Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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ACKS Dwimmermount Session 5, Sortie 12: “Something’s Coming. I can feel it… it’s coming!”

Prep for this session kind of had me in a tizzy. I reread all of the rules related to Azoth because we had so many questions about it. I printed out the stuff for level three because the players could actually get that far down potentially. I went back and looked at Dorian’s character that had gotten returned to the church; I looked up whether or not he could be brought back to life. Turns out he could just barely come back from the dead, but he would need twenty some odd days to do it. I figured out that he would be back six days game time from the opening of this session. Finally, I had introduced Assassins and Blade Dancers as class options, but no one had rolled any up, yet. And I had also been encouraging people to start using henchmen. So I made “Chloe” and “Ferfherfderf” to sort of knock all of those things out at once. There was more I wanted to do, but I couldn’t figure out what to focus on after getting all of this done, so I just ended up starting the game kind of frazzled.

The player for Yigg-Tsu the Shaman and Jaina Yolo the fighter couldn’t make it. (She had exams.) I strongly encouraged the players to leave those two characters out and they went along with it. I had looked at the details for Muntberg and had a yen to explore things there a little more, but nothing there really did anything for me. I played out the meeting of the two potential henchmen at the tavern, though. I think Angus tried to hit on Chloe while Eldred went to check out Ferfherfderf. Ferfherfderf started shooting his mouth off and convinced Angus to let him demonstrate his bola on him. (I then explained the rules for incapacitation and knock down.) Chloe then had Ferfherfderf go knock over a merchants table so that she could demonstrate her epic skills in diplomacy. She ended up taking up with Raph while Ferfherfderf started working for Eldred. The subtext here was, “hey y’all… here’s some rules we’ve been ignoring. They’re there. Do what you want with them, though.”

So the party of Raph (M2), Oleant (M1), Eldred (C2), Angus (F2), Elsa the war dog, and the two new henchmen headed for the dungeon. The party did not like that they were short of their strongest fighter (Jaina Yolo, evidently partying in Adamas) and their high dexterity third level thief (The Artful Dodger, rest in peace.) It was interesting to see them have to make do with what was available rather than just immediately roll up whatever they needed the most to fill the must-have archetypes or niches. I anticipated some pushback on their having to rough it a little, but the players seemed to take this lack of perfect optimization in stride.

The players barreled into the dungeon and trekked across the entirety of the first level to this staircase they’d been wanting to explore for practically forever. Along the way they passed some kind of weird pool with a light shaft beaming down on it. The players did not want to mess with it because they assumed it could kill them somehow. At the foot of the staircase they found the bodies of a couple of adventurers. This was actually an alternate entrance to the dungeon which the players immediately grasped the utility of. The players took a few hours of game time to give the two adventurers some semblance of a burial.

Coming back in, sent the assassin to explore a side passage and he stumbled across three large mushrooms that started screaming. The party decided to just leave and (maybe) avoided a wandering monster as a result of this. They then cruised through what used to be the kobold caves, strolling through places they’d already adventured in. They came to a place were they’d found a box with some old bone in it that everyone had forgotten about. They also came to the statue of Tyche that had gold coins in her hands. (In my game, that is the patron goddess of the Blade Dancers.) The assassin (who has intelligence 5) started to take the money, but Chloe talked him out of it.

Coming to the pool of Azoth, the players were startled by a female voice: “I think I saw something. Did you hear that? Something’s coming!” This freaked the players out a bit and they prepared for some kind of attack or other weirdness. Then they saw the glimmering form of Priestess Jisme enter the room and look frantically about. “I can see them. They’re coming!” she says. The party sent the assassin past her to see what was up with this. He went to past her to the next room and was unmolested. (But he was careful not to go where the demon spider was supposed to have been.) Oleant declared that this was some kind of harmless psychic echo; nothing to worry about. The players then loaded up every spare wineskin with Azoth. (I did not stop the game to recalculate encumbrance. Players aren’t familiar with the rules mostly and I mainly just need a rough figure for combat movement most of the time. But I do carefully work it out for any characters that I do introduce into the game just so that we can eventually wrap our collective heads around the nuances of that.)

The players then made their way to a staircase down. I think they are really confused about which staircase leads where and what the maps should look like because we lately have an argument every time they go down to the second level. I don’t even know what they think they know at this point, but we seem to get through it. They explored several rooms that they’d been to before and rounded out a couple of spaces that they hadn’t visited before. One of the new rooms had a big table in it. Another had a mural depicting mages conjuring monsters out of some kind of weird pool. The players then decided to go to the room where they had fought orcs previously and spend the night.

The dungeon was just strangely quiet, though. It was weird that they had not encountered any wandering monsters up until now. They figured out their watch schedule and I rolled to see what came in their vicinity for each one in order. If it was vermin or something like that, I generally ignored it because I didn’t think the things would try to get through a barred doorway. But on the third watch– Chloe’s– I did get a result that made some sense. I told her player that she heard something opening the north doorway– what do you do?! The player was embarrassed to do this, but he decided to have the character just flat out scream. Not a girly scream, though. No, sir! A combative woman-warrior scream, thank you very much!

This startled whatever it was and it appeared to leave. Raph commanded Elsa, “sic ’em!” I ruled that the dog was off after something and that the assassin could be in position to throw his bola at something as well. Elsa missed a biting doggie attack even with the bonus to hit a retreating foe. Ferferfderf succeeded in taking down a monster, though. He came to him and backstabbed it, but failed to kill it. He tried two more times to hit it, but failed. Elsa chased the other creature down some stairs, failed to pull off a flying tackle and then came back to the party rather than risk getting separated.

Instead of pursuing the remaining monster into the unknown, the players opted to take the monster they had captured back to their room. They healed it, I think, cast Charm Person on it. (It was a gnoll.) And conversed with it a while. The chose to sleep through the rest of the night and again… the dungeon was just strangely quiet. (Rationalizing the dice: the gnoll faction just did not perceive a mortal threat here maybe. Who knows?) After a lot of discussion– which was impeded by the fact that all of it had to go through Oleant who was not always cooperative– the party convinced the gnoll to take them to its leader. I looked at the map to determine where he would go and then which path he would take. It actually wasn’t that easy to decide. But soon they were off.

They went all the way to the other side of the level, passing through long passages and otherwise uninteresting rooms. The players demanded detailed descriptions of the map, but I said that the gnoll was eager to keep moving and only grudging clarified a few of their questions. Finally, they came to a room that had three monsters in it. Now… when I read the key, I’d thought they were gnoll guards. But I was wrong, they were something else! I ruled on the spot that these guys had just killed the gnoll guards that I thought were supposed to be there and that the charmed gnoll was just as surprised by this as anyone. (Heck, that may even be the intent of the room description, I don’t know.)

Anyway, there was a fight. I can’t remember the details except that Elsa the war dog and maybe Raph the mage got paralyzed. Maybe someone else, too. The party hunkered down to wait for this to wear off and I think after thirty minutes, everyone was good to go except for the dog. The party debated carrying the poor thing, but decided it was too cumbersome for that. I think also that Chloe had gotten dropped in this one (she only had three hit points) but she got healed with healing proficiencies alone. She did end up with a bum knee after this and her max encumbrance dropped from 20 stone to 14 stone. (Nice colorful result there.)

At that point I made a ruling. I had a wandering monster. I knew from the map which passage it came from. I then took the figures facing that side and selected one at random. The result was the war dog– which made a lot of sense to me. (It couldn’t get away.) One player objected to this. “We only use the figures for combat. How should we know if you’re going to do something like this?” And it’s true, the players had not touched the figures at the conclusion of the combat and it is perhaps unfair for me to use them in this manner. But at the same time, I have to make a lot of rulings in the game and demanding new information that I would not normally ask for tips players off that something is up… and asking for otherwise extraneous details all the time in order to set up throwaway encounters like this perfectly is just not going to happen. An unhappy medium? Maybe. But as a GM, I don’t care. I’m more interested in keeping the game moving than I am in making sure we get a perfect consensus on every last stinking thing. And given that even trying to do that would make someone unhappy, we’re left with what we’ve got: a game where I have to make judgement calls occasionally. So yeah, I stuck to my initial ruling and didn’t waste time discussing it.

This thing had crept into the room and the players were surprised. I think I’d made them roll the d6 to let them know and it came up as either a one or a two. I think. Anyway, this thing reached out to Elsa before anyone could react and it touched the poor war dog. I announced that her custom chain mail armor had been dissolved as if by an acid attack or something. I think next Eldred the cleric moved in and poured Azoth onto the creature. Other player characters moved away from it. Oleant moved a ways and tossed an Azoth bomb which infuriated the other players given that the could end up caught in the splash damage. I tried to stop the argument and keep the game moving by making people stick with their initial reactions. The bomb did miss and the splash damage hit the creature and not the party, so Oleant was somewhat vindicated. Tensions were high, though.

Now… used to players always seemed to have torches on hand, so figuring out how these Azoth bombs got lit was never really an issue before. And the party was rarely this discombobulated. I tried to get people to explain to me how they were lighting these things and I just wasn’t getting any satisfactory answers. (They were down to maybe three spare torches and they had two lanterns that were running on Azoth and which they had discovered that they could not put them out.) This got us into an argument over the exact specifications of these bulls-eye lanterns which we never really resolved. (Somebody was googling old mining lanterns, though.) Ferfherfderf’s  player settled this by declaring that he moved next to the creature, pulled the wick out of his lantern, and then threw it on the oil that the cleric had poured onto the thing.

Chaos reigned. The thing was on fire. I think someone else tossed a bomb onto it. The damage it had taken must of gotten up to about 33 points or so. Someone remarked that they were going to get a lot of XP for this one. Elsa the war dog was liquified. The cleric narrowly avoided an attack. Ferfherfderf got hit at some point though. His armor dissolved. The rules weren’t clear to me on whether he also took acid damage right then or not. I think I ruled that it was sorta like in Aliens when someone reminded me of how it worked in that film. Ferfherfderf lost initiative the next round and got dissolved into nothingness. Everyone else backed away as the amount of fire damage the thing had taken got into the fifties. The creature then made a move towards Raph who was backing down a passage and she actually got boxed in. At the last moment, she quaffed a potion of flying and flew over the creature and back to the party.

At this point, the players decided they were in no position to take on a gnoll chief. They were down two fightery types, so they chose to bug out. They headed back the way the came and got into arguments about where and what they had done. They did check into one room that they hadn’t been in before, but finally asked their gnoll pet to take them back to their camping room. He did so and they made their way back to the staircase up. I had the players check for surprise and maybe made someone roll an intelligence check. (A player argued that I should have had it be Wisdom instead, but I didn’t stop to argue.) The party saw a green slime guarding their exit! The players were so horrified they discussed a while about maybe going up a different way but I don’t think they really knew of one and their gnoll friend was no help in this. Finally they threw a couple of Azoth bombs at it and burned it up.

The players made their way out of the dungeon and back to town with no more encounters. I tallied up the XP that they got this time and it was humiliating. Twenty-seven points for each of the player characters and thirteen for the surviving henchman. With Elsa the war dog out of the game, Raph was the only remaining creature from the original Dwimmermount party from the first session. Raph as very sad about this indeed. But anger at lack of treasure and experience probably eclipsed this. This was the fourth sortie in a row where the party lost a character, too.

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7 responses to “ACKS Dwimmermount Session 5, Sortie 12: “Something’s Coming. I can feel it… it’s coming!”

  1. PeterD May 4, 2015 at 8:45 am

    One player objected to this. “We only use the figures for combat. How should we know if you’re going to do something like this?” And it’s true, the players had not touched the figures at the conclusion of the combat and it is perhaps unfair for me to use them in this manner.

    I have to agree with the players here – if you use figures for combat and then decide to use their placement outside of combat, you’re telling them they must absolutely worry about where their figures are on the table at all times – because it’s not clear when it is or is not important. You might end up in one of those games where the players turn their minis when they say, “I look left” or whatever, or insist on exact spacing and setups of the figures at all times. In this kind of case in my games, I’ll stop and say, put your guys in your marching order or put your guys where they would be. I find 99 times out of 100 the players will be reasonable with placement and accept what comes because they had their chance to decide. Not that you made a bad decision, but it’s one that IME will put a premium on extra care of placement of figures and more worry by the players than one that’ll speed things up in the long run.

    • jeffro May 4, 2015 at 9:00 am

      I chose a means of singling out a character for an arbitrary death that suited me. The characters that died were the two that the party could most afford to lose. The deaths were entertaining and will be talked about again in the future. There is nothing wrong with any of that. I will have to make those sorts of decisions again.

      The complaint was stupid because I very well could have agreed with it and then randomly chose a high level cleric or magic user instead. Honestly, I think the dude just wanted to have a chance for me to randomly pick his character to die so that he could roll up a new one. It was a dumbassed thing to be arguing about in a game session that was loaded with arguments. Players are supposed to argue on behalf of the party unless they’re helping the DM apply a forgotten rule. This guy was actively working against his fellow players and I’m sure they would have spoken up to object had I gone along with what he was saying.

      But yes, the party is now on notice that they need to actually think about this WHENEVER they are spending more than one turn stationary in a room in the dungeon. I do ask reflexively now if the figures are how they want them even when it doesn’t matter. But part of the reason they care is because someone has died because of this. Out of twelve sorties, this only mattered once. ONCE, dang it! That is enough for them to care from now on. But that is not often enough for me to anticipate that a ruling of this sort could rub them the wrong way. Frankly, I don’t care if they don’t like it. I’ve made thousands of rulings in this campaign by now… and the players can ask me to reconsider occasionally, but it’s not my job to make sure that they like every last decision I make. I have the last word and I elected to use it. There’s no way around that happening.

      (Actually, this exact thing did matter back when The Artful Dodger bought it, so make that TWICE out of twelve sorties.)

      • PeterD May 4, 2015 at 2:31 pm

        I get that. I’m just saying, the method you choose affects that happens going forward. If what happens going forward suits you and your players, then it’s long-term a good decision.

        ” Players are supposed to argue on behalf of the party unless they’re helping the DM apply a forgotten rule. ”

        Interesting. I take the second as read – players are supposed to help the game run properly – but not the first. Characters are supposed to argue on behalf of the party, but the players should place the game overall ahead of their characters and those of the others. My players buy into that, too – players remind each other of forgotten penalties, make sure to enforce bad stuff on themselves and others, etc. My players have pointed out horrible things that’ll kill themselves and others, because in the long run everyone is happier that things went as they should.

  2. Aurumvorax May 4, 2015 at 10:36 am

    I don’t think Y’gg-Tsu forgot about the fingerbone!  You might not have thought of yourself as heavy-handed, Jeffro, but you made it pretty clear that you wanted the party to take hirelings, not the shaman and high-AC fighter (Angus is a heavy hitter; his player just doesn’t like putting him in the front line, precisely because he uses a polearm).  I admit you would have let the cleric’s player roll up a completely random replacement for the thief, and we do spend our money on whatever we want.

    Sorry I wasn’t at the table right when you were debating the procedure for lighting up Azoth.  That could have straightened me out, as I have been under the impression that it ignites when compressed by the shock wave from being thrown.  Someone reading the part before that critically might think that I was being obstructive, but Raph didn’t actually burn her Charm Person spell on the gnoll until we got to the first level on our way out of the dungeon.  I call Oleant discussing the female characters’ propensity to serve the gnoll and his chieftain, roleplaying a character with average Charisma trying to keep control of a situation in which another character is shouting threats at the prisoner.  I am pissed that one person kept playing with the minis after combat, then they were treated like some kind of room-of-squares chess game.  I was right there, heard people talking about searching the bodies of the ghouls and the guards after the magic user recovered, but when my attention was drawn back to the little piece of cardboard, the magic-user was still lying next to the dog in the middle of everyone.  I am not going to pick up a piece of plastic or metal and move it around a map every time I say my character does something!  That’s not how I imagine what I’m doing in a roleplaying game.

    SPOILER ALERT
    Good job getting this up so quickly and thoroughly, Jeffro.  Looking forward to reading the next part where the previously dead cleric with Lay on Hands (proficiency) drolly rejoins us, and we find out things on the third level of Dwimmermount aren’t exactly as we expected, only we should have.

    • jeffro May 4, 2015 at 10:42 am

      Aha, that’s where it got to. And it appears we need to open the floor for everyone to weigh in on the proper (and improper) use of minis. I recall that I was pushing for theater of the mind… and the only person that was behind that dropped out after Madicon!

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