Ropecon play report 3 – Frog-men, a giant snake and dark caves

18 August, 2008 at 10:19 pm (game mastering, persistent fantasy, Ropecon) (, , )

This game was played during Sunday. Thalin did not fit in, as there already were 6 players (note to self: next time, only five players; the sheer number of new characters is too much for me to handle with no preparation).

The updated characters and setting info can be found in the relevant page. (The list now has twelve unique players, including me. There have been a total of thirteen [again, including me] players, but one did not get on the list at all in this game. Or maybe used that name in play. I don’t remember.) The new characters are Darethos Freyar, Jackpo, Eerik, Thóren, Tobi, Vrael Derith (with a picture).

I made the mistake on not using any random elements. There were reasons for this, yet it was a mistake. Next time I’ll print a few set of random seeds and select one so as to provide inspiration and make character generation faster. As a consequence the characters look pretty much like a standard D&D adventuring party, which is not the aesthetic I am interested in.

Fiction

A bunch of random rogues and such, by request of Darethos Freyar, a knight of the church, protector of good, and (above all) destroyed of darkness, seeks to investigate certain ruins in the Swamp of immortals, due to rumours of treasure and evil cults. Thóren, a shaman of plainsmen, is heading for the same place in search of half an ancestral blade.

No proper roads go to the ruins. Darethos’s party, guided by a local hunter named Vrael Derith, meticulously move through the swamp, avoiding dangerous areas. Something human-shaped with a spear is once seen watching them, but nothing outright threatening.

Thóren the shaman is surrounded by a buzz of insects, frogs, birds and reptiles. He enters a trance (the process involves mushrooms)  and contacts a spirit of that particular part of the swamp, who manifests as a mound of moss and rock and mud, speaking of someone watching him and telling about the safe paths through the swamplands. Thóren also exchanges gifts with something; leaves some animal skins, gets a bronze knife with crude frog-like shape in the handle.

Freyar’s party notices the shaman, there is some communication by yelling, but the shaman does not join the paladin’s group. Sleep, then progress forward.

The defender of the faith and his merry band of adventurers are approaching one of the more woody parts of the swamp. Three arrows in rabid succession fly from the woods, hitting the ground a few meters from the adventurers. They wisely stop, someone tries negotiating while Jackpo the thief crawls and swims towards the woods.

Thóren notices a shape in a tree, wielding a bow, and Jackpo sneaking. Thóren also approaches the tree, as does Eerik (also a scoundrel). Darethos Freyar yells religiosly coloured threats and insults into the woods, getting an arrow to his foot as a reward. The one who was hiding in the tree is swiftly coming down. It is certainly a human or very close to one, but so covered in mud and dirt that further identification would require significant washing. As the creature comes down, arrows, knives and one club fly, seriously wounding and poisoning the archer. It is questioned to no effect, only indicating some interest in the knife held by Thóren, who attempts giving the knife to it, which is responded to by spitting at Thóren.

Jackpo slits the archer’s throat.

Some days after the ruins are reached. A fire burning there indicates human presence, which scouting confirms: A lone man, very short and heavily robed, is sitting besides the fire, completely oblivious of the killers in the shadow. A knife at the throat and some interrogation tell that the man is an alchemist willing to make a fair trade with his fares, assuming he is not slain outright. He is mistrusted and the intruders instead want to know if there is anything of value hereabouts, at which the robed dwarf (as in a human of short stature) points the way down with his abnormally long hand.

The bloodthirsty adventurers head down to what looks like a cellar. There’s some water on the floor and a dripping sound can be heard. It is dark. They are not likely to be eaten by a grue because they have improvised torches. A narrow tunnel leads forward. A giant snake, venom dripping from its teeth, lunges from the darkness ahead twice, to no great effect. It then retreats.

Next in the tunnel there is a larger space, something like a cross between a cellar and a natural cave. The snake is there, as are around 10 small frog-men, some armed with knives, a few even wearing ill-fitting helmets, and a blood-stained obsidian altar with two fires in both sides of it. A flurry of weapons hits the serpent as it attacks, slaying it. The frog-creatures dive into water-covered parts of the cave, still pitch-black except where fires or torches burn.

One of the frog-men jumps on the altar, visibly drops the bronze dagger it had and, with considerable difficulty, takes off the helmet. The player characters accept the evident gesture of peace. Frog-men, few first, but then increasing numbers, up to fifty, emerge from the water and croak and jump around, as if celebrating something. There is a broken shelf with random pieces of equipment on the far wall; Thóren finds half the blade he was looking for, and others pick a few odds and ends that seem useful. The frogs don’t care.

Jackpo and Darethos Freyar go back, as there is nothing further that would be of interest to them.

Of the others Vrael Derith discovers a tunnel through which at least some of the extra frogs came. He swims through it and finds himself in a cave of some sort. Making noise disturbs a remarkable amount of bats that live there, making them screech and twitter about. There is no light and no wall nearby. Vrael continues forward in the cave.

Others wait. Toben, the peddler who brought everyone together, continues waiting as Eerik and Thóren follow Vrael into the tunnel. The uncoordinated croaking and jumping of the frog-men is changing, becoming a dance or ritual of some sort.

In the actually dark cave, with water up to thighs or so, Vrael discovers a platform of some sort, around the fifth of a meter above water. Climbing on it he discovers that there are some round objects, around the size of fist, lying there. They are cold and hard, maybe stone. Dropping one makes noise (and fluttering bats) , but the item does not break. Vrael continues forward, again entering water. There is some beast ahead, as indicated by a “hrumph”, and growling as Vrael tries to move forward. He is thus gently guided back to the platform, after which the creature departs.

Eerik enters the dark cave and starts wandering towards sounds made by Vrael and the beast. Speaking to Vrael is futile due to the bats, easily excited by unexpected noise. Thóren likewise enters the cave, cue yelling and bats. The creature drops a carcass (of a beaver) near Vrael, who slowly starts backing off from the platform.

Tobi in the frog cave is the center of their ritual dance. He is offered insects, quickly denied, but he does accept the rat they give to him and cooks, then eats, it. The dance becomes more wild and fast. The frog that initiated the surrender offers a bronze knife, like the one Thóren has, to Tobi but pricks him before giving it to him. The frogs seem to be growing larger and their movements and shapes distorting. Tobi tries to yell, but only manages a croak. He has become one of the frog-men, their new king.

Vrael is in the water, Eerik gets on the platform, finds the fist-sized thing and breaks one. Bats. Vrael finds some sort of sandy beach and a heap of rotting organic material, mostly plants, lying on the beach. The beast attacks Eerik, who does not fare well. Thóren approaches. Long struggle ensues, Eerik taking several wounds, almost drowning and falling unconscious before Thóren gets there and slays the beast, cutting its throat with the half of a blade. The frogs made a few slashes and cuts at the hated beast that eats them when able to, and few of them were killed.

Vrael finds an egg in the heap of rot and promptly breaks it. He further discovers a way out of the cave, which everyone uses.

Observations

Pacing sucked. Start was too slow, the end was sudden. Two players had to leave early, which worked sufficiently well.

I have the following patterns: Eggs of monsters, arrows flying from nowhere as warnings, creatures that are not outright hostile unless provoked, which is usually easy. There are strange rituals and the sheer weirdness of everything tends to increase as time does, reaching a climax at some point.

I really enjoyed the fiction that was created, aside from the characters, who acted too much like a band of adventurers, or cold-blooded murderers, as they are also called. Individually they are good to mediocre, but in group, nah. Turning that one character into a froggish monster was the definite high point of the session, for me.

All the stats and so on are recorded in the persisten fantasy page, as far as I remember them correctly (two players wanted their character sheets, which I graciously allowed).

Assuming I don’t get too many good ideas before the next ‘con, it is likely that I will run two proper sessions of this game there. Less players, though.

9 Comments

  1. callans said,

    Hiya,

    If the turning of a character in a froggish monster was a highlight, could you have more such highlights set up? I don’t mean the same thing over and over, it might only be fun for you to convert someone once a session, or once every few sessions, or whatever.

    What do you think about setting up highlights?

  2. Tommi said,

    Greetings.

    In this particular series of games I will not be setting such things up. The point here is spontanous response to whatever other people do. Settings things, up, no matter how cool/fun they are, is antithetical to this style of play.

    In other games: If I identify why this particular moment was so appealing, I might make a bit of rules to encourage such behaviour or even guidelines for gameplay that are likely to produce such occasions. Any good ideas?

  3. callans said,

    Gah, I think it ate the post I just tried to make!

    Okay, instead of encouraging behaviour, you can simply set it up at the outset.

    When advertising the game to friends, etc, you note that one or more people are to sign up for scene X.
    You describe scene X, either saying the players PC turns into a frog king, or be vague, saying the players PC undergoes a transformation, or whatever description.
    If more than one person signs up for it, in play you choose who its more likely to happen to.

    The game wont be run unless someone signs up for scene X in advance of the game day.

    You can list multiple scenes and even be flexible, saying only half need to be signed up for for the session to be run, or whatever percentage.

    That way you know that you will get the scenes you want, like the frog king. Or you know that the scene wouldn’t have come up, but your not gaming anyway, so you can do some other activity that’s fun.

  4. Tommi said,

    (Akismet is innocent of post eating, this time. If it is a problem, write them on your preferred text editor and cut-paste here.)

    Okay. You seem to be assuming that I know what scenes I want before playing. Generally speaking, I don’t. (There may be an exception or two.) Further, the entire idea of pre-planning scenes just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Entirely unnatural. It does not appeal to me, at all.

    The technique you suggest may be good, but it also is one I am completely not interested in using, at least in the near future. I’ll keep it in mind if I ever get the urge to pre-plan scenes.

  5. callans said,

    Can I say, whether someone accepts the frog king transformation mid play, like in your actual play account, or signs up/accepts the frong king transformation a week in advance of play – both are exactly the same thing to me? There is no difference between the two.

    Also can I say that even if someone signs up for the frog king transformation, in the sign up you can inform them that you may not use it.

    That means if it doesn’t seem right for the game session, you don’t force it. If it isn’t the right time to use it, you don’t force it. If it is the right time, your not forcing it on the player.

    There is no pre-planning of the scene – there’s just getting a player okay, should it be just the right session for that scene. If it isn’t the right session for it, it doesn’t get forced.

    Whether the scene comes to exist is up to the scene itself.

    You might want to think about that line, and whether whats key to you is that the scene comes when and if the scene decides to come. Because that’s rather like narrativism, where the character does a deed when he decides. Here, whether a scene comes and when, is up to that scene.

    I mean think about it not in that your wrong or anything, but because I think this might be a really useful thing for you. It might not, but I’m sending the information to you with good wishes, is what I mean :) I strongly suggest it as an act of well wishing on my part :)

  6. Tommi said,

    I accept that there is no difference to you. There is a difference to me.

    The entire idea of planning scenes, or thinking about games in terms of scenes I want to have, is alien to all my currently preferred methods of game mastering and playing. The spontaneity is part of my enjoyment of gaming.

    If thinking cool scenes ahead of time was my strength, I’d be writing books and not getting rich with them. Really, it just does not appeal as an idea.

    (The notable exception is designing where the game starts. I might try some in media res stuff in the near future.)

  7. Callan said,

    It’s different and not spontanious? I mean, as I said, you don’t have to use the scene. Whats the difference between it not happening without planning and it not happening with planning?

  8. Tommi said,

    The planning is the difference.

  9. To do at Ropecon 09 « Cogito, ergo ludo. said,

    […] episodic sword and sorcerish fantasy rpg. This time I will do it properly, as opposed to the semiproper game last year. It ought to work pretty well. Former players might get to play the same characters […]

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