Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Undertavern - Post Play Reflection I

I started working on a post-play narrative post but it's dragging, so, rather than get bogged down I'll reflect on some things about the session I got to DM recently in LA.

Since this was a con-type, one-off game I was thinking of giving players individual goals to shoot for. Luckily this little adventure has a goal built in already: escape. So, instead I decided to try out randomly giving each player a perk that incorporated player mini-games.

This is what I distributed:

1. You have a seashell that will answer any question asked of it in 1 syllable words.

2. Once an hour you can take the shape of any animal that you can describe 2 features of without using the letter "a."

3. You have taken a vow that gives you power:
First to enter, first to battle,
Always first, and no blade shall harm thee.
4. You have a magical tarp that, when thrown over you, makes you invisible. But it also prevents you from seeing anything.

5. You have 3 clay eggs, that when broken will act as your eyes for one turn.

So, how did they work out? Some of them fabulously, some not so much.

Seashell Sybil

The seashell was used 4 times, I think. It worked out nicely because the player decided his character Cadric the cleric would worship a sea goddess. He asked if he could use the shell as his holy symbol and I said of course. The info the shell gave wasn't super useful. But it did allay the parties fears about a small figure in the dungeon. Asked if it was a danger to them if they left it lurking behind them, the shell told them "No."

For some reason David decided, not to use the shell often. Because my houserules for petitioning the gods give you diminishing returns as you ask for more and more, it may have just been roleplaying, applying the same idea to the shell-- even though I wasn't applying that mechanically.

The shell failed to answer once. It was asked a question containing the word "trapped" which I ruled was more than 1 syllable. I can see others ruling differently, but, hey, the sea goddess is strict like that.


This seemed fun. Javi turned into a hummingbird, by using the words: "quick" and "humming." I'd imagined the mini-game requiring sentences describing the animals, but this worked out just as well. I think he turned into a hummingbird when things turned dicey with a ghoul bear. They managed to overcome it, but if they hadn't he would have survived by flying off.

Later when Udo the magic-user was on death's door, there was talk of him turning into a bison to carry Udo's body (I see the words "big" and "furry" written down), but it hadn't been an hour since the hummingbird transformation and Udo was later revived anyway.

Vow of Power

This was the first vow I've tried. It worked out perfectly. My buddy Jeff drew this one and even though he was diligently going first through doors, down wells etc. he was surprised during the first combat to have blades slip across his skin as if it were made of stone. Even better, after playing for about two and a half hours Jeff slipped up. He allowed Urugul the fighter to explore a muddy passage first. Then the next combat he was surprised to have his skin sliced open by blades.

I really like how that worked. Although they weren't explored this time, it could allow for some tactical decisions too, when you have one warrior immune to a certain type of weapon. But it isn't overpowered if the rest of the party is normally affected.

One question is: if this were campaign play would Jeff's fighter be able to reinstate the vow, or is it gone for good? Not sure.

Tarp of Invisibility

This one is more of an awkward magic item than player mini-game and, unfortunately, I think its suck outweighed its cool. It never came into play. I was hoping it might allow for some tactical uses, but thinking on it now, it seems I would probably only use it to eavesdrop on intelligent, talking creatures, or to hide and let a monster pass. Hmm, it could have been useful if they wanted to let the Gulo pass them on its rail, but these foolhardy adventurers charged the thing the first time they saw it, haha.

Eggs of Chinweike

I was too muddy on the description of what these would do, going through multiple drafts of the little perk card. I had envisioned the eggs letting you see the past of an area while holding them, and functioning as a kind of wizard eye when set on the ground somewhere. But I didn't want to confuse players so I just mentioned the latter, and hoped to creep the player out by surprising them with the past-seeing ability when they cracked open an egg for the first time.

The truth is, that first power is far more useful. It could have given the party ideas of how the dungeon was made and foreshadowed the Gulo, creating dramatic tension. I can't think of too many uses for remote eyes, unless you are spying on someone. I suppose you could roll it around a corner and avoid being surprised. Anyway, these were never used.

The Sixth Sense

I actually had six players and only five perks. For the life of me, I couldn't think of a sixth on the drive to LA or the morning of the game. It turned out that one player, Staples had read the Undertavern, so I kind of copped out and told him he wouldn't get one and we would just say he was semi-psychic. I was assuming it would be hard for him to un-remember facts about the dungeon. And, while he certainly didn't abuse it, he did mention "row, row, row, your boat" in the ark room. Players didn't pick up on that at first, but tried the song as the puzzle solution later. I don't know that they would have ever guessed it without that little mention by Staples. So, Staples' psychic power saved the day in the end.

More later.


  1. Great ideas for the mini-game/perks. I'd like to provide such perks for my players some time.

  2. Thought of the minigame concept recently, when one of my runs had players trying to communicate with a non-speaking invisible servant wearing onlhy a pair of white gloves ...

  3. I liked having a perk even though I never did use it; just thinking about situations where it might be useful to be invisible but blind was fun.

    A similar perk I've used in my games to hilarious effect that deals with invisibility:

    You can turn invisible at will, but only your body is affected. Things you are wearing or holding are still visible, although things fully inside your body cannot be seen.

    - Tavis

  4. i like those a lot & I really wish I'd had time to make it to the LA minicon

  5. This is great stuff! I wish I could have been able to play in your session...

  6. Thanks folks!

    @Roger, so the party was trying to figure out what the mime meant? How did it go?

    @Tavis: Thanks, I appreciate mentioning that. So, just having an item like this can change a player's relationship to the underworld even if they don't use it in the end.

    Hey, you should have heard the brainstorming Jeff and I were frantically doing as we walking to the gaming location (I was trying to get a 6th perk). You almost ended up with naked levitation, haha.

    @zak: yeah I was hoping you might show up, maybe next year.

  7. Jeff was telling me about your session afterwards. Sounded like it was crazy fun.

    I got curious and so I downloaded the Undertavern and that is one F'ed up dungeon. Awesome.

    I'm tempted to run it for my 4E Group. . .

  8. Nick, thanks! I really appreciate it. I mean, on the scale of adjectives to describe an adventure, "F'ed up" is at the top of my list. :)

  9. Eggs and the tarp could work together couldn't they?