Planescape Next

Eternal Boundary, part 4

In which we achieve title.

Loucan heads to the Armory (Doomguard HQ) to see if he can find out anything about Eliath joining the faction. He doesn’t get much, but the rest of the party learns that the young ranger’s githzerai swordsmanship tutor (who constantly refers to himself in the plural) simply calls him “Head-Chopper”, and is quite pleased with the ranger’s penchant for violence, but hopes that he can someday determine his own path through the universe.

This is followed by a flurry of jokes as they realize Belker Bitterleath IV is the “Head-Hunter” and ElriElric is the “Talking Head.”

After that is worked out, Elric (and most of the rest of the party, though they don’t do much talking) heads to the Gatehouse to talk to Derioch Ysarl, the Bleaker Elric had set up a meeting with. She is able to corroborate pretty much everythign they had learned about Eliath already. She also presses Elric that the Bleak Cabal want this “Shadowknave” dealt with, if he is indeed hunting down the weak, powerless, and easily missed residents of the Hive. She’s mad enough that someone is victimizing the helpless, but that they might be doing it for a reason is just unacceptable. Derioch also offers Elric a deal: she knows the key to the portal for the Isle of Black Trees, so if he does find the location of the portal, she will split the profits 50/50.

At that point, the party decides to track down Eliath directly, heading to the Black Sail directly. A couple of them wait outside to catch anyone who bolts, and Elric, Loucan, and Turga Killdrak head inside.

Turga strikes up a comraderie with some dwarven armorsmiths (including one dwarf with hair & beard made of fire, which makes for impressive steam whenever he drinks anything), mainly by buying them a round. He gets them chatting about the area and they talk about a new Doomguard recruit that has been hanging out the past couple weeks.

Elric & Loucan chat up the teifling waitress Salja and (after a bribe) she tells them Eliath is sitting in a curtained booth in the back of the inn.

Meanwhile, behind the Black Sail, Belker sees The Dancing Man – the barmy they briefly interacted with in the Hive before – who immediately died thereafter and was taken by the Collectors. He looks healthy and lucid. Belker encourages him to go inside the bar where Turga strikes up a conversation with the Dancing Man, who introduces himself as Tylaric. At first he claims to be new to the city, but when pressed admits that he has lived in Sigil for years – a trip to the Abyss had driven him insane long ago, and he had wandered the Hive. He actually died a couple days ago and was visited by St Cuthbert himself, who gave him a new lease on life and sent him back across the “Eternal Boundary” to return to life and accomplish what he was meant to do: join the Believers of the Source and serve them until he receives further instructions.

Meanwhile, Loucan and Elric try to confront Eliath, but initial discussions don’t go particularly well, and Eliath heads upstairs with several heavily-armed Doomguard friends. Loucan tries to stealthily follow them, but fumbles that and meets some suspicious Doomgaurd at the top of the stairs. He bolts – which of course just makes them chase him out the back of the Black Sail to where Belker is waiting.

During this chaos, Adrin Xiloscent ran off to report their status, and was torn between his loyalty to the Society of Sensation and Loucan’s instruction to brief Derioch on the situation.

Elric ran out back to help Loucan deal with the Doomguard persuers, talking them down a bit and explaining that they were just trying to talk to Eliath and he might be connected to some murders in the Hive.

After the Doomguard chased Loucan out, Turga (along with the Dancing Man Tyralic) went up stairs to talk directly to Eliath (continuing a general Mormon “Have you heard the good news about the Source?” vibe of their faction). He is a bit evasive as well, but eventually admits that he had died and visited his own deity, Lathander, who commanded him to return to life and join the Doomguard – and await further instructions.

He also explains that he did once know the location of a portal to the Isle of Black Trees, but he forgot it in his madness. He explains that he found the answer in the letters of the wizard Talmizar, in the collection of Rhaunades. Detail on the Isle of Black Trees can be found in the Talmizar’s book The Gray Realm.

Both Eliath and Tyralic are very earnest in their intent to make the best of this second chance they’ve gotten on life.

At this point, Elric has calmed Loucan’s Doomguard pursuers and they agree to talk to Eliath – only to find him already being pestered by Turga, so things basically end there.

The party is left to debate what to do next. They are initially eager to track down any thread they have about the Isle of Black Trees until they are reminded that the Shadowknave is probably still killing people and that might be a bit more pressing.

Turga suggests that maybe the Shadowknave isn’t all bad, though – it seems like he’s taking crazy people “fixing” them, giving them a new lease on life. There is actually some dissent in the party about what to do about the situation. Is the Shadowknave actually helping people?

At the very end, Elric checks in with Trunfeld Three-Teeth to see if he found anything about the Shadowknave’s whereabouts. Unfortunately not, but the disgusting ogre does pass along a warning: someone with extremely long fingernails and a powerful temper has been asking around about the group…

Notes & Commentary

First, we were joined by another new kid, though he just observed. He should be joining us next week. That brings us to 4 kids and 2 adults. It will be very interesting to see how the new player affects the dynamics of the game, too.

There was also a lot more playtest feedback than usual, due in large part to the fact that we took a break from D&D Next the previous week to play a one-shot of Dungeon World. One of our players couldn’t make it and we didn’t want him to miss out. I was happy to take a break because I had been trying to play Dungeon World for a while now.

The game went just about as well as I had hoped. I really do love the way the game flows, and I was overall very impressed with how well the kids adapted to it, though the youngest did have some trouble really getting how the abstracted ammunition worked. Otherwise everyone jumped into it with gusto.

It also provided a very interesting contrast to D&D Next which helped to catalyze some concrete playtest feedback, which I think was good.

Overall, I think the adult players gravitated a bit more toward Dungeon World while the kids said they enjoyed it but D&D Next just “felt more like D&D” to them.

Some specific points:

  • Binary success/failure in D&D Next was less interesting than the levels of success, failure, and “you succeed but…” in Dungeon World.
  • Everyone loved the one-page character sheets in Dungeon World had pretty much everything you needed for character creation, basic rules, and event roleplaying fodder.
  • Dungeon World was praised for it’s simple “just jump in and go, do crazy stuff” enabling.
  • The kids specifically mentioned that stuff like traditional AC and damage in D&D Next were important to them. Those were some of the basic things that “felt like D&D” that Dungeon World lacked.
  • One of the kids liked not having initiative in Dungeon World, but another was the opposite – he liked how initiative specifically meant everyone got to act once so no one got left out.
  • In general, the kids actually liked some of the constraints & restrictions of D&D Next. They liked having to roll for everything.

Ultimately, the question was raised about what D&D Next is supposed to be.

The adult player who had the most feedback (and had actually been the one to run Dungeon World) felt that D&D Next was trying to serve several different audiences so far, and overall felt like a very decent retro-clone – but that there are others that are just about as good available for free online.

I’ve had similar questions myself – is D&D Next going to try to be the “simple game of choice?” If so, I actually think I would gravitate toward Dungeon World or similar, as they’re a bit more what I want out of that kind of light experience. That’s really the big competition right not, at least for me.

But having seen the kids interact with a couple different systems (D&D 4th, D&D Next, Dungeon World, etc.) I definitely think the very clear structure of D&D provides solid handles for kids to grab on to, especially younger ones. Again, they definitely had some difficulty with some of Dungeon World’s abstractions. I also think they just enjoy rolling d20s and damage dice. There is still a novelty value in that for them.

Ultimately, D&D Next is supposed to be modular and be able to be tailored to whatever each group or even each players wants to get out of it, and I think the success of that (very difficult) task is going to be where the true test of D&D Next is for the more hardcore players who aren’t happy with “just” vanilla fantasy D&D.

Anyway, it was interesting to see so much discussion on rules, and I was glad that I got all of the kids (even the youngest) to comment on what they liked/didn’t like about both rules sets. Nice to see them trying to articulate that kind of stuff.

Everyone re-affirmed that they are enjoying D&D Next and want to keep trying it out, too. Which is good, since I’m still loving running Planescape again. First campaign I can ever remember running where I’m sad when every session ends and I want to squeeze just a few more minutes out of it.

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