So it has been a little while since I have been able to get back into the swing of things and start redoing my Titansgrave summaries. Sorry to those of you who look forward to these, but I shall be caught up soon for this weeks episode with some luck! In any event with the resolution of the flying fortress, the staff now in the players hands and a bunch of gold for all the parties they could want, it was time to forge ahead with the plot once more in this episode:
This episode begins with the players getting their direction to go firmly established, with Reed Manor being in a place called the “Moonperch”. Naturally before any large journey, there is an opportunity to go and buy some new weapons, equipment and … underpants? Additionally this was also the appropriate time to give the party a level up and increase their power in general. One of the things I liked during this process was how Lemley (Laura Bailey) wanted to have an improvement to her core weapon Dr. Lobotomy, but there didn’t seem to be inherent rules behind it. So what Wil did here was clever: Don’t worry about the details there, but just say that “Narratively, that is the case” and then when you have time – like between game sessions – you can go back to think of something. Generally speaking players will nearly always be happy with “Yes, I can’t think of what it does now but I will come up with something” than “No”.
Shortly after leveling up, Wil does a good thing that I recommend any DM/GM does after something major happens in the story – he slows the pace down. What he does is say “So before we get going, would you like to talk to one another about what just happened?”. There are two reasons you want to do this, despite a desire to push the plot forwards or to keep up the games pace. The first is you can get some valuable insights into how your players feel about what is going on, simply by their attitudes and approach to this conversation. It essentially is a good test of “How invested are the players in the game so far?”. Another good reason to do it is that it inherently encourages roleplaying, sharing experiences and reinforcing the bond between the characters they hopefully share. In a long term campaign or perhaps at the beginning of a new session, this is almost essential for helping everyone figure out what is happening in the plot or with other characters personal stories/arcs.
After allowing the players to talk about their personal goals, what their visions were like from the moment they touched the staff in the fortress and give one another some reassurance – not to mention chicken and waffles – it was time to move the game onward to Reed Manor once again. Their first barrier was Mt. Moonperch and it was not looking like it would be easy to climb up, at least from the initial description Wil gave. Here Jeremy (Aankia’s robot) and Kiliel (Alison Haislip) searched around the base of the mountain and found this unusual buried object, roughly around the size of the table. Four round holes gave the players an immediate clue that there was something to do with their various glyphs, which Lemley immediately obliged by sticking hers right in. Naturally after a couple more checks, the others soon figured out to follow suit and then ran through the mysterious door that just opened.
Once inside they found a mysterious black disc inside, a hat rack that sadly didn’t open any secret passages (although it did bear invisible hats) and a long since broken communication device. Overall there wasn’t a lot of things in the room of interest, but the players still made the most of the various props here for some interesting roleplaying. Here though is where Wil did something I actually fundamentally disagree with, even if it was continuing an action that a player was doing: He made a players character do something they didn’t say. Kiliel went over and fiddled with the imaginary hat rack, which prompted an interesting description but then I felt Wil “Took over” playing her character. It was funny to have Kiliel go and place an invisible hat on her sister Lemley, but this wasn’t an idea from the player and I felt Wil actually overstepped here.
I have only one fundamental rule as a GM: Always try to ensure all actions my players take are either the direct result of their actions or something that inherently logically follows from something they are doing. Essentially I try not to make up interactions like the above for my players, unless it was something they deliberately asked for – usually in a conversation with an NPC (such as a shy player needing some help with a flirtatious moment). This is why I am a great believer in as “neutral” description for things as possible, such as not assuming that a player’s character wretches or recoils from a foul alchemical smell or similar. In Trail of Cthulhu for example, a player whose character makes their stability check on seeing bodies gets to fully decide how they react for themselves, while I will only come up with a description of say turning away in disgust, if the player fails (or I will ask them how they react if it’s a dramatic enough moment).
It’s really tempting as the GM/DM to over describe how your players actions resolve and extrapolate them out into actions the player may not have intended or wanted. In particular, unless its appropriate like a social situation where the players knowledge may not be the same as the character (so you step in to provide it), you should never “speak” through a players character for them. Remember that as the person running the entire game you have every character to roleplay as you wish: Your players generally only have the one character. As much as possible, leave how that character determines their own actions to them and try not to over interpret for yourself how their character acts.
In any event, returning back to the game it turns out the black disc is actually a kind of elevator, which raises the party straight up to the splendidly drawn ruin of Reed Manor:
Have I mentioned during any of these posts how much I love the art that was generated for this series yet? It’s actually a bit of a shame (to me) that Wil doesn’t have this art on hand to show to his players at the time – but then that would seem to go against his generally “minimalist” style. If you haven’t noticed yet, Wil has a style that tends to avoid using many props like miniatures, maps and other things – something that is very much the opposite of the way I like to do things (where I use art, maps, miniatures and physical objects whenever I can).
The characters move along quickly in any event, heading towards the “entryway” to the grounds of the manor, which has a portrait depicting Reed, his wife and son. Interestingly from a “Technology” point of view, this “painting” is more like a digital image and comes to life when they pass. Of course it happens to say that everything is going to be alright and this place is going to keep them safe, not just for themselves but their family for a long time in future. The irony of the image of Reed in the painting giving such a confident statement, bearing in mind the current situation that the mansion finds itself in, was certainly not lost on the players. There is yet more great art for this portrait and then later on, around the 19ish minute mark is my favourite piece so far from Titansgrave of the overgrown animal filled gardens.
Also you should watch the garden scene very carefully, a certain mascot of Geek and Sundry makes a brief appearance! Nice cameo guys!
Inevitably after searching the gardens flowers for healing potions and noting that the birds around here were all thought to be extinct, the party moved up towards the mansion properly. As the players contemplated how to get inside of the place and past the electronic keypad, a tiny voice called out to them if it is “time to play”. This obscenely creepy little teddy bear then appeared and demanded that the players engage in a riddle game. Quite frankly Aankia (Hank Green) had the right idea of pulling out the blaster – only I may have also have just straight up shot first (ala Han Solo, who always shoots first). After finding out later that he’s just a very lonely little robot, I may have decided to feel slightly bad afterwards. Slightly.
In any event it’s a good idea to mix up the kind of challenges that your players might run into over the course of a campaign. Wil also shows that there are two valid approaches towards this: Firstly, allow your players to work out the riddle or puzzles by themselves. Some people love solving puzzles, riddles and other things for themselves. If your players can just figure it out, then just assume their character did and move on with everyone feeling happy. At the same time, don’t allow players confusion or indecision to grind the game to a halt on a thing like this. If they can’t think of something or come to a clear consensus, then don’t be afraid to ask them to start rolling some dice on suitable skills instead. Depending on your attitude to such challenges, you can use the characters stats to potentially just outright solve it or provide a clue to help your players solve it themselves. Regardless of what you decide to do, make sure that player frustration is kept to a minimum and the game can eventually progress!
S’lethkk (Yuri Lowenthal) decides to roll after they become a bit stuck and Wil chooses the second of the approaches above, giving him a hint instead of an outright solution. It turns out that S’lethkk is pretty damn good at riddles, just not guard bots it seems, so quickly works out what the answer is allowing everyone to progress. This was definitely the right approach for Wil to take in providing a suitable hint, which makes the players feel more satisfied for working it out themselves and didn’t take an excessive amount of extra time to get the right answer. Once again, it’s also a nice change of pace and very good approach to provide a different kind of challenge than the typical combat encounter in an RPG.
Inside of the mansion a series of cages, which were twisted and broken seemingly from the inside indicate that perhaps not all was well within. Interestingly the players seemed to be rolling exceptionally well on literally everything to do with non-combat rolls at the moment. This gave them a suspicion of being watched from somewhere within, which soon turned out to be an incredibly pretty group of flowers attached to a fire breathing panther. Honestly, the whole “Feather covered fire breathing panther” ambushing them was not quite what I was expecting to initially oppose them. I would question the wisdom of calling on the creepy teddy bear for any kind of help myself, but it did at least give the players what the name of this strange beast was (Jakarr?). The Jakarr certainly got the luck of the dice when it came to attacking, which suggests the players previous luck on those non-combat rolls had indeed come back to… bite them.
Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.
Of the various combats that I’ve seen in the game so far, I think this has been one of the harder ones. Considering that this creature was able to hit like a dump truck (when it did) and seemed hard enough to hit to survive the attacks of the players – even if their dice didn’t help – it was a nice challenge. Ironically for someone who traditionally hasn’t done a lot in combat, S’lethkk manages to pull off an incredible arcane blast to turn the combat around in the players favor considerably. Not bad for the character who has traditionally been unable to roll above 11 nearly every previous combat! Kiliel was then able to sneak in and finish off the vile beast, with a wonderfully evocative description of the creatures death as a suitable reward for the characters efforts.
We end this episode of Titansgrave on another cliff hanger for the players it seems, with Wil tantalizingly describing an amulet hidden among the undergrowth and then just closing up his notes for the session. Cheeky, but I am sure they were desperate to come back and find out what it was for!