New on Desk #82 — CWP Roadmapping

Finally got some rains. Messes with the law𝕟et installation, which leaves me time to sit in the office and brood.

How’s it going with the CWPs

I have two somewhat related writing projects that I should be advancing this year, both springing from the little crowdfunding thing we did last winter. Muster is the more or less novel book of old school D&D philosophy, while the Coup Workbook Partials are a series of practical campaign rules material documenting the mechanical solutions of our on-going Coup de Main in Greyhawk sandbox campaign, the one I’ve been reporting on weekly for a year now.

(In hindsight there’s a fair bit of writing in doing both of these in tandem over the same year. Interesting to see whether I’ll manage it by the deadline at the end of the year.)

The CWP concept is that the series consists of a bunch of 5–20 page little digital pamphlets, each dealing with distinct campaign topics such as character classes, rules subsystems and such. The idea is that I’ll be distributing these pamphlets randomly to the patrons of the Muster project at some point, after which you’re free to trade them around to collect a complete set, if that should be of interest. I personally think that we have some pretty hot old school D&D rules material in this, but it’s also written in a pretty minimalistic short-hand, so the CWP stuff is pretty clearly for experienced GMs only.

I’ve pulled together ~40 potential topics for CWP booklets, and over the last half year I’ve been jotting down notes on whichever of those have been most useful for the actual play, so that combined with some direct orders I’ve gotten from high-tier patrons gives me some indication for which topics are actually worth pulling together. Editing one of these CWPs into shape seems to take me ~2 days depending on how well-conceptualized the material is before I sit down, so while a single booklet isn’t too bad, a long series does take some time to work out. My current vision is that I’ll put together the 20 most pressing CWP issues, leaving the rest of the ideas on the table for now. (Maybe it’ll be worthwhile to put them together later, in this or some other form, or maybe I’ll move on before I get around to that. We’ll see.) That’s an appropriate number of issues for a “trading booklet series”; not too few, not too many.

So I think I’m now pretty ready to pick out the final 20 CWP issues, on the basis of orders, campaign usefulness (things I need to be writing up anyway) and what seems worthwhile to clean up for public perusal according to me. Let’s look at the big picture on the form of a table…

# Name Status Notes
1 Character Creation Editing Primo big picture material.
2 Fighter Class Done We use them so much, might as well. The material is pretty original.
3 Thief Class Editing
4 Cleric Class Editing
5 Wizard Class Concept  
6 Demihumans Concept  
7 Experience Editing Patron choice.
8 Tasks & Skills Editing  
9 Combat Rules Done Patron choice.
10 Alignment Editing Patron choice.
11 Divine Magic Concept  
12 Arcane Magic Concept  
13 Charm Magic Concept  
14 Elementalism Concept  
15 Paladin Class Done Popular in the campaign.
16 Ranger Class Editing  
17 Barbarian Class Editing Popular in the campaign.
18 Druid Class Concept  
19 Monk Class Editing  
20 Assassin Class Editing  
21 Bard Class Concept  
22 Witch Class Editing  
23 Illusionist Class Editing  
24 Dreamer Class Concept  
25 Divine Cultivation Done A favourite of mine.
26 Physical Cultivation Editing Lots of use in the campaign.
27 Martial Arts Done Lots of use in the campaign.
28 Sorcery & Psionics Concept  
29 Hex Crawling Editing Patron choice.
30 Downtime Activities Concept Patron choice.
31 Economic Modeling Concept Patron choice.
32 Retinues Concept Patron choice.
33 Name Level Concept  
34 Hero Level Concept  
35 Planar World Concept  
36 Magic Items Concept Patron choice.
37 Some Monsters Concept  
38 Campaigning in Greyhawk Concept Patron choice.
39 Urban Adventures Concept  
40 Sanity and Stress Concept Patron choice.
41 The Near Planes Editing  
42 More Oathbound Done The Warlock class is popular.
43 Record Sheets Editing  

As the table tells us, I have 6/20 CWPs more or less completed, 8/20 in “editing” (got substantial draft, just needs to be cleaned up) and 6/20 in “concept” (less coherent notes, needs to be drafted). A couple of weeks worth of work on these still, to be done whenever I get around to it.

Looking at the way this shakes out, most of that list ends up pretty fixed between the issues I’ve already finished (not like I’ll not use them when I’ve gone to the trouble) and the issues that I’ve specifically been asked for. The main flex space at this time is with issues #3 and #4, Thief and Cleric; I already have fairly firm write-ups for them for play purposes, so I could just leave it at that and instead develop some other issues to fill up my quota. Nothing wrong with them, on the other hand, and those classes see so much use in play that it’ll be beneficial to do some clean-up on the class write-ups.

Catchup: Coup de Main #55

I’m only one session behind the game developments in reporting on our Monday-night Discord Coup. Coup-de-Gnarley continues under Tuomas’s able refereeing, and as last time, Teemu wrote up an after action summary for us:

The next session picked up right where our intrepid heroes had left off, pondering the slain goblins and the dangers that awaited deeper in the crypts. The party was mostly as last time, though the wizard Cifnygg, with his many retainers, opted to withdraw back to the surface. It was supposed that the foul airs of the crypt caused him ill humours, though some simply suspected him weak of stomach and backbone.

The rest of the party pressed on, opting not to inspect the stone coffins of the dead for treasures just yet. Best to be swift and ensure no foul dangers lurked in ambush, reasoned Sven the berserker. Others agreed, and so the stairs down into the lower crypts beckoned.

Immediately upon descending, the party encountered evidence that mayhap goblins would not bother them overmuch: a pile of slain greenskins adorned the lower end of the staircase, struck down as if by a blade. Inspection revealed no traps or foul play, giving reason to believe that the crypts did not rest easy. Just as well: putting down foul undead or their ilk would not torment anyone’s conscience… not that such issues seemed to harry any of these grim, bloody-handed men unduly.

Bob, the dutiful but mundane man in the vanguard, did also hear ominous laughter from deep withing the lower depths, but the party pushed on regardless.

Bob’s a player character in the Commoner character class, which is somewhat of an usual choice here. Commoner is sort of a null-class, best suited for making the best of a bad stat line. Bob is also a Wretch, which is supposed to indicate a particularly horrible backstory (I like to use the term “Dickensian” here). Heikki’s delightfully existential take on the Wretch Commoner is that Bob’s so mediocre that it’s actually rather sad.

The crypts did not prove a great challenge as such, but the party passed by many phantasmagoric and unnerving sights, as well as evidence that the crypt was stranger than first supposed. A room with a clay statue of an antlered man, surrounded by stones and laid with offerings of trinkets (which all fascinated Artemur they fey man greatly, but was ignored for now). A laughing skull that gnashed at the party and was easily slain by Sven the berserker. A room of urns and another full of rotten ancient offerings that giant rats squabbled over (easily slain by the strong sword-arms of the party), and more besides.

The party pressed on, encountering a room beset by great thick webs. Suspecting the feared giant spider, the party’s strange monk member, Æelfstan, revealed a fantastic and strange talent he possessed: with only his mind and a stern glance, fire would flare out where his eyes beheld and lick over the great webs. This, however, did not have the hoped effect of slaying any lurking beasts, but instead agitated them – and indeed, out of the darkness sprung a great spider of unimaginable size! Even Æelfstan, already prepared, was taken aback by the monster and almost slain by it before he could defend himself. It was fortunate, indeed, that Sven and Stone came to his aid.

After the spider, the party also faced an undead knight, a fleshless warrior roused by the noises of the battle, but this one was easily laid low by Stone’s mighty blow.

Ever onwards the party went and encountered their worst foe yet. Bob, the fearless everyman, was almost killed by a trap most foul, a charge of statues that struck him and crumbled against the walls. This, however, was but the start of their woes, as from the darkness emerged a figure whose countenance was from beyond the borders of life and death: a shadow of un-life, a spectre that beheld with grudges those who still lived. The warriors rushed forward, but for the most part the foul apparition cared not for their steel; blades passed through it as through mist, yet its touch mangled the very soul and spirit of the stalwarts arrayed against it.

Artemur lost his nerve then and withdrew, only casting stones in fright against this foe beyond his means. Luckily, not all were as him; Sven’s magical blade, wrested from the hands of foul kobolds in another dark place, cut deep into the ghastly foe, and Æelfstan’s mysterious powers of fire still harried this foe as well. And finally, it was slain, torn apart and sent shrieking into whatever beyond would accept it. Not without a cost, however: the mighty Stone’s mien had diminished greatly in the struggle, and now he seemed feeble and drained of life. One might say, even, that his level of being had greatly been drained.

The party pondered this, but ultimately, no help for Stone could be found. The apparition’s destruction had left behind some sort of a foul filth, and Sven advised stone to consume it, believing it to be the half-orc’s lost life force, but Stone heeded not this questionable advice. It was, nevertheless, salvaged for later inspection.

Tuomas the referee used a specific local adaptation for weapons-immune enemies, allowing non-magical weapons to cause a measly 1 point of damage on hit. Thus Artemur’s stone-throwing. The level drain ended up hitting the NPC ally here. For them it’s traditionally permanent in Coup; for PCs it’d be more like a 3e “negative level” deal, can’t be bothered to go into the particulars here.

I don’t know how Tuomas would have ruled it had they really eaten the wraith’s remains, but for me, considering Coup’s Greyhawkish ways, only one ruling would have been possible: Gygaxian D&D is really surprisingly consistent about negative energy stuff draining levels, so that’d presumably be what you’d get for your troubles there…

Finally, the party beheld their goal: a pair of great locked doors, with a carved statue of a woman holding a great blade. This door, they supposed, must hide something of worth – the grave of a great hero, perhaps. And thus, they sought to open it. No earthly strength could achieve this, however, and the party was forced to inspect the door closer.

On the door was a simple demand: what was the worth of a true knight? Thinking, the party recited various virtues they knew, some more plausible than others. The door did not pay much heed to mentions of swords or horses, but some combination of words must have finally resonated with it, for it swung open after a while.

This is such a D&D moment that I have to draw attention to it: no elegant quizzing and moment of insight for these murderhoboes. Just try random passwords until one fits. The lesson here is to set your password lock to lock out after a number of failed login attempts. Or at least require a Turn of delay between attempts so they’ll die of thirst before guessing it.

The crypt-plunderers and slayers of dead men advanced with caution, sure that the place would not avail its riches this easily. Even as they saw a great funerary ship, holding upon it a stone coffin befitting a true hero, they were sure that they were courting death. And even as they crept onto the rotting timbers and laid hands upon the coffin, they remained vigilant. A trap this, certainly, they muttered, full of nihilistic preparation for death.

Yet, no death did the party find in that tomb. The coffin opened easily enough, and inside they beheld the buried form of the great hero Brandon, grasping indeed a mighty blade in his hands – and with great treasures of precious metals and gemstones all around him. And at the sight of this, the party finally accepted their fortune and plundered the vast wealth, staking claim to all that had been laid with the hero of old. Artemur took the blade to himself, declaring he would carry it to slay the foul wyrm, and Bob pawed at the knight’s armor and plundered it, knowing that the steel plates would protect him from all the evils of the world. And the rest, all the goblets and urns and ornamented shields, were carried away by the others.

Thus, the party withdrew from the tomb, considering their fortune in Cifnygg’s camp outside the old place of death. Some suggested returning to Brandonsford now; they had the ancient sword of a hero now, and riches besides – what else could they ask for? But greedier minds thought that some riches were good, but all of them were better! Thus, they remained for some time, resting and recovering strength, and sought to return to the tombs again.

During their rest, the party was beset by three foul stirges, beasts that sought their blood with great hunger. Sven’s mighty bow-arm put two of them down in an instant, and Artemur proved the old blade’s worth with one swing that bisected the last beast. These mighty deeds brought vigor to all, and the party returned to the tombs once more.

Now intent on total plunder, the party examined the places they had previously not. They found old statues, extolling, it seemed, knightly virtues, and chuckled at the lateness of this. They also found a place of worship, now ancient and gone to rot, but the foul-colored slime adorning an old statue gave them fright, as they supposed it might have been one of the subtle killers of these old places, possibly the terrifying green slime or its ilk. Thus, they gave it all a wide berth and went back to the explored tombs, already thinking of the old coffins hungrily.

Artemur elected to stay back and rob old wall mosaics of their gems while the rest of the party returned to the site of the battle with the foul goblin foe. There, the rest started to systematically open old coffins. They did not relax their guards yet and proceeded carefully. Yet, the danger that awaited them here took them by surprise: in one of the coffins awaited a formless foe, a protoplasmic monster, grey in color and oozy in nature, that struck out in an instant when the coffin was opened. Sven suffered its attacks and tried, in vain, to escape it. Only the timely idea to throw a slain goblin at the beast distracted it long enough to facilitate withdrawing from its clutches.
Most of the party were ready to flee back into daylight and abandon this foul place, but Kermit, the hermit of the woods, in mad bravery, cast a stone at the slime. The party observed how it struck the beast and seemed to cause harm. And thus boldened, they cast spears and more stones at it, and slew it with no further issue, reducing the hostile ooze into naught but inert scraps. And so, they returned to their looting.

When all was done, the party was richer still: a jeweled dagger they found, and an old hidden chamber with golden candle holders waiting for someone to claim them. They also found, in that hidden chamber, a chest holding an old traveling staff and the robes of a monk, but for all their attempts, they could see no reason for these to be hidden so: they seemed ordinary for all intents and purposes, no hidden meaning to any of them. Only their good condition gave any reason to suspect them to be in any way out of the ordinary. Æelfstan chose to put on these raiments, replacing his old and ragged robes with these ironically more fit ones.

The party returned to the same chamber they had set out to the lower depths from, well richer now, but not as rich as they could be. Surely more riches awaited them deeper in the tomb. They would have to seek it out, for greed is in the nature of men.

Quite the adventure! The mood whiplash is considerable as we move from the low-level minimalism of Castle Greyhawk’s upper levels to this punchy near-midlevel dungeon. The wight and grey ooze could easily have been more of a problem than they were, but the party is starting to punch at a fairly high level, what with having three (now two, after Stone’s deleveling) 3rd level Fighters.

Session #57 is scheduled for tomorrow, Monday 2.8., 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.

Tuesday: Coup in Sunndi #33

On Tuesday (I’m caught up in documenting the Tuesday game now!) the Sunndi crew continued the adventure we began last time: Slave Paladin John Hawkwood is plotting a daring rescue/escape of Arush “Iron Arush”, a champion of Pelor forced to fight in the Tournament of Fear against his will. Helping Hawkwood are a bunch of 1st level player characters and some colorful NPCs. Against him is potentially the entire might of the Temple of Doom, should the players stumble in their conniving.

The session was interesting in that we spent like three hours planning things. I differ from some other GMs in that I tend to be pretty hands-off about this sort of thing; the players have high stakes in the game, Hawkwood himself has his life on the line, so it’s fine with me if the players want to really sit down and think about things carefully.

Amusingly the more the players thought about it and asked questions, the more complicated the situation seemed to get. This is natural in that had they simply attacked the Shrine of Wastri without preambles, they would then encounter all the difficulties of the operation in real time. The more they plan, the more they have to account for the difficulties in advance.

The players did organize a successful sneak-out for the entire rescue party from the Tournament of Fear after the 3rd tournament round; it will probably be hours until any of them are missed, and possibly they won’t be searched for until morning, when Hawkwood will be found missing. I was particularly fond of the callback detail of Hawkwood’s funky slave gladiator outfit: when his co-conspirators finally got him some normal clothes, it was easy for him to sneak out simply because none of his precarious acquaintances in the Order of Fear actually knew what he looked like out of the gimp suit.

It was pretty amusing when the party, while sneaking from the tournament to the Wastrian shrine, encountered a gelatinous cube outside of its comfort zone: the “cube” was sneakily sitting on a gravel path through a large cavern. The team never quite knew what the thing even was, what with its near-invisibility. (Eccentrix the dragon saved them from a closer acquaintance with his keen dragonic eyesight.)

The session’s actual main concern proved to be the orchestration of the assault on the Shrine: how would the commandoes enter, and how would they find Arush? Satisfied with this, how would they actually exit the place? I think it’s wonderful that players are actually accounting for an issue such as exfiltration from a hostile location. You’d be surprised how rare that seems to be in general.

And thinking even further ahead, what would we do after we get out of the Shrine? The place is… well, the short explanation is that it’s a sublevel that branches off the 2nd level of the megadungeon that is the Temple of Doom. The 2nd level itself, called “First Darkness”, is a bit of an underground wilderness (not large, but more of a pass-through cavern for the Temple traffic), which presumably isn’t that difficult to cross. Not made easier by the flimsy and superficial knowledge the Good-Aligned rescue party has of the layout of the Temple, but manageable enough.

However, the 1st level of the dungeon, the “Jungle Gate”, is a different case: the Temple Guard’s barracks are there, as well as the titular set of gates that guard entrance into the depths of the Temple. When the players realized that they knew far too little about the layout, they actually had the team leave the Shrine to be for now while they went to visit the Jungle Gate (under the general immunity afforded by the Tournament to visitors) to find out if they could hope to penetrate through it quickly and loudly later on, with Arush in tow.

This was all very interesting material to me, personally. The fictional environment is exotic, eldritch and mysterious. The Tournament provides an alien cultural context for Good adventurers to be hanging out in a megadungeon as tourists, seeing the sights and plotting their action. The time limit is very fairy tale-ish, as presumably 24 hours after the tournament ends any visitors still on the premises are free demon-feed. The Inner Gate Community of the Jungle Gate proved to be a sort of dungeon Vegas settlement, fairy-like in the eternal darkness.

This was all interesting enough, actually, that we ended up choosing a somewhat unlikely boss move: Antti, the player of John Hawkwood, can’t make it to play over the next couple of weeks, so we decided to put the adventure on hold for now instead of going off half-cocked (I couldn’t possibly ask the players to do that, even if they sometimes do on their own account) or simply dropping it unresolved, or having the others play it to the end without Antti. We’ll play some other stuff in between and then come back to finish this adventure when the key players are less pressed for time. I very rarely do this (recording and maintaining scenario setup over several weeks of downtime is a pain!), but this adventure deserves it for the high stakes and the expansively epic concept.

I’m actually pretty excited about this, as although I did have bare bones prep for the adventure, the extra time allows me to expand on the details. The Temple of Doom has been growing into an atmospheric megadungeon with an unique perspective (what with the number of PCs living there), so it’ll be great to see if the seemingly near-impossible task of saving Arush will succeed against all odds. Really, I’d be willing to bet money that they’ll fail; the difficulties seem insurmountable.

I heard later in the week that Sipi, who promised earlier to replace me as the GM and run Tomb of the Iron God for the crew (nobody else has played it before!), is coming back to us after a few weeks of his own summer quest (he helped direct a summer theater play, the rascal), so what we’ll actually do next Tuesday will naturally be to set things up for the Tomb. Sipi can hopefully run the campaign for August, which in combination with the Coup-de-Gnarley on Mondays means that I’ll actually be entirely game-free for the first time in a year. I’ve been quite happy running these games, but I’ll be even happier if I can get some writing done.

State of the Productive Facilities

I’m actually starting to feel a bit energized about writing again, so maybe we’re coming out of the summer doldrums. Hopefully I’ll have a productive week ahead. The plan is to write two newsletters next week as well, which might mean that I don’t get anything else done, but maybe the newsletter topics are something useful. I’m thinking that I’ll tackle some substantial CWP writing after that.

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