The Terralon Diary, Part 4: Angry Cawing!

Time to check in again on my experience working through The Gates of Terralon, a linear RPG experience presented in the form of a desk calendar. Last time, I rescued some kids from a well, and the 1st February finds me getting to select a reward: either I go greedy and lose virtue in return for an amount of gold based on a die roll, or I go humble, get some virtue, and get to ride the wagon with the kids and their family to my destination, giving me a chunky die roll bonus for the upcoming trip. I chose the wagon.

On 2nd February we get to level up! This means we get better abilities, our hit points and other numbers go up, and we get to boost our stats. We only get 2 points of stat boosts and since stat rolls are on 1D20, this feels a little pointless – the range of variance is likely to be way beyond the magnitude of the penalties or bonuses we have on most of our stats. I blow my spend on cancelling my -2 penalty on Charisma starting out, since I figure the upcoming town visit is going to involve lots of social rolls.

One of my new spells allows me to spend a spell point to frighten people (via, I have to imagine, angry cawing), giving me a whopping +20 to Intimidation rolls. That’s basically auto-success, so why not call it that? I am beginning to not have confidence in the system design abilities of the designers here. Another new spell is sick good: I get to cast it, roll an extra D6 when rolling damage, and get those points back as health. Both of these seem way better than the “+2 to Defence” spell which is the sole one I get at level 1, which is weird because they don’t actually cost more spell points to cast and you would think that in terms of spell power, a 1 point spell should be roughly equivalent to other 1 point spells.

3rd February sees me enjoying the wagon ride to town, and on 4th February I intimidate the guards into letting me into town without shaking me down for money through the power of angry cawing. On the 5th/6th I get to look around the town a bit and see what’s on offer, and on the 7th I get to take a room at an inn and rest, which feels like a bit of a nothing day – these could have been combined into one sheet to get the story moving faster.

Continue reading “The Terralon Diary, Part 4: Angry Cawing!”

The Terralon Diary, Part 3: Scavenger Hunt

Time to check in again on my experience working through The Gates of Terralon, a linear RPG experience presented in the form of a desk calendar. Last time, I finished the tutorial section (in which we fought some demons and met a big titty spider lady) and chose my PC for the main bulk of the adventure – a kenku avian necromancer called Mori’an Corvus.

The 19th January sees not much action – I have to roll 3D6 to determine my starting gold. I’m not altogether sure there’s much point to that – why not just give people a set amount of gold to start out with and use the day for something more substantial?

20th January sees me encountering a couple who are looking for their lost children. The choice here is basically to look for the kids out of the goodness of your heart (gaining Virtue) or doing it for mercenary reasons (gaining money at the cost of also gaining Vice) – there’s in theory a choice to reject the mission outright, but in practice this ends up being game mechanically pointless because you just get bribed into doing it anyway. Though in theory an interesting roleplaying decision, in practice the basically linear nature of the adventure means that it was never really likely that you’d be allowed to just skip the mission, and it feels pointless for the game to offer choices it can’t actually honour.

I chose to look for the kids for free because a) I rolled OK for starting gold so it’s not like I’m hurting for money and b) I am a scavenger bird and a necromancer, the way I see it I can either find live kids to earn some kudos or dead kids who I can practice my magic on or use as a light snack. Either way, it’s a fitting use of my talents. 21st January sees me doing some skill checks along the way – I found a bit of gold and I also spotted animal tracks. Uh-oh, other scavengers are after that delicious carrion! On the 22nd and 23rd I have a quick fight with some wolves which are, thankfully, significantly wimpier than the demons from the tutorial section, and I am able to brazen through it unscathed.

On the 24th January I get to exercise my Intelligence Intellect stat a little by investigating an abandoned cabin, which the kids’ footprints were headed towards. I find various abandoned gold pieces and also evidence that the children fell down the well. Odds of snack: increasing. I spend the 25th January climbing down the well, and on the 26th I find a tunnel down there – with a poisonous homunculus lurking within. Judicious use of a spell point wards off damage (and the threat of becoming poisoned, which would cause me to take damage on failing a roll each calendar day until I got cured).

The 27th is a brief dungeon crawl and then on the 28th I find the kids, alive. Guess I’m not going to have any tasty snacks or necromantic endeavours this time around. The kids are tied up – sorry, it says “tide up”, my mistake – but aside from being adrift on the ocean wave (somehow), they are also bound by rope which I must undo. This ends up being a force-you-to-do-skill-checks-until-you-succeed situation as you try different methods. If you try cutting the ropes and fail you don’t harm the kids but you do lose 1 health, which means that if you roll very unluckily it’s possible to die trying to release the sprogs, especially if you got mauled badly by the monsters on the way in here.

Speaking of monsters, on the 29th/30th January we see who’s captured the kids – it’s a pair of creepy old hags, who I successfully fight. The month closes on the 31st as I bash myself up trying to wrangle the tubby little troublemakers back up the well.

So far, without having had an opportunity to acquire equipment and with limited spells available, it doesn’t feel like the game’s offered me a whole lot which I didn’t already see on the tutorial, but let’s see how the next month goes. Now that I’ve got the measure of how much action I can expect, I think I will now shift to updating on a monthly basis unless something I have a whole lot to talk about happens partway through a month, in which case I might do an early update to enthuse or rant about it. See you at the end of February!

The Terralon Diary, Part 2: Crow Selection Phase

Time to check in again on my experience working through The Gates of Terralon, a linear RPG experience presented in the form of a desk calendar. Last time, I kicked off the early-year tutorial, and this time I’m going to cover the rest of it.

On the 8th/9th January (remember, Saturday and Sunday are on the same page), there’s not much to do but roll a Constitution check to not lose my lunch going through the dimensional gate, which I succeed. Fine, cool, one step closer to making a horrible hubristic mistake by trying to destroy the demon realm with a big magical bomb.

10th January has me giving a pep talk to my troops, which I succeed at – meaning I’ll get a bonus on my rolls in the combat that happens on 11th January. That proves handy, because it’s a tough fight against no less than 4 demons, but I end up slaying two of them and taking damage from the other two (prompting me to quaff my healing potion). Then a series of unlucky rolls meant I got battered by the flying boss demon on 12th January.

13th January offered an honest to goodness dungeon crawl: the sheet for the day shows a little map with each room numbered, and I have to pick my route through the dungeon and resolve the rooms I go through. It ends up being zero-sum: I successfully find a healing potion in a demonic sacrificial altar, which I instantly quaffed (erm, seems a bit dodgy to be drinking potions sourced from there but OK, I won’t pass up 4HP) and then I failed to defend myself against a monster and lost the hit points the potion gave me.

14th January is a couple of skill checks: the first determines whether or not I get a small penalty to the second one, the second one determines whether I lose 2HP to an ambush from a demonic guardian or not. This feels kind of low-stakes to me, so let’s move on to 15th/16th January where I fight the demonic gate guardian.

The demonic gate guardian is a big titty spider lady. She looks rather feral and I think she’s meant to be topless; the illustration of her here doesn’t show nipple, but I wouldn’t confidently say it’s 100% unambigiously safe for work either, which feels like a weird choice for a game presented in a desk calendar which could conceivably be used in someone’s workplace. Anyway, I evade her bite but still take a bunch of damage as she squeezes me with her many legs, like she’s Pris from Blade Runner multiplied by four or something. I am very low on hit points now, but I am just about hanging in there, so come the 17th January I get to the end of the tutorial – intact, but barely. The bomb is set and we cut away right as it’s about to go off. Everything’s going to be fine, right? No need to worry about Commander Barrington just because we’ve not witnessed the cosmos-shattering kaboom, right?

That means come 18th January we get to pick our main character for the actual quest! The Sundial Games website provides rules for generating your own character if you wish, but I think I’ll pass. They have apparently been doing modelling runs and, per the Kickstarter update they posted on the subject, they found that more than half of all the characters produced fully randomly ended up dying way more often than intended, but they also found that if they made custom characters whose abilities had good synergy with each other they vastly outperformed the pregens. If it’s too easy to miss the sweet spot, maybe the rules need a bit more refinement?

In addition, given that the whole ethos of the game is that you do a little bit of play per day rather than sitting down and poring over a character gen system, I’m more than happy to grab a pregenerated character so all the work is done for me. Neatly, the companion booklet not only provides a large version of the character sheets, and the background blurbs, but also provides the higher-level versions of the characters.

Anyway, if the system hadn’t already had ample D&D 5E influence, the various pregens on offer seem to be very much the sort of quirky character beloved by the kids these days, with aesthetics and creature types often clearly lifted from existing D&D lore with suitable names changed. You have a warforged machine-person artificer, a human “cleric” who is clearly intended to be a paladin (don’t think Wizards can control the use of paladin, buds), a dragonborn draakon elementalist wizard, a tabaxi feline monk, a kenku avian necromancer, and a tiefling half-demon swashbucker.

I’m going to go with Mori’an Corvus, the avian necromancer, mostly because his backstory is hilarious:

Mori’an was born with a unique gift. As a hatchling, he pushed a younger sibling out of the nest to see what would happen. When she died from the fall, he was there to bring her back from the dead. He has been fascinated with death ever since.

And there, with our selected pregen travelling to the settlement of Graycliff to take part in a tournament there, I think I will leave things off for the time being. I think I will do my next episode of this series to cover the rest of January, and then from there switch to a monthly update schedule.

The Terralon Diary, Part 1: Are You Sure Blowing Up Bits of the Cosmos Is a Good Idea, My Liege?

Hello folks, as promised I’m going to spend 2022 working my way through The Gates of Terralon, a linear RPG experience presented in the form of a desk calendar. Here’s how the first week of that went.

Office tear-off desk calendars, of course, often combine Saturday and Sunday into one sheet, and the Quest Calendar series is no exception, so since this year starts on a Saturday we’re off to a slow, gentle start. The calendar opens by explaining to us that before we choose a PC, we’ll go through a short tutorial section playing an assigned character just for that part, and encouraging us to familiarise ourselves with the rules for this first couple of days. OK, fair enough.

3rd January introduces us to our character for this tutorial: Commander Royce Barrington, commander of the king’s armies in the fight against a rampaging demon horde. No character sheet is given for him in the accompanying hero book, since we’ll only be playing him for a bit – his stats are on the back of the sheet for 3rd January – but I will use the blank sheet in the Hero Book to record his stats since it’s a bit sturdier than the 3rd January sheet (and it gives me an early chance to see how wipe-clean the markers actually are).

4th January finds the King explaining our mission to us: apparently we’re going to do a surgical strike which will shut down the demons’ link to our world, leaving them unable to enter. Apparently the King and I are both devotees to the god of Law but regard the existence of demons as a sort of divine mistake, so I guess we’re going to eat a big heap of hubris by the end of the scenario.

As the King explains the mission, we roll our stat bonuses on 1D4. The stats are the standard D&D stats, so I suspect the system is going to turn out to be a take on 5E with some of the D&D sacred cows like stats scaling from 3-18 removed – kind of like how True20 also reduced stats to just bonuses, though by my recollection True20 doesn’t randomly generate stat bonuses on a flat die roll – something you do here, and which will seem to result in swingier stats because you lose the bell curve. That said, all my stats are 2s and 3s – the teeny tiny D4 that came with my set doesn’t roll that well, then again D4s generally don’t.

Something I also noted today is that the sheets in the hero book are very good at the whole wipe-clean thing – maybe too good. I’m left-handed, so I kept smudging out stuff as I wrote, and I worry that if I flip to another page in the book to consult the rules I’ll end up smudging my sheet. Probably good that I retained the rules sheets from the calendar for quick consultation too.

5th January is easy enough – it’s weapon selection time. Weapon choice determines an attack bonus, a defence total, and a damage die: I chose a Greataxe, which doesn’t have the best damage but offers decent attack and defence scores. Then on 6th January we get our first skill check – a survival roll to see how our journey to the Sun Temple where our mission is to take place goes in terms of ration consumption. Again, 5E influence is seen here – we have to roll a D20, add our Wisdom modifier, and remember to add our bonus for being an expert at survival stuff. (Neatly, the skill check blurb includes a reminder of what bonuses are applicable.)

7th January gives us a chance to have our first fight – we need to get past the guardian of the Sun Temple by fighting them. We get one round to attack and defeat them, if we don’t defeat them we still get in but are injured by them along the way, we can get a bonus by correctly answering a riddle. This is all nicely communicated. What’s also being communicated is that this guy is a servant of the cosmic force of law, like we’re meant to be, and we’re trying to invade some manner of divine otherworld as part of the big plan to use a massive bomb to destroy the route demons take to get to our world. I’m starting to think our King might not be on the level!

Anyway, that’s the first week’s fun settled. I can already see that doing this on a week-by-week basis might not generate enough material for each article, so rather than do another 7 days before next article in this series, I’ll instead drop another article once I have completed the tutorial section and selected my “real” PC for the adventure to come, which flipping ahead I see should be within the next couple of weeks or so.

The Terralon Diary, Prologue: Let’s Game Through 2022!

Sundial Games’ Quest Calendars series is an innovative gamebook format in which the game unfolds over the course of a year – they’re sold not as books at all, but as desk calendars of the tear-off-a-page-each day variety. The idea is that each day on the calendar is a scene in the story, presenting the player with a little thing to resolve – with necessary information on the resolution being printed on the reverse of the previous day’s sheet. This way, each day when you tear off a new sheet you have a fun little adventure snipped to play through.

I backed the Kickstarter for the 2022 calendar, The Gates of Terralon by Thomas Bedran, and fortunately despite the shipping and materials crisis which seems to have blighted every crowdfunding project (and, indeed, every industry utilising physical goods) I’ve received my hard copy in time for the new year. (Backers and preorder customers who don’t get their calendars in time aren’t out of luck – Sundial have put out PDFs to tide people over until their physical calendars arrive.) I thought it would be fun to play through the game and log my progress here on the blog. Rather than daily (I will almost certainly end up missing some days when I am off LARPing), I’ll probably start out doing this weekly and see how it goes from there – contracting to monthly if the articles feel a bit light.

Before we get into that, let’s take a look at the goodies and the rules rundown. Though you can play with just the calendar (in physical form or PDF format), I paid a little extra to get some handy tools – darling little polyhedral dice (I already have plenty, but these are very cute and compact), dry erase markers, and the Hero Book Companion to scrawl in with the markers. The Companion starts out with a rundown of the rules (handy so you don’t need to hold onto the first few pages in the calendar, though I imagine many players will want to keep hold of old pages to remind themselves of plot points), sheets for logging your equipment and inventory, and character sheets for the various playable characters (and a blank character sheet if you want to roll your own).

Apparently, we have to play through the first few days as a specific character for a sort of tutorial before our character choice opens up, so I’ll get into the PCs listed here in detail when I get to the point of choosing, but I notice immediately that there’s variants of their character sheet provided – one for each level they advance to, which is quite handy. In terms of the rules rundown, it looks like most of the resolution mechanics will be on the daily sheets, though there’s some pointers here about ongoing issues like rest, potion use, followers, and so on. (No unified resolution mechanic that I can see – let’s see how that pans out.)

Two interesting mechanics catch my eye. The first is that combat is on a time limit – rather than roll, roll, rolling until you are defeated, you have a set number of turns to defeat an adversary in, otherwise they win and presumably you suffer some detrimental effect. The second is that there’s rules for continuing after you are reduced to 0 health – you have to roll a die to see what sort of lingering problem afflicts you. We’ll have to see if that ends up putting us in death spiral territory, but it’s good to know we’ll be able to continue even if we get knifed in the heart on January 3rd.

That’s all I’ve got to say for now – I’ll check back with you in early-to-mid January with an update on how the adventure kicks off.