Prelude to the Death Crypt of the Ultralich

I don’t have a better name for my current game yet, and it ultimately may not take the direction implied in the name (though the mass combat game I ran two weeks ago did serve as a “distant prologue”).

I’m experimenting with a dynamic exploration-focused dungeon, one which begins… almost empty!

The design concept ties into adventure hook that got the party there:

There’s a small town celebrating its founding day, which is normally a smaller affair, but this is the anniversary of the end of the Wizard War. There’s a stone marker outside of town on a hill, and it’s an “historical site” which Wizard War nerds might want to check out on the 500th anniversary. Between the end of the Wizard War and the founding of the town, there was a “rain of dirt” (possibly a volcano, possibly magic upheaval) that buried whatever was there. Folks didn’t want the spot to be totally forgotten, so they put up a plaque. The party found the ruin because a child playing on the hill fell down a sinkhole.

The complex is actually a small buried temple built on top of a previously buried monastery that was built over a series of crypts to seal up some of the residual evils of a Lieutenant of the Ultralich who was defeated on that spot. Below that are caverns and who knows what; I haven’t even fully keyed the crypt area.

The top level is mostly empty, stripped bare, and even the purpose is somewhat of a mystery until the players find the chapel. There are a few collapsed tunnels at the edges of the map, and a room with bats indicating that the room is near the surface of the hillside. Eventually, these tunnels may become excavated as more adventurers and possibly clergymen and historians begin to explore the upper ruins. These empty rooms will serve as future sites of minor archaeological base-camps or refuges for vagrants and bandits. But for now, the party has the ruins to themselves.

I remembered how much I hated the Bruce Heard game I was in because, despite all of the cool fair and carnival stuff around, I didn’t get a chance to interact with it, so if my players decide to do some carnival games, I’ll let them. We’re going to Millennium Fair it. I’m also allowing them to create a bit of the town themselves, picking what they need to have in the town, letting them name places and people. We’ve already ended up with an awesome tavern keeper named Crazy Jim, whose specialty is Owlbear stew. Over the course of the evening, it was established that Crazy Jim is a retired adventurer of ridiculous level.

My DM (a player in this game) is on a Delicious in Dungeon kick, and I’m happy to oblige. Turns out, the secret to making top-notch Owlbear Stew: you gotta make em good and angry. Most animals if they’re all riled up, the meat can get tough and gamey. But Owlbears are different—when an owlbear gets mad, their muscles get all loosened up, like they’ve done a bunch of stretches and then gotten a massage; makes em move all fluid-like. So, if you want the best Owlbear meat, you’ve gotta get em real good and pissed off before you kill them—the meat’ll just fall off the bones.

So, for now, my dungeon chef is contenting himself with frying up centipedes and mice with the wild green onions he’s picked.

Interestingly, my three players have all opted to run Thieves. They reason that this way they’ll always be able to be sneaky and at least one of them will always get a backstab. They have a fighter and Halfling for hirelings; we’ll see how all of this will work out. The halfling’s probably better at hiding from things than they are at this point, but there’s been very little to hide from so far.

The downside of everyone playing thieves, I can’t use this as an opportunity to really go for broke on sticking to the book on Moldvay magic rules. I went out of my way to stock the dungeon with scrolls to reward someone who picked “Read Magic” as their one first level spell. There’s an NPC elf lady whose spell is read magic, but the party didn’t pick her as a hireling, so she very well may end up as part of a rival adventuring party.

The second level of the dungeon, once they reach it, has two mini-side dungeons off of it. One is a workshop with a few high-loot-value mechanical monstrosities that are terrifyingly out of depth. The other is the original monastery’s library, which has been taken over by Aranea.

A lot of the treasure will be hidden in the crypt below the 2nd level, but opening the vault to the crypt will trigger some stuff that will turn much of level 2 “active”. This could upset anyone trying to set up shop on the first floor, definitely a corner of the 2nd floor, and maybe even the rest of the town.


Mass Combat System Play Analysis

So, Friday before last, I got to test run my mass combat system. Essentially, I tricked my players into playing a hex & chit wargame with my by disguising it as Dungeons & Dragons, but it actually went really well! Much better than I expected, in fact.

The sides were comprised of about 40k humans, elves, dwarves, and halflings and just over 100k (mostly low-level) undead. The PC factions were led by 20th level Humans and max-level demihumans, while the undead were led by 9HD vampires and a level 30 MU lich.

Most undead units were 5k in size, each taking up 2 hexes. Smaller units (1000 or less) took up 1 hex and ignored facing rules, and a pair of 10k strong human infantry took up 3 hexes.

The undead’s objectives were to a)Cross the map with one of a various combination of units or b)kill a certain number of the PC heroes. The PC’s objectives were to either a)eliminate 6 units, b) destroy the lich’s siege engines, or c) force the lich to use half of his spells.

While I gave my players a few options of how they could set-up (envelopment, one-sided flanks, meeting engagement, or a prepared defense), they opted to run a prepared line defense in the middle, with cavalry on the flanks.

In about 11 turns over the course of 5 hours, the PC’s pulled off a stunning upset victory against the Lich.

Here’s why:

  • I forgot to put Permanent Fly on the Lich; I wasn’t going to pull a fast one after I’d already showed everyone the ins and outs of what I’d be running. This deprived him of his ability to do ranged spell damage as often as he should’ve been able to.
  • I allowed some of the smaller “special” units of undead to count towards the 6 unit count; I also forgot that I shouldn’t have allowed wights to take casualties from normal units.
  • The lich had no missile troops. My players did pretty well with their archers and skirmishers. While I did manage to collapse their left flank, many of my troops did so right into clerics who could blow up the weaker skellies.
  • Vampires are too weak to go up against the PC party I’d created pre-gens for; I should’ve used much more powerful undead, but I wanted to keep things simple.
  • Magic Missile was broken; I’ll fix it when I rewrite the rules; it should’ve been a fixed amount of damage based on the unit size (perhaps in relation to the target unit’s average HD) rather than multiplied by the die-roll. The elves were doing maybe 1/3 to half a brigade worth of damage per round.
  • Because I did not want to deal with 3 full levels of spells I didn’t have physical books for, the Lich didn’t have a number of abilities and additional reality-shaping spells that would’ve made this a cakewalk. As such, while he did death-touch a 20th level fighter at one point and began to rout PC units just by wading into the fray himself, he couldn’t have held his own if the PCs ganged up on him, in large part because of an absence of “contingencies”.

Here’s what worked:

  • The combat damage system. Once everyone wrapped their head around how easy it was to figure 10% of the highest two digits, calculating damage was a breeze. The rolls to hit and against armor class were simple enough that the players figured out how the system worked pretty quickly.
  • Leader Combat. Well, okay, it kind of worked. It needs to be improved maybe, or maybe implementing it on a smaller scale would work better. Really, the PCs cleaved through the Vampire colonels like butter; the unit regulars could only hit PCs on 20 and even the Vampires had a tough job of landing a blow on the heavily armored PCs.
  • Cavalry are weak in numbers but can do massive damage. They do the most damage with charges. It made me smile when the players came to the realization on their own that they were using their cavalry wrong; they realized what they SHOULD have been doing was, instead of leaving their cavalry in melee, withdrawing after a charge, regrouping far enough away that they couldn’t be attacked by a charging unit, then charge again from a flank to get the charge damage bonus.
  • Turning worked almost just as planned. 2d6 x 10% of a cleric unit divided by the defending unit’s hit dice. I required that the unit the clerics were attempting to turn must have line of sight on the cleric unit. This meant that cleric units staying behind other units, performing first aid, couldn’t turn; they had to come out where the undead could see them.
  • Giving the cleric units a 3 shot ability to prevent ½ damage to an adjacent unit, up to the total number of clerics in the unit, worked pretty well.

Here’s what was a little iffy:

  • The Combat Order in general worked just fine, and I’m still sold on doing initiative per melee, though the players did say that it slowed things down a bit. BUT if you weren’t using initiative per melee, I’d probably go with the following order within the combat phase:
    • Declare unit combat pairings and splits
    • Unpaired attackers do their damage first
    • Paired/split attackers do damage simultaneously (i.e. use the unit sizes of all units at the beginning of combat to calculate damage, rather initiative-loser potentially takes losses and inflicts fewer casualties)Now what’s with split attacks? When units were being attacked by more than one unit, I allowed the defending unit to make attacks against all attackers, splitting damage proportionally.
  • Magic. Some of the spells worked out, others didn’t. The biggest problem was that I used 1d6+1 x 10% of the casting unit calculate damage for Magic Missile. While it was fine for the 500 strong MU unit, it made the 3500 strong elf unit a murder machine. Additionally, there are just some spells that either don’t really work for mass combat or would require some additional development

Here’s what could stand some further development:

  • Accounting for hit die differences. This isn’t something I did, in part because a) I didn’t have time and b) it would’ve bogged down an initial test more than I wanted. I DID have one unit of 100 bone golems where I had their HP as the true unit strength, and, because they were a small unit, each individual could inflict a kill. So, with 4 attacks, the unit could theoretically kill 400 per round while they had an effective HP of 2400 instead of 100.I treated the PC units as “elites”, using the 2nd column of the to-hit and saves, and the ability to cast spells as a 5th level MU x3. This didn’t mean that everyone in the unit was 5th level, just that the average quality of the troop was such that it had a to hit bonus and a save bonus. This wasn’t reflected in unit strength/hit dice.

    The starkest difference was between skeletons and zombies, 1 hit die monsters vs. 2 hit die monsters; in theory, the zombies should be twice as hard to kill. I didn’t treat it that way (except for Turn results). You could do some tweaks to kills, where there’s a base 10% damage then reduce it proportionally by the number of hit dice. For monsters with more than 3 hit die, I think it makes sense to treat them like I did the Bone Golems (a large group of individuals attacking and simultaneously, while tracking the collective HP, but not treating them truly as a regular unit per the system). Because really, when the bone golems attacked, I was rolling 4 attacks for each one once rather than 100 times, and therefore assumed that those attacks all succeeded against individuals in the defending units rather than an attack against the unit itself using unit to unit resolution. This may actually be the best fix, as it can account for smaller numbers of large monsters (ogres, owl bears, whatever) fighting against mass combat scale units. The entire unit may not be attacking monsters, but all of the monsters are attacking someone in the unit.

  • Morale. The morale mechanics ended up not being used or tested, in part because I didn’t really write them down, so meh. Also, being undead, the Lich’s units weren’t subject to morale per-se. The players didn’t quite figure out just HOW killing the Vampire colonels affected the undead units. Being undead, they didn’t break and flee; they kept fighting, though they didn’t pull back or move further. I noted each time a vampire colonel was defeated that they dropped a sword that glowed black. These were +1 swords of control undead; if any PC had picked one up, they could either command or dispel the brigade the Vampire had been leading, but no players bothered.
  • Fleshing out the system for purposes of accounting, to better tie it to your B/X game. There are book prices for mercenaries but I think it would be worth crunching the numbers for custom equipping units, as well as figuring what “elite” means for both cost and ability (especially for casters).

I really think that there’s some potential to this system. It would absolutely work great with fewer units and at lower levels, I think, but hey, we wanted a stupid-high level battle against a lich.

NTRPGCon: A Tale of Three DMs

This is not a full con report, and I don’t know if I’ll have time to give one, but I’d like to share my experience of the games I signed up for. I won’t use any names, but suffice it to say that these are all well-known and famous DMs.

DM the First –

This DM was running OD&D, 3 volumes only. We were all pre-gen 2nd level characters, Fighters, Clerics, and MUs. The party had a list of general adventuring equipment that we were assumed to have, and before we went to the dungeon, we were told we could get one or two reasonable miscellaneous items. The dungeon was a simple and straight-forward (though non-linear) old school dungeon, with each room as a set-piece puzzle or encounter. The encounters/puzzles were well hinted at, and while not particularly inspired, enjoyable and not unfair. Obvious ogre lair was obvious enough to not mess with, for instance. Fake vampire room was an easy enough puzzle and someone only died because we couldn’t leave well enough alone. The fights we had, we both got lucky AND made correct tactical choices, so we won them. The final set-piece encounter was a cheesy Fleetwood Mac joke. It was not a mind-blowing experience, but the DM was a nice guy, fun to be around, friendly, and I had a pretty good time. I would not mind gaming with him again, though I’d prefer more of an experience of ‘this is what it’s like to game at my table’ than ‘this is a simulation of what it’s like to game at my table’.

DM the Second –

This DM was running OD&D + Greyhawk. We were playing 9th level pre-gen characters with some pretty tough and high level equipment. This DM was an asshole. He would berate players and treat them like they were stupid for not asking enough questions and would berate players and treat them like they were stupid for asking too many questions. One door that sealed in a couple of undead trolls was apparently covered with sigils and warnings about the trolls, but, oh, we didn’t see the sigils and warnings because we didn’t specifically look at the door for them. I got yelled at for overthinking when I asked if a pair of silver manacles in a dungeon cell included both pieces for hands and for legs and was told to use it as hack-silver and divide it among the party because ‘old school’. An AOE sleep hit my character at one point, and the lady next to me said “I try to wake him up” – DM says “okay, you hit him to wake him up, and he punches you in the face”; she did one damage to me and I apparently punched her for 8. At one point, he berated the party for not mapping, the whole “mapping is a dying art” bit, despite the fact that one player HAD been mapping for the first half of the session before giving up. Turns out, the entire “adventure” was a playtest of a series of TPK monsters famous DM had been hired to design based on an early monster he’d designed. He was very proud of the fact that even the friendly-ish neutral good variant managed to kill and eat us. I was scheduled for another game with this DM on Sunday, but he was such an abrasive dick that I skipped out and we left the con a few hours early.

DM the Third –

This DM was running BECMI with 5th level pre-gen characters that also had some pretty cool equipment and unique abilities. The setting was awesome and I was really excited about it at first, especially playing a mid-level magic user with a couple really sweet scrying abilities on top of my base spells. The flying circus was in town and we were hired by the ringmaster to investigate a murder and by an asshole mayor to retrieve his hot daughter who’d run away to join the circus. Things started to unravel for me a couple hours in when it became clear that it was going to be a purely investigative game with almost nothing but talking to NPCs and asking them questions. The DM was actually VERY good at running an investigation game, and I feel bad about being so bored, but investigation games, in my experience, work best with 4 players, 6 max, and we had 9. Also, the setting was so neat that it seemed like a damned waste to be spending all of our time asking questions about the murder. I’m like “I don’t care about who murdered the dwarf bearded lady; there is a haunted train ride on an airship! Why aren’t we riding it?!” The carnie games, the roller coasters, the Ferris wheel, the menagerie of monsters were all things I desperately wanted to be able to interact with in some way, meaningfully or not, but I couldn’t. So, about 3 and a half hours in, I lost my ability to functionally interact with the rest of the group. 5 hours in, some carnie finally threw a punch at a fighter. 45 minutes after that, by the time the one encounter the game had been building towards, I had no idea what was going on, who we were fighting or why, because I’d zoned out so bad. Half-way through the encounter, several folks begged out because their next game was starting. I didn’t have another game, but used the excuse to leave the table as well.

Saving Throws, Pulp Heroes and D&D

Every once in awhile, you’ll hear the complaint that lower level D&D characters don’t feel like the heroic characters from pulp adventures on account of how fragile they are. The low HP means that a couple of good hits will kill those lower level characters, whether in fights or to traps or even something as ignominious as falling down a flight of stairs.

One of my counters to this is that most pulp heroes would be at the lower end of mid-level, contra to what is suggested in many of those old articles where Gary and friends would stat up Cugel or Eric John Stark as being well into double digits with massive pools of HP to prevent low-level PCs from being able to meet and kill these characters just because they were there and they could (though I’m sure they did).

Another bug-bear of oldschool games is the saving throw, particularly in save or die situations. Why should a character with all of that HP be insta-killed?! It’s just not fair! A character who can take 8 full-on sword wounds shouldn’t be able to die just because he was bitten by a snake or had a rock fall on his head!  Besides, that’s entirely unpulpy, right?!

Well, take this from Tarzan at the Earth’s Core, at a point in his career where he’s probably level 27 and has a gorillion hit points:

Tarzan remained very quiet. He did not wish to frighten it away for he realized that one of them must be the prey of the carnivore sneaking upon them, but if he expected the thag to be frightened he soon realized his error in judgment for, uttering low grumblings, the great bull pawed the earth with a front foot, and then, lowering his massive horns, gored it angrily, and the ape-man knew that he was working his short temper up to charging pitch; nor did it seem that this was to take long for already he was advancing menacingly to the accompaniment of thunderous bellowing. His tail was up and his head down as he broke into the trot that precluded the charge.

The ape-man realized that if he was ever struck by those massive horns or that heavy head, his skull would be crushed like an eggshell.

The dizzy spinning that had been caused by the first stretching of the rawhide to his weight had lessened to a gentle turning motion; so that sometimes he faced the thag and sometimes in the opposite direction. The utter helplessness of his position galled the ape-man and gave him more concern than any consideration of impending death. From childhood he had walked hand in hand with the Grim Reaper and he had looked upon death in so many forms that it held no terror for him. He knew that it was the final experience of all created things, that it must as inevitably come to him as to others and while he loved life and did not wish to die, its mere approach induced within him no futile hysteria. But to die without a chance to fight for life was not such an end as Tarzan of the Apes would have chosen. And now, as his body slowly revolved and his eyes were turned away from the charging thag, his heart sank at the thought that he was not even to be vouchsafed the meager satisfaction of meeting death face to face.

Tarzan, with all of his HP was forced to make save-vs-death against some kind of charging inner-earth dire oryx. His saving throw numbers are probably really low at this point, and he probably could’ve made it with anything but a nat 1, but it was still going to be a case of instant-death regardless of how many hit points he has.

This ties back into the game theory that HP doesn’t represent actual wounds but exhaustion and the character’s ability to fight on under pressure in extreme circumstance. Of course, you also might say that it would not be very pulpy to fail your saving throw and be instantly killed, but D&D is a game, and without a genuine sense of risk, your game can end up in a boring slump where everyone knows that everyone is going to live no matter what, so why bother faking the suspense? And in those cases where your life is on the line AND YOU MAKE IT, how much more awesome is it? It makes those times when you could’ve lost your character but didn’t all the more special.

Review: Assault on the Review of Nations

Assault on the Review of Nations is a 1st level adventure for the OSR system Shitlord: the Triggering. It is the first 3rd party product for the system and is available for free here from the Mixed GM.

Assault on the Review of Nations has the appearance of a fairly straight-forward dungeon crawl, though does have a few interesting opportunities for roleplay and negotiations which leave the module open ended.

The map, created by Gozzy’s “Random Dungeon Map Creator” is fairly generic, and comes more from the Holmes school of dungeon design than the Gygaxian. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, however it would’ve been cool to see something that captured the flavor of the Review of Nations, maybe something that looked like an eagle or somesuch. Still, it’s serviceable and, as this is a 1st level adventure, will not be too difficult for a neophyte mapper to get a handle on.

Judging by the wandering monster encounters, this would probably be best for a smaller group; with the exception of the giant beetles, whose 2d6 numbers could easily end up as a TPK at first level, most random encounters would be a pushover for a standard 6-man B/X party. I’d recommend adjusting the number of monsters by an additional die or die size for each additional Player beyond the 3rd.

Though showing the page number where the monsters may be found in the Shit:T core book is helpful, including a simple statblock would be nice.

One interesting direction taken with the Cheese Puff Golem and Lou Richly are the bonus hit points. Typically, with monsters that are X HD + Y, the Y will most often be 1 and almost never greater than X. The plus generally functions as a way to prevent 1HP monsters, make monsters just a touch more powerful, and negate an obscure Fighter bonus. The Cheese Puff Golem and Lou Richly are 2HD + 10 and 3HD + 9 respectively. That’s something you almost never see, but has a few interesting mechanical implications. Monster attacks in B/X are primarily based on their hit dice – the more hit dice they have, the better the chance they have to hit. With these bonuses, you have monsters with roughly 5 Hit Dice worth of HP only attacking with +2 and +3. This makes encountering them much more survivable by 1st level characters with decent armor while allowing them to take a bit of a walloping.

Overall, this is an amusing little adventure that will help you bring the joke to your table if that’s something you really want to do. Perfect for a one-off gag. Not meaty enough if you’re wanting to run a ‘serious’ adventure, but there’s only so much seriousness to begin with if you’re playing Shitlord. Let’s face it, while someone COULD put together something of the scope of Death & Taxes for S:tT, at that point it’s almost missing the joke.

The Wise Red Fellow

AC: 0
HD: 12****
Move: 90’ (30’)*
Attacks: Gaze / 2 claws + 1 bite
Damage: Special / 2d6 each + Special/
No Appearing: 1
Save As: F12
Morale: 12
Alignment: Chaotic

The Wise Red Fellow stands well over 9 feet tall, even though his body appears to be that of a frail and stooped old man. His body is hunched over to support his enormous triangular head.

The head of this creature appears to always face the person observing it, even if directly behind it. Any individual caught in the Wise Red Fellow’s gaze must save vs. paralysis or be transfixed. If the victim succeeds on their saving throw, they must again make a saving throw against spells at -4 or be affected as per the spell Fear. Dwarves need not make the first saving throw and suffer no penalty on the second. Elves need not make either saving throw.

The Wise Red Fellow will move towards a paralyzed target, taking two rounds to reach them regardless of distance. Upon reaching the victim, the Wise Red Fellow will swallow them whole. Characters killed in this manner cannot be restored outside of a Wish spell.

If forced to fight, the Wise Red Fellow will attack with its two long-clawed hands. If both claw attacks hit, the Wise Red Fellow does no damage but will attempt a bite attack; if the bit attack succeeds, it does no damage, but the Wise Red Fellow will swallow its victim whole.

The Wise Red Fellow is immune to spells cast by Elves. Damage dealt to the Wise Red Fellow by magical weapons is halved.

The Wise Red Fellow is thought to be either a demon or a creature of fey, perhaps even a forgotten god. Legend holds that its head is filled and weighted with polished stones and its heart is an uncut ruby that oozes blood on the solstices. Supposedly, it possesses the knowledge of all beings it has consumed; some witches claim it can be summoned and petitioned for aid on an equinox by pouring sacrificial blood onto uncut rubies.

They Did the Mash: Revelry at Pickett Castle

After all these years, I finally ran Revelry at Pickett Castle.  I used a combination of B/X (for stats & bonuses) and Blueholme (OD&D’s spellbook rules) with ascending AC. While I didn’t take the dice out of my players hands, I rolled saves for them so they had one less thing to worry about on their character sheets.

To make the most of our time for the evening, I created a handful of pre-gen characters, each with alliterative names and duplicate DM copies so I could better keep track of everyone.

From our pool of 9 characters, we ended up having a party of Elmuth the Elf, Harry the Halfling, Margot the Mage, Paul the Priest (Cleric), Mack the (Magic User) Knife, and Nicole the Nun (cleric). Unused were Thisban the Thief, Dirk the Dwarf, and Alice the Archer.

I’m glad that someone picked Mack the Knife; in the constraints of the B/X class system, I’d made a mage of mediocre stats an effective bard type character, giving him a bundle of throwing knives and a banjo of magic missiles to compensate for his smaller 13 INT spellbook. More about him later.

Each character had some random junk in addition to basic class equipment: a bag of rice, some fancy cheeses and liquors, cooking oil, a cold potato, etc.. Mostly just weird items to see what players might end up trying to do with stuff. They did not disappoint.

Since Pickett’s Castle is meant to be dropped off in a wilderness while the party is on the way to some place, I needed to come up with a decent excuse for them to have to check it out. So, a local constable of a village in the forest had charged them with investigating the causes of mysterious fogs and sightings of undead in the woods. Naturally, the party wanted to set out in the morning.

Obscuring fog hampered travel a bit, and the party meandered through the woods and stumbled on an old graveyard while following various wolf-trails.  The old graveyard had all sorts of holes in it; some seemingly freshly dug by hand, some where things had seemed to burst forth from the ground, and others where wolves seemed to have dug up shallow graves. Seeing a pack of wolves in one corner of the graveyard, the party skirted around the edge and headed to a small hovel opposite from where the wolves were. Inside, they found a scared-witless grave-keeper who told them that over the past several days, dead had been rising from their graves, and a strange pack of wolves had been keeping him from leaving the graveyard. The bizarre occurrences began happening shortly after he had received a mysterious note, written in what looked like blood—an invitation to a party at Pickett Castle on the night of the full moon.

The party dealt with the wolves and freed the gravekeeper to flee back to the relative safety of the village. They continued in the general direction of the rumored castle, and while the fog still had not lifted by midday, they managed to find the ruins of a road leading northward. As they headed north, the scouting Halfling heard some grumbling voices while others in the rear of the party heard the sound of hooves and wheels upon the ruined road. The party scattered, clearing the road; a carriage pulled by four black stallions raced by at unnatural speed, a strange dog-thing’s head out the window, its tongue hanging out. It appeared to be wearing shades. “Aawoooo!” it shouted as it rode by.

(Since the party had set out for the castle early, they crossed paths with the DJ who was on his way with his gear.)

The zombies were still ahead down the road after the carriage had passed. The party made fairly short work of them, noting that they were nicely dressed, as zombies go. They decided to try to disguise themselves as zombies to sneak into the party; they did, after all, have the zombies’ invitations.

Eventually, everyone reached the castle; some zombies and ghouls were milling about on the far side of the bridge, so the party decided to wait a bit. Some of those milling about went inside, and the party crossed the bridge. One of the zombies at the door counted out on his remaining fingers… “I thought there were supposed to be five of you.” With Mack the Knife in the lead, with his banjo of magic missiles, the party had been mistaken for the band.

Folks looked around and saw that the party was still in the process of being setup, though some refreshments were being served. The first thing the party figured was that there were probably too many undead to take in a straight fight, and the Vampires hadn’t even shown up yet.

Boris waved the party into his laboratory, and explained that he had thought the castle was abandoned and was conducting important experiments, but apparently a powerful vampire lord had a timeshare on the Castle and was planning something big. His experiment required the power of the full moon and the aid of his assistant, who’d been chained up outside. He needed the monsters out before it was too late to use his machine, and he would pay the party handsomely. (The ‘party getting out of hand’ angle wouldn’t work, since the players arrived before the party actually started).

They managed to find Igor chained up outside, and rather than search for the key, they stuck one of the clerics’ mace in between the chain links and cast enlarge on it, snapping the dope free. They got the fool back to Boris without much trouble, but began to worry what would happen if the real band arrived. They left and told the zombie bouncers they were going to get their instruments and would be back to setup soon.

The sun was almost down, and a large bat could be seen flying toward the castle as the party headed south, where they ran into the Crypt Kicker Five. Mack the Knife took initiative and said “We’re the band, now!” The Crypt Kicker Five challenged them to a jam-off, one which they’d surely win, since only the only instruments the party had were Mack’s banjo and harmonica and Nicole’s mouth-harp. Instead, Mack opened with a chord that zapped the Crypt Kicker’s vocalist with a magic missile, downing him from the go. The remaining members of the band, the bassist, drummer, guitarist, and saxophonist, charged the party, instruments swinging. Paul the Priest mangled his leg in the fight, but the gang returned to the party with (some rather banged up) instruments to keep the charade running a bit longer.

They found Drac, who seemed to be in charge and had very big plans for the evening. He was thrilled that band had shown up, but had promised wolfman that he’d be allowed to do his DJ set for a few more hours because he a friend of brother-in-law, Geoffrey.

The magic users in the party made use of the Read Thoughts spell on both Drac and Boris. Boris’s plan involved harnessing the light of the full moon to power a device that let him contact an intelligence beyond the stars. Drac’s plan seemed to involve a cake. This presented a conundrum, as Boris’s plan sounded like a disaster for humanity, but Dracula hadn’t offered them 8000 gold.

Harry the Halfling managed to wheedle out of Drac that he was throwing a birthday party for his son and had a surprise for him. Somehow, the party managed to convince Dracula that it would be great to play their set outside, since they could work pyrotechnics (courtesy of Margot the Mage) into their set and it would be awesome. Plus, it would give Wolfman a bit more time to do his thing while they set up a bon-fire.

They took some time to explore the rest of the tiny castle. Mack the Knife smoked the bad zombie weed, died and came back as a Thriller zombie. They didn’t stick around to piss off the ghoul couple who was making out. In the master bedroom, they found not only the key to Igor’s chains, but a six-foot layered red cake. Mack the Knife tried to take a taste of the icing, rolled a 1, fell into the cake and right into Drac’s surprise for his son – Alucard’s girlfriend Nancy, who was going to burst out of the cake and sing him happy birthday. Nancy ripped off Mack’s arm and was in position to do some serious damage, but Elmuth the elf threw out a handful of rice and Harry the Halfling managed to stake her with his half-spear while she was compelled to count it. With the cake smashed, Drac’s future daughter-in-law dead, and the Crypt-Kicker Five buried out in the woods, the party was pretty ruined, but that didn’t take care of Boris’ need for the monsters to be cleared out before morning.

At this point, panic in set in, and the party floated several really interest and bad ideas for what to do next. Even though they chucked Nancy and the cake out the window, there really wasn’t any way to clean up the huge mess they’d made. So, they went for an all-or-nothing gambit to kill Dracula (which still wouldn’t have ended the party). What they settled on was papering the window with pages from Paul the Priest’s prayer book, holding portal on door and then trying to kill him while he was trapped counting rice.

While this went on, Harry the Halfling tried to assure Drac that everything was still fine, they knew about the surprise cake, and they’d help with moving it to where they were going to put on the show.

Wolfman has switched to playing doo-wop; Dracula goes into the master bedroom, his jaw drops – first thing he sees is the cake is gone, then he notices the bloodbath, then the rice on the floor as the door slams behind him. The party hoped they could take him while he was counting rice, but Drac had made pretty quick work of his counting (“I taught myself to count by tens for just such occasions!”). Still, he was cornered and outnumbered; he threw the bedtable through the window, knocking away the pages from the prayer book and managed to make his escape after suffering a few wounds. He did manage to rip of Mack the Knife’s legs before he misted out the window, though!

The party went back down to Boris’s lab, cast Charm on him and convinced him they needed to move the gold from his vault to a safer location. After the gold was loaded up into a sack which Igor would carry, the party threw Boris down the ravine, thwarting his plans to speak to shadows beyond the stars, and fled the region with the cash, never to return. Dracula, Alucard and Geoff would descend upon the region, seeking vengeance and making the populace suffer for generations for what had been, but the chars escaped with their lives (except Mack who was now a stumpy zombie body with one arm) and a ton of wealth.


So, a couple things: a few players weren’t really familiar with the concept of one-offs and it took them a bit of adjusting. One of the cleric players asked what deities there were to choose from in this setting; “God & Jesus” I told them. At least one player had some issues with the consistency of the setting “Why does the Wolfman have Victrolas? I thought this was a medieval setting.” “He also has sunglasses, too,” I reminded her.

Once the players grasped that there was not going to be a ‘next session’, they realized that no ideas were bad ideas, just fun ideas. One of the many plans which was eventually discarded, was that they’d cast Darkness on the Cold Potato and use it… somehow. But a throwable sphere of darkness could’ve been interesting if they’d tossed it onto the dance floor. Another idea, which would’ve actually worked really well, was to spike one of the drinks with wolfsbane and give it to Wolfman; he’d’ve died, music would’ve stopped, Frankenstein’s monster would’ve run amuck, and they could’ve cleared out the place. Some folks asked me if any of the items I’d given them were for specific things or ways to finish the module; nope, I just gave them weird stuff and wanted to see what they’d do with them. I’d almost forgotten the part about how vampires are OCD and compelled to count things when the player used the bag of rice I’d given him to distract the vamps.

The one older guy in our group was the only one who really “got” a lot of the references and understood the gag of the module, while another seemed under the mistaken impression at first that this was going to be a serious affair. Once it actually clicked with one player that the module was based on a song, he started looking up the lyrics in hopes that it would give them ideas for how to complete it. Normally, I’d frown on that sort of thing, but it wasn’t going to help him that much, and hey, a kid who’d never heard the Monster Mash was looking it up, so that’s cool.

Everybody had a good time, and I had a lot of fun, because it let me do a lot of weird character interaction improv that I just wasn’t able to do with Lost City. Yeah, I didn’t run my own module as written, but it worked well as a flexible template to do a lot of weird, fun things with.