Game of Taps: Enter the Meatgrinder

Chris (left) & Doug (right) tally up the dead
Ladies and gents, the Game of Taps crew turned what could have been a terribly disappointing evening into one of the most fascinating evenings of gaming I've ever experienced. The Starbucks guys, Doug and Chris, were the only ones to show up, meaning that our further forays into the Goodman Games' People of the Pit would have to be delayed. Rather than face of evening of crazily delayed gaming as we waited for another player (any other player!) to show up, I had Chris & Doug roll up a fresh set of 0-levels for a fresh funnel. I then ran upstairs and grabbed one of my several copies of the good old standby Keep on the Borderlands.

It seems like, for the last year or so, the gaming community has been shoving Keep into my face and making me remember all of the awesome from years past. Whether it was the Chaos Scar semi-Adventure Path from WotC (which really wasn't much of an adventure path), the D&D Encounters season a little while back (I have no idea when the season actually happened, but I recently read through it for the first time) or the absolute schlock of a DnDNext playtest, WotC seems fascinated these days with Keep. I'm not going to say that it was WotC's fascination with Keep that pushed it to the forefront of my mind, but it was a module that I always loved and only ever ran once, way back in the mists of time, I own several copies of and reread on semi-regular basis, so it doesn't really take much to push this one back onto my radar. A few months ago, in fact, I was thinking about trying out Searchers of the Unknown with Keep on the Borderlands, but that was not to be. When looking for something fun to do as a "fallback game," Keep came to mind right away, I ran upstairs and grabbed a copy.

I aimed the newly-minted level 0s at the kobold cave, but since there are no standard humanoid races in Kickassistan, I needed to reskin those kobolds. No longer would they be traditional reptile dog men, but something different. I grabbed the table of goblin mutations from Secret Santicore 2011 and had Doug roll a d30; the result was that these guys were wartier than normal. Warty... reptile dog men. Warty reptiles. Gila monsters? Gila men? Yes indeed, gila men. Chris decided that they were called "Higgaboogas" (although later we retconned this into being their tribe name) and thus our kobolds were reskinned enough to be usable. Officially, these gila men are one of the many breeds of lesser humanoid races that populate the world if not one of the beastman races.

Finally ready to assault the dungeon, our level 0s rushed valiantly in ... and landed squarely in the pit trap at the first intersection. Well, one character did. The rest jumped across the pit and found the room filled with giant rats. Strange thing about giant rats in DCC, they're actually tougher than kobolds are. Strange thing about level 0s in DCC, they're actually pretty squishy. In the end, out of the seven characters that faced down the rats, two survived to run the hell away and find some more pals to come back into the dungeon with. After about a half hour of actual game time (if that), we had killed off six PCs, including the ones that either player thought were the ones that were most likely to survive.

Not at all like this
With plenty of time left on our hands, the guys each rolled up three more level 0s and went back in. This time, one of the 0s had some oil, so the group figured that the best way to deal with a mess of giant rats was the eternal Plan B: "kill them with fire." The big surprise is that it worked and the one PC who went off on his own to deal with the rats collected all of the stuff from the dead ex-PCs who were there. The rest of the group went off to deal with the gila men (sorry, "Higgaboogas") who ambushed the party by throwing spears. A few more casualties on the party's side and the gila guards were down; the party regrouped on the Higgabooga side of the pit (the pit's death count at this point was 3) and the party ran into another group of gila guards, this group a bit more buff than the previous patrol. When this patrol skewered two or three more PCs on the end of their spears, it was time to run again since each of the players again had only two PCs remaining.

Checking the game clock -- or the real clock -- we saw we still had plenty of gaming time, so the guys decided to give it one more go. By this time, the one PC who had survived from the first group of victims adventurers had accumulated enough xp to reach 1st level so on trip 3 back into ye olde dungeon, the players had a level 1 elf on their side. This didn't mean much in the way of melee back up, basically just a severe off chance on some spellcasting. When the group ran back into the gila man patrol that scared them off last time, the elf threw out ineffective spell after ineffective spell as the 0s picked off two of the five gila guards. It wasn't until the elf tried to cast Charm person that he met with any success and when he did, it was a crit, meaning that the party now had a Higgabooga pal who would be sticking with them for the next month or so, providing he lived that long (he would not).

After some more exploring and *gasp!* clever usage of a small handheld mirror, the party came to the door of the Higgabooga king and his Higgabooga brides (all five of them!). Given a modicum of time to prepare, the party took their new gila man pal (named, due to some uncreative naming on the part of the players "Eh-er," like the sound a windshield wiper makes)* and oiled him up with a flask of flaming oil. "Go give your king a hug," they told him, and when he got close enough, they threw a lantern at him. Hilarity -- and dead Higgaboogas -- ensued. Facing off against the king and his brides, the PCs met with more casualties but took the king down, which routed the remaining brides (the PCs couldn't allow that and mowed them down as they ran). Now faced with the prospect of looting the throne room of the Higgabooga king, the heroes found themselves in possession of crazy valuable treasures that they would soon translate to more coin than they knew what to do with.
Final death toll: 21 level 0 corpses

In the end, only three PCs survived. Two were Chris's (the aforementioned elf and an alchemist that became a cleric after the session) and one was Doug's (a fortune teller-turned-warrior), and I decided to let the surviving heroes have the opportunity to celebrate their victory. Using the sort of carousing rules that you often see in lots of OSR games, I let the guys roll 1d6 and multiply the result by 50gp to determine how much the carousing back at the eponymous Keep on the Borderlands would cost per PC taking advantage of it; the PCs would then get a number of xp equal to the die roll. Doug rolled a 5, which was more than enough to push the fortune teller and alchemist over into first level territory.

So, now we have an alternate game when folks decide to ditch DCC night. Since each segment of the Caves of Chaos could be taken as a mini-adventure, it's really well laid out for a 3 hour-or-so game. This alternate game is also pretty great for introducing new players and PCs to the Game of Taps, DCC and the Kickassistan aesthetic. All that remains is for me to give the module the full treatment and completely convert it to Kickassistan-grade awesomeness. Here's the stuff that I think needs to change:
  • The humanoid and goblinoid races need to become something else. There are no orcs, goblins or hobgoblins in Kickassistan and they won't be in this version of the module either. 
  • The Keep itself needs some work, although I don't figure that it'll fit into more than some flavor text here or there.
  • The clerics of Chaos. Hmm. Not enough tentacles for my tastes. 
  • TOO MUCH MAGIC! Most of the stuff like magic armor is going to have to be not just toned down but completely removed. I mean seriously, it seems like every other node of this dungeon includes a suit of plate +1 and if there's that much loot just laying around, what's the point in giving the PCs all of the treasure that there is in the place? I'll have to strip out a lot of the magic items to make any of the treasure meaningful at all. I don't plan on there being any magic armor at all and only a very few magic weapons, but maybe some potions and scrolls. 
Somehow, I've managed to get this Game of Taps entry in the day after it occurred, rather than just a few days before the next session. I don't plan on making a habit of it, but I had to get these details out. 21 level 0 corpses. A personal best.