Monday, April 17, 2017

Dwimmermount with Middle Schoolers: Solum Rising

Image result for wiz-warThis past Tuesday saw a slight rebound in our club attendance (33) and we hosted 3 RPGs in the library along with Wiz-War (one of my favorites), chess ("bug house" rules), and Settlers of Catan.

At the Dwimmermount table, Ferdick the Goon returned in his role as party leader / caller, accompanied by the mighty-thewed Brunhilda (NPC).  Mai the swordswoman, Woody the Tree, Jack and his dog Mark, and Kermit (a fighter whom everyone suspects of having more than a smidge of goblin blood in him) rounded out the party.

Loomis the Wizard had contracted the explorers to find their way down to level three and awaken the "perpetually moving lightning-speaking gear-golems" along with the "watchful arcane eye-spirits" ... those being only very rough translations of course ... so that Loomis might properly employ the powers of "click-click," the arcane key sold to him by the party the week prior, to access Dwimmermount's greater secrets.

Image result for silver daggerMotivated by the prospects of a quest, the prior session the crew located steps leading down to level three, though it brought them into the clutches of a terrible rage-wight which defeated Frosty the Snow Golem (scattering his little button eyes) and slew Solum the blue dragon hatchling as their comrades escaped.

Hearing of their setback, Loomis affirmed that no mortal weapons would prevail against this undead guardian, and that (for a substantial reduction to their retainer) he could provide them with two daggers of "moon-forged silver."  

Equipped with these and two more flasks of precious alchemist's fire (standard lantern oil isn't the explosive kill-all in this campaign that it is in Moldvay Basic), the party made its way swiftly back to the chamber where they had last encountered the wight.

Finding that hall empty, they had to choose between exploring beyond a western door (which stood ajar) or turning east down the tunnel that led to level three.  Ferdick opted to avoid potentially leaving the hate-filled undead behind the group and, with Kermit likewise equipped at his side, he brandished his silver dagger and heaved the door aside.  The dreadful wight emerged slowly from behind a tapestry, eyes blazing.

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(c) Robert Berk
At that moment, however, screams broke out from the rear of the party!  Coming unobserved from the eastern hall, Solum had crept up behind them--but this wasn't the young dragon as they had known him--his scales lacked all luster, rime coated his jaws, and in place of eyes black pits shone starkly from his withered skull--he had been transformed into a second wight when the party left him for dead!

While Ferdick and Kermit slashed away at the first undead, Solum unleashed his breath weapon--a blast of withering negative energy--upon the rear of the column.  Jack tried to batter the Solumn-thing away with a torch while the other party members stood by and gaped in horror, allowing it time to recharge and blast away a second time.  Everyone failed their saving throws and even as the first wight crumbled at the front of the line, Woody, Mai, Jack and his dog all fell lifeless.

With the party suddenly reduced to three fighters (only two of whom had any hope of inflicting damage), Ferdick and Kermit had to make a quick decision--engage the Solum-thing or flee?

They chose to fight on, and even as the former-dragon began to charge up for another burst of negative energy (permanent HP drain), the pair struck--ending the horror once and for all!
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However, while catching their breaths, and looting some choice bits from fallen teammates, Ferdick noticed a bitter, black frost beginning to form on Woody's bark-hide ... Mark's dead jaw clenched, cooling lips peeling back from his teeth!

Four more wights prepared to rise right before them.  

Even as Ferdick applied his alchemist's fire to his former friends, I had the players of the undead characters roll for hit points.  Fortunately for Ferdick and Kermit, the hit point rolls were abysmal and only one of the neophyte wights emerged from the blaze.  This one, blackened and smoking, was polished off before it could do the surviving adventurers any harm.

So ... the way to level three was now clear ... mostly ... there was still that living statue at the top of the stairs to deal with, but that could wait until after spring break.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Dwimmermount Double Feature

Image result for track failLast week was the start of spring sports tryouts, so our great heathen horde was down to about 22 kids, manageable, but not the mini-con-sized crowd that we usually muster.  This is all for the good, of course--the teamwork and exercise are just what many middle schoolers need.  Still, the two dozen brave souls who turned out meant that we could run tables of chess, Catan, Castle Panic, and two ongoing RPGs.

I had four players return to my table and I was quickly reminded that 3-5 is really my personal "sweet spot" when it comes to regulating the pace of the action, ensuring that each player gets a chance to shine, and helping them get as much interaction with their fellow players as they are looking for.

Aqua the Mage, Ferdick the Goon, Brunhilda the swordswoman (NPC), a masked female warrior, and Solum the blue dragon hatchling decided to delve back into The Reliquary level (2) to peek behind a few of the dozen-odd unopened doors on their map.

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Sticking to their well-trodden path from the Red Gate to the level two steps, they paused only to flash-fry a slime or two--The Paths of Mavors have been crawling with oozes since the party left the door atop the Great Shaft open, letting spore-borne horrors of the far world of Kitheria come slithering down to the entry-level.

Down on two, they puzzled over some cryptic inscriptions a while before giving up and poking into odd corners.  Soon they ran afoul of a cloud of shadows--I usually don't reveal numbers when fighting these, so you never really know if they've all gone until you are back in the sun--and fled.  You may recall that shadows in my game may or may not be undead, but since there is no clerical turning it doesn't really matter.  Associated by the Great Church with the sin of sloth, strength drain suffered from their frigid touch is permanent--these underworld denizens are nasty business when they swarm!

... shadow in the corner, ...Pausing in their flight to try and loot a room (unsuccessfully--the golden box wouldn't come unstuck from its resting place by any physical force), Aqua the 1st level magic-user was so effective in fending the shadows off with a lantern that she decided to pursue them while the remainder of the party headed back toward the stairs.  

Dice are treacherous though, and an attack roll of 1 saw Aqua's wildly swung lantern smashed to bits against the tunnel wall.  Aqua's robes were briefly kindled, but as she dropped and rolled to quell the flames, she was left in utter darkness.  The shadows pounced and the rest of the party paused to look back as the hapless mage staggered toward them, weakening by the moment.  

All this ruckus led to another wandering monster check and ... wouldn't you know it? ... a second swarm of shadows who blind-sided Aqua from a side tunnel.  The party turned and fled.

Gaining the Red Gate, Ferdick caught a flicker of movement from the corner of his eye--Aqua had somehow won free and caught up with her comrades at the very threshold of the dungeon--but as he reached to catch her "by the the scruff of the neck and haul her along" his hand passed through her with a numbing chill!  More running.

Once back in Muntburg, the group told tales at the Green Dragon Inn and eventually decided to offer for sale "click-click"--the strange, circular artifact that Ferdick had carried down from the secret upper level atop The Great Shaft.  Luck was with him, and a wizard who was present and who had listened intently to the group's stories offered them 800 gold for the device right then and there!


A few days later in-game, at the top of the next weekly session (with 27 kids present), the wizard would go on to make the party an offer--from accounts penned by Vale the Grey he had learned of an arcane power source down on level three.  If the party could find and reactivate it, he would reward them most richly!

Carrying to the very sketchy map the wizard provided ("What's Daddy Fungus?!" "No, that says deadly Fungus."), the party assembled:

  • Kermit the Brute (fighter 2)
  • the blue-masked female swordswoman from last session ... (her name was written in Korean and wasn't used during the session, so I'll just call her "May" for now) ... (fighter 1)
  • Woody the talking tree--not an ent, just a tree (fighter 2) 
  • Frosty the Snow Golem (1 HP)
  • Solum the Hatchling (also 1 HP)
They wasted no time but plunged back into level two, following tunnels excavated with perfect mathematical precision by the unknown magic of the Great Ancients.  Using Jager's old maps, May led the group straight back to where Frosty and Ferdick had faced the deadites and the terrible rage-wight ... which you might recall they did NOT defeat, but simply fled.

Guess what?

It was still lurking in that same section of the dungeon!  

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Here May, acting as party leader, made a critical decision: she knew that their mortal weapons couldn't harm the wrath-filled revenant-corpse, so she ordered Frosty (who cannot be drained by negative energy attacks) to delay the monster while Solum blasted it with her electricity breath-attack; meanwhile the rest of the party would dash past and go look for the stairs down to level three.

It might have worked.

A lucky, early blow from the raging deadites fists decapitated Frosty, however (remember, 1 HP).  This didn't destroy the hapless golem, but when his head hit the floor and splattered like a slushy, his player had to roll and see if his button eyes were above or below the pile of snow.  Partially blinded, Frosty willed his body to roll over his broken face in an effort to stick his eyes into his belly--a good try, but one came up facing inward (staring into compacted snow) and the other was presently knocked free by another blow from the wight.  Blind, headless, and disoriented, Frosty was out of the fight.

After an initial blast, which blackened and charred the wight's dead hide, Solum saw that things were tipping the wrong way, and she chose to flee instead of unleashing her last electrical charge for the day.  

Now it was down to the dice.  Would the raging wight pursue the dragon hatchling (1 HP, slow, with an AC of 6/13, and a CON of 3) or chase down the other three party members who had dashed onward into the unknown?

The dice spoke and Solum was struck down with a single blow before she had an opportunity to get more than a dozen strides (a real shame since she had earned 1750xp--this was one of this year's longer-lived PCs, played by an RPG novice.)

Meanwhile, May and the other two raced headlong down unexplored halls, convinced of several things:

1.) this wouldn't just be a dead end 
2.) the way to level three lay down one of these tunnels rather than behind any of the other 12-14 unopened doors they had passed on the way here 
3.) the wight wouldn't decide to pursue the plate-clad fighters 
4.) they didn't have to worry about traps.

Curiously, she was correct in three of those four assumptions ... and the trap they triggered (an animated statue) relied on an attack roll which came up just short.

So with confidence well-intact (but the party reduced by two members), they came at last to level three.  Not deigning to search, they plowed ahead through a chamber or two until coming face-to-face with a pack of rat-men.

Blinking in the light of the explorers' torch, one of the creatures attempted to parlay in an unfamiliar tongue.

"I sword it in the neck!

Image result for mouse guardStartled, the rat-things fled (which was fortunate, because the party's weapons didn't seem to do them much harm) but soon rallied and drove the group back toward the steps.  Despairing of their chances (and realizing that they hadn't a bit of magic among them), May, Woody, and Kermit dashed back up the steps ... and through the same trap they had encountered before.  

The dice showed them favor (perhaps because they had lingered by the statue of Saint Tyche?) and both animated statue and the pursuing wight failed to land hits as they dashed back toward the surface.

So ... two party members lost and no treasure recovered, but they now know how to access level three.


Wow!  Two tough sessions casualty-wise for our intrepid crew.  What struck me most, however, was how they responded instantly to the job dangled in front of them by the (somewhat sketchy) wizard in the Green Dragon Inn.  I suspect that this is a result of their exposure to storyline-driven video game play ... you trigger quests, you run them down and you level up.

By contrast, last year's group didn't seem to require many external hooks to get them exploring and in fact often bemoaned or ignored the one solid quest put to them (placing the portable altar in the level three Luck Shrine to lift Vale's curse), and the 5th edition crew the year before bounced off of a half dozen plot hooks like a pinball, leaving a trail of unstarted and half-finished projects in their wake.  

Image result for thinkerThis year's bunch (which granted, has a much more flexible cast of about 13 players who shift in, out, and back in again across the weeks) jumped on the idea of a set goal to the point of outright recklessness.

The take-away of course is "know thy players."

Stonehell, seeded with about eight specific quests, probably would have been a much better fit for this year's group.

I wonder what next year's group will lean toward?