Thursday, June 23, 2011

Game 01: Cleaves' Home for Foundlings and Wayward Children

I can't give away any secrets, but I wanted to chronicle two things in this post. First, the books I used as prep to set the stage, and the events that took place.

As I stated in my last post, I got the idea to do a Freeport campaign over Christmas break '10. I previewed some of the books in PDF format by grabbing copies off sharing sites, and once I decided Freeport was the place to be, ordered The Pirate's Guide to Freeport, one of the best campaign sourcebooks I've ever seen, the Freeport Companion: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Edition, so I didn't have to go making up character stat blocks, and Denizens of Freeport, so I'd have a massive cast to draw from. I love giving the sense of a lived-in world to my players, and sadly it's never been something I've pulled off to my satisfaction, even though I knew Middle Earth up and down, backwards and forwards by the time I stopped gaming in Tolkien's world.

Simply put, a world is more than enough. World-spanning adventures are quests. You don't get to know people along the way. I wanted to run a game that had the feel of the Ben Affleck film The Town to it: people grew up, lived, and died here, and there were adventures to be had within that context. I'm also a long-time fan of Robert Aspirin and Lynn Abbey's Thieves' World series, and relished the idea of running episodic adventures set in a world where larger machinations were taking place.

Accordingly, while I have all the Freeport adventures save Black Sails Over Freeport, I won't be running them in the standard fashion jamming adventure hooks down my players' throats. If they take the bait, that's one thing. If not, there are points down other adventure paths that will intersect with those larger events. One of the big reasons I chose this route was that I found the Freeport Trilogy exceedingly contrived in its execution. Further, most of the Freeport series of adventures assumes your party is from out-of-town, and is good-of-heart. This campaign was supposed to be about being a citizen of Freeport, and being a bit black-hearted. All the players are one stripe or another of neutral. So much of the Freeport adventures just don't work whole cloth. Instead, I'm looking to weave that material into my own storyline of Freeport criminals rising to power. What this effectively means is that I will occasionally have the players run into the events of the original Freeport series, starting with the Freeport Trilogy. While they're rising from urchins to underworld masterminds, it's Freeport sleuth Aleksander Tovac who's solving the mysteries of Freeport Trilogy. As he's been a friend to one of the characters, Tovac will occasionally tap him as a "source of information," involving my group of ne'er-do-wells in his courageous exploits.

'For the starting point of the adventure, I chose one of the orphanages in Freeport. Cleaves' Home for Foundlings and Wayward Children is off the beaten path, appearing in Cults of Freeport. All characters were required to start as children, using these adjustments to abilities and scores, or as goblins or halflings - anyone who could pass for a child.

The Players and Characters:
  1. Taylor: Hutchins "Hutch" - a human survivor (New class from the Freeport Companion: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Edition) - 13 years old
  2. Blaine: Tuckery "Tuck" - Halfling Drunken Barbarian - 25 years old
  3. Jeff: Mokey - Human Urban Ranger - 11 years old
  4. Geo: Terrance Garside / "Gar" Irontooth - half-orc Alchemist - 10 years old
  5. Mikey: Jamie "Lucky" Goodcakes - Gobling (goblin/halfling mix) - 20 years old
  6. Shane: Ra'id Telour - Azhar (New race from the Freeport Companion: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Edition) rogue - 12 years old

I began the game with a quick "guided meditation" to the music of Two Steps From Hell. Two Steps From Hell create trailer music, and I was using the track "Fallout" for the opening title music of our Freeport campaign, were it an ongoing television series. I like a cinematic approach to DMing. Following this, I switched to "Secret Plot" from the soundtrack to The Illusionist by Philip Glass. That soundtrack formed most of the music for Cleaves Home for this first game.

With this music playing, I got the game underway. The 25 year old halfling Tuckery is woken up by Hutch, finding he's been shanghaied and left to play the part of orphan. Intrigued by the plight of the children, Tuck decides to stick it out for awhile and enjoy the free room and board. Ra'id discovers Lucky in the fireplace (cleaning it out - he's a chimney sweep), and the two make a pact of convenience: Ra'id needs someone on the outside to get him things, and Lucky wants to attend class and make a better life for himself. Moreover, the gobling has a crush on 13-year-old Sophie Steadman, who tells the children bedtime stories. Gar, new to Cleaves' and still reeling from the violent death of his half-orc mother, is terrorized by Cleaves' bullying gang, the Forks and Knives, which the other children pejoratively call the Forkin' Knives, or, more crassly, Fuckin' Knaves. Hutch creates further enmity by expertly lodging a fork in the shoulder of Simon Midwich, the Knives' leader.

The group was split up for their daily work assignments, and was introduced to Freeport citizens via banal, everyday encounters. I introduced Delinda Knorbertaal and Alain Finnegan (of Finnegan's Books) to Gar; C.Q. Calame and the Shipping News crew, specifically newsboy Curbside to Mokey, Hutch, and Tuck while they were out helping Oskar Broadhammer, a dwarven jack-of-all-trades, with odd jobs. Ra'id and Lucky worked the day at Omar Nkotan's Fang and Claw, mucking out stables and cleaning the chimney respectively. This was the "day in the life" portion of the game, and was entirely open-ended.

While working, the urchins were given opportunities to search for objects on the street. One of these became a mysterious letter from Zellara, a woman of mystery, to Hutch, speaking directly of Gaedren Lamm, Hutch's former employer. Zellara and Lamm are NPCs from Edge of Anarchy, the first adventure in Paizo's Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path: as I said, the PCs will engage in their own track of adventures, while parallel events from the Freeport Trilogy are unfolding. None of those events have occurred yet: Drac's Lighthouse is being built, but the events of Death in Freeport are still five years away. My plan was to run two games with the PCs as children, then give them a five-year fast-forward to level 2, and full stats. Then, the events from Death in Freeport would be taking place on the periphery.

The adventure hook works, and Hutch, Mokey, and Tuck end up at Zellara's where she reads her Harrow Deck (I was so impressed by this aspect of the Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path I decided to include it in my storyline. No spoilers from that just yet!), and asks the three to take vengeance for her murdered son upon Gaedren Lamm, a local criminal who uses children as his workers. They agree, seeing as Zellara is willing to pay them each 1 gp in advance, and 1 gp upon completion (when you start PCs dirt poor, a Gold Piece as reward goes a long way). They return to Cleaves before curfew, and get ready for bed.

The bedtime story told by Sophie Steadman is from the sidebar "Ruler of Skulls and Shadows," found in The Pirate's Guide to Freeport. At this point, the characters have three possible routes to run with their storylines, but are only focusing on the first, and most obvious involving the hit on Gaedren Lamm. Everyone but Hutch and Ra'id nod off to sleep: these boys end up in trouble with one of Cleaves' Matrons for staying up late. I had done repeat visits of the Matron, which created a false sense of security for when the Fork and Knives entered the dormitory to put a literal hit on Gar and Ra'id for an earlier insult involving a stink bomb. The ensuing combat sees Gar badly beaten with clubs before the Knives run. Tuck nearly kills one, bludgeoning him senseless with a paperweight inside a pillowcase. Hutch beats one of Ra'id's assailants nearly to death with his bare hands (the Survivor class is the pugilist/table leg equivalent of the Monk) before the Matrons arrive. The rest of the Fork and Knives have retreated, to lie in wait for a better opportunity.

While these events have been unfolding, Lucky has been returning home, to the Devil's Luck, an Eastern District whorehouse and gaming hall, where he was born and raised. On the way, he runs into Thurber Sime, an artist with a strange gift: though blind, Thurber can see - the interior of the soul. He draws other realities, one might say, and has drawn an image of numerous goblin-ghoul creatures walking the streets of Freeport. Sadly, he cannot say who he was drawing, for he only hears them. "Children," is all he can offer. "I think they were children." But which children - those of Cleaves, Lamm's little Lambs, or some other group of juvenile street toughs?

Gar and Ra'id spend the night in the infirmary, and in the morning, plans are laid to go and deal with Gaedren Lamm. This final moment was played out with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' "Pieces Form the Whole" from the soundtrack to The Social Network. It's my "heist" music.

One last gear note. We're using almost all the face card sets from Paizo, as I want to have the characters be able to remember NPCs, if only by a face or action. The face cards are passed around when a new character is introduced. If only one PC meets the NPC, only they see the card before it is slid into protective card collector sheets hung on the wall, which will act as an ongoing Rogues' Gallery.

This game was played on Tuesday, June 21 from 7:00-10:00 p.m.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

We're Back! Freeport/Pathfinder Campaign begins next week!

Well, it's been over a year since the "Steam Lords" run of adventures ended and I hung up the DM's hat. We switched from Rolemaster to Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, then made the jump to Pathfinder in September of last year. While a few of my players were apprehensive, everyone is sold on it now, and having a great time rolling characters up in a fraction of the time it used to take! We've lost three of our crew, but that's made for a much more manageable table. I've vowed to never run a game with more than six people playing.

My transition to player was a trip down memory lane, though somewhat adjusted: Shane O. took over for me and ran the first adventure I ever played, Palace of the Silver Princess. I bought Palace back in '81, and convinced my dad to be the DM for our first game. He killed us off in the first 30 minutes, and closed the books and left the table. Kudos to my dad for doing it at all--however, that was the day I decided I needed to become a DM. I was one of those frustrated DMs, trying to play a character and be the DM, which meant few of my early adventures had much depth or complexity. I'd been just DMing for over a decade when Shane asked if I'd ever played without being the DM. I told him the story of Palace, and he decided that would have to be our first game - we needed to right that wrong, complete that story, storm that dungeon.
I was a Cleric of Heironeous with an appetite for baked goods. It was a standard group of heroes, and some of the best fun I've ever had.

In the fall, Shane ran a Planescape campaign, and I played an Aasimar/Human Bard, a reluctant hero who just wanted to play a great venue. Shane became a father in December, so he was relieved of duty. Longtime player George H. took a try at DMing in January, running the Pathfinder adventure path Rise of the Runelords. We made it through the first adventure, Burnt Offerings two weeks ago. I played a Paladin of Erastil, a backwoods hick with aspirations, based on a mix of the trio from O Brother Where Art Thou? and Tommy Lee Jones in Lonesome Dove. It was another really good time.

However, while I've enjoyed the break, I've been chomping at the bit to run a campaign again since Christmas. While on vacation in Houston, TX, I went to a pirate exhibit at a museum, and started thinking of running a pirate campaign. I also watched The Town and wondered about running a game with criminals as PCs. A web search turned up Freeport, and after looking over some PDFs of the books online, I ordered a copy of The Pirate's Guide to Freeport and the Freeport Companion: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Edition. I thought about running the classic Freeport Trilogy, but decided to go more freeform instead. I can't give any details yet, but I'm running a combination of the Freeport sourcebooks and two of the Pathfinder adventure paths: Curse of the Crimson Throne and Council of Thieves. What I can say at this point is that I'm starting the group out as children, with their stats adjusted according to this table. We have six players: Taylor (human Survivor (Pathfinder Freeport Class)), Jeff (human Urban Ranger), George (Gar Irontooth, half-orc Alchemist), Mikey (Gobling (goblin/halfling) Rogue), and Shane (Azhar (Freeport race) Rogue). I'll post character profiles in the coming weeks. For now, I just wanted to say that the Steam Lords blog is back, albeit with a new story and system.

I'll be sharing some of my setup process once the first game has come and gone. That will include what we used for Battlemaps, and some thoughts about how awesome Green Ronin publications is.