[Red Box Hack] The Nightlands -or- Swallowed by Leviathan

edited February 2008 in Actual Play
We finally played the Red Box Hack. It was so fun!

First, I decided not to do any prep. I was confident that the game would work this way, and it totally does. While Phil and Tony made their characters, I drew a map of the world.

image

By the time I had finished the map, I'd come up the first adventure quest. I told the players that the shadowy band in the middle was the Nightlands. The Middle Sun vanished long ago, creating a region where it's always night. The various night peoples live there -- those who must avoid the sun... ghosts, vampires, etc. I told them they would be going to the Nightlands in this adventure.

Then I asked the players where their characters were from. Tony said his Bear, Siobhanaka (shi-vawn-aka) , was from Tabat. "The blank land on the map," of course. Phil said his Magus, Ashur Rom, was from Ko. In fact, he was one of the People of the Lamp, the humans who choose to live in the Nightlands and consort with spirits.

(In case you didn't know, The Story Games Names Book is the best thing ever.)

At this point Tony mentioned the Bear power to talk to the Sun, Moon, etc. "Maybe I can talk the Middle Sun into coming back," he said. Cool! "Are you taking that power?" I asked. "Nah," said Tony. "That can wait until level 2." Awesome. Future quests were already forming.

Phil gave Ashur Rom a magic lamp as his specialist gear, which ended up being hugely important to the story. It also fleshed out a culture from one sentence on the map to an integral part of the setting. Plus, Phil had a real sense of ownership of the People of the Lamp. This is a real strength of sketchy settings that get fleshed out as part of play.

The players decided that they had been working together for some time; the Bear traveling as bodyguard to the Magus. I told them that the Pasha of Háshul had sent his messenger hawks far and wide seeking the services of an expert sorcerer. His daughter, Aurya, had fallen into a strange fever, and her soul had slipped away into the Nightlands. He offered an award beyond price to any who would travel to the city of spirits in the land of Anu and retrieve his daughter's soul. Of course, Ashur Rom, Magus of the People of the Lamp, would take up the challenge and his mighty Bear companion would go with him.
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  • edited February 2008
    Ultimately, the pair did find Aurya's soul in the land of Anu, after battling ninja mummies on a flying ship, getting drunk on ghost wine, braving the inverted Tower of Oblivion, freeing the ghost of the monstrous ur-Bear, Bennisur (as a diversion), and using the power of Ashur Rom's lamp to draw Aurya's soul from its captivity.

    Some great moments:

    - Ashur Rom's "sparker" quality accidentally setting off a crate of fireworks, spoiling his sneakiness and leading to a fight with the strange black-silk wrapped (ninja) mummies aboard their flying funereal barge. Plus, Ashur Rom's whip of spirit fire (his Reach weapon) dispatching mummies with a precision flick to their third eye.

    - Siobhanaka seeking out a good party as soon as they arrived in the Nightlands, leading to her getting drunk on ghost wine and turning into a incorporeal spirit for most of the quest.

    - Ashur Rom using his magic lamp as a compass in the darkness of Anu to track down Aurya's wayward soul.

    - Siobhanaka's charge through the walls of the Tower of Oblivion, using her giant rune-covered obelisk (Very Heavy Reach weapon) as a battering ram.

    In the end, though, the blazing light from Aurya's soul within Ashur Rom's lamp attracted the attention of the great and terrible Leviathan. The hideous shadow creature caught up to the PCs as they were fleeing in a flying barge. The ship was grappled by massive tentacles made of night, and the fight was on. The dread creature proved too much for the heroes, however, and both the Magus and the Bear (and the lamp!) were swallowed whole into the gaping maw of the giant beast.

    So I guess we know what the next adventure will be. :)

    I'll talk about some rules things we did in the next post.
  • Wow! I can't wait to read your next post. I'm loving that map.

  • What a wealth of ideas - great stuff John !
  • It was a very fun adventure. I have an actual play sketch I'll post later.
  • edited February 2008
    We tweaked the way Awesome tokens are awarded. We added a Fan Mail kind of thing and compels from SotC (in addition to the normal show-off rule).

    For Fan Mail, if someone was like, "That was awesome!" then I gave a token to the person who had done the awesome thing. I think there were two of those in the session, one of which was an out of character comment.

    For compels, we used the class limitations. I would hold out an Awesome token and be like, "It would be awesome if your 'sparker' quality set off the crate full of fireworks that you're hiding behind..." and Phil was like, "Oh hell yeah," and took the token. He could have said no to the trouble and refused the token.

    I also did this when Tony abandoned the mission and went looking for a party when they got to Anu -- thus playing up his party-lover quality. I didn't initiate the compel, but Tony created his own trouble so I tossed a token his way. I should have given him another one with the ghost wine incident, but I forgot.

    We love compels from SotC, but I think they're a good fit for RBH, too. You could expand the compel conditions to apply to character motivations as well as limitations, or even as a general, "I'm tossing you some good trouble," offer.

    Oh, we had a question, too. Do Awesome tokens carry over between adventures?
  • Ooh, I like the compels!

    In the current version, Awesome Tokens don't carry over between scenes (I only discovered this on a re-read).
  • Awesome tokens only last for a scene...yeah, that makes sense. Hoarding them would be odd.
  • Well, it was nice to be able to stack up a few and have them for when I really cared about doing my awesome thing, like getting Aurya's soul, or when things got really hairy, such as with the Leviathan. Of course, in the end we didn't have enough to escape the Leviathan, but that was okay. It did feel like we were getting about the right amount to use during the adventure, and I'm not sure "use it or lose it" on a scene-by-scene basis would work so well. However, I'm fine with not carrying them over between sessions/adventures, and not counting our "saved" ones next time.
  • That's an interesting modification. But yeah, I wouldn't let awesome tokens carry from scene to scene. I don't like hoarding.

    If I were to play this game with fan mail or compels, I'd make the reward 1xp instead of an action token. Personally, I probably won't play with fan mail. But I might give compels a shot. Maybe.

  • Posted By: AnarchangelIn the current version, Awesome Tokens don't carry over betweenscenes(I only discovered this on a re-read).
    Where exactly does it say that? I just searched the RBH2 pdf for both "Awesome" and "Token", and didn't find that rule.

    We've only played once, so I don't want to make a big deal about this yet. I am concerned that if awesome tokens disappear after each scene, then they'll lose some "awesomeness" - you could earn a token or two, and then not actually have any rolls where you could use the tokens. But maybe it's not that big a deal in play, and maybe you don't want awesome tokens to be that important.

    Eric, I like your suggestion to reward compels with XP. I feel like fan mail should still be done with awesome tokens, as it's more of an ephemeral thing to begin with.
  • edited February 2008
    Wow, in the game I've just finished, if they didn't use the Awesome Tokens in combat as soon as they gained them, the characters would've been badly bloodied and beaten every time, especially as some of their foes gained ATs too (and the monster's gonna spend the ATs in that encounter for a TPK).

    I guess it'd be an idea to store them if you wanted the scenario to get increasingly lethal as the characters progress so they've stored enough ATs to take on the many headed, blast equipped, fast, hard to see, thick skinned Big Bad Guy with an impressive weapon (!) - I think I'd prefer each monster encounter to be potentially lethal instead though. Also the PCs get an immediate advantage out of their showing off and assisting.
  • Posted By: philarosI am concerned that if awesome tokens disappear after each scene, then they'll lose some "awesomeness" - you could earn a token or two, and then not actually have any rolls where you could use the tokens.
    How about having only the unused tokens turn into XP after each scene?
  • or let them be spent to narrate the next scene - or is that just Storygames messing with my mind ?
  • edited February 2008

    Storygames is messing with your mind. But that's ok. :D

    I am concerned that if awesome tokens disappear after each scene, then they'll lose some "awesomeness" - you could earn a token or two, and then not actually have any rolls where you could use the tokens.

    I'd be concerned about that too if I were getting awesome tokens in non-combat scenes. But since the rules don't have any way of earning those tokens outside of combat, that's only an issue when you're drifting the system.

    You're right though, the RBH2 rules don't say anything about when the tokens expire. It's one of those things I accidentally left out. Check out page 14. The first mention of awesome tokens is under the section on attacking, and it's kinda cryptic. (What are awesome tokens?? The rules don't say!) That's because there should have been a short chapter between "Initiative" and "Actions" talking about them. I thought I'd written it. Maybe I accidentally deleted it.

    It is my intention that awesome tokens should be used in the same combat scene that they're created in. They should evaporate with no benefit when the combat is over. I don't want anyone to have any reason not to use them as soon as possible.

  • That makes good sense, Eric. If we want to do a compel-type thing in the future (and we will), I'll make it XP instead of Awesome tokens.
  • I want XP tokens now, just so you have something to hold up and wave in my direction when you try to compel me. It's more compelling that way. :-)
  • edited February 2008
    Agreed. I think they will be 5 XP each.
  • John, that map is brilliant! (Talk about map porn!) I love the Compels idea, too. I'm really hoping I can get at least a one-session game of RBH played soon.
  • Five XP will be a heckuvalot. That's the same amount that one gets for defeating an NPC in combat.

  • Yeah. The compel amount has to be tuned to how often they'll be used. I was thinking once, maybe twice per session. Also, I am cool with fast advancement.
  • Oh, once or twice per session. Yeah, then five would probably be just right. I was imagining much more useage.

    Fast advancement is one issue. Overshadowing the other rewards is another one.

  • I kinda sorta want to overshadow them a bit. That's me drifting. Pay no mind.

    Back to AP-ness, this was a fun moment:

    "Leviathan surges forward through the splintered timbers, snapping at you with its fanged maw... for 3 points of damage."
    "That's it. I'm out."
    "Ha ha! Down goes the mighty Bear. The monster's jaws snap..."
    "It swallows me."
    "What?"
    "It swallows me whole."
    "Oh. OH YES. Yes it does."
  • I kinda sorta want to overshadow them a bit. That's me drifting. Pay no mind.

    Cool.

    Back to AP-ness, this was a fun moment:

    "Leviathan surges forward through the splintered timbers, snapping at you with its fanged maw... for 3 points of damage."
    "That's it. I'm out."
    "Ha ha! Down goes the mighty Bear. The monster's jaws snap..."
    "It swallows me."
    "What?"
    "It swallows me whole."
    "Oh. OH YES. Yes it does."

    Right on! What happened to the Bear after that? Was that the end of him or did he recover?

  • He went into Leviathan's gullet, and then had to wait while the Magus battled alone. Then the Magus fell and was also swallowed.

    Then we had an un-fun couple of moments as the players realized that they now had to roll a d12 to to see if their characters died. We talked about various ways of handling it, but ultimately decided that the rule was good as is. (You just have to understand that going to zero means you can die, and you have no control over that once you're out of HP. If you really really want to live, run away earlier.)

    Anyway, they rolled, and no one died. So now they're in the belly of the monster.
  • Cool. It sucks that you had un-fun moments, but I'm glad that you all decided you liked the rule enough to use it.

    It's almost too bad that one (and only one) of the characters didn't die. A funeral/mourning scene in the belly of the beast would have been exceptionally cool.

  • I don't think we're quite into the funeral scenes as much as you and Christopher. I think it would be more like, "Awesome! Now I get to play a Longrunner! Oh... and, um, poor dead Magus... or whatever. Anyway, new guy!"

    We have no problem with our characters dying. The un-fun moment was the sudden gear-shift in play as we looked up the death rule. Everyone was already cheering about the "Escape from the belly of Leviathan" adventure, and then it was like, "Oh. Well, I guess we have to not die on this unmodified d12 roll first." If we had remembered the rule sooner, we would have held off on the cheering and anticipation until after life or death had been resolved.
  • I know I wasn't happy to discover that continuing with my character in the great story we'd been having would depend on a single roll with a 1-in-4 chance of death. It was a sudden harsh note in what had been a freewheeling epic/heroic story, and I would've felt very let down.

    Going forward, I may be okay with it, now that I have the right expectations - certainly it hasn't been a problem with playing actual red-box D&D (although in fairness we did tweak the rule there, to make 0 hp not certain death). But I'm very happy that our story didn't end there, like that, because of a single die roll, after all we'd done so far.
  • Do you guys remember which player instigated the fight with the monster?

    The ship was grappled by massive tentacles made of night, and the fight was on.

    This kinda implies that the GM was the one to say that it was time to go into combat, but I could be wrong.

  • They could have taken actions to run away, or hide, or whatever but everyone was pretty eager for a monster fight at that point. So I brought it to them and they accepted it.
  • Ok, cool. Thanks.

  • OK, here's the visual actual play. Sorry for the quality. My scanner hates me, so I had to take a picture with my iPhone.

    image
  • Hey, I was wondering, Eric, if anything is in the current RBH about what to do when your character dies? Do they create a new character at Level 1? The level of their previous character? etc

    -Andy
  • stunning picture !
  • Alternate Death rule - again, not for everyone but it's my kind of thing.

    0 hit points means needs a healer

    At any point in the adventure you can instantly gain 6 Awesome tokens. However, from now on until the end of this adventure, if you hit 0 hit points, you die.
  • Ah yes, the death flag! That's a good idea, Ryan. Definitely worth trying next time we play.
  • Hey, I was wondering, Eric, if anything is in the current RBH about what to do when your character dies? Do they create a new character at Level 1? The level of their previous character? etc

    Good question. I always assumed that you'd create a new character at level 1. But, since I'm pretty sure that any mixture of levels can be in the same party without screwing things up*, I say create any level character you want.

    (*Untested assumption)

  • "It would be awesome if you posted another great AP the next time you played!"

    [Holds out a token]
  • I loved this. We played our first game of RBH last night and it really is awesome. if I get time I will knock together an AP for it.

    We did map creation as a group. We started with a blank piece of paper with a town in the middle. It went round the table three times with everyone adding a single new element each time. We then had a bit of a chat afterwards to link those elements together. It is certainly something I would steal for almost any other game.

    A few things we found coming out of the game:

    Assisting/Showing Off can be very powerful, especially when you power up your local magus. We did wonder at the strength of the +5 assist roll power.

    d12's, why oh why. We had to scrabble to find any.

    Infinately moddable to almost any setting, All it takes is adding a few talents and limitations, I think we created a Star Wars version in under 5 minutes.

    I love the idea of compels, xp or awesome token? TSoY keys or SotC aspects? Difficult to decide, both are awesome systems.

    Advancement seems quite fast. We hit level 2 in one session from two groups of mooks, two monsters and one treasure.

    We found the npc rules quite limiting. For example, you cant actually have an npc mage without making him a monster.

    Monsters should have more HP, possibly as a function of number of players and/or level. Our two monster had 10HP, both went down in a little over one round. We thought about 4 per party member. I would say 3/4 per (party member + average group level).
  • John, with all due respect, that art is way too pretty for RBH: I demand you go back and stick-figure over it.

    Andrew, I agree with you about HP as a function of party size--when I played with Mark and Eric last week, our two-player party ended up with a TPK, a one-char-down retreat, and finally a one-char-down victory that was narrowly earned by about an hour of whiffing. I'm all about challenging combat, but the sheer weight of all that monster health was just oppressive for a party with 10 HP between us.
  • Yeah. That combat Brendan's talking about sucked. It was a real whiff-fest. The good news is that it happened to me, which makes it totally easier to fix. I've been emailing back and forth with Brendan and Mark about some tweaks I want to make. Once we get a bit more playtesting in, I'll release them as part of a new document. XP balance and HP balance are top on my list of things to tune up.

    As a temporary fix, I suggest tweaking your monsters' HP by adjusting the number of mooks that are in the battle. Remember that a monster with the Minions power pretty much treats mooks like their own HP.

  • Posted By: andrewwInfinately moddable to almost any setting, All it takes is adding a few talents and limitations, I think we created a Star Wars version in under 5 minutes.
    You know, I'm kind of curious about this. Because I started wondering whether RBH had some cross-genre potential... but I can't really see it working in a modern or sci-fi sort of setting. It just doesn't have enough options for ranged combat, as far as I can tell.

    How did you get around this? Or was it not an issue?
  • The way we'll do it:

    My pistol is a Light weapon.
    My quick-firing repeater is a Reach weapon (stay back!).
    My precision scoped rifle is a Ranged weapon.
    My scattergun is a Heavy weapon.
    My six-barreled gun o' doom is a Very Heavy weapon.

    Since arenas are not fixed sizes, it makes perfect sense in play.
  • That sounds good!

    But what if you have people without guns (or with melee weapons) interacting with ranged weapons folks?
  • edited February 2008
    I wouldn't do anything differently. I don't think this is the game for a fiddly range and cover system. The only important system bits are whether your weapon is Light, Ranged, Reach, Heavy, or Very Heavy. Everything else is color.

    In adventure fiction, sword guy rarely has any problem fighting gun guy.
  • In adventure fiction, sword guy rarely has any problem fighting gun guy.

    So true!

    If I were to play RBH all sci fi, then I'd probably use something real similar to John's list.

    It also occurred to me that it would be neat to go all Star Wars by replacing the Size attribute with a Force attribute, then replacing Heavy Weapons and Very Heavy Weapons with Lightsabres and Crazy Lightsabres.

  • I could even see this applied to 'magic'. You would have to create a spell, it would fall into the weapon categories. Can you imagine being 'burdened' by a spell? I could :D
  • Hi guys,

    I like your adaptation a lot.

    I am working (slowly...) on my own "hack the hack" for a pulp action game and some of your ideas could fit in it.
    I like the fact that some "ranged" weapons in real life could be only light, heavy or reach in the game. The guy with the knife and the one with the small gun having both a light weapon totaly fit the pulp genre, I think.

    Or, other possibility, I also think of changing the Size attribute towards something like Combat or Lethality and totally abandoning Weapons and Armor for Attack (with or without a real weapon is just color) and Defense styles. After all armor doesn't fit the genre at all.

    Best,
    Antoine
  • Posted By: John Harperfiddly range and cover system.
    I'd like to do something where certain arenas were "cover" arenas. Or something.
  • Posted By: Ryan StoughtonPosted By: John Harperfiddly range and cover system.
    I'd like to do something where certain arenas were "cover" arenas. Or something.

    I think you could do what we do when we want to make it difficult to enter an arena by basically setting a target number to enter the area. You could extend that to state that weapons do one less damage, maybe, or have to make two rolls, dunno.
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