Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Fatal System Response - Lost Songs from the Table 1 (feat. Stonehell)

Although I'm writing on BASTARD! right now (I know, I'm late, but there'll be another post up soon, it just got a bit more complicated), we were still testing the Lost Songs of the Nibelungs for as long as possible, which isn't long as I'm about to move to Leipzig this very month and the group won't come together on a regular basis anymore, which is a shame, but that's how it is ... Anyway, last time we got together Lost Songs had another fine run (in my opinion) and I thought I'd share some of it, since people might start to think it's abandoned (it's not). So here we are, visiting Stonehell for the second time now (mind some very minor spoilers ahead) ...

But let's start from the beginning!

The nature of a play test is that players can't take the rules for granted. This might be a problem for some, but for my group it had been a chance to participate in the development of the game. And that's great, as it means they are able to accept easier if the system rears it's ugly head and the DM is not starting to tame it but instead lets it run amok to see what happens.

So when the group gave me Stonehell: Down Night-Haunted Halls by +Michael Curtis as a birthday present, I took the chance and used Lost Songs for some dungeon crawling. With "deadliness" not being an issue, my only concerns had been that my group right now is something like a 50/50 split between women and men (sometimes more women) and I wasn't sure how the girls took the dungeon experience (I know, I'm cliched that way).

Anyway, their initial reaction had been to get the game going. We made new characters and the first surprise had been that the girls decided to be the groups muscle while the guys went for the laid back magic users. Easy introduction (I also wanted to get the game going): there's a goblin problem in the region and local authorities pay good gold to adventurers doing something about it. Source of the troubles seems to be the infamous Stonehell dungeon. Off you go, little adventurers, to some FATAL SYSTEM RESPONSE ...

Initial exploration

On their way there, the party encounters a strange raccoon wizard that offers them more good money for finding the notes of a wizard that had a secret room somewhere on the first level. He even offers them a way to summon him if they are in a tight spot (this will be important later on).

Well, the quests had been chosen to allow some light surface and first level exploration. I did my best making a good first impression as they entered Stonehell (which really is quite easy, as the texts and materials Mr. Curtis are very useful and evocative), but in general I rely on descriptions of the surroundings, random encounters and monster reactions (also all but the monster reaction table provided by Stonehell).

That's one mean looking cat. Remember that face! [source]
The players started with some cautious recon of the canyon leading to Stonehell and ... went more or less straight for the big fat dungeon entrance, ignoring all ruins and cave entrances on their way there (well, they checked out one ruin, which was basically a room with half a ceiling and a statue). The only things of importance they encountered so far had been a strange copes and a pack of herd animals at a pond that got attacked by a mountain lion (again, important).

They encounter a group of bandits on their first foray into level 1 (reaction roll says those guys are up to no good) and a sleep spell takes care of them easy enough. They decide to question them instead of killing them right away (sometimes I'm so proud of my group) and they are cautious about it, too. Binding and gagging the sleeping bandits.

Anyway, they take the gag out of the first bandits mouth and start asking questions, like, who the hell they are. Morale check tells me the guy is ready to bluff his way out and starts telling lies about them being a group of adventurers on a mission. The group is all like "Yeah, that makes sense ... Mhm ... Let's gag this one again and ask the next one if he supports that story!" (I'm still proud of them).

Next bandit didn't wake up during the first interrogation (I checked) and made his morale check, so he starts to tell them a tall story about them being here to protect some scientists that are deeper in the dungeon looking at ... stuff. Sounds true enough, but the group isn't buying any of it. So they gag this one and ask the next one, who actually supports the second story (as he woke up during the interrogation and made his morale check). Two out of three sounds great, but they go for the fourth to be sure.

The fourth actually goes for the third version: the truth (didn't make his morale check and actually believed the groups threats), but by then they really couldn't believe anyone anymore (because that's how I roll!). Took them some time and they left none the wiser. Not sure what to do about the bound and gagged bandits, they left them where they were for someone else to take care of.

Recap Part 1

Most of that also happened in the first session, so this is as good a break as they get. All had fun with the exploration and it wasn't really that dangerous (not much luck with the random encounter and monster reaction rolls, no major traps yet). Exploration really is the easy part of rpgs, so mostly I had a few checks and tasks, but the main action was the players discussing how to tackle a certain weird occurrence or where to go next. lost Songs pretty much worked as any other system would under such circumstances: unobtrusive. And that's totally fine.

Stonehell, on the other hand, had been the real star of the evening. I really couldn't do much wrong here. I'd read it beforehand, of course, but it's such a breeze to use at the table. Evocative, short texts with enough weird and interesting stuff to keep the players interested, day and night cycles, different factions ... And it's HUGE! Did I say how huge that thing is? As a DM I really was looking forward to the players encountering at least some of it. From what I've read and how it played for us at the table, it comes highly recommended.

It's what it say's: a classic-style megadungeon. And the players had lots of fun kicking in doors and taking names. Especially the girls, by the way ...

Dungeon crawling! [source]
Next time we'll go deeper into the dungeon. Nothing fatal yet. But we will get there, so keep on reading ...

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