Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Actual Play: Savage Tides Gargoyle Cliffs

So a bit of background for normal people who haven't read the Savage Tide Adventure Path recently:

In STAP, through a series of coincidences and railroads, the delvers acquire a pirate ship (the Sea Wyvern) and are chartered to escort the cargo ship Blue Nixie to a trading colony on the Isle of Dread. The Isle of Dread is the same Isle of Dread described in the old D&D module (X1, included in my brother's ancient blue Expert box). On the way, they get in a storm, the Sea Wyvern gets caught on a reef, almost all of the friends the GM has so painstakingly made into real people on the voyage drown, and the delvers are forced to walk across a dinosaur infested island to the colony.

I didn't have the heart. Killing off most of the passengers and crew seemed like a sick joke, so instead I had the Blue Nixie get reefed and the Sea Wyvern find it on the beach a few days later. The delvers' patron and expedition leader had already left, to walk across the island and get help, and they were forced to follow her. This let me run the rest of the adventure more or less unmodified, except for the additional parts I wanted to modify.

The adventure, as written, consists of 4 parts: the beach and the journey south to the Dark Pass; the Dark Pass, a tunnel through a mountain ending in an ancient, mummy-guarded tomb; the Gargoyle Cliffs, a long walk along beachside cliffs while being attacked by ferociously territorial gargoyles; and Fogmire, a demonic shrine in the middle of the island. We'd played through the first two parts in the previous weeks (my players did not like the way I substituted a giant psychic lizard for the T. Rex, but it pleased me), and so this week was the gargoyle cliffs.

This was a pretty straightforward section: the delvers get ambushed by gargoyles on the cliffs, take a sabotaged primitive elevator down the cliffside, and get assaulted by the gargoyle chief and his bully boys.

The initial ambush went about as well as could be expected: 4 gargoyles pop out and get the stuffing beat out of them. I'd given the gargoyles stone armor (DR 4) and a level of DR that isn't by-the-book legal for PCs in DF (also DR 4) and that meant that the scout's bodkin arrows to the vitals only did enough damage to cause major wounds and take the gargoyles out of the fight, not kill them. Small victories, I guess.

The sabotaged lift was a little more amusing. None of the PCs really checked to make sure the lift worked beyond a casual "does it look like it can hold us?" so they didn't really detect the sabotaged cables. The first two people to try the lift were Simon and Chi. When the cable broke, Simon easily made the Acrobatics check to jump free, and although Chi didn't even try, Big Al reached over to grab him. The lift smashed the back of Big Al's helmet, but didn't do anywhere enough damage for him to even notice. Then the delvers used rope to repair the lift and Blackjack used his nifty new Sailor's Slippers (climb any surface, 5 minutes/day) to scurry back up and recover the rope. Cheap bastard.

Finally, we had the big fight with the gargoyle chief. The gargoyles flew in, dropped rocks (that mostly missed) on everyone's head, and then landed and fought. Chi started using Shape Earth against their rock armor, which threw me. On the one hand, it's cool, and at 6 FP per suit of armor, not something he could do a lot. On the other, it felt horribly abusing. I treated each successful shaping as a grapple against the gargoyle, that could be broken by a contest of gargoyle's ST versus Chi's Shape Earth skill +5. The gargoyle chief broke out of his (destroying his armor in the process, and opening him up to Big Al's flail) and another gargoyle ended the fight trapped in his.  Everyone seemed to think it was cool, so I decided I must have made the right call.

There was a nice bit of terrain, too. The delvers were on a narrow path when they spotted the gargoyles, and it got narrower (with a 4 yd drop to a ledge) before opening to a cave. After the delvers spotted the gargoyles, they tried to hurry the non-combatants into the cave, but a couple of them slipped and fell to the ledge (taking some pretty bad damage rolls for the fall, too). Some of the delvers, in turn, jumped down to protect the injured, which had a nice effect of splitting the party into three groups: Blackjack in the cave with the patrons, Sister Joan and Simon on the ledge with the wounded non-combatants, and Chi and Big Al with some allies up on the cliff path. The gargoyles could freely move between all three locations, though I didn't take much advantage of this.

Wildcard specific destiny points (and destiny points in general) again reared their head in this session. I appreciate the idea that destiny points can be used to enable cool things and to prevent the death of a beloved character, but they also give the PCs another resource for avoiding death. Case in point, the mortally wounded gargoyle chief decided to make an all-out attack against Big Al, trading a massive pile of attack bonuses for severe penalties to Big Al's absurdly high defense. Big Al calmly rolled the dice, ate the -7 penalty, failed (but not critically), and spent a Knight! destiny point to succeed. I just don't know if I have the heart to routinely send foes with skills in the 28+ range after the PCs in order to force them burn destiny points (and Luck) fast enough that the foes can actually threaten them. At any rate, Big Al and the gargoyle chief dueled, Big Al won, and the rest the delvers shot gargoyles in the vitals or chopped off their wings, legs, and tails until enough of the gargoyles decided this wasn't working and ran away.

So now I need to make sure that next week's Big Bad has a pile of Destiny ("not go down like a chump in front of the heroes") in addition to all the other wacky stuff he needs to hold his own against the delvers. Moderately high play DF (we're in the low-300s now) can be tough to GM.

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