System: Maze Rats
Setting: Scifi/Fantasy South/Southeast Asia
Magic: d64 Trigrams
The world is inspired by Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light, a neglected colonial world with two moons and vast plains of rose pink grass. Eons ago, the planet was colonized by East Asian adherents of Buddhism and Daoism, and south asian Hindus. The world exists now in a medieval state, the little original technology long since broken, lost, buried, or held by the religious oligarchs.
The two players played as monks who were banished from the holy city because they each broke their vows of samaya. Heretic, played by Phil W., disrespected the holy sutras in word and thought. Bourej, played by Steven, gave in to his anger while sparring and accidentally killed his partner.
I cobbled together a character creation one-pager with hacked Maze Rats rules and some open source images. In addition to the crunch, there were a few opportunities for storytelling during character creation. I asked each player the nature of the sin that led them to banishment. I asked what discipline they were, and asked what was entailed by that study. I was using my own magic system, inspired by the I Ching divination system.
The two monks had been travelling the wilds for years, but had recently gotten word of an ancient pagoda that was said to be locked against the ages. If they could find a way in, surely the ancient artifacts would ensure that they could fix their karma with the masters, or live comfortably off the coin from selling it on the black market.
I shared this map and described the situation. They stood at the base of a hill, amidst chest-height rose-hued grass. Miles above, in the hills, stood a tall wall stretching for miles around a towering pagoda. A winding road led down from the gatehouse. Some dust on the trail made it clear that some sort of caravan was heading their way, 14 men with a few pack horses. Rumors around say that bandits have taken to using the gatehouse as their base of operations.
The players chose to hide in the tall grass to wait for the caravan to pass, this happened without mishap and the players approached the wall in the evening light. Two moons were visible on the horizon as they approached the wall far from the gatehouse and climbed over with their grappling rope. Inside the wall was a large courtyard entirely paved in bricks forming elaborate tessellations. From the wall they could see that a significant camp was setup near the gatehouse. The sounds of drinking and laughing carried across the hard ground of the large courtyard, but no patrol approached. Also, the wall near the pagoda was destroyed by a landslide, a large boulder was half sunk into the ground and debris was scattered about the yard.
The players followed along the wall, intending to approach the pagoda. Along the way, they approached the broken wall and rubble and saw that the brick floor had caved in from the weight of the boulder. There appeared to be a cave mouth or sinkhole with a fall of about 30 feet. The monks decided to investigate, sunk the grappling hook into a fissure of the boulder and climbed down the hole into darkness
On the way down, a d6 encounter dice roll of a 1 determined that the rope would break. The two monks landed heavily, each taking 1 point of damage. They decided to use some medicine to regain full health, which used up the dR4 medicine they had. They struck a lantern and looked around to see a corpse in the distance. As the light broke the darkness, squeeks could be heard in the distance.
The contemplative monk used the spell Conjoining to mend the broken rope. The rope, which had fallen down into the hole, snaked its way back up to rejoin the fibers still attached to the grappling hook. While Heretic was doing that, Bourej moved towards the corpse. Bourej saw that the corpse wore an amulet. As he took the amulet from the body, the hand reached out to grasp his arm. He threw the body away with a successful strength test, and clubbed the side of the skull in with his deadly cudgel.
Heretic was rushed by some mole rats that seemed hungry. He quickly dumped oil in a circle circle around him and struck a spark. The flames kept the rats at bay while Bourej escaped from the risen undead. The flames peaked and both men could see through the pillars that many bodies were rising all around them. They quickly climbed the rope and inspected the amulet, which depicted the pagoda and was ringed with a prayer of opening.
Suspecting that the amulet would open the pagoda, they monks approached the door directly. The amulet unsealed the door and they entered to see a battle scene long undisturbed. The skeletons of holy warriors clutching weapons lay fallen where they had died in combat. A stairway down seemed like it had been barricaded, but breached.
The monks scanned the room quickly, but without inspecting any of the dead they headed up the stairs. As the approached the second level, a fog began to form and thicken around them. They momentarily paused to confer but continued upwards. By the time the stairs leveled off on the second floor, both monks had an unbidden fear in the pit of their stomachs and the fog was thick enough to heavily obscure the area.
Sounds like a wounded animal emerged from near the base of the wall. As the two monks crouched to see through the heavy fog, a dark shape materialized behind them. They turned to see a red-eyed bear-sized humanoid creature swipe at them with heavy claws. Bourej was slain by the first blow.
Heretic had used his spell slot for the day, but risked the act of casting beyond his limit to try to Swallow the creature to enable him to flee. The day was not his, as he failed the Will save to cast and took a lethal 4 damage. Instead of casting the spell, his blood erupted from his flesh into a fine mist, and his bloodless body fell dead to the ground.
Session on 10/24/2017
I used an instance of YourWorldofText.com to track all the game information, which was pretty fun.
System: Maze Rats - Ben Milton
I prepped this session as a point-crawl one-shot originating at the Falls of Nyf in the River Hameth (hex 1112) with the town of Dreg as the destination (hex 1110). We allocated three hours so I expected to get through 3-4 scenes. One of my players wasn’t able to make it, but Sxott was at the FLGS for a different event and ended up joining us. I was using a Mage: The Ascension Storyteller screen which seems like a more effective tool than my 5e screen for attracting the right kind of players.
The mission was to investigate the port of Dreg as a potential staging ground for a larger inquisitorial presence in the Dolmenwood. The previous mission to the town of Lankshorn found it to be filled with mixed-blood goatmen and human goatmen sympathizers.
We played with David P, James S, and Sxott RC. I asked each person to roll up two characters and choose one of them to begin with. We used Maze Rats character generation, but rolled spells from the Lost Pages spellbooks. As players begin with three weapons in Maze Rats, I allowed the players to burn a starting weapon slot to give one of their remaining weapons the “iron” quality or to burn two slots to give their only weapon the “silver quality.” I then had each player answer one of the following questions:
- What commonly known concept about the Occult do you know to be false.
- What little-known concept about the Occult do you know to be true.
- What experience set you on the path to become a witch hunter?
- What experience between you and one of your companions established trust between you?
Sxott was a zealous torturer named “Irving the Gnostic” who had studied the translocation spell Living Gate under the auspices of the three secret gods. Sxott chose question 4, answering that Irving believed that Destrian, played by David, was the Chosen One.
Destrian wasn’t so sure that he was chosen, but went along with it for the elegant clothing and elevated status. David answered question 2, as Destrian knew that mirrors are often gateways to the otherworld. Further, he knew that mirrors should be covered or turned-around but should not be broken.
James answered question 3. Lyson had been a bystander of a magical attack as a child. The attack scarred his skin, discoloring his hands and arms. It also left his parents and a number of other innocents crippled, maimed, and killed. Lyson despised all magic users as a result, and joined up with the inquisition.
The party began on a large barge travelling up the River Hameth. The bargeman was a gruff local who had been paid in advance by the inquisitorial brass down river. He explained that the quickest way to Dreg was from the west-bank, but that the trails will ill-kept and little traveled. The east-bank had a road which led around the perimeter of the woods to Castle Breckenwold, but also some well-traveled paths heading into the woods to a manor and a woodcutter's camp.
On the barge there were eight additional hunters, two groups of four each with distinct missions to investigate the Castle Breckenwold and beyond. There were also four local masons who had kept to themselves and spoke a dialect that wasn’t comprehensible. Everyone else was disembarking on the east bank, so that was the first place the bargeman put in.
The party decided to disembark here as well, but Irving hung back and began to question the bargeman’s faith. When the bargeman answered dismissively and encouraged Irving to shove off, Irving jumped on him trying to pin him down. The bargeman had grown strong in his life of hard labor, and easily shoved Irving away before clubbing him into the water and pushing off. Irving pulled himself out of the water and made his way over to the camp that the hunters had begun to set up. The masons headed up the path into the Dolmenwood despite the late hour.
The Woldish Inquisitors
Two witch-hunters from one of the other groups decided to go for a hunt in the evening hours, but the players did not join them. Instead, they walked over to talk to the other group of hunters who had set up camp a bit removed from the rest. These hunters spoke a different language amongst themselves and only one was proficient in common, he introduced himself as Malnex. He explained that his people spoke Woldish and were from a small kingdom north-east of the woods. They had joined up with the inquisition because of their hatred of the fey and the giant bray-men who haunt the woods of their lands. Malnex explained the difference between the goat lords of the south west woods who cohabitate with humans, and the giant beastial hybrids of the north woods who held only the smallest vestiges of humanity. Malnex further expressed his disgust with all fey creatures and told the party that they had gone south to look for weapons to use against the fey, joining up with the inquisition in the process. The party had initially had misgivings about these hunters, but after the conversation they felt much better about Malnex and the Woldish.
Around this time, the other group walked over and expressed their concern that the two men who had gone hunting still hadn’t returned despite the late hour. Silas wanted to go looking for his men, but Hannibal suggested that they wait until morning. Silas asked the party for their assistance in looking for their missing companions. The group drew straws after some initial debate. Irving had the final say and decided they should go.
The Black Bile Wyrm
Silas led the way into the woods for a bit. Destrian stepped forward to lead once the trail became difficult for Silas to follow. Destrian stepped through some dense brush and suddenly found himself in an 8-ft wide clearing that looked like a nest. The trees and brush had been broken and pushed to the edges of the clearing, and a single enormous broken egg lay half-buried in mud.
The sound of rustling was heard at the edge of the clearing, and a pale black wyrm with a lupine head and a revolting mixture of fur and scales emerged and took a position against the party. The party charged in zealously, and Irving’s vial of acid found purchase in the wyrm’s eyes. The eyes went pale as the young wyrm thrashed around, blindly spitting an acidic bile. The party mostly jumped out of the way of the breath attack, but all took some damage as the acid spray found purchase.
Destrian took the brunt of the acid attack, but bravely fought on wounding the wyrm with his silvered sword. The wyrm smelled Destrian’s acid-burned flesh and focused its second attack at him. He fell dead under the weight of the wyrm, as acid spit burned away his face.
In fury, Irving unleashed his magical energy as a maleficence, choosing to risk catastrophe to increase the damage of the attack. Irving steeled himself against the void, avoiding the catastrophe. Radiant bolts of light exploded out the wyrm in a number of places, exposing the flesh beneath the young scales.
This attack seemed to have grievously wounded the wyrm, who began backing away from the group. The wyrm wounded one of the other hunters, Hannibal, with a bite to the leg. But Hannibal responded with a mace blow to the head of the wyrm that crushed its fledgling skull. Just beyond the clearing the two missing hunters were found, victims of the wyrm’s acid and teeth.
As the group recovered, the briarborn Mattias showed up. (David’s second character) They hacked the wyrm up and built a small cairn over the dead. Irving secretly took a finger from Destrian, hoping to build a shrine to the fallen chosen one.
The next morning the party set off down the road. Hannibal and Silas split off to the east, planning to circumnavigate the wood. The four Woldishmen planned to take a different route to Castle Breckenwold, through the Dolmenwood.
Around noon, after an uneventful morning of travel towards the manor, the party arrived at a small canyon that seemed to have been blocked by a rockslide. The rockslide had recently been cleared and there were signs that a camp was recently made and broken. A campfire could be seen burning on the bluffs above the canyon, and the parapets of the manor were visible above as well.
The party decided that they would not investigate the manor, continuing on the road towards Dreg.
Along the path to the woodsmen camp, the party heard whispered voices ahead on the trail. They snuck into the woods and saw four emaciated ambushers with clubs. One had some leather armor and a spear. Mattias put an arrow through him, killing him. Irving then jumped out with Lyson close behind, they convinced the other men to surrender. The surviving ambushers looked starved and beaten, revealing evidence of burns and broken bones. The apologized and said that they were desperate for food and had turned to ambush as a measure of last resort.
The party gave them some food, and asked them how they had arrived in such a desperate situation. They talked about how the Lord Daggert of Bogwitt Manor had emerged from the winter a changed man, possessed with wickedness. He had been the only one to survive the winter, after a rockslide and heavy snows kept them isolated for months. His entire family and all retainers had supposedly died from starvation, but he emerged a changed man. They called him the cannibal lord. Further describing that after the winter, he had decided to force the woodcutters to work longer and for less pay, keeping them prisoners in a labor barracks and hiring armed guards to keep everyone in line.
Assault the Labor Camp
The party knew that they would need to go through the woodcutters camp to get to Dreg, but decided that they would kill the lord. They devised a plan where they would kill the guards during the day when they were out with the labor parties and would surprise the lord with an ambush in the evening.
This went to plan, they killed four guards and allied two full labor parties, equipping the initial three men with armor, weapons and a crossbow. They arrived at the outskirts of the woodcutters camp and Mattias snuck ahead, planning to light some fires to add to the distraction. As three roofs began to burn, the lord and his retainers emerged from their headquarters, an old Inn. The lord had black eyes, wore a long dark cloak and a wide leather hat.
The woodcutters ran for the lord as soon as they saw him, and only the careful guidance of Lyson kept them from all massing as one group. The lord unleashed a bout of fire, killing three laborers and singing another. Irving responded in kind, again risking a catastrophe to empower a radiant blast afflicted the lord and his retainers - three of whom fell dead with radiant light emerging from their gullets. The lord and his remaining guard stood strong, light burning within their eyes. Light and dark energies swirled around the lord, seemingly battling before the darkness returned to the lord’s eyes.
A general melee was joined, the remaining retainer slain but the lord seemed to shrug off many of the blows. Shouting in dissonant fury, the lord erupted with shadow tendrils while flailed all around him. All but one of the laborers fell beneath the onslaught of dark energies. Another round of combat found the lord diminished but his runed blade slew another hireling, and the dark runes glowed with a blood-red energy.
Lord Daggert thrust his charged sword into Irving’s gut, and the dark energies of the sword’s magic violently expelled Irving’s soul from his body. In a fury, Mattias thrust a silver spear through the lord’s chest. The lord fell to his knees and the shadow pooled around him like a heavy fog. The lord’s eyes cleared and a final tear rolled down his cheek. He coughed out “My family… What have I done?” before he died. The black shadow receded into the woods.
I presented the West path as the darker path, and the East path as more travelled to allow the party a choice between two distinct types of sessions, one with dark forest creature enemies or one with human enemies. I am not sure that this was made too clear as I did not explicitly say what the choice meant. I think the East path was chosen because it seemed safer and the other hunters were travelling that way.
Both the Bile Wyrm and the highway ambushers were random encounters. Since the party did not go on the hunt, I still rolled the random encounter for the other adventurers and then presented getting involved as an option via the concerned Silas.
The ambushers allowed me an opportunity to connect the lumber camp to Bogwitt manor, so that I could use my Bogwitt manor prep despite the fact that the adventurers skipped the manor. I did not really prep for the woodcutter camp but it all worked out pretty well on-the-fly.
I really like the Leviathan head from hex 1009 (Wormskin 7), I am imagining the canyon/cliff on which Bogwitt manor is built to be the Leviathan’s hand up-laid with fingers curled-in, the canyon forming between fingers and thenar eminence.
I am not sure how I feel about point crawling with two such distinct paths. I often have more overlap between nodes and connections so that I can feel like my prep goes further. I still think point-crawl this is the most efficient way to prep for a one-shot.
I liked the mental impact of prepping two character, as it prepared the players that they might have a character death. With each death, I allowed the player to narrate the death scene and details. I did not allow any death saves, zero hp meant death. Narratively, acid burning and shadow magic both seemed like fun and final ways to die anyways.
The Black Bile Wyrm was an HD2 foe who rolled 10hp. I gave the beast resistance to all but silvered weapons. I probably should have made the wyrm immune to the acid, but it didn’t occur to me at the time and didn’t really end up having much effect on combat. as I was able to use an area attack and then smell to direct the remaining blows.
The shadow lord was an hd3 foe who rolled 15hp. He had resistance to all but silvered weapons as well.
I really like these Wonder & Wickedness spells but I’m sad I still haven’t gotten to trigger a spell catastrophe - they look so fun.
We begin with a band of witch hunters, loosely affiliated with a larger inquisition. Andrew Shields played Saffron, a zealous ex-contortionist warrior who sought to rid the world of devils and their kin. Along the way, Saffron picked up the convicted kidnapper Rex, played by Steven F. Rex joined the inquisitorial forces rather than face prison time. Paul C played Mortimer Silverless, who was rescued from his time as a galley slave on the sea, joining up with Saffron and Rex. Finally, they all joined up with Remie Wallid, a survivor from a witch cult where he learned the spell Tune of the Yondkind.
Rumors and Suspicions:
Remie had heard that the lord of Lankshorn, Clewyd Barrathwaite, had some sort of illicit connection with a cabin north of town. It was suspected that he was keeping a second, Fey, family there.
Saffron knew that witches are created by making a pact with a demon, sealed with a kiss. He suspects Fey can also make witches.
Mortimer added that witches cannot just change appearance whenever they want. Instead witches age & their appearance changes in cycles, with the season.
Rex suspected that whatever is going on, the townspeople are in on it. They know more than they let on.
The party had heard that there was a sympathetic blacksmith in Lankshorne named Jorye who might be relied on for assistance.
The group arrived in the outskirts of Lankshorne in their black carriage, adorned with various witch hunting paraphernalia. Saffrom and Rex stayed on the edge of town while Mortimer went to meet with the priest and Remie went to scout out the inn.
The four adventurers all paused to look at the shrine to King Pussifer, with its demand for an offering of mice or milk. Saffron took the opportunity to preach to his companions about the many false beliefs of the world, he asked Rex to decide between defacing the shrine, providing an offering, or simply passing it by. Rex chose to simply pass the shrine, a decisions which Saffron supported.
The Hornstoat’s Rest Inn
Remie made his way to the Hornstoat inn, observing an affluent inn well attended with patrons. He suspected something was amiss and waited until some drinkers began singing. As the first song ended, he took up with a spell-laden version of the Tune of the Yondkin. As he looked around the inn, most of the patrons didn’t know the song but looked to him as he finished his recitation. The spell revealed that with was tied to other planes, Remie was surprised that every fourth patron came into clear focus while the rest of the tavern faded into a blur.
The patrons who came into focus all had goat-like features which had not been immediately obvious. Horns were concealed by hats, tails hidden in pants, goatees on every face, and a few with horizontal goat pupils. The goat-men were all keenly aware of the magic in Remie’s song, and their eyes uniformly turned towards him while he was singing.
Remie made a slow departure, trying carefully to lose any followers. As he made his way out of town, he noticed some lingering followers.
The Church of St. Pastery
Mortimer walked into the church at the end of Father Dobey’s sermon. The prayer closed with “...bless us, butchers and well-borers all. Amen.”
Mortimer approached him after the sermon, offering praise of the sermon and asking about whether he could assist the pastor in any duties. Father Dobey appeared hesitant, but after Mortimer told him that he had been a hunter Dobey said that he walked in the path of St. Pastery.
Dobey told Mortimer that if he wanted to bring himself into the good graces of the church he should assist by finding the Barrowbogies that were haranguing the parishioners as they made their way to was in the creek to the east.
The party met up at the campsite with their pursuers hot on their trail. They lay in wait, traps and bows ready. As soon as the first man came out of the woods, they hailed him. He told them he knew they had a caster with them and that they weren’t welcome in Lankshorne. Rex sent a crossbow shaft into his chest, he fell dead to his knees as his companions rounded the bend. One fell to two thrown weapons and the other fell down concussed as Remie chased him down, swinging his flail from horseback.
They brought the survivor back awake and asked him about the town. He told them that Lankshorne was ruled by the goat-men lords who traced their lineage back for generations. Further, he said that their kind, witch hunters, were not welcome.
The group asked about the cabin, he said that he knew supplies were taken out to a cabin by the lake once a week. He said that the cabin was home to a twisted skin-warper and that he didn’t know more than that. Finally, he said that he didn’t know anything else and that they should kill him or let him go.
The party got in their carriage and headed north past town towards the cabin. On the way, they passed by some standing stones which seemed to hold the light of the full moon. Soon thereafter they saw a manor house on a hill to the west. Finally, they arrived at the lake and saw some ghostly-lights floating over the water. They turned towards the east and soon saw the cabin on a hill overlooking the lake.
They snuck over the low stone wall and approached the cabin which was dimly lit from inside. The party crouched down to watch the property and Mortimer snuck up to try to look through the window. Unfortunately, Mortimer stepped on a dry branch which snapped. The sounds of conversation from within stopped abruptly. Mortimer dove behind some bushes just before a dark human silhouette filled the window. The silhouette seemed to turn sideways to blow out the light, but from the side the figure was only a few inches thick.
The party decided to wait it out, getting into ambush position to shoot into the window and door with their bows. The melee combatants got into charge range of the door, taking cover. After a few moments, the sounds of magic syllables wafted through the air. The door creaked open and a skeletal hand struck a black octagonal chime that hung in the doorframe. A deep resonance rung out and three of the party members found themselves suddenly unable to control their bowels.
As they shit themselves, a skeleton and a strange distortion ran out of the door to attack the party. The distortion wrapped itself around Remie and it felt like a translucent warm skin wrapping itself tightly around him. Both his arms were wrapped in the embrace. The skeleton bashed Saffron’s shield, but he took no damage.
Remie freed his arm and bashed the distortion, which slowly became opaque and looked like a human skin. The mouth of the skin kept trying to suffocate and smother Remie, but he continued to fight his way free. As the skeleton was harmed with melee attacks, the skin began to show damage. Likewise, as the skin was flailed, the skeletons bones became brittle.
A somber spell carried through the air out from the house, causing Saffron and Rex’s arms to grow heavy with exhaustion. Finally, a killing blow was struck to the skeleton and both figures fell down defeated. A gurgling spittle sound echoed from the house.
Inside the house there were various alchemical devices and mixtures, as well as a journal and notebook on display. Some silver tools were wrapped in a leather carrying case, along with a fine quill. Inside a copper tug were the viscera of a human, with a trachea and tongue visible atop the rest of the organs. The organs looked battered and bloody, and the trachea looked like it had spit up blood recently. None of the organs appeared to be functioning.
In the back room, a woman was dressed in a funeral garb. She was cold and stiff but showed no signs of decay or rot. There was a small oil painting of her with a fine looking man and a child. The party placed her in a coffin which was in the room, and also took the oil painting and the objects from the workbench. They then burned down the cabin and made off into the night with evidence of dark magic to report back to the inquisitors.
System: Maze Rats by Ben Milton