Monday, April 11, 2011

Into the Tumbling Dungeon of the Grand Alchemist

I'm a behind in these, first session took place March, 8, 2011 second one was this past Friday.

Gail MU
Athydas MU
Mollie DP
Toral DP
Torie hireling
"G" F
Le Bouche hireling
Janis hireling
"Z" F
Pita hireling
Mika hireling
Fabrino hireling
Darkyo F
Zhang Ziyang NPC

Half of the crew of the junk Haiyan has contracted the plague.  The captain becomes worried that if many more become ill they might end up adrift at sea, so they head near shore.  They see a carven structure in the reddish rock that corresponds to a point on their map.  Setting ashore, Toral builds a fire, Gail and Mollie scout for water sources, and the rest immediately begin poking around the opening of the structure.

Two giant black scorpions erupt out of the darkness, the fighters and hirelings manage to form a shield wall in front of them. Even so, Le Bouche has to sacrifice a shield to save his life.

The rest of the party reluctantly follows the fighters into the dungeon.  The first room is a perfect 30'x30' cube with rubble in one corner and one exit to the right.  The wall has a fresco that Zhang Ziyang says is alchemical in nature.  A hallway leads to another similar room and fresco, this room has 10' of sand on the floor, however, and an exit to the left.

A hallway leads to a spherical room with three more exits and an odd pedestal in turning in the center.  Beside the pedestal is a lever. Darkyo pulls and pushes the lever (to Gail and Mollie's chagrin). The party decides to head right, the hall has oddly corrugated walls with inscriptions painted on each panel.  They reach a room with a coracle floating in a pool of water. It has an inscription in Arabic script that they can't read.

Back to the spherical room and the whole places starts shifting.  They scuttle along on the round surface until the dungeon stops shifting.  Now the spherical room has a shaft leading directly up, a shaft leading directly down and the odd corrugations turned out to be stairs, to the right, down, to the left, up.

The party heads down the stairs to the coracle room.  It is now full of water up to the door and there is a circular passage in the North wall.  They use the coracle to reach the opening, travel down it and find a tightly closed brass hatch.  Opening it revealed a small room with shelves full of dusts and powders.  ZZ recognized some of them and said he might be able to fashion a cure for the plague with a certain root as well.

End first session

Gail MU
Mollie DP
Toral DP
Torie hireling
Zhang Ziyang NPC
showed up halfway through:
"Z" F
Pita hireling
Mika hireling
Fabrino hireling (played by visiting player)

Most of the party decided to head back to the ship to check on things.  The four left behind decided to head up the stairs to the West.  At the top, lantern light showed a cubic room covered in brass with raised marking.  In the far corners were two humanoid figures just out of the light.  The party heard the sound of breathing.  After much dithering they decided to go back the other way.  In the spherical room trying to decide what to do next, they heard whispering and everyone except Gail crumpled to the ground asleep.  Gail whipped around to see a woman crawling on the ceiling of the stairs they just came from, her filthy hair hanging underneath her.  He got off three darts, one barely nicking her before she uttered something unholy and he froze.

The figure scrambled to him and bound his hands.  Then Gail worked furiously at his bonds as she drug Torie, clanking down the stairs toward the water.  Splash.  The figure returned to drag Mollie down to the water.  Splash.  Finally, hands free, Gail ran frantically into the darkness of the stairway (forgot the lantern).  On the way down he felt dirty hair across his face and . . . he ran right into the water.  Flailing around, he managed to grab Mollie and was trying to pull her back onto the stairs, when he was bit hard by something on his calf.  He started to push Mollie's stomach to get the water out.  She woke to complete darkness, soaking wet, with someone striking her.  Her hefty blow just missed Gail. Praying to her earth mother, Mollie summoned a fairy fire to light their way.  Back in the spherical room, Toral and ZZ were gone and . . . the dungeon started turning again.

About this time, from the South, Z and his hirelings showed up.  Fabrino, a foreigner who speaks no common was leading a goat.  The party headed to the West, what was once again a level passage with corrugated walls.  Peering in the room they saw two figures prone, one on the North wall, one on the South.  Each had their backs turned and faces turned down, toward where the wall meets the floor.

Thinking it a trap, the party decided to leave them be.  They returned to the sphere and headed North now.  A large cubic room with spikes covering the walls to the East and North.  On the ground were three translucent grubs the size of cats.  Z kicked one hard into the spikes and then doubled over in pain.  The grub seemed unharmed.  The party carefully skirted them to check the passage to the West.  A 10' diameter stone sphere blocked the way.  Mollie stripped off her leather armor and forced herself through the crack, hump and all ( she has low charisma, decided she has a hump).  There she found another sphere and turned around.  The party headed back to the spherical room and the dungeon turned again.

This turn slammed a huge hinged brass wall piece onto Toral, breaking his arm.  Awake he heard ZZ trapped nearby and helped him.  A prayer to the Allfather and a great halo of orange gold light appeared above his head.  The party called out (or maybe it was Toral) and the two joined in the room with the brass embossed with writing.  Gail recognized it for magical writing.  These were spells he could transcribe but it would take several days.  The party wanted to leave desperately.  Finally Z communicated with Fabrino to ask his goat.  The goat was a very special scapegoat capable of answering yes/no questions.  Fabrino asked if the root they sought was within 200'.  He then strangled and disembowelled the goat.  The bright yellowish tinge said "yes."  So the party decided to risk the tumbling dungeon a little longer and try to find the root.

Some Thoughts

Yeah, getting them into the dungeon was sort of a push by me.  The more experienced roleplayers were a little resistant.  The youngin's were "Yeah, let's check out this dungeon!" 

That first session was a little slow, and it worked out just wrong that we had to end the session just after the first dungeon rotation.  I was starting to rethink the whole design of the place.

But the second session.  Whooweee, it creeped them out!  When the witch cast sleep on them they all started talking about rolling up a new characters.  I didn't know what to do.  I kept rolling reaction dice for the witches (there were actually two) and they kept coming up, uncertain.  So I figured they weren't sure who the party was, how powerful they were, or why they were there.

I waited about a minute thinking "What would she do?"  This configuration had a chute down, but also stairs down to water.  Perfect.  I knew she would drag them down, their armor clanging onto each step and throw them in to drown, the splash heard up above (I ruled magical sleep is deeper than normal, deep enough to drown in).  Gail was freaking out.

I also figured that one of the figures lying prone in that room was a witch.  The other witch was on the ceiling holding ZZ.  When the party decided not to spring the trap I suppose I could have had them kill Toral, but I rolled a reaction and decided the witches would bide their time, maybe re-memorize spells and left.  Is this illusionism?  Am I controlling what happens too much?  I don't know?  I just kept thinking, having two witches walk out and start chatting with the party will not be frightening.  Likewise, an all out assault will get them as dead as those giant scorpions.

About that time a player showed up with his brother.  He said, "Hey, it's my brother's birthday can he have a talking dog?" (it become my tradition to give folks a perk on their birthday)  So, I showed him my hard core perks to pick from and he chose the Scapegoat!  Later I asked "so, how was your first time playing D&D?"  "He said it was depressing."  Acch, I might have turned someone away with the creepiness factor. o.O

Having the spell research rules clearer was cool too.  Gail was really conflicted about staying to put spells in his spellbook, or getting the heck out of dodge.

As far as the dungeon.  Man, I need a little model to keep that thing straight in my head.  I don't know if you could market a module like this, it is hard to follow where each room is and where the fixed features are in each state.

Now to see if party can figure out how to get out. There are only four positions . . . that is unless they pull and leave that switch down.  Then the dungeon tumbles on the other axis (yeah, I added that because I had the whole thing down in my head).

If you made it this far, thanks, here's a little Joesky (too long already): an entire city covered in volcanic ash, then lava.  Years later, underground water washes away the ash, leaving access to the buried city and all its perfectly preserved contents.


  1. Is this illusionism? Am I controlling what happens too much?

    no. sounds like good dming to me.

  2. "Is this illusionism? Am I controlling what happens too much?"

    They had fun, right? Then it worked. Plus there's eight (or 6-7, anyway) people. They would fall back and rest.

  3. I'd be OK with quite a high level of illusionism, but I don't think this counts anyway. Philosophically, and having DM'd and designed computer games, my take is this: you are creating a world and your players are exploring it. Some of that creation it's appropriate to do ahead of time, but the advantages of doing some of it at the table in reaction to the players is way too good to pass up. Designing computer games sucks because you can't do that. RPGs rule because you can actually have a conversation with your players, and their answers can matter, not only to the situation then and there but to future designs.

    A 10' diameter stone sphere blocked the way
    You've given them fair warning. You've shown them the shape of the challenge. You're still a cruel, cruel man, though. Does one of those block the end of a nice long slightly twisty pipe? I'm starting to wonder if you could make something like an internal combustion engine out of this dungeon, using gravity and valves like these rolling balls to suck, squeeze and blow. And just what alchemical doodad provides the bang.

  4. Sorry Richard, Blogger thought you were spam.

    Thanks, that makes me feel more confident. There was that spontaneous moment that my human brain decided that having the witch cut all the sleeper throats, or push them down the 60' shaft to their deaths, would be less horrible than her taking each, slowly, one by one, to drown them in the pool. A computer couldn't make that decision.

    "a 10' diameter stone sphere blocked the way"

    That's the hall of four spheres, if she had just crawled past three more spheres she would have been in the Grand alchemist's bed chamber and found all the treasure. When the dungeon tumbles again the spheres will be in their concavities again and allow for easier passage.

    But now my human brain has decided it will be full of writhing, pearly grubs when they get there. ;)


    can't wait for the next recap

  6. Thanks squidman, I appreciate that.