Friday, October 26, 2012

Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad (Session 1)

So, last night was my long-awaited foray into Dungeon Crawl Classics, with the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad campaign. I've covered most aspects of that in other posts, so I won't belabor the point here.

I played with Gabriel, Wayne, Adam, and Bear last night. Thanks to them for taking part and I hope that they had enough fun that they'll return.

So, the adventure I ran for them was Crypt of the Lizard King (or, possibly Lair of the Lizard King, as Jez Gordon suggested--he's dead, so it's a crypt, but "lair" adds some alliteration, so should not be dismissed out of hand). This is an adventure where I used the presence of Lizardfolk in the pre- and present history of Ur-Hadad as a plot hook. I wanted to make allusion to the fact that their civilization was extensive, and they (dinosaurs, frankly) used to rule the earth. Also, Jim Morrison, dead rock star, is called "The Lizard King." Given both those facts, I had my concept, and I also had a way to structure the adventure: With Doors song titles. It worked for the writing process, as you will see. In the following sections, I'll put in the plan an then what actually happened (actual chunks of the module follow):

Crypt of the Lizard King
A Zero Level Adventure for Dungeon Crawl Classics (with apologies to The Doors)

Ship of Fools

You are captives and rowers aboard the slave ship Sea Pig out of Ossary, and bound for Ur-Hadad (formerly known as Tarantis).
This happened. I really didn't need to do the slave ship thing. It served no purpose, and sort of delayed the beginning of this adventure, and to no good purpose.

Riders on the Storm

During passage, a terrible storm rose up and swept your ship before it, ultimately driving it upon the rocks somewhere around Ur-Hadad, the storied First City of Men.

This thing happened.

Land Ho!

As dawn breaks, the few surviving captives and crew are picking through the wreckage of their ship and its cargo. The captain and most of the crew have perished, but the first mate and the cabin boy have survived. The adventurers party consists of the now-freed prospective slaves. Those who are not PCs will take rooms at the village inn for the next few days, drinking away the profits from their newfound trade goods. 

This is where I (for no reason known to me... maybe I had stage fright? I dunno...) sort of blew it with the opening scene. In any case, I decided to make them role-play this. With 16 characters. What the hell? We resolved it relatively quickly, but questionable choice for intro scene.

Waiting for The Sun

As dawn breaks, the PCs see the village about a mile distant. If they head that way, they will find it coming to life, as the people awaken and go about their business.

This is where I should have started.

A group of villagers is standing near the public house. And a man is talking and gesticulating franticly.
The PCs will get some suspicious looks and some will put hands on hilts or pitchforks, or whatever they have for weapons. None of them will attack first, for they are probably not the bandits everyone is worried about, but will regard them nervously.
  • The frantic man went to go see the healer (look at this rash!) but she wasn't there.
  • Another guy says that she and her daughter were out gathering herbs and other items for their apothecary cabinet, yesterday. He saw them go, carrying their baskets.
  • Maybe they were taken by those bandits (at this point the villagers look over at the PCs suspiciously and a bit nervously).
  • A hunter offers that he saw horsemen in the hills about five miles distant, while he was hunting this morning. Some believe that it's the bandits, for they are reputed to have mounts.
  • "There are those caves over that way," says another man, and then there follows some discussion of that point, trying to figure out which of approximately three different caves or hollows would afford shelter for them, should they be there. They all agree that the old wolf den is most likely.
  • Someone bemoans the thought of losing their healer, and recalls that the last time they had to find a new one, it took nearly five years. The oldsters in the gathering crowd nod knowingly. "That's so," says a older woman.
  • Another old woman suggests that the healer is a witch, but is shushed by those nearby her, but in a way that suggests that they think she's full of shit, not that they're hiding something.
  • During the opening of the discussion, an older man (Ariz) bustles up and takes in the tableau for a moment. The others look to him, but continue the discussion. He stands and listens to the discussion for a couple of minutes and then begins asking for clarification of some points. 
This was actually pretty good. I just wish I had a better way to introduce this material.  I thought of it as eavesdropping, but it didn't seem to work well. I just had to narrate it. I'm hoping it didn't sound too hokey.

The Offer

Then he turns to the PCs to ask who they are, and whether they might have seen two women nearby. They have not. He notes that they seem like stalwart warriors, and inquires whether they would like to accept a bounty (3 silvers a head for the bandits) and a commission (find the healer and her daughter and bring them back alive, for which they are offered an additional 2 silver). The PCs should probably drive a harder bargain

I cannot fucking believe they didn't even try to haggle. Don't they realize that everything here is a rip-off?
 But seriously... Haggling is the mini-game. Play it.

The Bandit Cave and The Crypt of The Lizard King

Prologue: Moonlight Drive

The PCs head northeast of the village into the hills. The rough, muddy path leads along the Redflood River, which is in flood right now, sometimes coming within about 50 yards of it. They must travel 16 miles or so before they reach the old wolf den that the villagers believe might be the bandits' refuge.

During the trek, make 5 Wilderness Encounters checks (see table at end of module).
As the PCs approach the entrance to the bandits' hideout, another storm is rolling in from the west. On a DC 10 Luck check they can see some fire or torch light from inside. It's dim, and mostly blocked by the brush growing outside of the cave, but potentially visible.

No encounters. Boooring! 

They arrived at the cave, but had made good time. No nightime sky. No darkness. Thanks infravisoin.

Area 1. Light My Fire

The entrance to the cave system is relatively narrow, but opens rapidly into a large room with a dirt floor. Inside, to the southeast there is a relatively large fire. There are two bandits near it (6 & 7 HP), playing dice and "guarding" the entrance. If the characters pass a DC 12 Agility test, they can sneak up on the guards. There is a pool in the northwest corner about 2-3 feet deep, and an alcove in the northern wall where horses and mules are hobbled. A character with a farm background, or something to do with horses should be able to tell they're spooked about something. There are also two freshly dug graves in the southeast corner of the room.
They were genius here. A PC snuck in, assessed the situation, but alerted the guards when going back out. He lured the guards out. The party killed them in very short time.

Area 2. The Spy

Bandit guarding entrance to narrow tunnel (9 HP).  He is nodding off, but is armed.
He was woken, came to investigate was attacked, ran away, and died.

Area 3. You're Lost Little Girl

Bandits gathered round table. Healer shackled in corner. There is food, and some weapons and loot here.
Three bandits, including bandit (6, 5, & 9 HP).
In this room are some food stores (2d10 iron rations, 5 water skins, some clay vessels of wine, and even some spices), as well as a lantern (full, but with no extra lamp oil) and 1d10 torches, and a coil of rope (1d10x10 feet).

If the PCs defeat the bandits, the healer will ask if they have seen her daughter, and ask them to rescue her if she's in danger.

The running guy alerted the other bandits, but the PCs quickly flooded the room, and then killed them all except for the leader. He asked for quarter, and it was granted. There was talk of selling him into slavery.

We ended there. Total XP: 3. 

From my side of the GM screen it seemed, frankly, awkward. Most of that was because we were using a new system (DCC), a new application (Roll20), and haven't ever gamed together before. Running a funnel is challenging, to say the least, and requires a different approach. This was something I didn't anticipate, or at least didn't anticipate it in useful ways. Adam, who has been through this before, was incredibly patient and constructive in his criticisms. For my part, I am someone who welcomes any information that will help me run a better (more fun) game. So, after we were done, I asked for a review, and then Adam and I had a skull-session to hash out a few things. Here are a few lessons I've learned:

First, when you have 16 (or so) zero-level PCs, it's important to balance the players' ability to play their characters with the ability of the system and the GM to adjudicate encounters in ways that, frankly, work. When we got into combat, for example, having the PCs win initiative allowed them to attack the baddies 16 times. They, surprisingly to me at the time (but not so much in retrospect), kicked the baddies' asses pretty easily. Truly, the gods are on the side of the biggest legion, not the best one.

Adam's suggestion (which helps both map and turn management) is to allow each player to act once per round. That is, pick a character, and do somethign with that character. That way everyone can do something useful, but it doesn't end up being the equivalent of the PCs standing in a line and taking turns whacking their enemy upside the head until he stops twitching. Good rule. It also helps to simulate the difference between trained NPCs (with classes) from untrained PCs (with no class). Pun intended. The PCs may mill about in a big clusterfuck of good intentions to do harm to the NPCs, but they don't really quite have their shit together like a trained NPC. They're simply less efficient. This rule shows that difference, and makes it mechanically impactful on gameplay. This will be used.

Also, I probably should not have started the adventure in the way that I did. It drug things out a bit much. I should have simply left out the slave ship bit, and had them arrive at the village. The ship wreck was fine, but the rest of it was rubbish, and not necessary to the plot. Then we could have simply jumped into the stuff that mattered. This is something I should have anticipated, frankly, but didn't for some reason.

Now I have to look at the rest of the adventure. Is it too easy? Hmm...