Note: This is an old session report (I’m posting it two years from its original posting) from an old blog of mine I dug up, I figured I might as well preserve it here so I can delete the old blog!
The party has been delving through Golden Barge for the third day in a row. In my game, the Golden Barge exists in Carcosa, so they’ve spent the few sessions trekking across laser-beam scorched wasteland to arrive that this ship in the hopes that they can use it to get back home.
The big thing that made this session so enjoyable for me was the lack of combat. This was informed by two things:
In Room 18, there are three glowing rings cut into the stone floor. They glow blue and crackle with static electricity when you touch them. The PCs played around with them for awhile until they realized that a session or two ago they had stripped a giant copper ring off of a mutated vulture that fit right into the rings.
I’ve been trying to get better about the immersion aspects of my game, without being overly obtuse. So instead of saying “a portal pops up.” I tried to give them the old “a semi-translucent disc floats about a foot off the ground surrounded by green fire.” They’ll figure out soon enough that it’s a portal, but those first two seconds of description got me a lot of buy-in from the players.
There are three rings with three portals and I scraped together three basic universes for the PCs to possibly venture into:
That’s how I think of it in my mind to keep it simple. But I’ll flesh them out as they explore further. They took a look into world 3 and saw a towering ashen metropolis filled with bridges and snow. They’ve been to Vornheim before, so this looked familiar-ish. Bookmarked for later.
Next they saw the glittering golden temples towering above a canyon of rivers down below and connected via rope bridge (stolen from GoT’s Iron Islands), and said “Hmm, okay, we’ll check that out later.” That was world 1.
Then they went to world 2 where they saw a world with inverted colors (white wheat, a golden sky, green barns), that otherwise looked like ours. They were dropped off in a field there and the world looked peaceful. They’re playing murderhobos though, so generally they want to invade these new worlds and take their stuff.
Enux goes and investigates the barn at the bottom of the hill in world 2 and finds a very friendly husband and wife, farmers, who’d gladly have the party over for soup. They have button eyes though. That’s buttons for eyes, and the party is suspicious, but also wants their stuff.
That’s what half the party is doing.
The other half is following around a wandering monster - and by the rules of the Golden Barge (which acts like an organism), all of my wandering monsters are dead (the PCs temporarily destroyed the machine/organ that grows them), so when I got that roll of 1 I decided that corpses of the Ghul’s would eventually crawl back into the room that spawned them to be re-grown. So, we’ve got this Thing-like mass crawling back to whence it came, and roguey Doc decides to follow it, while Vodecius, who’s main goal is generally to stay alive, waits by the portals.
We play at an office in a conference room at night, so its easy to split the party up. Players get a chance to grab a drink or check their phones when they’re in another room, and develop plans, while the players at the table get a chance to really batten down the hatches and play.
This also creates those private moments where PCs can do things no one else is aware of. Finding extra treasure, hiding secret weapons, and I think those moments are important. It’s hard enough creating a shared fantasy world with six people - but it’s even harder when you know everyone’s going to be watching what you’re doing all the time. Sometimes we get down to one or two players and those players decide, fuck it, this gold is ours. And I like that.
However, it also stops a lot of analysis paralysis because the split apart group can be days or hours away from the others. Maybe even just two turns or so, but still, they need to make a decision NOW. And instead of the oh so common “Wait, don’t do that, we’re going to meet up with you!” That I normally get, and then the half-assed, “Well, we can assume they would have known that.” We now have players acting the way people who don’t plan act - a little fucked. Which in turn, generally leads to more interesting play.
To put it simpler: in my game PCs are more likely to burn down a castle if only two of them get to make a decision, rather than if they make that decision as a committee.
In the turns box you can see my X’s. Each turn is 10 minutes, so each row is an hour. The W’s on turns 3 and 6 are to remind me to make wandering monster checks (those are the blue highlights in the second picture).
We had no combat this session so the rounds box was useless. But below you can see that those get X’s. The O’s are just to differentiate between different combats. This is helpful for knowing how long spells last as I can just put “P5” for potion 5 in a box 5 rounds or turns later, and generally, I’ll remember it.
Below that I keep notes, for these session reports, and then below that is what to prep for next time. This has been the most important box I generally use. When I say “This is the ruling for now, but I’ll have something better for you next time.” That’s where that goes. Or if I improv an encounter that needs real work to make good, I’ll put it there. HP tracker is on the right in the first pic and in the upper right in the second. If they got XP I would’ve done that in the HP tracker box on the right as well.
The point though is - the tracker helps. And it creates more interesting play. When someone asks “Can I do something?” The answer is “Yes, that’ll take a turn.” Since players know about Wandering Monster checks, they know a turn is a resource. So if they want to keep trying to pick that lock - that’s fine! Torches run out (T6!), so they know turns matter.
An X means that turn is over, obviously. A slash means that half the party has experienced that turn, the other half hasn’t. Meaning, if the party splits into two groups, one of them goes and sits in the other room, while one of them plays for a bit. The group that plays, I mark their turns with a slash. Then when I go back to the other room, I mark their turns with the other slash. Now, everywhere that’s an X is time that BOTH groups have experienced together. If they brake up into smaller groups (which they do) I just use a tick (half a slash). So this system basically allows for four groups to split up and keep track of time.
I can’t TELL you how helpful this has been. Gygax says you can’t have a good campaign without detailed records of time. But he doesn’t really go about how to do that. That’s part of the charm of D&D where rules and imagination always meet at a crossroads and conflict happens.
I keep a calendar so that we know when big shit is going to happen (your workers need to eat, this building will be done, you can research that spell again), and then I use this journal to track day by day time. That’s all I’ve needed so far. But if PCs started doing stuff on a yearly or monthly scale, I’d zoom out to that level for awhile too.
The half of the party inside the Golden Barge followed the mutant Ghuls to their spawning room and just decided, “Fuck it,” and burned that room down. Now the entire ship leaks black ichor from the ceiling, wherever they are. They met up with the other group who said, “Yo, there’s Coraline people here, I want to take their stuff, but lets take the stuff in the place we already came to first.” Everyone agreed, so they’ve taken the copper ring with them (and with it the portals), and kept adventuring.
They found a hidden metal box with warm silver rods in it. Half the party was extremely scared (“Leave it in the box!”) while the other half had no idea what radioactivity was. Some people get hung up on “Would they know about that?” And I generally just go with the player on it.
They found a control room with a large throne and metal skullcap attached to it and intrepid Vernard decided to put it on. He failed his save vs. spells and went catatonic for five hours and lost something like 3 Wisdom, which I think means he won’t be able to convert people to the new religion of Gorbel they’ve been passing off on unsuspecting rubes. Oh well!
They brought Vernard to a sleeping pod room and spiked the doors and we stopped there for the night.
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