Sunday, January 18, 2015

Actual Epées & Sorcellerie Play-Report Pt. 1 (Random Shenanigans! Goblins! Odd Petty Gods!)

E&S is a french retro-clone that works solely by using a solid (and beautiful) 2d6 mechanic. If you've never heard of it, you certainly missed out. It's free and short and brim full of ideas, so just do yourself a favor and check it out already! I also wrote a review about the game back in February, if you need some more convincing ...

The first opportunity to play E&S was this year in April when we went to the girlfriend's family during the Easter holidays. I believe I was a bit shaky with my DMing back then (I hadn't DMed on a regular basis for about a year at that time*), but everyone seemed to have a good time (didn't write a play report, though).

Anyway, when we decided to spend the Christmas holidays there, too, I was asked to DM once more. Now with more players (the people who'd had a good time the first time, had convinced others to join the party), so we ended up being 7 people. Two of them complete newbies and two more that might as well be called newbies, since the only game they'd ever attended was the one we had back in April.

I was better prepared this time (at least I believed to be better prepared, which is just as well) and really felt the urge to DM some fantasy role playing. My game of choice was, again, Epées & Sorcellerie, since most of the people attending already had at least some experience with it.

This is a collection of my memories of what occurred that day. Mostly for future reference, but also to talk a bit about how I DM a game (random and improvisation). Part one will be mostly the set-up and the first encounter. Part two will conclude the session and I'll write a bit about what worked and what not

The chances for everyone from the first session still having their character sheets had been thin to begin with, but still, I wanted to build on the setting and the story that had already been established and hoped that at least one player still had something for me to work with. One was all I needed ...

Recent Events in Barony Schwarzaarlen

The map I used for barony Schwarzaarlen was the one I talked a bit about in November 2014:

The post is here.
Character creation took about 90 minutes. That's not the games fault, though, but due to the fact that 5 new characters needed to get done and I had a lot of explaining to do. When starting a setting new to the players, I usually assume that they had some reason to be in the area. Them all being level 1 made things quite easy, as they all just had finished their training and thus needed to be locals (as travelling would have most likely ended in earning xp ...).

I also take the time to tell the players a lot about local politics and rumors (list contains rumors from both sessions):

  • The local baron, Welbur ven Stretten, was away on military expedition to get rid of the giant spiders that recently had caused some trouble at farms in the south.
  • Rumor has it that the problem with the spiders was because of another military expedition a few months before that, where the baron got rid of some lizard tribes who lived in the southern swamps.
  • With the lizards gone, Zaraziell the Weird (mighty wizard and resident of the infamous Flickering Tower (yellow circle with the "C" on the map) decided to travel into the swamps to the Ruins of Takor (an ancient city. hexagon-8 on the map) for some research, something he'd thought to be too much work up until now because the tribes had been somewhat protective about it.
  • There were rumors of Ogres living in the east and some goblins living in the north.
  • There were stories about The Road Under the Mountain, a series of ancient tunnels with the legend that there might be a shortcut through the mountains. A dangerous endeavor, but sure worth some gold for those who find such a passage.
  • With all the Big Players being busy, the town Deverrin (red circle with the "A" on the map) was in desperate need for some local trouble shooters to get things done. One such group (characters of that first session) had been sent to check out why the big cider delivery for some upcoming festivities was late (the town had been preparing for a fair to celebrate the apple harvest at the time).
  • As it turned out, that delivery had been late because of a (very) drunken Ogre being on a rampage on Widow Oldinges farm (producer of the famous Cider Goldspritz, biggest farm in the area, people call her godmother, but only behind her back ...). The young heroes had helped killing that beast and ventured on to find out where it had come from and why, as ogres normally don't come that close to the town (end of that first session).
  • The second session starts two weeks later with the new characters finding out that the fate of that first group is uncertain, as only one of them had returned (the only surviving character sheet back at the table ...), but injured and with no recollection of what had happened after that first group had left widow Oldinges farm (she'd only remembered some ruins, an entrance leading under the earth, the screams of her dying comrades and the general area where it went down ...).
  • Some fairy creatures had been implicated with the ogre rampage, so the elves in the north took an interest in finding out what had went down and sent a young priest of Kalantos, the God of Axe Executions (random result of the Original Petty Gods roster, p. 60) and his bodyguard (two new characters) to find out.
  • The survivor of that first group had made a public request for volunteers to join her for a second expedition.

With this knowledge the new group formed (adding another elf, a wizard and a dwarf) and started their journey up north.

Preparing the Randomness

I had the map shown above, the E&S rules, some random encounter tables for the different areas, the names of important personalities living in the valley, the local landmarks (they traveled basically following known landmarks, like the mountains surrounding the valley, etc.), also the fantastic Original Petty Gods pdf (finished and hosted by Gorgonmilk, not to be confused with the connected, but still developing and eagerly awaited Expanded Petty Gods project over at Save vs. Dragon) and a list with random names for every occasion.

I also had with me (but didn't need) the "Dungeon Dressing" Tables from the Ruins of Undermountain and the OSR dungeon crawl Under Xylarthen's Tower by +Jeff Rients of Jeff's Gameblog fame.

That is all. The rest needed to be improvised ...

Tribal goblins and some strange ruins ...

So the group traveled north and the first day of travel didn't bring any random encounters and they managed to venture deep into the forest before they needed a place to spend the night. The night turned out to be a bit more exciting, though, as during the second watch 4 Goblins infiltrated the camp undetected and almost managed to get away with kidnapping one of the characters (set up of their camp allowed for the attempt and the character didn't wake up ...).

A short fight dispatches three goblins, but the fourth got away and weaseled his way back into the forest (being on his home-turf and all). The group decided to break camp in the middle of the night as their position was obviously compromised. And sure enough, 20 minutes later drums started echoing through the forest and wolves answered their call.

A wild chase ensued with the group fleeing through the forest and the howls of their hunters drawing closer and closer (random results: it was a clear night with the moon half full in early spring, so even the only human in group had a good chance of seeing where he ran; the goblins had reacted quite pissed, as per the reaction table, size of the tribe as per E&S, which amounts to around 100 ...).

One character gets the idea that climbing a tree to get some orientation could help them finding somewhere to hide and is lucky enough to discover the tip of what looks like a ruined tower somewhat (3d6 x 10 in m =) 150 Meters away from the groups current position. The enemy is pretty close at that point and 4 characters decide to make a run for that tower, two remain where they are and hide in the trees.

The four who had made a run for the tower, saw it belonged to the ruins of what once must have been a church (a graveyard surrounded it) and three of them (the elves) decided to go for the nearest trees instead (elves are almost invisible when hiding in forest). The dwarf decided to enter the chapel.

With the party effectively split into 3 groups I had to improvise big time to get some tension. I began with describing a group of three dozen goblins, eight of them on mean looking wolves, passing the tree the two left behind characters had hidden in. One of those dire wolves passed a perception check and stayed back and 8 goblins decided to tag along. The rest headed for the ruins ...

Into the weird territory of improvising and using random results

What followed was the utterly strange result of trusting the dice, a smelly but friendly petty god, some strange rituals, a random trap dungeon with a giant frog and the need to improvise a complex puzzle at 1 o'clock in the morning (after 5 hours of play, no less).

So stay tuned for part 2!

* Blogging is a nice exercise to keep it theoretical and explore the hobby and the game further, but it doesn't help when 3 strangers need convincing that role playing games are a worthwhile past time ...

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