Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dwimmermount with Middle Schoolers -- XXIV

Session 24 began with the (recently renamed) Damaged Souls on level two of the dungeon, in the custody of Rurik the dwimmer-goblin centurion and his platoon of over-sized goblin troops.

Fortunately, the explorers were permitted to rest in the Shrine of Luck and Vale finally discharged her obligation to Saint Tyche, placing the portable altar there after a delay of 21 sessions!  Since Saint Tyche is the patron of Fortune (both good and ill), Vale was required to re-roll for hit points and actually came out one point higher than her old, pre-brain-fever total.

Meanwhile the big, red-skinned goblins rifled through the party's possessions and under Centurion Rurik's orders issued to the group only those weapons and supplies that it was decided they would need in their role as highly expendable scouts.  In exchange for access to the Shrine of Luck and cessation of hostilities, the explorers had agreed to explore level three and locate any active "stasis chambers" that the goblin commander could use to bolster his forces with additional soldiers.

Vale was denied her staff (surmounted by the cracked skull of a necrophidius), but offered a club instead ("No, I have a crowbar.  I'm good.").  Sergei, Hurtis and Kenny were shaken down for goods and each had to surrender some of their gear, but somehow Ivor was overlooked in the process.

Rurik insisted that one of the explorers remain with him as a hostage to guard against treachery by the party as they explored the halls below and Yang was chosen to stay behind.

The player characters descending were:
  • Vale the Grey M-U 3
  • Kenny the Magician M-U 1
  • Y'draneal elven thief
  • fighting men Ivor, Sergei, and Hurtis

With a squad of four big goblins trailing them, the group descended to level three where another group of sentries awaited.  These hulking, sallow-faced fellows had
"troll blood in 'em" according to the other goblins.  
Pausing to examine some strange, archaic machinery (including a font covered with what seemed to be transparent metal), Kenny opined that some of the materials found here may have come from an entirely different world ... though just what that may actually mean remains to be seen.

As the group moved into a long chamber that was once decorated with ornate mosaics (the tesserae of which now crunched under their boots), relations with the goblin patrolmen steadily worsened.  What had begun as snide remarks from Vale quickly escalated into insults and threats.
When Vale muttered, "Okay, that's it--you're gonna get two crow bars to the skull," the goblins had enough of the taunting.  Now out of their centurion's earshot, the goblins shut the door behind them and called Vale over for a reckoning.  The adventurers made a half-hearted attempt to bribe the big goblins into peace with some food, but when it became clear that they intended to take it all, Kenny stepped forward and cast his Sleep Spell!

Two of the dwimmer-goblins were stunned and Vale followed with her Burning Hands, managing also to catch the hapless Kenny in the sheet of flames.  A fierce fight erupted and the big mixed-breed goblins soon came to reinforce their brethren, who had focused their attacks on the wizards.

Vale cast Change Self to disguise herself as one of the foes and pretended to take Y'draneal hostage, keeping both of them out of the melee.  

Fierce blows were traded and eventually the goblins were pushed back to the doorway, but to Ivor's dismay he observed that the wounds of one of the "thoghrin" goblins seemed to be closing right before his eyes!  

There was a tense moment when Hurtis withdrew from the line to pat down the prone Kenny and snatch his flask of alchemists' fire, briefly allowing the enemy to flank the other two fighters, but Sergei's quick footwork and skill with his ax kept them on their feet until Hurtis returned. 

Once five of the armored goblins had fallen, the rest withdrew in good order, pulling the door shut behind them.

At this point Hurtis decided to cut loose with the alchemists' fire.

"Hmm.  You aren't a wizard or an alchemist and you've never actually used alchemists' fire before.  Do you want to throw the flask at them as they close the door, or do something else?" 

"Um ... I want to open it."

"Okay, the door is almost closed."

"Light it with a torch!"

"The door is shut now.  Do you still want to throw it?"

"Blow it out!"

3D6 damage later, a blackened and scorched Hurtis was somehow still on his feet.  Beyond the closed door the dwimmer-goblins could be heard preparing their defenses.

Kenny failed his death check and was found to have succumbed to blood loss and smoke and the young wizard's remains were abandoned without ceremony.

At this point the party retreated through a red-iron door into a narrow chamber filled with odd levers, buttons, and dials, and closed the door behind.  Y'draneal had picked the lock earlier, ignoring a goblin that commented that the door was locked and nigh-impregnable, and fortunately each of the dwimmer-goblins who had been present at that time now lay dead in the mosaic chamber ... in other words, the group now had a prime hiding spot.

The session ended with the five survivors hunkering down and bandaging their wounds in hopes of hatching a plan to retake level two and open a route of escape from Dwimmermount.

Apart from Hurtis's amusing blunder with the alchemists' fire, the crew was still a bit off this week in terms of their tactics.  Though they had fully intended to betray their alliance with goblins from the start, Vale's uncharacteristically sharp tongue pushed things toward confrontation much sooner than would have been advantageous.
Then too, while Kenny's demise might have been avoided if Vale had held her Burning Hands spell off for a slightly more opportune moment, her admittedly clever ruse of taking the elf captive meant the absence of Y'draneal's archery fire really made the front line fighters work much harder and face steeper odds (burning through all of their action surges, second wind abilities, and lots of hit points).  A couple lucky rolls from the goblins could easily have triggered a slide into a total-party-kill.
As much as anything, this session reinforced the idea that Armor Class trumps almost every other consideration in low-level D&D combats.  Plate mail and shield with a modest Dexterity adjustment on top creates the freedom to survive a tactical blunder.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dwimmermount with Middle Schoolers -- XXIII

Last episode ended with Kenny the Magician unconscious, Y'draneal the mapper having fled, and the bloodied and weary fighting men, Sergei and Hurtis nursing the light of their few remaining torches down in the second level of Dwimmermount.  The beastman tribal room they had finally fought their way into had no less than three exits, and they decided that it was too risky to try and hold it for the duration of a long rest.

A howl, panting, and snuffling sounds from the west tunnel sealed the deal.

"It's werewolves!"

Sergei slung his axe and shield, gathered Kenny over his shoulder, and made haste for the stairs with a torch held before him while Hurtis grabbed a heavy, locked chest and trudged after, doing his best to keep up.

"Watch, I'll bet there's nothing in it."

"Yeah, the beastmen never have any decent treasure."

Kenny, despite being in a swoon after having been trampled by a herd of pig-faced beastmen last session, offered quite a bit of input ... so I needn't have feared that he would feel left out of the action.

"Hey I want the leader's shield!  I should get that!  I need it the most.  Don’t leave me, okay?  You guys wouldn’t leave me, would you?  Am I awake yet?  Can I cast spells?"

Two other players whose characters were already safely back in Muntburg were in attendance, and I wanted to get them into the mix quickly, but not at the cost of making a trip in or out of the megadungeon a non-event.

"Can I ghost-Kenobi them?"

"Yeah, like there's just this big voice telling them how to get out!"

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."

"Yeah, like Dr. Oz!"
Y'draneal's player was with us and, since he hadn't been separated for more than two scenes, we ruled that he was lingering at the stair.  Needing no torchlight, the elf sped up the steps three at a time and leapt nimbly over the scorched patch of yellow mold, making his Dex check handily.

Hurtis dared the mold next.

"Do you want to discard the chest so that you can see where you are stepping, or risk going straight across?"

"Um ... I'm gonna go."

"With the chest?"

"Yeah.  With the chest."

The dice continued to love Hurtis and he crossed completely unscathed.

Sergei was last to stumble across the remnant of the deadly fungus, shifting Kenny awkwardly even as more howls and guttural speech echoed up the stair from behind him.  His Dexterity roll was low, and a few of the choking spores were disturbed, but while Sergei's Constitution check meant that he shook off the effects, Kenny wasn't as fortunate and the battered magician began wheezing and convulsing.

"Dump him."

"Don't dump me!  Think of all the times I saved you guys!"

"Dude, you hit us with a Sleep Spell."

"I'll bring him along."

Figuring that there wasn't much more they could do, the three explorers pressed onward until they came to the door that they had spiked shut an hour before (last session) while fleeing a pack of degenerate Dwimmerlings.

"I want to go over there and get one of those masks we found before."

"We haven’t unjammed the door yet."

"No!  We need to go back to Muntburg so I can rest and heal.  Do I have brain-fever now like Vale?"

"No, you have something worse."

Sergei passed his crowbar to Hurtis who, thanks to an above average Strength, made short work of the door, causing some of the slats to crack and splinter as he forced it open.  I decided that there was a solid 50-50 chance that the Dwimmerlings were still waiting on the other side, but luck was with the party and the vicious little dwarves had moved off in pursuit of some inscrutable purpose.

Y'draneal made it to the Red Gates in no time, but Hurtis fell behind as he lugged the big chest.

"You can see Sergei's torch way ahead of you.  Do you want to drop the chest and catch up?"

"No, I'm keeping the box!"

[More dice.]

"You hear a few echoes and something running somewhere in a side tunnel, but you make it to the doors."

Soon the group reunited with Vale in Muntburg (whose health had declined still further, leaving her only 8 hit points remaining) and made plans to re-equip and return to the dungeon.

But first, there was the matter of Hurtis's box.  Having seen up close the effects of poison needle traps, there was real sense of risk around opening it.

"I'll cast a freeze spell on the box."

"If you do, I'll cast sword on your face!  I risked my life to get this thing out of there!"

"Then open it!"

And open it Hurtis did, revealing nearly twenty pounds of ancient coins!  A very fine haul indeed.

Spurning the offer to hire any henchmen (because they soak up experience points), all six active members of the Fabulous Five turned once more toward the mountain.  This time the party seemed reasonably balanced:

  • Fighters: Ivor, Sergei, and Hurtis
  • Thief/Cartographer: Y'draneal
  • Magic-Users: Vale and Kenny
Even as Kenny picked at the weird, yellow crust that kept forming at the corners of his mouth and eyes, Vale's player began an impromptu dungeon song ... a show tune of course, taken from "Dwimmermount the Musical."

"Can we go five minutes without turning this into a musical?"

"No.  No, clearly we cannot."

And so off they went, once more in search of the Shrine of Luck and a fulfillment of Vale's long-standing (and long-overdue) obligation to Saint Tyche ... and walked right into a Dwimmerling ambush in the very first room of level one.

Surrounded, Y'draneal was forced to finally make use of his sword, but he struggled to bring the weapon to bear.  Avoiding the fighters in the front rank, the hairy, naked, deranged dwarves flung themselves at the spellcasters from either side and only Vale's deadly accuracy with her Bernie Hands [sic] spell kept the group from being overwhelmed.  

Once about a dozen of the gibbering little folk had been struck down, the rest withdrew out of sight but kept steady pace with the explorers along parallel halls, waiting for their next opportunity to attack.

Fortunately nothing else hindered the party's descent to the level two Reliquary and they explored a number of rooms in quick succession.  As Vale urged them onward, it became clear that she had finally begun to take pledge to Tyche, patron saint of Luck, in earnest.

Discovering a room bisected by a wide, mist-filled crevasse, Hurtis was nominated to try and leap the pit ... which he promptly did, but only just barely.  Discovering a door on the far side, flanked by a pair of imposing statues, Hurtis was instructed to wait there while the rest of the group sought a hallway that would connect via some yet-undiscovered hall.

"You're just gonna leave me?"

"Don't worry, we'll be back."

The next western hallway led to a door.

"Y'draneal, pick the lock."

"I'm gonna pick the lock."

"But what if it isn't locked?"

"Then it's gonna be picked one way or another."

Y'draneal's skill was no match for his confidence, however, and as he struggled to free a jammed pick the door was jerked open from within.  A squad of the great dwimmer-goblins peered out at the group, weapons ready.

Things would have probably gone ill for Y'draneal had Vale not immediately used a spell to help her communicate.

"Hey!  Hey guys, we mean no harm.  We're just looking for the Shrine of Saint Tyche.  Can you help us out?  We know where there is this sweet sword up on level one, just past the room where those crazy, little naked guys poured all that oil out.  Do you know that room?  You could go get it.  The sword is probably still right there for the taking."
After a bit of discussion among the big goblin-folk, a bruised and battered Yang was dragged into view [Yang had been left to die when the party fled a battle with the great goblins several sessions prior -- an ally of the adventuring band, The Seekers, Yang's loss has become a point of tension between the two formerly friendly groups].  Without blinking, one of the goblins cut Yang's ear off and tossed it at Vale's feet.

"Bring us the sword and you can have more of your friend."

"Woah!  Okay, hey.  No need to go cutting things.  We're just looking for the shrine.  And I'd like to apologize for whatever went on before ... these guys are kind of idiots between you and me.  Look, we can pay you if you show us the way."

Vale kept up a non-stop barrage of fast-talk and eventually the dwimmer-goblins were joined by a leader.  Vale spotted opportunity.

"Look man, between you and me, we both know what it's like when your lackeys go and do something stupid, am I right?  We can pay you well for the men you lost and more if you show us the way to the shrine.  This could work out for both of us."

Lonely and feeling forgotten, several halls away Hurtis took a running leap across the crevasse, and again he dared certain death only to walk away without a scratch.  His arrival went unremarked as he trotted up behind the group.

"Where were you guys?"

Finally a deal was struck.  If the party disarmed and handed over their gold, then some of them would be admitted to the halls held by the goblins.  Kenny and one of the fighters remained behind to watch the weapons.

"If you guys aren't right back, we're coming in."

"If we aren't right back, we'll be dead ... and you probably will be too."

With Vale still chatting the guards up, several party-members were ushered past a watch post and into the presence of the dwimmer-goblin's centurion.  Vale turned the charm and fast-talk up still more while the goblin chief listened.  Finally he gave his orders.

"We seek the Hall of Portals below, but the route has not been secured.  You will descend yon stairs and serve my troops as scouts.  If you agree to this, we will let you go to your shrine."  

"Agreed!  Oh, and we left a couple guys out in the hall.  Could you send a message to them to let them know the deal?  We will need weapons if we are gonna scout for you ..."

"You'll be given what I decide you require."

So now it seems the party has a new boss calling the shots!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Dwimmermount with Middle Schoolers -- XXII

We picked up our 22nd session with the weary fighting-man Hurtis, at less than half hit points, trudging back to Muntburg after the group's latest foray into Dwimmermount.  He got no further than the market square before he was confronted by Watch Corporal Danthan, whose bride Hurtis had apparently insulted during a night of riotous living in Muntburg (Hurtis botched a carousing roll last session and the bill was about to come due ...).

Danthan insisted that his wounded honor demanded a duel, and so he pushed past Hurtis and through the main gate to await his opponent on the green sward just beyond the castle-town's walls near the archery butts.

"Aw, I don't want to fight him -- I'm gonna get killed."

"Just go get it over with, man."

"What if I just give him my shield?  Can I just do that?"

"No, I don't think a wooden shield will restore his honor."

"Just face the pain, man." 

"Okay ... time to face the pain."

Can't we just hug it out?

Luck was with Hurtis, however, and despite being the statistical match of his opponent, he managed to land three sharp blows in rapid succession without taking so much as a scratch in return!  Corporal Danthan, seeing that he was clearly bested, yielded and cast down his sword in disgust.

"Show him mercy!"

"Yeah, show mercy."

"Can I have that sword?"

"No way!  I earned this thing!"

The group decided to dismiss Glandal and Thoon, their two Dwimmerling henchmen, feeling that splitting experience points six ways had hampered them more than any added protection offered by the strange, little men had helped.

"They didn't do anything last time!  They just stood in the back."

Pausing only long enough to stock up on torches, four adventurers climbed climbed the long stair back up to the waiting megadungeon.

  • Hurtis the Lucky, fighter 3
  • Sergei the Ax-thane, fighter 2
  • Kenny the Magician, M-U 1
  • Y'draneal the Dungeon Queen, elven thief

by Larry MacDougall
After a bit of debate, the group decided to try Kenny's map of level 2, unsure if and where it might join up with Y'draneal's more expansive charting of the second level.  However, before the group could reach the western stairs, they encountered a large, angry, gabbling horde of degenerate Dwimmerlings (who had apparently ascended the great shaft using some method yet undiscovered).

In the blink of an eye Y'draneal sped away, dashing off into the darkness and the deranged dwarf-things gave chase.  Sergei brought up the rear, struggling in his half-plate to keep pace.  As he ran, at each straight-away he was showered with sharp stones and crude javelins flung from the pursuing Dwimmerlings.  Fortunately, his harness and helm were proof against more than a half-dozen attacks and with advice from Kenny he slammed a door shut behind him, blocking pursuit.

Hurtis realized that he had been lugging iron spikes along all this time and so, while Sergei struggled to hold the door against the squirming ranks of enraged, naked, deformed dwarves, he drove wedges under the door to jam it in place ... escaping the threat but also cutting off the party's known route of escape from the dungeon. 

Apparently unphased by this development, they descended to the second level, tiptoeing past patches of yellow mold, and straightaway came upon a pair of pig-faced, beastman sentries.

"Hey, let's do that ... that pha... phallacy ... phang-l..."

"Yeah, you know.  That thing where we use our shields and ..."

"I wasn't here that time.  I don't know what you are talking about."

"Fase... ll ... something"

"... and we both have shields and we're like 'rawr' and we stick our spears forward ... like Romans!"

"Phalanx?  Do you mean a phalanx?"


"That was a lot of effort just to say 'phalanx.' "

As Sergei and Hurtis locked their shields the beastmen turned and fled, perhaps recalling the great slaughter of their folk some days prior.

Pursuing cautiously, the group found a strong door on the left side of the hall barred against them.  Hurtis tried to weaken it with his ax, but heard the grunts and squeals of beastmen holding it shut from the far side.

When a series of barks and a strange howl echoed through the hallways from somewhere behind them ("Werewolves!"), they decided that rather than linger and risk being flanked, instead they would creep along the eastern edge of explored territory.   Discovering a second door into the heart of beastman territory, their careful map-work paid off:

"Hey look, I bet it leads right into the same room."

Hurtis assailed this door too, making better progress.  Within but a few rounds he brought it down, triggering a squealing, snorting stampede of enraged pig-men.  They had discovered the main lair of the creatures!

Though partially shielded by Sergei, Kenny (who moved to the front to cast his Sleep Spell) was quickly overrun and knocked sprawling upon the dungeon floor where he lay unconscious.

Y'draneal, always true to form, bolted ... he knew that his 9 hit points wouldn't last long in melee and he had no desire to push his luck.

Hurtis and Sergei locked shields and, each fighting man using his "Protection" feat to benefit the other, they were able to hold the hall against a veritable tide of nearly a score of scrambling, biting beastmen.

Even as reinforcements arrived, their long-tusked leader was finally provoked into a charge and they succeeded in bringing the brute down.

Out of "Second Wind," "Action Surges," and nearly out of hit points, the fighters watched in relief as the beastmen finally broke and fled into the far corners of the level.

Dragging the battered and half-trampled Kenny into the beastman lair (Y'draneal was nowhere to be found), Sergei and Hurtis discovered a large, make-shift throne and a chest.

"Oh no!  I'm not opening it.  I remember what happened last time."

"We can try to break it."

"What if we just bring it with us?"

As the session wrapped up, the Fabulous Five were left in a tight spot.  Down in a mostly unexplored portion of level 2, their magic user lies unconscious and will require some time (maybe even a few days) to be back on his feet.  Each fighter is winded and spent, and, as far as they know, the door leading back into level one  and the world above is held against them by a mob of mad Dwimmerlings.

" ... we're in a tight spot!"


This was a fine session in which the four players exercised tactical sense, choosing when to press the attack, when to back off and maneuver, and when to gamble for a critical, tactical advantage.  Kenny's eagerness to cast from the front of the party eclipsed his caution, and it nearly cost him his life, and the jostling herd of beastmen soon trod on their sleeping comrades and awoke them again in any case ... but that was the only major misstep of the session.

This is the first session in which we ended with the group not only still in the dungeon, but down in the depths with no clear route of escape (also out of spells and low on hit points).  

Beyond the obvious tactical challenges for the players, this creates additional hurdles for me as DM -- I have six regular players, how to drop-in Vale or Ivor if their players are present next week?

  • Having them just appear from the outside, apparently just strolling by, ignores the consequences of the group's earlier tactical choices and runs against the theme of the dungeon as a difficult to access, dangerous underworld.
  • Having Ivor and Vales players (if they show) run other characters (perhaps NPC former prisoners of the beastmen released from their chains) preserves continuity, but isn't optimal since it means not getting to run their own characters ... plus, which character gets any xp earned -- original or substitute?
  • The group lacks any powerful teleportation magics and, if you know the backstory of Dwimmermount, that "solution" is uniquely unsuited to the campaign.
I'll have to think on this a bit.