Crusader Kings 2 walkthrough: Charlemagne’s Empire restored.

I am busy with Christmas, so I thought I’d post the rest of my walkthrough for Crusader Kings 2. I ran a game in which I played as the last descendant of Charlemagne and attempted to restore his empire. It proved difficult, but in this post I achieve it, kind of.

Last time, Denise–one of the most effective leaders to come out of the Karling line–died after joining the Holy Roman Empire. She passed down the French crown, and a wealthy realm, to her dissolute son Jaspert. Jaspert had ruled Flanders and Franconia beginning as a young man (when his father, Denise’s husband, died). He was a capable ruler, but had several…moral failings.

After his mother’s death, he finally reunited the Karling lands (separated since the time of Clotaire in in the 11th century). He proceeded to seize the remaining de jure lands of France, now held by various independent Counts and Dukes after the dissolution of France/Aquitaine/Brittany. He thus greatly expanded his realm, but also had a series of affairs and became a drunkard. Eventually, he developed Great Pox (syphilis), and went insane, thinking he heard Jesus talking to him. In his middle age he was assassinated, probably by his wife.

Jaspert had many daughters, but no legitimate sons. The oldest daughter with a male son would win the succession contest (it was a little complicated). Jockeying for position began well before Jaspert’s death, and two his daughters died at the result of shadowy plots. The crown passed to a younger daugther, Mathilda (who had a male son, Geraud) on Jaspert’s death. Unfortunately, Mathilda was assassinated soon after taking the throne, and Geraud became King.

Geraud was sickly and weak, but was a brilliant administrator who was married to the Emperor’s daughter. Soon after he came to power, his uncle–one of Jaspert’s illegitimate sons–rose up in rebellion. Despite his infirmities, Geraud rode to battle against his treacherous kin and…was hit in the head. He died shortly thereafter.

The crown then passed to his three year old daughter, Denise II. Her brother was born shortly after she became Queen (her mother was pregnant when Geraud died), complicating the succession a bit. But all of the French vassals supported her, and she grew up in a peaceful and stable realm. [this seemed a little too easy, but whatever]

Upon adulthood, she consolidated her lands and developed France, turning it into the wealthiest part of the Empire. Her first son died young, so she took up a lover, causing considerable tensions with her husband.

As she got older, Denise II realized that the King of Lotharingia was part of a minor branch of the Karling family (the family tree got complicated). Her kinsman also had a claim to the Empire through some marriage ties. She decided to finally fulfill her ancestor Clotaire’s wishs (even if it did not benefit her directly). She launched a rebellion to make the King of Lotharingia the Holy Roman Empire. She succeeeded, and at long last, a Karling was once again Emperor.

[And that’s where I stopped. There was more to do in the game, but I had basically achieved my goal. Hope you found this saga enjoyable.]




The Elder God’s Cavern level 2, session 2 (continued)

Last time, the group made their way through level 2 of the multi-level D&D 5e dungeon I am running. They found some new allies, and were about to assault the hobgoblin lair to recover the parts for the submersible that would take them to the next level. The group included Uatu (a halfling warlock), Black Lotus (a drow monk), Crohm (a human fighter), Dre (a dragonborn barbarian) and Goris (a half-orc barbarian).

They moved forward cautiously, Black Lotus in the lead. The passageway became more regular, as if workers had carved flat corrridors out of the stone. They came to a wide, square-shaped room with a heavyset door at the opposite when arrows flew by them.

Two hobgoblins were hiding behind barricades, firing. Uatu fired eldritch blasts in return, while the rest of the group charged. Suddenly more arrows flew by them, as they saw hobgoblins firing from murder holes in the door. The group started to pull back but Dre charged the doors, smashing them open [he wasn’t supposed to be able to do that, but rolled a natural 20]

The group took out the hobgoblin archers, but more appeared at the end of the passageway, and continued to fire. They killed a few of them, but the group was out of spells, wounded and exhausted, when a gruff voice called out to them.

It was Grort, the leader of the hobgoblin. He asked for a truce, arguing that he’d lost many fighters, but the group couldn’t kill all of them. They agreed, and everyone lowered their weapons. Uatu told him they wanted to get to the lower levels, and needed the gnome the hobgoblins had captured.

The gnome, Fonken, was brought out [he may sound familiar. Fonken is one of my characters (who I’ll do an Origin Stories post on eventually) that I’ve used in another adventure as well]. The group tried to convince the hobgoblins to let Fonken go, but they refused. Grort asked for all the group’s treasure, which didn’t go over well. At an impasse, Grort then challenged one of them to single combat.

Black Lotus stepped up, and the fight began. A weakened Black Lotus was visibly struggling, when Uatu walked over to a robed human who accompanied Grort. Uatu pointed out Grort was weakened, and suggested the human make a bid for leadership. He was convincing [rolled well on persuasion] and just as Grort was about to strike a killing blow on Black Lotus, the human cast a spell and a pillar of fire descended on Grort, killing him [he cast sacred flame]

The human announced he was in charge, and the hobgoblins—irritated with Grort’s leadership, and respecting strength—welcome that.  The human agreed to let Fonken fix the submersible and be free if he helped them maintain their own drainage system [the group didn’t really get into this, but Fonken had used parts from the submersible to create pumps to keep the hobgoblin lair dry; the tunnels for these could have provided another entryway for the group]

Everyone agreed to this deal, the bandits held a feast for the group, and then set off the next morning.

Here’s the prepared text for their exit:

With a jolt and a shudder, the device activates. You begin to sink into the water, and strange lights ignire on the outside of the device. Looking out the windows, you can see the device floating downwards, towards a dark hole in the river that must lead deeper into the hill. The device enters the hole with a whoosh, shaking a bit. You can see the rock walls flying by—you’re travelling incredibly fast now. Suddenly the walls disappear, and you’re in a fantastically large cavern. The lights don’t even reach the walls, and it’s almost as if you’re in the ocean. You start to see other lights in the deep, and realize there are glowing fish out there. And you jump back with a start as a gigantic fish, the size of a house, passes by. Suddenly you realize you’ve been travelling fast and deep enough to reach deep into the earth.

Just as you begin to worry about where you’re going, the walls close in around you again and you can see daylight. The device comes to rest in a strange upwards-flowing waterfall, moves out of the water, and settles into a cradle. The doors open up.

Looking around, you see you’re in a long, broad tunnel. As you orient yourselves, you realize this must run the length of the hill. At the west end of the tunnel, you can see daylight. At the east end is a stone door.

The group found a sealed door at one end of the cavern, and at the other they came out into a narrow valley holding a decrepit, creepy-looking house.

To be continued in Level 3 of The Elder God’s Cavern…

[I am saving my commentary on the creation of this dungeon till the end, but I wanted to say a few things about how this level played out. I had prepared a few ways in for both the bullywug and hobgoblin lair. I also came up with negotiation possibilities for both. The group found the bullywug secret entrance, which helped. For the hobgoblins, there was a control room for the submersible that was turned into a pumping station by Fonken. The group could have used tunnels in this station to sneak through the hobgoblin lair.

It seemed like a good practice when creating a lair, to set up options for sneaking and negotiation (in addition to frontal assault). That can make the adventure more interesting, and appeal to different types of groups.]


The Elder God’s Cavern, level 2, session 2

The group re-formed to finish the second level of the dungeon. We had Crohm (human fighter), Uatu (halfling warlock), Black Lotus (drow monk), and two newcomers: Dre (dragonborn barbarian) and Goris (half-orc barbarian). I run the group through Meetup, so try to accommodate people who join halfway through. Once again, we met at the excellent Killer Rabbit Comics and Games in South Burlington, VT.

The group took a long rest to recover from the fight. After waking, they heard a commotion: what sounded like shouting, and someone running towards them.

They decided to prepare by hiding the tiger corpse to avoid raising suspicion. Unfortunately, it proved heavier than they expected, so they were still pulling on it as a dragonborn and half-orc ran into the cavern, followed soon after by three hobgoblins [everyone failed their strength checks].

The group rushed to attack, while the Dre and Goris turned on their pursuers. Goris ripped out one of the tiger’s fangs to use as a dagger, and Dre attacked with his hands. The group quickly took care of the hobgoblins, and introduced themselves to the new-comers. They had been travelling through the highlands to the west when they were set upon by a group of hobgoblins and captured. Their captors were escorting them back to their lair when they made a break for it.

After introductions, the group explained what they were trying to accomplish. The newcomers knew the way to the hobgoblin lair, but they decided to look for the alternative power source for the submersible first. Heading northwest, they came into a slimy cavern that ended in the rushing river. While exploring the riverbank, a green slime dropped on Uatu, injuring him. He scraped it off with a rock, and they moved on.

The next cavern was overgrown with waist-high (for a human) mushrooms. The group began cutting their way through when suddenly a horrid shrieking sound erupted beside them. Uatu saw it was coming from a strange fungus, and realized it was a shrieker [rolled a Nature check]. He tugged on it, but it wouldn’t budge. Goris tried to help by tugging on Uatu, but it still wouldn’t come out. Then Dre shouted, “I’ll just smash it!” ran over, and missed, kicking Uatu in the head [two failed strength checks, and a critical failure by Dre].

The group decided to move on. They came out in a familiar passageway. Remembering that it led to the trapped passageway Black Lotus stumbled over (last session), they headed the other direction.

They came out into a ruined temple. A statue of a blinded and maimed god stood on a pedestal, with a sealed chest behind him. On the pedestal was written, “follow in my footsteps to gain my aid.” On the wall were carving of horrific beasts—reminiscent of the tentacled creatures in the carvings above them—attacking human cities but being held back by figures emitting light. In one corner, a figure holding back the beasts had a different beast behind him, aiding him.

The group tried to figure out how to open the chest, but it wouldn’t budge. Black Lotus walked in the direction the statue was looking, but nothing happened. Uatu identified the statue as Tyr [religion check], and Dre closed his eyes and walked blindly. At this, the statue clicked open. Inside they found a decanter of endless water, a rope of climbing, and two sending stones.

They backtracked their way south, past the tiger lair, to a large, oddly shaped room with numerous, dark, alcoves. The floor was covered with a fungus Goris recognized as growing from corpses, and the room had a horrid, rotting smell. As they carefully explored the alcoves, a ghoul appeared out of the darkness, and bit Uatu in the shoulder.

The others rushed in as two other ghouls and a zombie came out of the darkness. The ghouls bit Black Lotus and Dre as well, but they fought off the stiffness in their limbs [succeeded in saving throw against paralysis]. They defeated the undead rather easily [I was a little disappointed, was hoping for a least one paralysis]. In the alcoves they found assorted treasure, and a glowing stone [“does it look like a power source?” one of my players facetiously asked]

They headed back to the passageway to the hobgoblin lair. Remembering the traps last time, Black Lotus walked carefully, but still got hit with an arrow. He then decided to poke the floor ahead of him with a stick, and discovered the rest of the traps. Unfortunately, that included a set of bells that rang alarmingly loud…

Continued next week.

Thoughts on dealing with multiple PC ability checks

This is a post on some guidelines I’ve developed in my sessions (for 5th edition D&D) on ability checks. This may be blindingly obvious, and something everyone else does, but I thought I’d write it down in case it’s helpful.

These guidelines are inspired by my experience as a PC. I often like to invest in intelligence skills (in D&D) or knowledge skills in other games. It’s interesting to have a player who’s an expert in something besides fighting and talking, but it can come in handy. It doesn’t always work out though.

In one D&D campaign, I had a wizard who had proficiency in all the intelligence skills (arcana, religion, etc.). But I never used any of them, because my DM never called on them, and didn’t see the need to when I suggested it. This was frustrating.

When I was playing Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, though, I had a different experience. My character was Arkdo (who I wrote about here), a Duros archeologist. He had a lot of knowledge of the Outer Rim and interesting lore. So the GM would occasionally suggest I roll when encountering new situations. This helped out the group immensely.

Out of sympathy with characters who invest in utility skills, I’ve adopted that approach. If a character is proficient in survival, I suggest they roll to see if they can figure out which direction they’ve been heading underground. If a character is proficient in religion, I have them roll to see if they recognize the half-ruined altar they’ve discovered. It increases immersion, and includes all players in the game.

But a problem often arises. When I suggest a player rolls and they fail, the rest of the group asks if they can roll as well. More often than not, someone will roll a success. This kind of defeats the purpose of my suggestion, which was based on certain character’s background knowledge or hunches.

The solution I came up with was pretty simple, and role-play appropriate. I’ve started telling players that they have a choice with these sort of checks, and they must declare it ahead of time. Either the PC I suggested roll is the only one who can attempt the check, or all PCs attempt it as a group check. This fits with role-play; one character has a hunch something is off, and either looks into it themselves or tells the group, and the whole group checks it out.

This has been working well so far. Players still get some control over their ability checks, but I also get to include all players in exploration without making the game too easy.

Any thoughts? Does this seem useful? Is there a better way to handle this?