My GLOG campaign set in Goodberry Monthly's Wizard City campaign setting continues!
(I've also joined Oblidisideryptch's online GLOG game, exploring The Tomb of the Serpent Kings as a cannoneer, so I'm getting the opportunity to see these rules from both sides of the table.)
In this campaign, Josh and Peter and I are playing wizard graduate students who have yearly exams going into the dungeons Under Gallax Hall, with visits to the Wizard City Hexcrawl for "downtime" over summer break and the winter holiday.
(Josh has pointed out that a different ruleset could encourage more intra-party drama. It also occurred to me that you could set something like this up with shorter delves that happen at midterms and finals every semester, with "downtime" for drama in between.)
By coincidence, statues will be a recurring theme of these sessions.
Jimbo Chirrup, a grasshopperfolk and 2nd level garden wizard, played by Josh
Deeringer, a deerling and 2nd level drowned wizard, played by Peter
Lunai Lovegood, a lunai and 2nd level orthodox wizard, played by me
|Monica Doom was eager to recruit the team.|
After attending a very lovely funeral for the beloved Arivaderchi Zeucchini (who is still alive, although trapped on the 2nd level of the dungeon), the three surviving grad students decided to follow up on the note they found hidden in Professor Klaus's office: "If you've managed to steal this, then I have need of your services. Ask the bartender at the Wandering Monster for a feline on the rocks."
On a humid summer night, the group went to the famous Wandering Monster bar near the student ghetto, where Deeringer, clearly at home in this film noir scenario, took the lead by ordering the drink, and was soon introduced to the femme fatale, a black cat in a wizard hat lapping up a Brandy Alexander from a saucer at the end of the bar.
"We found your note," Deeringer said, placing the folded slip of paper onto the bartop. The cat explained she was Monica Doom, a fellow Gallax University grad student, but she'd gotten herself into trouble gambling at the Manticore. She was a cat wizard who'd wagered her ability to turn back into her human form and lost; to buy it back, she needed the Eleventh Hourglass, which was hidden away in the vault in the southeast corner of the Old Gallax building, on the 3rd level of the dungeon.
The group agreed to help her retrieve the magic hourglass in exchange for directions to the vault, where they'd keep anything else they found. Monica also agreed to fence any more textbooks they found at a better price. They declined the chance to go gamble at the Manticore themselves.
|The statues concluded their war with violent finality.|
A semester of study and preparations passes as though in an eye blink, and soon the winter holidays were upon them. Jimbo, Deeringer, and Lunai ventured out into town again to enjoy the festivities and snow, but unfortunately, a roll on the random encounter table indicated that a civil war had erupted among the city's statues! Led by statues of the university's founders, four armies of stone and bronze figures began amassing and conducting commando raids on the edges of each other's territories. The city's wizard residents mostly stayed indoors, only popping outside long enough to literally run to their destination.
The three friends tried to intervene, with Deeringer again taking the lead. On the second day of the war, using his decrepit and badly maintained spy network, Deeringer managed to sow dissension between the statues, turning the two-on-two standoff into a four-way free-for-all.
On the third day, Gallax University's bursar's office was destroyed in the fighting! "Oh no," said Jimbo, "the student debt records. All destroyed. Whatever will we do."
On the fourth day, a statue was accused of treachery by its faction and was taken to the the Manticore to be bitten in half by the statue of St Mantis, the patron saint of grasshopperfolk in Wizard City.
On the fifth day, the Wizard Police came out and made everything worse, bludgeoning undergraduates in the streets for no reason, shooting people's familiars and daemons, tossing spell grenades through windows, and generally making a nuisance of themselves.
On the sixth day, a gang of kuo-toa from out of town arrived and declared themselves the new bosses of the Drain neighborhood that bordered the Gallax University Campus. Seeing them as representatives of the hated ocean and everything it represents, Deeringer vowed to rededicate his efforts toward kicking the kuo-toa back out of town.
On the seventh day, a week after hostilities had begun, all of Deeringer's efforts and machinations came to fruition. Three of the founder statues reached an agreement and sicced their respective armies on the fourth and all his followers. Clouds of marble dust billowed through the streets, mingling with the light falling snow, as a quarter of all the statues in the city were pulverized and shattered by their enemies. The kuo-toa were also wiped out during the fighting, and to celebrate both New Year's Day and the end of the Seven Days' Statue War, the Krill Shop gave out free fish soup to all the hungry students who could finally emerge from their dorms and ghettos.
|Deeringer was prepared for even further mischief.|
Spring semester passed just as quickly as the fall had. Jimbo's many visits to Student Health paid off with a cure for his travel blindness, although he still had a drinking problem and more work to do in therapy next year. Fortunately, he was sober (and thus temporarily illiterate) in his Wizard History class on the day when the professor accidentally wrote a cursed glyph on the board and drove all the other students in the class insane.
Deeringer was being harassed by student loan officers kept chasing after him trying to collect his rusty Atlantean coins. "But I'm not even a student!" he protested, but the loan officers produced a folder filled with obviously fake loan documents. It seemed that in the wake of the destruction of the bursar's office, the University was resorting falsifying and robo-signing paperwork to replenish the school's coffers.
On exam day, the three friends passed by Professor Sitch's office and left the Bones Lounge unopened. They continued up the hallway, past the lecture auditorium, until they encountered some yellow maintenance signs. Always concerned about a wet floor, Deeringer looked closer and saw that they were warning of "GRABBY FLOOR! PLEASE USE CAUTION!" No one liked the sound of that, so they entered a classroom, looking for a way around. The room appeared to have been recently cleaned. All the furniture was stacked up into three extremely precarious looking towers, which the group all tip-toed around. In the next room, they found a classroom covered in blood-spatter and gore, and a custodian carefully cleaning up one corner of the devastation. They asked for help with the hall and instead got yelled at about the mess, so they left, deliberately knocking over the furniture behind them on the way out, the sound of distant swearing just audible over the tumult of falling chairs as they shut the door behind them.
Leaving the classroom, they took a different hall past the auditorium, and approached a statue of a pompous looking administrator and his equally dignified cat. Unfortunately, as they approached, Jimbo and Deeringer fell into a pit trap. Jimbo was alright - and managed to find a valuable looking textbook on the body of a dead undergrad. He was able to jump up out of the pit, to where Lunai has just returned with another (different, helpful) custodian. Lunai, Jimbo, and the custodian were able to haul out Deeringer, who was badly injured.
While Lunai helped Deeringer make a sling, Jimbo inspected the cat statue, and discovered that its tail could move. Tilted in one direction, the administrator's statue rotated and pointed down the hall at a statue of a unicorn. The floor around the unicorn statue was scuffed, and Jimbo was sure it was hiding a secret door, but he couldn't figure out the mechanism ... sooo, he started chipping away at the stonework behind the statue with his spade. The noise eventually attracted the attention of a group of undergrads, who started scolding him for defacing school property. "What are you talking about?" he asked. "Destroying property is cool. What're you guys, squares? Get punk, fellow kids." Thoroughly convinced, the undergrads ran down the hall, determined to toppled the administrator's statue, and all fell down the pit trap, probably to their deaths.
Eventually, Jimbo broke through, and the three friends decided to eat lunch in the secret room. It appeared to be a hidden student lounge, with the remnants of a magic circle drawn on the floor. Fully justifying the cost of their student loans, they were easily able to identify it as a ward against authority figures. "Hey, these kids are alright," Jimbo quipped as he flopped onto one of the couches. He browsed a copy of the student newspaper, The Unveiling Eye. It was a special issue about statues. The newspaper claimed that every statue had a meaning and every one hid a secret. It also claimed that the statues sometimes came to life, walked around, and traded places. "Yep, that checks out."
After lunch, with Deeringer in particular feeling much refreshed, they returned to the statue of the administrator and the cat. Jimbo noticed a loose tile and managed to pry it up. Underneath, they found a shaft leading downward, with a ladder disappearing down into the dark. They tried turning the cat's tail the other way, and the statue rotated again, pointing at a wooden wall. Again, they found no secret door mechanism, but Lunai broke down the wall with her battering beam spell, revealing the top of the old belltower, and a terribly rickety looking scaffolding leading down too. The group briefly debated their options, and chose the safer ladder over the possibly deeper scaffolding.
|Despite Jimbo's fears, the steam pipes were plant free.|
The next room they entered was so filled with steam it was difficult to see. The party tried following the billowing steam clouds to their source, and soon reached a room filled with pipes and valves, where some undergraduate sorority sisters - members of Omicron Delta Theta, who maintained a clubhouse on this level - were apparently intentionally clouding up this section of the dungeon. A highly positive reaction roll suggested that the sisters might be flirting with Jimbo and Deeringer. "Look! Grad student guys!" Jimbo seemed happy to chat the girls up, while Deeringer was more stoic.
"So what are you two doing down here?" the Deeringer asked. The ODT girls showed off their pockets filled with syringes of mutagen, and explained their plan to get people lost and confused by the mist, then inject them with diseases and mutation serums. Deeringer was aghast - "Why would you do something like that?" - but Jimbo thought this all sounded pretty normal - "What're you, kidding? C'mon. This is wizard college. That's like, a Tuesday." The girls agreed and explained that they got extra credit for every person they infected. Jimbo was able to get directions to two different routes down to level 3, and one of the sisters slipped him the address for her apartment back in town. Then the girls used special syringes to turn themselves into clouds of vapor and floated away down a hallway that they'd confessed was heavily booby-trapped behind all the steam.
The group retraced their steps, attempting to locate a path to the eastern staircase. Their first effort led them to a flooded room, which Deeringer was unwilling to enter - and Jimbo and Lunai agreed with his judgment. The retreated and tried another track, aiming for the northeaster stairs instead. This time they passed through a room with a metal grate for a floor. Deeringer was sure he saw something lurking underneath, and continued to worry about flooding.
They entered a strangely symmetrical intersection of hallways, so self-similar they worried about getting lost just walking straight through. They were attacked by a towering dungeon swan, one of ODT's many experimental mutants, and after a pitched battle, they put the beast down and retreated the way they had come. They realized that somehow 4 days had passed outside while they were in the corridor. They retreated back to the steam room to sleep the night. They awoke warm and a bit damp, but with their clothing pleasantly steam-cleaned!
The next morning, the group returned to the time-bending intersection, only to be approached by the stone statue of a horse with no rider. Fearing what might happen if they fought it, the trio retreated from the statue, observing that another 2 days passed in the brief time they'd been inside the strange halls. Trying a different path, they passed through another eerily symmetrical intersection of hallways, but fortunately passed through unharmed. They quickly passed through a room where the ceiling was covered in faucets, afraid of what might drip out if they lingered.
The next room held dozens of valves, sorted and color-coded according to some unknown logic. Jimbo pressed his luck quite far indeed, trying out over half a dozen of the valves. After one, the group heard a mechanical thump and the ambient noise level decreased slightly. (This was the heating system for the entire above-ground building shutting down. The undergrads were thrown into chaos, and eventually, a custodian would have to venture here to restart the furnaces.) After another, they heard screaming coming from somewhere overhead. (This was nerve gas being released into one of the torture laboratories on the 1st level. Mission to punk those nerds in the Torture Department? Accomplished!) Fortunately for Deeringer and Lunai, Jimbo stopped testing valves before killing them all!
Eventually, they passed down a hall into a room where a whimpering body-bag hung from the ceiling. When approached, whoever was inside the bag became inconsolable and started wailing. Jimbo's spell to calm emotions had no effect. Knocking the bag down and opening it revealed that it was stuffed with wastepaper!
In the next room, they found an angry janitor, trying to mop the rust stains out of the rusted iron floor with a wet mop. He wasn't at all happy about the noise the party had made in the other room, but cheered up slightly when offered whiskey, and pointed the way to the nearby staircase.
The final obstacle was a giant door of solid black granite. It seemed to have no handle or way to open it, but feeling along the door eventually revealed a keyhole. The group tried the unregistered key they'd found in the Bones Lounge, and the door opened! Just past the door was a stairway leading down to the 3rd level of the dungeon.
|Walking the halls without a hall pass, eh?|
They go tough on you for that 'round these parts.
The hall appeared to contain more statues further down its length, and Monica Doom's instructions suggested the vault would be in the southeast corner of the dungeon, so there was no good reason to follow this hall leading to the west. They found a doorway branching off to the south - inside, they found the ghost of Administrator Poe, one of the university's four founders. The ghost was busy berating his miserable zombie staff about how his expansive office suite was all crooked and would need to be redone. Naturally, Deeringer, Jimbo, and Lunai pretended to be custodians, there to perform the requested repairs. Administrator Poe was extremely pleased, and left for his other office across the hall. The group quickly searched the place, discovering a valuable crystal paperweight, and a room covered in calendars with December 6th circled on every one.
Leaving the office, the group crossed another long hall. They could see statues of the founders, and the enormous University Seal cast in bronze, with the words "SEAL PERISH. UNIVERSITY" printed visibly along the side facing them. The declined to investigate that any further and continued deeper into the old building.
The next set of halls were almost maze-like. The group entered a fancy administrative washroom and stole the gold-embroidered towels. The heard the footsteps of someone wearing fancy shoes and walking with authority, and waited until the sound had passed. Jimbo suggested camping in the easily-fortified location, but Deeringer refused. "No! Are you kidding? With all these faucets? Where the ocean can get us?"
They peeked into a lounge that appeared to be the site of a terrible magical battle, the walls covered in scorch marks, the ground littered with corpses with bizarre injuries - but the battle must have been over a hundred years earlier, and all that was left were skeletons and dust. Another room housed two statues holding the shattered remains of a mirror, the wall graffitied with the "NO ESCAPE, HARGRAVE!" Jimbo and Deeringer felt certain this message wasn't for them. "It's a lucky thing we're in a college. Even the graffiti has excellent grammar." "I know! And that penmanship!"
Finally, closing in on the vault, they entered another ancient battlefield, this one in an old library. More devastation, a skeleton half-embedded in a wall, a perfectly motionless student in old-timey garb, several skeletons wearing pointy wizard hats. The group began peeking at the books, but most seemed to have been damaged or distorted by the spells from the battle. Deeringer found some old bronze coins that he though Monica Doom might be able to fence.
As they prepared to leave, the hats leapt off their corpses and began attacking the three wizards! The hats got the better of the group in a way that nothing else in the dungeon so far had - Deeringer was concussed, Jimbo's thorax got stress-fractures, and a hat bit Lunai Lovegood's arm so badly that she nearly died, and Jimbo and Deeringer were sure she'd need to have it amputated. Although they were close to their goal, the group chose to retreat. At one point on their way out they were accosted by the ghost of Administrator Gallax, who mistook them for wealthy donors, and thus was thrilled to see them. Somehow the ghost ended up with the bronze coins, but he did escort them all the way back to the dungeon entrance, where, a week after their exam began, the group finally exited the halls and set off for Student Health.
alliance with Monica Doom
invitation to meet ODT sorority sisters
textbook worth 15 gp
crystal paperweight worth 300 gp
Lunai Lovegood received a fatal wound, needs a prosthetic arm, and might retire
group of undergrads who fell in a pit trap after talking to Jimbo
all occupants of Experimental Torture Laboratory B who died of nerve gas
ODT's pet dungeon swan
swarm of hungry hungry hats
|In wizarding university, laundry sorts you!|
The wandering encounter table in the Wizard City Hexcrawl definitely produces some wild results! I'll be honest, a war among the statue factions sound really cool, but I had no idea how to run it, no idea how to decide what happens next. I ended up using the "craps" mechanic from Martin O's The Manticore dungeon and kind of reinterpreting the results to be happening at the scale of the entire city. I think it worked out, actually, but I'm not sure what I would have done otherwise.
This felt like another occasion where the no-homework approach limited my ability to describe things well. Who are these four founding wizards and what do their statue armies look like? What are they fighting over and what are the sides? Hell, what are the neighborhoods the battle is raging across? I don't really know, because I don't really know the setting any better than my players do, so all those details are a blank. Don't ask questions, just, quick! roll 2d6 to see what happens next!
Between this and my collaborative-but-vague worldbuilding over in my 5e campaign, I really am longing for my own campaign setting to run adventures in, someplace that I'll know enough details about to answer really basic questions about history, and geography, and important people.
Having a mission and a vague sense of direction certainly transformed the experience of this particular delve. Monica Doom struck a chord of sympathy with Josh and Peter, and her offer to fence their loot helped to sweeten the deal. It makes me wonder if I've run too many dungeons with just a vague "there's probably treasure in there somewhere, go find it" or "could be a monster that needs killing somewhere inside, go find it" as the only real starting point.
That works okay if you don't have any other motivation, but it makes me think I've been missing out by not really ever putting my players on meaningful quests. If your only motive is "go explore" than any door is as good as the next, whereas here, they had good reasons to pick one path over another, and reasons to ignore some areas of the dungeon in favor of finding others. If you just want to explore, seeing one spot is just as good as seeing any other. In a larger dungeon, having different missions on different delves could really help to direct your exploration each time. I suppose a good rumor table could help with that, but I suspect that real missions, where you are doing something for someone, probably so they'll do something for you in return, are more direct.
The group definitely didn't find enough treasure this time to level up under the "gold for XP" system. Since we've been playing this fairly collaboratively, I'll have to ask Josh and Peter if they want to stick with that, or go with a "one level gained per delve" system instead.
During the next "summer break", the group will probably want to follow-up with Monica Doom, and Josh might want Jimbo to check on the sorority sisters who gave him their address. (They probably ought to have names or something, right?) If they do want a way to earn more XP, T AKW from Dreams and Fevers and Velexiraptor from A Blasted Cratered Land have put out a mini wizard school dungeon The Department of Soul Studies. This could be an above-ground part of Gallax University, or a rival wizard liberal arts college located somewhere else in the city.
Unless I keep coming up with new missions, I think this campaign is moving toward a natural conclusion, or at least a natural pausing point, probably after they burgle the vault and steal the Eleventh Hourglass, although events could surprise me. I know Josh is eager to try out the free quickstart rules from the Root RPG Kickstarter,and I'm quite interested as well. On the other hand, if some new motivations to continue the campaign due pop up, I'm not going to stifle things by calling a premature end to it - it's just that right now a possible ending is in sight.