Municipal Dungeon Delving in the fantasy city of Jaquays (pronounced Jake-Ways) in the wake of the Sorcerer-Kings, who have abandoned this world and have left their toxic labs, wyrd towers and feral pets all over the city-scape. More about the making of this game here.
I’ve been honored to play so much on the Actual Play channel, a place where I’ve made wonderful friends and played wondrous games.
Did you intend every expedition to end up at a gate town? How did you envision “keeping balance” as the core mandate?
I didn’t intend every expedition to end up in a gate town. I figured it would be all over the Outlands and beyond. I envisioned that keeping balance would be largely determined by the players making decisions through their characters and that would be problematic, which is fun. They are serving a mysterious entity called the Lady of Pain. They probably know that, while they aren’t the baddies, this is a strange way to make a living.
I also wanted to be able to turn things I was using that use D&D I.P. into DM’s Guild products when I wanted to. I thought I’d have a support PDF for the adventures I’ve played but it didn’t work out that way.
How much time did you spend in Sigil? Was it just the denouement when factions argued over their actions?
We haven’t spent much time in Sigil – a few tweener adventures, especially as we’ve jumped into a few larger adventures through the big hardcovers (Tomb of Annihilation and Curse of Strahd). I’m probably the only one but I never liked the philosophical factions in Sigil. There is a philosophical vibe but I never mentioned the Sigil factions and the players never brought them up.
Despite that, when the characters got back to Sigil after months of in-game and out-of-game time away, it still kinda felt like home in a strange way.
If you had to do it again, what system would you choose?
Great question. 5e is the okay-est system. My indie RPG friends who play it often sigh and say things like, “Yeah, 5e, its fine,” so often it feels like the game’s official tagline. Tell me what other system I can run with 6 enthusiastic players who show up to EVERY session every Thursday night. Librarians (public and academic), unemployed folk looking for a mid-life career change, government employee/single parents, a pharmaceutical engineer who has several bee hives for his own honey and they make time every Thursday to play this silly/amazing game. We could’ve maybe done Old School Essentials but then I wonder if I would’ve had an easy time using the mainstream adventures…maybe I would’ve pivoted to OSE adventures instead. OSE is the only other system I can think of. The Bingo XP makes it a viable game for me.
6 gamers over Zoom…I reckon I’m sticking to 5e. I also like that recently a few friends have gotten 5e gigs, so it is nice to be able to play in Ravenloft and it will be nice to see the Sigil 6 deal with the worlds in the Radiant Citadel. On one hand, I would rather support indie RPG’s than make Hasbro’s shareholders more rich. On the other hand, I don’t owe anyone shit and will play whatever my friends and I decide to play.
tl;dr I think I’d stick with 5e.
Planescape is something I’ve tried to come back to A LOT. But it’s hard because few people I play with care for it like I do. I think this OET concept could be a way to drip out the lore. All they need to know is Sigil, and we start there, spreading out to the outlands (tame) to some place like Limbo (way less tame) even to a quasi-elemental plane or something.
I also really love the concept of coming home and basically defending your actions. Feels like a mission debrief in a police procedural, except I’m envisioning green demons in togas next to gnomes, each arguing different points. In my head I want to tie THIS part to xp and advancement somehow.
I’ve always been fascinated by Planescape but thought that the game promised in the boxed set is never the one I hear people talking about. I almost never hear folks talking about the Portal-Towns around the rim of the Outlands or the Outlands themselves or the way the characters’ actions rippled out through the planes. The Outlands Expedition Team is my attempt to get to that game with a strange premise.
What you are imaging, concerning the mission debrief is exactly how it goes. It has become a really fun way to celebrate other players and think about the adventures. The characters are coming up on 10th level and it feels appropriate that they are becoming adventuring rock stars now. They killed Strahd and thwarted Acererak.
At this point, I really hope we take it to 20th level. I’d love to be able to get that Gamer Merit Badge. More than 30 years playing these games and I’ve never taken a D&D game from 1st to 20th. I think we’ve go the momentum to do it and hope the scheduling holds up and we get there together. That’d be a fun landmark to hit and I think the premise has room to evolve and mutate to get us there. I can’t wait to find out what the game looks like at that level. I am excited for every session.
Getting together with Jeff and Storn to catch up last week was lovely. The conversation turned to gaming. Storn has been gaming regularly (Stonetop and a project he’s playtesting) and Jeff hasn’t gamed in a few years. I pitched a idea that I’ve been sitting on for a while – pair of investigators in an Investigative Guild in Ravenloft – Gothic Fantasy Horror Crime buddy-action-flick and they were in. A week later we got together to make characters and talk Session 0 stuff.
Jeff said something about being mad science-y and Storn spiked that volleyball set with an idea about one being mad science and the other being arcane magic. It was quickly apparent that Lamordia was the domain There’s 2, maybe 3 pages of material about Lamordia in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft and there’s a sweet map. That is about perfect for us.
I talked about keeping my trap shut about grand theories and ideas concerning Ravenloft’s true nature, thinking that we’d get plenty of mileage out of Lamordia before we started looking into those kinds of greater mysteries of the nature of the world around them. I tossed out the idea that maybe their first case was a murder at Strahd’s supper party but they want Strahd to be a myth to be met (or not) later. Thank goodness; I like what we ended up with much better.
Was the chapterhouse of their investigative guild a bustling and established branch or a haunted closet above a pub or a worn down mess? We went with a worn down mess; they are the only investigators and there is a House Chamberlain, Artem Aviet, missing an arm from a wound taken on the job as an investigator. On the drive home it occurred to me that Artem rides a bicycliopede to work.
Starting at third level for a few reasons – it allows me to not fret about killing the characters. Also, it means they had a case or two already. Discussed options and took it a step farther, going full hit points at every level so I can really lean into the monsters and not worry much about an awkward total-party-kill.
Immediately started discussing the past cases.
Case #1: The Inspector General of the Ludendorf Constablery, Mathias Vimmer, went missing and the case is not closed.
His Second-in-Command, now acting Inspector General Leopold Kandel, who doesn’t like them (also the brother of…more on this later)
His Ex-Husband, Lukas Kronecker, professor of biology
His daughter, Robin Vimmer – ??? who is she?
His Nemesis, unnamed as of yet, who was on a prison hulk when Mathias went missing.
Case #2: High-end burglary, using science and arcane skillsets. They got the suspects, the Shallows Gang, off. Jeff rocked out with the name and details about the gang being named for the street they prowl, where the city’s first cemetery had been but flooding kept washing away bodies. Sometimes today, floods still unearth bodies that were missed and not moved. Recent thought, the cemetery was moved so it could be better fortified against corpse-thieving anatomy professors at the local university.
The Bluetspuri War – there is a war in a faraway land. When soldiers return they have uniform scars on their heads because there is a disease in that foreign land and the medicine has to be administered through the brain cavity for some reason. The Bluetspuri War, in the craggy, surreal lands of Bluetspur, where mountains are said to be as large as gods and no one can quite agree on what the Bluetspuri are like or what makes them seem inhuman.
Talis Arsalan is Storn’s character, whose dad remarried into a Vistani Clan and runs a merchant caravan. He’s an immigrant to Lamordia and his ladyfriend, Larissa Kandel, is 8 months pregnant. She was in the war, from a military family, 95th Infantry (Ranger). Her all military family is not a fan of him about now.
We agreed Talis has a good relationship with his step-mom.
Viktor Aubrecker is Jeff’s character, is a cousin to the ruling family of Lamordia but he’s far away from any throne, 17th in line. Maybe he’ll go Rogue; maybe Artificer or some blend. His family is not happy that he let his scoundrel friends con his betrothed out of money, soiling a profitable match for the family. Rich kid turned rogue scientist – thinking about Perdido Street Station‘s Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin and his fringe-science-buddies in their warehouse apartment. Viktor’s nose is still crooked from when his father broke it. His sister is in university and they get along.
A beloved auntie knows Celia Kranev and put a word in for him. Celia hired him to get the Ludendorf Chapter House running again as a branch of her Investigative Guild.
I’m going to read up on Insight, Investigate, Perception and Persuasion – so when/if I make some changes it will be from an informed place. Discussed this and some options, confident that we’ll find houserules that work for us. Can’t wait to show them Bingo XP.
I’ve got a few half-written tables for creating cases and a few ideas on some strange jobs related to the Investigative Guild. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein on audiobook is ready to roll after I’m done with War of the Worlds.
I have been daydreaming about what kind of case to write up for the first game and I think I’m going to go with classic noir trope mixed with betrothal contracts among Lamordian noblity, “I believe my husband is cheating on me and will pay you to prove it…”
https://itch.io/b/1375/ttrpgs-for-reproductive-rights All proceeds from this bundle will be donated to Planned Parenthood and NNAF (National Network of Abortion Funds) so that much-needed funds will be distributed on both national and local levels and across race, gender, and economic status.
You tried to kill Strahd and you failed. Now he has broken his prison and is free. Chase him across the Shadowfell, where the adventure might lead us into Gloomwrought, Sigil into the Hells or the Far Realms. We will venture beyond the Curse of Strahd and together we will find out if you can prevent the curse from becoming a plague.
Expect a player-driven fast paced chase through the planes.
How Will Character Creation Happen?
Characters will be 10th level, made before the game and we will link the party together during our Session Zero in which we will outline what happened during our fictional run through Curse of Strahd.
Pre-gens will be available.
What Will the Players Need?
Web-cam and mic are necessary. A good understanding of D&D rules and mythology is preferred. Players can roll dice online or use their own dice at home.
A burning desire to destroy Strahd is needed.
What Will I Bring?
I will bring a map of the Shadowfell, factions for Gloomwrought and Sigil and a vision of Strahd as a driven villain with his own nefarious goals.
I was explaining what Hunt rolls did in Trophy Gold and described them as part perception roll, part random encounter roll but they offer a little more than that. On rolls of 1-5 the result is the character encounters something terrible. Lots of wiggle room there. The situation at hand guides what it means and offers space for the GM to find out through play.
Character, who is fae-born, is searching through a sarcophagus in the ancient king’s barrow. They’ve used their skill with spirits to speak to the ghost of the ancient king who is buried there and know that the king’s corpse is under a false bottom. The king was legit and the placement of the treasure is actually in the adventure description.
But still, the character describes searching through the treasure and I ask for a Hunt roll. This isn’t to decide if the treasure is there; we already know it is there. This isn’t to see if the ghoul is hiding there; the ghoul is already slain (probably could’ve tossed in an extra ghoul but that feels off to me). The roll says the player gets a Hunt Token and encounters something terrible. Hm.
I realize something about the king, who had asked that the treasure-hunters leave him his crown so that future folk know that he is a mighty king buried here. The king hunted fae-born and their skulls and masks adorn his coffin. That is the terrible thing encountered, something upsetting and unsettling to the character. I had described the king’s crown as being iron adored with jewels – the iron crown was a symbol of fae-hunters, I now realize.
The character takes the crown and takes the fae-born skulls and masks to bury in the forest. “Leave the body here, crownless, so folk will think this barrow belonging to a commoner.”
This detail about the king is just white-space on the map that I got to fill in through dice results and play.
If the player had rolled a 6, maybe they’d want to use that Hunt token for an extra treasure. “The king was holding out on you and didn’t tell you about the signet ring in his boot.” Maybe not. Either way, I use the Hunt roll to learn new details to put on the bones of the adventure as I know it. The bones don’t change but the details do.
I’m enjoying the Hunt roll as a tool for getting dice to the table whenever a player uses their character to show curiosity. I often ask what that search looks like before rolling and move from there. As the dice say, in Trophy Gold, you’ll offer encounter something terrible – be it a ghoul in a barrow or the skulls of lost ancestors, that is up to the logic of the table.
I had read an incursion that had themes that fit this group all too well. I decided to pitch it to them in-game to see if they were interested in doing some work for the Governor of Ft. Durhin.
The group got back from their first foray into the Roots of Old Kalduhr, set up a household and took a side-job.
Their established household is a tree-house, taken from the Old Kalduhr and planted where an old shack used to stand. Jim’s idea and I dig it, bringing the creepy forest to them.
Aaron described Kel’s ruin as having more to do with his headspace than with wounds, so he sparred with Delinia Alger, the head of the Governor’s Kingsguard to clear his head. She asked if they wanted to do a scouting mission for the Governor, looking into what was driving refugees from Wellslode. They said yes and so the incursion, A Heart Hums in Darkness by Michael Van Vleet began.
The Governor offered them 3 Coin when they returned and would pay for the burden of any extra Hirelings they wanted to take on. They hired reliable Aksil once again, reassuring him that Baso was leaving Tortoise, the Dollem construct from the Orphan Villa, in the household to guard it while they were gone. “They bees follow the Queen of Millions, some kind of queen bee-thing.”
The Governor offered to double the money if they could kill the bees’ queen and 4 Coin total if they could get the bees to agree to move.
Aksil had mentioned that he had heard some adventurer-types had burned down the Humming Woods, leading to the bees invading Wellslode. Baso followed up and asked the governor some questions about it and ended with, “Any idea where we can find those adventurers?” I asked for a Hunt Roll and he got a good ole “encounter something terrible.”
“Yeah, Stefan, was a part of that posse that lit fire to the Humming Wood and he’s been camping by the wells for a while now.” Knowing something terrible was waiting out there for them, Kel and Pela wanted nothing to do with that but Baso grabbed Tortoise and headed over.
Yeah, Stefan was a beeswax construct, taken right out of the Incursion. It seemed the obvious thing. They talked to the Stefan Construct, who parroted shit back to them. Baso wanted to bring the construct with them but no one else was having it. They left with the beeswax construct standing guard outside the door, Tortoise inside, arms folded. Was Tortoise glaring at the beeswax construct? Surely that is your imagination…
At the edge of Wellslode, three constructs in militia livery were outside of a cheese shop. Kel immediately wanted to see if they were constructs and got an “encounter something terrible,” so the three constructs looked exactly like the characters.
Another encounter-something-terrible led to an elderly refugee leaning against the tree, holding his belongings in a blanket, to be crying honey, complaining of hearing the Hum in his head. Kel lost his composure a bit and demanded to know if the beeswax trio had something to do with the old man’s condition. They pleaded ignorance. Did Pela say last rites over the man? I’ll ask next game.
We ended with the constructs agreeing to take the treasure-hunters to the Queen of Millions as long as they left the torches that Baso was making from the cheese shop’s cheese-cloth behind. Baso went into the shop, put the torches in his bag and claimed he left them inside. Off they went…
Devil’s Bargains from this session:
I think it was all Hunt rolls this session, no Risk Rolls yet.
What is a Devil’s Bargain, you ask? From the book:
We do need to name the Beeswax constructs…
Takeaways: Baso is leaning into the folk horror creepiness – having Tortoise do dances while he tells stories to the children about the glory of violence. Pela
Ready for Next Week: I’ve got the rest of this adventure ready but I’ll look it over one more time.
Kuru was mind-controlled by an aboleth, The Dweller in the Lightless Abyss. The Halfling Arcane Trickster failed EVERY roll to escape the control. He told the ancient cthonic beast that his friends had killed Strahd, so the Dweller sent him back, still mind-controlled, “Tell them you broke free and I will send instructions soon.”
Meanwhile the rest of the Sigil 6 cut a deal with the Drow Inquisitor, which is to say, she’d walk them out of the city and they wouldn’t kill her. They found Kuru and got to getting the Shadowfell-stranded villagers through the Old Githyanki Gate to Sigil.
They quickly realized something was up with Kuru. Trundle wrestled his Luck Blade away from him, so the aboleth wouldn’t have the Wish. Kuru went all Gollum on them and ran away. Trundle used the wish to free his friend. The Luck Blade is now just a blade but they are going to keep it as a trophy.
When Kuru got free of the mind-control, his player described him falling over in relief. He had a brief, strange interaction with the Lady of Pain, who I always narrate without words, just gestures that communicate plenty.
The team journeyed with the villagers to Jusko’s abandoned ancestral home and handed it off to them, “You will owe me rent after 20 years but if I die, the land goes to all of you.” Bugwump sent the apprentices he was teaching the Fire Bolt cantrip to Wizard College on his own dime. Fun.
Post adventure community tribunals are a fun way to go over the adventure. Killing Strahd was a big one and so, rather than meet in a plaza, they gathered in a public amphitheater. Bugwump lost his composure, raising his voice and turning an aggressive shade of purple when folks tried out some moral relativism concerning, “Was it right to kill Strahd?” The wizard is now on a committee to help discern when exactly someone is a monster.
It was fun to get everyone’s take on the past months of gaming. It felt like returning after a long mission away. Jusko took Tefnek, their ranger-friend from Chult and Quarace, their Drider city-agent, aside and offered them coin, letting them know that their efforts saved the lives of the Sigil 6 and they were members of the group now. After Jusko’s disdain for their previous agent it is an interesting change of pace.
For the record, Helewynn spent her time in Sigil eating delicious food, which we had decided was tasteless in the Shadowfell. We all agree Sigil cuisine would be exquisite. Helewynn’s player is going away on an exciting trip for a time, so we’re going to take on a different mission before heading to Gloomwrought to deal with Rahadin.
DM’s Notes: Felt like we put lots of threads to rest in satisfying ways. In a way this was the session when Curse of Strahd really felt over.
For as long as I’m giving this pay-to-play thing a go, I’ll be posting what I’m running in the coming week Sunday night/Monday morning. These will be clearly labelled, so if this kind of thing vexes you, it is easily ignorable.
For my first two pay-to-play games I chose two games right in my wheelhouse and also not too far from what folks are used to on the site but also a little different from other games being offered. Links to the games are below the pics.
Tuesday, May 3rd, 4PM EST Cancelled.
You are an ambulance crew in the crumbling cyberpunk slow apocalypse, toiling in the shadows of chrome towers and orbital palaces where the rich live out their lives in lavish luxury while the world slowly ends. We will be using Apocalypse World to play a cyberpunk game about an ambulance crew doing its best to save folks in an uncaring world. Can your team make the world a better place one call at a time?
Wednesday, May 4th, 4PM EST& Sunday May 8th, 8AM EST
From the bordertown of Fort Durhin the treasure-hunters will enter the fell and demon-haunted forest and see what fortune they can dig up from the remnants of the long dead Kalduhri Empire. This game will be using the fantasy-horror RPG, Trophy Gold, an indie RPG that is light and quick to learn but with surprising mechanical depth.
If pay-to-play appeals to you, feel free to click on the links and join me.