New on Desk #76 — Rambling in them hills

I’m clearly being very busy, looking at how these newsletters tend to run late. I’m actually writing this on Monday afternoon, long after Sunday’s ended even in the most backwards time zones, so we’re officially totally late here.

Saturday: Hiking at the Goblin Gate

As I mentioned last week, I’d been doing some mild practice hiking with my brother over the last month so as to not embarrass ourselves at the Goblin Gate (Hiidenportti) national park. Nothing drastic, but after being exhausted by the Volkov’s Path last month we were inspired to make a bit of a hobby of this walking thing.

This was my first visit to Goblin Gate, which is apparently Finland’s smallest, most remote and least visited national park. The drive there was about 1.5 hours, and with the park’s cross-section just a bit over 10 km, we could comfortably walk it end to end and back in a single day. About 24 km in total.

The terrain is generally typical of Eastern Finland, similar to e.g. the aforementioned Volkov’s Path; wooded ridges intersped with wetlands. The two nature trails also both feature prominent cliffs and canyon streams. A theory: if you’re laying down a nature trail in Eastern Finland, maybe try to set it up around some high ridge, then spice up with some boardwalks over fens? Seems like that’s at the heart of the genre.

The path we took (from Snake Reef to Burn Pond and back), and possibly the entire park, involved thin soil quantities over the glacial regolith that forms the true surface of much of Finland. The waterways featured frequent shingle beaches (“devil’s field” for the Finns), and the actual Goblin Gate proves to be a nice pocket-size canyon that’s crumbled in on itself, forming a huge pile of rock. The theme of the trip was rocks, is what I’m trying to say. The path itself was mainly what I’ve come to call “Giger Trail”, a god-forsaken mix of rubble and tree roots that often forms on hiking trails in thin-soil areas. What else, when under the couple of inches of soil there’s nothing but a ridge of loose regolith plowed into shape by a passing glacier some ten thousand years ago.

Aside from the Goblin Gate itself, the second particularly spotlighted tourism target in the park is the Whittle Hill (Kovasinvaara) meadow, an old wilderness croft abandoned from habitation before the mid-20th century. Atmospheric place, what with the piles of stone remaining from the buildings of the small homestead that once stood there, far away from everywhere. In the middle of the dense woods, a sudden meadow, high grass dotted by the cairns of stone and abandoned junipers of the stead. As the legend (I read in info signage) has it, the Whittle Hill meadow has yet to reforest itself, for such was the amount of sin at the Goblin Dances that used to be held every spring at the Whittle Hill Stead in the 1930s. I could see the park foresters having to do with the maintenance of the heritage site as well, but what do I know.

I’m like 95% sure this is the model of shoe I used on Saturday. At least it looks exactly the same.

I’ve been experimenting with thin-soled shoes for hiking over the last few years. Taking a double set of shoes on these trips has become a bit of a standard procedure, on the premise that the thin-soled moccasin doesn’t weight much anyway, and if the unknown terrain proves too painful — “therapeutic”, as the trail kenning has developed — I have a heavier set of shoes to switch to when needed.

In everyday life I like going about in thin-soled shoes; they’re genuinely the superior footwear compared to the conventional thick-soled and heeled shoe, the hype’s not wrong about that. Giger trails are painful, though, and having to pick your footing a bit more carefully is maybe 20% slower than I’d go in a conventional shoe. The main issue is that after a long day of walking on tree roots and rocks, with the feet racking up “therapy”, the foot sole gets quite sore. It stops being very fun. I ended up going the entire day in the thin-soled shoe once again, but admittedly it would probably have been smarter to switch shoes half-way. (I’m a dumb fuck clearly, when I’m willing to carry heavy hiking boots there and back, but not actually stop to wear them.) It’s frustrating in that the terrain wouldn’t need to be much softer for it to be just fine; it’s just that we live in a rocky world out here.

Aside from the excessive foot massage, though, the shoe selection and everything else in my personal physique/tools set worked well. As hobbyists know, walking an entire day without getting any blisters or chafing is a success in itself. One of the good things about the light shoe is that it’s pretty easy to get a non-blistering fit; I could have walked until my feet dropped off without suffering a blister, apparently.

For all that hiking is a masochistic pastime, we’re apparently in a lifestyle mode now, so I better get used to weekly practice hikes for the foreseeable future. If you’re interested in joining us for a day hike somewhere in the region this summer, get in touch.

A Coup Update: the Anniversary Jubilee

Ten sessions have gone by since my last general update on how Coup de Main in Greyhawk is doing, so let’s review again. I do write about the game every week, but usually the focus is on single-session events, so I feel this is a good practice to keep up. For reference, here are the earlier general reviews:

The original campaign pitch
The Decaton Review
The Icosiad Celebrations
The Tritonian Review
The Quadratic Review

We’re at a particularly conspicuous numerological juncture in the campaign now, the Anniversary Jubilee: not only is next session of Coup the 50th, but the campaign has also been running for a full year now. Expect fireworks (wielded by angry kobolds), speeches (by a hectoring shaman at a pitch-dark underground shrine) and tasteful hors d’oeuvres (scraped together from supplies stolen from the kobolds, of course).

The past Quadratic decaton saw both campaign forks, the Selintan and Sunndi crews, making steady progress, with no ground-shaking developments. Here’s what the major campaign arcs looked like:

Coup in Greyhawk:

  • The cow milking quest involved a long overland journey into the heart of Mist Marsh to get some zombie milk for a client with probably very wholesome intentions for its use. The party sailed through the adventure handily, but got entangled with the aftercare when they stubbornly decided to attempt lifting the curse on the wretched Wrenwald manor the zombie cow lived(?) at. Even at this writing one of the PCs sits out there, twiddling their thumbs and waiting for the rest of the party to return to the manor to finish the job.
  • The Barbican Adventures is an exciting new campaign arc that has been taking most of our attentions here: a new crew not including Rob and Phun (the spearhead heroes of the team) went to explore Greyhawk Castle, accidentally ended up conquering the gate barbican, and are now lodged in there firmly like a family of louses.

Coup in Sunndi:

  • Business at the Temple of Doom continued as an over-arching strategic frame of the campaign. The players are voluntarily creating new characters who are members of the various cult factions at the Temple, and generally engaging with the Temple’s adventure hooks, so what’s not to like.
  • Who Killed Eären-Raven? was a murder mystery scenario that was concluded with partial success. The party never caught the key conspirators, but they did capture some convincing cat’s-paws and managed to close the case without inspiring elven retribution to fall on the princedom of Eyedrin.
  • Habavaara Ruins attracted the Basic Sunndian adventurers, and to great success too. Clearing out the small crypt of an Apostle, and destroying the distinctly fae goblins of the 1st–2nd dungeon levels left the party gorged with loot, with some characters reaching 2nd level.
  • The Fetch of Grandi was a quick diplomatic affair at the Temple of Doom, with Magister the Cultist forging a close friendship (perhaps too close for comfort) with Khata the Werepanther, one of the crazier faction leaders at the Temple. Maybe half of his party had to die for the fetch, but that’s business.
  • The Elven Atrocity was an apex of the self-destructive tendencies this group has: Nold the Chaotic Evil Warlock suckered the Lawful Basic Sunndian adventuring party to join him in putting an elven healing retreat to the torch for his own sick purposes. Ironically Nold himself died on the catastrophic mission alongside the Basic Sunndians, so maybe that’ll curtail the wackiness for a while.
  • The Dinosaur Safari was a half-dozen sessions long hexcrawl affair at the fabled Isle of Dread. The Temple of Doom sent an expedition to hunt dinosaurs and slaves, and these things did get done. The PCs were left with modest XP gains overall, but players sure learned a lot.
  • The Tournament of Fear is what we’re gearing up for next. Another Temple of Doom adventure, this time surrounding a rather shonen style martial arts tournament. The event’s been prepared in the grand style befitting the Anniversary Jubilee, with both campaign forks intimately involved, so I’m hoping it’ll be a fun and memorable exercise in practice as well.

It’s interesting how the Selintan group has only been doing two different adventures over the last quarter, while the Sunndi group’s managed half a dozen in the same time-frame. Clearly has to do with how different their adventures have again been from each other. The Sunndian group running multiple adventuring parties in very different circumstances contributes to this no doubt; the Selintan Valley crew does have several parties out at the same time as well, but they’re all generally on the same side, and operate from the same base town, so the doubling up of adventuring opportunities doesn’t happen.

Regarding technical quality of the content, I’m generally satisfied with what we’ve gotten up to here. The Fetch of Grandi thing was under-prepared (original material, that), but otherwise I feel that the gaming has been of good quality and the campaign has been going strong. We haven’t seen massive scores, but I’m hopeful that the players are slowly situating themselves to break the bank in their own ways. Both campaign forks are clearly operating more in the mid-levels paradigm now; if not in terms of actual leveling, then at least in that they’re choosing their sandbox maneuvers strategically.

A look at the campaign’s stat block:

Play Group: 2 distinct groups with ~5 alpha, ~5 regular, ~5 irregular players in total
Character Stable: Too many, can’t be assed to count (up from 31)
Roll of the Dead: ~24 dead PCs (up from 11)
Hirelings: 3 (Team Rocket), 1 (Sven’s batman), 1 (Vilttitossu)
Retainers: 1 (Heinähattu)

Reigning13 283 XP
(7 910 XP)
Phun Eral
Mint Foil Magister of Wee Jas (Theurgist 4)
Runner‑Up9 728 XP
(9 289 XP)
Rob Banks
Near-Mint Foil Elder Brother (Thief 5)
2nd RU7 195 XP
of the Song (Cultist 4)
Honor Roll6 030 XP
Sven Torsson
Mint Reaver (Barbarian 3)
player on hiatus
2nd2 909 XP
Noble Scoundrel (Thief 3)
3rd2 813 XP
Royal Inquisitor (Paladin 2)
4th2 739 XP
Peter Pandemic
Wretch Wild Goat Ranger (Ranger 2)
5th2 517 XP
the Elflock (Elf-Friend / Witch 2)
6th2 120 XP
Satanic Gym-Rat (Warlock 2)
4 702 XP
John Hawkwood
Slave Chevalier (Paladin 3)
migrating ringer
3 082 XP
Fairy Blade Weredeer (Fighter/Elf-Friend 3)
migrating ringer
31 030 XP
Luigi de Luca
foil Saint (Theurgist 6)
Second Ultramontain
migrating ringer

I went over the character stables and listed everybody with over 2k XP; let me know if I missed somebody! As you can see, compared to last check point, the Sunndians are out in force, Magister even seizing 3rd place on the list! Phun and Rob continue jockeying for 1st place, neither apparently intending to die any time soon, but if Magister gets playtime (should have participated in the Tournament of Fear!) he could potentially surpass the both of them.

If we consider 2nd level to be the most crucial checkpoint of progress in the game, as we should, then I’ll say that we need more people on the rolls before there’s any hope to pivot this business into a mid-level campaign. An old song, yes, but still true. Keep making those gains, Name Level’s the Dream!

Monday: Coup de Main #49

I’m actually running short on time, so quickly: another session of what I’ve dubbed the Barbican Adventures, an all-ages adventure serial about a group of Bandits living in a small fort next to a dungeon. (Get in touch Hasbro, I’m working on the tv pilot!) The bandits drink flat beer and watch carefully for anybody trying to attack them in their “Fortican”, as their age-appropriate furry mascot character calls the Barbican. Sometimes they traverse down into the dungeons to murder kobolds and steal their food. Very sustainable.

The heroes encountered a second patrol of these heavily-armed, disciplined kobolds, but the poor critters are just too small and wimpy to last long against the All-Fighter Seven Stars Squad. (They’re Seven Stars because they all have 7–8 hit points.) The adventurers actually had more trouble with a trap, when Waylost amusingly crawled into a cage trap and had a portcullis drop on him. The sturdy ranger survived the blow, but it took the party a bit to figure out how to get him out of there.

We also found a couple of boars and a scary Whisperer in Darkness; scary enough for the party to retreat quickly. I’m assuming we’re going back next time, but who knows what’s happened in those parts by then. At least there’s plenty of wine and salted fish for the party to subsist as they continue next week in… Barbican Adventures!

Session #50 is scheduled for tomorrow, Monday 14.6., starting around 15:00 UTC. Feel free to stop by if you’re interested in trying the game out or simply seeing what it’s like. We’re celebrating the Jubilee Anniversary, so lots of fireworks and speechifying!

Tuesday: Coup in Sunndi #26

The face-to-face Coup crew convened at a local park this time instead of the usual pub setting. A double-bladed sword in that while it’s easier to move around and there’s generally more space, there’s also more distractions, and voice doesn’t carry as far. It’s probably not the ideal setting for such a focused and abstract hobby, even if the sun attracts us basement moths out like this now and then.

The session itself was all about preparing for the Tournament of Fear, our upcoming martial arts tourney. Two of the characters, Lalli and Kratos, are Blackguards-in-training with none other than the Sinister Thaal himself, namely the tournament’s organizer. When they asked Thaal for the opportunity to prove themselves and get knighted into the Order before the tournament, so as to truly bring glory to the institution, Thaal couldn’t help but allow such.

The adventure to become Blackguards in a suitably heroic instant ritual involves travelling to the hidden tomb of Ikari Slaggoth, a famous Praetor (what the easterners call Blackguards), and holding vigil upon the grave in the hopes of gaining enlightenment. The party had just two weeks before the tournament, and it took five days to travel to the hidden tomb, so that’s surely going to work out well. Thaal warned the party about his old war buddies possibly still hiding out at the tomb, so hopefully the squire crew would manage to talk their way past some angry veterans who surely haven’t turned into ghouls/ogres (bet which!) in the meantime.

The squires had a honor guard of random other player characters (hoping to loot the tomb no doubt; that’s sure to go well with the stick-in-the-ass Blackguards in the party) and a bunch of Order of Fear acolytes (teenage boys with spears), so the goblins who’d set up shop in the caves didn’t prove much of a problem. For a change the adventurers were the stronger party. The same can’t be said of their encounter with Krinklefoot the Spider King; it felt like old times with the Beast Society when three hirelings wandered into Krinklefoot’s lair and got eaten by the beast, with the rest of the party listening to the cries from the outside. “Can’t be cries for help, those; they’re acolytes of the Order!”

The crawl for the hidden tomb progressed maybe halfway when the party encountered their first major snag in the form of a great rope bridge spanning a bottomless chasm. There was an ogre (yeah, the veterans have turned ogre) hiding behind a rock on the other side of the chasm, ready to defend the beachhead.

So the players are careful and smart, sending only Kratos to test the bridge at first. Seems like he’s in trouble when the ogre shows up; Kratos is tough, but not so tough as to mess with an ogre. However, a crit on his combat maneuver roll, and oh, Kratos trips the ogre to fall into the chasm! Alas Kerg the Man Crusher, we hardly knew ye!

The celebrations were unfortunately cut short, however: moments after Kerg started his fall, a ballista bolt shot out of the darkness, hit Kratos himself and threw him off the cliff-face as well. The shocking turn of events sent the rest of the party rushing to secure the beachhead Kratos had established; they were quick to discover a narrow ridge on the side of the chasm leading to a ledge with goblins running an Aerdian (fantasy-Byzanthine) ballista.

We hadn’t lost a significantly experienced character in a while, and Kratos was at 2nd level already, so that was something of a downer, particularly as he was also one of our Blackguard candidates. A great way to go, though, very memorable. Lalli still lives, though, and so the party will surely continue with the quest next session.

State of the Productive Facilities

I did some confused rewriting on Muster around mid-week, but otherwise I’ve been busy hiking, apparently. Better luck next week!

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