Friday, November 18, 2016

Dwimmermount Season Two: Much Ado About Rats

We opened the episode with a gaggle of first level characters down on the fourth level of the mountain fortress, clinging to a fortuitous alliance with a platoon of bellicose bull-men. 

Image result for minotaurHaving roasted a rat-man with magic, the big, bovine brutes decided that the adventurers were both amusing and potentially useful. Commandant Bik, impressed with Oliver's spell (and not realizing that the timid mage's sorcery was exhausted) and charmed by adept Deimos's fast talking, agreed to hire the explorers as mercenaries to help his bulls defeat Krishka's rat-folk.

Bik agreed to Deimos's bid of 500 gold for the rat-matron's head so quickly that they realized that they had either asked far too low an amount or that Bik planned to doublecross them.

The five characters from last session were joined by three others (each run by a first time player), on the fairly thin rationale that they had become separated from their ecclesiastic expedition by teleportation traps and were captured by Bik's troops. The brutes just assumed that the strangers all belonged together.

The party:
  • Deimos the mage, level 1 MU (and de facto leader, though out of spells, this player's second time playing)
  • Master Coleman, level 1 MU (complete newbie)
  • Rudolf the goblin (virtual newbie)
  • Salren the elf (this player has been in perhaps a half dozen sessions)
  • Lucin the archer (level 1 thief, first tabletop RPG session for this player too)
  • Oliver the adept, level 1 MU (no spells remaining, played by a seasoned RPG veteran with more than 150 sessions under his belt)
  • Thanatos, a veteran of earlier expeditions (level 1 fighter, played by a veteran of my summer games class)
  • Excalibur the swordsman  (level 1 fighter, played by a 2-year games club vet)
Provided a pair of bull-man escorts and the password to the teleport traps that had plagued them last session, the crew advanced into rat territory.  The beastmen drew back to let the group do its work.

"Oh no, they are going to ambush us!  He said those hoof prints in the dust were suspicious."

"Um, he said, 'conspicuous' ."

"Well ... still, I don't trust 'em."

Image result for split the party


Dwimmermount is a series of stacked and jumbled mazes of course, so when the inevitable branch appeared in the tunnel ahead the middle schoolers did EXACTLY what I've come to expect ... they split the party.


Image result for split the partyFor my sanity I insisted that the players seat themselves according to their marching order.  A quick shuffle later and both groups had positioned their nearly defenseless mages at the front and their heavily armored fighters in the rear ... a puzzling choice, because even if the newer players hadn't quite realized the importance of armor class yet (especially when the average party member had 4 hp or less), it seems like the vets might have spoken up at this point.

Team North took a left and halted when the glare of their torch was reflected by several pairs of eyes.

"Those aren't minotaurs."

"Maybe they are baby minotaurs."

"I don't think so."

"I ready my bow."

"Hey, those rat-men we saw before were invulnerable.  They just kept healing their wounds."

"Yeah, but you killed that one."

"With my spell ... my ONE spell ... I can't do that again today."

"Well ... here, I have this mutant jawbone ... give that to them.  Maybe we can make friends.  Tell them we come in peace and give them the bone."

"Guys, we were hired to kill them."

Meanwhile Team South popped a door open and came nose to nose with a second pack of rat-men.  The abrupt light and the presence of loud intruders spooked the creatures and they took flight toward a stair that descended to dungeon level five.  As many battered substitute teachers will tell you ... the one thing you must never do with middle schoolers is show fear ... they can smell it.

"I shoot one with my bow!"

"I'm gonna swing at them with my shovel."

"I run after them and try to learn their language!"

Image result for startle easily back in greater numbersThe gleeful pursuit was short-lived, however, for upon arriving on level five the rat-men were reinforced by three more of their kind.  The party was now outnumbered two-to-one, and though easily startled, the creatures soon returned ... and in greater numbers.

"Hey, we are peaceful ... we don't want to fight you."

DM: "You tell this to the one you shot in the back?"

"Yes."

DM: "Chittering in anger they spring at you with notched knives and bared teeth."

Image result for skavenExcalibur took a deep wound, leaving his swordarm dangling and useless as he tried to staunch the bleeding.  Deimos's heel was punctured right through his boots by long, yellow teeth.  Rudolf the goblin switched from his (?) shovel to a filthy blanket, snapping it at the rat-creatures like a whip to keep them at bay.   For his part, Lucin made no more attacks, but stuck doggedly to his efforts to negotiate despite being attacked several times.  During a lull in the fight one of the beasts replied:


"Throw down your bow, leave your dead, and depart or we shall kill you."

Back up on level four Master Coleman (played by a novice) worked on negotiating his own deal with the half dozen ratmen that now blocked Team North's progress.

"What can we do that will make you trust us?"

Rat-dudes: "Put out that torch."

"No way!"

"I can see in the dark, I don't care."

"Um ... okay."

Emboldened the rat-creatures approached and began binding any character who didn't resist.  

"Don't you trust us now?"

Rats: "We shall take you to Krishka.  She will judge you."

"Oh no, I'm scared of people with 'K' names!"

Thanatos wasn't going to go quietly and, though blind, he began swinging away with his axe.  Oliver immediately protested.

"Don't!  Your going to hit me!"

Image result for roll one dieI gave it a one-in-six chance and let the players roll ... sure enough, Oliver took a hit to the side of the head and was sent sprawling.  With the other party members having already surrendered, Thanatos agreed to go quietly.

Oliver's death checks indicated that he had been struck with the back of the axe, and though unconscious he would soon recover.  Team North was rounded up and marched off to see the matron of the rat-folk.

Down on level five Lucin threw down his bow and even offered the rat creatures a few of his precious, silver coins.

DM: "When you hold the coins out they recoil, twitching."

"They're alergic to silver!"

"Okay, sorry.  I put them away."

Despite Deimos's efforts to staunch the bleeding, Excalibur's wound proved too grievous and the fighter expired.  Stripping his body of arms and gear, he was left for the rats as Team South retreated back up the steps to level five.  

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Eight players is a big group for middle school because the attention spans are (usually) shorter, my comfort zone is three to six, so I had to keep things moving that much faster at the table to keep them engaged.

Thank goodness I was running house-ruled B/X this year vs last year's 5th edition, otherwise I might have lost them.

Even so, we only managed 4 rooms/encounters in 80 minutes ... which isn't terrible (they had fun) but I was really conscious of the effort to keep pulling each player back into the narrative.

Related imageWe had exactly 40 students at club this week and, though I was posted at one corner of the library, background noise became a factor too ... the farthest players from me sometimes had to repeat their actions.  I've never gamed at a convention, but that must be something that DMs in that setting really have to work around.

That being said, I'm delighted that tabletop roleplaying continues to make a strong showing in kid-interest each week as students select which table to game at (4 of our eight tables this week by my count).  Even more importantly, (in my mind anyway) kids are continuing to run RPGs for each other, which is pretty crazy when you consider that they all have interactive digital gaming at their fingertips.