Slügs in the Castle of the Mad Archmage
1 hour ago
You are invited to the 2nd Annual Old school RPG/BBQ summer party! I will be providing a 1/4 barrel of micro-beer, polish dogs, chips, and some soda. We will be looking to get enough players together to play 1e AD&D , with 2 DMs, and playing a tournament style game of the TSR module A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity. Pre-gen characters will be provided. All you need to bring is your dice, imagination, and anything different or additional you want to eat or drink.
1. Is this something that adventurers would fail at?
While we in the old school are often known for our love of the grim and gritty, adventurers are still decently competent at their jobs. "Giants in the Playground" pokes great fun at the absurdity of spot and listen checks in DnD 3.x. Now, even OD&D had spot checks of a sort - they're hidden in rolls to find secret doors and in the rolls for surprise. Still, with the ease of the mechanic the various "perception" checks are definitely over used.
I've seen by the book old school over use mechanics as well. Is EVERY door really that stuck? Likewise some supposedly old school DMs would rather have the players roll a d6 then describe the book shelf that hides the wizard's secret door.
Also, most old school games are based around classes. To be useful and meaningful, classes imply a wide set of skills in which the character is competent. A thief is a stealthy individual and not every attempt at moving silently should be subject to the fickle whims of a d20 or a percentile roll. Likewise a fighter should be competent about combat and weapons, a magic-user knowledgeable about arcane lore and what not.
2. Is this challenge more interesting than a number?
Matt Finch wrote the book on this one, though I don't think he stated it in this fashion. We game in fantastic locations and dream up personalities and magic and mystery. Aren't they more than mere numbers?
In fiction, secret doors are fascinating, fun conundrums. Finding the secret door to Batman's crime lab is a part of the game. The traps in James Raggi's "The Grinding Gear" are fiendish, clever and fun. It would be a disservice to your players if they could bypass them with a roll of a d20 instead of interacting with that strange, weird and dangerous place.
The Tomb of Horrors is more than a set of absurdly high numbers to roll.
3. What does success mean? What does failure mean?
If you allow your players to roll, you need to be prepared to tell them something cool happens when they roll high and beat the difficulty number in your head. Never allow the player to roll for something you think is not possible, because fate will give you a "20" to adjudicate.
Similarly, if you can't think of an interesting or meaningful failure result you should just let the character succeed.
Lastly: Is rolling for this how I want to spend my time?
Of Elves and Men
Long ago Corellon Larethian created the beings of grace that are the elves from mist beneath the crescent moon. We lived lives of beauty and truth, communion with the faerie and with the material world.
This magic of fey mists sustains us still. This connection with sylvan essence allows the elves to cross the bridge between the faerie world and the physical plane of mundanity.
Singular elves are not threatened by not sustaining their relationship with the faerie world. But the lifeblood, the grace magic, the fertility, of elven communities is endangered by too much corruption of mundanity. Elven communities and faerie forests must limit their contact with nonmagical beings such as humans (let alone filth of evil such as orcs) or risk losing their special quality and perhaps even face extinction.
Elves not within the world of faerie are still elves, but they may be sterile until they return. A few humans living peacefully within an elven forest may not threaten the magical bridge, but their presence may cause the fruit of wholly elven unions to be merely half-elven.
Yet Corellon's gift of life still returns like spring eternal. In remote forests, in sylvan settings outside the footprint of man, his grace descends in mist from the moon. New elven communities bring their grace onto the world in these places.
For this reason (and not mere prejudice or intolerance of lesser beings), elven communities have long protected their borders. A closely guarded secret, it has been determined that other fey demihumans, such as gnomes have a similar connection between this world and another. Halflings less so, as they breed prodigiously. Gnomes may spring forth from even the smallest deserted pretty hillock. But dwarves require isolated and dank caverns as special in their own way as the forests of the elves.
We epic adventurers, boldly, and with no fear in our hearts (Jane, Inara, Caelen, Threnody and Merchello trekked to Gaenoc's cave to explore a portal and get going on Caelen's geas
It's pronounced Gesh. On a previous adventure, Caelen, a cleric of Fharlanghn, was paralyzed by a gelatinous cube and alone in a dungeon. As Fharlanghn was the god of travel, the condition did seem to be an anathema to the god. So I allowed Caelen a roll to appeal to his diety (this being C&C, a wisdom check adding cleric level. I set a difficulty of 25 given the circumstances in the god's interest. Otherwise I think I would have required a natural 20 or something 30 or more. Still possible, but less likely. On the other hand, I do want to depict an adventurer's world that contains the arbitrariness and strangeness of magic and diety intervention rather then merely a predictable world in which magic is just a different, predictable, science.) Fharlanghan spoke to Caelen, offering a release in exchange for a geas in his service. Caelen accepted, and so I came up with the geas of mapping a set of portals that the party had found.
Upon approaching the cave, Jane called out greetings to Gaenoc, and they discovered him roasting chestnuts and drinking from an enormous bottle of booze! Gaenoc decided to share his chestnuts and booze with the group. Everyone who drank from it
Everyone who drank from it and failed their saving throw.
grew 20% and gained +1 to their strength! (Jane was the tallest halfling ever at 3'7"!). The booze was called Frapleschlager... or something. it was a Giant's drink.
Frobscottle :). The stuff also incurs outrageous farts of awful stench and force - enough to rocket a character up a few feet. They had to roll to fart at inopportune times for the day. Gaenoc is a guardian of the azure portal, a fey creature (somewhat like a brownie but with various spontaneous DM granted powers that can either aid or hinder the party.) He typically requires a gift for his 'gift' of using the portal.
After thanking Gaenoc, and giving him a bottle of really quite good Bourbon, we traversed the Emerald portal.
The Emerald portal popped us into the middle of the Wychwood, next to a dead yew tree. Merchello's raven, Lenore, flew up to look around and saw nothing but trees in every direction, and also an ominous looking bird circling off to the west slightly. Lenore was so scared of this bird that she shot back down and basically hid for the rest of the day.
A bit of foreshadowing of the zobo bird.
At that point, our good listeners heard some singing and prancing off to the West. There were some attempts to hide, but the rest of us decided to stand and meet our approaching singers. They turned out to be Faeries - the wee folk -
Sprites, they were
and they were hopping and singing and dancing but didn't really seem to be too happy about it. From their song (which I don't remember) it sounded like they were afraid of the bird, and that singing and dancing was the only way to get the bird to go away. They encouraged us to dance with them, but Oni (who was with Caelen, as was Hamwich) refused to dance. The bird was called the Zobo bird and was just a 6 inch tall little thing, but MAN did it pack a punch on Oni!
It had a big, sharp pointy beak.
"It'll do you a trick, mate."
Yes, the players caught the Holy Grail reference.
One shot and Oni was down for the count! Threnody then picked up Oni's unconscious form and started doing a 'weekend at bernie's' thing and dancing with him. We all then started prancing away from the dead tree for about half an hour, singing and dancing the whole way.
Cultural references abound. Hah. Sheesh, none of my old six player 3.5 group had seen Apocalypse Now or read Heart of Darkness.
Caelen came up with fabulous rhymes and song to try to pry information out of the Faeries. Turns out they were dancing to get away from the Zobo bird, but of course the Zobo bird was a minion of the Queen of the Wychwood, and just doing its job, which was to keep people around the dead yew tree happy, and turn that area back into a happy place, because right then it was a sad place. We found out later that the whole area had been a "sad place" and now they're down to just one dead yew tree which needs to become happy again.
Leave it to players to invent some meaning that the DM hadn't intended. That and how the sprites were sad to have to sing the Zobo bird song.
Caelen's improvised rhyming conversation with the sprites was a lot of fun but a great challenge to me as a DM. Next time, I'm going to have a resource like this as a cheat.
The sprites took the occasion to braid Oni's beard with beads.
Oni was a dour dwarf who hadn't wanted to do 'elf stuff' and dance and sing.
We left the company of the faeries and traveled North - they had left us on a path, and we just decided randomly to go north. We had some vague ideas of finding the squirrel king and maybe the queen of the Wychwood, and had been told to talk to trees and see if we find any that talk back...
We encountered a tree that talked to us in Led Zeppelin rhymes. His name was Rob... the plant... yah.
Ok, so sometimes I take the low road. :P
She omitted that to acquire Rob's help, they promised to plant his acorns in a sacred grove. They will be held to that promise or face consequences to be determined.
He introduced us to the Squirrel King Fatcheeks,
The Terror of Trees, The Aegis of Acorns, the King of the Squirrels, Fat Cheeks. Do bow, or curtsy, and show respect. This IS the King of the Squirrels.
Thanks to James at Grognardia for the inspiration from his King of the Cats.
who chatted with Inara with her gnomish fluency with burrowing creatures. We gave him a couple chestnuts and discovered that we were going the right way to go north to find a portal back.
The exchange was immortalized by Alyssa! Many thanks!
Inara owes Fat Cheeks a service. One day a squirrel in need will approach her.
We ended up encountering some horny frat boy Satyrs who... Well, the least said about that encounter the better, I recon. We got away after we gave them wine and reminding them of that and their obligation to let us go.
We traveled north again and encountered Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum - an ettin that generally lies and when the one lies the other has to lie, too. We ended up solving their riddle and taking the right hand path...
Two riddles, really. One riddle to learn the proper path (with the ettin lying game) and a second so the ettin wouldn't eat them. A future blog post will be resources for riddles.
Which led us to a tree with a green door and a faerie guardian. We danced with her and then went through the door and found ourselves back in the portal cavern. yay!
We next went through the golden gate.
It drops us in front of what we can only assume is a castle that is manned by orcs or the slavers or both. We barely made it out of there with our lives intact...
They were asked 'who do you work for?' and they answered 'the Yggsburgh patrol' so the players should take into consideration. One of the characters IS associated with Yggsburgh law inforcement; she's a homebrew lawful neutral variant of the paladin called an 'enforcer'. She answered all too quickly and changed a 'wary' reaction from some bandits to an immediate attack.
and yes, we did bravely turn our tails and flee.
We ended up going cross country and encountering wandering monsters and gnolls and... Well, going south and east we eventually found places that looked familiar (after like 6 days traveling) and made our way back to Yggsburgh.
Good thing they had a ranger as the trip back was absolutely something I did not want to hand wave. Random encounters plus trackers from the castle and counting of rations and water. The Menhir Hills are dangerous.
Two of those encounters were actually humanoids from the ruined castle trying to track them. The castle is a former outpost of the Suel Maure' family situated over an entrance to the Underdark. It's a possible second megadungeon to the campaign besides Castle Zagyg itself (which is run by the co-DM of the campaign.) Like Castle Z, this castle is quite approachable; various powers control portions of the ruins and the Underdark entrance is actually a trading conduit for slaves and such. They might discover this later from going through the portal with a bit more stealth and caution or they might pursue other hooks, including the slave trade that they've stumbled across.
Or, you know, they might not ever go back. They are the players after all.
The Zobo Bird
Do you think we skip,
Do you think we hop,
Do you think we flip,
Do you think we flop,
Do you think we trip
This fearful measure
And hop and hip
For personal pleasure?
O no, O no,
we are full of woe
From top to toe:
It's the Dread Zobo,
The Zobo Bird
He brings us bane,
He brings us blight,
He brings us pain
By day and night:
And so we must
Though it take all day
Dance or bust
Till he flies away.
O don't delay.
Go Zobo, go,
O Zobo bird!
by Frank A. Collymore
Proposed Caller Rules
When I am DM and we have seven or more players, I propose we play by these guidelines:
The players should elect a caller. This could be the player who is most motivated to take on the current adventure, someone they trust with tactical decisions or even just to make the quiet player in the corner talk more. When the group (not an individual) is confronted by a choice, the DM will listen to the caller.
When major group decisions (like plans, or whether to talk or fight) are to be made, the group can and should have a discussion. After 10 minutes (or player request, DM boredom, use of profanity) either the DM or the caller will call a vote. The players will vote, and the DM will consider the players to begin the actions voted.
3.Individual decisions during combat
Each player will have 30 seconds (1 minute? seems too long) to decide their action, or lose it. There should be time enough to decide your action before it is your turn.
The diocese of Gardar lies at the ends of the earth in the land called Greenland... It is reckoned that no ship has sailed there for eighty years and that no bishop or priest has resided there during this period. As a result, many inhabitants have abandoned the faith of their Christian baptism: once a year they exhibit a sacred linen used by the last priest to say Mass there about a hundred years ago.
Pope Alexander VI, 1492
Hvalsey Church ruins in Greenland
Evelgraten's Enchanted Edge
Level 1 Magic-User spell. Alteration
Components: V,S,M         Range: Touch
Casting Time: 1 round     Duration: 5 rounds/level
Save: None.            Area of Effect: 1 melee weapon, or 5 pieces of ammunition
This spell enables the touched weapon to hit creatures that are only hit by +1 magical weapons whether they are incorporeal, ethereal, extra-planar or otherwise supernatural. It does not otherwise provide any bonus to hit. The material components are a piece of unprocessed iron or silver ore and a garnet of at least 5 gp value which are touched together during the casting of the spell.
Level 1 Cleric Spell Alteration
Components: V,S,M, DF      Range: Touch
Casting Time: 1 round        Duration: 6 melee rounds
Save: None              Area of Effect: 1 melee weapon
By means of a boon from their deity, the cleric blesses a weapon enabling it to hit creatures of an opposing alignment (or otherwise inimical to the deity) that are only harmed by magical weapons and providing +1 to hit. Some deities may require recitations from a holy book, but the typical material component for the spell is holy water which is dabbed upon the weapon during casting.
Last night we made our daring rescue for our friends Etherlred, Desiderata "Desy" and Vincent.
Character playing (9! - DM's note. Nine players is a lot. I asked them to use a caller, mostly to keep things moving.)
Inara, Threnody, Anduin, Kolya, Danforth, Jane, Obelix, Dismas, Groktor
Kenny, Robert Redshirt, Raser, Tenius, Wolnicca, Leaf-loam
Arland (npc), Owen (npc), Vincent (pc)
Before leaving the Out's Inn, we picked up two new fighter's from the swordsman's guild : Razer and Tinnitis, both capable swordsmen. We also managed to get Danforth to convince the church to let us buy four potions of "cure light wounds". Best of all Lord Gaxill loaned us a fighter (Wolnicca). Armed to the teeth with glaive-guisarmes, ropes and flasks of oil, we set out, but not before picking up two new companions who were previously too uncool for us to even talk to : Dismas, a kind of creepy elf bowman who seems to like sneaking around and staring at people; and Groktor the epithet, a half-orc fighter who's low on pronouns but high on strength.
(Groktar was variously called Garnak, and Gronok throughout the evening though he didn't seem to mind).
After picking up Wolnicca (who met at at the castle track road where we camped), we got to the cave entrance. We found that our way was blocked by a six inch wall of living wood, but that was no match for our many fighters and their axes.
- Broke through, killed two mushroom doggies and a shrieker, two mushroom doggies (hereinafter referred to as prowlers) then retreated.
- Broke that same goddamed valve for the ... third? time.
- Attacked by four prowlers (dead), one walking tree (dead) and four pod people (dead, but not before one of them pressed a button which covered the damned valve again and nearly swept many of us to our deaths in the rushing stream (Jane was swept off, because she rolled two ones in a row. This is a one in four hundred chance and I've seen her do it three times in the past couple of months). (DM's note: while Jane fell, neither the roper nor the person holding it failed their rolls. I think she dropped her sword in the water... another bad habit of hers.)
- We made it down to the cages, were we rescued Ethelred, who told us of the sad fate of Arland, Owen and Vincent. He, in fact, witnessed their horrible demises and will undoubtedly need some crisis counseling. He never saw Desy and has no idea what happened to her. We found the last bits of Vincent in the mulch machine, which we can all split up like Victorian keepsakes.
- Kolya and Threnody escorted the shaken Ethelred to safety while the rest of the party pressed on to rescue Desy, or what was left of her. We think they may have tried to turn her into a large pod person.
- Our usual entrance to the Shroom room was blocked by a wall of fungus.
- Inara helpfully cast invisibility on Dismas so that he could go be creepy out in front to scout another way around. He found a bound tree ent and some grasping vines (which we crisped), but didn't notice the vampiric moss on the ceiling.
- We all went to rescue the ent, and, after accidentally lighting him on fire (goddamn it, why can't Jon roll this many ones!), then dousing him and apologizing profusely, we continued on, now with a 17 foot barkshield called Leaf-loam who was looking to avenge himself on the Shroom for stealing his zygotes.
- We found Desy in the next room, whimpering and incommunicative (stupid will save) and strapped onto a needle chair ("bed of thorns"). We freed her (upon which time she became the first of many bodies stacked in a corner) and then burst into the next room.
- After all that racket, the Shroom was unsurprised by our appearance. We consistently damaged the shit out of him, however, with Inara's "fuck you ones" never-miss Magic Missiles and Obelix's swarm of bats, while at the same time. He was also lit up with faerie fire, which prevented him from disappearing effectively. Our front line fighters mowed methodically through the pod people (though we still forgot about bottlenecking and had four on two for a long time. Leaf-loam reached over the heads of the fighters to
destroy the plant abominations. (Dismas sat in the tree and studied the Shroom, hoping for his chance)
- Finally, the Shroom beat a cowardly retreat and we were attacked by a few prowlers in the rear. Thankfully, Inara pivoted quickly and sent an illusion of the enraged ent after them before they could engage our waiting rear guard.
- The Shroom came back (after the swarm had mowed through a few more of his pod people and just after Dismas gave up on invisibility and started taking pot shots) and we killed his ass with more swarms, more magic missile and one flaming arrow. With the demise of the Shroom, the pod people fled and our hearts lifted.
- We found the Shroom's bedroom, and adjoining library and one door that we didn't open (at least then I left) because it looked like it might be trapped. Leafloam poured out the blue cauldrons. We found a goblin in the dangling pod, but we didn't keep him.
On the way out, we destroyed the bed of thorns (with extreme prejudice), the mulcher, and the valve mechanism both at the bottom of the cliff and at the top of the cliff.