Monday, July 31, 2017

Session 1 of Sarkomand's Fault- Retrospective and Lessons of an Introductory Dungeon Delve

Hazza- Elf Thief
Elix- Halfling Cleric
Borri-Dwarf Cleric, Riikhite (Essentially a paladin)
Gable- Human Fighter

The starting premise for this session was an introduction to BFRPG and OSR style play. I had originally imagined it as a sort of 'character funnel' but ended up running it as a more standard session, albeit one that started in media res.

THE DUNGEON- created via an online dungeon generator and tweaked both visually and in terms of how traps were described. If you're one of my players you may want to not look TOO closely at this, but it's mostly explored and looted anyhow, the wandering encounters have been dramatically altered as the dungeon repopulated, and after what, like 40 sessions, it's been pretty much emptied of the old treasures and set pieces mentioned here.
Borri/Gable's player was pretty wise to dungeons, oiling door hinges. Hazza was cautious as well, befitting a thief. Elix was mostly just along for the ride initially. The players were dumped in room #39 to start, and told that they had been chased here from the north, fleeing a basilisk. Their goal was to find their way out, and they had a vague sense that going north was the way out.

The existence of the basilisk was supposed to prevent them from wanting to go north immediately, encouraging dungeon exploration, and furthermore, the north exit loops back south- the opposite of where I told them the exit was! That's one reason I chose room #39- the 'wrong' choice is still a choice, but there are in-game implications that hint at it being a bad one. The basilisk wasn't lurking right around the corner, but had the players gone right back north, I think the looping corridor would have made them reconsider before they ran into the nastier parts of the dungeon.

The other two entrances however, were both fair game, and established important things about the dungeon.

The west entrance was a stone door with a metal lock that locked like a bird, and it hummed. The players were deeply suspicious of this, and rightly so. This taught them that
1- Doors can be trapped.
2- Doors can be locked.
3- Doors can be stone.

The trap would have electrocuted those touching it or attempting to pick the lock, and could have been circumvented by finding a way to discharge the electricity into something else, but it was ominous enough that the players elected to go through the south wooden door instead- room #63.
Cautiously entering, you see a dying fire, mostly embers, burning in fireplace on the north wall. A small stream gurgles through a canal in the room- a metal grate bars direct access to the water. A fishing pole lies abandoned near the fireplace, along with some fish bones.
This room hinted at various things.
1. The dungeon is inhabited.
2. The inhabitants wander.
3. There is water.
The fishing pole was looted with great glee by Borri, and Gable looked for tracks. I hadn't put any thought to which inhabitant was responsible for the fishing pole and fire, but decided it was probably the goblin hexmage- the 'boss' of this SW area. And so, Gable found goblin tracks. There was only one way out- further south, to room #23.
Another oddly shaped room. The music can be heard, very faintly, from the southeast corner. An oil-slick statue of some fantastical lizard is on the south wall. On the north wall, something is scratched into the wall. There is a small gem lying on the floor, and the goblin tracks in the dust give it a wide berth.
 This room was meant to teach a couple of things.
1- there are secret passages.
2- treasure is rarely left alone unless it is a trap somehow.
2a- traps can be used against the enemy
3- There is weird stuff.

Since the players did not try igniting the oil-slicked statue, they did not find the secret passage and so did not find their way to the dancing musical skeleton room. Borri picked up that the gem might be dangerous and tried to get it into his pack without touching it- this allowed him to avoid the Confusion effect the gem would have triggered. They head west, then north, and end up in room #101

You come to an iron portcullis. The room beyond has a large and elaborate mosaic of some battle between men and sphinxes. A prominent warrior on the right has a tower-shield the size of a door with a human skull as a design, and a prominent sphinx on the left has four heads- a man, a woman, a ram, and a falcon.

This room was another secret door room, and they did discover this one- the tower shield of the mosaic opens like a door if the skull is rotated. This secret door was meant to teach a different set of lessons than the last secret door room though.

1- Places that are sealed off may be sealed off for a reason
2- Lower levels of the dungeon are more dangerous
3- Undead smell bad

They make a short foray into depth 2 and are immediately attacked by skeletons. The skeletons were meant to teach another lesson- some monsters are resistant to normal weapons. Some party members learned this, but Hazza never seemed to understand that descriptions of 'the arrow whizzes through the empty ribcage of the skeleton' or 'the arrows thud into the zombies with no apparent effect' meant that the arrows weren't dealing damage. I suppose that's another lesson to be learned- 'when the GM describes something, there is information in those descriptions.'

Though the parties weapons were a bad matchup, they did have two clerics, and while I messed up on the Turn Undead rules a little letting them use it more than once in one encounter, it was handwaved away as the gods smiling upon them. Since the gods of this campaign do indeed occasionally act beyond the scope of spells and dice rolls, I think that was a fine thing to happen. Still, lesson learned- clerics are good to have around when facing undead.

Retreating, Hazza fails to pick a lock, fails a save vs poison, and is nauseated by a poison needle. I suppose that's a lesson 'not all poison is save or die.' They turn back from that door and head into room #16, which has a collapsed area and dwarf runes that read 'beware of hidden treasure'

This room shows a couple of things.
1- The dungeon is not immaculate and inviolate and can change structurally. I actually wish I had had this room collapse as they entered to show this more dramatically.
2- They aren't alone in the dungeon, but not everyone is out to get them- past adventurers may leave useful tips for future ones.

After this, they went through rooms 3, 94, and 25 in short succession, revealing the demon-summoning puzzle/trap and strange designs on the walls. They didn't end up interacting much with the demon-summoning puzzle trap, which was probably for the best, but if they had, that would have been a lesson about several things, assuming they screwed up and unleashed a demon.
1- Playing with ancient magical junk is dangerous
2- some enemies really aren't worth fighting- the demon would have been immune to their weapons and had no treasure, so they would have had to flee, or die fighting
They also investigated 95, which had a well. That was intended to teach them how one can traverse dungeon levels via more means than stairs, but they didn't end up investigating, which is just as well. They do investigate and the oil-soaked net trap behind the door here, learning that traps can be avoided in more means than just rolling thief skills- an important lesson for any OSR dungeon delver. Relying on random chance abilities means eventually they'll let you down- playing the game as a simulation of a fantasy world, rather than a collection of arbitrary game mechanics, is what makes players 'good' at tabletop games.

After that, they backtrack to 50, find themselves on the other side of the thunderbird and poison needle doors (teaching them about Loops and alternate paths in dungeons), and head north to room #40. They find a broken sword hilt and the goblin language on the wall-a warning about the sword. The sword hilt is intelligent and somewhat cursed and sticks to Gable's hand- a warning that could have been avoided if they had left it alone or known Goblin. However, the sword was not unreasonable, and negotiated a deal with Gable.
Lessons here-
1- Knowledge is power
2- Talking gets you places
3- 'cursed' treasure may still be useful- the sword hilt will certainly prove to be in the future...

Room #10 basically teaches them that some rooms are boring and empty. Past that, however, (after failing to pick a lock and forcing it, making noise) they reach room #69.

This room has demonic war masks hanging on the walls. They activate if you cross in front of them, flying towards you and trying to suck your blood. They will be a staple feature of this dungeon for a long time. They also recognize one door- if they can get through it, they'll be back in familiar territory and can escape!

A single mask KO's Borri, severely menaces Gable, and is barely taken out by Hazza. The masks only had the stats of a stirge and the combat went so poorly due to bad rolls, but this deeply affects the players and they treat the masks with a great deal of respect, and find ways to destroy them without being attacked- sneaking under their line of sight and burning them with oil from the sides rather than risking another fight. I hadn't expected the first ambush mask (that attacked as soon as the door was opened) to be this effective, but I'm glad it was- it made the players think hard about what they were doing, and come to an effective solution, and it gave subsequent encounters with the masks a great deal of flavor- newbie players often walked into traps with the masks, but experienced players knew how to deal with them and could guide newer players. In fact, I liked the effect the demon masks had on the party so much that I'm going to write a separate post for them.

Anyway, masks foiled, the party escapes through 62, 73, 8 and to the north red square (an exit), much wiser as to the ways of the dungeon, though not any richer save for the Confusion gemstone Borri sells. I was really pleased with the first session, and thought it did well in establishing tone of the campaign. The old generator charts this dungeon was created with may seem rather arbitrary and minimal, with their empty rooms, too many traps, and winding corridors to nowhere... but I think they give good starting points for inspiration and filling in the gaps with your own creativity. 

Here's a great post on the value of 'empty' rooms and exploration. If I hadn't relied on the random old-school generated dungeon as my initial 'seed,' I feel like I would have produced a more condensed and action packed dungeon, and it wouldn't have been nearly as good for my intended purposes.

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