Monday, April 19, 2021

GURPS DF Session 150, Cold Fens 9

Yesterday was a milestone - session 150 of my temporary, let's play until we get a real game going, something to do on weekends game of DF.

Date: April 18th, 2021
Weather: Partly sunny, cool.

Aldwyn Hale, human knight (340 points)
     Varmus the Hanged, human apprentice wizard (170 points)
Crogar, human barbarian (336 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (490 points)
Gerrald Tarrant, human wizard (418 points)
     3 skeletons (~35 points)
Heyden, human knight (308 points)
Ulf Sigurdson, human cleric (343 points)
Wyatt Sorrel, human swashbuckler (354 points)

We started out resolving a pre-game situation. Pre-game, we resolved the visit by Wyatt and Galen to the drum circle of the druids.

Wyatt and Galen hiked out, and sought out and found the druids. They explained their purpose, showed the weird plant suit they found, and rolled a reaction roll - and I allowed Galen to use Luck. He got a range of "Good" to "Very Good" - a 17, in the end.

Warlock, the head druid, explained the plant suit with called a Vineshield, and he and the other druids explained its powers and uses. Warlock said, "Listen man, we could really use that Vineshield, man." They offered 6 Great Healing potions, 4 Hindering Clay, and 2 Soil of Entombment for the item. Wyatt and Galen decided the Vineshield was really nice, but not nearly as nice as the very generous offer of Warlock and took the trade. Wyatt offered to escort them to the Lost City if they wanted to investigate, which Warlock though was righteous but not needed, man, and sent them on their way.

Back in town, the PCs met up and plotted. They decided the thing to do was to head to Swampsedge, to investigate rumors of trolls and lizard men. The last time anyone had been to Swampsedge was five and a half years earlier, when Gerry was sole survivor of a disasterous delve.

They gathered rumors, bought food, and hiked for the better part of a week to Swampsedge (there are faster routes, but not cheaper ones.)

In Swampsedge, they paused to review the rumors previous delvers had heard and recorded over their delves. Gerry didn't remember any of them, because Gerry doesn't remember anything not related to undead and magic, and not all of that, either.

The garrison and innkeeper told them that 6 miles or so south was the edge of the fens, and there were some fisherman who lived there. They headed that way. The found Old Crazy William's ramshakle and abandoned hut, and searched it again, and found nothing. Next door, a few miles away, was a woman (they call her "Karen") who was standoffish but was willing to allow that her neighbor might sell the group a boat. Ulf spoke about being a priest, and Bruce laughed about yeah, a priest and his skeletons. Yeah, the walking dead don't give you a reaction bonus.

The next person they found was Wat, who was looking to sell his boat. He said he was looking to be done with fishing, and wanted 2,000 for his boat and the location of another boat. Ulf plead with him for a discount on behalf of the church (not that he was buying this for the church), but Watt wasn't swayed. They haggled, and Watt offered to sell them the other boat only for 1,000 and take them there. In the end, Wat threw in everything except what he was carrying and his catch of the day for the 2,000. They counted out coins and gave him the gold and silver. He told them how to get to the other boat. Ulf drew up a contract and had Wat sign his mark (a rough W) and Ulf signed his name. Wat told him he could register it in town.

Wyatt, Ulf, Bruce, and Galen headed out on their new boat after instructing the others to get the house (actually, a fishing shack at best) into shape.

They headed out into the Cold Fens, dealing with leaping leeches (Galen killed a couple, Wyatt dodged one), biting insects, difficult boating, and more biting insects.

Aside: the Cold Fens are a mix of terrain. A bit east of where the PCs are exploring is more solid ground, like so:

The area right were the PCs are - where the Silver River fills the swamp - it looks like this, but with more moss and vines.

Add in the fact that those "channels" are water ranging from 6" deep to 6' deep (with a silty bottom which may be 1-2" to 1-2' of silt and muck), occasionally choked with weeds, and occasionally are over fallen trees, submerged rocks, and other hazards . . . and the going to slow. A shallow boat helps, but overloading them with SM+1 PCs loaded for heavy combat doesn't help anything. That requires some delicacy in movement. The "ground" might be wet earth, or muck, or reeds, or tree roots. Moss covers lots of areas, obscuring the difference between tangled roots and hard ground.

The PCs also had to contend with lack of ideal equipment. They have axes, but they're war axes, not broad-bladed work axes. They have short blades, but not proper machetes. They have boots and armor, but encumbrance is a major issue when dealing with uneven ground.

Why come here? Because a few solid islands exist, and so do ruins - of the Swamp Goblins, according to Heyden (who failed his Hidden Lore (Lost Civilizations) roll), possibly from the Old Fenopia. One solid island is tunneled under - a wonder in a swamp - and holds the Tomb of Sakatha. Others may hold other ruins.

So they headed into the fens. They meticulously followed the directions, and naturally skipped a step, got lost, headed back, and had to spend the night on shore after wasting a good six hours or so trying to get to the hidden, "spare," boat.

They came back to Wat's hut - now Ulf's - shortly before dark. Not long after they'd headed out in the first place, though, Gerry had cast Zombie Summoning, calling the nearest zombie within 10 miles to him. And within 30 minutes or so after the first boat returned, a skiff poled up to the edge of the fens near them, crewed by a dilapidated skeleton in tattered mail and scale. It was Rahtnar the Vegan, turned into a zombie by Gerry on his way out of the Cold Fens.

In the morning, greedy for a third boat, they loaded up their boats and headed out, this time following Wat's instructions without skipping a step. The encountered some biting insects, swarms of flying thumbnail-sized slicer beetles (ouch), and more biting insects. They avoided a sawyer that almost fouled their boat and delayed them a piece. They found the "cove" that he spoke of. There was no boat there, though. They immediately suspected Wat had come back in the meantime to take the boat. There was some sign that a skiff had been rammed aground here for a while, and then torn free of the muck, mud, and vines in the past day. Eventually they realized they had the boat already - it must be Rahtnar's skiff. That would explain why Wat was being cagey out having a "spare" boat, saying he was sure it would be there, and why he didn't find a way to tow a (valuable) boat back.

On the way back, they spotted a pair of trolls in the water about a quarter-mile off to the east. Clearly, it was deep, as one only had it heads above water. Another, in shallower water, was hunched over and digging around for something underwater. They quickly turned the boat and poled hard to the nearest land, and clambered out to get ready to fight, waiting for the trolls to arrive.

They didn't. The trolls ignored them, and went about fishing around for whatever they were seeking - catfish, muck-dwelling crayfish, who knows?

The PCs made it back to their base.

Rahtnar's skiff showed signs of having been run aground for a while, and significant (but not crippling) rot, when they headed back to Ulfhalla and examined it. Wyatt wanted to fix it but they lack the tools - and the boat would need stripping to the frame and boards cut and replaced, and no one has the skills for that.

They headed to the East, hoping to encounter more trolls.

Over the next day they made it to a curve of "land" and landing on the inside of the curve. They holed up, choosing comfort and concealment, and used their weapon-axes as tools to make cover for the boats. During the night, while Ulf and Bruce (IIRC) watched, they spotted figures moving in the distance. Humanoid figures. They woke Galen.

Galen got up, and could see figures around 500 yards or so off, on a spit of "land" that connected to the north with the same one they were on, but west of them. They had loinclothes or kilts, and clubs, and some wore skulls on their belts. Ulf declared them evil, because they had skulls. Bruce declared them cannibals, and just shrugged and was ready to move on.

Naturally, this meant that when they began to melt back into the tangle of trees, Galen shot the closest one in the back, aiming for the heart. It wasn't an easy shot - over 500 yards, -7 for darkness (-1 for Galen thanks to Night Vision 6), -3 for vitals, for a net -18 or so. Galen hit easily. Galen's shot was at 1/2 damage range - just over 500 yards - yet it still hit hard enough (16 HP of damage, halved to 8 HP) to force a death check and kill his target outright. The victim fell without a sound besides him hitting the ground.

Its fellows crouched behind cover. Galen shot two arrows at the next one. Without several seconds of aim, he had to just aim for the torso, but both hit, and that one fell, too - dead or alive, it wasn't clear, but it did scream in pain and surprise. ("They can talk, so we can negotiate with them.") The others went prone, and crept away out of sight. The PCs stayed up, waiting, knowing they could circle around.

They heard them north of their position. The sounds never got clearer. The humanoids figured out they had been attacked from the east, but obviously weren't able to figure out where the arrows came from, exactly.

Come morning, the PCs headed out on their boats, short on sleep but unmolested. They poled over to the corpse, which was still on its exposed spot, slumped over a tree root, with one leg trailing in the water.

Something had been at that foot, and gnawed more than half of it off. Other things had been at its legs.

It was a greyish-greenish skinned human-like figure with grey-and-white hair, sharp, pointy teeth, and a loincloth and a split thighbone club with a wedge of sharp rocked lashed into the notch with leather straps. Naturally, they summoned its spirit to question it.

His name was One-Who-Scouts-Ahead. He was part of a group of 3 and 1/2 fists. They were seeking food. The PCs asked about valuables (yes, they had the skulls of their wise ancestors and their fiercest enemies), enemies (all they can find to kill and eat), do they eat humans (of course), do they know where trolls lair (yes), how do we get there (gives directions), did they know where the dragon lives (south, on the hard ground), how many trolls in the lair (didn't know), where is there gold and silver (the trolls have metal that doesn't rust in their lair.) The directions weren't very easy to understand, but Gerry rejected asking for a clarification because the spell forces the truth, and it would already have directions as it knew how to give them.

Armed with that information, they poled around in the Fens for another two days, trying to find the troll lair, and arguing over the directions given to them. They encountered little. The weather was better, so they had fewer insects (a breeze kept them off.) They tried to steer near to land against Bruce's suggestion, until they saw a giant frog and realized he had a point, and stayed mid-"channel."

They did have one scary encounter - a dragon flew overhead. "What color?" Ulf had been asking everyone, and gotten one answer - dark. Well, this one, flying above, was dark. It flew southwest to southeast, and they were luckily (very luckily) in the shadow of some "land" when it went by. They waited a bit and moved on.

It took another full day, powered mostly by magically created food, to get near what they hoped was a shortcut back to Ulfhalla. It was not. They ended up in a dead end. They stayed overnight, using Vigil to keep Galen and Gerry up for a second night in a row, and then in the morning hacked and climbed and pushed a path though the trees to the waterway on the other side, carrying their 14' boat and 16' skiff. It took a lot of time - and a Luck use by Galen on his net 8 against Survival (as no one, including him, has the specialization needed), but they managed to do so. They poled their way "home" from there, and decided to rest up, recover, and gather themselves up in a couple of weeks for another crack at the swamp.


- Session 150 wasn't as exciting as it could be, but it was good. They're down 2000 sp but up some property and knowledge. Next goals - not sure. They'll look for the troll lair, and maybe move south far enough to find that dragon. Ulf is convinced it is a black dragon, and thus acid-using, so he wants Resist Acid before they attack.

- I need a whole post on Clerical Investment and the expectations player's have of what influence that gives them. Also, of the downsides of bringing undead around with them everywhere. Gerry is clueless - it's a very fun character - but is everyone else clueless that outside of a dungeon, the skeletons aren't improving their appearance? Not that the others are anything less than an armored and extremely over-armed motley crew.

- The Cold Fens are based on the Pripyet Marshes. The pictures above are of that area.

- I was expecting to use zombie Rahtnar, but not exactly as I did. I figured eventually they'd find him, but not that Gerry would summon him right off the bat. The range was perfect, too. So, a dead PC is back. Gerry wants to keep him - so I'll figure out his cost as an Ally and maybe Gerry will spend some of his 25+ points to allow for that. I'm not sure if he wants to keep his group of lesser skeletons, too, but Zombie Rahtnar should have DX 17 and Axe/Mace-20, so maybe not. Speaking of points, Heyden has 47 saved, so he's a good delve short of a lens. Which lens? Who knows?

- The weather was very kind to the PCs. All "Passable" or better. The Boating rolls generally were not, but those just meant slower travel.

- I'm always amused by Summon Spirit. It does allow for PCs to get some very specific information, but mostly people meander around trying to elicit specific answers to specific questions and don't accomplish that much. If there is a downside, it's that it takes a long time to do the spell (1 question per minute), so with the right mix of casters, they can effectively keep it going as long as they need to, and get 10, 20, 30+ questions. You end up with a lot of marginal questions that way. Intelligence gathering takes some thought and flexibility, I think, and it gets tougher with 9 people asking questions than with 1-2.

- The wandering encounter rolls were kind after a while. Initially, they had to slog through issue after issue before the rolls just got friendly.

- XP was 0 for loot, 2 xp for exploration as they did a lot. MVP was Gerry for summoning Rahtnar. "Rahtnar," by the way, is "Ranthar" spelled backwards. Wyatt's player's first GURPS character was a dwarf named Ranthar.

- Roll20 was such a nightmare this game that it requires its own post so I don't poison this one.


  1. Are you treating the fens as a dungeon for mapping or something? I was curious how the "directions" and "shortcuts" were managed in game. I do love Gerry and his single-minded focus!

    1. "More less a hexcrawl."

      Something I occasionally like to pry into (but usually forget) is... aside from whether you'll suffer agoraphobia or claustrophobia, what do you consider the primary differences between "megadungeon" and "hexcrawl"?

      To me, they're about the same (again aside from one generally being indoors and one generally being outdoors). They seem to fill most of the same requirements and check most of the same boxes.

    2. Oh cool! That sounds like a fun way to navigate it.

  2. Hi Peter! I'm up to date on your "temporary" campaign, I've read all of it in the last few weeks. Utterly fascinating and inspirational, I must say!

    1. I'm glad you have enjoyed it. It's been a lot of fun, even if from the outside it might seem frustrating for the PCs when they hit TPKs or dead ends.

  3. Lots of fun! It’s troll-killing’ time. Ulf really hates them.

    1. He does. It should be reflected on his character sheet. He has five quirks that don't really come up much, including one I don't think he exemplifies (he's a Dreamer? Or Proud? Or addicted to Beer, which I've yet to see him carry or drink?) and a special hatred of trolls which drives his actual in-game decisions that isn't on the sheet.

  4. I'd suggest our heroes try hiring a guide with more than skill 8

    1. Guides are pretty tough to find here. There likely won't be any to hire. Last one disappeared years ago, and almost every single adventurer who had anything to do with him also died, too.

    2. Heh, so more blundering around at 8 is likely in the offing. Pack lots of snacks!

    3. Also "Lots of rolling at an 8!" is more fun, too, so obviously that's the answer.

    4. Good thing it's fun since it sounds pretty inevitable if they want to continue on this route. Hmm. I guess if Galen has an extra 5 points kicking around he could raise Perception and roll at a 9

    5. He has Per 17 or 18 already, IIRC, but you never know, he might push it. He's probably better off buying up Survival (Swampland) over default (which is a 16), and having some other people take it, too.

      What's amusing is that it's very likely few will take Survival (Swampland), but next time they're in a swamp they'll claim they should get an improved default because of their experience in the Cold Fens. You know, they should learn for free, just like how I give out free points in combat skills, ST, spells, etc. because you were in places where you needed those.

      Mad Magazine did a comic feature demonstrating what "Chutzpah" is that would fit my players sometimes. :)


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