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Kingmaker: Blood for Blood, Session 4, Part 2

Faced with the prospect of being invaded by Brevoy, their much larger northern neighbor, so soon after barely beating back an invasion from Fort Drelev, their much smaller western neighbor, the rulers of Caerelia considered their options. They needed to fortify their border with Brevoy, obviously, but then what?

As D&D players, their first idea was naturally one of violence and trickery. What if they could assassinate a prominent member of Regent Noleski Surtova’s court – if not the Regent himself! – and plant evidence that the deed had been done by another faction within Brevoy? House Orlovsky would be an obvious patsy in such a false flag operation, as the Orlovskies were still committed to the long-vanished royal line and resentful of the Surtovas for seizing control of the kingdom. But then the planning got bogged down in logistical issues… and Orlovsky was one of Caerelia’s friends so it would be kind of a dick move to frame them for a murder… and Grand Diplomat Vendelin Fodorov worried that if the might of Brevoy fell on just a single house, it would be quickly crushed… and so they decided that it wasn’t such a great plan after all.

After some discussion, their thoughts turned to the possibility of distracting or weakening Brevoy by exploiting internal divisions within the kingdom. Aside from House Orlovsky, the rulers knew that there were long-simmering tensions between the city-state of Restov, which desired independence, and the Dragonscale Throne. If they could convince those groups, and maybe some others, to either sit out the war or to actually join Caerelia against the Regent, then perhaps they would stand a chance! A list of the various powers was made – the Great Houses Surtova, Lodovka, Lebeda, Garess, Orlovsky, Medyved, and the city of Restov – and the council started discussing onto which side each might fall, should an actual rebellion break out.

This was all rather amusing to me, as the PCs had spent the past few sessions trying to forestall a potential civil war in Brevoy by finding the lost royals (who remained un-found). Now they were hoping to foment that exact same civil war!

You Can’t Backstab a Backstabber

Vendelin dispatched a message for the Swordlords through his back channels, as Restov had been forced to recall its ambassador to Caerelia some years before. Then the representatives from Houses Orlovsky and Medyved were summoned before the council, one after the other. Kolto Orlovsky welcomed the prospect of fighting House Surtova directly, but would only pledge his house’s support if other Great Houses agreed to join the cause. Sroljir Medyved was more circumspect, and wanted to confer with his lord before committing to anything.

After a few days, Caerelia’s armies had moved up to garrison the town of Oleg’s Gate, and the rulers had provisional agreements with Orlovsky, Medyved, and the Swordlords. They had assumed that the Lodovkas and Lebedas were beyond their reach, and did not contact Garess for fear that it might get back to the Regent. As a condition for their alliance, the Swordlords of Restov had wanted Caerelia to wipe out or drive off the Nomen centaurs and expand into the Nomen Heights, so as to safeguard their southern border, but were ultimately talked out of that demand. House Medyved agreed to join the cause… but only if Caerelia broke its agreement with the Thieves’ Guild of Restov, expelled the guild from its borders, and removed the guild’s representative – their Royal Enforcer Ianomara – from the council. Luckily, Ianomara had not been privy to the negotiations!

After some reflection, the players concluded that the Thieves’ Guild had caused more trouble than benefit of late, and their personal cut of the guild’s profits no longer carried the weight that it once had. So no one was really opposed to the idea. But what would it mean to carry out Medyved’s wishes? Obviously they would be making an enemy of the Thieves’ Guild, and possibly Ianomara. They hoped they could buy her off with a few BP’s worth of gold, but the shadowy guild leadership would probably not go quietly into exile. The rulers would have to strike quickly, ruthlessly, and near-simultaneously. For they didn’t know what, if any, dirt the guild might have on them, or what fail-safes it had put in place to guard against what the council was now planning.

Next: execute order 66!

Where I Read: Captain Marvel, Part 17

Apologies for the small thumbnails here, there were a lot of full-page images I wanted to include. As always, you can click on the images to open the full-size version.

Captain Marvel #15 (cover date August ’69)

“That Zo Might Live… A Galaxy Must Die!” by Gary Friedrich (w), Tom Sutton (p), and Dan Adkins (i). New artist. We’ve gone from monthly to bi-monthly. The credits note that Gary Friedrich also did breakdowns, which is interesting – his Wikipedia page, at least, only credits him as a writer.

Mar-vell stands upon a lifeless asteroid, speaking to a voice in the void – Zo, his mysterious cosmic benefactor. The man of the Kree doubts that this is Zo speaking to him, and so Zo conjures up the entire history of humanity, from the cavemen to nuclear devastation to prove… something?… to Mar-vell, who isn’t even human. The follow-up act is an image of Mar-vell planting a bomb on his homeworld, which devastates the planet. The Captain refuses to do such a thing, but Zo says that it is his fate, and that “the power of Zo… is the power which controls the universe!” Then “the horizon explodes in a blazing inferno of blinding colors and meaningless spheres… floating aimlessly about the ever-pulsating mass of energy which is… Zo,” in another of the full-page trippy space-scapes that appear to be this mag’s current reason for existence.

More trippy-ness ensues. While Zo hurtles Mar-vell through more full-page weirdness, the Kree argues with himself about the nature of Zo – highly advanced species? Supreme being? Why would one so powerful need a mortal’s help? Then the Captain lands in a utopia full of waterfalls and beautiful people. Then he visits a hellish place with demons and the damned. Would such Christian imagery even have meaning to a Kree? Then he’s back where he started. He agrees to do Zo’s bidding, for he is obviously but a gnat next to Zo. The cosmic entity then shows an orbital view of Kree-lar, the “capital of the Kree Galaxy” and most populated Kree world. It is now time for Mar-vell to blow it up.

The Captain balks again. Dude. You just told Zo you would do its bidding! You already knew what its bidding was! Jeez. So Zo conjures up more images. “BEHOLD… TAM-BOR… PAGAIN GOD OF KREE-LAR’S FROZEN WASTELANDS,” the thing narrates, “To the eye, a harmless idol… but in reality… a dread menace which threatens ALL LIFE… ON EVERY PLANET!” Tam-bor doesn’t really look like some primitive idol; it’s a huge Kirby-esque metallic thing with a huge sorta-face that looks like maybe it’s buried halfway in the ground. The idol is the “greatest magnetic storehouse ever devised,” and as it grows in power, it will pull other planets out of their orbit. Mar-vell wonders, if Tam-bor is the problem, why not just destroy it and not the planet? But Zo says that the idol’s power source is the heart of the planet itself. Well, so what, Zo? You’re still home free if you just destroy the idol; the power source can’t do anything on its own, can it? But maybe Zo means that if you blow up the idol, it will cause a chain reaction and blow up the planet as well?

Needless to say, none of this makes much sense to me. But Mar-vell teleports himself to the city of Rad-nam, his birthplace, on Kree-lar. He’s spotted and instantly identified as a fugitive (wouldn’t the Kree think him dead, at best?) and gets in a tussle with an “Accuser Patrol.” He fights them, takes over their flying ship, and sets course for Tam-bor. The lead Accuser is shocked! “You must be mad,” he exclaims, “No Kree has ever gone near it… except those who have become its followers! But, since you are a traitor, perhaps you also worship Tam-bor! If so, let me warn you that you shall never spread your evil cult!”

The officer’s scolding is cut off by the appearance of a giant flying clam! It’s a warship of Tam-bor, and it overtakes and swallows the patrol craft! Warriors in space-armor with rifles surround the ship and inform the Captain that he is now a prisoner of Tam-bor!

Normally I’m a big fan of world-building type stuff, and I believe this is the first time we’re getting a look at what the Kree are really like (or maybe not? I’m not sure). But this is so haphazard that it just feels random. Which sums up the past 4 issues, come to think of it. Go blow up this pagan Kree idol that’s actually a doomsday device, which will also destroy the planet! What does pagan mean to a Kree? Do they have a non-pagan religion? How did the idol come to be? Why is its worship outlawed?

Next: Yet another creative team! What a mess.

PSA: Kingmaker Video Game Kickstarter

My apologies for all the Kickstarter posts; I actually don’t pay much attention to such things, normally. There’s just been a collection of interesting RPG-related Kickstarters these past few months.

I don’t personally know much about this one – I was alerted to it by a reader, and then saw some discussion about it on the Paizo message boards. It looks like a company called Owlcat Games is running a Kickstarter campaign to create a single-player video game based off the Kingmaker adventure path. I figured that would be of interest to readers of this blog! Chris Avellone is working on the project, a name that might be familiar to old time CRPG aficionados. He was one of the main designers at Interplay’s Black Isle Studio, which produced a lot of Baldur’s Gate-derived D&D games (Planescape: Torment, the Icewind Dale series) along with the original Fallout games. So while I’ve never heard of Owlcat Games, his involvement is promising.

The Pathfinder: Kingmaker Kickstarter campaign is here.

Where I Read: Captain Marvel, Part 16

Captain Marvel #14 (cover date June ’69)

“When a Galaxy Beckons!” by Gary Friedrich (w), Frank Springer (p), and Vince Colletta (i). Apparently this issue is part of a weakly-linked crossover with Sub-Mariner #14 and Avengers #64.

The Puppet Master uses one of his radioactive models to take control of Iron Man, and sends him against Captain Marvel. Why? Maybe the answer is in one of those other comics, but I’m not reading them to find out. They fight – sadly, at the missile base, in the shadow of the frozen Man-Slayer, and not in space as on the cover – and Mar-vell “wins” by virtue of Iron Man having a heart attack (don’t worry, he gets better). The Puppet Master blows up his workshop in frustration at Iron Man’s failure. Mar-vell teleports away. Not much else to say about the main story.

We then find our man of the Kree flying aimlessly through space before he finally alights on a dead hunk of rock and screams into the abyss. What is the meaning of life, why do I exist, etc. I thought his whole reason for existing was getting revenge on Yon-Rogg, but what do I know? Surprisingly, the abyss screams back! Wait, it’s just Zo, who reprimands Mar-vell for wasting his opportunity at revenge. Zo is tired of waiting – I know the feeling – and orders Mar-vell to teleport to his home planet in the Kree galaxy. We get a couple of full-page space illustrations as Zo conjures up an image said galaxy as a refresher for its servant. And… the end?

Next: The whole Zo thing comes to a head!

Kingmaker: Blood for Blood, Session 4, Part 1

In the aftermath of the Second Battle for Tatzylford, the survivors were tasked with clearing away the rubble and the dead… and with ensuring that wounded enemies joined the ranks of the dead. As the sun set on that scene of carnage, both human and animal scavengers had their fill. Guards were posted and patrols set, in case the routed enemy footmen rallied and returned to fight.

Remesio the cleric had survived his wounds, and Kisandra Numesti from Fort Drelev was located among the living. Aemon Trask, the enemy general, was nowhere to be found, but the unconscious body of a gnome with butterfly wings was discovered amid the remains of the lurkers in light. She was bound & gagged by the Caerelians, and thrown into the town jail.

The Lord and Lady Lezbin, rulers of Tatzylford, thanked their Emperor profusely for saving the town. The rulers’ promise to Kisandra to free her father was re-affirmed, and she was invited to stay in Stagfell until such time as she could be reunited with her family.

Before heading back to Stagfell themselves, the rulers wanted to question the faerie gnome. She named herself the Lady Kymera, a servant of the Queen of Forgotten Time, aka the Green Lady. Her mistress still considered the Stolen Lands to be hers, and had lent Kymera and her lurkers to the forces attacking the upstart human kingdoms that had taken root there, of which Caerelia was one. The PCs, fearful of both Kymera’s queen and the gnome’s own sorcerous powers, had her beheaded with a cold iron blade they had laying around rather than allow her the chance to escape captivity.

Drama Baroness

After happy hour allowed Remesio to wet his whistle and regain his prayers, the group teleported back to Stagfell, whereupon they had to deal with a diplomatic kerfuffle. The Baroness Pavetta Stroon-Drelev, kidnapped from her home in Fort Drelev by the PCs, was loudly and persistently demanding of her jailers that she be given quarters befitting her station while she awaited her ransom, along with a lady in waiting and regular time in the chapel.

Councilor Aurelius the halfling (aka Bill/Orseen’s other character, when he wanted to participate in rulership decisions) regarded her demands as a sneaky way to make it easier for Pavetta’s wizard brother, Imeckus, to rescue her, and was against the idea. Remesio and those on the council who were of noble birth were more forgiving. Luckily, the battle at Tatzylford had raised the PCs to 11th level, which meant the cleric had access to forbiddance. They figured he could lay the anti-teleport ward in her chambers, the chapel, and the path between the two, and then it would be safe to treat her as she requested. After all, they didn’t want to make any more enemies than they had to. With that safeguard in place, Satampra graciously acceded to the Baroness’ demands.

A long discussion about Pavetta’s fate, and Drelev’s, followed. Aurelius dreamed of being made Baron of the territory after it was forcibly annexed to Caerelia, and then marrying Pavetta to cement his claim in a Baratheon-Lannister kind of deal. The once-human Aurelius had come from a merchant family in Mivon, and wanted nothing more than to wed into a noble family. Pavetta’s wishes in the matter were not considered, and in fact Aurelius spoke of having her killed once he longer needed her for his title.

Rebuilding Month

When it came time for the Rova (September) 4718 kingdom turn, the kingdom’s Unrest was at a sky-high 14. Which was subsequently worsened by a rolled “1” on the Stability check at the start of the turn! Clearly, the kingdom was in a bit of a panic after being invaded, having a town sacked, and suffering almost 1,000 casualties. The council decided to unleash the Royal Enforcer Ianomara on malcontents and the like, using the war as an excuse to round up political enemies as traitors who were “known” to have aided the invading army. This lowered Unrest by 1 but also lowered Loyalty by 1. As Unrest was still greater than 10, they had to give up a claimed hex, and chose one in the nether regions of the kingdom’s southeastern frontier.

In other turn events, Emperor Satampra used the treasury to buy himself a set of Eyes of the Eagle that were for sale in the kingdom, raising Unrest even higher! But then Last Hope and Tatzylford were rebuilt and some additional defensive structures were created, which calmed things down somewhat. Finally, three armies were raised:

  • The Caerelian Immortals, a Colossal army of human fighter 1’s with 2 siege engines,
  • The Emperor’s Guard, a Huge army of human fighter 5’s with ranged weapons, and
  • The Grand Magus Order, a Large army of human magus 3’s with heavy warhorses and masterwork arms and armor.

The army of magi (i.e. fighter/mages) was a high point for Bill, who had been dreaming of an army of sword-wielding spellcasters since the campaign began. Now if only those roc eggs would hatch, they could have some real mounts… The new armies brought Consumption up to the level of the current treasury, which was somewhat worrisome, but it seemed like the kingdom’s income was high enough that they could swing it for long enough to conquer Fort Drelev.

Finally, in a fateful bit of foreshadowing, a Thieves’ Guild cache of counterfeit religious icons was unearthed in the wreckage of Last Hope, which added 1 to Unrest. One of the penalties of allying the kingdom with the Guild was a 20% chance each Event Phase that some nefarious deed would become public and Unrest would increase as a result. This particular event could not have come at worse time for the besieged Caerelia, and the rulers’ exasperation over the affair showed how their relationship with the Guild had frayed over the years.

NG Autocratic Kingdom (pop. 56,500)
Sunday, Rova 08, 4718 (Turn 96)

Size: 116; Cities: 7; Control DC: 146
Economy: +196; Loyalty: +154; Stability: +173

Fame: +37; Infamy: +6; Unrest: 6; Unrest/Turn: 0
Treasury: 131 BP; Consumption: 130 BP/turn; Income: +36 BP/turn

Kingdom Corruption: +4; Kingdom Crime: +3; Kingdom Law: +0
Kingdom Lore: +4; Kingdom Productivity: +2; Kingdom Society: +10

A few days after the turn had concluded, Grand Diplomat Vendelin Fodorov came to the council as it was making war plans with some urgent news. According to Fodorov’s contacts in Restov and southern Brevoy, the massing of armies that had been taking place earlier that summer was not in anticipation of Regent Noleski crowning himself king, as had been previously assumed. No, it now seemed that the armies were marching south – straight for Caerelia!

Next: a second front!


PSA: Torg Eternity Kickstarter

My old gaming buddies and I played a fair amount of the Torg RPG by West End Games back in high school. Torg was this bizarre game from the early 90’s that smushed several different genres (fantasy, horror, cyberpunk, pulp heroes, ninjas, and more) into one game with a ludicrous setting that attempted to justify it all. There were tie-in novels, splatbooks galore, and the promise of a metaplot (hey, it was the 90’s) that would be continuously updated with the events from everyone’s home game.

In the game world, different realities invade Earth simultaneously in order to steal its ample red-and-blue-colored “possibility energy.” But the invasion causes some of that energy to be unleashed, and special individuals get transformed by it into “storm knights,” heroes or villains who can use the energy to perform amazing feats. Each invading reality reflects a different genre or mashup:

  • The Living Land is a “Land of the Lost” style place with dinosaurs, lizard folk, endless jungles, and so on (North America)
  • Asyle is a fantasy world of wizards and warriors and dragons (British Isles)
  • The Cyberpapacy is like a cyberpunk version of the Spanish Inquisition (France)
  • Orrosh is a Victorian-era horror realm of monsters and fear (Indonesia in the original game)
  • The Nile Empire is an Egyptian-themed 1920’s pulp world (Egypt)
  • Nippon Tech is a world of near-future corporate intrigue, ninjas, and street samurai (east Asia)
  • Tharkold is a place where cyber-enhanced demons have enslaved humans, who developed psionics to fight back (Russia)
  • Akasha is a friendly realm that touches down later on in the war, an Aztec-influenced group of “space gods” who used bio-engineered organisms instead of machinery (South America)

And then there’s Core Earth, the bits of the planet that remained free from the invaders. The PCs are a group of storm knights attempting to defeat the “high lords” that rule each realm, and to roll back the invasion.

In some ways, Torg was a very 90’s sort of RPG – the metaplot, the splats, etc. In others, it was a bit ahead of its time in a couple of areas. It had a deck of cards – the “drama deck” – which gave players special effects to use during the game, and was also used to control the flow of encounters. And it had several “narrative” elements that are more common today, but at the time were pretty new (to me, anyway). The cards gave the players some limited (and random) authority to control or influence the narrative. The heroes and villains were automatically tougher and better than ordinary folk. There were hero/plot/destiny points to boost rolls. Encounters could be “standard,” where the PCs weren’t in much danger, or “dramatic” where the stakes were high, and the odds would be tipped against them in the latter. Published adventures were organized into acts and scenes, like a play or movie, and some mechanics were tied to that. Different realities had different rules meant to invoke the feeling of the realm’s genre. It was largely a “traditional” RPG, in today’s terms, but it specifically set out to re-create the cinematic feel of an action/adventure movie, and other movie genres in the other realities.

Anyway, West End Games went under a long time back. A German publisher, Ulisses Spiele, picked up the rights to the game and has a Kickstarter running right now to fund a new edition. The backing options are rather pricey – I’m told they did that intentionally in order to not poach sales from game stores, which I can certainly respect. So the Kickstarter is more for big fans of the original game, I would say, unless you just want PDFs. So far, the campaign has been a big success – they blew past their initial funding goal in the first few hours, and have been going like gangbusters since.

If you’re interested, the Kickstarter can be found here.

There’s also a Twitter feed that’s live-tweeting the “invasion” over here!

Where I Read: Captain Marvel, Part 15

Captain Marvel #13 (cover date May ’69)

“Traitors or Heroes?” by Gary Friedrich (w), Frank Springer (p), and Vince Colletta (i). It’s not a good sign when you get an entirely new creative team mid-story. Gary Friedrich would go on to co-create the 70’s Ghost Rider and Son of Satan. Frank Springer had a long career in comics and comic strips, but for whatever reason – rush job? – the art here is even worse than #11.

The opening page is the cover to a recent Time Magazine (50₵, cover date March 6th, 196-), which features pictures of both Captain Marvel and Dr. Walter Lawson. A banner reads: “Traitors or Heroes?” I suppose stealing the United States’ first manned rocket to the Moon would be big news! We are also informed via the narrator that the FBI is “desperately” searching for both men.

And yet… guess where Mar-vell is? In his hotel room, still dressed as Dr. Lawson. If I were the FBI, that would be the first damn place I looked! Mar-vell reviews recent events for our benefit, from Una’s death to his battle with the Man-Slayer. Except in this telling, the powers granted to our man of the Kree by the cosmic entity known only as Zo enabled him to beat the giant robot, instead of the reality – that the Man-Slayer was about to coup de grace Mar-vell before it lost power (thanks to the unknown actions of the Black Widow). Retcon or just wishful thinking on our hero’s part?

Mar-vell dons glasses and a big bushy beard so that he won’t be recognized. “I don’t know where I will go… but I must escape… and survive long enough to gain my revenge on Yon-rogg!” DUDE. You can teleport anywhere in the universe!!! Last issue you found Yonny and said you could destroy his space-ship like it was nothing! (although I doubt that claim now after getting beat down by the Man-Slayer) No one can stop you from surviving or from getting your revenge! DO IT ALREADY! Why are they dragging this out? It’s not a new direction if you keep on doing the same old stuff!

Instead, our hero hears a radio broadcast that the Man-Slayer is rampaging around the Cape again, and so he dons his Kree uniform and races off to save the day. Ugh. Although the Earthmen consider him an enemy, his “bond” with them is “too strong” for him to not help out, he reasons. Maybe he’s just procrastinating? I know when I have a task I don’t want to do, I will find all sorts of other jobs that “must” be taken care of first.

The Man-Slayer is actually not immediately hostile; it has power but no instructions. But when Mar-vell attacks it, it fights back. Mar-vell is forced to run when the soldiers join the fight against him, and figures the only safe place he can go is Yon-rogg’s ship, which is still in orbit around Earth (weirdly, last issue it was flying through space to parts unknown). Uh, how is that a safe place? But there’s a shield around the vessel (the aura of negativism, maybe?) which blocks his teleportation.

By the way, what happened to that whole thing with the Black Widow and the Man-Slayer’s unseen operator from last issue? She was taken captive last issue, and now… nothing.

But guess what! The Kree spaceship, the Helion (I think they used that name for all of one issue), is being resupplied, which means there’s an opening in the shield. Mar-vell sneaks on board and confronts Colonel Yon-rogg. Despite all of his Zo-granted powers, Mar-vell doesn’t even put up a fight as Yonny beats the stuffing out of him. All the while Yon-rogg rants about how he’s the victim and how once Mar-vell is dead, he will bring Una back to life and she will be his wife. Is it madness, wonders Mar-vell, or is there some way to restore his beloved? Alas, we won’t ever find out, because on a nearby screen we see the Man-Slayer menacing Carol Danvers down on Earth. Mar-vell lunges for a lever that lowers the boom (literally) on Yon-rogg, knocking him out. Mar-vell doesn’t kill his unconscious foe, despite that supposedly being his SOLE REASON FOR EXISTENCE right now, because… he just doesn’t, no real reason. Instead he grabs the “lasonic disintegrater” [sic] and teleports back to the missile base. Allow me to repeat: Ugh.

Carol is being held by the Man-Slayer, and Mar-vell doesn’t want to shoot for fear of hitting her. “Forgive me, Carol! I would rather die than harm you, but hundreds of lives are at stake! So I must act!” Carol is okay with that: “What happens to me doesn’t matter… now that I know you care!” UGH. Mar-vell shoots, grazes the Man-Slayer, turns the gun’s setting to maximum power, shoots again, and severs its power cable. All’s well that ends well, right? But wait! Carol forgot that Captain Marvel is wanted for treason! “How can I have you arrested,” she asks, “when you just saved my life?”

Next: please, God, let this be over soon. No, wait, he’s going to fight Iron Man.