My ED4 Campaign Post-Mortem

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etherial
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My ED4 Campaign Post-Mortem

Post by etherial » Sat Dec 31, 2016 2:18 am

Part 0: Inroduction
A while back I had an idea that I would like to start a campaign with a huge group of players and then reduce that number by half by either killing a bunch of them or having them wander off. I tried this before in a Serenity game, but due to a blizzard, only the people who had signed on to the whole campaign showed. I wanted to try this again with the Earthdawn Fourth Edition campaign I started up two years ago, so I set the initial adventure at The Founding, which seemed like a great opportunity to have some intrigue/tragedy/etc. Unfortunately, this plan didn't work either as the players playing my "guest stars" rapidly became attached to their characters and wanted to keep playing. We struggled with 10 players for a while, then dropped down to 8 for most of the rest of the game. This fall, we started suffering from further player attrition due to life changes, so we ended a little earlier than initially planned. 8, BTW, was way too many. In the future, I'm sticking to six for a campaign, tops.

This post is what I implemented in terms of framework, plot, and game aids.

Part 1: Electronic Game Aids
As mentioned on the old forums, we developed an excel-based character sheet for keeping track of individual character statistics. Normally I despise having computers at the table, especially when playing a fantasy game, but the Players' Guide was not yet out in hardcopy and character sheet rapidly moved away from the card-based toolkit I had wanted to design to something fully cross-referenced and electronic once I let the players get their grubby little hands on it. We used a Google Sheet for a lot of the game infrastructure and a Google Group for player communications. The Sheet had four main tabs and a few others:

1. Scheduling
Each column was a player and each row was a game date. I only run tabletop RPGs on a weekly basis. Anything less frequent than that and I find player apathy takes over before the plot can be resolved. I know it's a big commitment, but due to my acting schedule, I, the GM, was actually the player who canceled most frequently. Players were expected to announce absences 48 hours in advance, barring emergencies. We played for 73 sessions total, and had a full game for 34 of them, almost 50%. For the remaining games, we never played with more than 2 players absent. We missed about 20 sessions due to sudden illnesses, planned vacations, and my dress rehearsals.

2. Legend Totals

In other games I've played or run, we actually went around the table recalling specific exploits of the characters at the session and players were rewarded for things they had done that were especially cool. The GM has to be careful to allot enough time for game wrap, however, and also to be careful to reward players who did important but quite things and also not simply reward high die rolls. I decided to skip that this time due to the increased amount of time many of my players were spending getting to game as well as the unusually large number of players. My plan for future games is to reward players both for remembering exploits and for reenacting them, thus seeking more ways to reward the quieter players for their efforts.

For simplicity, I gave everyone who showed up to a given session the same Legend and everyone who missed it 50% of that amount. The spreadsheet automatically looked up who was in attendance from the previous sheet and calculated how much Legend to give them based on the amount I entered, then totaled up everyone's Lifetime Legend Total accordingly. The game ended with most characters just shy of 1,000,000 Legend, with characters that had stayed to the end all within 90% of the highest total.

3. Demographics
I'd cast a wide net for players for this game and several of them had never met before, so this sheet contained several columns:
Player Name
Email Address
Food Vetos (one or more players often cooked dinner for the game and needed to know about food allergies)
Character Name
Character Race
Character Discipline(s)
Blood Oath (willingness to swear to Travar during the opening adventure)
Other useful details (experience with Earthdawn, etc.)

2 players were experienced Earthdawn GMs, 4 had played Earthdawn before, and 4 were brand-new to Earthdawn. I have a strict rule forbidding multiple characters from having names that start with the same letter after playing in a campaign with a "Kira" and a "Katrina". The mix of characters was (with additional Disciplines in parens) :
Brock Magnetite, Human Warrior (Nethermancer)
Cephalus Mercurius Léon Fowler, Windling Thief (Illusionist)
Elantar Avalon, Elf Scout (Wizard)
Guldurdir, Elf Wizard (Troubadour)
Kit Kellen, Human Swordmaster (Wizard/Air Sailor)
Lindred Cramdrinker, Dwarf Elementalist
Nita Bearkin, Dwarf Cavalryman (Archer), with Arth the War Bear
Qana, Windling Nethermancer
Tyaxha Rukdor, Ork Swordmaster (Weaponsmith)
Y'Rasmus, T'Skrang Weaponsmith

4. House Rules
This was a not quite exhaustive list of all House and Optional Rules we were playing with, as well as a couple of obscure-to-some memes that showed up during play.
Circle Advancement We will be using the "Using All Talents to Advance" optional rule on p. 453. These are the same advancement rules as ED1/2.
Circle Advancement We will also be using the "Specific Training for Talent Options" on p. 454.
Taking an arrow to the knee http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/i-took-an ... n-the-knee
Map There are different maps with different major terrain features, mostly rivers, in different editions. So far, Greg has not argued with the statement that the ED3 one is canonical.
Sad Trombone http://sadtrombone.com/
Simple Action Simple Actions like Maneuver are used and declared during your turn.
Forged Weapons "Forged weapons will usually cost:
1 75
2 225
3 450
4 750
5 1125
6 1575
7 2100
8 2700
9 3375
10 4125
...steps above 10 are not trivially available commercially."
Dead Fall is a Free Action
Recovery Tests Cannot be used on the dead unless specified.
Aligning Talents and Skills When learning a Talent the character already has as a Skill, they recover the Legend they used on the Skill, but can only use them on Skills.
Inspire Others Provides a +1 bonus per Success (instead of 2).

5. Name Voting
Most games we've played, we've accomplished next to nothing over downtime. This game, we spent several months arguing back and forth over what to use as a Group True Pattern Name. Eventually, "The Resplendent Warriors" was chosen.
The Curse Breakers
The Resplendant Warriors
Barsave's Brave
Barsave's Hope
Barsave's Fortune
The Scourge Survivors
The Existential Explorers
Travar's Troubleshooters
The Lucky Survivors
The Serial Peacemakers
The Above Average Eight(ish)
The Unsure Heroes
The Barsave Blockheads
The Resplendent Researchers
Reckless Endagerment
Barsave's Blight
The Reluctant Fighters
The Above Average Avengers
Wandering Troubleshooters of Barsave
the best dressed travelers
A. Bear and Company
Reckless and stupid
Dangerous and stupid
Crazy and stupid
Eight Namgivers and a Bear
Eight friends and a Bear
Rukdor, Bear, and Associates
Arth's Allies

6. Group Pattern Objects
Some characters had very specific ideas about what their Group Pattern Objects were and meant:
Character Item Meaning
moi GM Screen A Wall of Fear and Ignorance is traditional.
Brock Crystal Buckler
Cephalus Mercurius Léon Fowler Book Jacket Don't judge a book by it's cover
Guldurdir Book (The Adventures of the Resplendant Warriors) An ongoing History of the Group
Kit Leatherworking needle Makes things both pretty and functional, and also can be used to stab people.
Tyaxha Short Sword "Bear Claw"

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Re: My ED4 Campaign Post-Mortem

Post by Mataxes » Sat Dec 31, 2016 2:41 am

Cool. I'm curious to know how the game went down as far as the play experience. How easily did new folks get into the system? How did the old hands feel about the changes? Was there anything you though might be troublesome that turned out not to be? How about the other way around?
Josh Harrison - josh@fasagames.com
Earthdawn Line Developer, Forum Admin

Personal Website: www.loremerchant.com

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Re: My ED4 Campaign Post-Mortem

Post by etherial » Sat Dec 31, 2016 4:46 am

Here's the link for the discussion of our excel character sheet: http://fasagames.com/archiveforum/viewt ... =17&t=1837
Mataxes wrote:Cool. I'm curious to know how the game went down as far as the play experience. How easily did new folks get into the system? How did the old hands feel about the changes? Was there anything you though might be troublesome that turned out not to be? How about the other way around?
Some of this was already discussed on the old fourms:
http://fasagames.com/archiveforum/viewt ... =19&t=1786

In general, the biggest problems we encountered were either caused by or compounded by the number of players we had. We needed to implement a lot more table etiquette than we were used to, for one thing. We did fairly quickly conclude that modifying Steps for bonuses and penalties due to Success Levels slowed combat down way too much. If you hit an NPC with 6 Armor with an extra Success on the Attack, it was much easier for me to mentally reduce the Armor to 4 than wait for you to alter your Step and then reduce the Armor by 6. I didn't even need to calculate the bonus before you started rolling, I could just announce the successful hit and do the difference / 5 in my head while you were rolling.

With 8 players and so many of them MultiDisciplining into Spellcasters, the characters had access to a myriad of chain-cast Buff Spells: Air Armor, Metal Wings, Soul Armor, Mage Armor, Quicken Pace, Dodge Boost. With the exception of the Elementalist, that comes to only one chain-cast per character, so there wasn't a lot I could do to lower that except via GM Fiat.

Combat became very difficult to keep interesting once the party hit Circle 8 as it was increasingly difficult for me to create scenarios that were a threat to the Heavies that didn't flatten the Support Disciplines, and it was rare that combat would last more than 3 rounds before turning into a rout. We did have some success with the Befouled Spider Adepts that Panda put together because they had some interesting status effects to fling around.

Karma felt really watered down from my side of the table. The players rarely ran out of Karma, though as pointed out in the thread I linked to, that had more to do with them being strategic about throttling their spending than actually having trouble spending it all. One thing I was planning on discussing later was the Legend/Circle Progression. We reached a point where it just wasn't possible for them to spend all the Legend they were receiving because of the new restriction of only one Rank/Meditation coupled with the pace of Adventuring. It also meant I had to throw money at them at odd intervals in order to ensure they could Raise non-Talents and Circle, so in the future I plan to adjust the Legend Award Table and add in an estimate of how much Silver I should be handing out every session to ensure they had enough money to do what they needed but not necessarily enough to do what they wanted.

So the main changes to ED4 were:
Successes instead of Success Level Table: Loved it, Grokked it
Extra Threads for Spells: Loved it, Grokked it
Free Talents: Wished you could spend Legend to pre-Raise them, but otherwise Loved it, Grokked it (it helped that it was automagically handled by the character sheet)
Looser Karma: Vaguely unsatisfying compared to before, occasionally new players needed to be reminded they could/should spend it, but that's nothing new to ED4
I feel like there was another major change on the player side, but I'm blanking because it's late.

Let's break it down a bit further by player:

Brock Magnetite, Human Warrior (Nethermancer)
Experienced Earthdawn GM, no particular problems here.

Cephalus Mercurius Léon Fowler, Windling Thief (Illusionist)
The other experienced Earthdawn GM. He wanted to play a character that used tricks and alchemy to hurl status effects at enemies, but we could never quite get the mechanics to work right. I think he'd've been better off playing a Troubadour, but I don't even remember if we discussed that as an option. He was very frustrated by the Illusionist Spells that had been cut, but the ones we ported from previous editions were mostly unchanged.

Elantar Avalon, Elf Scout (Wizard)
New Earthdawn player, tough nut to crack. He is an old school quiet nerd. I tried convincing him to pick up Archer, but he said he already had Missile Weapons and wanted Astral Sense more than Flame Arrow. Occasionally forgot to spend Karma.

Guldurdir, Elf Wizard (Troubadour)
New Earthdawn player. Grasped the mechanics fairly quickly. Good roleplayer, too. Every other combat, the character would alternate between bragging about how he never took damage and stepping in to take a blow so one of the Heavies could stand up.

Kit Kellen, Human Swordmaster (Wizard/Air Sailor)
Experienced Earthdawn player. You'll note we nerfed Inspire Others. The PCs were routinely getting +6 to every Test for the entire combat as soon as the dirty dirty Human was able to take his action during the First Round. The only reason this wasn't compounded by the Elf Wizard/Troubadour was that Guldurdir could never muster the Initiative to use Inspire Others to boost Kit's Inspire Others Step.

Lindred Cramdrinker, Dwarf Elementalist
Experienced Earthdawn player. The Elementalist did not receive quite as big a boost as I think you intended, but she definitely had a good time. Keeping Vital Springs in an Enhanced Matrix meant that even if she had to abandon her huge multi-thread attack spell, she got to do something cool every combat. Forgot to remind her that she could raise the Speak Language Skill, occasionally was tempted to summon an Elemental to speak Ork/Theran/whatever for her.

Nita Bearkin, Dwarf Cavalryman (Archer), with Arth the War Bear
New Earthdawn Player. Occasionally forgot to take armor into account, resulting in being temporarily dead during the Founding.

Qana, Windling Nethermancer
New Earthdawn Player. Guest Star. Wish we'd found a way to get her to show up for a short group of sessions after the first year. She and the T'Skrang had a Mad Science thing going and it would have been fun to see more of their experiments run amok.

Tyaxha Rukdor, Ork Swordmaster (Weaponsmith)
New Earthdawn Player. Would have benefitted the most from the card-based character sheet I was working on. She was sometimes overwhelmed by the number of magical abilities her character possessed and by the multitude of bonuses they had the ability to create. Eventually made herself a cheat sheet, but I think it would have been better if she'd started with one.

Y'Rasmus, T'Skrang Weaponsmith
Experienced Earthdawn Player. See Qana.

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Re: My ED4 Campaign Post-Mortem

Post by The Undying » Wed Jan 04, 2017 2:41 am

If you are down for it, Etherial, I would personally love a brief post, series of posts, article if you will, with your impressions from running large group ED with (what I hope is) a fixed player group. What worked, what didn't? What changes did you feel compelled to make to the system? How did you handle unplanned player absence. Is there anything you did that, if you had it over to do again, you wouldn't do? Or vice versa?

I'm toying with the idea of GMing a table of six players, two with very mixed attendance records, so any ED-specific lessons learned would be great.

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Re: My ED4 Campaign Post-Mortem

Post by etherial » Wed Jan 04, 2017 3:17 pm

The Undying wrote:If you are down for it, Etherial, I would personally love a brief post, series of posts, article if you will, with your impressions from running large group ED with (what I hope is) a fixed player group. What worked, what didn't? What changes did you feel compelled to make to the system? How did you handle unplanned player absence. Is there anything you did that, if you had it over to do again, you wouldn't do? Or vice versa?

I'm toying with the idea of GMing a table of six players, two with very mixed attendance records, so any ED-specific lessons learned would be great.
That's Part 4 or 5, though there are some comments above about the topic. I'm still working on finding time to sit down and write Part 2, wherein I discuss how we handled minis, props, and other accouterments. I'd say the biggest thing to worry about is to set the expectation that absences are OK as long as they are announced in advance or clearly life emergencies. Rarely did people miss game with less than a month's notice unless it was due to illness. This allowed me to write plots where one character was absent if a player was missing several games because they were on vacation or plots where one character shows up to the action late with a critical piece of information to move the plot forward if they were absent for only one game.

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Re: My ED4 Campaign Post-Mortem

Post by etherial » Mon Feb 27, 2017 2:52 am

I did not mean to take this long a break between sections, but there ya go.

Part 1 Addendum:
I created a separate Google Doc to keep track of Thread Items. I shared this doc with one or two other experienced Earthdawn GMs to get their input. This meant that I had a secret electronic copy of the Legend behind every Thread Item the players had and could quickly look up the relevant text on my phone and secretly text or email it to the player. Though I should be a little more careful when emailing the powers of Cursed Thread Items to players...

Part 2: Physical Game Aids

1. Books and GM Screen
We started with only the electronic ED4PG pdf, so I had a pretty firm idea of what I wanted to bookmark when the physical copy showed up. 2 of my players backed the Kickstarter for softcover PGs, one of them being my wife, and so I immediately applied 13 Post-It Note flags to it when it arrived. By the time my hardcovers came out, they arrived with the (very well designed) GM Screen and so I only placed 7 bookmarks in my PG and 5 in my GMG:

PG: One for the first page of each Spell section, one for the Summoning chapter, one for the racial arms and armor rules, and one for the Healing Aids descriptions.

GMG: Creature Maneuvers, Creature Powers, Spirit Powers, Dragon Powers, and Horror Powers

Looking back on things, I should probably add a flag for the beginning of the Talents descriptions, but I'm a bit dictatorial about my players noting the page numbers for all of their Talents, so I usually have a good estimate of what pages the Talents can be found on.

2. Boards, maps, and writing implements
Our game room has 2 white boards in it, a big one that I like to sit in front of where I record things like the current game date and location, Names of NPCs the party is currently interacting with, Names of characters currently in the party, and any hastily drawn thousand yard height maps I need to make on the fly. The other whiteboard was off to the side and was a great place to write down which Chaincast Buffs the Party was currently using. I had my Barsaive Boxed Set map laminated so I could pull it out and easily show everyone large scale geographic features.

I acquired a zippered pencil bag with a kitten on it into which I threw a 100-pack of bic mechanical pencils. I got the mechanical pencils back in 2005 and there's still 16 pencils left in the kitten, so I'd say we're doing pretty well with attrition. Every game session starts with players passing around the kitten getting pencils (or asking someone to hand them a kitten), and every game ends with me grabbing all the pencils left on the table and stuffing them back in. The wet erase markers I use for the dragonskin we play on for miniatures combat also live in the kitten. Whiteboard markers live in a separate baggie for safety's sake.

3. Miniatures Combat
I love minis and I particularly like how minis help me visualize the combat. Mostly we used Reaper Bones figures intermixed with Impact! Miniatures' licensed Earthdawn T'Skrang and Stonehaven Minatures' Pixies. I know others have commented that they feel this makes combat too tactical, but I find they mostly make combat more tactile and result in me repeating myself less often about legitimate tactical elements of the combat.

We used the following miniatures conventions when playing and it worked out very well:

A hex side that is pierced or blocked off by a terrain feature (such as a crag, pillar, wall, or cliff) counts as an opponent for the purposes of determining whether the character is Harried. This lets me freely draw right angles on buildings, knowing that the partial hexes I create are usable but represent the restricted movement that happens when you get pinned to a wall.

Most hexes cost 2 yards of movement ("hex" being a Theran word meaning "six"). A hex with a triangle drawn on it represents rough terrain and costs 1 additional yard of movement. A hex with a 6-pointed star (i.e. 2 overlapping triangles) represents difficult terrain and costs 2 additional yards of movement.

Character facing only matters when adjacent to 2 or more opponents, and you have to choose your facing when the second opponent appears. If that second opponent is stealthy, they get to ensure that they picked a blindside.

4. Treasure Chest
I bought a wooden treasure chest and a bunch of little magnetic boxes shaped like books at Michaels, intending to add some of Panda's Trophy mechanics. This didn't work out quite as well as I'd hoped, mostly due to crafter's block on my part, but we did have fun with ~1000 plastic Silver Pieces, ~400 plastic Gold Pieces, and a couple of bucks of pennies (I refuse to pay more than $0.01 for a copper piece). Each box was generally large enough to hold a character's treasure (cash and cards), but I should also have supplied a folder for everyone's character sheet since folding them up into the boxes took up way too much space. Some players stored their mini in their character box, others kept a pencil or a set of dice in there.

I also bought a box of fake gems from Michaels to use as jewels when the characters encounter troves of valuables and each gem had a different shape, so I built an appraisal card with the outline of each gem, the name of the type of gem, and the Cash Value of it. I had 7 gem types, ranging in value from 150 to 1600 Silver. I think I'd probably go with a slightly larger range in the future, say 100-5000.

Reaper's Bones Kickstarter 3 contained a number of exotic weapon sprues, including in translucent colors, and I can't wait to use those for Thread Items in my next campaign.

5. Notes

I have an engineering paper notebook that I mostly use to list Named NPCs and plot out my one-shots, but it was also helpful in the beginning of designing the political landscape of Travar as well as thinking about short and long-term goals for the PCs at the start of the campaign.

I also bought a small accordion folder (probably originally designed for receipts) that is about 4" tall, 9" wide, and 1" deep where I keep all my notecards for running game. I used the following sections:

GM Aids
I printed out some Spell templates on cardstock to use when players cast AOE spells.
I have an index card for helping out with combat/surprises with the following columns: PC Name, Physical Defense Armor), Mystic Defense (Armor), Social, Perceptics
The Perceptics section is the largest and contains the Steps for the character's Awareness, Astral Sight, Danger Sense, or base Perception, as well as a note if they have Heat Sight or Low Light Vision.

Creatures
A dumping ground for creature stat block cards. I reorganized the data from the stat blocks in the book to be more optimized for combat. Any Steps listed have just the number and not the dice, which makes setting up for combat take a little longer, but makes the creatures easier to scale up for later use.

Code: Select all

[Creature Name]                                                 [Page Ref]
"INIT" Step                               "DEX" Step            Generic Powers
"Movement" Yards[Walking/Flying/Climbing] "STR" Step            Innate Attacks
"Phys[ical Defense]" Value (Armor)        "TOU" Step            Innate Damage
"Mystic [Defense]" Value (Armor)          "PER" Step
"Social [Defense]"                        "WIL" Step
"Recovery" Number of Tests:Step           "CHA" Step
"Wound [Threshold]" Value                 "Legend" Circle
"Knockdown [Step]" Value                  "Loot" Description [if any]
"Uncon[sciousness]" Rating                "Actions:" [if >1]
"Death" Rating                            "Karma" Quantity:Step [if nonzero]
<------------------------------------------Wacky Powers and Maneuvers------------------------------------------>
I used Physics vector notation with a circled X (representing an arrow heading down into the card) to represent powers used by PCs against the Creature and a circled bullet (representing an arrow heading up out of the card) to represent powers used by the Creature against PCs.

NPCs
Named NPCs with relevant powers, possibly their own stat blocks

Encounter 1, Encounter 2, Encounter 3
All the index cards for the next handful of planned encounters

Treasure
Any unique or interesting treasure the PCs are likely to pick up but needing more than a line on a character sheet, such as potions, Thread Items, and tomes of spells or lore.

Spirits
Like the Creatures section, but these are more likely to get used over and over again. I had several spirits of various types and Strength Ratings statted out.

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Re: My ED4 Campaign Post-Mortem

Post by The Undying » Mon Feb 27, 2017 4:32 am

Where are you at Circle?

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Re: My ED4 Campaign Post-Mortem

Post by Telarus » Mon Feb 27, 2017 6:37 am

This is neat. Thanks a lot for sharing your setup. :D

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Re: My ED4 Campaign Post-Mortem

Post by The Undying » Mon Feb 27, 2017 8:19 am

Etherial: you've got two summoner Disciplines in that mix. I'm extremely curious how you feel summoning ended up performing in ED4. It has changed INSANELY since prior versions, and while I definitely think it needed to be dialed back, I think it got racheted too far back to near the point of uselessness for such a prominent feature of the Disciplines. How often was this used at your table? How often were their failures at various required actions (summon, negotiation)? Was the thirty minute time for summoning a problem? How often were they successfully able to pull off aid/enhance, and did they ever get it with more than one success? If you made any changes to handle any problems, what were they and why? Really appreciate any insight here; thanks.

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Re: My ED4 Campaign Post-Mortem

Post by etherial » Mon Feb 27, 2017 11:38 am

The Undying wrote:
Mon Feb 27, 2017 8:19 am
Etherial: you've got two summoner Disciplines in that mix. I'm extremely curious how you feel summoning ended up performing in ED4. It has changed INSANELY since prior versions, and while I definitely think it needed to be dialed back, I think it got racheted too far back to near the point of uselessness for such a prominent feature of the Disciplines. How often was this used at your table? How often were their failures at various required actions (summon, negotiation)? Was the thirty minute time for summoning a problem? How often were they successfully able to pull off aid/enhance, and did they ever get it with more than one success? If you made any changes to handle any problems, what were they and why? Really appreciate any insight here; thanks.
We are probably the wrong group to be answering that question, unfortunately. We never played EDC/ED3 and Summoning was never a large part of our ED1/ED2 experience. Our Elementalist did Summon from time to time, but never for Aid/Enhance. Sometimes she was looking for a semi-sentient zone controller to use Elemental Aura/Enrage Element. Sometimes they Summoned an Elemental to help Find things. Once during a Kaer Delve they encountered what was essentially a giant washing machine that hurled rocks at them because the spring it was connected to had died. She Summoned a Water Elemental to operate the machine for 24 hours so they could come and go freely (and lemony fresh!).

Our Nethermancer was primarily in it to look spooky, Astral Sight, Frighten, modify his own Pattern in a quest for immortality, and Last Chance.

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