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Tales from the Table: Failures from BWA (April and May)

This will be my last entry for this campaign for now, as two of our players have moved. Myself and my fiance are getting increasingly busy planning our wedding and a third player has his own wedding to plan a month before ours. Hopefully, this campaign will resurface with some new faces in a few months, but if not, I feel like we left it in a great place. I enjoy the world I’m building, and will likely stay here a while.

Before I get to the summary proper, I want to look back at what went well and what I would like to improve for my next campaign. Wish I had taken more time to do this mid-campaign, but better late than never to reflect and redesign.

-I want to design or figure out a more explicit way to work out players investigating, searching, and interacting with dungeon rooms. Something to keep player agency alive without reducing things to boring rolls of the dice or tedious explorations of the whole room. I want to explore this in a later blog post, but something that synthesizes what is fun about mystery novels, Myst, that one locked room/chest puzzle game and turns it into something easy to use at the table.

-There has got to be a better way to do injuries. They were very common at 1st and 2nd levels, but after that they became a non-issue. I’ve got some ideas, but it looks like this will be going into house rules v3.

-Write up camping encounters for what happens during the night and add some variations for how well they are setting up watch, how much noise they are making, how visible they are, etc.

-Keep on pre-writing traveling encounters. Wierdly, they make for more organic random encounters and keep player agency alive when I tailor those pre-written templates to their recent actions.

-Try to get players engaged in the world earlier in the campaign. They were just starting to get into it and have meaningful NPC relations when we had to end the campaign. Advice on how to do this is welcome!

-A better, more standardized system for describing rooms, monsters, tricks, traps, and special encounters so the players are clear on things they can interact with. Do this without it being obvious which one is important while not turning it into a checklist of things to try before one of them works. How do I implement this to allow for character’s skill investments?

 

Getting In

On the way to the city, they hunker down on hill a few hundred feet away from the sounds a large group of armored people marching. As they cross over the hill, the dog-eared monsters appear to be jogging in formation, as a long pole they carry bends under the weight of two mailed humans, with burning horn emblems painted crudely on their chests. The gnolls, with painted white fists crossed in an ‘x’ on their chests and shields, march onward to the east, towards Fort Morning Glory.

A few hours later, the party reaches Flank Rock without any further encounters to flee from. They prepare to enter the city, with Marina and Boone hopping in the portable hole while Fungerfil and Schlubbel put on their best magical dwarf disguises. A frantic young woman, well clad in gear and a bow across her back, stopped the three ‘dwarves’ with a tale of woe. She needed sponsorship to get in the city, where she can find patrons for her work in excavating ancient dwarven artifacts up north. The advance would easily cover her entry fees and more, or so she says. Eyeing the black patch of fabric with a worry about how much air could possibly fit in a 5 foot hole, the three promise to think about it. The guards pay the three dwarves little mind and casually open the stone gates into the city.

A busy city greets the three, with a packed main road winding around a city center that is an open cylinder farther down than they can see. Heavy metal chains criss-cross the opening, with various sizes of metal boats careening down and around the open center of the city. Bringing their cart, horse, donkey, and blue buffalo along, they push their way through the crowd to find a quiet side street to park in. Not far away, they find a seedy tavern for miners with an empty alleyway to gather in to release Marina and Boone from their confined magical space. Now freed, the party splits up to go run errands in the city. Heidi takes the opportunity to go get fitted for a traditional suit of interlocking dwarven stone armor while the less reputable members of the party case the merchant district for easy picking. All five met back at the bar to discuss their options for a few targets to hit up.

Getting Into Trouble

As they settle in for a few drinks from a surly old bartender with eyebrows so large and furrowed they couldn’t see his eye color. Miners start to come in, and the rowdy bunch starts talking about some news come up about the Tin-Spit bandits having been beaten from some town by a band of adventurers and their tag team of pet buffalo and bear. Supposedly, they even had a demon in their entourage, a beastly orc, and two gnome twins. Taking this as her opportunity, Heidi challenges the storyteller to a bar fight, getting a rowdy cheer from the other patrons. Out on the veranda, about a third of the bar gathers with a mug of beer in each hand and one balanced between their two mugs. They put down two beers each in a collective winner’s pile before the fight begins in earnest.

Grunting and smacking sounds raise to a level just barely louder than the lewd singing and chanting coming from inside the bar. Heidi lands some good blows, and sends a miner sprawling into the pile of beers before she transforms into a bear. Marina and Boone decide the enter the fray now, taking down a half dozen fighters, while Heidi terrorizes the poor young man who had the misfortune to indirectly call her a pet bear. The young man pees himself and passes out on the pile of beers, ruining what may have been a decent fight prize.

Not a cheater, Heidi keeps her claws out of the fight, using her girth to elbow and punch her way back into the bar, as new entrants want to get in on a fight now that there is a growling grizzly involved. A wild magical blast from Schlubbel is roundly scolded by all before he moves into ineffectuality punch people two weight-classes higher than himself. He is quickly punched unconscious.

By now, the three fighting players have waded through dozens of coal and dust covered miners and dropkick their way through the doors. The barkeep and the remaining patrons jump up from their places, fists bared. A few dump their beers and pull out a beard hair to turn down the invitation to the brawl. In this, they were giving up their drinking for the rest of the night.

As Marina moves in to challenge the sour barkeep, he stomps his feet and draws out a fighting stance. Rocks push up through the floor to clobber the two men between him and Marina. Fungerfil chooses to remain upstairs in his rented room, despite all the noise. Boone enters a different door and faces off against three dwarves, eager to take down someone twice their size. Heidi continues her bear rampage, and chases down an older man that laughed at the ‘pet bear’ part of the story earlier. Marina and bar tender trade blows, water whip for stone clubs, until Marina breaks through the stone skin he summoned on himself, knocking him out. The stones he was manipulating fall, and a staggered Marina collapses. Heidi glances around the room, and then gives Boone a solid wallop so that she is the last one standing.

Getting Cold Feet

That night, when everyone had fallen asleep and worst of the mess cleaned up, Fungefil lowered himself quietly out the window to the alley way. He makes his way to the market district and peers in the windows of the armor smith. From his view into the workshop, he notices a number of thin magical wards on the doors and windows. A quick trip down the blackened chimney and he finds the bell they are tied to up in the bedroom of the sleeping smith. Without so much as disturbing a loose floorboard, he backs out and up the way he came.

The next night, when he tries to come back after Heidi picked up her armor during the day, he and the rest of the party are stopped by guards that notice the party sulking about the place. Fungerfil slams his palm to his forehead when the guards check the group’s boots for black soot that would match the tracks left throughout the house. The group plays off their loitering as them being worried about the stone armor their friend just bought from the smith. They quickly pack up and take the opportunity to leave the city.

Freshly armed and armored, it is decided that the group wants to check on the abandoned Cave of Trials, the test facility built for Woarfrost student tests and then immediately stalled into decrepitude by red tape. On the trip back south, heading through a pine forest, they come to a river crossing where a thin elf sits on the opposite bank on a tree stump carving up an apple to eat. When the group starts to cross, after being ignored by the elf, he tries to wash them away by channeling magic into the river’s swift flowing water. When this fails and Boone and Marina get close, his friends hiding in the tall pine trees pepper the party with arrows. Marina is not fooled as he shifts into a wolf, punching him hard enough that his fall on his ass right back into his elf form. Heidi then supplies a bolt of lightning that knocks one elf out of the trees, killing him instantly in a solid thud as he hits the ground. The arrows stop shooting out from the treetops, as they instead sway under the weight of swinging elves. Distracted, the party fails to catch hold of the druid as he shifts into a tiny mouse and scurries away into the underbrush.

The Cave of Trials

Reaching the Cave of Trials just after sunset, the crew decides to break in, dodging all the trash and empty booze bottles on the stone stairway to halfway up the mountain, past numerous signs, and into a small stone hut. The hut has  simple trapdoor, lid ajar, concealing a ladder to down below. When they reach the dusty and dirty tiled floor, they find themselves in a large oval room. The walls are lined with a large mural depicting glorified humans lounging and looking regal. Each of the eight figures has a small riddle written below it. (This floor was a reskin of the “Buried Council Chambers” from Mythoard August 2015). They solve most of them on their first try solving most, with only one of the first guesses wasted by Schlubbel guessing his own name in response to a riddle about a bloodthirsty slayer. By the third guesses, when the riddles had nearly turned black, they had correctly answered each one in turn, receiving mysterious potions from each figure. Schlubbel, during this time, wanders off and runs into a number of skeletons piled together. Shaking, the bones rise up into the forms of guardians that are quickly blasted with a sound burst from Schlubbel. This is all the warning the rest of the group needs to figure that Schlubbel got himself into trouble, and they quickly arrive to get him out of it.

They find two doors with riddles, and solve them by pressing Heidi created fire against one and Marina created ice against the other. The ice room was a frigid meat locker filled with freezer-burned animal haunches, with a small chest and magical ring hidden inside a cow rib-cage. The fire room was heated with a desk at one end containing just a single key in its drawers. Exploring further, the hallways ringing the large oval chamber contained pile of bodies that rose up as ghouls to attack. Their emaciated forms pulled the skin of their hands tight, making near-claws as they swiped at the party, infecting Marina and Heidi with a short term paralysis poison. If Schlubbel hadn’t cleverly used the paralyzed bodies of his companions to block the advancing ghouls, the party might have been struck immobile while the undead devoured them. Defeating the undead with magical blasts, Schlubbel skipped onwards to find a gated doorway blocking a stairway downwards. Despite his best efforts, he could not figure out how to open it and had to wait for his fellows to regain their vigor and join him with the key Fungerfil had found in the fire room’s desk.

With a click, the gate slid open and the staircase beckoned. Stepping down below, the players find themselves in a room of the same grey stone from the floor above, but the occasional brick here is replaced by a green or blue stone. Four pillars sit at the corners of the room and a four foot bronze hemisphere is embedded in the ceiling. The players ignore the open hallway at the other end of the room and focus heavily on the bronze hemisphere that is buzzing as well as investigating every green and blue brick, finding a seam in the wall, but unable to find its trigger. Eventually, as they try entering and leaving the room, the buzzer stops and starts. Finally, they move over into the open hallway ahead, only to have the wall slam shut behind them, blocking their retreat. Ahead is a steel door with no handle and a long metal handle sticking out of the perpendicular wall. Shoving this beam in causes the door to swing open to a 30’ square room with glass caged slimes in the four corners. (the second floor is a slight re-skin of Julinda’s Gauntlet by one of my favorite crafting youtubers, Wyloch)

The 2nd and 1st Meetings

Just as they step into this room, Schlubbel immediately sees a ceiling too tall to see with their darkvision and immediately casts fly to head upwards. Rocks fall quickly after, smacking a clumsily flying Schlubbel, and smash open three of the glass cages, releasing the three slimes. A quick fight puts down the slimes, which struggled to react to their newfound freedom. Up top, Schlubbel sees three doors, one of which has a rainbow-feather-winged man step out. He tells Schlubbel, “You told me to tell you that they wouldn’t like it, but you had to do it.”. As Schlubbel tries to ask questions, the birdman grabs Schlubbel and dives down below, gliding down to the rest of the party. Once there, he offers to fly the party past the magma pool of the room beyond the metal door across from the door they entered. This is his favor to them and afterwards he will return to his home plane.

He introduces himself as Ekkri and flies them through and up the lava filled cave, depositing them in a cavern with an odd spiral cloth lined machine. A door to the south is fitted in stone bricks, and is set upon by Schlubbel well before everyone else is even flown across. This door opens to another stone room with a large wind-up spool and a set of frozen pistons behind a thick mesh of metal to the south. It takes the might of the entire group, but they spin the machine and in a flash, they find themselves back in the starting room with the bronze hemisphere.

A major difference is that the hallway at the other end of the room is no longer open, but the wall has shifted, opening up an adjacent hall. Fungerfil is the first to rush down the corridor, but as he rounds the corner, he hears a loud steel device go “THUNK” as a metal spear juts out, narrowly missing him. The hallway ends in a winding spiral staircase that goes up almost one hundred feet. At the top, it opens up to a ramshackle ‘T’ platform hanging from the loose cavern ceiling in a small 30’ square room. A doorway is blocked across from them and a metal door is closed to their right. Fungerfil cheerily breaks out his lockpicks and makes short work of the door’s many tumblers, to reveal a rainbow-feathered man in a runed cage. He introduces himself as Ekkri and the players decide to let him go so he can return to his own plane. Schlubbel accidentally knocks loose some rocks by shooting the walls, but the players wait around to see if anything happens and soon find themselves teleported back to the top of the stairs.

A few time redo’s later, they manage to convince Ekkri to go below and fly them across the lava cavern, while conveying Schlubbel’s mysterious message to himself. Across to the now open passage, they head back down another spiral staircase one hundred feet. This drops them to the other side of the pistons they saw earlier, but now they are moving in an odd pattern. None of the group manage to figure out the pattern or escape their crushing force, battering and bruising them as they head on.

Meeting the Master

Rounding the corner they see themselves exiting a door at the end of the hall. Their future selves are very direct saying that it is “her dumb face”. Boone is wary and decides to cut himself to disprove that they are their future selves, but his future self shows his own cut hand and slaps his past self in the face, “idiot.”.

Bursting through the door, the group cuts Julinda down before she can even react to them barging in, but they leave her just short of death. She attempts to convince them not to destroy her life’s work with the time machine, but she can’t help but condescend. She explains that she found this uncompleted place full of equipment and just needed a space to prove her work to the idiots at Woarfrost. This does not bode well for her, and despite her warning that she can no longer leave the room, Boone roughly tosses her out the door, and she dies screaming before she crumples against the opposite wall. They pull her back in the room to decipher the tattoos on her face to stop the machine. With a whir, they exit the room. Boone hides Julinda’s body on her person and they walk out to repeat their encounter with their past selves from the other side. The whole place begins to shake, and as they return to the moving pistons, the closest piston crashes and collapses down, opening up a passage below. This leads them to the other side of the secret room they discovered before, where they snag two wands on pedestals and quickly exit out of the Cave of Trials.

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