[OSR D&D] Strategic scope of burning witches

edited June 2013 in Actual Play
I moved to Helsinki a month and a half back for a bit of a writing hermitage. This obviously has some impact on gaming; I haven't lived in Helsinki for a substantial amount of time for 8 years in a row, so there's no guarantee of my social networks being in any shape. Fortunately Helsinki's a solid gaming town, so I've been spending May playing twice a week: one session of various playtests of proge designs, and one session of old school D&D with my old friends from the early 00's. I'll tell you a bit about our recent OSR D&D exploits now, as I think that it's been pretty interesting - not the least because I've been a player instead of GM here, which is basically a first for me (in OSR D&D, I mean).

The D&D group I've been gaming with now is a pretty old one: we started it in 2002 or so with the long Bextropolis campaign (drastically house-ruled 3rd ed.), when I was studying in Helsinki and 3rd edition D&D was in full swing; the team slowly solidified into a circle (6-10 people) of students of roughly equal age, the way these things tend to go. When I moved out of town a few years later, the guys continued playing D&D with others taking to the GM chair in turn. They've been playing 3rd edition and 4th edition like crazy critters ever since, with occasional flings with other adventure games. My brother Markku has been a regular, and I've been following the proceedings virtually. A most rewarding friendship built on mutual creative interests, all told.

When I started my own old school D&D explorations a couple years back, a sort of contagion happened between Upper Savo and Helsinki: we played a bit together, I taught what I'd learned, and Heikki, one of the old-timers in the Helsinki crew, decided to start his own campaign on the same model. The Helsinki campaign began with a close emulation of my house rules system and campaign structuring philosophy, meaning that it was a sandbox with player-negotiated pacing and direction. Later the group decided to swap to the Lamentations of the Flame Princess rules, mostly because it's simpler and not as obviously leaning towards a single GM's creative preferences (like my house rules are for me, obviously). They've retained the pure sandbox orthodoxy, though, so what do I care of rules - great gaming all around, very likely the best OSR D&D campaign on-going in Finland this spring (with the possible exception of the Oulu activities, on which I'm not quite current).

Anyway, I moved to Helsinki and started visiting Heikki's game. The circle has other D&D opportunities every week as well, but I regrettably have to write sometime, too, so I've had to take a pass on Tuomas's Planescape Pathfinder and Jim Raggi's Sunday game so far. The Wednesday game with Heikki's been great fun, though, from the player seat. I'm as boisterous as ever despite being a player instead of GM, but as I haven't been thrown out yet, I assume it's not a problem.

Now's a good time to write a bit about the events, as I took a couple of weeks of a break to go back to Upper Savo for some summer stuff, and my character is therefore out of the game for a bit. I'll focus on strategic elements of the game for the most part here, because I think that this layer of D&D tends to get less attention in discussion than the nitty-gritty of dungeon-crawling. The following all happened over a seven-week period from mid-April to late May. I'll be succinct about the detail to emphasize the high-level strategic concerns.

(This might be considered a sort of companion thread to the one I wrote last spring about our then-active Upper Savo campaign. You can see the similarities in how D&D shapes in the sandbox context as what I call "mid-length" strategic arcs.)


  • #1: The Short and Tragic Life of Gypsy Ishmael

    I joined the campaign in late April. Knew all the other players from before; most are old-timers of the Bextropolis circle, while one is a young student who moved to Helsinki from Upper Savo, and had been playing with me before. The rules system is by-the-book LotFP, and the campaign structure is pleasingly orthodox sandbox: all characters start at 1st level, stats 3d6-in-order, players have full control over strategic decisions. The campaign world is, as I was well aware, "historical fantasy of Eastern Europe circa 1200 AD"; to be specific, the adventurers have been mostly tromping in Rumania and Moldova. As I've done myself, Heikki uses a lot of module adventures that develop dynamically as part of the sandbox.

    I rolled up a 1st level Expert (Thief) with absolutely horrid stats: Dexterity 3, for instance, and the best attribute was at 12, I think. I promptly refused the limp-wristed practice of rerolling bad stat lines (don't roll 3d6 if you don't want it, I say) and instead opted to play this heroic individual; I decided over the beginning part of the session that he's the son of a poor Ursari gypsy family with the secret tragic backstory of Doctor Doom (his mother claimed by the Devil and whatnot).

    (Players in this sort of game generally have quite a bit of leeway on inventing whatever they want as the goals and nature of their characters. The understanding is, of course, that if your precious snowflake obsession becomes an issue, it'll be ruthlessly overridden by the actual topic of the game. As it was, my choice of backstory was completely ironic here, and I didn't particularly even tell about it to others except insofar as we joked around about our characters occasionally over the session.)

    Because my character was "meat to be wasted" (a statistically bad character), I opted to take the high-risk job of scouting for the party. That's how you should play the badly rolled characters: high risk, high reward, and see if you might turn lucky. The only thing you lose if a fresh character with bad rolls kicks the bucket is the time spent playing it, so better die fast if you're going to. Obviously decorum and gamesmanship has to be maintained: we're playing for the fictional credency, so no "I jump off a cliff" stuff; being a desperate loser is plenty lethal enough without intentionally suiciding your character.

    As for what we were actually doing in the session: the party was regrouping after some side quests so as to return to the old TSR adventure module Rahasia. My understanding is that the adventure has been "ticking" for long subjective (and objective) months in the sandbox, and the party had actually already been delving there earlier; in other words, there was plenty of time for the adventure to drift from the safe and sound Hickman spec from which it presumably began its festering. Some more pressing business came up for the party earlier, presumably, so they left the dungeon in a somewhat unfinished state.

    The early part of the session was travel and maneuver to return to the old pagan temple and the dungeons underneath. On the road we encountered a very Heikki-style random encounter (he's got a pretty pleasing "weird fantasy" wibe to his ideas, often enough): an old woman was looking for a specific type of snake with a yellow stripe in the hopes of using its poison for its oracular properties. The woman's husband had apparently died without revealing where his treasure was hidden, so the woman wanted to use the "sage snake" despite the danger to find her wealth. We couldn't really be of much help in this strange quest for now, but this would become significant later.

    As for the temple and dungeon, it appeared that the local Baron of the town of Roman had garrisoned the temple "so as to prevent pagan gatherings" within. This, combined with the sudden paranoia of the Baron (he'd closed the gates of the town proper) and the strange rumours about the death of his wife, were something of a concern for the party. Fortunately we had a back route inside: as a proper '80s TSR adventure, Rahasia features plentiful arbitrary magic, so there are even secret teleporters that can take you in and out of the dungeons just like that, at the snap of the fingers. Quite eldritch against the otherwise relatively realistic backdrop - very similar to how I swung in my own campaign last year.

    Of course the players who actually knew from prior experience that the in-going teleporter was faulty due to hijinks from an earlier excursion did nothing to prevent us relying on it for entry, which led unlucky dice rolls and two high-level characters plastering themselves all over the walls as ugly red paste. So that part didn't go so well. Plucky as we were, we located the under-dungeon jail cells and released a few new player characters to join the party before advancing further :D

    My poor Gypsy Ishmael finally met his end when we verified that yes, there is an old wizard's tower under this mountain, and yes, it is still festering with some sort of brainwashed cultists of the witch coven we were hunting. The surprise attack of the cultists took my character to the neck, so to speak, although the rest of the party could then roll over them at their pleasure, their surprise attack having been staunchly expended. After the battle was a suitable place to end the session.
  • #2: The Truth of the Dungeon is Political
    Next week I got to introduce a character with considerably more potential: Sniper Joe is a Fighter with 15 Dex and 15 Cha, a bow and a suitably paranoid attitude. Apparently he fought in Vietnam against the fantasy-Vietkong, or at least he talks about that a lot. Clearly a military veteran, anyway, and according to the LotFP rulebook "irredeemably damned" by his deeds on the battlefield. Oh, also: 8 hitpoints at 1st level, which basically guaranteed from the start that we'd be seeing more of Joe.

    (LotFP features a cowardly "half hit die minimum" at 1st level, so the HP differences are not that big between characters in practice. Still, 8 HP means that a single attack won't be taking you out on a lucky hit. Combine that with positioning your character as a back rank archer, as befits high Dexterity, and it's not even very dangerous to go dungeoneering anymore. Sniper didn't even use to have armor before the rest of the party forced him to use Leather on the principle that it's free AC with no drawbacks whatsoever.)

    Joe is less of a frontal scout and more of a strategic mastermind and sniper, so I took a more active hand with planning our expedition this time around. The Helsinki crew does not practice forced retreats (having the party come out of the dungeon at the end of a session, that is), so we began the new session practically on top of our goal, the below-mountain wizard's tower.

    In addition to some preliminary exploration of the 1st level of the tower (tactically relatively trivial - as an established crew with the occasional character at higher levels, this troupe didn't really have trouble with anything the dungeon could throw at us), the most important thing we found this session were certain suggestive sarcophagi, and three pretty captive girls belonging to the local nobility - or the serving class, anyway. Now we finally had enough pieces to put together a preliminary theory about what was going on in the town of Roman and this dungeon-under-a-temple:

    The three witches interred under the tower were still alive in some arcane manner; they kidnapped local women to serve as host bodies; they had smuggled at least one of their number to town and Charmed the Baron, murdering his wife and establishing one of their own as the new Baroness, with an unseemly short mourning period (as in, a week). Our adventuring crew has its free-range elements, but Sniper Joe and a bunch of others are fundamentally decent people, so we decided to break off the dungeon exploration for now to address this much more serious situation: we would need to escort the civilians back home safely, and then see about saving the town from this infestation of hag-ridden village girls.

    (Our party is constantly doing things that go against the grain of D&D-understood-as-a-computer-game. I'm eagerly encouraging this all the time myself, so we end up breaking a dungeon delve for the most trivial reasons, leaving treasure unmolested, leaving enemies alive and so on. Fortunately the GM is pretty much willing to play ball with us despite the somewhat fanatical attitude some of us have towards not submitting to D&D mechanical cliches. It just takes a will to roleplay a better person, fundamentally.)
  • #3: A Proper Investigation Splits the Party

    In the third session of this sequence we retreated back to the town of Roman with our rescuee girls. Sniper Joe was paranoid, and did not hesitate to share his paranoia with the rest of the crew. Instead of naively inserting ourselves into the town with the girls, and thus signalling the enemy of our presence and knowledge of the witches, Sniper insisted on high operational security: we sent father Usko, our cleric, to see what's what in town, while the rest of us scouted for alternative entrances. Besides, the town guard insisted on disarmament at the gate; ordinarily I wouldn't go into roleplayer hissy fits over something like this, but here we had a town with a charmed ruler, and a necessity for operating within its environs in our counter-witch assault, so I had no desire whatsoever to have the guberment even know that I was there.

    My initiative in this session was to suggest the following course of action: we would take a full week for surveillance operations, splitting the party to cover the ground in Roman so as to prepare as much as possible and uncover as many facts as we could. We simply knew too little: we had no idea of the social situation in the town, the power politics, we didn't even know the exact official truths about how come the Baron had wed a peasant girl just after his wife died so mysteriously. Without knowing who and where the witches were, and what their power base was like, we could not hope to stage an effective assault on them.

    Ultimately we found a smuggler's secret route under the walls (one of the PCs being a local thief made this feasible), and father Usko also contacted and brought out the knight Chroner, the father of one of the girls we'd rescued from the witch cult. I was relatively certain that this personal favour would sway the knight to not give us up to the Baron at a moment's notice, but I still preferred to have Usko deal with the knight while I myself lurked in the trees with my bow.

    (Yes, my character is totally that paranoid lone wolf guy who sits in a tree while the rest of the party meets with suspicious NPCs. The funny bit is that this is not any sort of dysfunction on my part as a player, it's just the mind-set the character took - he's a traumatized, self-condemned killer out of the jungle, with medical-grade paranoia lurking behind seeming rationality. What he's like colors his tactics and strategy, but does not hinder the game itself, especially as we don't make a point of disallowing players from talking out of character, so my character gets to sit in a corner while I still comment upon what others are doing. I allow him to be quite wordy when we're actually planning what we're doing. The high Charisma score is a bit of a mystery, but apparently Sniper is a man whose word you don't want to cross, seeing him in action.)

    Father Usko and certain other non-military figures in our crew had less concern for operational security, so they took the knight up on his offer to get some gate passes written up for them. Sniper and Durriger (an ex grave robber and a 1st level melee fighter, a man after Sniper's heart) took the underground illicit route with their weapons. We'd agreed upon dead drops and a rough split of responsibilities for the coming week before getting into town and splitting up; the idea was that we'd minimize contact while in town so as to prevent the enemy from rolling up our intelligence operation piece-meal.

    The rest of the session was pretty much spent on skulking around Roman in search of information. Durriger the grave robber stole the old Baroness' body from the graveyeard, father Usko (who has a bit of a background in criminal investigation) examined the body to ascertain murder as the cause of death, Pjotr the local thief found out the street level lore and developed contacts in the castle, and so on. Sniper Joe spent the entire week sitting at a window in a rented room facing the castle, in the hopes that he would get a lucky shot at the new Baroness/witch while she left the place. No such luck, but Sniper at least got proper count of the armsmen and other people going in and out of the castle over the daylight hours.

    (If all this looks like a very lateral way of playing D&D, then I do agree. I expect this sort of thing from my players, and I have to say that Heikki's been by and large up for it. My decision to lay in wait for a sniper attack for a week was purely perverse if you actually play D&D by the rules; no way in hell you're one-shotting a multiple-HD witch with the ordinary combat rules. Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to see how Heikki'd run an assassination attempt, interesting as it might have been.)

    At the end of the session we had plenty of new information. Much of it was useless, a lot was corroboration, but the rest was alarming: the three witches of prior legend, each in bodies of young village girls, one of them a sham countess while others were chamber maids for the leader. They stayed in the castle, not risking themselves, and they did nothing overt or stupid to raise suspicions. Also, the Baron had announced an intent to visit the king of Moldavia next month in the capital of Bacau; did not take Sniper's paranoia to realize that the witches wanted to do the murder+Charm trick on the king of the country as well. We were on a deadline here!
  • #4: This is What a (im-)Perfect Commando Raid Looks Like

    Our last session had left us with plenty of background information, but not any obvious strategic plan for what to do with the situation. In case the reader is lost as to what the problem was, I'll be explicit: a bunch of low-level D&D characters with no local reputation or social power base has no feasible means of taking on a witch cabal consisting of who knows what level of magic-users, who also control the local government by ties of magical charm and familial loyalty. The situation was obvious from the outside, but most NPCs inside the situation would be obviously loathe to believe adventurers on a matter like this without direct and undeniable proof. I was constantly waiting for the referee to declare that the secret police set up by the witches had finally figured out that we were operating within the town.

    At the beginning of the new session I laid down the impression that we would possibly be forced to degree this challenge too much to handle; some warning letters to the bishopric and the king would be in order, in the hopes that they'd believe us, but after that we would do best to run the fuck out of Moldavia altogether. Pretty grim outcome, but this is not a game where you just run towards danger because you're "supposed" to.

    A brilliant flash of insight happened, however - clearly my best contribution to the campaign so far. I figured out that although we could not prove in court (one ruled by a Charmed baron, no less) that the three girls ensconced in the castle were witches, we certainly could frame them! Nobody had moral issues with that, of course: all characters were either convinced of their witchery (either hapless victims of possession or cultist vessels for ancient witch-queens) by the meager proof, misogynist assholes horrified of village girls rising to Baronetcy, or just scared shitless of the possibility of Satanic forces gaining such a major foothold in legitimate government of Moldavia.

    The plan we cobbled together was, again, somewhat lateral compared to your ordinary dungeon crawl tactics, being more akin to a heist movie sequence: our more arcane party members collected and faked occult paraphilia (including, awfully, the rotting body of the old Baroness), which Sniper Joe would bring to the castle in the dark of night. Meanwhile the subterfuge specialists would get inside the castle using local contacts, bribes and masquerade. Our chief occultist would stage a Satanic-flavoured distraction at the local church, signalled to begin by a flame arrow from Sniper. All this would be timed to occur during the next large dinner party hosted by the Baron for his knights, so as to ensure plentiful witnesses placed highly in society. Father Usko the cleric would be in attendance at the party, utilizing his favour with the knight Chroner; as a 1st level Cleric the good Father had access to a single blessing that could be made to work to our favour here: Command would, should the false Baroness fail a saving throw, force her to confess her crimes in the middle of the feast, justifying a whirlwind search of the Baroness's private quarters, in which we would hopefully have planted our "evidence" by then.

    In actual play our plan went through like clockwork, excepting a single detail: when Durriger and Pjotr swindled their way into the castle and then found their way to the quarters of the Baroness (we'd bought a map in advance to avoid getting lost within the castle), there were two guards in the hall-way that they couldn't bluster their way through in their guise as guard + servant. Well, this wasn't the problem - a regrettable surprise assault and a dash of luck enabled the two 1st-level characters to fatally silence the guards on the spot. The actual problem was that we had all roundly ignored all hint of the three "large cats" that the new Baroness had "as a gift from the Baron". As it proved, two of the leopards were at the feast, while the third one was in the Baroness's chamber!

    Pjotr lost his life fighting the devil-beast (animals often have absolutely brutal attack sequences in by-the-book D&D - they're much more dangerous than an armed and armoured soldier), but Durriger, who happens to be prodigiously strong ("the strongest man in Rumania!" as the saying about him goes) due to some magical mishap, had somewhat better luck: the fight with the cat seemed desperate until he cleverly (with some aid from the kibbitz department) dragged the bedsheet from the bed and entangled the leopard in it, enabling him to feasibly engage the wrestling rules. A leopard doesn't have a man's stamina, so it didn't take many minutes to get the cat sufficiently tired out to drag it into a closet.

    Aside from this unfortunate leopard episode the plan went roughly as expected: Durriger let down a rope for Sniper Joe, waiting on the ground outside, and then the two cleaned up the place (we just threw the bodies of the guards out of the window; major questions in the morning to be sure, but the witch frame-up was going down now, and it didn't matter what things would look like in the morning light) and planted the various evidence in a suitable macabre manner. (Remember, we didn't need to convince an intelligent person, but rather the blindly loyal one - and the witches, of course; if a witch would lose their cool at the frame-up and start shooting up the place, that'd be as good as a victory for us.) As our time started to run out, Sniper made a very cool on the spot decision to have the pair hide in the Baron's quarters on the other side of the hall while father Usko and his pet witch-finder led the entire court on a surprise inspection.

    Durriger and Sniper Joe looted the Baron's personal silver stash (including a large silver crucifix from his private chapel) while they were at it, being adventurers and all, and then escaped through a window via rope. Meanwhile our plan reached a crescendo: the witches were very, very cool customers, as befits ancient body-hoppers, but finally the one fingered as the murderer of the Baroness broke down when occult paraphelia started appearing, and the very heart of the poor murder victim was unearthed under the pillow of the Baroness.

    Once the witches started fighting their way free, using magic, it was all over but the crying: the castle was full of knights, each probably with their own little suspicions, so despite apparently being about 6th level each, the witches didn't really have much of a chance. Gaseous Form proved to be a surprisingly weak spell in this context: the false Baroness cast it as her last bid at escape, but as the referee had it, the spell did not really allow her to become difficult to perceive or particularly quick at blowing/scattering away, so father Usko pretty much just closed all the blinds and organized people to wave air against the cloud-form of the witch, forcing her to remain in the room until the spell's duration expired. This is probably not a very common read on the spell, but that's exactly what D&D is like: you make your arguments, the referee makes a call, and that's how it goes this time around.
  • #5: Restock, Regroup, Find an Oracular Snake

    Next session we were flush with victory, but it soon became clear that the witches we'd captured were not afraid of death; grissly interrogation revealed that theirs was service to a Green Man, some sort of pagan deity, and they were not afraid of death in the least - Sniper was convinced that this was because the witches indeed were body-hoppers, and nobody was particularly inclined to disagree.

    After burning the witches we organized a new expedition to the pagan temple. This time we obviously had the support of the local government; the Baron preserved his seat, but was on indefinite sick leave due to his Charm-related confusion. (Basically, his knights ignored him while they burned the wife he was magically disposed to love.) This was all well and good, as we didn't particularly desire to risk the faulty teleporter another time.

    An interesting thing happened on the way to the dungeon: because Sniper Joe is clearly a sort of a woodsman figure, I told the GM that he would do a bit of scouting for the crew on the way to the dungeon, keeping an eye out for the snake with the yellow stripe that had been described several sessions ago. As it happened, the long shot paid off (it was apparently 1/20 or something like that), and Sniper Joe found the snake!

    Most of the rest of the session was spent on my side quest, as I tracked down the old widow, let her try the snake, ascertained that it worked, split the gold with the widow, and then gave my new pet a name - I call her "Sophia", as the snake's bite apparently gives you oracular powers if you survive the poison save. Fun times, and enlightening for Sniper: he's decided that he wants to become a Ranger in these Carpathian woods, where such miracles can be found. (I imagine that Sniper has a bit of a difficulty relating to people with his murderous past; animals fit him much better.) We'll see how that'll bear fruit in the future, I'll need to write some Ranger rules for LotFP first thing before going back to Helsinki.

    Now that we had powerful divination magic at our disposal, we just needed to break it. As it happens, the LotFP Bless spell gets you +[caster level] to saving throws, and Delay Poison negates poisonous death if used soon enough, so this wasn't so difficult. We had Durriger take some snake rides with our questions regarding the witches, and had them quite confirmed: the witches were immortal evil spirits, yet plotting, and the only way to stop them would be to unite the Black Opal and insert it in the Dragon Throne. Some gobbledygoob like that, anyway - a TSR-style fantasy recipe.

    (Having divination magic makes D&D much easier. At least the way we play it, the entire playing field is under not so much a fog of war, but rather a smog. It stings the eyes, and most of the time you don't necessarily know why or what you're doing. You gather your own intelligence, or you trust in some NPCs who are likely lying, or you just wander in confusion until a grue jumps out of the smog and eats you.)

    After we got enough of playing with the magic snake, the party arrived at the temple and found out that the cultists had slain the entire garrison set up by the Baron. This had probably happened at the orders of the witches about the time when they knew that the jig was up in Roman. Be that as it may, it was clear that the temple was again fully in the hands of the witch cult.

    In the lower levels we had a quite grim battle with some elite 2 HD cultists who were quartered inconveniently in between us and the way to the deep interior. Fortunately we have quite some resources at this point, so it didn't turn into a party kill. If one 3/4 roll with a sleeping potion had succeeded for the enemy, we would've probably lost horribly.

    #6: Proper Exploration of the Tower Level

    We came to this session expecting to have a final show-down with the witches, but the dungeon proved more complex than we expected. In hindsight the highly analytical dungeoneering we did was not favourable to our goals: we ended up avoiding the route that at this writing seems like the likely way downstairs towards the Black Opal, and thus managed to map just about the entire 1st floor of the wizard tower instead.

    Found treasure and humanoid savages, the latter of which we treated humanely. All in all the expedition was a failure, though, as we were confounded by not finding any route downwards despite our divinations indicating that such would need to be found.
  • #7: Return to the Dungeon of Gelatinous Cubes

    The last session before I took my summer break. The party was thin, so we put down some considerably money on hirelings to bolster the ranks. The goal remained the same, to brush over the dungeon and find a route to lower levels. Unfortunately we had some major logistical difficulties, owing to the GM's brilliance.

    The only serious possibility that we had not already explored on the last expedition was a certain well from whence horrid wailing was heard. Because of the human-like gold statues nearby we did not go there before; it was my grave mistake, but I long interpreted the well as more of a side-room housing a lethal monster (one that turns you into a gold statue, to be specific) than a route down, but now it seemed that it was our most likely way forward.

    Well, we encountered a Gelatinous Cube in the singular hallway leading to the well. No choice but to destroy it. I should mention here the Gelatinous Cubes are a joke in properly played D&D, players should be able to eviscerate them simply by fictional positioning: don't walk forward without a scout with a long stick to avoid stumbling into one by accident, and use missile weapons on them while keeping your distance to avoid attacks. (Heikki admittedly makes the latter unnecessarily hard by insisting that even big 40 ton blobs that move by crawling get to win initiative just like anybody else, no matter whether you know in advance that they're there or not - wouldn't be my call, but that's how it is here.)

    This time around, however, the Gelatinous Cube was epic: we reduced it to zero hitpoints handily with massed spears, and it stopped moving, but unlike the cubes I've run myself and seen others run, this one did not dissolve at death; rather, we now had a 40 tons of glistening, paralyzing gelatinous mass blocking the hallway, neat as can be. Fiendish!

    Our reaction to the problem was to try some careful digging, but it soon proved that the nerve poison the cube uses to paralyze victims was still potent; we would need serious digging equipment to get through the cube. I made the best of the situation by filling spare bottles with the poison, figuring that this was a fair source of a paralyzing venom for future use. Various testing with fictional positioning indicates that the paralysing poison in Heikki's cubes works through the skin, keeps for at least hours, and the effective amount is just centiliters - perfect for poisoning arrows and such, in other words.

    The gelatinous problem pretty much meant that we spent the rest of the session making sure the way down was not anywhere else on the first floor. We managed to find another gelatinous cube that worked just like the first one, as well as various treasure. (Not that we cared about the treasure - this is the sort of D&D where you're laser-focused on goal-based play, not just wandering around after random treasure.)

    After this session Sniper Joe is so close to 2nd level that it's almost a given. We'll see how things go later in the summer, when I return to Helsinki and presumably rejoin the crew. Sniper also wants to be a ranger, so it's possible that he'll leave the team to pursue his dream, in which case I'll get a new character for my stable. We'll see. Hopefully they don't mess this witch issue badly while I'm away.


    I haven't read Rahasia, but I'm pretty sure that we're pretty far afield from the core content of the adventure module. This is, the way I see it, a natural progression in a sandbox: the GM introduces an adventure hook, the players ignore it, events progress, and the adventure changes. Instead of a straightforward dungeon delve we've got a political situation in our hands. Dynamic response to player choices, that's the key to sandbox campaigning.

    On the player side I think that we were somewhat mediocre on the dungeoneering (competent, but it's easy to be when you've got plentiful resources and higher level backup PCs), but we totally aced the urban adventure with the bewitched baron. In hindsight we probably did not need to run as paranoid a course as we did on operational security (that is, Heikki probably was not thinking on the same terms I was), but you never know something like that in advance - better not leave the GM an opening to justify trouble when you can avoid it. The witch takedown went neat as can be, when many of the ideas that were floating around in advance could quite easily have ended up with the party repulsed and outlawed, and the witches in a stronger position than ever.

    The divination snake Sophia was a pure stroke of luck, excepting of course that I had the presence of mind to remind the GM about it. The snake affects the campaign on a strategic level quite a bit, though; my character doesn't care about some boring magic swords that much, but a snake that can answer any question, now that is something interesting that he'll treasure. I assume that if the party is still spinning their wheels on the witch problem when I return, we'll have to risk some more snake-riding to seek answers.
  • man why didn't i run my last gelatinous cube like that. they got so excited when they figured out they could bottle green slime, too (and we all greatly enjoyed how carefully they carried it to avoid it melting the flask's stopper).

    I really love this kind of political-relationship-driven dungeon that, through player (in)action ends up metastasizing and becoming something totally different. It's definitely the driving force in my game, although I've been hesitant to make it interact so directly with "town" because we have a strict leaving-the-dungeon-and-going-back-to-town policy that has only been broken once.
  • Great stuff! Thanks for the write-up, Eero.
  • You posted this just in time! I'm running OSR-style World of Dungeons tomorrow. Great inspiration!
  • Indeed! Very cool stuff, inspiring, and an interesting take on a rather unusual approach to a D&D adventure.
  • I rolled up a 1st level Expert (Thief) with absolutely horrid stats: Dexterity 3, for instance, and the best attribute was at 12, I think. I promptly refused the limp-wristed practice of rerolling bad stat lines (don't roll 3d6 if you don't want it, I say) and instead opted to play this heroic individual; I decided over the beginning part of the session that he's the son of a poor Ursari gypsy family with the secret tragic backstory of Doctor Doom (his mother claimed by the Devil and whatnot).
    Hey, FWIW, in English "limp-wristed" is usually used as a derogatory synonym for homosexual. See this article for background. I assume this is non-obvious if you're not a native English speaker and explicitly do not assume any such intent on your part.

    Also, awesome and interesting writeup, which I really appreciate.
  • Hey, FWIW, in English "limp-wristed" is usually used as a derogatory synonym for homosexual. See this article for background. I assume this is non-obvious if you're not a native English speaker and explicitly do not assume any such intent on your part.
    Meh. I'm from the U.S. and a native English speaker, and while I'm aware of the homosexual connection, I totally understood "limp-wristed" as the intended "weak" and "unmanly" (and in context, "not RPG hardcore old-school"). The homosexual angle didn't even occur to me. I might just be a jerk, though.
  • I had the same reaction!
  • The limp-wristed comment vexed me but that aside it was nice to read some LotFP AP. I just finished reading the Rules & Magic hardcover and I'm jazzed to get the game onto the table.

    Thanks for sharing.
  • edited October 2013
    Now we finally had enough pieces to put together a preliminary theory about what was going on in the town of Roman and this dungeon-under-a-temple:

    The three witches interred under the tower were still alive in some arcane manner; they kidnapped local women to serve as host bodies; they had smuggled at least one of their number to town and Charmed the Baron, murdering his wife and establishing one of their own as the new Baroness, with an unseemly short mourning period (as in, a week).
    Can you elaborate on how this rather detailed scenario was created? How much of it was bought, prepped, GM ad lib, GM listening to player theories and deciding to declare them reality, etc.?

    In my experience, once a sandbox game gets to the point where the characters discover some truly bad-news plot with lots of moving parts and angles of attack, ongoing fun is virtually guaranteed. It's getting to this point that can be tricky.

    (Apologies if you already answered this; I skimmed the later posts.)
  • The original adventure module is Rahasia, which you can read if you're interested. I haven't yet myself, although we have since I wrote the above actually managed to finish the adventure a couple weeks ago, so I well might at some point. (The witches had barely managed to procure one more set of host bodies for their unnatural lifestyle, and were busy escaping from the area altogether, planning apparently to move to the Ottoman empire. We would probably have let them go were it not for one of the players/characters having a chip on their shoulder about finishing this evil once and for all. As it was, we ambushed the witches a couple of times on the road, and finally managed to maneuver them into their doom. After that it was just a matter of taking this black opal that they'd been protecting and returning it to the original dungeon to be destroyed.)

    My understanding is that the adventure module describes a static situation that does not account for the possibility of delay: what happens if the players just let things be. When the party had earlier rescued the titular Rahasia before leaving the dungeon to fester for several months (I came onto the scene after this), that's when the adventure went off the rails so to speak, and developed these extracurricular branches that I describe above.

    The methodology for how this sort of material is developed by the GM is quite clear in our circles: the GM has the basic knowledge of the resources and motivations of the acting NPCs, so he determines their likely choices, and if anything adventure-worthy comes up, prods the players with it along normal channels. It's not quite a naive theory of world simulation, as it is acknowledged that to ever get fun events we need to constructively choose the possibilities that actually lead to adventure, but it is close. In this particular case, for example, the GM chose to have the witches attempt the suborning of the local feudal government via feminine wiles and magic, which is logical enough for some beauty-obsessed witches (we've since learned that they specifically targeted beautiful women for possession) to attempt. If he'd instead decided that the witches will surely spend the next 15 years quietly puttering about with some magical project, then it's possible that we would have never gone back into the dungeon after the initial rescue mission that happened earlier more or less according to the first half of the adventure module.

    Basically: when you're just prepping new situations, you can play quite loose with the likelyhood of events and establish whatever facts you need for the new scenario to be interesting. However, when players come into the situation and start resolving the challenge, the prep becomes sacrosanct, and you are no longer allowed to make arbitrary decisions unsupported by the principles of play.
  • Great topic!

    I don't want to oversimplify this to one aspect, but could we say that the GM made an AW front out of the original module?
  • I suppose so, although there is no AW in the particular lineage of play involved here. Rather, it's a natural part of the sort of sandbox imperative that the entire campaign is constructed around. It's simply the GM's task to keep track of the fictional elements that have been established, and what happens to them once the players let them out of their sight.
  • edited October 2013
    I still think that AW's GMing procedure is much more influenced by/similar to the OSR than most give it credit for (which explains a lot of the "that's not so special" harrumphing about it I see from those quarters).
  • I came from an OSR backround, so I think I undersand what you two say.

    What I wanted to mention is that although there is this sandbox imperative, the actual format of an hexcrawl sandbox f.e. usually contains information about inhabitants and other stuff frozen in time, and there is little or no emphasis on agenda, stakes, consequences, etc. especially not on how to oganize these elements. Am I wrong?
  • That's certainly true of the way these things are written. I personally see a great drive towards improving those writing formats, and surpassing the written format of the material in actual play. I'm sure that it depends on local particulars of how you play, though; there are many ways to play a D&D sandbox, after all. Even then, though, I'd say that while the written material is often statically stuck in time, the very natural implication of how that material should be utilized in practice is dynamic across time. Once you've established facts about time trends ("city state X is preparing for war"), it becomes almost mandatory to have those trends progress over time, at least if you know what you're doing.
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