Sunday, January 19, 2014

[Urbis] Cold Frontier Session Log 01

Note: For the description of the characters, see here. For the inhabitants of the Trade Outpost, see here and here.

Jorune (April) 5th

<4,10> As the transport ship plows into the bay at dawn, the characters spot strange patches of green and blue fluorescence on the water. Lorrak decides to investigate, binding a rope around himself and handing the other end to Rraka Weisstatz before using an Apportation spell to lower himself to the water level with a bucket. Unfortunately, he miscalculates the speed of the ship and gets dunked into the icy cold water. Fortunately, he is retrieved quickly and gets a change of clothing, although the mystery of the glowing patches remains.

<4,9> As the ship docks, Rraka Weisstatz leaps over board, glad to be away from the water. A figure shambles towards her out of the early morning fogs, and she narrowly avoids being vomited on by the very drunk Factor Richard Byrne, the boss of the Trade Outpost. A short time later, Madug Kobrog (hobgoblin bouncer and general laborer) arrives and gets his boss back to his room. Then he returns with Jacob Krol (human hunter and laborer) as well as Gorog Khordukr (dwarven cook, mushroom farmer, and distiller of mushroom moonshine) who glares at them suspiciously, helping with unloading their stuff and stowing it into the outpost, as well as giving the explorers some brief orientation.

In the entrance they spot the notice by someone named Carolus Ashton, who wishes to pay for live or nearly intact snallygaster (600 sp), sasquatch (1000 sp), decapus (600 sp), or gryph (600 sp) specimens. In the bar, Lorrak immediately chats with the ever-smiling gnomish barkeep Gustav Grollbergen, while Pater Markus attempts to negotiate with Gorog about allowing his goblin cook Nob make use of the local kitchen - but the biggest concession he gets is that Nob may borrow some of Gorog's kitchen tools (which is already an enormous concession).

Then a woman shouts out from the top floor and asks about who let this goblin in here, whereupon the goblin races down the stairs again - followed shortly by Mary (human prostitute and seamstress) who berates Markus for bringing a goblin into this house. Markus charms her sufficiently that she is even willing to try a small sample of whatever Nob is cooking. A short time later Tessa (human prostitute and herbal gardener) arrives and greets the guests.

Lunch is served - mushrooms cooked by Gorog for most, something undefinable for Markus and Nob. Mary bravely tastes the goblin food, and then proclaims it to be "too exotic" for her tastes. Then Pale Beaver (a native hunter from Ghost Crab Village) comes down the stairs, greets everyone, and then gets himself a big helping of the goblin food which he eats with relish - although Mary quickly admonishes him to "eat with a spoon, like I showed you!". He then talks with the explorers, mentioning the four villages in the area (apart from Ghost Crab Village, also Stranded Whale Village, Soaring Eagle Village, and Blue Octopus Village), and telling them what he knows of the "Great Darkness". After questioning, he also tells them a bit about the various creatures on Ashton's list, which causes the PCs to decide against catching a sasquatch. But they do decide to buy some alcohol to catch a snallygaster, which they do after Byrne finally comes down again from his room, greets them properly, and opens the store for them. He also tells them that according to the official Company letters he has received, they can stay at the Trade Outpost free of charge (food included, which mainly means mushrooms), can store items there which they don't need at the moment, and can get other equipment at the store for "list prices" without the usual markup for this remote location.

After that, Pale Beaver leaves and the PCs discuss travel plans. Initially, most seem to favor following the river upstream all the way to the edge of the map, although this is protested by Rraka since "that's how the two previous expeditions met their ends!" In the afternoon, they also decide to use the local guard tower and binoculars to look around the area, and Rraka discovers "something glittering" at the top of a mountain to the southwest in field <3,9> that "isn't snow". They also discover that surrounding the trade outpost there are also ruins of a settlement - including a well-preserved 2 yard stone totem of a seal. After estimating that this might bring 1000 silver pieces or more at an auction back home, they decide to bring it into their compartment inside the Trade Outpost warehouse as their first "loot". They also discover a trap door in a secluded spot in the ruins, and deduce that that's probably the hidden mushroom farm operated by the dwarf.

In the evening, after dinner, they suddenly hear a crash from the gate of the palisades surrounding the outpost. Rraka and As Saß swiftly move outside, the others in tow, to see a zombie dire bear and 10 human skeletons charging into their direction. The zombie bear is swiftly dispatched, and while the two are hacking through the skeletons, Lorrak casts a wide-area Create Flame spell to damage the skeletons further and Markus casts Turn Zombie which causes the remaining skeletons to flee.

Then a dark fog forms outside of the palisades and an eerie wailing comes out of the cloud. Of the explorers, all but Lorrak fail their Will rolls, and feel compelled to enter the cloud (accompanied by Madug and Gorog) and just stand there. Lorrak races back inside and gets his knives. Meanwhile, the zuvembie walks past all the captivated people, notices that Jacob (its true object of vengeance) isn't there, and in frustration smacks everyone in range with its club. This gives them another chance to recover their wits. Tasil is the first to recover and flees out of the cloud, holding his hand. Markus also recovers, just as Lorrak charges into the center of the black cloud with a Flame Jet. He had pinpointed the location of the creature exactly, but unfortunately it avoids his attack and hits As Saß, who recovers after the injury.

Then Markus casts Sunlight, dispelling a smaller segment in the center of the dark cloud, and they see the creature for what it is - a human skeleton with a dark blue light in its eyes. Lorrak attempts to wake Rraka by pulling her at her tail, but unfortunately Rraka still feels compelled to follow the zuvembie, dragging Lorrak into the darkness again. Lorrak manages to cast Apportation on Rraka without letting go of her, resulting in having a cat balloon of sorts hanging off the ground. As Saß, meanwhile, senses the creatures' presence with his vibration sense and quickly manages to dispatch it, dispelling the darkness and its hold over the others.

Lorrak examines the remains and notices that this "master skeleton" was apparently chewed upon by teeth - disturbingly human teeth. They discover that the creatures were coming from the northeast and investigate the trail in the morning. They also figure that this was likely part of what the "Great Darkness" was.

Jorune (April) 6th

As the morning dawns, Lorrak goes into the stables to milk his goat. As he is about to step outside, he notices that something is perched on the roof of the stables. Thinking quickly, he climbs his goat and charges outside. As he looks back, he notice some kind of humanoid/moth hybrid - a "moth man", if you will - sitting up there and glaring at him malevolently. He doesn't stop until he is inside the main building, still astride Betsy, and alerts the others to the creature. Which is gone, but Rraka does find some claw marks on the roof of the stables and Madug vaguely remembers the creatures from some stories Pale Beaver has told - this creature is allegedly a "harbinger of fate" and kidnaps people only to bring them back somewhere far away from their previous position.

In the morning they follow the trail for five miles but decide to abandon it after the trail heads into the mountains. Instead, they decide to start exploring their "home base" hex properly, which has the advantage that they can spend one more night at the Trade Outpost. On the way back they see a huge eagle flying above which is carrying a human rider, and at the outpost they learn that these eagle riders all come from a village to the west.

Jorune (April) 7th

They finish the surveying the next morning (and Lorrak finds a good location for an iron mine) and head south on the eastern side of the bay. That afternoon they spot a creature which has camouflaged itself as part of a tree. Tasil casts Create Servant to head along the trail before the rest of the group, and next to the tree the servant falls through the forest floor as if it wasn't there. As Saß, Markus, and Tasil take a closer look at the tree. Tasil learns via the Aura spell that the creature has some magical aptitude for illusions. Then Markus throws a Sunbolt at the tree. This is enough for the creature, which dispels the illusion of the fake forest floor (revealing a small natural hole in the ground in which the Servant is stuck and now brachiates from tree to tree with its many tentacles. The explorers correctly deduce that this must be a decapus and wonder how they are supposed to capture one... next time, as they don't think they have a chance of catching up to this one.

Jorune (April) 8th

The next morning, Lorrak (who has the last watch of the night) spots some blinking lights in the distance, which turns out to be glowing mice and toads (6 each) with butterfly wings squabbling over a polished stone. Lorrak gets Rraka, who can translate their Sylvan, and then bribes the groups by giving each a well-polished copper coin, whereupon the toads and mice squabble among each other who of them gets to keep the coin. Lorrak also spots the glowing patches on the ocean again and this time manages to examine the phenomenon in a cup, but beyond noticing that the glow seems to consist of lots of tiny glowing dots he learns nothing new. Finishing up with the exploration of this hex, they also stumble across large patches of well-tasting orange berries in a small side valley.

Jorune (April) 9th

Then they head northeast and notice quickly that there are an awful lot of owls in this area. They stumble across a patch of strange slime lurking below the forest cover, but after experimenting with how it reacts to a tree branch thrown on it (it engulfs the branch and then gradually sinks down again) they leave it alone.

In the evening they take shelter in the rain shadow of a rock spire. During the night Nob - who is taking the midnight watch - sees how a 3 yard tall owl chooses the spire to sit for a few hours, and Nob then waits terrified in his hideout until the owl flies away - near morning. The others notice that Nob didn't wake the others for their night watch shifts, and get him to tell the story.

Jorune (April) 10th

As they explore further, they come across a middle-aged native woman gathering herbs in the forest who doesn't speak their language but gestures them to stay away. As Rraka approaches anyway, tree branches and acorns start hurling into her direction. Tasil casts Aura on the woman and notices that she has magical aptitude but also suffers from a supernatural curse of some sort. She establishes telepathic communication with the woman (which transcends language barriers) and learns that the latter is a consequence of the former - "the spirits have given me great power, but there is often a price for these things". The explorers manage to trade some food for her herbs, and Lorrak notes what she explains about their uses.

Jorune (April) 11th

In the late hours of the night the Giant Owl is spotted again, this time carrying a seal in its claws while flying north. In the afternoon they come across the Giant Owl's resting spot. Tasil casts Aura on the creature as well and learns that the owl has some supernatural powers of perception, seeing somehow more of the world than normals human would. As they argue about what to do with the owl (if anything), the session comes to its end.

Game Master's Notes:

The game ended rather conveniently in one of the hexfields I had still detailed, but it is fairly clear what I need to do for the next session:
  • Detail the mountain hex <6,10> (which will likely be the next one the PCs will enter) as well as the volcano at <7,10> (as the PCs apparently want to follow the coast). Second highest priority is the island at <5,10> (assuming they can arrange passage somehow) and the mountain hexes at <5,8> and <7,8>. If I detail <5,7> and <7,7> I will have the whole southeastern corner of the map written up, which should be enough for the next session, no matter what they will do. As always, suggestions for what they might find there would be highly welcome.
  • Add more details to Ghost Crab Village - including a village map and hopefully some adventure plots or at least an encounter or two, since that's where they seem to be headed.
  • Come up with some legends and stories shared by the Coastal Tribes, especially regarding the Great Darkness.
  • Map and figure out the contents of the sunken ship near the village.
  • Come up with a Random Encounter Table for the Coast.
  • Give some thought for what kind of interesting stuff Lorrak might find with Naturalist and Prospecting rolls in the hexes.
Also I forgot to figure out in advance on which days the PCs actually encounter something - according to the Pathfinder Exploration Rules, the PCs should encounter a "monster" only on 61-100 on 1d100, not every day. Furthermore, I need to come up with some rule system for modeling the weather of the region - so far I've faked it, but it would be neat if I could create "weather forecasts" in advance.

What worked well are the rules for daily and hourly movement I came up which expanded on the rules in the GURPS Basic Set and adjusted them for hex grids - including one huge, handy chart which allowed me to quickly figure out how far the PCs would move in a certain time span, given the local terrain, weather, basic movement speed, and their own proficiency at hiking. Almost all the calculations were already done with this chart. I really need to translate them into English and post them here at some later point...

All in all, I think the first session went well - but it already becomes apparent that this kind of exploration campaign doesn't really provide natural "cliffhangers" that would increase the anticipation for the next session. I will need to detail the Wendigo Cult some more and come up with some more plotlines that encourage the PCs to seek out particular places and do something more than just exploring the area.

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.