Friday, January 27, 2017

New Dawn Session 3: Wight Men Can't Jump

Precis: A group of adventurers investigate a heavily trapped ruin and encounter a bunch of ghouls.

This was the third session of my New Dawn campaign. One of the elements of New Dawn that was forced on me by the players is that is a troupe style game, with each player having two characters. The second session focused on the military exploits of one group of characters; this session focused on some old school style delving of the second group.

Kevin recapped this session, too, for a view from a player's side.

Cast of Characters

  • +Uhuk of the Guard's Hloomawl, a minotaur princeling and mighty warrior.
  • +Eric Schmidt's Nesta Bowen, a human master spy with a grudge against the orcs.
  • +Eilmyn Davidson's Michael Jones, a Squallite archer.
  • +Kevin Smyth's Ariana Rees, a human blacksmith and minor saint.
  • Kiara Schmidt's Nayla, a supernaturally skilled archer.
  • Finbar Gullvan, the old man of the Resistance 

Role-Playing and Perceptions

While I was doing prepwork for the game, Eilmyn stated that she thought the game was supposed to entirely be a war story with no character growth. I was rather disappointed by this, since I thought I'd made it clear that New Dawn was more than just a sequence of mass battles: there was going to be role-playing, spying, delving, diplomacy, and all kinds of stuff. I could see how she might have missed that point, because there hadn't been much space for role-playing in the first two sessions. I apologized, publicly restated the campaign's themes, and admitted that I'm still learning how to pace the game.

I was a little bemused, though, because I had originally planned to have a role-playing scene in the second session, but it was centered around Hloomawl, and Uhuk wasn't able to make it to the game that week so I had to postpone it. But now I had the opportunity and I ran with it.

Hloomawl is Selfish. It's almost never a disadvantage that I see on PCs, because it makes you a self-important prick concerned with status and social dominance. It's not something that most of the nerdish people who play RPGs find appealing. But for whatever reason, Hloomawl is Selfish. Furthermore, Ariana had made Trahaern, the Resistance general, a really nice dueling glaive, and then spent most of a week making herself an extremely nice suit of armor (DR 11 very fine plate). Hloomawl hadn't gotten anything, and in his opinion, how could that possibly be just?

I'm afraid I ambushed Uhuk with the concept, but she rolled with it and had Hloomawl stomp in and confront Ariana. Nesta isn't selfish, but she wasn't too satisfied with the sword the kobold smiths had made her, either, and she also laid in Ariana for focusing on her own armor instead of making good stuff for everyone. Ariana stood her ground and yelled back at people, which is probably not the best way to reason with a minotaur with Bad Temper. Ariana claimed that she was inspired by the Forge-God, and made what he wanted her to make, and she didn't control it. Since neither Hloomawl nor Nesta had ever heard of Volundr, this was not the best argument, but Ariana performed a minor miracle by sticking her hand into the middle of the forge with burning it. (As an aside, I had to remind Kevin that he had to say a prayer before performing that trick in order to activate the Learned Prayer, and he acknowledged that he could have used Flesh Wounds to heal the damage as different Learned Prayer afterwards but it probably wouldn't have been as amazing.) Hloomawl and Nesta didn't sign up for Volundr's priesthood, but they did stop grumbling, and Ariana stayed up all night making Hloomawl a fine and balanced flail.

Curious Things are Curious

Finbar is the Old Man of the Resistance. He's my deliberate GMPC who is there to prod the PCs in the directions I'd like them to go when they can't think of things to do. In this case, he pointed out that there was a ruined building surrounded by a wall on the grounds of Camp Liberty, and he'd like them to go sort it out. There were rumors about the ruins being dangerous, and the remaining levied Resistance soldiers weren't interested in exploring.

The orcs had a couple of watchtowers that overlooked the ruins, so the PCs tromped up and took a look. The ruins were a mass of rubble. At the south end, there was what looked to be a covered entrance into the ground. Six huge stone blocks, topped with crystals, were in a hexagon around the entrance. Beyond that was a crudely built and maintained rubble wall, around 8' to 11' tall, topped with logs. Someone had pounded spikes into the logs to discourage climbing the walls. About 15' past the rubble wall on the outside was a low, poorly built split-rail fence. The fence was possibly sufficient to keep out unambitious sheep, but anything smaller could climb through it, and anything larger or more nimble could go over or through it. All of this roused the PCs' curiousity. They climbed back down from the tower and to the fence.

Nesta checked for traps (and blew the secret rolls) but didn't find any. Ariana hopped over the fence and strode off toward the wall, only to put her foot into a gopher hole with caltrops on the bottom. Fortunately, she was wearing DR11 plate boots and the caltrops failed to penetrate her armor and the hole failed to break her ankle, though she did fall over ungracefully. Ungraceful falls turned into a running theme. Looking around more carefully, the PCs spotted a lot of gopher holes. They finally went and found some lumber - included a couple of pieces of plywood with rope handles on them - and used those to make a platform to walk on.
Nesta and Ariana investigate layered defenses: fence, caltrops,
pit traps, spiked wall, more pits, and lightning dispensers.

Approaching the wall, Nesta again checked for traps (and failed again). She almost fell into a concealed trench at the base of the wall, but caught herself at the last second. More lumber was used to make a bridge to the base of the wall, and then the agile climbers easily scaled it, cleared off the spikes, and tied off a rope for the less talented climbers.

On the other side of the wall, Nesta checked for traps again and finally spotted a trap before it went off: there was another trench at the base of the interior side of the wall. This was somewhat trickier to evade, because people had to climb down the side of the wall and then make the jump to clear the trench. Michael and Hloomawl both failed and fell into the trench, but managed to catch themselves on the far side, damaging only their dignity.

Nesta took point, heading toward the rubble, crystal-topped blocks, and possible entrance. She was looking down, probing ahead of her for pits and traps. Although she did see the crystals start growing, she was focused on what was happening ahead of her, and was pretty badly surprised when the next set of crystals zapped her with a lightning bolt. Fortunately, it wasn't her Destiny to die that day and she managed to dodge. That set of crystals stopped glowing, but Nesta didn't want to continue on.

Ariana borrowed Hloomawl's large kite shield and put her own on her right arm. Holding her shield above her and Hloomawl's in front, she cautiously advanced toward another set of crystals. It started glowing and when she got close enough, blasted her with lightning. She calmly blocked, and then discovered that magically lightning can't really be blocked with wooden shields. She was blasted for a lot of damage, that her armor didn't protect her against, and thrown back. Fortunately she has the Flesh Wounds Learned Prayer, and could regenerate her injuries in about ten minutes. Again, the crystals dimmed after releasing the lightning.

The PCs tried a couple of methods to disarm the lightning generators. Hloomawl and the archers attacked them, but their weapons did nothing, not even Nayla's scattershot arrows. Nesta, being Callous, proposed using a couple of the remaining goblin prisoners to clear the mines, but almost everyone else had Pacifism: Cannot Harm Innocents or a Soldier's Code of Honor, and that suggestion was vetoed to Nesta's annoyance. Finally, Ariana proposed strapping herself into several layers of leather armor and clearing the lightning generators herself. I double checked to see if anyone had a better plan than brute force and ignorance, but no one did.

Ariana got blasted a couple of times, but not for more damage than she could easily heal with Flesh Wounds, and the lightning generators were cleared. While Ariana changed back into her nice armor, Hloomawl cleared the rubble. There was a pit entrance there, leading down into a dimly lit room filled with ash covered rubble.

Down the Rabbit Hole

At this point, I noted that it was about 20' down to the floor. People with the Acrobatics skill could hang off the edge and drop about 5 yards, and with a successful Acrobatics roll take no damage, and people without could make a DX roll (penalized by encumbrance) to only fall about 4 yards or so - less for Hloomawl and Michael, since they are very tall.  Michael had Acrobatics and jumped down.

This caused a bit of confusion, as to when exactly Michael jumped down: as soon as Hloomawl had cleared the entrance, or after Nesta and Nayla had tied their ropes together and tied them off a nearby block and dangled the rest down the hole? Eilmyn claimed I had told her to go down the hole, which I hadn't, but the claim did annoy me. It didn't help when I retroactively realized that Michael had Danger Sense, and would have known that going down the hole was dangerous. Eilmyn argued that if Michael was going to let danger stop him, he would have stayed on the other side of the fence, and I couldn't argue with that.

At the bottom of the hole, Michael's night vision let him see he was in a large room, and his keen hearing let him (and Hloomawl above) hear that there were multiple other things in the room - things larger than a rabbit and smaller than a crocodile. Hloomawl activated his glow vial, dangled off the ledge, and dropped down. His size worked against him, and he took enough damage damage in the drop to make it past his hoof DR, though nowhere near enough to cripple his foot.

The extra light let Hloomawl and Michael see they were in some kind of large, vaulted chamber with three side passages in each of the east and west walls. Also, something was in the side passages. They barely had time to ready their weapons before a pack of animated dead bodies came charging out, screaming "Flesh!" and "Hungry!" from desiccated throats.

The fight was on! Ariana followed Hloomawl's lead and dropped down, taking some injury despite her armor. Hloomawl brained the first ghoul to get near Michael, stunning it and effectively taking it out of the fight. It had a HT of 12, but still took 5 seconds to recover from that stun, and by that time the archers were nearly out of targets and were free to concentrate fire on it before it got back off the ground. Nayla provided overwatch fire from above. Ariana bashed ghouls as they approached and Michael shot and dodged.

One of the ghouls had been a knight, and was still in his rusted armor. Michael shot him at short range, and the arrow bounced off the knight's armor (though he critically failed his block and his shield disintegrated, which would prove crucial). Nayla shot him from above, and the knight didn't bothered to defend, but the arrow curved in flight and struck him in the eye. The knight was tough enough that this strike didn't kill him, but it did stun him and effectively take him out of the melee.

Another ghoul was a spellcaster, and he started flinging deathbolts around. One missed Ariana and almost hit Michael, but Hloomawl interposed his shield, only to discover that deathbolts are cosmically irresistible against DR and don't care. Fortunately, the damage was low and Hloomawl has High Pain Threshold, so he sucked it. Ariana wasn't as fortunate on the second shot, and took more damage and felt it. Hloomawl left Michael to his own devices and charged across a rubble field to get to the spellcaster. This next bit was a comedy of errors: Hloomawl was going for telegraphed head shots, to put the ghoul down in one shot, but the ghoul was agile enough to avoid the blows but couldn't really do much against Hloomawl either.
Ariana engages ghouls while Hloomawl flails at the spellcaster and Nayla provides covering fire.
The ghoul knight is already dead from arrows to the eyes.

Ariana, Nayla, and Michael whittled down the ghouls in the melee. Generally Nayla and Michael would slow them down with arrows, and then Ariana would hit them in the skulls with a hammer to kill them. Michael had to dodge and retreat a bit from the ghouls, but he was lucky (literally) and none of them hit him. Nesta stayed above, frantically tying a rope together. I asked Eric if he wanted her to jump down, but he didn't, since she wasn't very well armored and wasn't a melee fighter anyway, but a scout, spy, and sneaky thief.

Eventually, Ariana managed to join Hloomawl against the spellcaster. Nayla finished off the knight with a second arrow to the eye before he got to his feet, and Michael and Nayla killed off the brained ghoul with arrow shots about as soon as he recovered from stun. Ariana sent another telegraphed hammer shot at the ghoul spellcaster, and iterative probability caught up with him and he took the hit, stunning him and knocking him to the ground. Michael finished him off.

Tidying Up

Nesta finally finished getting her rope ready, and she and Nayla climbed down while the other PCs investigated. They appeared to be in some kind of crypt, though the ghouls had long since eaten the corpses. Someone had desecrated and vandalized all the religious icons and paintings on the walls, and the altar was smashed to rubble.

There was one more passage out of the crypt, a set of double doors leading to a small antechamber that was flled with sooty rubble. It looked like the ghouls had piled the rubble as a blockade against whatever was in the room to the north. Hloomawl and Ariana cleared away the rubble, and could smell something stinky to high heaven in the next room. But it was getting late, so I ended the session.

Technical Issues

We were using MapTools, and as usual, it proved to be the worst virtual tabletop except all the others. The first issue was that I had drawn both the catacombs and the above ground ruins on the same map, but forgotten this minor detail when I first started describing things to the players. So they were all on the catacomb portion of the map, and what I was describing did not at all match what they were seeing and Kiara thought I was insane. That got cleared up after they pointed it out to me, but it was silly.

The second and weirder issue happened when they climbed over the wall. For some reason, the light sources I'd placed inside the wall weren't working, and no one could see anything outside of their immediate vicinity. I wasted a few minutes trying to figure it out before turning off the night setting and moving on, but again, silly and annoying.

Review of Play

Overall, this was a good session. It had some low points, but they were pretty minor and I liked the multiply trapped orc defenses.

New Dawn is third in a series of games that at least somewhat involve Dungeon Fantasy style delving, but with character design so different from DF that it's hard to guess how dangerous foes should be. Mecha Against the Giants had characters with wonderful weapons and armor and it was fairly safe to throw hordes of monsters at them. Castle of Horrors had characters with sometimes wonderful weapons and inadequate armor and healing, and the combats were noticeably swingy. New Dawn has characters that range from insanely well armored (Ariana) and fairly dangerous (Hloomawl), to underequipped thieves (Nesta) and frankly unarmored archers (Michael). I really had no idea if the ghouls were going to blow through the PCs or be pushovers, but they had a couple of attacks that could penetrate DR but nothing that was too damaging. I think it worked out in the end: Arianna and Hloomawl took a couple of hits, Michael got lucky, and Nayla and Nesta stayed away from sources of damage. It makes me feel pretty good about next week's fight, good enough that I'll probably power it up a bit.

I liked the little bit of role-playing at the start. Uhuk did a good job of picking up on it, even with little prep, and Eric jumped in with Nesta's own concerns. I wish Kiara and Eilmyn had participated more, but you can only give people opportunities, you can't make them take advantage of them. There should be more scenes next week that deal directly with Michael, so hopefully there'll be more role-playing then.

What Next?

The fourth session is going to start with the PCs opening the door and finding out what stinks in the next room. After they've cleared the dungeon, Finbar is going to send them to find the Squallites of the local forest and see if the PCs can convince the Squallites to commit more forces to the Resistance. I'm expecting that to take about three hours in all, which isn't quite a full session. Unless I think of something better, we're going to shift focus back to the northern group and their battles at the end of the session. It's not a perfect way to make sure that Mass Combat doesn't dominate a session, but it's good enough for now.

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