It’s been a ridiculously busy couple of weeks here: I’m teaching at a local college, taking classes for my teaching licensure (secondary), and have been wrestling with the rather intransigent The Queen of the Orient — which steadfastly refused all efforts to excise typos and other issues from it, and is now actively fighting my efforts to get the damned thing into print. I also had an old friend visit from Pennsylvania, extra kid duty, and….you get the picture.

Our game saw a bunch of the players skipping for various reasons, but we still played — with said old friend stepping in for the usual player of Carrus the Dwarf and doing an excellent job in the process for one session.

The first of the two sessions saw their expedition to the River Styx land for victuals and water in Dorius, a small coastal town against sharp mountains in Dalmatia. The weather had been crap for the entire trip, and their three triremes had been attacked by dozens of merrow, but successfully beaten back. In town, they were met by the mayor and populous who were happy to see them and directed them to the leader of a group of outsiders that attacked a few days ago — they call themselves Greuthung (a tribe of Goths) and their leader has set up in the town hall, while his army was lurking in the mountains beyond town.

After some haphazard reconnoitering and terrible stealth tests, they were met by a servant in the hall who told them the warlord awaited them. When they went in, they were faced with a combination of human and hobgoblin Goths who had been expecting them. At that time, they noted there were others on the balcony that ran around the outside of the central hall — Icio noted one was Aiton, the nephalim that had killed his mentor Haman, and who has been looking for the Shadow, the veil that separates the various planes of existence for Satan. He also had with him another of his kind, a sorcerer.

The fight was joined and the group showed that it’s finding its groove — now at 5th level, they have jumped substantially in power, and the bard and wizards frequently use their spells and abilities to protect themselves, and buff the bricks — Marcellus the centurion, Carrus the dwarf, and Icio the monk — to heroic levels while disadvantaging the villains. The fight between Icio and Aiton was very obviously one-sided, despite my having built the guy to be an equal.

One thing we saw this session was that the party is about as big as you want to get. There are five player characters and two main NPCs, and they were facing a bunch of mooks that they were generally going to take out in one or two blows. They split their efforts well, keeping the minions from interfering with handling the big bads, but it was time-consuming. Two of the players didn’t bother to hide they were bored; one was taking texts, the other playing a mobile game. Later, the texter informed me that the fight scenes tend to run long.

It’s a good point. The fight scenes have gotten longer, but not so much as a factor of the number of characters, as the number of actions the characters get. It is one of the new issues that Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition has presented. The PCs get more bad ass, and can do more in a round…but it also means the time it takes to get through five players is commensurately longer.

The next session was the game-player out for the night, as well as a last minute (like, we’re already playing) cancelation by another, and a late arrival by a third. One of those weeks. This time, we picked up with the group sorting themselves out after the fight. A few of the characters had been tashed up a bit, but magic and hit dice… They hear a strange chanting from the townspeople outside, led by the mayor and their priest. The language is Enochian, Anathema informed them — the language of the angels — but a corrupted version demons and devils use. They were summoning something.

The sight of the upside-down cross and this news set the monk into action before the others could react. He fired up his wings and struck at the priest, who seemed to welcome the assault. With a flurry of blows, he put the priest down for good…the final element in the spell. Lightning and thunder peeled, and Calvinus dropped a hypnotic bubble on the group of townsfolk. they were close enough together he was able to stupify and render them harmless. But above them, a winged, horned monstrosity, a barbed devil, dropped to meet them. It had its sights set on Icio, who had murdered his favorite, Aiton.

This fight moved fast and the characters were presented with a good villain that their fancy weapons were no good against. The devil mentioned to Carrus after an attack that the Fury he had taken it from would want it back… The characters were eventually able to take the creature down and the session ended a bit early than usual.

The two sessions exposed some of the issues that trying to run a less “high” fantasy game in 5th Edition. Much of the conceit of D&D is a small(ish) party of heroes involved in sequences of fights in a sandbox — a dungeon, castle, etc. This naturally focuses the game on fights and tactical choices, and as the characters progress, it is expected that they will encounter larger, meaner critters. This campaign has featured army-scale engagements where the players were necessary and important elements of the fight…but the success or failure of their battles could have been undone by the masses of NPCs around them. The stakes have been accelerating to keep pace with their abilities and the use of magic to “get out of death”, but are starting to present them with antagonists beyond their level, and which have necessitated the occasional deus ex machina to keep them alive.

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Previous posts have detailed some of the thinking so far on our new game campaign using 5th edition. Up until now, it’s been mostly a half-baked couple of idea that grew out of not wanting to do the Tolkein-Gygax high fantasy thing, which caused me to ground it in early medieval/fall of Rome period. I specified the gods and creatures of myth still exist (but are rare-ish), and that magic is present but rare enough to still have a “holy shit!” quality when it is seen; some people don’t believe it exists, even…

The world is fleshing out, partly because we have two new prospective players. One is a former colleague from my doctoral studies, and he’s an expert in this period and Christianity (and I am not) — so, no pressure!

It’s the year 1128 ab urbe condita — the Roman reckoning since the founding of Rome. (So about 375AD.) The main action, right now, is happening in the southwestern part of Germania Superior, near the Alps.

The first character, Quintus Marcellus, is a former legionnaire, an optio or the equivalent of a sergeant major/lieutenant, who started as a foot soldier after leaving his home in Mediolanum (modern day Milan) at 12 to join the emperor’s campaign into Gaul. He was under the command of a general named Magnus Maximus, and was for a time a standard bearer for Emperor Valentinian — a bastard of a man — where he befriended his young son, Gratian. He was part of Maximus’ response to the Great Conspiracy of Celts, Picts, and Saxons who attacked Roman forces and spent most of his career, after the Battle of Solicinium, in Rutupiae, the main landing port for their forces, until his mustering out a few months prior to the game. He has a Celt wife, Roua, who he had to divorce after the emperor’s decree Romans could not marry barbarians. They have a kid. He is now latrones — a mercenary — protecting caravans along the dangerous road to Augusta Treverorum (or Trier, as the Alemmani call it.)

Quintus’ wife is most likely an elf,  or half-elf based off of my original pitch for this universe — the Attacoti, Scotti, are most likely the same. Some of the Gauls we’ve established are firbolg (from the Volo’s Guide to Monsters) — and may be related to elves.

The next character was Aurelius Augustinius Hipponensis (or, to our real universe, Saint Augustine) who is traveling the empire after fleeing a bad romantic/marriage situation that embarrassed his family back in Africa. He is a cleric and healer — a magic user, and this makes him impressive (especially to himself!) He used his healing ability for the first time during a fight; so even to him, magic is something he wasn’t sure would actually do much more than parlor tricks.

The next character is (tentatively) Thomas Zaccarius — an aasimar, or “barukim” (the blessed) in our world. He is from Egypt, is a follower of the prophet (and fellow aasimar) Jesus of Nazareth, and has been called to fight demons and their evil in the world. He is a hermit when he can be, since the Jews and Zoroastrians look on him as a quasi-angel to whom they can ask for blessing and intercession with God…a situation his angel, Michael, assures him isn’t the case. He is traveling, chasing clues to find the demon that killed his mentor Haman — an event that led him to an anchorhold to hide from the world. A chance meeting with a young cleric named Aurelius Augustinius led him to venture back out. (Thus giving us a connection for his introduction…)

Hanging in the air is that this demon is gathering certain of the naphalim (or tiefling, as they are calling by the Alemmani) for some kind of evil plot that needs stopped.

This gives us a taste of our version of Judaism/Christianity in this world. Jehovah is one of many gods — maybe he’s even a god of gods, like Ahura Mazda — but the action of the Olympians and their Roman expression has happened from time to time (though less since the Greek Dark Ages…) so the cult of Jesus has not caught on as it did in the real world. The angels and demons play a proxy game with the tiefling and aasimar; so long as they stay off the playing field, things don’t get ugly…

Which brings us to the last character, a dwarven ranger named Carrus Zwergi, part of a tribe of dwarves that consider themselves Alemanni, but are foederati (treaty-bound) with Rome. He is the son of a blacksmith, and his tribe live in their great hall under the juraburge, or Jura Mountains, where they are known for their coal and iron mining. His people arrived in the mountains hundreds of years ago, and were allowed to stay by order of Tiberius Caesar, himself. They are practically Romans, but have the Nordic gods for their religion.

Run ins with the Vandals — in our game played by goblins — nomads that have recently poured in from Nordica (Scandinavia) have led the Zwergi to ask for help from the Romans in Trier, and that mission will bring all of the characters together.

Thursday night, I’m hoping.

This is a hard one. We had a long running AD&D game in high school that plateaued when the characters fought our equivalent of Satan/Sauron/BigBadGuy™… I remember closing the books and thinking “Well…not going to top that” and adhering to the axiom it’s better to go out at the top of your game, I never played D&D or a fantasy setting again, until I played in a short-lived Shadowrun game (and I was in that more for the lone female player…)

I’ve looked over a bunch of the rules sets — from Numenera (which looks pretty, but the system didn’t thrill me), to The One Ring (which seemed to do Tolkein well, but I have OCD players that would really get into studying up on the world…I don’t have the time or will to slog through Tolkein again.) There’s the Victorian fantasy stylings of Victoriana — which I know well from writing for it, and is essentially Shadowrun mixed with Space: 1889 — to Castle Falkenstein, which I’ve used for playing Space: 1889 for a while, and there’s modern fantasy in the shape of Shadowrun. 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons has attracted my interest, more as a tool for recruiting gamers, more than wanting to play it.

I just find the idea of the traditional elves/dwarves/orc/and dragons games boring. Blue Rose looks interesting, but not enough for me to plunk down cash, sight unseen.

Right now, I think I’ll stick to my sci-fi and pulp settings.