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[DSA] Session 4 – The Ancient Academy

So, another adventure with these intrepid adventurers in The Dark Eye. This time I was doing “The Ancient Academy” (as I hinted in the previous post). It went… ok, I guess.

I set it in the western region of Aventuria, the adventurers scouted for a job in the city of Havena and found an old book dealer who was willing to pay them money for an old book that might be in an old monastery in the mountains. The name “Testament of the Nameless” was a bit of a tipoff that the tome was not about bunnies and rainbows.

The characters took to that rather well (the offer of money helped as well), bought themselves a donkey and went off. After a short search for the whole thing they found the dungeon, went in, and… came out again.

It turned out they went in a circle, so after 4 rooms they were standing in the monastery again. They would repeat that another 3 times, getting increasingly frustrated about it. The design of the Ancient Academy is rather interesting, with certain logical units that fit together quite well. Unfortunately for my players that meant that their specific style of exploring always led them back to the first room. (“Again?!!”) And then, when it finally didn’t, they ended up going through all the storage rooms on the periphery, neatly getting around most fights. A lot of luck (?) on the wandering monster table also figured in there.

Still, they met a few creatures. And they killed them. If I noticed something during the game it was how merciless they were towards their enemies. Normally they are scared kittens, but yesterday they hunted down one of the goblins and killed him like a dog when he tried to get away.

At least in the end they got their objective by a bit of roleplaying: the cultists in the dungeon were the ones who had the book they were searching for, and they neatly convinced them to be other members of their cult, killed the high priest (who had turned into a ghoul) and got the book to Havena. Of course by that point everybody in the group already was a bit tired, and most of my players had to go to work the next morning, so I was eager to wrap up the adventure.

Notes on the adventure:

1. the characters dealt in forbidden lore and pretended to be members of a very forbidden cult. That might come bite them in the ass in a few adventures. Also they never got into a third of the dungeon. Sequel hooks!

2. Google image search is brillant. Everytime I had the feeling I needed some extra pictures to enhance the mood I could search it within seconds. That also was the good thing about having a notebook with my notes on it. Picture of rotten zombies? Check. Stag beetle? Check. Ruined monastery on a hill? Check.

3. Playing on Sunday night is bad, and I told myself not to do it anymore. Still, I wanted to play this week, and that was the only time when all of us had time. Still: it leads to all of us being tired and unresponsive. I wanted to play the cultists a bit more but I couldn’t. And I at least have the boon of having holidays for two weeks now. My players don’t. They had to go to work the next day.

4. I actually managed to get them onto the silver standard. The basic coinage they are dealing with now are silver talers (dollars…). That’s a bit better for my own sanity as the gold coins in the game are defined to be ridiculously valuable, and for some reason players seem to like to deal with the gold coins.

Freelance Traveller and other things

Cosmic Heavyweights in Free-For-All- One of th...

Image not related (but looks gorgeous)

So, one of my adventure seeds has appeared in Freelance Traveller #19 (Diplomatic Heavyweights to be exact).

Which reminds me that I really haven’t been a contributor for too many RPG zines the last few years. I think the last thing (the only thing? No, there must have been a few more things I’m sure…) was an article in Memoria Myrana #7, all the way back in 2005 (in German, and in a background and system that nobody but some fanatics like). At least that’s the last thing I remember. But I was damn proud of that one and that is why I drag it out here as well. I doubt anyone ever used it. My own group imploded before I ever got around using it back then.

Anyway: Traveller. I finally am getting together a group, largely exactly the same people that played Das Schwarze Auge with me so far, but also some other, new people, and maybe I finally get to have some campaign in that system as well. It will certainly be interesting (again) looking at the players: one of the players will be a girl who never watched or read any science fiction at all (well, besides Star Wars that is, and if that’s science fiction is debatable)

Which will be even more fun when I get around introducing these people to Paranoia. For some reason the thought about playing a game about a authoritarian society full of double-talk and backstabbing in a country that still remembers life under the communist regime with people actually born in these times, sounds really, really… interesting.

Campaign Update

So far there were two more sessions for my Das Schwarze Auge campaign which I intended to write up for posterity but did not manage to. There was not really too much to tell in these cases anyway. The second session was kind of fraught with problems: there was a new player who never had played before and who did not really grok the concept of it all. And then she had to disappear midway through, which I integrated into the plot as her character suddenly had disappeared in the morning. Luckily this was also the time when I finally managed to find out what the plot of the session was (yes, two hours into the adventure…) so his disappearance caused even more befuddlement and paranoia than before. In the end the problem turned out to be a demonic stalker they had contracted while being in the mine in the first session. Which, after all, had been an ancient storage facility for demons. They also had gained a druidic fetish the session before which worked as a protection of the demonic presence that was following them. Every time they tried to apprehend the demon he was driven away, every time he tried to hurt them he could not come near. In the end he resorted to attacking random people and creatures along their way, with them growing ever more paranoid. Quite good for a solution that had been strung together way too late.

The third session went similar. I made use of Jeff Rient’s Carousing tables (because they are awesome) and half the evening was already filled by their results. The Scoundrel got into some really bad business and found herself charged with a mission by her god (Phex, the god of thieves’ of course), the Fighter lost all her money gambling, and the Mage got turned into a pig. When all that was done they managed to gain a new goal: getting to Thorwal city in the North for some reason. To get there they became guards on a riverboat going down the Big River (not much thought went into that name…) and got involved in what seems to be a murder plot (in other words: the classic module River of Doom. No, wait, that has to be said different: River. Of. DOOOOOOOMMM! Oh how I love these cheesy titles…)

Yüce and why I started roleplaying

Posting about Elfenblut and it’s cover art got me thinking about why I actually started with roleplaying games in the first place. I can’t really claim there was much deep thought to be found behind it: I just always loved the covers of the boxes and modules for Das Schwarze Auge (The Dark Eye) when I saw them in the toystores. And yes, even in the 90s it was still sold in German toystores pretty much everywhere.

I don’t mean the covers the line features now,  those can be good sometimes, but even the they lack that certain something. Mostly I mean those of artist Ugurcan Yüce, a perennial favorite for the fans of DSA (mostly because he was the one who did most covers from the 80s to the 90s). His heroes most often are the epitome of true heroes with a distinctive germanic bent : barechested, wearing winged helmets and sporting awesome mustaches, or clad in chainmail and other armor barely hiding wonderfully female physique the protagonists of his cover art are just being so damn alive.

After seeing the picture on front and buying and then reading whatever it was that was written in the module, I often felt cheated out of a wonderful adventure. He sometimes took some creative license with the actual contents of the stuff he was illustrating there, but his illustrations so often were more interesting that anything the authors of the module came up with inside the book.Not all of them were masterpieces after all.
And yes, basically the only reason why I looked at those strange things in the store were those wonderful covers. When I actually was able to look into these books and see what they were about I was mystified: mostly text, a few illustrations of characters, plans of buildings. That was odd. At one point I had gotten to know Hero Quest because someone told me it was somehow similar, but it still was way too different from the boardgame. I guess the only reason why I desperately wanted to have the starter box for DSA was to see what the whole fuzz was about.

This particular cover  comes from a  classic of the line: Ein Stab aus Ulmeholz (A staff of elm wood), for many players that played mages THE first adventure. So many indeed that in later editions some references were dropped about that particular wood somewhere in the Middle Realm, where half the young wizards of the continent got their staffs and then slept with the lady in the nearby castle. Even the female ones. DSA was always rather open about sex and homosexuality. The story was rather simple: the player is a young mage who has to get his first staff. There is a forest somewhere where the elms produce perfect wood for staffs. And so he goes there to get some. (pun intended)

Soloadventures were of course choose-your-own-adventure books, set in the world of DSA and played with the rules of the game. For some reason the producers of the line managed to keep the format alive long after most books of that sort disappeared of the shelves everywhere else. Even nowadays the occasional Solo gets published and bought. For players it was a good way of giving the character some background story. Even if all the mages in the group had the same


The adventure module I was talking about earlier: Elfenblut was the 11th adventure module in the slowly developing success story that was Das Schwarze Auge in Germany. I just realized when looking at the cover again that it was intended as a adventure for levels 11-15, which means it must have been combat intensive as hell. It technically is a mystery story, but even the detective stories had something to fight back in the early days of the game.

I never actually played or owned this module myself. The sheer amount of modules published for DSA alone barred me from that, in addition to the fact that when I got into roleplaying (the late 90s) many of the earlier adventures were out of print and did not fit into canon anymore. Only a few would get some classic reprints, but many people never saw some of the real classics, mostly because some of the earlier tries were, well, silly.
This one actually qualifies for that as well: as mentioned before the neanderthals on this cover were not supposed to be there. But when the publisher got the art and noticed they already had paid for it they threw in some cavemen into the adventure to make it appropriate.

I’m not really sure WHY, many of the earlier covers of the line had absolutely nothing to do with the contents of the adventure themselves. They looked awesome though.