Old Empire: The General Setting

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I’m using the name “The Third Imperium”–because who doesn’t love the name Third Imperium! I love the idea of layers of civilization rising and falling.

But my setting has nothing to do with GDW’s Official Traveller Universe.

Instead, we get this:


FROM THE ASHES

A thousand years ago the Long Night fell, leaving many worlds in ruins. Many worlds survived as well, but did so without the ability of space travel or communication with other worlds. 

Tales of the Old Empire remained, bolstered by ancient cities and space stations floating in the sky over head and seen at night.

But for the most part survival took precedence. Over time the artifacts of the past—those few that remained—became an unnoticed part of landscapes across a dozen worlds.

The world of Bavraa, however, though crippled by the Long Night, never stopped thinking and dreaming about the past glories of the Old Empire. The nobles houses of the Bavraa worked tirelessly to repair its fallen technology and reclaim the glories of previous generations.

Bavraa began a renaissance of the Old Empire 200 years when it began construction of its own Jump Drives.

Merchants and diplomats traveled to nearby worlds, announcing the rebirth of the Old Empire (or The Empire). In the time since it has expanded its reach, heading out across the Bavraa Subsection.

The nobles of Bavraa do not see themselves as starting a new Empire, but rather that they are building a seamless continuation of the Second Imperium. Or, as it is often called, The Old Empire.


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THE OLD EMPIRE (BAVRAA)

Bavraa culture demands loyalty to the bloodlines going back to the Old Empire. Social status along genetic lines is a given and noble houses are intertwined in both family and loyalty. (Proper mates from outside the royal families are sometimes brought into the fold to ensure healthy gene pools—often without consent.)

The Bavraa noble houses are certain that they, and all the people of Bavraa, are the true heirs of the Old Empire and rulers of the worlds around them. And currently they are the only source of any interstellar technology in the region.


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THE ARRIVAL OF THE THIRD IMPERIUM

One hundred years ago the first scouts arrived from the Third Imperium. The scouts kept their distance, stunned to find several worlds had survived the Long Night and were rebuilding their interstellar technology independant of the Third Imperium.  Fifty years later the first envoys from the Third Imperium made contact with the leaders of various worlds.

Some contacts went better than others. 

The ruling houses of Bavraa declared as one that all worlds for twenty parsecs around Bavraa were off limits to all Imperial ships and troops. Any ships or troops bearing the Imperial Sunburst within those boundaries would be seen as declarations of war.


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A NOBLE HOUSE OF THE THIRD IMPERIUM ON DAVRAS

The native T’Kenkar of Davras, which had weathered their ice world’s hostile environment with ease and helped protect millions of humans over the centuries of the Long Night, invited the Third Imperium to establish a base on their world. They did this even though Davris falls within the boundaries Barvaa declared off-limits for the Third Imperium.

Most people believe the T’Kenkar did this to slow the advance of the Bavraa noble houses in their efforts to rule the subsection. But others note that the T’Kenkar are alien and mysterious and might have reasons no one can quite understand.

Emperor Gildun of the Third Imperium accepted this offer and awarded House Djaout a charter to establish a starport and trading base on the ice world.

Conflict—both hot and cold—broke out between Bavraa and Davras immediately. Duke Djaout keeps his troops on Davras. And no ships bearing the Imperial Sunburst are allowed to ply the space lanes. Instead, House Djaout keeps a low profile, using subsidized merchants and private contractors to carry out acts of espionage, trade, piracy, and covert war.

House Djaout has kept a low profile within the cluster, sponsoring ships that sail without the Imperial Sun and keeping his troops on Davras. Bavraa cannot–yet–prevent all trade and commerce between nearby worlds and the “Thirders” (as citizens of the Imperium are called). Over the past three decades more travellers and ships have arrived in Old Empire from beyond the Dead Worlds.

They are outsiders, sometimes welcome and sometimes not.  The rules are not always clear as to where Thirders fit into the social fabric in the Old Empire–and so danger arrives without warning on occasion. All of them know it is better to hide any symbols from the Third Imperium, and ships are repainted to remove markings of Third Imperium culture.

Such travellers work as merchants and soldiers of fortune as they make their way through the stars and across the worlds Bavraa hopes to rule one day.

But this does not mean the tension between Bavraa and the Third Imperium does not get hot. A year ago a ship activated its Jump Drive while docked at the B-Class starport House Djaout had built, causing a terrible explosion that shattered the starport and killed hundreds of people. The damage knocked the starport down to a C-class rating and it is now being rebuilt. No one claimed responsibility for the attack (if it was an attack), and while most people assume it was the work of House Itzcoatl of Bavraa, Duke Djaout has declared he has no proof to determine who was responsible and is still seeking leads. The noble houses of Bavraa offered to send aid. The duke refused it.

House Djaout has been tasked with destabilizing and delaying the efforts of Bavraa to unify the worlds around it under its rule. The Third Imperium is playing a long game. A full invasion would leave their home forces depleted and their troops months away. Instead, they want to build slowly, cripple the growth of the Old Empire where they can, and keep expanding at their own pace back home.

The noble houses of Bavraa, led by House Itzcoatl, know the Third Imperium is far away. They do not want to be so overt that they draw the attention and military might of their distant neighbor. If the noble houses of Bavraa can let the conflict remain calm and low key for enough time, they believe they can build a defense that will keep the Third Imperium at bay when they finally arrive in force.

And so piracy is sanctioned by both sides. Cover operations are always underway. Each side tries to curry favor and win the friendship of worlds within the subsection.

Old Empire: The Bavraa Subsector

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Here we go. Rolled up subsector in a patch of space which I have called the Bavraa Subsector.

The data:

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Taking my own advice I will start small, focusing on the Bavraa Cluster, which gets turned into this:

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I Pitch Classic Traveller to My Group

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My Monday Night Group is in a bit of flux. One player we have been holding a spot for after she finished getting her Legal Librarian degree ended up getting her first job in another city. Another Player has left the country for a few months to shoot a show.

We had just finished up another wonderful campaign of Unknown Armies 3rd edition, tried out Forbidden Lands (a blast!) before these two players bid farewell.

I wanted to keep going with my Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign, but decided to wait until the Player currently in Budapest gets back.

With that in mind I pitched the four remaining Players in the group three games to keep us happy for the next few months. The games were:

  • King Arthur Pendragon
  • Classic Traveller
  • Sorcerer & Sword (the supplement for Ron Edward’s Sorcerer)

The Players all chose Traveller as the first of their choices. So we’re playing Classic Traveller.

I had sent out an email with a description of each game. Here is the game I sent out for Traveller:


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Traveller is Old School/Rules Light. Mostly conversation between Referee and Players, the Referee adjudicating rolls and outcomes on the fly. A lot like Lamentations in that most of what you end up doing is not covered on your character sheet.

The premise is that each of you have served in an mustered out of services of the Third Imperium, which is currently expanding outward and reclaiming worlds after The Long Night.

Many, many light years away, beyond countless parsecs of dead worlds, news has come of another area of civilization, lost for hundreds of years to your people. A new frontier not yet touched by the Third Imperium, and still holding lost wonders and treasures of the Old Empire.

A few expeditions have been launched, a few diplomatic missions, and a noble house has been sent to establish contact. But the peoples of the Old Empire have their own agendas and fights.

Each of you are men and women who have decided that you don’t quite fit in at home in the Third Imperium. And either from wanderlust, a need to know more about the universe, greed, a need to cause trouble, a desire to find a patch of space to rule, a path of vengeance that leads across lights years, or any other strong, emotionally grounded reason, you have decided to travel to this distant patch of space and see what there is to see.

I should make this clear now: Traveller does not have an experience system. You define the goals you want. I provided obstacles and opportunities and we find out what happens. The only thing that is going to matter at the table is what interests you in terms of what you want to get done. You make up a person who

a) feels like a real person and

b) is someone who chooses the life of exploration as established above.

Think in terms of the Western Territories after the Civil War or the Indian Subcontinent during the British Empire. (And all the problematic Colonialism that entails!) Mix this with a mix of worlds, some broken and poor, others still technologically advanced, along with politics, trade disputes, and you’re kind of on track.

Look to movies (and characters from the movies) like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, The Wild Bunch, Gunga Din, The Man Who Would Be King, as well as the series Firefly, and others for inspiration about the types of people we’re talking about. Where the characters fall on the moral spectrum is up to you all. We can have hard-bitten mercs or romantics searching for lost mysteries of the ancient past… and a mix of types. You decide this.

Fallen World Campaign [LotFP]–Twenty-Fourth Session

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We picked up the game with the Player Characters leaving earth via a magical ship and heading off the shore of the Qelong Valley on an alternate earth. As the approached the city of Qompang on the mouth of the Qelong River they saw other three masted ships, each flying flags of nations they knew from Europe.

But each flag was slightly altered: The flag of England, for example, had the red cross on white field that they knew, but in its center was the silhouette of a knight jamming a lance though the neck of a dragon. The flag of France had the flowers on a field of blue, but each appears to be in a crystal ball. The flag of the Holy Roman empire showed the double-headed eagle, but its talons held a bleeding serpent.

They anchored in Qelong Bay and took one squad of ten men (out of their company of ten squads) by rowboat to investigate the city. They saw fisherman around them in sampans, men and women of dark to peach colored skin, and saw before them the city was built of stonework with spires and odd towers. The Southeastern feel of the land came quickly into focus.

They arrived at the Factory — the section of town controlled by European merchants — and began doing research in the town, looking for clues about the valley beyond the city walls.

They befriended several merchants (one from Germany, one from France) as well as an Elf who had joined the French entourage. (The elves of this world live apart from men… but a few are curious about the way of humankind, adopt their customs, and live among them).

The elf gave them a look to suggest he knew they were more than travelers from Europe and might suspect they were from another world. He later confronted them, not out of aggression but from curiosity, and they exchanged a few theories about the nature of alternate realities. (Whether or not he has another agenda regarding them, the Lamplighters (which is what the Player Characters call themselves) do not know.)

They also explored the overcrowd city beyond the walls of the Factory. Ending up in a teahouse they met a slave in her early twenties who had one of her hands cut cleanly off a few years earlier. (All of this was clear from observing the stump.) They wanted to talk to her about it, but she said she could not. So they bought her from her owner, and she joined the group. She explained that sometimes, out in the Qelong Valley, people can get sick and the only way to stop the sickness from spreading is to cut off the left hand.

As they encountered and spoke with NPCs I rolled on the rumor table included in the Qelong book and they learned about The Mine of the Elephant, the fact that the land seems to be poisoned (from the slave, for example), that another wizard was looking for the same canister they were looking for, that the capital city of Xam had not been heard from for decades, and that a company of mercenaries from the lands of the Holy Roman Empire had taken over a town up river.

This led to a discussion between the Players about what options to pursue.

Armed with this information they headed out on a riverboat, traveling up the Qelong River to investigate the mercenaries. Their slave traveled with them along with a German who had been up and down the river for years and would serve as a guide.

Using Original TRAVELLER Out of the Box — E. Tage Larsen’s Alien Legion Inspired Setting

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The premise of the Traveller: Out of the Box series is that the original Traveller rules were a framework to allow a Referee to create his or her own settings to share with friends. Here’s an example of this in action:


Over at G+ E. Tage Larsen wrote up some notes about a Traveller game he ran. The picture above shows a collection of items and notes he used for the game.

He wrote:

Reffed my first Traveller (in a few decades) game on Saturday night and had a great time! Used my own universe, rolled up a subsector, stuck to the ’77 books and went with an ‘Alien Legion’ comic book theme.

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For those of you note familiar with Alien Legion, here’s a description from Wikipedia:

“The original concept was the ‘Foreign Legion in space’ and all the legionnaires were human. … Then I created the humanoid/serpentine design that later became Sarigar and decided that the Legion should include a wide variety of species. This was in the early ’70s. By the time I got around to developing the idea further in the early ’80s, Star Wars obviously became an influence. The Alien Legion universe is a giant extrapolation of the American democratic melting-pot society where different races and cultures work together for the common good while dealing with the pluses and problems that the nation’s diversity creates.”[1]

Larsen continues…

I had the players all roll from “The Metamorphica” to create aliens. The +Johnstone Metzger book is wonderful and I’d been itchign to use it. It’s pricey though even on sale at Lulu. I almost went with the generative tables from Maze Rats which would have worked really well too. Also, tons of love on this coast for the TRAVELLER: Out of the Box Weapon Cards… I’m not the only one. I almost flagged you in this post but wanted to keep the fan boy to a minimum.

The Metzger book is enormous. So, first i had to sort of put the brakes on the tables and decide how much stuff i wanted to leak into play. I settled on letting them roll if they were mutations or more animal type creatures. Gave each player two body mutations and I think one additional physical and mental modifiier. I was running an additional Corruption mechanic that modified the Saves so they could buy into addl mutations for added Corruption.

The Metamorphica can be used in countless ways, but Larsen used it to build out aliens from countless species. Here is a sample table…

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And here is a couple of tables devoted specifically creating aliens…

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You can find a thorough video review of The Metamorphica here.

Larsen continues…

Character 1 rolled up: Birthmark, Bug Eyes, Super Charisma. Character 2: Big; Gaseous; Long legs: Multiple Personalities. Character Three: One eye; Cilia; speech impediment.

These were all friends and hardcore Story Gamers for a one-shot. Mostly we just used the Alien factor for color. Though the gaseous form and multiple personalities of Character 2 had a lot of show time. If I’d been doing a campaign or thought this through better, I’d have given them some sort of auto-success or something 1x per game on their powers. One time the charisma came up and I gave the player a dice modifier but it wasn’t a very successful resolution.

The second character had no problem losing the final conflict and narrated losing a contest as getting a hole in his vacc suit and his gaseous form being vented out into space.

Larsen pulled his game together using G+’s RPG Roulette.

So, in the tradition of the early days of the hobby, Larsen started with the kind of setting he wanted, then kit-bashed the rules to create rules that would support what he wanted. He didn’t limit himself to Traveller Books 1, 2, and 3, but grabbed material that was even outside the Traveller line to help inspire and support the kind of setting he wanted.

 

Classic Traveller Rules In Action, But Not In Space

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One of the main themes of my posts about Classic Traveller is to look at the rules found in the box and to focus on how to play the game. (This is in contrast to not looking at the rules and how to play, and focusing instead on years of yammering about a setting and how it doesn’t make sense but could make sense if only everyone argued about it for another 40 years.) It is has been my belief that Classic Traveller has an excellent system for running loose and fun RPG sessions–independent of anything to do with starships or the implied setting found in the basic rules.

Recently, at a local convention, I had a chance to give this notion a test drive.

I decided to run an RPG session one evening on the fly. I hadn’t planned to run Classic Traveller but two of my friends and one of their friends who had never played an RPG all wanted a game and I volunteered to run something. I had a dice bag, index cards, and whatever PDF I had posted on this blog.

I decided to use the Classic Traveller rules as my framework. They are simple, flexible, and crazy easy to run if Old School Referee-driven-adjudication is your thing.

I established a setting: A mythic kind of place in Eternal Winter and Eternal Night. The Sun had been taken away generations ago. The PCs would be from a village along the coast where fishing still took place. A few scattered communities existed across dark, snow-covered lands. Trade existed, as well as marriages across communities.

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I handed out an index card to each player for characters: “Assign the values 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 to STR, DEX, END, INT, EDU, and Social Status. Add +2 to two of those, or a single +4 to one. Give yourself a profession and write that on the top of the card. You character can do all thing things that that profession can do. Then add three more skills, the things you are really good at, which might tie to your profession or be something else. Assign a +1, a +2, and a +3, respectively to each of the skills as you see fit. Tell me who your character cares about in the village. Tell me about the god your character pays homage to. Give your character a name.”

We ended up with the chieftain’s bard, the chieftain’s thane, a whaler who loved his sons, and a witch who lived outside the walls of the town with her ailing sister.

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I came up with a situation: There had been a kin-killing on the seas when two clans fought over the kill of a whale and The God of the Deep had stopped sending fish up to the surface from the ocean’s bottom. The village would die.

The PCs ended up going to the underworld to find the dead man who had not been given proper burial and returning him to the mortal world. While they were in the land of the dead the PCs saw the sun in the sky (for it, too, had died long ago) and brought back new hope to their village that the sun might return.

I ran the game a little bit like HeroQuest in that a single roll generally handle a full conflict and then we moved on to fallout and new choices. (We had only four hours and had spent some time creating the setting. I wanted to keep things moving along.

I didn’t use a single rule book or reference anything but some notes I scribbled while the Players made characters.

It was kind of RPG Convention Gold. We had a blast.

In essence, I approached resolving situations as I’ve outlined in two posts I wrote a while back. As I discovered while running my Improvised Classic Traveller Convention Game at the previous convention, my assumptions about how robust and effective the Classic Traveller are seems to be paying off for fun times at the gaming table.

An Improvised Classic Traveller Convention Game

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I was at a local convention a couple of months ago and decided mid-way through the day I wanted to run some Classic Traveller during one of the gaming blocks. I went to the sign up desk, grabbed one of the templates, and wrote out a quick description about hunting for treasure on a war-torn world. Then, during lunch, I set about hacking some notes together.

I’ve moved to index cards for my Lamentations of the Flame Princess game. I have come to prefer them for two reasons:

  • They make me keep my information, ideas, and descriptions short. And I’ve learned brief chunks of information are more practical for my RPG play. I need data I can grasp at a glance and move on. I need something brief that can inspire me for more ideas in the moment and that I can relate to the Players (via their Player Characters) through specific interactions. Lots and lots of detail means I am sitting there reading a bunch of stuff that I can’t get out all at once. So for now I’m in the habit of jotting down what can fit on an index card per subject and moving on.
  • I love that I can pull the cards that I need out from the index card file box, set them out in front of me for reference, and then when I am done put them back.

I got myself some index card tabs that I use to divide the cards into different categories, most of which are NPCs and Encounters divided by location. Here’s an image from the cards from my Lamentations of the Flame Princess game.

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I had no other Classic Traveller material with me. But luckily I have stored a ton of stuff on this blog as PDFs and images. So I pulled up this blog on my iPhone and got to work.

I grabbed some pre-made Player Characters from a file I had shared before. I transferred four Player Characters to index cards. Each player would choose one. I made them all Marines so that the Players would have easy hooks to each other. (See the cards at the top of this post.) Normally I love having people roll up Classic Traveller characters. But I’ve learned that simple as the process is the first time someone does it takes a while. And I really wanted to have more time to play the adventure.

While I was working on that I was back-burnering some thoughts for the adventure.

I wanted a clear goal out of the gate. (It was a four hour convention slot after all). So there was a treasure the PCs were after. I decided we’d go in media res–the PCs would already be on the trail of the treasure and were closing in on it when the game started. This way we could just get on with it instead of spending that first hour of everyone trying to figure out if they were on the “right path” for the adventure.

So I hacked together a few facts for the Players to have before we began:

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The Player Characters would be chasing down rumors of an idol that was smuggled off a world decades ago and sold for a great fortune. It became a tale told in the culture of travellers, but no one had yet found the world where it had come from.

I decided the Player Character would already know about the idol, already had competition also looking for the world to see if there were more valuable idols (Captain Brand and his crew). Further, before play began I would explain to the Players their PCs had confirmed the location of a descendent of the man who had found the first idol, were meeting with him and got map of where his grandfather had found the idols, but that Brand and his men arrived, killed their contact in a fire-fight, and escaped with the map. Thus, the race was on.

The name of the world was Pherris, and I whipped up for factions to engage the Player Characters:

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House Silis were the noble house that ruled Pherris in the name of a failing, ancient empire. The Takar were an humanoid-insect race that the humans had conquered decades ago. Some Takar were loyal to the humans, but others were beginning to revolt against human rule. And then there was Captain Brand and his men.

I started up three types of Takar really fast:

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I decided the idols were made by an aboriginal culture and that the properties of the crystals keep a great beast in a great cavern in a state of suspended animation:

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I have already designed Classic Traveller Weapon Cards for ease of play, but didn’t have them with me. But using my phone I jotted down some common weapons we’d be using during the game to have them on hand. I didn’t give them to the players. I simply gave them the Throw values as needed.

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As for the game, it went gangbusters. Three players signed up. (One was from my regular Monday Night Group, the other two were strangers.)

The Players (by their own accounts) had a really great time. A loose premise, a few notes, a lose structure for an evening’s entertainment… and then winging it in terms of both the players’ choices and the pacing as seemed appropriate.

Lots of fun world-building on the fly. It was a world dominated by high tech humans lording over an aboriginal humanoid-like insect population that lived at a Tech Level 0 capability. But I found I was adding solid details beat by beat to fill out the sense of reality as we went. I described the cold of the world. How the Takar could essentially hibernate as needed to conserve food and energy. I told the Players, “Because you’ve all served you know the imposing architecture of the Silis Palace is not there to defend against attacks from space but to be imposing to the natives of this world.” What I was looking for was not a “Hard SF” but enough details that made sense and an internal logic to give a patina of logic and science fiction–just like the fiction that inspired Marc Miller to create the game.

The experimentation I had done with other con games with Traveller paid off here as I knew the limits of the game and when to simply move things along. I was, per all my blog posts and comments here, a Referee who adjudicated the “logic” of the world and actions of the PCs quickly, often without requiring rolls, and then came up Throws on the fly. No player blinked at that.

Because I had the pre-generated Player Characters I used my time at the top of the session to do a preamble about how the game was going to play differently than most games from the mid-80s on. I talked about the role of the referee. I talked about how they should not limit themselves to the skill list of what they can do but to look at the first line of the PC Index Card in front of them that listed their service branch (former Marines for all), age, and terms of service. “Remember,” I said, “if there is something you think a marine should be able to do, you can probably do it.”

Then came characteristics. And then skills under all that. I described how Throws could be made for almost anything. That they might not be able to try some things at all, but other times they could make a throw and sometimes a expertise rating might be a DM, or a very high or low characteristic might be a DM, or having been a Marine might be a DM. And other times they might simply do what they want if they have the right qualities of skill or characteristic or background without even having to make a roll.

I explained that Classic Traveller has no Experience system for activities or deeds done during play. Which means the Players have to set up their own goals or agendas and judge for themselves if they are getting closer or further way from what they want only through the details of the fiction. This makes it a unique game within the range of RPGs as far as I know. If the Players don’t know what they want the game might well grind to a halt.

I explained the notion that space travel between the stars is relatively slow compared to what we are used to in most mass-media. I watched eyes widen with both sudden comprehension and delight at this notion. I will admit this delighted me — as I could see this novel aspect pulled all of them closer to core conceit of the game and the idea that it could take weeks, if not months, to travel a vast chain of star systems. The idea that space was BIG and travel between the stars was a BIG DEAL was beginning to take hold.

Then I broke the news that communication only moved at the speed of travel. Eyebrows went up. Smiles appeared. This was apparently A REALLY COOL NOTION. “No faster than light communication at all?”

“Nope,” I replied.

“Like ships have to carry messages and communications between worlds?”

“Exactly,” I said. “Like packet boats in the Age of Sail.”

And with the three players really _got_ the core conceit of Traveller’s one core setting element and seemed _delighted_ with this notion.

I asked them to tell me what one item they still carried with them from their time in the service (A jacket; a footlocker; pistols with handle grip designs commemorating a field action of great import).

I asked them to look at their age, terms of service, characteristics, and skills and think not in terms of what their character could _do_ but how this informed the characterization of the character. “Looking at these details, who is this character? How do they see themselves? What do they want? Why are they traveling between stars when most people never do?”

I asked them how they met (after each of them mustered out, kicking around the stars and lacking focus), and what they sought.

One had been a quartermaster, always working to make an extra buck. I handed him the background details: Rumors of a crystal statue of great wealthy sold by a man 60 years ago for a million credits. The world was unknown, but rumor was he meant to go back years ago and get more.

I explained they had met up as this marine pursued this rumor. They were going to be meeting with the man who claimed to be the long dead man’s grandson to get more details: the name of the world, a map.

The crew of a free trader charged into the bar during the meet. The man with the map was killed during an exchange of fire. The map stolen from them.

The PCs worked passage on ships with greater jump capability than the free trader to beat their adversaries to the world. There they worked themselves into the planetary forces dealing with an uprising of “the abos” (aboriginals) who were now fighting against the abos who were loyal to the human ruling class. This allowed them to scope out the situation a bit before the other crew arrived on planet and gave them authority to take action agains the crew when they arrive. (The arriving crew made the mistake of looking like they were trying to sneak onto the planet to smuggle weapons to the rebels abos.)

Lots of adventure, the Players being smart, unexpected mysteries. They realized there was a rebellion happening–and got themselves hired into the local militia. With their imperial training they were a cut above the local forces and managed to get themselves wide leeway going out on ‘patrols” (but really trying to track down the location of the idols) without having anyone keeping too close an eye on them. (Please note: I did not think of this as a plan or expect it at all. This was something the Player Characters came up with on their own… and it was quite smart. I had no “adventure” planned. Just a situation. It was up to the Players to figure how how they would move their characters forward. It was up to me to provide obstacles and opportunity.)

They found the crystal statues and figured out they were used to keep a buried creature in hibernation through psionic energy. They stole the crystals, awoke and unleashed what was pretty much a T-Rex. Hijinks ensued.

It was a sold old school game that could have been expanded greatly both in terms of play time at the table and as a campaign. The players were coming with all sorts of smart ideas that would have paid off for a longer campaign and I had to say things like, “That’s really great. But we have forty minutes left for a con game. What is your objective now.”

One player (former Army, as it happens), as we took a break halfway through the session said, “I have to tell you…. I am having a great time.”

So everyone thought it rocked.

And I type all this up to say–the game was written and designed to play this easy, fast, and loose play–and you can play this way too. No long, detailed introduction from the Referee about politics that the Player Characters can’t influence anyway. No thoughtfully pre-planned adventure the Player Characters are supposed to follow. No expectations of what the Players will do.

I simply came up with some notes. Let the Players move forward with their plans. Made rolls to see how things turned out when required, let them succeed without rolls if that made sense. And everyone had a great time.

Just sayin’.

Fallen World Campaign [LotFP]–Twenty-Third Session

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– Or –
The Characters Finally Head Off to Qelong

Having cleaned out Graupher’s Keep of the creatures that had escaped from the menagerie and the interplaner creature that Graupher and his men had brought back in their travels to research and destroy, the Lamplighters took some time to sort through gathered treasures and magic.

The magic-user researched spells and set up a new lab in the keep. Two of the characters experimented with the power suits that they had retrieved from the slaughtered Carcosans they found dead in the remains of Death Frost Doom. One power suit was still locked, but they had a weekly chance to find the combination and finally pulled it off. Each power suit had unique abilities I had randomly rolled using the tables from Carcosa.

Carcosa describes the alien technology of the world in the style of Jack Kirby style art. So the players in 17th Century Europe have suits of armor in the style of the image above.

The Lamplighters also hired in workers to clean out the mess left over from the thousands of undead in the Turning Tower, as well as fortifying and repairing the compound as a whole.

Now, in the Session #22 recap I noted that I thought once the Players had found Graupher’s ship they would be heading off to the world of the Qelong Valley to find the Aakom they needed to free their friends who became trapped in Null Space while exploring the ancient Duvan’Ku catacombs under Munich. (It’s a long story… but if you read all the entries you’ll get the details. I realized I can’t keep recapping everything in every recap. It’ll just take too long! Short version: They need to go the Qelong Valley in an alternate dimension, recover the Aakom leaking from a cylinder that is poisoning the valley, travel to Carcosa using The World Stone, get to and enter the Spatial Transference Void in the city of Carcosa which will let them enter Null Space, rescue their friends, and use the Aakom to escape Null Space and return to earth!)

Instead, they decided to return to Bergenzel and clean it out once and for all. Okay, I thought, and then next week Qelong!

But no. After experimenting and cleaning up the keep they decided that since some of the spider cult members of Bergenzel had fled the town, the most likely place they would have gone to would be the Insect Cult located north of Karlstadt. They didn’t know about the Insect Cult, really, but months earlier they had found a map of Europe on the inside of a dead knight’s flesh marked with:

  • the death symbol of the Duvan’Ku which marked the temple from Death Frost Doom
  • an insect symbol which marked the Insect Cult from Better Than Any Man

The Players had decided back in the seventh session that they would be traveling to the bug mark on the map. You might recall that I prepped for Better Than Any Man, the Player Characters stopped in Munich while traveling north to Karlstadt, found out rumors of ancient Duvan’Ku catacombs under the streets of Munich, researched further, and stumbled intoThe God That Crawls. (Which I had moved from England to Munich.) In doing all this they promptly forgot about heading to Karlstadt, my prep was scrapped and they entered a terrific module that took us three sessions to clear out.

More things happened and their focus turned completely from the events to the north and they headed west in an effort to find an adventurer rumored to have a ship that could travel to different worlds so they could go rescue their friends trapped in Null Space. (Again, the recaps keep looping around. In part it is because I have remember for myself how all this stuff went down!)

The point is: Once they Players had declared they were going to Karlstadt I started the countdown that is a core element of Better Than Any Man. The Swedish Army was going to sweep down from Denmark across the Holy Roman empire whether the Player Characters went north or not… because it started and it was up to them to get back up there in time to find all sorts of treasures and adventures or not.

Well, they never went back. And the catalogue of events listed in Better Than Any Man took place as described over the ten days of the adventure–even if the Player Characters were not there to participate in the adventure!

The Players, of course, knew nothing about any of this. Nor did their characters who had spent that last two months in shrines and catacombs built by the Duvan’Ku or traveling through the time-distorted swamps of Bergenzel. By the time they headed back to Munich to see the treasures they had recovered they heard about the onslaught of the Swedish King but did not realize that the adventure that had been waiting for them had been wiped out. (I try to be honest about how the world is moving forward around the Player Characters, whether the Players are aware of it or not. This was one of those times!)

So: We gather for Session #23 and I’m thinking: “Okay, here we go to Qelong!” And the Players decided to go to where they saw the insect symbol on the map. And they had no idea the Insect Cult was wiped out by the Swedish Army (along with the witches of Karlstadt and so on.)

So I pull out Better Than Any Man. Because even though the main adventure sites have been destroyed by the Swedish army Better Than Any Man has a whole list of awesome random encounters I can use to generate content for tonight’s session. Since the area will still be war-torn and ruined almost every one of the encounters will still be viable.


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THE SIGN IN YELLOW

The Player Characters travel to Munich as they head for the Insect symbol on the map. They ask about rumors of the war, of the invasion by the Swedes, of anything to do about insects.

The find out that the Swedes sacked Karlstadt, sacked Würzberg, and killed many witched. They destroyed a tower that no one could see and the rivers ran with blood. They attacked a compound filled with monsters. Few men came out so they used explosives to seal it all up. The details are sparse. It is told more like exotic rumors and tales… but it is all true! This is the aftermath of Better Than Any Man–and the Lamplighters missed the party.

But, more pertinent, the Players hear rumors of dreams that have been haunting the citizens of Munich for weeks. People have been unable to sleep–or, rather, have been sleeping but do not feel as if they have slept. A figure in yellow robes haunts them. The Players begin to notice a strange symbol in yellow scattered on the walls of Munich. People feel that something is coming. That while they had feared what might happen once the Swedish army sacked the Catholic cities, this would be worse.


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THE WITCH’S HEAD

The group continues north. They pass Würzberg and see corpses of “witches” that hang from trees. And hear tales of the witch trials taking place. They travel on and I make a random encounter roll. They hear rumors of war elsewhere. But a large portion of the Swedish army has been disbanded after the cities were sacked and mercenary troops took their loot and went home.

They reach Karlstadt. They see the heads of the witches on pikes on the city’s wall. Again, this is the aftermath of Better Than Any Man. They have missed all the events. And yet, by playing out the events as they occurred we have new chances for unexpected adventures.

For example, the adventures decide they want to examine one of the witch’s heads. Why? I do not know exactly. But can I blame them?

Since their journey south along a road to investigate fallen meteorite–upon which they came across a corpse that was later revealed to have been killed by a doppelgänger from another planet come to study the human race–and all the things they had seen from that moment onward until now, would it be truly unreasonable to assume that investigating the decapitated head of a witch on a pike might not yield interesting information? Certainly it was a possibility that such a thing should be looked into. And so they did.

Note several things:

I had no idea the players would want to investigate a decapitated witch’s head. I put it there as a bit of color and to make clear that whatever had happened had happened and the situation had wrapped up.

It is not my place to tell the players there is nothing interesting to be found by investigating a decapitated witch’s head over a city gate. If this is something they want to do I let them do it. Remember, in this game I have no plot, I have no story. There is no place we are trying to get to, no climax I need to guide them toward. Whatever they choose to pursue is the story.

At this point they are providing material for me to use. Again: I have no story. The Players make rolls as they sneak around and try to investigate the head of a decapitated witch.

So they get to the head. It seems to be, I explain after they examine it, a decapitated head and nothing more.

They decide to steal it.

James Raggi once stated there was no need for a Call of Cthulhu insanity-style mechanic for Lamentations of the Flame Princess because after a while the Players would be having their characters do all sorts of crazy things with the characters all of their own volition. Guess he was right!

The group slips the head into one of their sacks and makes their way back out of the city before they are caught with the witch’s head.

They decide to head back south, making plans to travel to Italy to find sailors for their ship and their journey to one of the worlds Graupher discovered. And so they travel south, this imposing group of fifth level adventurers…

  • Werner, Prock a German mercenary
  • Adrian MacBride, a Scottish cleric
  • Vilfolk, a specialist noted for his facility with languages and knowledge of architecture
  • D’Antonio, a warrior from Spain
  • Rauk Bork, a specialist from Germany noted for his sneak attacks and tinkering
  • Anika, a magic-user who has gathered strange spells and items during her adventures

As the group travel the sack with the head begins to move. They open it and the head is speaking. They talk to it, and the witch’s head is trying to warn them.

“I made a pact with the Insect Gods,” the decapitated head says, “because I knew something far worse was coming.”

“What?” the characters ask.

“The gods of Carcosa,” the decapitated head says.

Anika, the group’s Magic-User, decides to place the head upon her staff as an imposing decoration. And so they continue south in this fashion. Because this is, after all, Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Some Thoughts on the Witch’s Head
I want to note here that I simply made up the head talking on the spot. I wanted to crank up the growing tension about the Carcosans and their invasion. I thought the dead witch would spit out a warning and that would be that.

In retrospect I would not have done it this way. I should have let the Players have their characters cast a spell of some sort or come up with some magical shenanigans to get information from the head if that’s what they wanted. I was excited to talk about what I was excited about. And certainly I’m allowed to share what I’m excited about.

But given that they stole the head of their own volition with no expectation it would provide information, I should have let them decide to press the matter further.

Not a big deal… but I did think about this after the session. A lesson learned.

But more: now that Anika has placed the head on her staff it is kind A Thing for me to deal with. Does it just keep talking? Spitting out omens? Or what?

I have decided the head will be an artifact of sorts. It actually isn’t the witch that spoke to them, but an avatar of the Insect God that hopes to manipulate the characters to its own desires. It will pose as the witch as long as it can to deceive them. It will have some powers it will offer to Anika to make its presence more palatable. But I haven’t worked those out yet.


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THE MERCENARIES

The group continues south, but is still with the territory of Better Than Any Man. I roll on the encounter table from the book. I roll an Encounter!

I roll on the Encounter Table to see what sort of encounter. I roll a 21. Rogue Mercenaries! Interesting! I hadn’t expected that!

I roll again to see if they are foreign mercenaries. 50% chance. They are! I read the description quickly:

these men are simply foreign mercenaries stranded in a strange land trying to survive with no idea how to get home through hostile territory…

Again, unexpected!

I decide these are Swedish Mercenaries who came over for the fight, pillaged, broke off from the army when payments came late. I roll to determine how many. 150 troops!

Huh. I have no idea how this is going to go.

I have each side roll for surprise. No one gets surprise.

I decide the Player Characters spot a patrol of Swedish Mercenaries–and the Swedes spot them. Rather than try to skirt the patrol the Players have their characters walk up to the patrol. Because here is a thing: The Player Characters are like Fifth Level now. In the setting we’ve built that is a big deal. They simply carry themselves differently. They are bad-asses who have seen the shit and when they approach a bunch of Level 0 Swedish Troops on patrol the troops take a step back. Because this strange crew of soldiers and specialists, as well as the strangely powerful looking cleric and the woman who is dressed in sturdy travel clothes but carries herself with the confidence of a woman who has looked the devil in the eyes and lived to tell about it walk like they are the last people you want to fuck with if you want to see another day.

I make a Reaction Roll, per the rules. I give a +2 to the roll since a) the mercenaries are without food or income and in no need to get into a fight they don’t need to get into, and b) the Player Characters look like bad-asses–so they probably won’t want to get into a fight.

The roll (if I remember correctly) was somewhere around the middle. The members of the patrol and the Player Characters trade pleasantries and trade doleful comments on the state of the war-torn world. The mercs explain their circumstances.

One of the Player Characters, Werner, asks to speak to their captain. The mercs are wary of this. But when Werner says it might involve employment they perk up and lead the six travelers to the camp.

Now, Werner is played by Eric. And Eric is a clever guy who comes up with clever plans. (Eric loves puzzles. He takes notes all the time and then goes back to them to put two or three pieces of clues together to make some solution unspool in dungeons.) So I can’t wait to see what is going to happen.

I check Better Than Any Man for more details about the mercenary company they are about to meet:

There will be 10d20 soldiers in all, with as many camp followers (cooks, wives— or “wives”, and children, etc.) in any such band, and the initial encounter will be with either a patrol of 3d6 soldiers (50% chance), 1d6 camp followers (40%), or with the main camp itself (10%).

Officer: Armor 16 (breastplate), Fighter Level 1d6, Movement 90’, 1 musket or sword attack for 1d8 damage, Morale 1d6+5.

Sergeant: Armor 14 (jacks or buff coats), Fighter Level 1d4, Movement 90’, 1 musket or sword attack for 1d8 damage, Morale 1d6+4. Has Strength 15.

Rest of the Troops: Armor 14 (jacks or buff coats), Level 0, Movement 120’, 1 musket or sword or pike attack for 1d8 damage, Morale 8.

Horses: Armor 14, 5 Hit Dice, Movement 240’, 1 hoof attack for 1d6 damage, Morale 8.

Camp followers: Armor 12 (unarmored), Level 0, Movement 120’, 1 dagger attack, Morale 6.

I roll a d20. A 15! So there is a large camp of 150 troops with as many followers.

The patrol leads Werner and the other Player Characters to the mercenary leader, who I quickly name Captain Boris Johansson. I roll the Reaction Roll secretly and tuck it away for later. I know how Johansson will react… but I want to wait until Werner makes his offer.

Werner offers the following: “Your men have no employer, no way to get home, and currently no food or work. We have need of soldiers. More than that, we have a keep that needs troops. And we have a village nearby that is deserted, but with home and lands that you could call your own. We’ll grant you the land and you can settle there and live there as long as you are under our employment.”

At first I didn’t know what Eric meant by all of this. And then I remember that the group had cleared out the village of Bergenzel not only of the spider cult but also the mist caused by the Time Cube that had held it frozen for decades. No one lived in the village anymore. And now it was a small village with buildings, land that was no longer a swamp, a church already built, and so on. He was offering them land that they had cleared. And silver for working for them. And I thought, “Okay! Good offer!”

On top of that I had already rolled a natural “11” on 2d6 on the Reaction table (“Talkative.”) So Captain Johansson is willing to at least entertain the idea.

Negotiations took place using the Hiring Retainers rules. We added up the modifiers, rolled 3d6 and the group got a 16 on the roll. Which meant a Loyalty of 10. (Very good!)

The company began packing up to head down to the Alps and the town of Bergenzel.


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THE INVASION OF EARTH BY CARCOSA

So, the next day the Player Characters and the Mercenary Company head off. The players are now in good shape. They thought they might be going to Italy to get sailors to man Das Forscher, but I decided the merc company would have a good number of men also familiar with sailing and could serve as marines.

As they traveled they discussed which world they might go to next. They had not yet told the merc company all the details of the adventures or plans, waiting until the right time. But they had made it clear their adventures would be wild and extraordinary… and that at the same time the rewards would be great. This pleased there mercenaries. And more than that, because of the rolls I had made I decided Captain Johansson was quite taken with the group. He could tell they were survivors and a hardy bunch and he was willing to hitch his fate to theirs.

Now what the Players did not know was that every day since they had left Graupher’s Keep I had been making a secret die roll to see when the invasion of the earth by the Yellow King of Carcosa would begin.

I mean, we knew this was going to happen sooner or later.

Kar-El, the Carcosan they had befriended months earlier had spelled it all out. And they had gotten enough information to know the Carcosans had been working on a method of expanding and re-working the Spatial Transference Void to allow a direct connection between Carcosa and Earth that would allow two way travel. (Currently the Spatial Transference Void only goes from Carcosa to Earth. This is why one needs the World Stone to go back to Carcosa.)

So…

The Players Characters and the merc company are heading south. They hear an amazing rumbling through the air. The ground trembles under their feet. It is something like an earthquake. And here I asked which characters might have experienced earthquakes before. Several Players describe when their characters have experienced earthquakes.

“This is something more,” I say. “Something different. It is as if the whole world has been touched. As if something has shifted in the earth itself, and not just under your feet.”

The look to the east and they see that there is a tear in the sky about a hundred miles away… the bright blue sky TEARING OPEN as a strange swirl of colors is visible. And from within it a MASSIVE BRIDGE OF STONE extending from the tear in space down toward the earth.

Upon the bridge they see, small but visible in formation, AN ARMY walking down the stone bridge.

And visible within the army, glowing with a presence that makes him more visible than he should be at this distance. He is a figure in yellow. He is, in fact, the King in Yellow, one of the avatars of Hastur of Carcosa. Some of the Players recognize this, others do not. I say no more on the matter.

I also do not add that Hastur is imprisoned under Carcosa and needs the sacrifice of millions to free himself. He has come to earth to make this happen. The population and means of war and execution exceed those of Carcosa and it here that he will found the altar that will free him–the planet earth itself.

Everyone is stunned by this sight. Many of the mercenaries drop to their knees and pray.

Werner says, “This is the enemy we fight. Come with us and we will defeat this army in their own kingdom before they can take our world.” Their plan is the same as it has been: To go to another world to find the Aakom, go to Carcosa, and manipulate the Spatial Transference Void. But now the stakes are bigger… not just to rescue their friends, but to destroy the Spatial Transference Void and seal the gap between Earth and Carcosa.

Now, Captain Johansson gets it right away… that this is a big fucking deal and if he can help he’s going to help. And he trusts the Lamplighters because of that Loyalty roll, so he’s all in. And he rallies the troops as best he can.

Eric says, “You know, given what they’re seeing they might not all want to come.” And I think, “True.”

So I make a roll to determine how many men Johansson can keep loyal to the company. And he is able to keep two-thirds of them on board to deal with this new, impossible threat. So the Lamplighters head off with 100 soldiers and their camp followers.

It is a several days walk and I make a roll each day. The Players do not know what the roll is for.

They make it back to Graupher’s Keep without incident. But on that day I roll again and I tell them, “You hear a sound like a terrible trumpet. A wind that rushes across the landscape rushes toward you. It rushes across the whole earth from east to west. You know this to be true as you know you own hands. And as the wind passes by both the Magic-User and the Cleric are uncertain about something. For it seems your sense of your magic in your thoughts and your god in your heart have been lost.”

They try to use their spells. Nothing happens.

The power and logic of Carcosa is exerting itself. The world is changing as the armies of the Yellow King march upon Europe.

The Player Characters and their mercenaries, which I have decided to dub Lantern Company, make haste and prepare to leave earth on their journey to another world and discover the means of stopping the invasion.

They have the coordinates from Graupher’s notes. Inside the underground lake in the Alps they turn the ship’s wheel per the combination written on the page of Graupher’s dream-induced drawings. There is a strange sound as the winds and waters of countless worlds rush by them…

And they are gone…

Notes for My First Session of My Lamentations of the Flame Princess Campaign

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I just came across the pages shown in this post. This is how my Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign began, with three people I knew, and three others I found off of Meetup.

I started my campaign with a brief adventure called Stranger Storm from the original LotFP Referee Book and the notes pictured above. (You can get the PDF of the LotFP Referee Book for free at RPGNow.)

The Player Characters started on a road, at night. They had each rolled a rumor from the World Rumor Table I made, as well as rumors about meteorites that had fallen to the south a few nights earlier.

They were looking to find the meteorites, but would encounter the situation of Stranger Storm along the way.

The adventure Stranger Storm has no maps. I grabbed some maps from other RPG books to help me out.

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So, I started with:

  1. Rumor Table (which focuses the players, but lets the choose what to do)
  2. Stranger Storm (With a few alterations of the creatures to fit my campaign. Specifically I altered the nature of the Changelings to make them into arcane spies of sorcerers of Carcosa.)
  3. A stack of LotFP adventures that the Rumors on the Rumor Table point to
  4. The notes I have attached in photos
  5. A map of an inn and of a small keep I cribbed from elsewhere (they never went to the keep)

We’ve been playing for over a  year, alternating games on occasion, for a solid six months of play so far.

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Fallen World Campaign [LotFP]–Twenty-Second Session (Return to Bergenzel!)

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— PLUS: Thoughts on how I Run My Games and Set Up My Adventures —

SPOILERS for Scenic Dunnsmouth below!

The Lamplighters had journeyed to Bergenzel (AKA: “Scenic Dunnsmouth“) in our fifteenth and sixteenth sessions. They had managed to:

  • Find Herr Graupher, the inter-dimensional explore they needed to find (he was dead, yes, but they did find him)
  • Uncover the nefarious spider-cult that had taken over the village
  • Track down Magda, a witch who had fallen prey to the spider-cult
  • Defeat Magda, the Original Spider, and Uncle Ivanovik (the man who had killed Graupher)
  • They found the location of Graupher’s Keep from a man they rescued, and helped this man rescue the son of one of the cultists

They had done very well for themselves. They had found what they had come for, and they had done some good deeds along the way.

But the mystery of the swamp (“Why did time move differently here than the rest of the world?”) was still unsolved. They could use the information they had found to travel to Graupher’s Keep or they could continue to explore the village.

Their decision was… “Okay, this place is creepy. Let’s get out now!

So, they bugged out, returning to the farm they had rented outside of Munich to heal up, study some magic they had found, and make scrolls.

As recounted in the previous session report, after several seeks they made their way past the ruins of Murnau, past the path that led to Bergenzel, and up into the foothills of the Alps where the cleared out and took control of Graupher’s Keep.

The greatest prize of this expedition was a ship that could travel between worlds, hidden away in a massive cavern with an underground lake within the mountain that housed the keep.

I thought for certain they would gather a crew, board the boat, and travel to an alter reality. This has been the purpose of seeking out Graupher and then his keep. But the group was very excited to have taken control of the keep and wanted to clean it up, hire troops to man it, and make sure the road to the keep through the lowlands was safe.

The meant, one of the players declared, they had to go back to Bergenzel and figure out why a mist covered the swampy town and what was causing the time dilation. (They assumed the two were connected.)

There was uncertainty on the part of a couple of the players about this course of action (“Wasn’t there a spider-cult there!”) while the rest of the group knew they had left a portion of the map unexplored and wanted to return and solve the mystery. And so it was decided they would head back.

As they explored the village they came across only abandoned homes. Apparently the rest of the cultists had fled. They returned to the church–and found poor Herman dead on the altar and Father Iwanopolous hung upside and crucified on the church wall. Parting presents from the fleeing cultists.

The fate of the priest, Herman, and the cultists still alive from the last journey was all stuff I had to decide on my own. (“Make it up,” in the parlance of OSR-Refereeing!)

Scenic Dunnsmouth doesn’t specify what the cultists do if the Original Spider is killed. You may no recall–as I did–that the Player Characters had found a map on the inside of the vivisected flesh of Sir Bruno, a knight of an order doing battle against the Duvan’Ku, and on the map was a mark of an insect.

Here’s the passage from my notes describing this:

A prisoner is here, Sir Bruno, a knight of the Order Medicinal. The order gathered the orphans of victims of the Cult of Duvan’Ku in Bavaria in centuries past. After the temple from Death Frost Doom was sealed up by the Clerics of many faiths, they shifted their focus to helping orphans of crime and war, though the order felt less driven in purpose. With the outbreak of the religious war 15 years ago across the Holy Roman Empire they found new energy.

Sir Boris heard rumors of the meteorites and strange circumstances around Middlehelm and went to investigate. He was captured and tortured by Ulrich and Gunther. They want to know where the Duvan’ku hid the World Stone.

The World Stone is a device that can transport people between Carcosa and Earth. Sorcerers from Carcosa used it to spy on Earth. Duvan’Ku cultists stole it and hid it hundreds of years ago.

Sir Boris refused to tell them what his order knows of the World Stone. So they vivisected him with magical means, peeling the flesh of his torso from him, revealing the truth as he knew it:

The inside of his flesh has become a topographical map of Bavaria.

Along the northern edge of the Alp floats the “Death Symbol” from Death Frost Doom. The Shrine from Death Frost Doom is located here. The World Stone is in Area 22 of the Shrine.

Further north on the map there is the sign of an insect. This marks Goblin Hill, from Better Than Any Man. The Order is actively investigating the rise of insects in the area and is closing in on Goblin Hill.

The agents of Carcosa care very much about the Duvan’Ku and the Insect Gods.

This is a technique I use in every adventure: I leave one or two clues or breadcrumbs for one or more other possible adventures. This way, as the Player Characters proceed they have choices about where the will go next. Note that I don’t leave the clue as to where they “have to go next”–because I never assume I know where they will go next. I give them many options. They can choose to pursue any of them… and even ignore those that I set before them and go off after something goal they decide on their own. That’s why, as in this case, I offered clues to two different adventure locations.

This was the symbol they found on the map marking Goblin Hill from Better Than Any Man:

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They had all found the same symbol on the curtain in the basement of Magda’s hut… the curtain over the alcove where the Original Spider was hiding. (The text of Scenic Bergenzel specified that a curtain hung over the alcove. I decided to put the insect symbol on the curtain.)

Spelling all this out is a long way of telling you what I decided to do with the remaining cultists since the text of Scenic Dunnsmouth. Keep in mind, until the Players decided they wanted to go back to Bergenzel I hadn’t thought at all about the fate of the remaining cultists. Honestly, there was so much going on and so many other big events occurring, I’d forgotten all about them.

But this is how, in my view, healthy sandbox settings run. One can go off the mental deep end thinking that you are responsible for mastering and tracking every element in a fantasy world or interstellar science-fiction environment. But this isn’t the case at all.

I recently recorded an interview with Victor Raymond, who played in Professor M.A.R. Barker’s fabled Thursday Night Empire of the Petal Throne game. (I quoted Victor several times in a post about How People Played Traveller in 1977.)

In the interview, Raymond told a story about someone pointing at a spot on the map of Tékumel and asking Professor Barker, “What’s here?”

And the Professor replied: “I don’t know. I haven’t been there yet.”

And the person, very confused, replied, “How can you not know?”

“Well, I named it. I know a little bit about it. But until characters I think of go there and interact with each other, interact with the land, I really don’t know what’s there. I haven’t been there.”

I think that’s a really important lesson for all Referees. The man who created the world of Tékumel, who ran games on that fantastical on a weekly basis for years, who wrote novels about that world, not only did not know everything about it. He assumed that until that patch of geography was put into imaginative, creative motion, he could not know it fully.

This ties into a post I wrote a while back about the value of Random Encounters and Random Tables in Sandbox RPG play. We simply can’t know everything about a fictional environment, and we don’t need to know everything about a fictional environment if it is not in action.

This doesn’t mean that we simply ignore the plots and actions of our NPCs if they are off-screen. I spent time imagining and dreaming about what the Carcosan spies on Earth are up to in their effort build a bridge between Carcosa and Earth. Even when they vanished from the Player Characters’ concerns for many weeks of play, I never forgot about them. I imagined their setbacks, their victories, how they were moving forward with the raid on the Duvan’Ku shrine for the snow-globes of alternate realities that would let them travel to a version of the Qelong Valley and come back with the Aakom they needed to tear a rift in space from the Spatial Transference Void to the central Europe.

What it does mean is that we are wiling to find things out in play. That we let our imaginations be inspired by what happens in play. That we let the tension of the moment, the acts of invention (like my players using The Lost Battalion to defeat 3,000 zombies in the tower they needed to clear).

So, what had the cultists decided to do after the Lamplighters had killed the Original Spider and a good number of the cultists? I had no idea, since my imagination had no need to imagine anything in Bergenzel for a while. But the moment they decided to go back, my imagination was happy and excited to get back into gear.

I decided they cultists would head toward Goblin Hill. There were, after all, the arachnids in conflict with the insects. I decided the Original Spider was of this brood. And the cultists would think they were going “home” to carry on the work of their spider-kin. They tracked down the non-cultists in Bergenzel, murdered them in a horrific fashion, and headed north.


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After sussing out the fact that the cultists had picked up stakes, the Player Characters were left with the mystery of why time moved so strangely in Bergenzel. This was a mystery they wanted to pursue, sine the point of returning to the cursed town was to make sure passage to their new keep was secure and safe.

They had taped a good section of the village on their first visit, but Eric, the sharp puzzle-loving member of my group, noted that the northeaster quadrant of their map was still a blank. He assumed that whatever was causing the time-dilation would be found there. So that’s were they headed.

They saw a faint glow ahead of them as they approached the Time Cube, the light diffused by the moisture in the air that only got thicker and thicker the closer they got…

I won’t go into all the details of the experimentation and time distortion shenanigans they got into as the explored the cube. (At one point they fired a laser at the cube from one of the suits of power armor they had recovered from the shattered expedition the Carcosans had sent into the Duvan’Ku shrine. The bolt shot toward the cube at the speed of light–at first. And then it got slower and slower, until it looked like it was just about to touch the surface of the cube, but never reaching it…)

Suffice to say, like so much from the LotFP product line, it did its job well. It was mysterious, and offered a sense of both danger and novelty. They approached the problem with care and a great deal of curiosity, until the Magic-User cast Time Stop and the cube vanished. (The laser bolt suddenly sped back up, shooting into a tree past where the cube had been and destroying it!)

The water’s of the river suddenly began flowing again. The marsh began (slowly) draining. The mist that had obscured the small village for years vanished, allowing sunshine to illuminate the land around them once more.

I had assumed at this point they would return to the keep, stock provisions and crew, and sail off to Qelong to get the canister their Carcosan friend had told them they had to reach before the Carcosan agents did. But they surprised me (again!). They said they wanted to head north toward the point on the map where they had seen the insect symbol. They want to finish the cult once and for all.