Friday, December 31, 2010

Just another Thursday Night on the blogs.

"There are sexist messages in RPG art and maybe we should think about that."

"No, that would just make the artists make shitty art."

The first is a no-brainer. The second, I don't agree with, but the guy saying it is smart and makes strong interesting arguments. Also, several of the comments are smart, specifically from Trollsmyth, TheCramp and Telecanter. Several others are mind-numbingly stupid.

Ah, the internet....

Thursday, December 30, 2010

People can build stupid shit without alien influence, thankyouverymuch.

Wrote this to my wife after some time spent researching tombs, and realized I might as well post it here. It's tangentially related to my recent dungeon thoughts.

It's a constant source of humor to me that, any time a fictional Egyptian-style pyramid appears, it is full of rooms and halls to the point of being almost hollow. This is because we think of them as buildings - as architecture.

They are not architecture - they are tombstones. Most of them were not even designed to be as big as they are. They were originally short narrow step pyramids like the older ones, maybe a bit bigger, and then they started falling down so stuff was piled onto them to shore them up. In the case of the Bent Pyramid, they screwed that up and halfway up it started to crush the tomb, so they changed the angle. The result was an empty pyramid - the pharaoh had another built. After all, would you want to be the one buried in the fucked up pyramid?

At that point, they had these big things sitting about as a result of having to essentially repair the old tombs, but no one wants to go in a smaller tomb than the other guy, so they started making them that way on purpose. They built their little chambers, then built a large pointless step pyramid on top, then another on that and another on than, then finally a smooth outer surface. Essentially mimicking a process that had been accidental - "Oh shit! Guyfacemcdudeatep's tomb is falling! Quick, make the slaves shove bricks against it!"

This is why people who think there is anything magic or supernatural or alien about Egyptian construction are wrong (or at the very least, wrong that they needed magic or aliens to do what they did).
This is about as complicated as it got. By the way, this one
fell in because it was too complicated.

Egypt was full of people, and people are the dumbest, smartest creatures on Earth. We don't need aliens to tell us how to make thousands of slaves work themselves to death over a few decades ensuring huge stones fit together perfectly. Give me unlimited manpower and years to achieve it, and I'll make you a space station. And they weren't that smart, were they? If you actually know anything about architectural history, you know it was a process of trial and error and building up of knowledge and skill over the course of a 2000-year civilization. We look at the Giza pyramids, with their stones so tight you can't slide an index card between, and forget the slabs over holes in the sand, the step pyramids, the collapsed failures, the screw-ups like the Bent Pyramid. We forget almost every single tomb we find was robbed within years of first being sealed up, because a granite slab is hard to get through but the sandstone it's fitted in is not. The workers (and even priests) that stuck the body in there just came back and tunneled around the door.

Furthermore, and more to the point of why people want to believe those massive, massive things have something in them besides a tunnel and a dead guy - the dead need not justify themselves to us. We can hold them accountable in our minds, pass judgment on what they did... but it means nothing to them. They had their reasons, and those reasons went with them.

The pyramids map the stars, sharpen razors, cure cancer, contain our genome, are spaceships, etc. etc. etc... they have to be SOMETHING, right? They're so... big and devoid of purpose and that can't be true. And it isn't, but the truth is that they are devoid of modern purpose. They make no sense today. But when they were built, for the people that built them, they were the most important things in the world. To them, it wasn't stupid to build the biggest structure in the world to house one tiny room with a single dead guy and his stuff in it. It wasn't a comedy of errors that they had to keep shoring them up and rebuilding them. It was all extremely meaningful.

We are the smartest, dumbest creatures in the world - we do remarkable things for nonsensical reasons. But they are reasons.

I imagine all this can be applied to dungeon design somehow. You figure it out.

Skadi must Eat of Every Meat

Like barbarians? More accurately, like loving mockeries of Howardian fantasy archetypes? Even more accurately, appreciate a good butt joke?

You'll like Skadi as much as I do then. It's the Thursday update on Dumm Comics (several of the others are great too, though).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dungeons: A Visual Essay

Sympathize with the dungeon, for you are to it as pathogenic microns are to you. You were both built for a purpose, and as you subvert its own with torch and 10-foot pole, something inside you beats its flagellum ceaselessly down your corridors. Your chambers are well stocked with white monsters and glandular death traps, but the DM of Evolution has printed out a whole stack of character sheets.
There are five stories of cathedral below the cooled lava surrounding this church in Mexico. Dungeons are undead structures - they had a purpose in life but it died with them. Only echoes of it remain, but they lumber on, taking on new purposes and new inhabitants. A dungeon is a corpse, and corpses teem with new life.
(Very Large Image Alert) In Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which I call the Platonic Idea Dungeon, that previous life is readily apparent. Dracula was obviously a living man in this castle, or some form of it, once. In undeath, he's taken his armies, his staff, his court and even his fallen foes with him.

Of course, SoTN was merely putting the Castlevania aesthetic on Metroid's structure. Super Metroid may be the better dungeon, depending on your taste. While I don't quite count it because it's still serving it's original purpose - it's a base for the Space Pirates and there they are, basing themselves in it - it's still a great design.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Castlevania is the Platonic Dungeon

I’ve been thinking a lot about dungeons. You know, the second noun in the title of the two-noun-and-an-ampersand game we play? It’s funny how rarely I’ve ever really used either in a game.

Mmm... dungeony.
Dragons, eh. But dungeons - my lack of experience with dungeons is evidence of my youth - old school DnD is all about the dungeons (as a figure of speech: I know there’s more to the old-school ethos than that, so put away the flamethrowers). Still, I’ve thought about them a lot, and I’ve read plenty of dungeon modules from the TSR years.

They weren’t any good. Bits were good, but I’ve never encountered the Platonic Idea Dungeon.

Save one. It was a video game.

I submit Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (and the further 2D games that were rooted in it) as the Perfect Dungeon, the closest we may ever see to the Platonic conception of Pure Dungeoness.

It is non-linear - you can tackle areas in almost any order you care to. What you do in one area can affect another (powerups that allow you to reach areas you could not otherwise - not a perfect example but close). There are traps and tricks that make you start examining the pretty scenery closer. There’s a variety of monsters, of course. Lots of loot, much of it weird and special. There are secrets out the ass. But most importantly, the place feels like a place, not a bank in the ground custom built for the sole purpose of being robbed. It feels lived in... or unlived in or whatever.

Some examples of what’s so fucking great about SoTN:

  • The castle has art galleries, a library, a chapel, an indoor colosseum, a clock tower, catacombs, a mine and pretty much everything but a kitchen, all stocked with appropriate enemies (undead pit fighters in the colosseum, angel-like things in the chapel, books in the library). This gives you a sense that this really was a ruler’s castle before things changed. Living people went about their business here, once, long ago.
    WHAT is this asshole's deal, anyway?
  • In said chapel, there’s a confessional you can use. A ghost priest will come if you sit on one side, while the ghost of a woman will show up if you sit on his. They will either listen to you or confess to you, or try to stab you through the confessional grate. What an awesome trap.
  • Sometimes there’s just random weird shit, like a zombie kung-fu artist that attacks you in a room. There’s only one of him, he’s not a boss or anything... he’s just this unique single thing.
  • There’s more than one faction in the castle, sort of. The Librarian will sell you goods and info. There’s a ferryman that will take you across an underground lake. There are two other characters loose in the castle doing their own thing against Dracula, but not with you. One of them has been brainwashed by Drac’s minions. Beyond that, there’s a ton of bosses with hinted backgrounds and motives of their own.
    He's called Yorick in the English versions. I know. Sorry.
  • There are elements you can use against the inhabitants, like teleporters and elevators. Oh, lets count save spots, why not.
  • Did I mention secrets? SPOILER WARNING: 50% of the castle is only accessible if you wear a special item, don’t kill the person that looks like they’re responsible for things, and instead attack a magic ball. Do this and an entire, upside-down version of the place comes out of the sky, where the REAL bad guy is. This is all completely optional.

  • A giant floating ball of screaming corpses.

This image comes with a bonus asterisk! *
SoTN does something that is very hard for a video game - it makes you forget you are essentially on an obstacle course with someone waiting at the end for you to assassinate them. The thing is, this should be easy to do in an RPG. Just construct a dungeon with a sense of purpose beyond the PCs, be it "An evil monarch who would later become a vampire lived here" or "we buried an important person here and by the Gods we want them to stay there."

In short, publish a dungeon module that was more like Castlevania and less like “in the room, there is 50 gp and a ochre jelly” and I’m a customer. Since I’ve not seen one... I’ll just have to make it myself, won’t I?

* Disclaimer 1: This image is from a later game using the SoTN model, I just thought it was metal as fuck. Disclaimer 2: I am not metal and the above statement should in no way betaken as accurate. I'm not responsible if you call this metal and Eddie from the Megadeth covers kills you in your nightmares.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Have a Secure, Unmolested Sizzlepissmas!

In my household, we do not celebrate Christmas. There is no Santa.

There is only the Solstice Night, when the sun is swallowed up and then slowly regurgitated by Sizzlepiss, the Solstice Opossum. She crawls up your duct work to leave "presents" in your shoes. If you've been naughty, she doesn't leave coal - she chews open your gas lines. Place the rotting scraps of your heathen feasts by your trash bins now and you may yet please her.

Sizzlepissmas is also celebrated in the City-State of Carrow, where gifts are exchanged much you do for your holidays. In honor, here's a random table for you. Technically, I made it up for a post on another forum, but it's the thought that counts.

So the PCs have been captured by some subterranean "savage" culture, like gnolls or orcs. Instead of outright execution, the PCs are sealed inside the skull of a giant, which is then filled with either:

1. A mild acid (will ruin cloth and paper, removes all body hair, permanent scarring over entire body),
2. Cave Bees (like normal bees but deal with fungi spores instead of pollen),
3. Gnoll pups,
4. Cave Honey Mead (think bourbon with traces of LSD in it),
5. Blood,
6. Snakes and chicken eggs,
7. Snakes and live chickens,
8. Hallucinogenic Mushrooms,
9. Rotting meat,
10. A candle, some dice, a couple hunks of meat and a kobold who just happened to get caught the very same morning.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gygaxian Democracy with your host, Zak Smith

I've been throughly enjoying the Gygaxian Democracy series over at Playing DnD with Porn Stars. Basically, Zak posts some kind of prompt - a table to fill in, a keyed dungeon to stock, a list of villians - and the rest of us provide the rest. Crowdsourced DM material, in other words. The results have been mostly fantastic, and I'm really proud of what Smith's prompts and the other contributions have inspired out of me. Here's a few of mine, but really, read the others as well.

1. For a list of villains, I choose to fill in the details for "giant centipede with excellent hygiene"
2. Shriekglass is made from the cries of dead virgins, and is being smuggled into town. Several parties are interested in it, including mine (which I used a Tarot deck to make up).
3. The King has lost his head. The Forces of Badness have made impostures, each of which has a different effect if put back on his body. Like inflating and floating away.
4. The Hammer of Exorcism exorcises things hammered with it. Unless it doesn't, in which case one of a number of things might occur. Like total protonic reversal.

Play Report 5: The Chase

I don't have a lot to offer this time, except to toss up the maps they found. From Steph:

Drusiphia offers to take the first watch, and she seems like she might not be that trustworthy. Hmm. But Spucky tells Junior to keep watch too, and to stop her if she tries anything sneaky. Also, she sleeps on the medallion to make it hard to steal. And surely even a thief wouldn't rob near-penniless adventurers in the middle of a dungeon when she's been promised a share of the treasure they're owed when they get out, would she?

Well, it turns out she would! Dan-dan-dan! Drusiphia steals the medallion and Spucky's pocket change during the night and runs off with Junior. Oh dear! She leaves a note saying not to follow her, but come on -- as if! For one thing, she's probably headed to the exit. Plus, she just guardian-jacked us, and that's not cool! I was gonna give her part of my treasure, too! Although in fairness to her, the medallion might have been worth the lion's share of it anyway.

First, I recover my spells. This time I pick Magic Stone instead of Goodberry ... I don't think we're going to find any berry bushes down here! In fact, we are totally out of food. That might be a problem! Drusiphia said the purple mushrooms growing everywhere could be eaten "in a pinch", but that they cause hallucinations, and anyway, who knows if she was telling the truth?

We follow her trail for a while and eventually find somewhere where she seems to have lost one of her horns and fallen down some stairs. Spucky takes the antler, maybe she can sell it to a wizard? Further on, we hear the sounds of a fight. Spucky tries to sneak up an see what it is (not that she has any ranks in Sneak, but it's worth a shot.) A big black dog appears, growling!

But it's not here to attack - it's one of those padfeet that the owl mentioned, another Grim. It reports that Drusiphia ran by with Junior, using him to protect her from the Grim. Ah, now it begins to make sense that she didn't want to travel with us, she would certainly have run into trouble here if she had. And even though she managed to get away, the Grim took a nice big bite of her anyway. I like this Grim, he reminds me of Chops.

There's a dwarf skeleton covered with orange mold here, too. The Grim says that the spores of the mold are deadly. Spucky leaves it alone and we continue on to the south, following the trail of the thief. Soon we hear something in the distance, fwoosh, fwoosh, fwoosh. It gets closer and closer, screeching and screaming. It's a gigantic bat! Aaa!

Our attack kept missing and I started to get a bit worried - maybe we should run? I think I was a bit nervous because of Chris' vivid description. It was very scary, like a big wingy train barreling down the tunnel! However, we eventually manage to land a few hits - as usual, Agartha does most of the damage. And the bat is killed! After checking it for poison, we cook it. So much for being out of food - for now at least.

A crazy-looking person dressed in rags appears from the way we came, covered in orange dust and laughing hysterically. Looks like mold spores! Spucky uses Create Water to wash them off, and it seems to work, but the weirdo attacks anyway. We knock him out (he's not very tough). Chris asks if we want to eat him - ha ha. No, but we do go through his pockets and find some old maps written in Dwarvish shorthand. Looks like our nutty friend was messing around with that dwarf skeleton back there. Luckily, Spucky can read Dwarvish (along with Common, Gnomish, and Sylvan) and can read the directions on what places to avoid and how to get to 'the Crypt', which seems like the way out.

And Back.
Spucky takes along a lot of bat meat, in case we can't find anything else, and we also carry along the crazy mushroom spore guy, in the hopes that when he wakes up he'll be less insane. He's tied up, though, just in case. He got past the Grim all right, so he's probably not evil. Alternately, he could be evil and very powerful! We'll just have to hope he doesn't turn out to be another bad egg!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Crunchy Corner: Called Shots

In DnD your Armor Class, or AC, reflects your ability to get out of the way or deflect a blow harmlessly. It's a combination of bonuses given for dexterity, armor, shields, magic effects, etc.

Your attack bonus in 3rd Edition, be it for a melee or ranged weapon, is pretty simple - how good you are at hitting something with that thing.

Here's what happens in a giving combat turn: I try to whack you - I roll a d20 plus whatever my bonus for my whacker is. I'm trying to match your AC - I either succeed and thus you are whacked, or I failed.

Why did I fail?

Well... that's open to interpretation. You could have dodged, ducked, sidestepped, or I could have failed to even swing at the right area of space-time you occupy. Or I could have struck your shield, or you batted my weapon aside with it. Maybe I hit you, but your armor did what armor does. If you are some kind of monster, I may have simply failed to penetrate your rough hide or natural armor.

In the rules, straight as they are, there's no way to tell. The DM has to make up what happened. I usually go by how close the roll was - did you roll just under their AC? Armor or a shield, then. Miss it by 3 points or more and they probably dodged. More than 10 and you apparently mistook a stray dust mote for your foe, three feet away.

But what does this mean for a player that wants to hit a specific body part? Or an object held or worn? A "Called Shot" as you will. I was surprised to learn there is no rule for this in the official Player's Guide or the DMG for 3e. What's up with that?

First, there is a rule for trying to disarm an opponent, which involves striking whatever they're holding. There's also rules for hitting objects carried or worn.

The primary thinking I've encountered is that the system of Critical Hits is supposed to cover "hitting something special." In other words, you aren't allowed to aim for the neck, or shoot someone in the knee. Instead, if you roll a critical hit (let's remember that in official by-the-book 3e that means the critical range of that weapon followed by rolling the critical range AGAIN) you are THEN allowed to assume you hit the neck or a knee or something.

This, in my opinion, robs the players of agency and I fail to see how that improves the game.

I've not settled on a solution, but here are my thoughts.

Hitting a body part... just consider the size of the part, add that bonus to the other stuff (most things will be +4 or +8) and give the target an attack of opportunity.

Also, don't make hitting a special place too big a deal, as a DM. If chopping heads were as simple as overcoming a +8 bonus, a lot of PCs will take advantage of that. Maybe if they make the roll and get a natural 20. Otherwise, there's a feat for that.

Play Report 4: Exploring the Underworld

And now on to the megadungeon. Using Maptools, I did this an unusual way. I made a large scale map of the tunnels, with each square representing an hour of walking. Each hour, there was a 1/6th chance of an encounter. I had previously made a chart of possible encounters - some vicious, some innocuous. So it was sort of like an old 16-Bit JRPG video game - walk around the map until there's a sound and you're in a battle!

This way, the story evolved very organically. The Grims were on the list, as was Drusiphia (one of my favorite NPCs) and some other characters. There's a lot I designed that was never even approached, or rolled. This is, of course, good - it means I'm kept on my toes just as much as the players, and it means their choices and luck really have an impact, instead of stuff just thrusting its way in front of them.

Here's Steph's report:

Mostly this one was a series of dungeon encounters as we followed the tracks of the mine cart. People digging up rocks usually want them brought to the surface, right? Or at least to some sort of city. So we head along the tracks. First, we encounter a large talking owl called the Grim, who informs us that it's a guardian placed to help cleanse the dungeon of evil -- and that, as good creatures, we're safe around it. That's good to know! There are other Grims in the dungeon, including some "padfeet", but it doesn't know the way out. Too bad!

Traveling on, we find some mysterious things on the ceiling. Spucky throws a rock and skeletal bats swoop down to attack! We make short work of them, especially with Junior around.

Farther along still, we come to a watery area with a lot of puddles. One of the puddles hulks up into some sort of humanoid form made of living blood, and here it comes! Agartha and Spucky bat at it a bit but the real heavy lifting is done by Junior again, who hits it once and splatters it messily. Junior makes things a bit too easy, truth be told, but since I don't have Chops with me, I'm glad to have him! Spucky saves some of the blood in an empty flask (from a healing potion, taken off one of the gang, which Agartha chugged earlier). You never know what might be useful.

The tracks end at a vast underground lake, where they seem to have collapsed. Whoops! I guess we're not getting out that way. The cavern is huge - we can't see the ceiling, and we're too high up to get to the lake. Agartha chucks a rock, and there's a flash of something mysterious and humanoid in the lake. Then, suddenly, the lights go out, and Agartha is almost stabbed from behind by a mysterious assailant. She manages to grab them instead, though - turns out that it's a woman named Drusiphia with horns on her head. Even though she just tried to attack us, she seems to be stuck in the dungeon too - she claims to have been on the run from flying heads for a while. Hmm, can we trust her? Spucky probably would -- their aren't many evil gnomes, and she hasn't been in big-people land too long. Besides, when lost in a dungeon, we can use all the help we can get, and Drusiphia says she knows the way out. So she comes along, even though there are some suspicious things about her. For instance, when Spucky shows her the bottle of blood, she grabs it and drinks it!

DM: Specifically, Dru has two deer horns on one side, and a ram's on the other. I introduced her because I wanted another living being lost in the caves, but she became so interesting to me that I'm basing a novel around a (un-DnDified) version of her.

Soon the flying heads Drusiphia mentioned catch up with the party. Vargouille attack! The tiefling puts her fingers in her ears just before they let out a paralyzing screech. Sheesh, thanks for warning us about that! Agartha is frozen, while Drusiphia and Junior each take out one vargouille each, and even Spucky manages to down one with a couple of bullets from her sling. It doesn't take long, and when the battle is over Agartha is angry at having missed it.

We decided to end the session here, so the party prepared to make camp. It was still late afternoon in-game, but we'd been hiking around all day, and Spucky was totally out of spells, so we agreed to stop for a while and eat our rations.

She's right about Junior making things too easy. It's a good thing they rolled Drusiphia when they did.

Friday, December 10, 2010

TIC... TOC.... TIC...

An awesome but hard as hell exercise from Zak Smith's blog: Stock a dungeon with 15 rooms in under 2 minutes.

Follow the link to see the map - I don't think it matters, though. Any layout of 15 rooms will do. Here's mine, but I'm really bad at telling time* so I think I accidentally went over:

  1. Statue of a basilisk and a flock of cockatrice locked in deadly combat. Not real.
  2. Stoned Flock of cockatrice, real, trap tile unstones them.
  3. Stoned Basilisk, real, but actually stoned: bleary eyes, etc. Gaze half effective due to red eye
  4. Two elf women that won't stop singing (can't?)
  5. Bannana trees
  6. floor covered in redworms
  7. floor covered in teeth
  8. Giant tapestry made of woven spider silk
  9. caged spiders
  10. spider milking apparatus
  11. WC
  12. Kid pounding head against floor, wound keeps healing
  13. comfy chairs
  14. kitchen
  15. library, all the books are blank 
*Not kidding - I don't know why either.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Just some stuff I drew.

Afile, self-proclaimed daughter of the Raven herself

A map of the region east and south of Carrow

And another map contradicting it on key points.

The Carrow Campaign: Play Report 3

The following events were a perfect, glimmering gem of what makes me love DMing, and makes others loathe it. Here's Steph again with the player's POV:

It's the next morning and guess what? We grew a new level overnight. Suddenly Spucky has another hit die (8... a nice one!) and can cast more spells. I decide on Light and Goodberry as the added default spells to renew every moonrise (plus Summon Nature's Ally, for that extra spell slot I forgot about). Look out world, we're Level 2!

And by "world", I mean "little girl's shins", because it's time for the interrogation, medieval style. Two of the gang members had their memory erased by the black moss, but the third might still yield some info. Carrock unties her, warning not to try escaping across the grassy field unless she remembers where all the bear traps the gang laid are. The little girl hesitates and then makes a break for it. But Carrock moved the traps anyway. OH, SNAP. No, literally, "SNAP!"

With a big bear trap on her leg the kid loses her composure and starts cursing and yelling about the Culler - who it turns out is the evil boss of the gang, who likes using handheld sickles to kill people with. It's a nasty gang, hmm? Then she passes out. I think Spucky was a little shocked by all this -- human-style medieval police procedures are a new thing for her!

One of the Awlstones offers Spucky and Agartha 30% of the treasure in the barrow for their help in fighting off the gang (Agartha tries to bargain for more, but it doesn't work). The first order of business is to go down and get a little money to hire people to help haul the rest of it out. Chops is lowered into the barrow too, but Carrock says she's lived this long by staying out of holes. A detect magic spell shows that there are a few magic items in the hoard and something big under the bones. Hmm. Now, I was getting a serious Cave of Wonders vibe here - there's no way you get THAT much treasure at level 2! But from an in-character perspective, Spucky wouldn't know that, so she grabbed the treasure and WHAMMO! An enormous armored figure, wearing a medallion like the one on the statue, bursts out of the bones and gives her such a look! It's time to fight!

Chris: Now, some background. What we have here is a few second level players against a level 8 Shield Guardian. It could conceivably kill one of them in a single round, and is almost impossible for them to hit. Am I insane? Am I just trying to kill them off? No. I've got a plan... as we are heading into Halloween at this point there's a themed "dungeon" planned, in which they will constantly be on the run from this unstoppable Jason Vorhees of a monster....

Agartha swings at him ... no effect. Chops bites, to no effect. Spucky summons a dire rat and it chips a tooth on the thing. Even Carrock jumps into the hole after all and can't get past the armor. This thing is tough! Then the thing smashes Agartha with one massive fist for a large chunk of damage. Ouch!

Chris - Okay, about time to pull the cork and drop them into the dungeon....

About this time I was thinking maybe we should be retreating (Spucky was going to drop the gold, and see if that stopped it from attacking) -- if Carrock, who's tougher than we are, was having trouble hitting, this thing could absolutely smoosh us! But Agartha went into her rage and went onto the offensive with a mighty strike at the creature's neck and... it works!

Chris - Wait, what? She specified that she was aiming for the neck of something that was already almost impossible to strike effectively... and she hit. And she rolled a lot of damage. Well... huh. My thinking is that it would be unfair to say the chain of the medallion isn't broken....

The medallion chain is severed, the creature stops moving, and the floor of bones begins to sink. Uh-oh! Spucky and Agartha both try to climb onto the solid platforms, but don't make it. Chops does, and Carrock makes it to the rope. Then the two junior adventures get down into the pit in a maelstrom of bones and coins....

Somewhere deep underground, they come to, alone. Except for the guardian, which now is not moving. This could be trouble for Spucky -- Chops has most of her equipment, and does most of the fighting! Plus ... Spucky didn't bother to hunt for berries before going into the hole, so she can't use Goodberry, although she is carrying a day's worth of rations.

Chris - What the hell, my whole "unstopable monster" plan is up river. Why not give them a secret "spot" check to see if they notice the medallion among all the bones. Let's say it's really hard... hell, 20 even.

However, Spucky is about to get SUPER LUCKY, because she trips over the severed medallion, and as it turns out, whoever holds the medallion controls the guardian!

Chris - She rolled a natural 20. A natural 20.

Suddenly we've got a very good bodyguard, which Spucky dubs 'Chops Jr.'... to be shortened to Junior, to prevent confusion. The party heads down the tunnel along some mine-cart tracks, on the assumption that they might lead outside. Some skeletons appear... at first, we thought this all might be part of the same complex, and whoever controlled the guardian would also control the skeletons. Are they friendly? NO. Skeletal miner attack!

It turns out we hardly have to do anything because Junior wipes them all out handily, taking multiple attacks per turn and beating the skeletons into powder. We stopped the session here as the party prepares to search for a way back to the surface.

Chris - Well, that turns the entire campaign inside out, doesn't it? The thing I planned to terrorize them with ends up being their pal through sheer chance. Sure, I could have said "No, the necklace didn't break" or "it's lost in the bone pile, no chance to find it," but is that seriously the most interesting way to go about things? I prefer knowing everything could go up on its head. In fact, I knew at the start they may have decided the treasure was most likely cursed, or they may have escaped the barrow before it collapsed under them. Likewise, they may have pressed the assault on Junior and all died. When you nestle into the little world you've made for a new session, you never know what it will look like when you leave. That's what I love about this game. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Carrow Campaign: Play Report 2

Agartha, by Steph Cherrywell
In Which the Players Encounter Drugged Crazies, Cows and Crossbows. Take it away, Steph:

Spucky and the monks are headed to town to find someone who can cure Toby's poisoning, when the way is blocked by a somewhat deranged guard. His name is Sven, and he's not letting anyone through, not Spucky, not the monks, and not Agartha, the human barbarian who's also here. Before the situation can escalate too much, another guard, Carraton, appears. It turns out Sven is just total bonkers nuts, and has been ever since he went to investigate a nearby farm. With Sven subdued and sent off to town with the monks in the hopes that the healers can help him as well as Toby, Carraton hires the two adventurers to investigate the Awlstone Farm. I finally got around to picking Spucky's spells (detect poison and magic, create water, and cure light wounds) somewhere in here, which was good, because they came in very handy later!

DM: Enter Kitty’s PC Agartha and my first hopefully reoccurring NPC, Captain Carraton of the Gibbering Gap Guard. What’s a Gibbering Gap? “It’s a rock formation” Sven told them, while Carraton told them it was the last major trading post between here and the great city state of Carrow.

Agartha is a human barbarian. She is very big, and very strong. As we soon learn, even a level one player can do massive amounts of damage with a great axe and a rage-enhanced strength.

Old MacDonald had a farm... OF DEATH
The farm is quiet on the approach. Carraton notices a tripwire attached to a crossbow trap, and sneaks around it. She approaches through the underbrush with Spucky following. There are digging sounds coming from inside the barn. Suddenly, someone starts shooting a crossbow from the house! Carraton runs around the side of the barn, while Spucky takes cover behind some firewood. (I was a little unclear about where things were for a while, because the 'fog of war' option in Maptools made it hard to tell which building was which!) [I’m starting to find Maptools’ Fog of War more trouble than it is worth - DM] Agartha runs towards the house as attackers pile out of it. A little girl runs out of the barn wielding a crossbow -- Spucky doesn't know if she should attack a little kid, so she stays put. Meanwhile, Agartha goes into her barbarian rage and turns everyone around her into chunky spaghetti sauce. An oaf (well, that's what his icon looked like) runs out of the barn and attacks Spucky and Chops. Chops jumps him and the world's supply of oafs is messily decreased by one.

Spucky comes out from behind the woodpile, hoping the girl will surrender. She didn't -- instead, she fires a crossbow bolt. What a brat! Spucky tries to bonk her with the sling, but not kill her. (But as I was quickly learning, at level 1 it's pretty hard to hit as it is!) It's a miss! Fortunately, Carraton had been busy stampeding cows, and one of them lumbers right over the obnoxious little punk and knocks her senseless.
Another child, a twin of the first, appears and runs up to shove some mysterious black moss into the unconscious girl's mouth. The sole remaining adult enemy also doses herself with the moss and immediately drops like a rock, but Chops manages to keep the second little girl from taking a dose by non-lethally chewing the hell out of her legs. We've got three prisoners now, and search them to find a few blue potions and some more of the black moss as well as some crossbows and daggers and whatnot. Also, one of the cows wanders into the tripwire and gets itself killed with a crossbow bolt. [Actually the bolt just poisoned it with a sleeping drug, but there was no way to tell unless you examined it. - DM]

This is DnD so the treasure is completely safe to touch.
Investigating the storm cellar under the house, we find the last member of the gang, who's poured oil on the Awlstones and is holding them hostage with a lit torch. Hiding behind Agartha's mighty leg, Spucky creates water on the torch. Poof! He dies with the look of surprise on his face (Agartha got him, I think.) The Awlstones are grateful to be free, even though Spucky makes the faux pas of suggesting they eat the cow that died (they're vegetarians). Apparently the gang is here looking for a rumored barrow with something valuable in it. They tricked the Awlstones by having the girls put on the ol' innocent act, then taking them prisoner and claiming the farm for themselves. About this time, one of the other cows finds the hidden barrow, by falling into it. It's an underground room filled with bones and treasure, as well as a giant statue and a laid-out giant's skeleton. Spooky. But treasurey!

The cow is brought back safely to the surface. Everyone enjoys a nice home-cooked meal, except for the gang - we're going to interrogate them tomorrow morning!