Another Wednesday, and another session of Castle of Horrors. This was a good session, but not as much was accomplished as I might have hoped: the opening fight with the skeletons bogged down a bit, and there wasn't enough time to accomplish much else. The PCs mostly finished exploring the basement, though.
"These are fast skeletons, then!"The session started in the middle of the fight from last session: the undead erupting ooze was merrily burning from multiple alchemist fires, but some of the PCs could just barely make out some animated skeletons rising. People shifted position a bit, and wondered aloud if the skeletons were going to be fast or slow.
The answer was fast: very fast. The skeletons had a move of 11, and quickly a horde of twenty were racing through the piles of burning alchemical fire and into melee range. Gunfire slowed them, but it took multiple rounds to actually stop them. +Uhuk of the Guard's character Ryan was more successful with his machete and bony fists, generally eliminating a skeleton a round. +Kevin Smyth's character Raleigh ended up casting Sound Missiles on +Eric Schmidt's character Yusef's rifle, and after that, Yusef was capable of blasting through two or three skeletons per burst, since the crushing follow-up damage of the missiles did double injury to the skeletons and tended to evaporate some important bones.
Raleigh also built up and threw an explosive Blight Ball, which didn't destroy any of the skeletons but did damage several of them. This was actually an interesting bit of action mechanically: Raleigh had to lob the ball over several of the skeleton's heads, and even with Luck ended up missing. The scatter roll had it landing short, such that the front line of the PCs would be effected, and no one wanted to eat 1d+4 toxic damage (DR does not protect). +Theodore Briggs argued that since the scatter roll affected his character Thomas, he should be able to use Luck to reroll it, and that seemed valid to me. The best of three rolls wasn't great, but it was good enough to scatter the blast to get several of the zombies and none of the PCs.
Around this point, the erupting ooze glob that was on Thomas' plastic riot shield finished eating its way through the shield and soaked through his shirt. There was an argument as to whether or not I had adequately warned him and whether or not he would have had time to do anything about it even I had, what with the attacking hordes of skeletons and all. As it turned out, he only took 1 injury, so I told him to suck it up. Thomas discarded his shield and play resumed.
|Jamie got beaten up again to establish|
the skeletons are dangerous
As a side note, at some point Eric got a critical hit on a skeleton, and hit it in the funny bone. No real effect in game since skeletons are immune to stunning, but everyone though it was a hilarious effect.
The basement of no lootAn hour or so later, the PCs returned to the basement and searched the place. The skeletons had no loot aside from rusty broadswords of tetanus and unpadded chainmail in equally awful condition. Searching their rooms discovered about half a pound of corroded copper coins and some random bits of metal: everything organic within two feet of the ground had been destroyed.
A fist-sized lump of ooze was eating Thomas' shield, but it was easy enough to burn away with the resources the PCs had available. Thomas now had a somewhat smaller and frailer shield, but the thing only cost him $90 to start with and could be replaced in the Real World.
The PCs moved north, into the empty great room which was now filled with burnt undead ooze ash. Nothing useful came out of searching that, so they kept moving on, to another set of empty rooms in which everything had been eaten by the ooze. Past that was another half-eaten doo
Duel to the DeathThomas peered under the door and saw that the next room was an armory, filled with rusty weapons. The area in front of the door had been repeatedly gouged by a jackhammer or something and scorched, too. Also, there was a man in full plate harness carrying a halberd. It's possible I buried the lede in that description.
There was a quick confab about what to do about a guy in the basement, and eventually Yusef was delegated to knock on the door and try to talk to the guy. Which he did.
They never got the halberdeer's name, but they quickly established some things about him: he was crazy, he wanted to duel, and his halberd's name was Vengeance. He would duel any of them, one at a time, axe or polearms versus his halberd, to the death. The winner (which would be him) would keep Vengeance, or in the unlikely event that one of them one, take it.
|It worked for Indy, so it must be a valid solution!|
Role-Playing!At this point, another argument broke out: Raleigh wanted to know why her friends had turned into a bunch of murderers, and upon reflection, no one really wanted to pick up the halberd because they were afraid it was cursed. I sat back and laughed and laughed. This is the kind of role-playing that advances the plot, so I was fine with it, and it was really funny.
Finally, Neil's girlfriend Angela decided she wanted to know what it was and went to pick it up, but Thomas blocked her and eventually picked it up himself. Nothing particularly bad happened to him immediately: the halberd resized itself to a dwarf-sized hand axe, which was convenient, and Thomas improvised a blade cover for it.
Further DownstairsNeil searched the room and found a secret door, which led to a set of stairs descending down a level (or as Yusef dourly pointed up, possibly to some other level of the castle entirely). By that point, it was time to end the game, so we wrapped up there. The PCs now had two obvious choices: continue down the stairs and explore the sub-basement, or take some stairs up from the empty rooms, which would presumably put them on the first floor at the base of the north tower. It should be an interesting choice.
Evaluation of PlayThe skeletons were nasty foes, but the narrow corridor made it hard for them to bring their weight of numbers down on the PCs. Instead, they ended up getting shot and smashed to pieces. That's been my general experience with mook rushes in dungeon fantasy style games: although the maneuver economy implies that three to one odds should be good for the mooks, the mechanics of actually getting all their units into place and attacking at the same time never quite work. Mooks in the front line get killed too fast, and their replacements end up with the unviable options of Move (and not attack) or Move & Attack (and miss) or use some kind of Attack maneuver with a Step of 2+, which exposes them to deadly counterattack on the next turn, thus repeating the cycle. All of which lets the PCs heroically stand against a tide of mooks pretty successfully, as long as the PCs stay together in a mostly anchored line so the mooks can't envelope them.
Reviewing my notes, I screwed up on the encounter with the Axe Spirit. He would have dodged at least one, and maybe both of Thomas' shots, and shouldn't have gone down so easily. I suspect he still would have gone down pretty quickly and without really damaging the PCs, so I'm not too bothered by it. As I have mentioned, encounter balance in Castle of Horrors is something of a wild guess, and an easy boss encounter can only be expected sometimes. There will be other things to run from soon enough.
What Next?I'm still working on the sub-basement. There's one room that I just can't figure out what to do with. I'm getting closer, but the original encounter is subpar and everything I thought of so far is nonsensical. I have a temporary work-around in place, but it's definitely something I need to resolve soon.
Of course, it may not matter. Now that Eric is embracing his inner murder-hobo, the PCs may decide to go on a bandit murder spree against the goblins, leprechauns, and gnomes. That'd be pretty harsh, but it would have the advantage that I have all those encounters prepared.