Exploring Ruins of Ramat for Game Day

On Saturday, four players and I delved into the “Ruins of Ramat” by John Adams.

Each player started with four 0-level villagers, ready to rescue a little girl’s dog.

Each player established their mini-marching order. Then I wrote down each character’s slot in the marching order and their luck scores.

16 named characters with luck scores, and a tally of monster hit points on the bottom

Mini-marching order and character luck scores

Keeping in mind that we had 2.5 hours to play, I kept my foot on the throttle, moving them through rooms.

Spoilers ahead

Two villagers ill equiped face off against a charging skeleton

Ruins of Ramat Cover Page (art by Doug Kovacs)

Cautious approach to a hole in Rose Hill

  • The villagers assess that the hole dropped 10 feet to a mossy and slippery stairs that descends another 20 feet.
  • Footing is slippery. Some slide into a chamber and the waiting ambush of a spider.
  • The spider bites, poisons, and kills a villager, and the villagers in turn slay the spider.

There are three directions to take.

  • One path leads them through a large room into another bat and guano filled room.
  • Hundreds of bats scatter around, in the confusion, as everyone is swatting away bats from their face, Oxy brains Ank for the second death.
  • Two large bats attack but the villagers dispatch them without further harm.

They reach a dead end, double back to take another passage.

  • From here they explore a series of long-disused monastic cells. One cell radiating holiness is still preserved.
  • They continue to a room with murals of warriors of light. Here they encounter 5 skeletons.
  • A blood bath ensues as the villagers opt to charge into the room.
  • One player watches as the skeletons fell her remaining three characters; Another player hands her one of their characters to continue onward.
  • Two other players each lose a character.
  • The survivors dispatch the skeletons. The survivors distribute the skeleton’s weapons.

They find an armory that includes lots of ceremonial weapons and an untarnished bronze shield

  • A villager picks up the shield. The shield curses the villager bestowing a -1d to all attacks.

Onward into a ruined library

  • With a bit of exploration they find a secret door into a preserved library
  • There are a few scrolls, books, and maps preserved; One of the maps looks familiar to the player (not the character); It points to a spot in the mountains
  • They also find two iridescent purple vials
  • A character uncorks the vials, smells lavender and sunshine. He drinks half a draught. And permanently gains 2 HP. He downs the rest, gaining 2 more. His other character follows suite, gaining 2 HP.
  • Onward to the next room; a bed chamber with 6 bronze figurines.
  • The elves notice a secret passageway and proceed into a hidden hallway.

They find another secret door, opening it to reveal two more skeletons and a robed skeleton.

  • They roll initiative and start the fight
  • One character charges in, stepping on a brittle flagstone, and falls into a shallow pit, breaking his neck.
  • The robed skeleton launches a baleful purple beam at one of the characters, he succeeds in his will save, taking half damage and surviving at 1 HP.
  • In retaliation, a villagers throws a spear at the robed skeleton, shattering its skull and ending its menacing existence.
  • The villagers dispatch the remaining skeletons.
  • In this room they find gold armor, a white gold ring, bronze amulet, and a bronze convex disk set in the wall.
  • The villagers divy up the treasure.

A bit of exploration and experimentation and POOF! a bright light and they are in a new room

  • This new room has a bronze convex disk, two treasure chests, and a glowing spear (similar to the spear they have been seeing in the artwork)
  • The villagers test the chests and open them. One is full of gold pieces. The other an ivory cylander with an incomprehensible scroll inside.

The guild beggar grabs the spear and she sees a vision of herself, standing on the battlefield, humans, demons, and skeletons lie dead around her. In her right hand, the spear; Her left hand a bloody stump. A large demon approaches and says “Let us not fight. Together we can be so much more.” I ask the player what she does. She throws down the spear. And the vision fades. The spear drops from her hand.

Another character grabs the spear, and sees a similar vision. I ask what he does. He throws the spear into the maw of the demon. He feels a warmth and realizes his life has changed. He understands the scrolls he’s read. He asks to see the ivory scroll and knows that it can lift the curse. (I awarded the neutral character 1d3 points of luck for sticking with her alignment).

At this point, we are running close to the end. I guide them to the next room, and I ask if they want me to narrate the final fight the demon. The players think about it, and we agree to play it out. In two quick rounds of furious combat, the rubbery tentacled demon of darkness slays two more characters but is in turn killed by the Spear of Ramat.

We close the session, with each surviving character at 11 XP. I also say that in future sessions people can use these characters. I also awarded each character one point of Luck for defeating a demon and bringing a bit of knowledge of Ramat into the world.

Mini character sheets of the 10 dead characters

The character sheets of the dead

Play Through of Nebin Pendlebrook’s Perilous Pantry

Last night I ran a 0-level DCC character funnel at Better World Books in Goshen. We played through Purple Sorcerer‘s Nebin Pendlebrook’s Perilous Pantry.

TL;DR: Compact, dangerous, and exciting adventure (minimal spoilers ahead). DCC continues to amaze and inspire.

Silohuette of rotund halfling holding a shovel

Cover art for Purple Sorcerer Game’s “Nebin Pendlebrook’s Perilous Pantry”

To make sure everything was clear I read the following:

We will be playing a Dungeon Crawl Classics character funnel. Each of you will have 4 fragile characters to start. The goal is to make it through the dungeon with at least one of them alive. In campaign play, the survivor(s) would be your character(s) in further adventures. It won’t be easy, and you should think of your characters as pawns. Don’t risk them all at once.

There were 5 players at the table. Each player rolled up 4 characters

  • Four of the five players each had an elven sage
  • There was a goat, a pony, a herding dog, a duck, and a hen
  • A handful of spears and swords ensured some nice combat power
  • One unlucky player had 8s or lower for his characters’ luck (Ouch!)
Six people around a circular table with dice and character sheets

The character funnel in progress

Procedures

I took the advice of other DCC judges; Instead of using a combat grid, I went with theater of the mind.

Each player arranged their characters in a mini-marching order. They formed a plus sign: the lead character, two in the middle, and one in the rear.

In combat, if an attack came from the front, I attacked the front character who had the lowest luck. Likewise for rear attacks. The adventure module provided further guidance to beat on the unlucky.

As characters died, they were piled in front of the Judge’s screen; The above photo was taken before we started into the pantry.

Highlights

  • The duck, hen, and their owners were the first casualties; The sickening feeding frenzy set the dangerous tone.
  • The four elven sages each tried to read a magic scroll, and failed.
    • One of the elven sages rolled a 1…so I had him roll and he got major corruption. Alas he died before his head turned into a goat.
    • The lowly potato farmer took a chance and rolled a natural 20. His eyes glowed with power and he gained some minor wizarding power.
  • Creatures in the dark surprised a lone explorer (failed Luck check). With a quick strike, the creatures murdered and dragged the dwarf into the darkness; the rope fell to the ground with a thump.
  • A clever use of rope, crowbar, and a burned luck point helped retrieve a bit of treasure and circumvent what they thought to be a trap.
  • An oh so glorious critical hit by the squire for 14 points of damage; Hooyah!
  • Clever teamwork created a hasty firebomb from an oil soaked suit. They lit the suit and flung with a shovel. That earned a luck point.
  • A halfling reunited with his great grandfather that had disappeared a century ago…alas the reunion was rather short.
  • Some of the characters fled to an unexplored room; I’d call that a bad idea (but it worked out).

Player Interaction not Skills

At one point one of the players asked “Can I make a spellcraft check?” This was a great moment, as I responded “What are you wanting to know?” He said “Well I want to know if there’s magic. But I guess the glowing runes…” The player had enough information and we moved on.

What I liked about this moment was that it unlearned a bit of the skill proficiency mindset of later D&D editions. Players and characters both engage with the system. Through a dialogue the player and Judge can establish what the character knows or the Judge can call for a check.

Observations

The whole session was 6:30pm to 10pm. In that time we made characters and had 10 “scenes” – 6 combat encounters and 4 puzzle/role-playing encounters.

  • People were rightly cautious; we weren’t five minutes in when 2 characters died.
  • One of the rooms had too many possibilities; 3 doors, a column of water, and 2 fountains. I felt this room was going to grind on in indecision.
  • Combats were fast and furious; I don’t believe anything went more than two rounds.
  • By necessity, characters become rather morbid and mercenary
    • “Slide us your possessions and we’ll help” as an emaciated hand passes a rag doll and a candle
  • Characters were stewarding their luck; they knew I was targeting the unlucky. Yet they spent a luck point or two to get what they wanted.
  • If you want characters to die; give them multiple opponents. Even 0-level chumps can end a single big-bad monster.
  • Purple Sorcerer Game’s modules contains great advice and flavor/read-aloud text. In some cases the prose for a given encounter was rather lengthy and hard to scan.
  • With minimal characters features (eg. skills, feats, etc.) the players engaged the fiction of the story

At points in the adventure that called for a Luck check. If you failed your Luck check you then needed to make a saving throw. For experienced players, that’s not a big deal, but this confused the group. We muddled through it. It also felt a little like double jeopardy. In the future, I recommend skipping the Luck check and call for each player to make the saving throw for their character with the lowest Luck score.

Running DCC at my Friendly Local Book and Game Store

Thursday night games at Better World Books in Goshen are growing in popularity. Starting at 4pm and going until 10pm, there are many games being played:

  • Board games
  • Dice masters
  • Magic drafts
  • Role-playing games

Last year, I ran the Dungeon Crawl Classic adventure Portal Under the Stars for a group of 4 players. On Thursday, March 2nd, I’m planning to run a different 0-level character funnel at Better World Books (see the Facebook event).

My eventual goal is to start up an every other week game going; Though perhaps not on Thursdays. Most Thursdays I have dinner with my daughters (and that takes precedence). Also, there are already three other tables of RPGs on Thursday nights:

  • A closed group 5th edition D&D game (5 or so players)
  • Pathfinder league play
  • A 5th edition D&D game (9 or so players)

Regardless, I’m looking forward to the antics of 0-level characters, hopelessly outclassed, struggling and eking out their survival.

Dungeon Crawl Classic: Portal Under the Stars

In which one is nearly saved by a pound of clay…

Umm you may want to consider your tactics.

Umm you may want to consider your tactics. (From DCC 3rd printing page

I ran a one-shot Dungeon Crawl Classic zero-level adventure for four intrepid players at Better World Books in Goshen. I chose “The Portal Under the Stars” from the 3rd printing of DCC.

This was my first time running DCC. It was also the first time playing DCC for each of the players.

The adventure ended in a TPK (20 characters). But not before executing an outrageous plan.

Here are some of the action highlights of this under-equipped hodgepodge of humanity:

  • Action: Attempting to force open a trapped door by hammering a 10′ pole with a mallet.
    • Result: Flame weakened 2 foot pole.
  • Action: Using a fallen armored companion as a heat shield from gouts of flame.
    • Result: Success…though the armor became melted slag.
  • Action: Gathering kneecaps as sling ammunition.
    • Result: Gruesome butchery but 4 sling bullets.
  • Action: Using a shovel handle to pick up and fling a flaming lantern at the terra-cotta warriors in hopes of drawing the crystal creatures towards the heat.
    • Result: Missing the warriors and shattering the lamp on the wall.

And the most absurd plan:

Fashioning a pound of wet clay (Yay for random equipment items!) into the helmet shape of one of the many terra-cotta warriors that were advancing. Then pulling a Scoobie Doo as he walks through the ranks towards the general and warlord in hopes of getting to the glowing crystal orb. This was too cool, so I didn’t require the character to even roll to fool the warriors nor generals. The warlord would be a different matter.

During this time the other characters are slaughtered by the terra-cotta warriors (I chose to hand-wave this as it was 50 to 7 and time was running out).

After exchanging a few grunts and mumbles, the warriors and generals let the character pass. Making his way to the generals room. As he walks past the warlord, the warlord takes note. The character turns, runs to the crystal, grabs it and smashes it on the ground; Shattering the only light source. I narrate a “Quick fade to black followed by a lone scream cut short”.

Observation

This was my first time running DCC. I kept things fast and loose. It was a bit confusing for players to have 4 characters. Many of them took actions together. In DCC, this is a bad idea. As a player, consider each character as its own resource; Only risk one at a time.

There was some impatience and brazen actions. Little in the way of listening at the door. Cracking the door for a peak. Caution is a mandatory mode of operation.

Within the read aloud text there is helpful information for players to leverage. Unless the situation is immediately in motion, dig into that read aloud text. Pay attention.

Running a Fifth Edition Character Funnel

This past Tuesday I ran part one of two part D&D 5E 0-level Dungeon Crawl Classic inspired character funnel adventure (i.e. many enter far fewer leave). I’m not going to go into a session recap, but I will go through the character creation.

Character Creation

Each player created 4 characters by rolling the following:

Random Stats

Players could choose one of two methods for each character they created:

Method #1

Roll twelve (12) sets of 3d6 straight down keeping order (Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha). This method is by far my most favorite method for D&D stat creation.

Method #2

Roll 4d6 straight down keeping order and optionally replace one stat with an 8.

Here is the Ruby script used to generate the simulation data.

Bell Curve Showing Method 2 (i.e. 3d6 clumps) around +5 or +6 and method 2 (i.e. 4d6) has higher standard deviation.

A visual distribution of the likely modifiers based on each of the stat methods.

Random Race

Based on the results of a group poll, we wanted a plurality of races. The following tables generated that.

Table 1: Random Race
1d20 Race Source
1 – 9 Human Player’s Handbook
9 – 18 Common non-human Roll on Table 1A (d20)
19 – 20 Uncommon non-human Roll on Table 1B (d120)
Table 1A: Common non-human races
1d20 Race Source
1 – 2 Dwarf, Hill Player’s Handbook
3 – 4 Dwarf, Mountain Player’s Handbook
5 – 6 Elf, High Player’s Handbook
7 – 8 Elf, Wood Player’s Handbook
9 – 10 Half-Elf Player’s Handbook
11 – 12 Half-Orc Player’s Handbook
13 – 14 Halfling, Lightfoot Player’s Handbook
15 – 16 Halfling, Stout Player’s Handbook
17 Dragonborn Player’s Handbook
18 Gnome, Forest Player’s Handbook
19 Gnome, Rock Player’s Handbook
20 Goblin (Eberron) https://goo.gl/eYjUk9
Table 1B: Uncommon non-human races
1d20 Race Source
1 – 5 Aasmir Dungeon Master’s Guide
6 – 10 Tiefling Player’s Handbook
11 Changeling Unearthed Arcana: Eberron
12 Elf, Eladrin Dungeon Master’s Guide
13 – 14 Elf, Drow Player’s Handbook
15 Genasi (1d4 for element) Elemental Evil Player’s Companion
16 – 17 Gnome, Deep Elemental Evil Player’s Companion
18 Goliath Elemental Evil Player’s Companion
19 Shifter Unearthed Arcana: Eberron
20 Warforged Unearthed Arcana: Eberron

Random Background

My 0-level adventure is set by the sea in a small community. So the table reflects that distribution.

Table 2: Random Background Generator
1d20 Background
1 – 3 Guild Artisan
4 – 5 Sailor
6 Acolyte
7 Sage
8 – 9 Criminal
10 Entertainer
11 Folk Hero
12 Hermit
13 Noble
14 Charlatan
15 Soldier
16 – 17 Urchin
18 – 20 Outlander

Random Extra Languages

Some of the players wanted help choosing their language. So we referenced the following.

Table 3: Random Starting Language
1d8 Language
1 Dwarvish
2 Elvish
3 Giant
4 Gnomish
5 Goblin
6 Halfing
7 Orc
8 Exotic – Roll on Table 3A
Table 3A: Random Exotic Starting Language
1d10 Language
1 Abyssal
2 Celestial
3 Draconic
4 Deep Speech
5 Infernal
6 Primordial
7 Sylvan
8 – 10 Undercommon