Tuesday, 16 January 2018

ZWEIHÄNDER Session #3: Feuer Frei!

It seemed impossible to organize a single session of anything in November due to people being busy or ill, so we didn't have the third ZWEIHÄNDER session until the 25th of November. This time I didn't run any classics, but something entirely of my own. The group was made of the following ne'er-do-wells:
  • Agonia Gimdinasdotr, a dwarf adherent of Valaya, who is a magnet for flammable ammo.
  • Blitzkrieg, a dwarf slayer, sworn enemy of everything rodent.
  • Päether von Sternwart, a human diabolist who just found a proper master.
In their downtime Agonia helped the Shallyans in a local hospital, Blitzkrieg got drunk and well known in the Reaver's Return for his incredible tales about the vile skaven, and Päether found himself an arabyan Celestial wizard for teacher called Abdul al Sahir.

"Sir, a half-naked dwarf with orange mohawk
wants to have a word with you."
After listening some rumors about missing sewerjacks and the mysterious hulking monster in the sewers Blitzkrieg found out that the tilean crime lord Don Cornetto has a bounty on Emilio Valentina's head. He went to the Blind Pig tavern to meet him. Agonia followed him, but remained outside of the dirty establishment, not suspecting at all that the slayer won't return for hours. Blitzkrieg not only earned the gratitude of the mob, he was also invited for a lunch, and got a new task fitting his taste: the Cornettos are looking for information about the Yellow Fang cult's hideout, who are becoming stronger day by day.

Back in the Reaver's Return they met a young man was looking for them. Schultz Brenner was a student of the University of Nuln. He was working with the Imperial Gunnery School on a new invention with some of the most talented smiths and physicists of the empire: they were building a self-propelled flying missile (aka rocket)! One day during the late hours he was still in the Imperial Gunnery School, and noticed some shady figures tinkering with the huge missile. He checked out what's going on, which ended with a chase, and the storage burning down with green fire. Schultz was sure he saw ratlike humanoids, but naturally no one believed his story, and was fired. Rumors about their last adventure led him to the party. The rocket will be tested in public tomorrow, and he is afraid the vile ratmen will sabotage it in some way tonight. He wants to check if everything is okay, and if they manage to meet his nemeses, then so much the better: he can finally clear his name!

A place of learning and bang bang.
Of course the best way to get into the school was through the sewers. Thanks to the rumors the mood was already a bit tense, then panic erupted when waves started rising in the sewage and the tunnels started shaking. A huge but skinny rat ogre appeared, still following his last order tirelessly from last adventure. Schultz failed his resolve test and leaked into his pants while climbing on a nearby ladder. The rat ogre attacked Blitzkrieg who dodged the blow, then Päether cast Sleep with success, and the slayer finished the beast by hacking off its head (which he naturally kept as a trophy). 

In the university Schultz realized he lost his key, so Blitzkrieg had to bust down the door. The party ended up in a large hall. Schultz was scared when he saw the rocket was gone. Then something moved under the sheets covering some device. Blitzkrieg tore the sheets down and found a naked and scared couple. The boy turned out to be Schultz's classmate Otto, who was having a rendezvous here. While Blitzkrieg kept terrorizing the girl with his creepy behavior, Hans told the adventurers that the rocket was already moved to Aver Isle, and they were hiding because earlier some creepy cloaked figures were searching here for something too.

On the way back they saw a dark cloaked figure shadowing them. Päther tried to hit him with the crossbow and Blitzkrieg charged, but they couldn't hit the running figure until (to everyone's surprise) Schultz took out a pistol from under his coat and shot. The spy stopped with hands in the air, so Blitzkrieg could finally wrestle him on the cobblestone. It was a member of the Yellow Fang, who was not only scared shitless, but was also a coward, so told a lot to his enemies. Our heroes learned that a squad of skaven is already on their way to attack Aver Isle. They weren't planning to sabotage the rocket: they wanted to steal and study it, so they can build one, fly to the Morrslieb, and have an endless supply of warpstone. There was a force of skaven and Yellow Fangs moving towards the island via boats, the barracks were rigged, and Whitespore (whose skull Agonia bashed on her last adventure) is alive and well. He even told where the hideout is, although the adventurers were skeptical about his realiability.

After the interrogation our heroes discussed what to do. Blitzkrieg hurried to Don Cornetto and told him about the coming Yellow Fang attack, plus left the cultist there as a gift. The Don gave a dozen of mercenaries to help the group. Päether gave a karl to a boy on the Marktplatz to send a message to the Aver Isle guards about the bombs. After regrouping they hurried to the island. When the company reached the end of the bridge the barracks blew up with green flames, but fortunately there were no casualties: the city guards were already outside mounting an attack against the invaders.

Maybe next time they will bring out the big guns.
Crater to crater, bunker to bunker the party advanced through the firing range until they reached the rocket. Blitzkrieg attacked the cultists and skavens loitering around the stands that kept the rocket upright. From the stands Whitespore looked down to check who is disturbing his work. His head injury was covered by a metal plate, and when he saw Agonia he lost his mind and started firing at her while screaming, which set the dwarf's clothes on warpfire. She quickly undressed and continued the battle in her undergarments. Thanks to the soldiers and the mercenaries the skaven were outnumbered and started retreating. Schultz shot Whitespore, whom Blitzkrieg beheaded to make sure he's gone for good. At the end the guard captain Heinz von Tomantenhaus thanked the group for their help. The guards started cleaning up, the surviving mercs returned to their boss, and the tired heroes went back to the Reaver's Return.

Schultz's name was cleared, thus he could resume his work at the University and the Imperial Gunnery School. Blitzkrieg proved his stories to his drinking buddies by presenting Whitespore's head, which later was stolen from his room somehow. When the trio met again they were planning an attack on the Yellow Fang hideout the cultist spoke about earlier.

All in all it was a fun and smooth session. I was satisfied how well the players used their resources to save the guards and gain advantage in the forthcoming battle, and it was good to see that they want to put an end to the Yellow Fang menace because "it's personal now". There are still many other questions they want answered though. Who stole Whitespore's head? Who framed the party when they arrived to Nuln? What's with Oldenhaller's promised info? What were the halfling and the squire doing in the meantime?

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

[Review] Sky ov Crimson Flame

Which metal album is this?
Let's start the new year with a review instead of bullshit resolutions! Owl Knight Publishing's Sky ov Crimson Flame popped up on my radar in 2016's September when its Kickstarter campaign launched. The premise was interesting, the adventure seemed mostly complete, and the author only asked for five bucks. After short hesitation thanks to flashbacks from a past disappointment I backed the project. The planned release was October, but as usual the stretch goals resulted in a serious feature creep which pushed it back to last Spring.

Sky ov Crimson Flame is 64 pages long, with color cover, black & white interior. The layout flawlessly mimics the official DCC line, but once you look at the illustrations you realize you are dealing with a wolf in sheep's clothing: instead of the gonzo sword & sorcery of DCC RPG you are staring at some weird fucked up horror fitting of a Lamentations of the Flame Princess product. There might be no dongs and vaginas, but get ready for some flayed men, intestines, and creepy freaks. The art was done by Jordyn Boci, Nicolò Maioli, and Stefan Poag.

The first half of the module covers the titular adventure, a character funnel for 16-20 level 0 characters. The village sweetheart Balena goes missing, people start disappearing, and the Horned Moon rises on the night sky, which is a bad omen. Folk tales point toward the nearby abandoned castle of the long lost necromancer Balrothhariid as the source of every woe. To make players even more motivated, one of their PCs finds a love letter from the girl. Does one need more reason to storm a hellish dungeon?

Probably my favorite creature from the module.
Within the crumbling castle are twenty-something rooms awaiting for the foolhardy visitors. The ruin offers a good mix of combat, exploration, interactive elements, and loot alike. Our heroes will face flying heads, a huge butcher who loves flaying his victims, a mass of baby heads and limbs, and even the animated flesh Balrothhariid flayed off from himself. Monsters aren't the only threat though: there are plenty of opportunities to fall to death, and activating the soul chamber can desintegrate careless people. The castle is also the resting place of the legendary King Roulreed, and his magical sword Silvallum. That's not the only interesting loot though: the library holds some fun random magic items, like a potion that hulks out the user for a few round, or a lamp fueled by a farting imp that might escape. The most memorable for me weren't these though, but the history of the castle, and the all the foreshadowing that slowly reveals what's going on, and sets the mood for the final encounter.

The final confrontation takes place at the top of the highest tower, where the survivors will find the now flayed Balesa in company of some impaled corpses and a pool of blood. The girl was corrupted by the dagger forged from Balrothhariid's soul, and is about to finish a ritual to become the necromancer's next incarnation. The PCs have six rounds to stop her, and the author offers several ways to do that. No matter how they succeed, the ending will be bleak. On the other hand, if they fail, the ending will be still dark, but they will also have a kickass psychedelic planar battle full of random effects against Balrothhariid. It is a tough battle, but it's a million times more exciting than the normal conclusion.

The adventure ends with the new Splinter Soul spell (with effects ranging from Personality loss to total domination), the Nexus Disturbance Table needed for the post-ultimate battle, a bunch of handouts, a character sheet, and of course maps. The dungeon map is isometric, and much simpler than those in the official DCC RPG product. It might be not as jaw-dropping, but at least it isn't too crammed either.

The second half is the Blight ov the Eastern Forest mini-campaign, a small sandbox region with a hex map, and several adventure sites. Unfortunately it has a few glaring issues. First, while the village of Reed is on the map it lacks any kind of detail. Good sandboxes need a central hub where the party can recuperate, gather information, interact with locals, and spend its hard earned money. Omitting information on the hub is a huge mistake, even if it's just a small village. A few pages would have been enough to help the Judge, but now it's extra work he has to do. Second, the village is in the southeast corner of the map. It's better to have the hub at the center, so no matter where the PCs go you have something, and can expand later as they advance further. Now you will either do some more work in advance to cover some of the southern and eastern areas, or put there some walls like mountains, or do the cheapest lamest thing by asking your players not to venture there.

The points of interest include lairs and small dungeons alike. They aren't all independent pockets within the wilderness: some of them are connected to each other or Sky ov Crimson Flame through history, the sword, or the dagger.

Lair of the Yss'sak hides a wounded monster who tries to trick the party into getting him the silver medallion that restores him to full power. He is afraid of the Silvallum, which can destroy his medallion, but will also lose its power when doing so. Overall this is a cool encounter with a memorable villain, although nerfing the sword after destroying the medallion is a dick move.
A deal with the devil.

Hellspring Hollow is an area corrupted by the blood pouring from a Chaos Lord's still beating heart. The adventurers will have to wade through a forest of flesh-eating trees, a river of blood, and a whirlpool until they find the ribcage holding the heart, and its octopid guardians. It's theme makes the mini-dungeon a bit dull (blood, blood, and more blood), and it also lacks any kind of reward.

Domain of the Coo'ng is a monster lair, and as linear as a tower can be. While the creature has an intriguing origin it's unlikely the players will learn of it or it will have any importance, unless the Judge introduces a way to reveal it.

Jhumbii-Beyr Glen is an area corrupted by a sweet alien slime that turns creatures into gelatinous freaks - most of them are bears who can bounce around. If someone didn't get the reference, it's basically the Gummi Bears meets Giger. It's fun mini-dungeon, though there are too many things that can mess up the PCs permanently.

Sanctuary of the Sightless Sisters was founded by the Margaret, King Roulreed's blind sister, who was exiled to stop gossips about their incestuous relationship. The sanctuary was known for its blinded sisters who took care of the sick and wounded, until it was attacked by the Three Warlock Brothers (who defeated King Roulreed too). This is a small dungeon, but it packs a lot of punch for its size, for it has cool encounters, traps, secrets, and even meaningful treasure. What's better, the characters can make a great sacrifice by ritually gouging out their own eyes to redeem the place, which in turn rewards them with great power!

The Wrook's Hut is home to a strange creature that takes tolls from tresspassers, or their souls if they can't pay. Furthermore, he can controls crows which will try to murder intruders. What really makes this lair interesting is that the Wrook is a random encounter in the forest, and if he has taken any treasure or souls from the party they can be recovered here.

Even the fairies are horrible in the Eastern Forest.
The book ends with the random encounter table and the monster stats. Besides the above mentioned fiends this chapter offers corrupted revenant knights who seek the Silvallum's bearer, undead rabbits shooting strands of hair, baby-headed spider freaks shooting their bowels from their asses, and diseased pig fairies flying with gossamer wings, et al. If you didn't think the adventure was messed up enough already, well here you are!

Sky ov Crimson Flame is a product I find hard to judge. The first half is an excellent funnel that reminds me of Sailors on the Starless Sea in many ways. I can wholeheartedly recommend it, even if you don't want to use it as a funnel. The second half is a half-done sandbox. It's a mixed bag of some really good, and mediocre content. The Judge will have to do put some effort into it to make it work, especially if he wants to make those locations that only offer risk, but no reward of note less frustrating for the players. I can also understand if someone won't pick it up because its outrageous parts, which are sometimes clever and creative, but often feel fucked up just for the sake of fuckedupness. Still, there is a strong imagination at work here, accompanied by solid writing, and good product quality.

Tl;dr: A great character funnel accompanied by an incomplete sandbox, written for DCC RPG, but with heavy LotFP vibe. You can buy it HERE.