Okay, this session is very, very modest. But there are a lot of little things going on that I am really happy with.
The big thing is that campaign has bifurcated. I think things are really cooking over in the jungles of Opar. The United Federation of Cavemen, Servants of the Secret Egg, Defenders of Opar and the Sacred Mushroom Circle, FOE TO ALL THINGS THAT HOP is threatening to bust out all over the campaign map. That is in connection with the Dark Crystal, an ancient artifact of unknown power. Not to mention a hot sorceress with a frog man army, her demonic alliance… oh, and the kingdom of Mushroomia, beachhead from another dimension.
If I was playing in a campaign like that, I wouldn’t want to quit! But thanks to my rather insane interpretation of the Gygaxian “real time” rules as we have begun to call them, I have to tell all the players that helped make all of that happen that THEY HAVE TO WAIT ANOTHER WEEK BEFORE THEY CAN PICK THAT PARTICULAR THREAD BACK UP.
Nobody plays D&D this way. Nobody does this.
Here’s what I get out of it, though: more time to ponder how I am going to deal with that artifact and how I am going to run the inevitable clash of armies out there. I get a break from some challenging dungeon mastering problems WITHOUT HAVING TO TAKE A BREAK FROM THE CAMPAIGN. Meanwhile, the players are drafted in helping to make another situation many hexes away turn into something AT LEAST AS INTERESTING. What a challenge! Can they pull it off? READ ON!
So the players are back in the Valley of Bones where Trobelor has just gotten done training Fagor up to Hero level. The group of sixty Venger Satanis clones have been going nuts in the neighboring hill hex with some kind of archeological dig. A Cleric/Assassin conducted a spying mission to find out that the Shield of Nergal is purportedly a great ways straight down from the spot where Crubash the betrayer died. HOWEVER, this party does not know this because the spying mission took 7 days to execute and the assassin won’t be back to tell them for another three days.
Imagine telling players that they have to role play as if they didn’t know this had happened and then playing something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT instead. But hey, that’s our table. I admit, I wasn’t entirely sure I could persuade the players that this was the right way to do it. Lucky for me, they were all in on ELITE LEVEL AD&D and had no complaints.
Now my prep the past few weeks has been about establishing nearby Chainmail units, drawing up a mega-dungeon side-view style as directed by Gygax in OD&D, and filling in many more hexes on the campaign map. The players were now eleven hexes away from Trollopulous and looking for trouble. It turns out all of this was EXTREMELY USEFUL to someone that was going to have to whip up a brand new play area with just a rough ideo of what the players were even wanting to do.
On the other side of the mountains, I announced, to the west in the desert wastes is Tharktopia. To the southwest not terribly far away is… the legendary city of HOBGOBITON. And I have to tell you… just mentioning the names of these places IS ALL YOU NEED. This sort of thing just kills, I’m telling you. There was more stuff I wanted to talk about drawn from my maps, but everyone started talking over every else just at the mention of these two AWE INSPIRING ADVENTURE DESTINATIONS.
We had two new players last time that were back again this time and had to make new characters just for this session. (Which is insane. Just plain insane.) Meanwhile the player with the Cleric/Assassin needed a replacement character, too. I’ve got this big problem of explaining where all of these people are coming from if they are not coming from Trollopulous. So I just declare that there is an Adventurer’s Aid Society that builds octagonal shaped hostels for travellers in scenic wilderness locations. Typically they are CONVENIENTLY LOCATED near exciting and well stocked dungeons.
The players were really keen on this for some reason. Possibly because waiting for everyone to arrive, helping new people make characters, explaining the bizarre time paradoxes that dictate what we are doing, and describing the area nearby all takes a great deal of time that is both EXCEEDINGLY IMPORTANT TO ADVENTURING but yet somehow not quite the same thing as ACTUAL ADVENTURING.
But while we’re on the subject, let me tell you. Even a half-assed campaign like mine produces so much esoterica and unanticipated nuance that IT TAKES A GREAT DEAL OF TIME TO EXPLAIN IT ALL. There is back and forth about the nature and significance of every compelling detail. To collectively come back down and consciously enter into ADVENTURE MODE it takes effort, discipline. WHY WOULD YOU EVER PAY MONEY FOR AN RPG SUPPLEMENT WHEN THIS STUFF NOT ONLY HAPPENS AS IF BY MAGIC BUT YOU ALSO HAVE TO SEVERLY LIMIT HOW MUCH OF THIS YOU EVEN INCORPORATE INTO YOUR GAME?
So the players are heading to the Adventurer’s Aid Society building. I try to hassle them about their lack of supplies but the players have a Pegasus in the group. They claim this would make hunting trivial. Okay, whatever. They are going to travel two thirty mile hexes and it dawns on me that the players can just know of any nearby monsters and then probably avoid them with ease. Streams, ponds, and migrating buffalo herd, too. So I tell them that there is a pack of twenty dog men cruising through the area on some kind of errand. The players elect to avoid them and make it to the Octagon unmolested.
(Again, the nature of these dog men have to be explained by the old players to the new players.)
They walk in and there are these two barbarians [note: Unearthed Arcana is NOT in play] lounging around, each with a bad case of thousand yard stare. Fagor had just attained fourth level so he approaches them and attempts to hire them on as henchmen, pointing out how his men had actually leveled under his direction. The tall one, named Laurel, draws up to his full height of seven foot four inches and suggests that mayhap Fagor should hench for HIM. Initiative is rolled and (with apologies to the new players that have no idea what is happening) page seventy-two of the Dungeon Masters Guide is consulted to resolve an unarmed combat action. The insanely baroque rules are followed closely and we determine that Fagor has picked up Laurel and THROWN HIM OUT OF THE WINDOW.
Fagor buys two beers with his last bit of silver, offers one to the fat barbarian named Hardy, and then walks out to revive his erstwhile foe. Laurel comes to, sips his beer, and Fagor tells him, “Trovelore says a warrior must not turn away from his traumas. He must turn towards them, face them directly… AND [CENSORED]!”
(This was hilarious and weirdly poignant as Fagor had rolled a 1 for his hit points AGAIN the other day and all of this was a was a very beautiful expression of these demoralizing dice results. So sad for the new players who merely experience this as a throwaway preamble to the game and not the entire point of the game. But how could they know?)
Now one of the new guys had rolled up a magic-user and somehow he got Unseen Servant for a spell. And I think when he had heard that there was a dungeon near the Octogon had (two hexes ago, now) suggested that he send his unseen servant to the dungeon in order to retrieve a winged demoness such as an Erinyes. Needless to say, the Unseen Servant and the game don’t really work this way. And I, laboring under a crippling definiciency in social skills myself, had gently attempted to steer him into the ethos of this particular game.
Now, this magic-user now excitedly tells these barbarians about how he is looking for an Erinyes. The men are somewhat baffled by this at first until something dawns on the fat one. He runs over to the lounge, rifles through a stack of magazines, and comes back with one full of pictures of naked demon women. The magic-user is like perfect, exactly. Where is she, he asks? The barbarian shrugs and the points to the bathroom. The magic-user goes and searches it and comes back to report that there were no winged naked women inside.
(This is of course Infocom for “you see nothing special.”)
Now the players ask about the dungeon. They say they went in with a group a few weeks ago and got completely slaughtered. Only they lived to tell of it. Standard deal: pit trap at intersection, weird humanoid monsters, total chaos. There’s probably seven or eight left. One got killed with a Magic Missile. At least one was cut down in battle. These guys are tough but not indestructible.
The party gears up, hashes out a marching order, and heads to the dungeon. The proprietor makes them fill out waivers before they leave. Also gives them day glo bracelets to wear. They go to the dungeon entrance not far away and go through the turnstiles. They come to the pit trap and identify it. The brand new aspiring bard character wants to force the pit trap open so he presses on it with his halberd while someone else holds on to his belt. The trap opens with a very loud clang.
It is of course extremely important that this aspiring bard explores this pit trap. It’s a doozy, too. Thirty feet down with terrible, nasty spikes at the bottom. Someone lowers down the bard. He is about halfway down when I ask for initiative.
It’s rough. The players’ front line wins initiative and hurls missiles at these grey, ragged, glow-eyed things coming their way. None of these guys drop in spite of a direct hit with the flaming oil. The person lowering the bard guy into the pit gets hit from behind and drops him. I roll two dice for this bard guy hoping to kill him but they both come up ones. Foiled again!
At this point the new guy with the magic-user bows out. This distresses me greatly as I was in the midst of making as much of a good faith effort to bring this guy into the game as I could figure out how to do and it was all RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER. Everything fit, too. But dang.
Before the second round there is a pretty major Theater of the Mind fail in that there was major disagreement about where the party and the monsters were in relation to the pit. I rule that during the first round the monsters had lept over the pit into a chaotic melee. There is a couple more rounds of damage to tally before the monsters finally PASS a morale check and then fight to the death. There are coin pouches on the monsters and the bard guy finds a bunch of silver down in the pit trap. At this point the players take all the silver, retire to the Octogon, spend maybe two days healing up, and then come back. I don’t know if placing the silver in the trap was a good idea or not, but there you go. PLAYERS THAT TAKE SIGNIFICANT DAMAGE AND GAIN ANY AMOUNT OF TREASURE AT ALL ARE GOING TO GO BACK TO TOWN. Everybody knows this is the way.
Real time play can fortunately discourage this sort of thing maybe and yield natural consequences for it… but not with this particular situation. The players go back in, head right at the intersection, and find this room with bedding and so forth. They find a case of electrum, too. They throw over all the beds looking for secret passages and find this trap door that leads to a stairwell. They go down a long ways. The stairs sort of zig zag every which way. They come out into a very large dungeon room that has been so flooded that everything is covered in lime stone. Caveification. The players aren’t sure about this. Someone says to stop and listen for a moment. I tell them that they hear a sound like a stomach growling.
That does it. They are gone.
They go back up the stairs and try the other way at the intersection. They come into a room with a prison cell. Inside is a BEAUTIFUL NAKED WOMAN. She beseeches the party to please either bend bars or life gates so that she can be free. They talk about maybe taking her to Trollopulous. A new (but seasoned) player with a fighter announces that he has somehow managed to succeed as his required roll of 10%. The woman (who has a figure like Ben Shapiro’s sister) comes into the firelight as the bard guy is coming towards her with something to cover up her shame. Only too late does he notice the snakes for hair!
New guy fighter makes his saving throw but bard guy does not and he is turned to stone. One player stops the game to explain that his henchman “Peero” is actually inspired by Ben Shapiro and his whole schtick is that he is always looking at things and if you say, “don’t look!” he is the type of person that absolutely HAS to look. Well, Peero Shapiro makes his saving throw. Which makes sense given that it was his sister in there at least after a fashion.
Fagor throws his Lava Lamp Javelin and makes a direct hit. The woman is knocked back, crying in shock and agony. The two sumo wrestler henchmen closed in on her and went to work. One of them successfully executed a full frontal bear hug while the other put her in an arm lock. These guys should have been bitten by snakes here, but even the snakes were screaming in agony due to the Lava Lamp Javelin.
The damage was just stacking up, illustrating just how fragile “super awesome” monsters are when they try to work alone. I was wondering how they were going to play this as this monster was technically a treasure if she was sold to the upcoming Monster Girl exhibit as the Tower of Ultimate Evil. I asked the new guy with the fighter what he was going to do and he hauled off with his axe and chopped the thing’s head off.
How long will a putrescent monster head retain its utility? We shall see! (Good thing we are playing in a game where time actually has meaning, though.)
Meanwhile, after the game the player of the Cleric/Assassin gave me instructions for his character:
PHB p.29 “The secondary function of the assassin is spying. This mission can be coupled with the stealing of some item.”
This is my assassin’s current goals.
Infiltrate the cultists (done I think) Determine who they worship. If they worship Nergal, as an acolyte of Nergal openly ingratiate myself with any higher level Nergal cleric in the cult in an attempt to become mostly above suspicion. If the dig actually finds the shield of Nergal, steal it. If discovered flee, if possible, to the valley of Bones. Seems likely I’ll be discovered somewhere along this path (only first level after all). But, if I find out #2 will adjust as needed.
With this declaration, we have three independent groups operating in the campaign. Three!
I can’t tell you how foreign this is to role-players and how hard it was to persuade the players to actually run multiple characters in the way that Gygax discusses in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I have been fought tooth and nail over this. But I am telling you it is a REALLY GOOD IDEA. As soon as this happens you HAVE to have consistent rules in order to be able to adjudicate these parties faithfully. No one party commands the spotlight or has special priviledges. The campaign NATURALLY takes precedence over all of them.
Even better, the entire world seems to blossom as more of it gets developed concurrently. All while the “real time” rules force you to have to wait for things to transpire in their appointed season.
Very fascinating to watch this happen. Very unusual way to structure an rpg.
Very objectively an integral part of AD&D, OD&D, and old school play in general!
Treasure and Experience
The first delve resulted in 306 XP for killing monsters. 3063 silver, 56 electrum, and 28 gold were recovered. The new magic user that left half way through the session gets XP for killing the monsters, but DOES NOT GET A TREASURE SHARE. (Attendence matters!) Total gold value here 209.15. XP shares here are 515.15/8 = 64 and gold shares are 209.15/7 = 29.8. (The henchmen get 19 XP and 14 gold this time.)
The second delve resulted in 869 XP for killing monsters and 3000 electrum. Both magic-users were gone from this one so XP shares are 2369/6 = 394 XP and 1500/6 = 250 gold. (197 XP and 125 gold for the henchmen.)
Total haul for most PC’s is 603 XP and 314 gold. Total haul for the henchmen is 301 XP and 157 gold. Magic-users can suck it!
(Note: I owe the players a negligible amount of XP from the Valley of Bones session.)
Cast o’ Characters
Fagor the Half-Orc Hero [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 6b, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, and 28] — 8000 + 603 XP and 314 gold. His horns have grown incredibly large. Looks frightening and diabolical. Cloven hooves His name means “astonishing hero” in orcish. Member of the Order of the Knights of Trollopulous.
Logan — Level 2 (16 hit points) [Delve 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, and 28] Plate mail and shortswords. 130 + 403.5 + 157 = 690.5 gold and 2000 + 548.5 + 301 XP.
Nasty and Dernhelm — Level 2 [Delve 12, 14, 15, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, and 28] Just a codpiece and a spear. 130 + 403.5 + 157 = 690.5 gold and 2000 + 548.5 + 301 XP. (Trained for dedicated grappling)
Peero the Sweeper — (Strength 15 an 7 hit points) [Delves 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, and 28] 31 + 80 + 165 + 403.5 + 157 = 836.5 gold and 53 + 119 + 349 + 548.5 + 301. Has antique monocle from 5th aeon.
Laurel and Hardy the barbarians (Session 28 only) Henching for Fagor after meeting him at the Octagon. 301 XP and 157 gold.
Rubiest — Human Ovate (Session 22, 25, and 28) Has a Pegasus for a best buddy because being “good” has its priviledges. 1500 + 603 XP. +157 gold for session 28.
Harry Plinkett — Human Prestidigitator (Session 22, 25, and 28) Turns dead player characters into pizza rolls. Has enough XP to level but not enough gold. Has magic hat and a scroll with several high level spells on it. +29.8 gold for session 28.
New Guy Magic-User (Session 28 only) — Really wants to find the monster women. 64 XP for session 28. No treasure!
Franz the Veteran (Session 28 only) — Made his saving throw versus gaze attack. Something to talk about in the tavern back home! 603 XP and 314 gold.
Note to players: with the campaign bifurcating, accurate records of expenditures, XP, activities, and location becomes much more important. People should be able to reconstruct how we run this game from your character sheets along. These records will be audited when you attempt to level and your grade will be adjusted accordingly. Thank you!
Note to self: To speed up the combat sequences I will take the time to make improved Referee control sheets that include armor class and significant stat bonuses. I like not knowing how much hit points people have as that forestalls temptation to fudge rolls.
Step up your game!
The Grave Yard
Lucas Mild Mantle, Veteran (Session 28 only) — He qualified to be a bard. He fell into a nasty pit trap. But he was turned to stone by a Medusa that looked like Ben Shapiro’s sister. His statue currently stands in the Octagon building of the Adventurer’s Aid Society.