After four months of delays, we finally managed to finish The Death Jade. This adventure scenario is set in 1936 Shanghai. Rumblings of war are being heard in the International Settlement of Shanghai as the characters are hired to find a priceless artifact from ancient Chinese history — the Donguin jade, part of the fallen star that allegedly prophesied the end of the First Emperor’s reign, and which is said to carry his soul! The first man hunting the jade, Count Rusikov, has gone missing, and as they track his steps, they must stay ahead of Japanese and communist spies, and dodge nationalist warlords.

The Death Jade is live on DriveThruRPG.com for both Fate and Ubiquity. This 25 page adventure module costs $2.99.

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The D&D gang started a fight with a bunch of Quadi (hobgoblins) — a tribe of folks moving into Germania Magna, and who had followed a band of Celts (elves) they had jumped and killed half their numbers to the shore of the Moenus River at Wolfsangel, where the characters had been staying for a few weeks after their run-in with the Dark Man creature.

After finding the warband of 30 or so, Marcellus had noted their discipline and skill at setting camp, but had underestimated their skill and professionalism. Their leader was highly confident, politick, but firm that they had the right to be in the forests near Wolfangel. After setting off a conflict with the Quadi, the characters and their 30 or so supporters (towns guard and a dozen of the Celts), the fight quickly went badly for the players. The Quadi was professional (I’m using the 5th ed version of the creatures, who are a martial race) and using their martial advantage and their heavy armor allowed them to quickly cut through the NPC support, and injure the monk, Icio — probably the group’s heaviest hitter.

We ended last night with the fight going downhill fast, but tonight the gang turned it around with judicious use of spells from the bard and cleric — the combination of bless and fairie fire really tipped the balance in their favor — and a rally by the monk and Carrus the dwarf allowed them to cut through their foes. The fight was only two miuntes, but took the whole session tonight to complete.

Afterward, the characters pressed the Celts on what happened. They claim to have been a hunting party (about a Roman century strong?) and found the Quadi camped near Locoritum, where they had either set up or were in the process, a siege of the Roman-friendly Vangiones there. The Celts were returning to Lenta and their king to tell him about the situation…the characters were leaning toward joining them and pressing south to Lenta instead of risking crossing a siege at Locoritum. They are hoping to win the troublesome King Priarius of the Lentienses over and craft a treaty with Rome.

I still am not a fan of d20, even the 5th ed. version, and the nostalgia factor is starting to wear off for the mechanics. The world and story are holding us all; I just find D&D a bit too wargamey and fiddly. I also need to start punching up the big bads and the main plotline.

Here’s a little something from the way-back machine for those of you who set your campaign in the classic era of the early Cold War. The Maserati A6 was a fantastic example of Italian grand touring cars from the 1950s, and was a popular platform for taking a car and having custom coachwork made for it. The most popular variant for this was the A6G two-seater coupe, which had bodies from Zagato, Pininfarina, Pietro Frua, and Ghia, to name a few.

Made from 1949 to 1956, it featured a 1.5 liter, and later a 2 liter inline-six cylinder motor that turned out between 80 and 100hp, depending on the model year. The 2L version was used in the A6GCS and produced 170hp that, through a 4-speed manual transmission, had a top speed of about 130mph.1024px-Maserati_A6G_2000_Zagato_white_vl_TCE.jpg1953 Maserati A6GCS

The car above is a prime example of a Zagato-bodied A6GCS with the larger motor.

PM: +1   RED: 5   CRUS: 60   MAX: 130   RNG: 200   FCE: 2   STR: 5   COST: (new) $2,050; (in 2017) ~$2.3 million

 

The Dungeons & Dragons campaign picked back up with the characters being stuckin Wolfangel for three weeks due to inclement winter weather — bitter cold and heavy snow. The characters have been given the decamped blacksmith’s home to reside in as thanks for their efforts in destroying the Dark Man. During the stay, Carrus the Dwarf made money doing smithing, like his father…he’s both pleased and worried to find he’s good at it. Carona the satyr became a celebrity on the celebration of Faunus, playing guest of honor to the feast. The rest of the time, she and Calvinus the Bard have been playing music in the taverns. The monk, Icio, has been conducting Christian ritual for those interested, while Augustinian is aiding the local priest in getting ready for Saturnalia, and trying to pick through the writing and mind of Valdo, the former wizard who is now old and half-senile. Marcellus and the soldiers have nothing to do but wait, so they have been training the town guard.

Then one evening, the guard spot a man out on the frozen Moenus River, and there looks to be more people camped in the burned out buildings of the former town of Morhenburg that once occupied the opposite bank. When they’ve found is an injured party of Celts (elves) who have been attacked by some new foe they’ve never seen. They were man-sized, ugly, and tactically proficient. After questioning them, they learn that these creatures were camped near their next destination, the city of Locoritum — population 20,000 or so, with a guard of maybe 2,000-3,000. The camp the Celts saw was about a legion’s strength (1000-3000 men!) They also think they were being pursued by the creatures.

The next day, the party goes out with the elves — now healed by Augustinian — and 20 of the town guard under the mayor, Stellan Hanau. They find the creatures camped in the woods east of the river. Marcellus takes the elves and flanks the camp, setting up to use their bows on the grotesque, gray-skinned, red-eyed creatures. Their camp shows discipline and organization, with good walls of snow, and men paired for guard duty. they are wearing heavy metal plate armor, and when the town guard is stopped, they set up guard along the edges of their camp, using cover well. The Roman legionnaire was impressed with their professionalism.

The leader met Stellan, flanked by Carrus (who thought them goblin-like), Augustinian and Icio, and Calvinus. After a tense bit of talk, in which the leader was calm, polite, but also imposing and unafraid, they were told to — essentially — piss off back to their town. Marcellus then gave a fateful order to strike and the elves let fly…five of the 30 or so creatures were dropped, but their organized counterstrike dropped many of the elven archers (some lucky crits happened…)

This led to a full-scale attack by the creatures, who were slowed by Calvinus’ use of shatter, but which saw half the town guard mowed down in the first few rounds, and the elves all but destroyed. Even with their leader down, the creatures fought with precision and fervor, even managing to injure the previously nigh-untouchable monk, Icio, badly.

The blood bath was reaching a crescendo — Icio surrounded by assailants, Carrus trying to reach him, the mayor of Wolfangel down, half their forces destroyed and the rest ready to flee, and Marcellus isolated from the group and facing more of these creatures —  when we knocked off for the night, to pick it back up again next week.

Wilson Combat has long been associated with producing high-quality combat and competition 1911-style pistols. The new XDC X9 was specifically created for concealed carry, and is an excellent choice for law enforcement and other agencies requiring concealability, the accuracy of the 1911 platform, and the high capacity of modern firearms.

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The XDC is essentially a double stack 9mm 1911 using a widened aluminum frame. The pistol has a 4″ cone barrel with fluting in the ejection port area and a 4″ long extractor to ensure function. Loaded with 15 rounds of 9mm, it comes in at just over two pounds, a full pound lighter than it’s closest rival, the Rock Island and Para-Ordinance 2011A1 style handgun (but they pack another two rounds…) Light, small, and highly accurate, this is a great choice for those who want the ergonomics of the 1911.

PM: +1   S/R: 3   AMMO: 15   DC: F   CLOS: 0-7   LONG: 10-18   CON: -2   JAM: 99+   DR: 0   RL: 1   COST: $3000

GM Information: Magazines on this pistol are proprietary and rare. If the agent were to lose one, it would require a 50XP to have them replaced, and it would still take 24-48 hours.

We opened the evening with the town guard of Wolfsangel looking south toward a forest fire that was smudging the low gray overcast with black. Trees on fire spreading quickly to ward the river under a leaden sky. And trudging toward the town, beaten and tired, the party. When asked about the creature — if they’d seen it, if they’d killed it, if they seen the missing children — we had short flashbacks to remind the players what happened.

Then we jumped back to the fight with “the Dark Man”, a creature used by the locals to control their bratty kids…except this one was real and kidnapping/murdering them. The creature is black-skinned, black-eyed, and apparently can stretch itself out like a shadow. It hides in the dark and seems to use the water to move about. It also uses the dead children as a weapon, having the wee zombies lure the Dark Man’s victims.

They were setting fire to the trees to light the area, especially after it looked like the creature was sensitive to light. While doing this, the creature rose up and pushed the bard, Calvinus, and the cleric, Augustinian, into the water of the pond it seems to be inhabiting — a pool of black, still water that doesn’t even reflect the lights around it. Once in the water, the two were grabbed by the dead children that were taken here, and they tried to drag them deep to drown them.

Meanwhile, Carrus the Dwarf — a relatively local person, got an excellent roll on his Arcana — the legends of the Drak Man say it’s a person either evil and executed, or wrongly-accused and executed; ether way the spirit remains to seek vengeance. They are supposedly susceptible to silver. He warned the monk, Icio, who filled his fists with coins and fired up his radiant soul feat, flaring with holy light, wings and all…and actually seemed to do real damage. The creature slunk back into another puddle and disappeared.

Meanwhile, the light from radiant soul caused the dread children to release the others, who swan to shore and the party retreated to regroup and rethink their actions.

Back in the town, Carrus got to work in the blacksmith’s shop (the family having decamped) adding silver filigree to their weapons with the help of Steven, the Down’s Syndrome animal handler, and Carona, their satyress.

Marcellus, their nominal leader, met with the town elder and questioned him about the notion the creature might have been one of them, or someone they executed. A drifter came through a few months back — a rapist and murderer. They hung him, then dumped him in the refuse out near the barrows.

Icio, Calvinus, and Augustinian went to see Valdo, the old man who was once allegedly a wizard, and were surprised when he and his female caretaker were waiting for them. Screwed up, didn’t they — going in unprepared and not knowing what they were up against. The creature is stuck between life and death, the body dead, but the soul unable to go to its rest…and those souls are his, Valdo told them. The adversary of Icio’s god — and his — somehow trapped the spirit here, and it has been collecting them, denying him his rightful prize. With some prising, they realize they are talking to Pluto, who is not happy about the Dark Man situation.

The creature is, indeed, susceptible to silver, but that will only stop it for a while. To end it’s reign of terror, they must release the spirit. In the mountains of papers hoarded by Valdo is the answer, a spell to release the soul. Pluto gives them the ability to read the Nordic runes, so they can translate the spells into Greek. Instead of the spell disolving off of the page as D&D rules say, these simple become unintelligable again, once the INT check has been made (successfully or no) and the words transcribed. He also tells them that the demon, Aiton, that Icio is seeking may be the Adversary himself!

Pluto simply disappears, but the old caretaker gives Icio some suggestions for how to work together with his party to be more effective and reduce the chance anyone is hit by the creature. He realizes the kindly imposter — for Valdo and his caretaker are fast asleep in their beds — may have been Minerva!

After four hours of searching, they find the banishment spell, as well as one to detect good and evil, speak to the dead, and detect magic — all were successfully transcribed. Returning to the smithy, they started to work out their plan of attack. But everything was thrown into turmoil when in the midst of their dinner, the creature rises out of their water barrel to take one of their men! Suddenly, they are in a fight with the creature in the smithy.

This time, they kick ass — the silvered weapons do damage, use of radiant and fire-based spells wore it down and apparently destroyed it. Quickly, they formed up and raced out to put an end to the creature. They found the rope he was hung with, a necessary part of the spell, and Augustinian started the exorcism. The creature, once again, cmae for them, but they were easily able to fend it off. The spell completed, the creature disappeared.

Having ended the wave of murders, they were feted by the town and allowed to stay in the blacksmith’s shop while they recuperated and prepared to press on to Locoritum.

Overall, I was pretty happy with this one: the characters all got to do some of their schticks — Marcellus got to do stealthy stuff, Carrus used his family-learned blacksmith skills, Icio had a crisis of faith after meeting the gods which was reflected in shitty rolls for a while, Augustinian got to read a bunch of Norse stories of their gods. The atmosphere and story were appropriately horror-tinged and seemed to go over well with the players. Lastly, the idea that the fallen angels are not in Hell (Hades), but on Earth, and that they are playing around in the old gods’ affairs has started to flesh out the world.

Our Dungeons & Dragons campaign picked up with the party leading Stragen and heading for Locoritum, the seat of the Vangiones tribe. Their path took them through several villages and hamlets in the Moenus (Main) River valley. There was some character development — the monk doing some light healing on sick children; competition between the bard, Calvinus, and Carrus the Dwarf over Carona, the satyress before Marcellus explained the situation: She’s not like people, but more animal in nature…she doesn’t mean to cuckold him; she’s just…free spirited.

Eventually, they arrived at Wolfsangel — a town on the Moenus where it loops south around the mountains between them and Locoritum. They arrived in the late afternoon to the sound of revelry or riot — they’re not certain which. Marcellus reconnoitered the town and found the locals were in the middle of lynching. The victims, a family of dark-skinned, white-haired Celtoi (drow elves) who were apparently Christians, to boot.

Returning to the party, his report on the situation sent the monk, Icio, into flight, racing towrd the city (used his chi to boost his speed, then fired up the whole glowing wings thing the aasimar can do!) He scared the hell out of the city guard, slid past a few of their attacks and right through the gates, with Carona right behind, then the rest of the party on horses.

Once inside, they interrupted the riot and after a few tenses turns of trying to get the people under control and find out what was going on, they figured out the Christians were being accused of bringing “die Schwarze mann” to their town. This “dark man” is some kind of creature that is kidnapping and murdering their children, and it only started its reign of terror after the Celtoi blacksmith and his family arrived. The description of the creature was that of the bedtime stories parents tell their kids to get them to behave — the bogeyman. But this one was seen by one of the children that escaped it in the woods to the south. It tried to lure him in by imitating one of the missing children. Augstinius used a suggestion spell to convince the town mayor that they would hunt down the creature and kill it, if they would allow the family to leave in peace.

After that they visited the home of the “Old Man” — an alleged “once powerful magician” who is now sick and going senile. Inside the man’s home, a hoarder’s paradise of weird knick-knacks from all over, piles on piles of pages of cribbed handwritting that made a warren of tight corridors between all the junk, the ancient  housekeeper/ wife/ daughter/ whatever of the Old Man took them to his bed, where the sick, crotchety, talkative wizard talked about his time “away from the world” in Asgard, his memoirs (all the clutter), and listened to their story about the Dark Man.

The Old Man opined it was a “wight” — a creature killed under bad circumstances, and which was haunting the world because its soul could not go to the afterlife. It is a creature of darkness and will avoid the sun — but dark places near burial mounds, like the barrows to the south in the woods, would be its haunting grounds.

After a night’s rest, they set out early in the morning to find the creature. Through thick fog, and shockingly quiet surroundings, they looked for the creature, with Carona playing the part of a lost child (fairly convincingly, as she’s maybe 14…) Then they lost sight of her. After a few tense minutes, they find her, having discovered one of the olst children! However, Augustinius isn not fooled and lights the child up with a radiant attack, blasting away the mirage and exposing the half-rotted corpse of the kid. Carona morphs into a dark, shadowy figure whose long arms and fingers lash out to try and grab the bard and Carrus — the two closest. they are able to avoid the attacks, barely Augustinius lets fly with another spell, and the sheet of flame destroys the zombie child, but the Dark Man simply collapses into a puddle and disappears!

Meanwhile, Marcellus had found Carona, standing transfixed by the side of a large, black body of water, unfrozen like the snow and ice around it, and utterly dark, reflecting no light. He was able to wake her, then hears the fight with the monsters start. Trying to get a good position to shoot with his bow, he accidentally steps in the water. His arrow does nothing to the creature, then he is grabbed by the hands of the other two missing children, who are trying to pull him into the water. Carona’s scream of terror brings the rest of the party to help.

The cleric is able to turn the undead long enough for Marcellus to scramble out of the pond, which sees no ripples, no reflection still. Their other ranger, Titus, starts using his lantern to set the nearby branches alight, to give them a better chance against the light-hating creature. With the forest around the pond burning, and the pool still pitch black and still, they prepared for their next encounter…

While they were all focused on the water, a shadowy figure rises up behind the band and cleric — the two magicians that have caused it trouble, thus far… And on that we cliffhangered for the night.

So…horror is hard. It always has been for me, and I wanted their first encounter with a monster to be more than the run-of-the-mill D&D “Oh, it’s a [monster]; I’ve read the Monster Manual so [tactic] will work…” A thing like this should be creepy, it should be frightening, and I tried in this episode to catch that horror movie vibe by taking a standard creature (a wight) and modifying it to incorporate other “behave or the [monster] will get you” stories. In the Germanies of the time, water critters were popular for scaring the shit out of your brats, but the most popular was the “dark man” or “black man” trope. Fusing a wight with a shadow, and throwing in the ability to travel through water without worrying about sunlight gave me my critter.

This encounter also took us further away from the alt-history world we’ve been playing in. It’s still mostly historically accurate, but bringing in the fantasy elements, but with a gritty, horror angle, will hopefully keep the player’s (and my) interests. It’s a weird melange on styles for me — horror is something I just don’t do well, the alt-history is more my speed, and the classic “kill the monster” isn’t interesting to me. But fusing them is making for a more unique and fun setting (at least for me.)

“Party Support: For whatever reason, sometimes you’ll want a character in the party that’s controlled by you. Party Support is the ability to integrate a GM-controlled character (GMPC) into the party without hijacking the leadership or stepping on toes. I’ve seen a lot of advice against having GMPCs, but sometimes they’re necessary and, when used properly, they can add a lot to a campaign…” Walt Ciechanowski

That quote comes from a comment on the The GM Levels Up from John Fredericks over on Gnome Stew. I have a link for the article in the other piece from today.

Your characters are rarely going to be working alone. They’re going to want some help from time-to-time from  that NPC that has skills they need, or they just plain like and want around on an adventure. Maybe your setting is someplace where they are always going to have access to this character — a starship exploring the galaxy, a military unit on patrol, a spy agency with a team assign to aid them. These NPCs can sometime take on a life of their own, and sometimes the GM gets attached to them as much as the players do their own characters. These characters can sometimes straddle the line between NPC and PC — what Walt is calling the GMPC.

We’ve all encountered it, and every GM to some extent is guilty of this: that support character you created really is your PC, just not in name. I had a major NPC in our Battlestar Galactica game who became a major plot device and was arguably more important to the story than the heroes. However, the heroes were still in charge of their lives, and still got the majority of the screen time. This character had a certain deux ex machina moment…but other than that, she rarely got to “do her thing.”

Some GMs and players hate the idea of the GMPC, but I would submit, to a certain extent, you can’t avoid it. There’s always going to be the NPC that just speaks to you as a GM and you will want to keep them in your pocket for whenever you can. If the players also took to the character — no issues. If they don’t, issues.

Example: I have several NPCs currently supporting the party in our Dungeons & Dragons group — a few of them are well fleshed out, already: Steven, the Down’s Syndrome horse wrangler who is a savant with animals and if he ever gets into a fight is gonna cream someone. I like the character concept but he doesn’t seem like a first string support character.  His father-figure is a gruff scout for the legions, but he has a soft spot for the troubled young man and recognized his talents. He even got a full name, Titus Germanicus, and a full write up. (But on the last point, so did the others…) Carona, the troublesome satyress, on the other hand is the sort that is on the cusp of GMPC — she’s teaching the bard new spells for his panpipes, and she’s a thief. She’s already a point of romantic interest for a few of the characters, and well…I like the character. She’s also the only NPC I have a visual for.

I didn’t choose her to be in the party. They did. It was originally supposed to be an encounter to have the monk have some doubts about his quest to battle demons and tielfing, when presented with something that looked like the enemy, but was — essentially — good.

That’s the points of contention, I think. If there’s a GMPC that all the players like, it’s less likely to be an issue than, say, an obnoxious addition no one wants around but the GM is always finding ways to include. The other point of failure for the GMPC is when tey start taking the limelight away from the PCs, or they are obviously “better” at things than the PC. The PCs are the ones “in the credits.”

It’s alright for an NPC to be that mentor that is better than the characters for a time. Obi Wan Kenobi should have been light years better than Luke Skywalker at, well, everything, but he’s an old man and he has a role to play. Mentors have to let the players go, at some point, or be struck down as a motivator. That’s just good drama. But if the GM is playing Obi Wan as a quasi-PC for himself and decides only Obi Wan gets to do cool stuff…well, he’s just being a jerk.

Don’t be a jerk.

I’d submit the GMPC isn’t an issue if you reign yourself in and let others play. Just like, if you are a player, you don’t hog all the air and time.