Thursday, October 8, 2015

Castle of Horrors Session 2

Thursday is GURPS Day!

Last night was the second session of Castle of Horrors. We started nearly on time, despite +Douglas Cole having accidentally ignited a fuel air explosive the day before and thus being on painkillers and a little distracted. It was a pretty good session: not quite as good as the first session, but still quite fun and fairly productive.

There's No Shame in Running Like Scared Little Bunnies

We started this session by resolving last week's cliffhanger: as the PCs were returning to the octagon room, the eight gargoyles woke up and began attacking. Doug reminded me that his character Neil had Danger Sense, and I allowed that he'd shouted enough of a warning that no one was surprised.

+Uhuk of the Guard's character Ryan started by firing a .357 magnum into the gargoyles, but their rocky skin pretty much bounced the hollow-point round. Everyone else opened up with rifles and shotguns, and while a couple of their bullets penetrated, the gargoyles were homogeneous stone and reasonably impervious to gun shots. It would be possible to take them down with gunfire, but it would take a long time. At while the gargoyles were lousy at dodging gunfire, they were strong and fast and fully capable of grabbing weapons and yanking them away from their owners.

+Kevin Smyth tried casting spells again - and succeeded, with the expenditure of a Destiny Point and a roll on the calamity table when his Tally exceeded his Threshold. Nothing too bad happened, and so Jamie the orc boyfriend became strong and got a good hit against a gargoyle with his hatchet. Of course, the next turn the gargoyle got a firm grab on it.

The gargoyles were also throwing punches, and occasionally connecting. They weren't doing huge amount of damage: indeed, Raleigh in her armor absorbed a couple of hits without hurt and Ryan's bony plates were reducing the hits to a manageable amount. Neil wasn't quite so lucky, but since the gargoyle's claws were blunt, he was more "hurt" than "mangled."

I warned the players that the balance of the fights was pretty uncertain, because they were "eggshells armed with sledgehammers": high damage from their guns, but they weren't good at defending in melee and had no armor and almost no capability to recover from injury. In the fight with gargoyles, they were just eggshells, and they quickly realized that running away was the only option. Unfortunately, the gargoyles had formed a solid line between them and the front door, so their only useful retreat was to the spiral staircase to the east. So they ran, and luckily, the gargoyles didn't chase them.

"Those gnomes on the top floor"

These are not the void brutes you are looking for.
The staircase went up and down, and the PCs decided that up was safer than down. The next landing opened up to a book filled room with a man writing at a desk - and a pair of massively muscled, green scaly skinned, shark tooth men with pupil-less white eyes standing guard. There was about a moment's discussion, and then everyone kept running. They weren't sure what that was, but they wanted no part of it.

The next landing led to a T-shaped room with a closed door in the west wall. It wasn't obviously hostile, so they decided that was a good place to stop and rest. A faint trail of brown splotches coming from the staircase showed that someone else had come to the same conclusion earlier. At any rate, people reloaded, rested, and let Raleigh patch them up.

While all that was happening, Neil and +Theodore Briggs's character Thomas heard some hushed voices and movement from beyond the door. Everyone tensed, but after a whispered conversation, decided to wait for Raleigh to finish and then hope that whatever was beyond the door was friendly. They put that plan in motion, and Neil and Thomas sneaked toward the door - only to notice a tripwire leading to a bunch of noisemakers just before they tripped it. Thomas tied off the trip and then he and Neil set up an ambush by the door and Jamie opened negotiations.

The people on the other side of the door weren't hostile, but they weren't friendly, either. Fortunately, Jamie is a good negotiator and quite charismatic, so eventually the door opened to reveal a quartet of heavily armed and armored, red-skinned gnomes. They let the PCs in and closed and relocked the door.

"Something's Not Right Here"

The gnomes were inquisitive about the PCs and their intentions, but not willing to answer much in the way of questions themselves. They did reveal that they weren't allies of "the madman downstairs" and had fought and ran from the gargoyles earlier, but were now staying in these rooms for "gnome business," which a couple of the gnomes were a bit confused about. Carlardan, the gnome leader, eventually negotiated a payment of 6 ounces of silver to take the PCs through the gnome controlled area and out onto the castle parapets, where the gnomes had a crane and could lower the PCs into any of the castle's four or five courtyards.

He proceeded to show the PCs two more of the rooms the gnomes controlled: a library or study with a massive, open fireplace with a fire burning on the stone despite a lack of visible fuel, and a massive, ornate bedroom turned into a RenFest chemistry lab and convalescent room. A sixth gnome was lying on the bed, with a head wrapped in bandages. Raleigh tried to negotiate a refund of some of the silver in exchange for providing medical services, but Carladan strangely refused, insisting that he'd finishing brewing up some healing potions (this time they'd work!) soon. The PCs were confused by his behavior, and Raleigh pressed the issue long enough to examine the patient and cast Major Healing on her, triggering another minor calamity (by this point, Raleigh was having problems casting Healing and Body Control spells, and was looking to start exploding if he kept casting spells). Carladan wasn't pleased by Raleigh's spellcasting, but honored the deal and took the PCs out onto the parapets.

Strange and Creepy Things

The Castle of Horrors has four courtyards: the west (main) coutyard that the PCs started in, the southeast courtyard where they found the goblins, a northeast courtyard that they hadn't been into that was unremarkable, and a central east courtyard behind the chapel.  As per the agreement, Carladan took the PCs to the central east courtyard, but in a round-about way: instead of cutting through a visible entrance beneath one of the keep's two tall towers, he stayed on the curtain walls.

Carladan explained that the tower was dangerous: stepping into it risked being attacked by the tower walls themselves, which would turn red and pulse and start animating halberds and attacking. The PCs pretty much said "thanks for the tip", rolled to resist Curiousity, and stayed out of that particular death trap.

As they approached the central courtyard, I realized my notes were inadequate. I'd made a last minute change while stocking part of the keep, and though I'd changed my notes on the ground level, I'd forgotten that this particular change would also be visible from the walls. So there was a little confusion when I belatedly mentioned there were several 1/4" thick strands of spider web running from the ground to the parapet on the north side of the wall separating the northeast courtyard from the central courtyard, and again on the south side.

+Nathan Joy does not like spiders, and his characters almost always have a quirk that they don't like spiders either. So his character Yusef panicked, and pretty much tried to scrap the plan. There was a long discussion about the fact that the PCs still couldn't beat the gargoyles and there weren't any spiders or spider holes visible and that it really seemed like the silver Crow statue was important for getting home so they needed to get into the chapel somehow and so on and so forth. It was mildly amusing from the GM's perspective, but also something of a distraction.

Finally, Yusef bowed to the inevitable and everyone descended into the central courtyard and moved around until they spotted the four-armed monster in the chapel. There was another brief discussion of what do, and then some people started moving forward to the chapel wall so they'd have cover against the monster's crossbow attacks. The monster spotted them and challenged them for a password, and when they couldn't provide it, moved to attack. But by then it was after 9 pm, and Doug and Uhuk were losing focus, so we called the game and ended on another cliffhanger.

Technical Notes

I waffled a bit on how tough to make the gargoyles, and ended up buffing them slightly from my original design: some minor increases in skill (from mediocre to professional, with some focused disarming abilities) and a little more HP. I ended up fairly happy with how they played out: the gargoyles were dangerous, but in a predictable way. They outnumbered the PCs and were mostly resistant to their best attacks, and had tricks to remove the PC's best attacks, but the gargoyles striking damage was relatively weak and no PC was going to get murdered for a failing a single defense roll (unlike the 4-armed monsters, that do 5d-1 impaling and are thus swingy as hell). Fighting the gargoyles was a battle of attrition that was stacked heavily against the PCs, and the players realized it and ran.

It's pretty obvious that the gargoyles can be defeated: a typical DF party with a Weapon Master Knight backed by a healing cleric would cut through them at a pretty good pace. Any given gargoyle might stay up for a few seconds as the knight cut off hands and feet, but the outcome wouldn't be doubt. The PCs were heavily handicapped by their lack of armor, mook level melee skills, and lack of healing magic. At least some of that is going to be remedied if the PCs can ever complete this expedition and go home, so now they're relatively focused on doing that.

Most everything else in this session went well. I worried slightly that was overplaying the gnomes, but as I think about it, subtlety is not a virtue when presenting a possible mystery to PCs. Players get a lot of information and have a lot of distractions and things to think about, so if you want to impress a point on them, you might as well hammer it in. They don't quite know what's up with the gnomes, but they do know that something is up, and that's good enough for now.

I was annoyed with myself for forgetting about the spider strands on the third floor map. I mentioned this in the play by play above, but the actual description was even worse than I described. I had told the PCs all about the central courtyard and the view from the castle walls and the portcullis winches, and they were deep in discussing the merits of opening the portcullis to make a fast retreat versus paying the gnomes more to stand by to lift them with the crane, and then I say, "hey, oops, here's this important detail that you probably would have noticed much, much earlier." Not my proudest moment in GM'ing.

What Next?

I expect the fight against the siege beast in the chapel to go poorly for him: he's a flesh and blood monster, and being as big as a water buffalo doesn't help much when several people are firing 7.62mm into you. There may be some surprises, but nothing that the PCs won't be able to cope with. So hopefully that will no more than half the next session. And then if the players can manage to avoid being distracted by something shiny, they'll be able to get home, complete the expedition, and earn CPs.

I'm not sure what will happen after that. Ryan lost one of his guns to the gargoyles, so he may want to recover that, but everyone needs better armor and melee skills before they try that. The PCs will also have earned at least some real money, so they'll definitely be coming back to the Castle. I'm just curious as to where they'll want to explore next.

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