With things getting real in Titansgrave, the players have found some interesting developments with their ancient sphere and managed to get themselves declared terrorists. When we resume this week, it’s time to do that most classic of fantasy tropes: Delve into the sewers of the large city.
Will the heroes make it out alive or at least vaguely smelling pleasant? We shall have to see…
As we resume the party decides to – wisely – go with their mysterious contact telling them “Come with me for five gold and a party”. Unfortunately where they go is right into the sewer, which Wil sells in a wonderful fashion as to just how sewery it is. Once again I want to talk about the way Wil sets up this scene and how he ties the players previous actions and contacts back into the narrative. This NPC, Ocker, is actually not entirely out of left field and is in fact a contact of their former friend, the Beer Baron. He was apparently sent there to keep an eye on the characters and make sure they didn’t run into too much trouble. Aside from tying the overall plot together, it’s a good idea not to over create on unique NPCs or factions in general. You (and your players) can only keep track of so many elements at once, so if you can use what’s already familiar do so!
Oh and this being a sewer, naturally they encounter something that resembles a long sinuous rat like monster. Sometimes playing up to common tropes like sewers, giant rats and similar is actually a really fun idea. A part of me does wish they encountered an actual pack of long haired dachshunds though. During the combat, I did approve of the players asking Wil to describe the sounds the monster made when hit. It’s actually something that some of my groups like to do and coming up with random odd sounds is a part of the fun of GMing for me.
During the combat with the rats Wil again shows how player centric his style of running the game is. Lemley managed to pull off a great roll and got a high amount of stunt points, which resulted in the deaths of two of these creatures. Instead of narrating what happens for Lemley, Wil instead asked Laura to describe what happened herself. Again, if your players can come up with things on the fly and are happy to, put as much onus on describing their own actions to the players in question, as opposed to doing it yourself. This is especially true if the player in question is using a lot of resources or does something hard to do.
STOP THE PRESS: YURI DID SOMETHING USEFUL!!!!!!! He actually manage to kill one of the sewer jackals, exploding it with a massive blast of arcane energy. If you’re wondering, Yuri has unfortunately had absolutely dreadful luck in the game so far. I thought it was pretty great for Wil to allow him to describe his own success here and then have him ended up covered in goo. Good natured ribbing like this often makes for fun social ties and memes/habits around the table. Just don’t take things like this too far and never to the point where the player feels uncomfortable or especially picked on. Generally speaking, one player who rolls terribly for a while will get his revenge with a string of insane rolls or crits one day. So keep that in mind!
With the critters defeated, some new arrivals come and I’m just going to say that the art for these pale-skinned horned creatures at around 9:41 is one of the best pieces I’ve seen so far. This is actually a second combat encounter to be faced right after the first, with Wil presenting helping these creatures who are surrounded by more Jackals as an option. Minding, given the players previous actions I think he made a sound bet that they would certainly get involved in helping these horned creatures so didn’t even need to incentivize the players to attack the Jackals.
Allow me to digress a moment and talk about predicting player behavior, because a large amount of the “Art” of DMing is guessing what your players may (or may not) do in moments like this. In this particular case Wil (I believe) thought that the players wouldn’t need much of an incentive to take on the Jackals – especially after the first encounters rollicking ass kicking. This is probably because of two main factors, which you as the DM/GM/Keeper should pay in mind. Firstly, he’s good friends and knows everyone he is playing with exceptionally well and so has an idea how they will act/roleplay just based on that. Some people are just always good! Some players are always going to get into a fight if offered. Understanding these personality traits and how to use them to your advantage is a key aspect of running a roleplaying game. Not just so you can move the story forward as you would like, but also to give your players moments that they will enjoy and want to go along with for their character.
Secondly and also equally importantly, he’s already seen how the players have been roleplaying in this specific game up until this point. Mostly, they are keen to get into scraps or fights and have shown an exceptional willingness to help unrelated NPCs. If you recall they happily charged forth to the ambushed Beer Baron to help, then helped again in the brewery when it was attacked and had no issue getting involved in the bombing of the guilder’s truck last episode. This is why Wil can pretty much have the NPC say “Just ignore these guys” and the players more or less still jump happily into a fight ignoring him. It will probably prove very important to the overall narrative or plot to help these creatures, but presenting it as an outright choice hides the “hidden rails” that roleplays tend to have.
Naturally I suspect that if they hadn’t decided to help, he probably had some kind of backup plan in mind – like offering a reward or similar. As I mentioned above though, the better you know your players and the longer you give them opportunities to roleplay – so you can see what they do – before moments like this the better you can “predict” what they might do. Just make sure that you still have a backup or alternative plan: Even players you’ve been running a game for a while with can often be completely surprising in how they make decisions at times. On the other hand, giving players important choices – or at least the illusion of it – is extremely important. Especially if you’re entirely confident in your ability to improvise should they do the entirely unexpected!
The combat went pretty well, with the players easily defeating the Jackals with the exception of some light chewing on Lemley, which drew a friendly response from the “mole people”. Tana, one of the creatures, introduced itself and again Wil uses a good tactic to differentiate the creatures in speaking oddly. For example “I, Tana. I speak, world above”, which is an odd sentence structure and indicates immediately a non-confident or non-native speaker of the language in question. Doing things like this can really sell players on a creature or NPC not being of the same cultural background as them – plus it adds an interesting element to communication. My advice though is not to make their manner of speech too obscure, strange or difficult – otherwise it just becomes plain frustrating (or hard on your vocal chords or to remember for long periods).
Either way, they continue to go with the sewer mole people for a while and in a twist that really surprised me – they sewer people are all nuts! Luring the players into a encounter with a large dreadful monster as a “sacrifice”! Once again, brilliant art for this creature around the 24:40 mark in the video. It actually vaguely reminds me of the alpha hellion they encountered at the brewery a while back, but with more fur and a ton of stuff stuck into it. The players took advantage of their enemies blindness to stealth away somewhat, but the creature was still able to locate them eventually! I enjoyed this in particular, because it seemed to be adding a bit of survival horror to the proceedings. Rather like the berserker from Gears of War or the blind Wolverine like monsters from Resident Evil 4.
Yuri’s consistently dreadful dice rolling during this encounter led to his former dice being exiled from the game – quite literally as they were thrown across the studio! An appropriate fate for them I feel. In my games I’ve had players throw them like that, but I’ve also seen dice being smashed with a hammer and in one case actually melted into goo. Such is the fate of dice that fail their owners sufficiently.
The close up art at 32:25 of the monster they are trying to flee from is really terrific – I really do want to praise the art they’ve come up with for this. I will say the more I watch this encounter and see how it’s proceeding, the more I am distinctly reminded of the way the berserker in Gears of War worked. The pursuit over the rooftops was a fantastic idea and I feel Wil ran it extremely well. Most importantly, I liked that instead of an outright failure at any point, there were clear “degrees” of it such as getting a potential attack or even a potential fall. Mechanically, the tests kept the drama high and Wil’s descriptions really sold the desperate nature of what was going on.
Eventually they seem to come to a bloodied room, full of previous victims and Wil does something that I loved: Handing a player a physical note, but allowing them to decide if they keep the information for themselves or give it to others. This is something I’ve used often in my own games, most recently in Promethean and I cannot recommend it enough. Physical props, an actual hand written note and similar are fantastic plot devices, plus they have the advantage of only allowing the player with the physical prop to access it. By giving Laura the choice is Lemley shares the information or not, it adds to the tension and atmosphere as the other players wonder “Will she share it? Did she share what was ACTUALLY on it?”. Considering Wil is clearly going for a survival horror feel to this section of the game, this kind of added paranoia is perfect and really enhances the atmosphere.
Especially the cryptic answer to “The thing Lemley went looking for” and then she dragged in S’lethkk. This was causing further anxiety to the other players, who weren’t sure what was going on and then the terrible truth was revealed. In this case, I thought it was an extremely excellent moment and well run by Wil, especially in tying the players backstory into this overall encounter. This moment also had a secondary effect: Giving the players impetus and reason to turn and fight! Instead of being the hunted, they set up an ambush and decided to turn the tables on the creature. The best thing about dice sometimes is how they “even out”, with S’lethkk finally getting a great moment and decent dice roll, when he smashed the Kynagidas in the face with a terrific bolt of lightning to start the battle against it.
This combat I felt was really straightforward, especially compared with how “threatening” this creature was presented as initially. Actually so far, I’ve noticed that most of the battles in the game haven’t pushed the PCs particularly far just yet. I’m wondering if this is going to change in future or if combat is serving more of a “narrative” feel in this game, but not really designed to genuinely threaten or actually kill a PC. It was a really nice and appropriate touch I felt, to allow S’lethkk to finish off the creature in the end as well.
After all was said and done here, they were finally getting to where I feel Wil was aiming to get them: In a meeting with Vaas and undoubtedly more context to the overall story in the next episode!