Saturday, January 24, 2015

Part 2 of the Epées & Sorcellerie Play Report (in which a DM is confronted with handling a divided party)

In the past I managed to finish things I started every now and then, but got lost in something else every so often (hence the name of the blog ...) and left loose threats hanging left and right (they still haunt me, be sure of it). One of the things I try to be more thorough about in 2015 is to finish the projects I started (and update the blog more often in the process...). So from now on when I start something with a "Part 1" in the title, I'll do my best and try to follow through.

Anyway, without further ado, here is the second of three posts about me DMing a retro-clone for newbies, fighting comparisons with computer games and improvising a lot while listening to what the dice say. More of the same, but older (I mean Part 1, of course) can be found here.

The strange dynamics of a party split thrice

Hunted by a horde of goblins on wolves, the group happened to split up in three groups: two stayed behind (the wizard and an elf) and hid on a tree, one (the dwarf, for obvious reasons) decided to enter the ruins of what looked like an abandoned chapel, while the rest (3 elves) originally intended to follow the dwarf, but decided to hide in the nearby trees instead (a popular move, obviously, as elves in Epèes & Sorcellerie have the ability to effectively be invisible when hiding in a forest and they didn't trust the graveyard surrounding that chapel ...).

It's a situation most DMs dread and I'm no different. In a worst case scenario you just loose some players to boredom while you concentrate on others, which leads to cross-chatter and a loss of focus on the game in general. It's down hill from there. But I had proclaimed at the beginning of the session that they could do what they want (being all sandbox-ey and stuff), so if splitting up was what they wanted, it's what I had to deal with, too.

The trick to make this work, I was about to find out, was to connect the narrative between the groups, while keeping the individual episodes short and ending every one of them (if possible) with a cliffhanger before going to the next group. Keep it fresh and keep moving, so to say.

Here are my recollections of what went down.

Goblin Reaction Rolls, Odd Odors and Weird Rituals

To put this up front: when I had to decide anything, I'd let the dice do the talking, either with reaction rolls, fifty-fifty chances or I'd just ask the players "High or low?", going with a favorable result if they had it right and so on. So the game was the back and forth between the players deciding what to do and me reacting to that by rolling some appropriate dice and interpreting the results. I try to stay true to that as often as possible.

Now back to what happened. The players had yet to find out how big the band of goblins was that had been hunting them down. The two characters left behind were the first to see, but I made sure that the others realized how this concerned them, too. It turned out to be a huge group of (3d20) 36 goblins with (2d6) 8 wolves.
Fantastic art by Adrian Smith and the mental image I had been
aiming for when describing the encounter [source]

One of the wolves took the scent of the wizard hiding in the tree and stayed behind with 8 goblins tagging along. The rest went on towards the chapel. This was going to be a fight.

Cut to the dwarf entering the chapel. The (random) result of what god had been worshiped here (using Gorgonmilk's* Original Petty Gods pdf) had been (1d100 = 72) [wait for it!] ... Odxit, the Petty God of Unexplained Smells (OPG, p. 93). Of all the things that could have come up, I end up with the petty god of smells!

Couldn't help it, so I did some laughing (something that irritates players no end) and then some fast thinking how to make this happen. The chapel had to be smelly, of course. The air was pretty sticky, there was a strange pool with a doughy bubbling liquid in it and some weird (and mostly broken) benches covered in fur lining up in front of it (not happy with the furred benches, but I had to improvise ...). The dwarf had to decide where to go from there ...

Cut to the three elves in the trees near the chapel. They see the goblins arrive and hesitate. It's obvious that they don't like it here. The wolves get restless fast. A reaction roll decides that the goblins don't enter, but stay and discuss what the should do next.

They also see how the chapel's defenses kick in, as several zombies dug their way out of their graves. To avoid reducing the hiding elves to mere spectators, I tried to provoke them into action from there on ...

Cut back to the wizard and the elf left behind. The goblins take some time but finally find them hanging up that tree and start throwing spears at them. The players find out that the wizard is quite powerful at fighting back. After casting sleep and taking out half of the goblins right then and there, he also happened to put out more damage in ranged combat than the elf with his bow (as per E&S a unlimited supply of magic missiles, doing 1d6+ Int-modifier as damage).

But the goblins at least got a chance to fight back, do some damage and kill a character or two. So after two rounds I ...

... cut back to the dwarf in the smelly chapel. He was loosely aware of the horde in front of the chapel and the zombies coming closer. His first idea was to climb the ruined tower connected to the chapel's nave, but decides it's to risky to climb it since it looks pretty rotten. So it's back into the main room for the dwarf, which gave me an opportunity to ...

... tell the hiding elves what's what. The goblins are restless, but still do nothing else but argue. There are (2d6) 10 zombies heading for the chapel and the cleric is starting to think he might have a chance to turn them ...

... while the fight around that one tree goes on. I keep missing, though, and the goblins fall one after another. Two more rounds off action and I switch ...

... back to the dwarf, who's now aware of the zombies approaching and starts a hasty and thorough search of the main room, starting with that weird pool in the middle of it. He finds a small compartment containing a really  smelly and furry shirt and a small button gong. He also notices the zombies are wearing the same sort of shirt ...

... while the elven cleric is still unsure what to do and the other two really like trees they are hiding in more than the odds down on the ground (one reason being one of them having only 1 hp and the other one not much more with 3 hp, them being level 1 and all that) and I give them time to think about it by ...

... cutting back to the fight. The two adventurers are a far superior force compared to my luck with the dice and those weak goblins. Even the wolf had to die pretty fast in the end. One goblin decided to make a run for it, but was cut down immediately by an elven arrow. Now they could come down from the tree and take care of the sleeping goblins while I ...

... cut back to the dwarf who decided to put on the shirt and survived the horrid smell of the thing (save vs. poison, but he got a +2) without puking his guts out. The zombies enter the chapel, but don't attack the dwarf. Instead they align around the pool and start moving their lips to produce disgusting gurgling noises. As the dwarf realizes that they are singing, he decides to try that gong after they stopped and looked at him (he really liked banging that gong ...) and I ...

... cut back to the hiding elves, where cleric decided it was time for him to get a piece of the action and starts moving to the chapel, all the while avoiding to be seen by the goblins. But before he gets there, I ...

... cut back to the goblin slayers, who decide to leave one of the goblins alive for questioning and kill the rest. They didn't forget about their mission, which I thought was pretty cool. So they question the little bugger a bit and come to the conclusion it'd be best to talk to the goblin shaman about what happens in the area right now. Since it was time to wrap things up on this end, I ...

... cut back the the dwarf, who (according to Odxit's reaction table) managed to get the petty gods friendly attention, as the smell got a questioning aroma [drum roll] and the fumes over the pool somewhat thickened wavered friendly. Now the dwarf had to decide what to do with that and I could go and ...

.. cut back to the cleric moving towards the chapel. He was slow, he was cautious, but he came to that point where he needed to gather the courage to make a run for the entry, because the goblins would have a pretty good chance of seeing him doing so. He hesitated and I ...

... asked the wizard and the elf how they wanted to make this happen. They described how they used rope to tie the creature up and made him lead them to the shaman. I really didn't need the group further away from each other, so ...

... from then on the dwarf got all the attention he needed. He started his own inquiry about their mission and got some vague answers about a close-by dungeon and the story of the wizard that had lived there [meanwhile the cleric opted for running through the door and the other two elves thought it was at least save enough to be a bit closer to the chapel and started to move in that direction].

Wrapping things up

Now, as the cleric comes running through the door, he starts a chain reaction: the goblins see him and get really agitated about it, throwing some spears, etc., the zombies turn in his direction and start moving while the dwarf decides that he had heard enough, gives his thanks to the entity and starts moving towards the door as Odxit literally vanishes in a puff of strong and smelly gas that called for another save vs. poison, but this time from everyone close to the chapel (I called it Odxit's blessing ...).

It knocked out half of the goblins and the two elves and managed to send the rest of the goblins running from that evil place (as per the reaction roll). It didn't affect the dwarf (who considered himself now a missionary of smell sorts), but the cleric botched his save and ended up being pretty stoned and paralyzed.

With the zombies being around and moving towards them, they thought leaving the place to be the best option. So as soon as the other two elves had stopped emptying their bowels, they headed for the forest to find their lost friends (carrying the cleric, since he was really out of it) ...

After that it not only got late, but also weird ...

Long text again. I really need to come to an end for now. Especially since the hard part for me was yet to come, as it had been already late at the time but the game would went on for another two hours (at least) and I was about to maneuver myself in a position where I had to improvise a complex riddle and a strange natural cave.

But that's for another day.


*That's not entirely correct and a bit more complicated than that, but I doubt that OPG would have happened without Gorgonmilk reviving the the thing to begin with and the others get enough credit on page 4 of the pdf ... A link down this particular rabbit hole is here.

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