Thursday, January 3, 2013

Tabletop, for a change

at 9:59 PM
Some of us around here don't just waste our lives in front of the ol' boobtube. We actually interact with other people. Not on like dates, or some other cool thing like that, but playing some Pathfinder (or other DnD varient) in costume, of course (not really in costume).

So anyway, I was with my buddies, dressed as a warlock, the other day Dungeon Mastering a one-off that I had authored. I think it went fairly well, so I figured I might as well post it for prosperity on the blog so that someday, someone much smarter than I can parse through my poorly written and sparse notes on the thing to make it happen again. 
Here it goes.


In its most recent, but not unfamiliar, prospect of political strife, the nation of Samath has seen two of its Senators become embroiled in an intensifying cold war. Issues of labor reform and taxation have led Senator Alger and Senator Tydings to both make threats to the others lands, prosperity and personal safety.

You find yourself on the road traveling about a half-days march towards the castle-city of Mycroft. Your party congregated piece by piece on the road as you all made your way to the famous Lammas Festival located just outside of the city, on the grounds kept specifically for its celebration, once every 4 years. Your group simply found it easier to travel together as you happened by chance on the road, that is to say you are essentially strangers, though you have gotten on well whilst traveling. You are arriving on the first day of the festival, which lasts but one day. The festival is unique in its competitive nature. It is comprised of a few main events as well as a number of less complex games. Not coincidentally, the festival’s most famous event is a team-based race, filled with obstacles and other teams attempting to get to the finish first. The teams are comprised of, at most, 4 people, but teams of fewer are allowed. The majority of festival goers are merely coming to watch the event as well as participate in the smaller games, there are, on average, only 5 teams who will enter the team race, and they are often members of the city guard or the personal house guards of Senator Tydings or lesser leaders.

Pre-game notes:

The central idea for the world is it being medieval, obviously, but with modern America's political problems and some trappings of its political system. I think I just imagined the fiscal cliff issue being settled by state militias led by Senators and went from there.

The twist of the campaign is that two party members are being paid to investigate the group, in order to protect Alger. Two party members are being paid to kill him. Each pair know that they should be working together to complete their goal, but they are not aware that the other pair are anything more than festival-goers. Each are told to keep this assignment as entirely on the dl as possible and have only been informed that they will receive expansive financial compensation as well as a title if they are either a major factor in foiling the plot, or killing him.

Inform the players before the start of the campaign of their assignment. This is the email I sent to the Senator’s killers:

“Hey fellas.

You two have been chosen as the special people for this one off. Congrats. Let me explain:

(repeated from opening) In its most recent, but not unfamiliar, prospect of political strife, the nation of Samath has seen two of its Senators become embroiled in an intensifying cold war. Issues of labor reform and taxation have led Senator Alger and Senator Tydings to both make threats to the others lands, prosperity and personal safety.

Both of you are promising adventurers and as such, before the start of play, were approached by a high-ranking member of Senator Tyding's personal guard. You met with him, together (though before this meeting the two of you had never met) and agreed to embark to the capital city of his rival Alger's state, Mycroft, where the famous Lammas Festival is being held. There, as agreed upon, you will do all you can to murder Alger. You, as independent contractors, have more freedom to move without notice in the fairgrounds and will not attract direct political repercussions if caught. You are also informed that if possible, you should try and win the team competition, the centerpiece event of the festival, because winners are granted a large number a massive amount of tokens. This will be fleshed out more, but the object of the festival is to gather tokens, because the winners are granted an audience with the Senator. This will undoubtedly be a great opportunity to strike.
If you are deemed to be instrumental in the death of the Senator, then you will be granted titles, a reward that is incomparable in worth.”
Something similar should be sent to the players deemed protectors.

Starting Play:

Somewhere on the road, just before the town, it’s not a bad idea for the DM to throw in a battle with bandits that you think won’t pose a challenge, just to get a sense of player strength and abilities.

As you approach Mycroft you are bottled up in a crowd attempting to gain entry into the festival grounds, which are quite heavily guarded by the city watch as well as some of the Senator Alger’s personal house guard, due to his presence as the ceremonial festival overseer. The fair grounds are massive, perhaps 2 square miles. It is bordered by wooden parapets about 15 feet high, and located about a half mile from the city walls. There are minstrels, tumbling groups and musicians, not of a caliber to perform inside the festival, performing outside near the line. There are about 10 entrance ways side by side, where you pay to enter, are checked by a guard for weapons (which are taken unless a sleight of hand check is made). If the weapon is not successfully hidden it is stored in a locked armory near the entrance until it is checked out for the team race event.

Entry to the fair costs 1 gold. There is ample opportunity for pick pocketing in the crowd outside. There is also gambling happening on the outskirts of the line.

Description of the Festival:

There is a station where players can trade silver for one token, up to 200 tokens. If your players are clever, they’ll realize it’s most likely possible to pay others to cash in their silver for them.

The DM should feel free to throw in perception checks for pick-pocketers at their discretion, throughout the players’ time at the festival. This especially makes sense if the players start doing rather well.

There are two major sections of the fair. There is the White City, where the entrance to the team race is located, as well as the archery competition and the grapple competition. There is also the infamous riddle competition. The White City is constructed with wood, but with a fresh coat of white paint on pretty much everything. On most of structures surrounding the major events there are detailed paintings of castles and fortresses, an attempt to make the scene more grandiose.

For the archery competition, there are targets 60 feet away from the line of fire. Each archer has 5 shots. If the roll for a shot is in the 10-15 range, one point is awarded, if 15-20, three points are awarded. Highest point total is awarded 400 lammas tokens.

For the grappling competition the player must successfully grapple AND pin the opponent. The opponent will have one opportunity to escape the pin or else the competition is over. The winner is awarded 400 lammas tokens.
For the riddle competition, 5 riddles are given, and the person who answers the most correctly after having 1 minute with each riddle is the winner. They are also awarded 400 lammas tokens. Here are some sample riddles I used:
"Can you decipher the following common phrase?
[ed.: is this really a common phrase though?]

Mary’s father has 5 daughters: 1) Nana 2) Nene 3) Nini 4) Nono. What is the name of the 5th daughter?
[ed.: assuming Mary is a boy, I guess Nunu]

You are standing on the top one of two solid metal pillars. They are both exactly one kilometer apart from each other and they both stand one kilometer high. There is absolutely nothing around these pillars, but you have one small twig, one small rock and an unlimited supply of rope. Using only the materials named, how can you get from the top of the pillar that you are on to the top of the other pillar?
[ed.: very carefully]

If you spell out all the numbers, how far do you have to go until you use the letter a?"
[ed.: depends on how many steps you take for each number]
The Midway is significantly grungier. It is, roughly, located on the east side of the fair grounds, while the White City makes up the western portion. People come here looking for a good time, so to speak. There are a number of out-door bars serving all sorts of alcoholic beverages, dancing girls, and the like. In Midway players can gamble. Any number of classic die games work, but I’m going to use Chuck. A player rolls 3 6-sided dice. Bet on a number between 1 and 6. Payout of 1:1 for one right number, 2:1 for two right numbers, and 3:1 for three right numbers. Players should be betting lammas tokens.

The Team Race:

All team members bodies must be at the finish line for the team to be victorious (yes, that means corpses are permitted). At the start, all teams are placed in an open field, about 2 acres. Players, as well as the other teams, can try to make a dash for it, or they can duke it out in the field before continuing. It’s a good idea to have the players fight at least one other team at this point before moving on to the first obstacle. (When I ran this the players were clever and realized it would increase their chances of making it to the finish as a team if they entered as teams of one, and split the prize anyway, so be warned).
Enemy teams should obviously be varied and as interesting as possible. I would also recommend making them as strong as player character teams, or at least strong enough to encourage some run and gunning to make things interesting. When I ran this, I had a Gladiator and a Rogue (who they met prior to the race at a bar) team up with two random drunkards they met at the festival. The drunkards died almost instantly. 

The first obstacle consists of a huge 20 ft wide by 50 ft long piece of wood elevated off the ground 8 feet. The enclosure leaves the space dim. Hanging from the wood, down towards the ground, are pieces of string which send shocks of 1d6 electricity at the target. Players should make a check perception check to see if they can see the strings, if they complete that then they can make reflex if they try and go under the strings, acrobatic check if they try to dodge. Players can also choose to move very slowly and carefully with no penalty, but will sacrifice time in the race.
The Second is a large hill where players are shot with jets of water as they attempt to climb up. Players must make a strength check to not have the water push them back down the hill, and then a climb check. Players must do this twice successfully to move on. 
The final obstacle is a pool of magically cold water, that while not frozen, is cold enough to cause 1d6 damage if submerged without making a will save or a swim check. This must be done twice successfully. If not, player evokes an attack of opportunity from a giant moray eel lurking in the water.

If the players end up winning, they are taken to an audience chamber towards the front gate of the fairgrounds. There Senator Alger is accompanied by 1 guard captain, while 5 guard officers wait outside. The Senator has come in through a different door then the players, a door leading to a passage way which in turn leads to the city of Mycroft, proper. If the Senator is killed, the players assigned to murder him must escape to outside the fairgrounds or to the city where they can hide. The two players assigned as protection must stop the other two players in some fashion before the Senator loses all his health.


Like I said, I think it went well. I had to completely improvise the town of Mycroft because I had planned to have it completely closed off during festival-season, but stupidly forgot that players have ways of getting past guards. There was also trouble because one of the players who was supposed to be killing Alger made an attempt during the team race which threw things off, and ended in a successful assassination when he was taken to the barracks of the fairgrounds for medical treatment.


  1. You are arriving on the first day of the festival, which lasts but one day.

    Also I think it's pretty entertaining that you've based a game on winning arcade tickets. I hope at some point you allowed an opportunity for players to cash in tokens for over-sized teddy bears and water guns.

  2. I think it was just sort of assumed that everyone was buying alcohol with their tokens because I certainly never mentioned then being used for anything else.

  3. Were they entirely a red herring? Did players actually try to accrue them? Seems like something people would ignore.

  4. Oh they definitely mattered because it gave the players trying to kill the dude the perfect opportunity. The players just chose to try and kill him early.

  5. Its a fortitude save for not taking damage in cold water, not a will save. DUHHHHHHHHHHHHH.