Thursday, May 19, 2022

Stormbringer - How Are Those Houserules Going

One of the great things about the game I'm running is I am getting both excellent player feedback and seeing when things work or don't. Here are some things I've realized.


CHARACTER GENERATION


To me, the big success was seeing my character generation rules at work, specifically the change to multiplying an attribute to determine starting skill percentage. I asked,


  1. 1) Character generation - Was the increased starting percentages of multiplying an attribute worth the effort, or do you feel the RAW (rules as written) were good enough?


They replied,


"1-I like the multiplying percentages."


"I really like this system. Simple and gives more meaning to stats. There are a couple of unintended consequences though, for example my High Priest has ridiculous language skills (160% I think). And amazing parry at 98% but crap attack at 48% (although this could make sense I suppose). The one thing I don't like though is having 0% in lots of skills. I prefer the RAW where you get at least a base of 10% + modifier in basic skills."


"I also don't like the zero under most skills. Makes no sense in game either really. A base of 10% seems reasonable and gives the chance to improve."


I responded that you might get penalties for difficult actions, so the high skills eat into those. Also, high skill means you're an expert and should roll lest and just know more. Finally, I propose that ant skill where you could conceivably know something you can get the attribute x1% when in a pinch. If you succeed, you start at that level.


STORY MECHANICS


I also asked about the Story Mechanics I had proposed:


"2) I've simplified the Description rule to a roleplaying story mechanic for when rolling dice fails, as I described the other day. I've also turned the Life Purpose into an XP system, where forwarding your Purpose will net you mechanical rewards (ie skill points or attribute increases). Do you feel inclined to use either of these? Do you have any experience with story mechanics?"


"2- I want to use both, it's just about figuring out when and where for best effect.


Actually, I've decided to drop the Description rule as it needs more work. As for the Life Purpose, one player has already advanced his goal, and others look to do the same and create more story hooks. So as a sort of XP system, where they get a point to use when they advance their story, it is working well.


COMBAT


Overall, the changes to combat have been positive, and flow so well they are invisible. Letting those with range or higher weapon skill speeds up combat so much more than comparing DEX ranks it is scary. Allowing players to choose the result of criticals has been met with acceptance, and has saved PC lives while taking NPCs out faster.


MAPS & ONLINE GAMING


Not related to my houserules, but theater of the mind has been a hard jump for some. As they put it after the 2nd session,


"I had it that he was blocking the door and we were getting hit from 3 sides. I dragged the door blocker to one side thinking we were going to mob him out of range of the bowman. If I had realised you meant we could just run past him.....


But then I thought he/they would simply follow us in. 


As a player I will learn. As a character I will get even then move on"


"Just on the maps discussion, my view is that there is a difference between a simple map to give people a view on the space they inhabit, and a battle map with a grid designed for tokens. The former can be simple and effective and non intrusive. The latter works for games designed for them, but can feel like you’re playing a TT war game."


  1. As for maps, I agree that pretty and detailed maps are a modern thing and for combat, theatre of the mind works well when both GM and players can describe clearly. However, for elements such as the pacman chase. They have to be almost essential, as we saw


I hate maps personally, but will try to sketch something on Roll20 when needed.


THE WHIFF FACTOR


"I like the adversaries to have decent chances to hit but terrible parry % scores to speed up combat. Otherwise it can go on forever!"


I dunno if nerfing NPCs is an answer. I liked the "add 5% to skills every round it drags on", but it hasn't really dragged on yet.


OVERLOAD


Players were a little bit confused with all my proposals, as I hadn't put them in an easily digestible format and they hadn't read the blog. I'm working on a summary now. As they put it,


"im ok with raising the skill set bonus to that of the attribute just wary of so many houserules that were playing a different game. have a look at Elric! or a later Stormbringer or even Mythras maybe Ted?"


Point taken. I've looked at Myrthas and might steal some ideas.


Monday, May 16, 2022

The Laughing Tower (Stormbringer 1E) Play report #3


1. Vinket


Vinket knew he was dying. The young priest of Straasha's only regret was that he was so far from the water, out here on the Argrimiliar prairie. He remembered only dimly what had happened to him - the tower looming ahead, a blur of claws and fangs from behind, the sour smell of a giant cat, his lifeblood draining into the dirt around him.


Then there were voices, echoing and indistinct, arguing over him. Was it Strassha and Xiombarg, maybe, negotiating for who would get his soul? He knew not. He felt tugged by rough hands, then thrust through a silvery portal.


Was this death? The afterlife? He knew not.


Little by little the hurt receded from him like the tide trickling down a pebbled beach. Vinket stood and saw that he was in some sort of tavern or hall awash with throbbing music and piercing lights. People milled about, laughing, drinking, and fighting.


"Would you like a drink?"


Vinket turned to see a woman with flaming blue skin and horns holding a tray on which were set a variety of drinks the likes of which he had never seen. All were in high, fluted glasses, with garish colors, crushed ice, and decorative parasols or fruit wedges.


"Are they safe?" he asked.


"Sir, we guarantee that our food and drinks are safe for all patrons. It is the games that contain an element of risk."


Vinket scanned the woman's face and detected no ill intent. Although he could not be totally sure, he felt the truth of her words and grabbed a blueish drink that reminded him of the sea.


"Thank you."


The woman nodded and turned back to the crowd to ply her drinks.


Vinket sipped the drink and shivered at its delicious coolness. After what he had been through, it was exactly what he needed.


"Oi, Vinket!"


Vinket turned at his name and saw Bones and the rest of the party making their way to him through the crowd.


"What in the Yellow Hells' names are you doing, lounging about here?" snapped Lord Soo.


Vinket sighed. There was no rest for the weary, even in this particular hell.



2. The Wheel of Power


After Lord Soo had visited the Oracle, it was decided that each member of his coterie would have their turn with the strange creature. The Melnibonean ordered Maleia to give each a coin, and they dutifully lined up.


(We'll skip over this to give each player their privacy. Lord Soo is the figurehead so his question is public knowledge at this point)


The party was silent as they walked to the next doorway, each mulling over the implications of what they had been told.


"Now, onto the Wheel!" said Soo, with a hint of glee. This was the most emotion his followers had ever seen from him.


Through the doorway was a garish room of maroon curtains, where a large wheel stood on a stage. Before it was a small table laden with an array of missile weapons - daggers, darts, eastern throwing stars, bows and arrows. Next to this stood a large demon in a round brimmed hat.


"Roll up, roll up!" bellowed the demon barker. "Skill or chance, make your mark on the Wheel of Power!"


The wheel had 12 sections of alternating gold and jet, each with a symbol from the Young Kingdoms tarot, which every soothsayer knew well. Lord Soo, being a sorcerer, understood their meanings intimately. They were


The Champion

The Invalid

The Wiseman

The Fool

The Dancers

The Invalid

The Chalice

The Poisoned Cup

The Sorceror

The Vampire

The Angel

The Devil


"Wot'll it be, guv? Skill or chance?" asked the barker, his toothy grin undermined by the black pits of his eyes.


Ganseiyah stepped forth. "I will try my hand."

The demon gestured to the table. "Take yer pick, all finely balanced."

"I have my own," replied the nomad, readying his bow.


Gansaiyah glanced at his employer.

"Aim for gold, avoid jet." offered the Melnibonean.


Gansaiyah nodded, spun and let loose two arrows.


KACHUNK KACHUNK. Two feathered shafts quivered from The Chalice. Instantly Gansaiyah felt health flow into him, his face flushing with the change.


"Good aim! Last shot!" grinned the demon.


KACHUNK. The Dancer. Gansaiyah felt his catlike grace increase even further, so that his feet nearly glided across the floor as he stepped away from the table.


"Next! Roll up, roll up!" bellowed the demon, laughing.


Maleia picked up some daggers from the table, noticing the 8-arrow mark of Chaos on the pommel as she did. The wheel seemed to move closer, or else the room seemed to grow smaller as she readied herself.


"Know what you're doing, lass?" asked Billy Bones.

"Just watch."


THUNK. The Invalid. Maleia felt her legs stiffen painfully. She forced herself to go again.

THUNK. The Dancer. Instantly the effect reversed itself.


The shopwoman took a breath, steeled herself, and threw her last dagger.


THUNK. The Devil. Maleia's skin crawled like a thousand ants were marching on her. 

 

She gasped in horror as her skin began to change, from the olive complexion common in Ilmiora, to bright, saturated primary colors and bold patterns. Her skin now was a maze of spirals and mandelas, like the tie-dyed fabrics of southern barbarians, which drew the eye hypnotically.


"What is this?" she wailed in despair.

"It is the mark of Chaos." said Lord Soo. "And it is beautiful. Would that I be so lucky."


So saying, the Melnibonean proceeded to the table.


"Wot'll it be, guv? Skill or chance?" asked the barker again.

"I think I will leave it to Chaos." replied Soo.

"Very well."


When Lord Soo looked again the table was gone and the wheel stood next to him. He grasped a side and spun, the gold and jet triangles blurring as the wheel rotated. With a series of clicks the wheel slowed, then stopped.


The Sorceror.


Yes, this was precisely what Lord Soo wanted. He felt his reserve of power increase, and knew he would have less trouble dealing with demons and their ilk in days to come.


"Two more spins, guvnor."


Soo smiled and grasped the wheel again.


-- 


"Oy've never seen someone get THAT twice in a row." chuckled the demon barker.


The Lord Soo who staggered from the spinning wheel was a mere shadow of the man who had strode up to it. His cheeks were sallower, his complexion greenish, his chest sunken. He had gotten what he wanted, but as with all Chaos bargains, he had paid the price.


"Two Poison." said Vinket. "My condolences, my lord."


Soo continued to the door without answer.


The next member to go was Vinket. He looked at Maleia, her skin a whorl of colours and shapes, then the sunken figure of Lord Soo.


"I think I will pass. Better to save my luck for the sea."


(Note: Billy Bones' player was absent, so his attempt will be retconned later)


Finally, Lord Soo stood up and motioned to the door through which they had entered the wheel room. Outside, they could see that the party continued.


The group proceeded to the door of the last games room, over which was the sign of a bow and arrow.


"I would guess this is again my responsibility," asked Gansaiyah.


"I have no more stomach for these games." replied Soo. "We are counting on you."


The others nodded agreement.


The group walked into a darkened room. Lights suddenly shone on a semicircle of stone seats, and Soo and the others gravitated there. Another series of lights lead Gansaiyah up a stone set of stairs ending in a pedestal. As he reached the highest point, another pedestal suddenly lit up a good bowshot away. On the pedestal stood a creature of some sort, white like marble, an inhuman archer with long, goat-like horns. The creature was eyeless, but two eyes were painted in garish red and black on its bow.


"Heads or tails?" a voice intoned.

"Heads" replied the nomad without hesitation.


Gansaiyah fished a half bronze from his pocket, flipped it, then muttered a curse.


The archer demon drew its bow and let loose with a painful twang, but the arrow missed its mark.


THWOK

Gansaiyah's return shot hit the creature in the heart, but there was no blood or sign of injury.


Once again the demon shot, and once again missed, as did Gansaiyah.


"Final shots" a voice intoned.


The demon hit Gansaiyah, but his plate turned its tip. Gansaiyah returned the hit, but his arrow pierced one of the two eyes painted on the creature's bow. It screamed in pain, and Gansaiyah now knew its weakness.


"No winner. Try again?" the voice intoned.


The nomad looked to see the archer-demon fully recovered and ready to start again. He sighed.


"We of the desert never push our luck."


They filed out of the room to the sound of chuckling from the darkness.



3. The Silver Tree


(Note they had also all flipped a coin into and made a wish on the wishing well. That will be resolved in due time)


Back in the middle of the tower, the party stood at the base of the great metallic tree that dominated the edifice's very center. The tree was silvery and thick-limbed, and seemed too big to grow naturally. At its base was a set of steps that wound up around the trunk. The party began to ascend.


"You monkeys should be happy now." quipped Soo. "We are going to climb a tree before we leave." 


They wound up around the trunk once, then came to a knot of silvern tree limbs that blocked any further progress. In front of the barrier, two ogre-like demons stood, one arms folded, the other carrying a long scroll at which he peered as revelers walked up to them, then either let them through or turned them back. The group stopped in front of the two giants.


"Names?" asked one,

"Lord Soo."

"You're on the list."


"Maleia."


The demon peered at the scroll, then smiled a toothy grin.

"You're not on the list, love, but you got the look. Go on in."


"Gansaiyah."


"Not on the list."


Lord Soo turned back.


"These three are my servants. They go wherever I go."

"I'm sorry, m'lord. They are not on the list."


Maleia leant over to Soo, thrust a handful of the chaos coins in the Melnibonean's palm, and nodded to the demons.


Soo pointed at the scroll, dropping the coins in the demon's outstretched hand.


"I said, they go where I go."


"As you wish."


As the group climbed the tree, they could see many branches going off to various rooms, leafy bowers where small groups talked and dined, set off by latticeworks of branches. The raucous sound of the main hall receded, and was replaced by calming classical music they wafted to their ears as they arose.


They climbed interminably, it seemed, until they came out to see the night sky, set with a diamond dust of stars. In front of them two figures sat at a table drinking and talking, one a tall, thin being in a shining chromatic bodysuit, the other in black clothes and a wide brimmed hat, his eyes hidden by spectacles so dark they seemed to be twin abysses in his face.


The figure clothed in shimmering samite noticed the coterie, and beckoned, the threads of gold and silver in his raiment sparkling blindingly.


"Lord Soo! Welcome, welcome! We have been expecting you."


"I am honoured." replied the Melnibonean with all the calm he could muster.


Soo was surprised. He had expected at least to see Balo, the Jester of Chaos, or some other minor functionary of Chaos. The two figures before him were completely unknown.


The shining Lord offered, "I am Feedlar, and this is my associate, Lorex."


The figure in black nodded, then sipped his drink.


"Tell your servants to enjoy themselves while we talk." suggested silvery Feedlar, motioning to food and drink tables at the edge of the hollow.


Lord Soo sat with the two unknown Chaos Lords.


"May I ask a question?" asked Soo, wary of offending the two innocuous yet powerful beings.

Feedlar nodded.


”Are you here to take over The Young Kingdoms?"


Feedlar laughed.

"Let's say we are here to strategically align ecosystem incentives." 


"I see." said Soo. But he did not see, not at all.


The other Lord in black growled in a voice like gravel. "It's becoming increasingly evident that mutual collaboration amongst major ecosystems and communities is the optimal path forward to positive-sum outcomes in a budding interplanar reality."


Feedlar continued. "We have started our own currency, which we call 8-bit coin. As the dominant players in the 8 bit-coin space, commanding the vast majority of trading volume, we can control ample resources to buy up anyone with a hint of a competitive advantage."


Lorex growled, "8-bit coin is a lower tier exchange with clients getting an implied valuation of hundreds of mundane coin per customer. Contrasting to mortal fixed per customer valuation."


Soo thought he understood, but his mind quickly retreated from that supposition. He suddenly had a more interesting thought and asked, "What if it was counterfeited?"


"In practice," replied Feedlar, "our security plays out by enabling connecting wardpacts, called "multichains," to rely on the security of 8-bit coin's value through our validator set. Thus, each multichain taps our validator set to help create secure blocks on the multichain's own multichain. At the same time, through use of our validator set, illustratively called the "entropy relay chain," all the multichains can also securely communicate with each other to call contracts, pass messages and transfer assets. The strength of this model is manifold."


Soo nodded, but was using his Melnibonean ability to project interest and understanding.


Lorex added, "However, unlike a permission-less environment where demons can freely deploy their powers, connecting a multichain to 8-bit coin is not free nor is it permanent. The connecting multichain must pay to lease one of 8-bit coin's limited multichain slots.


Lord Soo said nothing.


Feedlar continued, "For example, the "X to Earn" theme, where coin rewards in the form of tokens or sigils are used to incent desired user behavior, is proliferating quickly. "X to Earn" is a novel concept that advances the reward dynamics of Sorcery 2.0 from free use of the product to ownership of the product and getting compensated to use the product."


Lorex finished the diatribe, "This new structure is intended to spur marketing, network effects, adoption and brand loyalty. In this new paradigm, utilization of sorcery directly rewards users' contributions with items of monetary value. The greater the contribution of the user, the greater the value that the user potentially derives from his or her rewards."


"Fascinating." replied Soo.


"I see you have some 8-bit coin already. Care to invest back into the system and get in on the ground floor?"


Soo was shocked, but realized he mightn't have a use for the coins outside this place.


"It would be my honour." He motioned for Maleiya to hand over the coins.


The conversation trailed off, with Feedlar and Lorex continuing on in their inscrutable manner with each other. Soo was looking for a good place to exit when he felt something slither across his boot.


"hElp!"


He looked down to see a massive worm, about the size of a Troosian constrictor and topped with a human head, looking up at him from underneath the table.


"hElp!" the worm repeated.


Lord Soo recalled where he had seen the face. It was Chon Fla, the Pan Tangian priest who had let him escape from Melnibone during the invasion. So Bones was right - he had seen a Pan Tangian priest this morning.


"What is in it for me?" demanded the Melnibonean.

"B-but I helped you escape from Imrryr..."

"That time is past."


The Pan Tangian gulped. "I will give you anything it is in my power to give."


"Swear it."

"I swear."


Lord Soo picked Chon Fla up by its midsection.

"Mind if I take this with me?"


Feedlar made a dismissive gesture.


"Come Pan Tang worm!" hissed Soo. "I have plans for thee!"



4. On The Road


The group stepped out of The Laughing Tower and back into the ruins of Shet. By providence their horses were still there, so they mounted and made off the way they had come.


As they reached Tingle's farmhouse, two armed and armored riders of Agrimiliar livery approached them.


"Halt in the name of Agrimiliar! If you harbour any souls touched by Chaos, you must hand them over to us."


Gansaiyah laughed. "The two of you versus the five of us? Not likely."


Malea drew her daggers, and the two horsemen recoiled at her prismatic countenance.


"Be off, lest you want a taste of this!" warned the nomad. The two men turned their horses and fled back towards Cassandra.


"My lord, I suggest we either take a southern arc through the prairie, or north along the coast. They will be scouring the main road for the touched," advised Gansaiyah.


"Let's take the coast road," replied his lord. "Always better to stay near the sea."


"I agree," added Vinket.


As one they turned their horses north and made for the coast.


Friday, May 13, 2022

Subtexts in Games

NB: This is an ancient post I started but never finished. I've got neither the time nor inclination to flesh it out, so here is the stub of an idea.

As noted before in my posts about Call of Cthulhu and racism, every game you play is enriched by adding in subtext.

Ravenloft - Europe at war, modernism, religion, science

I'd make clerics envoys of the Vatican going to find relics and defeat evil, warriors all in some post feudal army, thieves as those dispossessed by war, and wizards as ancient pagans looking for a way to escape the growing rationalism of the modernizing world.

Dark Sun - Environmental destruction, totalitarianism

See my Dark Sun post for details. Dark Sun as Mad Max.

Call of Cthulhu - race, class, misogyny, superstition

See my CoC racism post for details. The real evil is people, cosmic horror is only such because we are meaningless in the void.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

The Laughing Tower (Stormbringer 1E) play report #2

 2nd Session Report


One horseman departs, others arrive; the town of Shet and the tower guardians; the maze of Hungry Ghosts; visiting the Oracle


1. Strange Visitors


Gansaiyah nodded in his saddle as he rode back to Cassandra, followed by Mother  (now Widow) Timble and her brood on their hastily loaded cart. He was a true man of the Weeping Waste, and so could ride without resting for days, lulled into sleep by the swaying of his mount, but ready to snap into action should something disturb him or his horse. He kept pace with Widow Timble's horse cart both to reassure the woman and her children after the loss of their father, but also because pushing his horse at night would risk the horse stepping into a molehole, breaking its leg, and sending him for a tumble.


Lord Soo had ordered him to ride back to Cassandra and get armor for himself and anyone who needed it. Considering what had become of Farmer Timble, and the damage it had done to Gansaiyah and his wooden armor, they would need every advantage they could get before braving the tower of Lord Soo's dream.


---


Back at Timble's farm, Soo looked over the decapitated man-spider corpse. He noticed the Sigil of Chaos burned into the nape of its neck and smiled. All the signs were in his favour.


"Dispose of that" he ordered the seaman Billy Bones, then turned on his heel back to the farmhouse.


Bones quickly yet fruitlessly looted the corpse, started a bonfire, then consigned it to the flames. "Not even a half bronze, och" he lamented before trudging off to his bed. Despite Chaos creeping into the world, Billy Bones knew where his loyalties lay - with coin and coin alone. The sailor crawled into the dead farmer's bed and drifted off to sleep.


---


"Ho! The Farmhouse!" 


A voice called out, waking Bones. Morning light streamed in through the farmhouse shutters.


"I say ho! The Farmhouse!" the voice repeated.


Bones drew his sword and walked out to see a train of a dozen horsemen, with a foppish Chaos priest and three hard-looking sellswords at its head. One mercenary was a handsome warrior in plate, the next an easterner thief by the look of her, and the last a bowman from Chalal by his gear. The three looked as if either of them could take the 12 mounted soldiers that followed them without a sweat.


"Pan Tangians" Bones cursed inwardly. They were the most vicious and miserly men of the Young Kingdoms. How they had ever taken Melnibone, he'd never know.


"Greetings" intoned the priest. "We would water our horses. We will pay you two coins."


"Two coins a head" Bones shot back.


The high priest exchanged a glance with his sellswords, then turned again to Bones.


"Two coins or we take your head and drink our fill." he offered.


"That'll do," replied Bones.


Two coins clinked in the dirt at the sailor's feet. Bones scooped them up and went back to the kitchen. He sat listening as the horsemen watered their mounts, filled their skins, and headed off west towards Shet. There was little conversation among them Bones heard, attesting to the seriousness of their mission.


The men left, and Bones started rummaging the kitchen for breakfast.


The morning passed without further incident, and just before noon the barbarian Gansaiyah returned, a bundle of armor lashed behind his saddle.


"You've made good time," offered Lord Soo, the closest he could come to a compliment. "Rest for one tick of the sundial, then we ride for the tower."


"Rest? A true horseman needs no rest." the barbarian replied, and started unpacking the armor from where it was strapped behind his saddle.



2. The Tower Guardians


Soo's entourage needed no guide to Shet, for from Timble's farmhouse they could see the pillars of smoke that climbed skyward from the once peaceful cowtown. Indeed, they passed several of the Argrimiliar longhorn cattle on the way there, usually proud beasts now skittishly breaking away into a stampede as the humans passed.


Overlooking Shet from the west, all could see it was the town from Soo's dreams. The road directly ahead ran on through the ruined town all the way to the City of the Yellow Coast. To the north over hills lay the ocean, with more prairie stretching endlessly to the south. The first thing that drew their eyes was a line of crucified bodies, some with bestial faces or warped bodies, barring the south end of the main street. At either side of the street were high fronted buildings of the local style, but an inn for travelers and a store on the west side, and some offices and a dormitory for herders on the east were the only structures intact. All else was a smoldering ruin. Rivulets of lava crept across the main street, burbling out of stinking holes amid the debris. At the north end of the road was the tower, a rainbow spire thrusting skyward from the cobbled ruins of the town hall, of which only a slanted belltower remained.


"Straight to the tower," ordered Soo, and led his human followers grimly down the hill.


The group stopped their horses at the base of the hill, tied them to a fence behind the buildings, and let them graze. As the party approached the silvery door at the base of the tower, an armored warrior stepped out from the ruins of the town hall that clung to the cylinder's side.


"Halt. None shall pass!" the figure cautioned.


"Who are you to stop us?" Soo retorted.


"I would save your lives, and your very souls!" the figure replied.


The warrior raised its visor to show a face which had melted like candles in a flame, one eye down on the right cheek, the other higher on the left, nose jutting down over a droopy, leering mouth.


Bones recognized the formerly handsome mercenary who had ridden with the Pan Tangian horsemen. "E was with that Pan Tangian priest" the sailor whispered to his employer.


"Where is your master?" asked Lord Soo.


"He is lost. Turn away, lest you be lost as well"


"Enough of this!" snapped the barbarian. Gansaiyah felt it was time for bloodletting and readied his bow. But as Gansaiyah stepped forward, another bow twanged from above and an arrow buried itself in his arm. He noticed a figure atop the ruined belltower, a human form topped by the foul, compound eyes on the head of a fly.


"Charge him!" bellowed Gansaiyah to his comrades, then loosed an arrow that also hit its mark.  Swiftly he then drew his sword and moved into the lee of the tower to break line of sight from the fly archer.


Bones was the first to react, sprinting past Gansaiyah and diving into the door of the rainbow tower, closely followed by the Melnibonean leader. This left the barbarian and the shopwoman Maleia to fight a heavily armored swordsman - not good odds, he lamented. At the same instant there rose the cry like that of a great cat from behind the group, and in his peripheral vision Gansaiyah could see the young priest Vinket being tackled from behind. The aggressor was a woman in leather armor with the claws and head of a jungle cat. The young priest and the beast-women rolled in the grass, while blood flew.


Gansaiyah and the mutated warrior traded blows, both drawing blood, then deflecting attacks back and forth. Maleia tried to get into range with her shortsword, but the barbarian maneuvered himself between her and the tower guardian, knowing she could be killed with one lucky blow. Yet, the Pan Tang mercenary was slightly better with his blade, and with a final thrust he ran Gansaiyah through, then raised his sword to deliver the coup de grace.


"Please, have mercy!" cried Maleiya, dropping to her knees between the disfigured warrior and the fallen Gansaiyah. "If you kill him, you are no better than the beasts of Chaos!"


The warrior paused, his misshapen eyes glinting with sadness. He sheathed his sword, and pointed to the door at the base of the rainbow tower.


"Take your friend in there, quick, if you want to save him!"

"Thank you!" huffed Maleia, dragging the lifeless barbarian to the portal.


"You may have more cause to curse me, I think."



3. The Party


Billy Bones blinked in wonder. Where one instant he had been running in the dusty and smoke filled air of the cowtown Shet, the next he was in a cool and raucous otherworld. Lights danced in shield-size circles across the floor, up the walls, and over his own body. Coloured beams shot through the air around him, and music that sounded like unearthly battledrums pounded into his ears and pulsated through his body. 


"What fresh hell is this?" he thought.


Then he noticed the revelers, all drinking and carousing, all dyed alternating hues by the weird lights of the place. Some were bestial, some angelic, others mere human. Many sported the same sigil of Chaos on their bodies as Farmer Tinble, but some were clean. He spied a few of the Pan Tangian horsemen from the morning, some possible Shettish townsfolk, and others whose origin he could only guess. It was, he realized, some kind of hellish tavern or otherworldly watering hole.


There might be a chance for coin here, he thought, and grinned.


Suddenly, one of the Pan Tang horsemen crept up and thrust his sword between his comrade's ribs. The impaled man laughed and, spitting blood, turned and sliced the throat of his attacker. Both men clapped each other on the back, withdrew their weapons, then turned back to drinking. To Bones' astonishment their wounds shrank and disappeared as he watched.


Before Bones could register what he had seen, his Melnibonean benefactor stumbled into him from behind, and only his sailor's reflexes saved him a tumble.


"Where are the rest of those idiots?" snapped Lord Soo.


"Beats me," replied the sailor.


Looking around, the two men took in the sights. Where to Bones the pulsating lights and sonic waves were a hellscape, to Lord Soo they were a reassuring sign of the might of Chaos, and its cultural influence on his homeland. If anything, they indicated that this new tower was a more ambitious endeavour than the old Hall of Risk. The interior walls of the tower were lined with an alternating series of doors, in between which figures hurried themselves bringing drink and victuals for the revelers in the center. Each door was topped with a different sign - a Maze, a Crystal Ball, a Spinning Wheel, and a Bow.


In the center of the tower was a wishing well of white marble, into which revelers would pitch coins. Yet most impressive of all the alien sights was a wide, silver tree growing from the floor. It rose up to unimaginable heights, and from its varied branches hung cages in which naked demon bodies danced, or else strange forms played ghastly flutes and tambours. Higher up, Bones could dimly make out stairs and some sort of platform amidst the branches.


"It seems we've been invited to a party" quipped Soo.


Before Bones could reply, a familiar voice cried out behind them. Soo and Bones turned to see Maleia, dragging the unconscious barbarian behind her. Soo sighed and began to search through his pouch for healing herbs.


"Give im a minute" offered the sailor Bones.


The barbarian's eyes opened, and he propped himself up on an elbow. Gansaiyah could feel his wounds melting like frost in the desert.


"My... lord? Have you... healed me?" he gasped.


"Of course!" snapped the Melnibonean. "That is another thing you owe me."


"I am in your debt,'' Gansaiyah replied solemnly.


Gansaiyah rose to his feet and thanked Maleia for dragging him into the tower. The shopwoman accepted the thanks, then she and the barbarian gaped at the sights around them.


"Which door, m'lord?" asked Bones.


"As we say in Melnibone," Lord Soo opined, "Always start with a maze."



4. The Maze & The Oracle


The four adventurers stepped through the silvery portal and found themselves in a maze of cobalt stone. At their feet glowed a coin, which Bones snapped up. The coin was large, and emblazoned with the 8-arrow sigil of Chaos. As soon as Bones palmed the coin, muffled footsteps began echoing through the corridors. 


"I hunger!" said a voice that made their hair stand on end.


Peering about, they could see more coins placed out at 30 pace intervals in either direction. As they walked down the hall gathering coins, the footsteps grew louder.


"I hunger!"


At the end of the corridor the group came to a bend south, in which sat a phial. Lord Soo looked at it with his sorcerer's eyes and pronounced it an ethereal potion.


"Look! Behind us!" warned Maleia.


From the direction they had come a ghostly figure strode toward them. It was a man in fine clothes of an ancient cut, and through his insubstantial body they could make out the line of the floor and corridor walls behind him.


"Hsung-Nu help us!" muttered Gansaiyah, but he knew in his bones his gods would be of no use here.


Lord Soo laughed.


"This is a game we played on the Dream Couches of Imrryr as children. We called it Hungry Ghost Maze. It trains us in the layout of the city's sea maze, as well as the nature of our astral self."


So saying, Lord Soo quaffed the ethereal liquid in the bottle they had picked up, and strode forth to meet the spectre that followed them.


GM Note

As the reader may have guessed, and as the player of Lord Soo did quickly realize, the maze of coins is based on the old Pacman video game. In no time they knew they had to collect the phials and use them to destroy the increasing number of ghosts following them.


Sad to say, I messed up here. I should have given them the map to the maze, and turned it into a fun chase game that allowed them to strategize against me. Instead, I kept it secret based on a failed Navigate roll.


It was a lesson in knowing when to use rolls and when to ignore them. In my defense, I was tired from watching sonny and work. Lesson learned. The players gamely listened to my descriptions while stifling yawns, and we were all relieved when the session ended at midnight my time.


Lord Soo and his remaining three followers stood back in the center of the tower, once again awash in pandemonic sound and lights, and amidst the revelers.


"Let's go see what fate has in store," said Soo, and walked into the gate of the Crystal Ball. Inside, a palantir sat on a table covered in silk. Across from this, a shrouded figure of indeterminate shape sat.


"What is it you seek?" grated the figure in an inhuman voice.


"How may I restore Melnibone to her glory?"


A strange sound, like the humming of an otherworldly machine, coursed through Soo as he heard the fortuneteller speak.



To restore the Ruby Throne

Find the one it once did own

Chained in the usurper's pits

Lead this white wolf to the gate

Brave the shadows till his fate

Beneath the marsh where laid

A stratocaster and his twin blade

Ware that on that very day

Tis you the final price will pay


--


Gansaiyah, Maleia, and Bones had waited no more than a few minutes for their lord when he stumbled out of the silvery gate of the fortuneteller. The high priest was covered in a sheen of sweat, and his eyes glowed with a mad light.


"What is it, master? What have you learned?" questioned Bones.


"Now," whispered the Melnibonean, "the fun begins!" 


RULE NOTES


Here are some of the houserules we are using:


Skill Bases - At chargen, skills are calculated by multiplying 1/10th the class description starting percentage by an appropriate attribute.Warriors have 50% Attack in their first weapon, so instead this is 5 x DEX. If your DEX exceeds 10, this gives +5% per point above.


Initiative - Ranged, readied, and / or highest Attack skill goes first or decides when to attack.


Encumbrance - Can carry up to STR in ENC with no penalty, over up to x2 STR is half move and no acrobatics, over x3 STR is impossible. Inspired by Myrthas' fantastic ruleset.


Life Purpose - Each PC has a life purpose, and when they advance this, they get a point that can be spent on buying a skill level or increasing an attribute. Lord Soo's purpose is to restore Melnibone, which has been sacked by Pan Tangians in our gameworld.