As I write this, I admit that I barely have an idea of what day it is. I mean, it’s one thing to run a marathon roleplaying session once a year or so. It’s another thing entirely to do them on two consecutive weekends. I’m not sure, but I think this is normal for some of the players in the group. They are enough into rpg’s that playing from 2PM to 1AM is par for the course.
So how do you prep for something like this? Well I reread an entire dungeon level. I read up on monsters and magic items that I wasn’t familiar with. I rolled up two new sample characters– a shaman and a priestess– in order to have extra pregens or npc’s on hand. (I wanted to gradually incorporate more of the offbeat ACKS classes into the game over time so that the players would have more options without overloading my capacity to keep up with it all.) On email and in comments on the session report, we hashed out rules for healing proficiencies, mortality checks, movement rates in the dungeon, banking gold as xp for replacement characters, and what the workaround is for dealing with “hopeless characters” in this game. (Hint: all of the characters are hopeless, y’all.)
When the players showed up, the rules printouts got fought over and the arguments over proficiency selection heated back up. I made it clear that I had no intention of making any house rules to “fix” any of the things I’d been complaining about.The snacks came out in force, too: cheese puffs, Kit Kat minis, Utz Ripples potato chips, Oreos, pretzels, farm fresh milk, earl grey tea, a two liter bottle of Mountain Dew, a jug of Lipton brand sweet tea, a pack of Slim Jim Bacon Jerky, a box of fried chicken from the gas station, and a case of Icehouse beer. Not exactly iron rations, but we were not going to be pausing the game for anything.
There were three problems with it, though…. Thinking I’d be helpful I tossed the Mountain Dew into the fridge and the players never found it again. (Obviously they failed a search check there.) The bacon jerky got opened and consumed before I could even try it. (Mmmmhrh… bacon…!) And I can’t be sure, but I think the beer played a not insignificant role in getting some player characters killed. It maybe had something to do with some really strange spell selection choices, too. And my notes on the session’s events definitely get more spartan as the night wore on…! (Note to the galley: Icehouse no longer to be served at gaming functions.)
I kicked things off by bringing out the area map and talking up a few points of interest:
I intentionally ignored all of this for the first couple of sessions. If we didn’t keep playing, the regional map would be irrelevant. The players did not seem entirely bored by this as some of the incidental information is maybe tied in to some of the things they had been puzzling over. I gave them the “Jeffro gaming promise” that they really could go anywhere and do anything on this map. The campaign setting is in play, and if they wanted to just go off and get into something completely random just because it sounded cool, I would see that it happened even if I had to create the material myself. (Go off the map edge. I dare you!) No one’s ever taken me up on that sort of thing– and people have even laughed at that, too… but it’s for real. Even if it’s unlikely that anything will distract these players from conquering a truly gigantic dungeon.
Anyway, that’s on the table now. If it ever matters, it will matter. If it doesn’t… well, that was fifteen minutes of game time devoted to fleshing out a bit of the background. Let’s go loot some monsters…!
Sixth Sortie: “Murder Hobos Visit Murder Home Owners”
In the last session, the players had taken a short jaunt down to the second level where they engaged out some orcs. After sleep spelling one group and meleeing some others, they left the dungeon without even searching the orc leader’s throne room. Coming back the very next day (the party needed to recharge their spells), they found the room completely empty.
The players continued on, walking through a room full of a glowing lichen and tentatively exploring a disgusting trash heap. Going back a little and continuing down a long hallway, they come to a door. Opening it up, it’s clear they’ve found their quarry. Inside were seven orcs and their leader. The players quickly sleep spelled them and continued in. There was a door at the opposite side of the room that one of the orcs had fled through during the commotion, though….
Soon the party was arrayed around that door fighting orcs that were charging through it. Bogdar threw a torch into the room, revealing that there were twelve of them. The party kept cool. They lobbed flaming oil into the room, taking out several weaker orcs with the splash damage. (I ignored the grenade scatter rules for this and just made rulings that made sense instead.) The players passed on taking cleaves whenever it would have messed up their position. The shaman Yigg’s pet snake took out three orcs on his own and earned a lot of respect.
The players looked like they were in complete control, but orcs standing on the bodies of their fallen comrades finally got lucky. Bogdar had fallen early on and the mage Raph bailed out of combat to attend to him immediately. (I ruled that this would take her full attention for several combat rounds– like EMT’s freaking out giving CPR and stuff. Tending the fallen immediately is not a spell-like action, but takes time and attention. This ruling raised some eyebrows, but the players eventually went along with it.) One orc killed the snake in a single hit and then used his cleave to go after Brock. I don’t know if that was the hit that did it, but Brock went down as well at some point.
The orcs did not fail their moral checks, but fought on to their deaths. The players were worried at the end that everything was going to just fall apart. Resolving the mortality checks, Bogdar ended up returning to 1 hit point and needing two weeks of bed rest. (I ruled he was going to have to be walked out of the dungeon and couldn’t fight anymore for this sortie.) Brock got luckier– he just needed one night to recover. I think all the healing proficiences were a success this time, so these two characters were at full hit points after this. Things didn’t turn out so well for Yigg’s pet snake– that critter was just plain dead. The shaman won’t get a replacement king cobra until he levels up… which is basically in forever.
XP Awards: 403/423/443, depending on the prime requisite bonus.
Gold: 2625 gold divided seven ways came out to 375 per player character.
Abimelek “banked” 500 gold to be passed on as XP to her replacement character. (I could have sworn that this character was male when we started the campaign, but the players keep correcting me about “Abbey’s” sex.)
Bogdar had banked most all of his remaining gold at the start of the session, which meant he didn’t have to contribute any to replenish the party’s supply of healing herbs and military oil! (There’s an evil player tactic for you right there…!)
The Artful Dodger leveled up. Rolling for his new hit points, he got a “1”. Stinky. But at least he gets a cleave now. Plus all his thief skills got bumped.
Path on level 2A: 1 – 41 – 38 – 37 – 36 – 34 – 33 – 32 – 33 – 36 – 37 – 38 – 41 – 1 (The party came to and from the stairs on level one in the usual path.)
Seventh Sortie: “No Good Deed…”
The players wanted another to pull another heist like the last one. They wanted gold. They wanted XP. They wanted to level up. They were just so close now… and they’d had a couple of good hauls the past two times– it looked like it was in the bag. When I pointed out that it had taken about sixteen hours to level up their first character, one of them was pretty disgusted. It’s basically six game sessions to get to second level– if you live. That seems nuts. Of course, the only thing dumber is people leveling up every session. Or people leveling up mid way through an adventure! (I see people discussing that on Google+ and it blows my mind. What kind of game are they playing…?!)
Bogdar’s player was hot to roll up a replacement character, so he banked his share of the gold and made a new one: a magic user. (Note: I have since had second thoughts on characters being able to use the banked XP for new characters while the player that set it aside is still alive.) He chose Detect Magic for his spell much to the chagrin of some of the other players. Rolling up his random spell formula that he got for his intelligence bonus… he got Read Languages. At least one of the other players was pulling his hair out over this and there was heated discussion about proper spell selection tactics. (“Is there really any other choice but Sleep? Can you imagine what this group could pull with two sleep spells on hand…? Agh!”)
The new mage broke with the party tradition yet again by choosing Loremastery for his class proficiency. (I think he took Alchemy for one of his general slots.) He shared three rumors with the party and kept one result to himself.
The party didn’t seem to mind this intel too much, but they were still discombobulated over this spell thing. Making their way back into the dungeon, they had this idea to go back to the orichalcum box they found before and to try to figure out how to open it. Adding to their confusion, they tried use a map that was reconstructed from memory and which did not correspond to the actual dungeon. Frustration levels started to rise….
The players took a left turn at the stairs thinking it would take them directly to the shrine they were looking for. They instead found a door that the thief could not unlock and that caused a fighter’s arm to go numb when he tried to force it. Confused, the players went back to the stairs and turned toward the annoying “letters on the pillars” puzzle room.
Wanting to reward the “in character” proficiency choice, I turned to the player running the guy with Loremastery and said I’d give him a hint if he made his 18+ throw on a d20. He rolled a natural twenty, so I gave a hint about this… which the players claimed to already know. Doh! But they seemed to hunker down to think this through anyway. They tried a couple of wrong answers… and then one of the players actually figured it out.
I think the player running the shaman Yigg acted on it first. Doing the obvious thing, he went through the steps… heard heavenly choir music in his head and then… in a blast of light, he permanently lost three hit points. The fighter Abimelek tried it, too… and he permanently lost hit points. Aggravated, but curious… the cleric tried it. (This was the obnoxious character that took stacked healing proficiencies and that bugged me so much.) This character… was simply struck dead.
The party was stunned and very nearly outraged. But they were also utterly determined to figure out what was happening. (Why should you get killed for solving a puzzle?! Why?!! Aren’t you supposed to get a big fat XP bonus or something?!) The guy playing Raph (the female mage with the Sleep spell) went through the routine… she heard the heavenly choir music… and then… she was granted the ability to case a clerical spell daily. Which one? [Rolls dice.] Uh… well… Resist Cold. The players were utterly disgusted. All of that… for Resist Cold! Well… the guy that had chosen Detect Magic over Sleep thought it was pretty cool. But no one wanted to hear anything about spells from him right at that moment!
The party went on, leaving the dead cleric behind. They came to a door and were completely confused by it even though they’d been there in the previous session. They argued, open the door, insisted they hadn’t opened the door and then opened it again anyway. It was the room where they’d killed the hobgoblins. Passing through there was a lot of back and forth about the map and about what room was where. The players went on to the shrine and knocked the Zardoz type heads off the statues and were then stymied by the orichalcum box which they couldn’t open. They turned to go and found that Oleant (the Loremaster mage) had left without them to work on correcting his player-made map.
This started a bit of an argument about whether it was sane for him to do that and what they would know to do and what would be in character. The players discussed this and decided to investigate one more room without him just so that the sortie wouldn’t be a complete bust. They went across the hall, took a right at a t-intersection, and came to a door. They listened and didn’t hear anything on the other side. They got lined up in front of the door just like they’d done with the orcs. And then… they forced it open! Inside, they saw in the torchlight four shadows on the wall in front of them. The things peeled themselves off and then came towards them in the flickering light.
This would be the point where the players completely lost it.
The thief and the mage took off at twice the speed as the guys wearing plate. This left the fighters to mull over what their speed was relative to these monsters that they were completely afraid of. There was a brief heated discussion about how a chase would actually work out, but then the player running the fighter Abimelech declared that she was slamming the door and spiking it while everyone else ran way. This calmed everyone down a little. The players seemed to think they could all get away and they’d just lose one fighter.
The thief and the mage ran past the lost party member Oleant on their way out and he followed them. The thief and the mage then ran on up the stairs to leave the dungeon. But Oleant had stopped to drag the cleric’s body out with him! As he made his way towards the stairs, the fighters in plate mail showed up. But in that exact moment, these last few player characters heard snorting and scuffling sounds around an unexplored corner.
Oleant dropped the cleric’s body and ran up the stairs. Two hobgoblins emerged and started wailing on the fighter Brock. He was soon dropped in a monstrous cleave attack… and Abimelech simply could not hit and went down within a couple of combat rounds. Now there were three dead player characters at the foot of the stairs. Oleant caught up with Yigg the shaman and Raph and calmed them down. They decided to quick go back and deal with the hobgoblins so that they could tend to the fallen.
This caused a discussion about what the hobgoblins were liable to do. There is basically no rule anywhere that can help sort out a situation this crazy, so I made a d12 table to resolve it on the spot and explained it to my players. Some of them made suggestions which I incorporated into the chart:
I have to say, it is rare for players to be as invested in a single die roll as this one. They were rapt as I let it drop. The d12 came up on an eleven. The players were delighted. They rolled for initiative and cast their sleep spell. Getting back to the bodies, Brock had a -3 penalty on the mortality chart and Abimelech was at a -7. (I randomly determined that the hobgoblins did not take the time to issue a coup de gras.) It was all for naught, though, because the Mortality checks declared that both of these characters were stone cold dead.
This was devastating.
The players looted the bodies and left. Oleant– still acting as independently as possible– drug the cleric out by himself, taking a chance with possible wandering monster encounters on his own and further irritating the rest of the party. The remaining party members made it back to town without incident, however… and so did Oleant.
XP Awards: 15/15/16… for killing four hobgoblins and dividing it between four surviving player characters. (!!)
Gold: None, y’all! NONE!!!!
The current party at this point: The Artful Dodger (Thief 2), Raph (Mage), Yigg (Shaman), and Oleant (Mage). Raph’s fighting doggie is still with the party. And of course Bogdar was safely recovering back in town…!
Eighth Sortie: “I Coulda Had Spider Powers…!”
So you have these players going from the elation of putting the smack down on a massive number of orcs, to suddenly descending into outright terror and panic and running like heck. Right when they were on the verge of leveling everyone up, too. They were table flipping mad, I tell you. But all that rage got channeled into rolling up characters. These guys were not leaving until they rolled Dwimmermount. We had time. The night was young…!
Three players took up the offer to roll up five characters, run the best one, keep two back for later, and then give the remaining two characters to the referee for NPC’s.
Yigg’s player came up with this:
I think it was The Artful Dodger’s player that came up with this… which I think he basically ignored:
And I’m pretty sure it was Raph’s player that made this:
The guy running Bogdar and Oleant didn’t have to roll up any replacement characters. Everyone was going in with two apiece this time. Yigg’s player wanted to have two different characters drop gold into the “bank” for the same replacement character, but I ruled that each character could only bank XP for their own replacement even if players were running multiples.
There were lots of discussion about coordinating the party composition and what proficiencies were the best to get. Yigg’s player had taken a fighter… and Raph’s player suggested taking Berserkergang while using a polearm from the second rank. (Thinking through some of their past battles, this looked like it’d be devastating: the fighter could cleave monsters that are in melee with the lead guys in plate… he could go nuts with being a likely target of the monsters… and on a cleave, he could have an insane amount of damage output.) Raph’s player… he came in with the chaotic fighter Angus. He took tracking and a fighting style. The guy running the Artful Dodger came in with a cleric. He chose Laying on Hands and Knowledge of Termaxian Lore.
Note that these characters were not overwhelmingly awesome… and when they die, they will be replaced by one of two already known mediocre characters… with the class already determined. This means that party make up in the future will get increasingly random– a perhaps unanticipated side effect of rolling up five characters at once here. Not going down that route leaves a player with with a little more latitude to fill empty character slots with something closer to what’s actually needed. I don’t know how the players feel about it– I can’t imagine them being happy knowing just how bad their next two characters are going to be– but I could see the changes in party compositions leading to some… er… creative dungeon crawling tactics in the future as they end up having to make do with what they’ve got.
Now… it takes me a half an hour to roll up a new character when I’m by myself. I’m sure it took the players a good hour to sort all this out. When they finally settled down, I read the section on Dwimmermount’s history that having a party member with Termaxian Lore entitled them to hear. Now… I know that if I’d read any of this during the first session, peoples’ eyes would have just glazed over. After delving into this thing as much as they have though… with so many weird things that they’ve explored… I won’t say that the players were enraptured or that they hung on every word. But they did pay careful attention to every nuance of the background blah blah. You gotta understand, too– players normally check out as soon as someone starts reading anything remotely like boxed text in these games. The fact that the game play could put them in a place where they actually cared…! Well, I’d never seen it before…!
But yeah, Dwimmermount is a great big mess of a thing… and a lot of stuff went on down there… and there’s a pile of backstory or something… but the important thing right now is that there are some monsters in it that are going to get whooped. But not on the second level. The players were going to stay strictly on the first, cleaning that sucker out finally. (There are SHADOWS on the second level… and the party doesn’t have any magic weapons. But the party does have people that have memorized every single D&D monster ever and know that there’s just no point! You see, they get it. They’ve seen the writing on the wall here.)
SO… the players made a bee line for the old map room and made their way towards the kobold caves they’d dismissed as stupid in earlier sessions. They checked out one room that turned out to be full of rats. It didn’t look like enough to be worth bothering with, so they lobbed in some flaming oil maybe and then slammed the door shut. I think enough rats got taken out by the splash damage so they went back in and mopped them up easily. They laughed at the grafitti in the room. (It’s now a running joke in the game blog scene, but it was new to the players.) Heading around the corner they explored another room that I think had some kind of magic chain mail from the distant past in it. So far so good.
Going into the caves region, they turned a corner and saw a dwarf, a giant spider, and some kobolds. The bad guys were surprised, too. I think the party sleep spelled them and took the dwarf hostage. Then they headed back to the store room where they’d found the chain mail. They spiked the door and interrogated the dwarf a while. I’m not sure what the players got out of it, but they definitely seemed to think he was crazy. He kept talking about the kobolds like they were his babies or something. Weird.
The players decided that they didn’t want to just go back to town. They wanted to to set watches and let the mage rest and recover his spells. I checked wandering monsters and got mostly vermin stuff that I didn’t think would bother the players. There was one place that the dwarf was encouraging the players to go, so they didn’t go there. They went around a different corner in the caves and saw a horde of kobolds. They used their captive to throw these guys off balance. The dwarf kept calling out, “It’s s’allright! It’s s’allright!” But the kobolds got sleep spelled and then wiped out.
The party then went to investigate this room that the dwarf had encouraged them to go to. Going down the passageway they came upon these huge crab spiders, but the new fighter used his Mimicry proficiency to imitate the dwarf’s call! “It’s s’allright! It’s s’allright!” This threw the monsters off balance and the players continued on without taking any casualties.
Coming into this last room, though… the party heard strains of Black Sabbath music wafting through the dungeon air… and then this huge demon-spider materializes in front of them in a puff of sulfur-tinged smoke. It just starts talking. Somehow the new guy fighter Angus has an affinity with this thing and really gets into it for a second. The spider-thing is like, “yeah, you know the drill. I can totally set you up. Power. Wealth. Everything. And you know all I want is one little thing that doesn’t mean anything to you in this game: your soul. Yep… power, baby. It’s all yours. All you gotta do in return is work for me in the afterlife… for all eternity! But what do you care about that?!”
Muh-ha-ha. There’s more Black Sabbath music and Angus is like, “eh… what kind of power?” The demon-spider thing replies, “spider powers, man! You wanna be able to cast web at will? You want poison powers? Think about it…. It could be awesome!” Electric guitars are blaring out the guitar solo from Highway Star now.
Now this is the same player is the guy that runs the mage that has Resist Cold once a day now. The forces of Good were looking pretty lame just then, so incompetent that they arbitrarily kill the clerics that are supposed to be serving them. And these insanely stupid powers that were on the table here… it’s weird… but they were actually tempting on some level. But the players know that demon things are liable to be liars… or that there’s probably some kind of catch or something. They actually think better of this and… run away! And as they hurried through the cave passages, Angus looks back and hears the epic sound of “Warpig” echoing through the tunnels behind him. He says, “I Coulda Had Spider Powers…!”
The party comes to this bubbling silvery spring. I can’t remember how we played this but I think the Loremaster made another insane proficiency check of 18+. The players were very cautious about stuff given the skeletons they’d fought and the weird contraptions they’d messed with. But told them it was a key material in magical engineering or something. The mage Raph bottled some up into a water skin and the party moved on.
It was crazy late at this point and the details from here on out are going to get sketchy. They came to a room that had bunches of statues and kobolds in it. There was a fight. I don’t think the players had a problem. They went into another cave and found a box with some kind of bone in it. The thief picked it up and it caused him damage. They went into another room where there was a statue of a goddess holding gold coins in her hands. They cast Detect Magic and the bone and the statue both glowed. I think the party was tired of getting killed due to weird magical stuff and just left. They found some stores… entire barrels of military oil. I think they went on to one more room and fought one last batch of kobolds. Then they went back to town with the dwarf hostage.
I don’t know what it was that caused the players to go back. Usually it’s because a player gets dropped. I really can’t remember what happened at this point and the players don’t seem to care. They’re alive. They have XP. They’ve avenged their fallen characters.
(T) The Artful Dodger — attended all sorties
XP: 177 + 43 + 53 + 175 + 442 + 403 + 15 + 192 = 1500 * 1.1 = 1650
Gold: 271.4 + 139 = 410.4
Banked: 1400 XP for next character
Notable Equipment: Box with some kind of weird bone in it
(M) Raph — attended all sorties
XP: 177 + 43 + 53 + 175 + 442 + 403 + 15 + 192 = 1500 * 1.1 = 1650
Gold: 95 + 139 = 234
Banked: 1400 XP for next character
Notable Equipment: Awesome War Dog, “Book of Fighting”, waterskin full of Azoth
Special Abilities: Can cast Resist Cold once a day!
(F) Bogdar the Tolerant — missed the third and seventh sorties
XP: 177 + 43 + 175 + 442 + 403 + 192 = 1432 * 1.1 = 1575
Gold:556.6 + 139 = 695.6
Banked: 975 XP (300 spent to hold a parade in the heroes’ honor, and 674 given to the church of Typhon.)
Notable Equipment: Thulian chain mail (better AC, lighter weight)
(S) Yigg-Tsu — sorties six to eight
XP: 403 + 15 + 192 = 610 x 1.1 = 671
Gold: 375 + 139 ==> 214
Banked: 1000 XP for next character
Note 1: Dropped from 6 hit points to 3 hit points permanently due to the weird pillars of Truthiness.
Note 2: Bernard the King Kobra is dead! A new totem animal will appear when Yigg levels up.
(M) Oleant — sorties seven and eight only
XP: 15 + 192 = 207 x ??? = ___
Gold: ___ + 139 = ___
Notable Equipment: Potion of Healing for returning Dorian’s body to the church.
(C) Eldred — eighth sortie only
XP: 192 x 1.1 = 211
Gold: 60 + 139 = 199
Notable Equipment: War Hammer +1 (Dwarven make, adamantine)
(F) Angus — eighth sortie only
Starting XP: 500 (from the book o’ fighting!)
Earned XP: 192 x 1.1 = 211
Gold: 0 + 139 = 139
(F) Jaina Yolo — eigth sortie only
Starting XP: 1000 (500 from Abimelech drunkenly attempting to donate cattle to the church of Tyche, and 500 from reading the book of fighting)
Earned XP: 192 x 1.1 = 211
Gold: 25.8 + 139 = 164.8
Rest in peace:
(C) Virgil: Killed by a training automaton on level 1 of Dwimmermount during the second sortie. (Returned to the church in Muntberg for a proper Typhonian burial)
(F) Shard: Killed by a silver skeleton on level 2 of Dwimmermount during the fourth sortie.
(C) Dorian: Killed by touching the six pillars of Truthiness on level 2 of Dwimmermount during the seventh sortie. (Returned to the church in Muntburg for a proper Typhonian burial.)
(F) Brock: Killed by hobgoblins on level 2 of Dwimmermount during the seventh sortie. (Left in the dungeon!)
(F) Abimelek: Killed by hobgoblins on level 2 of Dwimmermount during the seventh sortie (Left in the Dungeon!)