Thursday, February 4, 2016

Castle of Horrors Session 17

Precis: The PCs hunt down the vampire and engage it in a confused melee when they are attacked in turn by the crazy axeman!

Last night was the seventeenth session of Castle of Horrors, and the last session for a while. It was a very combat focused session, but entertainingly so, with a difficult three way fight that had a lot of reversals and changes of pace. I thought it was pretty fun, and a good capstone for the campaign.

Cast of Characters

Neil Stays Behind

We started the morning after the end of last session: the PCs, Ieill, and their gnome prisoners were recovering after being attacked by a vampire the night before. Ieill felt that she and her gnome companions were in over their heads, and she wanted to leave the Castle, but was willing to stay around to help hunt the vampire. The PCs reviewed what they knew about vampires and headed up the third floor. Neil volunteered to stay behind to watch the gnomes, but Angela was curious about what was going on. Also, I had plans, and it was important that Vengeance be with the active PCs.

Vampires, per the research that Raleigh and Thomas had done the day before, could walk about during the day but were vulnerable to fire and sunlight. They could be staked with wooden skewers (Ted asked specifically any organic material would do, and I answered that no one had written about scientific experiments and what other organic materials could you stake someone with anyway?) but were otherwise hard to kill.

Oh, no! Magic Statues!

Searching around the gnomes' rooms, Thomas found a secret door that led to a short passageway that ended in a blank wall. They immediately found the next secret door, which opened into a hall of alcoves: each alcove had a statue in it, and Raleigh quickly confirmed they were magical statues. Everyone immediately drew back, and tried to figure out a way to negotiate the presumed deathtrap.
Not this kind of Magic Statue

Raleigh cast Create Servant, and used the servant to touch one of the statues. Nothing happened, which the PCs took as an encouraging sign until someone pointed out that Created Servants are biological entities but don't have souls, and thus some kinds of magical traps won't react to them. Raleigh proceeded to send the servant off to open a door at the end of the hall, which led to the tower of halberds. She then sent the servant into the tower, I guess to check if the halberds worked on the third level? Thomas had a drone monitoring the servant's process, and everyone watched as the servant got chopped apart by six or seven halberds.

There was a stairway going down to the second level of the castle at one end of the hallway, so the PCs carefully edged past the statues and went downstairs. There was a faint trail of footprints in the dust and dirt of the hallway, which eventually led to a door.

Cascading Waits

It seemed reasonable that the vampire was behind the door, so the PCs prepared a bit: Ryan took point to bash the door open, almost everyone else took up positions around the door with guns out, and Raleigh loudly and slowly cast and enlarged Sunbolt. So there was no chance of getting surprise.

Ryan tried to force the door open (for once, I'd correctly anticipated the PCs' actions and had looked up the relevant rules and prepared notes on the door's DR and HP) and failed because the vampires had cleverly blocked access with some furniture. Ryan then pulled out his sledgehammer and hit the door really hard, destroying it and revealing a pair of ugly vampires on the other side. At which point everyone's Waits went off.

So I looked up the rules on Cascading Waits and there was a big dice-off. I thought the vamps had one (one succeeded by 11!) but Ted's dice were hot and Thomas got his shot off first. At any rate, the two vampires surged forward. One of them ate a fair bit of damage before getting zapped and then dusted by Raleigh's Sunbolt, but the other managed to grapple Ryan, cripple his arm, and suck a good bit of blood out of him. Then the mature vampire Helga, the vampire from last night, used her Clinging ability and Altered Time Rate to walk on the walls and jump past the front line to confront Raleigh. Raleigh, in turn, used up all her Destiny points to survive the vamp's attacks. Ieill tried to use True Faith but the vamps ignored her, and more guns were fired at very close ranges.

Things Get Crazy

At this point, the crazed axeman returned: despite having been thrown off the castle balcony two days before, he was back and shouting about cheaters and wanting his axe back. He attacked Thomas but Thomas' armor soaked most of the damage.

The remaining nosferatu was grabbling Ryan's arm, so the troll punched it so hard that the vampire was knocked back and forced to let go. The nosferatu immediately turned and started attacking Jamie. Raleigh cast Sun Armor on herself to deter Helga from attacking and then started casting Sun Armor on Jamie, doing ludicrous damage to the nosferatu.

Helga took stock of the situation and didn't the situation: Raleigh and Jamie had on Sun Armor, Quanah and Ieill had up True Faith and would damage her if she touched them, Thomas was armored up the wazoo, Ryan was heavily armored and quite dangerous in close combat... the mature vampire ended up dodging past all the PCs and attacking Angela, knocking her the ground and sucking up enough blood to heal Helga. In the process, Angela dropped Vengeance.

Helga picked up Vengeance, which was an iffy move for her. She was defaulting with it from her DX of 18, so her lethality went down quite a bit, but it meant she wasn't directly punching all the nasty PCs so it was a possibly a net win for her. Of course, the crazed axeman charged her. Helga ignored him for a string of attacks that Quanah and Ryan barely avoided, and then the axeman hit her in the arm with his own halberd. The PCs were basically cheering their crazy foe at this point, excitedly proclaiming he'd pick up Vengeance and then show the vampire a thing or two. I pointed out that Helga went first in the initiative order.

Helga counterattacked, punching the axeman to near unconsciousness, then grappling him, biting him, and sucking up enough blood to restore her arm and full maneuverability. Raleigh finished off the second nosferatu with a critical success on a Sun Jet, and then everyone opened up Helga with firearms: she ate a couple of slugs from Thomas and Quanah and and 4 rounds of .454 Casull from Ryan. Jamie came at Helga from the flank with a fine hatchet, but she managed a grabbing parry and pulled it out his hand. A couple people groaned, but Kevin said not to worry: the vampire's damage output pretty much went down when she was wielding a melee weapon.

I just smiled, and then had Helga throw the hatchet at Raleigh. A discussion about whether you can retreat from thrown weapons (you can't, but we didn't know because no one ever uses thrown weapons in our games) was cut short when Raleigh rolled a 15 to Dodge and completely flubbed it. 16 points of cutting damage easily penetrated Raleigh's DR 10 plate armor, and the question of whether Raleigh could kill Helga with the sustained Sun Jet was rendered irrelevant when Raleigh failed the major wound check and fell over.

Everyone continued to blast Helga with guns, but there's no amount of bullet damage you can do a vampire with Supernatural Durability and 27 HP that matters since they're not vulnerable to it. Thomas doesn't pack Dragonsbreath rounds for his shotgun, Raleigh and her sun spells were out of the equation, and things were looking pretty grim. Then someone remembered that they had bought Alchemical Fire from Wiremu the day before, and that specifically Jamie had a vial, and that Helga's back was to Jamie. Jamie all-out drew and crushed the vial against the vampire's back, and since Helga was already at -8xHP from bullet damage, she died instantly.

It was a pretty close fought victory: Angela was at negative HP and only surviving because she has HT 13 and Very Fit, while Ryan, Raleigh, and Jamie had about 3 HP between them, and Thomas, though unhurt, was at the point of quickloading slugs into his shotgun and firing them immediately.

Patching Up, Packing Up, Going Home

It was already 9:15 in the real world when the combat ended, so I fast forwarded through the next bits: Raleigh, Ieill, and Quanah healed everyone's wounds and restored Neil's crippled arm. Then the PCs packed up the Library of Crowspire, and Ieill and the other gnomes fled the Castle. Ieill advised the PCs to likewise never return, because while the gnomes were clearly not up to the task and not nearly as badass as the PCs, the PCs themselves were in over their heads and going to die if they kept exploring the Castle. Then the PCs went back to the Real World.

And that was the end of the third expedition to the Castle of Horrors. I haven't run all the numbers, but the PCs managed to do a bit of exploring and recover a Great Treasure (the Library itself), so they came out okay on the CP front.

Technical Notes

Peter suggested that write-ups are better with maps, and I totally forgot to take any screen shots or suggest that anyone else do so. I'm writing this up on a different computer than I use to run the game, so I'm going to have to go back later and recreate some sequences and the screenshots and post them.

Evaluation of Play

Although there wasn't much exploring, this was still a pretty solid session. The combat was fairly tense without bogging down in rules discussions too much, though I admit I spent a lot of time reviewing my notes to determine what the bad guys could do and reacting on the fly to the PCs actions.

One thing really pleased me is that the PCs are (understandably) afraid of magic statues now, and generally wary of statues. They don't know what the statues in the hallway do, and they don't want to especially experiment to find out. This should simplify some future encounters with magic statues: I don't have to establish that the statues are enormously dangerous since the PCs understand that coming in.

Kevin was very pleased with the utility of Create Servant, and I anticipate having to look through +Peter V. Dell'Orto's rulings on the subject to keep it in hand. I'm definitely sticking with the idea that Created Servants are organic but soulless, and that a lot of magical effects that check for souls won't be tripped by them. Hopefully that will be enough to keep things in line.

Ted started a discussion about the munchkiness of the crazed axeman's Higher Purpose +4 "Defeat Cheaters", but it was in the out of game chat window and didn't derail things. I'm sticking to my guns that the duellist's code that was being enforced is straightforward and the bonus isn't munchkin. It hoses the PCs because they shoot the axeman with guns and team up on him, but if they'd just stop doing that things would be fine, aside from having to use their pathetic melee skillas to fight a skill-24 Weapon Master who also has Extra Attack. As a case in point, a wounded Mature Vampire took him out in a single second and he didn't get to use his Higher Purpose against her. I'm aware that this example may actually reinforce Ted's point more than my own...

Ted didn't get to use his grenade launcher at all in this fight: he took it out when they were setting up around the door, but I pointed that the door was was less than 5 yards away and his grenades wouldn't arm in time. I'm sticking with my decision that his impact fused grenades can either be carried live (which is obviously a horrible decision that will be self-correcting if he ever attempts it) or carried safe but won't arm until they're at least 10 yards away. It gives the grenade launcher an interesting tactical role without making it too overpowered. Sometimes it turns into dead weight, but not everything should be useful everywhere.

It was definitely a good action on my part to have Helga attack Angela, and I'm torn as to whether I eased up on the PCs too much when Helga stopped attacking Anglea and picked up Vengeance. On the one hand, Helga could have kept draining Angela and killed her easily. On the other hand, Helga didn't particularly need to kill Angela (and had healed up as much as she could at that point from draining anyone) and really did need to do something about Raleigh, and Vengeance was a useful tool for smashing Raleigh without dying to the Sun Armor. The bit with the thrown axe, though, that was pure strategic genius and narratively exciting: it was a clear reversal of a near certain PC win. I'm very proud of it.

Uhuk and Eric didn't contribute as much to this game as Ted and Kevin did, though Uhuk did have the bit when Ryan punched a vampire away, and I think that was good enough for her. She had a touch of a cold and was confused last night, so she wasn't looking for anything complicated and actually had to beg off being the decider. Eric I think would have liked to been more effective, but Quanah probably needs to be redesigned a bit.

We did have one point when Quanah used Faith Healing on Ryan, and Eric assumed he had to use the Concentrate maneuver on one turn and then have the healing happen at the start of his next turn, the way spells worked in 3rd edition. We corrected him on that point, because that was a bad and confusing system.

My original notes for Helga had her encountered alone in the second floor bed room, as she would have been in the original Castle Ravenloft. After seeing how the fight with her alone went last session, I added the two nosferatu (feral vampires from Monster Hunters) as backup: I was pretty sure that Helga couldn't carry a full session by herself. The nosferatu mostly soaked up the PCs' initial and most powerful attacks, which was all I really wanted from them. The return of the crazed axeman was another thing I added in: he can show up at any time until the PCs find a way to deal with him permanently.

What Next?

Kevin is taking the GM's seat next week for his X-Com game. I've got the start on my character, John Wayne Frank, as the friend that nobody likes and an opportunity to use all those unpleasant and crippling disadvantages that GURPS has but no one picks because they're unpleasant and crippling. But if you're only playing a character until he dies under a hail of sectoid plasma fire, does it matter if he's a delusional pathological liar and incipient sociopath? I hope to find out next week.

We'll return to Castle of Horrors, hopefully in early March. There's still more of the Castle to explore, but now that the PCs have the Library they can do research in the Real World(tm) so it should be easier to get past the difficult parts. And there's the entirety of the Caves Beneath, which I have made some more progress on stocking.