Monday, January 18, 2010

Mythos in Greyhawk / The Black Dog of the Cairn Hills

Been digging into my first cross-genre experiment lately - stirring a little Cthulhu Mythos into my Greyhawk. It's funny - in basing my main campaign around the Free City and the Castle dungeons, this ends up being kind of inevitable. Both Gary and Rob Kuntz sprinkled this stuff liberally throughout their modules (published and otherwise). (Rob, if you were perchance unaware, was Gary's designated co-DM and co-author of the "holy shit 24+ levels" version of the Castle dungeons, along with a metric buttload of early Greyhawk campaign material.) This also gives me a chance to play around with my Call of Cthulhu stuff that sits around gathering dust. (I have more AD&D campaigns than I have time for, never mind other systems.) Besides that, I have an evil party to whip up adversaries for, and what better than stuff that makes them look good in comparison?

And hell, we all love cults.

Currently I'm brainstorming on the my own version of RJK's Temple of the Elder Gods, the cultists of which my players have managed to run into (and piss off). Thinking of a nice mean Lovecraft-y killer that a vengeful cult leader might unleash on their adversaries (assuming force of arms, traditional magical methods, and even psionic killers had failed), I stumbled across a Gord the Rogue reference (here) to Tharizdun having created 3 yeth hounds to hunt down Gord. Which lead my mind immediately to the Hounds of Tindalos from Frank Belnap Long's story of the same name (and Mythos-approved in HPL's The Whisperer in Darkness). Now, I could go to my CoC books and convert, but The Hounds are more or less an eldritched-up version of the black dog archetype found in English folklore - one version of which (the yeth hound) Gygax saw fit to add to AD&D. Seems like a perfect fit.

The real-world yeth hound is said to be the spirit of an unbaptised infant. In sword & sorcery terms, this could be read as: Cult leader sacrifices baby (Babies? Shout out to Carcosa!), gets otherworldly ghost dog to hunt you through fucking TIME through an ANGLE (nod to the Mythos version), and you die. Sounds about right. It's especially Mythos-y in that unless you have magic, you're completely fucked if one shows up - even magic weapons only wound the hound 1hp per "plus", so only a sorceror (or a high-level priest) has any hope of killing the thing before it eats the whole party.

So don't piss off a cult leader, I guess. Or at least sharply restrict their access to live babies. Either way.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

This is Goddamn Beautiful / WG13 Micro-review

This is AD&D in a nutshell:

(In response to a thread stating that AD&D runs like a Swiss watch - i.e., that it's perfectly tuned and precisely balanced, but breaks down if you change something.)

No, a finely tuned swiss watch may be complex, but it is extremely ordered, regular, relentless, even tedious at doing what it does.

AD&D is a carefully constructed Rube Goldberg device. It is complex, intricately built out of string, spatulas, and squirrels running on wheels in cages, and in the end it only accomplishes something very simple like lighting the exploding cigar. But it's just as fun to simply see its parts work as to see what it accomplishes. And you can replace the squirrels with water drips, the string with levers, the spatula with a cannon. It's just as fun to see it work when you change around its inner workings and ultimately it still accomplishes the same goal of getting the cigar to blow up in your face.


So, the holidays happened, and that was a giant pain in the ass, and I haven't posted for a while. Here's what's been happening at my table:

We ran a few sessions of Keep on the Borderlands when a few of the regular Castle Greyhawk players couldn't make it out for a few weeks, with new (Good-aligned as opposed to the main party's Chaotic Bastard bent) PCs. Had a brutal few sessions of two-PC grindage (B2 is not kind to small parties), with several hostage takings (and rescuings - including a PC from a game I ran two years back!), ending in an all-but-TPK (i.e., only one PC and an NPC henchman are still alive, and they're in the clutches of hobgoblins - and nobody's posted any ransom money at the Fighters' Guild).

The guys have new PCs ready to go, but right now all the mercenary adventurers in residence at the Keep are scared to go anywhere near the Caves (as the recent disastrous expeditions are well-known). They won't even get word of the ransom demands for the old PC and henchman for at least a week, so for the time being their explorations will be limited to the surrounding countryside - and possibly the Caverns of Quasqueton. (B1, a module I consider much more suited to a small party.) We'll see next time the Worcester boys don't make it down.


Back at the main game, the PCs (now fully reinforced with 4 PCs, 5 mercenary men-at-arms and a freelance cleric/maniac of Erythnul) penetrated to Level 2 of Castle Greyhawk for the first time. I was psyched, a) because it meant they were starting to get that they can't "clear" the first level, and b) because now I get to try out the Castle of the Mad Archmage stuff. They lead the way to The Cellars the only way a smart adventurer would - with a live chicken. LOL They kick the thing down the stairs, and lo and behold there's actually a trio of giant frogs at the bottom, one of which promptly (and loudly) gobbled up the bird, alerting the PCs to its presence. One of the newly-returned PCs (the elven fighter/MU Vaz Deferenz) was killed in the ensuing melee, but nobody really gave a shit (since Jesse wasn't really psyched with the character - shitty stats and a party-inappropriate alignment - and in-game the other PCs all hated him). The chicken, however, lived through the encounter! (It was a bit confused and covered in frog ichor, but still.)

They press on - and let me mention here that these assholes have had simply unbelievable luck with secret doors. (The dwarf helps.) They quickly discover a secret tunnel leading them straight to the bedchamber of an orc captain - a brief parlay occurs but the lead fighter cuts the cur down as he began to break for the door. An extended battle breaks out as the remaining orcs become alert and pour in, but the party manages to set up a bottleneck and systematically cuts them down. (They're getting their unit tactics down pat at this point - I've got to give it to them.) Bodies are searched, orc hygiene practices are remarked upon, and they move on.

They come across a trio of skeletons lurking (as skeletons are so wont to do) in a closet. (Perfect Castle Greyhawk touch - there's just the right sprinkling of hokey humor in what I've seen of the WG13 levels so far.) And this leads to another first in my D&D experience - evil clerics controlling undead. I've literally never seen it happen in-game before - if a cleric commanded skeletons or zombies or whatever, it was just assumed to already have happened and was simply hand-waved. And it quickly becomes apparent to me just how damn useful a few mindless undead encounters can be for an evil dungeoneering party. The party instantly realizes that they have two new disposable front-liners (the third was destroyed before the command took effect), which would have been extremely useful had the commanding (NPC) cleric not been instantly killed by a giant wolf spider less than a minute later. By being bitten five times. In the face. Seriously.

(This breaks down as so: I roll an encounter check for any melee in open corridors longer than a round - or if someone's, oh, I don't know, say, yelling and screaming about the power and glory of Erythnul to a couple of dead people. We come up with a result of "nearby monster" - and the nearest thing that's likely to wander is a giant spider a few rooms away. The PCs dick around and debate how they can use the lye they've found while the spider creeps up on them. The thing surprises on a 1-5, the PCs obligingly roll a 5, giving it 5 surprise segments to kill them with. I check between the obvious targets, and it comes up Horgh (the cleric). With a 30" jump attack, the spider has a full five attacks (the first with a charge bonus), four of which it lands, the very first being a natty 20 for a critical (which I roll on the HackMaster table, coming up with a location of "left side face" and double damage). The cleric (y'know, the class with the amazing Poison save) fails all four saves, which would've mattered if the damage from the bites didn't kill him anyway. So yeah, wicked dead.)

They chop the spider to pieces in a round or three, but the check I roll for THIS loud melee brings up a new beasty, this time from the other direction - an ochre jelly. They don't know what they hell to do with this, but (muttering about their upcoming deaths) they shuffle into formation. It actually only scored one hit, and was cut to pieces fast enough - and this is where we establish that, apparently, in my version of Greyhawk lye will neutralize natural acids (such as that of the various oozes and jellies and whatnot). What the hell, it was a good idea, I'll roll with it until I decide otherwise.

They head north and encounter yet another first (for me) - an olive slime, followed by two slime creatures. Now, I managed to not have read the MM entries on these beforehand, and (as is so often the case for me when this happens) ran them totally wrong. So apparently these were variants. The slime itself I ran as a mobile blob, where it's actually a one-shot fall-from-above ambush predator like the green slime (or a piercer). So I gave the PCs extra xp for surviving (potentially deadly) attacks from it every round (instead of the 1 round it was entitled to). F it, they'll never know. The slime creatures I neglected to give the immunity to normal attacks that the slime itself has. This made them much easier to kill then they should have been, but again I just docked the PCs some xp for the kill, and then described them as only partially-transformed victims (with some flesh and bone still on them, and therefore vulnerable to swords). Again, not like anyone knew enough to care. Worked out ok. The bastard PCs then rack up another in their epic streak of secret-door-findings and score a magic robe for the cleric, and (with wounded mercenaries) head for the surface.

Or actually they head for walk-straight-into-a-gelatinous-cube-land. (Random again - clearly the Elder Elemental God is active in this area, with all the puddings and jellies and what have yous.) One PC gets frozen, another one-shots the cube (critical), and they wait around for two hours (fending off rat attacks) while the paralyzed guy gets better. Finally it's back to the surface - they camp on a section of the inner bailey wall (south of the Egyptian Pylon Gate) and head back to the Free City in the morning (the cleric with a brand new experience level - being a new player, his first, so he's psyched).

So my first experience with WG13 was just what I was looking for - gonzo, nail-biting, high-stakes dungeon crawling. Dying to see where they go next. Also dying to see if my copy of Bottle City shows up in time (ordered it that night), because they're about two lefts and a right away from stumbling across this relic of the Lake Geneva campaign. However, I suspect that a few loose ends will tie themselves up and a few campaign seeds sown will bear bitter icky revenge-y fruit next session, possibly putting a return to the dungeon on the back burner. But that's for next week.


P.S.: Also played my buddy Brandon's amazing Dwarf Fortress-themed 1e game last night. We pulled an iron man session - 11 hours, cut off around 4:30. Amazing craziness, all kinds of new revelations about the fabulously dysfunctional Mountain Dwarf culture, but long story short: We fought Duergar with a decanter of endless water riot-control firehose. More on this later.