Saturday, December 19, 2015

Dwimmermount with Middle Schoolers -- XI

The latest session of our Dwimmermount campaign opened with the few ragged survivors of the self-styled Fabulous Five licking their wounds in the small castle town of Muntberg.  Setting aside pride for the moment, they approached The Seekers, a more seasoned group of freelance adventurers who had recently set up shop in Muntberg with their own designs on exploring the vast megadungeon of Dwimmermount.

In a meeting at Muntberg's Green Dragon Inn, Vale managed to secure magical healing for Curteff, Y’draneal and herself, in exchange for a lengthy and detailed account of all their discoveries and encounters within the ancient fortress-dungeon.  Vale was shocked to discover that The Seekers already had a thorough map of the first level of Dwimmermount, purchased from an unnamed third party, and she was able to confirm its accuracy by checking it against Y’draneal’s own careful cartography.

Part of the group's payment for their restoration at the hands of the captain of The Seekers, a priestess of the order of Saint Tyche, was to take into their party a henchman of The Seekers, Yang the fighting man, who would accompany them and periodically report back to his masters about the group’s discoveries.

Portable AltarSeveral sessions earlier, on a visit to the city of Adamas, Vale had agreed to transport a portable ivory and wood altar to Saint Tyche to the second level of Dwimmermount’s dungeon in exchange for a blessing from Saint Tyche’s clergy.  

Unfortunately, in their last flight from the subterranean fortress-complex the altar had been left behind.  Now a fledgling priest of Saint Tyche’s order, an ill-favored fellow with twitchy fingers and a grim aspect, joined the group to see that the altar was recovered and properly consecrated in accordance with the wishes of his superiors.

Finally, Rufus the woodsman was hired in Muntberg to serve as a spearman and help round out the party’s fighting strength, bringing them to a well balanced mix of three fighters, one cleric, one thief and one wizard.

Gingerly entering the Red Gate, the explorers found no trace of the vengeful rats, Blaze the Impulsive, Saint Tyche’s altar, or the acidic blob that had made such a disturbing tableau when they had last passed this way.  It appeared that the recovery of the altar would be more of an undertaking than first anticipated.

Probing the eastern end of the dungeon, the adventurers happened upon a small library which they began to search, but Curteff soon grew bored and backtracked to try another door.  Just beyond the threshold stood a startled degenerate Dwimmerling, one of the wild-bearded little fellows whom Vale had once befriended.  Wasting no time, Curteff seized the struggling little man and popped him into his sack!  

Angry cries revealed nearly a dozen more of the twisted dwarven folk, and battle was joined, but without their flaming oil trap to help them, the creatures soon fell to a volley of arrows and spells.  With a cry of, “Hethlaaaaaaa!” (the name of her slain henchman) Vale unleashed a Burning Hands spell, the surviving deranged dwarves broke and fled, trying desperately to escape through a secret door.

As 4:30 and the end of our session approached, the group peered into a fourth room where they saw a squad of men in ancient Thulian regalia speaking together.  A swift probe confirmed that these men weren’t corporeal at all, but were merely the psychic echoes of some long-gone inhabitants of the fortress, activated by the residual azoth (raw magic) that so saturates the mountain.

Thought: for all that my players are really into our adventures, we are STILL at a place where hit modifiers and damage modifiers are slowing us down at the table even after eleven sessions.  

The complexity of “longsword: +5 to hit, 1D8+3 damage” continues to create uncertainty and make combat more of a trudge than it needs to be.  

I don’t like to switch horses mid-stream, but I’m tempted to drop the modifiers and just go to a straight 1D6 for weapon damage as I do in my B/X Homeguard campaign.  Then again, if I don’t similarly tone down the monsters to compensate, will we just end up with constant Total Party Kills?  

Also, my students live in a Pathfinder / post 3rd edition D&D world … if they ever sit down to play a tabletop RPG outside of our group then I’d like them to be able to speak the common tongue of the gamer table … which these days really favors lots of fiddly modifiers on every roll.

Hmm ... what to do ...?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Dwimmermount with Middle Schoolers -- X

Was I starting to lose my old school cred because of no PC deaths in our first ten sessions playing Dwimmermount?  Well rest assured ...

This week the group, consisting of wizards Vale and Blaze, fighters Hethla and Curteff, and rogues Y'draneal and Grim headed back into the ancient, hollow mountain, determined to score another big haul of treasure before rival groups of explorers can grab the best loot or officials can shut the place down for freelancers.

Though Y'draneal was convinced that the southwest corner of the dungeon concealed access to a lower level, he was out voted and the party chose to re-enter the territory of the small, hairy, deranged dwarves they had met some time before.

(c) Larry MacDougall 2013
Soon confronted by almost a dozen of the small, wild-eyed, belligerent, little men, negotiations seemed to be getting off to a rocky start and Vale was prepared to cast her Comprehend Languages spell, when (true to form) Blaze opened up with his Ray of Frost, causing the situation to abruptly degenerate into a melee in which the party was outnumbered two-to-one.

At the rear of the group, elven Y'draneal (who has only 8 hit points though now nearing third level) quickly took stock and retreated.  As Hethla, Vale, and Grim were swarmed by the diminutive attackers, Blaze ran and Curteff made a fighting retreat, further stacking the odds against the explorers.  Having beaten the odds a dozen times, Grim's luck finally ran out, and a shower of stones and javelins brought the wizened former soldier down.  Hethla, the broad-shouldered swordswoman, was next to fall as Vale slipped and sprawled across the oil-slick floor that these xenophobic denizens of the mountain had carefully prepared.  She scrambled for the far side of the room, even as one of the ferocious little men set the oil alight, burning her badly.  Half blind with pain and now alone, Vale fled toward the Red Gate and escape from Dwimmermount.

Image result for this girl is on fire

Meanwhile, Curteff led Y'draneal and Blaze to the southwest quarter of the dungeon.  They discovered a room that mapped the region in an elaborate mosaic, but were soon interrupted by yet another pack of porcine beastmen.  Curteff put these to flight with a stunning show of sword work, but as the trio pursued the fleeing monsters they triggered a trap, and Y'draneal was hit by a poisoned dart!  Failing his saving throw, he quickly succumbed to the venom, but Blaze, in a rare show of teamwork, was able to stabilize the elf even as he swelled grotesquely.

Apparently unfazed, Curteff and Blaze pressed onward through the next hallway and chamber (with Y'draneal unconscious, nobody bothered to map at this point) and at last discovered the long sought after steps to the second level.  Unfortunately, eager as he was to press forward, Curteff promptly blundered into a patch of yellow mold and collapsed, gagging and choking.

This was the last straw and Blaze dragged Curteff free.  He managed to get the big fighter back on his feet and they carried Y'draneal back toward the dungeon's entrance.

Fortunately for them, the dice were kind and no wandering monsters confronted them along the way.  Arriving in the entry hall, however, they were confronted by a strange sight: a well-coordinated pack of rats had coaxed some kind of shimmering translucent slime into a position blocking the only exit -- the rats had neither forgiven nor forgotten their grudge against Blaze for his impulsive slaying of their folk the session prior!  Having permitted Vale to leave earlier in exchange for revealing the location of the rest of the party, the rats had prepared their ambush carefully.

As Blaze flash-froze a rat, its companions led the gelatinous blob directly toward him.  In the end however, Curteff struck the decisive blow, pinning and hog-tying Blaze in exchange for being permitted to escape Dwimmermount with Y'draneal slung over his shoulder.  As he stumbled down the steps outside the ancient fortress, Blaze's screams could be heard echoing from beyond the red steel gates.

Image result for skeletonsSo ... the butcher's bill this session:

Hethla the steadfast fighter - slain by kobolds
Grim the rogue - likewise done in after 10 sessions
Vale - scorched to within an inch of her life and bereft of all her treasure
Y'draneal the elven rogue - poisoned and in a swoon
Curteff the swordsman - half-blinded and feverish from killer fungus
Blaze the novice wizard - seized by vengeful rats and presumed dead

Next week will be our last session of 2015 and I'm more than a little curious to see whether the group will attempt to limp back to Adamas or test their luck in a deeper, richer, and more dangerous level of the megadungeon.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Dwimmermount with Middle Schoolers -- IX

Image result for fab five
Having returned from the city-state of Adamas, "The Fabulous Five" (yes, there are actually six of them ... middle school humor is often inscrutable) prepared to press ahead toward what they felt fairly sure would be a hall leading down to the second level of the ancient mountain-fortress.  However, just as they were about to cross the threshold, Vale suddenly remembered the pile of treasure they had left heaped behind the iron door when Hakka was first possessed, then dissolved.  They had filled sacks, pockets and pouches with that first big haul, but there simply had been too much wealth to lug away in one trip.  After arguing about whether or not to split the party, the adventurers executed an about face and, with reference to Y'draneal's trusty map, hastened back to the opposite side of the first level.

"This should be it.  Do we see the iron door?"

"Nope.  The room is heaped with smashed furniture and dust."

"What about the next room?"

"It looks like it was some kind of larder long ago, but it has been completely emptied of edibles and all that is left now are some collapsed shelves and bits of broken crockery."

"Wait ... this isn't the right place ... "

Image result for black skeletonChecking their map a bit more carefully, the group corrected their course and started off for the forgotten treasury again until Curteff noticed a strange, regular seam in the left hand wall of one passage -- a secret door!  All else was instantly forgotten as the explorers jostled to be the first to explore this previously-overlooked area.  When the columns of chamber beyond released animated, black, metallic skeletons, the group made short work of them.

Image result for marble head femaleA bit of treasure was recovered, including a large marble head.  When Ivor thought he saw something moving in Y'draneal's bag of loot, the sack was hastily dumped it out, but apart from some gems and silver nothing seemed remarkable.

Vale insisted on marching back toward the entry hall in hopes of fitting the head (carried by Hethla) onto one of the statues there, but coming once more to that chamber, Curteff drew up short at the sight of a platoon of rats, moving past in a quick but orderly line.  Blaze the wizard had purchased a mastiff in Muntberg, and now they loosed the dog upon the rats, but when Vale spoke to one of the creatures she was surprised when it chittered an answer.

"Comprehend Languages!"

Image result for rats of nimhSoon Vale had called off the dog and was learning quite a bit from the rat, who had come with his platoon all the way from Adamas at the behest of "The Rat King."  Negotiations ended abruptly, however, when (for no apparent reason) Blaze blasted the rat into oblivion with a Ray of Frost.

Vale was incensed, but still lingered long enough to return the marble head to the statue of Saint Tyche.

Just then, Y'draneal keeled over with a scream, his back awash with blood!

Image result for scarab of deathA quick glance revealed that something had chewed out of his haversack, pierced his mail shirt, and was steadily boring into the hapless elf.  Ivor and Blaze worked to extract the attacker while Grim gave the thrashing elf dose after dose of the precious healing potion he brought from the city.  Finally pulled free, the attacker proved to be a small, animated jewel that had sprouted several sharp legs.  Ivor hastily smashed the strange thing with his mace while Y'draneal faded in and out of consciousness.

About this time, another rat dashed through the chamber, carrying a pilfered talisman and leading a pack of angry beastmen directly onto the group!  It seemed that Blaze's treachery was not o be forgiven by the rats!  Blaze killed the rat, but soon fell under a volley of javelins and hurled axes.  Vale and Hethla retreated toward the Red Gate and the outside world while Grim and Ivor helped Y'draneal up the steps.  Alone, Curteff held the doorway against the onrushing beastmen, suffering many wounds before the pack was finally repulsed by his flashing sword.

Over Vale's protests, the bloodied Curteff dragged Blaze with him (who proved to have been merely stunned after all) as he staggered back into sun-lit lands.

Overall, this was a strange session in which sudden impulsiveness drove the action far more than any other elements of the megadungeon ... but then again that's part of throwing down with a middle school crowd.