The big day had finally arrived. The characters, assembling at the town gate along with Robert, Wallace and two fine looking equines, were ready to embark on a journey into the unknown. A last minute check was made, verifying if everything was in order. “Sorry,” I said, “you need to fill out a few more things on your character sheets first.” You could almost hear a collective moan from the group. I apologetically explained that it would be better to get their weapon stats written down now, before any combat commenced, so as not to interrupt the flow of the game. Ha! What “flow of the game”? The characters haven’t even stepped foot outside the city walls.
Over the course of the next 45 minutes or so, we managed to get all the weapon stats written down. I then had one of the players summarize our previous session, to set the mood. Placing a copy of a map on the table, I explained it was the one found on the dead adventurer. [This map happens to be the banner on this blog at the moment.] The players selected a marching order at my request. It was at this time I realized most of the players were encumbered to some degree, Merral more than the others. To alleviate some of the weight, they packed their tents along with a few other items into the saddlebags on the horses. Merral was still lightly encumbered, and being the slowest member of the party with Basic Move of 5, set their hiking rate at 2 mph. [See my post Hiking, Running and Daily Travels.]
The main road runs south out of Mosport. After about 45 minutes of travel, the party reached the bridge crossing the Euphron river. They stopped for a short rest and to water the horses. The Euphron river is about 300 yards wide at this point where it flows out of the Sea of Pearls, and reaches a depth of 30 feet. The bridge itself is a testament to dwarven craftsmanship and engineering. Great blocks of granite, fit tightly together, arch up and over the river in a single span. The bridge has stood for centuries, built in an age long before Mosport was a community.
After another hour of travel time had passed, I asked the players to make a skill roll, not telling them what they were rolling for (Gilwyn correctly guessed it was a Hearing roll, although she failed her roll…even with Acute Hearing). Sylvie and Merral both heard some commotion up ahead from around the bend. Merral readied his sword and then he and Gilwyn went on ahead to investigate. About 40 yards down the road they saw a farm wagon, broken down. One wheel had come off and a farmer had been attempting to make repairs, but he and his wife were being harassed by four bandits. Gilwyn readied her bow as she and Merral explained the situation to the others. I declared the start of combat.
Seeing the party in the distance, all four bandits turned and advanced on the characters. Gilwyn took aim at one of the bandits as Robert and Wallace readied their spears. Camelia prepared her quarterstaff, just in case she needed to defend herself. Merral successfully cast Armor on himself, increasing his DR by 1. Since he knows the spell at skill level 15, he also advanced 3 yards towards the bandits [Note: This is incorrect, Merral should only have taken a step of 1 yard. I am unsure why I thought it should be 3 yards. Perhaps 3 feet per yard stuck in my head? I carelessly continued to allow 3 yards throughout the entire combat.] Sylvie and Achilles did nothing.
The bandits, now sprinting, hastened towards the party. Gilwin continued to aim, as did Robert and Wallace. Sylvie, Camelia and Achilles did nothing. After advancing 5 yards, Merrel’s impulsiveness took over. He dropped his sword and concentrated on an Explosive Fireball spell. The dice were tossed… a 3! Critical success! Merral suddenly found himself holding a fully formed sphere of flame, as if he had invested maximum points, and it didn’t cost him a thing!
Stunned by the sudden display of pyrotechnics, all four bandits stopped in their tracks. Gilwin immediately let loose her arrow, striking one of the four bandits. Robert and Wallace continued to aim for a better shot, waiting for the distance between them and the bandits to close. Merral, not wanting to let an unexpected opportunity slip through his fingers, launched the explosive fireball at the ground in the midst of the bandits. Hitting his mark, there was a loud explosion. Two of the bandits were knocked to the ground unconscious, nearly burned to a crisp. The other two, having just recovered from the sudden appearance of the fireball, found themselves once again unable to react to what was happening. Their day was not going well.
Gilwin dropped her bow and readied her sword, taking a step towards the mayhem with Achilles at her side. Robert and Wallace, bemoaning the fact they had left their crossbows at home, unanimously dropped their spears, unsheathed their swords and advanced a step. Camelia and Sylvie decided to make their way around the action towards the farmers, who had been hiding behind the wagon, to see how the couple was getting on. Enjoying the fortunate turn of events, Merral retrieved his knife.
The two conscious bandits finally came to their senses and ran for safety. Gilwyn, Robert and Wallace, swords in hand, engaged in pursuit, with Achilles leading the charge. Camelia and Silvie continued towards the farmers. Merril, deciding his knife would probably do him no good, dropped it and concentrated on a normal fireball, advancing towards the retreating bandits. Successfully forming the ball of flame, he put as much energy into it as possible, and it swelled in size.
Achilles, Gilwin and the guards closed fast on the bandits. Merral made an All-Out determined attack, and launched the fireball at the apparently stronger bandit. The bandit failed to dodge death, and perished in a ball of flame. With one bandit remaining, Merril concentrated on yet another Fireball spell while the chase continued. Beginning to feel the effects from all his spell casting, he put only a couple points in to the spell. Launching the fireball at the remaining bandit, it glanced off the fortunate fellow, causing minimal damage. He must be strong willed, because the last bandit successfully rolled a fright check.
The chase continued as Merril readied his final Fireball, putting nearly every last ounce of energy into it. Camelia and Sylvie finally reach the farmers and begin to comfort them. Achilles was snapping at the heals of the bandit when Merril threw his final volley. The unfortunate fleeing felon found himself engulfed in fiery flames, and he all but perished, his speed slowing greatly. Achilles made a final dash, leaping onto the bandit and knocking him to the ground.
At this point in the game we had played through 14 rounds of combat, which took nearly two hours of real time! I had read on the forums at http://forums.sjgames.com/ that combat in GURPS tends to be long and drawn out, but I never realized just how true that was. I grimace at the thought of how long combat would have continued had Merral not made a very lucky roll right away at the beginning. Just imagine if the bandits had actually engaged the characters in close combat. At this point I made a GM executive decision and declared the bandits defeated, bringing combat to a close.
The party retrieved all of the weapons they had left scattered across the area (although, Gilwyn’s arrow was lost, incinerated by one of Merral’s fireballs), and proceeded to search the bodies of the bandits. They recovered a total of 129 copper farthings ($129 in GURPS currency), dividing the coins between the six of them (including Robert and Wallace), with the remaining 3 coins going to Gilwin for Achilles. The farmers thanked the characters for helping them, giving them a day’s worth of food and drink from what they had on the wagon. Merril reciprocated the thanks, and, being charitable, gave his share of the copper farthings to the farmers. With that, our second session came to a close.
Several difficulties arose over the course of the afternoon, the first being that once again, we starting the session with a lengthy span of “messing with the fiddly bits”. Nearly 45 minutes was spent updating character sheets with all the important combat statistics from the character’s weapons. Next time I start a new adventure, I’ll be sure to complete all of the detailed bookkeeping ahead of time.
Another difficulty I had was in trying to keep track of where each character was during combat. Trying to track distances between characters and NPCs without the use of a battlemat is near impossible. My goal for the first combat was to get through it without a lot of detail, and I assumed that including the battlemat would complicate things. But I now believe that visually seeing where each character is in relationship to the others would be a huge help. I spent too much time figuring distances in my head.
Not knowing the combat rules well enough proved to be another stumbling point for me, as I’ve already pointed out earlier in this post. I need to spend time learning combat rules in greater detail. The game would have flowed smoother had I not spent so much time looking things up. I expected some of this, as we are all still learning the game, but I’m a bit chagrined at some of the silly mistakes I made. Developing handy reference sheets and tables should help, as well as making use of the GM Control Sheet in GCA.
Difficulties aside, I thought the session went very well considering the players spent most of the time fighting off bandits. I did not know what to expect, and tried to plan for too much. This caused me unnecessary angst while preparing for the session. Just ask my wife about the time I spent the last few days moping about the house grumbling about not being ready!
I did receive some constructive criticism from a couple of the players. One suggested that I add more “flavor text” into the game, taking more time to provide colorful descriptions of the places they travel to and the people they meet. They said it would help make the game world feel more real and engaging. I agree, and will do my best to accomplish that for the next session. I think as I become accustomed to GMing the game, and role-playing the NPCs, I will improve in my story telling skills.
The other suggestion came from a player who did not have a lot of background in reading fantasy novels. While they are eager and willing to participate, they are feeling a bit out of sorts with what to expect and how to express themselves in the game world. I wrongly assumed that my players all had an idea what sort of fantasy world this game would be taking place in, and thus decided to forgo developing a detailed campaign setting. After all, that takes a tremendous amount of time and creativity. However, I will endeavor to prepare some sort of campaign background describing the setting as the characters would know it, and over time I hope to fully develop the world in which the characters live.
This brings me to my final thoughts for this post. I need a list of goals, accomplishments to be achieved before our next session. Writing lists and setting goals goes against my nature (ask anyone who knows me!), but I’m determined to make this game a better place. So I’ve come up with a short list of things that need doing:
1) Award character points for the first two sessions. The players have put in a lot of effort developing character backgrounds, and they have all made an effort to role-play their various advantages and disadvantages.
2) Prepare cheat sheets, reference charts, tables…anything to aid in game play and minimize searching though the game manuals. The quicker I can find a piece of information, the smoother the game will flow. The trick will be in determining what information needs to be included.
3) Begin work on the campaign background. This will include a large scale region map. Developing the campaign world will not only help the players, but it will provide justification for the encounters and the overall quest. Originally this adventure was going to be a direct port of an old D&D module “B1 In Search Of The Unknown.” It’s a classic introductory module that almost every old-school D&Der went through at one time. My plan was to use the module as a learning platform for GURPS, specifically the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy rules. However, as I worked on the module conversion and inquired with my players regarding the type of game they wanted to play, the more I realized my players (including myself) want more emphasis on role-playing and less on a pure hack and slash dungeon crawl. As a result, I am only using bits and pieces from that original module. The setting is completely original as will be the actual dungeon itself. This means a whole lot more work for me as GM, but in the end, I believe we will all be happy with the direction the campaign has taken, and it should turn out to be a memorable adventure for all.
I have a little over a week to prepare for our next session, which means there is no time to waste. So until next time, good gaming!