Making Their Way to Steelhart

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Preamble

I went around the table, asking for character names, luck scores, and alignments.

As per my preparation and beginning session procedures:

  • I asked the unluckiest character to choose a number between 1 and 16. He picked 9. I then rolled a d16 and got a 9. I’m all smiles – but more on that in future session reports or planning documents.
  • I rolled on the Guess Who’s Coming to Bitterweed Barrow, and rolled a 21; Sylle Ru and Kreig, one of the Jarl Henrick’s thegns, are paying a visit to Bitterweed Barrow. (Upon reviewing the session, I decided that they would arrive on the 10th of Spring’s Laugh).

I also explained two new house rules:

  • Dwarves see in grayscale, except for gold, silver, and crystals (e.g. gems)
  • Halflings may spend 30 minutes eating (one day of rations), drinking, or smoking pipeleaf to regain 1 point of Luck.

The Cast

7 people gathered around a table with character sheets, books, and dice.

The game table ready to venture to Steelhart

Character Class (Profession) Level Luck Alignment Player
Ahm-al the Witness of Cthulhu Cleric (Guild Beggar) 1 ? Neutral Joan
Ungo the Beggar Thief (?) 1 ? Neutral Joan
Obexo the Agent Dwarf (Stonemason) 1 ? Lawful Aidan
Strove (Rutabega farmer) 0 13 Neutral Aidan
Spike the Acolyte of Ramat Cleric (Herbalish) 1 ? Lawful Greg
Fredora (?) 0 14 Neutral Greg
Tink (jeweler) 0 14 Neutral Greg
Argyle (Tax-collector) 0 ? Chaotic Nick
Ralph (Radish-farmer) 0 9 Neutral Nick
Marcus (Mercenary) 0 9 Neutral Nick
Albert (?) 0 13 Lawful Sam
Dave (?) 0 12 Neutral Sam
Badger’s Bane Thief (?) 1 10 Chaotic Marlene
Yeasty (Baker) 0 15 Neutral Marlene
Mainge (Beggar) 0 13 Lawful Marlene
Robin (?) 0 6 Lawful Luke
Mason Stone Dwarf (Stone mason) 0 10 Neutral Luke
Shear Madness (Barber) 0 9 Chaotic Luke

The Session

Before the action starts, the adventurers that cleared the Tower of the Stargazier, traveled to Bitterweed Barrow to recruit help on the 7th of Spring’s Laugh. On the 8th they recruit some villagers, get supplies, and travel with them to Steelhart. They returned to the tower on the 9th. They agree to pay the hired hands – 0-level characters – 50 gp. Twenty-five before and 25 on arrival.

Looting the Tower

The session starts on the 10th of Spring’s Laugh (Amunday), as the adventurers begin looting the tower.

Emptying the tower. Everyone rolls percentiles going in and coming out. Lightning crackles around but does not hit anyone.

Follow the River to Steelhart

They encounter another marionette, a woman, standing on the lake shore looking at an island. The adventurers engage in a bit of conversation; As is usual, the language choices of the woman are awkward. Her name is Alice, and her shoulder keeps sticking up in a partial shrug. She asks for a ride as she hops on the wagon. Note: The first hex had a random encounter.

Continuing their travel along the riverbed and they see a triangle of menhirs up ahead on the bluff. As the wagon continues, they see a wild-haired creature standing amongst the stones; she is wielding a short sword. Note: The second hex had a random encounter.

At this, Alice, hops off the wagon and starts walking back the way they came, muttering “Welp, that’s enough for me.”

The adventurers draw closer. A raven roosting on one of the menhirs, takes flight. It heads in the direction of Steelhart.

The adventurers hail the woman, and strike up a conversation. The wild-haired woman grabs a walking cane and slowly approaches the wagon. As she draws close, they see twigs and brambles in her hair …and was that a mouse scampering out of her hair?

She introduces herself as Esther. She is performing a ritual to Mielikki in hopes of bringing rain to the neighboring village of Sunville. Paranoia is running rather high amongst the adventurers.

The characters ask questions about what she sacrifices; “Oh animals or other chattel of this world” responds Esther. She relies on the rain to wash away the blood.

One of the players asks if he can make some kind of check to see if she’s lying. I say “What do you think? Is she lying?” I don’t allow for any kind of check, and the players allow Esther to draw close.

They strike up a further conversation, asking her about Alice, the woman that left. Esther tells them that the village of Sunville banished Alice.

Alice was once normal, but about 3 months ago, she changed. Over the next 2 months, 3 children were stillborn. Instead of eyes, that had small tentacles. The village agreed and exiled Alice.

Esther asks if she can travel with them for awhile. They accept. And ask why Esther might be staring at the island on the lake?

Oh, there’s a legend that two lovers would meet under the cover of darkness on that island. For a year and a day, their rendezvous continued. They would meet amongst the columns and pillars of the ruins. Then one day, the man decided to come to the island early.

The man saw that what he thought were columns and pillars were infact statues of men and women, some eroded from time.

The characters continue, and Spike strikes up another conversation, asking about folk songs of Sunville. During this time a small contingent ascends the bluff to see if Sunville exists.

Sure enough there is a small village about a half-mile further from the river bed. They can see people toiling in the fields.

The party discusses spending the night in Sunville, but agree a wagon loaded with gold is too tempting of a target. So they continue for a few hours and break for camp.

Around the camp, Esther offers to make the soup. She springs into action as a grandma preparing for Easter dinner. Mixing both herbs from Spike and her pouches.

Some of the characters gather their own food, others opt to eat rations. I ask everyone that is eating her cooking to flip their character sheets over.

When he receives the bowl, Spike (a former herbalist), smells an unusual added herb – Mosshade. He comments and Esther responds “It’s to improve your fortitude for the travel.”

With the food eaten and watches set, I call for a Fortitude save on all characters who ate the soup and were taking first watch. Those that fail fall asleep.

Ahm-al and Argyle are the now awake on watch. Esther, biting her pinky finger tip clean off, reveals her curse, to those that did not eat her meal, she cursed with blindness until the next full moon of Ahurzda. The others will see their fortitude increased (+1 to Fortitude saves).

I call for saving throws from everyone that didn’t eat her food. Four characters end up blind. During this, Esther approaches Spike and with her bloody finger, draws a crescent on the left side of his forehead. Spike wipes the blood away, but a new mark remains.

Esther announces she’ll be returning to Sunville and departs. No one gives pursuit.

Both Spike and Ahm-al chant several prayers, beseeching Ramat and Cthuhlu to remove this blindness. Ahm-al cures one and Spike cures another. Cthulhu, less pleased, demands a follower and Strove is ready and eager to commit.

The Writ of Orcus

Over the next bit of travel, Argyle asks if anyone can read the Writ of Orcus from his dead friend (found in the Barrow Ward)? He unfurls the scroll, and Spike can read the ancient Ramati used to write the Writ of Orcus.

As Spike looks at the writ, the sun dims and he gains a distant vision of death and suffering. He closes the writ and asks that it not come out.

A Foreboding Cave

Note: I was not interested in having 7 players all rolling initiative and jumping focus around the table. I had the player who’s character had the highest initiatve roll for the entire group.

As the party continues along the riverbed, they come upon a powerful stench and a cave about 100′ away. They halt the wagon, and approach with caution. They see bone fragments, and see dung with the powder sign that part of the creatures diet is bones.

They assess that something is in the cave, and begin to set an ambush. Ungo and Badger’s Bane sneak up beside the cave entrance. Obexo and Ahm-al will move to about 20′ out from the cave, where Ahm-al will command the creature to come.

I spend a bit of time establishing the positions of every character. The players know something big is going to go down.

I call for a stealth check, and they fail.

“Ahm-al and Obexo, you move into position. And Obexo, as Ahm-al begins to commandthe creature, you see with your infravision what is a large troll moving and preparing to attack”

And Ahm-al commands the troll to come.

The troll wins initiative, but I give Ungo and Badger’s Bane a chance to ambush. The troll, roaring past the ambush (everyone misses), fells Ahm-al with two brutal claw strikes. The players look with a bit of astonishment and concern. Yes, this game is not balanced nor do I intend to balance it.

Spike calls upon Ramat to Paralyze the troll; His weapon and hands glow with a radiant holy energy. But he’ll need to wait until next round to strike.

A desperate battle ensues. Led by Obexo, the 0-level peasants muster the courage to charge in with daggers, pitchforks, and scissors. Superficial damage, as they realize that piercing the troll’s heavy hide is challenging.

Ungo and Badger’s Bane pounce with surprise, both burn a bit of luck ensuring a successful backstab. Troll sustains major wounds, but keeps fighting. They watch in horror as the most serious energy stitches back together.

A tense moment, as I again call for group initiative. The adventurers take the initiative and continue to press their attack.

In hopes of paralyzing the troll and making it easer to hit, Spike charges with his spear; Missing by 3 points. He anguishes but burns the 3 luck to hit. The troll rolls a natural 20 for its save.

Some of the less valiant (or perhaps more pragmatic) begin lighting torches to burn the troll. Other peasants and thieves swarm delivering the final blow. They begin burning the troll.

The party then looks to Ahm-al. Rolling over her body, she gasps. A massive scar runs from forearm to the back of her left hand (-1 stamina). Ahm-al’s Trauma increases from 0 to 1. When she gets to Steelhart, Ahm-al will need to check for retirement.

I believe this is the first time I’ve used group initiative. And I loved it. There was a bit of planning during the round, looking to optimize effects. There was tension when we rolled for the second round.

Exploring the Cave

Amongst the dung the dwarves (Mason Stone and Obexo) find an emerald hilted short sword. Mason Stone pulls it from it’s nasty scabbard of feces.

Mason Stone feels a pull towards the river. Heeding the urge, he goes to the river. The sword urges Mason Stone to submerge the sword.

He obliges, the sword then urges him to move it back and forth under water. Again he obliges.

Intraparty Conflict

Spike, wanting to restore luck, asks how. I suggest converting followers or destroying the vile Writ of Orcus.

Spike preaches to Mainge about the virtues of Ramat. Convinced, Mainge converts (and declares an intention of being a Cleric of Ramat).

Spike later has a dream that evening, of the ancient scroll of Ramat rolling into a snake. Likewise, the Writ of Orcus rolls into a snake. They entwine, and the snake of Ramat consumes the snake of Orcus.

Intra-party conflict erupts, as Spike seeks to destroy Argyle’s Writ of Orcus. A bit of back and forth. The agents of Law seek to expunge this unholy relic of Chaos.

The tipping point is the party notices that the faces of Marcus and Ralph, who are helping Argyle preserve the Writ, are sunken and have thinnning skin.

In the end, Law triumphs, as Spike and his conspirators cast the writ into the campfire.

As the scroll burns, a plume of vile green smoke erupts. The sighted characters and Argyle, in his blindness, see a goat-faced creature in the smoke. It bellows in Ancient Ramati, “Avenge This Moment.” Argyle and Spike understand these ancient words.

I ask “Which characters are a follower of Ramat?” Spike and Mainge speak up; Everyone else is silent. “You each get 1d3 Luck.”

The session ends on the late afternoon of the 13th of Spring’s Laugh (Ramaday) with the party an hour or so outside of Steelhart.

The party is fracturing as ideology takes root. We’ll see where conflict erupts next session.

In Memoriam

None. Though Ahm-al must check to see if she will be retiring in Steelhart.

A hand drawn map of a river bed. Stamped with a

The map of the battle with the troll.

Observation

With 7 players and 18 characters, I wish I would’ve had a dungeon crawl ready. But the players had massive wealth they wanted to convert to something more portable. I chose to build on that thread. I also wanted to get the characters to Steelhart (having spent some time preparing that locale).

The session was a bit slower going than I had hoped, but the characters are discovering this is a world in motion; with localized customs and worshippers of different religions around every turn. Foreboding continues to be a central theme, and I hope they will use Steelhart as a chance to research and learn more about this area of the world.

Group initiative, I think I love you. We’ll see next time. I’ll make sure to communicate the expectations and procedures to the table.

Oh intra party conflict…it is not ideal, but I want to draw attention to the tensions between Ramat and Orcus. I want the players to see that alignment is important, and mixed alignments are in natural tension.

With this ongoing campaign, and it’s drop-in/drop-out nature, I’ve upped my organizational game. I’m holding many of the character sheets and trying to find each player’s previously played character.

Follow-up

Several characters advanced to level 1. They want to see:

  • Paladin (from Crawl)
  • Ranger (from Crawl)
  • Druid (from Hubris)
  • Bard (from Crawl)

One of the D&D groups that has been playing each week is considering shifting to every other week; The GM of that game wants to play in the DCC game.

The difference?

  • Dungeon Crawl Classic vs. 5E
  • Theater of mind vs. battle mats
  • Me asking “Do you think their lying?” vs. the player saying “I make an Insight check to see if they are lying.”
  • Fragile characters vs. robust characters
  • Random tables and adventure modules vs. adventure path stories

Regardless, I’m off for the next week – my daughter has a band concert.

The Portal Under the Stars at International Tabletop Game Day

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A few weeks ago, I committed to running Dungeon Crawl Classics for International Tabletop Game Day at Better World Books – Goshen.

Not knowing who might be there, I kept my options open, bringing:

The table had 4 new faces and a returning player. I went with the standby of “Portal Under the Stars.”

Jose was jilting his weekly group, that was playing in the room next door, to instead play in DCC. He is a 9th grader, and plays with the insight of a veteran OSR gamer.

Christina and Joe were new to tabletop RPGs and interested (asking if they could speak in accents, to which I said “Absolutely!”). Tim had prior experience years ago; And I believe EJ had also played awhile ago.

Spoilers for Portal Under the Stars

A portion of “Portal Under the Stars” by Doug Kovacs

Session

The Cast

  • Kathulu – chaotic jester, luck 13
  • Kahn – neutral cheesemaker, luck 8
  • Carlos – neutral weaver, luck 10
  • Mark – neutral mendicant, luck 9
  • Dave – neutral parsnip farmer, luck 11
  • Steve – lawful caravan guard, luck 5
  • Medic – lawful healer, luck 12
  • Randy – chaotic rice farmer, luck 7
  • Rick – lawful potato farmer, luck 16
  • Frodo – chaotic halfling chicken butcher, luck 14
  • Gimli – chaotic dwarven rat-catcher, luck 8
  • Beorn – neutral woodcutter, luck 10
  • Riddick – neutral guild beggar, luck 11
  • Trinity – chaotic halfling dyer, luck 16
  • Tim – lawful slave, luck 15
  • Ronin – lawful human, luck 15
  • Daphney – chaotic butcher, luck 10
  • Sparkles – lawful weaver, luck 10
  • Cup Cake – neutral cobbler, luck 9
  • Rainbow Sunshine – chaotic alchemist, luck 12

Introduction

The characters are serfs for a local dirt baron, Lord Jacob III; In fact the 20 of them are the entire village. The village, Treehill, is south of Oakwood Mire and the King’s Way, tucked between the woods and the northern reach of the Barrow Ward.

Lord Jacob III is dying. With no heir he is releasing them from their toil and serfdom. He speaks of a portal he saw in his youth and grand treasure. And our adventurers are off.

Entry Way

They approach the menhir archway, and see a passageway to another locale. Lighting Steve’s lantern, Steve and Rick venture forward, seeking to bash in the door. A natural 20 on a Strength check, and the door bursts. The success is momentary as a jet of flame incinerates a Steve.

I have begun asking players to place yellow d4s on their character sheets to represent who has light sources. I may break out my Torchbearer Deck to give them torch or lanter cards.

Death Count: 1

Sentinels

With the door open, they see 4 armored and armed sentinel statues. Rick enters the room, and the statue throws a spear but misses. Gimli enters to retrieve the spear, and another launches and skewers him to the wall.

They hatch a plan, they’ll throw a grappling hook onto one of the remaining spears and hope to break or dislodge it. A throw, and its stuck and they can’t recall the grappling hook. With a healthy bit of luck Frodo sneaks over, and lodges the hook on the spear. And pull! The spear breaks.

Frodo then moves along the back wall, and climbs the statue, noting that the armor is not part of the statue. He climbs on the statue dislodges the spear. The arm springs, but the spear fires harmlessly hitting the door.

They loot Gimli, divvy up the 3 spears, and begin donning the scale male.

Death Count: 2

Spinning Statue of the Astrologer Warlord

They throw a goose into the room. Inside is a large statue with intelligent eyes. The statue spins and points to the goose. The goose retreats into a corner of the room.

With the statue hopefully distracted, Kathulu and Frodo attempt to sneak up to the western door. Success!

They fiddle with the door. Their luck runs out, and the statue spins. Initiative! The statue wins, but its flames fail to hit as Kathulu and Frodo dive into the corridor. The flames continue to burn and they press further down the passageway.

The others begin planning how to blind the statue, and as they begin setting their plan in motion, the flames die out.

Ronin goes to retrieve the goose, and heads to the eastern door. The statue spins, points, and clicks. No flames.

Demon Snake

Frodo and Kathulu open the door. Frodo, with infravision, sees the demon snake, and both hear the cursing. Initiative! A quick thinking Kathulu slams the door shut. They head back to the large room, diving through the smoldering wooden door.

Skeletons

Meanwhile, Ronin is opening the eastern door, and the rest of the party are waiting. The room is shadowy, dark, and smells of death. Ronin throws the goose into the room. He sees piles of bones animate. Closing the door, he hears the death squawk of the goose.

Death Count: 2 + a goose

The Pool

With one way forward, they open the door to a dimly lit room. In the room are several columns, a pool, and 6 crystalline creatures ambling around the room. With the door open, the villagers notice the creatures turn towards them.

Daphney steps up to push one into the water with her 10′ pole. She misses and the creature continues ambling towards the lantern bearer. Rick steps up to intercede, bashing the creature with his spear. It turns and backhands him, killing him outright.

The creatures continue migrating towards the light. Quick thinking Rainbow Sunshine takes the lantern and heads into the room with the statue. Once the creatures congregate around the lantern, she uses her ten foot pole to lift the lantern. With lantern in hand she quickly heads back to the pool, closing the door behind her.

Meanwhile three of the other villagers begin plucking crystals from the pool, noting an occasional air bubble that comes up after they free a crystal. After getting about 4 crystals free, they decide to explore the door in the corner.

It’s a spiral staircase heading down.

Death Count: 3 + a goose

The Miniatures Room

They take the stairs down and open a door. A quick cursory exploration, and the adventurers find 4 silver figurines. They make note of a room full of crude clay figurines and two tables depicting a regional battlefield. The region looks to be their local village.

Satisfied, they proceed to the door at the other end of the room.

The Soldiers

Kathulu approaches the door, and opens it. Seeing a pulsing light, a throne with a sitting terra cotta warrior, 7 generals, and 70 foot soldiers. He stood in awe for a moment. Then he heard “Attack!”

The foot soldiers begin climbing out of the pit. The adventurers bard the door and plan to hold their position. The thought is that these soldiers will be brittle and easy to defeat.

They circle up to defend the choke point of the door. And the foot soldiers come. Daphne scores a quick and solid hit, but does not shatter the soldier (as they all hoped). Their concern grows, but the villagers insist on pressing the attack…to little effect.

Two warriors attack, and a villager falls. I stated that the warriors were able to push a third person into position to attack. Another adventurer falls, and a fourth warrior presses into position.

Another round of attacks, and the first warrior falls. But the foot soldier’s counter attack is grim, as the terra cotta foot soldiers slay 3 villagers. The group’s morale breaks and they begin to flee. Some cautiously, others in a panic. The lantern bearer takes off running, and a foot soldier cuts them down. The lantern drops, the soldiers kick it and the oil catches fire. The rout is on!

The foot soldiers charge and slaughter those that did not all out retreat (though one is missed and able to squeak away).

Death Count: 10 + a goose

Retreat!

Fleeing up the stars to the dimly lit, there is a panic. Speed is on their side, so they keep running. They get to the southern door of the pool room. Opening the door, they see the six crystalline creatures waiting to return to the pool room.

Not wanting to aggravate the peaceful creatures, they wait for them to issue into the pool room. All the while, in the dimness of this pool room they hear the foot soldiers battering at the door.

In a “Hears Johnny” moment, a foot soldier splinters a part of the door, he’s lost his arm to the battering. In another quick moment, the door bursts and the soldiers charge forth. The adventurers, wasting no time, run into the large statue room, close the door and rely on Frodo to guide them with his infravision.

Frodo notes that the eastern door shows signs of something forcing its way through.

Panting, they make it outside. They have a single a single crystal, a few silver figurines, and a fine enameled scale armor to show for their adventures and bloodshed.

Conclusion

I offered to keep the surviving characters and made sure that everyone knew about the regular Thursday night games. There was a definite interest.

In Memorandum

  • To Steve, burned by a trapped door
  • To Gimli, speared through the back
  • To Rick, backhanded by a crystalline creature
  • To Mark, Kahn, Beorn, and Kathulu, struck down in the first press of the foot soldiers
  • To Medic and Rainbow Sunshine, struck down as they fled
The DCC RPG book open, character sheets, dice, and judge's screen

10 character sheets, each stamped with a “Death” and their cause recorded.

Observations

The Portal Under the Stars may seem un-winnable unless the players are greedy murder hobos willing to take risks.

Both times I’ve run Portal Under the Stars, it has ended in a rout. My first running was a TPK (total party kill). In this session, the characters took off running.

In both play throughs, each group has plucked a handful of crystals from the pool. But none of them have been greedy, and instead stop after three or so.

I do make sure to describe a surfacing air bubble or two coming from the dislodged crystal. I think this builds on the observations that players are always mindful of the passage of time. If plucking the crystal was a 10 second activity, instead of two minutes, they’d pillage that pool.

Also, the demon snake room is a quick “Shut the Door” encounter. Likewise, the burial room of the generals is a quick “Shut the Door” encounter.

Without greed and bloodlust, the final encounter is almost unbeatable. But everyone has enjoyed the bloodbath regardless.

Also, as we work through exploration and procedures, I’m enjoying drawing attention to their light situation:

  • Who has the lantern?
  • How long has it been burning?
  • When the torchbearer falls, does the light go out?

It is clear to me that these considerations add dramatic tension to the session.

Closing out the Tower of the Stargazer [Session 6]

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Picking up where we left off, the adventurers had won a game of chess, defeating a ghost and gaining access a protected library. They continued their exploration of The Tower of the Stargazer.

Roster

  • Quinlynn the Unlucky – a level 1 elf sage
  • Ralph Nimblefingers – a level 1 halfling haberdasher
  • Ubexo the Agent – a level 1 dwarf
  • Ungo the Beggar – a level 1 human thief
  • Ahm-al the Witness of Cthulhu – a level 1 human cleric
  • Jack the Beggar – a level 1 human herbalist thief
  • Keith the Sorcerer – a level 1 human grave digger wizard
  • Normand – a level 0 elf sage
  • Travers – a level 0 human

Warning: spoilers of the Tower of the Stargazer

A forboding tower being struck by lightning. A lone person contemplates ascending the stairs to the tower.

“Tower of the Stargazer” written by James Raggi IV. Cover art by Peter Mullin.

Session

Exploring the Secret Library

It is a massive room, and Jack asks if he can stumble onto a lucky find. Sure I say. Make a DC 25 Luck check. He gets an 18. And proceeds to burn 4 points to stumble upon a scroll with four scrolls:

  • Runic Alphabet, Mortal – it is clearly warded
  • Emirikol’s Entropic Maelstrom – signed by Varooth Moss, Uravulon Calcidius, Mysteriarch Weekapaug
  • Ward Portal – written in halfling
  • Chill Touch – no distinct features

Quinlynn takes the scrolls (and I forgot to see if he burned them due to his corruption).

The adventurers spends a bit more time searching, and discover this section is all about knots, encyclopedias of creatures from beyond, and communication with other worlds.

After 20 or so minutes, they move on.

Exploring the Observation Platform

The observation platform is rather complicated there is:

  • A control panel
  • A small pond with fish
  • A domed apparatus near the control panel
  • Two large containers
  • A podium with an open book

The adventurers begin exploring the containers. Using extreme caution (and a 10′ pole), they open the containers. One has gunpowder, the other is full of coal. They try to collect the gunpowder; one of the players insists on putting it in a sack.

Ralph says lets find some glass containers, and they head down to get the bottles of wine. Opening two of the bottles, they pour out drinks for everyone (except the teatotaler dwarf). And they drink what is a delicious and fine vintage red wine.

They examine the open book on the podium, the open page with a picture of an odd mandrake/moss hybrid plant. The text is academic obfuscatory prose overrun with complex punctuation, undue verbosity, and general circuitous descriptions; All while elucidating, nay explicating, xenological conjecturs through grandious epistemological undertone.

A part mandrake, part moss creature

“Mandrake Mossling” by Dean Clayton

Quinlynn examines the book, and in touching it, sets it on fire. Quick thinking Ubexo dowses it with a vial of holy water. Only a mild singe. The title of the book is Flora and Fauna of Necropoli Centauri.

During this time, others are examing the doom. They see a panel that opens, it has traces of coal dust. There are also a few lenses and a place that is clearly meant for the Star Crystal.

They put some coal, and a pinch of gunpowder, in the chamber. The fire starts, and the apparatus hums.

They begin playing with the levers. Ubexo pulls the first, the observatory opens to the lightning storm outside.

Ubexo then pulls the second, and the telescope extends. Pulling the third, the lense cap iris opens. And a faint red beams shoots from the viewing scope to the crystal.

Quinlynn looks and sees a bopping mossing mandrake creature.

Ubexo pulls the fourth lever, and they hear a “click, click” from the apparatus, and deduce that the lever is for the ignitor.

Satisfied they make their way downstairs.

Inter party conflict

A white bearded wizard trapped in a circle of salt.

“Sir Uravulon Calcidius” by Dean Clayton

They return to ask Sir Uravulon Calcidius about the book, and to learn more information. Sir Uravulon will tell them if they free him. The conversation stalls and Sir Calcidius’s anger flares up, as he says he’ll destroy their souls.

Oh teenagers, and your glorious chaotic behavior! Keith, played by Jose (a high school student), begins alluding to and seeking to free Calcidius. The others jump on him, gag him, and drag him away.

At this point, Jose needs to leave. As he is leaving, I let him know that at 3pm on SaturdayI will be running another DCC session. Jose is very interested and keen to play. Unfortunately Alex is also running that day. Jose said he’s really liking DCC, and may play it instead of the 5E campaign. I encouraged him to play the 5E campaign.

With that, now Jack (played by Alex another high school student), begins making gestures to free Calcidius. They roll initiative, Quinlynn drops sleep on Jack.

And then Travers (also played by Alex) makes a quick gesture, but Ralph is there and ready for murder. Everyone backs down, and the adventurers return to exploration.

The whole time, I’m playing Sir Calcidius as willing to bargain, rooting for first Keith then Jack. Speaking up about their prowess and leadership. And when one fails, he belittles them, and threatens everyone.

Exploring the Laboratory

Taking the elevator to the 1st floor, they entered a workshop.

There were three spots they explored:

  • A cadaver with a Y-shaped incision, stitched together with gold
  • A microscope with slides of blood
  • An alcove with mirrors

This was an interesting scene as the players explored three spots concurrently. I did quick cut scenes to add to the dramatic unease of a weird situation.

Jack was examining the microscope and slides of blood.

Meanwhile Quinlynn and Ahm-al were examining the cadaver, they noted that it’s abdomen was still full.

And the others were looking at the mirrors.

Travers succeeded at a Will save, and I described the slides as fascinating and interesting.

Quinlynn, with his demon claws, cut the gold thread to explore. His keen elven senses gave him a heads up as the intestines animated to attack.

At the mirror, characters were gaining knowledge, increasing ability scores, and hit points. Everyone wanted a turn.

Quinlynn yelped as the intestine struck, wrapping around his through and beginning to choke. With vocal cords constrained he cast a feeble burning hands (1 point of damage).

Normand, who had gained insights gazes into another mirror, which sucks him in; All of this while the intestines are choking Quinlynn.

The others sprung into action, Ahm-al struck with scimitar, and Ralph came charging back, slashing through the intestine and freeing Quinlynn.

With the immediate danger resolved, the adventurers turn their full attention to the mirrors and companions.

Travers gazes into one of the mirrors (the one that granted knowledge) and enters a catatonic state.

Ahm-al fails to command both Normand and Travers to move (see below for details). Ubexo breaks Travers gaze with the mirror, and Travers collapses, asleep.

The adventurers decide to move on.

Jail Cells

Checking the bound wooden door, Ungo heard moans from the other side. They gathered around, weapons drawn, open the door and ghostly creatures moved towards them. Ungo closed the door and the left it well enough alone.

The Storage Room

Opening the iron door, they saw crates upon crates; a hundred or so. They discovered:

  • The skull of a scholar who told tales about art
  • The pelvis of a sailor who studied misery
  • The sternum of a virgin who ignored happiness

When they cracked open a box labeled “Skull of a wife who collected the stars”, sure enough there was a skull packed amongst straw.

Return to the Mirrors

If you throw press your luck mechanisms at players, they will do it. Especially if it means permanent ability increases, extra hit points, extra knowledge.

The adventurers couldn’t resist, they returned to the mirrors.

Jack looked into the duplication mirror, and his mirror image jumped out to attack him. Initiative!

Mirror Jack gets the jump, burns 4 luck, and sticks real Jack. Real Jack attempts a counterstrike but fails. Mirror Jack again sticks real Jack (who is now at 1 hit point) before the others respond.

It’s tight quarters, and as everyone attempts to help Real Jack, I call for Luck tests. Failure means you accidentally look into the mirror.

Ubexo barreling in, succeeding at Luck, misses mirror Jack. Ahm-al, not as lucky, locks gaze with the mirror and mirror Ahm-al jumps out to join the melee. Real Ahm-al misses mirror Ahm-al

Quinlynn responds, succeeding on his Luck check, and drops his sleep spell; He gets a 22. He targets both mirror characters. And rolls his 1d6 for healing…everyone gets 1 HP back.

Mirror Jack rolls a 19, and burns 2 more luck to make the save. Mirror Ahm-al fails the save; she could burn luck but as a priest of Cthulhu, why would you deny sleep?

Ubexo dispatches Mirror Ahm-al, but not before real Ahm-al fumbles and misses her sleeping mirror image.

It’s a round of misses by Team Real, and mirror Jack again strikes real Jack for 2 HP. Real Jack is down and bleeding out. Mirror Jack jumps, screams who’s next, and turns to a puddle of ichor.

The adventurers jump to save Jack. Ahm-al prays to Cthulhu, but again, Cthulhu is not to be disturbed. Quinlynn again drops his healing sleep spell, restoring 4 HP to Jack, and increasing Jack’s Trauma from 0 to 1 (see more about Trauma and Retiring).

The Treasure Room

They descend the elevator to the level labeled 1. Stepping out they see a control panel with 4 switches, three shimmering force fields that obstruct access to 10 treasure chests.

Ubexo thinks about it, and opens his mind to understand the sequence. In doing so, he feels a presence touching the back right side of his skull. He knows the answer to the appropriate sequence, and pulls the levers.

Nothing appears to happen, the force fields are still shimmering. Ralph prods the force field and passes safely through. They proceed to loot the entire treasury.

Some quick divying up, and we wrap up our session.

The Road Goes Ever On

The nearest town of any size, that they’ve heard of, is Steelhart. It sounds like the next session will be their journey to Steelhart and attempting to convert their wealth into something portable.

Discoveries

Sir Calcidius

Is a is into quite a few things:

  • Knots
  • Optics, light
  • Metalworks
  • Glass, glassblowing, sculpting glass, and lenses
  • Blood, dissection
  • Weird paranormal things
  • Transdimensional fauna and flora
  • Transplanetary observation and communication

My favorite bit of advice from James Raggi IV in this adventure is related to books:

Too many odd books in adventures hold actual knowledge. Think of all the nonsense in the paranormal section of your local bookstore. If the supernatural was actually real, do you not think that there would be a lot more fraudulent nonsense along those lines?

He has also collaborated with Varooth Moss at a previous point.

Treasure

  • A mountain of gold and silver coins (10,000 gp, 10,000 sp)
  • Another viridian pearl (and growing concern about the “Beware the eyes of green” goat prophecy)
  • A scroll with four spells, one of them signed by
    • Varooth Moss – the frog-headed sorcerer freed from ice, seeking a viridian pearl
    • Uravulon Calcidius – the wizard trapped in his own circle of salt
    • Mysteriarch Weekapaug – an unknown name
  • Crystal dice, a box of narcotics, a giant crystal
  • A small hand-mirror that will once shoot a beam of light up to 30′ for 1d8 damage
  • Stat gains and health increases
  • Two bottles of a fine vintage wine

In looking at the amount of wealth, I’m considering adjusting to the Lamentations of the Flame Princess currency model. But that will be a larger discussion with the table.

Cthulhu

Cthulhu resets disapproval when the tides start rising for the day and did not grant spells to:

  • Command a person in trapped in the mirror, as they were beyond time and space
  • Command a catatonic person, as they were in a dream-like state
  • Lay on Hands a thief who had died fighting his reflection, as they were unworthy of even themselves

In fact, during this session, Cthulhu answered not a single prayer.

In Memorium

To Normand, who gazed upon himself as the mirror consumed him.

They’re Coming to the Barrow

I was planning to run the conclusion of the Tower of the Stargazer; Only one of the members from last session was present. There were four other players that wished to join (a group of high school students that play D&D 5E together). So I reached into my bag of tricks pulled out:

  • Random 1st level characters for them
  • Barrowmaze‘s random barrow generator

“Barrowmaze Complete” by Greg Gillespie

Early in the session, two of the players needed to leave. I was looking forward to playing with them but commended them for stopping early on a school night. I hope they are able to join me on Saturday’s DCC funnel.

The Cast

  • Argyle the tax collector, Willy the undertaker, Marcus the mercenary, Andy, Charles
  • Jeffrey, Alexander III, Jack the herbalist, Sophia, Alex the woodcutter
  • Knotty the rope maker, Hendar the radish farmer, Keith, Knead the baker, Knoll the elven sage

Session Open

The characters are from the village of Oakwood Mire, north of the Barrow Ward and east of Hirot. Hearing news of people finding riches in Bitterweed Barrow, they set out to make their fortune.

The village of Bitterweed Barrow has experienced a rash of young fools going off on adventures. Some 80 villagers of the 200 or so, have gone off to adventure. And less two dozen have survived. The villagers are straining under the loss of labor and villagers.

The adventurers from Oakwood Mire arrive to a town uncertain of its future. The owner of the Bloody Bullfrog Tavern, Solomon Gruth III, has begun expanding his tavern to include a flophouse. It looks as though he anticipates an influx of travelers.

Constable Dunk is ever vigilant about vagrants, and threatens the adventurers that he’ll kick them out if they don’t leave by sundown. Some time is spent navigating the village:

Alexander III and Jeffrey seek the wizard; He is not taking visitors. And grows agitated at their insistency. They notice he is having tea with a frog-headed man.

This is an unusual DCC opening for me. I wanted to narrate a bit about the changes in Bitterweed Barrow. This worked, but I should’ve dove straight into the dungeon crawling part. With so many characters, the adventurers were scattering all throughout the barrow.

They settle down and spend the night in a barn. In the morning, a frog-headed man comes to the barn and introduces himself as Varooth Moss. He draws a hasty map and asks them to retrieve a viridian pearl. All other grave goods are theirs to keep.

Frog-headed humanoid with wand and wizard robes

Varooth Moss by Jon Marr

To the Barrow

They ask around for a sledge hammer, and find that a laborer named Zeff is the owner of the one sledge hammer in Bitterweed Barrow. They try to strike a deal, promising wealth upon their return, but he’d rather have the 5gp today than 2gp today and have to get 20gp from a corpse.

They secure rations and some padded armor; I grin as I realize they will have one solid light source (waiting on my Veins of the Earth physical copy so I can better explore lighting).

The 15 would be adventurers strike out to a barrow 2 miles west of Nebin Pendlebrook’s home. Set amongst a small copse of trees, they spend a half-hour with the sledge and iron spike to gain entrance. Stale air greets them as they see stairs leading into the dark. They light a lantern and begin their descent. One character pulls out their chalk and starts marking their path on the wall.

Into the Barrow

D&D map of four geometric rooms

Map of the Barrow of the Writ of Orcus

First Room

The first room is triangular in shape. The floors are dry. In the room they see 5 woven baskets. Knotty approaches the first basket. After a bit of gentle poking and prodding, flips the lid revealing weevils and rotten grain. Another character does the same to the second basket. Again weevils and rotten grain.

A third approaches and slides their sword into the basket. He meets resistance but feels a shift and pushes a bit further. He flips the lid revealing a basket of skulls. He grabs one.

The fourth approaches and jams their scissors into the basket. He meets hard resistance and snaps his scissors. Opening the basket reveals 1000 cp. They begin filling a large bag.

The fifth approaches, flipping the lid, revealing more rotten grain.

I am a bit surprised that they didn’t flip the baskets over and look for loot.

They decide to explore the heavy wooden door on their left. A bit of cautious inspection and they pull the door open.

Second Room

The room is 10 feet wide and runs 50 feet to a pedestal. On the pedestal they see the faint reflection of an orange gem. They notice that light appears dampened in this room. On both sides of the room are small burial alcoves, each about a foot wide and a foot tall. A quick estimate and they think there are about 450 of these.

With senses tingling, they discuss a plan. The lantern will remain back and someone will enter. Knotty goes in and proceeds with caution. Almost immediately a dark shadow darts out and strikes Knotty. I call for initiative and the shadow wins. It strikes Knotty again. Knotty gives up and flees back out of the room.

The shadow does not appear to follow. They decide to try their luck in the next room (the door to the north).

Third Room

They open the door and there is a similar room; Instead of a pedestal, there is an altar with a large vellum scroll resting on it. There is no dampening of light in this room.

Again, another plan. Two will enter the room. Willy crawling along the ground looking for traps on the ground, the other a few feet back with a lantern attached to the end of a ten-foot poll. About halfway into the room, Willy sits up and snaps a wire set at about mid-thigh. A burst of gas erupts. They both save versus the poison gas.

They flee the room and wait 5 minutes, and throw the hen in. It flaps through the room, lands, turns around and walks back. With the hen-reinforced “all clear”, they return to the room.

Willy approaches the altar and sees ruins on the base. They are dwarven ruins but the language is not dwarven. He makes out the following: For/of great/power Orcus. He is keen on the scroll and the bone scroll case behind it, and looks around for any traps. He then grabs a few coins and does the old switch-a-roo; He has the scroll and a 8 coins are now on the altar.

As they are leaving the room, Hendar decides to look in one of these burial alcoves. He catches the faintest glint of gold in the mouth of a skull. Reaching in, the skeleton bits his hand, killing him from fright and shock. It proceeds to chomp on his arm.

The survivors make haste to leave the room.

Willy begins studying the Holy Writ of Orcus; And is trying to transcribe parts of a spell that may be used to inflict harm.

Fourth Room

Again, they approach the door with caution, and after inspection pull open the door. A hallway runs 10 feet and opens into a rectangular room running 20 feet deep and 30 feet wide.

On the floor are six raised stone slabs, each with an identical skeletal arrangement. Alexandar III and Jeffrey (the lantern bearer if memory serves) first enter and inspect one of the slabs. There is a tension at the table. They know something will happen.

Each of the skeletal remains have 2 coins and a dark gem inside the arrangement. Willy Charles, Knotty, and Knoll all enter to better inspect and perhaps loot. Greed gets the best of them, and someone reaches for the gem. An unholy voice howls “Do not defile!”, the door slams shut, and the skeletons begin to animate.

I call for initiative, and the skeletons go first. The bones shuffle and assemble into human for, the ruby gem pulses inside their rib cage; Instead of eyes, two gold coins ooze blood and vengeance. They attack.

The skeleton misses Knotty, but slays Knoll, Jeffrey, Alexander III. They pass over Willy (the one who has been studying the Holy Writ of Orcus). Another tense moment when the lantern bearer falls – Would the lantern fall and shatter plunging everyone into darkness? I call for a luck check, and in death Jeffrey is successful; The lantern clatters safe to the floor.

Hearing screams everyone bolts into action. They bring the sledge hammer down on the skeleton (Nat 14 and a critical; A luck check spares the ruby). Others take stabs but their blades are less effective. With scissors in hand, Knotty runs to the door and bangs on it. The others, springing to action, burst the door open, knocking Knotty back and rattling her head for 1 HP of damage.

Sustaining heavy losses, they dispatch the skeletons. There are 7 survivors (though one of them fled above ground). The six in the carnage loot and split treasure.

Splitting the Party

Some chose to re-enter the room with the shadow and orange gem. Others decided to begin burying the bodies of the dead.

They hatch a plan. They throw the Hendar’s orphan hen into the room. The shadow strikes (and drains the hen dead). They throw holy water followed by a pound of flower, and the shadow takes form. They then attempt to burn the shadow, throwing a burning suit wrapped log. It misses the shadow but the flour explodes.

They launch into their fallback plan. Alex makes a mad dash for the orange gem. The shadow strikes once as he runs in and grabs the gem. On Alex’s retreat, the shadow strikes again delivering a critical hit – “PC disarmed. Weapon lands 1d12+5’ away.” The gem rolls away. Alex chases it down as the shadow continues to strike and drain his strength. Alex dashes across the room, crossing the threshold into the entry room. The shadow gives up pursuit. They gather around and notice gem is in fact a green pearl.

Conclusion

I know I did something right when I hear something to the effect of “I think I’m in love with DCC!” It looks as though a few of these characters may continue adventuring.

Survivors

Somehow Knotty survived (Str 6, Agi 9, Sta 8, Int 10, Per 4, Luc 3, 2 HP) and made it to level 1. We agreed she would retire.

The other survivors include:

  • Keith, Alex, Jack, Sophia who all reached 10 XP
  • Argyle and Marcus reached 8 XP

In Memorandum

  • To Hendar who reached for treasure and lost a hand and life to an animated voracious skull
  • To Willy who clung to the sacred writ of Orcus while a ruby skeleton shredded his throat
  • To Andy, Charles, Jeffrey, Alexander III, Knoll, and Knead who fought bravely yet died to the ruby skeletons

Rulings

A player wanted to use their sledgehammer as a weapon. I ruled that it did 1d12 damage (though I think it should be 2d6), but imposed a -2d to the attack. There were 2 hits with the weapon and one miss. Not bad! (The players needed more bludgeoning weapon).

When you are a lantern bearer and die, make a Luck check to not break the lantern. If you succeed it lands safely lit. Otherwise it breaks, the oil burns bright and fast for one round and then goes out.

Action Items

I continue to come back to Bitterweed Barrow. I believe it is time to write up a brief document / worksheet that can help me better run scenes in Bitterweed Barrow as well as record names and places I mention.

Dungeon Crawl Classics – Tower of the Stargazer [Session 5]

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The Cast for this Session

There were six players and 15 or so characters.

People gathered around a table, listening to a Judge describe the in game situation.

Good Luck With That…

Leveled Characters

  • Ungo the Beggar (1st-level thief)
  • Ahmal the Witness of Cthulhu (1st-level cleric)
  • Obexa the Agent (1st-level dwarf)
  • Spike the Acolyte of Ramat (1st-level cleric)
  • Ralph Quickfingers – an inquisitive halfling haberdasher (1st-level halfling)
  • Quinlynn the Unlucky – an elf sworn to the King of Elfland (1st-level elf)
  • Badger’s Bane – human trapper (1st-level Thief)

The Villagers

Albert, Bartholemew, Calvin, Dave, Krem, Ilvora, Stemp, Chance, Yeasty,Lord Scuttlebutt

Those crossed out did not survive the adventure.

The Session

A Bit of Background

This group of characters is an amalgam of three 0-level character funnels:

As well as survivors of the Harley Stroh’s “Doom of the Savage Kings

I’ve treated each of those as having taken place in the village of Bitterweed Barrow. Buried in this sleepy little corner of the world is evidence of past civilizations.

A hex grid with five filled hexes mapping a small region.

The Known World as of Session 4

Back to Bitterweed Barrow

Having left Hirot after defeating the Hound of Hirot and framing Iraco, the characters returned to Bitterweed Barrow. I advanced the time a month (to reflect that we’ve been playing for over a month

During this downtime:

  • Ralph fashioned an ostentatious hide armor made from the silver wolf skin pelt he found
  • Other villagers had explored another barrow (Joan ran Portal Under the Stars in my absence)
  • People were equipping themselves with hide or leather armor and shields
  • Everyone was restless for more adventure
  • Nine more villagers wanted to take up the life of adventuring. I wonder how many more villagers will hear the siren song of adventuring?
  • Joseph, the drunken farmer, spoke again about a two-headed goat birth and green eyes (See second session for more details)
  • Quinlynn’s player, Erich, asks if he has any recollection of a previous time of two-headed goat births.
    • I made a quick ruling for Elven Lore based on something mentioned in Spellburn #46. I will be formalizing this.
    • XXX recalls at that time helping a wizard who was building a tower north of Bitterweed Barrow; He wanted precisely cut reeds from the fens.
  • Ahmal the Witness of Cthulhu hands over two radiant sacred Ramati scrolls to Spike the Acolyte of Ramat (See side-trek session for more details)
    • I asked for a Luck check for Ahmal; She passed. On a failure Cthulhu would’ve taken notice and disapproved.
    • I’m working towards paying greater attention to character alignments and decisions.
  • Recollection of the Tale of the Barrow Wives

    Deep and ancient magic infuses the funerary rituals of mighty warriors and great leaders. One of these rituals involves the self-sacrifice of a lover of the deceased. The lover is ritually killed and buried in the loamy foundation of their beloved’s barrow; To sooth and serve their deceased lover for the eons.

After a bit, they embarked, choosing to seek the tower of the wizard.

Roadside Reconciliation

For my session prep, I wrote up some procedures for the hex crawling near Bitterweed Barrow. The first hex, they rolled a 1 for their chance at an encounter.

The adventurers see a road-side shrine, like the one that Ungo looted earlier. Ralph urges Ungo to make things right and return those coins. Ungo agreed, and unlike last time, threw caution to the wind and placed the coins in the bowl without careful inspection. The bowl tilted and a crossbow bolt shot from the brush, sinking deep in Ungo’s thigh.

A roar of “Attack!” and a dozen camouflaged bandits burst up, throwing javelins. I should’ve made some rolls for the elves. Several javelins stick, three of the villagers drop dead. The adventurers rally and make a counter attack. Ungo and Ahmal attempting to flank, other villagers charging the bandits, slings bullets launching.

The first tide-turning event is Quinlynn casting Sleep (with the mercurial magic effect of healing 1d6 HP of everyone within 30′). He’s 3 points shy of getting the spell off, and Ralph offers up 2 points of Luck (one will be permanent). Ephemeral swan wings embrace the bandit hero and gentle drop him off to sleep.

The remaining bandits check morale, and press on! Ralph charges into the fray, picking off one of the bandits. The bandits respond and fell a few more villagers and Badger’s Bane.

Spike steps over Badger’s Bane and casts Holy Sanctuary (a cautious move given that Badger’s Bane is of an opposing alignment). Obexa charges a cluster of bandits with a mighty deed of “I want to cleave into the other”. He hits his deed and the attack and splatters two of the bandits.

Ahmal rushes over to save Badger’s Bane; A bandit harries Ahmal, but ultimately Ahmal heals Badger’s Bane. Ungo guts one of the bandits. The bandits check morale, and feel. They call for a retreat.

The adventurers, battered and bruise, pound their shields and drive off the bandits. As the bandits flee, Quinlynn casts another sleep spell, catching two more bandits (and healing the adventurers).

The adventures spend some time looting the corpses (upgrading to studded leather and scimitars), tying up the survivors, and preparing a funeral pyre for the four slain villagers and dead bandits.

One player’s characters all died, so I reached into the envelope of 0-level characters and pulled out Dave the Woodcutter. He had heard the commotion and came to investigate; He decided to join the adventurers.

As the brigand leader stirs awake, still bound, Spike approaches him. “You have done bad things. I want you to repent in the name of Ramat.” I call for a DC 15 Personality check, and he aces it. The brigand leader is a convert of Ramat. He goes to convert his fleeing crew.

A Strange Roadside Encounter

As they enter the next hex, I ask for a d6. Again a 1.

As they press forth, they come to the King’s Way and see a lone traveller. They hail him. And he responds in a stilted manner.

The adventurers immediately think “Zombie” and I clarify. No its more jerky motion. “Like a marrionette?” asked Erich. “Yes that!”

I have some fun pantomiming a very herky jerky man. And talking with a not entirely in control voice. I’m aiming for Vincent D’onofrio in “Men in Black”

Spike attempts to turn unholy to no effect. The adventurers choose to let this “man” continue his trip towards Hirot. And they continue towards the wizards tower.

Approaching Tower of the Stargazer

From here on out are spoilers for James Raggi IV’s “Tower of the Stargazer“.

A forboding tower being struck by lightning. A lone person contemplates ascending the stairs to the tower.

“Tower of the Stargazer” written by James Raggi IV. Cover art by Peter Mullin.

As they approach the tower towards the evening. They note the lightning striking it and the immediate surroundings, even the the sky is clear.

Ralph and Ungo decide to approach the stairs and doors to the tower. They move cautiously, noting a body just west of the tower. At the door they spend some time investigating the knocker, the door frame, the floor, and the door itself. As Ungo is about to pull the serpentine handles, Ralph suggests they knock on the knocker. A loud “Bong” reverberates and the door opens to a meticulously kept waiting room with two doors.

First Floor

The rest of the party ascends the stairs and enters the waiting room. Yeasty lights her torch. In this room, one of the characters curious about illusions jabs a knife into a table. It appears to be real.

They open one door in the waiting room to discover a moldering closet with outdated clothes. They take the other door. It opens to a dining room with fine china, bottles of wine, a statue of a King and Medusa from a popular myth.

There was a wicked King who loved a Medusa. And she loved him. Together they grew powerful. And in this power they grew to resent each other. The King one day betrayed the Medusa and had her killed. In her dying breath she cursed his lineage, and on the 18th birthday each of his children, serpents kill each of them.

They spend a bit of time exploring. Ralph checks out the four wine bottles. They are of an old vintage. Spike continues to advise that they leave them here and can get them as they leave. Ralph, deaf to Spike’s suggestions, pops open a bottle and smells the sweet fragrance of a fine wine. He corks it and puts it back.

Second Floor

They head up the stairs to a servants quarter. They see a table, oven, corridor to other chambers, and stairs going up, with a notable oozing splotch of blood. They explore the servants quarters and find a journal written by Argyle Timmons. It details the day to day activities of the tower. The last entry, some 59 years ago ends with Argyle saying that he is going to flee Sir Uravulon Calcidius. Sir Calcidius, the wizard, has turned murderous and spiteful. They also find a key.

This jogs a bit of Ilvora’s memory; Argyle was a villager that took over helping Sir Calcidius when the tasks became rather onerous:

  • fetch the placenta for a girl birth from a mother that was a first-born
  • gather a rams horn fill with the blood of the ram after you have bludgeoned it to death by the horn

Third Floor

They gather themselves and approach the stairs and the door at the top. They note that blood continues to ooze from the key hole. They try the key and hear a “cling” as they push another key out of the other side of the keyhole. A quick use of parchment and they scrape up the key.

A white bearded wizard trapped in a circle of salt.

“Sir Uravulon Calcidius” by Dean Clayton

They open the door and see a white bearded wizard standing inside of a circle of salt. At this point, the players have a clear idea the Sir Calcidius is not a nice guy. But he starts out friendly and willing to pay them to free him. As they goad him, his anger rises, the veins on his forehead throb and he turns red as he proclaims “Free me now or I will scatter your souls across the cosmos.”

The adventurers proceed to goad him and prod him, exploring his quarters (and taking the 5,000 gp Star Crystal). He responds with equal parts anger, nihilism, and contrition. On a stand they find a book titled “Communications and Signaling the Beyond”. It goes on and on about the existence of other planets and their possible fauna and flora. And means of communication, though perhaps through other planes. A blathering of pseudoscience, if science were a defined concept in this world.

The adventurers checkout the door and find what appears to be an elevator shaft. Ralph, Ungo, and Quinlynn offer to explore (none of them need Yeasty’s torchlight).

Going Up

There are two doors on the 4th level. One towards the center of the tower, the other towards the edge. They choose the center. It opens into a study room with tables. On the table is a book “Surviving the Interorbular Ether”, it is a dense read. There are two doors. They open one, and hear a woosh and are greeted with the scent of stale air. It is a library. There are countless books on three major subjects:

  • Glass
  • Light
  • Metalworks

There is another door leading what would appear to be to the room that was accessible from the elevator shaft. They open that door. It is a chilly room with a wooden box. They open the box and feel a blast of cold air. Inside are 12 vials. Ralph inspects one. It looks like blood. As he holds it, the blood ripples a bit. He checks the other vials. All of them are blood. Not overly curious, he puts them back and they leave the room, heading back to the study.

Take a Chance

They take the other door and enter a room with a table and two chairs, one facing them, the other ready for someone to sit in. To their left, a door with crackling energy barring its entrance. A ghost appears and said “Beat me at a game of chess and I will give you access. Lose and your soul is mine.”

The adventure gave some guidance; But with time running short, I offered a deal. You’ll roll a d20 to determine the results of the chess game. My initial terms were on a 1 to 15 you lose your soul. On a 16 to 20 you win and get 15 XP. I didn’t mention if burning luck would be an option. Chance opted to play. He rolled a 3 (and didn’t have enough luck to make up the difference). He disintegrated and reappeared as the ghost.

This time I offered 10 XP for 50/50 odds. Ralph thought about it, and sat at the table. And rolled natural 1. Poof. Quick thinking Quinlynn Invoked the King of Elfland. A quick errand from his shadow to Elfland (for the spellburn), and Quinlynn stepped back to offer Ralph guidance on the midgame and helped coach him. I gave Ralph a re-roll and increased his success range from 11+ to 6+. He rolled a 12. Chance’s ghost and the chessboard disappear and the force field to the other door blinks out of existence.

Having run out of time, we stopped there. I awarded 9 XP to the survivors.

Concluding the Doom of the Savage Kings [Session #4]

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This Thursday was the conclusion of “DCC #66.5 Doom of the Savage Kings” by Harley Stroh.

Dungeon Crawl Classics - Doom of Savage Kings by Harley Storh

Dungeon Crawl Classics – Doom of Savage Kings by Harley Storh

My instincts told me this session could be a bit challenging; I would be starting the session after the now open-ended conclusion of chaotic scheme of distraction, misdirection, arson, and ultimately triumph. We had ended on a high note, and we would need to work together to draw the characters together.

The situation was:

  • Ungo the Thief and Obexo the Dwarf were captive of Iraco.
  • Arrick was with the Jarl.
  • Someone burned two buildings.
  • Someone attempted to burn the palisade.
  • The adventurers had slain the Hound of Hirot (Quinlynn, Ralph, Odin, Eustice, Snips and other villagers)
  • Unbeknownst to Iraco, the adventurers reclaimed the Wolf-Spear.

I spent a bit of time during the week thinking on this charged situation, and came up with some potential directions. At the start of the session the players would roll a d6 three times. Each number that came up would be one piece of information that the Jarl and villagers would piece together.

Details proved in the body of the blog post

A mind map and random table for session 4

d6 The NPCs learn the following
1 Jarl Henrick learns of Nori talking with Arrick at the house
2 Jarl Herick learns from Merric of Arrick and others coming over the wall (except Quinnlyn as he had charmed Merric)
3 Iraco has a chance of finding a trace of Ralph being in his house (Ralph will need to make a Luck check)
4 The armorer Armond comes to the Jarl saying he believes the adventurers robbed him
5 Sylle Ru has consulted the portents and places the fires occurrence on Quinlyn
6 Roll 2d4 – 1) Oleen the Imp, 2) Catkins, 3) Wee Tocs, or 4) Wolf will approach the Jarl or Iraco with information about who they saw earlier that night (namely Arrick causing mayhem at the house).

With a charged situation, and many players, I also knew I wanted to plan out some relationship graph (who would betray whom) as well as write up instincts motivating each major player.

Instincts and Relationship Graph

Starting the Session

The players rolled 2, 2, 6:

  • Jarl Herick learns from Merric of Arrick and others coming over the wall (except Quinnlyn as he had charmed Merric).
  • Oleen the Imp and Wee Tocs would approach the Jarl or whomever with information about seeing Arrick and other villagers (Oleen and Wee Tocs did not see Ralph).

The players didn’t know what the results were, but it helped frame the situation. Poor Arrick, all signs pointed to him.

At the standing stones, the adventurers debated on what to do next:

  • Return the soul net to the King of Elfland.
  • Have the villagers deliver the body of the hound.
  • Approach the gates.

There was a bit of deliberation and they settle on returning to Hirot. A quick reconnoiter reveals the guards on the wall to be half their earlier count. They carry the hound to the gates of Hirot, and announce their victory.

The nightwatch opens the gates. In the town square the whole town gathers in a semi-circle behind:

  • Jarl Henrick
  • Sylle Ru
  • Iraco

Behind them are the Thegns, Nothan the Elder, and Iraco’s hunters. They have bound Arrick, Ungo, and Obexo. The gist of the conversation is:

  • The Jarl agrees that the hound may be dead; They will find out tomorrow evening.
  • The Jarl requests a payment of 3 cattle for the mischief caused by the adventurers.
  • Iraco requests a trial by combat of Arrick; The Jarl approves.
  • Odin accepts the trial.
  • The Jarl sets the time for mid-morning the next day.
  • All the while Sylle Ru is whispering in the Jarl’s ear.
  • There is a tentative peace and fragile optimism.

The crowd disperses. The adventurers settle in the Wolf Spear Inn and have a night of drinking. Odin insists on drinking through the night but Quinlynn instead drops his healing sleep and Odin gets a nice nights sleep. That evening, everyone dreams of old and ancient things; The world is turning, the ancient is awakening.

Trial by Combat

Morning, crows have gathered to witness. Ralph gives his ill-fitting leather armor to Odin (bumping Odin from AC 8 to AC 10); After all Ralph had burned down the house that held Odin’s chain mail and shield.

  • Iraco and Odin square off.
  • Iraco wins initiative and strikes quick (for 10 points of damage); Odin is at 1 HP.
  • Odin swings back, going for a disarm, but misses.
  • Pivoting and with a quick down thrust, Iraco drives his sword through the collar bone of Odin.
  • Odin collapses.
  • The murder of crows begins cawing and brazenly approaching the body.

As this was a trial by combat and to the death, there was no recovering the body. Odin was dead. Iraco claimed the wolf-spear.

At this point Thomas and Amy arrive; I help walk him through advancing Snips to 1st level. No longer a barber, Snips has learned of magic through Eustace and Quinlynn.

Meeting the King of Elfland

They travel to an ancient grove and find a cleric waiting – we introduce Ah-mal from theRuins of Ramat adventure.

  • Ah-mal is a cleric of Cthulhu.
  • Ah-mal sees the adventurers could use healing and joins their cause.
  • After a few failed healing checks (and creeping disapproval) the Quinlynn invokes the King of Elfland.
  • The focal tree shudders and the King arrives.
  • He exudes ancient and primal power.
  • Quinlynn delivers the soul net; The King has been waiting for this for a long time.
  • Thomas and I have a good role-playing scene:
    • He is role-playing Snips hesitancy at his newly discovered powers
    • I’m standing, he’s sitting, and as the King of Elfland, I hang over him, speaking with arrogance and goading.
  • Quinlyn binds Snips and Ralph to the King of Elfland, picking up a couple of +2 bonus for his next invoke patron.
  • Ralph converts from Lawful to Neutral alignment.
  • God have mercy, there are now two spell-casters in my group that with the King of Elfland as their patron.

Iraco Requires Wergild

Iraco learns that Arrick was likely responsible for burning his house (and the neighboring house). The Jarl, frustrated at his villager, orders Arrick to pay a fine of 6 cattle (120 GP). Failure to pay by the next evening would result in being the Jarl’s thrall.

Ralph offers and pays the fine on behalf of Arrick. He produces 5 green emeralds (at 20 gp each) and 20 gold coins. The Jarl accepts payment and heads to the manor, where he will collect his portion and pay the rest to Iraco.

Step One of Framing of Iraco

Ralph hatches a plan to frame Iraco.

  • Arrick and Ungo catch up with the Jarl.
  • Arrick throws himself on the Jarl, extolling his benevolence and issuing soothing platitudes. I call for a Personality test (DC 10). Arrick comes up 4 short, but burns luck to ensure the distraction works.
  • Ungo succeeds in a now easy Pick Pocket to get 4 of the emeralds from the Jarls coin pouch.

Meeting the Armorer

Armond the Armorer approaches the adventurers demanding the remainder of payment for the armor or the return of the armor; The armor that Ralph had likely burned when he set fire to Iraco’s house.

  • The adventurers are cash poor.
  • After some conversation, Armond reveals that he loathes Iraco. If the curse is lifted and the heroes were to drive out Iraco, he’d forgive any debt.
  • Ralph decides to see if the armor is destroyed (it was in the house he burned). A successful Luck check and some scrounging and they find the armor undamaged.

Step Two of Framing Iraco

  • The day passes to evening and the community gathers for services from Brother Meacom.
  • Brother Meacom delivers a pontificating and bloviating sermon extolling the victory of Justicia.
    • An about face considering his previous doom and gloom at an unwinnable situation.
  • Ungo disguises as an altar boy, accepting offerings, intent on planting the 4 emeralds in Iraco’s purse.
    • Iraco pretended to donate to Justicia by tapping the bottom of the offering plate to make it sound as though he donated coins.
  • As the service concludes Iraco exits, while much of the congregation remains; Discussing if the adventures lifted the curse.
  • Arrick approaches the Jarl telling him that Iraco was in the Three Rats Flophouse bragging about nicking some emeralds; The persuasion all holds together.
  • Jarl Henrick strides out the door and confronts Iraco. Demanding to see his coin purse.
  • Iraco produces the purse, opens it to reveal 4 emeralds. In shock, he drops the purse, and attempts to flee.
  • Initiative – Iraco loses the initiative. The Jarl grapples him (natural 20).
  • Iraco is taken into custody.

The Road Goes Ever Ever On

Back at the tavern, as evening settles, the adventurers are drinking and planning to leave Hirot. Bull offers to provision them for a few days travel. As evening drifts past midnight, the adventurers pull out the deed and Bull identifies it as a Three Rats (Flophouse). Ralph, without hesitation, rolls it up and says he’s going to deliver it to the Jarl.

As Ralph walks up to the great hall; The villagers, all staying awake, realize the hound is dead. The village breaks into song and celebration. The adventurers have vanquished the Hound of Hirot.

The door to the great hall is open. Ralph approaches the Jarl, and offers the deed as a small token of contrition and in homage to the Jarl. (Ralph notes that Sylle Ru is not present in the great hall)

Morning arrives, and the Heroes of Hirot head down the dusty road.

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