Sunday, June 11, 2017

Empress session report - The Murderhobros meet hard-punching lion-men

It's been a while since we had one of these.  Well, life gets in the way, which means that we missed a few sessions and I'm behind on reporting the ones that we had.  So let's catch up a bit.

We're at least three sessions behind, so I'm going to compress a bit of the older events.  Anyway, we left our lovable scoundrels having more or less disrupted the plan of Lord Python (an evil wrassler) to have some thugs drug the ales of the beloved Wolf Brothers (the good guys!) so as to impair them for the upcoming match.  

For all I know these guys really were called the Wolf Brothers

Things went well from there; the Wolf Brothers met and beat Lord Python the very next day, although he escaped the justice of the militia.  The PCs were celebrated for safekeeping the honor of Lugosi and the Wolf Brothers.  Radj was able to order dog barding at a bargain price.  Yay team!

Of course, things got messy again.

Not Spectre

On the third day of waiting for dog armor, a pair of sweaty and wounded caravan guards burst into the Effluent Inn's common room.  Short of breath, they explained how they were ambushed by Moktar, who carried off the merchant who hired them.  Sage heads at the fireside nodded; Moktar attacks were lately on the rise, despite the proximity to Denethix.

Our intrepid cutthroats dashed off into the wilderness with Terry and Phil, immediately contemplating the best time and method for disposing of their new friends.  Oh, you guys!  Anyway, it wasn't long before the group was able to track the lion-men back to their lair, a cave with sides that were strangely smooth and orthogonal.  Alert for guardians, they ventured into the cave.

Unfortunately, they weren't very careful, and Radj and his (as-yet unarmored) dog Spectre went plunging into a 10' pit through a trapdoor.  This alerted a Moktar to the left, who released his dire wolf from around the corner to charge any intruders.  From the opposite direction, a small group of Moktar came to investigate.

The wolf plunged into the pit, meeting a quick end at the hands of Radj and his canine companion.  Meanwhile, Zab, Duncan, Terry and Phil desperately wielded their arms against a bunch of unarmed Moktar.  Normally, this would be a losing prospect, since the Moktar are towering walls of muscle.  However, these Moktar seemed a bit sickly and mange-ridden.  But there was little time for ought but fighting.

ASE secret origins revealed!

Pressed hard, Duncan retreated from the cave, quaffing healing potions to stay alive.  Phil went down to a Moktar, while Zab was mysteriously able to turn invisible and backstab one of the lion men.  Another went down to some decent swordplay, and Terry handled yet another at some expense to his survivability.

After a close duel, Duncan finished off his foe, returning to help the others. With difficulty, another two Moktar are put down (one pushed into the pit). Then, with zero hesitation, Duncan caps off the fight by running Terry through.  "It was just a matter of time," he posits quite reasonably.  The others think for a moment and nod in agreement.

Proceeding onward, the trio encounters another four Moktar in a kind of squalid sleeping quarters, and with Spectre, they are able to slay them handily.  If anything, these Moktar seem sicker than the last ones, and the reason is soon made apparent.  The merchant lies dying on the floor, warning the party that he and the lion men have been slain by long exposure to the "sick rock" he was transporting.  It lies in the corner, and the merchant tells them it must be sealed in its original chest to protect from its lethal curse.

Having delivered this tidy bit of exposition, the merchant loses consciousness, which never returns.  The party now contemplates the remaining ways forward; a door connected to the barracks, and a short hallway with a strange device. 

They check out the hallway and device; the device is a lever that activates a powerful magnet in the ceiling at the end of the hall.  This has two relevant effects: (1) it lifts an inverted pyramid of metal from the floor, making it possible to proceed through a trapdoor, and (2) it makes it impossible to proceed with metal of any kind.


The group returns to the common room, and decide to listen at the door they had previously noted.  As Duncan presses his ear to the wood, the door flies open, and the Moktar chieftain swings his ax at his head!  Duncan's quick reflexes save him from certain extermination, and the party is able to dispose of him readily.

In the chief's quarters is a note that must have accompanied the merchant: it says that the "sick rock" is needed to activate some kind of magical device to the West that raises the dead to life.  This is all for delivery to the Feyrn, the Wizard of Denethix.  Another note lies beside it, instructing the Moktar band to capture the merchant and bring him to the appointed location for the usual fee.

Shrugging indifferently, the party returns to the magnet and the trapdoor.  This makes them nervous.  What if they encounter something in the room below that requires the application of pointy metal?  They decide that Duncan and Zab will enter, while Radja will wait to guard the entrance.

This is quite reasonable; after all, if they accidentally left any enemies behind, said foes could seal them in the chamber below.  Unfortunately, this fear was unwarranted, so Zab almost died when he and Duncan were forced to fight a pair of giant spiders with an obsidian dagger and a sharp stick.  It was a near thing, but Radj was able to treat the poison, giving Zab another saving throw that he made.

The two spiders were lairing in a small cave containing the lead-lined chest, containing 800 GP of ill-gotten coins.  The trio loaded the gold into their packs and hid the chest and sick rock in the woods for later retrieval.  You see, the damn chest weighed 200 lbs. despite a very modest profile.  The PCs returned to Lugosi for a proper cart and mule.

The sickest of rocks

Well, this doesn't quite catch us up, but now we're only a session behind, so I'll wrap this report up.

So what did I learn?

Well, one thing that stuck out to me was how interesting and effective the whole magnet-and-trapdoor thing was.  It is ostensibly a trap and a puzzle, although our three thieves were at no risk of being pulled to the ceiling, so it was more of a puzzle.  It certainly created an interesting set of tactical questions for how to proceed forward.

I've seen this sort of thing before.  The DCC adventure The Hole In The Sky had this impact on me with the set piece that occurs at your primary destination.  For those unfamiliar: the PCs are presented with a large room guarded by a sleeping giant and a kind of twisted wall-climbing guardian who would pick them off if they proceeded.  The presence of both threats created an interesting dynamic where they couldn't safely stop and fight (lest that wake the giant) but they couldn't proceed safely without doing so.

This effect occurs when you have a couple of simple but contrasting tactical considerations and a couple of unknowns.  The GM doesn't have to make it subtle or hard to notice.  It doesn't take much to get the players thinking and scheming.  That unknown factor, like jumping into a hole or running into a giant's lair, is itself a kind of tactical threat that they are trying to eliminate.

It doesn't take much, and this is a good lesson, because it makes the whole premise of open-ended play that much easier for the GM to support.  Tricks and traps don't have to be massively devious and crafted over months of research into watchmaking.  Just give them a dilemma and watch all the interesting ways they try to figure out how to cut your Gordian Knots.

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