Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Forbidden City (with teens): Session VIII

After a brief affray with killer fly larvae, my middle school students, initiates to tabletop role-playing (via Brave Halfling Publishing's fine Dagger for Kids) plunged back into the ruins of The Forbidden City.  A last-minute schedule shift in our month-long standardized testing cycle meant that two of our repeat players (including the player of Gilmie the Dwarf) were pulled from the lineup and that two students on the "stand-by" list found themselves jumping into the action.

Four elves (these kids are obsessed with ranged attacks) and two knights skirted the ruins south of The Plaza of the Sun and, after considerable deliberation, finally dared the delicate rope-walk across the Crevasse that separates the mongrelman-haunted western city from the eastern city with its temples, palaces, and promises of greater treasure.  After having lost so many explorers during a similar crossing, the group was understandably reluctant to risk the bridge.

"I'm gonna go.  I'm just gonna go."

"Yeah, I'm gonna go too."

"No, no! One at a time."

"No wait, I check the ropes again.  Are they strong?  They aren't cut or anything?"

"I roll a search check."

"What are you going to search?  They're just ropes -- all you are going to see is some string."

"You guys have to wait, you have heavy armor."

It was decided that Stubs (the one-armed elf who was narrowly saved from carnivorous apes), Viking the Elf, and their two yet-to-be named elfin brethren would cross singly, followed by Sir Reseon and the other armored knight.

"We are taking too long."

"I'm just gonna ninja-run across."

"I bet you're gonna have to make a saving throw or something."

"I brought a plank."

"How is that going to help you?"

"Maybe you guys could take your armor off and tie it to a rope and ... and [making whirling lasso motions] like throw it across to us."

"No."

"No.  I'm keeping my armor."

As the crossing was made (with considerable angst) I rolled a wandering monster check (negative) and tossed a few more dice just to build tension (redundant).  The elves had no trouble walking the rope, scarcely even needing the parallel guide ropes.  The knights however, unwilling to doff so much as a solitary sabaton, had to make a saving throw to cross safely.  Given that they were proceeding with caution and under no real time constraint, they each made the roll with a substantial bonus.

from warchronicle.com/50th_div
As  Sir Reseon finished his crossing, however, the ruins behind him began to crawl with vengeful mongrelmen!  A shower of elfin arrows forced the degenerate natives of Bawal Bayan back into cover and the group used this momentary lull to reform their marching order (knights at the fore) and dash to the foot of The Grand Stair.  Having learned their lesson in caution at no small price, the explorers examined the stair closely before beginning the ascent toward The Serpent Gate and Palace above.  Sure enough, strange sigils were spied by the elves, traced in the moldering plaster on either side of the stair.

"Okay, any wizard can attempt to decipher the symbols to discover what they mean." [not actually a rule in Dagger for Kids, but seemed a reasonable ad hoc ruling]

"But all our wizards are dead."

"That's true." 

"It's probably just a warning that says 'danger' or something."

"We could try to climb up the sides."

"I only have one arm.  I can't climb up."

"I'm for trying to climb."

"We could climb up and let down a rope for him."

"What about us?  All the armor makes us really heavy.  How are you going to pull us up?"

"So, are you going to split up?"

"No!"

"Okay, we just go up."

"Roll a saving throw."

I decided some time before that the rogue wizard who has established his sanctum in The Palace was using the tasloi as his diminutive bully-boys and slaves.  Disdainful of the mongrelmen, he still had set a minor ward to keep them at bay.  Three of the elves failed their saves took on a sickly, yellowish-green pallor, and grew weak.
Ricard Canals [PD - US]
The explorers flirted briefly with the idea of a retreat, but instead plunged onward in hopes of breaching The Serpent Gate.  As they approached the great gateway (decorated with carved snakes ... what else?) they eyed the greenish metal portals that blocked their way.

"We're gonna try to break them open."

"Okay, but remember that you were weakened by the magic spell, right?"

"Well, then the knights will do it."
    
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Woken from their slumber, tasloi guards emerged, blinking onto the roof of the gate.  Soon a race began, the knights pounding upon the gates to burst the bar and force them open against the tasloi guards who began to shower the explorers from above with stones and darts.  I was surprised when, after three sustained rounds of attack, all of the characters were still on their feet and the left-most portal had been heaved open.  The group dashed into the courtyard and came up short -- this place was clear of rubble and debris and could it be?  Were there actually tended gardens and the sound of a fountain coming from somewhere beyond the open doors of The Palace ahead?  Heedless of the guards repositioning themselves above, the explorers stopped to listen and scan the courtyard.

"You see something pale moving under the eaves of a pagoda near the southern wall."

"What's a pagoda?"

"Like a gazebo."

"You could have just said that."

"It's a pair of those vicious, white apes.  They swing down from the rafters in response to a gong that rings atop The Serpent Gate behind you and begin coming this way."

A furious barrage, supplemented with a magic missile, slew one ape, even as the other completed its rush.  So fierce was the explorers' response that I had the beast make a saving throw or flee, but it was in a wild rage by this point.  Stubs went down, his throat bitten through.

"Are you going to save him?"

"No, I'm keeping that spell for myself!"

"What?!"

The beast was brought down, but not before it felled one of the knights and battered her senseless on the paving stones.

The group now reduced to four, prepared to enter The Palace.