Monday, June 15, 2015

Playtest #1 for The Castle that Fell from the Sky

The following is an account of the first playtest for the soon-to-be-released S&SS adventure: The Castle that Fell from the Sky.

The Castle that Fell from the Sky
Playtest Group 1 at NTRPGCon 2015

Don't read this if you intend to play in it.

The adventure was designed for a party of six 3rd level PCs, but we had one cancellation and one no-show. The pregens they chose were: a halfling thief named Peck (capitalbill) with boots of levitation,
a dwarf fighter named Gundar (EOTB),
a halfling fighter called Antal (he would soon earn the nickname "Lil' David"),
and Gylynth, an elf myrmidon with a flying cloak.
AFAIK, none had ever played a game of S&SS. This is based on some notes I scribbled a day later, and typed this nearly two weeks later, so I'm sure I got some things wrong.

Being low on players and spells (only 3 1st level spells among the entire group), I thought for sure this was going to be a bloodbath. It was, but for the monsters! Never underestimate the power of player skill (and sheer dumb luck) to thwart the GM's best laid plans...

Upon entering the castle, they somehow managed to resist hitting the big red flashing button marked "Don't press this button, you idiots!" despite having not one but TWO halfings in the party. Peck briefly considered using the other birdbath/pedestal as a bathroom before opting to move on. After receiving some advice from the ghost of Neb-Lo (they needed to retrieve three special items to open the crystal door and advance to the second level: the crystal ring in the pit of the swamp, the saber of lightning in the ice maze, and the elixir of life from the necromancer), the party explored to the N.

They entered a room with a large fire pit, then went another way, only to watch their shadows run away! They backtracked again, this time entering a room full of potted plants. The other door was locked, and while Peck picked the lock, the plants attacked! Naturally. Pun intended. The party made short work of the plants before proceeding down some stairs to a swamp-like area. (Both of the playtest groups were exceedingly lucky on wandering monster checks. As a result, for a good part of the adventure, the 1st group's kill record consisted solely of potted plants. Clearly this was a group to be feared!)

The Swamp

They wandered through the swamp ruins of a temple area, where Peck discovers a glowing magical object - a symbol for good! This item turns undead, and part of the luck of this group was that they found it before they encountered any of the undead. Peck the halfling thief would become Peck the halfling thief [i]cleric![/i]

After some uneventful trekking through the swamp (curse all those failed wandering monster rolls!), the party came across a large statue of a skull. In the two eye-sockets were shimmering puddles of a silvery liquid. Peck stuck his 10' pole into one of the puddles, and his staff was suddenly coated with a metallic shimmer as the puddle disappeared. Thus it became, for a time, the 10' pole... of DOOM! More on this later. The dwarf then dipped his axe in the other puddle, and the same happened to his axe.

The party continued to explore the swamp as the dwarf mysteriously disappeared (smoke break). Heads of many monsters begin to surface in the swamp, so Peck escaped to a dry path (combining his boots of levitation and his 10' pole of DOOM as a sort of barge), and the elf's cloak turned into wings so he, too, could fly to safety, leaving the stubby halfing fighter surrounded by murky water of varying depths and a large number of monsters heading towards him. I'm sure he was thinking "Thanks, guys..."

Perhaps feeling the twinge of a guilty conscious, the elf casts a sleep spell, rolls well, and all of the monster heads drop down into the drink. Now that the danger is over, the dwarf suddenly reappears with the party, and they all start down the path in search of the Eye-Serpent in the pit of the swamp.

The party arrives at the pit, and briefly see movement, but they don't see any creatures. Clearly this must be the Eye-Serpent, and it must be invisible. After discussing how best to approach the critter, the dwarf decides to charge down the muddy pit, fails his DEX check, and goes tumbling head over heels a la Jack and Jill style into the lair of the beast! Fortunately, the dwarf managed to at least hold onto his axe (and not stab himself... that would have been bad).

I forget how exactly the combat went, but I believe this is when the halfling fighter began to show his amazing prowess with the sling (he stayed at the ridge of the pit, slinging stones at the monster to great effect). The Eye-Serpent tried to paralyze the elf with his gaze attack, (the elf flew down to the center of the pit) but elves are immune to paralysis. The fight didn't go on too long before the dwarf managed to sink his axe into the beast, causing it to die instantly, but his axe lost its sheen! Peck discovers the crystal ring on its tail and realizes it is a ring of invisibility! He also realizes his 10' pole is now a one shot death attack.

The party heads down another path, and heads start popping out of the water again. The party is being stalked... by toad-men! They hop out of the water and begin to attack. The party has early success, but then the eyes of the toad-men open wide as they begin to bob their heads side to side. Half of the party is hypnotized and begin to follow the toad-men into the depths of the swamp water. The other half of the party managed to slap some sense into their hypnotized allies, and then made short work of the toad-men (they failed their morale check). Yes, lil' David was deadly with his sling.

In the distance they see a giant bee hive, and just ahead, a lone woman is reclining upon a giant mushroom. She could have been the twin sister of slave Leia, if Leia had put on 600+lbs and was really, really ugly. Well, the party decided they didn't like the looks of this (pun intended) so they turned around and took the long way out of the swamp without further incident.

The Ice Maze

The party returned to the fire pit room, picked the lock, and there entered the ice maze. As usual, they were lucky on their rolls, so they didn't get lost or jumped until they reached the lair of the Ice Spider Men. The Spider Men attacked from the ceiling, spitting webs at the party and entangling some. But the Ice Spider Men proved no match for lil' David's sling and Peck's mighty levitating enema attack! Peck held his sword up and used his boots of levitation to approach the spiders from below, and rolled for max damage, killing the Spider in a single blow!

After dispensing with the Ice Spider Men, the party pressed on with the dwarf leading the group. All of a sudden, the dwarf vanished into thin air, and the group was being timed! Six seconds later, they figure it must be a teleporter, so the rest of the group rushes into... the lair of the Abomination!

The players appear in the lair of the Abomination (a giant great ape with four arms). Keep in mind, the Abomination is a bad dude. He has four attacks per round, and he had an entire round alone with the dwarf. And the dwarf was surprised for that round. The Abomination might have single-rounded the dwarf... [i]if[/i] I hadn't rolled surprise for the Abomination. Sigh. They both spend that first round staring in shock at each other. In the second round, the rest of the group appears, they win initiative, and Peck pokes the giant in the eye with his 10' pole of DOOM. Insta-kill. Are you kidding me?! Here they discover the second item on their list, the saber of lightning (an awesome sword, as you might imagine).

This is how lucky the group was. First, they stumbled upon the metallic puddles near the beginning of the adventure. Had they tried to touch or drink the stuff, it would have been very bad for them. But they do the one thing that makes the substance a positive for the party - they dip their weapons in it, which, unbeknownst to them, gave them two one-shot kills. And of course, the first one-shot didn't go to a lowly toadling. Oh no, it had to go to one of the boss monsters in the dungeon. So the dwarf lucked out, and they naturally used the other insta-kill to take down the second major monster. Fortunately, we all know good luck can't last. And it didn't...

The Pyramid

The party re-entered the fire pit room where they encountered what looked like two preserved, ancient Eqyptians with head transplants from animals. Peck successfully uses his glowing symbol, causing the monsters to shriek and throw themselves into the fire. Peck decides he's starting to like this being a "man of the cloth" and all. The party enters the hallway when they encounter two more of these things. The party manages to flank them, having three on one side and Peck sneaking up from behind. Peck uses his glowing symbol again, but since the monsters are pinned between him and the rest of the party, his turn undead was all for naught, haha.

I forget which of the undead guards these were (there were many wandering guards with various animal heads, each animal head giving it a different magical ability). Whichever magical abilities they were, I remember they were causing the party real problems, and I believe some of the players began to take heavy damage. Lil' David was trying to back out of melee so he could use his sling. You see, lil' David had a magic sword but couldn't hit the broad side of the barn with it. But he was rolling hot with that sling. Unfortunately, he couldn't get into position to use the sling, so the fight dragged on. Perhaps Peck did a backstab and then received a smack down for his trouble? I don't remember all the details, but the party eventually prevailed.

Returning to the place where their shadows ran away, Peck successfully managed to trigger the rolling boulder trap (got both parties with that one, yay!). The rest of the party managed to get out of the way, but poor Peck got rolled, albeit for minor damage. I think it was around this time Peck was running out of healing potions.

They make it to the hieroglyph room where Peck cracks the code(?) and reads the story of the Necromancer. There are three other exits to this room, two of which lead to the Necromancer whom they sought. They decided on the one door that leads to a wild goose chase. Suckers! It is really unfortunate they chose the wrong direction; otherwise, who knows how far they would have gotten?

They encounter some bars, and successfully manage to bend them. Before going in that direction, they check out another door. The door opens to a room with giant faces on the walls, with a lit candle in front of each carved face. As they were examining the room, the faces began to blow out the candles one by one, so the party said "Forget this," closed the door and went through the barred exit.

The Cave

They entered a huge cavern filled with stalactites and stalagmites, with but a narrow path down the middle. As they were going down the path, they noticed what looked like orbs of darkness descending towards them from the stalactites...

I forget the exact sequence of events, but I believe Peck ends up engaging several of the darklings while the rest of the party runs screaming into the next cavern - right into the magic rituals being conducted by an evil cult and their idol. The lead sorceress demands they provide her with the secret code ("I'm fighting the Zombie"), which the party doesn't know, so the dwarf charges to attack. I think the elf tries to charm her, but she makes her save.

The three party members are battling the seven cultists when Peck manages to stumble in shrouded in darkness (there is a darkling on Peck's neck, auto-hitting him every round as it sucks his blood). The darkling is the rough equivalent of a stirge, so not too deadly, but Peck keeps missing while the darkling is draining Peck's life away. Finally, Peck is reduced to 1 hp. The only way Peck can survive is if #1. he wins initiative, #2. he actually manages to hit the critter for the first time, and #3. does enough damage to kill the critter with a single blow. Yeah, fat chance.

So naturally Peck wins initiative, hits, does enough damage to kill the darkling, and nervously clings to that last hp! (Peck had already drank all his healing potions for that day.) The rest of the party prevails against the evil cult, they failed their morale, and they fade away. The party takes the loot they left behind and descends down some stairs to a fountain with a statute.

A voice comes from the statue promising them magical blessings if they will donate gold or magic to the statue. The party is unimpressed, or cheap, so they go down a passage to one side, where they stumble upon a large red dragon sleeping atop a huge pile of treasure. The party eyes the dragon for a bit before returning to the fountain and trying the other path. Here, Peck scouts ahead silently and invisibly through a caveman village, where he sees a huge gong, with another passage that he believes leads to the other side of the sleeping dragon. (He's correct, but not exactly in the way he thinks, heh.)

Peck is tempted to hit the gong, thinking it would wake the dragon, cause the dragon to come this way to investigate, and allow his party to grab some of the dragon's loot. But in a rare fit of sanity, the halfling thief with a WIS of 1 and the rest of the group decides not to mess with the dragon or the gong. They realize this is all a distraction from their goal of finding the Necromancer, and since they're running out of game time at the Con, they head back to the hieroglyph room and try another direction.

Back to the Pyramid

The group quickly moves through several rooms, not touching the jeweled sarcophagi, the evil idol with the blood-red ruby (players never let the GM have any fun), the huge cisterns, etc. and don't roll any wandering monsters. They enter the Necromancer's library where the dwarf spots some clay tablets with magic symbols. Not knowing what they do or how they work, he throws them in his backpack before moving on. At this point, because we are rushing, I messed up and forgot about one of the traps. Anyway, they make it to the doors of the Necromancer's throne room.

While they are listening for noises, the doors open and the party sees a cloaked figure on a throne tell them, "I've been waiting for you..." Now see, this is the Necromancer and this was intended to be a roleplay encounter. Sure, you could fight the Necromancer, but that isn't the only way to get the Elixir of Life. Whatever, as I'm preparing to roleplay, the dwarf immediately throws marbles into the face of the Necromancer (he rolled a 6). EOTB told me he did this because he assumed the figure was an illusion. Nope. The Necromancer said, "WHAT THE... IT'S ON NOW!" and stood up to cast a plague spell.

The party rushes forward, with Peck (through his ring of invisibility and boots of levitation) gaining the Necromancer's throne, preparing to backstab him. The elf(?) hits the Necromancer with the saber of lightning, causing great harm to the Necromancer, when the dwarf(?) throws a flask of oil onto the Necromancer, rolls a 6 to hit, and the oil is set aflame for, again, max damage. At this point, the Necromancer is seriously hurt, so he turns into a cloud (dropping the Elixir of Life) and escapes through a secret passage behind the throne. Poor Peck, with but 1 hp, died instantly from the area-effect plague spell, sprawled across the Necromancer's throne.

Now here is just how lucky this group was. The Necromancer is tough, and fighting him toe-to-toe could easily end in a tpk as he has a lot of hp, insanely high damage reduction, and heals/drains hp with every attack, all while auto-hitting everybody in the room every single round through his plague spell. The Necromancer only has one weakness: fire-based attacks (which bypasses DR and causes extra damage). So what do they do? Naturally, for the first and only time in the entire dungeon, they break out an oil flask, roll max hit and damage. That, with the saber of lightning, put the hurt on him straight out of the gate. But if you think the Necromancer got punked in this game, wait until you see what the 2nd group did to him!

The party was going to drag out Peck's body, but decided it was funnier to leave it sprawled across the throne of the Necromancer, to remind the Necro that he got pwned. The party decides not to pursue the Necromancer, takes the three items back to the entrance, and following the instructions, they open the crystal barrier to the second level as the six hours of game time expired.

If they had only had one more hour, they probably could have gotten to the end of the adventure and racked up a bunch more points, even though they probably wouldn't have survived the final fight. Then again, you just never know. Still, they came very close to finishing the dungeon, all while being short-handed on numbers and spells. They managed to score a very respectable score of 1650 in this tournament/con game.

At the end of the game, we all joked that with all of their good luck, how they made it look so easy, this would probably doom tomorrow's group to a tpk near the entrance. And in all honesty, it was such a great night of gaming I quietly figured there was no way the second group could match the first group. Boy was I in for a surprise! More to come...

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