Things proceeded a bit more smoothly in our second session of the Lost City. I had time to better flesh out the factions and even come up with some mini-quests that each side would possibly offer.
The Brotherhood of Gorm are followers of a god of justice and law, so despite their chauvinism and inability to get on smashingly with Usamigaras and Madarua, I’ve set them up to be a sort of facilitator faction; this plays well into the fact that these are the first guys the party met and with whom they are staying.
Usamigaras’ followers, as magic users, I’ve decided are a bit more capricious as a faction; they think that both Gorm and Madarua’s followers are too stodgy and serious.
Madarua’s followers are similar to Gorm’s in many respects, though their misandry leads them to disliking both Gorm and Usamigaras as male-led factions. They dislike Usamigaras’ faction a bit more, as they have to share a tier together, and would like to see Gorm and Usamigaras’ followers at each other’s throats so that the women can get down to business.
Brother Kanadius of the Brotherhood of Gorm has decided that it’s time for a council of war to discuss dealing with the Priests of Zargon. He has therefore tasked one of their PC initiates with delivering letters to the other factions inviting them to parley. This gave the PCs a reason to find and meet the other factions.
I did give Usamigaras and Madarua faction specific quest options in which they would attempt to foment discord between the other two groups, but neither of these have really come up yet. They still may eventually. Part of Kanadius’ task for the party was make sure that the other factions aren’t trying to kill each other, so the PCs are awkwardly trying to mediate between the factions. So far, I believe one player has a character who has joined Gorm and a character who has joined Madarua, while two players have one character each who has joined Usamigaras.
I’ve also gone ahead and determined what each faction sees as a goal that the players can help them with in the dungeon to aid them in their long-term plans; the faction leaders will discuss these during their council of war and, of course, fail to agree on which MacGuffins are more important. This council will, however, give the PCs a reason to plunge into the undead hell of Tier 4 to find some sweet swag which they will be tasked with finding.
Much of the session was spent clearing out Tier 3 and meeting the factions. The rotating room puzzle at the heart of Tier 3 provided the best possible use of a Read Languages spell. Tada! Suddenly the wonky runes are Cardinal and Ordinal directions!
The party evaded a small swarm of Cave Locusts by spinning the room to a new direction. They impressively made the correct choice when rotating the wand-arm of the statue of Usamigaras and found the back way to the faction’s area. There was a rough fight with a bunch of oil beetles, but the party managed to just survive it without losses. The magi were grateful that their food supply was saved. The followers of Madarua proved surly and taciturn, but welcomed one party member into their ranks. Note on Madarua’s faction area – those ladies must all sleep on the ground or something; they don’t have any quarters!
The party did a spectacular job of taking care of the Draco Lizard in the NW corner of the pyramid; they lured it into an oil-trap they’d set, and it burned up real good (2 8s on 2 d8s + two successful ranged attacks!); it didn’t even matter that the part of the plan where they’d cast sleep on it was doomed to fail (Draco lizards are just barely too powerful to be sleeped).
On the way to find the trap door to level 3, the party was ambushed by a pack of giant weasels which, if I hadn’t been employing shield-break rules, would’ve killed at LEAST two PC, if not more. The yellow mold room was wisely avoided, and the party tried stealing the vases from the Jester’s Tomb. I think they’re going to try to floating disc his sarcophagus, move it to a more remote part of the dungeon, and use the trick-jars to stash loot. I approve of this and will probably let them run with it.
So, a few things I’ve noticed – non-individual initiative is taking a bit for people to get used to, not because it’s significantly different, but everyone wants it to be their turn and roll their attacks right away; instead I’m making everyone take turns, going around the table. It makes me feel vaguely parental in an unpleasant way, but I still think it’s preferable to the countdown method.
I am also begrudgingly beginning to admit that maybe ascending AC is a good thing. I hate that feeling when players are looking at me like I’m stupid when I ask what AC they hit. “I rolled a 14!” “What AC did you hit?” “I… rolled… a 14?” I feel like it’s too late to switch now, but I think the next time I run a game for people, I’ll go ahead and convert everything to ascending…
There’s also some—I don’t really know what to call it; it’s not exactly griping—comments/feelings about XP and leveling up among the players, especially those relatively new to RPGs. Someone pointed out that we averaged about 36 XP per hour that we played (it was actually 288 XP per hour split 8 ways), and at that rate it would take forever to reach level 2. Once upon a time, I would’ve felt the same way, and even told someone once that if characters were still level 1 after the first few sessions, something was wrong. I know now that I was wrong then, but I don’t know how to show this to my players. There’s definitely a focus on leveling (at least one player admits to being a recovering MMORPGer) in newschool gaming, that makes it hard for folks to kick back and enjoy the adventure and perils that 1st level adventuring has to offer. I mean, they killed a bunch of giant bugs, a pack of weasels and a Draco Lizard without losing a single party member! It was a near run thing with the weasels, but no one died.
Hopefully the grumbling is more observational than actual complaint; we didn’t level particularly fast in DCC, where after months of playing, the highest level character is my 4th level Thief (who still only has 10 HP). Still, DCC is a higher HP system, where you get half a hit die at level 0 and it uses a base d8 rather than a base d6. Its ‘XP for encountering something’ system rewards Scooby-Doo-esque running through halls, opening doors, seeing monsters, slamming doors, then running to another door behavior, though if we weren’t being allowed to buy XP with gold, we would almost certainly be hovering around 2nd level still. I’ve run the numbers on B4, and the first 5 tiers, monster XP excluded, has enough treasure to get a huge party to level 3 (Thieves and Clerics may hit level 4, even), and if it takes two-to-three weeks to clear Tier 4 and three-to-four weeks to clear Tier 5, everyone could easily be level 3 in about a month to a month and a half. I’m not old enough to be all “Back in my day, we only had three levels, and we liked it!”, but seriously! I’m hoping folks will be come to appreciate low-level B/X for what it is. Despite this, everyone seems to be having a good time, and as long as they are, I’ll be happy.
And man! Players are always concerned about details that never specified in modules and are usually overlooked in dungeon design, especially pertaining to doors: “What do the hinges on this door look like?” “Does the door open inward, outwards or swing freely?” “Are the hinges on the right or the left?” You’ll save yourself a headache if you go in beforehand and mark this sort of stuff up. I at least had sense to figure that the doors coming off of the rotating room all open away from the moving part so that they wouldn’t snap or get jammed when the corridor spins.
“Hey, Tom Moldvay – would it have killed you to make the names in this module easier to pronounce?”