Monday, February 20, 2012

Joesky's Carcosa Adventure: A Play Report

I wasn't planning on running a game last Friday, but my plans to be out of state fell through, so when one of my players asked whether we were gaming, I said yes… about an hour before we started gaming.

I've made progress on this list, except that I've done very little mapping, and the mapping I've done has been on a continental scale, when what I really needed to run my next game was more dungeon mapped. What to do?

Joesky to the rescue! Earlier that day I had read his Carcosa adventure and thought it was really good, so I decided to use it. Instead of sending my players to Carcosa, though, I decided that the White girl was a kobold from my megadungeon and rolled for the other colors on my Carcosa Race Conversion Chart. The Jale men turned out to be lizard-men, the Purple man became a satyr and the Bone woman became a human.

The PCs began the session like they normally do: heading to the megadungeon entrance, expecting to be met by a few well-armed kobolds requiring a toll to enter. Instead, they found a few hundred kobolds preparing to destroy the local village, their home base. The PCs have made a few attempts at cultivating good relations with the kobolds before, which paid off now; the kobolds were accusing the village of stealing a kobold girl but agreed to delay their attack on the village until sun-up the next day, giving the PCs time to find and return her to the kobolds.

Heading back to town, they found that an old man who lived out in the hills had come to town complaining of his daughter being kidnapped as well. The PCs asked around to try to find out if anyone knew anything or had seen anything suspicious and were directed to "the old ruins," where, of course, Joesky's adventure was.

I really like the tree Joesky has outside the ruins. Unfortunately, I messed up when running it, so the tree became a much harder obstacle. This did serve to warn the players that they were up against an adventure that was more challenging than the 1st level of the dungeon that they've been hanging out in, though.

After the players killed the tree, the lizard-men who had been watching attacked. The 1 HD lizard-men were relatively easy for the two dwarves in the party to kill, but the hard-core orange-painted ones proved more of a challenge; one character ran away in fear for a few rounds and multiple rolls on the Death, Dismemberment and Dangerous Damage Table were made for one dwarf. I really do need to figure out a way to introduce my players even more to the idea of combat as war…

As the combat raged, the PCs saw that the cult boss and his consort were watching from the other side of the river (the orange-painted lizard-men had crossed the river). To prevent them from attacking or escaping, the party MU used Stinking Cloud, the first time she's ever used a level 2 spell, she said. It worked to keep those two choking and distracted until the dwarves reached them and killed them.

The PCs then proceeded to loot the bodies, finishing off one of the lizard-men who was lying on the ground, clutching his leg because his Achilles tendon had been severed. Suffice it to say no paladins were in this party. (Incidentally, there's a campaign idea: a party of paladins and clerics gets sent to Carcosa…)

They then explored the rest of the ruins, except for rooms 4 and 5, looting as they went. Joesky gives out a lot more treasure than I usually do, so the players were very pleased. They couldn't figure out a way to get into the room behind the metal door, since they haven't met any space aliens or dinosaurs or explosives; they didn't even try their laser-rifles, but I would have ruled that they wouldn't work if they had; this is, after all, space alien technology. The only room they ended up never exploring is the Ankylosaurus stable; I'm sure they'll get to meet him at some point, though, as I'm sure he'll get fed up with being all chained up and break free some time before the next session.

They found the two cowardly, "maybe-killing-young-girls-(kobold-or-not)-and-summoning-monsters-isn't-such-a-good-idea" lizard-who promptly surrendered and offered to guide them to the prisoners, the beat-up satyr, the young kobold girl and the old man's daughter, Gertrude. The MU picked the locks on their chains, calmed the kobold girl down before she got stabbed for her trouble (it's nice to speak Low Draconic as a result of Arduin's Special Ability Charts), they said goodbye to the cowardly lizard-men (just like that?! yep, just like that; my players' moral compass confuses me) and headed off to return the kobold girl to the kobolds before the sun came up and hundreds of raging kobolds killed all their friends in the village.

If you've read Joesky's adventure, though, you'll know that poor Gertrude actually died before the party found her, eaten by a shape-shifting Spawn of Shub-Nigurath, which replaced her. I asked for marching order and who should be in front of this monstrosity but the dwarf who had already made a few rolls on the Death, Dismemberment and Dangerous Damage Table! She changed shape and started to strangle him, doing 6 damage to our buddy the dwarf on her first hit (and auto-hitting every round after), making every round into a fun roll on the table for the dwarf, as he'd only gotten something like 6 hit points back from first aid in the first place.

The MU had her hands full with the kobold girl and supporting the beat-up satyr, and the other dwarf wasn't having much success attacking the spawn-thing. The newest character, a sprite, had a blow-gun, which he decided to use on the spawn-thing… and missed. In my games, when a character fires into melee and misses their target, I assign a number to every other character that could possibly get hit, roll a die to choose one and have the player roll to hit that character instead. It's a fairly harsh consequence for firing into melee combat, and I always check that, yes, my players actually want to do this, but firing into melee happens way more often than you'd think it would. Anyway, I roll to see which character gets a chance to be hit, and roll the kobold baby, which has 2 hit points! The sprite's dart does 3 damage!

Perhaps this makes me a poor referee and a softy, but I gave the kobold a roll on the Death, Dismemberment and Dangerous Damage table, seeing as she was important to the plot of the session. Part of me wishes I'd just ruled the kobold dead right then and there; the party couldn't say they hadn't asked for it. The kobold made her roll and only lost consciousness, though.

In the end, the satyr took the sprite's maul and finished the spawn-thing off, getting to save the day. The PCs returned the kobold baby to the kobolds before sun-up, the satyr went off to find a forest where he could recover and frolic with wood-nymphs and the PCs went home significantly richer and built a cottage for themselves. The fact that they got off relatively lightly, considering the tactical errors they made, is perhaps tempered by the fact that they realized, from interrogating the lizard-men cowards, that there's a good bit of weird fantasy/cthuloid horror in this setting… they've already encountered a few spawn of Shub-Nigurath, but without quite realizing what's going on. Now they're starting to see that there may be a price their characters have to pay for living in a fantasy world with laser guns and the simplest psionics system ever, and they are far worse than just running into guys who look like MUs but don't cast spells and try to cut you with big swords (which also caught my players off guard)…

Joesky's adventure is a great adventure and I thank him for it. Not only did it save my hide, it was a lot of fun for me to run, what with the creative mechanics for the tree and the Ankylosaurus and the classic Joesky surprise face-stabbing style of the Gertrude-eating spawn-thing. It also proved just how easily Carcosa adventures can be used in a more standard setting with less than 20 minutes of re-working, which is nice to know when you want to give your players a taste of Carcosa but don't want to actually take them there. (Thought: since this isn't on Carcosa, should the metal door lead to Carcosa? What an evil thought!)

One of the coolest things about this adventure is how it includes the reactions of the NPCs. They cower and bide their time when the PCs are fighting the tree, but they hear fighting noises and join in otherwise. The bosses hang back, but the boss' girlfriend tosses flaming oil. The Ankylosaurus is mad and will break through the wall if he hears fighting. Carrying action into surrounding rooms is something I'm really weak at and Joesky's adventure gave me a chance to practice that; Joesky's adventure, then, isn't just great because it has great monsters that want to stab you. It's great because it taught me, as a referee, how to be a better one.