Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hunchbacks, Hobbits and Necromancers;A Spontaneous Game Session

Let's Investigate Strange Lights in an Ancient Cemetery....

My son had a friend stay the night last night and the two of them and my daughter stayed up pretty late with me. They are ages 16-17. Growing bored with X-Box and Netflix, they were debating what to do and I nonchalantly suggested "How about a game of D&D?"

They agreed. Now my daughter has played the game maybe six times total and abandoned it long it ago as "not her thing." She has steadfastly resisted playing despite me occasionally begging her to join her brother and I for a game. So when she agreed quickly, I was under no illusions that she had a change of heart--she finds my son's friend "cute."

Hey, anything to get a player!

I have been working on several adventures but was saving them for this weekend when some friends and I have some serious gaming planned. So I decided to do what I used to do a lot as a kid playing D&D--wing it!

I keep copies of every character we ever roll up for our games and so I have a binder of characters of various levels. I let people rename them, change the sex if need be, and occasionally tweak them to fit a new game. My daughter picked a Halfling Thief ,Chinka Tumblefoot, my son ran his human Warrior Mage Eastwood, and his friend ran an Elf Fighter he had played in another game once long ago, one Verimoore.

We set the table up, put out the lights, and played by candle glow. And suddenly, we were in the mood to game!

I enjoy reading OSR blogs for many reasons, chief among them being I get a lot of inspiration, and other times I wouldn't call it inspired, I just plagiarize outright...for the gaming table only, of course.

While looking over Tombowning's Magician's Manse blog a day or so ago, I noticed a feature of his campaign environs called "The Tower of a Thousand Faces." It seized my imagination and so I had a vague idea for the adventure. From there I began to go off the cuff and with no prior planning whatsoever!

The party started off in a tavern in the great Northern city of Kravekos. They were drinking and smoking their pipes when in rushed a portly man, his clothes torn and dirty, his boots muddy with travel, and his face unshaven, sweaty, and terrified. Shaking, he walked to the bar and began to order one drink after another.

Our party approached him and asked him what was the matter. His name was Murgo, and he told them he had returned from a doomed expedition wherein three of his companions had died horribly. He was done with adventuring forever. Upon further prodding, he revealed that the object of their quest had been the Tower of a Thousand Faces, which lay in the Swamps of Ern. It was said that all the gold a man would ever want for lay beyond it's portal.

Two of Murgo's friends had perished in the swamps and the third had died inside the Tower to some horror in the dark, leaving Murgo to flee the swamps and somehow make it back alive. My daughter truly grew horrified at Murgo's description of a tower covered from top to bottom with crowded faces which were the visages of all of those who had perished within the Tower...

A table of Knights at meal overheard the convesration (don't ask me why Knights were eating in the tavern instead of the Castle...)and one Sir Allocon laughed at the tale, which he discounted as an old wives tale. Swamp fever was the only thing that Murgo had encountered....

Eastwood managed to convince Murgo to be their guide at least to the place where the Tower stood. The Knight was all too eager to take up a Quest, intending to prove the Tower a myth. So they agreed to meet in the morning outside the city gates and journey to the Swamps of Ern. After buying two horses and a pony, they were off.

They made camp that night on a lonely heath near an abandoned cemetery from ancient times. I decided an encounter was needed to enliven the journey!

On the Halfling's watch, she noted a strange green light in the direction of the cemetery. Rousing her companions, they debated their course of action. Sir Allocon refused to flee or shun to investigate this light, upon his knightly honor. Murgo, for his part, refused to leave camp.

Eastwood feared a trap of bandits, so he chose to wait with their horses and gear and Murgo while the other three checked it out and would promptly report back.

They shuttered the knight's lantern and he held onto Chinka's cloak since she and the Elf have Darksight. As they neared the ring of broken stones that had once been the cemetery walls, Chinka used her sneaking abilities to draw closer and from behind a tombstone she was able to discern that the green light was a magical orb which floated in the air from grave to grave, stopping over one area and hovering. She motioned to her companions, who joined her.

Verimoore and the Knight joined her and the elf, who had superior vision, was able to  make out two figures, one standing still while another dug in the earth. Verimoore told Chinka and Sr Allocon to wait while he approached to challenge these sacrilegious persons as to why they were disturbing the rest of the dead.

Turned out to be an old man dressed in wizard's robes and his hunchbacked servant who was busy digging up a corpse.

The elf startled them, but when they recovered, they answered his inquiry with a warning to leave them be. Pressed further, the Mage said something about getting a proper army assembled very soon and marching down there to show Kravekos a thing or two about what power really means. Yes, it was a tactical blunder on the mage's part, but it made for good theater!

Verimoore (played by a very green player, remember) resolutely advised the wizard and his crony to leave off their sacrilege and depart at once or there would be trouble.  Chinka meanwhile began to creep around to a place where her backstabbing ability would be of use...

But upon hearing of Kravekos, Sir Allocon could hide no more and boldly strode into the Wizard's green light, demanding he explain what he meant and assuring him he would first deal with Sir Allocon.

The Wizard was fine ith this. He raised his hands dramatically and cried..."To me, my servants...To me!" And from out of the darkness approached four animated skeletons and two ghouls!

Meanwhile, concerned that his friends had been away so long, Eastwood left the cowering Murgo and headed for the cemetery. He quickly saw the green light and made for it where he saw a terrible battle underway.

Now let me say, with a  touch of superstition, that no matter what game my daughter plays, dice love her. It is the most bizarre thing I have witnessed. She cannot but roll good. And so while I will spare you a blow by blow account of the battle, the battle lasted ten rounds and she missed only twice while Verimoore hit only twice! Yes, Austin rolled 6 misses and fumbled twice!

But I proceed to hastily. It began well enough when Eastwood cast his Sleep spell and aimed it at the Wizard. Kaboom! Wizard and hunchback both dropped, snoring soundly, but alas, so did Sir Allocon who was standing too close! But this left the Undead to deal with, and without a cleric around to try and turn them!

My son found out he doesn't like ghouls. Besides getting 3 attacks each, they have that nasty paralyzing business. So he rejoiced in getting a hit in on the ghoul he faced, but not when he was slashed by ghoul claws and teeth and not only took damage but had to save vs. poison or be paralyzed.

He failed. And mind you, in our last game, this same character was paralyzed in the first round of a battle with a  Carrion Crawler! He was not happy and his gaming mood quickly soured. Furthermore, the ghoul kept attacking him while he was down! To give him a chance, I made the rolls instead of letting the ghoul dispatch hi outright, reasoning that he was still resisting the poison and so was  rolling around as best he could as it overtook his limbs, dodging the ghoul's attacks.

Meanwhile, Chinka managed to get her +4 Sneak attack in and that with a magical sword, +2 again! So a whopping +6. She hit and did double damage and severed the ghoul's head.

For the remainder of the battle, she used her magic sword and then her bow to mop up on the enemy.

Verimoore couldn't hit the broad side of a barn! The only thing he had going for him was that he had a low Armor Class and that as an elf he was immune to the ghoul poison. Beyond that, he was dismal and believe it or not somehow managed to roll a 1 TWICE in this combat! A 1is a fumble in our game and you lose your next attack!

While all this is going on, Murgo comes charging into the melee, apparently not so base a coward that he would allow his friends to be wantonly butchered. He scored a hit on a ghoul, did very pathetic damage to it, and then got slashed with ghoul poison and failed his saving throw--down he went!! And the ghoul turned to attacking Murgo instead of Eastwood, who would be down to 3 Hit points at the end of this fracas.

The party finally triumphed thanks to Chinka and Verimoore...well, mostly Chinka. Verimoore killed one skeleton. While both Murgo and Eastwood did minimal damage to one ghoul, it was Chinka who dealt the deathblow to every enemy except Verimoore's one skeleton. So my daughter was feeling pretty triumphant, my son was being very sullen, and his buddy simply breathed a sigh of relief.

Tragically, they found that Murgo had died in his battle with the Ghoul! Alas, his dark premonitions had proved true and his earlier escape from fate was in vain!

They searched and bound the Wizard and his hireling, then waited for everyone who was either asleep or paralyzed to come to. When that was done, Eastwood angrily tried to snuff out the Wizard's life (he's Chaotic Neutral) but Sir Allocon disputed this on moral grounds (Allocon is lawful good). It was a moot point though--just as Eastwood was about to cast Charm Person on the Wizard, the evil fellow spoke some magic word and vanished, his ropes falling to the ground.

The hunchback, whose name turned out to be Urg, blubbered and pleaded for his life. I managed to get really into character with Urg and he was so pitiful that they could not but spare him, but upon finding out that he lived in a hut in the Swamps and only occasionally worked for the Wizard, the party insisted that he replace their dead guide. Sniveling, he agreed, though he feared the Necromancer, who "lives in a great tower somewhere in the Swamp."

It was an "Aha" moment to the players, admittedly cheap on my part since I had not planned it and since it made little sense plot wise but again, it was matinee stuff and the kids enjoyed it! They decided the Tower of a Thousand faces must be the Necromancer's tower! And so, of course, that is precisely what it is now...

And so the adventure ended for now (we didn't start until 2:00 am ) with the party anxious to reach the Tower of a Thousand Faces and very pleased with having found on the Wizard a Scroll with a spell of Protection from Petrification.

My son's friend really enjoyed it, my boy not as much cause he tends to get that way when he rolls badly, but I was happiest that my daughter got into it. She remarked that the game seemed much more fun when it was only 3 players and a DM. Hopefully this means she will play again, but who can tell? I certainly had a good time and it taught me that sometimes the open adventure is a lot of fun. I'm a devout Planner for my games but there was something refreshing in the spur of the moment, vaudevillian antics of an unplanned session.

I am looking forward to them reaching the Tower and the Swamps, and a big thank you to Ian/Tombownings for the adventure idea!


  1. Great report--sounds like lots of fun!

    To me, three players is the sweet spot in terms of party size. You have enough people that you can cover all the crucial PC roles and a nicely-sized "brain trust" but not so many people that you have to worry about giving everyone enough spotlight time.

    "...we didn't start until 2:00 am..."


  2. I agree sirlarkins, I am getting to where I will play in larger games but as the rule I try to keep it to 3 players + DM whenever I can. And yes, we have started many midnight and wee morning hour games but this time my daughter neglected to tell me she had to go to work today or I would not have let her play! Still, it was fun so I'm glad she didn't tell me! But she will be hurting for quitting time!!

  3. Sound like you had a fun game, and I like how you just ran with it J.B., especially that the faces on the tower are the visages of those who never came out again. I'm definitely stealing that, cause a tower that adds a new face every time a PC dies is too goo to pass up.

    Your daughter's predicament Reminds me of work after the seventh Harry Potter book came out: Hadn't slept more than a couple hours and had the 6am to 4pm shift. Luckily, I was working at Starbucks and had all the caffeine I needed to keep my going.

  4. Too funny--did you read it in one sitting?? Twice in my life I have read a novel in one shot. As for the tower, I can definitely see that and it is creepy as all get out--and therefore good! Of course for so many heroes to or inquirers to fall there must be something deadly in that place...

  5. No, I didn't quite get it read that night. It wasn't until college that I started to read novels in a single sitting, like with a class where we read a novel a week.

    Yeah, I haven't yet started building dungeons for that map yet, but the area itself has gotten a major expansion. I'll post the reworked map soon once I figure out names for 4 or 5 more towns.