Sunday, November 11, 2018

Session Report - Descend into Brimstone - 12 Oct 2018

Archibald (innkeeper, 1st level Zombie)
played by American John
Nell (innkeeper, 2nd level Warrior)
played by Todd
Bjornk (0th level hunter)
Chaus Hussar (0th level cavalryman)
played by Peter
Balthazar, Melchior, & Abendego (magicians)
NPC allies
Session 6
The townsfolk of Brimstone spent the week spreading the word about the impending demon sacrifice. The whole town was a titter with anticipation. "Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!" The priests and preachers of every church in Brimstone held extra services denouncing the sacrifice and exhorting their followers not to participate, but by Sunday morning, the Gallows was packed and the excited crowd spilled into the street, sipping beer and milling as they waited. At last, it was time. "LLLet's get ready to rumbleee!!!"
The crowd parted as the two adventuring parties promenaded into the Gallows bar. Onlookers clapped, they stomped their feet, they whistled, hooted, and cheered. The three Freemasons, Balthazar, Melchior, and Abendego led the way. Archibald and Sweet Nell followed close behind, basking in their momentary glory. "Now alright, finally we're gettin' the respect we deserve," Nell whispered to Archibald. The five ordered a round of drinks, and round-trip lift tickets. The bartender offered to comp them, but they insisted on this show of humility.
Out of the crowd, a hunter, Bjornk stepped forward. He'd come south from the pine barrens. He believed himself to be cursed, and thought that only tasting demon meat could save him. He approached Archibald and offered to purchase Ally, the alligator that had improbably ended up in Archibald's care. Archibald considered. "Yes," said the dead man, "Ally belongs with the living." Some time during the night, the sleepless, deathless Archibald had stolen back the darkstone necklace from Nell and regained control over his own unhallowed soul, his own undying body. He gave Bjornk Ally and bought him a drink. "I like you," said Archibald, "you stay close now."
Into the elevator the adventurers strode. They rode down into the depths alone, but they didn't remain alone long. The elevator worked tirelessly carrying more and more groups down from the bar. Each small crowd hustled to catch up to those ahead of them, until 30 or 40 onlookers were following in the adventurers' wake.
The group processed through the towering natural tunnels, arriving during their first hour at the waterfall where two streams joined to birth a larger underground river. Over the roar of the water, they heard clicking, and soon three giant insects were upon them, a giant ant, a giant centipede, and a cave cricket. The three masons cast baleful spells that looked like streams of black math being written across the air. Abendego wounded the cricket and Archibald rushed it, but it left over him. Nell shot at it but it leapt out of the way again, and her bullet nearly grazed Archibald. "Hey!" The masons cast their mathemagics again, and the centipede was cut in twain by long division, the cricket lost its legs and its life to subtraction. Bjornk sensed his moment of destiny and stepped forward, grasping Ally by the tale and slapping the ant in the face with the alligator. The ant shook off the blow and bit into Bjornk's stomach, tearing out his guts. The cursed hunter died in agony as the giant insect tore off one of his legs before gorging itself on his thigh. Nell shot the ant as it ate, then considered Bjornk's mutilated remains. "Well, no sense in lettin' him go to waste," she said as she broke his skull open with the enchanted, bloodthirsty dagger she'd taken from poor Merriwether. "Now Mister Archibald, I want no hard feelin's between us. You go on and eat now, I don't want you gettin' cranky with my later." Archibald knelt down beside Bjornk. "I like brains," he said and began tearing out handfuls to devour.
The crowd had been on tenterhooks throughout the fight, had gasped and murmured when Bjornk went down and was feasted on by insects, but the sight of Archibald eating Bjork's brain proved too much for them. (This is the NPC equivalent of the classic freshman discovery "Ohhh, you mean this is COLLEGE college!") Probably half the crowd left, their morale gone, backing away and rushing back to the elevator shaft. While Archibald ate, Nell searched Bjornk's body and took his compass, and Archibald retrieved the hunter's rifle, and wrapped his own alligator Ally around his neck like a stole as he stood up.
The cavalryman Chaus Hussar stepped forward from the crowd to walk closer to the adventurers. Far from being frightened, he felt invigorated. Melchior turned to Nell as they walked, "Cracking shot, that. You made short work of the bugger! This is exciting, isn't it? The two greatest teams of adventurers in Brimstone working together?" Nell thought of her first missed shot and Bjornk's death. "Now, for this human sacrifice, do we need to bring the human, or...?" Melchior looked over his shoulder back at the crowd. "Oh not to worry, we have the blighter already tied up at the shrine. Nasty chap. The Illuminati back east sent an assassin to do us in, nasty brutes! Lucky for us the sisters let us know he was coming. We got the drop on him, and ... well, now he's going to help us out summoning our demon."
Unfortunately, their conversation was interrupted their by the arrival of more giant insects. Curiously, it was another trio of ant, centipede, and cricket. Nell fired on the centipede, and her lucky shot exploded the venom sack inside the beast's mouth. The masons again called on their mathemagics to assail the insects. Melchior divided the wounded centipede into fractions, killing it. Balthazar pierced the ant with acute angles, and Chaus Hussar beheaded it with his cavalry sabre. The cricket leapt at Nell and bit her hat right off her head. Archibald fired at the cricket using Bjornk's rifle, and missed the insect, but put a hole in Nell's hat, just missing the top of her head. Nell slew the cricket, retrieved her hat, and went over to Archibald to scold him. "Now Mister Archibald, I told you I was sorry about earlier, you don't have to try to take my head off!" Archibald chuckled to himself, "Hehehe, sorry not-sorry."
With the crowd following behind, the group continued on their path. Chaus carried the giant ant's severed head by one antennae and offered it to Archibald as a way to gain entree with the in-crowd. Archibald accepted the head and began breaking it open, "I like brains." The continued through a section of mining tunnels, past the recently-abandoned YJMC mine. The Yellow Jacket miners trapped inside would have to wait for another day for rescue.
The mining tunnels widened out to become like subway tunnels. The group passed a pool of muddy, brackish water. Nell found the skeleton of a long-dead mule, with a single stick of old dynamite in its saddle bag. Archibald warned the crowd, "Don't drink! Poison water!"
The mining tunnels gave way to tile-lined corridors, and after another half hour of walking they saw it - the demon shrine to Hezzemuth...
1 stick of dynamite
Bjornk (devoured by ant)
2 XP for negotiating with Freemasons
2 XP for fist multi-insect encounter
2 XP for second multi-insect encounter
Total: 6 XP for Archibald and Nell, flat 5 XP for Chaus Hussar for starting funnel
Running graveyard (and session of death)
Bjornk the hunter (6), Meriwether the 1st level Cleric (5), Archibald the 1st level Thief (3), Officer Shia "the Beef" the NPC Mexian police-officer (2), Daniel the plumber (2), Officer Benicio "the Bull" the NPC Mexican police-officer (2), Luther the factory-hand (2), Jed the miner (1), Henry the huckster (1), Lilly the clerk (1), Bill the livery-stabler (1), Harry the butcher (1), Rusty the auctioneer (1)
I don't usually end my sessions on cliffhangers (in fact, one of my goals with both this campaign and my Barrowmaze / In the Shadow of Mount Rotten campaign has been to run self-contained sessions to accommodate slightly different groups of players each time) but there wasn't time to do more.
In a way, this session was like my worst-case scenario for an online game. The players set a goal for themselves, and I led them through two combats and four rooms, and basically, got them as far as the starting point of the adventure they wanted to go on. In retrospect, I wish I hadn't rolled for random encounters on the way to the shrine. The fact that both encounters were with identical monster sets, and that they used of most of our playing time, made it worse. 
Alternatively, if I did allow for random encounters, I wish I'd made it more interactive, so that the players didn't spend so much time watching MY magicians fight MY monsters. I had each player make the attack rolls for one of the Freemasons, but I wish I'd given each of them one Mason to control completely, so that they could have been more involved in the fights.
Why didn't we have much time? Most of my game sessions these days last about 2 hours. I want those 2 hours to be interesting and eventful. I've played in too many online game with other referees that were basically the nightmare scenario, one room, one combat, and ultimately one session because it was so boring that no one involved can quite work up the interest to play a second one. Usually, I've felt like it's gone pretty well. This week the time was a little tighter because we got a late start, and because we were introducing a new player into the group. I know Peter because he and I were fellow players in The Grand Tapestry's Urutsk campaign, but I don't think my other players had met him before. The social part of the session went well - so well, in fact, that I'm trying not to be too hard on myself that the game part felt short. But I don't want all my sessions to go like this, so it's important to use this post-mortem to understand what happened, and why, and how to avoid it in the future. If I had basically started the characters at the entrance to the shrine, then there wouldn't have been a cliffhanger, and the events of next session would have taken place this time. And if what had needed two sessions had taken place in one, then we could have gone on to something new and different a session sooner.
Why didn't I just handwave the travel, why did I roll for encounters along the way? I don't know exactly. It's hard to put into words, but I felt like I was following a particular ethos of D&D play. The danger of the dungeon doesn't care that you're on a mission. You can't just teleport to the adventure site, you have to get there, and you have to get back. The journey can be just as dangerous as the destination. But if what that ethos gets me is spending a 2 hour session and having to quit just when my players get to the start of the adventure they wanted to have - if that's what it gets me, then I need to rethink what I'm doing and how I want to accomplish it. First of all, I handwave overland travel all the time, I suspect everyone does. Unless you're hexcrawling, there's no reason to play out every step of the journey. Second, there's a middle ground between Star Trek transporter travel and re-enacting Zeno's Paradox in the hallways. Even hexcrawling, even dungeoncrawling through a "cleared" area of a megadungeon, you can give brief narration to locate the characters within the fictional space, and truly make it brief so that you can get on with things. I should have done that, I think.
The Dreams in the Lich House campaign event generator gave us "dire omens" this session. It fit well with the ongoing events to have the town preachers trying to warn everyone that this is a bad idea. It amuses me to imagine that the adventuring companies have something like the status of rock bands and the whole town is gaga over them. Having the town's moral authority figures railing impotently against the adventurers' bad influence just drives it home even more. I'm impressed by how well using it has worked out. It might be good to have something a little more tailored to my specific campaign ... but on the other hand, the entries here are open-ended enough to work pretty well far from their original setting.
I wasn't originally planning to have the crowd follow the player characters in. I guess I thought they were just going to stay up in the bar and wait to hear back. But one of my players asked if they were coming, and you know, it seemed obvious that they should. Having a crowd of on-sight spectators was interesting, and it was funny to roll morale after the giant ant ate Bjornk's lower body and Archibald started in on his brain. Allowing the crowd to play the "straight man" to my players' slapstick horror antics highlights what's humorous about their characters' behavior - and the irony of the crowd going from innocently naively cheering for a human sacrifice to them being confronted with the reality of the grisliness of their demand got several laughs at the table.
From my players' perspective, I don't think this was a bad session. As I said, we successfully introduced a new regular player into a long-term group, and they enjoyed the role-playing aspects of the session. I just hope to (usually) do more when I run sessions in the future.


  1. "The three masons cast baleful spells that looked like streams of black math being written across the air."

    Love it.

    1. Thanks, Josh! This started as just a skin for the "baleful spell" ability of the DCC NPC magician ... but I kind of like it. I might try to see if I can think of enough results to make a proper DCC spell for it.

  2. Replies
    1. No, I'm still on G+, and I made a MeWe account. I'm hoping something one of these platforms becomes a bit livelier and more popular among roleplayers before next August.