Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Housecleaning a Memory Palace in Scarabae

I recently played in an online game in Tales of the Grotesque & Dungeonesque's open-table Scarabae campaign.
I usually take contemporaneous notes when I play, because I think that something valuable and interesting happens at the table, and I want a record of it. In this case, I knew that Jack would be publishing his own summary on his own blog, so I'm just going to link to that below.

I played the character "Traviata Maru" - named for Verdi's opera La Traviata (based on the Alexander Dumas' play La Dame aux Camélias, which was in turn based on his own novel of the same name), and for the comic book character Dr Maru, aka Dr Poison, from the Wonder Woman comics.

I knew that Scarabae was a New Weird city, so I wanted to play some sort of demimondaine figure. Traviata used to be an opera singer, so she has D&D 5e's "entertainer" background and the "inspiring leader" feat that lets her inspire people with her singing. She caught consumption, which explains why she left her job and has now started adventuring. It also explains why her Constitution score is only 8. Now she's some kind of scientist - the new "artificer" class with the "alchemist" specialization - who wants to make both medicines to help "the innocent" (herself and people who remind her of her herself) and poisons to punish "the guilty" (her operatic and alchemical rivals, ie, anyone more professionally successful than her.)

Nicole Kidman as Satine in Moulin Rogue! (2001)

Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers in Black Swan (2010)

Elena Anaya as Dr Poison in Wonder Woman (2017)

A summary of Traviata's first adventure in Scarabae can be found here. She turned on a mechanical phonograph, smoked some magic drugs that made her more emotionally unstable than usual, used her alchemy to save the life of a dandy, and assisted in staging a re-enactment of a traumatic event to help release the memory of the trauma from the high-rise apartment that had transformed into magical diorama of the event.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Session Report - Into the Redlands - 8 July 2017

Paralee (elven enchanter 1) played by Julia

Tony (human 0)
Vinny (human fighter 1)

In the second week of spring, while her friend Emile ventured into the ruined city of Mor with the elves Fabio and Kierhan, Paralee decided to return to the Imperial graveyard in the hope of finding more money to help pay for her friend Vodka's medical care. Vodka Gimli had given Paralee the scroll of ancient writings she found in a burial mound, and Paralee had managed to translate the writings, discovering that they contained instructions for spells to cast fire from her hands, to cast electricity from her hands, and to create a magical light.

Remembering the skeletons that had nearly murdered her friend, Paralee decided to hire a bodyguard to accompany her into the graveyard. Paralee had been blessed from birth with a charming and magnetic personality, and since learning elven magic, had only become more beautiful and captivating. She had no trouble at all recruiting Tony, and convincing him to join her. They spent the evening listening for rumors and agreed to meet up in the morning. Paralee heard that altars found in the catacombs could be very dangerous. Tony encouraged her to take this to heart, because everything he heard suggested that all the fantastical stories people told about the catacombs, all of them were true.

In the morning, the pair set out along the Path of Sorrows, arriving at the old graveyard around midday. Paralee decided to lead them up the western edge of the yard. At the first burial mound they passed, Paralee thought of her sick friend, thought of her need for money, and decided she couldn't afford to pass up any opportunity that might help. Tony spent an hour digging away the entrance to the mound, revealing another hollowed-out hill like Paralee saw before. Inside were two stone slabs with a skeleton lying on each. The skeletons were dressed in rags, each with a bowl by its head and a jar at its feet. Paralee and Tony cautiously entered the room. Thinking again of her friend, Paralee took the coins from each bowl (50 gold pieces all) and then moved to inspect the clay vessels. The skeletons remained immobile. Paralee inspected the clay jars and saw that they were Imperial-era amphorae, red clay bottles decorated with black painted figures, a level of craftsmanship that no one in Lesserton could duplicate. Knowing that the old pottery would be fragile, Paralee tore pages from her journal to wrap them carefully, then tucked them into her backpack.

Feeling fortunate, Paralee and Tony exited the mound and continued walking north along the edge of the yard. They passed several more mounds until they came to the marsh, then turned inward toward the center of the graveyard. As they walked, three figures came toward them out of the swamp. They looked like preserved corpses, and though their movements were clumsy, they seemed to walk as quickly as anyone alive. Tony was alarmed. "Boss, what should we do? I don't like the look of these guys!" Paralee agreed. "Run!" They turned and sprinted toward the center of the yard, slowing to a jog after their initial burst of speed, but intent to lose the walking corpses. After some time, they came to an area that was thick with mounds, although they no longer hand any idea exactly where they were within the yard. They could see burial mounds surrounding them thick in every direction, including one that seemed to have collapsed long ago. Paralee picked one near the fallen mound, and Tony began digging again.

After an hour of digging, Tony had cleared away the grass and soil from in front of a stone door sealing the entrance to the mound. Some deft sledge hammering reduced the stone door to rubble. "Eh, badda-bing badda-boom!" Behind the stone door, instead of a single burial chamber like she'd seen before, Paralee instead found stairs leading underground into a crypt. She insisted on going first, telling Tony to guard the door. Feeling rather winded, Tony was happy to give Paralee some time to explore. At the bottom of the stairs, she emerged into a chamber with piles of rubble where the stone ceiling tiles had fallen away, along with some of the earth and dirt they were supposed to hold up. She saw two doors leading out of the entry chamber, as well as a hall branching off to one side. Paralee first checked one room to find a stone sarcophagus, then another where she saw burial niches cut into the walls. She went down the hall to check the third and found another stone sarcophagus, this one in a circular room, surrounded by four marble statues of beautiful women, serving as pillars to hold the ceiling up. Paralee decided this must be the most important chamber, and called to Tony to come down. Together, they began pushing the lid from the sarcophagus, revealing a skeleton dressed in the withered rags of Imperial garb, and a velvet sack that seemed miraculously preserved, as though it had been buried only yesterday. Unfortunately, while they attention was on the tomb, three of the statues came to life. Two of the statues beat Tony to death with their heavy arms, and with her guard down, the third attacked Paralee, but barely missed as she ducked backwards out of the way. Paralee heard the tomb rumble and felt the ground shake, and she ran out into the main room where more of the ceiling was collapsing. She tried to shield her head from more falling tiles as she ran, taking a few nasty cuts to her cheeks and forearms, but making it out of the crypt alive. Either because she had left or because of the collapse, the statues didn't follow, and Paralee, ragged and bloody, walked back to town alone to recover.

The next morning, Paralee took stock of her gains, and found that the amphorae had somehow survived the collapse, no doubt protected by their careful wrapping in paper. She went into the Lesserton market, and found a buyer for the amphorae at the Platonic Order. He initially offered her 50 gold pieces for the pair, but Paralee poured on her charm, and talked him up to 75. She then went to where her friend Vodka Gimli was on bedrest and spent the rest of the day, and all of the next, convalescing beside her. Then, feeling recovered, Paralee went to buy her own shovel and hammer, and sought out another hireling to accompany her. Still feeling guilty about Tony's death, Paralee looked this time for a soldier, a man who could defend himself as well as her. She found Vinnie, a young tough wearing beat-up old Imperial armor and carrying an ancient spear, and hired him to join her the next morning. Both spent the evening asking about the catacombs. Paralee heard that an evil wizard once used the catacombs as his base of operations, and might be living down there still. Vinnie heard that orkin had come across the mountains from the Redlands and were now living amongst the burial mounds, just as they did in the ruins of Imperial Mor.

Together, Paralee and Vinnie made the four-hour march to the graveyard, and this time Paralee decided to follow the southern edge along the marshlands, heading in the same direction she and her friends had ventured the week before. They stopped at the first mound they passed, one Paralee thought her friends had chosen to bypass before, and she and Vinnie spent the hour digging away at the entrance. They found another set of stairs leading down and descended together, although Paralee stopped short on the bottom step, inspecting the lone room carefully before setting foot inside the crypt proper. She saw four stone sarcophagi, and there, on the ceiling, a half dozen giant centipedes clinging to the tiles. As she and Vinnie watched, the centipedes dropped to the floor and began scurrying toward them. Paralee knew that similar insects in the woods were often poisonous, and warned Vinnie. "Plus, they got us outnumbered, boss!" They ran back up the steps, and dashed deeper into the graveyard, still hugging the marshy perimeter.

After a time they stopped, and Paralee thought they might be somewhere near the first tomb she and her friends had robbed together. She saw many more burial mounds in the grassy land just past the marsh, and one mound tucked back into the swampy area of the yard. She and Vinnie dug again, the wet soil practically sloughing away from the hill as they worked. They uncovered another set of stairs leading down, and Paralee once again insisted on going first. She went down one staircase, only to find another, and followed it down to a surprisingly dry and crisp antechamber. Paralee thought this was odd, since the ground above was so wet. Before them stood the remains of a marble statue, but it was so pitted and pocked that she couldn't decipher its original shape. She saw a door on the current level, and another set of stairs leading down. At the bottom of those stairs, Paralee came to another door, which she entered, revealing a large chamber, its sides lined with burial niches, its far wall dominated by a giant statue of a skull-headed figure of death, standing in a triumphant, conquering pose. Fearing that this statue too might spring to life, Paralee hurried back up the stairs, and checked the only other door in the crypt.
Unfortunately, as she entered the room, the body of a dead warrior sprang toward her, and as its hand touched her she saw herself as a child, learning to use a bow, all her happy memories of elven archery, and then her eyes clouded over with cataracts, and she knew she would never be able to aim so well again. She began making a fighting retreat to avoid opening herself up to another attack. Vinny lept down the stairs with his shield to protect her. "Don't worry boss, I'll save you!" Vinnie swung at the creature with his short sword, but was unable to make contact with the supernatural foe. Paralee told Vinnie to get out, too. "I'll cover you, boss! Don't wait for me! You get to the top of those stairs, just run!" Unfortunately, during his own fighting retreat, Vinnie too was touched by the monster, and saw his life pass before his eyes, his childhood in Lesserton, his time in the militia, and he collapsed at the top of the stairs. Paralee pulled him the rest of the way to the surface, and supported him as they limped as quickly as they could away from the death right behind them.

Some distance away, Vinnie collapsed again. Paralee thought they were very near the mound she'd entered the week before, but couldn't be sure. Vinnie asked for some water and some time to catch his breath. They sat for an hour, then began their journey back to town. On the way, they passed the first tomb they'd opened before. The centipedes were no longer outside, and when Paralee checked, they weren't inside the tomb anymore either. Remembering her friend in need, and not wanting to come away with nothing to show for her troubles, Paralee entered the tomb, Vinnie following close behind. Together, they pushed open the largest of the sarcophagi, and found a skeleton, dressed in rags, wearing a golden ring and a jeweled necklace. Feeling a little bolder, they checked the second, and found another skeleton, this one wearing the remains of a dress, a golden ring, a gold tiara, and a silver bracelet. The final two sarcophagi were slightly smaller, the tombs perhaps of very young adults. In one, they found the skeleton of a young woman buried with her silver ring and ivory comb. In the other, a young man, buried with his ivory-handled dagger. Paralee collected all these goods, and then she and Vinnie returned to town.

Arriving around nightfall, Vinnie asked for his share of their treasure, requesting both gold rings and the dagger. Paralee thought of the dangers they'd faced, the dangers that were likely still to come for her, and said that she needed the dagger, but offered to pay off the rest of his share in cash, which he accepted. "You're a tough lady, boss. I hope to never see no death like that again, but if you need muscle on another job, you know where to find me." Knowing that the jewelry was almost as good as coinage for most transactions, Paralee opted to keep her haul in its current form before finding a bed to collapse. She knew she'd need a least a week to recover from her ordeal, but she had come through it richer, and closer to paying for Vodka Gimli's medical care.

50 gold coins
2 amphorae (sold for 75 gp)
2 gold rings
1 gold tiara
1 jeweled necklace
1 silver bracelet
1 silver ring
1 ivory comb
1 ivory-handled dagger

Tony the guard


14 for encountering the zombies
125 for the gold coins and amphorae
250 for encountering the caryatid columns
(Since Tony died, the first venture's 389 XP all goes all Paralee.)

3 for encountering the centipedes
110 for fighting the wight
255 for rings, tiara, necklace, comb, and dagger
(In the second venture, the experience is divided into 1½ shares, with Paralee getting 1 and Vinnie getting ½. Of the 368 total, she gets 245.)

(Only one of my players turned out to be available for this session, because the others were sick or out of town or had family obligations, but she and I headed to a local bar and had a good time. Since there was no overlap in the characters for this session and the one before, I decided that they took place at the same time, during week 2 of the campaign. Aside from using the weeks to track how long the characters on bedrest are laid up for, I have no immediate plans to make use of the passage of time, but maybe some ideas will come to me later.)

(I liked that so many of Julia's decisions for Paralee were motivated by her wanting to find money to pay for Vodka Gimli's medical care. Having some kind of in-game rationale for the risks she was taking pushed her to be a bit more bold in taking chances to find treasure. Her other clear motivation, of course, was staying alive, which again provided clear in-game reasons to help her decide when to run from combat, and when the leave the graveyard entirely.)

(I realized as I was looking something up mid-session that I'd been making the digging too easy. The author of Barrowmaze suggests that it's supposed to take between 4-12 hours, determined randomly of course, and can be decreased down to 2 if you have a whole team of workers digging together. This is probably much more realistic than what I've been doing, but honestly, I'm not sure it's the kind of game I want to run right now. Making my players hire entire work crews, or spend between half-a-day and a-day-and-a-half waiting to enter a single burial mound, is not really how I want this particular campaign to go. I'm just not interested in running something that hardcore right now, especially not with mostly new players. So for this session least, I'm stuck with 1 hour of digging - and a wandering monster check - to get into each covered mound. Actually, Paralee getting a shovel of her own has given me the idea that perhaps it should be 2 or 3 hours for a single person to dig, but 1 hour if there are two or more diggers. This would also be consistent with the Barrowmaze instructions for breaking down bricked-over doorways and the stone slabs covering burial entrances.)

(I had to look up the chase rules for the first time this session, and they're pretty favorable to a small group fleeing from a larger one. In general, I think that Paralee's player made the right decision to run away each time she did. She and her hirelings might have been able to defeat the zombies, and probably could have beaten the centipedes - although the poison from the centipede's bites would have made it much harder to escape from anything else - but the caryatid columns and the wight certainly would have killed the 1st level spellcaster. The caryatids, in fact, would probably still have had the upper hand, even if Paralee had brought an army of 15 to fight on her behalf. Considering that the author of Barrowmaze has said that he thinks OSR should stand for "oh shit, run!" I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that Paralee kept ending up in so much danger. Really, in a game where it's possible to find yourself so badly overmatched, learning when to run is an important player skill. At the table, I wasn't able to find any advice in my rulebooks for awarding experience for monsters that are encountered but not fought. I decided to give half the XP for facing a single member of the group for the ones Paralee ran away from immediately, and full XP for escaping after she was already engaged, as she did for the wight.)

(Speaking of the wight, I'm not really a fan of level drain as a mechanic. Maybe I'm too soft as a referee; I'm certainly not killing off many player characters yet. As written, one touch from the wight should have killed Paralee and Vinnie, no save allowed, and they should have both risen as wights themselves after they fell. Instead, I gave them each a saving throw vs death. Paralee failed hers and had to roll on the ACKS Mortal Wounds table. Her result said partial blindness, and I decided to interpret that as cataracts rather than as some kind of violent disfigurement. With her elven glamour, it's possible no one else will ever tell that Paralee can no longer see over distances. Vinnie made his save - which is good news for Lesserton, which will not be terrorized by an undead soldier boy - and so felt he'd barely survived a brush with death. In retrospect, the ACKS resurrection side-effect table might also make for a good substitute for level drain if the issue ever comes up again.)

(All in all, I felt like this was a good session. Both times Paralee chose to retreat to Lesserton made perfect sense. The first time, she was down to 1 hp and her hireling was dead; the second time they'd both just barely survived meeting a wight. In general, the dice were pretty good to her. She only got one wandering monster the whole night; a ceiling collapsed but her amphorae survived - although that was partially due to her protecting them; and she made all her rolls to escape from pursuit. Plus she got the group's first big score thanks to the family tomb and its four sarcophagi. Between her loot and the monsters she faced, Paralee just jumped way out in front of her friends in terms of XP. Unfortunately, due to her mortal wound, she'll have to sit out week 3, although she can rejoin the adventuring life in week 4 - and at the end of week 4, Vodka Gimli will have to make a save vs death to avoid dying of complications from her injury, unless she's received medical care before then.)

(At the bar where we were playing, the bartender serving us told us that she and a coworker were into the recent Star Wars rpg, and afterwards another customer told us that he'd always wanted to play but never had the attention span. I had an interesting chat with Julia about the materials I was using for the game. I explained about Barrowmaze being a completed map, while the other books were just instructions for generating the map as you go. I told her I'd spent an hour or two earlier in the day, figuring out how many buildings the other characters spotted near the orchard in Mor, and stocking the contents of those buildings. We talked about how younger people can sometimes spend all day, or entire weekends, playing D&D, while for older payers, 2-3 hour sessions were more common. She asked what kinds of goals players hope to accomplish in those long sessions, if it's just leveling up, or if they want to defeat some final enemy. I talked about how every campaign is different, how I didn't have any particular plans for the ruined city of the monster-run wilderness, but that the catacombs have a giant bone dragon way off in the back where they would probably never meet it. She asked what players did when they finished defeating the big enemy, and I said that for myself, I thought it was okay to sometimes finish things, and be ready to move on to something else.)

(Spending part of my day using the procedural-generation rules to create one part of my campaign world, and the next part running a player though the finished Barrowmaze crypts really got me thinking that while I genuinely like all these materials, they're not exactly perfect for what I want. They're all too big, for one thing. Mor, and the Rotlands, and Barrowmaze - they're truly enormous. I suppose there's a desire, when designing products like this, to create a sense of wonder - and a sense that you're getting your money's worth - by making things that are too big to ever finish exploring, too big to ever even get close. And I appreciate that you don't want something that's supposed to be big to feel too tiny. But on the other hand, it would be nice to have something where my players could kind of finish it, or at least finish some section of it, and feel a sense of accomplishment from that too. We're not playing every weekend, we're not playing 8 hours a day, or staying up all night, but it would be nice to think that in the game, unlike in real life, we could do more that scratch the barest surface of the world. The Mario games actually feel appropriate here. The levels aren't huge, but they don't feel tiny either. There's a lot of world to see and explore, and a lot of secrets to find, but you can get all the way to the final castle. And even if you're not good enough at the game to make it all the way to the very end, you can at least get close enough to see the goal posts, you can take in the lay of the entire field even if you can't get all the way across it. The other complaint I have is that the procedures for generating Mor and the Rotlands are both kind of long and not very streamlined. I suppose if I ever feel very ambitious, I might try my hand at making my own version of this setting, one that matches more exactly what I wish it was like. Or maybe I won't. In the mean time though, I'd rather just be able to play than to feel like I can never start the game because I haven't finished prepping, and I'm serious when I say that I like these products and I'm glad that I'm getting the chance to use them.)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Session Report - Into the Redlands - 17 June 2017

Emile Durkheim (human shaman 1) and his crow, Totem played by Emily
Fabio Proudfoot (elven courtier 1) played by Megan
Kierhan (elven enchanter 1) played by Chris

Renaldo (human fighter 1)
Fredo the squire (human 0)
Petey (human 0)

In the second week of spring, a (mostly) new group of friends decided to venture from the town of Lesserton to ruined Imperial city of Mor. Lesserton is on the southwest coast of a great island, on the edge of a human-controlled strip of farmlands and Dark Age villages. As a human, Emile never knew Empire at the height of its rule, he had only experienced the aftermath of its fall, including the rediscovery of old pre-Imperial religions by shamans such has himself. Fabio and Kierhan, as elves, had come up from the Continent. They remembered the Empire and watched its collapse, and they understood how far the once great civilization had receded from its northernmost shore on the so-called Red Island.

The friends started by asking around town for rumors of the once-great city's current condition. Handsome Fabio, a man of obvious grace and nobility, got accosted by some sort of down-on-his-luck man-about-town who warned him against visiting the Kinswallow and Cruikshanks neighborhoods, advised him to book a room at the Pegasus or rent a room in the Heights. The vagrant also offered to give Fabio a personal tour, but Fabio managed to give the shabby poseur the slip. Emily and Kierhan managed to find people willing to talk about the ruins. From one source, they learned that some people blamed the Imperial governor for destroying his own city to keep the orcs out - and that ironically, the orcs now had the run of what was left of the place. From another source, they heard that Mor used to be filled with gold and jade, that it had been the greatest city in the world, that it was even better than anything the elves had built - "No offense intended, ma'am, but I'm sure you agree with me" - and that it was likely the treachery of the dwarves that caused the city to fall.

After hearing a bit about Emile's trip to the graveyard above the Imperial catacombs, they also decided to try hiring some bodyguards. With the gorgeous Fabio, with golden locks flowing in the breeze, his shirt opened deep to feel the wind on his chest, and beguiling Kierhan leading the way, they had no trouble recruiting some help. Kierhan wanted to find a soldier who would fight on her behalf, and managed to convince Renaldo, a man in his early 30s, dressed in hand-me-down Imperial armor he must have inherited from his grandfather. Emile and Fabio were content to accept the services of simpler guards, and accepted Renaldo's offer to bring on his "squire" Fredo Boggins and his own kid brother Petey. Fabio was delighted to meet Fredo, as he was familiar with the Boggins family name, although Frado thought the elven noble had gotten him confused with one of his relatives. "Please, call me Fredo. Alfredo is my father. But it sounds like you're thinking of my uncle Olfrodo, or my auntie Ilfrida." There was some haggling over wages, but the hirelings held firm and secured a full share to be split between Renaldo and his crew. Fabio and Kierhan argued the hardest for some kind of discount, but eventually reassured themselves that the hirelings would probably all be killed anyway, and so wouldn't have to actually get paid. Renaldo took this in stride, "Hey you elves have got a weird sense of humor, but don't worry, me and my boys don't plan on dying anytime soon."

Together, the group marched the old road the half-day's walk to the ruins of Mor. Coming to the moat, they met a green-skinned man dressed and armed much as Renaldo was, in worn and patched Imperial armor. He explained that he and his friends ran the bridge, and they'd have to pay a toll to get across safely. The group examined the "bridge" and saw that it was really just a series of ropes stretched across the old moat, leading to a crack in the fortified walls. Sensing that the group might be a little reluctant to pay, he pointed out that if they killed him, his friends would just cut down the bridge while they were on it, and if they didn't like it, they were welcome to swim around the moat and look for another way in. The group did initially balk at the request for a gold coin each to cross the bridge, but were relieved when Renaldo's information that they could be bought off with rations proved true. The bridge guard was especially happy to receive iron rations - "Oh, you've got the canned stuff! That stays fresh forever!" - and assured them that they wouldn't be asked to pay again at the other side of the bridge. True to his word, the guards on the city side let them pass unmolested, although it occurred to them that they'd probably have to pay again to get back out of the ruins.

Taking a moment to survey the city, they saw that they whole place seemed blasted to rubble. The ground they stood on was gravel, and there were wrecked buildings among piles of broke stone every way they looked. Straight ahead, they saw that there was a relatively clear path to the ruin of the old Citadel, passing by a great heap of rubble that used to be the For'd Gainsay. One of the bridge guards mentioned that another gang controlled turf in that direction, and he couldn't be help liable for any damages they suffered in there. The group thought the citadel seemed like a good place to look for treasure, and so headed out along the path. The way was relatively clear, with all the major debris seemingly long removed from their route. About 15 minutes into their walk, they spotted a great pit, perhaps the basement of an old building. Renaldo stepped forward to investigate and peered over the ledge: "Nah, there's nothing in there." For about another hour they continued, at one point, able to see some dried vegetation like an overgrown rose garden to their left, and later some intact buildings to their right. Perhaps halfway to the ruin of the For'd Gainsay, they encountered what used to be an apple orchard, and was now a wild copse of apple trees bursting with a profusion of fruit. They spotted a pack of feral dogs eating fallen apples. The dogs growled when anyone got too close, but otherwise kept to themselves as the group explored. They thought about collecting some apples to trade with the bridge guards, but before they got started, their air filled with an ominous buzzing sound!

The group arrayed themselves in a defensive formation, and soon they were attacked by five giant, carnivorous flies. The wretched insects swerved and dived among the group, their proboscises and feet caked with rotten apple and dogshit. What followed was a vicious and hard-fought battle.

The swooping flies almost immediately managed to take bites out of Renaldo, Fredo, and Petey - though the local toughs all survived their initial injuries. Emile used his friendship with beasts to call and whistle to the wild dogs; two answered the call and joined him in the fight. Petey got in an early stab with his dagger, but the flies kept dodging just out of reach of the other attackers - even the dogs couldn't leap high enough to grab them out of the sky.

The flies got another bite of Renaldo, then ripped apart poor Fredo! The team rallied, and paired up to kill two of the monstrous insects. A dog bite and a slash from Emile's sickle-sword killed one of the flies, while cooperation between the elves Fabio and Kierhan put down another.

Things are looking up for the team, but only briefly. The flies make their morale check, their wings buzzing angrily in the dry air. One of the remaining three insects managed to take a very nasty bite out of Renaldo, ending his life! Petey also made his morale check, remaining in combat despite the loss of his brother and his friend. The three friends stepped forward to protect their last remaining bodyguard, and Emile took a rather serious bite himself, though he managed to stay on his feet. In his rage, Petey stabbed another of the flies, and one of the junkyard dogs finished it off, wrestling it to the ground and mauling it. (Emile and Fabio fumbled this round, but fortunately for them, ACKS doesn't have fumble tables like DCC does!)

One of the two remaining flies took a bite of Kieran, leaving beautiful Fabio as the only person left unharmed. One of the dogs grabbed a fly out of the air and killed it. Then Fabio, posed like the subject of an oil painting, his hair fluttering behind him like a golden cape, slew the last of the vile insects.

While the pack of dogs feasted on the corpses of the giant flies, and Petey stripped his brother's body of its armor and weapons, the group found the flies' nest and ransacked it, killing the eggs and maggots, and recovering 49 tarnished copper coins. Then together they covered Renaldo and Fredo with cairns of stones, and then set out collecting apples. They gathered four day's meals of apples each, the reddest, freshest specimens that Emile and Petey had ever seen. Fortunately, nothing dangerous was drawn by the sound of the fighting, or came upon them while they were gathering fruit. Their backpacks laden, they trekked back the way they came, along the relatively clear path to the bridge guards' encampment at the wall. The guard orcs were thrilled to accept apples as payment for the return across the bridge, and even offered to pay gold coins for the rest of the apples the group carried. The sale ultimately profited them 27 gold coins. After the half-day's walk back to town, arriving near dusk, the friends agreed among themselves to pay loyal Petey a full share rather than the quarter he was expecting, 6 orkin gold, and 49 insect-nest coppers. (I decided Petey still only received a quarter share of experience however.)

2 faithful hounds
49 copper coins
16 meals worth of Imperial apples sold
27 gold coins


5 giant carnivorous flies

15 each for taming the dogs (30 total)
29 each for killing the flies (145 total)
28 for gold and copper
(203 total, divided into 3¼ shares, becomes 62 XP for each player.)

(For the second session in a row, I had two completely novice players, and my own first-ever all-woman session. One woman told me she had always wanted to play but never had the opportunity before. I think a lot of judges and referees spent this day running Free RPG Day games at their local shops. I didn't specifically plan to pay with new players for FRPGD, but it felt like a nice coincidence. We got a late start because one player had to work late in her own store, and the other had spent the day at water park with her family, but we still had time for a full game.)

(Character generation with new players is always slow, I think, but went a little faster this week. Using the default template worked out fine. Part of me wonders whether pre-generated characters would be a good idea. My players liked getting to pick out their classes though, and walking them through filling out their character sheets let me explain the basics of attacks, saving throws, and their class-based abilities. I certainly never would have thought of taking a character with 17 Strength and 17 Charima and imagining them as a kind of buff, elven male model. Pre-generated 0th levels, with only the names to choose, worked well for my DCC players, but of course they still got to pick their own 1st level classes for the survivors. I'm hopeful that once we have some characters die, my players will be able to make their second characters a little faster than their first.)

(The players decided to employ hirelings this week, which I think was a good decision. I realized in retrospect that I misread the hireling rules in Lesserton & Mor, and that each one should have demanded some cash up front, in addition to his partial share of the treasure. I've been thinking of the Empire as analogous to Rome, which might be why I gave the hirelings (bad) Brooklyn-Bronx-Jersey mafioso accents, except Petey, who's studying the old language and has a (bad) Italian accent instead. I know I've heard advice that hirelings can get promoted if the player characters die, but I decided that any monsters would attack the hirelings first, setting them as the front line in the group's battle with the carnivorous flies. I suppose I'm inspired by the Henchman Abuse blog and Star Trek's red-shirts. And the overall body count might have been much higher if I'd had the flies spread their attacks out more evenly.)

(The carnivorous flies themselves were 2 HD monsters, which means this was actually a pretty dangerous fight for the group. I had Renaldo and Fredo announce their fear - "I dunno boss, maybe we should run!" - ironically, in each case, they each suggested retreat right before getting killed. I had the players roll to generate the treasure horde. The treasure type for the horde had a possibility for nearly every kind of coinage and luxury good (even magic items!) - but based on the players' rolls we came very close to having no copper, although we also came close to finding silver.)

(Following the procedures in Lesserton & Mor, I randomly generated each ruin hex as the players went. The open path they followed was included on the overview map of the city, but even the terrain type of most other hexes is undecided, meant to be generated at the table. The vegetation and buildings I mentioned aren't on the map. I had the players roll to determine whether or not their was "weirdness," and then, if there was, what type. They got relatively lucky. Our first "weirdness" was the pit, and the second was a double, "Food Source" and "Monster Lair." The monster lair produced a full complement of the giant carnivorous flies. The food source gave the possibility of a wandering monster, which is how we got the pack of wild dogs. The reaction roll for the dogs had them standoffish but not aggressive, but the flies were angry and dangerous. This could easily have turned into a TPK. Fortunately for the players, the roll that gave us the dog pack was the only one of the wandering monster rolls during the session that actually led to a wandering monster.)

(Generating the terrain at the table, and having the players roll for it, is something that I've observed one other judge doing, in an ongoing game (although currently on hiatus) I've been playing with one of the authors of the Black Powder, Black Magic zine. I take notes while I play, so I will probably eventually post some summaries of those sessions here as well. Seeing Carl do it, and knowing that I enjoyed playing in those games, and taking my part in rolling the dice to randomly generate the terrain, gave me the confidence to try this myself, using a procedure I might have been afraid to repeat if I hadn't seen it used successfully. That said, there are a couple things I want to work on. First, I need to get my notes together a little better so I can run things a little more smoothly. Second, I want to make sure my players have some shot at finding a little more treasure than they've done so far. With 1500-2500 XP apiece needed to reach 2nd level, the nickel-and-dime hauls they've brought in so far aren't doing much to get them there. It will probably help if they can manage to get into a fight they can win without such terrible losses, or find some unguarded treasure. Carl's setting includes the possibility of finding lumps of gold or magic ore there for the taking in the mining tunnels. Since I didn't write any of materials I'm using for this myself, I might want to look them over and see where the bigger money is, if only so I can drop a few rumors. Also in Carl's game, the ore itself can be traded for magic items by completing minor quests. Which leads me to my third area of improvement, which is that I want to make sure I'm doing things to make this feel like a living world, and finding ways for the default adventure of basic treasure-seeking to generate the option for players to go on more quest-like adventures as well. I've got some ideas about how this trip to the ruins might generate consequences for any return visit.)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

DCC Patron: Mycetes-Thrax


Mycetes-Thrax, the Great Sleeping Growth, lurks beneath the soil. This titanic entity is a single fungus that stretches for hundreds of leagues under the earth and has grown sentient and wise with the eons. It rewards its servants with utterly alien but useful and fearsome powers. Its wisdom is great and it knows much forgotten lore.



12-13    Mycetes-Thrax exhales in its slumber, and the air within 10' of the caster fills with spores like winter snow, while the ground is a 10' circle erupts with cilia like frost-covered grass, surrounded by a fairy-ring of inch-tall mushrooms.
For the next combat round, the caster and her allies can withdraw from combat without opening themselves up to free attacks, and anyone who flees the area this round will not be chased.

14-17    Communication spores. The air within 20' of the caster fills with a cloud of twinkling spores like a vision of distant stars.

For the next 2 exploration turns, every creature with at least animal intelligence present within the cloud gains the ability to speak Basidiomata, the racial language of Shroomen and other creatures aligned with Mycetes-Thrax. This has two effects: first, everyone present is now capable of speaking to and understanding everyone else; and second, every creature present halts combat for at least one round in order to talk and listen. The result of this conversation may be an end to hostilities, or if combat resumes, it may continue under altered circumstances.
Additionally, the caster must make a Will save versus the spell check result. If the save is successful, the caster permanently speaks and understands the Basidiomata language.

18-19    Mycetes-Thrax blinks awake for a moment, and the air within 30' of the caster fills with spores like mottled green fog, while the ground in a 30' circle erupts with foot-long tentacles like hungry leeches.

The spores cloud the air and obscure vision, providing cover for the caster and her allies for the next 3 combat rounds. (Attack rolls against a character with cover get -2.)
In addition, the caster's enemies must make Ref saves versus the spell check result of become entangled for 3 rounds by the tentacles wrapping around their legs. (Entangled creatures move at half their normal speed, and attack rolls against entangled creatures are at +1d.)

 20-23    Sleeping spores. The air within 40' of the caster fills with blinking spores like a cloud of fireflies.
The caster's enemies must make Fort saves versus the spell check result or fall into a supernatural slumber for 4 hours. During this time, they cannot be woken by normal means (except by being attacked), and only a reversed sleep spell or other counterspell can end this effect early. The sleeping creatures are helpless until they awake. Even if attacked, the creatures can only wake early by making a successful Fort save. (Attack rolls against helpless creatures are made at +1d.)

Additionally, the caster has a dream vision of Mycetes-Thrax. The caster sees the Great Sleeping Growth at rest in its realm beneath the earth. The caster immediately suffers one random patron taint, and must make a Will save versus the spell check result or suffer one more.

24-27    Mycetes-Thrax wakes and briefly glances at the caster. For 50' around the caster, the air fills with a sleet of stinging, sticking spores, and the ground erupts with human-height tentalces that grasp and grope like children lost in the dark.
The caster's enemies must make Fort saves versus the spell check result or be blinded by these toxic spores. Any creature that rolls a natural 1 on this save is blinded permanently. (Attack rolls against a blinded creature get +2. Attacks made by a blinded creature have a 50% chance to miss.)
In addition, for the next 5 combat rounds, the caster's enemies must make Ref saves or grappled by a tentacle, hoisted aloft, and crushed for 1d8 damage per round. A grappled creature cannot attack anything except the tentacle holding it. A grappled creature can escape by making an attack with a cutting weapon against AC 10 that deals at least 5 damage in a single round, or by using its action to make a DC 15 Strength check. A creature that escapes can still become grappled again during the next round if it fails its Ref save. (Attack rolls against helpless creatures are at +1d.)

28-29    Hallucinatory spores. The air within 60' of the caster fills with a cloud of flashing spores like neon lights.
The caster's enemies must make Will saves versus the spell check result or spend one combat round making their most powerful or magical attack against another random enemy as they hallucinate the caster multiplying and becoming omnipresent.
In addition, the caster's enemies must also make a Fort save or take only one action every other round (until 6 rounds have passed), as they hallucinate the passage of time slowing and becoming dreamlike.
Additionally, the caster has a hallucinatory vision of Mycetes-Thrax. The caster may ask a single question, which Mycetes-Thrax answers truthfully. Although the answer comes slowly from the caster's perspective, only an instant of real time passes during the vision. The caster immediately suffers two random patron taints, and must make a Will save versus the spell check result or suffer two more.

30-31    Mycetes-Thrax comes fully awake and turns its full ire on the caster's foes before drifting back into its eternal slumber. A blizzard of purple spores like gale-blown confetti swirls in the air within 70' of the caster, while tiny white puff balls float up from the floor and pop like balloons, and 10' tentacles like limbless birch trees burst from the ground, whipping and dancing violently in a circle extending 70' from the caster in every direction.
The caster's enemies must make Fort saves versus the spell check result or begin to suffocate, losing 1d6 Stamina per round until they either die or make a successful save. Any creature that rolls a natural 1 on this save suffers permanent Stamina loss rather than temporary Stamina damage for that round.
In addition, 7 giant white puff balls drop from the ceiling and roll across the room, each crushing one random enemy for 2d8 damage and knocking it prone unless it makes a Ref save. Any creature that rolls a nature 1 on this save takes the maximum 16 damage. Each puff ball that strikes an enemy explodes when it reaches the far side of the room, creating a deafening boom, a violent wind, and another cloud of purple spores that cover and cling to the caster's enemies.
Every opponent who survives this experience must check Morale or run screaming for their lives, and the check is at -1 for each giant puff ball that exploded.

32+    Reproductive spores. Within 90' of the caster, spores rise from the ground billows of dust being kicked up from a forgotten floor.

All dead bodies within 90' of the caster arise as Shroomen and attack the caster's enemies. Everyone living creature that dies for the next 9 rounds arises as well. (Bodies arise as one Shrooman per HD of the original creature.)

In the next combat round after this spell is cast, the caster's enemies must make a Fort save versus the spell check result or transform into Shroomen themselves. (Again, those who transform become one Shrooman per original HD.)

Additionally, the caster immediately suffers three random patron taints, and must make a Will save versus the spell check result or suffer three more.
Once combat is over, the Shroomen remain in the area as an army under the caster's command. This army is ultimately loyal to Mycetes-Thrax, and is tasked with a specific quest to advance the Great Sleeping Growth's agenda. Like their patron, the Shroomen are patient and will tolerate delays and diversions as long as the caster appears to be pursuing the quest, but they will attack the caster and her allies if any of them act to subvert Mycetes-Thrax's interests.

  • Shrooman: Init -5; Atk slam +4 melee (4d4); AC 18; HD 2d8+6; MV 10'; Act 1/2d20; SP fungal cloud (starting in the second combat round: creatures within 20' are -2 to attack, damage, and saves; and creatures within 20' must make DC 14 Fort save or lose 1d4 Agility and 1d4 damage per round), half damage from bludgeoning weapons, infravision 100'; SV Fort +8, Ref -4, Will +4; AL N; Crit M/d6.


Myctetes-Thrax grants three spells, as follows:

Level 1: Mouldering Touch
Level 2: Spores of the Basidirond
Level 3: Mycetes-Thrax's Fecund Fungi

Monday, June 12, 2017

Session Report - Into the Redlands - 3 June 2017

Emile Durkheim and his crow totem animal, Totem (shaman 1, played by Emily)
Vodka Gimli and her automaton, Rosie (dwarven machinist 1, played by Stephanie)
Fester the Footpad (thief 1, played by Jason)
Paralee (elven enchanter 1, played by Julia)

The session opened in Lesserton, one of a few human communities clinging to the southwest coast of the island that houses the Redlands, a great swath of goblin, orc, and troll territories that cover the north side of the island. From Lesserton, the villagers can see Mount Rendon, the tallest peak on the island, said to be near the Goblin Market, where anything might be sold or bought. Lesser sits between two sites of ruin. Just to the west, the ancient Imperial city of Mor, once Empire's farthest north outpost and the seat of human civilization on the island, now a gravel pit littered with the broken remains of its Imperial owners. Just to the east of Lesserton are the catacombs, the underground burial vaults for the citizens of Mor, covered over by a graveyard of barrows and cairns.

The four characters started the game fully outfitted for adventure, but with little in the way of pocket money, and so began by picking up pieces of gossip about where best to find treasure. They quickly decided to try exploring the cemetery. Like everyone in town, they already knew that teenagers and other foolish types sometimes made the half-day journey over to the graveyard to prove their bravery or look for gold, but not everyone who went there always came back. They also knew that the Imperials had imposed both their government and their state religion on the human communities of Red Island, that like their fellow Lessers, they mostly believed in the older spirits and had their own burial practices. They knew that any gold the Imperials buried wasn't helping anyone in the afterlife, it was just being wasted in the ground, and any bodies they disturbed belonged to the very decadents who'd brought ruin to the land. But asking around turned up some other rumors - that a death cult calling themselves "the Chosen" had moved in to the catacombs, that runic tablets found in the maze of tunnels curse everyone who reads them, that the catacombs go four levels deep, and of course, that all the rumors people spread were just folk tales meant to scare away children from an essentially harmless old burial ground.

They arrived at the entrance to the old graveyard around noon, and saw that it was bounded on its north and south sides by difficult marsh. The yard itself was covered with small hills and low mounds - burial places that might hide an entrance to the catacombs below. They decided to ignore the mounds closest to the entrance, assuming those had been raided long ago, even if they now looked covered over again. They passed a stele, and made their way closer to the center of the yard, where the mounds were placed thick and dense together. Picking one close to the southwest corner of this central area, Fester got out his shovel and started clearing away the grassy turf from the entryway.

After half an hour of digging, Fester finished uncovering two stone slabs supporting the hollow earthen mound. They saw a pair of human skeletons laying on the bare dirt floor, but nothing else. Vodka Gimli and her diminutive dwarf-shaped automaton, Rosie, ventured inside to give a more thorough search. While Vodka patted the walls and examined the stonework for seams, Rosie posed and flexed her biceps, and encouraged her builder in her task. <<BZZT WE CAN DO IT BZZT>> Vodka eventually found a drawer hidden in one of the slabs where it met the floor, and pulled it open to reveal a pair of small wooden funerary figures (perhaps representing the buried duo), a bejeweled silver dagger, and a roll of parchment covered in strange and seemingly ancient writing. As she tucked these items into her pack, Vodka felt her skin go to gooseflesh and all her hair stand on end. She turned around and saw both skeletons rising to their feet, trapping her inside the mound!

Vodka Gimli brandished her war hammer at the skeletons, and Rosie performed a riveting rock-em-sock-em maneuver that cracked on the skeletons' ribs. The other lurched forward and wrapped both hands around Vodka's neck, chocking the life out of her! For a moment, she thought sure she'd be dead, but after blacking out awoke on the ground with a broken neck, her entire body feeling of pins and needles. Satisfied with the damage they'd inflicted, the skeletons turned to attack the group outside!

Emile Durkheim raised his sickle-sword in self-defense, and had his crow, Totem, carry a dagger over to his friend Paralee. Paralee used her staff to give a solid smack to the skeleton that had nearly killed Vodka Gimli, knocking off one of its hands and putting its head at a crooked angle. She then took the dagger from Totem and joined Emile in holding the skeletons at bay. Fester used his short sword to fell one of the skeletons, and Rosie guarded the prone body of her builder and friend. The remaining skeleton menaced Emile and Paralee, but with its crooked head and missing hand, it couldn't manage to connect with them. Fester quickly put the second skeleton down as well, severing its spine and then stomping on the skull.

After taking a little time to recuperate and get Vodka Gimli back to her feet, the group decided to abandon the graveyard and return to town. Emile Durkheim vowed to consult his ancestral spirits to learn how to restore Vodka to heath. Leaving the yard mid-afternoon, they arrived back in town around sundown, weary and wounded, but somewhat wiser and somewhat richer as well.

pair of wooden funeary figures
jewled silver dagger
scroll with mysterious writing

Vodka Gimli (almost!)

2 skeletons

35 from the silver dagger
26 from the pair of skeletons
Divided by 4 characters, this came to 15 XP each.

(This was a short play session because we started out rolling up the characters. Two of the players had never played D&D before, and a third said he hadn't played since the early 1980s. We went around in a circle rolling up ability scores, choosing classes, writing down class abilities, rolling for templates of proficiencies and equipment, and then writing those down too. I printed out and stapled each class separately, so I could hand those printouts to the players, which worked very well. There are two things I wish I'd done differently with the templates. First, I wish I'd stapled the template list for each class to the rest of the handout, rather than having them separate. Second, since ignoring the default templates and then rolling for them on a separate table was a little confusing for the players, and since three of the four characters ended up with default template anyway, I wish that I'd just said that first-time characters get the default template. Then, when a player is on their second or third character, I can tell them that they have a choice to accept the default template or roll for a different one. For those unfamiliar with Adventurer Conqueror King, the template takes the place of rolling 3d6x100 for starting gold and individually selecting starting proficiencies. Vodka Gimli was the one character with a high enough Intelligence score to get a bonus proficiency, which she used to select Personal Automaton. This is the reason she was able to start the game with Rosie, rather than having to spend 7000 gp and two weeks trying to draw the blueprint and another 7000 gp (and another two weeks) on construction.)

(I used Adventurer Conqueror King and the ACKS Player Companion for my character generation rules. The starting village and the ruined city come from the book Lesserton & Mor, which provides details on the village, and a series of rules for procedurally generating the contents of the city. One idea I really like from that book is 120' hexes for ruin-crawling. Essentially, the characters can cross one hex in one 10 minute exploration turn, which I think is a great scale for exploring an outdoor (or outdoor-ish) area in detail. The rest of the island come from In the Shadow of Mount Rotten, which has a series of rules for procedurally generating the contents of a goblin- and orc-controlled wilderness. There's a challenge with using this book that I hadn't thought about until I started drawing the island map: first, the territory in question is just enormous, large enough that it's hard to fit a map on a single sheet of paper; second, and probably relatedly, the hexes are unnumbered on the original, which creates challenges for copying correctly. I made one hand-drawn copy for my own reference, a simplified hand-drawn copy for the players, and then started work on a 4-sheet judge's map. I got that whole thing drawn and cut out (although not numbered) in time for the game. Spending so much time on the island map though meant that I had to rely on printouts for the ruins and the cemetery. The cemetery, I should mention, is Barrowmaze Complete, which has a ruin-crawl hex map of the graveyard, and then a standard dungeon map of the catacombs. I think I need a player map of the graveyard next, and then maybe maps of the ruins and island that are large enough to lay out on the table and fill in as the players explore.)

(I usually like to get a little more exploring in a single session, but the characters had good reason to head back to town when they did. When the skeleton hit Vodka Gimli, and I rolled 5 damage against a character with 3 hp, Stephanie asked me "Wait, is that it? Am I just dead?" Fortunately, she looked amused / horrified, not angry or sad. I pulled out ACKS's "Mortal Wounds" table, and had her roll on it. All in all, I think that she and my other players all had a good time. And while they may not have found any cash, a silver weapon is a useful thing to own, and Paralee, as a magic-user and a historian, can probably translate the scroll and find out what's written on it.)

(I realized in retrospect that I read the Mortal Wounds table slightly incorrectly, and that since the party had no way to restore even 1 hp to her until they got back to town, that she should have died one combat round after being maimed. That part was my mistake, but I'm still going to enforce that Vodka Gimli needs a month of bedrest before she can adventure again. Her "mortal wound" is a broken neck, which has three consequences: first, it reduces her Dexterity to 3; second, she can't move, fight, use items, or cast spells; and third she has to save vs. death once a month or die of complications. Stephanie wants to try to save Vodka Gimli's life, and I think the rest of the party wants that too, so I've been looking into the options for that.)

(According to ACKS as written, the only way to undo a "mortal wound" is with the Restore Life and Limb spell - the same one that can bring a dead body back to life. Restore Life and Limb is a 5th level spell, which means accessing it as 1st level characters is going to be tricky. Lesserton & Mor suggests that the town church is willing to perform miracles in exchange for service or gifts (or cash, if you can persuade them to take it.) A 5th level spell is supposed to require taking on a quest to expunge an evil cult, or the gift of a major magic item, or 10,000 gp in donations. If the church believes Vodka Gimli is willing (and able) to root out one of the cults in the catacombs, they might task her with that quest. They might also accept the gift of the automaton Rosie, (who would become a mechanical church servant, I guess) although they'd want a promise to either build up her body or add another special ability sometime in the future. The availability of spells in Adventurer Conqueror King depends somewhat on whether I consider Lesserton to be a Class III or Class IV marketplace. A 5th level divine spell has only a 50% chance of being available in a Class IV market, although if it can be bought, costs only 500 gp, which seems surprisingly low. I'm thinking the other two major-ish human towns on the coast are roughly the same as Lesserton, but the Goblin Market might have someone able to cast the spell. For sure though, a goblin would want a favor as well as gold in exchange for healing a dwarf. The ACKS Player Companion adds the spell Regeneration, but it's a 6th level divine ritual, and so likely a dead-end.)

(On the other hand, maybe I disagree that Restore Life and Limb is the only way to heal Vodka's injury. One thing I like in Dungeon Crawl Classics is a set of guidelines for using healing magic to treat other injuries (like the kind you get from DCC's brutal critical hit tables.) Receive 1 HD of healing magic for example, and you can repair a broken bone, although you won't recover any hp when the magic is used to treat the injury. Organ damage (another possible interpretation of a spinal injury) requires 2 HD of healing, and paralysis requires 3 HD. (Incidentally, curing a disease takes 2 HD of healing, and neutralizing a poison takes 3.) Coincidentally, ACKS has a Medicine proficiency with 3 levels of expertise, corresponding to 3 types of medical specialists - healers, physikers, and chirugeons. As written, they can't do anything for mortal wounds, but if we take some guidance from DCC, perhaps they should be able to. They heal 1d3, 1d6+1, and 2d6+CL hit points of injuries respectively, and physikers can cure disease, while chirugeons can neutralize poison, all of which maps rather well to the guidelines laid out in DCC. ACKS doesn't give much advice regarding paralysis. The only two things that cause it (by name) are ghouls and the spell Hold Person. The monster description for the ghoul suggests that the spell Cure Light Wounds should remove ghoul paralysis, which seems like a bargain compared to DCC, and something that a healer or physiker could do.)

(So, with all this in mind, I would say that Vodka Gimli is suffering from the effects of a broken bone, and organ damage, and paralysis, but that a skilled chirugeon could treat her, restoring her Dexterity (maybe), restoring her ability to move and adventure normally, and removing her once-a-month chance of dying of complications. The chirugeon would need to retain a healer and a physiker for the delicate operation. Class IV markets have a 33% chance of finding a chirugeon, which means that one of the three human cities on the island should have one. The three day operation should cost 12 + 6 + 3 for the three workers, or a total of 21 gp, making this by far the most affordable option. Since it is ACKS, I would still make Stephanie roll on the "Tampering with Mortality" table even if it's medicine, not magic, saving her character's life. If I were following the DCC guidelines, I would probably also rule that Vodka gets a permanent -1 to her Dexterity or Constitution (her choice) as a result of the ordeal. The medical staff will also have to make a proficiency throw to pull it off correctly. If they fail, Vodka Gimli will have to survive a save vs. death ... and they probably won't be willing to make a second attempt.)

(So, those are the three answers Emile Durkheim will receive after consulting his ancestral spirits: the church in Lesserton for 10,000, the Goblin Market for 500, or the best surgeon on the island for 21. As a machinist, Vodka Gimli would also be aware that she could re-fashion Rosie into a kind of supporting exo-skeleton instead of being healed. Dropping Rosie to ½ HD and adding the vehicle special ability would cost 4000 gp in research materials to design a blueprint for, and that's because she's altering an existing automaton - it would cost 11,000 gp to design this from scratch. Rebuilding Rosie as a power armor would also another 4000 gp in parts, plus, since she's paralyzed, Vodka would have to hire skilled laborers to do the work for her. Retirement is also an option here. Especially if she can get healed enough to eliminate the risk of complications, Vodka could simply become an eccentric villager with a robot maidservant. I'll let Stephanie decide how she wants to proceed, although in terms of price, demands on her independence, and safety of travel to the healing location, one of these options stands out to me as the most likely choice.)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Session Report - Island of the Blue Giants - 4 March 2017

Poseidon, the Majestic King of the Sea (merman warrior 1)
Jim Morrison, the Cultist (gemcutter wizard 1)

Sid "Vicious", the Astrologist (sage wizard 1)
Johnny "Rotten", the Beggar (spy thief 1)
Nico, the Witness (spy cleric 1)

Laetoli, the Zealot of Shanidar (cavewoman cleric 1)
Beast Master, the Ethereal Witness (animal trainer cleric 1)
Will, the Fresh Prince of Bravo (smith thief 1)
Kerhs, the Bandit of the Swamp (half-orc warrior 1)

The group felt stronger and wiser after their initial encounters with some of the weird denizens of the island. Poseidon and Beast Master were eager to investigate the situation to the southeast that they'd spied through Trondo's ethereal telescope, and everyone was eager to get away from the Bo-al, their dangerous houses, and their seemingly cavalier attitude toward their friends' deaths.

They set out south along the river, traveling toward the village with its one ethereal-visible house, and the mysterious giant aardvark slumbering nearby. Halfway along the route, they heard the sound of twigs breaking and branches snapping, and suddenly a giant creature burst forth from the treeline! It rushed Laetoli and gored her, sending her flying into the river! Only after the creature wheeled around after its attack could the others make out what they were seeing: an oversized rhinoceros with a skin of cracked black stone, its glowing red lava body shining through between the cracks. The grass withered beneath its feet as it pawed the ground, snorting and looking ready for another charge. Feeling invulnerable in his ethereal state, Beast Master tried to calm the magic beast (to no avail) while the others ran to the river, hoping to rescue Laetoli and avoid the waves of heat pouring off of the monster.

From the river's edge, Sid "Vicious" thought of the spells he knew, realized he could do nothing to harm the beast, and settled for casting a shielding spell on himself. Laetoli, miraculously still alive, attempted to cast a spell on herself to protect herself from the fiery heat, but no divine favor came for her. Nico likewise failed in her attempt to magically command the beast. Beast Master was able to call on the divine to lay hands on Laetoli and heal her slightly. Johnny "Rotten", Krehs, and Will all rushed forward to attack the creature. Each got a good hit in, but was, in turn, splashed with the creature's fiery lava blood, which burned each of them badly. Will used up every bit of his luck to not only hammer the beast, but also pry off one of its armor plates, but in the aftermath, he fled to the river, slipped, fell under, and began drowning. Jim cast a spell to put the monster to sleep, and the Bo-al food cubes he's brought with him from the celebration turned rotten and putrid as the magic left his hands. The creature fell into a magical slumber, unable to wake for at least an hour, or until it ate Bo-al food cubes.

With the creature briefly subdued, the party debated how to handle their situation. The grass around the slumbering beast all burned away, and the dirt beneath it blackened. The first order of business was to rescue Will from drowning (without getting pulled under as well) and to drag him to shore. They agreed that it would be easy to continue hurting the creature while it slept. It wasn't moving, and there was a hole in its armored hide where Will had pried away a piece of its flank. No one was willing to make the first blow however, because they all feared being splashed with more of its flaming blood, (rightly) concerned that most of them would be unable to survive being splashed with lava again. Will felt determined to try to harm the beast in some way, and tried to fetch some water from the river to splash on it, thinking that would harm the beast safely. Unfortunately, the luckless man nearly fell into the river again, then the shirt he used to hold water ripped, and then he finally succeeding in carrying water over to in the curve of his shield, he merely caused the creature's wound to re-harden into stoney black skin. As he finally dumped water onto the creature, the Bo-al food cubes he carried fell from his pocket right in front of it. The rhino's nose twitched and its lips began making smacking sounds, but fortunately someone rushed forward to knock them out of the way in time, and the group decided to let it sleep in peace. Laetoli laid healing hands onto Krehs before they departed, but Beast Master was unable to heal his friend Laetoli a second time.

The group continued downriver, relieved that the fiery rhinoceros didn't seem to be following them. Around mid-afternoon, the sky suddenly went gray, and they saw the sun mysteriously directly overhead, and also mysteriously eclipsed. They heard the sounds of a hurdy-gurdy playing a funeral procession, and as they continued on their way, saw a group of pangolins (armadillo-like creatures but with large bronze scales instead of bands of armor). Several of the pangolins were tying one of the smallest members of their group to a stone altar. Others played the funeral music, and small cadre stood aloof, watching. As the approached, the largest of the pangolins came forward to meet them. He introduced himself as the Jarl of the village, said that the land was cursed, and told them to go back the way they came. The group first inquired about the circular hut they'd seen through Trondo's ethereal telescope, and the Jarl scoffingly told them they must seen the house belonging to the mad widow. They asked about the curse, and he told them that Grendel stalks the lands, coming every few nights to ravage and destroy. He pointed to the altar and explained that Grendel kills someone every time he comes, but if they leave him a sacrifice, he usually kills only the person bound to the altar, and usually doesn't destroy any other property. When asked if he ever tried to fight Grendel, he laughed again at their naivete, and explained that Grendel seemed invulnerable to weapons, and even if he appeared defeated, he always came back. The group asked the Jarl if he'd be willing to let them follow him back to his village, and he laughed again. He'd lead them back, but if they came, they'd be entered into the village lottery to be fed to Grendel, and he was sure their names would be the next ones to come out of the box.

The group felt uncomfortable about leaving the whimpering, crying young one tied to the stone, but agreed they didn't know enough to interfere, and followed the rest of the creatures back to their village. The village itself was circled by a wall of spiked logs, and the houses were all huts made of woven branches. It was obvious that something had battered through the palisade several times, with only patchy repairs afterwards, that some of the huts had been smashed to kindling, and that others were empty with no one inside to light an evening fire. The guards were initially surly about letting the group in, and their mood wasn't improved when Will joked about killing them. Another character was able to diplomatically interpose themselves, saving Will from being blocked out or attacked.

The group went straight to the hut of the "mad widow," who introduced herself as Ymae. They told her that they saw her hut from a distance and could see that it was special. She said that her walls were woven with hairs from the Kyssia, and that it had taken her a long time to collect them. She pointed out that the group themselves were carrying a few strings made of Kyssia hair, and explained to Beast Master and Poseidon how they could use those strings to return to solid form. She said that if one bound the rope around his waist and the other pulled, they could be yanked back to full reality. She was also sure that anyone who had been ethereal once could learn how to go back again, and that the Kyssia did so all the time, and could surely teach them if they couldn't figure it out themselves. Beast Master and Poseidon both decided to wait to perform this trick, thinking that they might need to be ethereal to help defeat "Grendel," who (the group agreed) must be the villager's name for the giant ethereal aardvark they saw earlier. Ymae told them that Grendel could be defeated if they pulled him to solid reality as well, and (with some prompting) even explained that she could weave all the hairs that lined the walls of her house into a rope to perform the task. ... Of course, she would only be willing to do that kind of work and give that important a present to her husband.

The group shuffled to one side to debate while Ymae stood humming to herself, seemingly oblivious. (Although she did make a nasty face at Will when he looked over at her. They gathered he was the only member of the party she'd be unwilling to marry.) No one particularly wanted to marry the widow, but none of them thought they'd be able to weave the rope without her help either. While they were talking, they heard a great roaring in the distance, coming from the direction of the stone altar, then cries and screams that sounded like the young villager who'd been left behind, then horrible chomping and eating noises, and then silence. ("So I guess we're definitely not rescuing that child, then.") For the moment, no one could be persuaded to step forward, so they bid Ymae goodnight and went back into the center of town.

The friends decided to stay the night in the town's inn. Most of the townspeople were spending the night in the Great Hall for safety, but for the inn was filled too, of those who felt uncomfortable or unwelcome in the same building as the Jarl. The innkeeper was inconsolable; it was his daughter who was sacrificed that night. The friends learned that the villagers are called Carakol, and that their village was once a much happier place before Grendel came. Asking around, they also learned that Grendel is rumored to be immune to weapons, that they can't touch him, that he walks through walls. They also heard rumors that in the past, a different group of people lived here and worshiped an evil animal spirit by throwing sacrifices into a nearby swamp. They heard that there's an ancient chieftain's tomb in the hills north of town, and that the chieftain was known as a monster slayer. (The group concluded that this must be where the spear they saw through Trondo's telescope must be buried.) They also heard, from an angry young Carakol who claimed to be the fiance of the sacrificed girl, that the Jarl had no idea how to kill Grendel.

The next morning, the group members felt somewhat refreshed. Will, although still feeling pretty unlucky, no longer felt as though the entire world was conspiring to thwart his ever move. Beast Master was able to speed Laetoli to a full recovery, although Nico's power had no effect on Johnny. They returned to Ymae's hut, where Jim attempted to cast a spell to charm her into giving them the rope. The spell had no effect, but Ymae interpreted the attempt as a proposal, and seemed delighted. She began bustling around her hut thinking of preparations for the wedding. After a minute, she came back over, gave Jim a chaste hug, and told him it was bad luck to see the bride before the wedding. She promised she would weave the rope in time to stop Grendel's next attack, and told the group to come back the day after tomorrow. She also gave them accurate directions to the chieftain's tomb. Now that they had a plan to get the rope, Beast Master decided to return to solidity, and had Poseidon help yank him back to reality. Unfortunately, one of their two Kyssia-hair threads for performing this trick broke in the process, although Poseidon thought he could still use the other after Grendel was dead. They went into town again to look for supplies, and Will managed to persuade the town blacksmith to let him use the space for a bit. Will managed to turn the piece of pyroceros hide into a fire-resistant shield, which he gave to his friend Laetoli.

The friends spent one more night in the inn, and planned to raid the ancient tomb in the morning in order to recover the spear. Poseidon planned to use the spear to kill the ethereal Grendel, while Jim worried about how to safely break off his engagement without risking the party's access to Ymae's magic rope. Socializing in the inn, the group heard more rumors about Grendel. One Carakol told them not to worry, as Grendel supposedly only killed sinners and other wicked people. (Although the group felt a little suspicious of this information, since they'd heard Grendel eating a teenager the night before.) They also heard that Grendel could be distracted by fresh blood, and that weapons made of silver or that had been blessed by a priest could cause Grendel searing pain. They were also warned to burn the bodies of anyone who died near the village or else they'd rise up as corpse monsters, and that anyone who was bitten by Grendel transformed into some kind of naked, long-nosed beast. With all that they'd learned swirling through their heads alongside their tentative plans, the group bedded down for the night, prepared to seize the ancient spear in the morning.

Will our heroes find the ghostly spear? Will they defeat Grendel? Will one of their friends be the next name drawn out of the Jarl's lottery box? Will Jim make an honest woman out the widow Ymae? Stay tuned for these answers in our action packed season premier in the fall!

a fire-resistant pyroceros-hide shield
Beast Master's solidity

Jim's bachelorhood (maybe)


2 for fighting the pyroceros
1 for meeting the widow (and an extra 1 to Jim only for his engagement)

(Attentive readers will recognize the scenario in play here as Goodman Games' "Doom of the Savage Kings.")

(The pyroceros the characters encountered on their trip was a truly random encounter. I rolled a d14 to first choose the CL of the encounter on Pars Fortuna's "Monsters by Challenge Level" index. Then I rolled a d5 to determine which of the CL 11 monsters to introduce.)

(In retrospect, a fire monster that burns all the plantlife it touches isn't an ideal thematic fit for either a forest encounter or a riverside encounter. Eventually, I would like to have encounter tables of mid-level monsters for each type of terrain, and I'd like these monsters to be thematically consistent with the kinds of monsters that OD&D placed in each terrain. Just like I took my starting occupations from Zenopus Archives, I'm thinking about the terrain and encounter descriptions from Initiative One. As a kind of megafauna, the pyroceros is a perfect fit for the OD&D mountains, and, yeah, a volcanic monster living in the mountains also makes a lot of sense. Eventually, I'd also like a high-level unique monster living in some wilderness hexes, like you see in Island of the Unknown. The island should stay dangerous, even after the characters get strong enough to stop worrying about most of the wildlife, and there should be some kind of special reward - or at least the potential for a reward - when one of the high-HD unique monsters is defeated.)

(After the session was over, I realized that I'd made a mistake and Laetoli should have died. She took 1d6 trample damage, plus 2d8 goring damage, plus 1d4 from the heat. This would have killed any of the other characters two or three times over, but Laetoli is a beast in the hit points department. The bonus Hit Dice from being a cavewoman, coupled with a +2 Stamina bonus means that she's ridiculously hardy. But pyroceros description says that it deals double damage when charging, which should have been an additional 2d8 goring damage on top of that, and maybe another 1d6 trample as well. She was left with only 1 or 2 hp after the attack with the damage I calculated, so if I'd done the math right, she certainly would have perished.)

(On the other hand, even though Laetoli lived, her near-death experience certainly emphasized how dangerous the wildlife on the island can be. It was interesting watching the players come to the realization that they'd be better off running away rather than killing the monster. Even fast asleep, the pyroceros could still kill them. They absolutely could have killed it, but some of them - maybe several of them - would have died too as a result of the spraying lava blood. They could have killed it, but they realized it was smarter to walk away.)

(Another thing it was interesting the players debate was how to best make use of some DCC-specific rules. The risk-reward of clerical healing and Deity Disapproval made them cautious about using that power. Burning Luck let Will the Smith pull off a cool maneuver, which he liked, although I think that player was surprised by the dangers of dropping to Luck 0. In retrospect, I wish I'd warned him, but he's my most veteran player, and since letting any other attribute fall to 0 means instant death, I thought he'd understand that he was doing something that would essentially incapacitate Will for awhile. In retrospect, I also wish I'd printed out copies of each character class's 2-3 pages of rules so that the players could pass those handouts around and consult them when they had questions about their characters' abilities.)

(I think that handouts would also be a good idea for each of the Pars Fortuna factions. Because we were focusing on learning about Grendel and the mad widow, I forgot to relay very much information about the Carakol, aside from their pangolin-like appearance. As music-lovers and ghost-haters, the Carakol are weird and interesting, and not much of that came through this session, which a handout could have solved. I think this kind of handout should have a picture of a typical faction member, a picture of a typical town, a brief description of what the faction is like, and a list of special opportunities that each faction provides. For example, I think my player who drew a map of Trondo's house should have had a chance to sell that to the other Bo-al, at a much higher price than other factions would pay for dungeon maps because of the Bo-al's interest in architecture.)

(After this session, I had trouble getting all three of my players together on the same weekend, which is why I've started a new summer campaign with a more drop-in-drop-out structure. One of the players is spending the summer abroad, so this campaign is on hiatus until he gets back in the country. We'll definitely finish out the hunt for Grendel, and then decide as a group whether to continue, or play something simpler. I want to continue running the Island of the Blue Giants, but I'm wondering if it should be something that I run online for veteran DCC players - either in addition or instead of having it as an in-person game. I'm thinking that some of the more outre aspects might be easier to introduce to players who are already experienced with DCC and who are - maybe "jaded" is the right word here? - with more standard campaign environments.)

Thursday, June 1, 2017

My In-Person Summer Campaign - Into the Redlands

One of my in-person players is spending the summer abroad, so our adventures on the Island of the Blue Giants is taking a hiatus until he gets back.

In the mean-time, I've been thinking about how to try to get people together to play under the following conditions:
  • Not every player can or needs to attend every session
  • (this means that the millieu needs to be something less outre than the Blue Giants)
  • (this also means that the structure of play needs to be expeditions: out and back each session)

  • The campaign setting needs to be low-prep on my end
  • (this means that I will be using a combination of pre-packaged adventuring sites, and procedural-generation rules to create the setting as we play)
  • (this also means that both the rules and the feel need to be fairly consistent between the various components of play to limit the prep-time needed to convert rules or re-skin setting details)

  • The rules need to be basic enough that my players can grasp them easily, clear enough that I can make rulings without having to keep looking up details, and interesting enough that I'm not tempted to waste a lot of time bolting on fiddly bits as options
  • (this means that actual B/X and Labyrinth Lord are out as rulesets, I'm afraid, and it also means I'm not going to try to cobble together my own preferred BX-ish house rules for this)

So, I've decided that I'm going to use Lesserton & Mor to establish a home-base for players to launch expeditions from, and to provide their first potential adventuring site: a ruined ancient city, which will be procedurally generated during play. I'm also going to use In the Shadow of Mount Rotten to provide the second source of adventure: expeditions into the procedurally-generated monster-occupied wilderness. And finally, I'll be using Barrowmaze as the third main adventuring site, the giant necropolis of the ancient city. Treasures and dangers abound in all three locations, and each session's players can decide where to set out. There may be other adventuring sites (particularly in the wilderness) that are discovered during play.

I'm going to be using Adventurer Conqueror King as my ruleset for character creation, and I should have little or no trouble integrating the monsters and other setting details from my three Labyrinth Lord setting books. I find the way ACK handles attacks (essentially, roll higher than THAC0 plus ascending AC) to be easy enough to grasp to avoid slow-downs during play, and I'm particularly fond of the some of their classes and especially the templates in the Player's Companion.

Human adventurers can choose from the following character classes:
  • Assassin
  • Bard
  • Cleric
  • Explorer
  • Fighter
  • Mage
  • Shaman
  • Thief
  • Venturer

Creating a dwarf character requires having Constitution 9 or higher. Dwarves can choose from the following:
  • Dwarven Delver
  • Dwarven Machinist
  • Dwarven Vaultguard

Creating an elf character requires having Intelligence 9 or higher. Elves can choose from the following:
  • Elven Courtier
  • Elven Enchanter
  • Elven Ranger

The town of Lesserton sits on the southern coast of what its human inhabitants call either Red Island or the Redlands. The Lessers eke out a living farming a narrow strip of fertile land along the southern coast. Red Island itself is far to the north of the continent, rarely visited by other humans except for occasional visits by missionaries, merchants, and raiders. Just to the west of Lesserton sits the ruined Imperial city of Mor, once a great metropolis, now a reminder of the Empire's collapse and the dark days that followed its fall. Just to the east is the Maze, a great underground necropolis dotted with above-ground barrows and cairns where citizens of Imperial Mor buried their dead. To the north lies the towering visage of Mount Rendon and the great expanse of the Redlands, an island mostly occupied by monsters, who in their own tongue call the peak Mount Rotten and the island itself the Rotlands.

Sessions will take place in-person, usually on Saturday evenings, as often as I can get at least two players able to meet at my house or host me at theirs.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Island of the Blue Giants - Player Map of Trondo's House

Below is a map one of my players drew of Trondo's house (The Alexandrian's Halls of the Mad Mage) over the course of the first two sessions.

The map is drawn on the back of the player's 0-level character sheet, so the red marks bleeding through are my skull-and-crossbone drawings  indicating the deaths of Peregrine and Batman.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Session Report - Island of the Blue Giants - 25 Feb 2017

Poseidon, the merman
Batman, the flyer
Jim, the gemcutter

Beastmaster, the animal trainer
Will, the smith
Kerhs, the half-orc
Litoli, the cave-woman

Sid "Vicious," the sage
Johnny "Rotten," the spy
Siouxsie, the nomad
Nico, the spy

Traveling from Trondo's bedroom, the group made their way to the observatory off of the library. They were a bit surprised to realize that the sitting room, the library, the triangle room, and the aquarium all made a single circuit, since it was upstairs the whole way around.

Inside the observatory, Johnny looked through the telescope, which was initially pointed at his fellow party members. Most of his friends were nearly invisible, looking ghostly and insubstantial, but Poseidon and Beastmaster seemed solid and real. Wheeling around, he surveyed the rest of the house. Again, most of it was so gauzy and thin he could hardly see it at all, but the aquarium was obviously full of water and fish, and there was a menacing, shadowy presence lurking in the gravel on the floor... Looking farther afield, he was able to see the boulder field where he and his friends had first woken up. The field seemed sparse; most of the boulders were invisible, but the ones carved with faces were plain to see. Also plain to see were a small crowd of human-like figures (the first they'd seen since awakening) although they seemed to be shorter and paler than Johnny's friends. Wheeling around the other way, he saw what appeared to be a giant aardvark sleeping in an unknown den (it must have been giant, because of how large it appeared at a distance, even without many landmarks to judge it against,) and nearby, a single hut, and nearby that, a giant spear.

Johnny reported all this back to his friends. Beastmaster wanted to see for himself, but was unable to touch the telescope to move it. With Will's help, he managed to take in the same panorama and Johnny, then announced his intentions to return to the aquarium to catch more fish. Poseidon agreed, and Siouxsie bravely volunteered to join them. The group returned to the sitting room with the miniature aquarium, and Siouxsie deliberately touched it, becoming insubstantial like her two friends.

The group all returned to the aquarium room. To most of them, it appeared as a bare room with stone sculptures of fish hanging from nearly invisible strings from the ceiling. To Poseidon, Beastmaster, and Siouxsie, it appeared full of water, waving seaweed, and live swimming fish. The three also noticed a menacing presence lurking around the edge of the room, but opted to try catching more fish despite the sense of danger. This looked a bit silly to their friends, who saw the three darting and clutching at thin air, before triumphantly grasping the statues which had remained motionless the entire time. Unfortunately, the larger group didn't get to enjoy watching their three friends at this for long, as the dark presence revealed itself - a giant snail with four mace-like tentacles growing from its head! Unlike the fish, which existed (in slightly different forms) in both the physical world and the ethereal realm, the snail had no physical counterpart, and was completely invisible to most of the observers.

A brief, but intense combat ensued. Siouxsie tossed her lance, but it bounded off the snails invulnerable shell. It then rushed her, pummeled her body to paste, and began loudly slurping up her remains! Beastmaster also proved unable to wound the monstrous mollusk, but in two separate attacks, Poseidon first severed one of its tentacles, then slew the creature with a mighty blow from his trident. He decided to keep the severed tentacle to use as a mace, and he and Beastmaster sawed the snail's body in half to eat later. They made seaweed-wrapped bundles of escargot and fish to carry out with them, and divided Siouxsie's weapons between them. Siouxsie's body, and her armor, were irrecoverable, too badly mangled while the snail devoured her.

After their initial bold entry into the aquarium, the whole group left in a dour mood. Sid "Vicious" and Johnny "Rotten" declared their desire to kill Athern for sending them into the house, and Nico started panicking that her protector, Siouxsie, had died. "I'll be killed for sure!" she wailed. Batman stepped up to calm Nico, offering to defend her in case of danger. "I'm Batman," he said.

The group decided to retreat from the house. They had the information they'd come for, two of their friends had died already, another two had been turned insubstantial, and neither the items they'd found nor the promise of a nice party seemed to make up for the losses they'd already suffered. They went back to the sitting room and library (avoiding the triangle room because it made Jim uncomfortable and nervous,) and then returned to the balcony over the foyer.

From the balcony level they could clearly see the seven remaining weird statues, and the one that Will broke earlier. Although the statues looked like odd collections of spikes and angles, the shadows they cast looked just like the puppet-like monsters they'd fought earlier, and before their eyes, the shadows cast by the intact statues thickened into gibbering little humanoids who immediately began prying up the cobblestones to hurl at them. A couple also grabbed bits of the broken statue, a material that looked especially dangerous to Beastmaster and Poseidon. Unfortunately, they were helpless to defend their friends as the little monsters attacked, hitting Litoli and Will with rocks, and killing Batman with one of the bits of broken statue. Nico momentarily dissolved in tears at the lost of her newest defender, then started waving her knife around threatening anything that came too close to her. Jim withdrew from combat to make sure that none of Batman's valuables would be left behind in the house. Litoli slew one of the shadow-puppet creatures with her spear, Will hammered two, and Sid and Johnny stabbed three of the creatures to death. Beastmaster also found a way to contribute at the end, ordering his guard-weasel to attack the creatures (which it did with gusto, killing another) and his pack-rabbit to stand in front of the shattered statue, blocking the monsters from getting any more of its deadly stone.

Dejected and angry, the group made their way down the spiral staircases in the corners, carrying Batman's body out with them. They emerged to find the street before them more or less deserted, with only the normal town bustle going on in the distance. Storming across town, they eventually found Athern doing some gardening along the city wall, near where they first met them. Athern seemed surprised to see them, and possibly to have forgotten the task they'd asked the adventurers to complete. Undeterred, the group explained that Trondo had died of old age after completing their masterpiece, and had decided to become a ghost so that they'd have time to enjoy their accomplishment. They also explained that Trondo had named Athern in their will, and that their lawyer should have all the details that would eventually allow Athern to inherit the great house.

"You know," Johnny said, "some of our friends died in there. We couldn't even get all their bodies out." He was angry at the Bo-al for sending them on such a dangerous task, unprepared for what awaited them, but Athern seemed oblivious to the group's pain. "You left garbage inside Trondo's house?!" they exclaimed. A moment later though, the giant gardener turned wistful. "Oh poor Trondo!" (And our friends!) "It's so sad that you've died!" (And our friends!) "We'll all be diminished by your loss!" (And our friends!)

The group didn't get the satisfaction they wanted from Athern, but the Bo-al gardener was (eventually) good to their word, and by sunset a grand funeral was in order, with tents and pavilions sprung up all over town, mounds of food-cubes, and great bowls of punch. Poseidon and Beastmaster munched glumly on the cold fish stored in the pack-rabbits saddle bags, while several of the others lost themselves in a night of drinking and debauchery. Under Poseidon's guidance, Jim and Nico put Batman's body onto a reed raft, floated him onto one of the canals, and set him ablaze. Most of the others avoided succumbing to total depravity during their carouse, but Johnny had a tryst with one of the hermaphroditic Bo-al in the bathhouse (and only narrowly avoided becoming married to them) and Sid made a series of ill-advised gambles and wagers that lost him everything, including the clothes off his back, except the tome he'd taken from Trondo's house.

(We began the session in media res inside the house, got the group back outside, caroused for experience bonuses, and then spent the rest of the session leveling up their characters. I used Jeff's Gameblog's carousing table, which seemed to work well. I'm of two minds about both the beginning and end of the session.

On the one hand, I know other referees prefer not to allow their players to end a session inside a dungeon, and even make them roll on special tables (like Jeff's Gameblog's again, or like Unofficial Games's) to determine whether and how they made it out by the start of the next session. At the end of last session, I could have also simply ruled that as long as they went straight to the exit, they got out safely. We might have gotten more done in the session, perhaps even accomplishing some of the things that eventually happened in Session 3. On the other hand, if I'd done that, there never would have been a fight with the flail-tentacled snail, and the danger of the foyer guardians would have been halved. (And at 4 HD, the snail could have easily wrecked all three of the characters fighting it, especially after critting Siouxsie on its first attack.) Making the players work for their exit emphasizes that they're always in danger in the dungeon, even when they're trying to escape, and it forces them to plan accordingly - you don't want to go so deep in that you can't make it back out alive. And since we have a consistent group so far, there was no sudden appearing or disappearing of characters as they walked from one room to another. I haven't decided how I want to handle this in the future.

I also have mixed feelings about spending the end of the session leveling up (instead of doing it between session) and leveling up every surviving character (instead of having each player choose one to focus on for now.) Again, on the one hand, it took the rest of our time, and we didn't have the chance to do any more gaming. On the other hand, we got to talk through the class options and everyone's visions for each of their surviving characters. Everyone also got to learn more about the rules for Dungeon Crawl Classics as they related to each character's abilities. Crits and Fumbles, Mighty Deeds of Arms, the random nature of spellcasting, and burning Luck all got discussed in some detail. I don't generally want to force my players to memorize too many rules (that's what the referee's for!) but I also don't want anyone's character to die because they didn't know what it was capable of doing to defend itself. I don't regret doing things this way this time, but I reserve the right to consider if I want to do it the same or differently in the future.

I also made everyone decide where they were headed next, and they chose to investigate the giant aardvark and the mysterious hut and spear...)

a tentacle mace
more spectral fish and half a giant spectral snail
a very nice funeral


1 flail-tentacled snail
7 shadow-puppet guardians 

2 for fighting the snail (Poseidon and Beastmaster only)
0 for fighting the puppets a second time
1d6 each for carousing at the funeral (Will, Kerhs, Litoli, Sid, and Johnny)