Actual Play – Stone Dragon Mountain SUN-01/02 (6/29/2014)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Tony Dowler, Morgan Stinson, John Powell, Warren Powell, David Fooden, and guest starring Twyla Campbell
System: Torchbearer
Adventure: Stone Dragon Mountain

Dude, I had a bunch of rock stars in my game… and they kept wanting to play! The morning slot was supposed to be Gary Montgomery’s Treasure of Traveler’s Hill Torchbearer game. And then life happened, child care vanished, and Gary couldn’t make it to the con on Sunday.

Morgan grabbed me at one point and asked if I could run in his place. Hell yeah, I could!

After Matt’s World of Dungeons game I stayed up for another hour drinking substances potent and potentially blinding, and making characters for the Sunday game. Well, I made two characters and then I wised up and realized I should just copy the ones out of the book. It was faster and didn’t require as much thought, both perks that late at night!

Who Bears The Torch

Morgan played Varg as a condescending know it all magician that made enemies easily. He was indispensable to his allies and he liked to remind them of that as he called them lesser beings. A great guy.

John played Karolina the skeptical warrior. She didn’t believe in magic and loathed to lend Varg her bearskin cloak, given to her by her father that she never knew.

Warren played Ulrik the greedy and mostly deity-ambivalent cleric.

David played Bassle Brune, not a cook, but a chef! He was put out by the mayor of Carin when he was betrayed by his sous chef Denny that intentionally spoiled his hollandaise sauce! Now accompanying new companions, he sought to impress them all with his halfling bravery.

Tony played Torril the dwarven adventurer who was always cognizant of how his actions, and the actions of those around him might be viewed by the gods.  He had been banished from the temple of brick and mortar and carried a grave memory of that denouncement.

In the second session, Twyla took Tony’s place and played Beren the dwarf adventurer seeking out Karolina for a debt he owed to her parents, who were old allies of his but died some time ago. He did not know Karolina but knew he would recognize her by her father’s bearskin cloak.

Highlights of the Game

At base camp the Sharwa were generally friendly despite their lack of a common language. That was until Varg decided to use his eldrich magics to summon sages that would help him commune with them. Unfortunately doing so required clipping the hair of one of the Sharwa and eating it. The Sharwa man had no idea what Varg was doing but he did notice that Varg cut and ate his hair. Awkward.

It fell upon Karolina to drag Varg out of the camp and Torril to make peace with the locals. That is how Torril met Jhala, a woman who spoke the common tongue. She aided Torril by giving him supplies for the climb… but also told him of the curse on the mountain and that the Gods were punishing them. For me this was about the best “fail” result I’ve ever had. He got what he wanted, with the condition of being afraid, and I got to do some exposition in the process. Bad ass and not expected.

While hunting for game (the first time) Varg tore his cloak on a stout tree branch. Rather than try to repair it, he left the torn cloak in the base camp and borrowed Karolina’s bear skin cloak. This caused much awesome confusion later when Beren (who arrived in the 2nd slot of the game session as Twyla joined the game) found Varg first and identified the cloak because it belonged to Karolina’s father. That were some awesome misunderstandings there!

Discovering the ambushed camp was awesome. Watching the players realize that they were looting from other fallen adventurers that were killed in their sleep was awesome. Good treasure (supplies they needed) and a grim bitter moment breaking off a halfling’s frozen finger to take the ring on it!

Torril, who already felt cursed by the gods made the most amazing sacrifice. As they were climbing up the edge of the mountain, Torril lost his grip and went falling down. The rope that was tied to him caught him, but it pulled Bassle down with him and threatened to take Ulrik and Karolina as well. Torril knew that with his weight he could very well pull down all of his companions with him. Instead of trying to climb back up, he spit on the god’s curse and with his sword cut the rope holding him and fell to his death below. Such sacrifice.

These adventurers camped often and camped well. Hunting in the mountains is tough though and the second trip led Karolina and Beren into a Mikra Ambush. The fended them off, but in doing so realized that the creature wore fur and loped on all fours, but fought with weapons and in their eyes they could see the spark of intelligence of man!

Karolina had been besmirching magic the entire game, saying she didn’t believe in it, which was just an awesome interplay between John and Morgan. When Varg finally did cast a spell (lightness of being) and levitated up over a huge chunk of ice that blocked their pass (the same one that killed Torril on their first attempt) Karolina’s chiding dismissal turned into awed reverence. It was pretty awesome.

Encountering Kumbha’s goats and deciding that “forget about the giant, I don’t want to mess with goats, let’s get out of here!”

A knock down, drag out, gnarl fight that ended in a total party kill (minus 1) when the adventurers rolled down the slippery slope of the maw and were ambushed again by Mikra. Karolina lived but woke up in the dark, alone, bleeding and half frozen. Ouch.

Highest praise I could hope to receive

Morgan, in discussing the game with me wrote “Thanks again for running this for us. I had a fantastic time.”

Tony, in his GPNW write up said “Sunday morning I got hijacked by a Torchbearer game on the way to White Books. Sean Nittner runs a seriously tight game of Torchbearer. This is a game that really rewards DM mastery, and Sean has it. My Dwarf sacrificed himself nobly to save the party and spite the capricious gods.”

More than anything though, what really put a spring in my step was when all of the players but Tony (who had another game scheduled) asked to play a second session in the next slot. How great is that! We did end of session rewards (beliefs, goals, instincts, etc) at the end of the first session and the characters got to have a few fate and persona points to spend in the second. That’s how I’d like all of my con games to run!

Thoughts on this game

Extra uses of conditions – Exposition about the terrible things happening in the game are awesome. When Torril failed his persuader roll to get Jhala to give him climbing gear, instead of refusing him, I had her tell him of the curse on the mountain and gave him the afraid condition. It worked out to be a great way to spread the lore of the mountain. I’m going to look for other wise to do this in the future. More ideas for it here.

In addition to their enthusiasm for the game this group showed me more than the other three that the adventure doesn’t exactly make sense. Several of he players asked after the game “what was up with that guy” or “why weren’t the dragon’s teeth there/why should we go inside the cave?”. These questions are great. They tell me that I need to do two things:

  1. Make the promise of reward more obvious and tempting. The cave will now have a glinting that can be seen below and the frozen lake will have a treasure visible beneath it.
  2. Make the story of what is going on more obvious and accessible. Dermot is a great example. The character exists to (without malice) lead the characters astray. I’ve revised him now to instead provide accurate information about the dangers he faced, and where his knowledge is fuzzy, to give incomplete (but not misleading) information.

I lost more characters (5 of the 6) in this game than in any other I’ve run. Killing is my Business is serious business.

We got to do two sessions this game which was great. It means players reviewed their beliefs and such, were rewarded appropriately, and got to rewrite them as appropriate. Karolina changed her goal from “I will impress my companions with my bravery” to “Bring the party to the top of this mountain. For TORRIL” That was personal and it was awesome!

Be a fan of your players. Really, I mean I know you’re told to do it, but really do it. It makes such a difference. I was so excited to run Stone Dragon Mountain that I embraced every character with exuberance and it really paid off. It also make it so much better when you do kill them all off.

Twyla showed up for the second session and brought Beren into play. They met up at the base camp and Twyla devised a reason to be looking for Karolina. That was the smoothest new member of the party integration I’ve ever seen. Bravo!

Thanks to Morgan Stinson, John Powell,  and Twyla Campbell for giving me feedback on the adventure. For those that haven’t, if you’re inclined, here is the feedback survey.

Feedback so far (two new entries since the SAT-02 session)

Torchbearer [How familiar are you with the following?]

Mouse Gaurd [How familiar are you with the following?]

Buning Wheel [How familiar are you with the following?]

How well were you able to understand what was going on in the adventure?

Challenging the players [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Rewarding the characters [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Delivering a compelling situation [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Keeping your interest [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Depicting a harsh world [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Depicting a fantastical world [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

What was your favorite memory of the session(s)?

  • When Morgan’s character actually successfully used magic to float up to the top of the ice block.
  • Crossing the Walkway
  • The dangerous lowering of the bridge
  • Diamond Tooth’s demise
  • Dealing with Diamond Tooth
  • Trying to pass equipment and light sources up and down the line while supporting Sparky in crossing the gap.
  • The whole bit at the bridge.
  • Snot. You should emphasize snot.
  • Balls out fighting the mikra and failing miserably, allowing for only one survivor who was surely going to die soon.

Any other comments about Stone Dragon Mountain?

  • Very fun game. Lots of laughs and holy crap, that is impossibles!
  • It seems like the set up is simple, which is cool, but I wanted a touch more complexity. We had the Sharwa, on one side, and the Mikra on the other. The Mikra seemed to be savage, beasty killers. That set up seemed too straight forward. I long for a third faction to make things really jacked up and complicated. Did someone back in town want us to do something specific, maybe? Is there are third group to add to the ecology of the mountain? When I think of keep on the Borderland, we have Bandits, plus the people in the Keep, plus a variety of Tribes in the Caves of Chaos, without even messing with the greater outside world. The more groups we have, the more our decisions affect those around us. To me, this is the thing I look for as a player. I came to a place and I may have fucked it up pretty badly, but I made an indelible mark.
  • Also, after we get to the maw of the cave, and find that the teeth aren’t gems, it seems like we need a new promise of treasure. The Mikra have worthless stone idols and crude axes. Why would we go in the cave?
  • What was up with that guy who was wounded at the beginning? He was really weird.
  • I love the “loot” available from the Sharwa and the bodies at Taleil’s. It felt really organic and natural and not like crap from a random treasure table.
  • The demon thing with the sheep was confusing, tone-wise. Did we just forget to ask about that guy.
  • Just kind of a reminder of our conversation, for a convention setting, it would be best to have pregens and the players just pick their inventory and answer the pregame questions. Other than that, the part I played was fun.
  • It was too bad we didn’t get to more of a part where other people further back in the line on the trail could do stuff.
  • I wasn’t clear on the player’s motivations in the set up except “get some kind of treasure.” I might have been distracted or walked briefly away from the table.
  • I wonder about the value, just like in computer rpgs, of having content in branches that half the players won’t see. Aftertward, I wanted to see what we’d missed since it sounded like it contained some of the best content. I suppose with another session we could have ventured to the path we didn’t see.
  • Nothing beyond what was already said at the table.
  • I rated kind of low on rewards and fantasy just because I don’t think we quite got to that part.

More thoughts on this feedback on in the first playtest report for Stone Dragon Mountain.