Gothic Earth Session 7: Welcome to Belalp

After a long delay, we finally got together and played again, and to get back on schedule we'll be playing again in 2 weeks, thankfully I have very little prep to do. We had a hard time focusing on the game, we had two R/L parties going on, our AD&D game, and my youngest just turned 13-years-old and we let him invite a bunch of his friends to come over for a sleep-over. This was something like our 4th annual St. Patrick's Day game? We went through a bunch of corned beef and cabbage, and we had a great turn out!

My computer took a dive, but I finally got my brand new computer! I can't tell you how many years it has been since I didn't have to make due with a hand-me-down; thankfully I was able to keep my old files this time, which is rare. I'm still in the process of getting this new laptop up and running how I like it, so please excuse the delays.

Hard at work blogging with my wifes old PC

The game! Like I said, it was really hard to stay focused; I can't tell you how many times that we had to start and stop because of interruptions or people getting side-tracked, in spite of this, we still had a very productive game. I designed this scenario in a rather modular way, and to last us at least 2 more sessions. There are some little things that I have to tweak which I wasn't happy about.

The players were very lucky with Random Encounters (RE), in the wilderness, but I had set the table too low in my haunted mine and had to improvise a lot to bring it alive. For some reason, I had failed to create a RE list for it . . . not sure why, or maybe I did and I misplaced it? I don't know, I wrote up a quick list just prior to the game; I had set the RE to 1 in 10, it really should stay at 3 in 10.

I also committed a very amateur mistake, I have a large list of NPCs which I had color coded but failed to organize in any cohesive way. Every time the players wanted to talk to somebody it took me way too long to find the proper NPC; little things like this really upset me. It was such a stupid thing to do, but one that is easily fixed, I reorganized the lists into their colors and alphabetized them so that I can find them fast without having to skim the entire two column NPC sheet, now all I have to do is print that list off and throw the other one away. It wasn't a total waste of time, though, since I did alter a few of the characters from my original design; so this one will be more accurate as well as functional. It is those little details that get you every time!

That was really just a hick-up, the thing that spooked me the most was the gaming board that I had set up; if this thing didn't work then the whole game was in question. I am glad that I had filled it in ahead of time, my biggest concern was a specific player who knows me very well and can usually spot where I hide things; he could look at a map and point directly to where the whatever is and be dead on correct, this one, in spite of being mostly filled in, has kept its secrets, which is good! That is the point of the game.

I was very impressed and happy with how the game map functioned; it was easy to grasp, easy to use, and easy to understand. It aided both myself as DM and the players. Movement is controlled by 1d6, and a table that I keep hidden behind the screen, the modifiers to movement are simple and intuitive for everybody; Days are broken into 4 turns, and follow the guidelines for RE in the DMG, each HEX = 1 abstract mile, and it is very close to the MR listed in the core rules for Mountains, but it varies to better simulate mountain conditions and environment without turning into “survival porn”, unless we want it too. Locating elements within the hex involves either a passive check, or the players can invoke an improved check, but nothing is guaranteed. I really like it! It slows the game down just enough to FEEL like you are traveling through the mountains, yet is abstract enough to not become tedious.

I do have to change the way that my caves function; the players discovered two of them, but they always went back to the one that they originally discovered, which isn't the problem, the problem was that I had set it so that movement between the caves lasted 1d12 days, which is too long, it does nothing but eat up my calendar; besides, my original intention was a kind of warp zone, I think that I will change it to 2d12 hours, and see how that goes, but I'm not really set on that. That aspect really does need some fiddling until just the right balance is found. My RE is set too low in those sections as well, but I'm not sure what to put down there . . . I do like the concept, though. It should be faster below ground but unpredictable, I know that it is a maze of natural cave systems, which are impossible to navigate with any certainty, namely because I'm not going to map it.

In regards to story: the players explored the remote village of Belalp and uncovered some of its secrets. I helped one of the players correct her alignment, Chaotic Neutral is not an easy alignment to play, and she has constantly played somewhere between Lawful Neutral and Neutral Good, I didn't dock her any XP, and instead did it through story, the Relic of Sebaldus which they are hauling around is also unpredictable, the spirit of the Saint visited her and asked her leading questions about who she is, and through those answers we settled on LN; I always consider alignment to be more of a tool than a hard fast rule that must be obeyed; maybe if somebody is being a jerk about it I'll enforce the rule of level loss, or if it serves the scenario, but so far that has never been an issue.

The players did get a chance to use some of their NWP skills, which, honestly, we don't really utilize all that much; we tend to use them more as guidelines: How do you know this information? Because I have herbalism. This game put many of the skills that they chose to the test, which is nice and exactly what I want to happen. Too many times I just skim over elements that make some player choices pointless, such as NWP skills. While it isn't my job to make sure that these things are used, it is my job to provide opportunities to use them.

Despite the fact that we had a hard time focusing on the game, there was some fancy playing going on! I don't always make things easy, that isn't my job either, in fact, it is my duty to make things difficult. In this instance, the party really wanted to explore a haunted mine, but besides the fact that workmen said no, the Archaeologists that had been hired to investigate and debunk paranormal activity were jealously guarded because they too planned on making a profit by publishing a book about the place. I wasn't concerned with the how, I just made it difficult but the players found a way in, when trying to impress the two novice wizards with their amazing credentials didn't work, they quickly went to the next best thing, catering to their egos: Asking them for their help learning the lore of the land. It was shrewd and effective. Subtly, that is a trait of the master player. Fast too, I hadn't planned on actually letting them in yet.

They had the opportunity to make an impression upon the archaeologists, and they did it in truly heroic fashion; exposing a nightmarish and incredibly powerful creature that was hidden and getting away with murder undetected the entire time, a monster that I had hidden in many of my dungeons but had always managed to elude detection, the icky otyugh, a tough monster to fight when you have the advantage, never the less when it does. Their goal wasn't to actually go fishing with the cleric as bait, but that is exactly what happened; they just wanted to access a section of the mine that was unexplored, but the squiggly tasty cleric dangling just above the diseased and smelly water was just too much for the otyugh to resist, it went after her. The two fighters of the group have their hands full, as they are trying to haul her up before the nightmarish blob of horror could catch her, and it tried! It's tentacles barely missing her as she is helplessly being hauled up this 60' pit, they get her back up and had reduced the things attack to just one, as the other tentacle was needed to hang from the chimney above the pit; it grabbed one of the fighters before he could get a shot off, and intended to use his body as a shield, but the gunfighter was a dead-eye and was able to put a bullet into it.

2e Otyugh says he borrowed your toothbrush
The otyugh dropped the explorer, who fell into the fetid water below with a fresh bleeding wound caused by the creature's fang encrusted tentacle, and tried to nab the remaining fighter; it missed and Sam unloaded both pistols into the thing, as well as the cleric behind him. Their problems were over, but the fighter who had popped his head, screaming in disgust looked up to see this giant dead blob of filth falling towards him, he just barely got out of the way before it splashed down. Out of this misadventure, they not only found treasure of an unknown origin, it isn't roman nor medieval, it's gold coins minted with images of different vegetables? But they also became gods to these two low-level wizards who had never in their lives thought that a horror like that could actually exist. You could say that it went well, and it was all the players doing. They even role-played the disgust and terror, once the gold was hauled out of the bottom of the pit, the Explorer, stinking and covered in things that make otyugh happy was adamantly done with this place for awhile, whatever secrets were kept down here could just stay down there. He bathed and threw away his clothes and bought new ones. The players even made him do all of the nasty work; since, you know, he's already dirty; he can clean the 4000 gold pieces so that they can sneak this stuff back to their cabin. For a DM, the discussions going on was immensely entertaining. Make the DM laugh and get lots of XP, that is how you win the game!

This one goes into the books as a success. Everybody had a lot of fun, it has the players thinking while away from the table, there was joy, there were tears, and there was poop; D&D just doesn't get any better than that, does it?

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