Gothic Earth Episode 4: Spring-time in Germany

Last night we had a pretty full house! Almost everybody showed up, which was nice, however because of the nature of this game it made things even more difficult. When we last left off, the former German Prime Minister had been saved from the asylum, in another bizarre twist of fate that was unplanned, Bismark's childhood house was just down the trail from where I had placed the asylum, which made things awfully convenient.

We had to play catch-up with the wizard before we could begin. He was able to locate his spellbook and escape the fire and then we started playing one of the oldest and most difficult games that one can do. The Hex Crawl, but unlike fantasy where we can just make stuff up, since we are playing a historical game, the terrain is already laid out for me, as are the towns.

I had already prepped a map in case the players tried to escape the asylum, but for this adventure I wanted an even larger map. I anticipated that they would either try to go to Berlin or Nuremberg, with my preference to Nuremberg because that is a longer trip which I felt would give us as much play-time as possible. I looked at google maps, and was able to get a rough idea of the terrain and found a free online map of Germany in 1890 which was really helpful. I also had to define the old territories as these people would all have different ideas about the current political system that had been set in place.

For Hex Grids, I just use colored pencil to mark the terrain type, then go back over it with regular pencil and mark and label towns. I was able to connect them with roads that were labeled on the 1890's map.  It isn't completely accurate, I deleted much of the railroad, wanting to limit travel. The whole reason to get to Nuremberg is to board a train. For each color that I use I make lists of things that might be out there, and I make random encounters lists. Nothing too advanced. I know that my map isn't to scale, but it has to be compatable with D&D, so each Hex = 6 miles, which I found works the best.

I also wanted to speed up the time-line for the German Military, so I've fictionalized a lot of my own history here. This made it more interesting and I could tie everything together with military encounters. I marked bases on the map, and just kept the Soldiers listed in the MM and gave them guns.

That was the extent of my prep, the rest was done ad lib. I had planned a survival run, but that didn't happen, so it was a good thing that I didn't over prep.

THE STORY

The heroes started out in bad shape. They are not dressed appropriately, and they still have the masks locked onto their faces which mark them as mental patients. It is spring and constantly rainy, they are wearing thin ropes, and no shoes. The gun-fighter has a magical item which hid some supplies from hospital staff, so they made a quick inventory. They had 2 pistols, with a few bullets, an iron shank, and a staff.

The effects of Ravenloft started dying once the Doctor was dead, but before that could happen the cleric made an error and started healing the party, which doesn't go well. The explorer with the broken arm got a useless and deformed arm, the sailor who had been horribly burned now looks like he is on the last stages of the black plague, and the cleric herself developed disgusting scales. This actually kind of worked in their favor!

After searching the grounds and gathering tools that they could use for make-shift weapons, they started a building on fire and tried to sleep the best that they could, until morning when they decided that it was time to find their way out of these woods. Bismark wanted to go to the farmhouse that he was born and raised, which they were able to find without getting lost.

Bismark was able to get some food from one of the last remaining neighbors still living in the area, the party came up with a plan that I had not seen coming, they decided to earn some money by putting on a traveling freakshow. They traveled to Stendle and actually made money, purchased supplies from town, and got the hell out before the novelty wore off.

From there they started working their way south, keeping to the roads, they had planned on repeating this at every town which they entered, but as DM I couldn't let them get rich, and they instantly got greedy, going to a bigger town that was out of their way to make even more cash, they got caught by the military and were arrested because they had no papers. Word hadn't gotten out yet about Bismark escaping, so that wasn't yet an issue; they were brought before the Captain in charge of Lower Saxony, they were getting no resistance from the locals, and young men were gladly signing up in droves!

I didn't want it to be too easy, so I questioned everybody, and yet another strange event happened, all of the players were able to successfully roll their crappy CHARISMA checks, all of them! They were able to get visas and told to leave the country as fast as they were able. There is to be no more shows as Entertainment has been banned by the government. Germany was preparing for war.

Off they go! They were able to buy a beat up old wagon and a couple of nags to pull it and they moved south. They were even able to buy a tent with the slim funds that they had left. Instead of scavenging for food, they were eating at inns and roadhouses.  

My players were allowed to smooth talk their way through the countryside, with only one combat encounter, that had been with a small party of orderlies that had escaped the fire at the asylum. Finally, though, their good luck ran out. They were stopped in Bavaria, a land that was currently being repressed by Berlin, by military bullies that were demanding everything. At this point it was known that the Generals in Berlin wanted all foreigners arrested and brought back to them, the Lieutenant didn't know that Bismark was the real target, and greed was this mans motivation at the moment. He demanded guns, all of them.

DM NOTES

Running an NPC that is traveling with your players is difficult. You have to remember that they are there, you don't want them making decisions, and you don't want them to get all the glory. Even though Bismark is a major NPC, I did not engage in combat. I offered no ideas unless asked. He would give advice and thoughts when asked. I did use him to make the game a bit more challanging, not only did they have to get him out of the country, but he placed another stipulation upon the group by forbidding them to commit murder. Any murder, even in self-defense. These were his people and he'd rather die than to know that any harm befell even the soldiers because of him.

Completing role-playing objectives within the game is how my players earn most of their XP.  

BACK TO THE GAME

There was no way that these characters are going to be vulnerable again, not after what they went through in the asylum, so turning their guns over was not going to happen. It turned into a mexican stand-off, six armed PCs verse fifteen soldiers of an unknown level.  Just as one of the players is about to pull the trigger, blowing the head off of the Lieutenant and definately getting shot for doing it, the cleric suddenly pipes up and casts Charm Person, instantly stopping the stand off, with no blood shed. Her quick thinking saved the party and secured the objective of not committing violence.

From there, they were able to make it to Nuremberg where I stopped the game.

Summery

I dislike playing this style of game, I've got a very good grasp on the rules, but it is not anywhere near thorough enough to ad lib. I used my percentile dice a lot to make up for mechanics that I couldn't remember and didn't have time to look up. I really like to be prepared so that I have a better chance of controlling the pace of the game, and this one was very clunky.

My biggest error, I feel, was where I chose to sit. I like to be by my books, but since all of my players but two showed up for the game, if I would had sat at the center of the table, instead of my usual spot on the end, I would had been in a better spot because half of the players were much further away than normal. Seating matters! Another thing that I could had done was have the person at the other end of the table be the caller, this might've helped force more communication with the entire table.

This was our last game of the year and the clubs Xmas shindig, my wife made an awesome dinner, Rosemary Beef Stew and a Yule Log cake, there was also some spirits and this year has been pretty tough of folks on personal levels, so we weren't at our best. I don't think that we ever really hit that level of focus that we like to, but that is to be expected when the DM is making stuff up as he goes.

All things considered, this wasn't our best, but it was still a great time. We finally got the Wizard leveled up, and he's got his book, which was bothering me.

My next task is to prepare something for Nuremberg, the players want to head back to England, they want to contact Van Helsing, and they want to resume their search for the Si Fan. THIS I can work with! I've got me some prepping to do!   

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I use AD&D that has been modified over they years.


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