Friday, October 10, 2014

Character Generation for Icons - the American Ninja Cowboys campaign

Earlier in the week we I posted a review of Icons, a superhero RPG.  We're taking a short break from dungeon crawling to give the players a chance to play super powered soldiers in my anime-inspired 'American Ninja Cowboys' campaign.  It takes place thousands of years after the apocalypse.  In the wake of the great fall, the barriers separating the magic and spirit realms from Earth are weakened, and humans have developed the ability to perform spirit-crafting.  The 5 Nations of future fantasy America (FFA) have each developed a super-powered police force to maintain peace between the nations and combat the threat posed by the giant, lumbering spirit monsters (kaiju) that wander the wastes between nations.  At the start of the game, the players are all citizens of Pine City and members of the Pine City Rangers, the elite fighting force that helps protect the wooded northwest.

Most of the players rolled characters randomly using the Icons random generation method; one of them was fixated on a character concept and opted for the point buy.   Here's how it went.

Tex
The group leader is Tex, an ex con-man criminal from the Earth Nation that is turning a new leaf (haha) in Pine City.  Tex has the ability to become immaterial (the Texas two-step), create clone duplicates of himself (summoning the Republic of Tex), and can increase his density to add strength and damage resistance (because everything is bigger in Texas).  Unbeknownst to Tex, shadowy forces in the Earth Nation arranged for him to be in Pine City and join the rangers - he's an unknowing sleeper agent!

Inazuma
Inazuma is one of the Five Legendary Swordsmen of the mountains.  He uses the sword lightning style, which gives him a touch of super speed and electricity control (he electrifies his swords into lightning blades) and he's a master swordsman.  He can also leap multiple city blocks with 'lightning leaps'.  This character was made by one of the kids using point-buy.

Haruki
Haruki's parents were agents for Pine City and perished on a mission, leaving her a pair of enchanted iron fans and a kabuki style mask.  She's a talented martial artist with enhanced strength, but she can form an impenetrable barrier with her fans (called something like 'Iron Tower Fan Defense') and can even reflect ranged attacks back at the attacker.  Haruki's defenses are a handful for the referee.

Trapper Keeper (TK)
TK also possesses an enchanted item, it's something like 'The Cursed Jade Mask of the Oni' or similarly named - I don't have the sheets with me.  He appears like a smallish man wearing a heavy cloak and hood with only the Oni Mask visible.  He can drain strength from opponents with the Evil Eye and manipulate their fears.  The mask grants immunity to mental attacks as well.  The player got the name when he was brainstorming… "Well, I see myself hunting and trapping dangerous occult beings, and then keeping them…"

Kid Galactus
The character's actual name is Kodama the Forest Spirit, but I've been referring to him as Kid Galactus because of his power level.  He's not of this world, an unearthly creature of the spirit world that believes it's a human and was raised by animals in the forests.  He can transform into an energy being and gains the ability to absorb magic attacks.  He flies, shoots magic energy, and also has super strength.  He's the over-powered heavy hitter of the team.

Black Russian
We don't know a lot about this character yet - he always wears his cloak and stays in the shadows.  Highly trained, he's focused on stealth skills and martial arts.  He can manipulate darkness and shadows, and is accompanied by Sergeant Ruffington, a talking, highly intelligent spirit hound that can slip between the real-world and the spirit world, and turn invisible.  Black Russian isn't very smart, but Ruffington is a genius and has a suite of super senses.

GPL
The core group is 3 adults, 3 kids; GPL's player is technically a 4th kid, but I don't think he's going to keep playing.  He's wandered off through both game sessions after about 45 minutes and then completely disappeared.  Apparently I'm just that good of a referee!  His character can control air currents, which provides a blend of air powers and telekinesis type effects.  He wears one of those anime-style 'swords too big to hold and swing' on his back, and lets his telekinesis swing it around.

Officially, the player's group name is Orca Team 6 to their commanders back in Pine City, but their unofficial name is something like the Northwest Otter Patrol.  I was really happy with how character generation went and some of the concepts created by the players; score another check mark for random generation inspiring creative concepts and backgrounds.  It took until the first game session for most of the players to land on the Qualities they wanted for their characters; I'll work those into the game reports as appropriate.

Next up, a look at how the game sessions went.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Playtest Review: Icons, The Assembled Edition

At Gencon last August, I had a mission:  to find a super hero rules set that would work well for a game inspired by the anime and manga loved by the kids in the gaming group.  Furthermore, I wanted something that didn't have too many rules, was easy to learn and run, and had a tremendous amount of flexibility to bring to life the crazy trump-filled battles you see in manga-inspired anime shows.

We settled on trying Icons as the rules set, and I couldn't be more delighted.  Here's a look at the game.

As a physical artifact, the Icons Assembled Edition book is nicely done  - it's comic sized, smaller than a typical hardcover, with mid-sized print making it an easy read.  Icons is written by Steve Kenson, the author of Mutants & Masterminds.  You may wonder why a writer would put out two competing super hero rules sets.  Mutants & Masterminds has all the crunchy bits and levers to fine tune character building and optimization for the d20 crowd.  It's a much different experience than the fast and loose character generation and game play of Icons.  The Icons material has a distinctive art style by Dan Houser, reminiscent of Bruce Timm's work for various animated DC properties that brings to mind high-paced animated adventures.

The actual game mechanics are simple, using a scale of 1 - 10 for most abilities and one or two 6-sided dice for the dice rolls.  The core dice mechanic involves opposed rolls, combining an ability and a d6 roll versus an ability and d6 roll from the opponent.  I have no prior exposure to the mechanics of the Fate system, but it's mentioned a few times that Icons borrows from "Fate Core".  There is also a standard list of super powers in the core book, along with a large set of proposed extras and limits to customize the powers.  The centerpiece of Icons is the flexible use of Qualities and Determination Points to fuel creative expansion of character abilities and super powers during play.

Qualities were the most difficult thing for my players to develop for their characters, and after two game sessions, they're still trying to refine them as they elaborate their characters.  Qualities are descriptive phrases about the character - why they're special, or what motivates them,  their catch phrases, things like that.  If you read comics or watch the super hero movies, it's easy to identify qualities for your favorite characters or teams:

  • The Dark Knight
  • The World's Greatest Detective
  • Faster than a Speeding Bullet, Able to Leap Tall Buildings with a Single Bound
  • Last Son of Krypton
  • With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
  • I'm the Amazing Spider-Man
  • Children of the Atom

For the anime fans, a popular character like Naruto could be expressed like this:

  • I'm going to be Hokage someday, believe it
  • I never go back on my word, that's my ninja way
  • I carry the chakra of the Nine-Tailed Fox sealed inside me

A lot of the game play during an Icons adventure involves using Determination Points (a limited, expendable resource) to creatively extend the character's abilities for single-use advantages, and accepting problems thrown at the character by the referee to get more Determination Points.  It's an improvisational, back and forth mechanic, which allows the game to represent an endless number of maneuvers, powers, capabilities, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities without laboriously documenting them in the rules and power descriptions before game play.

Icons has measured up well to our expectations.  As a fan of old school games, I love that it uses a random character generation method.  Nothing forces a player to engage creatively more than having to make sense of a pile of random abilities and super powers.  That being said, the character generation supports tailoring the character once the basics are rolled randomly, so it's definitely possible to nudge them towards a vision.  For the faint of heart, there is a point-buy option.

Icons uses qualitative descriptors for abilities that hearken back to the halcyon days of TSR's Marvel Super Heroes game.  We have characters with Great stamina, Amazing strength, and Incredible awareness.  It's a small thing, but I appreciate the tip of the cap back to the earlier days of the hobby.

The author calls out repeatedly that this was developed as a "beer and pretzels" super hero game - well suited to one-shots and pick up games.  We'll see how it goes for a few weeks before I gauge whether the players want to run a regular campaign with Icons (versus the dungeon crawling we were doing earlier in the summer).  All signs point to yes.  There are some basic advancement rules to support campaign play and character development.  Game balance with the random characters is a consideration for campaigns as well.  We have one character nicknamed "Kid Galactus" - the kids in the group refer to him as "totally OP, man".  A future house rule could be to add a range limit to the character's point totals, so that there isn't a wide a gap between the player character power levels if one of the random characters seems overpowered.

We've run two games in my anime-inspired FFA setting - Future Fantasy America.  I've also been calling it American Ninja Cowboys.  The players have been having a good time.  The 'American Ninja Cowboys' (or Rangers) of "Orca Team 6" from Pine City have been battling the evil Replicant Dioxide, an artificial life form built by the Ancients in the time before the current age.  I'll post game reports and additional notes on the setting later this week to provide more insight into what we've been able to do with the rules.

Friday, September 19, 2014

OSR Tools in the Super Hero Setting

I had some time this week to make progress on my super hero setting for Icons, a fantasy mash up I'm calling 'American Ninja Cowboys'. It draws inspiration from martial arts and super power themed anime like Naruto or The Last Airbender series, in a setting that's distinctly American and post-apocalyptic.

As a long time fan of OSR materials, I'm pleased and surprised by how much reuse I'm getting out of OSR publications and technology. Super hero plot hooks tend to be more mission oriented and reactive than what happens in a D&D sandbox - but that doesn't mean sandbox techniques don't have a place.  I'm structuring Future Fantasy America like a giant hex crawl with random encounters.

One of my go-to source books has been The Red Tide Campaign Setting.  Originally written for Labyrinth Lord, Red Tide has solid tools for creating interesting Border Sites, Cities, Courts, and Ruins.  It's vaguely post-apocalyptic as well.  The sandbox material is very strong, and the Red Tide specific material is superficial enough that it's easy to file off the serial numbers and use the sandbox techniques in any fantasy setting (even one with super heroes).  Pine City (the home base) and the environs in the Pacific Northwest are getting generated using Red Tide's sandbox systems.  There's a source book for running cities called Vornheim that I'm keeping on-hand as well to help with getting around, chases, that kind of stuff.

Icons has a handful of rules-light and old school attributes - foremost of which is random character generation tables!  With that in mind, I built an excel-based random character generator similar to what I'd do for a dungeon stocker in a D&D style game.  I've been able to generate NPC heroes and villains at a shocking pace.  Plus I lifted a lot of my NPC generators (traits and personalities) from other settings.

Ideally, I'd like to get some kind of random mission or plot hook generator put together, along with a relationship generator.  Characters in anime (and even comics, to a lesser extent) are always remembering pre-existing relationships with the villain they just encountered.

However, I'd like to have either a light touch or non-existent hand at pushing plots on the players - years of running plotless dungeons have conditioned me against scripting too much.  Hopefully the players develop some goals or ambitions that provide player-centric direction.  In the meantime, I'm considering how something like the 5-Room Dungeon can be adapted to super hero situations to help me structure scenarios.  Here it is again:

Room 1: Entrance And Guardian
Room 2: Puzzle Or Roleplaying Challenge
Room 3: Red Herring
Room 4: Climax, Big Battle Or Conflict
Room 5: Plot Twist

You can replace the concept of room with the phrase "encounter"; Entrance and Guardian becomes the initial problem, conflict, or crisis that manifests - ex: a murder in the city, or a rampaging monster from the spirit world.  Encounter 2 implies puzzle solving or investigation, Encounter 3 is a potential false lead or dead end, Encounter 4 is the confrontation with a main challenge, and 5 is the plot twist or lead into a future session.  The 5 potential encounters aren't linear, either - the 5-Room structure has been depicted lots of ways (here are some examples:  Gnome Stew's 5-Room Dungeons).

With any luck, I'll be able to get the players together this weekend to (randomly generate) some characters and be in position to try out the setting and system. I don't want to overdevelop it in case the idea bombs, either.  Of course, this is pre-release weekend for Khans of Tarkir (Magic the Gathering) so I should be off playing some Magic at least one of the weekend days.  The supers may need to wait a week.

Any other tools I should consider for generating content that would work well in Future Fantasy America?

To recap - work on the project so far has included snagging a few maps of America, replacing city names with generic FFA names like Pine City or Star City; I've used Red Tide's tagging and sandbox generation to make a handful of places (and scenario ideas emerged fairly spontaneously from there); I've used Excel to build some random generators.  It's been easy so far!

Friday, September 5, 2014

American Ninja Cowboys - A Supers Setting

"American Ninja Cowboys" is the working title while I figure out what the game is all about.  I'm sketching out a campaign setting that draws inspiration from The Last Airbender, Legend of Korra, Naruto, Inuyasha, and sundry Miyazaki films - and puts similar elements in a fantastic, wild west North America that feels like an endless frontier.  Those anime titles are the sources the kids are familiar with - essentially fantasy settings with super powered characters that can fly around and shoot things and use amazing magic powers.  It's an intriguing alternative to super powered settings I've done in the past, which always used the modern world.

I'm placing American Ninja Cowbowys in a mythic (future) America, long after a cataclysm merged the spirit world and the mundane world and civilizations are rebuilt anew, albeit widely spaced across western North America.  Gigantic spirit animals lumber across the wilderness, and the early survivors drew guidance and wisdom from relationships with totem animals  in the years after the destruction.  I'd like it to have a Native American vibe - there are powerful totem animals like Coyote, Raven, Bear, and Snake.  There are mythic locales across America, places like Lost Mesa or Devil's Tower or the Ghost Town, where frightening or numinous experiences await the bold.

Youngsters in the setting that are gifted at channeling power from the spirit world are trained from a young age by the Five Nation as guardians and protectors - they're the Jedi Knights of FFA (future fantasy America).  Any of the typical power sources in a super hero game can be made to work fine for this kind of fantasy game.  There are monsters and mutants and demons from beyond the spirit world, too - for instance, everything east of the Mississippi is in the Scarred Lands, the Land of Tears, and westerners avoid the forbidden zones.  Somewhere in the Scarred Lands sleep the Four Great Beasts of the Apocalypse.

It's a bit liberating how totally gonzo a super hero setting can be imagined.  You can freely mix Gamma-World style super weapons (liberated from the Land of Tears, of course) with gigantic Kaiju style monsters, martial arts combat, and characters with amazing powers.  Human society is organized into the five great nations, but there is a subversive "6th Nation" made of criminal masterminds and super villains that manipulates them all.

My biggest decision right now is around naming conventions.  I really enjoy anime and the fantastic Asian sounding names - something like "Raikage" sounds much cooler than "Lightning Shadow".  But I'm wary of cultural appropriation and misusing Asian or Native American sounding names insensitively.  I also need to come up with a good name for the guardian characters in the setting.  Functionally, they'll be a lot like Jedi Knights in the Lucasverse - people with extraordinary powers that act as protectors and agents.  Do I borrow Asian sounding names like Bushi, Samurai, or Shinobi, or European names like Knight, Agent, or Hero?  How about Rangers and Sheriffs?  FFA (Future Fantasy America) is going to have places like Tree City, Star City, and Wind City, I could get behind hero group names like Tree City Rangers - sounds like a sports team.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Belated Gencon 2014 Report - and Kid Cosplay

The kiddo has embraced anime cosplay
I've had trouble keeping my mind on gaming lately.  I started a sizable remodeling project back in June, assuming I'd get it done before the summer was over, and then BAM! - I look up and it's already August and the summer is fleeing across the sky.  Gaming has been taking a back seat to ripping up carpeting and tackless strips.  At this point I only have a few more weeks to go on the project - some ceramic tiling to do, tearing out the last of the carpet, and then laying new floors throughout the house - I'm hoping to be done before the end of September and be back to normal.  Painting and crown molding was all done earlier in the summer.

For those reasons, my online presence pretty much flat-lined since August and RPG stuff has been quiet.  Still alive though!  Here's what I saw and did at Gencon this year -  a belated Gencon report.

Zombies
My big focus was finding a good zombie board game.  I spent quite a bit of time in the dealer hall this year doing game demonstrations at various publisher booths - it's a great way to get a 20-30 minute exposure to a game ahead of buying one.  In the zombie genre, I tried Zombies!, Zombicide, and Last Night on Earth.  I thought Last Night on Earth was the most fun and best value, and ended up picking up a copy.  We've had fun with it so far.

Other Horror Board Games
I tried a bunch of other board games as well, and a couple of horror games stood out.  I'd been hearing good things about Touch of Evil, another game from Flying Frog like Last Night on Earth, and it was pretty fun.  It's one to pick up before Halloween, the best holiday, and one that's going to be here before you know it.  In Touch of Evil, you play investigators in a Sleepy Hollow style setting, gathering quest items to confront classic supernatural monsters like the werewolf or the Headless Horseman.  (It feels a bit like Elder Sign, a game from Fantasy Flight, with a different theme).    I'd also heard good things about Level 7, so we tried Level 7 Omega Protocol, which was also a lot of fun.  Players take on the role of elite soldiers in a Halo-style world infiltrating a lab full of alien-like monsters.  It's a highly tactical team-oriented combat game with cool mechanics - it was a bit pricey for the Gencon budget this time out.

RPG's
I brought the 5E starter along with our gear, in case our group had some downtime and wanted to try 5E.  All of the official 5E events were sold out.  Many of the guys in our local game group have been going out to Gencon with their sons, so we usually have 7-8 people in our party - more than enough to run our own games at the Con without recruiting.  But things were busy enough that we never did break out the 5E starter.

My oldest kiddo has been on  a gigantic anime and manga kick lately - his cosplay character above is 'Gaara' from a manga called Naruto.  One of my Gencon priorities was to try some super hero games and find an appealing set of super hero rules to run an anime-inspired supers game this year.  I am now the proud owner of Icons, a lightweight super hero game by Steve Kenson (of Mutants and Masterminds fame).  Icons reminds me a lot of the classic Marvel Super Heroes (MSH) from the 1980's and looks fine for a rules-lite anime-inspired superhero game.  The Green Ronin folks were super friendly and didn't mind spending time talking about the mechanics and doing some demo games.

Cosplay
Last year, the oldest kiddo ended up packing his Legend of Zelda Link costume and wearing it at the Con.  I didn't think much of it - he saw a lot of cosplay the year before, so I guess he thought it looked like fun and wanted to join in.  This year, he went after the cosplay aspect with commitment.  We teamed up to make a fantastic "Gaara" costume, he dyed his hair, and made me apply some light make up each day.  It was like touring Gencon with a minor celebrity - he got like 40-50 picture requests a day just walking around the dealer hall and whatnot and it took longer to get anywhere due to picture requests.  Apparently a lot of people know that Naruto show, a lot of folks knew the character.  He might be on to something sneaky smart though - I saw plenty of young ladies complimenting his costume and getting chatty.

Purchases and Related Stuff
From an RPG perspective, my main get this year was the hardcover edition of Icons published by Green Ronin.  Pelgrane Press (Trail of Cthulhu) didn't release Mythos Expeditions in time for Gencon, so I'm holding out for that one - I think it just went on pre-order.  The D&D 5e PHB was around, but I figure I'll wait a little before taking the plunge.

In the board game space, I picked up Last Night On Earth and a card game called Once Upon A Time - something for the younger kiddos and my daughter to do.  I also got in plenty of Magic the Gathering, and won a win-a-box tournament - that's two years in a row winning a box at Gencon, w00t.

This was my fourth Gencon.  We're getting pretty good at getting around the con and have picked up some basic tips and tricks.  I've got to do a Gencon tips post before next year, and find out how readers who attend get the most out of the con as well.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Treasure Map Example

A reader the other day asked for an example of how I'm using treasure maps to give the players clues around the dungeon.  The maps are simple, and have been found in piles of discarded gear or other treasure hoards.

Here's an example of the treasure map (the original is in the player's notes!)  It was found stuck in a reed basket in a room that looked like other adventurers used as a camp at one point - it was snagged on the weave.  The players were carrying it around for months:


Here's the area of quadrant 1-4 referred to by the treasure map.  These treasure maps aren't high impact techniques, but the players got super excited when they realized they knew the map reference and found a hidden cache.  I think the evolution of the technique will see maps that cross entire dungeon levels, and putting backstory behind the map makers.

Plus you get to see part of quadrant 1-4 from the game reports.  The complex on the right side of the map is the palace of Atalante and the chambers of her pig-men; Connell died in room 11 when he was eaten by an Ochre Jelly; the Brew Crew were camped in room 9 when the players jumped them.  Room 15 is where they found the pit with the satyr-head potion-fountain sticking out of the wall.  The large 20' wide north-south corridor is the road of the dead, the frieze-lined passage that spirals into the Underworld.  Near the bottom of the map, it turns west and slopes downward, meeting up with level 2 of Taenarum.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Level One Boss Fight - The Lord of Bones - Taenarum Game 10

Moe took the week off, so Moe's Marauders were temporarily under the command of Etor, the party's ranger, who planned the night's adventure.  I try to start every game of Taenarum back at the adventurer's hall, with the characters huddled around the tavern table and planning their excursion - the same way the players leaned in over the table to peer at their maps to start the game.

"I know we told that sorceress we'd explore quadrant 3 and search for the source of the giant insects, but we've got to go through quadrant 2 to get there."  Etor laid out the maps and showed the path.  "And since we'll be in quadrant 2 anyway, why don't we just poke our head into this area over here where the 'Arch of Greed' is supposed to sit, and see if there's really a big treasure nearby?"  The players in attendance voted unanimously for the Arch of Greed over giant killer insects.

There were preliminary encounters with a horde of skeletal animals, jaws clattering and tiny claws clicking on the polished marble floors, and a few treacherous skirmishes with swarms of flesh-eating scarab beetles.  The swarms reduce any explorers killed in the zone to bones, stripping the flesh and preparing the remains to join the skeletal hoplites that patrol the area.  The party used up all of their supplies of oil burning the scarab swarms.

The Arch of Greed was real, and it glowed with reddish sigils and glyphs.  As the reddish light washed over the characters, they began to sense the gold and silver they were each carrying, until their new 'detect precious metal' senses became aware of the large pile of coins beyond the archway and their attentions were drawn towards the hoard.  Beyond the arch was a short hall, and flickering lights illuminated a great pile of silver and gold coins.  A number of characters - Etor, Thaddeus, and Jax (a new guy) - were overcome by magical greed and hurtled themselves down the hallway.  The champion of Poseidon made his save and held the rest of the party back.

Unfortunately, while the three ensorcelled characters kneeled before the treasure pile and threw coins into the air, giggling like Scrooge McDuck, various skeletal hoplites crept forward from the shadows behind them, lowering their spears to skewer the characters overcome by greed.  Once the rest of the party caught sight of the skeletons, they shouted warnings and ran down the hallway to intervene.

There was one awful round where the greedy kneelers, oblivious to the skeletal threat, were stabbed at again and again by the skeletal ambushers.  Blood sprayed everywhere.  Jax was butchered and perished, and the others were sorely injured.  The rest of the party slammed into the skeletons, joining the battle, and Mac the Dwarf Cleric of Hephaestus was successful at turning the remaining undead.  The damage was done already - one party member was slain, the others grievously injured and required the use of healing potions.  The magic coercion of the Arch of Greed wore away once the trap was finished.

The party scooped up a few thousand coins, mostly silver obols but a fair amount of drachmas, and they discovered a strange, heavy spear hanging on the wall.  It was black meteoric iron, with symbols on the blade.  Assuming it's magical, the paladin hefted it and claimed it, leaving his wooden spear in its place.

They continued north in quadrant two and discovered the throne room of the Lord of Bones.  The boss eidelon sat on an onyx throne, wreathed in purple  Asphodel flames  that surrounded the throne.  The eidelon appeared like a flaming skeleton wearing bulky armor and wielding a large bident.  He mocked them from the safety of his throne.

"If you're so tough, Lord of Bones, come down here to the ground and fight us, man to man," taunted Etor.  The Lord of Bones is easily provoked, and gave up the invulnerability of the throne to face Etor in hand to hand.  "Mortal weapons can't hurt me, fool", boasted the Lord.  He stabbed with his bident, and the players learned the aura of cold fire that surrounded him burned anyone that attacked him physically, meaning they had to kill him quickly or get worn down by cold fire damage.

The black meteoric spear was indeed magical, and the champion of Poseidon stabbed the Lord of Bones a number of times with it, cutting through his ghostly form with the magic blade.  "The key you seek is in the room nearby,"  said the Lord, as he disintegrated and died.  "Enjoy your fleeting victory, mortals; my master will just create a new Lord of Bones in a few days..."  And then he faded away.

Among the treasure of the Lord of Bones was an over-sized skeleton key.  Way back in Game 3 (He Took an Ogre to the Knee) the players had wandered into quadrant two and found a mural room where the creature you touched on the wall materialized and fought you.  When the summoned monsters were defeated, the room revealed a secret door and a large glowing keyhole - the same size as the over-sized skeleton key.  The players wasted no time in navigating across the quadrant to the mural room, and readied themselves.  Instead of touching "ogre", this time they picked "goblin", and quickly fought off 8 magically summoned goblins.  It pays to be prepared.

The skeleton key fit the glowing key hole that appeared, and beyond was a simple treasury - a silver-inlaid drinking horn sat on a simple stone pedestal beneath a shining pillar of light from the ceiling.  The paladin picked it up, and the horn thrummed with power.  Players being what they are, they poured some water into it and took a drink - anyone who sipped the water was healed!  No, they didn't find the Holy Grail - this is the Drinking Horn of Hades, one of his 7 special objects, a piece of the Regalia of the Death God  (although the players don't know that yet - the significance or why it's important.  They're just to glad to have a cool healing item).

As they turned to leave, glowing red letters began to appear on the stone table.  The players gawked in dismay as the swirling letters arranged themselves to read thusly:  "Alantir of Athens now owns the Horn of Hades.  Alantir's current location:  Taenarum."  They threw a cloak over the pedestal to hide the lettering, and left the room.  Hopefully it would be a while before anyone else discovered how to get past the mural room and see the inscription of the table.

That's where we ended last game.  Pretty good all around.  At least half the group is on the cusp of leveling up, they've defeated a major boss and gotten an important quest item (even though they don't know they're on a quest).  What more can a referee want?

Cast of Characters
Alantir, Champion of Poseidon
Etor, Spartan explorer
Jax the Hunter (newly joined - and dead)
Maribel of Christmasland (Elf Enchanter - newly joined)

Hirelings
Fighting men - Dorus, Eutropios, Dunixi, Apostolos

NPC's
Barnabas - a thief
Thaddeus - a fighter

Stayed Home / Player Unavailable
Moe, a Bard
Talus, a Magic User