Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Game of Taps: "Can We Trust This Demon?"

Last week, we had our second session of the Game of Taps at the Taproom here in fabulous downtown Ypsilanti. The game was delayed by a day due to my anniversary, and that led to a strange set of circumstances: two of our players didn't make it and, instead, we picked up two different players. Rather than convince these new players to take over for our missing ones, I decided that we'd start another funnel (using Purple Sorcerer's Perils of the Sunken City) but that Chris could use his fresh level 1s instead. Effectively, I fast-forwarded the game a week or two from where things got left off last time. This time around, we picked up the game in Mustertown, nestled up close against the walls of the First City, where Chris's PCs, the newly minted Mewick the Cultist (level 1 wizard) and "the Shoveler" (level 1 warrior; originally a grave digger, this guy earned his name by shoveling everything in half) was recruited by a pack of treasure-seeking villagers. But first, the Players!
  • You met Chris L. last time. Barrista. Semi-pro gamer. Plays the chaotic duo of Mewick the Cultist and the Shoveler.
  • Doug is one of Chris's coworkers who had never played an RPG before but after hearing Chris blab about how awesome our first session was and the fact that it was at a bar, he had to join in. He took to rolling up his PCs really quickly, especially in the round-robin style that I use. Doug is playing the following:
    • The healthy squire. Now, also the very dead squire. (Dead)
    • A crazy-strong barber. This guy is totally warrior material (if he survives!)
    • A caravan guard who is slated to become a thief if he ever makes it to 1st level.
    • (Warning! Incoming stereotype!) A dwarven stonemason. Strong! Clumsy! Dumb!
  • James hung out with us last time we played but didn't actually play since he joined got to the bar late. This time, he was there from the start and provided us with some of our stranger moments. He made a big deal about pooling his PCs' assembled wealth to buy a grappling hook. James played:
    • A jeweler whose only worthwhile trait was that he started with a 20gp gem. It is now the party's most prized possession. Well, James's part of the party. This guy was the first to die and did so in the most fantastic, impressive way that I've seen yet in DCC (see below).
    • A dwarven mushroom farmer. James felt that he had to add "magic" as a descriptor to the type of mushrooms this guy farms. (Dead)
    • A halfling haberdasher. This guy is totally a stereotypical halfling and is easily the best-dressed member of the party.
    • A gong farmer. Contrary to what you might believe, this does not mean that he farms percussion instruments. Nope, this guy is a master shoveler of shit. Does the Shoveler have competition? Not really. At least, not from a guy with a -2 Str penalty and stats that really look favorable for a thief or wizard. 
Like last time, the game started in a tavern. This time, there was a tavern in the game as well. It was like holding a mirror up to a mirror. Anyway, the game started as the group of 8 level 0s showing up to the tavern to find the fabled Shoveler in order to recruit him for a trip to into the Sunken City as protection and an expert guide. They got Mewick as an added bonus, but there was a lot of negotiation. In the end, I think that Chris really won the "what's my share?" negotiation, but I didn't really let that secret out. The other two players agreed to allow each individual character one share of the treasure and that the shares of any dead characters would go to Mewick & the Shoveler to split. Boy, was that a dumb idea. They may not actively try to kill off the level 0s, but they've already shown that they're not going to put themselves in harm's way to protect the 0s. After much drinking, the crew of 10 heads off into the swamp the next morning accompanied by horrific hangovers.

The PCs trudged through the swamp -- which is really not the truth since there was a road -- and found themselves at the hut of the local swamp witch, the Lady. It was pretty funny how terrified of this hut the guys were. More rightly, terrified of what might be living in a hut in the swamp! There was a cauldron on the boil over a fire in the hearth and one of each player's characters decided it was a good idea to investigate. Turns out, the Lady was pleased to have company and offered them each a bowl of "soup" (they all declined) and a little bit of palmistry. When asked what their future held, the players were admonished to "keep all of their blood on the inside." At first, they thought it was good advice. Later on, they realized that it could be interpreted as just "don't bleed." (Judges who have read the Perils of the Sunken City may detect a note of foreshadowing here.) The Lady also gave the 3 a quick blessing; basically a +1 token that they could use instead of burning luck.

Moving on, the heroes made it to the Sending Stone and the Proving Stone, ancient menhirs that allow quick transportation into and out of the Sunken City thanks to Sender, the demon bound to both stones. Right, so, now you know: magic, ancient city, demon, teleportation, magic. Bad idea to mess with, right? Well, while trying to figure out the stones, James's jeweler decided that he had to hammer off a little chunk to see if he needed to have it on hand to use the teleportation magic. And them the stone erupted into black flame as Sender showed up to figure out who was fucking with his stones. One failed reflex save later and the night had its first fatality and Chris had his first extra share. The party spend some time talking with Sender, becoming thoroughly convinced that they both couldn't trust him but had to. "Can we trust him?" "He's a demon." "That's not a 'no.'" A lot of that. After they spectacularly failed at some ad hoc social mechanics, Sender ended up thoroughly confusing the group as to how the stones actually work and caused the party to believe that it needed to climb the Sending Stone in order to find a place that no one had ever touched before. Remember that grappling hook I mentioned before? Well, the heroes remembered to use it, but they forgot to take it with them as they 'ported into the city. All of James's hard-rolled copper wasted...

The 'port took the adventurers deep into the city, into some garden protected by a dome. The garden was long overgrown and wild, and, as the players would soon discover, peopled by OPOSSUMEN! First, let me say that I frigging LOVE the idea of oppossumen, if only because I'm sick to death of orcs. I loved the beastmen in Sailors of the Starless Sea as well. I may have a theory as to why I dig the "animal man" villainous race trope as opposed to orc or goblin or hobgoblin, but I need to think more about this. So, the group fought some oppossumen. This is where the other two PCs died and almost where Mewick met his end. Basically, Chris made a huge tactical error that left Mewick exposed, but it was because he didn't realize that he could -- and should -- cast Magic Shield more than once. Rather than penalize him for not owning the book (that's a relatively expensive book) and having read every rule, I thought it was wiser to ad hoc-in a "bleeding out" rule that was a little more forgiving (1d4 rounds of bleed out, a "heal"-type check necessary to stop bleed out). The 0s saved Mewick (the Shoveler just kept shoveling... ostensibly to beat back the oppossumen, protecting the dying Mewick), but only after two other 0s lost their lives. Or were sacrificed. Whatever you want to call it. After killing the oppossumen and taking their stuff (who would want it?), the players were pretty banged up, so I decided to allow a "liquid courage" rule like that used by many OSRites, which proved terribly popular (the players all now intend to keep a bottle of booze on their PCs at all times).

The adventurers moved on to explore the one structure inside the dome, an ancient gladiatorial arena and confronted their first "trap funhouse." Now, I'm going to admit that I might not have read this section as well as I could have. As a result, the funhouse effect wasn't as huge here as it could have been. Instead, the players fumbled through some minor electricity trappage and figured out that all they needed to do was throw some levers and loot a corpse. After that, they realized that a well, previously blocked by an electrical dome of shockiness, graped open down into a dungeon below...

We called it there and are patiently waiting for next Monday to roll around. Then, we should be finishing off the Starless Sea with the original group (going back in time to find out how the Shoveler and Mewick survived) then rejoining the new group (going forward in time) as they explore the dungeon below the arena.