, and Lowthesis in front of the entrance, Grimwine banged his axe loudly against the rock so that it echoed within the cave.  Ranulf was able to persuade the two Woodmen that Grimwine must have had a plan, as Ingelram was livid and ready to leave the company and head back to Woodland Hall with Heva. 

No answer came from the cave, and so the heroes crept in.  Lowthesis crafted some torches (very well, at that) and they headed down a narrow, twisting passage before emerging into a wider  chamber.  This "room" had a fissure at its far side from which the unusually cold air was coming, and nearby several deer carcasses hung from pitons installed in the cave wall.  One was a white stag, to everyone's horror (the Woodmen consider it taboo to hunt the white stags of Mirkwood).  Ranulf removed the pitons and attempted to climb down the fissure, but was unable to reach the bottom (though he came close).  A feeling of being watched prompted a hasty retreat back up the ropes.  Lowthesis searched the room, finding (in addition to the expected orc trash) a small bundle of survival tools that also contained a parchment with strange runes that nobody recognized (I hadn't planned on this, but he got an extraordinary success.  This happened quite a bit tonight).  After find nothing else of interest in the orc's "meat freezer," Grimwine proposed that the company camp outside of the cave so that they could ambush any orcs that stopped by to retrieve any food.  Ranulf found an excellent campsite with plenty of cover nearby, and Grimwine volunteered to take 2 shifts at watch.  On his second shift (the third of the night) he heard footsteps approaching the cave, and saw 4 torches.  Two entered the cave, and 2 stayed outside.  Ranulf attempted to ambush the orcs with a distraction (shooting an arrow at the cliffside to make a noise), though 2 of the 3 failed their rolls and so the orcs were aware of them.  There ended up being 3 orcs outside (an archer wasn't carrying a torch), and 4 inside.  Ingelram sustained a wound the first time he was attacked, and Heva ended up unconscious after being hit with several attacks in a row.  The heroes were on fire, until orcs starting to flee.  They yelled at each other (in common, suggesting that these were orcs from different regions) to get back to camp to warn Gazmog.  Grimwine was proud that he'd killed 4 orcs, though everyone else was PO'd that this plan of his ended up giving the main camp warning of their presence.  Ranulf attempted to heal Ingelram, but an Eye meant that his "treatment" actually hurt Ingelram more, and he fell unconscious.  The part passed the rest of the night at their camp allowing Ingelram and Heva to recover, and then set off in the morning (which brought drizzle and overcast skies).  The group heard wolf howls in the distance at dawn.

Pack Pursuit

Knowing that wargs and orcs often work together, the heroes pressed on as fast as they could but the howling kept growing closer.  Ranulf scouted for a defensible location, and found a small rocky hill that was encircled by thorny brush on nearly all sides.  They decided to make their stand here.  Lowthesis crafted a rudimentary boulder trap (that he ended up never using, though he got an AP for the excellent roll to construct it).  The wolves eventually caught up, but only slunk around the perimeter.  The first one sighted had its throat pierced by a single shot from Ranulf, though they grew more wary after that sticking to better cover.  A small group of 5 dashed up the hill to test the party, but after 2 were killed they fled back down.  Lowthesis eventually decided that he'd had enough of this and went down the hill to scout out the warg's perimeter.  Immediately after passing the line of brush he was flanked by 2 wargs who were joined immediately by a wolf leader.  I can't remember whether Lowthesis scored a piercing blow or if he got an extraordinary success to deal massive endurance damage, but either way he killed the wolf leader with one lucky blow.  Cover fire from Heva, Ingelram, and Ranulf drove the 2 wargs off, and the heroes took this opportunity to flee straight out of the line after several hours of being under siege on the hill.  Lowthesis kept everyone going at a good, steady pace (Travel roll), getting them to the Dusky River just before sunset.

Brief Respite

The company returned to Woodland Hall in the middle of the night, and Ranulf escorted Ingelram and Heva immediately to the healers.  Grimwine and Lowthesis went to sleep, then in the morning sought out the elders.  They found Walcaud (The Shepherd) and reported what happened.  He was not surprisingly a bit disappointed.  Grimwine spent the next day hunting, and as luck would have it he encountered a white stag that was standing on the east side of the Dusky River.  He followed the stag over a tall, rocky ridge that commanded a good view of a nearby hollow, at the head of which was a conspicuous stand of dead trees.  He made his way in that direction, eventually encountering the foundations of an old bridge on the other side of a stream.  After crossing the bridge he felt a dark presence, and noticed a broken statue on the pillar of the ruined bridge.  An extremely lucky Lore roll (no ranks, but a Gandalf was rolled) prompted him to recall childhood tales of the Black Numenoreans who worshiped Sauron back in the Second Age.  He made his way back to town, arriving well after dark to find a young man slinking around.  After catching up with him, Grimwine asked the nervous fellow what he as up to and he reluctantly admitted that his uncle Arnulf had paid him to let the hogs out.  Grimwine released the lad into the custody of the guards before finally getting to sleep.

Meanwhile, Lowthesis and Ranulf sought out the elders, and found Walcaud (The Shepherd) in a rather one-sided conversation with Rathar (The Silent).  Lowthesis showed them the parchment he found in the orc bundle, and Walcaud offered to give it to Beranhild (The Sage), who was more learned in ancient lore than he.  I honestly can't remember specifically what Ranulf asked them, but their failed mission was brought up.  Ranulf spent the rest of the day fishing at the river.

The next morning everyone woke up and the party was finally reunited (quite a bit of real time had passed with everyone split up).  They sought out the elders again, and found only Beranhild (The Sage).  Grimwine reported to her about the stand of dead trees, and she warned him that the Woodmen do not go that way, and that there was rumored to be old ruins there that still housed great evil.  Lowthesis asked about his parchment, and what little she was able to translate described an ancient artifact of some kind that the orcs seemed to be after.  She was also asked about the white stags, and noted that sightings were rare, but that these 3 newcomers has already encountered 3 of them (one during the battle at Woodland Hall just before the temporal anomaly, one dead in the ice cave, and one that led Grimwine to the Black Numenorean ruins).  It was then decided that the company would attempt their mission again, and investigate the artifact.

Return to the Cold Cave

The party reached the cave with no incidents (and more rope).  They noticed a new rune carved into the rock, an orcish "B."  Lowthesis guessed that "B" meant "bad," just as they'd assumed "C" meant "cold."  I informed them (OoC) that they'd guessed correctly; orcs are fairly simple-minded).  Lowthesis once again crafted some torches, and they entered the cave.  They first noticed that the deer meat had all been removed.  With their extra length of rope (and the pitons spaced a little less safely) they descended into the fissure.  After continuing on a short way they were forced to cross a large mound of guano, and looking up saw many bats.  Grimwine noticed orc tracks between one and two weeks old based on the accumulation of guano over them (my players got a kick out of that), and they pressed on.  The floor became smoother, and they soon reached an archway.  Lowthesis appraised the stonework as being very fine, but not Dwarven.  As far as he knew, only the Noldor or Numenoreans could achieve this level of craftsmanship.  Runes on the flagstone were of the same type as those on his parchment.  As they crossed the threshold, a ghostly figure appeared, rushed at them, yelled "pillagers!," passed through them, and disappeared.  They entered into a large chamber with 2 doors on the left (both of which led to caved-in tunnels) and 2 doors on the right.  The first on the right led to a tomb with sarcophagi lining each long wall and one large one in the middle.  Upon the large one was perched an intricately-wrought mithril stand which looked like it might hold some vaguely round object.  Ranulf copied down the names (written in those same strange runes) on the sarcophagi, while Lowthesis tried to open one.  A ghostly swordsman emerged from the first and swung his sword to decapitate before disappearing.  In the second one a robed ghost with red eyes exhaled an incantation before disappearing (though Lowthesis passed his Corruption test).  No treasure was found.  Then he tried to open the big one, but couldn't.  Grimwine aided him, but it still wouldn't budge.  Ranulf left the room.  Lowthesis tried to search the tomb for any hidden buttons or latches, but to his surprise discovered instead that it was a fake!  It was actually a block of solid stone cunningly worked to resemble a sarcophagus.  Ranulf circled that name on his list.

Through the second door the company followed a long passage that led into a wide chamber.  The chamber was brimming with treasure of all kind!  Grimwine wanted nothing to do with any of it, but Lowthesis loaded up enough to max out his load (14 treasure points, I believe), whereas Ranulf took a comparatively paltry 3 points.  As they were about to cross the threshold a ghost appeared, simply stating that any who carried treasure out of this room would be cursed.  To Lowthesis he stated that gold would be his undoing, and to Ranulf he stated that all of his future songs would be flat until his very final note.  Ranulf put the treasure back, but Lowthesis kept his.  After passing out of the room I announced that any cursed characters would gain a number of Shadow points equal to the number of treasure points that they took.  Bad news for Lowthesis!  They made their way back to the fissure's opening and climbed back up.

After emerging from the cavern Lowthesis was shot at by 4 arrows.  He advanced slowly into the clearing, shield up, when 4 wargs charged at the company.  Grimwine scored an extraordinary success with his spear in the opening volley, killing a goblin archer outright, and then scored a piercing blow on one of the wargs during his first turn.  Nice.  The battle was short and relatively easy, though Lowthesis did manage to roll an Eye being well past Miserable, and so he gained his first permanent Shadow point and flaw.  After reading the flaws his player was excited about the prospect of his character's Shadow-weakness, but we'll see how he feels when I start invoking that flaw.  Once all of the Wargs were killed the remaining 3 goblins fled.  It was at this point that we decided to end this session.  Quite a bit happened, if I do say so myself!