The game returns after a brief hiatus. I had every intention of giving my notebook of sketches and monster tables some attention during the interim, but really… it just never happened. It mostly came down to not knowing what the players would do. Fear and anxiety grew. What if I never have as much fun again as we did in whatever previous session was the best? What if I let my friends down? Truly, it was Dungeon Master Slough of Despond if there ever was one!
Then the guy that played Funk– the dude that wrestled the crystal men into the pits– he pings me staying I must be AFRAID to run a game with him in it. Right in front of the other old school dungeon masters, too. Suddenly there was zero chance of the game getting canceled.
Now, going into this one, everything about the players’ overall mental state was a complete revelation to me. Maybe to you their actions will make perfect sense. To me? It was well that I hadn’t wasted any time prepping. There was just no way I could anticipate any of this.
See, I had thought the last session was some kind of gaming tour de force. I was convinced that my dungeon of extreme weirdness was going to get an encore delve, because clearly… it was some of the best D&D gaming anyone had ever delivered. Obviously, right?! Alas, the warm feelings I have for what the players described as being a psychedelic experience were not shared. The players had zero desire to go back to either the red cathedral, to mushroom land, to the dungeon that held the portal, or even to anything in the huge ruined pile.
The players did ask about the red moon that Fàgor had seen. It was gone. They also wanted to know more about the lion vs. ape turf war that was going on in their vicinity– and maybe wanted to go bash in some gorilla heads, too. One player character from Trollopulous showed up to inform the group that the city was under siege. Another player was going to bring his cleric in from there, but when that didn’t make sense he introduced “Fluid the Druid” into the game instead.
The ranger declared that he had spent the past three weeks scouting out the jungle. Given that and everything else, it was clear that if there was any sort of alternate dungeon nearby, the players would know of it. So I declared it to be in existence half a day’s journey from the huge ruined pile where the players had made their new base of operations. The players immediately latched onto this. The weirdness of the ruined pile, the chaos of Trollopulous, the baffling red moon– all of this was shunned in favor of… something different.
In retrospect, this is an entirely natural and almost inevitable move on the players’ part. Again, though, going into the session this was completely unimaginable to me. Once this relatively subtle social signal was received, I became 100% confident in my ability to make up something that would actually suit the players.
Trekking across the jungle they soon see this mountain towering above the trees. At its peak is a Mount Rushmore type head of a tribal African. Now… aside from the Apache Indians currently placing Trollopulous under siege, there are no non-white people in this setting. The demi-humans are all white as well and have no culture of their own. They evidently just appear in the world via the trolls of Elfland stealing unbaptised infants and replacing them with freakish changelings, often abandoned to a life of desperation on the worst streets of the city.
The players climb the granite slab leading up to the giant head; it takes three hours. They climb over the teeth on onto the replica of a tongue and look up at the perfect likeness of an uvula hanging down from the ceiling. The druid casts “detect snares and pits” which pauses the game as I investigate this strange new spell. I declare a large column of basalt at the back of the throat begins to lower down into the depths. The players find footholds in the basalt and climb down it about a hundred feet.
The druid wants to hurry in hopes of getting more use out of his spell. The players drop down into an octagonal room with passages going north, south, east, and west. To the north he sees a series of three pit traps about thirty feet across altogether. The players want to know details of their construction and also of the masonry. The floors and walls are made from marble blocks (not limestone); it’s unlike any of the rock nearby. The pits have a veneer of marble on top and seem to fold down. The players examine the first one and see a skeleton at the bottom.
The paladin wants to see what’s on the other side of the pit traps. He takes a grappling hook and throws it past the pits. Pulling it back it seems to catch on something. Putting his entire weight on the rope causes it to slip. The ranger is noticeably relieved that this course of action failed and persuades the group to go east and then north, hoping to circle back to whatever is north of the traps.
The party carefully makes its way through a passage that twists and turns; they come to a t-intersection and head north… then they come out into into this large room. Dealing with such a large room given the limitations of torch light turns out to be a challenge. (Almost thought the players would fail to find out what was here due to the difficulties of playing out the back and forth.) Somehow they discover a beautiful woman frozen amber-like in a gigantic block of ice that blocks off the entire north side of the room. The paladin reports that she is emanating a strong sense of evil.
The players search for secret doors in the west wall of this room and sure enough, one stone in the wall lifts up like a latch allowing an entire panel of wall to be shifted to the side. Just inside the passage is a lever surrounded by blinking lights. The players debate whether or not to pull the lever. They are tempted! They have a hunch of what it will do, but they are not sure. They are about to walk on when Brother Payne suggests that Funk, whose player had stepped out of the game, could pull the lever while the rest of the party takes cover somewhere. This almost sounds good to the party but cooler heads somehow prevail over the more impulsive players of the group.
The players move through the passage, come to another t-intersection and cut left. They come to a dead end and search the wall. They find a small sliding panel about six feet from the floor that reveals two holes. Brother Payne or maybe Fluid the Druid sticks a pinky finger in. The ranger pokes an arrow inside; ties a string around an arrow and pushes it all the way through then brings it back. Baffled the players head back the the intersection the try the other passage.
This one also dead ends; searching reveals a secret passage. I stop the game to get the players’ precise marching order and disposition, which I neglected to do at the last secret door. Whoops! The players open the door and move in with Fàgor the half orc leading the way. Turns out there is a sleeping frog man right by the door.
Now, if I had been running this “if you say it then your players say it” style as directed by Steve Jackson in The Fantasy Trip, this all would have been a complete disaster. I let the players talk through and work up a sane plan in spite of the circumstances and the difficulty in coming to a consensus quickly. I intervened in the discussion early on to put everything on Fàgor who would have known things the party didn’t, but I think his ultimate course of action was improved by a relatively loud discussion that could not have really happened under the circumstances. This is campfire AD&D, not The Fantasy Trip.
Fàgor starts killing frogs one at a time while the party readies for a big melee. I decide that there is a one-in-twelve chance of a dying frog to make a noise that wakes somebody up. I end up rolling a one on the first check. Next turn somebody ribbits and the frogs are groggy. I think I gave them +3 to be hit just then? The players start bashing heads in exchange for relatively trivial damage. The monsters fail a morale check and the players get their free AD&D attacks on the three fleeing frogs. One survives and makes it through a passage to the south. The players purse.
The players see the fleeing frog croaking to four other frogs in that room. The frogs see the players. Before initiative is rolled, the players hash out that Brother Payne will toss flaming oil at these guys while the rest of the group heads back to the north room to get into position for ranged attacks and/or pounding on these guys as they come through the door. Again, the planning and coordination here was not entirely likely under the circumstances, but the intent here was to give the players a solid chance to keep control of the game.
Brother Payne loses initiative and is knocked off balance by the frogs. His flaming oil goes astray, but I think on the next turn he makes it back into the north room with the frogs hot on his heels. (This could have gone very, very badly for Brother Payne, but the initiative roll here combined with a multi-session PC fighting withdrawal combat repositioning rule interpretation meant everything was chill.) The ranger fires his bow and Fàgor unleashes his giant crossbow. The paladin and funk and somebody else intercept, aided by the paladin’s protection from evil ability.
One frog manages to survive all this and flee; the players pursue but it is evident that it is going to pull away from the heavily armored player characters. The players quickly search the north room and find a chest full of electrum, gems, and scrolls. They head back through the secret passages, past the woman in ice, and back to the original octagonal room. They hear croaking sounds to the north. The climb up the columnar basalt and pull the treasure chest up after them. They wait by the top for a couple turns, flaming oil at the ready in case the frogs pursue. They don’t show up!
The players then head back toward the huge ruined pile. On the way back, an encounter is indicated. Brother Payne’s player was stoked to hear that there were DINOSAURS on the tropical encounters in the DMG. (Making a note of that for next time!) What actually ends up crashing through the jungle is two giant rhinoceros beetles. Fluid the druid casts talk with animals and tells them that there is savory frog food to the north. The beetles ask if they are good to eat and Fluid insists that they are. The beetles then head north in search of frog food.
Cast o’ characters:
[Wandered in from from the jungle and randomly joined the group.] Fluid the Druid [level 1 druid] (Deity = Mother Nature) [Delve 9 only] XP: 195
[Looks like a member of ZZ Top] Brother Pain the Acolyte [Delve 3b, 7, 8, and 9] XP: 351 + 54 + 255 + 0 + 195 = 855
[Looks like a member of ZZ Top] Torin the Runner (7 hits) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 6b, 7, 8, and 9] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 + 255 + 0 = [Frozen at 2250 until he levels!]
[Looks like a member of ZZ Top] Arthur the Gallant (7 hits) [Delves 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6a, 6b, 7, 8, and 9] XP: 122 + 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 + 255 + 0 + 195 = 2584
[His horns have grown incredibly large. Looks frightening and diabolical.] Fàgor — (12 hits) Half-Orc Fighter [Delve 7, 8, and 9] 255 + 0 + 195 = 450 (His name means “astonishing hero” in orcish. For real!)
[Left Trollopulous in the middle of a siege in order to find adventure.] Funk — FIghter — Also worships Issek (at best a saint) [Delve 7 and 9] 255 + 195 = 450
Experience and treasure:
2000 electrum pieces recovered and 11 frog men killed. Total experience points this delve is 1174. Divided six ways this comes out to 195 XP each. [Note, the party recovered 8 gems and 4 scrolls; the xp value of these will be awarded if they are sold in Trollopulous. Don’t forget the gold belt buckle from last session, too!]
Day 1: The Hole in the Sky
Day 2: The Thing in the Sewer
Day 7: The Big Score part I
Day 8: The Big Score part II
(Day 9-14 — player characters all carousing¹; Keebler Khan fully recovered) <—- I day of real world time = one day of game time!)
Day 15: The Drums of the Dog People
(Day 16-21: More carousing, fasting, panhandling.)
Day 22-25: Altar of the Beast-women
(Day 26-31: Resting)
Day 32-33: The Pugs of Slaughter
(Day 34-39: Resting)
Day 40: The Overbearing of the Crystal Men
(Day 41-46: Resting)
Days 47-48: The Song of Fàgor
(Day 49-70: In shock from an awesomely weird adventure. Sad!)
Day 71: The Woman in the Ice
Dorkorus — Half-elf fighter/magic-user/thief — Half brother to Keebler Khan, talked with a lisp! Killed by a pug-man in the Trolopulous mega-dungeon.
Dairage — Elf fighter/magic-user — Killed with his shield spell on, valiantly taking down the leader of the pug-men so that the party could have a chance to escape certain death!
9 Hapless men-at-arms!