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.)

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