Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Tag: synopsis

D&D 5E: Dome

The kids’ game had one of the experienced players back, giving us a manageable six PCs:

  • Styx – alchemist wood elf arcane trickster 3
  • Necro – experimental warforged conjurer 2
  • Reaper – noble drow warlock 2
  • RH – noble human paladin 2
  • Gwar – knight half-orc monk/barbarian 1/1
  • August – folk hero half-elf bard 2

This is the session where I blew it figuring encounter balance. When I was putting the adventure together, I was thinking we would have eight PCs on the stage (wrong), I was expecting a couple of them to level up by the time the fateful encounter came about (nope), and I figured a couple of near-dead PCs would be acceptable. (Questionable but moot, since I overlooked a rule that turned “near-dead” into… well, you’ll see.)

Background

In between games, in conversation, I pick up bits of characterization. Not all of it comes up in a play synopsis. Here’s some pieces I’ve gathered.

Gwar benefits from wearing no armor, so his “Sunday go adventurin'” outfit is his boots of the winterlands at one end, his new cap of water breathing at the other, and as little as he can get away with in between.

RH worships the turkey god, a proud and noble Lawful Good deity who rewards those who cook good food and those who smite foul evil. RH does both with enthusiasm. When on the road, he keeps the party’s morale high by turning iron rations and scavenged herbs into an endless stream of surprisingly tasty sandwiches.

Like all warforged, Necro was designed to be a soldier; in his case, he was meant to be a battlefield necromancer. He often feels compelled to act according to that role: collecting bones, seeking necromantic spells, raising undead minions, and so forth. He has vague memories of a life spent in battle, leading an army of skeletons, possibly during the Titans’ War. Later, he was deactivated for some time, only to be (briefly) awakened by “The Creator”, a thin, old man wearing an extravagant handlebar mustache. The Creator’s experiments cost Necro his memory (and, it seems, many levels) but gave him free will and the ability to forge his own destiny.

Styx grew up as a wizard’s apprentice, but personal tragedy and her wild ways put her on a path of thievery. Her education was disrupted by a vampire attack that cost her most of her immediate family. She survived, wounded, but since then she’s avoided bright sunlight, and recently, she’s lost her appetite…

What Happened

At the end of last session, our heroes were attending a feast at Swamp Village, in honor of their baby-rescuing efforts. Gwar and RH engaged in a drinking contest, which RH won when Gwar fell off his log. While lurking in the shadows, Styx ran into an elderly woman who gave her directions towards the deepest part of the swamp. “Those who enter do not return,” she warned. Perfect place to find a hidden artifact.

The next morning, they set out. Where they were going, a wagon would be no use, so they had their dwarf teamster, Angus, stay in Swamp Village. Instead, Reaper located and purchased a rowboat made from a single giant turtle shell, large enough to carry them all but small enough to carry when open water was unavailable. The party chose to proceed at a slow-but-stealthy pace.

Several hours into the journey, they had their first encounter. While scouting ahead of the main party, Styx spotted a group of lizardfolk who were likewise moving quietly through the swamps. After a whispered conversation, the party decided to set up an ambush. When the lizardfolk party came by, they found themselves suddenly confronted by Reaper, in the guise of a lizardfolk warrior, waving his hands and pantomiming a lost voice to cover for his lack of knowledge of the Draconic language. While all eyes were on him, Styx stepped from a bush unobserved, quietly decapitated one of the lizardfolk with her magical “dagger” (in name only, being more of a short sword), and taking the head with her, stepped back into concealment. Finally, Gwar burst up roaring from beneath the water where he had concealed himself (cap of water breathing, remember) and bisected one of the trailing lizardfolk with his greatsword. With all eyes drawn towards the rear, RH charged from the bushes in front, tackling one of the lizardfolk and taking it to the ground to be pummeled. Necro, August, and Reaper set up a barrage of spells, killing two more lizardfolk, causing the last one to rethink the situation and flee.

The party trussed up the one that RH had grappled. They decided to call him “Yellow” (based on the color of his generic plastic mini) and tried to question him without the benefit of a common language. Styx drew a decanter on a piece of paper, gesturing that it was what they were seeking. Yellow nodded, pantomiming recognition of the object and a willingness to lead them to it.

That settled, the party settled down for a long rest in the middle of the day, having blown through a lot of high-powered magic in the fight. They set the two elves and the warforged on watch, since they all only need a few hours of downtime, while the humans sacked out. The elves and warforged commented on the laziness of humans, speculating that they could get by with four hours a day as well if they really tried.

After only about an hour, the party’s peace was disturbed when a huge, animated pile of compost pulled itself out of the swampy water and started moving towards the sleeping party members. A shambling mound! Those on watch raised the alarm, waking the sleepers, and the party moved to defend the camp. Despite taking a couple of hits, the party surrounded the mound and rapidly tore it to pieces. Necro poked around in the stinking compost of the remains, looking for bones, and RH noticed a pouch that proved to be full of coin: a fair amount of gold, and a somewhat larger amount of rare electrum pieces.

The party finished their rest, rising after sundown and proceeding by torchlight, with Yellow pointing the way. He first led them to a location where they found a strange effigy, made from vines, branches, and turtle shells, in the shape of a dragon with spread wings and a pair of large horns. Yellow touched the effigy’s chin, muttering rapidly under his breath in Draconic, then stepped back, gesturing at the rest of the party to also touch the dragon’s chin. All but Styx and Necro did so; Necro was suspicious, and Styx was checking the dragon’s mouth for loose change.

They pressed on. The swamp grew denser. Travel slowed and visibility dropped. The party began to hear strange, almost reptilian cries high above them. They tossed a few quickly-captured fish into the air. Not all of the thrown fish came back to the ground.

After several hours of travel, they broke out from the heavy tree cover to see an open space in the swamp surrounding a huge metal dome! It was clearly old, covered with creeping vines and slippery slime, but parts still shone in the moonlight. It was over a hundred feet high, at the top, and at least a mile across, with a wide area of open water around it. At the top, they could see torn and corroded metal; an opening, perhaps?  “Holey rusted metal,” Gwar observed, pointing.

They decided to climb the dome to take a look in the hole. Styx and RH, being expert climbers, led the way, then dropped ropes for the others. Necro took a few jokes when he couldn’t muster the upper-body strength to climb a rope, but they tied a loop under his arms and hauled him up.

The top of the dome was flat enough to walk around on, and dotted with obscure machinery. They made their way over to the hole, looking down over a drop of about a hundred feet to the treetop canopy of a jungle environment below. They heard animal noises from below. They finally saw the bird-things that they had been hearing, and found them to be winged lizards. Under the far side of the hole, they saw an area rising maybe twenty or so feet above the tops of trees. Two streams of water fell from the pedestal in a pair of small waterfalls. Between the two streams… a black dragon, as big as a horse, curled up asleep.

The party was divided on how to proceed. They could drop ropes and descend to the jungle area. They could just as easily descend to the dragon’s perch. What to do then? Attack it from surprise? Or sneak in, snag the best treasure, and sneak out, leaving it asleep the whole time?

Reaper insisted that they give the dragon the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it was a good dragon, after all! They could offer it a basket of fish as a gesture of goodwill and try to become its friend.

Various schemes were weighed and discarded, until finally Reaper took matters into his own hands. He upended the basket of fish, dropping its contents into a slippery pile right in front of the dragon’s nose. It awoke. The rest of the party scattered, seeking places of concealment. The dragon looked around, sampled the fish, then took to the air, revealing that it made its bed on its treasure. It flew up through the hole and landed in front of Reaper. It clearly spotted August, as well, but didn’t seem particularly aware of the others.

“What do you mean by dropping these fish on me!” it demanded.

“O mighty dragon,” Reaper replied, throwing his hands in the air in praise, “I have traveled far, wishing only to gaze upon the wonder that is you! O finest of dragons, I give you these fish as a gift, because you are so awesome!”

The dragon rather liked all this, but still had some questions. Like: Could Reaper catch more fish like those? After learning that yes, he could, the dragon grabbed Reaper and took to the air, returning to his perch with the two streams and demanding that Reaper fish. Reaper did, and while he did, he noticed that the two streams led back to the rear of the pedestal, near the dome wall. There, he could see their source: the decanter!

Back atop the dome, opinions were badly divided. Gwar was strongly in favor of getting back in the boat and leaving Reaper to his fate. Styx pointed out that they were almost within sight of the object of their quest. Gwar replied that he hadn’t started the day on a quest, he had woke up with a hangover and gone for a ride in his buddy’s new boat; he had surely never signed up to fight a dragon!

Matters came to a head when the disagreement made enough noise to draw the dragon’s attention. It returned to the top of the dome, roaring and demanding answers from August, the first person it saw. In a remarkable display of daring, August used his bardic comedy stylings to render the dragon helpless with hideous laughter!

Sadly, the party didn’t have a unified plan of action, and so they split their efforts. Styx rushed down a rope to join Reaper, who was already running for the decanter, with both passing by the rest of the dragon’s treasure horde. The others initially hung back, but finally attacked the dragon, breaking it out of its laughing jag.

Angry, the dragon moved to line up its shot and unleashed its acidic breath weapon. RH fell, mortally wounded and making death saves. He was the lucky one. August was utterly erased from existence, burned away to nothing!

That was enough for Gwar, who ran for the boat. Styx climbed the rope in record time, carrying the decanter. As soon as she crossed over the edge, she opened the decanter and unleashed a geyser of water, knocking the dragon prone! Taking advantage of its distraction, the party as a whole fled, returning to the boat and paddling madly for the cover of the trees. They were able to make their escape. After hiding for some time, they turned to the slog back to Swamp Village.

Epilogue

For the most part, the party counted the adventure as a win: they met a dragon, only lost one member of the party, and made off with the MacGuffin. Several party members even gained a level along the way.

Gwar, having lost his half-elf half-brother, took it somewhat harder, but is expected to recover and find a new sidekick shortly.

Styx has stated her intention to return to the Chasm of Flies. There, she and Necro will finish stealing the goblin tribe’s treasure, returning through the matriarch’s escape passage. If Necro learns how to raise skeletons, they’ll do it with the help of some skeleton porters, to help carry the treasure. Once that’s taken care of, they’ll use the decanter to wash out all the webs and decay and old titan bones, and see about shrinking that magic gauntlet down to humanoid size.

 

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D&D 5E: Gingerbread

This session, the kids were again joined by a couple of more experienced players. Since the kids have been running two characters each, it was only fair that the incoming players do the same, so we ended up with a greatly enlarged team.

  • Styx – alchemist wood elf arcane trickster 3
  • Necro – experimental warforged conjurer 2
  • Reaper – noble drow warlock 2
  • RH – noble human paladin 2
  • Gwar – knight half-orc monk/barbarian 1/1
  • August – folk hero half-elf bard 2
  • Brian – tribal human barbarian/fighter 1/1
  • Kristina – criminal lightfoot halfling ranger 2

Styx and Necro are just starting a romantic relationship, despite alignment differences. Reaper and RH are childhood friends, presumably thrown together due to their similar backgrounds. Gwar and August are half-orc half-elf half-human half-brothers, working together so that Gwar does heroic stuff and August sings about the heroic stuff Gwar did. Brian and Kristina appear to be partners in crime.

This adventure was largely inspired by an adventure I read once (but can no longer locate) called “Cooking with Auntie Erma”.

What Happened

All the PCs fell in together, the way PCs do. Unusually, they ran in to each other in a library. Or, at least, as close a thing to a library as the mining town offered: the back room of the alchemist’s shop, where the gnome shopkeeper kept a few volumes of lore. When Styx’s research bore fruit, the others became interested – even the PCs who had been standing around bored, waiting for the bookish types to finish up. She had been seeking a way to clear out the Gauntlet of Spiragos, aiming to shrink the artifact down to humanoid dimensions. She found a reference to a particular decanter of endless water which was said to lie at the center of a swamp only a few days’ travel to the southwest. The party formed around this quest, and adjourned to the nearest tavern.

While most of the party were carousing downstairs, Necro went upstairs to set up a brazier with some expensive incense. It didn’t take long to summon his first familiar, a bat. He sent it out to spy on the others and play pranks for a while. Once that got old, he came downstairs, and offered to let Reaper use the brazier to summon his own familiar. The warlock accepted, summoning a spider.

The next morning, they all left, with Angus the miner-turned-driver handling the first of two wagons. The journey was uneventful, until they entered the swamp itself. The road had narrowed to a muddy track with open water to either side. Thick bushes crowded close to the path.

With a cacophony of croaks, a ragged band of bullywugs attacked from ambush! They jumped from behind bushes, surrounding both wagons and attacking with spears. In the first moments of the fight, Angus was badly wounded and knocked out, while one of the horses was killed outright. The party fought back vigorously, incapacitating many of the frog-men and sending the others running off to the south.

While looting the bodies of the fallen bullywugs, they found a scrap of papyrus with some crude hash marks and an obscure rune. After some discussion, they finally identified the rune as meaning “human babies”.

The bullywugs were stealing babies!

This offense could not stand!

Necro sent his bat winging after the fleeing bullywugs, even as Kristina picked up their trail. Leaving Angus and the wagons behind, the party struggled cross-country. After a time, the bat reported that the bullywugs had gone to ground, inside a building. When the party burst out into the clearing, they saw that it was a house… made of gingerbread.

They licked it. Yup, real gingerbread. They tried to peek in the windows, but to no avail – they were glazed.

Styx did her roguery on the door, pronounced it safe, and opened it a crack to peek through. Inside, she saw a huge kitchen, much bigger than the house could possibly contain. For that matter, the table in the middle of the kitchen was bigger than the entire house! Various over-sized, animated cutlery and kitchen utensils were working industriously. On the far side of the room, a normal, human-sized stairway led up to a closed door.

In a decision that would bring later consequences, they left Necro and RH, the louder members of the party, to watch the door, while the others slipped sneakily inside. They stayed under cover, making their way across the room to the stairs. Along the way, they got a peek inside a cupboard, discovering jars full of eyes and similar unwholesomeness.

Gathering at the door, the party burst inside, surprising three green hags at tea!

The room was on the cozy side. The hags were each sitting in an overstuffed armchair. To one side, they saw a waist-high brass cage, with half a dozen babies inside, who immediately set to wailing. With a roar, Brian crossed the room to attack one of the hags with his greatsword. Reaper used the power of his new ring to throw a web at one corner of the room, trapping two of the hags and making most of the room treacherous ground. Gwar joined Brian in applying two-handed weaponry vigorously to the seated witch, whose defense began to crumble under the powerful blows. Styx wanted to call for Necro and RH, but knew they would never be able to join the fray in time.

One of the trapped hags broke free, rushing up close to the party. Her eyes went black as she unleashed the horrible power of the eyebite. This caused a fearful stir among the PCs, but turned out to be more eye-bark than eye-bite; every PC targeted was able to make the Wisdom save and escape unscathed.

With everybody bunched up so close, it didn’t take long for the party to put down one of the hags, breaking the coven. At that point, it became “every witch for herself”. One of the fey creatures was able to slip past the party and escape out the door, but the last one was surrounded. She fell to her knees, begging for mercy, offering to use her magical powers for the good of the PCs.

For a moment, they considered the offer, but Brian was having none of it. He mercilessly lopped off the hag’s head in mid-plea.

As the gingerbread house began to gently crumble, the party got the babies out of the cage and performed a quick search, discovering much coin, quite a few gems, a potion, and a cap of water breathing. They carried the rescued babies back to the wagon and woke Angus. After a bit of searching, they were able to find a small village nearby, where they handed the lost children back to their relieved parents and enjoyed a feast of thanksgiving.

They say the decanter lies near the center of the swamp…

 

D&D 5E: Scouting and Deception

Since last session, the kids’ schedules diverged a bit, so we ended up having a couple of sessions with varying numbers of players. This provided an opportunity to demonstrate the whole “short rest/long rest” recovery scheme, to both players and DM.

I’ve got this nefarious scheme where I’m trying to leverage D&D for educational purposes. (Hey, it worked on me.) As a part of that, I’ve rejected the seductive path of milestone leveling. When the PCs overcome an obstacle, I award XP, the players do the math, and we see if anybody levels up. I was worried that might slow down the game too badly, but it hasn’t worked out that way. I keep an eye on their XP totals, so I know when they’re getting close to a new level. I try to pace it out so that they level when it’s about time to wrap up for the day.

Reminder, we’re using the adventure, Gauntlet of Spiragos, if only loosely. From this point on, you will surely encounter spoilers. (One thing I did change: the original module has the local goblins being variants with six arms, among other mutations. I left it at just spidery eyes and a poisonous bite. I figured that would emphasize the monstrous nature of… well, you’ll see.)

What Happened

Reaper and RH settled down in a concealed location near the Chasm, keeping watch and eating sandwiches. Styx and Necro went to reconnoiter, approaching the Chasm more closely than before. They discovered that it was a deep, sheer pit. How deep, they could not tell, because a canopy of webs hanging dozens of feet below obscured the view. There were a couple of crude rope bridges, woven from giant spider web, leading from the edge of the pit to a couple of odd stone pillars in the hole’s center.

Taking care to be quiet, the two crossed over the nearest bridge to one of the columns. As they approached, they realized that the column’s surface was riddled with holes, some large enough for a goblin to slip through. Being a slender elf, Styx had no trouble doing the same.

Styx discovered two things. First, upon getting a close look at the column’s surface and interior, her alchemical training allowed her to notice that it was no normal stone, but fossilized bone!

Marveling at the thought of such a large piece of bone, she made her second discovery: the column contained an interior hollow space, dark and thickly coated in cobwebs, that formed a kind of descending spiral staircase. She called to Necro, who was able to squeeze inside with some difficulty. Without keen elven eyes, Necro wasn’t able to see as well in the darkness, so he summoned dancing lights.

They had only descended a short way before they heard something. It sounded like exhausted whimpering, perhaps a wounded creature of some kind. Looking around, they noticed movement a few feet below, behind sheets of webs. A humanoid form?

While they were distracted, the giant puppeteer spider struck! It grabbed Necro around his waist, but wasn’t able to secure Styx. The battle that followed was tense and desperate, fought at close quarters, but in hindsight, the outcome was inevitable. Being grappled by the spider, Necro was an enemy of the spider, within five feet of it, and not incapacitated… which meant Styx could lay down a sneak attack on her every turn. She took it apart.

It turned out the “humanoid form” was really a crude puppet made of webs wrapped around a humanoid skeleton. The spider had worked it like a marionette.

After a shiver at this grisly encounter, the two carried on, taking occasional peeks outside the column to see how they were getting on. Having descended some way, they decided to check the webs outside the column to see if they could support a person’s weight.

As it turns out, Necro is a rather poor climber. Seconds after leaving the inside of the column, he slipped and fell!

The good news was, the webs could support a person, so they quickly stopped his fall. The bad news was, at least some of them were sticky, so he was trapped until he could extricate himself. The further bad news came in the form of a swarm of spiders the size of house cats, looking to see what tasty morsel had fallen into their webs!

Unnoticed on her perch above, Styx reached into her pack and pulled out her lunch. She tossed it in a direction far away from Necro, who held very still. Feeling the impacts on the webs, the spiders were spoofed, and ran off to investigate. While they were out of the picture, Styx quickly climbed down to lend a hand. Working together, they were able to free Necro and return to the dubious safety of the column before the spiders returned.

Descending further, they came to where they could see the bottom of the column’s internal shaft. It opened out onto a makeshift platform, more-or-less filling the entire area of the Chasm. Around the edges of the platform, Styx’s keen eyes could just make out that the Chasm’s walls, at this level, were lined with some kind of metal wall with huts atop it.

Having seen enough, the two quickly and quietly returned to camp. There, they related everything they had seen. The entire party settled down in a concealed camp for the night.

(Overnight, both Necro and Styx leveled up.)

The next morning, the party welcomed back Angus, their dwarven driver, upon his return. Leaving him in charge of the camp, they crept back up to the edge of the Chasm, where Styx and Necro pointed out all that they had seen the day before. Their plan was to retrace their steps, crossing the bridge to the same column, then descending to the bottom of the internal stairway. They set out to follow this plan.

Reaper and RH didn’t care for that plan. Having heard about Necro’s close call, they decided to take the quicker, easier route. They jumped from the edge of the Chasm, trusting the webs would cushion their fall. Reaper insisted that, as a drow, he was good with spiders.

As it happened, he wasn’t all that good with spiders.

The web did catch them, but they hadn’t counted on the stickiness. Reaper isn’t really the athletic sort, so he was quite hampered by it. RH was able to free himself, though, and made his way to the outside wall of the Chasm. The spiders came out to threaten Reaper, who attempted to use drow secrets of spider training, to no avail. In the end, they had to use the same trick as the day before, throwing food as a tasty distraction while they fled.

The party descended in two groups, with Reaper and RH climbing the outside wall while Styx and Necro climbed down the goblin staircase. They hadn’t gone far at all before they realized that the commotion with the spiders above had drawn unwanted attention from below. Inside the column, two small goblins followed by one big goblin were climbing up from below, silently, knives in their teeth! At the same moment, RH and Reaper noticed a goblin climber coming up the outside wall, as well!

RH displayed an unexpected prowess with climbing, moving to defend Reaper, who split his time between harassing the goblin with spells and hanging on for dear life. After taking a few hits, RH used his shield to batter the goblin until it fell.

Inside the column, Necro used dancing lights to light up the vertical battlefield. The goblins engaged with darts, so the PCs advanced to melee. After a short duel featuring several attempts to hide and multiple sneak attacks, the goblins were slain.

Now seeing that splitting up the party has its down side, all four PCs regrouped inside the column. RH helped Reaper as they picked their way across the Chasm on the web.

Reaper took a close, hard look at the body of the larger, “boss” goblin. Reaper is a warlock, who knows Mask of Many Faces, which allows him to cast disguise self at will. While this is his favorite party trick, it hadn’t done him much good thus far, because he can only vary his height by a foot either way. The goblins were too short to imitate. But now that he had a big goblin…

When the party came to the bottom of the stairs, they boldly walked out onto the patchwork platform with Reaper in the lead, disguised as the boss goblin who had just gone up the stairs. They had guessed that the huts around the perimeter were guard posts, so he waved an “all clear” and led the party that way. They had guessed right: a goblin poked its head around the door with a questioning look on its face.

By luck, most of the party speaks the language of the goblins, including Reaper. He explained that he had run into these guys (points at the PCs) who had come to join up with the goblins, since they all worshiped the same titan. This being a religious matter, he had to take it to the matriarch.

The guard saw how this all made sense – or at least enough sense for its pay grade and challenge rating – and so the party was waved towards a big trap door. They slid down on ropes made from webs, descending through open air to a pile of rubble. The elves could see evidence of four tunnels off the main chamber along one wall, and a larger, barricaded tunnel to one side.

They were challenged by a gang of goblins, but again, Reaper went through his “it’s a religion thing” story and again, the goblins bought it. They waved the party through to the barricaded tunnel, escorting them into the presence of the tribe’s champion, a mutated, multi-armed giant of a goblin! Again, Reaper did his song and dance, and again, it worked, at least for a short time.

The tribal champion took the party into the matriarch’s chambers. There, under her questioning, the story started to ravel a bit at the edges. The champion finally put two and two together, moving to attack while shouting a warning at the matriarch. Before she could do much of anything to defend herself, she was charmed, and stood confused while the party dog-piled the champion, quickly silencing him.

Reaper settled down to have a nice conversation with his new best friend. With the keys to the city, so to speak, it didn’t take long for them to get what they wanted. She showed them the goblins’ treasure room, containing several hundred gold pieces’ worth of miscellaneous coin, gems, and jewelry. Then she showed them the tribe’s real treasure, two relics of the titan Spiragos: a dagger and a ring! (No gauntlet, though, even though it had been expected.) Finally, she showed them her secret back door that could be used to escape the Chasm without going back through the entire goblin tribe again.

The party collected the magic items and about 60% of the treasure. (They didn’t want to take all the treasure and leave the whole goblin village destitute.) They then took quick advantage of the matriarch’s secret tunnel, emerging some distance away from the Chasm, and then walking some distance to return to camp. Angus was happy to get on the road immediately, and so they returned to town after three days on the road.

While on the road, RH leveled up, and the party inspected the magic items. It was discovered that the dagger was a +1 weapon with some special poison-related powers, and the ring offered some spider-related spells and powers to warlocks. It was decided that Styx should have the dagger and Reaper should get the ring.

After reflection and research back in town, the party realized…

… (spoiler space, no, don’t look)…

… the entire Chasm had been the gauntlet! The story goes, Spiragos and another giant-sized titan had fought on the site hundreds of years before. At one point, Spiragos fell, plunging one of his hands deep into the earth, where it was momentarily trapped. The other titan took advantage of Spiragos’ situation to cut off the titan’s trapped arm, leaving behind the gauntlet on that hand, the ring on one of the hand’s fingers, and the dagger that the hand had held. Over time, once they were out of contact with their owner’s flesh, the ring and the dagger shrank to human size. The gauntlet remained in contact with the titan’s bones, though, and stayed mega-sized.

Future Plans

Styx wants to go back, take the rest of the treasure, evict all the goblins, excavate all the giant titan bones, and return the gauntlet to human size. It is acknowledged that this might be a higher-level quest.

Everybody wants familiars. Styx wants a pseudodragon, and Reaper wants to research how to befriend a flameskull. (He first wanted a crawling claw, but I guess a skull wreathed in flame is more metal.) Once they get to town and can buy the right incense, though, they’re going to settle for spiders and bats.

 

D&D 5E: The March

Since the kids’ last D&D session, they had the opportunity to go to our Friendly Neighborhood Gaming Store’s annual D&D camp. There, they were exposed to the 5th Edition. They wasted no time telling me that 5E is superior in all ways to my crusty old version. 🙂

So, we abandoned the Cyclopedia and switched to the modern version of the game. Their characters from camp had made it to 2nd level, and they wanted to continue those characters’ careers. To bump up their numbers, we decided to have each kid play two characters simultaneously.

We picked up 5E play with four PCs.  They are Styx II (female wood elf sage/alchemist Rogue 2, with an eye towards Arcane Trickster), Reaper (male drow elf noble Warlock 2), Necro (male-identifying warforged sage Wizard 1, aiming to specialize in conjuration), and Rienhardt (male human noble Paladin 1, also known as “RH”).

Just like the last campaign, I snagged a free adventure to jump-start things; in this case, that adventure was Gauntlet of Spiragos. I’m making little tweaks as I go along, but be warned, there’s still likely to be spoilers.

What Happened

Styx and Reaper were teleported home at the end of the camp adventure, but something went wrong. While the rest of their old party returned to their lives, our heroes were swept away by a strange arcane misfire. They found themselves on the dirt floor of a crude stone hut, far to the north of their previous location. RH had taken shelter in the hut earlier. His initial surprise at the others’ sudden appearance was compounded when he recognized his childhood friend, Reaper.

While Reaper and RH caught up on old times, Styx poked around in the dusty hut, discovering a coffin-like crate. It was locked, but this presented no barrier to an experienced 2nd-level Rogue. When opened, the create proved to contain a mothballed clockwork “robot” with a crystal face. It slowly awakened when Styx started clearing packing materials away from it. Barely able to speak, it introduced itself as Necro. Styx was drawn to Necro by curiosity, while Necro took Styx to be his creator, and thus worthy of loyalty.

When discovered, Necro had an old piece of parchment clutched in his hand, which proved to be a map. After some discussion and orientation, the party decided that the map pointed towards a location called the Chasm of Flies, and hinted that one might find three magical items there: a ring, a dagger, and a gauntlet. They left the hut and walked up the road a bit to the nearest town, Cragfort, where they got their expedition organized.

Styx and Necro visited an alchemist’s shop, where they became friendly with the gnome shopkeeper and picked up necessary supplies. The shopkeeper provided some scraps of information about the legend of the Chasm of Flies, saying that after it received its name, the infestation of flies had attracted spiders.

Reaper and RH reserved rooms at the inn for the night, and then retired to the common room for carousing. There, they met a dwarf who worked in the local copper mine who liked the way they drank.

Realizing that it would take them several days to travel to the Chasm and back, and being told that opportunities to forage along the way were limited, the party purchased a large amount of rations. Unable to afford mounts, they instead hired the dwarven miner to drive them to the Chasm in his wagon. Bright and early the next day, they left town, heading north. The trip was punctuated with good-natured banter and a steady stream of RH’s sandwiches.

While the party slept on the second night of the trip, Necro stood on watch. He spotted a flicker of movement in the distance. He cast dancing lights, sending the glowing orbs thus produced over to cast some light on the subject while he shouted an alarm. The others awoke to see a goblinoid dressed in black leather, standing surprised and blinking foolishly in the light with knives in hand.

RH came off his bedroll at a sprint. Not bothering to arm himself, he simply tackled the smaller creature, applying a grapple and seeking to beat its head against a nearby rock. The others joined in the dog-pile as well. Once the goblinoid was immobilized, Styx put the point of her rapier against its throat and demanded its surrender. It spat defiance, telling them that people like them didn’t belong here. Styx shrugged and sent it to its reward.

The next morning, they left the hills behind and made their way across the Devils’ March, a wasteland left devastated after magical wars a couple hundred years before. Shortly, they started to hear the baying of hounds in the distance, a sound that seemed to grow closer as they went. They cautiously proceeded, with weapons close at hand. It wasn’t long before the more keen-eyed of the group spotted a humanoid figure in the distance, half-running, half-staggering towards them.

Only seconds after they first saw the person, he was brought down by a pair of large dogs. The party shouted at the dogs, who raised their eyes towards our heroes, revealing themselves to be partially-rotted undead. They howled once, then charged. Their howls were answered as two more undead hounds came over the ridge.

The heroes jumped off the wagon and ran to engage. Styx had to use acrobatics to avoid being surrounded, and would have ran away, if she weren’t forced to run back to aid Necro, who had been pulled off his feet by one of the dogs. RH caved in one of the dogs with a single swing of his warhammer.

In the end, the party stood victorious. The hounds carried no treasure, but each of them was wearing a collar with a tag. The tags bore a rune, something like a simplified sketch of a fanged skull. The party was able to identify the rune as a wizard’s personal rune, but wasn’t able to identify the wizard.

After a short rest, the party carried on into the wasteland. In the early hours of the afternoon, they came within sight of a circular hole in the ground, about 150 feet across. The Chasm!

The party had their driver park the wagon behind a handy boulder, then formed up with RH in the lead to march the last couple hundred yards on foot. As soon as RH stepped out in the open, however, an attacker appeared atop the boulder! It was a strangely-misshapen goblinoid riding a giant spider, who threw a dart at the paladin. The dart bounced off his helmet ineffectively, but then a second goblin popped out of concealment, high above, to harass the rest of the party.

Having no missile weapons, RH drew his warhammer and struck a two-handed blow against the rock, hoping to shatter the surface and bring one of the spider-riding goblins down. It almost worked, forcing the spider to dance quickly upwards to avoid falling.

The magic-users were able to bring down one of the spiders with a combination of acid splash and eldritch blast. Its rider fell to the ground, where it stood to find itself at melee distance. It bared its needle-sharp teeth, ready to fight like a cornered rat.

Styx tried to use her short bow to cripple the other goblin’s spider, but wasn’t able to make the shot. Commenting that she was really coming to dislike the bow, she drew her rapier and ran acrobatically up the rock face to where the goblins lurked. There, she grabbed a handhold and wounded its spider. The spider bit back, injecting its paralyzing poison. Styx was left alive, but unconscious and unable to move, her hand locked closed around its perilous hold.

While the one goblin bit at RH and Reaper and the other played hide-and-snipe, Necro tried a desperate gamble. He cast sleep, knowing that RH was inside the area of effect, but hoping that the goblins would be affected before him. Hoping in vain, as it turned out; while one of the goblins and the surviving spider did fall asleep, so did RH!

The other goblin turned and ran. It ducked for a hiding place, eluding Reaper, but Necro spotting it where it lurked. Found out, it scurried up the side of the boulder and vanished over the edge of the top. After a few moments of confusion, the party spotted it when it broke cover on the far side of the rock, running swiftly for the rim of the Chasm. Reaper stepped backwards to get a clear shot, then took the goblin down with a well-aimed eldritch blast to the leg.

The party rescued Styx from her perch. RH laid on hands, healing her and bringing her back to consciousness, but couldn’t do anything about the paralysis. Necro examined her and concluded that she needed an hour or so to get over it. Accordingly, the group settled down for a rest.

While they waited, RH and Necro performed some interrogation. RH spoke the Goblin language, and Necro loomed threateningly. (He would have engaged in some light torture, just to make sure no lies were told, but RH wouldn’t stand for it.) They learned that the Chasm was home to a tribe of spider-like goblinoids. The captives didn’t know anything about any magical items, but said that if there were any such items in the Chasm, they would likely be held by the tribe’s matriarch.

Having extracted all the information they were likely to, the party loaded the bound captives onto the wagon and instructed their driver to take them some way out into the wastelands and turn them loose. He happily agreed to undertake this task, unloading a day or so of rations before driving off, whistling cheerfully.

The party turned their eyes towards the Chasm and the expected treasures within.

 

D&D Known World, Session #5: Troglodytes

The kids carried on, without the guest players. Despite the scuffle that broke out last time, they decided to give the magic sword to Timi, the halfling henchman.

What Happened:

Being out of spells and low on hit points, the party decided to camp out in the easily-defended room with the pit trap and the bed. During the night, Kohncrete and Nautical left with the charmed orc, to do some scouting, but they never returned. The next morning, Anya prayed over Styx, healing his wounds, before they set out for the day’s exploration.

Carefully working their way past the pit trap, they paused at the door so Styx could listen and peek through the keyhole. He heard voices, and observed a group of troglodytes dragging a bound woman into place in front of a stone idol shaped like a humanoid alligator. While the trogs chanted, Styx slipped up behind them, making off with a couple of stone clubs and taking up a position behind the dagger-wielding priest.

Shouting war cries, the rest of the party burst from the room and engaged the trogs from behind. Everyone but Styx was sickened by the troglodytes’ terrible stench. Shadow charmed one, while the others fought to the bitter end.

The party took a bit of damage, and used a couple of spells, but was left in generally good shape. Their new troglodyte ally was dubbed Clod the Trog. Once woken, the would-be sacrifice introduced herself as Aniria, a cleric. She healed Styx, who took special pride in the rescue.

For a moment, it looked like there would be a disagreement about who would get the glowing, obviously-magical dagger, but then Styx noticed the alligator-idol’s two gem-set eyes. He climbed the idol to pry out its eyes, in approved old-school fashion, while Shadow put the dagger in his belt.

With that settled, they turned around and retraced their steps. They went all the way back to the room where they had appeared after falling victim to a teleport trap. There, they again went through the “everybody in the room, close the door, open the door” cycle a couple more times, just to make sure they didn’t go anywhere. They didn’t.

Since the trap still seemed to be one-way, they went back the way they came, re-examining the route. Thinking it led upwards, they returned to a stairway they had marked on their map, but discovered that it actually led down. No thanks!

Taking a right where they had previously taken a left, they came to a door. When Styx listened at the door, he heard nothing, but he detected the telltale smell of trogs. Clod wasn’t able to talk to the others, as none of them shared a common language, but he pointed at the door, shaking his head vigorously and holding up six fingers.

Rather than taking a head-on approach, they decided to try for subterfuge. They sent Clod in, while everyone else hid. After a few minutes, Clod returned, bringing one of the troglodytes out with him. Distracted by Clod, the trog was easy prey to a group backstab.

Shadow liked the way that had worked out, but wanted to speed up the process. Pulling a chicken leg from Timi’s rations, he opened the door and waved it at the five surprised troglodytes, shouting “Come and get it!”

Of course, all five charged. Battle was joined, as it so often is, at the doorway. Aniria tried to help, but with no armor and only a stick of firewood for a weapon, she wasn’t all that effective and soon fell back, wounded. Timi was knocked unconscious and Shadow had to drag her out of the melee. In the end, everyone was wounded, some badly, but only one troglodyte remained standing against them. It chose to turn and flee rather than carry on. The party chose to let it go, rather than pursue.

Once more entirely out of spells and low on hit points, the party decided to go to ground again, in the trogs’ old room.

 

D&D Known World, Session #4: The Endless Tunnels play tricks

The kids’ D&D adventures continue, this time with a couple of guests. As of last session, Styx had become a 4th-level thief, while Shadow is still a 3rd-level magic-user. This time, they were joined by a couple of guest players, bringing in some new PCs: Arnt Knott and his identical twin brother, Nautical, both 2nd-level fighters, and Kohncrete Sinderbloke, a 2nd-level dwarf. The party was rounded out by the surviving henchmen and hirelings: Bob the Goblin, who failed his save and therefore continued on, still charmed; Anya the 2nd-level cleric, now receiving spells; and Timi, 1st-level halfling.

This session, the kids experienced several classic D&D moments for the first time. Sadly, one of those classic moments was a squabble within the party over magical treasure, explaining why the session came to a somewhat-abrupt end. On a happier note, after looking at some of the illustrations in the Cyclopedia, they finally realized that “halfling” means “hobbit”. Much to their relief: it turns out they had been worrying that Timi’s hairy feet were a sign of something sinister. 🙂

As for our guests… They were adults with D&D experience, but only going back so far as 2nd Edition. They seemed a little appalled at some of the differences: “3d6 in a row” was one thing, but “Dwarf is a class” needed some explaining. They were good sports about the weirdness, though, even when… well, it’ll come up in the story. The guest PCs come in partway through the story.

What happened:

After the great haul last time, the whole party was eager to return to the  The Endless Tunnels of Enlandin (copyright © 2003 by Stefan Poag). After consideration of the 3-day travel time to the dungeon, most of the party decided to pack extra rations. Shadow decided he would save the money and live off the land, hunting for food. That didn’t turn out so well, as he was only able to find food on one day of the trip. Rather than let him starve, Timi shared some of her fresh rations with him, after extracting a promise of repayment upon their return to civilization.

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D&D Known World, Session #3: Entrance to the Endless Tunnels

The continuing adventures of the kids’ first D&D characters, using the rules from the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia. Last session, both PCs again leveled up, bringing us to Styx, the 3rd level thief, and the Shadow, 3rd level magic-user. They added a hobgoblin to their charmed gang, so their starting henchmen were Bob the goblin (also known as Boblin and, in formal moments, Robert the Goblin) and the hobgoblin, variously referred to as Steve, Joe, Steve-Joe, Joven (half Joe, half Steven), and “hey you”.

This session, the kids grappled with encumbrance. I had been taking care of it for them, while showing them what I was doing; this session, I had them look up numbers and do the math for themselves. The only question from the younger of the two: “How many coins can I carry before I can’t move?” Enough to bring a tear to a 16th level fighter’s eye, it is.

They also independently invented the “15 minute adventuring day”, as we’ll see in due course.

SPOILER ALERT: This session leads our intrepid heroes into The Endless Tunnels of Enlandin, an adventure Copyright © 2003 by Stefan Poag. If you don’t want its secrets given away, you might want to skip this session.

The adventure describes itself as “An old school adventure for 5-8 low-level characters” which made me nervous in the beginning. The introduction gives some history, though, saying that this dungeon was used as a starter for new 1st level characters. I figure, two 3rd level PCs plus henchmen stack up to just about as much as six 1st level PCs, especially since they would level up as they went.

What happened:

Having gotten into the groove of things, our heroes went shopping. While in Threshold, Shadow scanned all their accumulated treasure with detect magic. Finding nothing new, they sold off the jewelry from the ghoul room for a sizable profit, then turned the money around to improve their gear. Having noted his attribute adjustments (penalty to melee for low Strength, bonus with missile from high Dexterity), Styx picked up a short bow. Shadow bought a backpack. They considered buying a healing potion, but decided it was too expensive (at the AD&D pricing, from the 1st edition Dungeon Master’s Guide).

One of Styx’s unsavory friends approached him with an offer to sell him a treasure map. He eagerly accepted. The map showed the location of the long-lost castle of the Mage of Enlandin, about three days’ travel from town.

So, they started thinking about henchmen.

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Pirates! Session #5: “Operation Greasy Jesus”

Embarrassing side note: The PCs were seeking Jacob, the NPC who had escaped Hell alongside Van der Decken, to use as a guide back into Hell. Due to a memory slip, I spent the entire session calling him “Joshua” rather than “Jacob”. Sigh.

The Crew:

  • “Dirty”, aspiring wizard
  • Gabby, cannon-whisperer
  • “Mad” Mags, destroyer of sheds
  • Mo’, ax man
  • Raphael, peeker at doors
  • “Papa” Sean Geaux, vanishing voodoo priest

What Happened:

As we left off last time, Captain Courvoisier had approved of Gabby’s plan to go ashore and wreak havoc upon Port Coleman. She was given command of the ship’s boat, with a dire warning of the consequences should the boat be lost, along with a crew of “volunteers” – all the PCs.

Port Coleman was a rough village on a rocky area of the Moskito Coast. There was a single crude dock at one end of a strip of beach, with a handful of makeshift barns and sheds spead along the beach. A wooden stairway and capstan-driven lift provided access to the top of the thirty-foot bluff that sat behind the beach. The main part of the village was built atop this bluff. In particular, there was an earthen fort there, with several cannon aimed out to sea.

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Thanks to those cannon, the ship could not approach the harbor. Courvoisier performed some clever navigation and anchored the ship well inside the cannons’ range, but in the shelter of a tall outcropping of rock off the beach. Raphael took a spyglass to examine the fort, noting that it flew the English flag – a disappointment to the several members of the crew who would rather be fighting the Spanish.

The mission started with a flurry of “hurry up and wait”. First, there was a rush of last-minute preparation:  folks loading their weapons, knocking the bottom out of a barrel and putting it in the boat (for reasons unknown, as it remained there for the rest of the session), and so forth.

Papa performed further magical healing on Raphael to un-cripple his sword arm.

Raphael brought out a jug of oil and suggested that everyone cover themselves with it, with an eye towards making them too slippery to grab. There was no rush to take advantage of this plan.

Dirty attempted a ritual which backfired badly, disintegrating his fine clothes and leaving him wearing nothing but a loincloth. “Meant to do that,” he announced, taking the oil jug from Raphael and upending it over his head.

Finally, the group decided that they needed to wait for nightfall, anyway. The rushed preparations were shelved, and the deep plotting and planning began. In the end, they came up with a daring plan, which they dubbed “Operation Greasy Jesus”. (GM Note: I think it’s best appreciated if you pronounce it with a Dixie accent:  “greeeee-zeee”.)

Dirty, still covered in oil and nearly naked, cast a ritual to allow him to walk on water for a few minutes. Papa, being a much quicker worker of magic, cast another ritual in parallel, summoning a school of bio-luminescent jellyfish, and ordered them to follow Dirty, under the surface, to provide dramatic lighting at the proper moment. The rest of the party set off in the boat with muffled oars, stealthily heading towards the dock, while Dirty set off at a trot, angling for a spot further up the beach. When he came close enough, the jellyfish lit up and he started chanting a few ominous-sounding biblical phrases that Mags (being an English-speaker, unlike most of the other PCs) had taught him.

In short, the plan was for Dirty to provide a distraction, so that the others could get ashore unobserved, by pretending to be the bizarre arrival of Jesus to the shores of the New World.

As it happened, the plan was fairly successful. Only a few of the bystanders on the beach were overcome with religious awe, but all eyes were at least drawn by the spectacle. Several people began moving towards Dirty, just to get a better look. Stepping over the waves, Dirty waved for a couple of nearby men to approach, which they did. He raised his hand as if in benediction, stepping out of the water onto the beach. This, of course, triggered his “dapper me!” charm, which instantly stripped all the oil from his body and left him wearing the cleanest, whitest loincloth you would ever care to see. He waved his hand as if blessing one of the approaching men, even as the man’s eyes went wide from seeing the sudden change from “greasy Jesus” to “clean probably-not-Jesus”… and Guillermo, Dirty’s magically-animated “living bullet”, zipped in from where it had been lurking in the darkness, going straight through one of the man’s ears and out the other.

Meanwhile, the others had taken advantage of the distraction to pull the ship’s boat up to the docks. The crew approached the peering bystanders from the rear, some more stealthily than others. Of the small group of four standing near the docks, only one noticed anything amiss, and he was only able to shout “Hey!” and point out Raphael before the PCs cut the entire group down. Notably, Mo’ cut down more than one person with no more than a single swing apiece from his boarding ax.

Papa stepped out of the boat onto the dock, but never made it to the sand of the beach. Instead, he vanished in a cloud of voodoo magic on an unknown, but no doubt important and mystical, mission of his own. (GM Note: Player had to leave. All kinds of mystical.)

During the initial scuffle, another enemy walked out of a nearby barn to see what the commotion was, only to be cut down with a major wound. Mags paused to poke him until he stopped wriggling, and Raphael moved to make sure there were no other reinforcements lurking inside the barn.

Unfortunately, there were three more men in the shed. Brandishing his blood-covered rapier and utilizing his fearsome glare, Raphael cowed them through intimidation. They obeyed his gesture to sit down and stay put. Then, Mags and Mo’ came in, planning to kill everyone inside. Mo’ again demonstrated how he could nearly bisect a man with one swing of his ax. Mags decided to one-up him: she reached out her sword and tipped a nearby candle over. Onto some straw. Right next to a keg of black powder.

The evacuation of the shed was immediate. Everyone besides Mags tried to leave. In the case of the local men, they managed to successfully evade Mags and make it out the door. As for Mags, she lingered in the doorway, stabbing folks in the back as they tried to run away. When the shed exploded a few seconds later, Mo’ took some incidental damage from flying debris, but since Mags had used up so much of her running-away time in Bloodlust, she took the brunt of the explosion. This was enough to throw her across the beach, into the water. Through sheer grit (and good dice rolls), she did not lose consciousness, and was left badly wounded, barely able to hold her head above water.

Meanwhile, further up the beach, Dirty was engaged in his own fight. He was able to use Guillermo and the element of surprise to take down another man, but then found himself pursued by a sailor carrying a flintlock. Dirty retreated back out onto the water, throwing himself flat to take cover behind the waves. After a few seconds of cat-and-mouse, Dirty finally found his shot, and took it, killing the enemy.

At some point during all this excitement, there came the sound of cannon fire from the fort. There was some concern that the fort was firing on the beach, but since nothing on the beach besides the shed exploded, the pirates concluded that this was not the case.

After the adventure with the shed, Raphael was even more determined to not let anyone get behind them and close off their path of retreat. He moved to the next shed up the beach, opened the door, and stuck his head inside.

Unfortunately for him, what he did not know was that there were two men inside that shed. They had heard the events outside, and had decided to mount a last, desperate stand. They were both armed with a pair of flintlocks. The plan was for one of them (later identified as Bob) to throw open the door, at which point the other man would charge out, guns blazing. The plan was for Bob to follow directly after. As it happened, though, Raphael opened the door first.

Even as this triggered the second man’s Wait, Bob got off a shot at Raphael, hitting him in the face. Only a grazing blow, this wasn’t quite enough to put Raphael down for the count, but it did put quite a fright into him and knock him to the ground. The second man rushed outside, meeting Gabby’s ready and waiting blade.

Even as she repeatedly stabbed the man, Gabby explained about how she was here to do a job, and she was going to do that job, by thunder, if she had to chew the eyelids off every man-Jack on the Spanish Main! She pointed her rapier at Bob, announcing that she was here to kill Bloody Bill Coleman, and asking if he would like to give her a hand?

Bob agreed that he had never really liked Bloody Bill all that much, anyway. Furthermore, it had been his life-long dream to one day turn pirate. What a lucky day it was for both of them!

With the immediate fight over, and everybody besides Gabby wounded, some gravely, the pirates took shelter in Bob’s shed. As they took turns bandaging one another, they searched through the shed’s contents. Luckily, they discovered a supply of medicine, which was a big help in getting Mags back on her feet, if only barely. Gabby interrogated Bob. They learned that Bloody Bill was up in the fort, no surprise. More usefully, Bob told them about a palm tree growing nearby that could be used to climb up to the top of the rise with ease.

Once regrouped, the party went to check out this palm tree. After some debate, they came up with a new plan. Gabby went up the tree, scouted out the situation, dropped a rope, and then slipped off to skulk around in the darkness. Everyone else gathered behind a building at the top of the cliff. (Dirty left Guillermo on patrol at the bottom of the tree, to defend their escape route.) There, Mags tied all their hands together, using trick knots that they could untie with a single tug. Carrying only concealed weapons, they had Bob drag them into the light, loudly claiming that he (and his comrades, still on the beach) had captured a bunch of attacking pirates!

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This bluff was sufficient to get them into the fort itself, which was abuzz with activity as they fired the cannons out to sea. There, Bob was directed to a particular shack. He knocked, announcing the “news”. The door opened from inside. Bloody Bill Coleman stuck his head out. All the supposedly-bound pirates, and Bob, threw themselves prone. And…

… we rewind back to when Gabby slipped off into the darkness. With utmost stealth, she made her way to the only unattended cannon in the fort. (GM Note: As I recall, my words were something like “What unattended cannon? <looks> Oh, I guess there is one…”) Using the noise, smoke, and confusion of the cannons as cover, she had turned the cannon around, so that it was aimed directly at Bloody Bill’s front door. Then, when his face came into view and all Gabby’s comrades got out of the way… she fired a round of canister shot at him.

….

Well, it hit him, of course – Gabby’s a gunner prodigy, you know – but it ended up leveling his entire house. There wasn’t much left of Bloody Bill at all.

The pirates jumped to their feet, waving weapons, in the sudden surprised silence, and announced that now they were in charge. What with the sudden, brutal loss of their none-too-popular leader, the locals weren’t inclined to argue much. Gabby announced that from now on, Port Coleman would be known as Fort Gabby. Again, nobody wanted to argue the point.

The pirates signaled the ship. In the immediate looting, while the ship was making its way around to the dock, there were several noteworthy finds. First, a large amount of rum. Second, Dirty found another fancy outfit of clothes and put them on, to everyone’s relief. Finally, Raphael poked his head through yet another door – to the horror of the other players, in light of his earlier door-peeking – and discovered Jacob. (GM: Using the alias of “Joshua”! Yeah, that’s it…)

Jacob was politely, but firmly, taken into custody and handed over to Captain Courvoisier when he came ashore. The captain was observed to go in to speak with Jacob, only to emerge some time later, obviously in a fury. With the quartermaster unavailable, Dirty felt that it was his responsibility to see to his captain’s wishes. He went to speak with the captain, taking a bottle of rum with him.

As they drank and talked, the captain admitted that Jacob wasn’t willing to give up the exact location of the hole in the sea. Dirty asked what that information would be worth, if someone could get it out of Jacob? The captain replied, the person who got that information would be promoted to quartermaster and be put in charge of the next ship they took. That sounded good to Dirty, so he poured a glass of rum and announced that he would use his mystic arts to change it into a potion to compel truth.

One critically failed roll, and the glass of rum exploded into flames! Dirty took the worst of it, since he was holding the glass at the time, and was rendered unconscious. Captain Courvoisier was badly singed, and thrown back so hard that his chair fell over backwards.

Captain Courvoisier threw open his door and kicked Dirty out – literally, kicking him in the ribs hard enough to do even more damage – cursing him and his heathen magic the whole way.

Gabby went to see if she could help improve the captain’s mood, learned about the offer he had made to Dirty, and decided to take it up herself. (Courvoisier specifically warned her to leave Jacob alive.) Grabbing the rum, she went to where Jacob was being held, where she engaged him in drinking and conversation. After a short while, she struck up a bit of a friendship. Eventually, she convinced him that all he had to do was give them the location, and he would be free to go, unharmed. He agreed. Requesting the local charts, he marked the location of the hole in the sea. Furthermore, he wrote down a profane chant that would cause the hole to open into Hell.

This was pleasing to the captain, and so Gabby was named quartermaster. Her first job was to restock the ship for the next leg of the adventure.

After about a week of recuperation, refitting, and restocking, the ship set sail for the hole in the sea. This trip was accomplished with no particular drama.

(GM Note: In hindsight, I really should have sic’ed the kraken on ’em. I think they were expecting it. I remember several remarks along the lines of “the kraken is lurking just off shore” and so forth, earlier in the session. But it was getting late, and I was eager to show ’em pictures of the Great Blue Hole, and I just plain forgot about the kraken. I guess it was out running an errand and they slipped past it. That’s ok, there will come a rematch.)

There was some upset once they realized that the hole in the sea is actually a hole in a reef, making it impossible to place the ship over it without ripping out its hull. They remembered from Van der Decken’s story that his entire ship went through the hole. In time, they remembered that there had been some mention of it happening during a storm. Clearly, they reasoned, the ship must have been carried over the reef on a wave! But how would they do the trick?

Remembering how a previous critical failure at ritual magic had summoned bad weather, Dirty set out to perform a ritual to summon a big wave. He figured, either it would work, and he would have the necessary wave, or it wouldn’t, and they would get a storm, which might do the trick anyway!

Pushing his magic (and his luck with rolling the dice) to its limits, Dirty did the trick! A single rogue wave appeared, washing the ship over the reef with inches to spare, leaving it smack in the middle of the hole.

Next, the profane chant. Being the most literate among the crew, Raphael got the job. With a crack of thunder, the ship dropped through the hole, and into… well, Hell, or so they say. The sky there was roiling red and black. The ship floated on something like an ocean, but they weren’t at all certain that it was a sea of water. More pressing, though, was the sudden, nearby appearance of a huge ship with tattered sails.

Though there wasn’t a breath of wind – “Is there air?” was one muttered comment – the crew saw the other ship’s rags of sails stir. Slowly, creakily, the other ship began to move… towards them. The pirates could see movement on the deck of the other ship, but couldn’t make out any details until one of them went aloft with a spyglass. Then, they saw that the ship was manned by rag-clad skeletons.

Nobody wanted to be out-maneuvered by a bunch of ghosts, so Dirty again set out to make the most that he could of his relatively-weak magic. He performed a ritual to “let our sails use the same wind they’re using”. After several excellent rolls, he succeeded. A slim, tiny breath of wind came up, just enough to set them moving.

As the two ship maneuvered at an aching, snail-like pace, Gabby went below to ready the cannons…

Next time: against the ghost ship!


Cool Point: Gabby, for taking out Bloody Bill in such a decisive manner.

Booby Point: Dirty, for the “truth serum” scene, where he had everything riding on a single roll of the dice, only to roll triple-six and explode. (“Gee, Gabby, I’m sorry your bosun blew up…”)

The moral of the story:  Even low-down dirty pirates need social skills.

D&D Known World, Session #2: The Haunted Keep

The continuing adventures of the kids’ first D&D characters, using the rules from the Dungeons & Dragons Rules CyclopediaLast session, both the PCs gathered enough experience to level up, so now we’re talking about Styx, the 2nd level thief, and the Shadow, 2nd level magic-user… plus, Bob, the charmed goblin.

One of the highlights of this session was the kids’ first argument over alignment. Shadow’s player objected to Styx’s repeated pickpocket attempts. He felt they were risky, and more the kind of thing a Chaotic thief would do. Styx’s player wasn’t impressed by this argument, pointing out that he’s a thief, and thieving is just what he does.

There’s no cleric in the party. In the Cyclopedia‘s edition — “BCEMI D&D”, I guess? — the assumption is that there’s no market for magic items, so one can’t just buy a healing potion off the shelf. As far as I can tell, after repeated searches, the Cyclopedia has no rules for natural healing. (Immortals regenerate 1 hp per day, though, which establishes an odd baseline…) I’ve ruled that a day of rest restores 1d4 hp, modified by the character’s Con adjustment, minimum of 1 hp. Furthermore, because I’m a big softy and the kids both chose classes with d4 hit dice, I’m allowing any character to bandage another after a fight to restore 1d3 hp.

If you’re wondering: yes, this Haunted Keep is the same Haunted Keep that’s the example dungeon from the Basic Rules. So, uh, I guess, SPOILER WARNING for a two-page example dungeon from a product that’s ©1980 by TSR Hobbies Inc. (Further spoiler: TSR doesn’t make it.)

What happened:

Our heroes made it to the town of Threshold, where they sold one of the goblins’ pearls, keeping the transaction out of Bob’s line of sight. (When he stole the pearls, Shadow went to some trouble to make it look as if they had been taken by a raccoon, so it would be hard to explain how they came to be in his pouch.) This provided enough cash to pay for rooms at the inn for the humans, and a haystack in the stables for Bob.

Read the rest of this entry »

Pirates! Session #4

The Crew:

  • Big Tuna, over-sized brawler
  • “Dirty”, dabbler in the Path of Matter
  • Gabby, guns, stealth, and trickery
  • “Mad” Mags, rescuer and voice of reason
  • Mo’, agile, impulsive, and acquisitive
  • Raphael, not so young as he used to be
  • “Papa” Sean Geaux, quartermaster and voodoo priest

What Happened:

A few days of uneventful sailing went by. Half the PCs put points into Navigation. Dirty used secret magical rituals to tame the enchanted bullet, naming it “Guillermo”.

The next event of note was when some of the crew tossed Pedro, an NPC sailor, overboard. Even before this fact was reported to Papa Sean Geaux, there was a race to be the first to raid Pedro’s sea chest. When Mo’ arrived, he found Gabby sitting atop it, whistling innocently. Even as they agreed to split the loot, Dirty showed up to claim a share.

When they broke open the sea chest, they found a modest amount of money and some spare clothes. They found several twisted up tobacco leaves, which were later identified as Mayan “sicars“. More ominously, they found a little doll made from corn husks, among other things, bearing a striking resemblance to the quartermaster. They decided to keep this to themselves.

Throughout the day, Mags noticed that the reduced crew had become sullen, with lots of grumbling and slacking off in small groups. It seemed to her that there were quite a few dirty looks aimed at Mo’, but before she could work her way into the conversations to find out more, Papa cracked down on the slackers and put them to work to still their tongues.

That evening, after they dropped anchor and the crew started the heavy drinking, Gabby showed the effigy to Papa. He was concerned, especially when she started playing with it, making it dance about, threatening to do things to it, and so forth. Luckily, Gabby is in no way a skilled magician.

As they pondered, a sailor came up from below-decks, shouting “On this day, Raphael has become a man!” The word was that he had proven his valor in battle (in previous sessions), he had shown that he could hold his liquor, and now, he had… fulfilled the last requirement for adulthood, in the pirates’ eyes, with the help of one of the female members of the crew. (More importantly, he had spent the points to buy off his Social Stigma: Minor!) As he spoke, the sailor continued, several crew members were holding Raphael down and piercing his ear.

This, inevitably, prompted a fresh round of toasts, which led to further drinking.

During the evening, Dirty talked Papa into helping with restoring his “dapper me!” enchantment, the one that cleans up and restores his clothes every time he steps onto dry land. To aid the ritual, he smoked one of the sicars, gaining a modest bonus to his roll.

Later that night, after nearly everyone was asleep, Gabby arose to sneak around the ship. Unknown to anyone, she dumped handfuls of ash into the PCs’ boots. The next morning, this caused much uneasiness, and was generally taken as a sign of further magical attack.

Some days later, as they drew closer to their destination, they realized that they were being followed by some… thing under the water, something larger than their ship. This prompted much concern, obviously. Details were hard to make out, but it appeared to be something similar to a squid, but larger, and with more arms. It was immediately dubbed a kraken.

Gabby proposed that they engage the kraken with the cannons, but Captain Courvoisier wasn’t persuaded. He argued that, to bring the cannon to bear, they would need to turn to the side, which would greatly hamper their speed and ability to flee. If they engaged, it would be a do-or-die move: they would either be victorious, or dead, with little chance of escape. He proposed that they try to run, first. If they could make it to the shallow water near the shore, perhaps they could elude the beast.

Papa got to work organizing the crew for maximum speed. Meanwhile, Dirty turned to magic, starting a ritual to create a huge net, figuring to drop it in their wake to hamper the kraken. He asked for volunteers from among the crew to contribute energy to the ritual, but was informed that most of the sailors weren’t entirely comfortable with participating in his profane rituals; the worst kind of sinners they might be, but they’re Christian sinners, when it comes down to it. After a bit of bullying, a couple of the crew agreed that they probably would rather bend their faith than be eaten by a sea monster, and finally did help out.

Overcome with aggressiveness, Gabby and Raphael tried to talk the captain into letting them take the ship’s boat in an effort to lure the monster away. He didn’t care for this plan, either, pointing out that they only had the one boat, and he didn’t want to feed it to a kraken.

Finally, Gabby became too impatient with the discussion, and jumped overboard, planning to engage the kraken in its native element. From his post aloft, Mo’ saw this, but didn’t understand what was going on; he thought she had fallen overboard. In an effort to rescue her, he performed a perfect dive from the top of the mast into the ocean near her…

… and then rolled a natural 18 on his Swimming roll. “Glub!”

Gabby only made it a few strokes in the rough water before she, too, started to have troubles keeping her head above water. Big Tuna jumped in, using his cork-like floating powers to rescue them both. Mags threw them a line, and organized a team of sailors to pull all three aboard using the capstan. Meanwhile, Dirty completed his ritual, and the crew threw the net into the sea.

This misadventure was taken as just more evidence that taking the boat was a good idea. Raphael and Gabby brought up the the plan again, but Courvoisier had had enough. He ordered Mags to restrain them, tying them to a mast if need be, before one of them decided to do something else crazy.

This initiated a scuffle, as Mags went to wrestle them down. Gabby drew her rapier. Thinking he would put an end to the fight before it got out of hand, Dirty drew a flintlock and fired a shot into the deck at the feet of the combatants.

That was his intention, anyway. What happened was, he rolled an 18, and accidentally shot Raphael, breaking his right arm and leaving it crippled for, as it turned out, the next two months.

Raphael, it may be noted, is not left-handed.

Almost forgotten by everyone but Pap in all the drama, the kraken encountered the net and was, in fact, somewhat hampered. The crew bent themselves to the task of making speed, and was able to get to the coastal shallows without being overtaken. Papa used his magic to heal Raphael a bit, but he wasn’t able to correct the broken arm.

Later that day, the ship came within sight of the Moskito Coast. They approached a harbor with a small town. Courvoisier studied the shore through his spyglass, then swore. When the others looked they spotted two things. First, a skeleton dressed in pirate finery, tied to a post so that it would be submerged at high tide. Clearly, a warning. Second, a sign announcing the town to be named Port Coleman.

Courvoisier explained that the Coleman from the name was Bloody Bill Coleman, an old acquaintance. If they tried to sail into the harbor, they would be blown apart by land-based cannon, he was certain. Sadly, they needed to enter the harbor, as there is a village beyond it, where he hopes to find Jacob, the other person to escape Hell in Van der Decken’s story, who they need as a guide.

Gabby enthusiastically volunteered to take a small force ashore to put down ol’ Bloody Bill in the most fearsome way possible, and take the port for the pirates. For once, Courvoisier liked one of Gabby’s plans. He announced that he was seeking volunteers for the mission, then immediately thanked several of the PCs for volunteering.

Next time: the invasion!


Cool Point: Dirty, for being so good a shot that he can’t miss, even when he wants to.

Booby Point: Mo’, for heroically drowning during his rescue attempt.

The moral of the story:  Sometimes the dice will tell you things about the world that you never knew.  (Courvoisier kinda prefers to run, don’t he? I didn’t intend this to be a part of his character. If anything, I intended him to be indecisive. What I’ve been trying to do is, I’ll try the players to suggest courses of action, and then I’ll see how the reaction rolls go. The dice keep saying, Courvoisier doesn’t like risky plans, he’d rather run to make a profit on another day.)

 

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