Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Forbidden City: An Adventure Log - Part I

It was to be the middle school student's very first paper-and-pencil RPG character.  Sorting through the box of miniatures, he spotted the raised longbow first, emerging defiantly from among the tangle of plastic limbs.  A yellow tunic and skullcap made the model stand out still further and Hale the Elf was born.

5 Hit Points, AC 14, Saving Throw 15+ ... these didn't mean too much at first, but it was clear that he was skilled with that bow and being able to strike out at enemies from a distance was all that mattered at this point.  Scanning the character sheet, the player saw that Hale also carried a torch -- hmm ... flaming arrows ... what can't be made better by being lit on fire?

In the first two days of Adventure Games Camp, sixteen players would cycle through my station in groups of four while games of Settlers of Catan, Robo Rally, and Small World were run at other tables.  On day three, players whose characters survived the first round of Dagger for Kids would advance to the next round of play. 

Though fundamentally different, this made me think for a moment about Dungeon Crawl Classics and The Funnel -- a light-hearted process in which every player begins with a stable of several fragile neophyte characters who are winnowed down until one or two remain -- these few survivors become the named player characters of the campaign.

DCC is well worth a look.
Joined by three companions (a dwarf, a knight, and a wizard), Hale left the relative safety of the recently repaired Stockade and struck out into the jungle.

GM: "Do you guys want to try getting down into the crater via The Black CanyonThe Fool's StairThe Century Tree, or something else?"

Nobody liked the sound of the canyon plus, as another player pointed out, there was that barricade blocking off the eastern end.

"We could probably ... we could probably climb over it."

"Could we climb over it?"

"Yeah, but we'd need to get there first."

"No, let's just go to the Century Tree."

Hale spoke up.

"Yeah, let's just go to the tree."

"Hey, get it?  Cen-tury.  Cen-tree."

"Okay, let's just go."

photo accessed here

I described how the jungle echoed with the cries of strange birds and how, as the morning sun burned off the mists, gnats and biting flies kept buzzing around their ears and crawling through the chinks in their armor to bite them.  I directed the players to set their miniatures out in a way that showed their marching order.  Hale was firm that he be in the middle of the group.  Nobody seemed to mind going first, but nobody wanted to be last as the group seemed to feel that this was the most vulnerable position.  Eventually the heavily-armored dwarf gave his consent to take up the rear and the expedition was on its way.

"Can I search the jungle?"

"Yeah, I search."

"How do you search?"

The players were directed back to their character sheets -- "Search / Listen roll a 1-2 on 1d6" -- and a few rounds of dice rolling followed.  

GM: "You turn up the body of what looks like it may have been an elf.  It's just a husk in rusted and shredded chainmail now.  It must be the remains of one of the explorers who came this way last year, before the monsoons cut off access to Bawal Bayan.  His gear is all ruined, but you do find a moldy, rotted pouch tucked under him."

"I look in the pouch."

"Yeah, what's in it?"

GM: "So you stick your hand in to see what's in there?"

"Yes!"

"No!"  Hale hung back.

"Wait ... wait what if there's ... like ..."

"No.  I take an arrow and stick it in and see."

GM"Okay, the rotted pouch gives way in shreds and a few large centipedes that were nesting in there come spilling out along with some coins.  The coins are greenish and tarnished.  Many stick together in a big clump as they fall into the weeds."

.

"I knew it!  That's what I was saying."

"I stomp on the centipedes."

"How many coins are there?"

A bit later and the explorers heard something rustling up ahead in the jungle.  Hale fired a warning shot into a tree and the group spread out and got ready.  I rolled for aggression: timid-to-hostile (19) and distance: far-to-close (16).

GM: "The bushes explode and a heavily-built, white-furred shape comes rushing at you."

"I shoot it!"  

Hale's arrow finds its mark, but only inflicts a point of damage.

"I'm going to stab it when it gets near."

"Magic missile - how do I cast that?"

A tense round followed as the carnivorous ape pounded at the knight's shield, but then another stroke found its mark and the ape went down.  The explorers beat a hasty retreat back to the Stockade to rest and re-equip.

"Say WHAT?"

"That was intense!"

"I know ... an ape!"

"I thought it was going to kill you."

After a quick rest, the group set back out, carefully retracing their steps, this time determined to reach the tree ...