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Bring out the bardic depth charges!

Over the past few months I have been involved in a roughly fortnightly series of adventures to play-test a new RPG, 13th Age. Since play-testing is over and the product is now at a kind of first draft stage, I thought I’d give my thoughts on the system. My thoughts, however, will be heavily tainted by the experience of the group I am gaming with, which consists of an excellent and energetic bunch of players and a brilliant GM, whose achievements I have noted before.

13th Age was co-developed by Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, I think, two quite famous figures from both inside and outside of D&D. It was billed to me as old school gaming with indie flair, or something along those lines, and is based extremely loosely on the fundamentals of D&D3.5. The blurb on the website says:

Our goal with 13th Age is to recapture the free-wheeling style of old-school gaming by creating a game with more soul and fewer technical details. …13th Age makes the play group’s campaign the center of attention, with a toolkit of rules that you can pick and choose from based on the kind of game you want to play. The mechanics draw from classic games as well as newer, story-based games.

I’m not really convinced that there is a “free-wheeling style of old-school gaming” but to the extent that “free-wheeling” in gaming can be encouraged by the rule system, I think that 13th Age does a very good job, and I think that its simple and flexible rules do encourage a rough and ready approach to gaming that is more adventurous than one would find in Pathfinder or D&D. On the surface it feels like classic d20 D&D, but in actual play it behaves quite differently, for a variety of reasons. It has some mechanisms in place to enable PCs to step outside their niche using skills, but the skill system itself is very light; it has redesigned all characters along the lines of 4th edition powers, but has included more old-school spell rules as well; and it has incorporated some elements into character creation that make it very easy to generate story arcs and plot-based gaming, but in such a way that they can also be jacked for immediate effect outside of plot arcs. This makes the basic rules very flexible. I’ll summarize some of the key changes here.

Character classes are very “4th Edition”: PCs have powers that operate daily, per battle, or at will. They have recoveries (i.e. healing surges) and feats that can be used to enhance specific powers. Interestingly, AC is determined by class + armour type – specific choice of armour is not relevant, only its weight and the character class. Thus some classes are constrained to operate best in specific armour types. Saves are very 4th Edition: roll over 11 or over 16 to save, with no modifiers. Looking at my character sheet, it’s a 4th Edition PC sitting there looking at me.

Background defines skills: At creation, each PC gets 8 points (or is it 10?) to spend on backgrounds of the PCs choice, which can have a maximum rating of +5. There are no skills in this game, and every time a PC attempts an action that requires a skill check they roll d20, add their level and an appropriate stat bonus. Then, if they can convince the GM that one of their backgrounds is relevant, they can add the rating of their background to the roll. So when we need to track someone, our insane Dwarven axeman uses his Tribal Dwarf background to add 3 to the roll; when we need to investigate insane arcane phenomena, my PC (Raucous Rella the Tiefling Bard) calls on the fact that she is the Reincarnation of a Famous Wizard (+5). For lying, cheating and fast-talking we have Raucous Rella’s Wandering Troupe (+5); for stealth we have the halfling’s … halfling-i-ness. And so on. If you can convince the GM that it applies, you get the bonus. This means that instead of having a wide range of specifically applicable skills, the character sheet contains a couple of lines for backgrounds, and that’s that.

Icons and Relationships: Perhaps in something of a nod to Japanese gaming (whether they know it or not), the creators have included a section in the rules for the relationship between the PCs and a set of 12 (I think) powerful figures that vie for supremacy in the world of the 13th Age. These “Icons” are not necessarily gods, but they have great status and power and their machinations in the world play an important role in shaping the destiny of nations. The PCs can have positive, negative or conflicted relationships with icons, and can use these relationships as resources in-game. These relationships may thus play the role simply of contacts or social tools, or they can be hooks and levers to get PCs into complex campaign stories. Over time relationships can change, of course. So far we have only used a relationship once – the rules for this seem to be quite vague and hard to operationalize, but the Icons’ presence in the world has been crucial to our understanding of power plays going on in the background of a couple of adventures, so make for excellent plot hooks. Perhaps in a way they function as a more accessible and temporally influential form of alighnment.

Characters are Heroic: PCs are intended to start as heroic adventurers, and they gain power rapidly as they increase levels. They also (aside from my bard) start off with a fair amount of power, and are intended to be able as a group to take on fairly challenging opponents. Combat intensifies rapidly, and PCs have lots of ways of doing significant amounts of damage in combat. Our rogue and barbarian, particularly, do ferocious amounts of damage. There are also some cute mechanics involving additional effects on dice rolls – if, for example, Raucous Rella rolls an even number and hits she can give off a battlecry that gives one nearby PC a chance to save against one ongoing effect. These kinds of things make for rich combat decisions and avoid reducing every battle to a chain of hit rolls.

These characteristics in total lead to a fast-paced, flexible and free-flowing gaming experience, where all mechanics are aimed at encouraging PCs to jack their characters to handle the situation, and GMs are encouraged to play to the moment. The system, by being designed for flexibility and speed, encourages esoteric choices, stunts and improvisation. In some areas the system is too vague (particularly with the icons and relationships, which sit there on my character sheet seeming mostly pointless) and when it strays too close to D&D it can be frustrating – using d20s to resolve actions really annoys me because of its unrealistic effects, for example, and my bard being able to cast Charm Person only once a day is a classic piece of Vancianism. But it has just enough extra elements to relieve the game of some of D&D’s more stultifying effects, and not to feel like just another flavour of D&D.

If you’re looking for something that feels close enough to D&D to pick up quickly, but has more flavour and incorporates some of the better ideas from outside the world of D&D, and if you like a game that encourages innovation and fast-paced action through its rules, then this is the game for you. If you’re really wedded to a game without daily powers or skills, or if you need a game that doesn’t contain any elements of story and plot development (even if only coded in as options) then I would avoid it. If you need detailed simulationist rules to float your boat, this is also not the game for you, but otherwise I think it can appeal to most players. I think it might be a system best suited to experienced GMs, because its flexibility raises the risk of GMs walking into big mistakes that can damage adventures or campaigns, but if you’ve enough experience to handle those risks (or haul your arse out of the fire after you make the big mistakes) then I strongly recommend giving this system a go to see how well it supports your creativity. It’s a good effort and well worth a go!

The dragon gets what the dragon wants

On the weekend, the group I was playing with screwed up our GM’s adventure from the very first scene, and from that point on he spent the entire session inventing new characters, story lines and encounters as we stumbled from misunderstanding to misunderstanding, culminating in the three-way stand off depicted above. We asked our GM afterwards, and as far as we know the adventure was supposed to involve us killing a black dragon, then a necromancer reanimating that dragon, us killing the undead dragon, then us tracking down and killing the necromancer. Fairly standard stuff, and the adventure opened with the dragon attacking our tavern, so we could have set off down that path straight away.

Unfortunately, we assumed – I think, fairly – that the dragon was too tough for us and that the only option was to negotiate with it. So we went and chatted, and the GM let us. What followed was a train wreck, that was rescued at every turn by our GM laying on an increasingly complex and entertaining adventure. Instead of three straight fights and treasure, we instead agreed to find a lich for the dragon; agreed to find the lich for a wizard called Magister Tiana who we thought was an enemy of the dragon; went to meet a dubious infernal contact of mine, who thought letting the lich go would be a good idea; investigated a crematorium; watched an auction where all the bidders were goth halflings; fought and killed the lich; made a lich compass; lost the lich to Magister Tiana; investigated the lich’s hotel room, where we thought we found evidence of a third force looking for the lich (probably the thieves’ guild); met the wizard that the lich was chasing, a chap called Malachy who was on the lam from the Wizard’s Guild; arranged a meeting between Malachy, Tiana and the Dragon thinking that there would be a three-way stand-off; fought the lich again; fought Malachy as he did a runner; and got a ride on a dragon to meet the heads of the Wizard’s Guild.

As far as I know none of these events were meant to happen. A few aspects of the adventure that were particularly entertaining:

  • The town itself: we were in a town called Red Lanterns, that is built on the back of a behemoth tortoise. The town comes alive at night when the tortoise sleeps and sleeps during the day when the tortoise walks; this tortoise is one of 10 such beasts treading a steady path in a circle around the continent, and its pelagic nature makes it a haven for renegades – it has no laws. We didn’t bother finding any of this out when we visited the town.
  • The goth halfling auction: In this town the bodies of the deceased are cremated, and then their ashes are auctioned off to the highest bidder – our GM told us he got the idea from Star Trek Deep Space 9[1]. We naturally assumed the lich was after something in the ashes, and so we went to watch an auction and see if he was present. On the day we visited, a halfling was being auctioned off and two factions in his family were involved in a bidding war that was causing some deep tension. All of them were, of course, dressed in black, and the entire audience of bidders were halflings, bidding for the ashes of their own uncle. This scene cracks me up every time I think of it. It was interrupted by the lich outbidding all attendant halflings, who responded to his intrusion by attempting to shoot him, at which point he turned into a swarm of cockroaches and ran, with us chasing.
  • Magister Tiana and the dragon: so we first offered to find the lich for the dragon if he would leave the town alone, and he agreed. Then within a few hours a wizard, Magister Tiana, visited us and told us that she was mates with the dragon. We didn’t believe her because she didn’t tell us she knew we had arranged a deal with the dragon, and in fact we were able to cut another deal with her to get the lich for her, with a bonus if we found out who he was working for. Why would she do this if she was an ally of the dragon that had already got us working for free? I’m not sure why the GM did this, or why we cut a deal with a rival of a dragon (thinking about this for even a moment, it’s really not a good idea to double cross people with this kind of power), but he did and we did, and thus the flavour of the adventure turned into one of those “everyone’s out to get Wally, let’s get him first” type stories. They always end well!
  • The fugitive wizard: after we had killed the lich and lost his body (aren’t we smart!) we searched his spellbook and found notes in it indicating that he was chasing some guy called Malachy, who was hiding in the local wizard academy. We found him, and discovered that he was on the run from the wizard’s guild due to an “accident” in which he accidentally crashed one of their sky castles. He was on the run from the lich after a confrontation in which he somehow permanently destroyed the lich’s eye and one hand. When he found out Tiana was in town  he got all scared and started thinking of running, but somehow we convinced him to meet Tiana and hand himself in.
  • The final stand off: we arranged the final stand-off thinking that Tiana and the Dragon would turn up separately, see each other and toast one another, and we would hand Malachy to the winner and loot the loser[2] – we remained convinced she’d lied to us right up until the point that she rode in on his back, carrying the lich’s head. Thus we found ourselves in the situation depicted above, with her and Malachy having a robust chat under the watchful eye of the dragon. Things went pear-shaped because Tiana had brought the lich’s head with her, and it got loose and started trying to waste everyone so that it could catch Malachy – apparently he was quite the prize. We, naturally, sided with the dragon, and then Malachy did a runner while dragon, Tiana and lich were engaged in fearsome battle. We caught Malachy and dragged him back, and that was that.

I think this adventure is a credit to the GM. Every part of it was fabricated on the spot to help us continue charging around the town making mistakes, and although we were starting to suspect we’d cocked it up, at no point did he let on which bits were in the plan and which weren’t – we were convinced the halfling auction was in his original notes, for example. He was creative and energetic throughout the whole process, he managed to tie together disparate elements of the plot even as he was making them up on the spot, and somehow at the end everything was resolved neatly and clearly – all of this in the space of about 5 hours. I think this kind of creativity and flexibility is the mark of a good GM, especially when it’s in response to your having thrown all his preparation out the window from the first encounter. We didn’t intend any of this disruption, we just genuinely misinterpreted the purpose of that first battle – like most players, if he had said “guys, this adventure is meant to involve you fighting this dragon” we would have taken it on, but he didn’t, and so we did what comes naturally to a bunch of cowards, and supplicated the damn lizard. But he didn’t correct us, presumably having faith that he could somehow muddle up an adventure regardless, and that’s what happened. He told us later that he decided many of the plot elements based on our assumptions, so that we were driving the plot forward, which is also a very fine thing to do. The man was an improvisational genius.

If there is any lesson in this for better adventure planning, I guess it’s that you shouldn’t make an adventure’s entire plot hinge on players deciding to fight a dragon – many players assume dragons are too tough for them, and if the first encounter of the day is a dragon they will assume negotiation is the key. But it also shows that if you’re a good GM with a healthy attitude, even when your players completely cock up your plans from the very start, you can still make a great adventure. And our GM this day was not just a good GM – he was a great GM. This is GMing at its finest, in my opinion.

Finally, to top it all off, once we’d finished for the day we offered to do a test fight against the dragon, to see if our first decision was right. It was a close thing, but we killed it. So even our decision to negotiate was wrong!

fn1: And they say Star Trek never benefited humanity!

fn2: we were stupid and evil!

… in Japanese, for my work. Yesterday a group of 40 first year high school students came to my department from Soma City, a town in the tsunami-affected region of Tohoku. I’m not sure why, perhaps as a quid pro quo for research we’re doing up there, but they were brought down for the afternoon and as part of the day’s events we organized them a two hour workshop on Global Health Policy. How do you do this for a bunch of bored 16 year olds? My department’s students, being very much closer in time to bored 16 year olds than me, managed to come up with a cunning scheme. After an initial greeting, they divided the students into eight countries, and set them a role-playing task based on public health.

The task: the students had to imagine they were representatives of their country at the UN. A new disease, “Disease X”, has been identified and declared an international emergency, and they have to decide what their country is going to do about it. Each group was assigned a “policy advisor” from the country in question – i.e. one of the students or staff – and where necessary a Japanese graduate student to help translate. They were given background information on all the countries in the room, including a few salient details about the country that might be relevant to the disease. Then the properties of the disease were explained. Disease X was in fact tuberculosis, so the basic properties were:

  • one third of the world population is affected
  • Treatment takes 6 – 9 months
  • Vaccines are only effective in children
  • It’s potentially fatal
  • It is transmitted by coughing and sneezing

Because there weren’t enough grad students to go around, me and my student from Hong Kong (whose Japanese is very good) were given our groups without a single translator – the grad student who organized the session was nearby and could come over if we had any trouble. Our task was to guide our students to a plan for what to do, in 20 minutes, including time to write up the intervention on a shared presentation (conferenced through google).

The Plan: The background for Australia gave the students the salient numbers about Disease X (low incidence, low prevalence, low death rate) and the key aspects of Australia’s health challenges, which were high migrant inflows, inequality in health between Aborigines and non-Aborigines, and inequality in health between urban and rural areas. In fact, I had downloaded an article from the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health that makes these differences pretty clear: incidence in Australia is 5.4 per 100,000, but in native Australians[1] is 0.9, and in new migrants and Aborigines 6.6. Also in some parts of Australia it is even higher amongst Aborigines, as high as 13 times the rate for non-Aboriginal Australians.

My students didn’t have these detailed figures, only the bullet points highlighting Australian health challenges, and they immediately fixed on migration as a possible key driver of the disease. I had already told them about the three possible levels they could intervene (regional, national, international) and so, when they settled on migration as the challenge I asked them whether they would do national or international-level interventions. After a bit of debate they decided that there’s no point in trying to better control it at the border if the disease is going gangbusters overseas, so they decided to focus on development work in countries with high rates. They then started scrabbling through the country descriptions, comparing incidence and prevalence, and found the two countries with the highest incidence. Once they had identified which one had higher immigration rates to Australia (Bangladesh, made up by me on the spot – I guess the immigration rate is higher than Nigeria but I really don’t know), they examined the challenges written on the Bangladesh country sheet. One of the key ones was lack of access to healthcare amongst the poor, so they decided to send doctors and medicine to Bangladesh, in collaboration with local doctors (I had to point out this detail).

They actually decided on Bangladesh because (in their words) there’s no value to Australia in providing aid to a country it has no migration connection with, so it’s better to spend the money a country where the aid will benefit both countries. This may seem harsh, but it means they recognized a basic principle of tackling inequality (whether global or local) that I try to focus on in my work: with infectious diseases, there is a significant benefit to the community as a whole from reducing inequality by targeting those worse off, since the people with the highest disease incidence are also the ones who will drive the epidemic. By recognizing this they had identified a key difference between targeting those easiest to reach (who usually have the least problems) and those hardest to reach (and having the most benefit both in that group and in the community as a whole).

Once they had done this I told them the statistics on incidence amongst Aborigines, and pointed out that they didn’t necessarily need to look to Bangladesh to target a group that might be vectors for the disease. But actually rates of TB are much, much higher in Bangladesh than in Aboriginal Australians, so they probably ultimately made the right choice.

So, 20 minutes of group work, largely free of railroading by me, and my students had managed to come up with a fairly reasonable intervention plan that might even have some chance of working, and mostly through their own efforts to analyze the data in front of them – and this was their first ever experience of thinking about public health. It wasn’t entirely sandbox-y, but close enough – you can’t run a completely open session in 20 minutes. All but one of the other tables completed their work on time, and I like to think that this is at least partly because in our planning session the day before I gave a few basic pointers to the grad students about how to GM. I didn’t tell them they were GMing, of course, but that’s what they were basically learning how to do.

The denouement: Once the groups had all presented their results, one of the grad students gave a 10 minute presentation on what disease X really is – TB – and the important role Japan has played in developing prevention strategies. He then gave an overview of international health and our role in it, and one of the high school students gave a very cute bouncy speech – in English! – thanking us for the experience. It was all very cute and effective, and the students seemed genuinely happy to have solved the world’s problems in 20 minutes.

Reforming the WHO: Now, many people might have criticisms of the WHO, and might have expected that if our High School students were genuinely going to role-play a WHO experience, they would all sit down and refuse to compromise, and ultimately come up with a wishy washy motherhood statement that enabled every student to go home and make empty promises to their families[2]. They didn’t do this! So this leads to three possible suggestions for ways to reform the WHO:

  1. Send the students from Soma City to the WHO and give them 20 minutes to solve the world’s problems
  2. Send the grad students from my department, whose boundless energy is truly a wonder to behold, and whose ability to ignore the magnitude of actual barriers to implementing a plan, and just do it anyway, is quite amazing
  3. Teach the current representatives at the WHO how to role-play, so they can come to solutions more efficiently

Which would be most successful? I’m guessing suggestion 1…

A well-rounded Graduate Education: I’m sad to report that the students of my department, though great in many ways, lack all the fundamental principles of a well-rounded classical education. None of them have watched Star Wars or Aliens, they don’t even know what role-playing is, and the primary texts necessary for a good understanding of public health – Lord of the Rings, Bladerunner, Conan – are not in their curriculum. How can they assess a problem if they haven’t been taught the critical skills outlined in the clash between good and evil in Star Wars? How can they be qualified to research women’s health without the basic grounding in feminism provided by Aliens? How shallow is one’s understanding of the human condition if one hasn’t been led to consider one’s basic humanity through the eyes of Deckard in Bladerunner, and indeed – how can they properly comprehend the real social and political impact of shortened life expectancy if they haven’t heard Roy Batty’s final speech? My god, at the end of the presentation they were reduced to quoting from a completely peripheral text by Jeffrey D Sachs. But I like to hope that yesterday they learnt a little bit about how to GM, so I’ve gone one small step towards laying the groundwork for a proper classical education. We’ll see if I can get them through the other texts by the end of their degree.

In fact, it’s essential, since they won’t understand my jokes until they have watched those movies …

fn1: since the early 80s, Australia has had a principle of not recording race on census and hospital forms. Instead, we record country of birth, so anyone who is a second generation Australian is recorded as “Australian.” We also record language spoken at home, and Aboriginality, but when we talk about “Australians” we don’t identify race. Eventually, one hopes, Aboriginality will also be able to be dropped from hospital records, but that’s a long time coming.

fn2: This is unduly harsh on the WHO. I know bashing international institutions is like shooting fish in a barrel, but actually the WHO does some pretty good work, in e.g. polio eradication, disaster response, handling outbreaks like SARS, etc. They may not be the best model or the best institution, but given their circumstances they’re doing an okay job, I think

Could you lie to this little guy?

On Thursday night I had my farewell party, primarily filled with my partner’s co-workers, who have been good companions for the past year. Most of them know that I’m an inveterate liar, so I nevertheless considered announcing to them at the party that actually “the job in Tokyo was a lie and I’m not going, and this dinner party was held to reveal the secret to you.” This would have been doubly brilliant, since I would have used my reputation for deception-jokes to pull the mother of all deception jokes. Unfortunately I didn’t think my skills were up to it and anyway, if I succeeded they probably would have lynched me.

However, during dinner one of my partner’s colleagues, a Japanese-American “half” who speaks perfect English and Japanese – let’s call her Miss Accomplished for the purposes of this story – told me I look like a horse. Unable to let this pass, I responded by pointing out her resemblance to a puffer fish (in Japanese, fugu). This led, naturally, to a discussion of how I quite like puffer fish because I used to keep them. Miss Accomplished asked me where I kept them, and I told her that I kept them when I lived in Shimane Prefecture, three years ago. This is true – I had two very cute little freshwater puffer fish when I lived in Shimane prefecture, and they were cute.

So, then Miss Accomplished made the mistake of indicating surprise at this – presumably because I was in Shimane for only a year and a half, though I don’t know for sure – and asking me why?

To which I responded that Shimane Prefecture has a rule that all male residents under a certain age are required to keep puffer fish, in order to preserve a rare species of local puffer fish that is endangered. Miss Accomplished was stunned at this revelation, and asked me for more details about the law, whether all men have to keep them, etc. My partner watched all of this with mild amusement, since it was patently obvious what I was doing. Eventually, once I’d led Miss Accomplished far enough up the garden path to have her up to her neck in fertilizer, I revealed that the whole thing was a lie and Miss Accomplished, up until then thoroughly and completely taken in, slapped me.

It was worth it. So how do I rate this lie?

Degree of Difficulty: Given we had just been talking about how I’m a liar, and were surrounded by people who should know better, Miss Accomplishment herself knows I’m a liar, and was sober, and I was doing this in Japanese, I would give this a degree of difficulty of 4.5. However, I think Miss Accomplished might be religious, which indicates a natural susceptibility to bullshit, so I’m downgrading it to a 4.

Degree of Preposterousness: I think this is actually a pretty preposterous lie. It’s inconceivable that a government would try and pass such a law, could if they did, or would get anyone to follow it. But it’s particularly preposterous that it would only apply to men. So I rate this a 4.5.

Degree of Success: Completely believed, but she didn’t leave the scene unaware of the lie, so 4 out of 5.

Overall Rating: 17 out of 25. A good effort.

PC達がヘイデルドーフの冒険を終了して、逃げている貴族からいろな慰労金をもらった。この慰労金は宝石や高級アイテムで編成されたが、合計は160銀コインであった。PC達は、損傷がひどいから、ウバーズレイクに帰ったとたんにこのお金を消費して、治療を買った。治療後の残りは10銀だから、冒険の終わりはウーバーズレイクから出かけたままの状況に戻った。

いすれかの準備ができたあとで、この間送らせたネズミ捕りのスパイからメッセージが届けた。北の公園で会って、ネズミ捕り組合についての情報を伝えてもらった:

  • 組合は、1ヶ月以内に、大きい事件を期待している
  • PC達が組合メンバーの人数を減らしたから、組合はPC達について心配していて、PC達を扱うために8人の傭兵を契約した
  • 明日、組合の大尉はPC達と連絡して、貴族としてものまねしながら狂言冒険の契約を提案する。PC達は、この狂言冒険を従ったら、傭兵に伏せられて、殺される
  • PC達が見つけたアジトの下にある下水の地図がある
  • 組合の人数は20人+上士メンバー

これから、PC達は何をするかわかった。この大尉を捕まえて、尋問する。そして、アジトに行って、組合の秘密な計画がばれるまで組合のメンバーの全員を殺す。

ネズミ捕り大尉の終わり

ネズミ捕り大尉の出会いは「悲しい盾」というパブで行われる。このパブはネズミ捕りのパブだから、何か事件があったらだれも気がつかない。大尉と警備兵と個室で会ったから、部屋に入ったとたんに攻撃した。アルソンは矢の連射攻撃して、ヘインズが魔法ダートを繰り出して、シュゼットが弱き呪いを呼び出した。皆さんが戦闘に絡まれれば、部屋の後ろのドアからネズミ捕りもう4人が入り込んでPC達を攻撃した。大尉がテブルの上に飛んで、だれでもに細い刀で刺したが、4ラウンドくらいあとで、ネズミ捕りの全員がヘインズの雷光呪文で退治された。戦闘の部屋が雷光に満ちた。

PC達が早く死体を調べて、無意識の大尉を発根で逃げたが、尋問何をしても、かれは組合の秘密を出さなかった。大尉を不明な状態で見捨てて、アジトに急いで行った。

アジトと下水

アジトで使われている倉庫に着いたと、誰もいないと発見した。組合の人数がそんなに少なくなったから、アジト倉庫に張り込める人数がないようであった。PC達が秘密なドアを開けて、下水に下がった。基本地図を従って、アルソンは入り口の近くの警備室まで隠密で行って、射撃要撃で2人のネズミ捕りを殺した。広い導管で下水の汚い水に歩いて行くかわりに、狭い廊下でネズミ捕り巣に行った。この廊下の途中で、アルソンは上手に隠された糸罠を見つけた。この罠にかかったら、石が落ちて大きな音でアラームを呼ぶようであったが、アルソンが見つけたからPC達が隠密でネズミ捕り巣に行けた。廊下の出口についたと、古い下水の建物の遺跡を見た。この遺跡の中には、ネズミ捕り部下の8人、警備兵1人、大尉1人がいた。このメンバーはPC達が見られなかったから、PC達が伏せてネズミ捕りを攻撃した。ネズミ捕りは驚いたが、すぐ戦闘に入った。

この戦闘の中で、ヘインズがよくヘイデルドーフで見つけたペドロの侵蝕三角柱を使ったから、すぐ混沌変異を得た。からのヒフが悪そうな白い光で輝く変異を得たから、皆さんは、ヘインズを見るとヘインズは混沌侵蝕を我慢しているのがわかりやすい。ヘインズの耐久力値が3だから、もう2つの混沌変異だけ我慢ができる。4つ目我慢するときに、PCが終わって、自分のに混沌変異として壊滅されるはずである。あの三角柱が呪いだと分かって、使用をやめたが、戦闘がすぐ終わったから問題がなかった。PC達が、軽いケガだけを我慢してネズミ捕りに勝った。ネズミ捕りメンバーの人数はこれから10人以下だから、PC達はすぐこの変な組合のボスを殺して、秘密を見つけると思っていた。。。

Having finished their activities in the town of Heideldorf (which the PCs refer to as “Sausageville”), the PCs were given minor rewards by the (rapidly) departing nobles. These rewards added up in total to 160 Silver Shillings, which upon their return to Ubersreik the PCs immediately spent on healing and healing potions, leaving them a mere 10 Silver Shillings better off than they were when they were last in Ubersreik. “At last I can give up this life of crime…”

Having attended to some basic housekeeping, the PCs received a note from the rat-catcher who had wisely decided to work as a spy for them in the mysterious rat-catchers’ guild of Ubersreik. They met him in the park north of the castle, and he told them some useful information about the situation within the rat-catchers’ guild:

  • The guild was expecting some kind of big “event” within a month
  • The PCs had significantly reduced the guild’s numbers, and so they were beginning to worry about the PCs. To this end they had hired 8 mercenaries to deal with the PCs
  • Tomorrow, a senior figure in the guild would meet the PCs disguised as a noble, and offer them a fake adventure, an adventure which would end with them being ambushed by the mercenaries and slaughtered
  • He had a map of the sewers underneath the safe house the PCs had found previously
  • About 20 rat-catchers remained in the guild, plus senior leaders

So, now the PCs knew what to do … they would catch this “senior figure,” and administer some “enhanced interrogation” until he coughed up everything they needed to know. Then they would break into the safe house and kill everyone until they got an answer to the question “what are you lot up to?”

Captain Rat-catcher’s End

The meeting with the captain was due to take place in the Sad Shield, the rat-catcher guild’s tame local pub, where any trouble would go unreported. They were to meet the captain and his two bodyguards in a private room. The PCs didn’t mess around here; as soon as they entered the room they launched to the attack, with Aruson the thief unleashing a volley of arrows into the captain, Heinze letting fly with his magic dart, and Suzette unleashing weakening curses on all present. After battle was joined a group of 4 rat-catcher sewer guards burst in from a rear door, and the Captain leapt onto the table, drawing his rapier and laying about him with gleeful abandon; but after perhaps 4 or 5 rounds the entire squad were subdued by Heinze’s lightning bolt spell, which suffused the entire room in a ball of lightning that wiped out the entire rat-catcher squad. The PCs quickly looted the bodies, then dragged the unconscious and badly injured captain out the back door and away to their safe house.

Here they interrogated him for a few hours, but nothing they did would work. He wasn’t willing to disclose any information, so they abandoned him – in a possibly not very clearly-stated manner – and set off to pursue their next line of inquiry. They would infiltrate the sewers beneath the rat-catcher’s safe house and kill the remaining 14 members in their quest to uncover the truth of the Guild’s plans.

The Safe House and The Sewers

The PCs went straight to the warehouse that served as a safe house for the rat-catchers, and finding no one inside they went straight through the secret door and down into the sewers. Following the basic map they had been given, Aruson the thief snuck ahead to a guardroom near the entryway, and killed the two guards there in a surprise attack. Rather than wade through the main causeways to the rat-catchers’ nest, the PCs took a narrow, not-quite-so-smelly side corridor that led to the same destination. In amongst the muck of this corridor Aruson managed to spot a fiendishly well-hidden wire trap that would have sprung an alarm, and the PCs were able to sneak up on the main body of rat-catchers undetected. Here they found 8 sewer guards, a rat-catcher captain and his bodyguard. They sequestered themselves in the entry to the corridor, and opened fire with magic, bow and pistol on the group of rat-catchers. The rat-catchers charged forward, and battle was joined.

During this battle, Heinze made heavy use of the prism he had found in Heideldorf, in order to bolster his powers. Unfortunately, he was unaware of its sinister curse, and before the end of the battle he had incurred Tzeentch’s wrath – his first mutation. His skin was changed so that it glowed with a faint and sickly white light, a clear sign to anyone viewing him that there was something wrong about him. Realizing that the prism was a dangerous curse, Heinze stopped using it, and so was able to contribute less to the battle. Nonetheless, the PCs prevailed with only minor injuries to themselves, their position in the mouth of the corridor guaranteeing that their missile weapon users were safe from attack and able to rain death on their opponents. They had defeated more than half of the remaining rat-catchers, and now were free to chase down the leader of the Guild without having to fight many of his underlings.

The secret of the Guild lies tantalizingly before them, and soon all its machinations must surely be revealed to them…

Gullible girls like drunken whales

In  a recent game report I mentioned that I have a singular talent for convincing people of the truth of outrageous lies, and gave the example there in a footnote of the time I convinced a friend that a hawk had carried off a baby at Matsue castle. This got me to thinking that I should start a new irregular series on this blog, in which I catalogue some of my more ridiculous lies. I manage to pull off a doozy on Wednesday, which is particularly admirable for having been conducted in Japanese, with a friend who already knows my reputation for outrageous fibs. So, without further ado, here is the lie of the Drunken Whale.

The Drunken Whale

So I was at a cute little izakaya with my friend Yumiko, and decided to have a single glass of sake (Japanese rice wine, that the Japanese call nihonshu). Perusing the menu I found they were selling suigei, 酔鯨, which happens to be a favourite of mine[1]. So I said to her, all innocent-like, “ooo, I’ll have the Drunken Whale!” Yumiko is an expert on sho-chu (Japanese vodka-like drinks) not nihonshu, so for some reason I can’t fathom she asked me “Is it special?”

Well … and that was all the encouragement I needed. I could have said “no, but I like it.” Instead I told her the story of how it is made, and she, silly sho-chu drinker, listened attentively and believed the lot…

Basically, when nihonshu is made it gets to a half-way point where the original rice ingredients have been reduced to a kind of mash[2]. It is at this point that suigei becomes special. Instead of simply pressing the juice from this mash into the next stage of the fermentation process, the suigei brewer does a special thing. Sheets of whale baleen[3] are laid over the barrels that the mash is to be filtered into, and then the mash is spooned on top and allowed to drip through the baleen into the barrels. As it passes through the hairs of the baleen it acquires a slight salty taste, and thus when you drink the final product you feel you can actually taste the sea.

The Response

Yumiko was amazed by the production process and said to me “Really! Can you taste the sea?!” When I began laughing at her gullibility, she threw her hand towel at me. The joy of this lie is that there is no such thing as a salty or sea-flavoured nihonshu (they’re classified in terms of sweet or dryness, like wine). So even a rudimentary objective assessment would have been suffiicent to show I was lying (not to mention – how valuable must baleen be??!!)

My Assessment

The main trick I used here was to weave together things we both know are true – the mash stage of the nihonshu process, the baleen of whales – to form a stupid, unbelievable whole. I further impressed Yumiko with my honesty by going off briefly on a tangent while we tried to work out what the word for baleen is – these sorts of tangents convince the listener of your honest intentions, since if you were just trying to tell a bald-faced lie you wouldn’t spend several minutes arguing over a word, would you? Then of course I finished it off with a credible but completely wrong culinary trick (“you can taste the sea”) which on one level adds to the believability (there was a reason for all this baleen-filtering) but on another completely undermines the story. So there are multiple tips that the story is false, but told earnestly on the spur of the moment, in connection with a drink I appear to know about, the lie comes together naturally and powerfully.

Degree of difficulty: I’d give it a 4.2 out of 5, because Yumiko was sober, she knows a bit about alcohol, she knows I’m a liar, and I was doing the whole thing in Japanese. But Yumiko is not naturally suspicious, so it wasn’t impossible.

Degree of preposterousness: I’d say it’s a 3.8 out of 5. Sure it’s stupid, but who knows what goes on in the making of craft beers and the like? If people can eat moldy cheese as a delicacy, than filtering wine through baleen isn’t completely beyond the pale.

Degree of success: Thoroughly believed, so 4 out 5. This rating gets a 4.5 if the victim is able to leave the scene of the lie still believing the story, and a 5 if next time you see them they still believe it.

Overall rating[4]: 16 out of 25

fn1: Yes, I’ve become the kind of wanker who is beginning to understand differences in taste between brands of nihonshu, and has favourites, and calls it nihonshu rather than sake. You’ll find me at the end of the bar, without a girl.

fn2: I learnt this from reading a wall at the town of Hita when I visited there for a lantern festival.

fn3: Neither Yumiko nor I know the Japanese for this, and for good reason – the characters for it are very weird, but I think it basically means “whale beard.” And baleen whales are classed as “beard whales.”

fn4: Calculated as the average of difficulty and preposterousness, multiplied by outcome. Scores over 20 are going to be extremely hard to achieve.

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