Thursday, June 18, 2015

Playtest #2 for The Castle that Fell from the Sky

The Castle that Fell from the Sky
Playtest Group 2 at NTRPGCon 2015

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

If the first group was efficient professionals, the second group was a psychotic comedy troupe. =) There was one cancellation, so this group was a more balanced group of 5. Well, balanced in terms of classes, not mental balance. ;^)
Gredda Stonefist (3rd level dwarven fighter)
Charles Chatsworth the Third (3rd level halfling fighter)
Storg? (3rd level halfling? thief)
Fabio (3rd level elf myrmidon)
And my personal favorite, for reasons you'll see later,
Elthorn (and Elthorn Jr., and Elthorn Jr. the second) (3rd/2nd/1st level elf wizard)

I didn't know any of the players before this game, and none of them had played S&SS before. Yes, there is some outrageous fortune and comedy gold in this one, so don't stop reading until the end!

If the first group were the cautious, efficient professionals, this second group was more a wandering psychotic comedy troupe. The two halflings were especially, uh, bold. (What is it about halfings?!)

This group didn't approach doors with caution, carefully listening for noises. No, Charles Chatsworth the Third, the official doorknocker, approached every door with a swift kick. Being short, low STR, and a terrible roller, he almost never managed to kick any doors open. He'd make lots of noise kicking them, and then howling in pain. It wasn't long before he was limping with both legs. (Charles really, REALLY wanted to press the red button at the entrance, the one marked "Don't press the red button, you idiots!" but somehow managed to restrain himself. For the time being. That was pretty much the ONLY restraint that character showed during the entire adventure, heh.)

Like the first party, this group's first encounter came in the plant room. Rather than fighting the plants, they immediately choose the nuclear option by throwing oil flasks into the room, setting it on fire, and closing the door intending to come back later after the flames had died down. (As it would turn out, they ran out of time, so they never made it back here or to the swamp beyond.)

They proceeded to the fire pit room when one of the undead guards were approaching (I believe this one had the lion head). IIRC, they managed to barricade the door in some fashion so the lion-creature couldn't get to them. It roared in frustration as they taunted him. They then moved into the ice maze while the lion-headed creature waited patiently for their return...

The Ice Maze

This group decided to move through the room-of-mirrors-like ice caverns by holding onto a piece of rope, with two people in the front rank. This served to keep the party from accidentally getting separated, and helped when they eventually got to the Abomination. Since there were two in the front rank, none of them were ever left to face the Abomination alone. Not having a 10' pole of DOOM handy like the other group, they attacked the Abomination the old fashioned way as a group, and the damage they took was spread around, but no one died.

Elthorn the wizard notices the collar on the now dead Abomination, and how it has a magical sparkle. He tries to remove the collar, but it would not budge, so they chop the Abomination's head off to retrieve the collar. Elthorn then decides to put the collar on. (The point of the magical collar was to keep the Abomination in its cave, as it was the pet/god of the Ice Spider Men.) Elthorn's player was a man of integrity, for even as the saw the look of horror on my face when he told me what he wanted to do, he did not try to backtrack.

Being the nice guy that I am, I have everybody roll a WIS check to see if anyone would warn him this was a really, really bad idea. Did I mention that over half the party had a WIS stat of 1? They all failed. So they think it's a great idea if he puts the magic collar on. So he puts it on (as a belt). They also retrieve the saber of lightning, but they are too afraid to press the red button on it. After this, they depart the cave and are teleported back to the maze entrance. All except poor Elthorn.

Rather than being teleported out of the cavern, he instead takes damage from an electrical shock. Did I mention he had been reduced to 1 hp prior to this, and didn't drink a healing potion? So he died alone in the ice maze, with the rest of the party wondering what happened to him. The sad part was, he had a dispel magic spell, so he could have removed the magical collar had he survived the minor shock damage. So the party exits the ice maze with the saber of lightning, wondering where Elthorn went, as they happen to bump into Elthorn Jr. "Where's my daddy?" "We don't know, come with us while we look for him..."

The Pyramid

They return to the fire pit room where Charles Chatsworth the Third attempts to kick the door open to the hallway and fails. The group can hear the lion-headed creature snicker from the other side at his ineptitude. They open the door, and combat ensues with the undead guards who have been waiting patiently for their return. One of the monsters has a magical flute that, when playing a tune, silences all other noise in the area (thus preventing the casting of spells). The halfling thief acquired this item, and it would later be put to good and not-so-good use...

One of the undead has a fish-head, and it spits up a huge bubble that starts rolling towards the party. The bubble passes through several characters until it hits a spell caster, which causes the bubble to burst, erasing one of his spells.

Someone casts Turn Undead, and the lion-headed creature begins to flee. Charles the clinically insane halfling fighter decides to spike climb up the creature while it flees. For what purpose, I do not know. They manage to kill it in the hall where their shadows fled. The dwarf notices that the hallway has an unusual slope to it. Like the other group, they choose the wrong direction and set off the rolling boulder trap.

The Cave

I'm trying to remember the order here, but I might be getting some of this wrong. I believe they go through the hieroglyph room, and like the other group, end up going the wrong way towards the barred entrance. Gredda the dwarf easily bends the bars and they enter the dark cavern. Prior to reaching the darklings' ambush, they ran into Barbar Jinx, the annoying leprechaun. The group tries to catch him, but are unable. Then when Barbar begins to taunt them, Storg plays his magic flute to silence him. Frustrated by being silenced, Barbar Jinx stomps his feet before running away. (This was actually a bad thing for the party to do, because even though he was annoying, he was a dungeon merchant with many useful things he could sell or trade with the party.)

Moving on, they are ambushed by the darklings, but a sleep spell makes short work of them. Charles Chatsworth the Criminally Insane decides he needs a ride, so he grabs some rope and tries to mount one of the darklings and steer them like a flying steed. Even though he'd have to do so blindly within their magical sphere of darkness... Anyway, the darkling is about the same size as he is, so the critter is unable to fly with him on its back. Having awakened it and unable to fly it, he dispatches the evil critter.

They enter the room with the evil cult, and once again, all the roleplay I had prepared was cut mercilessly short with an all out assault. They deployed a Sleep spell out of the gate, made short work of the group, and took a couple of hostages. What came next, well, the less said the better. I'm pretty sure they are guilty of committing war crimes according to the Geneva Convention.

Back to the Pyramid

Here, the party gets even further off track as they go another way, entering a series of rooms that is only there to lead the players astray. They run into more animal-headed undead guards, and come back around to the room with large carven faces and lit candles. Unlike the previous group, they mess around in this room until the trap is sprung, and the darkness attacks (insert "I cast magic missile at the darkness" jokes here).

The party manages to find their way out of the dark room trap, all except Charles the psychotic halfling. No, Charles ain't running from no darkness, Charles is determined to kill the darkness. (It is technically possible to kill the darkness, but it is highly unlikely, and sooooo not worth the trouble.) Charles actually starts off pretty lucky and is doing alright, but the dude is eventually going to die, fighting the darkness all alone. Eventually, the group manages to talk the halfling psycho out of the room so they can move on.

Btw, it was around this time they finally got the nerve to press the button on the saber of lightning, and learning it is an awesome sword. It was also this series of rooms that Gredda, the female dwarven fighter with max STR, decided to push aside the psycho-halfling-door-kicker and decided to try her hand at smashing open every door they came across. Unlike poor Charles, she was rolling sixes, headbutting doors off their hinges with ease!

Enter the Dragon

I believe the party returns to the cave area and makes their way to the supposedly magic pond statue. They hear the promise of magical blessings if they give the statue gold or magical treasure, and even though they recognize the voice as that of the prankster Barbar Jinx, they decide to try giving it some of their magic items. But while deciding what to give, they lose interest and move on to the chamber containing a large red dragon asleep on top of a pile of treasure. And so begins the most epic chain of events in this entire adventure...

The dragon sleeping on the pile of treasure is an illusion (the players do not know this, of course) designed to get players to waste their best spells and warning the real dragon in the next chamber. While they are eyeing the dragon, Fabio notices something that would prove useful in the near future - the cavern tunnel they are in is too small for the dragon to fit into.

At this point, the psycho traveling circus makes an uncharacteristically wise choice: to send the halflings (who are able to move silently) to sneak and scout ahead to see what lies ahead in the far tunnel (the first group didn't do this, they merely decided the dragon was a waste of time and headed back towards the Necromancer). As Charles put it, the Halfling Crew went to work, sneaking past the dragon sleeping on a huge pile of treasure, only to discover an identical dragon sleeping on an identical pile of treasure in the next room. They realize something strange is going on here, but they're not sure what. So they sneak past this sleeping dragon too in order to see what lies in the cavern beyond.

Amazingly, Charles had managed to somehow resist the urge to shout BANZAI while charging a dragon not once, but twice. Well, all self-control went out the window when he entered the adjacent chamber containing a caveman village with a giant gong. Without caution, without thought, dude ran straight up and kicked the gong. Well then. Stuff's bout to get real, knowhatImsayin?

When the gong is kicked, both halflings then hide, waiting to see what's gonna happen. The gong woke up the dragon from a deep sleep, and the dragon comes to the gong expecting it's about to be fed (the cavemen ring the gong every time they have a victim to present to the dragon for food, to appease the dragon). Well, the dragon's grumpy, hungry, and there's no food, so the dragon decides to take his anger out on the caveman village.

So while the dragon is busy stomping little mud huts and burning down the village, the two halflings run back into the dragon's lair to snatch some loot. Charles tosses his backpack to the thief while taking position to keep look out for the return of the dragon. (I keep rolling to see when the dragon returns back to his lair, and the players get really lucky.)

Storg the thief crams one backpack full of gold and deposits it by the cavern entrance back towards the rest of the party. As Charles continues to keep watch, Storg notices that all of the treasure here is gold, but he doesn't see any magic treasure. And with a dragon this big and bad, surely it has some magical treasure. So Storg stops scooping gold and begins to look for a secret room somewhere in the cave. This is where their luck runs low, because no matter how many times he searches, he cannot find the secret room of magical treasure.

While Storg is still searching, the dragon heads back to his lair. Charles warns Storg while grabbing the backpack of gold and making off for the rest of the party. Now see, Storg is the greediest halfling thief I have ever seen. Rather than do the sane thing and run, he decides to hide, hoping he can later continue his search for the secret door.

The dragon returns to his lair and notices someone's been messing with his gold, so he runs into the illusionary dragon chamber, where he sees the stubby lil' legs of Charles making haste towards the narrow exit. Charles manages to make it before the dragon can get him, so the dragon roars in frustration next to the narrow cavern, hoping the players will be stupid enough to come out and play. No such luck.

Meanwhile, rather than running the other way, Storg resumes searching for that secret treasure. Despite me giving him my Really?-Dude-you-so-gonna-die face, Storg keeps searching, and keeps failing. Eventually, the dragon gets fed up and starts to head back towards his lair. To give their thief more time, Fabio steps up with a lightning bolt scroll and zaps the dragon right in the keister (unfortunately for little damage). Fabio then quickly retreats back into the cavern, and since the dragon knows there's no point in remaining there any longer, he returns to his lair. Time for the halfling thief to die, me thinks.

But wouldn't you know. It is at this exact moment the thief FINALLY rolls well enough to find the secret door, opening to the stash of magic treasure. The halfling is shoving the last of the magic items into his backpack when the dragon returns to his lair and sees him. Prepare. To. Die. Punk.


Wouldn't you know. Some players just seem to have a way of spoiling all of the GM's fun. And I had been waiting for this foolish halfing to get what he had coming. Well, out of options and facing imminent death, Storg goes into desperation mode, grabs the magic ring he had just picked up, and without knowing what it does, he puts it on hoping for a miracle.

Miracle happens.

The ring, you see, is a magic ring of action. When you put it on, it drains 1 hp while freezing time for 6 seconds. He puts it on, loses a hp, and sees the dragon freeze in mid-motion. Storg doesn't bother to think, he just immediately bolts towards his party. OK, no big deal I thought, when the 6 seconds is up, he will be toast. A halfling can't outrun a large firebreathing dragon.

Then another miracle happens.

Now don't you just hate it when players come up with something you never saw coming in a million years, enabling them to get away with stuff they shouldn't be able to get away with? Without missing a beat, as soon as he hears the dragon moving again, he instantly removes and replaces the ring back on his finger. Loses another hp and gains another 6 seconds. Rinse and repeat until the halfling is safely back in the narrow cavern, rejoined to his party. The dragon is angry. I'm angry. See, this goes right to my GM pride to see the players loot my dragon without anyone dying. Well played, well played indeed. (This would lead me to nerf the magic ring in the printed version of the game. Blame it on Storg.)

Funny Stuff Happens

The party returns to the fountain statue room and go through the magic loot. Among the loot is a sword that flames on command, a scroll that contained a map of the pyramid part of the castle (they recognized it as such since they had already explored large portions of the pyramid), and a magic wand, among other things. I informed them they could not determine the type of wand it was without a magic user first attempting to use it. Hehehe.

Yes boys and girls, it's about to get even better...

Elthorn Jr., who is apparently no wiser than his old man, decides to take the magic wand, figures out a great way to test it. Elthorn Jr., who just so happens to have most of the magic loot from the dragon in his backpack (except the flaming sword, the map, and the ring) goes over to the caveman village (through a different path) with his new magic wand.

Elthorn Jr. walks up to a caveman widow, on her knees grieving beside the freshly charred corpse of her husband (courtesy of Charles kicking the gong, causing the dragon to go nuclear on the village). I wish you could see how Elthorn Jr.'s player acted this out with the appropriate voice, facial expression, and gesture. Elthorn Jr. walks right next to the grieving widow, points the wand at her, and says "Bless you... my child..." as he activates the wand.

This is where I literally fell to the floor laughing. Literally. I'm LOL right now as I type this. I really don't know what he expected the wand to do, but... it was a wand of fireballs.

"Bless you, my child." BOOM!

I like that he first walked right up to her before discharging the wand of fireballs, cuz now the widow is a charred corpse, her husband's charred corpse is now a heap of ashes, and Elthorn Jr. is now nearly dead and without eyebrows.

The caveman villagers who watched all this, and who are normally non-violent, decide between the dragon and this heartless wizard, they have had enough. They instantly form a mob and come to bring caveman justice to the elf. So Elthorn Jr. raises the wand of fireballs and points it at the coming mob in self defense...

Yes boys and girls, it's about to get even MORE better...

To fully appreciate this, you see, it helps to understand the way magic wands work in Swords & Six-Siders. I don't like keeping track of charges, so I designed wands in S&SS to require a roll every time it is used, to see if it has any charges left. So the thing is, so long as you don't roll a 1, the wand works. But if you roll a 1, the wand doesn't work, and it crumbles to dust. This way you never know if it's going to work, or fail at the worst possible time.

Well. I think we all know how this is going to end.

When he tested the wand on the grieving widow, he rolled a 6. It worked VERY well. But now with his life on the line, he rolls a 1. Naturally. The wand crumbles, Elthorn Jr. gasps, and then is never seen again.

The rest of the party had been watching all this from a distance, lamenting that Elthorn Jr. had on him some of the dragon's magic loot. They debate whether or not to attack the village to retrieve the magic items on Elthorn Jr.'s corpse. Had they decided to be so callous as to attack that poor village to retrieve the loot, I would have had the dragon show up and kill them all with his breath weapon. Haven't the cavemen already suffered enough for your greed?!

The party wisely decides to just walk away. As they're leaving the cave, they bump into Elthorn Jr. the Second, asking them, "Hey, have you seen my big brother?"

At this point our time slot was almost up, and between the looting of the dragon and the demise of Elthorn Jr., I was spent. How were you going to top that? I offered to close the game. Nope, the players wanted to play on.

Time to Kill the Necromancer

Like the first group, they decided to leave the caves and bust the move to the Necromancer in the pyramid before time runs out. This second group had the advantage of a map, and judging by size, shape, and layout, they could easily guess where the Necromancer must be.

On their way to the Necromancer, they enter the room with two sarcophagi covered with precious metals and stones. Unlike the first group, this group stops to loot the sarcophagi, awakening the mummies inside. Gredda, now wielding her new flaming sword, nails one of the mummies, but is shocked that the massive blow appeared to have no effect. Fabio instantly swings his saber of lightning at the clay jars, causing the mummies to suddenly drop. (The mummies are immune to harm, save for attacking their preserved organs contained in the jars adjacent to their sarcophagi.)

They stop by the library area, and like the previous group, stashes away the magical tablets.

They make their way to the Necromancer's throne room without further delay, and as Charles gets ready to kick the doors open, the doors open of their own accord. Well, by now you know this is a roleplay encounter, and you also know the players are going to launch a full scale assault before the Necromancer can even get a word in.

Without having a clue, but nevertheless lucking upon the perfect use, someone throws one of the magical clay tablets at the Necromancer, and that one just happened to be one of the exploding ones (rather than one that would have aided the Necromancer). Storg, man I am really starting to hate this halfling, uses his ring of action to get next to the Necromancer and starts playing his flute, preventing him from being able to cast the deadly plague spell. I tell you, this group kept bouncing back and forth between being brilliant and imbeciles, and this time they were brilliant once again!

Being unable to cast any spells, the Necromancer tries to kill the flute-playing halfling. For 3? rounds, the Necromancer chases Storg (can't ever hit), Storg shakes n bakes while playing the flute, and Fabio and Gredda are chopping huge chunks out of the Necromancer with their saber of lightning and flaming sword (remember the Necromancer is largely invulnerable except to FIRE based attacks). Like the other group, Charles tries to douse the Necromancer in oil, but misses. It doesn't matter. Between the flute and the two fiery swords, they chop him down to size and manage to KILL the Necromancer before he had a chance to escape. They collect the Elixir of Life.

As time runs out, the party returns to the entrance so crazy Charlie can at long last press the giant red button he's not supposed to press. And...

the end.

The group ends with a score of 1800, narrowly edging out the first group. They had the treasure from the dragon, but they weren't nearly as close to finishing the dungeon as the first group.

Having designed the game system and the adventure, I would love to take credit for how awesome these two games turned out, but in truth, a game is only as good as its players. And these players, in both groups, were all great. Thanks for playing (and to you, thanks for reading). I hope y'all had at least half as much fun as I did. =)

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