Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Chamber-pot of Leadership / Sack of Squashed Toad - Two Sessions of Shadow of the Demon Vorn

A chamber-pot, but not the Chamber-Pot of Leadership...

So as I've mentioned elsewhere I've mashed up Vornheim with the Shadow of the Demon Lord rules to run a home-brew game that I'm using as a pick up campaign. Now, with my many other campaigns I've been doing big PC introductions and trying to do detailed write ups, but I'm not going to do that with Shadow of the Demon Vorn. But since I'm trying to keep SotDV as a semi-serious method for generating amusing gaming anecdotes and indulging in wackiness and horror that is out of place for most of my other games (aside from a Red and Pleasant Land, obviously). While I heavily improvise for Iron Edda and Apocalypse World, I also have some over-arching plots (or at least Fronts) that need to be built towards, but with SotDV I'm running fully episodic one-offs, though I imagine after a few sessions I'll have some re-occurring NPCs, but I've got no plans to have unified plots, instead I'll continue using it to indulge the GM instincts and ideas that won't fit in my other games.

So, without further ado, a few highlights from the first game and then some scattered thoughts and notes.

So, goals with Shadow of the Demon Vorn...
  • Run a game that is fully episodic, where PCs and players can drop in and out.
  • Run a game where the PCs don't need a lot of hooks to pull them into a session, instead they're giving missions and greed/need/devotion provides the rest of the motive.
  • Run a game that makes good use of the best of Shadow of the Demon Lord and Vornheim.
  • Run a deadly and dangerous game, where high risk yields high rewards.
Reading back through Vornheim I remembered that one of the things I really enjoyed was the list of potential superstitions and the idea of the Iron Church of Vorn, so I decided to work that into my adaptation. I also tweaked the XP rules of Shadow of the Demon Lord to better suit a group that had PCs of different levels. I also decided to do something like the factions from Planescape, then called them backgrounds forgetting, much to my players' confusion that SotDL uses the term backgrounds already, so I've settled on "Affiliations". Working off all that, and needing to spell out the differences between my alternate religions and such and other house rules I wrote up a pitch document which has become my Vorn bible, where I'll store all my homebrew stuff. Here's the final pitch...

A pick up, episodic, mission based campaign using the Shadow of the Demon Lord rules and a setting loosely inspired by both the original setting and Vornheim.

66 years ago, the Demon Lord Vorn led the infernal assault on the world. The followers of the Celestial Pantheon led the war against him, but fell short, while the followers of the Old Gods largely remained out of the battle, thinking that Vorn was just the other side of the Celestial Pantheon coin that they despised. Finally, the summer court of the Fey, led by the High Elves, bound Vorn’s physical forms to their own and exiled him, and themselves, from Urth. Unfortunately this didn’t stop Vorn from conquering the world, just from being physically present there. Stymied from hs ultimate goal, Vorn absorbed the power left from the Celestial Pantheon and established himself as the Grim Gaunt God of Iron, Rust and Ruin and a church of devoted and not quite so devoted worshippers quickly emerged.
The city of Gateway, where Vorn’s foot briefly touched the ground before the High Elf wizards spells banished him, became Vornheim, and quickly swelled. Strangely, though the Demon Lord’s fell influence should be strongest in Vornheim, it remains hospitable, even as the lands around are twisted and warped by the demonic influence. Demonic architects and masses of slave and indentured laborers built the city up into a chaotic maze of towers, bridges and catacombs. Some of the demons even stole bits of other cities, ruins and even, some whisper, bits of Hell to build out the city. Enterprising and corrupt mortals made demonic pacts to establish noble houses, and a council of the thirteen strongest houses elects a regent to rule Vornheim, ostensibly in Vorn’s name, much to the consternation of the Iron Church of Vorn, which would prefer they rule. Vornheim is a city of corrupt laws, enforced whimsically by those with power, mystical secrets and much danger.
Thirteen years ago, many of the lesser demon lords under Vorn attempted a revolt against his rule. Vorn easily quashed the rebellion, though many whisper at the cost of much of his strength. Now, demons who have not bowed before Vorn and received a rust iron collar to mark their obedience are hunted throughout Vornheim, and the nearby environs, and put into his service or slain.

And here are the things I wanted as common knowledge and the superstitions (as of 2/3/2017, hopefully this will be an ever growing list)...

Things that are Known
  • If you drive a rusty iron nail into each eye of a dead demon, you bind that demon’s soul to Vorn. If you open their stomach, you’ll find an iron coin that you can turn into the Iron Church for a reward.
  • Some Goblins weren’t always goblins, but were elves who were warped into goblins when they refused to leave Urth when Vorn was banished. The luckiest of these individuals went mad and forgot that they had once been Elves.
  • Some (or perhaps even all) snakes can be read like books by those who know the secret technique.
  • Truly civilized individuals will halt a combat for a toast, as long as the one proposing the toast can provide alcohol for the toast. Individuals who use very cheap alcohol for the toast are considered very poor sports, and many combatants insist on seeing the drink poured and randomly choosing their drinking vessel to avoid poison. Still, it’s not unheard of for a combat to end when someone impresses their opponent with a high quality drink and a well-spoken toast.
  • You can end possessions by ghostly or demonic spirits by giving the victim a trepanation.

Superstitions and Rumors

  • The shards of a freshly broken mirror will show the true shape of a demon, changeling or other shapeshifter.
  • If you walk backwards into a domicile you will be able to see any ghosts who reside there. 
  • Since many things in Vornheim can turn someone into stone, it is considered extremely heinous to break a statue. Gargoyles are rumored to take advantage of this. It’s said that the ghost of a petrified individual whose “statue” form you break can haunt you much more easily than your average ghost.
  • It is considered good luck to see a Manticore, though those who are skeptical suggest that this luck does not protect you from the manticore itself, while true believers suggest that it’s only good luck if you see and avoid battling the manticore.

Armed with this pitch document, I enticed some players and have run two sessions so far. Instead of trying to recap them, here are my terrible, terrible notes. Players should note that while they can peek, I will ruthlessly punish meta-gaming and that anything from the notes that I didn't use during the game is subject to extreme change...

Some notes/thoughts
  • The terrible map of Grimehome Manor was generated with the floorplan shortcut from Vornheim, which I plan on using again.
  • My players in the second session lost their shit in a great way when they heard about the concept of "Slow Pets" from Eduardo Blazesword, a-hole NPC. Slow pets are another great touch straight from the Vornheim book.
  • I plan on continuing giving NPCs and Places in SotDV the kind of names that I try not to give in other games I run, like...
    • Grimehome Manor
    • Lady Suzzette Grimehome, dead, doomed noble
    • Eugetha Grimehome, ghost girl
    • Brock Skycarson, noble
    • Curatrix Katherine, medusa paramour
    • Brennan Longhope, drunk
    • The Milky Thistle, seedy pub
    • Mother Superior Charlotte Bloodbeard, dwarven abbess
    • Sir Eduardo Blazesword, a-hole NPC
    • Genevieve, Eduardo's pet blue lobster
  • Since I included a medusa in the first session and a pair of cockatrices in the second, I'm tempted to keep including a creature that can petrify in each session, or at least making all my PCs think that I am.
  • I'll miss you forever Wazzat, filthy cannibal murder hobo, your time in this world was too short. #RIPWazzat
I'll end here with a couple of high lights from the second session.

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