Saturday, November 24, 2012

In Which Halflings Don't Suck


Black City Game Report - Session 13

Hope all the readers that celebrate such things had a nice Thanksgiving.  Sitting before a nice fire in the hearth, after putting up the Christmas tree earlier in the evening and entertaining some guests, my D&D thoughts are drifting towards that lover of comfort and the warmth of home - the Halfling.

Enjoying a bit of hearth and home in the late evening, Halfling style

I love the Halfling class in basic D&D.  Of course, the class is rarely played by us in accordance with how they're portrayed in the source material; I've used them as heavily armored front row tanks (because of their huge AC bonuses) with a pair of fighters behind them with spears, or they're used cynically as all-purpose crash-test dummies, checking for traps (the hard way) and testing potions for poison.  Mario and Luigi were two such Halflings in the last campaign.  But they have killer stealth abilities, and in that regard, they can function a bit like those sneaky fellows from the Middle Earth stories.  Basic D&D doesn't have much CharOps power gaming, but the Halfling is the one class most prone to abuse (ie, not using it for its intended purpose) and that makes them pretty interesting.  So I do like Halflings, which is why I'm mentioning up front that Halfling stealth made a huge difference during last week's game session.

In The Black City Campaign, Halflings are proper Britons from the south of England, typically taken as thralls in Viking raids and forced to work off a life-debt back in the Scandinavian lands; Halfling adventurers have earned their freedom and opted for the adventurous life of a raider.  My roots in Mystara are showing, since Mystaran Halflings are frequently pirates - nasty, brutish, and short.

This recap resumes when Brick Bunnybreaker, the party Halfling, climbed atop a large pile of rubble to keep an eye on the surrounding ruins while the others split into two groups to search the current ruined hex exhaustively.  (One of the players was convinced there would be an entrance to the first junction below ground somewhere in the hex - good instinct, but not this time).  When a murderous Hersir and his ring-men skulked up the path following the group's trail, Brick was instrumental in spoiling the ambush.  After  a bloody first round with the noble and his crew, Timur ended the fight with a Sleep spell.

The leader of the other group was a youthful nobleman, but rather than take him prisoner and ransom him back to his ship, a common practice, the group just killed him and his gang outright and took their gear - fine broadswords and chain armor, hacksilver, and a wealthy fur cape.

If the party's reputation is drawing attackers, it's also lending to their mystique; in a further hex, they intimidated some poorly equipped bandits, and claimed the rights to search a pyramidal structure the bandits were scouting.  Brick found a secret door entrance, and the only furnishing inside was a 15' tall obelisk made of lodestone in the center of the pyramid.  When no one else had the guts to touch the obelisk after fruitless searching, it was Brick they asked to touch it.  Alien math flooded his brain when he touched the obelisk, and he gained a point of intelligence (a one-shot boon).

"Don't think I haven't figured out why you keep asking me to touch things", said the now-brainy Brick Bunnybreaker, whose intelligence went from 12 to 13.  "I'm too smart to do anything foolish now."

I told you it was Brick's night, and he proved key in the next scene as well, creeping up to the large hole in the ground the party previously used to leave the Mist Dungeon from below.  They had successfully bushwhacked a way from the Well of Woe to the Mist exit, across 8-9 ruined city hexes, and now that they reached their goal, they were grumpy someone else was down below in the dungeon.  Smoke and voices drifted up from the 20' opening.  Brick crawled forward, Ninja-Halfling style, eavesdropping and spying on the interlopers.

"It was horrible," cried an injured man on a hoist.  A large group of northmen circled the hole, where ropes and hoists with men in harnesses were being pulled out of the chasm.  The other two men that were hoisted from the deep cavern below were dead - one of them mangled and dripping blood, the other bloated and poisoned.  "The bottom was crawling with giant bugs… a spider jumped on Olaf, Holvir and I were attacked by huge beetles…"

"We'll have to prepare better", said a wheezy, hoarse voice from the shadows.  "We'll send down heavily armed veterans instead of scouts, and more fire with them, so we can defend a position".  Brick had heard enough; the voice was Galm, one of their rivals, so he crept back from the hole to inform the party.

DM's Note:  Galm was an early retainer of the party; during one of their adventures, he opened a lead -lined chest and an otherworldly ghost wasp flew into his head and infested his brain (this was session 1 or 2).  They cashed Galm out back in town and parted ways, wanting no part of a possessed henchman in their service.  Galm went on to recruit other dungeoneering groups, desperately seeking a way into the lower dungeons.

In a recent game session, the party saw an entire  hive of those ghostly devil wasps in the dungeon deeps, after they turned on some alien equipment and gained short glimpses about those dark places.  Galm worried them.

Now, Galm was apparently close to his goal - he had a large party of mercenaries and veterans, and was building hoists down to the caverns beneath the first level.

Because this was a day or so after previous events in the recap, the party had  recently camped in the ruins and gained their Sleep spells back; now the magic users (Tribunas and Dominicus) crept forward to nuke Galm's mercenaries from above.  Once the magic users started chanting spells, I gave the guys down below regular initiative rolls to try and plug the magic users with arrows.  Luck went the party's way, and multiple Sleep spells blanketed the area below ground.  Some of the men near the edge pitched forward into the void as they slipped into unconsciousness.

The group quickly dropped their own ropes and scurried down to kill the sleeping opponents.  What to do about Galm himself?  The topside group urged Mustafa and Brutok to bash his head in and loot the body, but at the last minute, Mustafa got cold feet and merely shoved Galm's limp body into the void.  They couldn't decide if killing Galm would just free the devil wasp to possess someone else, and they didn't want to be the ones to find out.

A few prisoners were trussed for questioning, while the rest were pushed into the void.  Galm's group had apparently cleared the Mist Dungeon, finding the missing parts of the robot the players were collecting - Galm had the missing treads and arms.  (The party had found the torso and head on previous capers, and the pieces were securely stashed in a hideout).  They left Galm's survivors, bound and gagged, and decided to go retrieve their own robot parts and try and put the thing together finally.

A wandering monster check (ghoulish zombie gjengangers) meant that the prisoners were eviscerated when the party finally got back to that room, having been discovered by ghouls, and the monsters stopped ripping out the guts of the dead captives to attack the front line; the party made short work of them.

The game ended in a desperate fiasco.  Another useful item the party had sequestered in their secret cache was a control unit related to the hole in the floor and the various clamshell doors.  It turns out there was also an elevator or platform deep in the cavern, and the party was bringing it back up to the surface.  Unfortunately, they'd been dumping corpses down the hole over many sessions… and the area below was crawling with monstrous vermin.  Climbing on the mound of revolting bodies were a trio of giant tiger beetles.  Borghild frantically pushed buttons on the control unit, trying to get the elevator platform to reverse course, while everyone else got ready for a beetle onslaught.

These vicious predators have thickly armored carapaces (plate armor) and bites that deal 2-12 damage per round - that's terrifying for 1st and 2nd level characters!  Someone quickly tried to drop an oil flask on one of the beetles before the elevator finished the ascent, and others pelted the monsters with arrows and spears.  It was a desperate fight when the elevator drew flush with the floor, but Brutok (recently armed with the enchanted Ingomer broadsword) was the hero of the fight, holding the line with his 17 hit points and crushing one of the beetles with some vicious strikes.

Looking ahead to this week, the party is considering assembling the robot; possibly selling it to the wizard; looking for more topside landmarks; or perhaps finally moving on to the Adamant Dungeon.  I ask, but I don't usually get a clear answer to guide my prep.  You know how it is; "Just be ready for anything, DM".


The Spitsberg Pirates - Cast of Characters
Player Characters
Agnar Beigarth, a Northman fighter (L2)
Mustafa of Arabia, a scimitar wielding desert warrior (L2)
Brutok the Strong, a dwarf (L2)
Borghild, a Norse cleric of Odin (L2)
Timur, Russian Elf (L1)
Vitaly, Russian Elf (L1)
Dominicus, Byzantine magic user (L1)


Retainers with the party:
Tribunas, Byzantine magic user (L1)
Brick Bunnybreaker (halfling L1)
Ayerick the Young (Fighter L1)
Bjorn Fjordrunner (Fighter L1)
Bottvild (cleric L1)
Ivar the Bow-bender (specialist L1)

Plus 3 unnamed L0 sailors to help carry tents and supplies


Retainers back at the boat:
Grimson (Fighter L1)
Fafnir (Fighter L1)
Skoldig (specialist L1)
Halam (cleric L1)