Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Gods and Goddesses of Agartha

Creation
In the beginning there was only one universal element: space. Space was a vacuum, an empty void existing in complete equilibrium, a steady state of nothingness. There was no matter, no light, no time, no change. The Unknown Demiurge created what we know as the universe when it introduced three additional elements: time, energy, and matter.

The three primary elements mixed together and formed chaos at the dawn of creation. The four elements eventually coalesced into the universe. Into this early universe were born cosmic beings of immense power: the Elder Gods. The Elder Gods were embodiments of universal forces that existed long before Earth or Man. They are completely neutral and indifferent towards men. Though some men have learned to bend the will of these cosmic forces to their own ends, the sheer incomprehensibility of these deities tend to drive these supplicants mad.

It was the Elder Gods that created the Day Star and the Earth and the other worlds. As they created, they spawned new gods, personifications and embodiments of their creations. Thus were created the Greater Gods: Tzann, Gaia, Thumina, Darkun and others. These gods are vast and impersonal, remote and unapproachable. They are generally indifferent to the affairs of man but may occasionally be swayed by the offering of sacrifice.

It was the union of Tzann and Gaia that created Quintessence, the fifth element, the spark of life. In so doing, she populated the world of Earth with flora and fauna, each possessing a consciousness and soul.

Eventually, life evolved into man. With the coming of man came the spontaneous creation of the New Gods, the embodiments and personifications of human concepts such as war, love, scholarship, etc. These gods are increasingly anthropomorphic and relatable. They are the easiest to appease and to sway. 

Gods of Law
Tzann (Greater Deity, The God of Order and Leadership and Fate)Tzann is the king of the gods and ruler of the Overworld. It is Tzann that created the great clockwork mechanism of the universe and set the celestial bodies in motion. Tzann is the god of the day star. He is portrayed as a radiant leonine father figure with a muscular build and armor of gold. His wife is Gaia, goddess of nature and mother of all life above ground. Tzann is the brother of Thuminia, goddess of the moon.

Justica (New Deity, Goddess of Justice and Fairness)
The judge of the guilty and the innocent, Justica carries a scale in her right hand and a double-edged sword in her left hand. She has a third eye in the center of her forehead with which she sees truth and falsehood.

Gaia (Greater Deity, Goddess of Nature)
Gaia is generally depicted as a full-figured wide-hipped large-bosomed green-skinned woman. She is the goddess of nature and fertility. Gaia is the wife of Zonn, with whom she conceived and gave birth to quintessence, the spark of life that imbues all living and growing things.

Thumina (Greater Deity, Goddess of the Moon)
Thumina is the sister of Tzaan. Thumina is a faintly luminous with pale skin and stiff unmoving hair like carved marble and dark blue-grey eyes. Thumina is the goddess of of the moon as well as obligation, womanhood, and zooanthropes. Thumina is wed to Darkun, the god of the night and shadows.

Ohma Tor, The Beast Lord (Greater Deity, God of Wild Animals)
Wolf-headed lord of the animals and the wilds. Savage and wild defender of the beasts. Hunters offer to him, for if they do not, he may deem your kill an affront and exact his revenge.

The Lady Issarii, Patron Saint of Women Warriors (Demi-goddess)
The greatest human woman warrior of the ancient Agarthan Empire who lead the fight against the Giants of Tor-morain. Revered as a heroic legend by all and worshipped as a goddess by many women warriors.

Artorius (Lesser Deity, God of War)
Artorius is portrayed as a tall mighty warrior in gleaming armor wielding a massive spear known as Mizrak. Artorius has long curly hair and beard and his eyes burn like coals. His skin is bright red and hot enough to burn trees and boil water.

Ordain Stonesheild (Lesser Deity, Dwarven Lord of the Mountain)
Father of the Dwarves and The Goblin Scourge. Lost his left hand in a fight with the Goblin King, Azurg, but won the rights to the mountains for his people in the process. 

Adhinata (Lesser Deity, God of Pain, Domination, Mutilation, and Suffering)
Adhinata, also known as “the Flayed God”, is a leather-clad figure of horror with flayed skin covered in nails. He is worshipped by conquerors, torturers, and some decadent nobles. He is also seen as the god of penance, guilt, and suffering. His worshippers perform rites of flagellation and self-mutilation to shed themselves of their sins. The more decadent worshippers inflict suffering on others as a means of reinforcing their own dominance and control.

Gods of Chaos
Darkun (Greater Deity, God of the Night and Shadow)
Darkun is a tall gaunt figure with dark blue skin and black hair. He has a hundred eyes. He wears a long cloak of glittering stars. Darkun is the enemy of Zonn. Long ago, Zonn and Darkun reached an accord that resulted in a sharing agreement over the world. Zonn would rule half of the time, called Day, while Darkun ruled the other half, called Night. Darkun is married to Thumina, goddess of the moon.

Saprin Pang (Lesser Deity, Embodiment of Wine & Debauchery)
Satyr-like deity that variously appears as either a male or female. Known to seduce (or attempt to) the most attractive of mortals (Charisma 17 or above). His/Her children, the Sarpin, are said to be the inspiration of drunken lust. They whisper in the ear of those addled with drink and talk them into things they may regret. 

Set (Lesser Deity, God of Serpents and Lies)
Set is the god of serpents. He has the form of a giant serpent with hundreds of human arms. He is also the god of assassins, lies, snake-worshippers, shape-changers, and alchemy.

Lorimes the Lord of Ravens (Greater Deity, God of Magic)
His representation shifts continuously; he may appear as a 10-year-old girl, a wizened old man, or anything in between. He always has a robe of a hue that you can never entirely pin down, a raven on his shoulder and a bone-white staff. He is steeped in arcana and tends to spend half his time looking into planes other than our own – he is often holding two conversations at once, with creatures in two different planes. It is dangerous to call on him, as he is impatient of being interrupted in his studies, but if you ask a clever question or have a situation that engages his interest (for example, you have summoned a golem that is proving truculent and particularly difficult to banish), he may give you a reward, for he has studied much and finds little that is new. To summon him, it is easiest to call to his raven by sacrificing a jewel-encrusted rodent and invoking a spell known only to higher-level adepts. Often, only his raven will appear, and it will decide whether it is worth summoning Lorimes. It is a powerful creature in its own right, though, and may be able to help without referring to its master.

Shaitain the Destroyer (Elder Deity, God of Entropy, Chaos, and Destruction)
Shaitan is one of the powerful titans that pre-date the gods. He is a primordial force embodying entropy and decay. He devours life, energy, and vitality. He is the end of all things and will one day return the universe to universal equilibrium. Shaitan is only worshipped by madmen and certain suicidal cults.

Neutral Gods
Fang Drako (Greater Deity, God of the Dragons, The First Wyrm)
Ancient and huge dragon that is said to imprisoned within in the center of the world. His flame is seen in the fury of volcanoes and his rage is the earthquakes that tumble the mightiest of empires. Sacrifices are made monthly at the base of each of the volcanic mountains of the Great Wall to slake his rage lest he make the lands quake and the volcanoes burn!

Nil the Queen of Death (Greater/Lesser Deity, Goddess of Death) 
A tall, green figure in blue robes with a sceptre of justice in her hand and a fierce and forbidding visage. She has as deep a commitment to justice in the afterlife as Justica has in this life. She is assisted by the conductor, Syrrhus, a man all in gray often pictured as riding a swift hart, and by the wizened, ink-stained recordkeeper, Corprus. Her worshippers are known for not being judgmental, for nothing can be valued until its end is known and all can be taken into account. She is more of a neutral figure than lawful good: it is important that people gain a reward that fits their actions during life, but if an evil person gets an evil afterlife, there is no revenge or satisfaction in that; it just is so.

Amun Tor (Lesser Deity, God of Mysteries and Riddles)
Amun Tor is a mysterious hooded figure with one great eye. He is the god of scholars, explorers, and secrets. He is a reclusive god in charge of the secret library of heaven. It is said that Amun Tor is fond of puzzles, riddles, and games and many myths tell stories of wily heroes that best the god using cunning, strategy, and trickery. These heroes in turn have provided men with the knowledge of fire, magic, agriculture, and other advances.

Xulutc, the God Between the Stars (Elder Deity, God of the Void)
An alien being, a winged tentacled horror from outer space, ruler of the Outerworld.

Quarin the Evergreen, aka the Elf King (Lesser Deity, God of the Fey)
Quarin is a tall muscular figure with pale skin like marble. He has long flowing white hair and a beard. A massive rack of antlers sprout from his head. Giant hawk wings grow from his shoulders. Quarin is the ruler of the Otherworld, also known as Elfland or Fairy-land. He is the god of elves, fairies, sprites, and fey creatures.

Draven Windshard (Demi-God, Patron Deity of Half-elves, Stories, Bards, History, and Lore)
Half-elf hero and demi-god, was the Master Storyteller. Said to still roam the lands looking for new heroes stories to tell, even though he would be centuries old now.  

Azurg, The Goblin King (Lesser Deity, God of the Goblins)
Wily and sly, Azurg attempted to cheat the dwarves of their mountain homes at the creation of the world. He is now a hideous old Goblin covered in burn scars.

 

Monday, April 28, 2014

"Hard to Swallow" Chapter 15 of the Xanthus River Campaign


Our party:
  • Valerius (Level 3 Paladin)
  • Absalom (Level 2 Cleric of Justica)
  • Babu (Level 2 Thief)
  • Jalani (Level 2 Cleric of Amun-Tor)
  • Knott (Level 1 Fighter)
On their return trip from Thither to Duirndown, the party spent a day and a night in the bustling market town of Swallow, where the Xanthus river cascades over a thousand foot cliff as it plunges from the mountain highlands to the jungle on its way to the sea.

Swallow

Valerius was recruiting hirelings and henchmen, Absalom was shopping and running into old friends, Knott was frequenting the whorehouse, and Jalani was off doing something mysterious.

While Babu was in the market square, he came across a tent selling magical curios. A sign outside proclaimed, "Free Stuff! Inquire Within" Babu pulled aside the richly embroidered tapestry covering the doorway and entered. The space within was dimly lit and filled with magical artifacts. A strange ancient looking hooded proprietor with long wiry hairs sprouting from his leathery chin said, "Come closer. What is your name?"

Babu answered.

"Ah, Babu. I have something for you!" A withered skeletal hand reached into a box and pulled forth a small dark glassy ovoid, the size of a robin's egg, that glowed from within. "This is for you!"

Babu said "What is it?"

The old man replied, "Free! And Yours!"

Babu took it and asked "What does it do?"

"It will grant you magical powers!"

"How does it work?"

"In order for it to take effect, it must be ingested. Swallow it!"

Babu swallowed the ovoid. The old man began to laugh menacingly.

The world began to spin and Babu descended into a vortex of spinning unreality. When he awoke, he was lying on a tattered reed mat in the bare space where he found the tent. An oddly translucent face stood over him shouting, "Get up!"

The voice came from a ghostly form, the disembodied torso of a dead wizard. His name was Urso the Evoker. Usro revealed that he was once a wizard adventurer and that he and his party died while attacking the evil alchemist Ezekiel. Urso deduced that Ezekiel must have trapped his soul within the gem, which was then transferred to Babu for reasons unknown. Now Urso was a disembodied spirit that only Babu could see and hear.

A side effect of this spiritual transference was that Babu could now cast spells as a second-level wizard. Unfortunately, Babu had lost all knowledge of thiefcraft, which had been transferred to Urso. Urso could emerge from or retreat back into Babu as he wished but could not travel more than ten feet away and could not pass through solid matter. Likewise, Babu could summon Urso at any time or send him back into dormancy.

Upon rejoining his comrades at the inn, Babu recounted the tale and everyone was up to speed.

That evening, Valerius interviewed two prospective squires but found neither of them worthy.

The next day, Knott rejoined the party and they set off towards Duirndown.

Halfway to Choke, the party encountered a caravan of 80 pilgrims coming the other direction. The pilgrims were religious adherents of Adhinata, the god of penance.  They were wearing spiked collars around their necks and were flagellating themselves with barbed whips. The caravan seemed to be transporting a hierophant and several curates, possibly on their way from the wastes beyond the mountains to Swallow or Thither. Since they were violating no laws, the party moved aside and allowed the pilgrims to pass without incident.

The party arrived in Choke around noontime. They got a bite to eat and Valerius, Jalani, and Absolom spent some time recruiting hirelings and henchmen. Valerius hired:
  • Brown Tom, a young lady with experience as a torchbearer for other adventurers. She was a novice fighter and agreed to become Valerius' squire.
  • Clench, a mercenary infantryman.
  • A war dog.
Clench, a Mercenary

Jalani hired:
  • Squat, a mercenary infantryman, brother of Clench.
Squat, a Mercenary

Absolom hired:
  • Favreau, a cook with a funny foreign accent
  • Paula, wife of Favreau, also a cook
After lunch and recruitment, the party continued on their way.

That evening, towards dusk, the party crested the ridge overlooking the village of Duirndown, home of Valerius and Absolom. The village looked dreary, almost abandoned.

Duirndown

No one challenged them as they approached the closed gate. When they called, an apathetic voice said that the gate was not barred. The party entered. The village was nearly deserted. No one was moving about. The shutters were closed. No business was transacting.

Absolom took the party to his family home. Everyone was just lying about, bored, uninterested. Valerius could sense an evil presence, nothing specific or localized, just a general feeling of doom. The evil presence did, however, strongly emanate from the fields. They decided to go to one of the local inns. There, they were offered some boiled leeks and potatoes by the indifferent innkeepers. The food itself was the source of the evil. Everyone excused themselves from the food and instead chose to eat their rations of crackers and jerky.

Valerius assembled everyone and marched to the entrance to Duirnhold. The entrance was still closed and locked. Brown Tom spoke for Squat and Clench, expressing concern about beginning the delve tonight after an afternoon's hike and no rest. Valerius dismissed everyone for the evening.

In the morning, the party ate gruel prepared by Favreau and Paula and prepared to enter Duirnhold. They were met by Lothorn, Headman of Duirndown. Lothorn was still vigorous and healthy. He exclaimed great pleasure and relief at seeing the return of Valerius and Absolom. He explained that since they left, the village had undergone some kind of change. Everyone has succumbed to a kind of torpor or lethargy. He explains that the evil is coming up from beneath the earth, that it is entering the roots of the plants and infecting the food. He said the entire area has become infected with this blight, and that it has turned all the vegetation grey and tasteless and that all the animals, even the beasts of the wild, have become apathetic and listless. He is worried that it is but the beginning stage of an even longer-term change. Into what he knows not, but he does know that it was this same malady that caused the dwarves to evacuate Duirnhold fifty years ago, and that the evil must be originating from there. Valerius pledged to investigate and do what he can to end the menace.

With that, the party prepared themselves and proceeded across the old Dwarven bridge to the entrance to Duirnhold.

Valerius inserted the key that unlocked the gate and entered, deftly avoiding the falling block trap that had been reset by the kobolds. The metal chains, pieces of armor, and goblets that followed the massive stone block, however, echoed for several seconds, alerting anyone within of the party's entrance.

The party proceeded carefully into the gauntlet of barriers set by the kobolds. The kobolds soon arrived and began firing on the party from their high niches. Another set of kobolds, led by an armored warrior, emerged from the darkness and blocked the entrance. Valerius, Valerius' dog, Knott, and Absolom pushed forward while Babu and Jalani fired arrows at the kobold crossbowmen in their niches.



After a brief battle in which Knott was slightly wounded, the party won entrance into Duirnhold. They advanced carefully, intentionally setting off and avoiding the rolling boulder trap which crashed safely at the bottom of the long corridor. They navigated the secret bypass and entered the partially collapsed entrance foyer. After a brief reconnoiter of the adjoining rooms, the party leaders met to decide what to do next.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Post Game Analysis

This game we tried to adhere to Rules-as-Written AD&D as much as possible, with the exception of some slight modifications to the initiative system by myself. Here's the analysis.

Initiative System
My initiative system assumes 10-second melee rounds (as opposed to one-minute rounds in AD&D). Each player rolls 1d10. Their character, as well as their henchmen and hirelings, act on that segment. Re-roll every round. Spell-casters begin casting on their initiative and the spell takes effect after a number of segments equal to their casting time has elapsed. This could mean a spell may not take effect until the next round.

This initiative system worked surprisingly well. It was super-fast and still felt "old-school". It's really not at all functionally different from original AD&D except that a lower result is better and spell casting times are incorporated into the initiative of every round, not just surprise rounds.

Attack Modifiers for Various Weapons vs. Various Armor Types
We tried it. We universally hated it. We will be ignoring it.

Weapon Speed Factors
We considered integrating speed factors into the initiative system but decided instead on just using speed factor to adjudicate ties. I plan on using the rule that says if your speed factor is half your opponent's, or more than ten less than your opponent's,  you get two attacks. But to do that I need to know the speed factor for all the opponents, and I forgot to make a note of that for the kobolds. I don't think it mattered in the last fight. I still plan on making an intentional effort to try this often-ignored rule out and evaluate it for myself. We never played that way in high school, and I want to see what we missed.

Hirelings
Henchmen are ridiculously cheap and easy to hire. Of course, they will never level and get better. Contrary to custom, my players were very stingy using their hirelings. It's only the first encounter and the PC's were not at all challenged, but the hirelings would be. The players wisely want them to survive until they encounter a tough fight, where the PCs will need to provide additional targets for their opponents.

Henchmen
Valerius is a knight. He wanted a squire. I used the Meatshields henchman generator. Valerius' player did not like the results. He finally took Brown Tom on the condition that she be female to match a mini that Valerius' player liked.

I later looked at the actual henchman rules in the DMG and was struck by two things:
  1. I don't think Meatshields is following the rules in the DMG.
  2. The rules in the DMG are INCREDIBLY expensive and are really used for hiring additional PCs for the party, except that you don't get to choose race and class. Hiring a henchman can cost you a hundred GP or more for only the CHANCE of getting a handful of applicants who have a CHANCE of accepting your offer.
In any case, I'm going to try to follow the rules laid down in the DMG but I'm going to re-write them to be less Gygaxian, ie- clearer, faster, and easier to understand at a glance.

Urso the Enchanter
Urso is the result of Babu's player wishing to switch classes from Thief to Magic User. Babu was only a second level thief, and lacked the stats to make an official change using the rules in the PHB. But I am a generous and benevolent overlord and allowed the switch since Babu is still kind of a new character and because we're switching systems.

Wardogs
As has been pointed out by other DMs in various forums, the use of a 2HD Wardog with a 2-8 damage bite seems almost too good to be true. I'm allowing it. A guard dog costs 25 g.p.

Purchasing a war dog is like a purchasing a hunting dog. When Valerius bought the dog, the dog breeder/trainer taught him a few of the basic commands and whistles.
First of all, that dog doesn't know Valerius from a kobold. So the first thing the trainer gave Valerius was a few week's supply of a kind of musk. He instructed Valerius to put a dab of musk on himself so that the dog wouldn't attack him. Eventually, the dog will get to know Valerius and his compatriots. Until then, they must use the musk.
Valerius must keep the dog on its chain. It's default mode is to attack everything not wearing the musk until someone says "Down".
Valerius was then taught a few commands. He will only respond to the commands of someone wearing the musk.
  • "Down" = Stop killing things
  • "Heel" = Walk by my side
  • "Sit" = sit down and be good
  • "Hold" = Grab hold and pin/slow a target down, but do not bite
 Wardogs make morale checks like a hireling. Unless Valerius is holding onto the chain with a free hand, he might ignore the command and run away and not come back.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Knott the Warrior


The boy who would become Knott the warrior started out a foundling, who appeared on the outskirts of Wince when he was about 7 summers age, stealing food and clothes from farmhouses and sleeping in barns and haylofts to survive. An old man named Hemphrend the Rope-maker took pity on the boy and started leaving food and clothes out for him. Slowly, he earned the boys trust and took him into his home. Hemphrend started to raise the boy and teach him the basic manners of civilized people and his trade skill, rope-making. He gave the boy the name Knott. Although Knott learned the trade skill, he has too much energy to sit and create rope day after day, and is quickly frustrated by doldrums.

When he was 17 summers of age, a small band of adventurers came through Wince looking to take on retainers. Knot jumped at the chance and has since become a skilled warrior. Knott stands 6 foot 4 inches tall and is well muscled. He has scars all over his body from his childhood of living in the wild. He has dark brown eyes, wild un-kept brown black hair and beard. Knott is brutish, forward and stand-offish with little too no internal filter for this thoughts. He often offends those around him with his words or deeds. 





Thursday, April 24, 2014

Absolom of Duirndown



Absolom was born and raised in Durindown, the last of 15 children on a lonely pig farm. As the youngest, Absolom was given all the base menial tasks that his older brothers and sisters did not want, mostly mucking out pig…err…feces. Absolom was never the fastest, strongest or smartest of his family. In fact he was somewhat dim-witted by all accounts. But he always had a smile on his face no matter what grotesque unmentionable stuff he might shoveling. When he was 8, he was apprenticed to the local gong-farmer, which was a stroke of luck! The pay was good, almost ten pennies a week! (although most of this went to his parents) and he felt important as his small size (at the time, he’s now kind of on the heavy-set side) allowed him into the small privy catches that needed mucked out every night. And all the farmers loved to see him and his mule Delilah and their all-important dung-cart rumbling up the hillside!

 As fate would have it, Delilah died a week before events that led to Absolom becoming an adventurer. Without a mule to pull the cart and no money to replace Delilah, Abosolom went with the other young men and women to the standing stones, having heard rumor that great treasure would be soon available to them all when the stars aligned. Surviving the adventure, Absolom was gripped with a divine passion. He had received the call of Justica, the goddess of Justice, and took the vows of a peregrine acolyte of justice. Since this time, Absolom has proven himself an able, if not entirely competent ecclesiast. But his warm smile and cheerful attitude is always welcome in the group. Absolom is about 5 foot 10 inches tall and heavy set. His eyes are blue and hair a dirty blonde. He is friendly and outgoing, and maybe just a touch na├»ve.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Jalani of Spit

Jalani of Spit

Jalani comes from a small dairy farm outside Spit.  As a girl, she was sent to Spit to sell the cheese and butter from her farm. While in town, she met the local priestess of Amun-Tor, a friendly scholar and teacher. The priestess gave Jalani private lessons, tutoring her in basic literacy, history, and geography. When her family discovered that she had been receiving an education, they immediately forbade her from returning to the village and put her to work in the dairy.  
 
When Jalani was a young teenager, she learned that she was betrothed to the son of the owner of the neighboring hay farm. Their union would create one of the largest and most profitable dairies in the valley. Unfortunately, the son was an insufferable lout and more than a bit mentally unstable. Jalani knew that if she married him, she would be stuck raising loutish children and she would probably never see the inside of a book again.
 
Poor as she was, she didn't have a lot of options for escape.  Eventually, Jalani was once more allowed to take the dairy products to market in Spit, so long as she was accompanied by a chaperone. Planning for weeks, Jalani had been able to set aside enough coins to buy a set of men's clothes and some basic traveling gear.  Strong and tough from a childhood shoving cattle around, she chopped her hair, bought passage upstream to Wince and hired herself out as Jack, a stout man-at-arms.  
 
She was hired by Valerius, then an unknown warrior from a back-water village of Duirndown, and joined his band on an adventure to explore the haunted house of Saltmarsh Manor.
 
After she had gotten a little experience of the world under her belt, she once again felt the pull of books and mysteries. A chance encounter with the temple of Amon-Tor in Thither revealed to her a new calling. She knew she had been chosen by the god of mysteries and riddles to seek out truth and knowledge and understanding. She had been consumed with a divine passion. Afterwards, she took the vows of a peregrine priestess of Amon-Tor and shed her guise as Jack, revealing to her comrades that she was, in fact, a woman named Jalani.
 
The new Jalani is an independent, confident woman, as unlike the shy girl she once was as her alter ego: Jack. Given her childhood isolation and complete change of garb and attitude, it's unlikely that anyone in the valley will ever recognize her as the young girl from Spit.
 
She will still eat cheese, but she will never make one again.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dungeon Crawl Classics and the Curse of the Death Spiral


Dungeon Crawl Classics is a fantastic game. I love everything about it. It's rules are simple and very evocative. The funnel creates immediately playable characters with personalities and histories, all springing from a one-word occupation. The classes are distinct and each one gets something special.

DCC is great for short-term games where you aren't too attached to the character. Death is cheap, plentiful, and sudden in this game. My players agreed that DCC is the most fun they've had playing dungeon crawls (hence the name).

However, the DCC rules made it difficult to invest in characters for long-term campaign play. A number of factors play into this. The first is the cheapness of the value of life in the game. The second is the lack of player choice in character design and destiny. Finally, and most importantly, the luck rules and the rules regarding permanent injury as a result of critical hits and near-death experiences create a slow spiral of debilitation that make a character harder and harder to play over time.

Life is Cheap
First, death is cheap, sudden, and plentiful. The design of the game encourages a high death rate. You are not encouraged to grow attached to your character. They are going to die, it's just a matter of when. DCC is set up for troupe-style play where everyone is controlling 2-4 characters because there's going to be a lot of attrition.

DCC does mitigate this a bit by allowing characters a kind of death save. It's called "rolling the body over". If a character is reduced to zero hit points, they can make a Luck check. If they succeed, they are still alive with 1 HP, -4 to all actions for the rest of the day, and a permanent -1 penalty to either Strength, Agility, or Stamina. Yowch!

First, the "Death Save" itself is nebulously defined. Some Judges interpret this as being "roll d20 under current Luck stat".

Proposed Rule: Change Death Save to DC 10
My suggestion is to treat it like a saving throw. Roll a d20 plus your Luck modifier vs. a difficulty of 10. You can spend Luck points on this roll in order to survive. If you succeed, you survive. If you fail, you're permanently dead.

Proposed Rule: Alternate Permanent Injury
I have also created a table to serve as an alternative to the permanent -1 penalty. My Near-Death Experience rules do have some permanent effects, but most of the effects are temporary until the lost Hit Points are healed, and there are even a few beneficial results.

Proposed Rule: Change Luck to multiple d20 rolls
This proposed house rule takes a lot of the danger out of the death save. Currently, you can spend points from your Luck score to modify the results of your death save. Each point spent adds +1 to the roll. This can result in a hefty expenditure of Luck if you like your character and really want them to survive. An alternative would be to allow each point of Luck spent to allow a separate d20 roll. You then take the new result, for better or worse. If you don't like that result, keep spending and keep rolling.

Thieves, however, roll 1d6 for each Luck point spent. The result is how many d20s they roll. They can then choose the best roll.

Lack of player choice in character design and destiny
Players don't get a lot of choices regarding the destiny of their characters. You create ~4 characters per player for the funnel. Each character is completely random. 3d6 for each stat, in order, no stat placement. There is absolutely no player choice here. The savvy player, however, can try to be selective over who survives the funnel. If you like a certain character, protect them and keep them safe during the funnel and hopefully that's the character that will survive.

If that character survives, you get your next choice - you select a class. And that's pretty much it. Magic users get random spells. Clerics get random or assigned spells. You can't get better stats. You can't specialize in a certain type of fighting.

Magic users, however, do get to choose new spells later, sort of. They have to hunt them down and quest for them. Also, magic users get to choose a magic specialty.

Proposed Rule: Allow Stat Increases at Certain Levels
A generous Judge might allow his players to develop their character's stats. I suggest +1 to a characteristic every other level, to a maximum of 18.

Proposed Rule: Allow Magic Users and Clerics to Select Spells
Instead of randomly rolling or assigning spells, allow magic users and clerics to select their spells. Alternatively, allow them to select one spell then roll randomly or assign the rest. Then, as they advance in level, allow magic users to choose spells to learn from a wizard's guild and clerics to learn new prayers from a higher level cleric at a temple. You still need to quest to find the appropriate guild or temple, it's just a little more known where these resources might be. Perhaps via legend, word of mouth, or reputation.


The Death Spiral
The unfortunate truth is that DCC sets characters up to eventually die. Adventuring is a dangerous life. The longer a character stays alive, the greater the cumulative effects of past injuries have on their survival. Every time a character survives death, they suffer a permanent -1 to a physical stat. Some critical hits have permanent effects. Most poisons and venoms have permanent effects. Characters will need to spend Luck to make good things happen, or sometimes just to survive, but Luck recovers very slowly.  The longer the cleric lives, the more Deity Disapproval they're likely to encounter. The longer the wizard lives, the more Corruption they're likely to accumulate.

This ongoing accumulation of deleterious effects, negative modifiers, and permanent injuries create diminishing returns for the player character. Although they get better as they level, they get worse as they survive.

These effects are mitigated if the party cleric is able to heal some permanent injuries or poisons. Also, the character can knowingly quest for healing items, but this itself leads to more injury and negative modifiers.

These negative effects are fun for a dungeon run but really hamper attempts to tell long-term campaign stories with long-running characters. A character that manages to survive to 3rd or 4th level may, by that time, be considering retirement.

Proposed Rule: More Luck Points
One potential solution for the campaign-minded Judge is to award more Luck Points. The guidelines detailed in this blog are an excellent starting point, except that I wouldn't require the player to roll for the chance of receiving a reward, I would just award the points. Giving the player characters more Luck Points will enhance their survival chances, especially if you combine the award with the modified use of Luck mentioned above.

Proposed Rule: Injury from Surviving Death are Temporary
An alternative to my proposed injury table above would be to simply make the permanent -1 to Strength, Agility, or Stamina roll into a temporary modifier. Perhaps for a week or a number of days.

Alternatively, change it from a -1 to rolls to a -1 to the stat. This lessens the impact to player characters.

Randomness of Spell Casting
One of the most frustrating aspects to my players was the spell casting rules. Wizards and clerics must roll stat + level + 1d20 vs. a chart for each spell. For wizards, 1-5 meant the spell is lost, 6-12 meant the spell failed but wasn't lost, and 12 or 13+ was a success, with greater effects for a higher roll. For clerics, a 1-11 or 12 was a failure and increased your fumble range by +1. A 12 or 13+ was a success, with greater effects for a higher roll. Corruption results in permanent mutations while divine disfavor could result in penalties both temporary and permanent.

The randomness of these results make spell casting highly unpredictable. As a result, tactically-minded players find it very difficult to create strategies for defeating opponents. Players of magic-using characters try to help only to fail miserably, increasing their frustration and lessening their enjoyment of the game.

The rules for Spell Burn offset the chance of failure, somewhat. A wizard can burn a temporary point of Strength, Agility, or Stamina for a +1 to the spell casting roll. These lost points return at a rate of 1 point per game day. Even with this mechanism, my players were loathe to spend these points.

The threat of corruption and the overall chance of failure while casting spells caused my players to dismiss spell casters (wizards and elves) as undesirable character classes. They wanted to avoid magic like the plague! Likewise, the chance of failure for cleric spells led to one my players calling it "Fail until you Fumble".

Proposed Rule: Multiple d20s from Spell Burn
An alternative rule that allows for much more predictable spell casting would be to allow wizard and elf characters an extra d20 roll for each characteristic point spent. You take the next roll, regardless of what it is. This would cut down on the number of points you have to spend for effective Spell Burn and could also result in completely different spell results, turning a failure into a critical success!

Analysis
Some purist DCC Judges will balk at my proposed rules as coddling the players. DCC should be a hard game with easy death. Spells should be random and unreliable. Life is short and the stakes are high. Magic comes from chaos and should be unpredictable.

I would say to them that this attitude is great for fun short term dungeon crawling but is anathema to long term character development and campaign play. A short life span makes it difficult to enjoy the creation and development of character personalities with history and investment. Unpredictable results make it frustrating for players of wizards and elves and make it difficult for tactically-minded players to plan to win.

These rules aren't for everyone. Really, I created them specifically for my group of players who enjoy long-term character stories and strong tactical play.

We recently stopped playing DCC as a result of the frustrations I have outlined above. Frankly, my players were past the point of house rules and band-aids. Hopefully, we will one day give DCC another try. If we do, I will implement most of the changes I have described above. After that, I'll be better able to describe the effect these changes have on the game in real terms.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

"From Wince We Came" Chapter 14 of the Xanthus River Campaign

First, an announcement.

For the past few weeks, I have sensed some discontent among my players regarding the Dungeon Crawl Classics rules. Yesterday, Bill announced that he was going to sit out the rest of the campaign because he was not having fun with the current rules. So when everyone arrived tonight I had a referendum on DCC.

The group indicated that the DCC rules were great for short-term games, a few dangerous dungeon crawls (hence the name, I suppose) but it wasn't being conducive to long-term campaign play and character building. They felt the player character rules didn't provide enough player control over the character's design or destiny and that rules led to gloriously short character lifespans that, although fun in the short run, were detracting from the type of long-term story-building the players were looking for.

On top of that, the players found the random nature of the spell-casting system infuriating and discouraging.

I was a little disappointed but not at all surprised. I like the DCC rules but I was seeing the same problems creeping in.

So we discussed alternatives. I briefly considered some retro-clones such as Legend of the Flame Princess or Swords and Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord. I also weighed them against plain old D&D Rules Compendium and AD&D. I wanted something old-school and nostalgic. For the BRIEFEST of moments we entertained the idea of trying Pathfinder or even returning to 4E.

In the end, I decided on AD&D for no other reason than everyone has the books (not everyone has D&D and none of my players have even heard of the word "retro-clone") and everyone wanted race separated from class.

With that choice, everyone became excited and reinvigorated. Lucinda practically squealed with nostalgic delight. We set about converting the DCC characters over to AD&D.

The conversion was pretty simple.
Strength = Strength
Agility = Dexterity
Stamina = Constitution
Intelligence = Intelligence
However, I allowed players to choose if Personality = Charisma or Wisdom.
Luck, therefore, became whichever they didn't choose.

Level = Level.

I calculated the percentage of experience points to the next level in DCC and applied that percentage to the next level in AD&D and gave each player character that many XP.

Everyone re-rolled their Hit Points.

After that, it was determine your AD&D abilities, saving throws, etc.

One slight change I made (the first of many house-rules, I am sure) was ascending to-hit bonus and ascending AC. It's just so much EASIER and I don't understand why Gygax didn't write it that way to begin with!

Level Cleric, Druid Fighter, Paladin, Ranger Magic User, Illusionist Thief, Assassin
0 -1 -1 -1 -1
1 +0 +0 -1 -1
2 +0 +0 -1 -1
3 +0 +2 -1 -1
4 +2 +2 -1 -1
5 +2 +4 -1 +1
6 +2 +4 +1 +1
7 +4 +6 +1 +1
8 +4 +6 +1 +1
9 +4 +8 +1 +4
10 +6 +8 +1 +4

Monster HD = To-Hit Bonus
Monster AC = 20-Original AC

When we were done converting characters, we had:
  • Valerius (Level 3 Paladin)
  • Absalom (Level 2 Cleric of Justica)
  • Babu (Level 2 Thief)
  • Jalani (Level 1 Cleric of Amun-Tor)
  • Knott (Level 1 Fighter)
We picked up where we left off last week. The party had killed Explictica Defilus, God-Queen of Serpents and Avatar of Set, once and for all and emerged from the hidden underground temple.

It was around noon. It had been raining hard for nearly twelve hours. The town was wet and muddy. Shafts of sunlight supported the ceiling of clouds like luminous columns. Survivors began to tentatively emerge from their hiding places from the previous night's massacre. Blood was everywhere. Windows were smashed, buildings burned, doors hanging loose int heir frames, animals slaughtered, wet clothing lay in the mud. 

The false archon had fled the city during the chaos. The magistrate was murdered. Most of the town guard had collapsed into masses of writhing snakes, the vile magic that created them having been extinguished. 

One of the remaining guards called out from the gate house, "The Archon approaches!"

Soon, another guard called out, "No, there's the Archon!" 

Two identical archons were approaching the city simultaneously. A group of villagers gathered. Valerius ordered both archons held. Both archons claimed primacy. Both declared the other the impostor. Valerius had each archon recite the phrase, "Ka nama kaa lajerama". One archon complied. The other archon protested his innocence and refused to comply. 

The guards looked to Absalom. The magistrate was dead. The priest of Justica was dead. Absalom was the ranking member of the order of Justica and thus had the legal authority to make a ruling. Absalom ruled in favor of the archon that complied. The archon, thusly empowered, passed judgement on the impostor and called upon Absalom to declare the punishment. The crowd called for blood! They wanted to burn the impostor. Absalom looked to Valerius. Valerius reminded Absalom of the atrocities committed and suggested that Justica's will called for a swift death. Absalom agreed and sentenced the impostor to death by beheading, to be immediately carried out by Valerius.

The impostor was dragged screaming and struggling to the raised platform in the center of the town square. A chopping block and wicker basket was produced. Valerius carried out the judgement. The impostor's head rolled into the basket, the head of a large boa constrictor! The body that remained was thick, ropy, sinuous, like a snake, with clawed limbs. 

Afterwards, the archon proclaimed his thanks to Valerius and offered to elevate Valerius to the rank of armiger. As an armiger, Valerius would become a nobleman. He could require others address him as "Sir Valerius". He would be granted land and provided with the income generated by that land. He would be allowed to create a heraldric coat of arms to be kept at Wince and passed on to his offspring. In exchange, he would be expected to come to the defense of Wince when summoned and would be expected to join the archon at court on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. Valerius agreed and was immediately elevated during an impromptu ceremony in front of the entire village. He was granted the land farmed by Dunth, currently owned by Patrician Umok. Dunth would continue to be the steward of the land. 

In addition, the surviving acolytes of the pantheon urged Absalom to become the new priest of Justica or to take them as his students. Absalom declined both and noted that ten-year-old Helise had been chosen by Justica. He anointed her as the new priestess of the temple. The teenage acolytes bristled at the idea of serving a ten-year-old girl, but Helise quickly too control and established discipline under her holy authority.

With that, the party spent the day helping the town recover and re-build and slept soundly through the night. The next day, they arranged passage on one of the river boats going up-river. 

When the river boat approached the confluence of the Atrous and the Xanthus, a pirate long-boat blocked their way. The party formulated a plan. Absalom cast bless upon his comrades as they hid themselves under the deck planks of the river boat and allowed the pirates to come along-side. As soon as the pirates boarded the river boat, the party leaped out of hiding, taking the pirates by surprise.
Avast ye, scallywags!
A brief battle ensued. The party quickly killed the pirate captain and overwhelmed the crew. The remaining four pirates surrendered. 

The prisoners were lashed to their oars and forced to follow the river boat. The pirates were an uncooperative crew, however, and made the journey slow-going. The river boat had to slow itself in order to not leave the captured long-boat behind. The poor progress caused the two boats to dock at the pitiful town of Dribble.

Dribble was a depressing run down village with a few hundred inhabitants. Its dock was old and in poor repair. The inhabitants were dour and unpleasant. The archon's keep sat menacingly atop a cliff overlooking the town. The lone inn in town served pasty gruel and bland watery beer made with dirty river wash and some meat that everyone hoped was least fox or wolf. When the innkeeper, an abrasive ugly troll of a man with hairy warts on his face, told everyone that "...if the archon invites you to dinner, you better accept it.", everyone decided to spend an uncomfortable night on the boats. 

That night, before dawn, a drunken patron of the inn stumbled to the dock and shouted belligerent insults at the party and the crew before urinating at them and defecating on the dock in their direction. Knott but a warning arrow into the dock and the drunkard crawled away, slipping in the mud several times.

The next day, the party made it to the base of the Argent Falls. They transferred from the boats to the funicular and eventually arrived in Swallow. 

Knott immediately trotted off to find a whore-house.

Babu and Jalani explored the city.

Absalom and Sir Valerius delivered their prisoners to the temple of Justica. They accepted the bounty offered for pirates but immediately donated it to the temple. 

Sir Valerius then began interviewing young warrior-trainees at the temple, looking for a potential squire.

Afterwards, while shopping, Absalom ran into Kedrith, the merchant that hired them in Duirndown two months ago. After exchanging pleasantries and catching up, Kedrith related to Absalom that Duirndown has gone downhill fast. A pall has fallen over the village. No food is growing. Stores are wilting. The people are starving. They have no energy, no will to live. Kedrith said he could feel some supernatural force draining the strength from him, so he left as soon as he arrived.

TO BE CONTINUED

Post-Game Analysis
The players were already having more fun with the AD&D rules. Other than increasing AC and to-hit bonuses, and maybe a few other house rules, I'm going to try to run it RAW. 

Morale took me a minute to figure out. But once I grokked it, it was simple. 

We're going to use one-minute rounds, segments, weapon speed, morale, the whole thing. I may or may not use variable attack bonuses vs. different types of armor. That one makes me cringe a little. 

In this regard, OSRIC is a great help. It recapitulates the AD&D rules into an easier-to-read and understand document. It does a much better job plainly describing the AD&D rules without having to jump around between different books. 

Hopefully Bill will come back next week. I think an Elf Fighter will suit his play style much better. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What Does Not Kill Me...

Near-Death Experience Rules for DCC


Whenever a character is reduced to zero hit points and does not receive immediate healing, the character has a chance to survive. At any time during or immediately after the end the combat (up to one hour), another player character can check on the body. The player of the deceased may attempt a Luck check (1d20 + current Luck modifier) vs. a difficulty of 10 (difficulty could be variable and set by the Judge depending on the circumstances of death, challenge level of the campaign, and bloodthirstiness of the Judge). Luck points can (and probably should) be spent on this roll. A success indicates survival. A failure indicates permanent death, curable by nothing short of a resurrection spell, wish, etc.

 The surviving character has 1 hit point and will suffer -4 to all actions for one hour following the encounter. The player of a surviving character must also roll on the following table to determine what other temporary or permanent effects may result.



% roll      Result
01-14         Coma (unconscious until Hit Points restored to full)
15-19      Multiple injuries (+1d3 additional injuries)
20-22         Chest Wound (-1d6 Stamina until Hit Points restored to full)
23-25         Leg Wound (roll 1d6 for severity and 1d6 for location)
Severity
1              severed or crushed (half movement rate, permanent)
2-5          broken (half movement rate until Hit Points restored to full)
6              injured (-5’ movement rate until Hit Points restored to full)
Location
1-2          Thigh
3              Knee
4              Shin
5              Ankle
6              Foot
26-28         Arm Wound (roll 1d6 for severity and 1d6 for location)
Severity
1              severed or crushed (-1d6 Strength permanent)
2-5          broken (-1d6 Strength until Hit Points restored to full)
6              injured (-1 Strength until Hit Points restored to full)
Location
1-2          Shoulder
3              Upper Arm
4              Elbow
5              Forearm
6              Wrist
29-31         Hand Injury (-1d6 Strength until Hit Points restored to full)
32-33         Fingers injured (roll 1d6 for severity)
Severity
1              1d4 fingers severed or crushed (-1 Agility per finger permanent)
2-5          1d4 fingers broken (-1 Agility per finger until Hit Points restored to full)
6              sprained or injured (-1 Agility until Hit Points restored to full)
34-36         Brain Injury (-1d6 Personality until Hit Points restored to full)
37-39         Concussion (-1d6 Intelligence until Hit Points restored to full)
40-42         Blinded in one eye (roll 1d6 for severity)
Severity
1              burst or gouged (-1d6 Agility permanent)
2-5          severe injury (-1d6 Agility until Hit Points restored to full
6              minor injury (-1 Agility until Hit Points restored to full)
43-44         Nervous Condition (-1d6 initiative until Hit Points restored to full)
45-47         Paralyzed (conscious but can take no physical actions until Hit Points restored to full)
48-50         Painful wound (may only take 1 action/round until Hit Points restored to full)
51-75         Superficial Scar (roll 1d4 for length in inches, roll 1d6 for scar location)
76-78         Loss of Confidence (-1 to attack opponent that wounded you, permanent)
79-81         Vow of Vengeance (+1 to attack opponent that wounded you, permanent)
82-84         Lesson Learned (+1 Experience Point)
85-87         A Close Call (+1 Luck)
88-90         Battle Hardened (+1 permanent Stamina)
91-93         Horrible Scar (-1d6 Personality until Hit Points restored to full, -1 permanent Personality, roll 1d6 for length in inches and 1d6 for scar location)
94-96         Impressive Scar (+1d6 Personality until Hit Points restored to full, +1 permanent Personality ,roll 1d10 for length in inches and 1d6 for scar location)
97-00         Miraculous Survival (+1 Experience Point, +1 Luck)
Scar Location
1              Head or face
2              Arm or hands
3 -5         Torso
6              Legs or feet

Monday, April 14, 2014

"You Wince Some; You Lose Some" Chapter 13 of the Xanthus River Campaign

Our party consists of:

Valerius (Level 2 Warrior)
Absalom (Level 2 Cleric of Justica)
Gwen (Level 2 Elf)
Babu (Level 2 Thief)
Jalani (Level 1 Cleric of Amun-Tor)
Knott (Level 1 Warrior)
Helise (Level 1 Cleric of Justica)
Burk (Level 1 Thief)
Hadrud (Archon of Wince)

After escaping from their imprisonment in the swampy dungeon of the serpent cult, and killing Explictica Defilus, AGAIN, the party returned to the village of Wince, this time with Archon Hadrus. However, weary of their ongoing battle with the agents of the serpent cult, they sought shelter in one of the several farmstead compounds within sight of the walls of Wince. 

The first few farms refused to answer. Eventually, they were welcomed by a farmer named Dunth and his wife Luretia. Dunth allowed them to stay for the night and share a common peasant meal of barley gruel and beer. The party was welcome to sleep in the barn with the animals on one condition: No matter what you hear or see, do NOT go into the root cellar! When asked why, he simply replied, "It is a private matter!"

Late at night, of course loud noises came from the root cellar. Thumpings and bumpings as if something or someone was trying to escape. Remarkably, the party kept their word and did not go near the cellar door. Suddenly, the door burst into splinters. Into the courtyard emerged a frenzied-looking girl in her teens with wild hair, pallid skin, and frightening eyes. She cast about wildly for an exit. Valerius caught her while Absalom went to fetch farmer Dunth. Jalani woke the others. Farmer Dunth was soon out of the house with a lanthorn and pitchfork.

Dunth explained that this was his daughter, Fransca, and that she had recently come under the sway of the vile serpent cult. For the past few weeks, she had left the farm to join the cult in town. He followed her one night into the village temple, but lost her after that, finding nothing but an empty temple within. He said that the cult had changed her, that she had become rebellious, wild, and preternaturally strong. 

Fransca thrashed about in an attempt to break free, "Let me go! Infidels! My mistress calls to me! My brothers and my sisters need me! I must go to them!"

A freak magical storm was brewing over the village. Clouds swirled and eerie green lightning flashed, some striking the temple. Something was obviously going on.

The party decided to tie to a post and keep watch over her, with Dunth's permission. They thought about interrupting whatever was happening in the village, but Fransca cried, "No! No! Leave them be!" After soe debate, they decided to wait until morning. Fransca, hearing this, shouted excitedly, "Yes! YES! Good! Sleep well! My mistress returns! When next you face her, she will be MORE POWERFUL than you can possibly imagine! Ha ha ha ha!" At that point, the party decided to put a gag on her.

The dawn brought a pouring rain. The party had a breakfast of porridge, curds, and milk with the farmer and formulated a plan. They would go through the gate and head straight to the temple and kill anyone that tried to stop them. 

Valerius took the farmer aside. He told the farmer he would like to pay him for his assistance. The farmer requested a paltry sum of 1 silver per person. Valerius paid the man 500 gold coin! Dunth was dumbfounded and confused. 500 gold coins was more money than the farmer would see for a hundred harvests! Valerius assured him of the gift, admonishing him to keep it hidden and secret and to not spend it all at once. 

Leaving for the village, Valerius asked Dunth if they could borrow a wagon, an animal, and some cloaks. Dunth said that all he had was a rouncey merychippus and a cart, but that the party was welcome to take them and keep them! Heck, you could take the daughter, if you wished! The party, silencing Knott, politely declined but took the merychippus and the cart. 

The party, clad in simple homespun hooded ponchos and carrying a bundle in the back of a cart, approached the village gate. The gate was mysteriously closed and no other farmers were seeking entry. At the gate, they called out. A strange voice answered, "The village is shut! Go away! You are not wanted here!"

While Absalom and Valerius distracted the gate guards, Babu and Burk slipped away from the group and scaled the wall beside the gatehouse. They slipped down and Babu activated his short sword, Scute, creating an impenetrable zone of darkness. Babu easily killed the two guards behind the gate, then climbed the ladder and slew the other two guards upstairs as they fumbled about looking for the alarm gong. When the darkness ended, Burk opened the gate and let the others in. 

The party made a dash down the town's main street. The town seemed deserted. Several of the entrance doors of the village shops were torn off their hinges and windows were smashed. Streaks of blood ran out of the entrances and across the covered boardwalks in front of shops. An alarm gong soon sounded from one of the other guard towers. The party turned right and made for the temple. Archers atop the gatehouse of the archon's keep began firing arrows, inuring a few of the slower members of the party. 

Once inside, the party made for the rear of the temple. They checked on the priests' quarters. Three of the four were scenes of violence and bloodshed, but no bodies were to be seen. They went downstairs to where the acolytes lived. The library was burned, the holy relics were desecrated. The acolytes' quarters held evidence of a struggle and bloodshed. The door to the senior acolytes' room was battered but secure, and braced from behind. Absalom called out and was answered by the young acolyte that summoned him in the middle of the night. The acolytes removed their barricades and opened their door. There were four survivors. 

Continuing their search, the party found a scene of charnel hell in the kitchen and dining halls. Several of the bodies of the villagers and acolytes had been prepared and eaten, their carcasses left on the tables, entrails spread across the room, bodies hanging from meat hooks, and other gruesome horrors!

So far, there was no trace of the cult. However, the party followed a trail of bloody footprints on the floor to a secret door hidden in the store-room. Stairs led down.

The party rushed headlong towards righteous vengeance, bursting through the door at the bottom of the stairs! They made short work of the four cultists standing guard at the entrance of the narthex.

A Traffic Jam of PCs!
They opened the door to the right to reveal four ophidian ghouls and four ophidian zombies, the corpses of the dead animated by muscles comprised of living serpents, feasting on the body of an acolyte! The squamous undead left their gruesome meal and rushed the doorway. Valerius, Knott, and Jalani held them at bay, killing each one at a time as they tried to exit.
A blurry shot of Serpent-Ghouls and Serpent-Zombies

When there were but a few left, they pushed into the room so that the remaining creatures could be surrounded and killed. 

Searching the room revealing nothing but a coat-room and simple storage. 

Across the hall, the party found a prison with four cells containing villagers and acolytes. When told of the atrocities committed in the village, one of the prisoners called out "By the Gods! I may be to blame!"

When asked for details, he revealed himself as Karzun, a sage and expert in ancient cultures. He had come to Wince searching for ruins of the ancient empire of Nagina Samrajya. Nagina Samrajya was the empire of the serpent ones, who ruled the earth millions of years ere the rise of man. He found the buried ruins of a city in the swamps a day's journey southwest of town. He even found what he believed to be the buried remains of the god-king and god-queen of Nagina Samrajya. Unfortunately, he was betrayed by the men he hired for the excavation. They stole the remains roughly six weeks ago. Later, he was captured by agents of a sinister serpent cult! They were led by at least two surviving members of the ancient serpent race. Apparently, the serpent race can cast illusions and can make themselves appear human, even specific humans! However, they have a weakness, because of the shape of their mouths, they are unable to pronounce the phrase, "Ka nama kaa lajerama", by this you can know who is human and who is ophidian.

The party asked Karzun about Babu's sword. Karzun said the sword was named "Scute" and was an ancient weapon of Nagina Samrajya. He said that Scute was the only weapon that could permanently kill Explictica Defilus.

The party release the prisoners but admonish them to stay back and be safe. They continue on and find a large room, the chamber of the serpent cult!

Explictica Defilus... AGAIN!!
 
The God-Queen of Serpents on her Throne


The room was large, nearly seventy feet per side with a twenty foot ceiling. A narthex on the west wall gave the room two entrances. A large raised platform dominated the east wall which was dominated by a large frieze and symbol of Set, God of Serpents. Lounging atop the dais was Eplictica Defilus, the undying God-Queen of the ancient Serpent Race, flanked by two priests wearing green robes: the priest of Justica known as Wethis and the elusive priest from the excavated dungeon whose name was Garliss. In the room were six snake-human hybrids, each armed with two scimitars, and two human acolytes of Set. A mysterious pit sank into the floor in front of the platform.

The party advances... cautiously with eyes closed.
The party split up, with Valerius, Gwen, and Jilani taking the left flank and Absalom, Knott, Babu, and ten-year-old Helise, truly a brave little princess, taking the right flank. Burk stayed behind in the narthex with the acolytes.  Gwen, Babu, and Helise, being ranged fighters, stayed back, avoiding the hypnotizing gaze of the naga queen. The rest blindly rushed forward, literally, their eyes squeezed shut against the effects of the charm. Gwen summoned a magic eagle which flew up and harassed Explictica for much of the fight before being bitten and dying from venom.

The battle bogged down at the stairs leading up to the dais. Valerius was caught in a magical web spell cast by the naga but managed to pull himself free. Shortly thereafter, Valerius, Absalom, and Knott were all three paralyzed by the effects of a dark incantation from Wethis. Unable to move or attack and only partially able to defend themselves, the charge was stopped.

Jilani rushed to the aid of Valerius but was of little help. Helise moved out from behind cover to likewise aid her allies, but in her haste did not close her eyes and was charmed by the queen of serpents. Explictica teased Helise, taunting her with descriptions of the torment of her people, forcing her to look into the well. The pit was clogged with the dying victims of the serpent cult's atrocities. Villagers were flung, living, into the deep pit. Their bones broken. There the poor wretches were left to die, heaped on top of one another like living garbage. Their pitiful moans and feeble cries for help  could not be drowned out by the din of battle that filled the room.

Knott fell to Garliss. Wethis, confident that the north flank was secure, moved over to the south flank and began to slowly choke the life out of Absalom, taunting him and declaring Justica a dead goddess and that all justice was false. Valerius had lost all faith and was ready to declare defeat. The battle seemed lost.

Babu activated the darkness of Scute and rushed forward to Absalom's aid, only to be covered in another web spell. The darkness was apparently ineffective against the dark-vision of the Naga Queen and her minions. However, Babu made it to the steps of the platform and Wethis, confused by the darkness, was killed by Babu and Scute. Babu, however, was cut down on the steps by a snake-human hybrid.

However, killing Wethis ended the paralysis. Valerius and Absalom broke free. Absalom rushed the north steps of the platform, followed closely behind by Jalani and now Burk. Jalani uttered a prayer and paralyzed Explictica Defilus. At the top of the platform, Valerius drew Duirn's Dwarven Dagger and began stabbing the naga in the head. Burk was charmed by the Naga and began attacking Valerius. Valerius was finally able to blind the Naga. Jalani crawled over the twisting coils of the blind Explictica to reach the other side of the platform, where she grabbed Scute. With a final blow from Valerius and Jalani, Explictica Defilus was killed.

Explictica Defilus' corpse slid off the platform and into the pit, where it exploded into a geyser of glowing blood like liquid sparks that rained from the ceiling of the chamber.

The god-queen of serpents was dead!

Meanwhile, during the confusion of the final moments, Garliss, who had been constrained by webs and ignored, managed to transform himself into snakes and slither away, again.

TO BE CONTINUED!

 Post-Game Analysis
My original plan was to use the teenage girl to provide the party with some intelligence on the cult, and bait to get them to destroy the cult once and for all. You see, Explictica Defilus had to be resurrected by Garliss each time she was killed, each time requiring a human sacrifice. The party had a small window to destroy the cult while Explictica was still "dead". Had they taken the bait, the assault on the temple would have been quick and easy. Two priests and a few acolyte guards.

Unfortunately, the party didn't take the bait and played it safe so I amped up the planned encounter as well as the consequences of their inaction. Explictica was returned, and this time more powerful than before, with a bigger hit die and +1 to her spell check. Emboldened, the cult then went on a rampage throughout the town, killing and pillaging most of the villagers. Garliss reanimated many of the corpses of the villagers into snake zombies to guard the walls.

The fight itself was very touch and go for the party. Paralyzing Valerius, Knott, and Absalom was almost a game-ender. I rolled REALLY well! Fortunately, paralysis is very loosely defined in the DCC rules. I gave the PCs the same benefit I gave the monsters when they were paralyzed by Absalom or Jalani: they could not move or act, but they still got their AC, minus their Agility bonus. In retrospect, I should have treated their Agility as 0 (-3).  Anyway, the paralysis was very demoralizing for the players and I had to encourage them to keep going.

Later, I looked up how paralysis worked in 3rd edition, and had I used THOSE rules, it would have been game over for the party. My paralysis is more forgiving, but I apply the same rules to the monsters, so there.

Gwen was a non-participant in the fight. She's still at -5 to all actions after losing Cake, and as a result Gwen's player was disengaged. I gave him Helise to play, but that was a mistake since no one wanted to endanger the ten-year-old orphan princess, despite her now being a first-level Cleric.

Finally, Scute's darkness ability is over-powered. The ability is poorly defined in the DCC rulebook, saying only that the wielder can create 20' of darkness at will. Can the wielder see in the darkness? Do creatures with darkvision see through the darkness? We decided that Babu could see fine in the darkness and that creatures with dark-vision could see fine. However, I am reconsidering changing that so that Babu can't see in the darkness but neither can darkvision.

Finally, the players are very concerned with the death spiral of taking on a permanent -1 penalty each time they are rolled over from death. We are having fun with these characters and the death-spiral mechanic is not fun.

I'm all about my players having fun. So I'm replacing that mechanic (we kept forgetting about it anyway, so it's never been implemented) with a permanent disfiguring scar table. Each time you survive a mortal wound, you receive a gruesome scar.

Finally, my players are worried about getting Luck back. As a result, I will be implementing the Luck guidelines from Kill it with Fire. However, I will be using the guidelines to make flat awards of 1-5 Luck per session, rather than forcing them to roll for them.

Does that make me a more forgiving GM? Yes. I'm not quite as harsh on the PCs as DCC suggests. We are telling a fantastic story, having fun, and enjoying our characters. If I need to increase the survival rate a little bit so that the players are having more fun, then I'll do it. If they're not having fun, I'll stop.