Saturday, February 16, 2013

Time Flies - Days and Weeks Roll Along in the Black City

Keeping a good calendar is fundamental to how I run the long term campaign.  One of the boss's popular quotes:    "You can not have a meaningful campaign if strict time records are not kept".*  Okay, that's a bit over the top - I'm sure some folks have run meaningful campaigns sans-calendar - but I take the importance of keeping a calendar to heart.  A few years ago I posted some basic notes on putting together an annual campaign calendar:  Happy New Year, Greyhawk.  I typically mark off holidays, generate weather, and seed a series of campaign events at the start of each game year.  In this way, you start to put the larger world outside the dungeon, "in motion".

As the campaign moves to mid-level play, and the characters begin to execute strategic plans requiring the passage of time, the calendar becomes important for mapping out when these activities will conclude and what kind of interruptions happen.  I'm raising these points now, as days and weeks have been rolling by in the Black City campaign, and the calendar is proving its value.  When we resume play next game session, 25 days have passed.

So where did the time go?  First, the players needed to spend about a week back in town, receiving a daily Cure Disease spell from the Jarl's cleric, to remove their radiation sicknesses.  They used the interim time to recruit various resources to help in their upcoming ventures.  Those ventures involved re-entering the dungeon with a large party of hired retainers, to exploit some of the opportunities left behind - to copy the alien Disintegration spell onto a scroll, to recover the remaining dragon's hoard, and to teach a trained blacksmith how to use the alien plasma forge to craft the adamant blanks owned by the party into adamant weaponry.  These activities took about 10 days in the dungeon, and the players returned to Trade Town with enough experience for a few stragglers to level up.  Now the elves and magic users need additional time to add 2nd level spells to their spell books.  This is how it all added up to 25 days.

The great thing about the table top form is the ability to count through the days quickly when appropriate, zooming down to the tactical level as necessary.

Part of recruiting resources was negotiation and horse trading.  Valens Lascarius, the Byzantine commander from across the fjord, hired out a party of Varangian soldiers along with another Russian elf, Zakhar, to form a camp in the dungeon and scribe the Disintegration scroll - allowing the PC's to go elsewhere.  The two party elves, and the surviving magic user, all came to Thule with Valens, and joined the party as new player characters to replace fallen characters; in other words, the players have a relationship with the Byzantines.  Those player characters are ostensibly apprentices of a wizard in Constantinople, with the over-arching mission of identifying new magic to bring back to their master.  Since their goals aligned with Valens, they were lent the services of a 5 Varangians, 10 Byzantine soldiers, and Zakhar.  (They still have to pay wage day-rates).  Valens also wanted to make sure his boss, the High Hermite of Constantinople, got a piece of adamant.

Bergfinn was willing to lend them the use of his blacksmith, in return for a gift of one of the adamant weapons they made.  They also needed to pay the smith's daily rate, and take an oath to keep him alive.

Along their travels, they ran into an excursion of Dokkalvir from the fairy realm.  The queen of the Dokkalvir has a strong interest in obtaining her own piece of adamant, and the elves set right to bargaining.  That makes three groups trying to chisel some adamant away from the players.  Historically, the players had a series of previous interactions with the Dokkalvir; Agnar was abducted by the elf queen and given terrifying visions of the future; Dokkalvir guided them past a dangerous monster lair at one point; another group of Dokkalvir was enslaved by Zoltan, a demon intelligence, and threw in with the players to help them overturn Zoltan's reign of terror just a few weeks ago.

No need to recount the detailed play-by-play of this session.  It's going to take Zakhar and the Varangians about 30 days to create the Disintegration scroll, so they fortified a series of rooms in the dungeon and loaded up a ton of supplies.  Most of level 1 is "pacified" at this point, but there's no guarantee it will stay so.

The players had acquired enough Thulium energy discs and pure adamant for the smith to create a pair of hand weapons - a scimitar and broadsword, three spear heads, and two daggers.   Then it took the smith some time to finish the hilts, mount the spear heads on hafts, and so forth.

Chaos and tragedy awaited the players back in Trade Town.  While they were gone, an accident happened in camp, and the tent of their ship captain, Paulson, burned to the ground, killing the captain and damaging the ship.  Was it an accident, falling asleep drunk and knocking over a candle, or was it murder?  Much of the crew abandoned the ship, after looting handfuls of the party treasure, before loyal henchmen left behind were able to take control of the camp and secure the party treasure.  (The henchmen had to pass their own loyalty checks, but none of them deserted - those retainers need a raise!)

That's about where we ended.  The party returned, triumphant with their new forged adamant weaponry, only to learn about a quarter of their treasure was robbed, and many ordinary sailors had abandoned them.  They've got some things to figure out - they'll need a captain and a navigator and repairs to the ship, as well as a new crew.  No one is happy about the disloyal sailors - those sailor oaths were to Paulson, not the players - but some of the guys are spoiling for payback and trying to search for the deserters among the other crews.

It's now mid-July in-game - the month of Midsummer by Norse reckoning - and it's almost time for the island's Thing - an assembly of the captains.

Should be interesting to see what the players do next.  Incidentally, some of these events have represented the convergence of calendar events and prophecy, returning us full circle to how I started this post and the value of a calendar.  Back when I generated the annual calendar, one of the events that was set on the calendar was a fire (June 28th); when Agnar dallied with the Queen of Air and Darkness and saw visions of the future, he learned of a fire that would strike the player's camp in the summer; when it came time for the fire to happen, I made simple chart with various possibilities, chucked some dice, and the rest is history.  So far, two of the Queen's prophecies have come to pass, though the players failed to identify the first one.  Suddenly, the remaining prophecies are much more concerning.  Here's the queen's vision (from Black City game 9, last October):

First would come the fish men, men wearing large scales like the sides of a fish; the player's ship, the Isgerd's Fury, would burn to the ground.  A great king would die, dark clouds would obscure the horizon, and then a massive fleet of viking raiders from a far off land would arrive on the island.

We are now firmly moving into mid-level play.  Here is the current disposition of the party:

Cast of Characters
Agnar Beigarth, a Northman fighter (L4)
Mustafa of Arabia, a scimitar wielding desert warrior (L4)
Brutok the Strong, a dwarf (L4)
Borghild, a Norse cleric of Odin (L4)
Timur, Russian Elf (L3)
Vitaly, Russian Elf (L3)
Mr. Underfoot, Halfling (L2)

Retainers with the party:
Tribunas, Byzantine magic user (L2)
Bottvild (cleric L3)
Visin Thorsteinson (fighter 3)
Hunlaf the Saxon (specialist 3)

Level 1 Retainers that stay with the camp:
Skoldig (specialist), Fafnir (fighter), Halam (cleric), Ivar the Bow-Bender (specialist), and Grimson (fighter)

*The quote is Gary Gygax, of course, from the DUNGEON MASTER'S GUIDE.


  1. I love the idea of writing the fulfillment of a prophecy into a secret calendar to occur on a specific day, but waiting until that day draws near to figure out how to best have it fulfilled. That really solves a lot of the problems that come with putting prophets and oracles into a setting. Nice tip!

  2. I agree; record keeping and calendars are insanely important, not only for flavor (what month is it? Oh... I dunno...) but also for any kind of strategic action. Even the simplest maneuver of getting new weapons and armor generally requires them to be made and thus a wait of several weeks is not uncommon.

  3. Here's an incredibly useful tool for generating an important part of your calendar:

    It's a weather database run by Utah State University. It's not terribly user-friendly, but once you figure it out you can do an amazing thing.

    Once of the toughest parts of the calendar (to me, anyway) is coming up with realistic day-to-day weather changes. So what I do is pick a part of the world with a similar climate to where the characters are adventuring, and get the real-world daily weather data for that area.

    I like using Albuquerque: It's cold enough in the winter to present serious challenges, but not so cold as to force everybody to stay inside if important quests need completion, and warm enough in the summer to allow pretty much anything to happen without getting so hot as to keep people indoors.

    So I pick a weather station in Albuquerque, set the dates from Jan 1 to Dec 31 that year, and generate my weather for the fantasy world. It gives me, for each day, the high and low temps, the amount of rain and snow fall, the depth of snow, and even the humidity.

    Many weather stations have a lot of missing data, so you may have to hunt around, but once you find one with all the data, you can generate all your weather for the year and get it in an Excel spreadsheet.

    Super, super, super useful.