Serpents Fall: Fires in Celtia – Session 1

As part of my effort to move the information on my Fate Accelerated fantasy S&S game Serpents Fall onto a tiddlywiki for ease of reference i’ve finally started typing up the session videos into a written form, presented below for people who are interested but don’t have time to watch the videos (or who just prefer written descriptions).
The original video of the session is split into three part.

As the sun begins to raise of the land of Serpents Fall, Ozuchi Komodo, shaman of a stygian tribe that had fallen to attack by norsican warriors, travelled through the lands of Celtia, at his side walked the muscular figure of Gunnar Kron, one of the very same warriors that had attacked his tribe; but something about the attack had not sat well with Gunnar and at the last minute he had changed his mind and now accompanied Ozuchi who, as a medicine-man could sense the huge norsican’s sincerity and desire to change. Ozuchi knew that Gunnar wanted to make amends for his past in the same way that he knew the khemrian death-priest Horesh Komani who accompanied them and was bent on mastering the mysteries of the bleak lands was estined to help him re-unite the fractured people of both their nations. Rounding off the group was the flamboyant figure of Captain Benito, a once Pirate King from the Sword Isles who had travelled to Stygia seeking respite from a curse that forever denied him the ability to sail upon the seas, although he had not found what he had sought, the pirate had found companionship in the three people he walked besides,
On the southern edge of celtia, just before the land was swallowed up by the Great Forest, Horesh (who had been feeling distinctly uncomfortable away from the dry, death saturated wastes of his home) sensed a familiar energy nearby, calling to his companions to alert them to the presence of death nearby somewhere he suggested that they investigate; Ozuchi summoned his familiar to him, a spirit in the shape of a komodo dragon and directed it to seek out the nearby death. As the spirit slithered away both Horesh and Ozuchi eagerly followed it whilst Gunnar and Benito, a little more skeptical regarding the ways of the spirits, followed along behind them, Benito hacking thin boughs out of the way with his sword. Suddenly Gunna paused as he smelt a familiar odour up ahead, the burning of wood, charred flesh and scorched straw and for a moment his mind flashed back to the many burning villages and homes that he had left in ruin behind him during his past as a bloody handed reaver; darting forward the viking warrior put out a hand to stop Ozuchi and Horesh, warning them that someone was sacking a village nearby and that they should go no further without a plan.
Horesh dispatches his own familiar, an imp in bird form, to fly ahead and investigate, it returns and informs it’s master that there are a number of burning buildings up ahead of them; hearing the news Ozuchi leads the party through the trees towards the increasing smell of smoke. As they enter a large clearing the the smell of blood and scorched flesh hangs heavy in the air, they can see a village of about eight roundhouses, it appears to have been burnt some times ago and now little more than embers remain. Benito hears a groan from one of the burning buildings, he indicates for the others to be quiet before carefully making his way towards the sound, he finds a young, muscular man lying on the floor surrounded by corpses, a flint headed spear impales him through the chest and a whistling of air from the injured man attests to a punctured lung. The man clutches the spear as though trying to pull it free but he has not got the strength and appears to not be long for this world, Benito gives the man a sip of water out of his flask and asks him what happened. Gasping through ruined lungs the man manages to them that they were attacked by some raiders from out of the trees and that they took the women and children before murdering everyone else; barely conscious the man tells them that the attackers were savages from the wood wearing strange black woad and that they fought like demons but that they were not the local celts.
Using his skills as a medicine man and, realising that the man is beyond saving, Ozuchi makes him as comfortable as he can whilst Horesh performs a funery rite over him, siphoning some of the death power into himself to strengthen him for the trials ahead; meanwhile Kron examines the other bodies and finds that the villagers are farmers and migrants from other nations rather than warriors. Benito examines the spear used to kill the man, he remembers legends from his time as king of the scarlet brotherhood (an organisation that has raised bragging and tall tales to an artform) when a drunken sailor told him about the dark corsairs, a terrifying spectral force of raiders clad in black cloth & covered in black tattoos. the mention of the tattoos in the tale seemed similar to the description of the savage attackers who razed the village; the spear is carved with runes rubbed with berry juice to stain them black, Benito takes a copy of them on a piece of parchment.
Kron explores the ruins of the village, reflecting on his past and how before he never had to see the aftermath of his bloody doings; he notices there are no woman and children amongst the dead, but some of the bodies have strange symbols carved into them, looking more closely he can see the bodies appear to have been laid out specifically after death for some reason he can’t divine, he returns to the others & reports his findings. Horesh sends his familiar flying up into the air to get a birdseye view of the bodies whilst the, ever financially motivated Benito, begins searching around for the village supply store; he eventually locates a burnt out hut containing bags of grains and seeds, all apparently untouched by the raiders.
As it begins getting dark, Ozuchi begins checking the perimeter of the village looking for footprints or any sign of the raiders, through his spirit companion he senses fear and trepidation and he glimpses shapes moving amongst the trees; suddenly a spear is hurled out of the darkness, slicing his arm and he lets out a cry in his native language; hearing the cry, Horesh signals to his familiar to find out what is wrong with Ozuchi and a few moments later it returns, flying into him, knocking Horesh off his feet, it looks terrified, the creature tells Horesh that they need to get out quickly. Horesh tells the others something evil occurring and, as he does so, Ozuchi runs back towards the rest of the party, his arm still leaking blood; Benito draws his saber, his eyes scanning the treeline, he can just glimpse pinpoints of red light amongst the trees, attempting to intimidate the people lurking in the trees, he neatly side-steps another thrown spear, chopping it in two with his saber.
Horesh and Kron are cut by spears thrown at them whilst Ozuchi narrowly ducks under the one thrown at him and dives into cover amongst the ruins, the khemrian death-priest Horesh calls on his knowledge of the spirit world and summons up a spectral flock of birds; as he begins to bargain for their aid, Gunnar Kron pulls himself up to his full height, drawing his two hammers and preparing for combat. Shadowy, savage figures begin stalking out of the trees, primitives clad in rough furs and their skin stained with black tattooing and woad, a dull red glow seems to emanate from their eyes; attuned to the spirit world Horesh & Ozuchi can perceive the dim red outline of a strange bat-like entity superimposed over the tribesmen. Benito flamboyantly steps out, his saber flashing, the primitives seem unimpressed and one of them lashes out with a flint dagger, slicing into Captain Benito’s flesh.
Horesh begins to negotiate with the flock spirit, he offers to owe it a favour if it will it will aid him in this battle; Horesh agrees and the flock spirit flutters into the combat area, filling it with flapping wings and distracting the savage primitives, seizing on this Kron seeks a morale advantage by targeting the lead tribesman (currently attacking Benito) and hurling one of his hammers at the savage, it strikes home, shattering the skull of the leader who collapses to the ground dead. Seeing their leader slain the other savages lose heart and begin fleeing back into the trees with the party in pursuit. Kron and Ozuchi catch up with a couple of the savages, Kron attempts to shoulder barge one into a tree but the primitive is too fast and escapes, leaving Kron holding a scrap of symbol inscribed fur. Ozuchi brings down his quarry with his stygian martial arts and, with the help of Kron, is able to restrain the freakishly strong savage.
With the savage tribesman restrained Horesh attempts to examine the red spirit lingering over him whilst the rest of the group attempt to interrogate the cursing savage, after Kron uses his hammer to shatter the kneecaps of the savage, Horesh senses that the red spirit is something strange and cold like nothing he’s ever felt before; breaking the connection Horesh warns the others that the savage is possessed by some kind of old, strange dark spirit. Ozuchi attempts to communicate with the savage, threatening that if he doesn’t take them to where the villagers are, Horesh will tear the spirit from him, sundering his soul; in halting common-tongue the warrior spits at Ozuchi saying that he lies, claiming that only Fidach can summon the spirits and give them their strength. Kron asks if fidach was the (now slain) leader, at which the warrior laughs and says that Fidach would not be slain by a mere hammer, frowning at this description of his mighty weapon, Kron smashes the man’s other kneecap. With a grim sense of resolve Horesh says “someone end his life and I will take the information we need from his escaping soul.”
Nodding, Kron tells the others to release their broken prisoner, who collapses on his broken legs; they watch in mounting horror as there is a series of crunching sounds and the warriors legs begin to snap back into their previous positions, not wanting to risk facing whatever devilry is at work here Kron slays the warrior brutally, upper-cutting him with his hammer. As the savage’s soul escapes to the afterlife, Horesh inhales the essence of the death and sees a series of images showing the rough location of their camp, inside a dark burial mound or tor in a dim part of the forest; he starts following the directions from his vision with the rest of the party behind him.

So how did I end up actually representing the warp entity in my 28/07/13 Rogue Trader session?

I did some more thinking about mechanics and how to represent the warp entity (as described in my previous blog entry here) prior to the session; I didn’t to start off with just a rampaging manifest demon that the players could just thump into submission, chalk it up as a generic opponent dealt with and move. There was already plenty of potential for RP going on in the session, with the Admiral and Enginseer teleporting over to one of the enemy ships to repair and save the vessel from destruction in the depths of a gravity well, dealing with the enemy crew and all manner of other hi-jinks that would be occurring; against the background of this I wanted the entity/phenomenon to be more of a puzzle or something for the players to figure out and interact with rather than just an enemy to smash aside on their way to their destination, it needed (IMO) to be more of an event.
Thinking of it as an event helped me divorce the entity/phenemonon from a lot of the normal baggage and stereotypes that go along with the ‘demon’ label, I decided that rather than being a ‘demon’ in the traditional sense (although the mechanics discussed in the previous post would work fine for that) the entity would be more of a phenomenon; appearing as a low-lying mist to those who could view the warp the entity feed on fear and could create quasi-illusion manifestations, all with the aim of creating more fear and feeding itself. This was represented by the entity starting with 3 skill ranks, each of these ranks could be used to create a manifestation; if the manifestation was intereacted with in a way that required a test then its skill level would be equal to the number of ranks used in its creation. If the entity had already used all of the ranks it had and wished to create an additional manifestation then it would have to transfer levels, either weakening an existing manifestation or dispersing one altogether.
The creature fed on fear and anger (due to it’s affiliation with Khorne the blood god), I represented this by giving it an additional skill rank after any scene where fear or anger was demonstrated; if it was on a very large scale then I gave it an additional rank or two. I worked on the idea that this entity was some form of advanced guard, initially very weak and able to infiltrate our reality through far smaller warp intrusions that a bodily manifest demon, but once in our world it was capable of garnering fear and anger in order to strengthen itself and eventually, once it had fed enough, it could use this energy to bring an actual (more traditional WH40K) demon into the world. The way this way represented in game is that, once the entity had accumulated 10 skill ranks, it could spend them to bring a manifest lesser demon into the world, however this would reduce the entity back to a single skill rank and it would have to start accumulating fear and anger again; this would generally result in a dangerous cycle where the creature would summon a demon, feed on the fear and anger created by the demon and the bring forth another demon to sow more fear and anger, etc, etc.
In the game session (more detailed write-up to follow when i’ve had chance to review my recordings of the session and write them up) the creature stoked the natural xenophobia of the ships Confessor to great heights leading to him eventually dividing the crew by trying to start a mutiny when the Captain allowed what he saw as blasphemous primitive blood magic to be used in an attempt to purge the demonic influence; this ship wide event and the heightened emotions caused by it, allowed the creature to get enough energy to bring fourth a bloodletter of Khorne in the centre of the ship, and that’s where we finished the game.
What else did the characters discover about the demon?
Through careful investigation the characters were able to work out roughly what the entity was and discover the following additional facts about it:
  • The mist seemed thicker in areas with more people or areas of heightened emotion.
  • Areas that were deserted or that were only occupied by machinery, servitors and/or tech-priests had little or no mist.

How did it go?
Overall the session worked very well and the mist entity seemed to function as I wanted it to, leading the players to speculate how they had picked it up or whether it had been onboard since they had recovered the Venerus from the Sycorax warp-storm; numerous methods were suggested as a means of dealing with it, but unfortunately the mutiny occurred before they could put any of the less outré suggestions into practice.

What is my favourite non-TSR adventure module?

I first came across this question posed by Roger Brasslett on the Pen & Paper RPG Bloggers Google+ community, he covers his own favourite non-TSR adventure module on his blog; the question was originally asked by Erik Tenkar on his blog. Both Roger and Erik posed the question to the RPG community to find out what people’s favour (non-TSR) adventure was, it started me thinking about my own (lack of) history with adventure modules.
I’ve never been a massive user of the pre-pared adventure modules myself; I generally find that I have to make so many notes to adapt them for my players and so that I can keep track of them that it’s no real extra work to come up with my own adventure from scratch. This isn’t to say that I don’t possess any adventure modules, i’m a great supporter of GMs borrowing and taking stuff from published books since we all something need a boost of ideas or don’t have enough time to design everything from the ground up; there’s not only nothing wrong with taking inspiration or elements from published materials, but I would positively encourage it, an inspiring book or adventure module can often send your thoughts down avenues and into areas that you might not have even considered before.
To answer the question though, my favourite adventure module (although it possibly only loosely fits that label) is the Orpheus game line from White Wolf. Orpheus was a limited line/experiment for the previous old/core world of darkness that was spread across six books; the first featured all of the standard rules, campaign background, etc that you would expect to find in any world of darkness game, positing the discovery of technology that allowed certain people who had suffered near death experiences (NDEs) to project themselves in a spirit form. The game has the normal character splats for a world of darkness game, you pick a shade (banshee, haunter, poltergeist, skinrider or wisp) that your ghostly powers focus on and a lament that describes how your character projects:
  • Hue: weaker ghosts who are created from the spirits of people who have used a supernaturally addictive drug known as Pigment.
  • Skimmer: those who can project their souls from their bodies using meditation.
  • Sleepers: people who can only project when interred in a cryo-tube.
  • Spirit: a naturally occurring ghost.
Your character belongs to or is recruited to be part of the Orpheus organisation, a group that has blossomed to make use of the new technology for various means (mostly making money from shady contracts).
Now you might be thinking that this doesn’t sound very much like an adventure module; however, the great thing (in my mind) about this campaign is that each of the following five books not only advanced the rules but also the metaplot running behind the game line, covering the fall and rise of Orpheus and leading up to secrets threatening the lands of the living and the dead. As a huge fan of the oWoD Wraith: the Oblivion setting, from which Orpheus draws a large amount of its metaplot and game flavour (although knowledge of the Wraith setting is not obligatory or necessary to enjoy the game) I thoroughly enjoyed the concept behind the gameline. Many times during the book it makes references to using a movie model as inspiration, although to me it feels more like a good TV series, with each book ending in some sort of cliffhanger; I remember waiting as the books were originally released to find out what was going to happen next in the storyline.
If you’re interested in a the Orpheus setting which combines, in my mind, the best elements of the World of Darkness, Wraith, ghost stories and the Ghostbusters film then the pdf and POD versions are available from DriveThru RPG: