A Pointed Lesson: Wrath of the Minotaur – Session 3

Sometimes it can be hard to be a good GM. To be torn between providing a challenge, being fair with the rules, and not punishing the players for doing dumb things. Last session was one of those sessions.

In the previous session, Thaddeus experimented with pyrotechnics by using flaming oil on a gelatinous cube. It was fairly successful, if by successful, you meant creating a bonfire at the end of a narrow tunnel leading into the darkness, and needing to wait for it to burn out before you continue.

Unknown to the party, at the other end of said tunnel, there are four kobolds. Kobolds can see in the dark, so it’s unlikely that they would miss the massive signal flare the party decided to use to forewarn anyone they were coming. As such, given that they know someone is coming, and that they have a tactical advantage, the kobolds surround the tunnel entrance.

This is only a slight deviation from the encounter script, as it is essentially the same as giving the kobolds a surprise turn. After all, their first action was to rush up to the tunnel and try and block the party from entering the room. So we now have a narrow tunnel blocked by kobolds.

The party enter the tunnel blithely unaware of what awaits them. The tunnel is narrow, what with it being a narrow tunnel and all, so the party need to go in single file, with anyone taller than a dwarf having to crawl. So naturally, Thordar leads the way bravely as the only hero in the party not crawling.

Thordar is a fighter. Fighters are stubborn. Thordar is a dwarf. Dwarves are stubborn (and Scottish).  Thordar leads the party. Thordar encounters the kobolds at the end of the tunnel. Thordar decides to stand and fight. Thordar misses repeatedly whilst blocking the tunnel exit.

It took several turns of this before the party decided to retreat back down the tunnel. Thordar was hesitant to retreat, but eventually relented and slowly withdrew step by step, whilst attacking and missing the kobolds that entered into the tunnel after him.

Finally, the party turned the tables on the kobolds, as the kobolds reached the end of the tunnel, where the rest of the party could join in with the fight. It should have been a slaughter, but it wasn’t. One of the kobolds managed to flee back up the tunnel and escape the room, in order to go and warn the kobolds in a nearby room of the party’s approach.

The party duly approached and found themselves facing off against thirteen kobolds, all but one armed with shortbows aimed at the door they entered by, thanks to the escaping kobold. Thordar decides to close the door, and whilst the party deliberate, they hear the thunk thunk thunk of twelve arrows hitting the far side of the door, followed by the sound of bows being readied once again.

Thordar decides that they need cover to enter the room, and promptly goes to the other end of the corridor to try and dismantle the door and turn it into a makeshift tower shield. Okay, I say, but it’ll take a few rounds. Elanna asks why they don’t just rush in, after all, they can reach the kobolds in one turn. Ultimately, she opts to do nothing, not even hold the door closed.

What’s a GM to do in this situation? The party is vulnerable, and a lack of communication and coordination in combat is a weakness that really should be exploited, especially by cunning kobolds.

So, the thirteenth kobold goes and opens the door. The other kobolds are already aiming at the door, so as soon as it opens, twelve arrows fire. Elanna is standing by the door, but I take pity on her, and rule that half the arrows are fired at her, whilst the remaining six are split between Thordar, Michifer, and Thaddeus. A few hits are scored and damage is dealt.

With a rumble of irritation, Thordar abandons his plan and returns to the doorway, where he and Elanna fight and defeat the kobold that now blocks their way.

But behind him, another twelve arrows are readied and released by what is essentially a firing squad. The doorway and the hallway behind it are a killing zone, and I rule that this time, all twelve arrows are split between Elanna and Thordar.

Thordar goes down, dying, and Elanna isn’t much better. Player dismay sets in, and they are ready to give up. Ouro is ready to let Thordar die and have the rest of the party flee the Tomb of Alaxus. Sian is despairing at why they didn’t just rush the kobolds in the first place. Before player bickering and despondency fully takes over, I urge the players to close the door and regroup. Elanna has a potion of healing to get Thordar back on his feet, but is only on two hit points herself.

That’s where I called the session. It’s unusual to stop in the middle of combat, but I think that the players needed to gather their thoughts and think about what they can do. They have resources. Encounters like this challenge the players because they aren’t just simple melee combats. The party can’t always just get away with standing and swinging. Sometimes they need a plan, and to stick to it.

But most of all, the players need to communicate. I know Ouro assumed the Sian would have Elanna hold the door shut whilst Thordar spent however long dismantling the other door. But he didn’t communicate this to Sian, and it never occurred to Sian that Elanna should hold the door shut. It’s easy to see where the issues with communication are, and hopefully, my players will learn from this and play a little bit better.

It’s easy to blame such things on Roll20, and it can be hard to get to grips with a new party every few sessions, where the players get to play multiple characters each. But the key to every encounter, every session, and every adventure is communication. Perhaps after this weeks pointed lesson, they will take this onboard going forward.

The Legend of the Flaming Jello – Wrath of the Minotaur Session 2

Second session of the Wrath of the Minotaur, and the party are ready to finally enter the Tomb of Alaxus. Torches prepared and weapons in hand, they brave the deadly corridor of the wooden door, ready for adventure. Check the corridor – nothing special. Check the door – nothing special. I am sensing a pattern emerging…

With the corridor clear, it’s on to the next room. This is an antechamber, with a blue granite monument on a plinth marking the entrance to the tomb. Michifer decides the monument is evil, so attempts to destroy it with his mace, but barely scores enough damage to scratch it. So they check the various markings and make a decision where to go next – through the north door.

Yet another deadly corridor of the wooden door. Still, check the door and, nothing special. So they open the door, and see a room full of bones. Naturally, the characters enter, and up pops a Minotaur Skeleton. It’s a bit of a beastie, and it takes a few rounds to defeat, largely thanks to poor rolls by the fighters and Michifer the Cleric. It seems Roll20 might have a dry sense of irony, as the bad rolls seem to come after the characters try their hand at mightily epic one-liners before their swings. If there’s such thing as a look of bemusement on an expressionless, non-vocal, barely sentient, magically animated, bestial humanoid skeleton, I am pretty sure the creature would be giving it a go.

Finally, the skeleton collapses back into the bone pile, so the party decides to root around in the bones, because there might be treasure. So, guess what, as the party are busy looking, yet another Minotaur Skeleton arises, this time behind them, and the same routine begins. One-liners equal misses, and determined silence means solid blows. Not just any silence, mind you. Oh not, it has to be deliberate, according to Roll20…

Once the second skeleton drops, the party suspect that rooting through the bones for anything other than their thrown weaponry might be a bad idea, and opt to leave, closing not only the door to the room, but the door leading to the antechamber as well, once they make their way back through the deadly corridor of the wooden door.

Time to head south, and guess what? Another deadly corridor of the wooden door. I duly read out the descriptive text once again, and the party checks the door – nothing special. Is this getting routine? I certainly hope so, as we skip on to the next room…

Another room, like the last, full of bones. However, there’s a strange shimmering by the east wall. So this time, Thordar the Dwarf Fighter, who’s apparently VERY Scottish (yer bastad!) according to Ouro, steps forward to look at the shimmer, only to be attacked by a Gelatinous Cube, amongst the deadliest of desserts. Luckily, the attack misses the Dwarf, and combat begins properly.

Thaddeus has a bright idea – he’s going to light a flask of oil and throw it at the strange creature facing them. With that, suddenly the Gelatinous Cube is covered in oil and on fire. Of course, being a barely sentient Ooze, the creature doesn’t react to the flames, and is that little bit more deadly, but is slowly melting through the combat with a sickly sweet oily smell. Thordar takes a flaming slap to the face, but manages to resist the Gelatinous Cube’s paralysis, but is not so lucky with the burns to his skin, and his pride. Singed beard syndrome sets in, but not before Thaddeus finishes of the creature with a magic missile, causing it to melt into a pile of flaming goop on the floor.

Behind the creature’s flaming remains, a narrow passage heading east is revealed. Of course, between the highly combustable slime and the flask of oil, the fire is going to burn for a while. Do the party decide to put it out? Of course not – that would be too smart for them! Instead, they decide the best thing to do is show of their agility by trying to recover what treasure they can from the puddle of flames.

Thordar goes first, because Dwarves are known for their agility, and he promptly falls over face first into the flaming slime. Luckily, what remains of his facial hair doesn’t catch fire, but he still takes a point of fire damage, and an indescribable amount of dignity loss.

Elanna decides to give it a go. After all, she’s highly agile, even if she’s only a fighter, that’s got to put her in a good position for such a stunt, right? Wrong! Roll20 brings a natural one, to demonstrate that prideth does indeed cometh before a fall, as Elanna trips over a slimy Thordar, goes arse over tit, as the saying goes, and also faceplants herself in the flaming goop. Worse, she fails to prevent her hair catching fire. That’s going to leave a mark, if only on what remains of her dignity.

I have to take pity of the party as we are all in stitches at this dignity TPK – we haven’t laughed this much since Dent got green slimed back in Zanzer’s Dungeon. So, as Elanna puts her flaming hair out, I let Thordar finally recover the treasure, and then the party retreats back to the antechamber to rest up ready for next session. What did they get? In the end, it was 20 gold coins, a jewelled dagger, and a vial that they suspect is a potion of healing. Shame it’s not a potion of restore dignity…

Meanwhile, let’s hope that these shenanigans haven’t alerted any denizens in the dungeon. There’s rumours of kobolds nearby, and they would most definitely have seen the flaming jello in the dark… (Hint: It totally did, so looks like the party might be in for a few rough encounters in the near future!)

Ouro for Ouro’s Sake

Normally, I would discuss what is going on in the game, maybe what I am planning to come up next, but I wanted to take a break from all that for this week, as I really wanted to give a shout out to one of my players and long-time friends.

Ouro (short for Ouroboros I), as been a good friend to me for many years online, and we have played many games together. We first met back in 2000, when we both took an active part in the development of the Unofficial Legend of Zelda Roleplaying Game. A friendship quickly grew from our shared passions and crazy projects in all things geeky. This was why Ouro was my go to when I started up DVOID Systems. This short-lived professional venture helped us expand our creative juices, but demonstrated that we really weren’t cut out for business.

Nevertheless, my long-time online friendship with Ouro would be fairly constant in my life, and it was no surprise that I would talk about him with the other important people in my life, who weren’t online. This inevitably included my partner, Sian, whom I have not only been with for five years, but have also known for twenty years as well. It’s strange to think of how many of my friends know Ouro, but only as Ouro…

This game came about because I really wanted to run a game, and after various failed attempts at games online in the past, for various reasons, only Ouro and Sian were reliable and willing enough to take part. A game with two players can cause issues, some of which I have discussed over these posts, but with their help and willingness, we have been playing for over a year now (despite interruptions), and they have taken on several roles through several adventures.

A key feature to these games, and the recaps we have afterwards, is Ouro himself. Ouro likes to draw, and has a number of artistic projects on the go on places like DeviantArt. Over time, and with some slight encouragement from myself, he has established his own comic-book style in his work. He draws for fun, and this is seen in his artwork.

During this campaign, Ouro has taken to drawing aspects of our game, as he is inspired. Sometimes it might be a funny scene, others it might be a new take on a player character or monster. No matter what, it seems like even the roughest of Ouro’s sketches gets murmurs of appreciation from Sian and myself, as it adds an extra layer of enjoyment to the whole gaming experience.

It’s because of this, that I would like to give a shout out to Ouro and his artwork here. I have a folder of his art, and often use it on this blog, especially during session recaps. You can find more of his work here at DeviantArt.

In the meantime, thank you Ouro for your fun, support, and artwork, and I hope that 2020 will bring you even more happiness and friendship. May we game together for many further years to come!

We’re Off on an Minotaur Hunt – Wrath of the Minotaur Session 1

Following a brief hiatus to resolve some technical issues (new headsets, yeay!) with our game, the intrepid explorers of the Ruined Tower finally returned the the Patriarch to see if the books they brought back contained any important information.

The Patrician welcomed them in with enthusiasm, as his study was covered in all sorts of papers, maps, and other books and scrolls. The Patriarch seemed to have had a busy few days, but was extremely excited to announce that he had made a major breakthrough with his research into the history of the Vale.

The Patriarch gave the group a brief history of the Vale, detailing the role of Alaxus, the fabled Minotaur Mage that once ruled the region. He was called the Minotaur Mage, not because he was a Minotaur himself, but rather he used his magics to enslave Minotaurs as his servitors and enforcers. The Minotaur Mage used a bull’s head for his symbol, and this was the symbol that was found on the Ruined Tower, one of the Minotaur Mage’s many towers that once helped him control this region.

The Patriarch quickly revealed why he called for the heroes once again. It turns out that thanks to their exploration of the Ruined Tower and recovery of valuable books and scrolls, the Patriarch had finally discovered the location of Alaxus’ Tomb, hidden in the east of the Vale. It was rumoured to be the final resting of the famous mage, with his followers having spirited him away after a conclusive battle with a long forgotten hero that ended the Minotaur Mage’s reign over the Vale. Thus, the party’s goal was simple, they were to find and explore the Tomb, and report back with anything they find.

The New Guys

The Patriarch stated that he couldn’t spare any of the guards in town, but that a new bunch of adventures that he had been mentoring had just finished their training, and might be able to help them with your task. With that, Patriarch brought in and introduced Michifer, Sunblayze, Thordar, and Peregrine.

Michifer was a Cleric of the Church of the Holy Defender. A new initiate, he had been trained under the Patriarch directly as part of his studies. Peregrine was a Paladin of the Church of the Holy Defender, a new recruit to the military order of the church, who had also been trained under the Patriarch with regards to his holy duties. Sunblayze, an Elf maiden, was a Spellsword who had recently finished her apprenticeship with the Patriarch. Finally, there was Thordar – a Dwarf who had been apprenticing under the town guard of Haven.

The Patriarch suggested that the group pool their resources and prepare for an expedition to the Tomb of Alaxus. However, as a precaution, he suggested that a contingent of the party remained behind to help protect Haven should anything arise. The dangers of the Vale seemed to be increasing in recent days, and whilst the guard could protect the town, they would be unsuitable for protecting the rest of the region.

With this, the group departed the Patriarch’s study  with the new recruits, and prepared for their expedition. Between them, it was decided that Elanna and Thaddeus would explore the tomb with Michifer and Thordar, whilst Darkblade, Niles, Sunblayze, and Peregrine would remain behind to protect Haven and the Vale. The neccessary supplies were bought, including a mule to carry any treasure recovered from the Tomb.

When the adventurers were ready, including having named their Mule, which Thordar decided to call “Berliner” for some reason, the party of Elanna, Thaddeus, Michifer, and Thordar set off with their map to the location of the Tomb of Alaxus. The journey took three uneventful days following a stream up into the mountains to the east of the Vale.

Finding the Tomb of Alaxus

They arrived on the supposed site of the Tomb early in the morning, and entered a clearing besides a large cave in the mountainside. The cave served as a local camping site for travelling shepherds in the Vale, who would often travel with their flocks across the mountains to richer meadows for grazing in the north of the valley.

The party came across one such shepherd that morning, who had just broken up camp in the cave, and was about to release his goats from a makeshift pen formed from an improvised barricade of branches and bushes placed in the back of the cave. Wary at first, the shepherd pointed a loaded crossbow at the party, inquiring as to what they were doing there. The party quickly defused the situation, revealing that they were looking for Alaxus’ Tomb.

The shepherd introduced himself as Macques (pronounced “Max”), and stated that he wasn’t interested in such nonsense, as he was focused on protecting his herd from the Kobolds seen in the region. However, having been satisfied that the party had no intention of robbing him, Macques asked the party to assist him in taking down the barricade, and after they did so, the shepherd left with his flock.

Alone in the cave, the party explored the area. Although the cave seemed empty, Thordar quickly spotted a depression in the back wall, which was revealed to be the symbol of a bull’s head once the moss was cleared up. Two bluer pieces of granite made up the eyes, and when they were pressed, the entire slab moved upwards… about three inches. There was a dark passageway beyond, and with a concerted effort, the party forced the door the rest of the way to gain access to what was presumably the Tomb of Alaxus.

The party decided to make final preparations, including replacing the makeshift barricade across the back of the cavern behind them, so as to hide the new entrance from casual discovery, and to serve as a form of protection for Berliner. The passageway went forwards about thirty feet, up to wooden door ahead of them. Thaddeus lit a torch, having learnt from the Ruined Tower, as the party braved themselves to press ahead… next session.

Note: The shopping expedition actually took most of the session, but I have skipped it for the recap, since I am not sure how fun it would be to read. It was enjoyable, as my players considered what they might need for an expedition into the Tomb of Alaxus. I explained that preparing for an expedition like this was an often overlooked part of the game, and that many of the more “old school” adventures would feature the players preparing to explore such sites in this way.

Rags to Ruins – The Ruined Tower Session Recap

Last week, we commenced the campaign after the christmas break, with our plucky players (Sian and Ouro) leading yet another bunch of newbies into adventure. Darkblade the Fighter and Niles the Rogue were both played by Ouro, whilst Elanna the Fighter and Thaddeus the Mage were played by Sian.

Amidst groans because this was yet another starting party from a starter set – this time, from the Fast Play series (and also, the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Game released for it’s 25th Anniversary in 1999), we had a flash back to this new party meeting with the Patriarch, the political and spiritual leader of The Vale, and the town of Haven.

The mission was simple – the Patriarch had recieved reports of a Ruined Tower nearby, that possibly belonged to a powerful wizard that lived in the Vale some time ago. Whilst this peaked the interest of the Patrician, who was keen to find out more about the legacy of the Vale, startling rumours from farmers surrounding the ruins about half-eaten cattle required action, as the threat that some monster, if not the wizard himself, was in the ruins.

Thus, the party was to explore the Ruined Tower. The village could provide no reward, but the party could keep any treasure that they found. However, the Patriarch would pay handsomely for any books or other historical materials found and returned to him, out of his own pocket.

With that, we returned to the “action” as the party was about to explore the Ruined Tower. It was a broken shell, filled with rubble and debris, although it seemed that several rats had decided that the ruins made a good home for them, and leaped out at the adventurers.

Combat was joined, with Darkblade, Elanna, and Niles entering into the frey. Elanna boldy strided into melee, after throwing one of her many daggers at a rat, where she managed to prove that she was no peewee after all. Niles used his daggers and Darkblade fired his longbow, providing backup as Elanna dispatched these enemies.

Meanwhile, Thaddeus had decided that now was not the time to use his magic, and his limited combat abilities meant that he was better off remaining out of the chaos for the time being, as the others clearly had things in hand. After all, his magic may be needed for greater foes to come.

After the fight, the party regrouped and noticed that beyond the debris, there was a door heading into the cliff. There was more to these ruins than just one shattered tower after all. Niles opened the door and the party stared into darkness, as the only light into the way forward came from the sunlight behind them. Darkblade lit a torch, before passing it off to Thaddeus.

The corridor ahead was riddled with damp, as did the rotten door a short way ahead of them. Elanna rushed forward, but managed to step back just in time as part of the passage floor crumbled, and collapsed into the earth before her. A natural pit blocked the way, as water damage as managed to work underneath the flagstones and wear away the soft earth underneath. Luckily, the pit wasn’t that deep, and was easy to cross thanks to it’s rough walls.

On the other side, the party  was able to examine the rotten door further. There was a sign that said it was a Scriptorium, but further details couldn’t be gleaned, as the door crumbled away as soon as Niles got too close. Beyond, a dark room with timeworn desks could be seen, occupied by four figures in robes that revealed themselves to be skeletons armed with rusty triangular daggers.

Elanna and Darkblade rushed in, but this turned out to be a much tougher foe than they expected, as they were ill-prepared to fight the fleshless undead. Daggers and swords struggled to do damage enough to stop the skeletons, although both Elanna and Darkblade managed to make use of some of their impressive strength.

The boney creatures didn’t have the same issues, and whilst their weapons were rusty, they still managed to land some serious blows upon Darkblade, taking him out of the fight after three harrowing attacks. Hope seemed bleak, as Elanna was the only one with any healing, a potion of healing that held two doses, but she was too far away from Darkblade, who was struggling to stay alive as Niles covered him from the advancing undead.

Yet Elanna proved her worth as she fought her way closer to Darkblade, and then heroically leaped over Darkblade, pouring some of the potion of healing down his throat. It was a desperate action that would have left her open if Niles couldn’t hold off the remaining skeleton.

Once again, Thaddeus looked on, and decided that his help wasn’t needed. His magic was strong, but limited, and whilst the room was interesting, there was clearly more beyond that could prove a bigger threat.

Once again, the party regrouped, gathering both their own daggers, and the rusted weapons from the skeletons. The weapons were useless, but perhaps the design might hold some clues for the Patrician later. Meanwhile, the door leading beyond was much more solid and bound in iron, with a metal plate attached. One the plate was the symbol of a bull’s head. What could this mean?

Niles carefully examined the door, and then picked the lock. With a quiet click, the door was unlocked, and the party pushed it open. Beyond was a room with wall shelves full of books. This looked like what the Patrician was after – but the room too was occupied.

Before the party, two rotting corpses stood motionless, staring blankly ahead. Unfortunately, a third figure, a humanoid with decayed pointy teeth and purple flesh turned to greet them with an angry glare. “Kill them all!” the figure snarled, and the two corpses turned towards the party, undead vitality animating their torn flesh.

The party knew the score, and Elanna stood up to both zombies without hesitation, striving to protect the others. Thaddeus stepped forward into the doorway, knowing this was the time to unleash his power. A missile of pure energy streaked past the party, and hit the ghoul directly in the chest. The forceful blow wasn’t enough to kill the creature, but it did force the beast to drop the box it was holding.

The ghoul knew that this wasn’t a fight it could win, facing an armed adventuring party, and therefore decided to flee, opening a large stone slab at the back of the library revealing a passage beyond. Darkblade moved to try and kill the ghoul before he could escape, firing an arrow at the creature, whilst Elanna and Niles dealt with the corpses.

Although the arrow struck true, hitting the ghoul just above his thigh, it was not enough to kill the creature, which fled down the passage. Darkblade noted a glimmer of daylight at the end of the passage, and realised that having driven off the ghoul, he should help his comrades dispatch the remaining zombies rather than pursue the creature. Besides, the foul undead had dropped whatever treasure it was holding.

The zombies were easily dispatched after a few blows, and the party regrouped once again. Surely, this was the Library that the Patriarch was willing to pay so handsomely for, and with that, Thaddeus picked out a few choice books to return to the Patriarch, whilst Niles grabbed the small chest that the ghoul had been holding. It was time to return to town and get their reward.

The Patriarch greeted them warmly, eagerly wanting to hear their news, and his eyes lit up when the party told him of the library in the Ruined Tower. Thaddeus pulled out the books he had brought back, and the party showed them the strange daggers. With a wide smile, the Patriarch offered to pay everyone 400 gold pieces each as a reward for the books and the information for the Library. He also offered the party 20 gold for all four daggers. The party agreed, for this was a pretty good reward for a relatively simple mission.

It was then that Niles pulled out the small chest and placed it on the table. It hadn’t been opened yet, and Niles carefully picked the lock. Upon lifting a lid, they had discovered the Ghoul’s hoard: a handful of gleaming black pearls, a finely crafted dagger, a scroll of some kind, a vial of peppermint smelling green liquid, and a cloth bag.

The Patriarch’s eyes opened wide as he explained that black pearls were a vital ingredient for a spell to identify magical items, and that they were worth 100 gold each, that he would gladly pay for if they wanted. He also said that he knew such a spell, and would readily cast it for them to identify their treasure, if they were willing to provide either a black pearl or 100 gold to pay for a replacement.

Eager to divvy up their loot, as they reminded the Patriarch that he had said they could keep any treasure they found in the Ruined Tower, they decided to part with four black pearls, but to divide the rest between themselves, rather than sell them to the Patriarch.

With an understanding nod, the Patriarch examined their items. It seemed the the scroll contained three spells – magic missile, knock, and a powerful lightning bolt. Thaddeus claimed this as he was the only one who could use it. Next, the cloth bag turned out to be a bag of holding, a magical bag able to carry more treasure than a normal bag, without adding any extra weight. This went to Niles.

The dagger was discovered to be enchanted, making it much more deadly. Meanwhile, the liquid in the vial turned out to be a potion of extra healing, which could be used just like the one Elanna had used to save Darkblade. However, this one could be used to heal even more damage, or split into three doses, each the same strength as the one Elanna had. With this in mind, it was decided that Darkblade should have the potion, and Elanna would take the dagger.

All happy, the party left the Patrician’s office. It was time to rest and recover after a successful adventure, whilst reflect on what they had learnt…