The Alexandrian

Tagline: A great bargain for a wealth of material, and a wonderful little taste of history.

Dragon Magazine ArchiveAllow me to salivate.

The Dragon Magazine Archive collects, on five CD-ROMs, the first two hundred and fifty issues of Dragon Magazine, as well as all seven issues of The Strategic Review (the house organ which Tactical Studies Rules published prior to Dragon). It thus collects more than twenty years worth of material – thousands and thousands of pages of the finest roleplaying material ever set to paper.

For forty bucks. (Some places are selling it for as much as $70 – don’t let ‘em fool you. Amazon.com is selling it, here, for $28.)

So, like I said: Allow to salivate.

Elsewhere on RPGNet I have written a lengthy “100 Issue Retrospective” which covered the magazine from Issue #162 (the first issue of Dragon I ever owned) through to #262 (the most recent at the time I wrote the retrospective). In it I discussed at quite some length the merits and history of The Dragon, and I heartily encourage you to take a look at that for more background information concerning the magazine.

To summarize my feelings, I consider Dragon Magazine to be one of the most significant icons in the roleplaying industry – and certainly one of the most enduring. I remember well removing the subscription card from my red-boxed Basic Set of D&D (hands up everyone who was introduced to roleplaying through that nostalgia-ridden product), mailed it in, and waited with eager anticipation for my first issue to arrive in the mail. When it did, I felt instantly connected to a larger world of roleplayers.

Because so many roleplayers are introduced into the industry through some form of Dungeons & Dragons, and because it is a natural progression to purchase a subscription to Dragon (particularly in the years when TSR was advertising the magazine in the introductory sets of their games), I imagine this is feeling which I share with many others. To a very real extent, Dragon (like D&D itself) serves as a major portal into the hobby of gaming.

Thus the Dragon Magazine Archive, in addition to providing you with an amazing wealth of material, lets you take a peek into what was passing through this gateway in years past. For years when you were in the hobby (particularly the early years), it’s a nostalgia trip of immense proportions. For the years when you weren’t, it’s a glimpse into an “arcane past” which is fascinating and invigorating.

But, lest we forget and assume there is nothing here but nostalgia, let us remember that within this archive you will find thousands of articles and reviews and columns. You simply cannot find a better bargain, in terms of a dollar-to-content ratio, then you will find in this package.

FAVORITE BITS

Despite owning the Archive since my birthday (about four months now), I’ve been able to do little more than skim through the thinnest layer of material – most of it concentrated in the earliest years of the magazine. As a small sampling, let me point out some of my favorite bits:

Strategic Review #1: After a lengthy discussion of spears in man-to-man combat, Gary Gygax writes: “Coming Next Issue . . . POLE ARMS, and Their Relationship to CHAINMAIL.”

Maybe I’m just warped, but I found this intrinsically amusing. (If you have no idea why it would be, you’re just too young.)

Other notable “before they were famous” moments including one of the earliest discussions of the dual-axis alignment system (complete with the diagrams that would later crop up in first edition). My favorite, though, is the article of random dungeon design (for solo play) which would later serve as the basis for one of the most famous sections of the 1st edition DMG.

One of the first things most people will take a look at when they get their hands on the Archive is the very issue of Dragon – and with good cause. It is a major milestone, and I have met old hands who divide the entire history of roleplaying (at least during the first couple of decades) into “before Dragon” and “after Dragon”.

The very first words of the editorial content of The Dragon are: “This issue marks a major step for TSR Hobbies, Inc. With it, we have bid farewell to the safe, secure world of the house organ, and have entered the arena of competitive magazine publishing.”

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything so unintentionally hilarious in my life.

Perhaps the most valuable resource I found in the Archive were the early Tékumel articles – articles which are otherwise very difficult to obtain. While they wouldn’t fully justify the cost of the Archive, except for the true Tékumel fanatic, they come awfully close. Easily worth $10-15 to anyone with the slightest interest in Tékumel, which doesn’t leave a lot of the purchase price left to make up with everything else. (I have posted a review of Tékumel elsewhere on RPGNet.)

Any summary of the Archive would not be complete without perhaps the most noteworthy inclusion:

Wormy!

SnarfQuest and Yamara, the other two comics of serious note in Dragon’s history, in my opinion, have been published in collections, but Wormy never has (because it’s creator simply disappeared). (I believe the Yamara collection is still in print from Steve Jackson Games; while a new (and more complete) SnarfQuest collection is on its way from Dynasty Publishing – which will also be publishing new(!) SnarfQuest strips in their Games Unplugged magazines. But I digress.)

Wormy is one of the most memorable icons of the gaming industry, and has long been unavailable in any form. Now, at last, it is possible to read the strip in its entirety at an affordable price. If the Tékumel articles almost make the Archive worth the price all by themselves, then Wormy definitely has the cover charge under control.

PROBLEM PARTS

Every single problem with the Archive can be summed up in one word: Interface.

The interface, quite frankly, sucks. It’s not just bad, it’s atrocious. The pages take too long to turn, the general controls are unintuitive to the point of stupidity and are sluggish to respond. The provided Table of Contents for several issues is screwed up (although you can always just look at the magazine’s contents page and work from there).

For a product like this, printing is of the utmost importance – but here the problems seem to multiply. I routinely had the printer simply print blank pages. And, unless you set the printing to grayscale, the program will print the black ink by using your color cartridge to print all the colors in the spectrum (a massive waste of expensive ink). Plus, they don’t have the page numbers of the digital document match up with the page numbers of the actual magazine (because they don’t take the simple step of not counting the cover and inside cover as pages).

Worse yet, though, this monstrous program takes up 40MB of RAM! It slows any attempt to multitask down to a crawl.

Bah.

Fortunately, all of the magazines are presented in Adobe Acrobat format and thus, with their free viewer, you can access them directly and without any problems – bypassing the clunky interface entirely. (Although you may still occasionally use the program for the search engine it employs – which quickly and efficiently searches through the entire collection.) There’s still no way to bypass the faulty page numbering (because that’s embedded in the document format), but at least in the Acrobat Reader the digital page numbers are displayed right on the screen – so that you won’t be reduced to guessing how large the off-set is for this particular issue.

CONCLUSION

The Dragon Magazine Archive is a fantastic bargain. Don’t pass it up.

Style: 3
Substance: 5

Author: Various
Company/Publisher: Wizards of the Coast / TSR, Inc.
Cost: $40.00
Page Count: Unfathomable
ISBN: 0-7869-1448-3

Originally Posted: 2000/03/21

“Worse yet, though, this monstrous program takes up 40MB of RAM!” … speaking of things rendered hilarious through the benefit of hindsight.

The Dragon Magazine Archive remains one of the best bargains in the history of gaming. And that remains true even though it’s currently priced at $155 on Amazon.

For an explanation of where these reviews came from and why you can no longer find them at RPGNet, click here.

Go to Part 1

And at long last, the Hexcrawl essay draws to a close. As a final parting gift, I offer up two cheat sheets for running your own hexcrawls.

The Basic Cheat Sheet offers the stripped down core of the game structure. If you occasionally found your eyes glazing over during the previous 12 installments, this is probably the cheat sheet for you: Just basic navigation, encounter checks, and hex movement.

The Advanced Cheat Sheet is the full package: It includes the full watch checklist, the robust encounter system, the ability for characters to become lost, all the modes of travel, terrain modifiers, foraging rules, and tracking. The whole nine yards. (The tenth yard is the one where you make an awesome campaign out of it.

Of course, you can also selectively pick-and-choose from the advanced elements, deciding what stuff you want to incorporate into the basic system.

Hexcrawl - Basic Cheat Sheet

(click for PDF)

Hexcrawl - Advanced Cheat Sheet

(click for PDF)

FURTHER READING
Thought of the Day: Hexcrawl in the Underdark
Check This Out: Hexcrawl Tracks
Check This Out: Hexcrawl Sighting Distances
Game Structures
Thinking About Urbancrawls

Over the past couple weeks you may have noticed that I’ve been going back and finishing a couple of old essay series that had been left incomplete. These are actually a lot more time-consuming to accomplish than you might think because the first thing I have to do is go back and re-read the original essays in order to get back into the flow of the thoughts that were left unfinished. The reason the series ended up unfinished in the first place is because I would get distracted by projects of a higher priority. The reason they stayed unfinished is because it was hard to justify the large chunk of time required just to review the existing material. (In a couple of cases I actually started reviewing the material multiple times, only to once again get distracted more pressing demands.)

The reason they’re getting finished now is because of my Patreon. My patrons allow me to push less interesting projects to the side so that I can devote the time and effort necessary to continue creating material here at the Alexandrian.

As I write this, my Patreon is at $47.50 per post. The reality is a little bit more complicated backstage because a lot of my patrons have set maximum contributions. So by the end of month my posts are actually only earning at little over $20. (Which is totally cool. The fact that people can very precisely control their spending is one of the really great things about Patreon.)

What I’d really like to do is convince enough of you to become my patrons to push my total up above $50 for the month of March. To encourage you to do that, let me share with you a couple of things about the way my Patreon works.

First, the Alexandrian updates on a schedule of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In general, that means 12-13 posts per month. So if you backed for $0.10 per post, you’d be spending $1.20 or $1.30 per month to support the Alexandrian. Is the content you find here worth that much to you? (If not, that’s OK.)

Second, the reason I do a per post contribution instead of a monthly contribution is because the Alexandrian hasn’t always updated on reliably. I don’t want to feel guilty if there’s a month where I can’t produce as much material and I don’t want you to feel ripped off. If you’d really prefer to make a monthly contribution, fortunately, Patreon offers the best of both worlds: Set your contribution level to the amount you want to contribute and set your maximum contribution to the same amount. As long as I post something each month, you’ll make the monthly contribution you want to.

Third, what you’re not paying for is all the other content that gets scheduled around that Monday-Wednesday-Friday content. This is the Thought of the Day, Check This Out, Shakespeare Sunday, the RPGNet archive reviews. All that stuff is just “bonus”.

Fourth, if you back $1 or more per post you get Early Access. Which is kinda cool. But what makes it really cool is that you receive the early access updates in the form of a PDF. So if you’ve ever wanted content from the Alexandrian in an easy-to-save / easy-to-print format, this is a super easy way to get it.

For example, a couple days ago I sent all my Early Access patrons a PDF package containing the full, 12-part Hexcrawl series, the DM worksheet, and the two hexcrawl cheat sheets that will be appearing on the site tomorrow.

$0.10? $0.25? $1.00?

Patreon for the Alexandrian

… even the smallest of pledges can add up to wondrous things.

Go to Part 1

This will be the final installment in this essay series. My goal here will be to describe the actual process of what I do at the gaming table while running a session of my Thracian Hexcrawl. I’m not entirely sure how useful it will be, but I”m hoping it will provide some sort of insight.

This post is going to be an attempt to provide an abbreviated, annotated record of actual play from my hexcrawl campaign. The goal is to show what I was thinking, the decisions I made, the procedures I used, the tools I exploited, and so forth.

SETUP

An hour or so before the game is scheduled to start, I’ll set up the table.

I sit at one end of a long dining room table. I place a TV tray to the left of my chair and another TV tray to the right of my chair. Then I pull out the box that I keep all my Thracian hexcrawl material in.

On the TV tray to my right I place the Binder that contains the campaign key and the Folder which contains the documents detailing individual locations.

There’s a second folder which contains a DM screen, the four pages of reference tables that I paperclip to the DM screen, a copy of the campaign map, and several copies of the DM’s worksheet I designed for hexcrawling. I place the worksheet on the table in front of me. I place the DM screen on the TV tray to my left. And I conceal the campaign map behind the DM screen.

Next, the rulebooks: I have several copies of Volume 1: Men & Magic that I place in a stack on the table for the players. I take my copies of all three OD&D booklets and place them in a stack behind the DM screen to my left.

I also have a stack of graph and hex paper, including several “communal maps” that have been drawn by the players. These are placed on the table.

I also have a stack of three folders: One for blank character sheets, one for living characters in the campaign, and one for characters who have died. I place these folders on a counter off to one side of the room. (I rarely need to access them, so it’s easiest just to have them out of the way.)

I print out a copy of the Campaign Status sheet for the current session and also place it on the table in front of me.

I grab my dice bag and pull out the dice I need: 2d4, 6d6, 6d8, 2d10, 2d12, 6d20. 6d6 for fireball and lightning bolt damage. 6d8 because it means I can roll an entire day’s worth of encounter checks in a single go. 6d20 because I can simultaneously roll an entire mob’s attack rolls. (The 6d20’s are selected in three pairs of matching colors because it allows for easy grouping for mixed types.)

BEGINNING OF THE SESSION

As players arrive, I pull their character sheets out of the appropriate folder. Many players need to choose which of their active PCs they’re going to be playing.

Two things happen at this point:

  1. I make a rumor check for each primary PC (not for hirelings). There’s a 1 in 3 chance for each PC that they’ll receive a rumor. (The current rumor table is part of the Campaign Status document. It’s generated based on the activities of PCs in previous sessions and by randomly generating hex numbers and creating rumors based on the contents of the generated hex.)
  2. I make a morale check for each hireling employed by the active PCs. On a success, the hireling continues adventuring with their employer. On a failure I use a system based on the OD&D reaction table to determine the hireling’s action: They might automatically leave their PC’s service or demand an additional bonus of some variable amount. (Usually nothing happens because the players have learned to keep the morale of their hirelings high.)

I keep a master list of every hireling in the campaign — including their current loyalty and morale values — in the Campaign Status sheet.

While I’m doing this, the players are generally getting prepared for the adventure. This includes:

  1. Discussing what their expedition is going to be.
  2. Buying equipment.
  3. Hiring hirelings.
  4. Any other business they might need to attend to while in town.

If they go looking for hirelings, I have a simple system I use to determine how many hirelings are currently available for service in town; what classes they are; and what level they are.

STARTING OUT

While the players are wrapping things up, I’ll grab my 6d8 and roll them: Virtually all of my regions use a 1 in 8 encounter check. Each roll, therefore, represents a full day’s worth of encounter checks (since there are six watches in a day). By reading the dice left-to-right as they fall, I can very rapidly determine which watches in the day have an encounter. Since I don’t yet know where the PCs will be on those days, I can’t generate the specific encounters (which are region-dependent). But on my DM’s worksheet, I can write down the Day/Watch when encounters will be happening. By generating three or four days worth of encounter checks up front, I can simplify my workflow once the PCs hit the road.

(Note, however, that if I know at this point that the PCs are going to be heading in a direction which will almost certainly have them traveling through a given region for a lengthy period of time, I can also go ahead and generate full encounters at this point.)

Maernath - Thracian HexcrawlIn this case, the PCs are in the city of Maernath, located in hex O6. Maernath is an old city-state in this setting. It was here long before the Duchy of Thracia began pushing east in recent years (establishing the Keep on the Borderlands and the logging village of Caerdheim to the south) and the City Fathers occasionally chaff against the “authority” of the newcomers. Although the early adventures of the PCs were based primarily out of Caerdheim (which was near the Caverns of Thracia), an increase of interest in the Palace of Red Death to the north led to an increased number of expeditions being mounted from Maernath. Those expeditions resulted in various PCs gaining a lot of lore about the area surrounding Maernath and that, in turn, spurred even more expeditions here.

The PCs leave town along the road heading south. They’re lightly encumbered (12″ movement) and they’re traveling along a road through open plains, so they can travel 12 miles per watch. Maernath’s position within hex O6 is biased, so it only takes 4 progress to exit the hex. They’re aiming for the river, which is on the road right on the border of the hex (so they obviously have no difficulty finding it).

Their goal is to follow the river into the Old Forest (in hex P7), so now I’m going to look ahead: Their course along the river takes them through the near side of the hex (6 miles away) into hex P6 and from there they will then pass through the near side of hex P7 (another 6 miles). Although they’ve left the road, they’re still traveling through open plains and the river provides enough of a track that they’re still traveling at 12 miles per watch. Total it up:

4 miles (Maernath to river) + 6 miles (O7 to P6) + 6 miles (P6 to P7) = 16 miles

Which means they’ll arrive at the edge of the Old Forest a little over an hour into their second watch. This is notable because, looking at my DM’s worksheet, I can see that the second watch the of the day will have an encounter. I can determine the time in the watch by rolling 1d8. The result I get is a 3, which basically means the encounter is scheduled to take place just as they’re reaching the edge of the Old Forest.

1. First, there’s a 50% chance that the encounter will be the location keyed to the hex. I roll the dice and it is not. (If it had been and they were traveling through open country, I would flip to the location key and they would have that encounter. In this case, however, they’re following the river: Unless the keyed encounter for this hex was on the river, they would not encounter it. That would either result in no encounter happening despite the check or they might experience an encounter connected to the keyed location. For example, the keyed location for P6 is Orkam’s Hole, which is inhabited by a family of basilisks, so they might spot basilisk footprints in the muddy banks of the river.)

2. If the PCs are in a hex bordering another region (and they are), there’s a 50% chance that they’ll get an encounter from the other region instead.

3. I roll a 13, so that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

4. I flip to the Old Forest encounter table and roll. The result I get is “Slimes”, which has a sub-table which generates Gray Ooze. The slimes don’t have any % chance of being a Lair or Tracks encounter, so I can skip that step.

Given the confluence of all the factors involved, I’m going to have the Gray Oozes appear just as the river passes beneath the boughs of the Old Forest. They’ll be draped down from the tree branches above the river like some kind of horrific spanish moss.

INTO THE OLD FOREST

Forest River

After the PCs have dealt with (or avoided) the Gray Oozes, they’ll be able to continue along the river. It’s a medium forest and their speed is going to drop by 1/2. They had 8 miles of movement left in their second watch, so they’ll be able to gain 4 progress through hex P7.

Three miles along the river, however, they come to a tree on the south bank of the river with the Dwarven letter “mu” carved into its trunk. They’re familiar with it. In fact, one of the PCs left it here as a marker: Gordur, a powerful orc stronghold, lies several miles due south from this spot.

This, however, is not their goal. They continue along the river for another 3 miles (into the third watch) until they find a similar tree with the Dwarven letter “thod” carved into it. This marker was placed due north of the Crypt of Luan Phien. The crypt is their ultimate goal and so now they turn south, away from the clear navigational marker of the river and into the depths of the Old Forest.

At this point, they need to start making Navigation checks. Epicaste, a hireling rescued by the dwarf Aeng from the Caverns of Thracia, is the group’s best navigator, so she steps forward and takes point.

1. It’s a medium forest, so the Navigation DC is 16.

2. Epicaste blows the check. (Possibly because Delmhurst, another hireling, keeps second-guessing her.) I roll 1d10 to determine the group’s veer. With a roll of 8, I determine that they’re veering to the right. Instead of heading due south into hex P8 (which is where they want to go), they’re going to end up in hex O8.

When does that actually happen? Well, they entered hex P7 from due north. Whether they’re leaving into hex P8 or O8, they’re still exiting through the far side of the hex. So they need to rack up 12 progress to exit the hex. They’d gained 4 progress in the hex during their second watch; they’ll gain another 6 progress in their third watch, and they’ll enter hex O8 about midway through the fourth watch of the day.

I’ve also generated an encounter for the fourth watch of the day, so once again I generate a random time and determine that the encounter will be taking place after they’ve entered hex O8. This is particularly important because this time the encounter I generate is a location encounter, so I flip to the key for O8:

Me: “Towards the waning hours of the day, you enter a small clearing. Criss-crossing branches grow into what appear to be houses with walls of woven moss.”

Aeng: “I don’t remember this.”

Delmhurst: “I think the thousand-year dummy has gotten us lost again.”

It turns out the strange houses are empty and abandoned. It’s getting late in the day, so the PCs decide to make camp here for the night. They’ll try to backtrack their trail the next day and figure out where they made the wrong turn.

 CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

 And that’s basically all there is to it. With a strong key and a clean procedure, the hexcrawl will flow naturally in response to the explorations of the PCs, drawing them deeper and deeper in to the mysteries of the wilderness.

Although this is the final essay in this series — and the end of my thoughts on hexcrawls (at least for the moment) — there will be one final installment containing system cheat sheets for hexcrawling.

Go to Part 13: Hexcrawl Cheat Sheets

Yesterday I posted a scenario for Numenera called “The Last Precept of the Seventh Mask“. The scenario features multiple religious sects fighting for control of the body of the Seventh Mask (a religious leader denoted by the strange, mask-like biotech growth which extrudes from their face). The basic idea is that the PCs will approach the camp of one of these sects, get hired to protect them on their journey to the aldeia of Embered Peaks, and then be forced to deal with the other factions in an orgy of violence and collusion and zealotry.

But when I ran the scenario? That’s not what happened.

THE STARSCRIPT CAVERN

The Narthex - Numenera

The PCs in this campaign have been traveling around inside the Narthex. You don’t need to know much about the Narthex except that it’s bigger on the inside than the outside and that it teleports semi-randomly around the landscape of the Ninth World. (If you want to basically think of it as a TARDIS that doesn’t travel through time and can’t leave the planet its currently on, you wouldn’t be too far wrong. Except this particular TARDIS is populated by a group of religious zealots that the PCs have inadvertently ended up being in charge of. But I digress.)

For this particular scenario the Narthex was going to appear at a location they couldn’t predict. It was important, therefore, for the local resident expert to look at the starscape above their arrival point to figure out where they had ended up. When they emerged from the Narthex, they found themselves inside a giant cavern with walls covered in ancient runes that glowed with a faint silver light. The starscript writing described the Narthex as a holy relic, but whoever had worshiped the Narthex here was long dead and gone.

As they emerged from the cavern, however, to gaze up at the stars above, they saw the lights of a camp further down the side of the mountain.

RAVAGE BEAR DELIGHT

The camp itself was tucked out of sight behind some tall outcroppings of rock, but they could hear the distant sounds of the people who were resting down there.

The idea here should be pretty obvious: I expected them to go down to the camp. There they would meet the Bensal kokutai and Fassare would ask for their help in guarding the body of the Seventh Mask on its journey to Embered Peaks.

But that’s not what happened.

Instead, they decided to simply keep quite, take their star readings, and retreat back to the Narthex.

So I checked my notes. What would happen next?

Well, a pack of six ravage bears was supposed to attack the Bensal kokutai encampment that night. So they did. The PCs heard the roar of the ravage bears (and identified them) as they rushed the camp.

Once again, the intention should be obvious: I expected the PCs to rush down to help the unknown campers. They could drive off the ravage bears and–

Nope.

The PCs had suffered a previous encounter with a pair of ravage bears and their bodies still bore the scars to prove it. Six of them? No, thank you. They rolled up their star charts and ran back to the Narthex with the screams of the ravage bears’ victims echoing in their ears.

IN THE MORNING’S LIGHT

The next morning the PCs came back out of the Narthex and went down to investigate the camp. The ravage bears had… well, ravaged it. Tents were shredded. Dismembered limbs and half-devoured bodies were strewn about. It was clear that several more bodies had been dragged away from the site.

The only incongruous element was the bier of the Seventh Mask, which I decided had been left undisturbed by the ravage bears. Two of the PCs — Laevra and Sheera — were incredibly creeped out by this and the biotech, mask-like growth on the corpse’s face didn’t help matters much. While Laevra, the nano, examined the mask, another PC — Phyros, a clever jack who employs magnetism — decided it would be funny to program his morphable mask to look exactly like the biotech extrusion. Laevra and Sheera, for their part, were largely unamused.

Laevra eventually concluded that there was still living activity within the biotech of the mask. The group fell into a debate about whether or not they should cut it off the corpse: Laevra had curiosity on her side. Phyros, for all of his monkeying about with the morphable mask, was legitimately concerned that it might be infectious or dangerous.

While this debate continued, I decided to have a group of Caral kokutai show up on their flying platform. Since the Caral kokutai had been stalking the Bensal kokutai, this made sense. I also thought it might offer me an opportunity to re-hook the scenario: The Caral were just as interested in transporting the Seventh Mask to Embered Peaks. Like the Bensal kokutai, the Caral kokutai would also be concerned by the other factions in the area and could easily ask the PCs for help.

Of course, that’s not what happened.

APOTHEOITES

Remember that Phyros had made his morphable mask look just like the Seventh Mask?

Yeah.

As the energy platform of the Caral kokutai swept down into the grotto, their initial hostility towards finding the PCs standing in the midst of the carnage melted away into confusion as Phyros presented himself as the Eighth Mask. This story wasn’t completely plausible: Generally speaking, the Eighth Mask — as a reincarnation of the Seventh Mask — should have been no more than a babe. But with an extremely glib tongue, Phyros managed to sow enough confusion to convince the Caral kokutai scouts they should bring their leader, Moora, to him. (It helped that he was able to spin the gory deaths of the Bensal kokutai as being some sort of “righteous fury” directed upon heathen unbelievers.) Then, with a major effect on a final persuasion role, he convinced them that there were secret rites he needed to perform with the body of the Seventh Mask in secret. That meant that all of the Caral kokutai left, planning to return shortly with Moora.

So what were the “secret rites” that Phyros needed to perform?

Well, as it turned out, they entailed grabbing the body of the Seventh Mask and hightailing it back to the Narthex.

Entering the Narthex, it should be noted, means taking a liftshaft (i.e., elevator) down into a vast, extradimensional space. Exiting the liftshaft, you enter the Nave: A seemingly bottomless (and topless) shaft crisscrossed with gantries and catwalks.

As soon as the PCs reached the Nave in this particular case, they hauled the Seventh Mask’s corpse out of the lift, sliced the mask off its face (revealing a featureless face of fresh, baby-like flesh), pocketed the mask, and then dumped the corpse over the railing into the abyssal darkness below while resolving not to leave the Narthex again until it had jumped to a new location.

THE END

The best part? This is the third time that Phyros has ended up falsely presenting himself as a religious icon or deity. He’s not even doing it on purpose!

There are probably a lot of GMs who would look at this sequence of events as a failure of some sort. The PCs “wrecked the scenario”. My preparation was “ruined”.

But if you take a moment to look at how I actually prepped this scenario, you’ll note that I was never actually wedded to a particular outcome. Instead, as I described in Don’t Prep Plots, I created a kit with a number of tools:

  • The starscript cavern
  • The kokutai culture and their religious beliefs
  • The corpse of the Seventh Mask
  • The Bensal, Caral, and Gatha kokutai
  • The chirogs
  • The ravage bears
  • The map of the local area

And while I would have liked to have gotten the Gatha kokutai and the chirogs involved, the reality is that most of those tools got used. Virtually none of them got used the way that I had expected, but the scenes that actually played out were really entertaining and insightful and memorable largely because they were unexpected. The table was filled with laughter and there were also some really meaningful questions asked about who they had become as individuals when they ran and left the Bensal to their fate.

Now, if I had invested a lot of time into carefully preparing schedules of ambushes for the road from the Bensal camp to Embered Peaks? Then I would have wasted a lot of time and had a lot of prep “ruined” by what happened. So I’m glad that I emphasized smart prep and trusted my instincts at the table to handle the rest.

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