Tuesday, November 8, 2011
3rd OA Session- Against the Black Temple
OK, the dead dryer has been replaced and is, even as I am typing this, drying my family's laundry; so I now have a chance to sit down and recount the events of Sunday's Oriental Adventures Game. I followed the advice of my lovely wife Mona and rolled all of the possible random encounters ahead of time, which felt kind of like cheating and kind of like extra stocking the hex map; it did allow me the opportunity to give the random encounters some extra narrative, weaving them into the overall plot of the adventure and adding them to the planned stuff in the hexes seamlessly.
It should be noted for the record that both Lee Ann and Paul were sick and missed the game, but I figured I still had the majority of players and felt I had a good enough take on their characters to run them as NPCs; I let other players run them in combat and make most of the decisions for them, but kept a DM veto in effect for them and occasionally threw in some role playing stuff that was very much in character for both of them.
Our intrepid party had decided to take the shortest route to the mura of Hondo rather than the easiest, which sent them over a less often used mountain road through a high pass after marching down the much more often traveled coastal road for days, that's where we left off before; they'd lost a day of travel due to a bad storm and run into a scouting party of bandits that got more of a fight than they bargained for. Total party casualties at this point were one of Date Karasu's servants that just got in the way of the fighting. He was given a proper funeral as were the dead bandits, and the party moved on.
The next day they came across an abandoned shrine near a spring, they took some time to clean it up and made appropriate offerings, they received the blessing of the Kami, but it didn't last long enough to do them any good. Misaki also noted that they had entered the territory of a large predatory cat, and that it was male. She began to warn the party not to pee on anything.
The rest of the day and night and the following day and night, the party were jumpy, but nothing happened beyond them advancing up this crappy, poorly maintained mountain road with a huge entourage of slow moving servants. They tried at one point to mount the servants on the extra horses, but there weren't enough horses for all of them, even with the ones captured from the bandits. I also figured that none of the peasant servants would have any idea how to ride and would probably be at least a little afraid of trying it. Especially if you consider that peasants were forbidden to ride horses during the Tokugawa era, that prohibition must have come from somewhere and it's clearly designed to protect the status of the Samurai.
The day after that though, as they reached the highest point of the pass, they met, at about mid-morning, a party of nobles and their retainers traveling towards Tamonokuni from Hondo. The nobles were members of the Kato family, Kato Hiroki and his wife Haruko, traveling in a palanquin, and several Samurai and Bushi. They are traveling quickly and have clearly seen combat recently! Both of the Samurai in the party easily recognize that the Kato family are also retainers of the Tsu clan and therefore closely allied to their own families, so they stop and have a chat. Kato Hiroki tells them first that his party was attacked last night in their camp by a demon tiger that was only driven off by fire and magic, it's hide was impervious to attacks by his men. Misaki seeks out the wounded among his men, one of the Samurai is fairly badly injured, so she casts a cure light wounds spell on him. A pair of Bushi are lightly injured from the encounter, Kato Hiroki's Wu Jen advisor was killed though. Misaki is certain this all occurred because they peed in this tiger's territory.
Hiroki takes Masaru and Karasu aside and tells them that they need to watch out, the Black Temple is not the only enemy that the Tsu clan has in Miyama province. The fortification being built at the mura of Hondo, that he was sent to check progress on has been issued a stop work order by a shogunal edict. He is certain the Niwa clan are behind this move to counter the growing resurgence of the Tsu clan, and he is attempting to gather evidence that the Niwa are in league with the Smiling Fox Yakuza gang. The two Samurai in the party discretely avoided mentioning to the earnest Hiroki the fact that the Tsu clan DEFINATELY has connections to the Poisoned Flower Yakuza gang, at a minimum in the form of Ami.
Anyway, they part ways, the Kato party moving as fast as they can away from the demon tiger, the party moving deeper into his territory, the party is getting pretty freaked out. They are keeping a pretty heavy watch at night and burning lots of torches and lantern oil, keeping multiple campfires burning and Katsuo the Wu Jen has studied battle magic.
House rules note here- I have gone the dreaded d20 route and let Magic Users have bonus spells for high Intelligence, I don't see it as a game breaker and it encourages people to want to play a Magic User. I have, however, balanced that with a "no multiples of the same spell can be memorized" rule, which encourages spell diversity, which I made for both Magic Users and Clerics. John had Katsuo memorize Magic Missile and figured he'd invoke the d30 rule if the "Demon Tiger" attacked; which was a pretty damned good plan if you ask me.
2nd house rules note- I also have the "Sword & Sorcery" or "Conan the Barbarian" rule in effect, where anything that can be affected by only silver or magic can also be affected by fire. This rule became important in old campaigns I played in where magic items were pretty rare and mostly one use items, but we would still use the full range of AD&D monsters on the encounter tables. Without it a single Wererat can make pretty short work out of a party of 5th level fighters and thieves and their henchmen and hirelings. Obviously, some discretion needs to be used, a flame demon is probably immune to fire, for instance, but it's a pretty workable house rule.
Not that it mattered, that night passed without incident and their tired group trudged down the mountain road until they reached Trader Chang's. Trader Chang was a Shou Silk Road merchant that gave it all up to come to Kozakura and become a trapper/fur-trading mountain man. There's a lot more to his story, since he's a Weretiger too, but that's what the locals know about him. Misaki and Chang hit it off right away. He likes cats, she is a cat. Chang was just a weird random encounter that I rolled up and thought to myself "Damn, here's my TPK."; I was wishing Lee Ann hadn't had Ami short-sightedly sell the only magic weapon in the party's possession. That trident was like a gift from the random treasure gods. I was giving serious thought to going all d20 and just diving him a damage resistance rating, it turns out it didn't have to, but not every idea to come out of 3e was complete suck.
Then I start reading about Weretigers and their 5% chance of mingling with cats, their ability to speak with cats, the fact that most of them are female and I beat the odds on all of this stuff. I rolled my d% and got 02 for whether or not there would be cats there, OK I figure I'll make her a crazy cat lady, just go the other way with it. Then BAM, it turns out shes a he, so a crazy cat dude? OK, I guess. Well he can talk to them, so I guess they'd be the only company he has, right? So then I start to back story him, I figure Tigers are solitary, this one is anyway (thankfully), so he's maybe a foreigner. His treasure makes him rich, but it's all in portable stuff, mostly gems. So I make him a former merchant that contracted Lycanthropy and left civilization for this backwater island empire and moved up into the mountains where he could be reasonably sure that he wouldn't hurt anyone during that time of the month. Now, Weretigers are Neutral, not Evil, so he's not a bad guy; I mean Druids are Neutral, it's just nature running it's course at this point. Tigers also have a pretty large territory, and he has been one long enough now that he accepts his nature. The attack on the Kato party was unfortunate timing on their part, being in his territory and being made of food during that phase of the moon.
Anyway, long story short, Misaki sees settling down with Chang the Weretiger as her retirement plan and he's cool with that. They'll still have a chance to see each other every now and again, he really isn't that far from Hondo, where she's going to be based.
The biggest real encounter they ran into was a bunch of brigands. They discovered a brigand camp because the brigands were being indiscreet while torturing some prisoners. The brigands also were flying a large silk banner in the center of their camp, the banner of the Black Temple! The Brigands had guards with bows posted, but the guards were enjoying the torture show in the center of camp more than they were enjoying guard duty, the party crept up along the ridge that both obscured the location of and overlook their camp. The gaggle of servants crept along too, not wanting to be too far separated from their masters when battle was imminent. Surprisingly, this plan worked fine and they got into position for a devastating sneak attack, the only person not really happy about the plan was Aiko the Kensei who didn't have a ranged weapon and would have to charge down into the Brigands alone.
They got a good look at the camp there were 22 bad guys total, including an obvious leader type, 4 prisoners and 6 slaves. the slaves were being smacked around and were clearly terrified. the prisoners were bound and gagged, with the exception of the one that was being tortured. Karasu recognized the one being tortured as his cousin Date Akihito. This provided a serious moral dilemma for the party, they were seriously outnumbered, but the bad guys were actually members of the force they were on a mission to oppose AND the prisoners being tortured were members of one character's family and that made him a family ally to 2 other characters. There really was no debate over it. I think Dalton said it best when he said "This is 1st edition and you're DMing, I already have a plan for my next character."
Note here- I roll all my dice in the open and I use black dice with white numbers that you can read from across the room. I really do let the dice fall where they may, I also have really good dice luck.
House rules note- I have ruled that negative hit points do not exist, mostly because I hate having people stop fighting and risk their lives and the lives of their fellow party members in an unrealistic attempt to "bind wounds" like some sort of combat medic. I had planned on using a saving throw vs. death magic to see if you survived hitting zero hit points after the battle and combining it with some type of traumatic injury table that I saw somewhere once; when this later came into play I searched and searched and could not find the table that had various sorts of character building disfigurements and stuff on it, so I will be using a different system where you just roll when you hit zero and see what happens in future games.
So, surprise round- Misaki casts Bless on the entire party, Aiko leaps down the slope into the camp and attacks the nearest person to her, every other party member attacks at range from the ridge line targeting the leader, the guards (they have bows), then any other guys with bows they spot. Aiko missed the first round, she is sure she's going to die now. Masaru drops the leader with one shot (used his d30 for damage), Karasu drops a guard, Katsuo drops a guard and Ami wounds a guard. The others in the party miss.
Time for round one. Roll d6 party initiative, party rolls a 2, I roll a 5. Brigands roll a morale check (they have taken their first losses and their leader is dead), they pass it awesome, which is odd for them, since Brigands are more known for cutting and running, but apparently they just realize that they still seriously outnumber the party (the servants are down behind the ridge line, out of sight); so they roar out a battle cry and charge up the ridge (except the surviving archers, who take aim and take down both Misaki and Katsuo and wound Masaru pretty badly) one of the guys charging up the ridge takes Hikaru down , a few stopping to cut down Aiko (they fail). The party's turn, Ami shoots the wounded archer again, but still doesn't kill him. Aiko kills two of the three guys attacking her, weapon specialization multiple attacks per round FTW. Masaru and Karasu switch to Katana, Natsumi switches to Testsubo; a couple of the guys charging up the ridge get ganked.
From here it gets harder to remember blow by blow, I know the party lost initiative in the next round too, and Masaru got taken down by a spearman. The archers from the brigand force flanked the party, two of them were mounted and flanked to the south, the wounded one was on foot and flanked to the north, they started shooting the servants and killed five of them before they were taken out. Ami was eventually taken down by the brigands. In the end only Karasu, Aiko and Natsumi were still standing and Aiko had killed seven of them, roughly a third of their force.
We were close to breaking for the night there, the players wanted treasure and XP, so I figured out the XP totals for the treasure and the fight, we did NOT discuss what to do about the prisoners. Date Akihito has begged to commit seppuku and asked his cousin Karasu to be his kaishakunin, and further asked that, since the disgrace of his capture will be erased by his death, that his men be given a second chance in service with the party. Since Paul wasn't here, I didn't want to play that part out for him, so the end of that encounter is technically in limbo, but I did advance the party down the road some anyway to the last random encounter before they reach the Mura of Hondo and the Module OA-T1 actually begins.
The final encounter was this- Approximately one mile from the mura of Hondo the party discovers the body of a man hanging upside down from a tree near the side of the road. He kind of looks like the hanged man from the tarot deck, except that his throat has been cut and his skin has had kanji written all over it. When they cut him down, his personal effects reveal that he is an imperial magistrate with investigative authority. The kanji are some sort of demon binding/summoning spell. There is no blood anywhere near the body.