This is a play test of a campaign written for The Black Hack by Simon Forster. The Black Hack is a set of OSR rules by David Black. I have used The Black Hack to run my own fantasy campaign, The Chronicles Of The Latter Days Of Yarth and my group is familiar with the rules.
Because this is a play test document I will be including my thoughts on the adventure design as well as a narrative of play, this will necessarily involve SPOILERS. Please bear this in mind if you hope to play this adventure yourself.
Session 6: The City of Shadows
Walking through the gate the party found itself in a bustling city. Behind the adventurers, where the gate had been was the blank wall of a building.
After last session's disappointment I decided my players needed something meatier to get their teeth into.
The city as written is populated by insubstantial ghosts with the groups that the players have to deal with being made up of living people.
This struck a false note and exasperated the already tenuous plot device that these groups need to cooperate to leave the city but haven't so far for fairly uninspiring and unconvincing reasons.
I decided to change things around. I populated my city with solid looking ghosts that could pass through the player characters but chose not to most of the time. The ghosts knew they were dead, referred to the PCs as 'solids' and intimated that staying in the city too long would result in our heroes becoming trapped ghosts too.
I used 18th and 19th century civilian models for the inhabitants to enhance the oddness of the surroundings and upgraded the interesting factions the players would meet quite radically- more on these later.
Approaching a local our heroes struck up a conversation and found out where they were. After some general chit-chat about the weather and the local economy focusing on the problems of being a cobbler in a city of ghosts who never wore out their shoes their new friend gave them directions to the city gates accompanied with a cheery, off-hand comment of "you won't leave, no one ever leaves the City of Shadows."
By this point the players had sussed out their situation and weren't particularly bothered by the ominous threat that they would soon become ghosts themselves.
Our heroes found the single gate to the city. It was a huge portcullis sealed with an intricate lock that needed four keys to open it. Gus tried to pick one of the locks but it was beyond his skill.
Next the party decided to ascend to the city ramparts and climb over them. They found they made no progress using the nearby steps, it was like walking up the down escalator. Climbing the inside of the walls directly achieved the same lack of progress but cost significantly more effort. The heroes decided they needed to find the keys to the lock.
My players are very good at taking the hint and don't waste time banging their heads against a wall (literally) in a situation like this.
Our heroes started to ask around the locals to see if they could get any pointers on where the keys might be.
During these interrogations Remuz cast a spell to better understand the local dialect.
Here's where the players met their first real obstacle.
As soon as the spell was cast torches appeared down a nearby street and a column of monks appeared bearing them and heading towards the party's position swinging incense and chanting in loud voices, " Magic, magic in the City of Shadows. God's wrath is summoned upon us by the heretical dabblers in the black arts. Magic, magic in the City of Shadows,"
As the column got closer Remuz decided to encourage them to keep their distance with a magic missile.
The bolt was deflected away from the chanting churchmen and struck Gus a resounding blow to the face.
Simultaneously a second column of monks appeared in another street and closed in on our heroes.
As the prayers swelled in volume Remuz could feel his magic being drawn from is body and sucked away. He immediately fled with the crowd of monks in pursuit.
The players meet the first of the key-holding factions. The Order of St Alexandra.
The Order as described in the scenario is a group of essentially happy nuns who apparently (like the other key holders) are unable to come to an agreement with the other groups to meet for five minutes by the city gate so the padlock can be unlocked.
This is patently ridiculous so I upscaled them to belligerent monks. I kept the the female names to increase the strangeness and gave them mysterious powers to detect, neutralise and destroy magic and the practitioners of it.
They are not open to discourse with anyone, particularly the party.
Remuz led the monks in a merry chase around the city for some time before he managed to shake off his pursuers.
While Remuz was off sightseeing on his own the rest of the adventurers found out that 'The Crows' who lived in the 'Scorched Tavern' nearby might have a key.
There's no indication in the scenario whether the locals know about the keys and the locked gate situation. It seemed logical that everyone would know the gate was locked and gossip would eventually spread tales of the inter-group struggles between the key holders so I gave out information freely.
My group wouldn't enjoy randomly wandering around a city hoping to stumble onto something interesting.
Arriving at the Scorched Tavern our heroes could indeed hear the harsh cawing of crows.
As they neared the building, which seemed dark and deserted, they were met with bolts of energy fired from an upstairs window.
Whilst the henchmen and henchwenches scrambled for cover Ragnar led a charge towards the building.
Remuz muttered something about people casting lightning bolts without being bothered by monks being totally unfair and cast his own light spell to illuminate the strangely dark building.
Several things happened at once.
Remuz's light spell revealed bizarre bird creatures in the building armed with energy discharging weapons, more of the bird creatures emerged from the shadows to surround Ragnar and torches appeared as another chanting, incense-swinging column of monks homed in on Remuz.
Remuz ran for it again.
My second upgraded group.
The Crows are a bunch of assassins and thieves who wear bird masks. Well, that's ok I suppose as far as it goes but I wanted something more. I broke my rule about preparing stuff for this campaign and painted up a set of sci fi birdmen I had waiting to join my Stontium Dog project.
You want crows? I'll give you crows.
With their 2D10 laser guns that seldom miss (dodging lasers is tricky) and their ability to meld with shadows and disappear completely from the player characters' reality they were a bit of a shock.
They weren't invincible however and once Ragnar got amongst them they were easy enough to kill. I made them 5HD monsters though, not the 2HD suggested in the scenario. To be fair, bumping the opponents' HD is gong to be standard from now on, it's no secret that everything's under powered.
The monks took off after Remuz and Ragnar cut down the bird men near him.
As their companions fell the other birdmen melted into the shadows again and the Scorched Tavern returned to its dormant, brooding state.
As the party searched the tavern they could sense that there were other beings sharing the space with them but just couldn't locate them.
Eventually, in the basement Zaboka cast a daylight spell which revealed some of the skulking birdmen.
Zaboka's spell was clerical so didn't attract the monks.
Cornered and out-gunned the birdmen were amenable to having a chat.
Eventually they saw reason and agreed to accompany the party to the Redcoats' tower and attempt to talk to this rival faction.
The Redcoats it transpired were the remnants of the town guard who saw themselves as the last remaining bastion of law and order without whom the city would collapse into chaos. Our heroes remarked that the city seemed very ordered and stable and the Crows were forced to agree. Maybe the Redcoats could be convinced to loosen their grip on their paranoia long enough to cooperate in the grand gate opening?
Everyone trooped off to meet them and find out.
The Redcoats inhabited a partially collapsed tower in another part of the city. Sentries on the roof spotted the party and opened fire on the birdmen.
Ragnar risked his life again to rush forward and open negotiations.
Eventually the Redcoats' leader came out of the tower to talk to him.
Ragnar was rocking his charisma rolls in these negotiations which made it relatively easy to convince the diverse factions to see reason. The fact that cooperation for such a short time to achieve a mutual goal was an obvious course of action helped too. Again, the situation as described in the scenario wasn't entirely plausible.
For the Redcoats themselves I used Napoleonic British light infantry. This matched the theme of some of the civilians and added another faction with guns. If the party had taken the 'kill everyone and just take the keys' approach (which I didn't think they would) then their lack of ranged options along with the monks nerfing their spells would have given the Redcoats and the Crows an advantage in combat that the players would have needed to overcome with some planning and ideas rather than brute force.
The commanding officer of the Redcoats was soon convinced that working together was a good plan and he, with a couple of orderlies, joined the party as they went to find the gang of children who lived in the Crumbling Arcades.
The Crumbling Arcades proved to be an area of makeshift homes and rubble-strewn streets where the almost feral gangs of street urchins lived.
As the heroes approached it seemed deserted. No doubt their sizeable group had been spotted a long way off and the locals were being wary.
Once again Ragnar took the lead and stepped forward to open a dialogue. He was met by a rain of bottles and bricks from the rooftops and a child riding a strange contraption whizzed by hitting him with a stick in passing.
Ragnar tried to grab his assailant but failed. Luckily Gus was more adept at snatching children off the street (apparently) and managed to apprehend the youth.
The party retreated out of range of the bottles and stones to talk to their captive in safety.
Luckily I had a nice set of modern ghoulish chavvy kids, some on bikes for this group.
There's a lot of quite good character information provided for the various NPCs in this chapter but remembering it is difficult during play so I ditched it all in favour of my own ideas that I could use without constant reference to a set of notes.
This section offers a significant change of pace from the preceding ones in so far as the number of non-player characters provided and it will need some proper preparation and note taking if you wanted to run it as-is.
I don't think we lost anything from the plot or story due to my changes.
Another potential problem, if it is a problem, is that the players didn't find any of the items and loot hidden in the various faction headquarters because they never really had the opportunity or inclination to search them.
I suppose if I had a group that just killed and looted everything by default they'd find all the possible stuff but the idea wasn't one my players considered. Except the monks, they wanted to kill the monks.
The captive chav decided that they could possibly be persuaded to part with their key in return for some money, lots of money but only their leader could say for sure.
Ragnar returned to the Crumbling Arcades with his prisoner in one hand and the bag of loot found in the Warden's office from level 2 in the other.
The leader of the chavvy kids discussed terms from the roof of the arcade and a deal was struck.
Once again Mark (who's renowned for appalling dice rolling in our group) came up trumps with his charisma rolls.
I was a little disappointed that he succeeded because I wanted to see how my players would cope with the idea of attacking children, even unpleasant children like these. I'm convinced they wouldn't have resorted to violence, they would have found an alternative but I'd be interested in seeing how other groups approached this. Maybe having children as a faction isn't the best choice?
With three of the four keys in their possession our heroes set out for the Ruined Church and a confrontation with the Order of St Alexandra.
The monks saw them coming, barricaded themselves inside the church and started praying and chanting furiously.
The waves of their clerical anti magic force rippled out from the church shaking Remuz and causing Old Tom to collapse.
Ragnar and some of the Redcoats attacked the door with axes until it splintered. As the door was destroyed the full force of the monks' defensive spells rushed through the gap slaying some of the Redcoats.
Undeterred, Ragnar led the remaining Redcoats into the church where they were met by hordes of angry clergy wielding clubs and heavy candlesticks.
The crowd of monks was swiftly cut down and Ragnar leapt onto the altar to confront Brother Mary who was brutally 'subdued' whilst the Redcoats finished off the remainder of the acolytes.
Finding the last key they needed our heroes went back to the city gate and unlocked the padlock.
Happy to leave the City of Shadows behind them they stepped through the gate eager to confront their next challenge.
This was a good session. Lots of role-playing and a smattering of tension-releasing action kept things moving along in a mostly light hearted but often tense game.
Having a goal in mind the players didn't get side tracked and didn't wander the city so they missed out on the locations not directly linked to the key quest.
Old Tom succumbed to his wounds and died but I wasn't too bothered. They've collected quite a few followers and it's probably time to prune them back a bit. No doubt there'll be more to meet in the future.