Gothic Earth Episode 5: Nuremberg

The prep for this game was fun, but, as it turned out, rather unproductive. I decided to slow the game down and do a city adventure, as Nuremberg would be a great place to introduce things. Google Earth is a very distracting toy, it allowed me to enter the city and wonder around. I did some interent archeology and was able to get a rough idea of what the area looked like in 1890s. Nuremberg is a beautiful medieval town, it suffered a lot of damage in WWII but was repaired beautifully.

I got hung up on history, and specifics. I also broke a rule at the table. I found a great tourist map of the city that I wanted to use,  so I had players download it and put it on their tables for game day, to save on paper. Printing maps for D&D is supposed to be cheap, but for some reason I wanted to have streets and specifics, which was actually pointless, but the real world maps were so intricate that they would be rather expensive to make and very difficult to draw, so instead of ignoring streets, like I should have I insisted that I keep them, which of course I ended up ignoring anyway. I really should had drawn a rough map, but the pictures that I see during prep and research are so striking and beautiful, I want to share them, but I can't. The tablets at the play table, I believe, destroyed our ability to focus. They are just so distracting!

There is a lot of historical buildings in Nuremberg, I have pushed up the evolution of the Nazi Party and added a much bigger military presence as they are taking Germany by force. I also reintroduced a character that they had met previously, King Ludwig who's been stripped of political power, showed up in town to aid them in getting King Bismark out of the country. They were political enemies, but politics have brought them together.

I divided up city landmarks and provided intrigue to the city with Setting specific factions. The faction that they have been serving the most, The Watchmen appeared to be the strongest influence in the city, but in actuality they were reading what was going on totally wrong, they were hunting monsters and ignoring the true threats to the city which were running amuck.

I introduced a new faction to the party, The Resistance, they hide behind the front of entertainment and culture, so this group was actually the strongest force of good within the old city as Nuremberg is a tourist town that even the military has to respect because of the money it draws.

A cult dedicated to Science, which plays a big part in this season of the game, has sided with the military, they kept a base of operations in the Hospital conducting dark medical experiments, trying to recreate the incomplete works of Dr. Frankenstein to practical application. They had succeeded in grafting parts of the dead onto the living, but are anxious for war so that they have a much larger source of bodies to conduct tests on.

The Chaotic Evil faction, Six-Fingered Hand from last season has also sided with the military and have been able to take over the German Secret Service, weeding out those who are disloyal to the current administration.

What looks to be a simple tourist city that allowed visitors to walk through history was actually a hotbed of spycraft and intrigue. I used the formula from my handy dandy Forgotten Realms Adventures book to write up my city, and that part functioned perfectly!

I was also able to use my new screen and it gave me extra space that I had never had before, which turned out nice as I could spreed my work out enough that I wasn't searching through papers nearly as much to find stuff.

Gothic Earth requires me to hide my monsters and allows me to do different things with them that I wouldn't normally be able to do, so I threw in some curve-balls. The cult of Science had been conducting experiments for a long time, and grafted unwilling victims from the local Jewish community with cats and dogs, forming Broken Ones. They had an unnatural success with one subject, genetically grafting him with a pig, and since he was stronger than the rest, he created order. They appeared to operate a thieves guild, under the city. The Watchmen simply saw them as monsters, and blamed them for local murders, crime, and all of the cities woes. This wasn't true at all, the homeless children were pick pocketing tourists, the broken ones were giving the children food and supplies for the money collected and giving it to the local Jewish temple which was actually supplying the food.

The Broken Ones were good guys who looked and acted like villains, however they weren't. They believe that an ancient Jewish Wizard who has achieved Lich status haunts the city; that a local fountain is actually an Iron Golom created by a long dead Jewish Rabbi that keeps the Lich underground, and if the Lich does show itself, the fountain statue and the Lich will destroy the entire city. If this is truth or myth is unknown, a Lich is too smart to be caught, and their sense of the passage of time is completely different than for the living. The Watchmen don't believe in the lich, nor do any living people, but it gives the Broken Ones a higher purpose, they have the ability to regenerate, and they believe that it is their destiny and purpose to kill the Jewish Wizard once and for all.

The players uncovered this monster fairly quickly, as they were supposed to. There is an influx of pointless murders, a high level agent of the Watchmen was murdered by much bigger secret, and a more insidious creature than the Broken Ones. The Broken Ones are the only witnesses to this murder, and they looted the agents body of the magical items that she possesssed. The Watchmen requested that the players kill the Broken Ones and return the scrolls that had been lost to them.

What happened was horrible. The party was able to catch and cast hold on two of them. Their idea was to torture and kill one monster in front of the other, and frighten it to take them to its lair. It was bad, and once the players uncovered the truth of what was going on they felt terrible.

Now this was where the game went bad. I like to have lots of stories going on at once, and I had created a few mysteries, too many as it were, and they couldn't piece together who the pieces fit together, and misinterpreted what was going on.

Lichs are bad news, and there is no way that this party could possibly handle one of these things, but they assumed that the Lich was the target and that with the support of the Broken Ones they could kill it. I hadn't foreseen that conclusion, which is very logical but not something that I had prepped for. They aren't smart enough, nor dangerous enough to draw out a lich. They completely fell for the cause of the Broken Ones, which was ultimately pointless at this point. I had expected them to try to find the real killer of the dead agent, but they didn't. I had hidden it pretty good. I tried to give them hints about it but not lead them to it by the nose, and by the time that they finally figured out to investigate the toy maker, it was already too late, the Train was on its way to pick them up on the following morn, and we players were mentally exhausted from playing a game that turned out to be more mentally challenging than I had intended it to be. 

My original prepping plan was to have a simple and slow murder mystery, and then to have a big exciting train ride, which just didn't materialize. The game was too slow and I the players were really brainstorming hard, but I couldn't figure out a way to point them in the right direction. I really think that the computers at the table played a big part in our lack of focus, but I am really to blame as well because I wasn't able to figure out stuff either. My timing was just off, and it turned into a kind of bad game.

The party did accomplish some goals, but they didn't feel like they accomplished anything. They learned the power structure of this city, (and actually of Europe itself), the monsterous element of the city escaped detection and is allowed to continue, but it is now the German Military's problem, perhaps that will actually be a good thing? I don't know.

Writing mysteries are tough, you think that your clues are obvious when they really aren't, and I really should had put the cobash on the Red-Haring but I just couldn't think of a way how to do it. I had already discredited their most trusted sources of info, "The Watchmen" and left them on their own, and I didn't know that until after the game concluded. Oh well, not all games can be awesome!

Our next one will start very strong, and I think that it will definitely make up for the slow pace. I had wanted to end it with the train ride, but this can be fun to start it here too. At least that part of my prep is done, and I can focus on Zurich, Switzerland. This time I will make sure to keep things a bit more simpler, AND I am drawing the play map. Getting hung up on accuracy over fantasy definitely doesn't pay.


Jens D. said...

Just a quick comment: I saw some time ago a nice solution for working some clue-based continuity into sandboxes. Pretty much what you felt lacking in your game (if I've read this right). The basic idea is to provide clues that somehow actually do connect to the main issue, just not directly ... or something. It's been a while, but here's that post:

There's more linked to it. Made totally sense to me back then :) Hope it gives you some ideas!

Love the DM screen, btw!

RipperX said...

I actually like this! That would help me at least have more options at the table, I was able to come up with some, but my players were playing very conservatively. I think that we did accomplish what I really wanted to get done, and leaving loose ends behind is fine. Yesterday I had a player freaking out and wanting to go back because it finally dawned on him what was going on, and he took it into an even darker direction, the German military using this threat to their advantage. I really like that idea! Loose ends in D&D typically end up improving the game.

David Baymiller said...

This article has been of great use to me in the past.

RipperX said...

Thanks David, that is an interesting read. Mystery Scenarios are one of my favorites, I learned how to accomplish them through trial and error, and sometimes through cheating. That article really dumbs them down. I guess that I know my players, they are always going to look for clues, they know me, and they know that we don't usually do that whole Dice, thing. I mean, they can try! But, asking questions is always a guarantee of finding stuff.

I think that they just had an off night. I and the villain won the game, and that is all right! He'll get his, but he is going to be a bigger threat now.

I find it interesting that the author tries to simulate Holmes, which I love reading, but he breaks the rules. To me, mystery has to be written in a way that the reader has a chance to solve the crime before the detective. Sherlock is a staple but you, the reader, have no chance.

DMWieg said...

I freaking love reading about this game.

RipperX said...

Thanks DMWieg! It is a really fun and challenging setting, because its very bare bones, yet very fun to research. It has forced us out of our D&D comfort zone and I feel, has made us all better players.

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