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Category: Writeups

Hexhounds: Plots & Setup

And our final chunk of index cards! For some reason I shuffled progress clocks drawn for heists in with the plots and setup stack; no harm done but I’d keep them with the session notes next time.

Most of the cards from the stack of plots I actually used are in fact clocks. Among the others are examples of my favorite prep technique; I used the random score generator table to generate three or four scores, which fit tidily on one card, and then mostly let actual play determine which one was interesting.

Amusingly enough, the more detailed notes I drew up almost never got used. Ulf Ironborn’s lair notes were the only ones that turned out to be relevant, and that was a total GM force — Ulf beat up their bartender pal Rigney for being a racist jerk. It’s not like I didn’t know how the Hexhounds would react to that.

Hexhounds: Factions

Let’s do the factions tonight as well, I’m on a roll.

These are split into two chunks for ease of reading: the Doskvol factions and the Skovland factions. For some reason I didn’t make a card for the Imperials. Those last couple of faction clocks both would have lived on the Imperials card, though.

I was not as diligent at establishing proper faction clocks as I might have been, and I mostly slacked on putting together new ones when the old ones were completed. They were still insanely handy. I mentioned this a few posts ago, but literally any game with NPC factions would benefit from faction clocks and the mechanic would graft cleanly onto just about anything.

The Skovland factions are a bit cleaner since I had a better idea of what I was doing. Still pretty simple, though! Here’s the faction, here’s some background, a couple of key NPCs, and evocative adjectives to remind me what the factions and NPCs are like.

Hexhounds: Long-Term Projects

All the stuff the player characters wanted to get done between sessions. Make Owl-Human was probably the worst project they ever embarked upon, but it turned out useful in the end. Here’re the ones they completed:

And here’s the projects they didn’t quite wrap up. Figuring out Strangford’s plans and creating the Order of the Feather were both started in our very final downtime at the end of the last session. I admire their perseverance.

Hexhounds: Session Notes

I’m not even going to try and make sense of these. And, um, sorry about the handwriting. You’ll note that early on I just filled up index cards; later on I got smart and started dating them. If/when I do this again, I’m going to date every single index card I use — some of the threat clocks in particular are totally mysterious to me and I’d love to know which sessions they’re associated with.

Sometimes I meticulously recorded downtime actions. Sometimes I did not.

One might think that the Hexhounds never talked about anything but moral transgressions and Dock’s love life; that would be untrue. I just found those kinds of quotes really funny so I wrote them down more often.

Hexhounds: the Characters

Let’s look at some ephemera! We’ll start with the character and crew sheets. This first chunk is the crew in its current configuration, with Crowl possessing Helena and a Hawkers crew sheet. If I had to guess I’d say we played around sixteen sessions.

Now the original versions of — OK, it’s complicated. Sal was playing Cassilda, who was possessed by Crowl. When Sal decided to switch characters, she decided that Crowl was now the main character and they’d be possessing someone else’s body. In the end the host was Helena, mistress of an extensive information network.

The change from Shadows to Hawkers was much simpler. At one point, we realized the crew was more interested in selling mushroom wine than they were in selling secrets, and we just shifted the crew type over. I let them shift their advances to new choices.

Finally, here are the first of a whole bunch of index cards. These were my notes on the PCs and their close affiliates. Neither of Sal’s characters got good index cards because she started playing in the third or fourth session and I neglected to jot things down. I didn’t wind up referring to these a lot so it made no practical difference, but I wish I’d used them more.

Man, I didn’t use the crew’s enemies much. There was always something else going on! I should have pulled Celene in for the final few sessions now that I look at these again — see what I mean? I didn’t use these to refresh ideas as much as I wish I had.

Clive was this Skovlander thug whose mind was horribly damaged when the crew threw him into an extra-dimensional space for a few days. They felt pretty bad about it so he wound up living in their lair for a long time.

Astrid and Serk were Skovlanders actually living in Skovland. Astrid was a spy in a noble household, who didn’t wind up being particularly central. Serk followed the crew back to Doskvol and kept getting in trouble. Urchins!

Hexhounds, a Blades in the Dark Campaign

“They were four total strangers, with nothing in common, meeting for the first time. An orphaned cultist, a disgraced sailor, a fallen noble, and a demon. Before the day was over, they broke the rules. Bared their souls and touched each other in a way they never dreamed possible.”

Last night we wrapped up a Blades in the Dark campaign that had started on July 3rd, 2018. Sixteen months is not forever by some standards, but it’s a solidly impressive run compared to my usual track record, and it goes into the books as one of the three best campaigns I’ve ever run. (Huey Long’s Men of Action and Orlando Trash.)

The Widow’s Regalia

I just sent my Blades in the Dark players a summary of one PC’s research, since he finished up a long-term project clock during the latest downtime. Useful knowledge: Setarra is Dock’s chosen friend from character creation, and his long-term demonic patron. Last session, Dock performed a ritual which shows him the history of an item in order to break into a safe. As a perhaps fortunate consequence of the ritual, he learned that the a powerful set of demonic relics woven through the story to date was originally Setarra’s, and she wants them back.

On the regalia: actual possession of the belt is exactly the key you need to unlock the ciphers in Violette’s husband’s library. (Not a fun experience per se; this is a really dark set of tomes. Human sacrifice, techniques for raising the ambient level of misery in a neighborhood in order to encourage deals with demons, that kind of thing.)

The Regalia is made up of five items:

  • The Widow’s Collar (necklace)
  • The Widow’s Cuffs (bracelets)
  • The Widow’s Shackles (boots)
  • The Widow’s Leash (belt)
  • The Widow’s Shroud (dress)

The Hexhounds stole the Collar for the Attic. You heard on the streets that the Attic got their hands on the Shackles. Lisette the gambler lost her final tournament game, with some assistance on your part, and that put the Cuffs in Lord Scurlock’s hands. You currently have the Leash. The location of the Shroud is completely unknown.

Apparently Dock now knows some things about the origin that nobody else knows, so that’s exciting. Various scholars have assumed that the Widow was a demon of some sort, but nobody’s attached the name Setarra to the story. It’s widely thought that the paladin who fought the demon, Bran, is just a metaphor for the strength of humans in the face of temptation, because everyone knows paladins never existed. Dock knows his history; this would mean that the theft occurred well before the Cataclysm, which was a thousand years ago. Given his knowledge that the paladin really did exist, it’s pretty easy to piece together the next steps — once Bran got his hands on the Regalia, he carefully scattered it to the ends of what is now the Shattered Isles. The individual items used to live in monasteries, temples, churches, and so on. Since then, well, a thousand years of thievery and danger and murderous ghosts do a number on your ability to protect dangerous demonic artifacts.

It is definitely the case that letting a demon assemble all five of the items is a recipe for disaster. They are sort of thaumaturgical batteries when they’re apart; making a set of three or four is no big deal, it’s a linear addition; but getting all five together is potentially world-shaking. Setarra’s threats in the vision are not mere bluster. Perhaps she’s mellowed over the millennium? Also: useful for demons, overwhelming for humans. Trying to channel that much power through a mere human body is not a good idea. 

Shadows over Six Towers: Session One

After a bit of searching about, I finally found the Blades in the Dark game I’ve been looking for. I dug up two people on Reddit, of all places, and we had our first session last week. It’s a cool group of PCs, sort of occult-leaning novices to the criminal world. Dock is a kid who was raised in a cult and has no idea how the world works (but lots of occult knowledge); Crucible is an alchemist and sailor from the Dagger Isles who got kicked off her ship for stealing things and now has to figure out how to live well in Doskvol; and Loretta (aka Etty) is the child of a noble family who lost all their money and status, so she’s stuck living on the streets with the ghost of her childhood pet for company.

This game sparked my documentation obsession, so we have a wiki. For the click-adverse, the record of the first session follows.

About 2011

So what now?

Not as much LFR. I feel less cranky about the campaign than I did when Susan and I talked it over before Christmas, which is when we made the initial decision to cut back. On the other hand, I’d bet that part of my good cheer is that decision itself, so revisiting it doesn’t seem either wise or necessary. I’m glad to be stepping back in a good mood rather than a pissy one.

2010 was a very poor year for the campaign. I enjoyed it a lot personally, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the rate of new content dropped alarmingly. Even worse, there were almost no new mods for private play. Private play was a very important part of the success of the campaign, and cutting off legal private play hurt badly. As a nasty side effect, this encouraged people to blow off the restrictions on private play and start breaking the rules. With no real enforcement available (or perhaps even desirable), this meant all the rules started to seem less important.

This combined poorly with a serious communication issue. I appreciate everything the globals do; I also think they, as a whole, are not skilled community managers. Which hey – I’m not either. But it is absolutely awful when one of your global admins is bitching about how poorly the players treat him. Here, read the MMO take on it. All of that is relevant except the volunteer note, since some of our admins are pure volunteers – but let us not grow confused about what it means that WotC isn’t spending money on the campaign.

One of the other more cheery things in the last month is, however, improved communication, which is nice. While not all deadlines are getting met, they’re getting better about communicating the issues at hand. Probably not coincidentally, the campaign has control over new module distribution. My uneducated hypothesis is that the admins had, for most of 2010, very little control over the mechanical process of releasing content and that this generated a lot of frustration. If this is accurate, the new livingforgottenrealms.com is helping a lot.

Organization has also been better. DDXP came off very well this year, although eyeballed attendance was down. Nonetheless, the BI was done before the show, people got modules in time to prepare, and the story was interesting and most forum reports were good. I was mentally prepared for a disappointing, semi-chaotic DDXP, and it wound up being quite the opposite.

This leaves me looking at 2011 and thinking that I can take my LFR when I feel like it and leave it alone otherwise. Our primary characters, Reed and Faral, hit level 19 at DDXP. We still don’t plan on playing the epic any time soon (more on this later), which means they have four or so adventures left before they leave paragon play behind. We’d like to make three of those the upcoming Waterdeep adventures, and one is probably the end of the Tyranny arc. That is pretty much OK. I have a level 16 character who could do P2 and P3 content, but Susan doesn’t, which means paragon play won’t be a big feature of our gaming time.

We do have plenty of heroic level play in us. Whether or not we do a lot of it in practice – well, we’ll have to see if we ever get down to the Monday night Columbia game.

I also intend to run semi-regularly, because I like it. I am still looking for the sweet spot between creating a challenge and overpowering players.