At last, a new playtest report from the Allentown group! The summary writer had this to say: “Sorry for this one taking so long, but the busy time should be over and we all look forward to getting back to more regular gaming and updates.”
When last we left our players, they had just fended off a bandit attack and discovered that something had been taken from the caravan during the fighting. Oberon Telev, in a panic, hired the PCs to find these thieves and to bring back the item that had been taken. However, he refused to part with any information regarding what that item was. So off into the woods trekked Karis, White Ink, and Bending Sky, to once more risk life and limb for the good of the caravan—or at least that is what Bending Sky claims… some of the time.
Karis took point here and began to lead the PCs through the wending woods, following the tracks left by their quarry. Using keen eyes and a skill at survival she never knew she really had, she kept the group on the tail of the thieves for many days. She found them water and shelter, and only one or twice had to double back a significant distance. In fact, only by dint of her skills did the group make it through the forest without great incident. The only notable exception was when Bending Sky turned to excitedly point out that he had found a scenic ravine, and promptly walked right off the side of it, which is hardly an incident that can be blamed on Karis’ survival skills. (As a note, I love the new falling damage rules.)
1) Social Influence – With Karis finally feeling like some ground was truly being made, our heroes came across a large clearing with a massive hole dug down into the center of it. The footprints of the thieves seemed to head into the clearing, toward the two guards standing watch near the hole.
Not wanting to alert anyone to their arrival, the group began to lay out a plan. Karis and White Ink seemed to be on the same page and began to talk about the best way to render the guards unconscious from a distance. Bending Sky had his own idea, however, and proposed that they take a little time to loosely disguise Karis and send her forward, pretending to be a wood nymph. From there, she would seduce the two guards to come closer and then the group would subdue them in a quick and up-close fashion.
White Ink saw the merits of this proposal and agreed it would make for a fine course of action. Karis, however, was having none of it and stubbornly refused to be part of this plan despite the inspiring argument made by Bending Sky. (Ah, Willpower, how you aid us all.) Not one to be deterred from what he considers a good idea, Bending Sky took a few moments to disguise himself before sauntering out into the clearing, guitar playing an enchanting tune, and attempting to convince the guards that HE was a wood nymph.
This attempt was met with only partial success, but between their confusion, curiosity, and the guards being close by, he was able to close most of the gap before they realized something was terribly wrong. (I actually forgot to use the disguise rules, but given the player of Bending Sky’s Larceny skills and the penalties he was going to accrue for this, I think it worked out just fine without it. I also view this as a positive, since a good game needs to be able to run smoothly both when mechanics are used and when they are not.)
2) Combat – This first fight with the guards was a great example of the tactical nature of the new combat engine. One side had the obvious element of surprise, exploited it well, and worked as a team to quickly accomplish their goal. (This last part may have been an accident, but it appeared to occur nonetheless.) Bending Sky went first, and with the expertise of a man trained in Tiger Style, knocked down the guard nearest to him. White Ink ran from the nearby bushes to grab the second in an iron grip, and Karis fired a bludgeoning arrow upon the now-grappled man, taking the wind out of him.
On the next turn, Bending Sky ripped the throat from the downed man and Karis rendered her opponent unconscious. (Two rounds, and combat was over. Goes to show just how important numbers, surprise, and going first are. I have a feeling that if the tables were turned and the PCs were the ones being surprised, the same thing could have happened to them, which I like.)
Karis and Bending Sky then argued about whether or not to kill the unconscious bandit. Bending Sky finally relented and said the man could live, and the three companions headed toward the large hole in the clearing. Right before arriving there, though, Bending Sky whipped the bow off his back and launched an arrow into the sleeping bandit’s throat, much to Karis’ dismay and White Ink’s disapproval. Bending Sky simply smiled and pointed out that to leave him alive would have been to invite his vengeance at some point in the future, and he for one liked to sleep soundly at night without having to worry about silly things like being murdered.
White Ink cast a long look back before frowning once, shrugging, and following Bending Sky down the sloped entrance. Karis, for her part, did not take things as well. She stayed as far from Bending Sky as she could, all the while staring daggers into his back.
At the bottom of the excavated hole was what appeared to be a massive building, tipped slightly back and away from them. It had a huge stone door that had been pushed inward, in the center of which was a large golden disk embossed with odd pictographs. After some investigating, the PCs discovered that the disk could be removed from the door and seemed to act as a key of sorts. Once removed, Bending Sky took it into his care for safekeeping. Karis discovered an opened wooden box filled with straw, which appeared to have held something heavy and circular.
Deducing that the disk was the item they had come for, the PCs decided to push on into the ancient building to see what else could be found and if anyone else was exploring it. Being the stealthiest by far, Karis carefully crept inward, making sure to always stay close to the walls and to have both handholds and footholds, since the now-tilted building sloped away from her and the middle of the stone floor offered little purchase.
She discovered a massive building with several doors going this way and that, but it was at the end of the main hallway that she found answers to her questions. What she discovered was a large room lit by only a few torches, held by three men: two guards and a robed man who was studying something on the walls and referencing a book he held in one hand. She instantly recognized the robed man as the merchant Jarrick Rill, the same one who had funded the caravan she traveled on and whose house she had recently robbed.
Her feeling of surprise, however, was quickly replaced with one of dread. As one of the men turned his torch to examine a new area, the light revealed a massive figure easily nine feet tall. Its front limbs were as round as tree trunks and long enough that it used them to walk. Spikes and spines protruded from its red-tinged hide, which was more like wire brush then fur, and a set of wicked teeth filled a mouth far larger then should have belonged on a creature even that size. As soon as she noticed it, she also smelled it. It smelled of an uncleaned butchering-room floor and appeared to still have bits from its last meal stuck in its teeth.
With great haste, Karis returned to the group to explain what she had seen, still not quite believing it herself. Much discussion was had about how to proceed, and in the end all were of like mind. This demon needed to be felled, and whatever this Jarrick Rill was up to needed to be discovered—and most likely stopped.
This plan began much like the last—sans Bending Sky trying to cross-dress—as the two with bows crept forward to gain surprise on the beast. White Ink moved forward as well, albeit slowly, as his massive armor took away what little agility he possessed. His part in this would be to defend the archers for as long as possible, while also engaging the beast directly.
When the large room and the demon within were in sight, Bending Sky and Karis fired upon it, their arrows streaking toward their foe with unerring accuracy. The beast’s hide proved thick, though, and only one arrow seemed to bother it at all; the other shattered to pieces against its unnaturally thick fur. The fighting began in earnest then, for with a stone-rattling bellow the demon began to charge up the hallway at Bending Sky, murder in its eyes and a faint red glow around its massive claws. (A [REDACTED] action victory for the Blood Ape spells bad things in Bending Sky’s future!)
Seeing the creature begin its run, White Ink charged out in front of his companions, a baritone battle cry emanating from his lips. With worried looks on their faces, both archers began to backpedal, but valor did not totally flee them as they still launched arrow after arrow after arrow at the ape as it rampaged down the hall. Some of these arrows did their work well and slowed the beast some, but more fell away off its hide like water breaking on a rock. Soon the demon was in melee range, slowed but not defeated, and the true struggle began.
The beast roared. White Ink’s greatsword flashed in the flickering torchlight. Bending Sky dropped his bow and hurled himself at the creature. Karis continued to shoot, but now it was not at the beast, but at the two guards with bows who had joined the fray at the other end of the hall. Armor and flesh were rent, blood was spilt, and the fight’s momentum went back and forth half a dozen times at least. In the end, though, the great beast fell, and when it did a slight pause filled the chamber as all around stood in awe at what had just been done. A mighty demon of Malfeas lay dead at the hands of three mortals, truly a miraculous victory if ever there was one.
In this pause the three bloodied companions looked at each other and silently nodded. At this, White Ink roared challenge once more and tore off down the hall toward the archers, his sword weeping demonic ichor as he ran. So terrifying was his visage that one archer dropped his bow entirely and stood rooted to the spot in fear (Threaten actions are awesome!). It was at this man that Karis unleashed a seemingly endless volley of arrows, and as testament to her skill, not one missed its mark.
Bending Sky, having regained his bow, traded shot for shot with the other archer—who had wisely kept his cool and his cover—before finally pausing in the middle of the hallway and slowly breathing out. As he looked back up, he stared into the other man’s very soul and uttered these words: “It is to your credit that I now must reveal who I really am. I am Hagakami, Archer Lord of the northern steppes, and member of the Red Leaf Tribe. I have never missed while donning my true name. Now, like the leaves my Tribe is named for… FALL!” An arrow then leaped from his bow, and true to his word, he did not miss and the guard did fall.
(WOW! What a fun and awesome fight. Momentum was traded back and forth numerous times, and the PCs finally got a taste of all the bad that can occur when they are in [REDACTED] and their enemies are not. It was great watching them stunt and scrape and fight for every piece of momentum they could have when they were losing. It really gave the fight an amazing, amazing feel. The defend other action also was used for the first time, and it worked well and really helped Bending Sky out. The [REDACTED] action also saw repeated use, and let me tell you, there is perhaps nothing greater then the look on a player’s face when an enemy defeats him in a [REDACTED] and he knows his only option is to kill his opponent before it gets to him, because it is the only way to stop him. All in all, simply fantastic, and I know the players were really pleased with it.)
Limping, tired and coated in blood—both others’ and their own—our heroes slowly entered the room where only Jarrick Rill now stood. Something was different now, though. The room was better-lit then they had first thought, and what was this feeling of renewed energy coursing through their limbs? That is when it took them. That was the moment when our heroes took their second breath: one from the beginning of the day, one from its absence, and one from what occurs when both day and night are present.