Blood Thirst

The opening prompts for this book are incredibly bloody. I rolled a 1 (5 and 4) to start with. I remember what prompt 1 is, and I thought to myself “no, I’ll skip that one and roll again”. Then I rolled another 1 (7 and 6). Fate clearly wanted me on this path. Let the bloodshed begin.

(Checkout the setup.)

King Statton was furious with his soliders for failing to protect his lands from the … whatever it was that invaded and messed up a lot of people. He refuses to believe that it was strange shadow creatures and even though his fighters – Sir Aeron’s fighter’s – have come back very wounded he still sees them as failures.

One of the the 4th Company laughs – letting off steam more than anything – about the death of the King. “He wouldn’t be so miserable then.” But the idea catches on the wind. The men and woman of the Company feverishly taste the idea as it passes between them. Sir Aeron knows his duty – he should shut them down and order them to run laps or something – but the taste gets to him too. What the heck is happening? he has time to think, before a switch flips and he’s tearing into the King.

It doesn’t stop there. Lord Cambridge himself comes across the scene, or at least peices together enough of what happened to know who did it. He doesn’t know why or how, really. The 4th Company step in before he can do any real damage. Aeron, right then, realises he has a new family. He’s not entirely sure he’s in charge of them, but they call him Lord Cambridge now.

Side note: Faber-Castell highlights cause Uniball black to bleed. This isn’t the case with Uniball blue.

His friend Lain is too sure of him though. She doesn’t realise what’s taking hold of him. Unsure what else to do to help her friend, she suggests to her husband that young Aeron Cambridge should take his father’s empty seat. “Now is a terrible time for the Council to be broken,” she tells him.

And somehow, it happens.

Sir Aeron

“An oil painting of a grass field. It is dusk. There are men in the field wearing armor, breastplates and helmets. They are fighting shadow creatures of different shapes.”

I started a new Thousand Year Old Vampire.

I have a Universe already, called the Alius See, in which I’ve set my previous TYOV stories (and ones inspired by my TOYV stories) but this one immediately ended up being recognisably not-Earth. So now it’s a Multiverse, and the Alius See connects ’em all.

This time around, I’m playing on actual paper, continuing my love for index cards.

Sir Aeron, who’ll one day be Lord Aeron if he plays his cards right, has been brought up in a world of tough love. As the first born, it was always his destiny to take over ruling Cambridge and so that’s what his father has been rearing him towards.

Lord Essin of Cambridge never approved his his boy’s lingering over a chess board, when he could be practicing his riding or archery skills. It was decided that if his son was going to waste his time like this, then he’d come through the other end of it the best player these was.

I’m not sure yet how important Cambridge is to the rest of the King’s empire, but Statton certainly knows how to keep the Cambridge family happy. Likely, he does that with all his bannermen, but the King manages to do it whilst it feeling very personal.

The suit of armor wasn’t just gilded with both Aeron’s family name, but also the King’s own insignia. That alone is like +10 temporary hit points – no one wants to take a swing at the boar-and-swan and risk offending the King. That wasn’t all though. It was specifically designed after the blacksmith watched how Aeron preferred to fight.

Lain Talin is a close friend of Aeron’s, though about twenty years older than him, and married to the Archbishop. More than once their friendship has managed to mend a link between the Lord and the head of the Church in these parts, without them even realising. The Archbishop isn’t the only one with God’s ear though – his wife may have just as much of their attention.

It’s hard to know what kind of leader Aeron will be at this point. He’s skilled in combat – certain kinds of combat at least, when winning over the audience is more important than winning the fit. He’s managed to make some key friends during his time. And he may well be the keenest chess player alive.

None of this helped when quite a large Fold appeared – a crack between this world and the Alius See – and let a clutch of shadowkin through. As they’re want to do, they ravaged the bodies of those that tried to defend the city, and as so often is the case, their victims failed to die.

This isn’t good. Rather than a single vampire spawning (or whatever it is the shadowkin infect people with) the entire Company has turned. Maybe the entire Cambridge military. No idea where the shadows went afterwards. They probably didn’t have their fill and just head back home.

Aeron’s face was mercifully left alone, if there’s a mercy to be found. He does have a wound, similar to the rest of his band, that seems to have run out of blood to spill. Now the flesh is sore, red, and pulsing, as his heart tries to push blood is no longer has.

I didn’t even have to roll a dice yet and look how much content there is! I have many pages to fill out on my (private) world building wiki already. Tune in next time to see how Cambridged faired after the massacre.

Imagination requires confidence

A few Sundays ago, I wanted to start another Thousand Year Old Vampire run but I didn’t fancy doing it alone so I dropped a message into my family chat. “Does anyone want to play a writing game with me? It’s about figuring out what a vampire did over their lifetime.” I knew my sister, S1, would join. I doubted my other sister, S2, would join. I hoped my mom would join.

When the time came S1 arrived eager to play, even though she had no idea what was about to happen. I didn’t hear anything from the always busy S2. There was no sign from my mom either, which upset me a bit, so I messaged her privately asking if she had time to join. “I’m not very good at writing and making things up, I dunno,” she said back. I applied about more pressure, as the favorite child, and she joined.

We had a huge amount of fun, and it’s ended up being a Sunday routine of ours that we’ve done for over a month now. S2 even graced us with her presence which has been wonderful.

This was a very novel experience for all three of them. I don’t believe they’ve done any creative writing since being forced to at school – even for the youngest of us, that’s over a decade ago. It was very obvious that they were … resistant to lean into their imagination too much, too quickly.

The most confusing reaction – that cropped up multiple times – was are we allowed to write this? Both my mom and S1 had this reaction at different points, and I wasn’t entirely sure who they thought would stop us.

TYOV is primarily a single person game. There are multiplayer rules, but I’ve not paid any attention to them. When it’s time to make up a new resource our vampire has aquired, I’ll say “okay, mom, what’s the item?” and she’ll have a think and say “a kettle?” and then I’ll say, “okay, S2, what’s cool about it?”, “it never runs out of hot water!” (“what about booze?”, my mom will say, “yeah! hot vodka!” S2 will screech, “no wait normal tempurature vodka!” mom screeches louder, attempting to keep us sane, “too late – it’s hot vodka,” I decided) and then maybe I’ll figure out the event that meant our vampire aquired it and type it up. We all contribute a bit.

On one occaision the prompt required us to make a new immortal creature. “Does it have to be a vampire?” S1 asked, still grasping around for the acceptable boundaries of imagination. “Could it be Dobby?” There aren’t many things that my sister will nerd out on, but Harry Potter is up there.

“It can’t be Dobby!” my mom decided. “That’s plagorism!”

I think it’s probably closer to copyright infringment, but I was a bit taken aback that my mom’s first thought was that we’d all be thrown in a prison cell together if we wrote down the name of a houseelf. The Google doc we were writing was, after all, just for us. (In the end, we did go with a gnome-like elf, but who went by a different name.)

There were a few other occaisions where one person or another got caught on the idea that we were breaking a rule that their imagination just couldn’t get past. “Well, I’ve never heard of a vampire that can do that,” someone said. It wasn’t that they were against the idea of a vampire that could do a unique ability, it was that there was a door in their imagination that we had to kick open before they thought it was allowed.

The first couple of hours certainly felt like we were hitting those doors all the time. They were opened though; with practice they all seemed to be more comfortable with just making stuff up.

Anyway, at the end of last session we just woke up the Overlord of the Vampires, who’d been in a petrified state for thousands of years, so I’m very excited to play again tomorrow.

The divestment of a departed drow

Valna was first encouraged to become a priestess of Lolth because of her innovative use of magics. It was clear early on that her understanding of magic – especially in dank of the Underdark – was beyond anything that had been studied so far. Maybe she could bring more glory to the Lady of Shadows with her gifts.

Unfortunately, Valna’s scholarly enthusiasm always took priority to her worship, and it was only a matter of time until the inevitable happened. Decades into the relatively luscious life of a Priestess, Lolth called on her for her faith to be tested. Valna never returned.

A necromancer, reading a spell book. Image generated with magic.

Valna was no fool though. She knew that day would come. She left behind two things for her closest followers to continue her work with: her own severed finger (for unknown purposes) and her research.

Within those research notes, written carefully in ink rarely found in the Underdark, were two spells never before seen.

Valna’s Final Embrace.
Level 1 Necromancy spell. Ritual. Casting time: 1 action. Duration: 1 day.
Touch a willing target to grasp a few strands of their soul. For the duration, the target ignores their first Death Saving Throw failure. After this has been triggered, the spell ends and their maximum hit points are permanently reduced by 1d4.

Necromancers are always looking for a way to stay alive just a little bit longer, and there’s almost always a trade off for it. Certain Wizards who want to put the dice slightly more in their favour will want to pop this on along with their Mage Armor.

I also quite like that the Wizard can use this on other people. A good friend is bleeding out on the floor. Now the necromancer has to make a decision for them: give them a better chance of stabilising, at the cost of permanent damage.

A necromancer’s plaything attempts to read the spells that created it. For some reason, the ritual requires… a car? Image generated with magic.

Valna’s Enchained Totem.
Cantrip. Necromancy spell. Casting time: 1 action. Duration: 1 minute. Range: 30 feet.
Your quarterstaff becomes enchanted with souls of trapped foes and becomes rooted to the ground for the duration of the spell. On this turn, and following turns, you may use the Attack action to berate the quarterstaff. To appease you, it will make a Melee Spell Attack on a hostile creature within range. Using your spell casting modifier, bones launch out of the ground and pummel the closest target (chosen by the DM) causing 1d10 bludgeoning damage.
Damage scales with your spell casting level, like similar cantrips.

One of the coolest things about necromancy in every other game in the universe is that it lets you summon undead and fight with them. It’s odd that D&D takes so long to let you do that. This isn’t quite that, but finally you have the ability to be mean to some dead guys, like a real necromancer.

A servant of Lolth, hunting. Image generated with magic.

The quarterstaff stays rooted, but can still break. However, you’ll have to wait for the minute to end if you want to remove the quarterstaff without breaking it. Wizards never use their quarterstaff. What’s the deal with that?

After the first turn, you use an Attack action on the quarterstaff, which allows you to use an off-hand bonus attack! Wizards never do this. (Because their main attack is already strong enough, I suppose.) I think it’d look cool! I feel they’ll need this as the rooted staff will make them stay in place a little more.

Berating might be throwing a stone at it, slapping it, or giving it a good kick. There’s no to hit on this. It’s more of a percussive, psychological abuse of the poor, tormented souls trapped within the magic.

“Council” and Social Encounters

Dwight enters The Central Station and has to put considerable effort into closing the door behind him; a combination of the weather desperate to get in and the ancient, rusted hinges seem hellbent on staying open for as long as they can.

The disturbance grabs the attention of almost everyone in the bar. Everyone except for a fellow gnome sitting at a back table, almost hidden behind a stack of books. Dwight walks purposefully over to Shaddleborne and coughs to get his attention, but the gnome continues writing, clutching a quill in a clawed hand.

If anyone knows about the wrecksite of the Wodenbirth, it’s Shaddleborne, the last of its crew. That also makes him the least likely person to want to talk about what happened on board.

The social pillar of a D&D adventure isn’t given much of a ruleset compared to other parts of the system. This makes contests during conversation often boil down to making a Persausion check.

Social encounters in 5e

The Players Handbook doesn’t give much guidance above the obvious. The DMG does a bit better though, and lays out some ways the DM can offer some structure:

  • Determine a starting attitude of the PC; friendly, indifferent, or hostile.
  • Have a conversation; at the end (or multiple times if particularly difficult) a social check is made. Successful social checks may move them from hostile to indiffernt, etc.
  • The DC is based on the starting attitude. The check is made easier or harder based on how much the NPC cares about what the PC is saying.

Very light touch for rules, when you compare the dozens of pages focused on combat, equipment to improve combat, skills which only affect combat, and spells which deal damage.

That last point is the key one though: if the PC’s manage to catch the interest of the NPC, convincing them to help should be much easier. The way they catch that interest is by making the conversation about the NPC. Knowing about the NPC requires investigation work beforehand. If Dwight promises Shaddleborne half the riches from the Wodenbirth, the DC to convince him remains at 25. But, if Dwight had done a bit of research on the maritine scholar, he’d know that Shaddleborne lost a family heirloom down on that ship. Mentioning that might drop the DC to 15, or even 5 in the right circumstance.

Makeaskillcheck talks in more depth about 5e social encounters.

One kind of social encouragement. The Bab Ballads.

Social encounters in The One Ring

A brief summary of the rules shows how much more of a system negotiation has in The One Ring. First of all, it has a name: Council. (TOR, p104.)

  1. Determine difficulty.
    • The players decide ahead of time what proposition they have for their target NPC. There are some key questions they need to answer before they approach them: What do they need from the target? What do they have to offer in exchange? What does an ideal outcome look like?
    • Armed with that rough guide for the conversation, the DM considers how that aligns with the motivations of the target. It might be a ‘reasonable’ request (Resistance 3), a ‘bold’ request (Resistance 6), or an ‘outrageous’ request (Resistance 9).
    • Judging by how closely motivations align intrinsically takes into account the relationship between the PCs and NPCs.
  2. Opening conversation.
    • A single spokesperson makes a skill check with the intent of making a good first impression.
    • On a successful check, the time limit (or number of arguments they are allowed to make) matches the Resistance, plus 1 for every Gandalf symbol that shows up.
    • On a failure, the number of arguments is still the same as the Resistance value, however if they fail to make their argument in time it ends in Disaster.
  3. Arguments.
    • Any player can now chime in, giving a reason why the NPC should comply. They make a related skill check. A success reduces the Resistance by 1, and Gandalf symbols reduce it by an additional 1.
    • If the arguments relate to a personal motivation of the target, the skill check can be made with an additional die.
    • By default, the target is ‘open’ to conversation. Otherwise, they can be ‘reluctant’ (minus 1d to checks) or ‘friendly’ (plus 1d). This state can change whilst the conversation goes on.
    • Once Resistance falls to 0, the expected outcome (or as close to the expected out come as the DM is willing) occurs.
    • If Resistance does not fall to 0 within the time limit (or argument count limit, really), they fail. The NPC may still help, but not to the extent they could have. They might still offer the desired help, but at a price.
    • If they fail, and the encounter ends in disaster, the target has likely taken offence. There should be some cost to this, in addition to missing out on help. Shaddleborne warns his friends of Dwight, and they begin encounters as reluctant.

This feels a lot more like an encounter. The characters, instead of baring arms and spellslots, have to prepare themselves with arguments that will earn them as many extra dice as possible. That might mean multiple sessions of private detective work to understand their target a bit better.

They can even take turns. Whilst it’s not required in the rulebook, the argument-based nature of how these encounters work mean you can go around the table to include players who are ordinarily quiet during social parts.

There’s no need to engage in active roleplay (as the DMG calls it); conversation can be turned into something more like a riddle where prior investigation makes the rolls easier. I feel like this fixes the problem of a high-charisma-PC played by a low-charisma-player. It’s frustrating sometimes that my 18 Charisma character is capped by my own 14 Charisma. But we can all be good note takers, and use those notes to gain an advantage in social checks when using this system.

As a final note, I hope it’s fairly obvious but this system doesn’t always have to be used. An Awe skill can be still be used quickly to win over a shop keeper and get a discount or convice a guard to let you into a party.