Pillars of Eternity: Eposide 2 – A cold welcome in Gilded Vale

A word of warning before continuing my walkthrough for Pillars of Eternity and the story of Frengard, the Wizard: SPOILERS AHEAD! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

“… We arrived in the middle of some kind of ceremony. A man just became and ashen statue as he reached out for the monument. As the biawac engulfed us I saw three more men sacrficing themselves in front of this strange building, heeding the words of their master, a high priest of some sort, talking about the necessity of leaving one’s own desires behind for the greater cause. After the last of these… acolytes… turned to a disturbing memento of these events my vision cleared and I found myself standing on a ledge in broad daylight. I turned around to ask Calisca and Heodan if they saw what I did, but they both lay dead a few steps back. The biawac, the many deaths, this vison made my head spin. I couldn’t help but drop on all fours and vomit until there was nothing left to come out.

It probably took me half an hour to compose myself. Finally, pale and shaken, I stood up, fastened the straps on my backpack left these strange ruins, heading to the south, towards Gilded Vale, the original destination of the journey. As I was walking among the old stones I noticed shadowy figures from the corner of my eyes, but when I turned, there was nothing. As I tried to focus my vision I managed to see more and more of the ghostly visages, I felt I could even talk to one or two. It was a strange sensation indeed.

Finally I got back on the road leading to Gilded Vale. I didn’t dare stray off the road after all that happened in the last few hours. My whole body was shouting for some rest, only a few minutes to rest my eyes, but I decided to rather use some mental techniques I learned at the university to keep my mind focused and go on. A brigand tried to rob me in broad daylight and kill me afterwards, but he wasn’t match for my last memorized spell. As night was approaching I was getting more and more anxious, I have never spent a night alone without a roof over my head. I felt relieved when I saw a tent at the bridge, where I met a man named Nonton, who offered to share his fire with me for the night. He told me he was a hunter and he went out to hunt game with his friend, Perly. Perly was attacked by an enraged bear and met his end in a cave to the north. I had a feeling there was more to the story he told me, but my mind was so numb by that time that I let the topic rest. We talked for a little more then finally I could get some so desired sleep by the campfire.

In the morning I woke up alone, Nonton had already left, leaving me behind. It was strange, but I didn’t care too much about it, I was too focused on leaving this path behind me and get a nice, warm bath and some hot meal in the first inn I find. My whole body was stiff and aching from the crude accomodations of nature, my expensive boots helped nothing against the rough road, and all my clothes were torn and dirty. It took me another four slow, painful hours to finally spot the silhouettes of houses on the horizon. Gritting my teeth I started walking faster, grunting as a blister broke on my left foot.

As I got near Gilded Vale I noticed something was missing. It took me a minute to realize what it was: the everyday noises. No children laughing, no music, everything was eerily silent. I walked past the first few houses and after a turn I was already at the main sqare of this hamlet. It was the strangest of main squares I ever saw. A huge, gnarled tree occupied its centre, from its crooked, ancient branches hung human bodies, like foul, ripe fruits. A tall, strict-looking man was standing beside this bizarre composition with two soldiers behind him. As I approached, he looked at me coldy, as people do who are used to authority. I knew this look all too well from my father.

He introduced himself as Magistrate Urgeat, and asked what business I had in Gilded Vale and how I got here on my own. I answered his questions, meeting his gaze calmly, asking him about the bodies hanging from the gnarly tree. He told me that I chose the worst of time to arrive, as the situation is very tense at the moment. Lord Raedric’s wife is in labor and the child can be born at any moment, and the hanged people are the ones who failed to help or gave false advice to the lord. Urgeat advised me to wait until this storm clears and rent a room in The Black Hound. We were just about to part ways when the bells rang. One… two… three times. The few townspeople on the square buried their faces in their hands. Three meant Lord Raedric’s child was a Hollowborn. A body without a soul, just an empty husk of a person. I have once read about such thing in the university library, but I couldn’t recall any details as I thought it was just a theory at that time.

I thought it was better to get out of the magistrate’s sight as I accidentally mentioned to him I survived a biawac and I came to Gilded Vale at rather strange circumstances. No use stirring up emotions this time. So I turned around and headed for the largest building of the town, The Black Hound…”

To be continued…

A D&D event in Hungary – Dawn of Heroes

Last Saturday I finally managed to participate in an organised D&D roleplaying event in my country, called the Dawn of Heroes. I have been there before, but it was years ago, it was nice to be on the other side of the paravan for a change. Probably it was my main motivation when I asked my group if they wanted to give it a try. It was a time well spent, we had a great day of roleplaying, had good laughs, got to chat with other roleplayers.

Dawn of Heroes has been going on for quite a while now, this year it will be celebrating its 5th anniversary. The event started out small, with a few groups of players sharing a common interest. They wanted to involve more people by creating great adventures, and bringing tables together for a day of adventuring. There are 3-4 events organized every year, with a growing number of players, this time one club was not big enough to host all the participants. Fortunately, both Cantina Klub and HammerTime Cafe welcomed the hordes of geeks at their tables.

This time, the groups could even choose the league they wanted to join. The Player’s League was meant for the casual groups, who wanted to ephasize on roleplaying and playing out their characters, not worrying about the time limit, just lookng for a good time. In the Competitive League the groups were given points for succesfully revealing secrets, getting on with the story, killing monsters, and so on, in the end eventually crowning the team who had the best score. This way every player and group could get what they were looking for, a great idea from the organizers.

This Saturday 86 players entered the event, and 15 brave Dungeon Masters told their groups the same module: The New Lord of Windcliffe. This module has been written for this occasion, just like all the others told before, and again, it was quality work. This time the tone was set a bit darker (hence we started at 6th level), a bit in honor of Curse of Strahd. Despite the lack of time (about 7-8 gaming hours) to complete the module it was great fun to play, the story was well estabilished, dynamic and not restrictive at all. After the event my group said that they would love to give it more time and play it through properly. I agreed to run it for them sometime later, when the module can be downloaded and I would have some time to read through and prepare. I think it tells a lot of the adventure, when a group wants to play it again, through several sessions.

The modules after these events are free to download so everyone can read it through, re-play them or DM it to another group. Unfortunately it is only available in my native language, Hungarian, but I have been thinking about translating this one to English sometime later in the year, since so far I liked this one the best, and I think it deserves a broader audience. Although it was only my second participation at the Dawn of Heroes, I always read the modules of the ones I missed, I’m especially looking forward to reading this one.

Our group owes a big thanks to our appointed DM, since we made quite a… well, let’s say, strange… group of adventurers. All of us brought the character we wanted to play at that moment, not really caring about party balance or optimization. Also, our aligment was leaning towards evil, but we stopped at Chaotic Neutral, just to have a little chance of cooperating and not kill eachother in the first hour. We were far from disruptive though, it was just not the usual lineup of characters. With a party of a Cleric of Talos, two assassins, two wizards (a necromancer and an evoker) and an eldritch knight, we were destined for a TPK, but we managed to hold on until the final battle, where eventually we all met our doom. It was no problem though, we all kinda knew it will end like this. It can’t be too good for a party when my Cleric of Talos has the best AC (17!), deals the most damage (with the constant use of Call Lightning in stormy weather), almost the only one who has social skills (but is too much of an arrogant bastard to use them effectively) and refuses to use healing spells. But we still had a blast, and that’s what matters. Our DM was really patient with us, in fact, he was a partner in playing this style of gaming, letting us play our alignments and going with the flow. He also liked puns, which was a brownie point in my eyes!

I hope it won’t take years again for me to be able to get to the Dawn of Heroes again. I think this event has proved that roleplaying is still not dead in my country and it’s worth organizing meetings such as this one. Who knows, maybe some tables will be run in English in a few years if there are some players from other countries living in Hungary who would like to test themselves against the mastermind of the module-writers…

Pillars of Eternity: Eposide 1 – A roleplayer’s walkthrough

Last weekend I gave a second chance to Pillars of Eternity, which was annonced as a spiritual successor to the Baldur’s Gate Saga, my all-time favourite. On the first try I wasn’t really engaged, I didn’t really find the atmosphere which I was looking for, there were many minor things which just made me rather install Baldur’s Gate and play that one again instead. Now that I ran out of games I wanted to play in my free time I decided to try PoE once again. After several hours of playing I can say that this time I got hooked and hope to go on and finish the game in the upcoming weeks, being a casual PC gamer and having not that much time. So it will definitely take weeks. Months, maybe.

So, just for fun, I decided to write my first walkthrough ever. It won’t be an all-around, thorough guide however, I won’t be going into metagame and character builds. I will try and write a walkthrough from my character’s point of view, like a story being told by him. He is a human Wizard with the Aristocrat background, called Frengard. I will be probably leaving some things out, writing the posts from memory, also probably having made some far from ideal choices in the game. So this will be only a casual roleplayer’s try at his first walkthrough of a PC game. But before beginning, I should definitely say: SPOILERS AHEAD! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

“I guess I had been looking for an opportunity like this for a while now. To escape my family, leave behind this hornet’s nest for good. It took me only an hour to pack my bag, say a cold goodbye to my parents and siblings and join the caravan to Gilded Vale as a settler. I knew nothing about farming or braving the wilderness before, but I could still learn those I thought. Everything was better than staying.

I quickly reconsidered this thought on the way. A sudden sickness struck me and I felt like my intestines were burning, cold sweat covering my forehead. I had to ask the caravan master to make a stop so I could compose myself a little. He suggested I looked for Springberries and drink them as tea. He even ordered one of the caravan guards, Calisca to help me find them. It didn’t take too long, all we had to do now is to look for Sparfel, he should have come back by now. We found the waterskin, but the man was nowhere to be seen. We heard a rustling sound from the bushes and we saw Sparfel stumbling forward, then falling over, an arrow sticking out from his back. ‘Ambush!’ – Calisca cried out, axe already in hand. She engaged one of the ruffians in melee that left me with the archer to deal with. I froze for a brief moment as we locked eyes. It was the first time I had to defend myself by killing someone. I instinctively swung my wand at him the same moment he raised his bow. The bright burst of magic energy lit the clearing, and after my vision cleared I saw my attacker on his back, his leather jerking still smoldering. I felt a hand on my shoulder. ‘We should head back to camp’ – Calisca said.

We encountered more bandits, they looked more like tribesmen, their face paint indicated the Glanfathan. We arrived to a massacre, the people I travelled with lying dead around the campfire. Their leader was just about to murder the last of them, the merchant, Heodan. I did my best to buy some time with talking and managed to contradict the chief in his faith just enough for Heodan to deliver a sucker punch and break free. Calisca and Heodan fought the tribesmen with weapons, and I felt I needed to contribute as well, so pushed my thumbs together, fingers spread apart like fans and recited the magical formula of the Fan of Flames. The fire engulfed our enemies, and the smell of burnt flesh and fur filled the air.

As we were standing above the corpses of our foes I felt the wind beginning to stir. It was an eerie, strange breeze at first, but shortly stronger gusts followed. We ran for the nearby ruins to find shelter against this storm which people called a ‘biawac’. As we were making our way towards the enterance Heodan was attacked by one of the injured Glanfathan feigning death. I didn’t hesitate and knocked him back with an energy blast, granting the merchant the opportunity to break away. Just as we got inside the safety of the ruins the enterance collapsed behind us.

We stood there for a minute in shocked silence, it was Calisca who broke the trance, nudging us to move on. Although we were all winded, we pushed on, determined to find an exit. We found some leftover supplies and we stumbled upon a starved and sick xaurip. I took pity on the little fellow and gave him some skuldr meat, he was happily munching on it for minutes. There was an old carving in the wall covered in black ooze, and as I restored its sight by placing the gem I found in the empty eye socket a secret room opened. After defeating the black ooze guarding it, we found a magical cloak inside, which would prove valuable in the coming battles. In the eastern corridor Calisca pushed hard on the crumbling wall until it gave way and after killing some skuldr we finally saw natural light coming from an archway. The spiders living in the last room couldn’t stop us from escaping this sorry place, and we left the ruins behind us, relatively intact.

I wished we never did though, after what I saw upon looking around and noticing an old monument just a couple dozen yards in front of us…”

To be continued…

3d6, in order? – Rolling characters

A couple of weeks ago I saw a video about rolling characters the old-school way, 3d6, in order. It was really refreshing to see someone defend his point of view and could support his claim with solid reasons. I liked how Noah told examples of making the best of the worst, and he was also very thorough about this topic, with many great ideas.

My view is very similar, I have rolled 3d6 in order a few times and those were my most loved characters. It was fun to come up with a reason for those one or two poor stats I got. As an example, when I was playing Rappan Athuk a few years back and rolled my character the classic way, I rolled 18 Strength but a Constitution of 7. Quite contradicting to say the least. So I came up with the idea of a barbarian who had to take a magical potion upon his rite of passage, which granted him superb might, however, it left his health damaged quite a bit (and also his intellect, since I rolled an 8 for that). It was fun playing him, with bulging muscles but only with a primal cunning and stamina issues. He did really well and didn’t die, it was a great session with some good laughs.

I like to have my players roll up characters as well, although I’m a bit more lenient with the method. For Rappan Athuk I had them roll 3d6, in order, but I let them roll all 1-s again, and let them have two series of rolls and choose the better one. Now thinking about it, I may have been too nice. Still, two players got a 6 for their Charisma, which is not much of a big problem usally, but they still went ahead and tried to come up with a good reason for that score. All the other stats were pretty decent, and with racial bonus they could even feel powerful with good main stats for their classes.

I have noticed as well that many players are afraid of just going with such a gambit, and prefer to use point buy, or choose to play another system. I understand them, they don’t want their characters to suck (at anything, usually), since the character is usually our fantasy badass version whom we like to see succeed, overcoming obstacles confidently, and so on. Fortunately after a while most players get mature enough and want to mix things up a bit and then the miracle happens: they want to do 3d6, in order. That’s usually the point when roleplaying improves for many players (or even roll-playing becomes role-playing). I have also been through this “journey”, playing it safe, then after a while I just got bored with always playing “the same character class” and decided to go with rolling characters instead of point-buy.

As a DM, I like rolling up my NPCs as well, it can help giving them a little more personality, maybe even a weak spot or a defining feature which the players will remember them by. Of course it would be too time consuming to do this for every single one, but I found it a good method to spice my campaign up a bit with such NPCs. In my current Rappan Athuk campaign I’m running, Rex the Henchman is such an NPC.

I think the most important thing a DM needs to do is to convince his players to give 3d6 a try, and help them with ideas how to explain a bad stat, let them feel that it’s not the end of the world if they have an ability score of 6. Of course, if half of the abilities are at -2 modifier scores, a wise DM would let the player roll a new series…

Burdens of being evil

Mostly when I DM and even when I finally manage to play D&D, most players are usually of Good or Neutral alignment. Which is completely understandable, since we are mostly that alignment in our real lives and some players are not comfortable even roleplaying an evil character.  However, for me it offers a lot of possibilities to try my wings at a type of character which I’m definitely not, it’s kind of a nice challenge for me if I get to play an Evil alignment.

I think the reason why most players don’t like to play an evil character is that they are afraid of destroying other players’ fun. And it can be true if not played well, since these characters are usually self-centered, somewhat cold and cruel, with little regard to other lives. Probably one evil character is okay in a party if he’s not Chaotic Evil with an open megalomania while the rest of the party is not Lawful Stupid.

The more players play evil characters, the more likely the game will get out of hand, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s impossible to have a fully evil party. Of course, the players need to compromise and build the party together to estabilish a common bond or hierarchy before even beginning the game. I think Neutral Evil and Lawful Evil could work well together as a military hierarchy or as members of a guild, where strict rules could prohibit characters turning against each other during a quest. I’m quite sure there would be arguments and threats between the party members, but the rules mostly keep them from turning against each other and start a fight to the death.

When I play an evil character I like to go for Lawful Evil, usually playing a tyrant-type of a character. He still abides by the rules (well, at least, SOME rules), and if he is the party’s leader, then he’s just a bit more strict and a bit more cold as a Lawful Neutral, which can still keep the party going with only minor conflicts (and threats). Of course, as I play I’m purposefully acting less evil to make it compatible with the adventure and the rest of the party, but still trying to get as much out of it as possible. It also helps if the setting is purposefully darker and there is a bigger room for the character to play his alignment. The usual rule is true I think, a character can only play his alignment as much as the DM allows. So this kind of play also needs an open DM with more routine in storytelling to deal with the purposefully more sinister and selfish acts of an evil character. And it needs a lot of maturity from both sides to really bring out the difference between the alignments. Probably not for those who like to run around, stealing everything, killing or raping anyone they encounter…

Just unwrapped – Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls

A long, long time ago (in August 2013) I backed the Kickstarter campaign of Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls by Richard Loomis. Honestly, at that time I didn’t know anything about this RPG and never played any previous editions before. Up till today I still just got impressions of the game, I wanted to get to know this RPG as I receive the book and read it through.

Finally, after waiting more than 2 years I received my package with all the goodies inside. At the backer level of $28 (plus postage) I got the softcover book of Deluxe T&T, plus some cool little things, like an official pencil, some printed character sheets, a nice poster of the City of Terrors, a deck of cards with the logos of the vendors from the 2014 Origin Game Fair, and also a poster of the Fellowship of the Troll.

The softcover book itself is huge. To tell the truth, I’m not too satisfied with the quality of the binding, this kind of books usually falls apart after a little intensive reading. Still, I hope it will last and I will try to be as gentle as possible with it. The whole rulebook feels so old-school upon reading, which is amazing I think. Mostly it’s because of the artwork of course, Liz Danforth did an amazing job with the illustrations, and there are some colored pages as a bonus as well. The style of drawing reminds me a bit of the first RPG I ever played when I was about 14… Good old days!

After the first quick read-through the rules seem really straightforward and easy to apply, I hope to run a test-adventure in a month or two to try the system. It seems like a great RPG for one-shot adventrues, but if I wanted a campaign I would probably go with another system and setting. Still, Trollworld seems so original and vivid that from time to time I would love to get the rulebook out and take my friends to such a rich world ripe with adventure. Also I will definitely try one of the solo adventures by myelf to see how it goes, I think it will be something like reading a Fighting Fantasy book.

Altogether I think I got a really nice game, it was worth backing this project and I hope I will be able to run a few adventures on Trollworld for my friends. It wasn’t an easy project for the Fellowship of the Troll as I read from the updates, they had some major setbacks, but in the end, everything turned out to be well, and that’s what really matters!

Rappan Athuk II. – This level stinks!

Finally we managed to hold our second session of Rappan Athuk, the party managed to explore the first level of the dungeon before deciding to head back to Holden and rest for a day or two.

This is what happened on the very first level of the dungeon:

  • As the odors of the level struck him, Nim had to step back a bit and get rid of his breakfast discreetly
  • The party disappointedly acknowledged that there is almost nothing left to plunder in the first few rooms, although Father Magnus found some alms among the bones
  • The priest was adamant on purging this place and burned the bones and rotting coffins they found as they advanced from room to room
  • Galidian searched every inch of the dungeon for secret doors and traps, and his efforts paid off, he found the collapsing staircase, the enterance to the latrines and also a secret door to some loot and an overly excited ghast
  •  They found the “legendary” dung monster in the latrine (where else?), after a couple of unsuccesful attempts to find its weakness, the party decided just to take the needed sample and make a run for it. Fortunately Dungie was busy munching on Malakai’s spare hand axe and didn’t pursue
  • Two wererats, Fiilaar and Jarvik were waiting for them with their giant rat minions just before the stairs down to the second level, but all of them perished against the fierce warriors and the magic of Father Magnus and Nim. Victory came at a price though, Malakai got cursed with lycanthropy, but Galidian and Nim found the hoard of the wererats, most of which they kept for themselves
  • The party decided to call it a day and returned to Holden to collect the reward for the dung sample, Galidian managed to negotiate 4 healing potions out from the alchemist
  • He also paid Rex the remaining 30 gold they owed him… in coppers
  • Malakai headed to the shrine of Tymora to get the curse removed. The priest agreed to free the dwarf from lycanthropy, but only if he vowed to recover the bones and shield of Saracek, one of the greatest paladins of Tymora. Malakai agreed and was bound to this quest before the altar of Lady Luck

Loot: 3151 cp, 901 sp, 143 gp, an broken ivory statue of a horse (worth 25 gp), a scroll of Counterspell, Helm of Comprehending Languages, Lesser Robe of Blending, 2 vials of purple worm poison

The DM’s note: I descaled the strength of encounters and made less wandering monster checks than it was recommended in the adventure, since I wanted to get on faster with the exploration of Rappan Athuk and rather had my players enjoy the unique features of the dungeon and let them roleplay. With this I made the place a lot less deadly, but that’s something I can live with, we all had good fun, and that’s what matters. My players are rather cautious, which is great, since they could have died still, despite the fewer dangers. Of course, the lower levels will challenge them more than this one…