Gothic Earth Session 11: The Legend of Zudet

In our last game of the summer, we lost a character. As DM I get rather fond of them, and I am always attempted to cheat, but that just isn't the way that this game works. Most character deaths are not brave or noble. There is no great sacrifice, or dying at the hands of a worthy opponent. Most PC casualties are stupid and pointless. As a player, that more often than not was the case for me. D&D is about taking risks and doing your best to minimize them, but eventually, especially with fickle dice, your luck is just going to run out. Trouble, more often than not, comes from rushing ahead. You rarely see the one that gets you until it is too late. When it happens, you typically feel stupid, and hindsight automatically kicks right in.

The players believed that they needed more power before entering the Vault of the Witch, and I agree, but it did cost them dearly. Magic items in my games are pretty hard to find, it's not that they aren't there, it is just that they are typically out of the way and off the beaten path. The players know this, but game time is so limited they really tend to keep focused on different goals. This goal on game day was searching the wilderness for what is going on out there.

They have found a sign of dragon. The kobolds are using the mine to pay tribute to a reptilian god. I never came out and said it, but there was enough out there to suggest an ancient evil living in the mountains. This is a modern game, taking place in 1890, the dragon I placed in the area is modified from the Monstrous Manual description (as are all of my monsters) to fit a more folklore feel.

They knew that the dragon was wealthy, and they are fairly high level, especially for us! They took a vote and decided that they would go dragon hunting. I didn't help them in any way, the players moved around the play map, slowly exploring different sections, I had had enough areas out there prepped to have a good idea of what is out there, but much of the fine details were determined randomly, and it was one of these that ended up causing the incident.

I knew that there was probably a rope bridge that led over a deep canyon on the main map, but I didn't know where it was. We found it and it was the way that was made by the kobolds to get over the canyon, of course, kobolds are not known for giving much thought to safety, so this 3 rope bridge that stretched at least a mile in length was dangerous as all get out!

I like skill checks, but I also like them to be a mixture of old Dungeons & Dragons where player agency and ideas were prized over the dice, and AD&D, which favors the dice to decide stuff like this. The character in question, a spy, had very good DEX, so her player figured that she could scoot right across there, she rolled over her DEX score, and I allowed a saving throw which she failed as well and she was gone.

I really enjoyed the character, her player was a novice who became very good very quickly. It isn't easy to keep low-level AD&D PCs alive, but she was able to do it. Her story was magnificent, through play she took what was going on very seriously and became a good leader. She was a German spy who worked for the old regime which was being replaced. She went back to Germany and extracted the former Prime Minister and her King from the hands of his enemies and delivered him safely to Zurich. It was an amazing story!

She stepped up to the call of duty again in Belalp, when the Sheriff was attacked, she took over his duties, ignoring her own agenda until law was restored to the village. Now she is dead because of something stupid, at least it was an ending. Her death will have consequences, she must now start a new character and take this novice PC into a very difficult dungeon.

While everybody else played, she rolled up a new PC and we got it introduced before the session expired. A Russian specializing in thieving abilities, and a fellow member of The Watchmen. It will be interesting to see where she takes this one.

The players had spent much of the night, frustrated because I wouldn't just put the dragon's lair somewhere randomly, I had already placed it and I stuck to it. Eventually, they found it. A cylinder-shaped tube deep in the earth, lined with a kobold apartments. At the bottom was discovered an ancient pyramid made of onyx, its top broken off and overflowing with treasure. The party quickly took a couple of things and ran for it. After a couple of hours, the creature realized that something was wrong, the rest of the day, they are racing out of there while the sounds of roaring and menace echo through the mountains, and creatures run for cover. They hurry as fast as they can to get across the rope bridge before the sun goes down, and when dusk does arrive the lamentations of the dragon Zudet stop and the creature's hunt has begun.

They had made a predictable escape and kept running through the night, when the dragon saw them, and made its attack, the players reacted at the same time, their tiny guns against sheer power. Only one player made their saving throw against the blast of flames which engulfed them, this looked like a total party kill, instantly two characters dropped below 0, just shy of death. The players shot wildly, missing more than they hit, the one exception was the explorer. He took the full brunt of the blast, heavily injured but still standing, his shots hit the mountain's monster, doing just enough damage to trigger a morale check, which the dragon failed. It turned itself invisible, and hide itself to heal and stew over what had happened.

The players knew that there was no way that they could survive a second attack, the healer was able to quickly get to the two downed characters and stabilize them before they died from their wounds. So far, they have kept their treasures and their lives, just barely, but they came at a very high price. The party was able to return to civilization, but minus an important member of the team and heavily injured. Through magic and rest they will be healed enough after a week or two to attempt to explore the Witches Vault. This will have to wait for September :(

SESSION DESIGN NOTES

The movement rates that I had set in the snowy mountains was too low, movement was only possible on the roll of a 5 or a 6, I had to correct this during play because we were getting bored.

The players were also keen on trying to get me to put things in every space that they were in, searching each hex. I had to improvise a better system on the fly that allowed a more limited chance of a feature being discovered. They were literally only moving one hex at a time, when the game was set for them to move much faster. This could had been why I was getting bored, they probably did this around 30 to 40 times.

Prior to play I designed a better system to flesh out the underground cave system which was never mapped, and hid some features down there that can be discovered randomly. I also hid treasures within, but one of the treasures was designed for the character who died, this was moved to a new location, I had failed to identify the dragon's hoard and had no idea that the players would decide to seek this out.

The player's felt happy with the work that they had gotten done. The explorer really wants to go back and finish off that dragon, which may not be a bad idea, though creatures of myth and legend are never that easy, and a creature this old and who has kept itself a secret for so long is not going to fall victim to a bullet.

While they lost a character, the gunfighter who hasn't changed in a couple of years now has finally gained a level. This is a huge achievement! While 8th level in many games is obtained quickly, my game progresses much slower, progression slows down dramatically after 5th level, this is years of dedicated play and keeping a risk taking player who is always there in the thick of things alive. He is heavily scarred and beat up, but he is still one of the most dangerous men alive in my world, who is now even more elite.

I am glad that they didn't decide to break the seal of Sabaldus, that dungeon is going to take multiple sessions, and skill to defeat, an 8 week break between sessions would really suck. Are they ready for it now? I don't think so. The new character is 1st level, and while she will progress quickly taking her into the finale of a complex and devious death trap is really expecting a lot.


4 comments:

Theseus said...

This sounds like a really exciting adventure, random death aside. Did you call for a single Dex check to cross the entire bridge, or was it more like one per half-mile?

Which saving throw did you call for? I ask because I never really got a handle on winging it with the old school saves. I usually go with one Dex check to move along the obstacle, and second Dex check in the event of a complication such as failing the first.

Ripper X said...

Howdy Theseus!

Everyone had to make 3 DEX Checks in a row. If there was a failure, they got a saving throw vs. Breath Weapon.

The 2e DMG has a good section called Saving Throw Priority: it stats that Breath Weapon is used in situations where a combination of physical stamina and Dexterity are critical factors in character survival.

I can't keep these straight either, I marked the page and wrote some notes in the book, we end up using that page at least once per game.

It helps me correct the player's desires for high stats, but also it allows a fair backup for failed rolls. A second chance . . . if you are lucky.

Scott Anderson said...

I just added you to my blogroll, Rip. I had not noticed your blog before.

Ripper X said...

Gotcha back, Scott :)

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