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[Mountain Home]- Basalt Home on former dwarven metropolis (Years 1-5)

I've decided to share some thoughts and trivia from my recent campaign in "Mountain Home": a game about dwarven settlement on the frontier. It's based on Forged in the Dark engine, which is derived from Blades in the Dark game. You can find game here, but I warn you in advance: it's still in development (consider it as "beta version") and the version I played lacked some information from FitD's SRD ("how flashback works", for instance).

This actual play relates to a gameplay wich lasted 5 years in-fiction and 7 + 1/3 sessions IRL time. Mountain Home's cycle revolves about whole year of settler's activity: Expedition Phase, then Settlement Phase and End of the Year phase. The game focuses on Settlement Phase, while utilizing other phases as opening and ending of a cycle...

Our settled Region is a desert phonetically pronounced as "Elsewhere" ("Elsłer", a reference to "Elsweyr"). Mountain Home provides a framework for defining region, including this called "Home Region":

Region: Elsłer

In an age of: Conquest

Has pressures from: Mystic Forces

Is filled with: deserts or dry land

Connected to: Kharak (homeland, which Founders came from, full of forest and in the age of collapse).

As you can see, every region has some characteristics and suggested dynamics. Elsłer is a place of belligerent faction, chasing for Spice sources: giant Spice Agavas, which contains magic crystal mana. The Spice's emergence plus emergence of two factions (Sandfolks and sentient Ent Oasis) came from mystic forces' influence. We collaboratively (as all players, not "me as GM and players listening") created this plus up to six initial Factions, living in Elsłer. 

Because two of three randomly rolled Settlement Claims are "River" type, we decided to strike the Elsłer desert with one large river.

We chose "Reclaim the Buried Metropolis" origin. Founders returned to a Hungry Mother dormant volcane, which holds ruins of a former metropolis (from 1000+ years) in it's cave system. Founders want to rejuvenate this mountainhome to glory of it's past, while they also want to learn, how the metropolis failed. We only know so far, that:

  • The Metropolis was a technological and engineering hub.
  • Two races lived in Metropolis, in a unity: dwarves in the underground and elves in the surface.
  • They were xenophobic isolationist who guarded their secrets (and get despised by their neighbors in back then Elsłer).
  • Hungry Mother volcano got angry someday and expelled those Dwarves, due to their rascal attempt to tame the mountain.

I won't be shy about wild gonzo fantasy setting here. We mixed "Dune" and "The Elder Scrolls" reference with several other (minor) references here. For instance, the strongest NPC Faction in Elsłer is Emirates of Rrretze, which is a straight reference from Emirates of Hacan faction (from "Twilight Imperium" board game), backtracked again into "Dune" original reference, full of various cat-folks chasing for Spice as their both drug of choice and a resource for their own purposes described as "higher power" type of agenda. Khajiits are innocent of this reference...

The Founders

Initially, there were 5 of us (me and 4 players), but after five sessions one of the player needed to leave due to unexpected career promotion (and overtime hours). Anyway, here are The Founders (and their Playbooks & Guilds in the brackets):

  • Bratmolir Three Stones (The Elder; Four Stripes scholar-laborer guild) - that former player's character.
  • Partasti (The Warden; Dturist scout-scholar guild)
  • Digna Aldr Urr (The Shieldbearer; Aldr Els guard-laborer guild)
  • Froh Ironbottom (The Artisan; Glass Hammers crafter-laborer guild)

Each Founder has it's own "faction gang" (guild of dwarves) which can be used in couple of ways. Also, it's a first touch to entire settlement, including two starting NPCs (Ally and Rival) associated with. We managed to get colorfull interactions with those NPCs so far (including a couple of problems with them).

Those guild have two descriptors, because players chose "Crafters" settlement ability as a first. This grants a second Role of choice ("laborer" or "scholar") for a guild. Sidenote: Partasti also has it's own familiar - as a giant riding hen - which also works with "Guild" mechanics...

It's the easiest to say about those player characters in terms of their expeditions of choice:

  1. Diplomatic Mission to convice Emirates of Hacan garrison of yet in-construction hillfort to go away in a promise of securing this crossroad near Hungry Mother (Year 1)
  2. First contact with Ent Oasis, which bring a promise of a possible future covenant with them as "settling those Trees close to the river". (Year 2)
  3. A help to The Copper Monastery to fix their "Learning Module" in a gesture of friendship with those automatons as a remnants of former Falmer race (Year 3)
  4. Stealing the Gravel Sack-Book from Sandfolks about The Spice (Year 3)
  5. Peace and trade treaty with Fallen Elves in the North, including a succesfull traverse through a mountain range - due to a Red Eye Brotherhood raid through the pass against Fallen Elves (Year 4)
  6. Capturing the Giant Mantis mythical beast, which emerged due to recent Outsider Entanglement roll and threatened their trade routes (Year 5).

It's important to note, that in Mountain Home, expedition ain't the most important part of a game. They are supplementary to Founder's shared agenda about the settlement. They are only source of Reputation (which is needed in order to advance settlement's Tier, consider it as a "fame among Dwarven folk") and the risky source of a Treasure (abstract measurement of wealth, used mostly during Settlement Phase). You can play more than one expedition per year, if you want and you have means to do it (Supply resource, Stress, etc.). You also can abstain from making expeditions in current year. This is different from "Blades in the Dark" game of origin: there you need to play that Score as a scoundrels in order to move the game's cycle forward..

Each Dwarf has their own Obsession, which both works as a Stress resource refreshment and source of a potential troubles. Partasti has Theft and it's played by some weeks of seclusion from the Basalt Home in goal to steal some stuff from the caravans. Digna changed their Obsession during the campaign (I've forgot what it was, sorry!) into custom Martyr, refleced as "a tendency to overwork and overrisk themselves for a feel of self-sacrifice". This has a strange corresponcence with her first Weary (trauma) status called "Selfish". Froh has Heresy and we yet need to see strong pushes towards it, but at least we already see some attempts as "ideology about taking the mountain into submission, not worship nor venerate it!".

XP advancement wise, in "Mountain Home" you advance your Actions and get Special Abilities not per session, by per Year completed. It's resolved by checking playbook-specific triggers, how many non-expedition scenes were played, problems with obsession and weariness, plus Founder's agenda (Belief, current drive, honoring their clan's legacy or background).  The secondary sources of XP are leading action group (to the leader) and protecting another dwarf (this includes NPCs).

Partasti and Digna earned +4 action dots and a second special ability each, Froh: +3 action dots and a second special ability. Before Bratmolir's player left, The Elder wasn't so shy and also earned +2 action dots and the second ability...

The Settlement

Settlement "Basalt Home" is represented by Claims grid (those discovered and not yet), it's Tier (currently Tier 1 - still 100+ dwarves - but Hold String, so their position is stable and ready to grow in population) and features of The Mountain.

In the beginning of a campaign, the leftmost Depth 1 claim is always "Earthy Cave" as an entrance to the mountain. Fiction-wise, we described it as "barbican of a former metropolis". Also, three left-most Sufrace Claims are randomly generated. I'm still amazed that we managed to roll two River claims (it's "6" on d6). The start was "River, Hills, River + Earthy Cave".

All Claims are randomized after completing the Discovery clock.

During first Five Years, The Founders managed to discover a bit of Hungry Mother mountain and build a lot of things. This picture represents fairly the Claim Grid:

Surface River
– Riverside Docks
– Waterwheel
Hills
– Hillfort
– Farm
River
– Cistern
Hills Unknown
Depth 1 Earthy Cave
– Riding Mole Farm
Gem Cluster
– Jewelcrafter
Lava-filled Cavern
– Quarry
Unknown Unknown
Depth 2 Winding Tunnels
– Traps
– Froh’s Laboratory
Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
Depth 3 Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
Depth 4 Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

Each Claim can hold two Buildings, which are the important constructions (we don't track each dwellings or other minor stuff). How each Building works, I'll show on our custom Building projects:

  • Hillfort (II)Activate to get +1D to engagement rolls for missions invoving defense or sorting out to the enemy OR damage to mitigate one of Rival’s outsider entanglements
  • Froh’s Laboratory (II)Activate to get +1D to any downtime long-term project involving magic OR damage to get Spice Mana (1 supply equivalent).
  • You may consider "Riding Mole Farm" as a teaser for a future AP post :-) It's about local giant moles, found in the mountain...

"Farm" is essential, because it's needed to advance the settlement into next Tier (one food-production building per Tier). Also, it can mitigate failed harvest related Entangelements (adding -1D to the pool to check the severity of a disaster). It worked in Year 5: instead of rollind 1D (and "6") we rolled 0D ("6 and 1", count the lowest), so we completely avoided losing hard-earned "Strong" hold status...

Buildings can also offer tradedable resources. The main one is "Jewelcrafter" (1D to Trade Pool, rolled in End of The Year), but we also have three minor - 0D, thus "just enabling the Trade Pool" - resources from "Farm", "Riverside Docks" and "Quarry". The last building is a source of a building material, which is needed for constructions which needs hefty of materials fiction-wise...

We got lucky with first randomly generated Claims. "Gem Cluster" works essentially as "two slots for a buildings, which activation grant 2 Treasure". "Lava-filled Cavern" is a climatic location which enables magma-fueled forges!

I've wrote so much abot Basalt Home settlement, because Mountain's Home core gameplay revolves about it. About developing your own dwarven settlement, dealing with dangers (two types of Entanglement: external Outsider and internal/environmental Mountain) and it's people. Also, when the game itself rewards you XP from "non-expedition scenes with another Player Character", you know that the adventuring should not overshadow everything else...

The Ephemeras

This is the last section of AP, which contains trivia about those five years of Basalt Home.

First of all, players have a tradition to organize "Founders Meeting Board" at least once per Year Cycle (in practice, 2-3 per Year) and sort out their own ideas about expeditions and settlement. This holds well even after Bratmolir's player left...

The Spice topic is a forbidden one in Basalt Home, reserved only for The Founders. So far, Dwarves established the absolute prohibition of The Spice in order to protect settlers from it's addictive qualities. The Spice itself is an inorganic powder-like crystals which works as magic quintessence/mana fuel. Eating The Spice enables you a temporary UV-light vision, having glowing bright blue eyes and other varios effect, depending of a species. For instance, accidentally adding some Spice to one of The Copper Monastery spider automatons resulted in granting them a sentient mind and awareness.

Hungry Mother volcano doesn't like fiddling with The Spice.

Founders wanted to establish Quarry ASAP, but they didn't wanted to ruin some of the Metropolis' ruins in Earthy Cave. That's why their finally organized quarry in "Lava-filled Cavern" with heavy *sigh*. However, it inspired them to an idea of "Pumice Ships"!

That sentient spider automaton is so far the only non-dwarf inhabitant of a Basalt Home, due to "no entry for non-dwarves" policy for an underground part of the settlement. One of Mountain Entanglement emerged as a "racist incident" toward such spider automaton... As you may guess, it's only five years and it seems like Dwarves already went into a path of repeating the cycle of history...

"Fallen Elves" northern faction is a matriarchal horde of former Metropolis Elves descendants, which appearace get transformed into flora features of the Elsłer (cactus and acacia thorns and alike). Their current seat is "Acacia Court" in the middle of semi-desert steppe. As you may guess, "Mystic Forces" influence. Actually, they represent the most gonzo mix of references:

  • Matriarchal society, both referenced from superficial look upon Drows from Forgotten Realms and Scythian tradition of enabling women into military.
  • Acacia Court is a variation of Blood Forest from Earthdawn TTRPG setting.
  • Queen and her daughter abilitiy to "speak through the air" is partially inspired by Bene Gesserit's Voice power (but it's not about dominating someone on subconscious level)
  • They need The Spice to extend their Acacia Court into a flourishing city, which is a reference to terraform purpose of mana in "Disciples" video game series.
  • Main Acacia Court is a semi-mobile 30-meters long and large crab, which interior contains halls and rooms. It's an obvious Aldruhn referrence from "The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind" game.

First session started with a tour into Elsłer, in which Dwarves met four factions. Lucky Fortune Rolls ensures +1 (from -3 to +3) "Helpful" initial status to them. It propably set the current peaceful "diplomatic" mood of the campaign. However, now it's clear to who Basalt Home is going to be belligerent, and to who might be the ally:

  • Sandfolks have "-1" (Interfering) attitude to Dwarves, thanks to one of the expedition and friendly attitude to Emirates of Rrretze. Sandfolks try to secure their lifeline hubs as "wild Spice Agava zones", which are main target for Rrretze catfolk in their monopoly agenda. [Tier 2]
  • Red Eye Brotherhood has "0" (Neutral) attitude to Dwarves, but it's temporary. They were "+1" initially, but after Dwarves supported Fallen Elves. RE Brotherhood is an animal-folk archaeologic organization, which wants to learn about Elsłer's fauna, ruins, secret and it's innate magic. [Tier 2]
  • Catfolk Emirates of Rrretze have "+1" (Helpful) attitude to Dwarves, which was hardly defended thanks to actually fulfilling promise of building Hillfort and repairing a collection of swords. They have "Mobile" Organization: they have an extensive trade company here (located in the eastern-most ar-Rimmen city), which secures both a trade routes into the West and South and Spice harvesters' ventures. [Tier 4]
  • Ent Oasis has "+1" (Helpful) attitude to Dwarves due to a single succesfull meeting with them. All this hive of sentient big trees (palm trees, baobabs, acacias, cacti, etc) wants is to reclaim space buried by large dune fields and possibly protect "their reckless distant cousins", as they describe Spice Agavas. [Tier 2]
  • Fallen Elves have "+2" (Friendly) attitude to Dwarves. Founders does everything in order to both develop a relationship with descendants of Metropolis and ensuring that Emirates of Rrretze doesn't know anything about it! Initially, Fallen Elves regarded Basalt Home as their own tributaries, but superb succesfull diplomatic mission in Year 4 convinced their Queen into treating Basalt Home as "yet small, but equals". [Tier 3]
  • The Copper Monastery have "+2" (Friendly) attitude to Dwarves, thanks to saving their Learning Module from some RE Brotherhood mercenaries (rabbit samurai from Jomon) and fastening the re-activation of it. The Architect (the AI and operating system, which governs all automatons) doesn't know yet that Dwarves "stole" one of automatons. The Copper Monastery is a one of the ruins of former "long-ear mountain humanoid" civilization called "Falmers" and The Architect wants to rebuild it somehow (I don't spoiler it yet, because my players don't want to know How It Will Be Done yet in advance). [Tier 1]

I should end this extensive AP post here. In terms of NPC Faction dynamics, RE Brotherhood lost it's Hold status (into Weak) due to a failed campaign against Fallen Elves and it's vulnerable to decline. Emirates of Rrretze sorted out it's priorities after already securing all known wild Spice Agava zones and wants to deal with Sandfolks know. Obviously, Ent Oasis and The Copper Monastyr wants to grow (the latter in unknown yet way). Sandfolks wants to establish their second village.

Each Faction has it's own Clock, which represents the advancement of their current agenda. This Clock is checked in the end of the year cycle; not all factions are checked (mostly 3 to 5, either as a reaction to Basalt Home actions OR to it's total lack of attention).

If you really dare with Polish language (or translation sites) you may learn more & in advance about this campaign here. It isn't mandatory to read, tho.

 

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

This is very interesting! I'm not familiar with the game and only have a superficial sense of how the parent game (Blades in the Dark) works, so I can't really picture what happened at the table to generate all these fictional elements.

I'm curious, for example, about what the scene looked like when the diplomatic mission to the Fallen Elves convinced the queen to treat them as equals. What player choices and character activity went into that outcome?

Mansfeld's picture

Each Expedition starts with Engagement Roll, which "replaces" all tenuous prep for a mission and resolves, how it started. For Fallen Elves' expedition, we rolled "6", so it went without complication or unforeseen accidents.

I set the Clock (x-sided track, wrapped like a circle) represented the patience of Acacia Court, due to fact that Dwarves were "different folk" to Elves. In practice, I didn't match any tick on this Clock, because players rolled "6ses" over and over for Action Rolls (only twice, they rolled "4-5", but they resisted consequences by making Resistance Rolls - it's an exchange of a given consequence/cost/problem for random Stress cost). This Clock was 6-sided, each Action Roll could add from 1 to 3 ticks if roll was failed ("1-3") or succeed with a cost ("4-5"), depending of the Risk factor of the roll...

As I remember, players went into a full success, including:
 - Saving their neutrality stance towards Red Eye Brotherhood (Queen wanted them to join into direct fight).
 - They divided Elsłer desert region into spheres of influence (it was Critical Result, 2 or more "6s").
 - There were some details about future trading and diplomatic contact. For instance, one of the Resisted consequences was an elven emissary to Basalt Home (which didn't happen, thanks to Resistance Roll), which could tremendously complicate Dwarves' politics with Emirates of Rrretze...
 - In the end of the Expedition, one of the players (playing Partasti) played through Obsession (Theft) and stole a fancy barbed war saddle in the night after negotiations and risked all of above accomplished. In the end, their Familiar got severely harmed in the process, because "some elven servant put some barbed saddle on that giant hen" in the meanwhile... (Familiar had been used as an aid for that Action Roll for theft, as a distraction).

 

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