Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Sidequest: The Curse of Xanathon Part 1

As I previously mentioned, I was finally able to become a player in a Swords & Wizardry campaign adventure.  These sessions were run by Brian, one of the players in our gaming group that has been going strong since 2009!

Brian ran classic TSR adventure: X-3 Curse of Xanathon!

Like I said, I had a great time playing my thief, McDagger and we all had a lot of laughs with this adventure, as any good group of sessions should have, but the Curse of Xanathon, as an adventure module, has it's 'issues'.

This adventure was written in 1982, around the time adventure modules evolved from a sandbox environment into more of a story-based adventure. Being X-3, you can see the evolution of that through the X series of modules.

X-1, The Isle of Dread (by David Cook and Tom Moldvay) is a crazy open sandbox in a pulp fantasy lost island in the middle of the sea.  It's open ended and the players can determine their own fate by their choices.  There is no real 'plot' or linear story. Just an anything goes fantasy.  It's a classic in it's own right.

X-2, Castle Amber (by Tom Moldvay) was another open ended "fun-house" adventure with a loose plot of the D'Amberville family. It's essentially a classic mega-dungeon crawl.  This one is slightly more rail-roady in that the PCs would be 'trapped' in the castle until they figure out the way to escape.

The Curse of Xanathon (by Douglas Niles) breaks with that free-form openness and railroads the party into 5 plot-points (scenarios) that need to be hit to move the story along. It involves a curse upon the duke of the town of Rhoona and a cult worshiping a chaotic god and an 'invincible' priest and an powerful pirate working in tandem with the priest to control the Duke.  Oh, and a time limit of an invading dwarven army that the Mad Duke pissed off, all this to support the underlying concept of a civil war in the town to weaken it and allow for an invasion from the steeps.  This all sounds like the making of a great fantasy story - and it is, but as an open adventure, it doesn't work very well.

The general problem with 'story' based adventures such as this is always having the critical need for players
to hit the plot-points to move the adventure along. You can't kill the wrong NPC, or stray from the path, or  just blow-up the Duke's castle and be done with it, or what if you don't find the exact key to defeat the evil priest? or just saying, this town is fucked, lets rob the castle and get out of here.  To reveal the 'story' as the author intended, you need to do everything in the way the author needs to you to do it. And for a group that is use to open ended adventures where the stories evolve themselves this was quite rail-roady.  I mean, why should a group of traveling rogues care about this town or this Mad Duke? I guess outlawing ale would do the trick, right?

All that said, we had a good laugh at some of the forced plot points.  Many of the encounters were quite enjoyable and I really loved the dungeon/shrine. This would be a challenging module to run for even veteran DMs but Brian rolled with this adventure with his usual dry humor and twisted charm which leveled this module up from an attempted mysterious drama to a romp that involved fire-balling the barracks.

I guess you can't keep a good party down.

A brief word about the author, Douglas Niles. He was part of the early second group of TSR employees after the initial explosion of the game. He came on board in '82 as a game designer. He ended up writing Top Secret (one of my favorite non-D&D games) and the first three Forgotten Realms novels.  He also wrote the B-5 Horror on the Hill adventure, a less rail-roady adventure which I worked into our campaign way back and was pretty fun. He has some chops but Curse of Xanathon just didn't cut it.  It's obvious he had a story concept in mind that he translated into an adventure module which doesn't quite work as a stand-alone.  I suppose that if you used the town of Rhooma as a starting point for an entire campaign with level 1 characters and then you could slowly build up the story and plot points so that when the characters were powerful enough they could tackle the 'story adventure' organically with the stakes being higher, that probably could work.

More on the actual session recaps coming next.

Another, more thorough, dive into this module over at RetroReview

Friday, May 19, 2017

Adventures in Playing

Yes, your Warlock has been gone for quite a while and it may have seemed that the campaign was on indefinite hold, but lo', it was only an illusion!  We actually continued with Swords & Wizardry but with me, your wonderful warlock, as a player and the DMing duties having been passed on to our long time player Brian.

I needed a break from running sessions and Brian wanted to give DMing a try.  The timing was right for a switch.

When I first got involved in D&D waaaay back in the Holmes Blue Book days, I was the oldest of our group of friends. Being all of 10 years old, 'learning the game' and running things kind of fell to me.  Believe it or not, I rarely was ever a player in a D&D game.  I probably only played a PC no more than three times, only two of which I can truly remember. As we all got a bit older and others could take the reins, we had moved on to other games like Boot Hill, Top Secret, Champions, Traveller, and other board games.  All of that was great fun, but I really never got to experience some good old fantasy role playing.

Even these days, I had played in a very fun play by post game run through the OD&D boards almost 10 years ago now.  That was great as it was classic D&D and my dwarf had some good times. However, it was still a play by post and not a face to face table game.

When I was looking to find a face to face group, I ended up in a D&D 3.5 game.  I really enjoyed being a player but the 'on the track' railroading of the adventure was a real drag, not to mention the two hours + long combat sessions. I longed for the free-form, anything goes old-school style game that I grew up with and wanted to experience as a player.

Getting our current game group together is now history. It is here that I was able to run our classic style campaign.  And with a group of great friends this group has become, we were able to branch off into other RPGs including Savage Worlds, ICONS, White Star (Star Wars), Robotech, all of which I was able to be a player in.  All of that was great but I still never quite had that swords and sorcery fantasy player experience.... until now, when Brian ran his side campaign.

This side campaign, we agreed, was to take place within the current S&W campaign world that we were playing in. Some of the players used their current characters while others created new ones.  All of this was to help build PC to take on the final quest of the main campaign.

Finally being a player was great.  Brain ran a really fun adventure module (which needed a few tweaks, but he did right by those).  I ran a thief named McDagger.  He got himself into plenty of trouble - not at all times by choice!  Brian ran a pretty brutal campaign with a couple near TPKs which were saved by usually one lucky character.  The dungeon adventure had lots of tricks and traps and creatures that caused us all a lot of laughs and headaches. It was a blast to finally be a player in an extended campaign and I can't wait to jump in that side of things again.  I really wished I had summarized those sessions as well, but real life made that harder to do than usual.  I'll do my best to cover a brief summary in the next post or two just to keep the campaign complete.

For now, though, we have moved back to the main campaign this past Monday.  I'll get the session summary for that posted in the next week.

So, for now, thanks Brain and...

GAME ON!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Session LXXXVI: The Road Ends In Larm

Continuing our ongoing Swords and Wizardry sandbox campaign...

Current Player Characters:
Torvin Fulvousmith (Dwarf)
Thenus (Ranger)
Wang Du (Monk)
Centari (Elf)
Wolfheir (Viking)
Arg (Half-orc)
Sir Gwain (Paladin) 
Su (Cleric)
*NOTE that this post contains SPOILERS for the Village of Larm adventure, the Labyrinth Lord module from Soapbox games so precede at your own peril! 
 In pursuit of the wights, the party found themselves in a room with a locked door and a riddle: "Only the will of the gods will help you now".

Not being able to answer the riddle in the hopes of opening the door, the party leaves the temple basements and heads back to Brother Erkmar who is ecstatic to tears when he hears of the success that the party has had in putting to rest the souls of his religious companions.  He is so thrilled that he once again dons his holy armor and accompanies the party back to the temple.  

They made their way back to the basement and the locked door where Brother Erkmar tells Su to cast a spell to his god which is the sacrifice to unlock the door, which Su does.

The door unlocks and beyond they are attacked by a gargoyle which the party easily beats back.

Opening the final door the the crypt they are once again engulfed by black smoke.  Once the smoke clears they see a sarcophagus around which stand four deadly creatures - a SoulSpinner, a Spectral Scavanger, a Spectre, and the renegade wraith.  A fierce battle ensues as the SoulSpinner entangles Su in a web and the Scavanger uses lightening and giant bony hands to erupt from the ground grabbing Arg and Wolf.  Things were looking grim for the party but eventually Wang, Centari and Torvin and Sir Gwain defeat the cursed souls.

With the monsters dispatched, the sarcophagus is opened to reveal the entombed body of the first Abbot, Brother Thorleif.  Brother Erkmar sheds tears of joy as his temple has been cleared of the curse of the evil book.  The party is victorious once again!  The town is grateful and tales are told all though winter of their heroic adventures.

The party settles down for the winter sending out messengers to the east looking for additional brave souls to help them face the vengeful ancient dragon Agatheron... but that is another tale soon to be told...

Monday, August 29, 2016

Session LXXXV: The Road To Larm

Continuing our ongoing Swords and Wizardry sandbox campaign...

Current Player Characters:
Torvin Fulvousmith (Dwarf)
Thenus (Ranger)
Wang Du (Monk)
Centari (Elf)
Wolfheir (Viking)
Arg (Half-orc)
Sir Gwain (Paladin) 
Su (Cleric) 

*NOTE that this post contains SPOILERS for the Village of Larm adventure module, the Labyrinth Lord module from Soapbox games so precede at your own peril!

With the defeated Red Wizard's tower officially claimed as their own (sessions 80-84), the party headed off to Larm to begin to gather fellow brave souls to do battle with the ancient Red Dragon Agathareon.  

Leaving Grimmwood they headed west and after a couple of days travel they came across the remains of a recent battle between the priests of Mithra and those of the Dark Church. Among the fallen was a Fire Giant. Searching the dead, Thenus discovered tracks of three survivors heading west. It was decided to camp away from the battlefield and to pursue the survivors the next day.

By mid-day, the party came upon the three figures who turned out to be followers of the Black Church.  Sir Gwain of Mithra approached and the three attacked but our heroes were able to subdue them and only ended up killing one. But the two prisoners proved to be too stubborn for questioning so, bound,  they were lead towards Larm in the hopes that there would be a Temple of Mithra where the blasphemous followers my be imprisoned.  

However, the next morning  the bound, though not gagged prisoners, used their used unholy magic to attempt to escape the group but were soon recaptured.  Again, they tried to question them and even killed one of them but the remaining fanatic did not give in. 

So they continued to Larm and arrived by mid-day.  Sir Gwain did find a temple of Mithra and turned over the Dark Church follower while the rest of the party headed over to the Borderland Tavern and settled into Larm.

As the party learned more about the town, the town learned that some of the members of these adventurers were none other than the heroes that saved Fishersville the previous winter.  Along with news from Berkinstoke, the party has had made quite the name for itself - which the townfolk ended up feeling safe with once they were told about Agathareon!

The party found out that the town had a Temple of Istar (goddess of luck and Su's worshiped diety) that went to ruin over 20 years ago when some terrible event was brought about in it's hidden chambers and that the hermit across the river knew something about it.

So the party crossed the river and found the cave of the hermit who turned out to be a priest of temple of Istar and had been hiding in shame for 20 years.  It turned out that the Brother Erkmar and the other priests discovered an ancient book of evil and tried to burn it in a ritual but that is what the magic of the evil book wanted to happen and upon the book being ritualistically tossed onto a pyre, something terrible happened and only Brother Erkmar escaped with his life.

Let the side-quest begin!

At the temple the party found that the doors were barred as they were lo' those many years ago.  Removing the barrier and opening the doors, a plum of billowing black smoke burst forth from the doorway, which didn't seem to affect the party in any negative way.

Once the smoke cleared they entered the ruined temple and besides finding some religious relics and a Holy Book of Wisdom, discovered it mostly deserted.  Further exploration, however, found two figures dressed as priests of Istar who were now undead ghouls!  Su made quick work of these creatures and the party descended into the basement of the temple.  Here, as they explored the chambers, they discovered more and more former priests that had been turned into soulless undead!

With the help of Su all of these creatures were slain and their souls put to rest, but two Wights had escaped heading further into the temple....


Monday, August 1, 2016

Session LXXXIV: Nasties In The Tower Basement

Continuing our ongoing Swords and Wizardry sandbox campaign...

Current Player Characters:
Torvin Fulvousmith (Dwarf)
Thenus (Ranger)
Wang Du (Monk)
Centari (Elf)
Wolfheir (Viking)
Arg (Half-orc)
Sir Gwain (Paladin) 
Su (Cleric)
Staying in the defeated wizard's tower preparing their journey to Larm, a secret door is discovered leading to the basements beneath the tower.  Below is the party finds a magically cold storage of dead bodies and what appears to be an empty cell.  
A bloody torture chamber with a couple  Lemure Demons which they thought they defeated but as these hellspawn kept bubbling up into a shapeless form, they thought it best to lock them in their hideous chamber.  

 A wine cellar guarded by some Black Pudding that was quite terrifying to the party as it was eating away at the party until a fire bomb put an end to it.  The wine was saved!
They discovered the Necromancer's lab but left it mostly alone while they freed a tortured Cherub that was used to balance out the negative energy from the evil wizard.  The freed Cherub blessed them for his rescue.   

A giant underground mushroom garden was found and the well was explored by Wang who discovered that it was the dwelling place of a Giant Slug.  Acid spitting slug fight ensued with the party being victorious!

With one final chamber discovered covered in magical writting which apparently failed to hold whatever was conjured as there was a tunnel burrowed straight down into the earth.

With the tower finally cleared and all mysteries solved (save for the magical wardrobe), the party prepared to set out for the Edge of the Far Reaches and the village of Larm.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Session LXXXIII: Irritable Balrog Syndrome

Continuing our ongoing Swords and Wizardry sandbox campaign...

Current Player Characters:
Torvin Fulvousmith (Dwarf)
Thenus (Ranger)
Wang Du (Monk)
Centari (Elf)
Wolfheir (Viking)
Arg (Half-orc)
Sir Gwain (Paladin) 
Su (Cleric)

NPCs
Fermina (fighter)
Biggs (Henchman)
Liedrada (Magic-user)
Veleda (Halfling)
Antiope (thief)
Gimp the Imp

Standing at the edge of the clearing before the vanquished wizard's tower, the party spied a lone armored figure approaching the entrance. Calling out to him, Wang, Thenus and Centari discovered that it was Su the priest of Istar (last seen in session 74).  Su had been through Berkinstok and was pointed in this direction to aid the party with the Red Wizard.  However, the Red Wizard had been killed but a Balrog had taken over the tower and the party had set out to destroy it and retake the tower.

The party marched into the tower and after some attempts to gain some of the armor in the armory the proceeded up the stairs and into the former wizard's chamber where they found the demon had taken over and decorated it in his hellish glory.

The party wasted no time in charging in and battling the demon.  Suddenly, from a side door, three Wights burst in, two of which appeared as their missing companions Skwanky and Minimus.  Su forced these three undead back and up to the top level of the tower while the party defeated the demon.

Heading up stairs to hunt down the Wights, the party discovered that it was Gimp the Imp that activated the hellish portal allowing to demon to pass through as a gift for his new master Centari.  That was the final straw for the party and they killed the Imp.  Their next task was shutting down the hellish portal.  They tracked down the Wights and put their souls to rest.  This happened in a chamber of mirrors that also appeard to be portals of some kind.  After much debate and trial and error it was discovered that by breaking the mirrors the portal to Hell would close which is what they did, but only after they tossed Skwanky's dismembered body into it.

With the demon defeated and the main tower cleared of the Red Wizard's influence, there was much celebration in the forest with the elves of Grimmwood.  Minimus' body was burried in the makeshift cemetary that had been started for their fallen comrades near the tower.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Session LXXXII: Organ Grinders

Continuing our ongoing Swords and Wizardry sandbox campaign...

Current Player Characters:
Torvin Fulvousmith (Dwarf)
Thenus (Ranger)
Wang Du (Monk)
Centari (Elf)
Wolfheir (Viking)
Arg (Half-orc)
Sir Gwain (Paladin)

NPCs
Fermina (fighter)
Biggs (Henchman)
Liedrada (Magic-user)
Veleda (Halfling)
Antiope (thief)

Spending the first couple of days in the tower, recovering from wounds and smoking the fine tobacco and drinking the fine wine and ale left by the Wizard, initially puts some of the party at ease.  Evenings, however, had proven troublesome as they all continued returning to the same hellish dreams of fire and torture which became more intense as the nights went by.  In fact, it became so bad that one by one, each of the party eventually moved to the edge of the forest and set up a permanent camp only returning to the tower during the day.  The only ones that didn't seem affected by the tower, and in fact, spent most of their time obsessively going through the library and studying was Centari and Gimp the Imp.

It was two weeks into their stay at the tower then Sir Gwain, a paladin of Mithra rode up to the camp on his horse. The priests in Berkenstok sent him to aid the party.  Chatting with the party on the main floor of the tower, Sir Gwain spied the armory room with the untouched armor.  Being in need of stronger armor and ignoring the lingering odor of mold, Sir Gwain, followed by the laughing half-orc Arg, tried to take the armor but an explosion of poisonous Yellow Mold puts a quick end to Sir Gwain's quest for armor... no wait, hold on, scratch that.... The party avoided* all talk of the armory and instead discussed exploring the wizard's tower, which they voted on NOT doing due to the deadly traps they had run into previous.

So they packed up their gear and headed out towards Larm to gather an army of heroes to fight this dragon!

The first day bushwhacking through the Grimmwood found Sir Gwain, Fermina and Antiope became enchanted by some mystical song floating on the air. At first the rest of the party tried to subdue their companions from walking off into the woods but soon then let them lead the way to the source - the source being.  Three Wood-nymphs were trying to ensnare some protectors but as soon as they saw the party approach, they quickly disappeared into surrounding forest.

By the next day, however, Thenus felt that the party was being watched and they all prepared to protect themselves. Within their protected circle and elven arrow flew and landed in the exact center.  The Perenth elves of Grimmwood had surrounded the party.  The elves had been spying on the party for a couple of weeks ever since they had fought a goblin raiding party in the woods.  They watched as they fought the wizard and took over the tower.  But now, the elves say, that the party had unleased something far worse in the tower as a winged and flaming demon had been seen upon the rooftop.  The elves felt that the party was responsible and that they should be the ones to deal with cleaning the spoil in their wood.

The elves led the party to their village and to their leader K'saeya who, even with a very strong argument of equality by Thenus, forbade the Half-orc, dwarf and Halfling from entering her village.

K'saeya gave the party the task of ridding the tower and her wood of the demon. So the next morning the party gathered and marched back to the tower to face the Balrog!

*So, we had a bit of a Retcon this session.  The new PC, Sir Gwain the Paladin was a replacement for the demised Minimus.  However, less than 20 minutes into the session, on Sir Gwain's very first roll - a save or die, he died.  Oh, it was a big laugh at the table and quite memorable as he fell to explosive Yellow Mold to gain a magical Plate armor.  He even beat out the shortest lived character who, at least made it through almost a complete session.  So after our big laugh we rolled things back for a redo with the armor being completely avoided.  Now this is something that I don't normally do but considering how the character only lasted 20  minutes and died on his first roll I thought we'd just roll it back and move on - but not without any consequence and that is where the Demon comes in.  Now the Balrog is part of the adventure but to trigger his appearance is pretty tough.  I just brought him in as another obstacle for the players to deal with in 'payment' of a RetCon.  I've only done this once before when I overloaded the encounter and had a pretty quick TPK back in session 61. and worked the RetCon into quite the campaign adventure as the characters had to right an altered universe - which they did with much trial and tribulation.  This incedent wasn't as drastic so I rolled with it and just added an unexpected challenge for them to deal with.  We'll see how it plays out next session as the players would have happily avoided the upcoming encounter!

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