old school

Dungeon Crawl Classics Intro

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Yesterday I ran the Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) RPG, by Goodman Games, for the family.  DCC is a new system with streamlined d20 mechanics that is a stylistic throwback to 1970’s-era D&D, right down to the rulebook artwork.  I will describe features of the system as I retell our game sessions.   

DCC strongly encourages groups to begin a campaign with a technique they call “the funnel.”  Each player randomly generates 2-4 level 0 characters–a motley assortment of clowns, ne’er-do-wells, wannabes and zeroes–who are then thrown into a beginning adventure.  A high body count is expected and characters who survive the funnel (if any) attain 1st level and can then choose a class.  Humans can select from Warrior, Thief, Wizard and Cleric, while demi-humans are forevermore Dwarf, Elf or Halfling (i.e., race as class).

Links to reviews of the system can be found at the Goodman Games website.  Next, our zeroes start out on their lives (often brief) of adventure.

Cleansing the temple

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Session 9 will be the finale of this beginning adventure.  My thanks to “Keep on the Borderland” for introducing yet another group to old school D&D.

PCs present:  Thorg, (Phil), Mike, Huggra, Reeny, Orwill

The men-at-arms have been sent away, the silent acolytes of Inverdia have been posted to guard a room in the party’s rear (how they will call for help or alert the party is anyone’s guess!) and the group continues in search of the evil chapel and its high priest(s).

First, they discover an empty room and proceed to turn it inside out searching for clues.  They find some scrolls containing mysterious rites to some being known only as He Who Shall Not Be Named, which they take for future study.

Faced with a large, open chamber and a set of doors, they choose to examine the doors.  Opening one, Phil notices hordes of armed and armored undead, who lazily turn to gaze at the intruder.  Phil shuts the door and the party proceeds into the large chamber.

Candles spring to light as they enter and they see hideous shadows playing on the walls in the shape of demonic creatures torturning their victims against a hellish landscape.  They notice what appears to be a rather large, cylindrical bell of some black metal, supported by hefty wooden beams.  A female voice is chanting in an unknown tongue but pauses long enough to command “Deal with them!”

Four figures in the now-familiar purple robes approach with weapons drawn.  Three engage the party while one attempts to ring the bell.  Inverdia flies into a rage and outs himself by shouting some crazed nonsense about Orcus.  Orwill never did trust him, and targets him for death when Inverdia unwisely offers “and f*ck St. Cuthbert, by the way!”  He then rushes at the high priestess.

The four adepts are easily dealt with without ringing the bell.  Inverdia runs into undead guards on his way to the priestess and enters into a 1-on-3 fight.  He has a brief senior moment and forgets to turn them (the DM is tired 🙂 but he comes to and routs 2 of them.  Reeny gets to the priestess first and she attempts to strike him with a staff carved in the likeness of a serpent.

All the while, the far wall dissolves into a black and purple swirling vortex which spits out debris of dirt and stone.

Reeny quickly takes down the priestess but the vortex remains.  Meanwhile, at the far end of the room, undead guards burst through the doors and swarm into the chamber.

The party attempts to sort our their flight or flee responses and stays to fight the undead — the dozens and dozens of undead.  Phil falls in the onslaught while Orwill seeks revenge on the false priest of Cuthbert, stabbing him in the back while Inverdia was engaged with the guards.  Reeny rushes back to drag Phil out of the melee and the party finally decides to flee with their lives.  Behind a hasty wall of flaming oil, they beat their retreat.  The last thing they saw was Inverdia turning many undead while invoking his demon lord, Orcus.  He was able to control a group and sent them after the fleeing party, and that, as they say, was that.

On their way back to the Keep, they clearly heard the angry baying of many wolves to the east.  More disturbing was the overflight of a gigantic, red/gold beast, mounted by an armored rider, headed toward the west.

Another siege of the Fortress of Ogard was commencing, with the Keep, and the party, directly in its path.

(and here we break for several weeks to give Savage Worlds a try)

High priests

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Session 8 opens as Dame Carspadmir decides on the party’s reward for discovering the Axe of Ulek and the priceless heirlooms of state.  They can keep all the silver, copper and gems they can carry, plus the potion of dragon control, magical arrows and leather armor.  The rest she claimed in the name of the Prince, including the Scroll of Speak With Dead, with which she wished to experiment on the twice-captured assassin – who isn’t quite dead yet.

PCs present:  Thorg, Mike, Grunk, Orwill, Reeny, Ebin, Huggra, and a new companion, whose multi-syllabic name I cannot recall (hi, Phil).

It was decided, for the moment, that the party should quickly attempt to finish off the remaining forces at the nearby caves while the Keep’s brain trust waited for replies to their messages.  Soon, Carspadmir indicated, they would have a council to decide what to do with the newfound treasures.

The party headed out for the caves and scouted the portal dig site on the way.  The area was deserted, supplies were either gone or destroyed, and there was evidence of discord between the bugbears and gnolls in the form of a handful of bodies of each race.  The party then proceeded to learn the futility the humanoids faced when attempting to open the giant stone door, as they themselves failed to budge it.  Huggra transcribed the magical runes on the linter for later analysis and they moved on to the caves.

A gnoll prisoner had indicated the location of the caves in which the high priests of the Oerth Dragon performed unknown rites.  Only bugbears and their prisoners were allowed to enter.  These caves were in much better repair than the others; in fact, it looked so pristine that the complex could have been built yesterday.  The black and red tiles were intact and shiny, and there wasn’t even any dust or dirt on the floors.  Dead quiet filled the air and the tromping feet of the party echoed loudly through the wide halls.

The noise attracted undead guards, armed with rusty scimitars and clad in tattered chain links.  Some were destroyed and others turned by Ebin.  Next, they discovered the chambers of four wild-eyed priests in flowing, purple robes, and these, too, were quickly dispatched. (note:  the priests bore uncanny resemblances to Gary Busey, Mickey Rourke, Nick Nolte and Phil Spector).

The group chose to pursue a side passage instead of the main passage (which would have led them to the grand finale; see Session 9).  Here, they were beset by a group of bugbear guards, the head torturer, and several Gygaxian gotcha encounters:  a medusa locked in a cell with a sack over her head, which Huggra gallantly rushed in to remove, turning him into a lovely statue; a wight in a crypt who attacked as the party carelessly yanked the facings off the tombs; and, finally, a gelatinous cube who, it turns out, had melted the upper torso of the missing elf thief from the Keep, Lysorien, who had also been crushed by the heavy, stone secret door he was trying to sneak through.  On the body were a pair of very nice elven boots and by his dead hand lay a lucky rabbit’s foot.  Lysorien died without ever having learned the meaning of irony.  He will be missed.

(note:  the extra men-at-arms turned out to be unnecessary dead weight.  They cluttered the corridors and made encounters a bit too easy.  Next session they will be sent away to return booty and news to the Keep.  Let’s hope they won’t be needed.)

Ghoul court

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Session 7 resumes with Group One, Thorg (aka “the Bloody”), Reeny Reenmel and Huggra, attempting to apprehend the escaped assassin in the mysterious caverns beneath the Keep.  Meanwhile, Group Two, the others, confers with Carspadmir and Zeleth, then decide to retrieve Group One’s gear and meet up with them below.

PCs present:  Thorg, Mike, Huggra, Ebin, Grunk, Orwill, Reeny

Group One:  Having killed a bizarre humanoid create at the underground lake, the three waded to a small island and tried to decide where to search.  They headed to a westward passageway filled with fire beetles, thought better of it, then doubled back.  Huggra noticed the heat signature of a figure splashing through the waster and running north, so they gave chase.  The party withstood severa barehanded yet powerful strikes from the unarmed man as he led them on a winding path through uncharted tunnels.  Finally, they emerged in a great, pillared hall and continued to head north.

Soon, other figures became apparent peering from behind the pillars ahead.  Their eyes glowed a sickly yellow but the elf could not see them against the cold background of the hall.  The man they were chasing hesitated.  Thorg caught up and entreated the man to join them in fighting this new common foe.  The tongue-less man seemed to agree but was reluctant to respond to other questioning.

Group Two.  Back in the main keep, Zeleth the Prefect expressed his displeasure to Dame Carspadmir at not being notified of these caverns, the alchemical lab, or the attempts by the dwarves to seek some unknown object beneath.

The remainder of the party quickly retrieved the gear of Group One and, led by Greytar the Mage, who had discovered maps of the caverns in the Keep’s old archives, they descended the great stairs to the first level.  Aided by the maps, they quickly made their way through levels two and three, encountering only silence, until they finally found the passage down to the lower level, where they surmised the passage from the lab must lead.

After a short while spent attempting to defeat fire beetles who blocked their way, they found tracks in the fungi and lichens carpeting the caverns which led them to the same great hall where their fellows had caught up to their quarrey.

Full Party.  At the sight of new foes, the man once again broke away and attempted to flee north.  Suddenly stopping at the entrace to a huge cavern, the party caught up to him and was able to subdue and capture him.  Then they noticed what had given the man pause – the huge cavern was filled with more than a dozen pairs of glowing eyes.  Moreover, the cavern was ringed with what appeared to be tall, black pillars which came to a point at their tops.  It was as if they had entered the maw of a gigantic dragon.

Tossing a light into the cavern, they saw the largest tooth of all, smooth and black, taller than a man and carved with strange, orcish runes.  A figure was seated on a stone at its base, a dragon skull on his head and a huge, double-bladed battleaxe cradled in two hairy paws.  His fellows gathered near him, bestial, emaciated, simply skin and bones, but their eyes glowing hungrily at the sudden appearance of so much tender flesh and blood.

The erstwhile king of the creatures called out from his stony throne in the orcish tongue, so Huggra the elf parleyed with him.  They said they had been bound to this place for many centuries by their high priest; all were worshippers of what they called the Earth Dragon, and this was its shrine.  An eternity they had pledged to stand guard but the weight of lonely centuries crushed their ever more fragile minds and a complete lack of sentient flesh made them wither almost to nothing.  Only release or feeding would satisfy them now.  They begged for someone to remove the terrible curse on them.

As they spoke, they could not help but notice the huge piles of coin, gems and jewelry littering the floor along with the gnawed bones of many unfortunates, for these were ghouls who plundered the crypts and graves of the cemetary above.  Then someone noticed that the axe the creature bore was somewhat familiar, very similar in appearace to the blood red axe of the Principality’s standards.  The party, bearing the subdued prisoner, made their way back to the surface to confer with Carspadmir and her advisors and attempt to discern the meaning of this, and what steps to take next.

Remove the curse, destroy the creatures, or both?  Their king had admitted that, though they would like to aid any attempt to remove their curse, the proximity of living flesh would inevitably drive them mad with hunger.  It was Orwill who hit on the solution – feed the orcish ghouls with their orcish prisoners, taken in the many raids on the Caves to the east.  Pikemen were summoned to escort the group and deal with the pesky beetles, while Carspadmir, Hagalpin and Greytar accompanied them to the ghouls’ cavern.

The plan was for the orc prisoners to be used as bait to attract most of the ghouls, then the party could deal with those that were left while protecting Hagalpin, who was to remove the curse from the gigantic dragon tooth.

And it worked.  Mike whipped the terrified orcs into the cavern while Reeny intimidated them with his martial prowess; three and a half feet of halfling warrior was difficult to resist.  Many ghouls fell upon both the orcs and their guards.  Huggra, Orwill and Thorg covered Hagalpin with bowfire, and Ebin held forth his holy symbol to the ghoul king and those nearby.

The king’s guards lept to attack Hagalpin but Ebin turned even more of the fiends, and, after several attempts, Hagalpin removed the curse from the dragon tooth.  With that, the surviving ghouls collapsed to the ground, released from their existence.

It was Carspadmir herself who strode forth and claimed the axe from the dead hands of the ghoul – the Red Axe of Ulek, heirloom of the house of Corond and token of the true Prince.  It had been lost more than two centuries hence when the Prince sent his right hand to subdue the lands across the Jewel in the name of Ulek.  The traditions of Ulek held that lands could be annexed to the realm only by one who wielded the Axe, their former lords bowing before it upon their submission.

He rode out but was never heard from again, and no record existed of his eventual fate.  But it was within the Keep that he fell during a siege, and in a crypt outside the north wall that he was interred with all his earthly possessions by lowly servants who did not realize the great treasure he bore.

Very soon, ravens were on the wing to all nearby friends and allies of Ulek, seeking promises of aid and succor to the agents of the crown.  Hopefully the replies would be positive, and quick.  Only then could it be decided what to do with the Axe, surrounded as they were by many enemies and wild, hostile lands.

Footnotes:

  • The garrison now refers to the party as, variously, “The Head Takers” or “The Head Hunters”.  Thorg is called “Thorg the Bloody” or “Thorg the Bold” for both his habit of coming close to death in most battles plus his headlong dive down the tunnel after the escaped assassin.
  • The humans of the garrison – most of the rank-and-file and subordinates – are grumbling about why the dwarves hid the fact of the alchemy lab and the attempts to access the caverns.
  • The loot was substanial, although the jewelry turned out to be priceless heirlooms of the Principality.  One more headache, along with the axe.  None of these can be allowed to fall into enemy hands.
  • The party found some strange fungus in the caves:  some good for eating, some that heal and some that are poisonous.

Escaped prisoner

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PCs present:  Thorg, Mike, Baldwin, Huggra, Grunk, Reeny

We find the party where we left them, in the armory of the hobgoblin chief, Mogogek (may he rest in pieces).  Inventory was made of the arms and armor, and the party decided to come back for the equipment over several trips, once they had safely cleared the area.

Pressing on toward Mogogek’s quarters, the remaining guards were easily defeated.  The quarters were thoroughly searched and looted, Grunk having the misfortune of finding and chugging a potion of poison, since Grunk drinks everything he can get his hands on.

 The party coerced a guard to tell them where prisoners might be held, and they hastened to the far end of the cavern complex.  There they defeated two torturers and freed a half dozen prisoners:  Turkey and Squirrel, the escaped slaves; Yarnas and Gorto, a human and dwarf who had been on the same mission as the party but never returned; Yurgirg, a gnoll  and Chukaarak, an orc, who were uncooperative and thus relieved of the burden of continued breathing.  Yarnas and Gorto escaped with Turkey and Squirrel and vowed to contact the party soon, after they had assured the safety of the other escaped slaves. 

Loaded with as much loot as they could safely carry, the party returned to the Keep through an unusually quiet forest, despite spotting several figures who appeared to be shadowing them.

After an evening spent gambling, carousing and hitting on the one-eyed, one-armed and one-legged Zorga (some orcs carry very large swords), the tavern keep and war veteran.  The party then retired to rest and recuperate.

During the night, however, the garrison was awoken by a series of loud pops, unintelligible screams and then a loud explosion as the alchemical lab in the Lower Bailey erupted in flame.  Troops and craftsmen alike were quickly on hand to hoist buckets onto the burning ex-guildhall.  Even Grunk was slapped out of his drunken stupor and contributed to the effort.  Dame Carspadmir conferred urgently with Zeleth, the prefect, and the head jailer, since it turns out that the ragged human captured a few days earlier attempting to sneak into the keep had escaped through a hole in the wall, the holding cell being directly adjacent to the alchemy lab.

The Dame reluctantly informed the party of the escape and asked for their aid.  The lab had been heavily guarded around the clock and no one really knew what projects were in the works but the cat was now out of the bag – the dwarves, too, had been searching for Moradin-knows-what.  Zeleth was visibily displeased that the cagey dwarves had kept this information even from him, the commander of the mostly-human garrison.  Thorg, not hesitating in the least, plunged into the burning building with just his sword and night clothes, Huggra and Reeny following close behind.  Inside they discovered a hole where the hardwood floor boards had been pried loose, very close to the apparent center of the blast.  Thorg dove in head first, the others following, and slithered and crawled down a narrow passageway, some natural and some chipped away by tools to widen the way.

Down they went at a sharp angle until they finally reached a wall of curved masonry which Thorg surmised was the well in the Lower Bailey.  The passage plunged straight downward at this point, hugging the wall of the well, until finally Thorg and the others dropped 10 feet into a wide and high cavern.  Reeny lit a torch and illuminated an underground lake, the only sounds being their own breathing and the intermittent plunk of water onto the still surface of the lake.

Then they became aware of a form moving through the water and two feral, glowing yellow eyes reflected the light of Reeny’s torch.  Suddenly, it leaped shrieking at Huggra, barely recognizable as a man, or once a man, but with canine legs and facial features, baring sharp, yellowed teeth.  It’s stench was horrible and it’s hands and feet were webbed.

The party’s defense was swift and decisive, the creature being cut in two as Reeny caught it before it could fall back beneath the water.  They would have to return later to study this thing.

Meanwhile, the remainder of the party helped to douse the flames.  Carspadmir gave them a choice:  follow their mates down the narrow passage without armor, or find a way into this cavern from the store rooms beneath the Keep; a choice between power and speed.  They decided to collect their own gear, as well as the gear of the other three, and hurry to find some way to meet them beneath the Keep.

(stay tuned!)

Ambush

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PCs Present:  Baldwin, Ebin, Huggra, Reeny, Thorg

Four of the party members contracted severe fevers after being bitten by giant rats.  Overnight, they each had a very similar dream:  they were in a torchlit procession of figures wearing deep purple robes and hoods, with the symbol of a black inverted ziggurat on the front.  They descended a spiral staircase in utter, freezing darkness except for the gradually fading light from their torches.  Finally they reached the bottom and found themselves alone in a dark room with an old man who gestured to a door behind them, asking them to open it for him.  Behind the old man stood a pale young woman with jet black hair wearing armor, staring off into the distance.  When they awoke, their fevers had broken and they felt considerably better.

Chaarogn, the orc chief charmed by Huggra, was left in the custody of Zeleth for questioning, which did not go well as Chaarogn had no intention of cooperating with anyone but Huggra.  He eventually became combative and had to be restrained.  Hagalpin, the Curate, successfully converted more of the party to the worship of St. Cuthbert in exchange for healing.  While he ministered to the wounded, Inverdia, another priest of Cuthbert but belonging to the doctrinal purity arm of the church, came by to visit the sick and wounded.  Hagalpin was visibly nervous in his presence, but Inverdia proved to be a friendly chap and even offered his assistance on the party’s next raid against the caves.

The party set out later than usual the next morning, intending to take the road instead of cutting through the woods to throw off any humanoid patrols.  But alas, the hobgoblins under their chief, Mogogek the Plunderer, had set up an ambush where the road narrowed and passed between the heavy woods and the stream.  About a dozen hobgoblins, archers and warriors, surprised the party.  Fortunately, the party had taken along groups of crossbowmen, halberdiers and pikemen from the Keep garrison and so were not outnumbered.  It appeared they would fight through the ambush relatively unscathed when Mogogek himself appeared with his bodyguards and and enormous troll, Khuh Spine-Breaker.  Huggra was able to charm Mogogek and turned him against the troll while the others finished off the ambushers.  Khuh slew Mogogek and refused to die as its severed limbs continued attacking until the party was able to douse the body with oil and set it alight.  It was a near-run battle which resulted in the deaths of several of the garrison and severely wounded Thorg, who, by now, is used to that condition.  Neither Mogogek nor his troops possessed any valuables but the party did find a black iron slave collar hanging from the chief’s belt.  Once again they retreated to the Keep to recuperate.

Zeleth had more information for the party:  two nights previous, the guards in the Upper Bailey had captured a human scaling the outer walls.  He was a slight, wiry man, armed with a bandolier of daggers and what appeared to be vials of poison (the alchemists will test it to be sure) so it seemed obvious that he was an assassin.  The man could not be interrogated because his tongue had been cut from his mouth, so they are holding him in the cell block next to the old guild hall, guarded around the clock.

Also, rumors among the guards had it that figures were seen skulking about the garrison burial yard outside the north walls (near where the assassin was captured).  Whenever the guards went to check the area, no one was there.  They are believed to be aiding the assassin.

Generous tithing to the Church of St. Cuthbert assured that the party was healed back to full strength, so they set out once more.  Soon they were met by one of the escaped slaves of Turkey’s band, who informed them that the hobgoblins had raided their camp and taken several of them, including Turkey and Squirrel, prisoner.

The scene of the ambush was as they had left it, bodies and blood strewn about.  They cut through the woods, taking their accustomed route, and stopped briefly to spy on the portal dig site.  Chaarogn was sent forward to scout and reported that he saw the gnoll and bugbear chieftains apparently arguing with each other while the other humanoids were running about in confusion.  Chaarogn mentioned that the bugbears appeared to be the only tribe left unscathed by the party’s relentless attacking; the gnolls were not involved with the activities of the other humanoids, being paid in food and loot merely to scout the area.

The party sought the now unguarded chambers of the dead Mogogek, hoping for an easy haul of treasure, so that’s where Chaarogn led them.  The party was quite large by this time, having retained the services of the garrison troops while adding Inverdia, his silent acolytes and Chaarogn to their numbers.  The hobgoblin caves were no longer heavily guarded and the few warriors present were easily swept aside.  They discovered a vast armory, beyond which lay the quarters of Mogogek.  It was at this point that they decided to rest and take inventory of the armory.

Another chief charmed

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PCs present:  Ebin, human cleric; Erb Draug Gurth, elf; Huggra, elf; Mike, human thief; Orwill, halfling; Reeny Reenmel, halfling fighter

The prefect, Zeleth, was most interested in interrogating Huggra’s new pal, Chaarogn, the former orc chief.  The elf left him in Zeleth’s custody and the party decided to break their pattern, forgo minor healing, and immediately strike out for the caves in the afternoon.  They did, however, still take the same route, although the disparate gaggles of humanoids did not have the time nor the organization to respond yet.

In what seems to be a recurring pattern, the party sliced through the another orc clan of tribe “Gutshank” like a hot knife through oxygen, killing all including the chief, Orogh.

I wish there was more of interest to report, but such was the ease with which the orcs were dealt with  *DM sigh*