Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Taenarum Games 7-8 Hey Jude Don’t Let Me Down

One aspect of having the blog I truly enjoy is getting to discuss tools and techniques, then running the games, and having the chance to reflect on how they did in action.  Your campaign is one big empirical experiment.  I'm a few sessions behind on game reports, so I'll just touch on the major actions of the past couple of sessions.

We resume with a merchant ship standing at anchor in the quiet waters of the cove for the past few days.  Normally the visiting ships drop off some cargo and go; this particular merchant had business in town that required an extended stay.  The players heard about it back in the Adventurer's Guild Hall; Barnabas, a scurvy criminal working for a competing adventuring group, explained that a merchant named Feodor was offering a reward for a rescue from the dungeon.  He told the players about a cool location his group had found in the northwest of level one:  "We're calling it the arch of greed, a mystic arch behind which was all sorts of gold and treasure piled up.  Would have plundered it ourselves, but a bunch of skeletons came along and we split.  Now the boss lady wants to work for the merchant so I figure there's no harm letting you know about the archway."

The players made their own appointment with the merchant anyway, meeting him at the Moxie Nymph, the other tavern in town.  "500gp to return my son from the dungeon," the portly man offered.  "He was all set to inherit the family business, we're importers you know, and then was lured off by a sorceress.  I've tracked him all the way from Athens to this remote place.  She turns her victims into pig-men or pigs, I hear.  500gp to the adventurers that rescue him."

So the players planned an excursion into section 1-4 (the southeast quadrant) of level 1 to rescue 'Handsome Jude' from a sorceress.  They've fought plenty of pig-men and heard the same rumors - a sorceress creates them from her captives.  The party bard sang 'Hey Jude' on the way to the dungeon, of course.

Once they made it to the correct zone in the dungeon, a decent 40 minute walk, they carefully explored the areas nearest to the entrance passage.  They found a large chamber decorated and outfitted like an Athenian courthouse; they ran away from a room where stony bats fluttered out of the darkness and bashed into them; they tracked a clean swath of passage into a large chamber holding an ochre jelly.  The jelly split into smaller jellies until they realized they needed to burn it; the worst thing about that particular battle was they lost their hefty Celtic NPC, Connell, who was devoured by the jelly and reduced to steaming bones.  After burning the jelly, they said a few words over his bones and moved on.

Things got serious when they confronted another party of adventurers in one of the rooms in this area.  Moe recognized Barnabas from town - this was the Brew Crew, one of their rivals on "the scoreboard."  Here's the problem - the Brew Crew is led by Tisiphone the Witch, an unhinged spell caster with a bad temper.  She called for defense and began preparing a spell.  The players spent a bit of time table-talking over their options - try to parley and risk getting "Sleeped" and killed, or throw all in and Sleep the Brew Crew first?  They chose the latter.  Talus their magic user rolled well on initiative, and the Brew Crew went to sleep -except for Tisiphone, who was higher level.  The fighters ended up charging her and sticking sharp things into her gut, which made her die.  Getting an axe planted in your collar bone or a shortsword rammed up your gut will do that.

It's funny how the murder hobo games devolve to these situations - two gangs of dungeon looters throw down against each other in a quick, violent struggle, and now the players are staring down at their trussed rivals trying to figure out what to do.  Loot them and kill them?  Give them the chance to join?  Make them swear oaths and cut them loose?  Their leader's quickly cooling corpse lay nearby in a pool of blood.

We're trying to model a view of heroic Greek virtue that emphasizes battlefield glory, individual honor, and bravery rather than Christian virtues like mercy.  The bard woke up the prisoners one at a time, gave a speech about bravery, no honor in defeat, and so on, as part of a pitch to join Moe's Marauders.  A few of the prisoners were 'sent to the Underworld' but Barnabas and one of the fighters didn't have too much loyalty to Tisiphone and threw in with the players, at least for now.

One of the next areas they discovered was the large north-south hall that connected this quadrant to quadrant three, and also spiraled down to level two.  This piece of the underworld road was lit with intermittent torches and lamps, and felt inhabited.  The players broke into a room off the main hall (chopping down a door, in fact) and ended up discovering a small treasure trove.  There were coins, supplies, and expensive trade goods like fine wines and drinking glasses.  It was a miracle no guards were attracted to the sound.  The players loaded themselves up with loot and decided this was a good time to leave the dungeon.

Quadrant four is a fair distance from the dungeon entrance, and their escape was complicated by some wandering monsters, but they made it back to town intact and tallied a few thousand GP in earnings.  It was the time of the Bendideia, a festival to Artemis, and the players capitalized by auctioning the wine and glasses in the village square.  It also became clear in the Adventurer's Guild Hall about the fate of the Brew Crew.  Moe's Marauders had absorbed a few Brew Crew members, and jumped the now defunct Brew Crew in the standings on the Scoreboard.  "My kind of scum", cried out Lykourgos, the proprietor of the guild hall.  "They're not above stepping on the heads of some rivals to climb the ladder of success.  This round is on the house.  To Moe's Marauders!"  Unfortunately, getting called out as cutthroats in front of your peers isn't something the players craved.  All around the room, they could feel other groups making mental notes - watch out for Moe's Marauders in the dungeon, they kill other adventurers!

After a day of recovery, the players traveled back to the dungeon to scour zone four again.  They encountered some pig-men sentries shortly after entering the area; the sentries fled, the players gave chase, and the players were able to take the pair of sentries down with arrows and thrown spears before the pig-men made it to a door off the main hall.  The players ended up storming the door, and quickly entered the actual audience hall of the sorceress herself.  A small pool and fountain separated the entrance area from the lady's throne, creating an obstacle.  Pig-men soldiers stood on guard nearby.  It was another one of those moments - do they banzai attack around the fountain, or stand down and try a chance at parley?

Moe's player is comfortable with the social aspects of the game and stepped out from the group to engage the lady in conversation, explaining they were there to rescue Jude of Athens - but that it was open to discussion.  "Jude doesn't need rescuing", explained the lady.  "He's one of my apprentices.  He's here willingly.  Assuming I choose not to turn you all into swine, or make you join my legion of pig-men, I'll let you talk to him and ask him yourselves.  What amusement can you provide that would stay my hand from transforming all of you on the spot?"  She grasped a wand loosely in her left hand (one of Circe's wands of mass polymorph).

As it turns out, a fringe benefit of being a bard is you can perform music, recite poetry, and tell stories.  The party earned an invitation to dinner and a stay of execution transformation.  They were escorted to the giant pig-man banquet hall to await dinner.  In the meantime, a messenger was sent to another part of the dungeon palace to retrieve Jude - a good-looking youth in his early 20's, who seemed to be working in the kitchens.  "So, my father sent you to retrieve me?  I'm not going back with him.  Here in Taenarum I'm learning magic under the guidance of a sorceress that learned from Circe herself - I'll even have the chance to travel to Circe's island some day.  Or I can go back to Athens and waste my life as a grain merchant counting barrels of wheat imported from Egypt.  My dad wasted his trip.  Oh, and good luck not getting zapped into pigs this evening.  There's a first for everything, I suppose."

That's where we ended last game session.  I was glad to see some recent creations from the referee's workshop have immediate effects on play; I've been extolling the virtues of rumors and quests in the megadungeon, and the players enjoyed the opportunity to focus on a specific goal by joining in on a quest.  I'm also a big proponent of calendars and campaign events, and you can see the first evidence in the mention of the Artemis festival.  In an upcoming post, I'll lay out what I've done behind the scenes to build out an event structure for the Taenarum game.  The combination of festivals, political events, and machinations of the gods adds depth and background as we begin tracking time in earnest.  It feels the campaign is starting to come together well.

Looking back over my session notes, I did a fair recap of the past few games.  I did have two player quotes noted - first, the murder hobo motto - "what happens in the dungeon, stays in the dungeon."  "Wake up and smell the bacon" takes on a different meaning when you're facing transformation into a pig.

Thanks for reading!

Cast of Characters
Moe, a Bard
Talus, a Magic User
Alantir, Paladin of Poseidon
Etor, Spartan explorer
Connell the Celt (Billy) - NPC - died this session

Hirelings
Zero-level fighting men - Dorus, Eutropios, Dunixi, Apostolos

New NPC's
Barnabas - a thief
Thaddeus - a fighter