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The Cabal of Eight Pt.32: The Gold Lotus

The 14th of High Summer – The cabal of eight once again found itself convened in the close Gold Lotus Illustrationquarters of the dingy clubroom on the second floor of the Red Helm Tavern. At the head of the table the dusky Belrae Crokosa his purple robes emblazoned with a green frog. To his left sat Riahm Iziani in patterned blue silk and his half-brown half-green cloak thrown from one shoulder, his yellow silk neck sash exchanged for a white lace one.

Continuing to the right around the table sat Ilna of Nezorik aka Bumble in her yellow and black stripes, next to her was Jirek the Scribe of Arebas in his plain brown robes diligently scrawling down the minutes. Next to him sat Gornix in white robes and grey cloak with the salt-water lotus and starfish emblem on the back. Further right sat Excor dressed in fine patterned burgundy robes with a purple waist sash and a blue cloak around his shoulders with a silver clasp at his throat. Fauna sat quiet wrapped in a dirty but stylish green cloak with gold trim. Szoosha sat coiled next to the south window his copper bracers gleaming in the white beams of sunlight, his red cloak and cowl with gold trim draped over his black scaled shoulders.

A round robin began at the table with Jirek whom recounted his rescue from Haxat the Greater menace of Skullhead [see The Cabal of Eight Pt. 21: Blood Red] mostly for Belrae’s and Riahm’s benefit. Bumble didn’t have much to report other than her mage training and attending a few functions with her father. When it came to Belrae and Riahm they revealed that their nearly four week adventure had led nowhere.

The Bardic College had hoped to find the remains of an ancient library in the Red Waste in some newly discovered ruins. However, all they found was a hard to access overgrown mess where a few black pillars on a hill were the most interesting thing about it. The others asked about who led their little expedition but the names were not familiar. Jirek had gasped at the part with the black pillars but nobody noticed.

It came to Gornix; his companions were eyeballing him hoping that he’d keep some of their secrets. He spilled his guts about almost everything though he still had sense enough to keep the political assassination thing close to the breast.

Gil: “I can’t really lie. I feel like I have to tell them.”

Gornix went on about the rescuing of Jirek and the trouble with the Sapphire Guild [see The Cabal of Eight Pt.23: The Trial of the Cabal]. He spilled the skinny on the rat-fight scheme, Jirek kicked him under the table. Then he started to talk about his bodyguards.

Belrae (acknowledging the men in the hallway outside the clubroom door): “I was about to ask you about that.”

Gornix then began waffling as Belrae then asked about how were they able to afford guards from the Yellow Spears Company. Szoo cut the stammering Lotus Wizard off and told Belrae that they managed to slay a dragon on an “herb hunt” outside of the city. It was apparent on the faces of Belrae and Riahm that they knew their compatriots were leaving something out but had already decided to drop it.

Gil (with genuine concern on his face): “Ya know I feel we’re distancing ourselves from the cabal, keeping secrets and stuff from them.”

Szoosha and Fauna proved to be tight-lipped and nobody expected Excor to be forthcoming about much anyway. Therefore, the conversation inevitably turned towards politics. It happened that the Oaks nominated a favored candidate, not Virtra Wefa [see The Cabal of Eight Pt.24: Plate of Scorpions], and the Gold Sashes nominated one Anat the Gold-Lipped. The Gold Sashes man had promised to “bring the South-West District to order and to cancel the franchise of the Bronzeheads so all of Ezmer’s citizens can share in its good fortunes.” All present agreed that that was generally a bad idea.

Then as the conversation wound down Belrae mentioned the gossip of the day: The hit on the swans. The guilty four plucked at their collars.

Belrae: “Can you believe it!? Somebody actually thought to get away with almost killing the White Swan?” He chuckled, as did the rest.

The players all laughed along with the rest though as more of a nervous reflex than anything else. Jirek had something to say and by appearances was barely able to contain himself though he politely waited until Belrae finished.

Meanwhile Belrae cleared his throat and announced that the medallions they had all chipped in for at the very beginning (I forgot to blog it) were finished. To each cabal member he passed out a Copper Medallion of Whisper. Engraved on the smooth faces of the medallions were the eight representations of its members, they had no guild symbol. Belrae’s frog, a flute for Riahm, a bumble-bee for Ilna, for Jirek a compound Hyvalian glyph for “Scribe of Arebas”, a lotus and starfish for Gornix, a druidic symbol for Fauna, and Excor’s Sigil. Each medallion could send a whispered message to one or all medallions once a day.

Jirek put his medallion on and impatiently snatched a partial scroll from a leather scroll case. He turned to Gornix and presented him the scroll. He found it while doing research. The group had him doing research for them concerning golden bees and lotus in the college library since he had access. On the partial parchment was the picture of a black columned gazebo surrounded by golden honeycombs. A single golden lotus grew from the black floor. The scene was set in a barren red landscape though flowering greenery surrounded the gazebo and honeycombs.

Jirek gave the White Lotus Wizard the scroll in exchange for his life debt. It was a very old parchment. It also seemed that the picture had long ago been cut from whatever text it had been a part of. The scroll probably had been sold as an art piece somehow finding its way into the college library.

Voices raised and began to speed into excited chatter and the entire cabal gathered around the scroll as Gornix kept it flattened on the table. As Belrae and the others surmised that, the black pillars from his and Riahm’s expedition were the same as those pictured on the scroll Gornix cast Clairvoyance. The White Lotus Wizard realized through his psychic vision that the black gazebo indeed lay somewhere in the farthest region of the Red Lowlands, in the Red Waste.

Gil (shrugging): “I needed confirmation.”

Suddenly, our heroes became paranoid barraging Riahm and Belrae with questions. They did find out that the pair were never told exactly what they were looking for. That is aside from the ancient library line which they had suspected was a put on.

Our four heroes decided to embark on a new adventure, a quest to find the golden lotus and golden bees, with the help of the full cabal. Jirek accompanied by Belrae and Riahm would do more research in the college library and present their findings next meeting. Fauna would continue to dig through Haxat’s notes (she had been perusing them here and there even during the meeting).

It turned out that Haxat had been after the royal jelly of the gold bees. In his quest that had spanned years, he had trekked the vastness of the Skullhead Forest. There he had discovered the artifact, Bumble’s “paperweight”. He had also murdered his adventuring companions in the process.

Bumble mentioned that her master could help. After all, the “paperweight” was his. The players let out an audible groan. Then Cris had second thoughts and the arguments began. Eventually they agreed that Bumble’s master might be helpful. So they allowed her to go tell her master, Xanto the Wasp. With that, Belrae adjourned the 6th meeting of the Cabal of Eight. Belrae, Riahm, and Jirek broke for the college.

Bumble stood up as if she was on some sort of official mission and turned to go fetch her master. As she hit the door Fauna suddenly jumped up and ran after. The druid grabbed the pudgy girl by the elbow. Fauna turned to her companions and said, “Getting the Wasp involved is a BAD move guys!”

Fauna: “Let’s keep this in the cabal. If I can find out more info about the bees and the red lands that would be better.”

The others grudgingly agreed and Bumble seemed defeated as she agreed to keep the cabal’s adventure from her master. After that, they retreated to the bar. Draega immediately fluttered up to Fauna just as she stepped into the taproom.

Draega Skullshine: “So where were fearless leader and his groupies off to in such a rush?”

Fauna: “They had to take a s#*t!”

Laughing he put his hands to her dirty cheeks “Oh my charming lovely girl, Come let’s get you a free drink!”

Gornix slapped down 10 gold pieces for a bottle of Hill-lander whiskey and left with Szoo following. Behind them Fauna and Excor followed shortly thereafter.

Gornix and Szoo approached the alley entrance as they returned home. They kept an eye on a suspicious character leaning against the wall. He was a bare-chested human in a brown leather vest, probably a scurvy ridden seaman. On his bare chest was the black tattoo of a coiled serpent. He was cleaning his dirty fingernails with his dirk. The mages watched him as they moved past him into the dark alley. Suddenly as if from nowhere, there stood a hill giant with a two-handed mace and a similar tat on his bare chest. When they looked back the suspicious sailor and stepped into the alley behind them.

Isis: “We’re TRAPPED!”

Suspicious Sailor (drawing a cutlass with his free hand): “Well, well, a pair of soft young mages eh? This’ll be easy money.”

To Be Continued…

 

Off-Brand Adventurers

Here’s a little ramble about the traditional character class breakdown of the typified RPG Hands of Designadventuring group. This includes how this tried and true combination of classes helped to shape the core of the Dice & Glory game system. It’s not a history lesson or based in anything more than experience and opinion; just my two-cents.

The Standard Party

The bedrock of most fantasy RPG sessions is the Standard Party. This Standard Party consists of the Fighter, Mage, Thief, Healer class combo. That is four members of the group are playing characters of one of the aforementioned character classes. This combination of classes was born along with roleplaying games, consisting of primarily the Fighter and Mage classes. These shortly followed by the latter two.

This formula for group formation evolved out of necessity. It was shaped by the type of game that was dominant at the time of their creation. The Mage and Fighter evolved from the transition from war-game to the first tabletop roleplaying games. They serve as the group’s main firepower with the mage in the rear ranks and the fighter in the front.

The Thief came to be when games moved further from pure strategy and warfare into adventuring and dungeoneering. The thief’s place is either firing a crossbow bolt from the shadows or trying to sneak around for some good ole backstabbin’. They also often have the skills to try to carry out another task while the others hold off threats.

The Healer on the other hand is a support type character. They may have a certain level of combat ability but nowhere close to the Fighter. They may also have some interesting skills akin to the thief or even a few spells up their sleeves like the mage. However their primary purpose is healing the fighter and the others when necessary. The Healer commonly takes the shape of a priest/priestess or other holy type person, traditionally a Cleric.

Four Corners of the Square

These four (Fighter, Mage, Thief, Healer) are the core of the traditional RPG Player Character adventuring group. This type of group is equipped to deal with most challenges that have been formulated within the roleplaying hobby. They can meet most monsters or guardians or a challenge on par with their character levels blow for blow. These adventurers can tackle most barriers to their progress like traps and locked doors because of the thief. They have an extended endurance granted by the healer, and a few surprises in the form of the mage’s magic.

The Advantages of the Well-Balanced Group

This type of party is the easiest for Game Masters from the most experienced to the least to handle. There is an overabundance of material for GM’s (of all skill levels) where these types of groups are concerned. Often the Standard Party is referred to in the materials as “a well-balanced group”.

This allows the Game-Master to be able to make minor predictions of the outcomes of certain encounters with a reasonable amount of accuracy. The only factor in this foresight would be the randomness of the dice (to me the fun part). Certain game systems make attempts to regulate the randomness of dice in various ways. But I’m not concerned with those at the moment.

This basic type of foresight allows the GM to construct a story-like session, work from lists and such specifically crafted for their players, and to improvise when necessary. All of this with a fair amount of certainty. In a basic sense, the game is easier to run. You can even add in extra less specialized or more specialized characters to the core group.

Of course, this grants the Johnny-come-lately’s a more diverse choice concerning character class. Therefore, it has a disadvantage for the players if they desire a more variegated choice. Moreover, sometimes players that are the core group don’t want to play the traditional types of adventurers. Or they may be unwilling to serve their stereotypical group role leaving one or others wide open (often the mage). This may necessitate the selection of an unconventional mage type character to compensate.

Shaping the D&G System

The Core Group helped to shape the range of base character classes (or class types) in the Dice & Glory game system. First, I tackled the range of choice of course keeping the core classes: Fighter, Mage, and Thief, which I generalized into the Rogue but the Healer was split by more generalization into a number of possible different class types.

These other class types were add-ons but could also be a part of the “core” in certain types of campaigns. The new class types I added being: Adventurer, Brick, Clergy, and the Psychic (a classic add-on class in other fantasy games and an alternative to a mage in sci-fi settings). Potentially any of these could be included as a core member or substitution. For example the Brick was designed to be tougher than the fighter but with a focus on enduring damage rather than dealing it. A Brick was intended to be the defense for such rear guard character classes as the trad Mage.

The range of variations on each of these basic classes for Dice & Glory is potentially endless and can be used to assemble an Off-Brand adventuring group more often than not. This allows maximum player choice but may put more stress on the GM. The GM gains a steeper learning curve and needs time to acquaint themselves with the individual characters and their abilities. This typically by testing them with minor situations and simple mooks, glass-canons, and what-have-you.

The XP Patch

This difficulty for the GM and expansion of choice to near infinity necessitated that the experience point system (I chose to go with a point and spend system) give difficulty ranks to creatures, situations, and barriers as well as give specific challenge values to certain Player actions. It gives the players options to increase their Experience Points (XP) gains to adjust for any challenges that may slightly exceed their character capabilities in the potential future.

In summation, an Off-Brand Group is more difficult for a GM to handle than a Standard Party. However, players have more class options and the potential for off-kilter and non-standard adventures are greater. This necessitates an adjustment period, which can have its own advantages.

The Adjustment Sessions

A Game-Master when dealing with a non-standard party needs to delve into exploration sessions during an extended adjustment period. During this time, the PCs find and settle into their roles and the GM tests, prods, and poke the characters and group. This so as to find their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Personally I have found this adds a certain richness to the game. An ability that a core group ready to launch from session-one lacks.

These sessions can also have a trial-by-fire effect on the group. Uniting the players and hardening their resolve to play their characters through hardship. This odd group can be pretty far from the standard model altering the paths of adventure onto new avenues. The GM will find their alteration of standard adventures to fit the group as they get to know the characters and the overall group dynamic can take them far from the beaten track.

The Final Blathering

The Standard Core Group found throughout the history and the present of fantasy RPGs is a tried and true model for assembling adventuring groups. Nevertheless, it can be a little restricting and maybe a little boring as well. However, the class choice of a PC group influences the shape of the adventure that they can handle and concerning GM prognostication. The character composition of the group alters everything about the game and in certain instances can unbalance a ruleset not designed or capable of handling them. Although an Off-Brand group that is wholly off model is a challenge to the GM it can also take the game to strange and interesting new places. So GM’s select your medium (ruleset) carefully and don’t shy away from unconventional groups.

Afterword

Note that Race in RPGs is very similar in effect to Character Class and though it can have an effect on the game similar to class, it is often not as severe. The same issues can arise: game balance, player choice, and GM difficulty but if they are well designed these are mitigated by the setting and the GM themselves.

The Cabal of Eight will return next week.