Solo Skald |||

I have done some work to embed this campaign more firmly in a science-fantasy Latter (Dying) Earth setting. As I go through, there will be more material from Worlds Without Number and Numenera here. I have a few other sources I might include as I go, if they become relevant.

From other sources

In particular, I’ve added the abhumans from Numenera: chirog, margr, murden, sathosh, and yovok. As I did a couple of times previously, I’ll edit the descriptions to make them a little less biased and redolent of weird racism. I’ve also added some outsiders” (roughly, aliens from other worlds) and automata to the encounter lists, although they will not show up very often by default.

Other encounter tables will use Numenera creatures much more often than traditional D&D-esque ones to keep things a bit weirder. I’ll write more bespoke encounter tables for dungeons and terrain types, and the ones I’ve already created will be updated to include more Numenera creatures. Similarly, in terms of treasure, lesser magic items and greater magic items can actually be cyphers or artifacts from Numenera, depending on dice rolls, and some other types of treasure could be substituted with oddities.

When exploring dungeons, I intend to use the Tome of Adventure Design to add more depth to things such as features, dressing, and hazards, not to mention missions and quests. In some cases I may use the Lexicon Urthus (a third-party dictionary for Gene Wolfe’s New Sun setting, aka the Urth Cycle) as an oracle. Let’s see how this plays out.

Scarlet Heroes mechanics

During the previous few sessions, I made some mistakes or missed things in the mechanics. I don’t intend on retconning anything, of course, but I’ll list a few things here - partly as reminders for myself and partly as explanations for readers who might notice a difference, unlikely as that would be.

  • Add the appropriate modifier to the damage roll. For example, Amina has a Dexterity modifier of +2, so when she hits with her crossbow, she rolls 1d8 +2 for the damage roll (before interpreting it in terms of the SH damage translation).
  • When travelling overland but not engaged in mapping and feature discovery, the party moves much more quickly rather than one hex (roughly 6 miles) per day. In the last adventure, she could have returned much more quickly and thus suffered less problems with food supply.
  • Thieves have an ambush ability when starting combat. I’ll deal with the specifics when and if it comes up.
  • SH includes a Defying Death” mechanic, not necessarily for when heroes drop to 0 hit points: A hero can Defy Death any time they wish to avoid the consequences of a failed saving throw or escape a situation of otherwise certain catastrophe. They may also Defy Death to overcome some insufficiency of skill.” This could have been used, for example, in the situation where she’d found the relic but couldn’t read the inscriptions on how to interact with it.
  • After combat, heroes can bind their wounds to recover up to 2 HP. When your max HP is only 4 to 6, as it’s been for her thus far, that’s a lot!
  • Every character gets a generic trait point when they level up, in addition to whatever the class grants, to memorialize some great deed or narrow escape the hero accomplished.”

That means Amina still has a pending benefit, and thus she’ll get a trait, Wilderness Survivor” with 1 rank. This might help with enduring challenges, dangers, and deprivations but not necessarily provide the knowledge to guide a group or the sorts of expertise by a true ranger”.

Reviewing the situation

When the previous session ended, Amina had returned from finding an incredibly powerful relic that she could not understand or remove. Others may get there first, but she hopes they run into the same problems she did. She hasn’t necessarily acted with a tremendous sense of urgency. Whether that presents a problem in the future will depend on the whims of fate as disclosed by the dice.

However, she does have this magical document. As an aside: originally, I described it as a scroll because that’s the traditional D&D trope. But in my efforts to Latter Earthify” this game, I’m going to change the form factor to unreadable engravings on a small metal plate. In any case, she can’t read the thing, as it’s written in some ancient language with arcane symbols and diagrams understandable only to mages and their ilk.

Amina intends to trade the plate to someone with the knowledge of how to interact with the relic. It seems logical to her that the sort of person with that knowledge would be interested in the arcane plate she’s found, and she has a sense that the arcane wizardry encoded in it is quite powerful (mechanically it’s a fifth-level Magic-User spell scroll).

Looking back through my notes, she doesn’t have any friends or allies that I’ve previously established in the campaign. I’ll list them briefly here:

  • Brahim, a wilderness guide
  • Takoti, a tattooed porter
  • Arnusto, an out-of-shape porter
  • Tomaz, a cynical investigator
  • An unnamed city magistrate
  • An unnamed ghost in the graveyard where she resides
  • The Aylari, a group of cultural purists on an isolated farm

Other NPCs that were once friends have moved along to other places, and in any case their relationships changed. She knows other people in the city, including ones I’ve identified in my notes, who she’ll consider enemies or close to it:

  • Madam Luicha, a brothel owner who was once a friend but betrayed her
  • Juiego, a corrupt Nuvrehnite sorcerer-priest

I have a few story threads going:

  • The relic that the ghostly visitor” in the graveyard sent her after
  • A schism within the Nuvrehnites causing political turmoil and potentially civil unrest
  • A disguised monster” feeding on the city’s population under a secret agreement with city officials

In my notes I have some other events that might happen or provide texture, but nothing’s real” in the game until it happens, so I’m keeping that for myself at the moment.

Factions

Kevin Crawford’s faction system has really intrigued me and I want to bring it to bear here. A month passed in game time since the last adventure and that’s enough for this system to come into play. I’m only going to create a couple for now and see what comes up later.

The Nuvrehnites

The Followers of Nuvrehn are a regional religion with a single pontiff overseeing a layer of clergy and temple heads. The god they worship was actually an artificial construct - an automaton or machine intelligence. The faith has significant influence over important locals and seeks vast material wealth. Their clerics are sorcerers who serve this god as part of their magical studies or efforts. In theory, the god’s function is to protect the weak and humble, but its portfolio is a human vice, gambling. So the Nuvrehnites preach that gambling is a way to allow their god to bless the weak, and that the outcomes of the games are determined by the god’s will. Of course, as the communicators and mediators of its will, the church itself and its clergy seem to be particularly blessed.

I’ll set them as a medium faction with a Base of Influence here in Iramubar.

  • Cunning: 4
  • Force: 2
  • Wealth: 5
  • Magic: Medium
  • Treasure: 6
  • Hit Points: 17
  • Assets: Usurers, Gambling Halls, Court Patronage, Idealistic Thugs
  • Tags: Rich, Populist

I created a new asset, Gambling Halls”, which I’ll use to represent the Nuvrehnite temples of avarice and betting. Once per turn, as a free action, the Asset’s owner can roll 1d6 and gain half that much Treasure (rounded up). It requires Wealth 4, costs 12, has 8 HP, requires no magic, and has no attack or counter. (This is a test; I’ll see how it works in play.)

  • Goal: Destroy the Foe (the schism within the Nuvrehnites). Difficulty 2.

Luminous Disciples (Nuvrehnite Schism)

The schismatic (leader of the schism) has been drawing off followers. I’m not going to worry about individual identities right now, though. They’re a small faction with a Base of Influence in a temple in the city.

  • Cunning: 3
  • Force: 1
  • Wealth: 2
  • Magic: Medium
  • Treasure: 2
  • Hit Points: 8
  • Assets: Occult Infiltrators, Thugs, Caravan
  • Tags: Zealot

In theory, they want to reform the Nuvrehnite faith. In reality, well, power seeks to maintain and grow itself, doesn’t it?

  • Goal: Blood the Enemy (Nuvrehnites). Requires inflicting 11 HP of damage on the enemy. Difficulty 2.

Iramubar City Council

The City Council rules the merchant city of Iramubar as a group of approximate equals. These leaders are drawn from the ranks of merchant-princes and oligarchs of greatest wealth or influence, and the population generally considers them legitimate owing to the fact that they’ve brought greater prosperity to the city. The council exerts its will primarily through its economy-controlling officialdom. Currently, they’re struggling with the fact that a grand scheme has gone terribly wrong (see the monster” story thread above). That said, the populace is convinced that the council will bring good business and riches; of course, they don’t know that the monster is operating under an agreement with the council.

They are a medium faction with a Base of Influence here in Iramubar.

  • Cunning: 4
  • Force: 5
  • Wealth: 3
  • Magic: None
  • Treasure: 2
  • Hit Points: 19
  • Assets: Infantry (city guard), Guerrilla Populace, Vigilant Agents, Pleaders
  • Tags: Rooted

I debated whether Force or Cunning should be their primary attribute. Eventually I decided that since governments prefer to have a monopoly on force, I’ll make that their primary attribute.

  • Goal: Peaceable Kingdom. Requires no Attack actions for 4 turns. Difficulty 1.

Faction Turn 1

Initiative is in the following order:

  1. Luminous Disciples
  2. Iramubar City Council
  3. The Nuvrehnites

The Luminous Disciples earn 2 Treasure, bringing their total to 4. Upkeep costs in this mechanic are unclear to me, but none of their assets seem to specify any, so I’ll assume this doesn’t apply here. They’ll take the Attack action against the Nuvrehnites and use their Occult Infiltrators; the defenders use their Idealistic Thugs. That’s 2+3 vs 3+4, so the Nuvrehnites win and inflict 1d6 = 3 damage on the attackers, reducing the Occult Infiltrators from 4 to 1 HP.

Iramubar City Council earns 4 Treasure, bringing their total to 6. Again, no Upkeep costs apply. They will not attack anyone, as they want to maintain peace, and instead will just stand pat. The City Council will spend 1 on Useful Idiots to be sacrificed as patsies if anyone should attack them.

The Nuvrehnites earn 5 Treasure (4 from their attributes and 1 from Court Patronage), bringing their total to 11. They attack the Luminous Disciples with their Idealistic Thugs, who are met by the Disciples’ Thugs. That’s 5+4 vs 2+1, so the Nuvrehnites win and inflict 1d6 = 4 damage on the defenders, eliminating the thugs.

This is represented in the fiction by thugs clashing in the streets, plus the City establishing some sort of commission to investigate religious conflict.

Reading the plate

Amina really wants to trade in this plate, and I want to try an urban adventure again. She needs to find someone who can help her with the relic, as noted. Looking at the existing WWN Community tags for Iramubar (Inhuman Cooperation, Seat of Rule) and the Fractal Adventure Seeds” table (p. 380), I decide to lean on Tomaz, the investigator, and connect him to the Inhuman Cooperation tag as an investigator seeking the truth”. He won’t be the person with the expertise but he seems like the kind of person who knows the right people.

That said, the person he knows is in trouble. That’s going to provide the basis for an urban adventure. Looking at the Urban Adventure Plots and Crimes” list (SH p. 119), I choose A Target has been kidnapped by an Antagonist and is in need of rescue.”

Draw both Target and Antagonist. Optionally, select an one of your hero’s existing allies as the Target and do not draw the Antagonist until you spend a Investigation scene investigating the kidnapping. Scenes revolve around identifying the kidnappers, finding the victim, and extracting them from the snare.

I’ll use a modified version of that option, such that the Target is the sage we’re trying to recruit. The Target is a Learned Sage (human) named Guhari. She has been missing for a few days and Tomaz is worried. The Antagonist is as-yet unknown.

However, I’m modifying the structure by setting the Victory Point target to 8. This also means that I’m changing the die used after Investigation or Action scenes for the Antagonist from a d10 to a d8.

Scene 1 (Investigation)

Search a Location related to past events where a Clue can be found. Roll a die; on an odd result, you face a Fight whether or not you succeed on the check.

The Location is a money changer’s shop on a street where all the buildings are painted varying shades of green. Tomaz says that this was the last place Guhari was seen. The two enter the shop and start chatting up the clerk about the customers who frequent the place and the recent disappearances in the city. After a bit of back and forth, Amina asks after Guhari, and this is where I’ll roll the check: 2d8 + Charisma (0) + Streetwise Rogue (3) vs 10, which is a success. The clerk confirms that she was here recently and that he noticed a group of Stickmen” (Jikegida Outsiders). That doesn’t bode well for Guhari, as these four-armed bipedal Outsiders reproduce by implanting a larva in a warm-blooded host. They don’t generally consider humans particularly intelligent so they have no qualms about using them.

End of scene: 1 Clue, 1 VP, 0 Enemy VP (EVP).

Scene 2 (Investigation)

Hunt up an Actor whom you have reason to suspect can give you a Clue.

Who might know about the Stickmen? They go see a retired mercenary officer named Marik that Amina knows once fought a campaign against them. They track him down in a tattered market stall and ask him about local activity by these outsiders. Again, Amina relies on her streetwise charm and needs a 7 or better on 2d8: 13 indicates success.

Berber Market, Morocco Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Marik confirms that the Stickmen have a small hive somewhere nearby, though he doesn’t know the exact location. This might be the inhuman monstrosity that’s been feeding on the population, in fact. He gives them some information on finding hives, but he’s not coming along.

End of scene: 2 Clues, 2 VP, 0 EVP.

Scene 3 (Investigation)

Be waylaid by a hostile Actor with a Clue. Face a Fight instead of a check.

The City Council has an arrangement with the Stickmen. A pair of their Vigilant Agents are tailing the investigators and try to attack them. This is going to be a fight here in this slum market. Generally speaking, Scarlet Heroes isn’t set up very well for non-hero allies in combat, so I’ll just temporarily increase Amina’s fray die from a d6 to a d8.

There are two Veteran-quality agents: HD 2, AC 5, Atk +2, Dmg 1d8, Morale 9.

As the agents move in, she immediately draws her light spear. Her ambush ability doesn’t apply here of course, so instead she just lunges at the nearest agent but can’t get through his armor. The fray die shows an 8, which means Tomaz has dropped the other agent. The first agent makes his morale check and thus counterattacks, hitting Amina for 2 damage. She’s down to 4 HP.

But she’s not out yet. Her spear feint gets his attention, and this gives Tomaz an opening that he’s unable to take advantage of. (The attack did no damage, nor did the fray die.) There are splinters flying and people yelling to get out of the way, and in the chaos the agent can’t get in a hit either.

After a blur of blades and blows, she finally lands a solid stab and the agent goes down. Tomaz recognizes the insignia on their arms, searches the body, and pulls out a document with their orders (the Clue). Time to get out of here.

End of scene: 3 Clues, 3 VP, 0 EVP, 1 Heat.

Scene 4 (Action)

Bring in an outside authority or useful Actor to oppose the foe.

Marik’s lack of willingness to help wasn’t due to cowardice, and once Amina explains their intentions to rescue an old woman, he decides he might be willing to help. But he needs them to get his specialized equipment and weaponry out of an abandoned building. Amina and Tomaz agree and head over there. Fortunately, they don’t run into any actual resistance, but the building’s in bad shape. The only relevant trait I can find for Amina is Gutter Urchin” (her background), and I’ll call this Strength. Tomaz is helping for a +1 modifier, and the result is a success! The trio retrieve the equipment without having the entire building collapse on them or the locals trying to rob them.

End of scene: 2 Clues, 5 VP, 1 EVP (foe rolled less than the count of investigation scenes), 1 Heat.

Scene 5 (Action)

Despoil or ruin a sanctum or safehouse belonging to the foe. Roll a die; on an odd result, face a Fight as well as the check.

Marik leads them to a tenement where he thinks they have a safehouse. When they arrive, they don’t find any opposition, but they will need to find their way down into the local mini-hive. This will require Amina to use her genetically-engineered Elven Senses (2) and Intelligence: success! They find their way down into the hive and can start looking for Guhari.

End of scene: 1 Clue, 7 VP, 1 EVP, 1 Heat.

Scene 7 (Conflict)

Fight through an ambush arranged by the foe at a Location. Face a Fight instead of a check.

Of course, the Jikegida have been expecting them. They’re ambushed by 7 low-level vermin but also a sorcerer”, according to the Fight Difficulty” table. What does a sorcerer mean in this case? Since they have 2 HD, I’ll assume they’ve got access to first-level spells and can cast Calling Forth the Able Servant” (from SH p. 35), which summons a spirit” (holophysical projection) to fight for them, although it will only last 2 rounds. The martial servant has the statistics of 4 HD, AC 5, Atk +4, Dmg 1d8, and Morale 12. The other Jikegida have 1 HD, AC 9, Atk +0, Dmg 1d4, and Morale 7 except for the sorcerer who has 2 HD, AC 8, Atk +2, Dmg 1d4, and Morale 9.

The martial servant goes first, as this is a surprise round due to the ambush. It attacks Amina but misses. The lesser Stickmen attack her as well, and 2 of them manage to hit her for 1 point of damage each. That’s the end of that round…

…and now Amina gets to counterattack. She’ll ignore the martial servant in favor of that lightly-armored technosorcerer, firing a crossbow bolt across the way at him and hitting him for 1 damage. In the ensuing melee, she and Tomaz do 2 more points of damage, killing the sorcerer and 1 of the others. The martial servant disappears as soon as the summoner goes down, but the Jikegida stand and fight. Only one of them manages to hit her, doing 1 damage, and she’s at 3 HP.

This is looking a little sketchy at this point, fighting these horrifying-looking creatures with beetle-like bodies, mandibular jaws, and occasional human-descended features (this one has a pair of human hands, another one has a human face, etc.) But she believes Guhari is just a little further ahead, so she strikes again with her light spear but is unable to do any real damage. Tomaz kills one more, and in return one of them strikes her hard. She’s down to 1 HP!

Should Amina retreat? Even one more weak hit will drop her. But Guhari’s life might be at stake, so she fights on, and they kill two more. Eventually, though, the remaining Stickmen are just too much. She drops, and Tomaz manages to pull her out of there before they can deliver a killing blow.

End of scene: 1 Clue, 7 VP, 2 EVP, 1 Heat.

Scene 8 (Conflict)

Before she can take the fight to them again, she’ll need to rest. Marik and Tomaz take her out to a grungy apartment in this building, where they give her water and a bit of food. She binds her wounds and stays off her feet for a bit. She recovers her HP, but the enemy gets 1 EVP.

Sabotage or steal the foe’s possessions that are important to the plot. Roll a die; on an odd result, face a Fight as well as a check.

Now they’ll resume the fight, heading down into whatever filthy tunnels the Stickmen have left. At first, the tunnels are built of wood, rope, and other lightweight plant materials, but eventually they start to widen out into smooth stone passages with a hexagonal cross-section.

At some point, the group encounters a supply cache: tanks of bubbling liquids, crates of weapons, and other supplies. They’re all part of the Jikegida’s hive” and are used to support their operations. Amina will use her Streetwise Rogue” trait plus Intelligence to sabotage as much as she can with Marik’s help: failure. They’re spotted by a Jikegida patrol, and they’ll have to fight.

The patrol consists of a pair of lightly-armed Stickmen rabble who have 1 HD, AC 9, Atk +1, Dmg 1d4, and Morale 7. They’re not very dangerous, and so Amina has time to line up a shot carefully, and she hits one of them for 1 damage. Tomaz kills the other one (fray die), and they move on.

Since they failed the check but won the fight after all, I decide to award them the VP but not decrease the enemy’s VP.

End of scene: 1 Clue, 8 VP, 2 EVP, 1 Heat.

Scene 9 (Action)

Face the foe’s best warrior - or the foe himself if this is a climactic battle and they’re fit for combat. Face a Fight instead of a check.

Eventually, with Marik’s guidance, they make their way to a central chamber where the Stickmen are preparing several human hosts for transport to their mother-hive. The Jikegida fight as a swarm in these conditions; Amina and Tomaz could be in for a considerable fight. The swarm has 4 HD, AC 9, Atk +2, Dmg 1d6, and Morale 9.

But at the same time, they don’t see the humans approaching. Amina will strike from the shadows in ambush, surprising them before they can respond. The spear doesn’t find its initial target, but the follow-through does 1 HD of damage to the swarm.

That’s the surprise round over, and so they begin the melee. She lunges, parries, dodges, and strikes, eventually doing 2 HD of damage total (with the fray die). The swarm is all around her and injure her for 1 HP, but she barely notices due to the adrenaline.

Amina has reduced the swarm bit by bit, keeping them at bay and directing them into Tomaz’s kill zone. After a few more seconds, the swarm is eliminated!

Victory

The Jikegida are defeated, at least here and now, and Guhari is safe, along with several other poor souls who’d been brought to this underground lair. The sage is a bit disoriented, but with Marik’s help, everyone is able to get back to the surface and to safety.

I think Amina found some treasure in the Jikegida hive. They won’t have use for human money, obviously, but they’ll have other valuables appropriate to an Mage’s Concealed Cache (C2), and so she finds 1d6 = 6 Lesser Magic Items; unfortunately, no wands or Greater Magic Items this time.

As noted earlier, I’m using some Numenera cyphers as Lesser Magic Items, so she’ll find 3 cyphers, 1 potion, 1 scroll, and (as it turns out) 1 Greater Magic Item, a weapon.

The cyphers are a pair of Controlled Blinking Nodules and a Sleep Inducer. The other items include a Sovereign Antidote potion (extremely strong against any poison), a first-level scroll for mages, and a +1 arrow. A bit disappointing there at the end, I suppose.

Additionally, that gives Amina the XP she needs to reach third level. As she advances, she gets +2 HP (total of 8), another 1/2 point of attack bonus (now at 2), a trait point for Streetwise Rogue (up to 4), and an additional trait point that she’ll apply to her Elven Senses (up to 3).

Wrap-up

This session got me back on track for this campaign. The extra work to merge in Numenera and WWN material paid off in my mind. That said, I’m a bit uncertain about the faction turn. I’ll try it another time or two before I decide whether to keep it or not.

And I feel like she’s getting a little low on funds; maybe it’s time to go steal something…

Up next Thoughts on Scarlet Heroes Return to Latter Earth - Part 4
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