Sunday, 25 September 2016

Bali's Tale - A Single PC Adventure

This project contains a small adventure story anyone could use to setup a single player gaming session. I will show you how I normally prepare for shorter games.

I got together with one of my oldest buddies, and we began working on the story we wanted to tell. We were both a part of a long running DnD 2e campaign a number of years ago, and the characters from that game have stuck with us (Returning as beloved NPC's and PC's alike).  We decided to revisit them again for this game and have it take place many years beyond the time when we last checked in with them. 

I prepared very little for the session, I showed up with a simple map, and a bit of back story that we worked on together. The idea was to tell a fun tale that would fill about a two hour session time.

So, in order to set us up, I sent him the following story line via email the day before the game.

More than 100 years have passed since the Fortress of Clan Goldhelm was destroyed by legions of Orcs. Shaken by the death of their father, and crushed by the defeat of their clan, the Brothers Bali and Druggum have gone their separate ways.

Druggum has retreated back to the North to live with the Barbarian clans that raised him. There, thanks to his physical prowess and long lifespan, he united several settlements of Northern Folk and became the King of the Barbarian Tribes.

Bali has wandered restlessly in the South lands, working as a hired axe and adventurer.  He has been living on the road, taking work where he can get it, and making a name for himself. 

Bali is surprised one day to get a letter from his brother, asking him to return North to their old homelands.  Druggum explains that he needs his brothers help, saving a piece of their father's legacy.

The wandering dwarf hoists his pack of belongings and heads to the North...

Here is the map I painstakingly detailed before hand...

The Adventure Sites:
These are the three rough scenes I had planned out for the game.  I felt like three scenes was a good amount of content for a two hour session.  If things were moving too quick, I'd add an intrusion or two to slow it down.  If we were running short on time, I would make a scene a little shorter.

0 - Introduction - The King of Barbarians

In the first scene, I wanted Bali to reach the encampment of his brother's people.  He would meet with Druggum, who would explain that he may have finally learned of the place where their father made his last stand against the accursed orcs.

High in the mountains where their childhood home lay in ruins, is a small tower. There was a secret exit from the main fortress that their father had been using to attempt to escape the orc invaders. Druggum believes that their father and his honour guard fell in the lower levels of this tower, There will be an orc presence at the site, but it should be lightly guarded.

Bali strode purposefully down the nearby snowy hillside and stomped into the huge barbarian encampment without delay.  His brother's tent was easy to locate; it was a very large (garishly colourful) affair in the centre of the camp.

After a quick discussion with his brother about why he was called North, Bali declared that he would travel into the mountains to search for their father's remains.  Druggum could not go with him, as his older age and failing health prevented him from making such a perilous journey.  

The Barbarian King did offer his brother some warriors / scouts as comrades, but Bali stubbornly refused.  "This is Family business my brother!"

1 - The Guardhouse - Mountain Entrance
Near the old tower on the mountain, is a guarded passageway cut into the stone face of the cliffs.  It was an ancient guardhouse of sorts used by dwarves to ensure that the buildings on the plateau above were protected. A narrow footpath cuts across the ice covered crags, and runs up to a gateway and small fortification set into the mountainside.  It appears to have two levels, with murder holes visible above the gate.

A pair of orc sentries are guarding the entrance to this gate.  They are wielding spears and appear to be very uncomfortable. Huddling in the cold beneath their cloaks.

Bali crouched amidst some snowy boulders, a short distance up the footpath from the gatehouse.  He knew there must be some sort of secret entrance to this fortification (dwarves are very practical like that).

*Graham declares he would like to make a knowledge check to see if there is a secret entrance. His clan built this place, so it seemed like he may know about one if it existed.  The test was successful.*

After a successful test I told Graham that Bali was aware of a secret hatchway into the second level of the gatehouse. However, it was locate above the building among the rocks and ice. If Bali wanted to get up there he would need to climb, and avoid being detected by the guards below.

Making sure that his belongings are secured tightly, Bali prepares his climbing equipment and readies himself to attempt to scale the cliff face and reach a long forgotten secret entrance to the gatehouse. He is a capable athlete, and also has a magi-mechanical arm which he can rely upon to help him with the climb.  The hard part is going to be keeping quiet and hidden while making the climb.

*Graham handily succeeds at an Athletics check to scale the cliff.  He then holds his breath and rolls again for a Stealthy check.... it is a success!*

Bali slips past the guards unnoticed and scales the mountain. He reaches a spot between two boulders where a small hatch is hidden.  He opens the hatch, and drops down into the upper level of the gate house undetected.

2 - The Guardhouse - Interior and Stairway
The interior of this guardhouse is a curved space with a central staircase running though it and a small living quarters at the far end.  Bali is situated at the top of a small rotting ladder, peering down into the stairway from a dusty attic storage area.

*Graham declares his intent. Bali is going to try and sneak down the ladder and bar the door to the gatehouse so that the orcs outside cannot get back in.  He rolls another Stealthy roll... and passes.*

Bali sets the heavy wooden bar into the hooks on the gatehouse door. The guards outside cannot get in the gatehouse any longer.

At this point, I decided to intrude upon the story.  I slid a XP across the table, and declared that the bar dropped into the door hooks with a heavy thud.  From atop the stair and around the corner a gravely voice can be heard.

"Oi! You two lazy no good maggots had better not be shirking yer duties! I said guard posts until it was suppa time!"

Bali quickly sidesteps out of the hallway and into a small alcove next to the stairs.  A large orc with dark green skin and a savage looking cutlass hanging at his hip begins to descend the steps. The orcish captain is peering about the hallway suspiciously on the lookout for his lazy and oafish subordinates.

*Graham declares he is going to toss a cup from his backpack into the corner behind the orc, to try and trick him into turning his back.  He makes a deception roll... and passes! *

The orc hears the clattering cup hit the wall behind him and wheels about. Bali quickly readies his net in one hand and his axe in the other.  The dwarf leaps out from his hiding place and hurls his net at the orc's back.

*Graham rolls an attack roll against the orc (a fairly low level goon) and succeeds in trapping him under his net.*

With the orc pinned to the stairs, Bali strides up the stone corridor and proceeds to bury his axe in the fiends neck.  His pathway through the gatehouse was now clear.

3 - The  Plateau and the Webbed Stair
The final scene for our game would take place on a windswept plateau high above the gate entrance on the icy peaks.  Snow is piled in high drifts around this ancient courtyard, and a small crumbling tower stands frozen and tilted at the far side.  A narrow cobblestone path winds across the area. Frozen chucks of rock are strewn about on the ground.

Bali crosses the courtyard cautiously and approaches a tattered and rotting wooden door that leads into the tower. Pushing the door ajar with his weapon he peers inside. 

There is a stone stairway spiraling down into the darkness below ground.  Snow swirls down into the depths as it falls into the tower through the destroyed ceiling.  The centre of the staircase is choked with a tapestry of thick heavy cobwebs that hang down as far as can be seen in the darkness.

A wild grin spreads across Bali's face. He reaches into his travel kit, and removes his flint and tinder.  Using it he quickly lights a small brand of wood on fire, and hurls is quickly into the thick webbing that hangs within the tower.

The flames quickly spread, consuming the flammable strands of web. Within moments the interior of the tower is blazing hotly with fire. The ice and snow melts on the walls and stairs and the flames travel down into the deeps. A horrific screech is carried up from below. A rage filled and anguished cry of something large and inhuman.

A giant hairy spider hurls itself up from the darkness below, screaming and hissing in rage.  Bali's fire has burned up her nest.  He has destroyed all of her eggs as well as her food she had stored to weather the cold season.  She intends to exact her revenge and restock her larder at the same time!

*Graham rolls initiative and ends up getting his turn after Grimweb, the Giant Spider Matron.

Grimweb launches her huge frame through the doorway and Bali is unable to get out of the way in time. He is struck firmly by the spider and knocked from his feet onto the icy ground.  The spider now looms over top of the prone dwarf, attempting to bite at him, and stab at him with her spike covered front legs.

Bali takes a deep breath and slashes savagely at the monstrous creature above him. 
*Graham rolls an attack against the spider and scores a superb hit!*
Thick ichor sprays down on the dwarf, coating his weapon and armor in gooey spider juice. Grimweb reels backwards in pain.

The spider snaps back quickly at the axe wielding warrior, attempting to bite him with her dripping poisonous fangs.
*Graham rolls a speed defense roll and fails.*
The spider's bite sinks deep into Bali's leg, injecting burning venom into his blood.

With a tremendous surge of effort the dwarf strikes out at the Spider again and lands another great attack.  The monster's legs are badly wounded and it topples to the ground.  With a final swing of his axe Bali is finally able to dispatch the behemoth and sends it crumpling hard onto the icy rocks.

Finally, wounded and beginning to suffer the effects of a powerful poison Bali is able to descend the stairs. He finds beneath the tower in a narrow tunnel a scene of a once great battle. Dozens of dwarven skeletons lay crumbling into dust along the ancient corridor.

Bali finds his father's remains among these fallen clan members, and is able to reclaim his families lost heirloom (a magical crown, worn by his father during negotiations to help gain insight into the minds of others).  He lays his fathers remains to rest properly in a great chamber beneath the mountain and begins the journey back to the barbarian camps.

Will he arrive safely? Will he succumb to the venom now coursing through his veins?  That is a tale for another game night....

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Numenera - Vortex - Play Report #1


  • Scenario: Numenera: Vortex (by Monte Cook)
  • Rules: Cypher System
  • Play report
  • Part 1 of 3
  • Number of players: 3
  • Duration: 3 hours (leisurely)

In late 2014, Clay found a new RPG system he wanted to try out - Numenera. He had purchased a prepackaged scenario, Vortex, which we ended up playing over the Christmas holiday.

The scenario is still available at Monte Cook Games:
And I believe it was also included in the Numenera Adventure Book that came in the kickstarter box set.

If you are planning to play this scenario (as a PC), you shouldn't read this play report. The scenario is a little sand-boxy, and the PCs have lots of choices. Meta-gaming would spoil a lot of the fun.

The characters:

Ngaire         Learned Jack who Wears a Sheen of Ice
Robin          Graceful Nano who Talks to Machines
Char           Clever Glaive who Masters Weaponry
Jeremy        Charming Jack who Fuses Flesh with Steel
                      (only present for a few hours)

We used pre-made characters for the adventure.
Robin picked his character for the Special Abilities.
Ngaire chose hers for the Skills.
Char picked hers because of its Oddity - an indestructible scarf that never gets dirty.
Jeremy chose his at random.

We dropped the character names almost immediately, for simplicity.

Our biggest complaint about the pre-mades was that we had a tough time making in-game decisions. We hadn't discussed the characters' personalities, motivations, or morality. As a result, the characters were very flat and, frankly, difficult to play.

The other annoying thing about our characters was that they had awesome cyphers and oddities that we never got to use. Like a miniature saddle for a small animal, like a squirrel. And goggles that tint the world green (which Ngaire wore anyway - just because). And a living solvent. And so on.

Anyway, on to the game...

Robin, Ngaire, and Char are several days into an expedition to explore a section of uncharted forest, in search of Numenera to salvage and sell. They have been travelling for several days without any noteworthy encounters. In the late morning on a beautifully sunny day, the trio happens upon a river. As they approached it to fill their canteens, they notice dead fish collecting in the still pockets of water at the edges of the river.

(Robin: “Perhaps we shouldn’t fill our canteens here.”)

Looking upstream, the party discovers a large, grey structure jutting out of the riverbed. It is larger than a small house and oddly shaped, with yellow and white accents. The architectural style is not familiar to the trio. The area immediately surrounding the structure was recently disturbed, as though the structure burst through the ground in the middle of the river. There are two-day-old dead fish flung all over the nearby riverbank.

The three adventurers move further upstream to confirm that the mysterious structure is the source of the dead fish. The river appears undisturbed, so the group fills their canteens. They then return to investigate the structure.

The group walks around the perimeter of the building. There is no discernible door. Char marches up to the closest side and loudly commands “Open!” …Nothing happens.

(Char: “Hey, it worked in the last book I read.”)

Upon closer inspection, some of the yellowish markings are actually worn runes, although they are completely foreign to the group. While Char examines and pokes each of the runes, Ngaire begins to climb the structure.

Robin selects an area that he deems to be a promising location for a door and “scans” beyond the wall. He can sense that the area directly in front of him contains a lot of metal and mechanical parts, but is hollow inside.


Char hears voices and stops to listen. A group of people is approaching from upstream. Due to the heavy tree cover, she cannot see them, but from the tone of their voices she concludes that they cannot see any of her party either. She signals to Ngaire and Robin and then climbs the nearest tree with a good vantage point. She arms herself with her crossbow and loads a bolt.

Robin hides behind the structure and Ngaire climbs around to the downstream side at her current elevation.

Five people in yellow robes come into Char’s view. Their robes are distinct, but not recognizable as part of any known cult or group. They are each carrying several full sacks and baskets. As they get closer, the trio can pick out bits of their conversation, including “almost home” and “supplies.” The parts that they can make out do not strike the adventurers as noteworthy information. It becomes apparent that the structure is the Yellow Robes’ destination.

Ngaire steps into sight and calls out, “Ahoy!”

(Char: “I’m going to say that. Ahoy! (Ponyo reference) …not really, though.”)

The Yellow Robes draw and point their weapons at Ngaire. It appears that they are quite heavily armed. One of the men, a large bearded fellow, calls out, “Who are you?”

(Ngaire: “Okay… Outnumbered and outgunned. I guess the normal tactic of attacking first isn’t the best idea this time.”)

Ngaire thinks about this for a second. “An adventurer and treasure-hunter. I was just looking over this structure. Is it yours?”

The Yellow Robes slowly lower their weapons. The bearded man responds, “No. But I must ask you to leave the area.”

“Why? If you lay no claim over this…”

“We are going home. But we need some space to prepare.”

“…May I return to this place later?”


The Yellow Robes continue with their business and begin to pile their sacks and baskets on the riverbank. The containers appear to be full of foodstuff and supplies.

Ngaire calls down, “I don’t mean to alarm you, but I am not alone here.”

Char remains concealed in her tree, unseen and crossbow ready. But Robin steps around the corner into the open with his hands visible in a peaceful gesture. “Good day. I wish to introduce myself. My name is Robin.”

The Yellow Robes do not seem particularly bothered by an additional person. The large bearded man addresses Robin while the rest continue with their work. “I am Gregor. I must ask you and your party to leave the area. We must prepare for our ritual so we can go home.”

“As an adventurer and a follower of the Machine God, I am very interested in rituals. May I stay to observe?”

Gregor bristles noticeably at the mention of the Machine God, but he responds, “Do as you please. But keep your distance.”

“Is the opposite riverbank satisfactory?”

“It will suffice.”

Robin and Ngaire make their way over to the other side of the river and find a good place from which to observe the Yellow Robes. They sit down to munch on a snack. Char remains in her tree.

The Yellow Robes bustle around for a few minutes, mostly focused on carefully arranging the sacks. Once satisfied, they arrange themselves in a horseshoe facing the structure and one of them produces a small black block. He walks up to the structure and appears to insert the block into the wall. He takes a step backwards and the wall opens to reveal a hallway. The Yellow Robes quickly carry the sacks inside the structure and the door closes immediately behind them.

Image from Monte Cook's "Vortex"


Char jumps down from her tree and runs to the location of the closed door. She searches the wall for the keyhole. She locates a shallow impression that matches the shape and size of the block. It is not obvious, almost indistinguishable from the markings around it. Char is about to mark the location so that it is more obvious when she hears a high-pitched buzzing and senses imminent danger. On instinct, she quickly moves to a safe distance from the danger.

The structure blinks out of existence. Water fills the void in the river that the building had previously occupied.

(Clay: “Just so you know, there are guidelines for combat if you had chosen to fight the robes. Although the guidelines do indicate that attacking strangers is very rude. …and you probably would have died.”)

Laying on the riverbank next to her, Char finds a black satchel. She remembers seeing one of the Yellow Robes carrying it earlier – the skinny man who performed the ritual to open the door. Looking through the bag, Char finds a bunch of maps and a journal. Losing interest, she tosses the bag to Robin when he and Ngaire join her on the riverbank.

The journal contains a lot of information that is meaningless to Robin – words like “vortex” and “angel”. The journal also contains many beautifully drawn and amazingly detailed maps. Flipping through them, Robin finds one that looks familiar. It is their current location and the surrounding area. Over their exact location there is some writing – coordinates, dates, and times. One of the date-time combinations is just a few minutes ago and the other is a few days ago.

There are two other noteworthy items on this map. A small town called Jutte, which is located one day’s travel north from here, on the edge of a lake called Dog Lake. And another set of coordinates, four days travel in the same direction. The first date-time combination written below the coordinates is in 10 days time.

(Ngaire: “Hmmm… This is a pretty obvious railroad.”)

The adventurers decide to head towards the coordinates, figuring that they may find the odd structure again. They decide to pass through Jutte on their way.

Day 1:


The party arrives in Jutte at around noon. Their first order of business is to introduce themselves to the town leader(s), as a courtesy. The first local they pass informs them that the village elder is quite sick and confined to her home, but that a Glaive named Trummel has been overseeing the town in her stead. They are given directions to where he can likely be found.

Without much difficulty, the party locates Trummel. Robin introduces the trio as a group of “treasure-hunters and adventurers”. Trummel welcomes them to the town and warns them not to make any trouble. Robin asks about “a band of yellow-robed strangers we passed yesterday coming from this direction.” Trummel mentions that the group had stopped in the town to gather supplier – a lot of supplies. He does not offer much information about them, but it is obvious that he is not fond of the Yellow Robes. Ngaire inquires about accommodations and provisions, and Trummel directs them to the inn and the marketplace.

Trummel is very direct and although he is polite, he is neither talkative nor sociable.

The group heads to the small marketplace.

Ngaire quickly browses the stalls and counters until she locates some parchment and ink. She hardly haggles at all and pays one Shin for a large quantity of each. She immediately heads to the inn, arranges accommodations, and places herself at a table with good lighting in the common room. She begins to copy the maps from the lost journal, starting with the one of this area. She intends to copy as many maps and journal entries as possible, placing priority of what she judges to be valuable or important.

Robin and Char peruse the marketplace at a more leisurely pace. They engage the townsfolk in small talk, especially concerning the recent visit of the Yellow Robes. The townsfolk do not have much valuable information, as the Yellow Robes passed through the town fairly quickly, keeping to themselves and only speaking with the townsfolk about business matters. Although there is no evidence that the Yellow Robes did anything wrong, most of the locals express a dislike for them, using terms like ‘shady’, ‘scary’, ‘untrustworthy,’ and ‘creepy’.

…But who can spare time to fret about strangers who have already left, what with the monster in the lake and all?

(Ngaire: “Oh, yeah. The monster. Who could forget about that?”)

(Robin: “You really think Trummel would have mentioned a thing like that.”)

(Char: “What would have happened if we had decided to go swimming instead of shopping?”)

After hearing several mentions of the lake monster, Char decides to ask Trummel for more details. She finds him at the inn, eating lunch.

(Side note: Char is also a Glaive and the two share a warrior bond – instant mutual respect.)

“Hello. May I join you?”

Trummel gestures for her to sit.

“We are hearing a lot of rumours about a monster in the lake. Is there any truth to it?”

“Monster? I’ve not seen one. No one has. But the Dreavish brothers disappeared a few days ago when they were out fishing. And there are stories of apparitions and mysterious noises in the fog. Rumours like those spread, creating fear and begetting more stories.”

“You think there’s anything behind it?”

“The brothers did go missing. That much is true. They are not the kind to up and leave, nor the type to be messed up in any trouble. Could have been an accident though.”

“You don’t think there’s a threat?”

“I defend this town when there is something to defend it from. But all I found are rumours. Nothing for me to fight.”

“Any problem with us investigating?”

“No. As long as you don’t cause any trouble.”

“Any reward for finding anything?”

“We are not a rich town. But if you were to find a monster in the lake and kill it… with proof… well, I imagine that the townsfolk would reward you as they could. Free accommodations, food and drink, and the like. I cannot promise anything, though.”

“Thank you for your time.”

Meanwhile, Robin has made his way to the spare parts vendor in the marketplace and is combing through the Numenera for trinkets and parts that ‘speak’ to him. He finds a few bits and bobbles, which he purchases. He also searches for an object that resembles the block key used by the Yellow robes. He finds a black metal block that, at a glance, could be mistaken for the key. He also purchases this block.

When Robin arrives at the inn, he and Char ask the townsfolk for more information about the lake monster. Some details remain consistent between the different stories: the monster can appear anywhere on the lake, it might attack anything that moves on or in the lake, and it appears at dawn.


Char suggests using her remote surveillance device to monitor the lake at dawn.

Remote Viewer
Level ?
The device splits into two parts. For one hour, the glass screen on one part shows everything going on in the vicinity of the other part of this device, regardless of the distance between the two parts.


The device is only supposed to operate for about an hour, so they will have to be selective about the timing, but it can be activated remotely, so they can place it ahead of time. She and Robin head down to the lake before dark to set up the device. Char splits the surveillance orb in half and places the recording half high in a tree with a good view of a large portion of the lake. She takes the viewing half with her, and she and Robin return to the inn.

Ngaire is still copying, thinking about the value of a good map. And these are great maps.

That evening, Robin entertains the locals with a lively performance of a tale of one of their previous adventures. He tells the story so well that the townsfolk, thoroughly amused, buy him drinks and encourage him to continue. When he finishes, they applaud and throw him pennies.


(Jeremy inserts his quarter).

One of the townsfolk, Jeremy, overhears the adventurers’ intention to search for the lake monster. After hearing Robin’s tale, he decides that this trio might be capable of finding and vanquishing the beast. He introduces himself to the party and declares that he will be joining them. After all, this is the town’s problem and there should be a representative from the town to safeguard their interests.

The adventurers are hesitant, but Jeremy is quite insistent. He convinces them that he is capable and not likely to get himself killed. They agree to allow Jeremy to accompany them, mostly because he probably would have followed them anyway, even if they had refused.

The party heads to bed early, intending to wake and meet in the common room about a half hour before dawn.

Day 2:


Char wakes up an hour before dawn in anticipation. She sets up the viewing half of the orb in the common room and waits. The rest of the party joins her at the agreed-upon time. They turn on the surveillance device and see calm, clear, and dark lake.

Just as the sun begins to illuminate the lake, on their tiny screen, the adventurers see a massive object moving across the water. It disappears into the reeds right in front of the remote viewer. Everything returns to a state of calm.

The party decides to wait until the sun has fully risen before making their way to the lake. They take the time to eat a proper breakfast. Once it’s fully light and their bellies are full, the party heads down to the lake.

It is calm, still, and clear. There are no townsfolk around, most likely due to fear of the monster. The quiet is quite eerie.

Staying far away from the edge of the lake, the four adventurers make their way to the location of the remote viewer. Char retrieves the viewer half of the orb. It may no longer work, but it could still be traded as a novelty.

There is nothing apparently amiss in the area, besides the unnatural quiet. Ngaire walks back up the shore to the wharf and unties one the smallest fishing boats - a rowboat. She walks along the shore, pulling it by a rope. When she nears the suspect reeds, still holding onto the rope, she pushes the empty boat out towards the spot where the monster disappeared on the viewing orb.

Suddenly, the water under the boat explodes and half the boat disappears. The other half slowly sinks into the lake. Everything returns to an eerie calm.

(Jeremy: “Oh, no! Jim’s boat! He’s going to be pissed!”)

(Robin: “…Dare you to go swimming.”)

As Robin, Char, and Jeremy discuss their next move, Ngaire pulls a gravity grenade out of her bag and throws it into the lake in the vicinity of the boat wreckage.

Gravity Detonation
Level ?
Can be thrown in a short range. Bursts in an immediate radius, inflicting damage equal to the cypher's level by increasing gravity tremendously for one second. All in the area are crushed to the ground for one round and cannot take physical actions.


Unfortunately, Ngaire has never been very good at throwing, and she misses her target by a few metres.

The grenade hits the water with a quiet “plop” and sinks below the surface. A few seconds later, the calm is shaken by a large “BOOM” and a hole about 3 metres in diameter appears in the water where the grenade disappeared.

A massive crab-like creature bursts forth from the water several metres from the hole. The monster quickly scuttles down the shoreline away from the town. The four adventurers give chase. The monster makes its way to the mouth of a river and disappears among the reeds. Once again, everything goes still.

Robin, Char, and Ngaire begin to brainstorm possible tactics. Meanwhile, Jeremy picks up a rock and tosses it into the reeds where the crab disappeared. The monster jumps out of the reeds with an ear-splitting shriek.



The Lake Monster - Mesomeme
Level 5
 Level 7 when swimming or hunting
A mesomeme often appears to be a number of individual creatures - people and animals - wading in shallow water. Each person is speaking and the animals are making noises. The creatures are just severed heads mounted on slender, grey tendrils, which sprout from holes in the chitinous shell of a massive crustacean with eight legs, two of which end in massive pincers.

Th creature itself cannot speak. It is not very intelligent and acts on instinct. The mesomeme feeds on the mental activity of its victims, stimulating the brains in their severed heads, which remain preserved for weeks on its tendrils. This stimulation causes the heads to babble.


Image from Monte Cook's "Vortex" and from "Numenera Setting Book" 

(Side note: Jeremy rolls a 1 with his attack, so things get more complicated.)

The monster scurries up onto the muddy and incredibly slippery riverbank. It appears to have no trouble with its footing, but the terrain looks treacherous to the adventurers.

Before anyone else reacts, Robin charges directly at the monster, dropping to a home-plate slide when he hits the mud. He slides directly under the massive crab, narrowly missing the many legs stabbing at him. He gathers all his energy into a "force push" directed at the monster’s underbelly. The crustacean is thrown several meters into the air. If flails and twists and turns. Robin rolls out of the way a split-second before the monster crashes down on its back.

Char rushes in with her sword-staff, but cannot land a hit due to the monster’s flailing legs and claws. Jeremy suffers similar difficulties with his axe.

(Side note: Jeremey rolls his second 1, but uses a benny to avoid more misfortune).

Ngaire lets loose an arrow from her bow, but it is deflected by a claw. Robin arms himself with his punch-dagger and jams it into one of the monster’s joints where the leg meets the body.

Char sees an opportunity, and puts all her might behind a strike with her sword-staff, but she slips on the muddy terrain, spins spectacularly, and lands in the muck.

(Side note: Char also rolls a 1, but has no benny to save herself).

Jeremy moves in to attack again and cracks open a claw with his axe, while Ngaire buries an arrow between the shell into an exposed bit of flesh. The crustacean begins screaming and flailing in desperation. Robin wrenches his punch-dagger free and uses it to land another blow in the same location, punching the monster’s leg clean off.

Jeremy attacks the monster once again with his axe. The blow is parried and does no damage, but it draws the monster’s full attention, leaving it wide open to Char’s attack. She spears the crustacean through with her sword-staff, effectively ending its life.

The adventurers take a moment to catch their breath and sheath their weapons. They then begin the arduous task of dragging the monster’s body back towards the town. Many of the townsfolk, drawn by all the commotion and noise (…gravity grenade) are standing on the wharf when the four return. The party drags the crustacean up to the wharf.

Char declares, “Crab boil once I’ve bathed and changed. …Is there anywhere I can get these clothes washed?”

The rest of the day passes with feasting, drinking, and song.

(Side note: Jeremy says that his flex skill for the following day will be ‘culinary arts’ so that he can prepare a kickass crab meat breakfast.)

(End of session).

So, yeah... We ate the mesomeme. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Monday, 15 August 2016

CSR Dark Sun Play Report # 2 - Prep Work


  • Planning of the second session
  • Rules: Cypher System
  • Setting: Dark Sun - Burnt World of Athas
  • Number of players: 3
  • GM: Clay

Now that I've told you what happened during the Dangerous Mystery Items session (including the plot twist), I'd like to describe Clay's prep work.


  • To introduce the overarching campaign goal - with hooks: Cryo-Phoeix egg or Veiled Alliance.
Plot Points:
  • Party deposits (previous payment), shops, exchanges, etc.
  • Encounter Tarez and his goons in marketplace. Party confronted about stealing the wooden box. Potential fight. Tarez hints at value and significance of box and its contents.
  • Goron cooks meal with blood spice (Ngaire declared this as her session goal a few days before we sat down to play).
  • Cryo-Phoenix egg found in wooden box.
  • Tarez or Veiled Alliance are sources of additional information on the egg (remember the Veiled Alliance wooden coin that Gator got in the first session?).
  • Rufus - Ironworks (lock box dealer) - Lv 1
  • Iggy - merchant (elf) - Lv 2
  • Tarez - merchant (spices) - Lv 3
  • Goons - Lv 2
  • Groog - half-giant - Lv 4
  • Cryo-Phoenix - egg - Lv 5
Resources / Bookmarks:
  • Description of Balic (including the Dictator Andropinis and the Templars)
  • Map - City of Balic
  • Description of the Grey
  • Cypher Deck
Available Items:
  • Random cyphers - Iggy's shop - available to buy or through trade
  • Reasonable common items, armour, weapons, and supplies - available at marketplace.
Cryo-Phoenix Egg:
  • An egg that could hatch a baby ice phoenix (inhabitant of the Grey).
  • Potentially a powerful weapon or artifact.
  • Not intended to hatch this session. Intended to further interactions with Tarez and the Veiled Alliance.

So, obviously, the session didn't play out as expected. It is a perfect example of the "creative and unpredictable players" that seriously derail all the GM's planning.

Most of Clay's ideas for future sessions were effectively destroyed, and the session quickly dissolved into improvised story-telling.

Some notes on the in-game fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants decisions:


  • So, the party sort of disengaged from the encounter without gathering much information. Clay decided to just wait to see what they'd do next.
  • It wasn't suppose to hatch. But the party showed little interest in engaging Tarez or other parties for information (they were more interested in robbing the merchant). Then the mage started throwing spells at the egg - so why not hatch the thing? A baby ice phoenix could be hilarious, right?
Doomsday Device (cypher)
  • Random cyphers can be disruptive.
  • Clay quickly decided that total party death (and the destruction of a city-state) was not desirable.
  • The baby Cryo-Phoenix was used to absorb most of the destructive power of the Doomsday Device. But as a result, the phoenix grew big and strong, into an adult, in a matter of minutes.
  • The party was not ready to face an adult Cryo-Phoenix (much stronger than Lv 5), so Clay decided to have it fly away before the party had a chance to react.
  • The lesson: think carefully before using cyphers that you don't understand. As the commercial say, "If you don't know just what it is, don't put it in your mouth."

The session lasted about three hours. Even if we hadn't run out of time, Clay needed time to reconsider where the plot could go next.

By the way, Clay is reading over my shoulder, making sure that he agrees with my memories and explanations.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

CSR Dark Sun Play Report # 2 - Dangerous Mystery Items (P2)

  • Play report 
  • Second session - Part 2 of 2
  • Rules: Cypher System
  • Setting: Dark Sun - Burnt World of Athas 
  • Number of players: 3 

This is the continuation of our Dark Sun campaign. I will describe what happened in the second half of our second session.

This is one of the most memorable sessions I have ever witnessed.

     It is mid-afternoon by the time the group returns to the inn. Goron heads straight into the kitchen to begin cooking. He barely fits in the small room, but he happily makes do.

     Nameless attempts to sneak off to the room. Gator, suspicious since the encounter with Tarez, notices the man's departure from the common room and follows. He catches up with the man as he enters their room.

     Nameless goes directly to the storage locker, unlocks it and pulls out the small, black box. 
     When he sees the box, Gator immediately recognizes it as the item Tarez was searching for. Gator simply says, "Oh," and nods his head slowly.

     The container looks like a normal box. It is of a simple design. But as he is holding it, Nameless starts to feel a sense of apprehension and unease. He is reminded of the times he experimented with magic from the Grey. Images of ghouls, shadows and the dead flood his memory - unpleasant images that he would rather forget.

The Grey

The Grey is a dreary, endless space - the place Athasians go when they die. This infinite expanse of ashen haze attracts the spirits of the dead, where they exist in a sort of limbo, floating aimlessly in the ether or assuming the forms they held in life. Eventually the souls dissolve.

Few living people have been able to penetrate through to this plane of existence. There is a rumor that a group of powerful mages managed to pierce the Grey only to find death and destruction on the other side. 

Gith legend states that there were once a great race living on the other side of the Grey that flew on giant astral ships through it. The act of penetrating the Grey caused their ships to crash and stranded them on Athas, where they mutated into the creatures they have become today. 

 Excerpts from and

     His impatience taking over, Nameless opens the box. The inside is lined with plush, red leather. In the middle of the cushion, there is a single 2-inch tall egg. It is black, like obsidian.

     Gator leans over Nameless's shoulder to get a better look. He says, "I don't get it. It's a rock." The Mul reaches out and gently touches the egg. As soon as he does, his fingers go numb. He immediately flinches and withdraws his hand. His whole hand tingles with pins-and-needles as feeling starts to return to it. "Okay. I get it. Don't touch."

     Nameless mutters, "And don't let the half-giant eat it." He positions his hand tentatively above the egg and begins to cast a low-level spell.

     Gator watches him apprehensively. "I don't think that's a…"

     There is a small sound of air being sucked into a vacuum. The energy from the spell disappears immediately upon being cast, presumably absorbed by the egg. From its position above the egg, Nameless's hand can feel a slight amount of heat radiating off the egg. It only lasts for a few seconds and then everything seemingly returns to the way it was.


     As it is getting close to meal time, Nameless closes the box and locks it back in the storage locker. He has to think about this. Perhaps there is somewhere he can obtain information that will shed light on the mystery.

     The regular patrons have already eaten dinner. Goron is almost finished cooking. Amalia has set up a separate, special table for the meal. Her two guests have already arrived, and are making small talk near the table. Gator recognizes them as local politicians - senators, if he remembers correctly.

     Goron serves up a blood spice lizard curry. The meal is a great success.

     The smell of the meal seems to attract more patrons to the inn than normal and the common room is bustling that evening.

     Gator offers to buy a round of drink for a group of Silt Sea sailors, who are laughing loudly over their cups of fermented sugar cane. He sits with them and asks, "Heard anything about a merchant named Tarez?"

     One of the sailors nods enthusiastically. He is on a crew that ferries shipments for Tarez. He describes the man as "strictly business". He owns a rather sizable business, including a few warehouses, down by the docks. Makes a small fortune off of imports and exports, but he pays his people well. The worst the sailor says about Tarez is that the man's security is a bunch of goons. He even hired a particularly nasty half-giant named Groog.

     Goron is still at the dinner table, half passed out. He is in a happy food stupor.

     Immediately after the meal, Nameless returns to his room. He spends the evening sitting in a chair, staring at the storage locker.

     That night, Nameless sleeps a lot better. His dreams are filled with blackness. After a long time, a small light appears in the distance. And then the silence and tranquility of the dream is shattered by a loud "crack". This causes him to jolt awake.

     As he sits in the darkness of the inn room, reorienting himself, he hears another crack. The noise wakes Gator, who immediately jumps from his bed, grabs his axe, and checks the lock on the room's door.

     The cracking noise continues. The sound is coming from the storage locker.

    Gator stands by, gripping his axe, as Nameless slowly and cautiously opens the locker. Inside, the little black box is shaking and jumping about.

     Nameless reaches into the storage locker and slowly undoes the latch on the box. He carefully lifts the lid. Inside, the egg still lies on its red cushion, but now there is a noticeable crack in its side. Unnatural blue light is seeping out through the crack. The egg rattles around in the box. Another crack appears. There are a few seconds of stillness and then the egg shatters. 
     A little black phoenix bursts out of the box and flies chaotically around the room. In a panic, it searches for a way out. It leaves scorch marks of black energy whenever it touches a surface.

     Nameless and Gator watch the small bird fly around the room.

     "Should we catch it?"

     "I might be able to erase its memory. Maybe it would calm down."

     The bird knocks over a lamp, and lets out a shrill shriek.

     "Well, we’ve got to do something before the whole inn wakes up." 
      Gator pulls out the orb that he got from Iggy earlier that day. "Maybe this will help." He turns it over in his hands a few times, and then pushes the large, obvious button on its side. The crystal ball glows brightly and a panel slides back to reveal another button. An unknown symbol appears in the orb. The new button lights up and then begins to pulse, and the orb symbol changes with each pulse.

     By this time, the phoenix has wrecked the room. The curtains are torn and scorched. The bedding is smoldering. There is more the one hole in wall.

     Gator shrugs and presses the second button.

     (Note: Clay rolls a dice and grimaces.)

     The button dims, and the symbols in the orb begin the change in a rhythmic pattern. The phoenix reacts immediately. It slowly, but surely gets larger. And its cries become more frequent, more frantic, and louder.

     It becomes obvious that the other residents of the inn are beginning to gather in the hall. Outside the door, someone calls out, "Do you know what's going on?"

     The bird is obviously reacting to the cypher, but not in the way Gator had intended. In frustration, Gator throws the orb at the bird. He misses, and the device hits the wall with the thud, then lands on the bed.

     (Clay [GM]: "Ngaire [not involved in this scene], do you want to look at the card to see what the cypher does? It is ...pretty messed up.")

     (Ngaire: "No. I think I'd rather not know.")

     The orb's symbols start changing faster. Originally green in colour, they progressively turn yellowish, and then continue toward a reddish hue.

     Gator picks up the orb off the bed and strides to the window. He opens the window, flings the shutters wide, and throws the device out toward a fountain in the town square below. The phoenix immediately follows the cypher through the open window, shattering the pane glass as it passes. The room is a smoldering, smoking mess. Half of its contents have been destroyed.

     The bird flies straight to the fountain where the cypher landed and circles above it. A few seconds later, the device goes off.

Doomsday Device
Level 10 (automatic)
When activated, the user sets a timer for up to one year. When the time runs out, the device explodes out to a range of 1 miles (2 km). The explosion inflicts 20 points of damage to everything in the area and saturates the air and ground with radiation that lasts for 5d20 years. Until the radiation dissipates, it inflicts 1 point of ambient damage for each minute a creature remains in the area.

(Note: Goron, the half-giant, is the most resilient of the party members, with 40 points in his combined pools. ...This cypher is likely to kill most everyone in the city of Balic).

(Additional note: Clay [GM] did not plan for this). 

     The fountain erupts in a volcano of fire and molten rock. A rift is torn between dimensions and a three-story-tall elemental demon materializes in the middle of Balic.

     The phoenix wheels in the air above the elemental, shrieking. Tendrils of energy rise from the fire demon to the bird, which slowly grows larger and larger and begins to crackle with blue lightning. The elemental focuses on the phoenix and attempts to swat it from the sky. Around the town square, fire steadily spreads away from the fountain, and chunk of molten rock soar through the air and crash into nearby buildings. The closest walls to the square turn red with the heat and begin to melt.


     When the fountain exploded, Nameless dives for cover behind one of the beds.

     Gator (rolls 1) stands in the window, staring as Armageddon unfolds. The side of inn is ripped off in the shockwave, and Gator is thrown into the air. He watches as a building, below him, explodes. As he hurtles through the air, the glass pendant he got from Iggy begins to hum. 

Gravity Dampener
Level 4
The device automatically activates whenever its user falls 10 feet (3 m) or more. The user floats down until he lands safely, taking no damage from the fall.

      Gator's decent slows and he floats down to an alleyway below. When his feet touch the ground, the little pendant shatters into dust.

     (Clay [GM]: "Lucky.")

     (Matt: "Lucky? We just unleashed Armageddon. …by accident.")

     The demon elemental starts to hurl lava at the phoenix, which remains just out of its reach. The missing projectiles rain down from the sky. The city is filled with people's screaming. Fires rage for blocks in every direction.

     Embers rain down on Gator and a small chunk of molten rock crashes into the wall a few feet from his head. He runs down the alleyway, away from the impending doom, and takes cover behind a fallen chunk of building.

     The lava demon goes back to swatting at the phoenix, but he is too slow and the bird dodges nimbly. But every time the elemental's arm makes a pass at the phoenix, the bird visibly grows larger. At the same time, the lava demon is becoming visibly weaker. It over-extends on its final swing and collapses onto the ground. A wave of molten rock washes over the nearby buildings as the elemental loses all cohesion.

     (Ngaire: "And the half-giant sleeps through the whole incident.")
     (Clay [GM]: "Oh, yeah.") 

     Goron wakes up to explosions, screaming, and flashing lights. He jumps out of the cot and looks around to see the stables on fire.

     (Ngaire: "Save the horses!")

     (Clay [GM]: "There are no horses in the Dark Sun setting.")

     (Ngaire: "What's in the stables, then?")

     (Clay [GM]: "Large beetle-like creatures.")

     (Ngaire: "Save the beetles!")

     Goron leaps into action, letting loose a battle cry of "Save the beetles!" Within a few minutes, he has lead all the creatures out into the inn's courtyard, where they are safe from the fire but still contained. The mounts are panicked and frantic, but there isn't much around for them to hurt, so Goron leaves them there.

     High above the city, a giant black and blue phoenix cries out a victorious shriek. It now has a wingspan greater than 10 feet. The creature does one last pass over its fallen foe and then flies off to the South, out of view. 

     Balic is in a state of panic. It is not long before the Templars arrive. With no enemy to fight, they turn their attention to putting out the fires and saving the citizens.

     Gator wanders back into the inn. The front wall is missing, exposing the common room, and many of the bedrooms above. Amalia is on her hands and knees in common room. She is crying over the ashes of the former hardwood tables.

     Gator drops heavily into an undamaged chair.

     With the beetles safe and secured, Goron rushes out of the inn's courtyard, into the street. He joins a group of Templars and is quickly put to work moving rubble to rescue people trapped inside buildings.

     Nameless, still in their room in the inn, hides the broken eggshell and the wooden box in the bottom of his pack. He packs up his belongings and prepares for a hasty getaway.

     By morning, the fires are under control, and most of the collapsed buildings have been searched for survivors.

     At dawn, something unprecedented happens - it snows in Balic. Although there are legends of snow falling on the city, no one has ever witnessed it in person.

     The King's Pig Inn is severely damaged. Gator and Nameless discuss their course of action. They realize that many of the rooms were damaged - not just theirs. There are no witnesses to their part in the incident. Sure, there was a lot of noise coming from their room before the explosion, but that could be explained …if anyone remembers it to mention it. There is really no indication as to who was responsible for the disaster. They relax a bit and decide to play things cool and remain in the city.

     (Matt: "Are we going to tell Goron?")

     (Chris: "No. No. Hell, no.")

     Goron continues to help people by moving rubble to un-bury bits of their broken lives.

     As the day progresses, the temperature doesn’t warm up much. This is almost as distressing to the townsfolk as the attack last night. There is a lot of speculation about the crops and olive trees dying.

     Gator wanders around the city to collect gossip.

     He overhears that the Templars have begun an investigation, into both the attack on the city and the odd weather. There are a lot of rumours that the disaster was intentionally caused by a group of Defilers (magicians).

     After a while, news is spread that the Templars have determined that the attack was actually a summons from the elemental plane. 
      The townspeople often look up anxiously at the towers and ask each other if there have been any answers from the scryers who are testing the skies for weather patterns. People start to expressed great concern over why there is no news about the weather. Someone says that they overheard one of the Templars say that there is no indication of a cause or a weather pattern, and that they have no idea when it will improve. From then on, most people discuss the crops and what they will do if there's a famine.
    When possible, Gator encourages and adds to the rumours about the disaster. He suggests slightly more outrageous versions of the details being told and he mentions that he overheard that it was a wizard duel.

     Nameless heads to the docks and quickly locates Tarez's business. It is on the other side of the city from the explosion, which remained untouched by the disaster. There is an "open" sign in the window and the door is open. Nameless walks in to find a skinny teenager sitting at the clerk's desk and an otherwise empty shop.

     "Where's Tarez?"

      The youth stumbles over his words a bit, but then informs him that Mr. Tarez left on last-minute business early that morning.

     "When is he expected to return?"

     He was in a bit of a hurry when he left, probably concerned about the explosion that happened on the other side of town. He didn't mention exactly when he'd return - he just left instructions on what to do if he were delayed for more than a few days. The young clerk gives Nameless the name of the fellow who was left in charge of the business operations, and Nameless leaves the shop.

(End of session).

So, in Part 1 of this session, the party avoided the planned fight scene with Tarez and his goons in the market square. This can be frustrating for any GM. Especially if he planned to reveal information about a plot item through the confrontation.

But then the party unleashed Armageddon on the city of Balic, almost killing everyone, including the entire party. The story was almost over before it had really begun. Clay [GM] really had to think on his feet to react to that twist.

I will put together the session planning notes for the next post. But only Clay can comment on his GM in-game decisions and how they affected his overall plan.