Sunday, 9 January 2011

Savage Eberron II: The Jewel of Galifar

Last summer, my regular group decided to devote a weekend to gaming. The event came to be kown as "BenCon", because who can turn down a good -- or bad -- pun? Over the two days, we played a big game of Twilight Imperium, were introduced to the wonderful Cold City, and got in a couple of sessions of Savage Worlds, one of which was my experimental mash up of that pulp-flavoured ruleset with the pulp-flavoured setting of Eberron. While the two seemed to work well together in terms of tone, I wasn't satisfied with how the game went.

As it became clear that our schedules would align to enable another gaming day, we decided to have a Winter BenCon during the Christmas break. This slipped back as real life got in the way, but we managed to organise one solid day of gaming to take place in the new year, and three games were arranged: Stuart was set to run a RuneQuest scenario using Mongoose's samurai sourcebook, and I'm sure he'll be reporting on that soon enough, while Dave was going to run us through a Trail of Cthulhu investigation, and I had planned a sequel to the earlier Savage Eberron adventure. As it turned out, Dave had decided to move back to Vancouver and so was neck deep in packing, unable to devote time to preparing a game; as a result, the schedule for the day was curtailed and became a simple double bill.

My scenario was a loose sequel to the earlier game, not a direct continuation but a new adventure featuring the same player-characters, although the format did allow for new characters. As such, we welcomed Galaxy Jones, a halfling dinosaur rider with the personality of a Blaxploitation character, complete with afro hairstyle and leopard-skin coat. Galaxy turned out to be something of a glass cannon, dealing out massive damage from the back of his mount, Shep, but proving to be quite fragile when unseated. Stuart developed Fibulon, a professional duellist, and passed his previous character, warforged soldier Tactica-206, to his son Sebastian. Aside from Tactica-206, also returning from the previous episode were Dave's half-elf bushwhacker Kawa, and Ben's deaf dwarf artificer Stones McGuffin, while Manoj was unable to attend due to illness, so his half-ogre vuvuzela-toting bard stayed at home.

The party had been hired by a self-titled "collector of curiosities" named Jobar Lenskin, who had heard rumours of an item called the "Jewel of Galifar". This was a treasure of which he'd heard nothing before, and his regular sources and contacts were also baffled, all of which made him want this Jewel even more. As such, he tasked the player-characters with finding out more about the item and if possible to retrieve it for his collection. The characters followed their leads to the gnomish nation of Zilargo, and the canal-crossed city of Trolanport. There, they headed to the home of a local businessman named Arno Salvatore, as they'd heard that he might know more about the Jewel.

The game began with the player-characters in a boat outside Salvatore's front door. They knocked and, receiving no answer but hearing the sounds of someone running within, broke the door down. Inside was a courtyard with what looked like some disused boats covered with tarpaulin, and steps heading to an upper level on which could be seen an open door. The team went for the stairs, only for the tarpaulin to be flung aside, revealing a huge warforged with four spider-like legs and massive stone axes instead of hands. A short fight ensued -- despite its high stats, the warforged was an Extra and required only two hits to incapacitate -- and the party rushed upstairs to find a small library on fire and a tall, athletic man standing by the window. He smiled at them, gave a mock salute, then leaped out the window, across the canal outside, and on to the roof of the building opposite.

I had designed a fun parkour-like chase across the rooftops which would then evolve into an elemental speedboat chase along the canals of the city. What in fact happened was that every single character who attempted the jump made it with ease, and they caught up with their quarry in short order. A quick tussle on the roof ensued, but with no way out, the man surrendered, and the complex map I'd drawn out on the tabletop went unused. Sigh. During the brawl a crowd had gathered in the piazza below and Kawa decided to pose as a member of the Trust -- Zilargo's secret police agency -- in an attempt to explain the party's unusual behaviour.

Dragging their captive -- who claimed to be Arno Salvatore -- back to the house, the player-characters went through the documents he had attempted to destroy, and also had a go at interrogating the man himself. He proved resilient, and it seemed as if he was more frightened of someone else than he was of the characters, but they did manage to find out that while he did have the Jewel at one point, he had passed it on to his associates, who had either taken it to, or were based at, a location in the forests to the south of Trolanport. It was also implied that he did not know what the Jewel was, as it was sealed inside some kind of container.

Dave then attempted to derail the adventure further when an agent of the Trust came snooping around and his character Kawa decided to not only threaten said agent, but knock off his impressive stovepipe hat to punctuate said threat. The players were convinced to allow the agent to speak to Salvatore, and although the captive attempted to paint the player-characters as villains, the gnome seemed to know that not all was as it seemed. He indicated that he had some previous connection to the characters' colleague Eddie Stone -- Rick's character in the previous game, a changeling private eye with a shady past -- which was enough to save their lives, but that they should leave town if they valued their ongoing health. A couple of the party members had spotted evidence of what might have been snipers surrounding their current position, so the group decided that the gnome's advice was sound, and leaving Salvatore in his custody, they headed to the docks and boarded a ship heading south.

A day or so later, the characters were dropped off at a nondescript stretch of coastline and headed into the forest. After a while they found the tracks of a group of humanoid travellers and followed them until they picked up the sounds of loud voices talking in the goblin tongue; McGuffin knew a little bit of the language and thought that the goblinoids seemed to be drinking and having a laugh, and were not on high alert. There was some brief discussion on whether or not to rush the camp, but in the end the party decided that the goblinoids were not an immediate threat and that since their own destination was in a different direction, a fight would be an unnecessary diversion at that point.

The trees began to thin out and ahead of them, across a stretch of featureless terrain, was a small two-tier fortification. It appeared to be a remnant of the old hobgoblin empire and despite being thousands of years old, was still in fair condition; McGuffin assured the rest of the group that no goblinoiod structure could possibly last so long and that dwarves must have had a hand in its creation, but it sounded to them like the typical ravings of a Hobgoblin Denialist. The player-characters didn't think running across all that open ground in broad daylight was a good idea, so sat down in the cover of the treeline to observe the tower, picking out a number of green-clad guards patrolling the battlements.

Night fell and a rain storm swept in from the coast, all of which was deemed enough cover to make a move on the tower. Galaxy and his dinosaur went first and made it to the outer wall of the fortification, then the woodsman Kawa followed, but something about his approach alerted a guard and a crossbow bolt flew out of the darkness, striking the half-elf and bringing him to the ground. At this, the rest of the party abandoned stealth and charged up to the walls.

The outer walls were ruined in places, allowing easy access into the yard within, where the team discovered a group of guards -- I described these as wearing green ninja-like pyjamas, because a horde of ninjas is almost as good as a bunch of Nazis when you're running a pulp game -- and a handful of snipers atop the battlements of the tower itself. The party tore through their opponents -- as expected, as they were Extras -- with Galaxy Jones and Shep proving quite deadly, and gained entrance into the tower. More of the green-clad warriors were stationed on the stairs and landings within, and so began a running battle up to the roof, with only a brief pause to block the door to the battlements, trapping the snipers outside in the storm.

Up on the roof, the party encountered more of the warriors, as well as one who wore a carved metal facemask instead of the cloth masks of his followers, and who stood alongside an iron casket covered with runes and decorative carvings. By this time, the rain had become torrential, and in a bit of an old-school touch, I threw in a bit of randomness by declaring that when the four of clubs was drawn from the initiative deck, a bolt of lightning would strike the tower, centred on the character of the player who'd drawn the card. I did not expect this to come up much, if at all, but it happened four or five times during the battle. Apparently, it was quite the storm.

This became something of an epic confrontation, with bennies being spent left, right and centre, and the player-characters' luck failing them at key moments. Highlights included Kawa's knockdown brawl with a bog-standard mook, a fight which lasted the entire length of the battle and beyond; the arrival of a manticore just as the player-characters thought they might have the upper hand; and Fibulon sliding along the rain-slicked stones of the roof, between the legs of the combatants surrounding the casket, tripping up the leader, and just catching himself on the edge by one hand. In response, the masked figure used the Havoc spell -- from the Fantasy Companion -- to knock the player-chracters around and send the duellist over the edge. Fibulon survived the fall, landing on the lower battlements, right behind the snipers the party had left trapped there! There was a brief moment of uncertainty as Fibulon and the surprised crossbowmen eyed each other, then the duellist leaped off the lower battlements -- again suffering no damage -- and began his ascent back up to the fight above.

Reaching the roof, Fibulon got his revenge on the masked mage by running him through, but the manticore battled on, as did the nameless minion tussling with Kawa and, by this point, Stones McGuffin. Fearing defeat, the player-characters changed tack and got the casket off the roof and down the stairs; the manticore, too large to follow, took flight and disappeared into the thick cloud cover, while the lone henchman dodged through a number of attacks to follow the casket. He would likely have followed the party all the way home had Tactica-206 not shoulder-barged him off the stairs to his death two storeys below.

Safe if only for a moment, the party stopped to catch their collective breath. Galaxy Jones' dinosaur mount had been killed, he had suffered serious injuries, and he'd laso been blinded by the manticore's venom. The half-elf woodsman attempted to administer first aid, which resulted in the halfling bleeding out and suffering permanent organ damage, losing one level of his strength attribute. Nonetheless he survived the medical attention and was just about fit enough to make the mad dash across open ground to the relative safety of the forest. Luck was on their side, as the crossbowmen remained occupied with their attempts to get off the lower roof, and while the manticore had returned to track them from the air, it lost sight of them as they got deeper into the forest.

The team made it to a small village, and from there obtained passage back to their base of operations, where the injured could recover and McGuffin could examine the casket. The old dwarf figured out that it seemed to be under the effects of a permanent Time Stop spell, and rigged a device which would interrupt the magic long enough to open the container. Inside they found a girl, little older than ten and in a deep sleep. She seemed familiar somehow, and some of the party members thought she had a noble look to her features. When the girl woke, she seemed confused by her surroundings, and claimed she was Jenna ir'Wynarn, the oldest child of King Jarot, the ruler whose children's disagreements over the proper order of succession had led to the century-long Last War. All of which was very interesting, as there was no historical record of a Jenna ir'Wynarn.

If her story was true, then the girl would be a person of great importance to the whole of Khorvaire. The party decided to keep her existence secret until they knew more, so sealed up the now empty casket and delivered it to Lenskin, who seemed disappointed that the Jewel turned out to be a unique but unexciting magical item.



I enjoyed this session much more than the game I ran at the summer event, I think because I managed to better capture the pulp feel of the setting. I was disappointed to lose the chase sequence, but the battle up and atop the hobgoblin tower was worth it, with the tide shifting a number of times, and all sorts of unexpected and unique events occurring over the course of the fight. The players were challenged, and there was a serious danger of characters -- perhaps the whole party -- being killed if the team hadn't made the wise decision to get the casket -- and the focus of everyone's attention -- out of the picture. This caused the manticore to withdraw to reconsider its position, and allowed the party the breathing room to escape.

The big fight atop the tower did go on a long time, and the session ran over by ninety minutes, in part because the manticore was so difficult to hurt. Its Parry score was not impressive, but it had a Toughness score of eleven, which soaked up all but the most damaging effects, although in fairness it had used all its bennies and had suffered a wound by the end of the fight. The players, Dave in particular, were cursed with poor damage rolls in the later stages of the battle, and found themselves unable to put down a nameless mook, let alone the big boss monster; as such I'm reluctant to put the grind -- I say "grind", but I don't know if anyone really felt like that, as everyone seemed alert and interested -- of the fight down to a flaw in the Savage Worlds system. In the previous adventure, the players chopped through all their oppenents at great speed, so I'm almost certain it was just bad luck. We'll see how Savage Eberron III goes!

5 comments:

  1. At Porky's suggestion, I've made my game notes available for download here.

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  2. I'd put it down to bad luck and the fact that we're still novice characters with only one raise each. We're probably still equivalent to 2nd level D&D PCs, so a manticore and a wizard fighting together is still a tough challenge. I was going to abscond with the chest if that spell hadn't pushed Fibulon off the roof!

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  3. That was a packed session, and made for a good read. Funny and frustrating what luck can throw up, in terms of the chase lost, lightning strikes and epic battle. It's something else again when you can get the notes too!

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  4. We were rubbish! ;) But - despite the grind, I enjoyed the game. And am looking forward to the next installment. I'd see the toughness/ grind thing as a learning point for us all - we need to crunch our pcs a little better - and I think we can take this as a warning that SW can be as grindy as 4e weirdly enough!! lol! Friggin hilarious! ;)

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  5. I'm not so sure. The main thing I hated about The Unmentionable was the way we had to tweak our characters to perfection in order to make them playable, and that's absolutely the last thing I want for this game.

    The more I think about it, I don't think it's a rules issue. Your two most potent combat characters were Galaxy Jones and Kawa; Jones had one weakness, which was exploited by the enemy, and Dave rolled incredibly poorly for Kawa, who really should have been able to kill that mook in one round, rather than go toe-to-toe with him for eight!

    You weren't supposed to defeat the manticore necessarily, although I think you could have if the party weren't split as it was. Stuart had the right idea by trying to make a run for it with the casket, and I think if there is a lesson to be learned it's that you can win a battle in ways other than simply killing all the opponents.

    I'm taking that on board too, and most future battles will have multiple winning conditions, so be on the lookout for opportunities.

    Also worth noting are the various other combat options, like tricks and taunts, which weren't used in the fight much. I'm guilty of this too, so I'll make more use of them in future. The Combat Survival Guide is a good tool to have for this, and I'll bring a couple of copies along for the next game, whenever that is.

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