So the group I play with loves to take the play off the rails. I decided to give them a sandbox, and some loose rules. They have weak characters, which requires them to role play a lot. I like this a lot better than roll playing.
The Thursday group that I play in is heavy roll play. Everyone wants to build the toughest bastard available. One player longs for a ranger he had in another campaign, where he was able to get off four arrow shots with insane pluses on his rolls. Another player is somehow able to wear armor that yields him an AC of 29, but he can still swim in the open ocean while wearing it. There is nothing wrong with this type of play, I just prefer to play a character, not to play a super hero. My character in this is a dwarf druid, who is highly xenophobic, and dislikes everyone who isn’t a dwarf. He was originally built for being a healer, and had a lot of nice character traits which should have made the play more fun, but since the DM wants epic battles instead of character development, I have changed the character over time. I am not complaining much, but the Thursday group I play in wants to roll dice and kill stuff instead of investigate the world. The last few sessions we played in involved multi-hour battles. OK. I can do that. Unfortunately for the party, my druid has no emotional or financial attachment to the ship owned by the party. So when we were all asleep in the hold, and three of the crew members started turning into were bears, I noticed on a perception roll of 33 (woke up and observed), and decided that the best thing was to hit one of the newly formed were bears with a conflagration of fire. It downed the were bear with 7d6 of damage, half fire, half force, but also caught the ship on fire. Oh well. (Emphasis added for Loren’s benefit). Another one of the were bears got struck by multiple lightening bolts. After all, I downed her with the first three (3d6 lightening damage with each strike), but since I still had 4 more bolts, and didn’t want them to go to waste, I kept frying her with the rest of the four bolts. Waste not, want not. For some reason, the DM decided that my alignment needed to shift to true neutral that game.
But that is not what this blog is about. See the Saturday group is good for role playing. They don’t seem to care about about killing baddies (goodies?), instead they want to run with the concept and see where it takes them.
So I started out by creating a sandbox, and giving out characters that allow them to play. They seem to like it.
It is hard to create an adventure around total gonzo play. So I decided to set out a series of plot points. There is a journey that has several small encounters followed by a larger encounter and a cliffhanger. The plot points are a couple of sentences. The party can decide what to do with each plot point.
Now the other problem with this particular campaign is how to create the larger encounter. After all, these are 1/4 challenge rating goblins with some minions. The individual encounters need to be set up to not kill the goblins, but allow them to have some fun with it. And when I say fun, I mean that the players need to be able to take it whatever direction they see fit and decide how to resolve the plot point. It is pretty easy to create a plot point for a standard D&D party trope. Hmm, 4th level, warrior, wizard, healer, thief. Need a trap, a monster, or group of monsters, some treasure in a chest with a poison needle trap, maybe something that involves a second wave of monsters when the party relaxes after the first kill.
Creating a series of plot points that will allow a gonzo off the rails group to have fun is a little more challenging. I only have so much creativity, so I rely on some goodies that I got from Drive Thru RPG. Some of my favorite are from Raging Swan Press. They have a series of resources which are helpful
Many of these are available on POD also. Not that I am selling advertisement space for them, nor am I getting a commission. When I see something which I like, I would like to spread the word.
Now the Raging Swan Press books include dressing books and encounter books for different situations, dungeons, wilderness, towns, etc. These allow some easy things to insert into an existing adventure. For example, I was running the Tiamat 5e modules with a group a while ago. They got stupidly powerful. Every time the group worked through some of their spells and took damage, they would form a dome of power, and sleep it off, starting out the next day all rested, full hit points, and full of spells. The one thing that is unbalanced in D&D 5e is that you get all of your hit points back after a full nights rest. This meant that they were OP for each battle. I needed to make sure that I softened them up before the battle. Take some damage, use up some spells… You know, put them in a position where they needed to make tough choices when they fought the boss monster for the session. It got old just making the boss monster tougher. It was better to soften up the party first, at least in my opinion…
In one case, the party was inside an ice cave, trying to figure out how to get to a white dragon and fight it. So they holed up for the night and rested. The entrance to the cave they were resting in was an uphill icy climb. So coming out, they would need to be very careful to not lose their grip, and toboggan their way down. While the party rested, they heard a lot of movement and activity outside their magical sphere. The sphere was opaque, so they couldn’t see out. Bu the time their rest ended, all was quiet. They felt that they could negotiate the icy slope without roping off. So they walked carefully down. Well, everyone except the last guy in the line of party members was doing just fine on their dex rolls. The last guy slipped, and took out the rest of the party, and everyone started tumbling down the path.
Then bad things happened. The night before, the denizens of the cave had set up a cadavalance trap. Basically, when the party went down the path, sliding along, they tripped a cave in of massive snow, ice and frozen (dead) bodies. Thank you Raging Swan for that idea! The cadavalance covered half the party completely, and they needed to make five successful strength checks to dig out. Oops, there goes the mage… The other half was covered up to their waist or higher in bodies and ice. Then the ice trolls attacked. The ice trolls attacked, did lots of damage, then ran off. The party pursued, and then the mage used up several of her good spells. Then the cleric used up a bunch of her healing. Sweet, now onto the main event, while everyone is a little bloody and tired.
My only complaint about the Raging Swan publications is that they are all fantasy, mostly based around Pathfinder. Now it is easy enough to mod the Pathfinder stuff for any other fantasy game, but I would love to have this type of detail for a space oriented game. Maybe, just maybe, Raging Swan will expand to space stuff with the upcoming Starfinder game coming from Paizo.
Anyhow, In prep for last Saturday’s game, I hit the books, and came up with a series of plot points.
The adventure started with the goblin party in front of their chieftain, who was very upset, because the party left two kobalds, Sissy and Pissy out in the wild. Kobalds don’t grow on trees, after all, they must be captured, and trained to not run away. So the party is told to go retrieve Sissy and Pissy.
Off they go, just before dawn to retrieve the two errant kobalds. After about an hour of walking, Sue comes across a large wooden box, and next to the box is a stick with a string attached to it. Sue sends one of her goblin minions to check it out. There is a week old monster corpse at the other end the string. He has been stomped on by a very large foot, which appears to have crushed his back and chest into a bloody pulp. There is a large cloud of swirling flies, and the meat on the human monster is riddled with maggots. Just about perfectly aged and seasoned for goblins.
Inside the box are two emaciated bunnies. Sue and her goblin minions proceed to capture the bunnies, put them in the box, then harvest the meat on the monster, putting the meat, string and stick in the same box as the bunnies. They then take off, following the cacophony of the party. It isn’t hard to follow, even though they are about 10 minutes ahead of Sue at this point.
The party is heading towards where they think Sissy and Pissy are, God only knows how they figured out which way to go. But as they continue forward, Brian hears a crashing sound in the forest coming across their front, with multiple dogs baying. In front of the party a gnoll is shuffling along. The gnoll is shackled with one set of shackles on each wrist, one set of shackles on each foot, and another set of shackles binding the hand shackles to the foot shackles. The gnoll is doubled over, shuffling along, trying to get away from three dogs who are barking and nipping at the gnolls heels.
The party watches this for a short while, then proceeds to attack the dogs. Now Collin’s minions circle around and try to intimidate the dogs into attacking Collin’s character. It eventually works, and Collin throws his stone dagger and hurts one dog, then that dog is killed before Collin can get to it. As the melee continues, the remaining dogs bite Collin and Brian while fighting.
A couple of special award mentions need to go out to several party members. First is Mike. He tried to use his sling to throw a rock at one of the dogs. Unfortunately, Mike rolled a 1. He instead created a bolo with his sling and just about strangled himself. Then Mike tried again, and rolled another one, and hit himself with his rock instead of the dog. The piece de resistance for Mike was when he decided to try to distract the dogs who were attacking others, by throwing his “elf” ear to the dogs. One dog promptly gobbled it up, and ran away. Mike pursued, but the dog was faster than Mike. It was very sad.
Brian and Shari tried valiantly to pick the locks on the gnoll’s shackles. It didn’t work so good. First, neither character had any real skill in lockpicking, and the best tools that they had were animal bones. The other problem was that the gnoll smelled awful. They needed to make a constitution saving throw to keep from retching from the stench of the gnoll. Now gnolls are particularly nasty smelling, but this one was really smelly. It spoke no common, no one in the party spoke gnoll. The gnoll appeared happy for the assistance, but didn’t understand why it was taking so long to pick the four locks.
Sue tried to distract the dog from Collin, she threw a piece of the perfectly aged monster meat at the dogs. As it arced over Shari, her character tried to catch it, and failed, with the goblin falling on its side.
Now, Shari was trying to get away from the dogs, and tried to climb a tree. However, with no acrobatics skill to speak of, and a roll of a natural one, she failed, and fell on her butt. Never mind, the dog ignored her and ran for Collin.
Eric stood back and watched. Jibes were exchanged between Eric and Sue about who was a real Booyahg caster. The one dog ran away after eating the ear, the other dog was killed. In the chaos, Shari picked up both of the dead dogs as her own. The gnoll was released from the shackles, and proceeded to lope off, not in the direction that the party thought Sissy and Pissy were in.
Just when things were getting back to normal (whatever that is), a frantic female human monster broke into the clearing and ran up to Eric, the pretty goblin. She frantically asked if anyone had seen Gomer, her son. He was hunting rabbits last week, and no one had seen Gomer and she was so worried. Upon noticing that the party was goblins, not small humans, she screamed and ran away, in the direction the party had come from. About 20 minutes later, the party heard a high pitch scream and a wailing voice “Oh my God! No, Gomer, what happened to you?”. Unperturbed, the party continued on their quest to find Sissy and Pissy.
A little while later, the party comes into a clearing. Sissy and Pissy are tied up to a tall stump on the other side of the clearing. Mike and Collin immediately cross the clearing to rescue the two errant kobalds. The kobalds are excitedly saying something to the goblins, but neither character speaks kobald very well. Brian goes around the edge of the clearing. The rest of the party stays back. As soon as Mike and Collin are halfway across the clearing, there is a loud thwipp sound, and a a net the size of the clearing whips them up into the trees, capturing them. Brian is caught on the edge, and swings up into the trees also. The rest of the party stands and watches. Brian extricates himself from the net, and begins to saw at the ropes that are attached to the trees. The net starts to sag.
Just as things seem to be getting under control, the party finds themselves surrounded by a large contingent of human monsters, all with superior weapons. Things look bad, but then a mage enters the center of the armed monsters, and introduces himself as Eutarc. And explains that he is looking for minions to carry out a job for him. Collin seems to think that he can convince Eutarc to heal the goblins, then the goblins will help. Eutarc explains that the goblins will be healed after they have completed their task. Seeing no other alternative, the goblins decide to comply.
As the group moves towards Eutarc’s mission, they find out more about what they are to do. Eutarc wants to obtain a weapon, which is in the tomb of Mallenbeanch, a knight of the “Order of the Kites” (bird, not thing on a string). It seems that the Order of the Kits had six magical weapons which were known as “Devil’s tools”, which allowed superior dominance in battles. These weapons were used with great influence to help the Order dominate the rest of the known world, but over time, their corrupting influence made the Order bury these tools with knights to rid the world of their evil influence. .Eutarc wants these weapons so he can dominate the world, and is not bothered by any potential corrupting influence. It seems that this weapon is a garnet bell. Ringing the bell summons forth a massively influential power that will turn the tide to the owner’s side in battle.
Eutarc’s lieutenant, is Clement. The goblins hear Clement refered to as “Clement the Strangler” when Clement is not within earshot.
Eutarc and Clement explain to the goblins that their role is to simply move the bodies out of the way. They are going to rob a tomb in an active church. Eutarc will kill the people in the church, and the goblin’s role is to take the bodies down into the catacombs and hid them, in case some one comes along later while the tomb is being robbed.
So the group enters the small town, and walks up to the church. Eutarc throws the doors open, and tells the rest of his raiding party to remain behind him. Eutarc makes motions with his hands, tosses a small amount of dust in to the air and says a command word, and a vile yellow cloud comes out from his fingers and proceeds to move over the parishioners in the church. They die quickly, but in excruciating pain. After about five minutes, the yellow cloud is gone, and Eutarc instructs the goblins to get to work. Once everyone is in the church, Clement picks up a large wooden bar, and bars the door from the inside of the church. He and Clement and the other human monsters in the raiding party move forward, and push a large flat stone out of the way and disappear into the catacombs.
The goblins get busy moving corpses. They are partially dried, bones snapped. It is a grisly thing to deal with. The dead parishioners have no treasure, since they had already given the offering before Eutaric showed up.
Brian takes one corpse downstairs, then proceeds to sneak around the catacombs. The rest of the party gets busy with their tasks.
Just about the time that all of the corpses have been drug down to the catacombs, there is a loud knock on the church door. The party goes up to the choir loft and sees four people right out of a fantasy roll playing game, a mage, a healer, a fighter and a short rogue. Mike goes down to inform Eutarc of the situation.
Eutarc and Clement confer for a moment, and Clement pulls out a pair of sheep shears and proceeds to give himself a rough bowl haircut, then he strips the friar of his robes and puts the simple brown robes on, over his clothing.
Clement goes up, and instructs the goblins to stay hidden, and begins blowing out candles that were lighting the church. Clement then unbars the door, and opens it up, apologizing for the long wait that the travelers had. He asks the travelers what they are looking for. They respond that they are seeking the blessing of the friar before they go to battle an evil mage that has been reported in this area. Clement smiles, and says “you will indeed need all the help your gods will provide”. He then informs them that in the house of worship, no weapons are allowed, please remove your weapons, and keep them by the door. The party complies.
As they move forward to the front of the church, past the hiding goblins and kobalds, clement slips behind the mage, and pulls out a long metal wire with hand hooks on either end. He flips it over the mage’s head, and sticks his knee up in the small of the mage’s back and pulls hard. The wire cuts through the mage’s skin and almost decapitates the mage. The mage is dead, falling to the ground. Then chaos ensues.
The healer turns around, sees the mage, and proceeds to reach out and touch Clement, and Clement withers and falls to the ground. He does not appear to be dead, just very seriously hurt and unconscious. The goblins attack.
Cut to Eutarc in the crypt. Eutarc has pulled the heavy stone from the top of Mallenbeanch’s tomb, and is trying very carefully to extract the bell. Several of the goblins are in the crypt, within visual range of what Eutarc is doing. Just as the mage dies, Eutarc slips, and the bell rings. It isn’t loud, but the clear ring of the bell is audible throughout the entire church. Dust drops from the rafters. A portal opens near the bell, swirling green mists come out of the portal. Eutarc’s last words are “Shit”, and when the mists reach him, he collapses, dead. The goblins in the crypt see the bodies that they had dragged down into the crypt start to be pulled towards the mists. The mists have a pair of yellow glowing eyes that are forming. As the bodies approach the mist, they start to come apart, ripping and tearing, and forming up to a monstrous demonic vision of horror. I take the players who are in the crypt aside, and read them the description from the module…
“The creature is a shambling, 8’ tall hulk fashioned from the mangled flesh and internal organs of at least a dozen humans. Stumbling about on elephantine legs comprised of knotted arms and bloodied meat, the entity has a body made of leaking stomachs, oozing pancreases, gelatinous gray matter, and cirrhotic livers. Flailing tendrils of human intestines terminating in snapping sphincters lined with dead men’s teeth lash about, biting at anything that comes within reach. It is these orifices that produce the unwholesome whistling that accompanies its arrival.”
While this is happening in the crypt, the mage’s body starts to slide across the floor of the church, leaving a blood trail on the highly polished wooden floor. The goblins in the crypt decide it is time to leave. They start running up the stairs, as the monstrosity lurches after them.
The goblins above are getting in some good hits on the bad guys, still not knowing what is coming for them. The goblins burst out of the crypt, followed by the creature. I then read the information to the rest of the goblin party members, and show them the picture from the module cover.
Ok, it isn’t a D&D adventure. But I love the stuff that is from the Lamentations of the Flame Princess. It is brutal stuff.
The party leaves fast. Everyone leaves fast. Collin manages to snag the rogue’s dagger before the rogue can get it. Sue manages to grab the garrote from the mage. And they all pile out and run away from the beast in the church.
I guess that Clement was left to his own fate.
So after a long while or running, the party stops for a rest, and they hear the sounds of battle. As they creep forward, they observe a troll fighting with another adventuring party. This party has a mage, a healer, and several fighters. The troll has been seriously injured by fire, but he is barely hanging on. The troll fells three fighters in short order, and the mage calls out in a clear voice “Parley!”
The troll stops fighting, breathing heavily. The mage offers a truce, they will give up a cloak of invisibility if the troll will let them leave alive. The troll doesn’t trust the mage. The mage takes his cloak off, and puts it on one of the fighters, and hits the fighter’s right shoulder, and the fighter disappears. A few seconds later, the fighter reappears. Everyone makes a perception check, and the 1’s and 2’s roll! Only Sue rolls a natural 20, so I explain to her privately that she sees that when the fighter comes back, the cloak is worn backwards.
The troll thinks that a cloak of invisibility is pretty sweet, so he agrees to the parley. He reaches for the cloak, and then Shari happens. Shari wants the cloak, and rolls a natural 20 on her stealth roll. She sneaks right into the midst of the troll and adventurers, and when the mage shakes the cloak, Shari borks her slight of hand roll, and effectively falls out of the cloak, in front of the troll. The mage,completely unperturbed, says “and occasionally, you also get a goblin.”
The troll grabs the cloak, whips it over his shoulders and disappears.
At that point, the party of adventures starts picking up their stuff, and moving away very quickly. The goblins hear things like “Let’s hope that it takes him a while to figure it out”, and “We need to move NOW!” and “Maybe he will go to the plane of fire”. The party members move very quickly off.
A few minutes later, the troll reappears, screaming, and appears to fall to the ground from inches above. The troll is terrified, and spots the goblins and tells them that they now work for him, and they need to figure out where these shyster humans went. He is going to roast them alive. The troll promises the goblins riches beyond their wildest imaginations. The party of goblins agree, and the troll then puts the cloak back on, punches his right shoulder, and disappears. The troll reappears a few seconds later completely soaked. He rearranges the cloak, punches his shoulder, and disappears again. He pops back into visibility again, and is covered with dirt and rocks, coughing. He rearranges the cloak again and says to the goblins “I think I have this figured out now”, and punches his shoulder. A few seconds later, the cloak reappears, without the troll. The cloak is smoking and smoldering, and floats down to the ground.
Mike runs up, puts it on, and punches the shoulder and disappears. He pops into the plane of air, and spends a few minutes figuring out how to wear the cloak to come back to this plane. Then Brian puts it on to look cool. Eric punches his shoulder, and Brian disappears. Brian finds himself in the plane of fire, and is very hot. The cloak protects him somewhat from the flames and heat, and it takes a while for Brian to figure out how to get back.
The day’s adventuring concludes with the party leaving the troll’s camp (without looking for treasure), and walking through the woods, hopefully back to their goblin village.
Then they hit a wall. The wall looks it was painted to look like the forest. The wall is smooth, and goes as high as they can see.