2019-08-15 Deep Carbon Observatory Day 1

I’ve started running Deep Carbon Observatory. See Day 2 for more.

As soon as the party arrived in town, I described the town as recently flooded and started playing some Godspeed You! Black Emperor. And I immediately had my doubts. The golems get weaker every day, but at the same time, people are supposed to be hungry, so they’ve been hungry for days? My players wanted to know why the water hadn’t drained?

I started my players with three disaster vignettes. One player wanted to do this, the others left to handle the others, I kept introducing new disasters and NPCs and there was much sighing. Kids, teachers, priests and magic-users were saved, cannibals were ignored, the rich guy was also brought back, a fire got started, a palisade was built, a camp got started. When they boy with the stolen scrolls showed up, they decided to track him and free his sister because the cannibal who had tried to lure one of the kids away from the fire had freaked out my players, I think.

I didn’t like how the module says that if you pass dozens of tests, the boy just gets shot. The boy was cooperating, the halfling was well hidden, the thief had a ring of invisibility, I didn’t think that’d be fair, and so I improvised some safety measures: the boy hands the scroll case to a waiting zombie, the zombie takes it to remote ruin, the girl is released from a different ruin, the ranger comes and takes the scroll... and then my players strike, of course. An invisible thief with a good weapon, and the halfling, with surprise and winning initiative is good enough to down the ranger before he gets to react, and as per my house rules if you bring an opponent to zero hit-points with a melee weapon that could conceivably be used to deal non-lethal damage, then the opponent is at your mercy.

He was a tough one, knew exactly that they were do-gooders and played it well, I think. They took his bow and his poisons and traps and let him go.

Thus, we got through a bit more than half the encounters in Carrowmore in the first session. There was no abandoning of people, my players were willing to split up and split again but as my players always have a few henchmen at hand, splitting the party is no big deal.

I had imagined there being a stronger sense of loss and despair as players have to abandon people to their fate but that didn’t happen. Good or bad? I don’t know.

I was able to bring the Crows across as mean bastards who know how to control zombies, but their ranger is now diminished. The consecutive INT tests to discover how the bow works are weird. Also, you need to pass 1d6 tests – I wonder what that is for? How about ignoring this and just saying that the character discovers how to use the bow after a while and that’s it? The INT test rolling isn’t very exciting, I think.

Anyway, not sure what to make of it. Drowning lands sounds interesting.

The two hooks I used to invite the party to Carrowmore was that some rebels they wanted to support needed a magic user and these rebels had heard that Koolhaus (which I misread as Koolmore because it was too close to Carrowmore, haha) was sympathetic to the rebel cause. So the party went to Carrowmore to find Koolhaus/Koolmore. At the same time, the rebel leader told them about the legend of an old kingdom hiding their treasures beneath a lake in the mountains nearby so while they’re in the area, why not investigate?

The magic user the players met in Carrowmore knew Koolmore, of course, and said that he had gone upriver to investigate the broken dam, so now the party is feeling the pull of both hooks. This seems to be working. 👍



Sounds like a very busy session! 🙂

per my house rules if you bring an opponent to zero hit-points with a melee weapon that could conceivably be used to deal non-lethal damage, then the opponent is at your mercy.

This made me think of a rule in Blood & Bronze (but quite possibly originating elsewhere) that I have been flirting with:

A character can attack in melee any other character in her zone, making use of the Use Force [attack] skill. The skill allows for all-out attacks with the intent to murder, as well as attempts to disarm, subdue, crush, trip, be-hand and so forth. The target chooses whether to accept the outcome or to suffer damage instead.

It seems this can (and is intended to) preclude the need for any number of complicated special case rules (grappling being one not mentioned above) changing it into a question of “how badly do you want to resist being disarmed and what price in HP are you willing to pay?” which I think is interesting.

Note that I haven’t read the rules in full and at a glance it isn’t clear to me if damage is rolled/known before the decision or not.

– Björn Buckwalter 2019-10-01 13:05 UTC

That’s basically the same rule, as far as I can tell. Mine originated here: 2015-09-17 Combat Maneuvers. Enemies are always free to give up before they’re down to zero hp, of course, but they never do. All that matters is the last hit. And once we’re there, I think there’s no point in the gamble of having to agree to submission before damage is rolled. That doesn’t sound very interesting to me.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-10-01 14:27 UTC

Excellent blog post by @Halfjack on how to invoke fear and confusion at the table (limiting information, rushing decisions) and the dangers of doing that (annoying the people at the table instead of their characters).

It’s a story telling technique, not a game mechanism. When you rush or interrupt people, they get anxious. When they don’t have enough information they get the Fear. When they know the danger is real but don’t know the direction that is dangerous, they get careful.

I’d say there was definitely pushback from players to the idea of providing limited information and rushing things: they wanted to solved every single emergency. They didn’t want to save one person and have the others drown so they said: we have many henchman. A does this. B does that. And so on. So at the table, it got divvied up and ended up being not so scary.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-10-03 12:04 UTC

Thanks for providing the link to your original post to combat maneuvers! Indeed it seems your rule is the same as that in Blood & Bronze, and the fact that you are using it successfully at your table increases my confidence in that it could work well at mine too. That “Conan metric” is great too. 🙂

– Björn Buckwalter 2019-10-07 10:08 UTC

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