This scene demands evil gnome sprite thieves

I’m DMing a Pathfinder session in Japanese tomorrow night, for 5 people, 3 of whom I’ve previously met and 1 of whom is a raw beginner from my FLGS. I kind of arranged this tentatively before I met the gaming group 2 weeks ago, so I’m in a bit of overload here. It’s a trial adventure for the guy who hasn’t played before – if he likes it, we’re going to switch to Warhammer 3rd Edition, because he’s got a copy in shop but can’t play it himself. But first I want to be sure that he can enjoy role-playing. His previous experience is with wargaming, so it may not be his cup of tea.

It’s a bit of a worry because some of my players’ Japanese is extremely hard to understand, and I’m running the group. But I think it’ll be okay, I’ll manage somehow. If I’ve bitten off more than I can chew then I’ll just have an extra beer…

I’m setting the adventure in some mountains, in a generic fantasy world with an oriental/Japanese feeling, at an onsen (hot spring) resort. The characters are guarding an old man who is there for the healing properties of the hot springs, but a group of thieves steal the onsen sprite, the fairy that gives the onsen it’s special powers. Hijinks will follow. I set it up this way so that I could have a valley full of steam from the onsen, where I can set an ambush. I also set it up this way because the area where I live – steamy Beppu – is full of onsen and famous for the views of the nearby mountains wreathed in steam. So I can tie it into a world that everyone here likes. And after the slaughter, the PCs get to soak it off in a hot spring.

Thinking about this while myself soaking in my local onsen this afternoon, it occurred to me that I could come up with a cosmology for this region of my fantasy world, in which the hot springs are not consequences of volcanic activity, but arise because the area of mountains is close to a conjunction of the elemental planes of earth, fire and water. This would explain the steam mephits hiding in a cave near the resort, and it would also explain the role of magical sprites in giving onsen magic powers – ordinary fairies corrupted by the influence of the elemental planes infiltrate the hot springs and give them special powers.

Gygaxian naturalism, it’s what I’m all about.

Anyway, while I was looking at the Japanese pathfinder wiki, I had to look up Steam Mephits (“Suchimu Mephitto”), and I discovered that the Japanese translation of D&D’s term “outsider” is raihosha[1], which my inestimably valuable Firefox add-on, rikaichan, tells me means “visitor, caller, client.” If my business gets off the ground, I’m going to have a great deal of fun every time I deal with a “client,” thinking of them as being like the “Senior Partners” from Angel.

Fun Times…

fn1: I cannot for the life of me understand why this class of monsters gets a Japanese name, as do all the states that a PC can be in (shaken, etc.) but the spells and classes don’t. What capricious logic drove this process!!!?

Greg at Synapse RPG makes the claim that “we dont really have a good grasp of what goes on at other people’s tables and our community is not too great at sharing techniques or playstyles.” I don’t know if this is true or not, but it occurred to me that it would be fun anyway to try and describe the style by which I DM. So here goes…

Campaign style

Most of my campaigns are a kind of “story-based” campaign, in which I have a rough idea of a general goal I want the PCs to reach, a definite idea of a starting point and a few hooks in the middle to get them to the end; the rest I fill in as I go, and it can change a lot (including the final goal) depending on what happens in the campaign. The goal might be, for example, finding out who caused the apocalypse; but by the end of the campaign it may have morphed into a trip into hell to sacrifice a baby in order to stop a sinister Papist plot.

Often my campaign ideas will start as little more than an idea for a world, and a few vague visions of big scenes I want to enact, or a couple of key NPCs who appeal, and the rest I fill out as I go. But I always have something in mind when I start, and I usually look for a way to include the fun things I want to do no matter what direction the story takes. I also usually pursue a kind of three stage approach to the campaign development, which goes along the lines of: initial unconnected adventures to flesh out the world and get the players interested, during which I usually drop a few useful plot hooks and tricks for later; then an intensive stage of story development in the middle during which the PCs learn a bunch of stuff, identify key allies and enemies, and cause a shitload of trouble; then a kind of final confrontation and/or denouement, in which everything comes to a head. The middle part can be pretty free-flowing with a lot of different ways of getting to the end; and the end may not be fixed at this stage. For example, in the beginning of the middle stage of the most recent Compromise and Conceit campaign, I gave the players a choice of 3 or 4 sides to take: Colonials, Britain, Native Americans, or purely independent. Exactly what they did after that and where the campaign ended up would depend entirely on their choice and how they pursued it, though regardless of the side they took there were certain key facts about the world which I wanted them to discover.

Adventure development and presentation

At the beginning of the campaign I sometimes use published modules, but mostly I design everything from scratch. My style of campaigning means that adventures tend to be outdoor/city adventures, often involving small bases, houses, taverns or warehouses, and very rarely involving significant dungeoneering. I like dungeons and I appreciate their classical feeling, but I find they involve a lot of preparation, a lot of artistic skills I don’t have, and a lot of feeling of same-sameness that I like to avoid. For my players, dungeons are a treat and usually exceptionally dangerous.

I often design my adventures, like my campaigns, as a series of interconnected scenes or fragments of vision, often quite self-contained even though they’re part of the whole. Often an adventure springs purely from a vision of a single moment – for example, an adventure set on Lundy Isle in Devon arose from a vision of my PCs fighting a battle in rock pools, against superior forces, using the pools for cover. I designed the whole island for an anti-smuggler adventure, included this scene as key (the dragon skull they were seeking was hidden at this beach) and we ended up having 4 memorable scenes, only one of them planned. My adventure plans usually contain:

  • an outline of what needs to be achieved, what optional activities are obvious, and any pie-in-the-sky stuff I think might be possible
  • Description of key antagonists and places
  • Long-term consequences for the campaign and the PCs of different decisions
  • Spare monsters in case of likely side adventures or digressions
  • Key maps

I rely on my ability to improvise the details to run through anything that arises from left field.

I don’t write descriptions, but if there are key images I need in descriptions I put pointers to them in my text. I also put reminders about key things the PCs have to learn. Sometimes I forget these and have to tell the players afterwards about something they discovered that I didn’t tell them. A pointer to a description might be something like “Make sure the PCs are impressed by the scope of the castle and its impregnability, and arrange for them to arrive at moonlight so its mana-rock glistens for them” (I have never actually done this description, but you see the point).

Interactions and play style

Usually, we play in the evening after work, we order home-delivered pizza or curry, we have a 30 minute to 1 hour get-together first to debrief from our days and rant about life, and we start sober and end up (often very) drunk. Lots of gamers seem not to drink when they play – my groups usually haven’t been like that. On occasion in the past, some of my group have been stoners, and both of these behaviours have led me to develop a strong style for dealing with what some people euphemistically call “deliberation” but which I call faffing. I like my players to plan, and I enjoy that they are always trying to triple-guess me because I’m “a bastard,” but I don’t like deliberation to take up the whole night, so at some point I come (drunkenly) wading in with my combat boots on, forcing people to decide a plan.

Usually deliberation gets out of hand because a) one player (and only one) won’t let go of their own idea, or b) the players have missed an important point which will crystalise their planning, or c) all the plans are equally good. In this case when it’s gone on long enough, I either a) overrule the whinger, or b) point out to the players what should be perfectly obvious, or c) step in and give them a strict time limit on their planning before I decide their plan for them. I do this because we only usually play for 3-4 hours once a week, and I like us to spend that time playing, not planning, so I think it’s the job of the DM to keep that play happening. If any players really object to the intervention I do, of course, leave them to it.

Also, because I’m “a bastard,” I have been known on the odd occasion or fifty to throw in misleading or outright untruthful suggestions, or to confuse things deliberately. If the players, for example, all turn to me with a knowing suggestion that I would have loaded the warehouse with traps, I do my best to ensure that I confirm their fears. I occasionally lie about what the enemy is capable of or might be doing. Sometimes I do the opposite, to try and make them think barging in will be sufficient. This sort of misinformation ensures that they don’t get too cozy with their player knowledge of rules and monsters, and I find it helps to keep the feeling of the game “real” (as in, aware of the risks being taken) even once the PCs become deadly.

Because I see it as the DM’s responsibility to keep the group happy, I also step in to make sure people get equal say, that really suicidal ideas get killed off, or that an idea someone is really unhappy with (e.g. “let’s raid the village and take some women slaves”) get vetoed.

Also, when I’m DMing, I’m happy for my decisions to be disputed but if the same player is doing so over and over I will refuse further disputes, or just adjudicate secretly. Or give in and vindictively at a +2 to my rolls later, or somesuch.

Managing combat

My systems are usually death-spiral, simulationist (?) combat systems, which require description on my part, and I try to do this as much as possible[2]. I encourage players to describe their own actions, I try to describe monster’s actions as vividly as possible, and I also like to get players to describe their spells. I have a standing rule that summoned monsters take a form suited to the environment of the battle, and I or the player describe them. I try to keep combat fast-paced, particularly if it’s important for the adventure, so I sometimes do 5-4-3-2-1 countdowns to encourage rapid player decisions, and this occasionally does mean players miss a go. I fudge dice if it suits the mood/flow/intent of the battle, or if I want to spice up an encounter, or because I designed a monster too tough or too weak (I design most of my monsters myself). I allow rules about spells and effects to be broken occasionally if it suits the flow of the game, and I try as much as possible at all times to maintain a bubble of action in which the players feel they’re there – I use PC names as much as possible, I reiterate descriptive points, and I keep a fast narrative to maintain a sense of action. I also tell people if what they’re about to do is going to be really ineffective under the rules, or suicidal, unless I think they know it and are doing it anyway for some reason[1]; but sometimes I lie or dissemble to encourage a sense of fear, for example if everyone thinks that the wizard is resisting a powerful spell because he has a counter-spell, but actually it’s just from good rolls, I’ll give the impression that the players are right so that they desist from the powerful spell and waste time on breaking his non-existent defences. Also, even with monsters the players know well, I try to keep an air of mystery about them so the players don’t know for sure whether an action succeeded or failed on its own merits, or because this incarnation of this monster is special. Conversely, if their enemy has powerful save-or-die magic, I try to engineer it so they have a chance to stop the enemy using that magic first, or some kind of ability to take defensive steps. For example, ambushing a party of much-loved characters with a powerful wizard stocked up with save-or-die spells is just mean. It might be realistic in some sense, but what about the phrase “powerful wizard stocked up with save-or-die spells” invokes any sense of realism?

A few other points

I usually do dramatic scenes in the voices and manner of the NPCs, though I don’t expect players to do the same (some do, some don’t). I can get angry with players when they refuse to engage with the system and scheme of the world we’re in, since we’re there to role-play; though I don’t object at all to players going role-play light and waiting for the next battle/puzzle. I sometimes veto character development plans if I think they will unbalance one player or make them a super hero; I sometimes design monsters specifically to attack a PC (or party) weakness. At all times I try to maintain an atmosphere of immersive fun, and imminent danger.  And finally, I think I do expect my players to understand that the fun for me is not in adjudicating the rules, but feeling like I’ve created a rich and intense world that they are enjoying playing in. So I expect them to get in and have a go and take my efforts seriously, and in exchange I try to look out for dissatisfaction or boredom on their part, and change things accordingly.
At the very least, this is fun for me – for my players, too, I hope, and I hope it’s at least vaguely interesting to anyone reading it…

fn1 : punishing people for not bothering to learn the rules or not knowing them all properly is, in my opinion, really juvenile

fn2: I think I actually found in later years of Rolemaster, where all this stuff has been taken care of in critical tables, that the combat got same-same, because everyone had heard the major criticals and their effects before, and I prefer to leave the descriptions to me and/or the player. So now I envisage an improvement to RM (which I don’t play anymore) as being a critical table which lists the rules-mechanical effects but leaves the description to the DM.

Adventure preparation done right

It’s RPG blog carnival time again, this time at the Questing GM, and the topic is “how to be a better Games Master.” There’s lots of good advice – I like what Carl at Back Screen Pass has to say, though I’m dubious about any claim that I have any strengths except my ability to describe stuff – and I think Geek Ken is right to say that you should try to play often if you’re going to DM, because I don’t think I play enough and I sometimes forget what works and what doesn’t for players.

So, Carl’s advice is to play to your strengths, and I think my main strength is the ability to describe stuff. I think my DMing style is often based on building up a strong picture of things and letting the players enjoy the action that follows even if the details – the combat and skill resolution, for example – are clunky or not entirely satisfactory. The fun is in the experience, not necessarily the details of how it panned out, and provided everyone is able to see the vision, everyone gets to enjoy it.

The problem then is getting ideas to describe, from the very broad vision of worlds through the narrower vision of particular characters and scenarios, to the momentary vision of what happens from point to point in an adventure or scene. My solution to this is simple – I steal stuff outrageously from as many cultural sources as I can. I lift from music, novels, comics, movies, literature, my day-to-day experiences, anything I can get my hands on. It’s unlikely that (outside of the Lord of the Rings and Buffy) my players have seen much of what I’ve lifted, so occasionally someone will notice I’m copying but in general they won’t see a pattern. And of course even if they do, I just have to leaven it a bit with something novel, and they’ll never know. After a few campaigns all the players change and I can steal from myself too, it’s perfect. As Chumbawumba said (and they said it first!!!), there is nothing new under the sun, so why be ashamed? Things I’ve stolen include…

  • Magua from The Last of the Mohicans, who I stole wholesale and dumped straight into my last campaign, name, manners, speech patterns and all
  • Dragon-hunting from Samuel Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, a beautiful moment in science fiction history (and I really want to steal the title at some point too)(and I’ve stolen this idea twice)
  • Ship names from Iain M. Banks
  • Ideas for spells, schools of magic and famous magicians from English literary genres (Romantics, Regency novelists, etc.)
  • Settings for adventures from, for example Ocean Thermal Energy Convertors (there was a ghost in the top room)
  • Monsters and equipment from role-playing settings as diverse as Dark Space, Shadowrun, Talislanta, Skyrealms of Jorune, and Traveller:2300
  • Adventure locations from real life – Tottori Castle and Lundy Island, Devon spring to mind but there have been many others

One big benefit of this is that the players are provided with something they know (except, obviously, in the case of Talislanta) and this gives them something to hang their own imagination onto. For example, a spell system based on existing literary genres made it very easy for the player playing a Priest to just make up new spells, and some of them were doozies – Suffer Not a Witch was a type of Dispel Magic, and Reveal the Spirit was a kind of Fascinate spell that worked really nicely into the narrative of the story. It’s easy for everyone to both invent the spell and visualise the effect when it’s tied to something they know, and gives everyone a grounding from which to develop a shared vision of the campaign. This is probably why I largely set my campaigns on Earth, with real historical or possible future scenarios to hold them together.

The forces of evolution, tectonic plates, and 500 years of English creative history trump any crap I’ve got to offer, so I just steal shamelessly from the lot, and serve up to my characters a smorgasboard of rebranded ideas that I’ve tried to stuff together into a coherent framework. Don’t be shy! No-one’s going to sue you, and if you describe it well, the players won’t even notice…

I remember playing a few sessions of Talislanta when I was much younger, and feeling confused and underwhelmed for most of it. I think this was largely because the Talislanta setting is so alien and rich with new ideas that unless one has done some kind of pre-development work of some kind it’s impossible to feel like you know the place. In Talislanta, there are 20 or 30 character classes, each essentially a different (often completely alien-seeming) race. All the animals are different to earth, the geography is different, and the history is a kind of magic-science mishmash. From memory it seemed like a great place to role-play but when one actually did join the game, it was confusing and felt remote and story-like, because there was nothing familiar to hook onto.

I was reminded of this, compared to the alternative of setting an adventure in a world known intimately to all the players, when I read recently one of the Dresden Files stories, in which Harry Dresden animates himself an undead T-Rex from a Chicago Museum. This event, pivotal in the story, came from out of the blue when I was reading it, and I was struck at the time by how this is exactly the sort of thing my players would do if they were adventuring in a modern city whose museums they themselves knew; and it is exactly the sort of thing they don’t do when playing, because they don’t know where the graveyards, museums, zoos, etc. are.

I think this is why a lot of groups settle for role-playing in elf- and dwarf-rich Lord of the Rings style campaigns. There are a lot of things they’re familiar with, and with that familiarity comes the ability to use the environment, the flaws of the enemy, etc. to ones’ own advantage. One can’t do that in fantasy worlds that are either very unusual (like Talislanta) or straight from the DMs own imagination. I have got around this in the past by setting campaigns in fantastic versions of our earth, so for example in the most recent Compromise and Conceit campaign, players quickly started to have their own ideas about what to do next based on their knowledge of the existing history and geography of the Earth. One, for example, suggested a spirit walk to investigate the history of a certain problem – he made this suggestion based on his own understanding of Native American myths. This is much harder to do if one doesn’t know the world.

I was struck when reading the Dresden Files by how rich in role-playing opportunities the world Jim Butcher has created is. Not only does it have magic and all the monsters we know and love, but it is in a setting completely familiar to all of us – like Buffy too, I suppose – so if one plays around in that kind of world, it will be easy for the players to think about where to go and what to do to solve problems. Even if, like me, your DMing style is very story-focussed, the setting is automatically a type of sandbox, and people can have a lot of fun disrupting the plot. The real challenge – and one I don’t think can be pulled off easily given modern players’ time constraints – is for a DM to make players feel that comfortable and familiar with a world of his or her own creation. This is difficult to do in anything except the longest campaigns, I think.

So for my next face-to-face campaign I may try this, playing in a world everyone is intimately familiar with – possibly even the town where we all live – and see where that takes us. Maybe a Cthulhu-style rural Japan could be fun…

I’m not a fan of sandbox campaigns – I think plot and links between sessions make a campaign more fun, I don’t like wandering monsters and random encounters, and my experience of players’ attempts to navigate even small detail-rich worlds is that they flounder without a lot of guidance. However, at the end of my recent campaign, one of my players proposed essentially the whole outline for a follow-up campaign:

  • We liquidate and then disguise ourselves (magically) as the inquisitors who are to be set on our tail.
  • Disguised so, we seemingly proceed with the Church’s mission,  gaining their  aid in entering hell to rescue Cantrus and also collecting the amulet.
  • On returning from hell, we sacrifice the Pope himself (ought to be worth a bob or two!) to the demon of knowledge for a ritual to magically fragment the amulet so we can all benefit and then reverse the area of effect on the amulet so instead of granting anyone wearing it immunity to us, it grants us immunity from everyone else ! This would leave us vulnerable only to each other’s attacks  (but we’re a team right – non of us would pick off the other to be left an invulnerable ruler of all he surveyed right ? Right ? 🙂
  • Cantrus for Pope !

This constitutes the entire plot of an ongoing campaign, set up by the players and very structured in its goals. All that remains for the DM to do is to fiddle around with the details of the challenges as set out above. In fact, I would argue that if the players told me they aimed to set out down this path, I would be very leery of changing the direction with ideas of my own unless I thought they were guaranteed to improve the players’ enjoyment of their own campaign. I’m not sure where this leaves the DM, who in this case has often complained about the hassle of creating a story for witless players but has never considered the possibility that the players would relegate him to the role of dice-roller and scene writer.

I’m not sure that many DMs have actually worked in this fashion that often – usually they’re the masters of their own world, after all. Such a campaign needs to be run in a way which maintains the challenge for the players but enables them to keep an eye on their own goals, and – if it offers different goals at all – offers new opportunities in a way which tests the players’ resolve without undermining their original scheme. I’m really eager to run such a campaign, but not so sure that it’s going to work out… we’ll see…

A few months ago I had a weird run-in with a DM, which I blogged about, most annoying it was too. It happened in a pub in South London, so I never went back to the group that plays there.

Since then I have had two more moments of trouble at the role-playing club where I play, and I have been forced to conclude that while meeting role-players in a pub is a really good way to avoid having arseholes come to your house, it’s a really good way to meet arseholes. It would also appear that role-playing is going through a bit of a renaissance in London at the moment – our club has become so busy that they’ve had to split over multiple nights, and it is still really really noisy, with maybe 30 people upstairs in the venue (which has no aircon, and in winter has all the windows closed… hmmm, stuffy role-player-boy smells…)

If you can imagine the scenario of 30 people yelling for attention, while drunk, in a stuffy room, and then throw into the mix a really frustrating player who can’t pay attention, doesn’t ever remember any names or details, continually texts his mates on his phone, and interrupts every description or conversation to talk about something that happened 5 minutes ago (which he genuinely seems to think is still happening) you can well imagine that playing was getting frustrating. So last week we cut loose the frustrating player, and decided to move to someone’s house. Last night we played, it was quiet and calm and pleasant, and it was soooooooo fun.

I’ve got a real role-playing group back! It’s great!!!

It’s been a long time (maybe 7 years) since I did any role-playing in a world of my own creation, with its own maps and such like. I really enjoy making the maps – the last map I made involved a light table I scavenged from somewhere, a contour map and an attempt at redrawing the map of Europe to account for catastrophic global warming – but I no longer have the energy for it, and my maps are in any case inevitably really crap. That global warming map – my God! – it involved photocopying sections of an atlas and doing careful calculations so different parts of the atlas were all mapped to the same scale, then all stuck together, and then flooded, and then painted with water colours. That’s crazy, right? And of course I lost the lot at some point when I moved house, and there is no scanner big enough to scan it all so I have no digital version.

I also when I was younger bought myself that Campaign Cartographer package and tried to use it, but it’s fiendishly complicated and you can spend hours on a single 4 room dungeon, only to discover that adventure time has come again, and the you haven’t had time to populate the map. Plus of course, the players never appreciate it. So what’s the point!?

A mysterious place of unknown provenance

A mysterious place of unknown provenance

Now I do most of my adventures in pre-existing worlds (i.e. Middle Earth) or in Europe/America, where I can just use pre-existing maps. I don’t make my own, I just scavenge others. I particularly like using historical maps and pre-existing maps of places and buildings. As an example of the sorts of silliness I get up to with maps – here is one I found in Japan. I found it on a sign, and the map is actually a photo. But what is it a map of…?

Once again we find the characters standing amongst their dead foes, splattered in blood and shrouded in darkness. This time however, the blood is mostly their own, and the situation dire. Father Cantrus was forced immediately to invoke his sternest healing disciplines, and with the help of the Angels on High soon restored the party to their full powers; however, it had been a close shave and, shaken by the ferocity of the defence of this tiny tower, the characters set about exploring cautiously.

Within the compound they found rooms full of minor trinkets and treasures, and obvious evidence of many experimental areas that had been hastily converted into soldiers’ quarters. All the soldiers now being dead, the characters’ goal was almost achieved. All that remained was to investigate the sealed Northern section of the building, under the cliffs, and the locked south-western section. Their one captive soldier told them that three wizards were holed up in the south-western section; and it was these wizards who had created the beasts they called “Remade”, whose snufflings and howling moans could be heard through the door to the North…

deciding upon discretion over valour, Russell Ganymede stepped outside and used his mysterious Infernal Vision to gaze through the walls of the building, viewing every room where their next adversaries might hide. He found 2 strange creatures prowling the rooms in the north wing – one a disturbing amalgam of steam engine and  man, the other a horrific bastard creation forced together from the bodies of a man and a gorilla. Clearly the wizards to the south west had been experimenting with, and advancing the technology of, chimaera creation in a fashion previously forbidden to all Decent Men. Vengeance (and information!) must be obtained!

Having so decided, the characters invaded the South-western wing. First opening the door, they sent in a Monster to attack the mages therein; while the mages were distracted, Dave Black and Lord Merton St. Hillier intruded under the cover of stealth. Unfortunately, a mage at the end of the hall armed with a Confustor Field Rod quickly stunned the beast, and used his telekinetic powers to slam and lock the door. The door being trapped and locked, no-one could rush to the aid of the unfortunate assassins. There followed several minutes of desperate combat as the two assassins, separated and beleaguered, attempted to overcome their adversaries while the remainder of the group ran around outside, seeking and finally finding a window through which to gain egress. Vicious battle followed, fought with fireballs, walls of stone, disabling and petrifaction spells; but ultimately the characters prevailed and fortunately no-one was seriously harmed, though at times the battle came close.

Having killed 2 and captured 1, the characters interrogated him to learn the truth of the experiments conducted at the Lighthouse. Named Chateau Caprice, the lighthouse had been previously a research institute for the French Secret Service until the war preparations, when it was converted to a garrison and used to store the Mohican totem pole. The Remade already created were to be used as guards for that item, their lives meaningless and held in thrall to those who had presided over their hideous creation. The only thing any Gentleman could hope to do for these poor wretches was to provide them with quick and Christian mercy.

Having established the presence of only 2, the characters decided to lead them out through the main door, trapping the door with explosives from the cannon, and cut them down from a distance after their initial surprise. While this battle happened the Mohicans would run through a breach in the wall to obtain the totem pole.

This plan worked well, except for two small flaws. The first of these was that the explosive trap barely harmed either of the Remade, who advanced upon the characters under a withering hail of fire, apparently unharmed by mere bullets. The second flaw was the presence of two hidden remade – one a disgusting spider/octopus/human recombination, the other a metal-skinned monster-man with blades for arms. These Remade attacked the Iroquois, thus risking defeat for our heroes when within sight of their goal. Fortunately Lord Merton St Helier and Anna la Brousse were able to infiltrate the room while the battle with the Heavy Remade raged outside, and quickly slew these lighter, faster remade while David Cantrus saved the life of the only fallen Iroquois.

Outside the battle raged, but the Remade were no match for the formidable strengths of our heroes, who after some close calls managed to deliver unto these mishapen beasts the mercy for which they longed. Thus conquering Chateau Caprice, the characters looted it of all its knowledge and belongings, so that the secret of Remaking could be taken to England. In future, of course, this secret would be used as a form of punishment, to keep under control those lower orders whose constant labours make England great, but whose constant dissatisfaction with their brutal lot threatens always to boil forth into revolution. That, however, is a tale to be told another day… as its unfortunate and revolutionary conclusion…

The characters returned triumphant to their ship with the totem pole. Sending the Dervish back towards Quebec in his decoy ship, they sailed at full speed for New England, and civilisation … far from the horrors of grotesque French immorality, thereupon to save New England evermore from French aggression. Though whether it shall remain ever a colony of glorious England remains a story to be told…

For the first time in a month, we join our heroes with their hands free of blood, in the New French town of Quebec. Having discovered by foul means the evil plans of the French to destroy the Mohican tribes, our heroes were summarily dispatched by ship from Fort Stanwix to Albany, and thence around the coast to the kingdom of their enemy in New France. Their mission is simple: to break into the castle where the Mohican’s totem pole is stored, and to steal it back. Once stolen, they are to march overland with it to the Mohican lands, and present it as a wedding gift to the Mohican people.

With them to Quebec came the Iroquois priestess, “She comes with Shadows” and her 4 bodyguards. These are the only 5 people who can touch the totem pole, and so they are essential to return it. The characters’ charge was to keep these 5 alive at all costs, and return with them and the pole to Mohican lands. 

Having been given not even an hours’ rest, and with winter closing in, the characters found themselves put aboard ship and rushed off to Quebec. Without even taking a night to orient themselves on their arrival, our heroes surveyed the lay of the land. Their target was a small, converted lighthouse called La Malbaie, on the Northern side of the Bay of St. Lawrence. It could be reached by sea or overland, but the overland journey promised another 5 days of walking through the freezing cold. Instead, and sensing much danger, the characters arranged a different approach. They hired a pair of ships, one to take them to La Malbaie and one to act as a decoy from La Malbaie heading back towards Quebec. The Dervish, Umit, would take this latter ship and serve to distract any French pursuit by taking a different ship from Quebec to New York. On the second ship, the characters would lay to at night just offshore from la Malbaie, and find a way into the converted lighthouse. 

Having made these arrangements, our heroes set out in the Dutch ship Set Your Confustors to Stun, sailing for 8 hours up the sound until, in the last glow of twilight, they heaved to offshore from la Malbaie lighthouse. From here they could see the hills of New France as silhouettes against the fading twilight. Light flurries of snow fell from a steel-grey ceiling of low clouds, scudding along the water surface and swirling about the boat in a stiff, freezing breeze that blew down from the open waters to their East. The last light reflected on the iron-black sand of a small beach, which stretched into darkness penetrated only by the distant lights of the lower windows of la Malbaie’s ground floor. Behind the boat, distant lights of the evening’s river traffic inched by in the darkness, or bobbed on the water where they were moored for the night. 

The characters decided to eschew the frontal assault and instead move through the hills and take a small coastal path to the lighthouse. Two boats were dropped, and they rowed to the shore some distance from the lighthouse. From there it was a 1 hour walk through the freezing darkness, their path lit only by a tiny hooded lantern, before they arrived at the end of the path. Here a culvert cut into the hills, dropping through impenetrable darkness to the beach, from whence they could hear a faint lapping of surf. Trying to move carefully, they descended the culvert, their path lit only by a faint light of infernal essence, Russell Ganymede to the fore.

As they neared the bottom of the culvert, however, Russell’s light and the rousing alarm of his clumsy passage alerted those below to his presence. Two guards opened fire with long rifles, fortunately missing any in the party and forcing them to scatter for cover. Anna laBrousse yelled at  them to cease and drop their weapons, her voice taking such a tone of command that in fact one of the soldiers did just that, and began remonstrating with his colleague to do the same. Russell opened fire on the other, while Dave Black and Lord Merton crept along the gully to do their dirty work. Unfortunately the remaining soldier was blowing a whistle, and by the time the party could get to the base of the culvert and finish off the two soldiers the alarm had been raised. 

From the culvert the beach stretched for 50m to a low line of dunes, which formed a kind of low plateau on which, 50 metres further along, the lighthouse was built. The lighthouse was dimly visible in the glow of its own lights as a kind of horseshoe-shaped building with a low tower at the side furthest from the characters. The opening of the horseshoe was a narrow, 5m wide open gate facing the characters, with two lighted windows on its right side and a dark, windowless wall on its left. From our heroes’ vantage point the cliffs loomed over the lighthouse on their left, and to their right the beach sloped down to the shore, where the surf whispered in the darkness.

Fearing themselves exposed, the characters set off immediately for the lighthouse, but had barely moved 10 metres before they heard the distant boom of two cannon firing. Moments later infernal shot landed just metres ahead of them, exploding in puffs of faded purple light and a rain of harmless shrapnel. Realising now that battle was on, the characters turned their determined walk into a sprint, and reached the cover of the dunes just as the guards at the lighthouse began firing their rifles. From the flash and retort, it was clear that there were 4 guards hidden in the cover of the entryway, firing from cover at the distant dunes. These hopeful shots had little chance of hitting the characters, but now they found themselves in battle in earnest.

Anna laBrousse had summoned a monster, composed of sand and shadow, to kill the guards at the  culvert, and this she sent ahead to attack the guards at the gateway. Dave Black the Torturer and Lord Merton, thinking themselves unseen, continued their slow and stealthy advance. Father David Cantrus and Anna, seeing little else they could do, went over the top of the dune and ran towards the gateway, while Russell Ganymede fired into its cloaking darkness. As David and Anna ran across the open ground, two more shells landed, one exploding amongst them in a plume of sand, shrapnel and purple infernal energy, knocking them both to the ground and injuring Anna laBrousse badly. David Cantrus took the time to heal her with a prayer, but the pair of them found themselves briefly given respite, for the riflemen at the gate had seen David Black, and opened fire on him in concert. One hit but did no serious damage, and Lord Merton opened fire in return, hitting one. Now battle was joined for real. David Cantrus charged in to the attack, as did David Black and Lord Merton, while Anna laBrousse hid against the cover of the wall. Russell summoned a Demon to aid the characters, causing it to appear amongst the soldiers at the gate as a wrathful, spindle-legged figure of shadow and fog. They killed the 4 guards at the gate quickly, but inside the gate found a small compound, in which the remainder of the lighthouse’s guards were clustered. Five guards had clustered together to form a line, and 4 more were running towards the front of that line from two small cannon which they had been operating; and from a door at the rear of the courtyard came two more, a big man in breastplate and the soldiers’ leader, a captain to judge by his insignia.

David Cantrus, seeing death in the eyes of the men of the line, stepped to the fore and revealed unto them the spirit of the lord, striking 6 of them dumb with awe. Anna laBrousse cast paralysis on another. One remained standing, and one who had been tardy to run forward was unaffected by the spell, while the others fell to their knees in amazement at the glory of the Spirit revealed. Lord Merton, seeing his chance, shot dead 2 of these humbled men immediately, and the group’s summoned beasts surged in to kill another one each. Dave Black moved up to one other and killed him so horribly – with such a combination of eye-gouging and choking – that those watching could not help but be so sickened that they were weakened with terror.

Now the tide turned, so that only 2 soldiers and their leaders remained standing. Unfortunately, they had failed to see the lighthouse scout, who crept up behind Dave Black and dealt him a vicious blow to the kidneys. Black, frightened and badly injured, immediately rendered himself invisible and ducked out of the battle. Russell Ganymede charged forward to attack the breastplate-wearing sergeant, but fell over in his haste and was stabbed viciously by his more competent opponent. Lord Merton fired at the Captain, hitting him, and behind them their conjured demons did more of their evil work, killing more of the paralysed soldiers. But now the battle had turned desperate, with Ganymede humbled by the sergeant and the captain surging forward to attack Anna laBrousse’s demon. 

Dave Black emerged from the shadows to ambush the man who had ambushed him, and Ganymede regained his feet to attack the sergeant. Lord Merton fired into battle, helping to break down the sergeant, who soon fell under the ferocity of their combined attack. However, by now everyone was severely injured – Russell Ganymede at the very edge of his strength, Dave Black stabbed with the Corporal’s rapier so many times that he could no longer move, and Father Cantrus and Anna laBrousse both badly hurt. However, with only the Captain and one soldier still standing, the battle turned in the characters’ favour when the Iroquois appeared from the shadows to cut the Captain down. The remaining soldier fled into the castle, and silence descended upon the battlefield. 

The characters had noticed that the courtyard had windows overlooking it from one side, so now they opted to dash to cover. Staggering after the remaining soldier, they caught him in the entry chamber to the building.  He offered no resistance to them, and under Dave Black’s tender ministrations he confirmed their suspicions – that they had slaughtered all the soldiers in the building. However, he also told them two other disturbing facts:

  • There remained 3 wizards in the building, who used to work here before the lighthouse was converted into a military base, and who might prove dangerous though they were generally weak and not fond of fighting; and
  • The totem pole had been put in the North wing of the building, under the cliffs. This wing also housed “The Remade”, whose moans and hissings could be heard through the door, and who the soldier had never seen. The Remade are fed once a day with coal and raw flesh…
Thus does our adventure come to a close, with David Cantrus moving amongst the exhausted and huddled ranks of our heroes, healing them of their wounds, while the injured soldier whimpers in the corner and the wizards and Remade of la Malbaie plan their next move…

Once again we join our heroes bathed up to their elbows in blood, this time standing at the edge of Lake Oneiga amongst the bodies of a thousand slaughtered Frenchmen. Around them their Iroquois allies move quietly about their business, butchering the wounded and nearly-dead remnants of the French force, while on the hill overlooking the battlefield the signal fire burns slowly to ash, the charred corpse of the Iroquois spy sinking slowly into the embers.

The characters were presented with the single battered survivor, Lt Colonel Jacques Fouroux, and told that this poor unfortunate would be ransomed to the British, or burnt alive. They searched the body of the French rogue and spy, Misericorde and, having taken what little of value he possessed, handed the French colours over to the Iroquois tribe and left the area for Fort Stanwix.

At Fort Stanwix they were greeted as heroes, feted about the complex, and given Officers’ accomodation in which to wait for Governor deLauncey, who arrived on an exhausted mount after a few days to deliver the characters their reward, and to apprise them of the consequences of their actions:

  • 1000 French soldiers were captured in the lowlands between Fort Stanwix and Fort Oswego, though the cloaked ships which delivered them managed to escape
  • Several spies at Fort Niagara were captured and executed, preventing a surprise attack and general incursion from beyond Niagara Falls
  • The Iroquois have been offered full aid against the French, the Covenant Chain restored, and the Western borders of the Iroquois lands bolstered against French incursion
  • French military activity on the edge of Pennsylvania has come to a temporary halt as French forces are relocated to the Northeast to bolster the newly weakened French force there
The French plan has in the space of one night degenerated from a bold master plan of treacherous genius to a massive defeat. Manoeuvring forces to protect their now-exposed frontline will take at least 6 weeks, by which time winter will have set in properly, delaying any serious French incursion into British lands until Spring. This gives the British time to prepare themselves for the inevitable border war.
Unfortunately, there are insufficient soldiers in the territory to defend it against a serious French incursion without further good luck, and the French undoubtedly know this. Their most likely attack plan will be to move in force directly from the North, bringing their Huron allies through  Mohican lands to lay siege to Albany. The British, having insufficient forces to prevent an assault from the West and the North, will be forced to choose between losing Pennsylvania and Ohio or New York. Their only hope is the Mohican tribes which lie between Albany and New France; but these Mohican tribes present a significant problem.
The Mohican lost a major battle with the French and Huron some 5 years ago, and in the settlement that followed signed a treaty of non-aggression and disarmament. Since then they have been set upon ferociously by the Delaware and, in observing the exact terms of their treaty, have been decimated. Another winter of such conflict will render them too weak to present any threat to the Huron, even if they were willing to break their original agreement. There is also some suspicion that the Delaware have been receiving aid in arms from the French, enabling them to overpower the Mohican; or that perhaps there is a secret clause in the Mohican treaty which weakens them more than the British have been led to believe.
This is a dire situation for both the Mohican and the British. Fortunately, a solution presents itself. An Iroquois princess is being sent to marry a  Mohican chief, securing an alliance between the Mohican and the Iroquois. This will undoubtedly cause the Delaware to cease their attacks, since they will be afraid of stoking war against both the Iroquois and their British allies. The characters are required to escort this Princess to the Mohican tribes, protecting her against French and Huron aggression, in order to ensure that the alliance of Iroquois and Mohican can be completed.
Once they reach the Mohican lands, the characters are to find out why the Mohican are so fatally weakened; is it enchantment, a secret clause in the treaty? Are the Delaware being given secret French aid? If the characters find a conspiracy by the French to arm the Delaware, they are to kill any traders involved, and destroy Delaware arms. Further, any other perfidy or treachery – be it English, Iroquois or French – which might be causing the Mohican to be weakened or disadvantaged, is to be dealt with in any way necessary.
However, the characters are to avoid sparking a border war before winter, so they must be discreet.
Easy! The characters agreed, and set off the following day in the company of 4 Iroquois braves, 4 Mohicans, the Princess “She comes with shadows” and their hastily hired interpeter and guide, an Iroquois named  “Speaks with Three Tongues”. Their journey would take a little more than 2 weeks, leading them through Fort William Henry and East of Lake Ticonderoga deep into the Iroquois forest.
Within 3 days, of course,  disaster had struck. They were ambushed near midday by a force of 10 French soldiers, who lay in wait by the roadside. Fortunately our heroes saw them first and unleashed the full force of their magic upon them, paralysing or putting to sleep 6 of them before the fight began. The remaining 4 fired upon the Princess, knocking her off her horse and nearly killing her, before they were overwhelmed by the Braves. Father Cantrus ran to aid the Princess while the characters checked for other dangers, and found themselves facing a sneaking, spying Frenchwoman, who attempted to cast a powerful destructive spell on the King’s Torturer before Anna laBrousse was able to react. Anna cast Grendel’s Demise, tearing off the Frenchwoman’s arm, and livid with rage the King’s Torturer used the dismembered limb to choke her assistant to death before her very eyes. This, and the Torturer’s unique ability to extract confessions, quickly caused this woman to reveal everything she knew…
This woman was la Belle dame sans Merci, a spy famous throughout North America for her ruthlessness and efficiency, as well as her secrecy. She had been charged with abducting the princess, or killing her. Had she succeeded in abducting the Princess she would have taken her downstream along the Mohawk river, using a boat moored nearby on that same river. After a day’s travel her plan had been to land on the far banks of the Mohawk, from where a force of 10 more French soldiers would lay a decoy trail, with the assistance of a camp follower who would pretend to be the princess. La Belle Dame would then drift further downriver, alighting north of Albany and heading in disguise into the North, dragging the Princess with her to her masters in the French army. This woman would then be used as a bargaining piece in the game of politics, to force the Iroquois to break the Covenant chain. 
Having stopped all of this, and with la Belle Dame cowering at his mercy, David Black asked her another question: how had the French weakened the Mohican? She answered truthfully immediately: she, personally, had stolen the Mohicans’ totem pole. The characters, flabbergasted, wanted to know how she could even touch such a holy relic, let alone carry it. The carrying was easy, she said – she has a power for such things. And the touching? An offhand comment she remembered years ago – that Indian magic has no power over a woman when she is menstruating. la Belle Dame had tried it, and found the rumour true. One night she slipped into the camp and simply walked off with the pole, and thus did the Mohicans’ gods leave them…
The characters now hatched a new plan to throw the French off their path. Anna laBrousse, disguised as la Belle Dame, floated downriver with the Princess in the boat, with Lord Merton and David Black disguised as French guards. At the appointed meeting spot she tricked the French soldiers into leaving on their pre-planned path, as if the plan were working; thus did the characters trick the French into thinking the Princess captured. While Anna, Merton and David Black did this, Father Cantrus and Russell Ganymede escorted la Belle Dame back to Fort Stanwix, to be handed over to the British and properly questioned.
The characters rejoined after 5 days at Fort Stanwix, having successfully outwitted the French again, and with only one task remaining – to smuggle the Princess past that most frightful of Indian tribes, the Huron, and deliver her safely unto her waiting husband.