Friday, April 23, 2021

ACKS Session 16: The Dice Abide


pondering how brosr is objectively correct
True D&D is a rollercoaster ride of unprecedented player success one session to apparent catastrophic failure the next. Last session my players used party composition and careful wilderness and dungeon crawling to come out ahead with an easy score where every single attending PC leveled. I started to wonder if I had become too soft. Am I a bad DM? Too easy?


Allowing and encouraging true player agency means that some days the players will put all the pieces together and/or get lucky and some days the opposite will happen. This week, the opposite happened.

Session Report

This week the players had hooks on hooks on hooks to choose from. I finally got around to figuring out what happened to Marn (PC Mage Level 2) after he was captured by hags who handed him over to Ferigno the green dragon for reasons. Mandonio (PC Fighter Level 2) was also handed over to Ferigno but the dragon ransomed him over to the Legate of Turos Tem about a week ago. Mandonio reported that the dragon kept Marn so as to force Marn to communicate with his (Marn's) supernatural patron (demon). Perhaps Marn's patron would help him out of this jam? Who knows!

I delivered to the other players, in the chat, what they learned about what happened to poor ol Marn:

"One of the PCs who is staying at the Travelers Inn on 04/20/21 is awakened at 3 AM in his room by the sound of Marn's voice moaning in pain and confusion. Looking about the room he sees Marn's face jutting out of the doorknob at the nightstand next to the bed. Marn can't appear to hear what the PC says but communicates a message of 280 characters which the player will tweet or put in the chat channel at his leisure. Upon delivering the message the face juts back into the wood and disappears. Looking inside the drawer the PC finds Marn's hand but it is tattooed with words in the common tongue written backwards. Holding the hand up to a mirror it states 'I've got good news. The Mage you like is going to come back in style!' The hand appears to have been tattooed with a map of a small portion of tunnels under Cyfaraun (spelled Cyfarawn). The tunnels lead under the Old District with an X marked 'the stench of riches! Re-attach the hand down and to the right.'"

Marn decided to make a new tw1tter account for the occasion of conveying his doorknob message. We're inventing new ways of engaging with the campaign here at the #brosr

Well, the players LOVED this hook. One stating it brought tears to his eyes. Yllmeeton (PC Shaman Level 3) even contacted his deity with Commune to learn more about it, finding out that Marn was alive and could maybe be saved. The players wanted to pack up all the treasure they have been unable to sell and go to Cyfaraun, a pretty big town they could likely sell it, and then look into the Marn hook ASAP. Problem was, it's a week or longer away, even on the fantastic Auran roads. Time compression becomes a concern. 

The players spent an hour discussing how they wanted to deal with this. I informed them the roads make a big circuit around the Borderlands and they could take a clockwise or counter-clockwise route. The clockwise route taking them past a small town, Siadanos, where they could attempt to sell some stuff as well. The Counter-clockwise route taking them past many border forts with more hooks on top of hooks. Realizing they wanted to use their B Team for those other hooks (mostly) they decided on the clockwise route. It was new land they had yet to explore.

Map of the borderlands with
sophisticated fog of war technology

Their plan was to travel for less than a week and take on a hook they found along the way, hopefully finishing up in Siadanos as a new home base before next session and leaving them able to play these PCs against next session, taking on the second leg of the journey to Cyfaraun at that time. Brilliant!

Real life session minutes fell away. Players tossed more questions at me about the Turos Tem economy, the price of rations, how fast their mule cart could go.... on and on. The glory of ACKS and its spreadsheet heavy gameplay was in its glory. I mean that unironically. 

Finally, however, they had a handful of mercs, their mule cart, their light repeating ballistae, their henchmen, and their hunting dog Pansy all gathered up to leave Turos Tem. Some of the heavy trade goods were left in the Merchant Guild warehouses in Turos Tem and they departed the village on the morning of of 04/21/21 en route to the small town of Siadanos. 

As they traveled along the river on the road for the first few hours of the trek BriarWhisper (Elven Ranger Level 3) caught sight of some Giant Carnivorous Flies coming towards the party from a stagnant pool near the river. The party saw nothing to gain from dealing with these ugly things and Evaded the encounter successfully. There were no other encounters for the rest of the day nor the next.

On the evening of the second day, at the end of evening watches just before sunrise of the third day of travel, Daria (PC BladeDancer Level 4) caught sight on some weird eyed undead watching the party from the tree line some 30 yards off the road. She carefully woke up all the party's combatants and various missiles were launched at the threatening figures. Two were killed before the undead slowly retreated back into the wood. Were they spies? Failed a morale check? Strange!

The party waited until sunrise and went into the wood to retrieve their missiles, BriarWhisper sadly lost two of the three magic arrows he shot into the forest. Yllmeeton lost his axe. Very sad. 

The creatures appeared to be normal zombies, as far as Daria could tell. Though she's no expert on undead. The wood itself had tall trees and less underbrush than the Viaspen. There was an eerie calm to it, BriarWhisper noting the lack of scurrying varmints and twittering birds. The party hit the road again, going west.

Some hours later I rolled a random encounter "Cleric". That's it. That's all I had. I faced the fear I always had of these classed NPC on the random encounter charts. I often design bespoke random encounter charts to take these guys off since I worry I won't be able to quickly come up with a reason a single Cleric or lone Fighter is hanging out in the wilderness when it hits on my random encounter chart. But ACKS, preparation, and humor saved the day.

I used the ACKS Player's Companion to roll up the Template for the Cleric, giving me a general idea of what kind of cleric he was. I got "mendicant" which is a sort of wandering village healer with a pet dog. Well, to me, this sounded like The Dude if he was a Cleric, of course. So I leaned into it. 

He waved at the party and approached to chat. "What news of the road, man?" he lazily drawled out. The party told him about the zombies they saw. "Oh yah man, I was on my way to take a look at that. People think there's a powerful head honcho zombie out there or something. I don't know man, it kind of creeps me out but we can't just let zombies run amok, right?" On it went.

entry 7 on my random
encounter table. how about yours, man?

What was he talking about? Well, the dungeon I had already placed on my regional map sometime back, had a Big Bad. Well, ACKS proper placed it and I skimmed it real quick about a year ago. It seemed fun. I made a mental note back then about it and the interesting villain. 

I had already decided the zombies that hit on the random nighttime encounter came from there. So ofc The Dude was looking into it. This is how the oracular power of the dice can work easy (and fun) prep to deliver something unique. Modular materials are helpful in this case. Not as the main crux of a campaign but as useful pieces to fit into the puzzle of what interests the DM and the players. 

Yllmeeton used Sense Power to gauge The Dude as being about 5th level and the party decided if they were going to hit the point of interest in question, now would be the best time. Free level 5 cleric as backup if you act now! Off they went into the forest, leaving their mercs and mule cart on the road and hoping for the best.

Yllmeeton was able to use his Owl familiar to spot a weird clearing in the woods some 5 to 10 miles deep and use the owl to guide them there. The owl wasn't particularly thrilled about it, pointing out how flying monsters might swoop and kill him at any moment "like almost happened last time with the Chimera. When is your god going to give you the power to fly so you can do the scouting?"

Lusaun Forest. Less viney, #biggertrees

The eeriness of a quiet animal free wood continued as they traveled. They eventually came to the clearing and there was a titanic statue that had fallen decades (centuries?) ago overgrown with vines and leaves. The oak trees surrounding it were strangely dead wood with gray sprouting leaves.

The party investigated the marble base the statue had once stood upon and found stairs going down under all the vines and brush. Lighting a torch, they delved inside.

The place was clearly an old Zaharan crypt, the strange old human race that buried their dead rather than burning them like properly civilized (Lawful) folk. The ceilings were low and the rooms were cramped. The party looked around finding a run down dining room and a kitchen with a recently decapitated and gnawed on head in the brick oven. Delicious! 

BriarWhisper tracked footprints to a room with an unholy altar and muddy prints going into the back wall; clearly a secret door but how to open it? The Dude cast Bless on the unholy altar stating it would weaken undead in the place for an hour or so. The party wanted to push it over and, in the attempt, pushed a weird rune on the altar which triggered a secret door on the back wall. 

Stairs led down into darkness and a floor covered with 2 feet of water. The party used a grappling hook to fish in the water to avoid pit traps and found none. Their hope the knee deep water would only be along the first hallway came to naught, the entire level was flooded. They came to a large circular room with a column in the center and exits at every cardinal direction. Hearing zombies down two of the hallways they moved quickly to trap one throng in the hall, down it, and move on to the other; so as not to face both at once.

The battle against the western hallway went swimmingly, zombies easily downed and turned. Running across the large room to the eastern hallway they engaged the next group, which unfortunately had ghouls! Daria jumped into the fray and downed one after Overbearing a zombie to get to a ghoul. BriarWhisper shot some zombies  down. Gaius sliced some heads off with his magic sword. But Yllmeeton got in the fray and didn't fair nearly as well. A ghoul scratched at his legs ripping up his tendons and felling him. The shaman was bleeding out unconscious face down in the water. Daria was worried he was going to drown but the party didn't have time to deal with that.

Because suddenly the Head Zombie jumped wailing out of the water right behind BriarWhisper and ripped his elf eyes out. He fell on his back in the water and floated strangely completely on top (elves are weird).

undead + flooded level = fun!

The Dude was able to Turn the ghouls and the party could focus on fighting the crazy undead lady who was chewing on BriarWhispers eyes laughing. She appeared to be a priestess of Dirgion but with gray bark skin, teeth like daggers, and moving supernaturally quickly. It was a long battle of back and forth with her but eventually Gaius decapitated her. The clerics moved quickly to heal BriarWhisper and Yllmeeton but their injuries were very serious. Both would need a month of bed rest before they could adventure or do much of anything again. Even worse was what The Dude had to say: "hey man.. uh.. your elf friend isn't waking up man. His eyes are all messed up but he's like in a coma or something. I think it's that chick, man. She put the juju on him or something."

The surviving party members were concerned but not so much so to not explore the remaining room quickly for treasure. They found a couple open sarcophagi whose runes were recently painted. Inside were a bunch of antlers worth a bit of gold back in town (treasure!). The group was bagging them up when they heard Yllmeeton yelling from the previous room were he was convalescing near the last battle. "Guys! She's getting up the lady is getting up!"

The zombie priestess was putting her body back together including screwing her head back on. She laughed at Yllmeeton and said she'd eat him last, starting by opening up his stomach. Gauis, Daria, and The Dude ran back and started their second battle with her. She got a couple of good bites and claws on Daria and The Dude but her razor sharp fingers couldn't get past Gaius' armor or superb legionnaire sword and board training. He eventually lopped her head off again. 

The zombie priestess's spinal column was attacked to her head and it began to spin like a propeller to send her head zooming across the flooded dungeon like a motorboat, laughing gleefully and insulting the PC's hygiene and paternity. Gaius took chase. It took a turn to catch the head while I checked for random encounters. No dice.

Daria said "lets get the hell out of here". They carried BriarWhisper and supported a limping Yllmeeton. Once outside the party burned the zombie's head wherein she laughed and wailed madly about how she'd haunt the dreams of the PC's children and pets. After all her flesh and hair burned away, she finally shut up. Gauis bagged the skull as a trophy. They escaped the forest some hours later returning to their wagon and mercenaries who, thankfully, hadn't faced any random encounters.

The injured PCs were placed on the mule cart and the whole litter traveled down the road towards Siadanos for a few hours before sundown. Daria and the Dude had horrible nightmares about the zombie lady disemboweling them in slow motion and were unable to sleep. The Dude theorized that getting scratched and bit by her cursed them somehow with these terrible dreams. Nothing else eventful happened that night during camp nor on the next day of travel and the party arrived in Siadanos.

BriarWhisper was taken to the Temple of Ammonar by the Dude who promised to do everything he could to cure the condition BriarWhisper's condition was in. Yllmeeton would need a month of rest and his henchlady Marina got him set up with a room and some food and a nurse now and then. 

Most of these same PCs walked into Turos Tem victors, weighed down by spoils last week. This week they limped into Siadanos with two nearly dead compatriots and a handful of antlers to show for it. You never know what can happen in real D&D!


I considered not writing all this out since this particular blog entry has ran very long indeed. I wonder if anyone will actually read to this point. If you do read this far you gain 1 Dubs Point to be redeemed on Tw1tter for a followback for yourself or your fren with the coupon code "dudesrock1776". (Limit to the first five!) 

However, so much happened the day AFTER the session was played, during downtime, that I believe it to be a major part of Session 16 itself. Worth documenting. A campaign with hooks falling from the rafters suddenly had even more. All thanks to the oracular power of dice.

The Dude took BriarWhisper's body to the Temple of Ammonar, the most politically powerful sect of the Empyerean faith (state religion). He met with Prelate Antoninus alongside Daria. The old balding and judgmental prelate was unimpressed with the Dude, always considering the clerics of the Naurivus medicant order to be dirty hippies. But after about 30 minutes the Dude was able to convince the Prelate of his story of the powerful zombie lady and their needing to help BriarWhisper. The Prelate agreed to palaver with his Vicar's and see what they could learn about the elf's condition. It took them about two days.

In the meantime Daria and the Dude were losing sleep and succumbing to creeping insanity from their nightmares, losing 1 Intelligence point a day. Both were relieved when the Prelate showed up two days later: "Friends, It seems you and your group came upon a Soul Eater. Prelate Soprano recalls such boogie stories from his youth. It's quite fascinating, indeed. The crypt you delved must be a sinkhole of evil or somesuch thingm and the Soul Eater was a high level priestess of Dirgion. I'm sad to say to say the only way to truly kill her and send her to the hells is to drive a blessed silver spike through her head. Alas, if we had her head!" Gaius went to his backpack with a grin, holding up the skull which had slowly been re-growing skin and hair. The group takes it to the Temple for destruction.

The head/skull of the Soul Eater screamed and mocked all present at the ritual that should would haunt them and their e-frens until the Awakening. She shut up when the Prelate drove the stake.

Some time later BriarWhisper woke from his coma, yet was still blind from the Soul Eater ripping them out hungrily. BriarWhisper's player informed me that his alignment would be shifting to Lawful due to the Dude and the Temple helping him in his time of need. He requested the Dude catechize him at his bedside, as time allowed, while he recovered enough to travel and walk again. He'd be bed ridden for a month. The Dude enjoyed white russions sitting bedside, hanging on tales BriarWhisper told of the animals and natural scenery of the Viaspen Forest where the elf was from. 

One clear afternoon the elf mentioned the "White Lady of the Forest", a rumor/hook from back at the start of the campaign. I rolled a Theology check for The Dude and, as it turns out, he knew the tale as a myth. "Who man, that's in the Viaspen? It's a metaphor, man. It's not a lady it's a Unicorn aligned with the goddess Ianna and she protects a healing pool. That's it mean, we can get your blindness healed there!"

So, with a couple dice rolls a new adventure and hook was unlocked. The players are already planning how they might find the Pool whose location they don't know exactly. The Pool will also heal the Intelligence The Dude and Daria lost during their tortured two days of nightmare filled nights.

directors cut
The Dude's first concern, however, is cleansing the sinkhole of evil back at the crypt of the Soul Eater. He wants the party to come along but I'll be checking each week if he takes on the challenge alone or finds another party. He will help them find the Pool but only after he's cleansed the sinkhole.

Remember when the party was hyped about getting to Cyfaraun? Remember Marn? Me neither. But it's still out there! And it's still lit.

Stories and interesting events fall like rain on a beachside afternoon in real d&d. Refreshing and cool, steaming the hot asphalt with adventure. You don't have to force it with long backstories and hundreds page adventures. You just have to be open to letting the dice fall where they may and the players go where they may.

Surviving PCs Present

BriarWhisper (5% XP bonus) Level 3 Elven Ranger: 312 XP Gained. Total: 5,271. Mortally wounded and unable to adventure until 05/26/21. Permanently blinded unless he finds advanced magical healing (like a unicorn pool!)

Daria (0% XP bonus) Level 4 BladeDancer: 298 XP gained. Total: 7,427

Gaius (10% XP bonus) Level 3 Fighter. 328 XP gained. Total: 4,717

Yllmeeton (10% XP bonus) Level 3 Shaman. 328 XP gained. Total: 4,691. Mortally wounded and unable to adventure until bed resting until 05/23/21. His legs are permanently all messed up and he requires crutches unless he finds advanced magical healing. The Unicorn pool won't cut it since he's Neutral and the pool only works on Lawful folk. 


Dama (L1 Venturer) played by RR.  Current total xp: 75. DECEASED. Poison gas in Session 3.

Darius LeVay (L1 Assassin) played by JB. Current Total XP:451. DECEASED. Poison gas in Session 3.

Donald the Guardsman (L1 Fighter) played by MP. Current Total XP:570. DECEASED. Intra-party justice in Session 3.

Felix (L1 Thief) played by Nicholas. Current Total XP:431. DECEASED. Poison gas in Session 3.

Hektor (L1 Paladin) played by Moai. DECEASED. Cause of Death: goblin warg rider throat removal surgery in Session 2

Leonidas the Inquisitor (L1 Cleric) played by RR.Current Total XP:498  DECEASED. Frozen undead blistering cold aura left his skin frostbitten and broken in Session 6. Body not recovered.

Mard the Mage (L1 Mage) played by Nicholas. DECEASED. Frozen undead blistering cold aura left his skin frostbitten and broken in Session 6. Body not recovered.

Yolo Baggins "My friends call me Swaggins" (L1 Gnomish Trickster) played by J. DECEASED. Paralyzed and eaten by ghouls in Session 12. Body not recovered.

Jack Filcher (L1 Thief) played by C. DECEASED. Shot full of arrows by Inthorn's brigands in Session 12. Body not recovered.

Swoleous Maximus (L1 Paladin). DECEASED. Captured then drawn and quartered by Inthorn the Brigand warlord in Session 12. Posthumously named "Petty Hero of Turos Tem" by Legate Valerian. Ashes offered a place of pride in the Hospital.

Damianus (L1 Cleric). DECEASED. Captured and beheaded by Inthorn the Brigand warlord in Session 12. Posthumously named "Petty Hero of Turos Tem" by Legate Valerian. Ashes offered a place of pride in the Hospital.

Alexa this is so sad play "steal my sunshine" by Len


  1. Fantastic sessions
    Multichannel communication

    This is so much fun!

  2. Really powerful story telling. This would make a great movie!


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