Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Episode 1: A Light in the Belfry Session 1

Trying to remember how THAC0 works
Short version:
It went smashingly.

Longer Version:
I ran the first session of the first adventure of Erratic Episodes last night. Four strangers, linked only by their shared employment or passage on a caravan, came face to face with the strangeness and menace of the Demiplane of Dread in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition adventure A Light in the Belfry.

I've kind of got a thing for dramatics (something of an understatement some readers will probably note), so the game started for me earlier that week. Relearning Second Edition was fine. It made me realize that I was either an idiot or a genius in my teens to parse the far-flung, vague, or just absent rules, but it was fine. I made my little crib sheet, reviewed the adventure, an rolled right into the arts and crafts part of the project. Every adventure needs a gimmick. And if it comes with a gimmick like this adventure does, it needs two gimmicks. And music. So there was still plenty to do. After this episode wraps up I'll post some of the pictures and details of the production side of this, you'll see some of it in the photos below, but there's still a few bits I don't want to spoil quite yet.

Behind the screen
An hour before the game found me in the Paizo conference room, setting up my sound system, digging out an old Ravenloft DM screen, making sure the lights were appropriately dimmed, picking out some last minute mood music, and flipping through the second edition Dungeon Master's Guide for magic items and equipment for the players (a bec de corbin, scroll of protection versus fire, and a longtooth dagger stood out as forgotten favorites). Jeff Alvarez, James Sutter, Erik Mona, and Sara Marie Teter all stopped in to check out what I was doing madly scribbling away in the dim conference room with Tartini's Devil's Trill going on in the background. (I'll get them all in games here eventually.) As this adventure uses CD narration and I refuse to play without background music, I had the adventure CD copied to my iPhone and that attached to a set of speakers I'd brought along. My laptop, playing the score for the evening, stayed behind the DM screen.

The group showed up promptly at 7:00 and started divvying up the magic items and finishing up characters. This was Mark's first second edition game, and none of us had played for about a decade, so there were plenty of "how's that work?" moments. For a half hour they relearned the game and equipped up. We started at 7:30.

As written, a Light in the Belfry starts with the players at the gate of the haunted set piece, Tergeron Manor. As I run it, a Light in the Belfry with starts with a caravan in flames and Valeiru getting face-bit by the wolf standing on his chest. The wolf fight reintroduced us all to second edition combat, playing without a map and miniatures, the fast pace I like to keep combat at ("Tell me what you're doing now or you'll lose your turn!"), the fact that I don't sit down while I run games, and the acceptance that it's more fun to roll a die and call it good than spend 5 minutes looking up a rule that isn't really that important. The group fought off the wolves, made some introductions as the only survivors, and looted the caravan for a trove of mundane goods (salted herring and a fine fur cloak proved quite popular).

Things got weird as the night went on. Mists started to rise up around the wagons. It became unseasonably cold. Zola climbed a tree and found the forest had closed in around the road in both the directions the caravan was headed and had come from. Berry picking Bearnar found the foliage nearby changed significantly before and after they rested for the night. Valeiru identified the wolves as being non-native to the region and seemingly running from something. Arth... Arth protected his precious, precious sanity. And the night didn't end. Yeah. After a "full night" of rest, not even a glimmer of light on the horizon. Except for a distant light in a strange tower... a "belfry" even.

The grounds of Tergeron Manor
It was almost 9:00 before we even got to the start of the adventure, and despite the hardcore railroad nature of the game up till then, we'd had a great time. Reaching the beginning of the adventure meant the introduction of the game's CD narrator - dubbed half-price Vincent Price. The CD narriation proves intensely overwrought, but after the first few snickers, everybody seemed to get into it.

Without going on with a complete blow by blow, here were some of the highlights:

Bearnar (Jason Bulmahn)
* Being the only character to roll stats (3d6s) right down the line and take those stats in those slots.
* Adopting an orphened chicken.
* Being Dr. Goodberry.
* Getting attacked by a spectral knight.
* Destroying a giant green slime with a scroll of remove disease.
* Flowing mysterious footsteps right to the main plot point before we had to wrap up for the night.

Sane Arth (Mark Moreland)
* Murdering the most wolves (3 out of 5).
* It wouldn't be D&D if someone didn't try to put out the fire by peeing on it.
* Wisely deciding, "Hey, maybe we shouldn't touch the giant algae covered pool."
* Noticing the "Slender Man" in the upstairs window.
* Making the only Fear check of the night.
* Taking up the first glass shard and plugging it into the mirror.

Valeriu the Grey (Rob McCreary)
* Rolling up multiple windows and ladder on his robe of useful items. (Valeriu, Wizard of Egress!)
* Capably proving to be the party know-it-all.
* Discovering that just because the creepy house's doors are magicked shut doesn't mean the windows got the same attention.
* Knowing and passing on the info that you can kill green slime with remove disease.
* Not getting too pissed about using his only lightning bolt on a creature immune to spells.
* Kind of being the party tank. Valeriu's 15 hit points are obviously hit points of action!

Zola Nordandi (James Jacobs)
* Having Dr. Girlfriend's grandma's voice.
* Proving that backstab has always been hardcore.
* Climbing everything, and in so doing actually noticing "Hey, the adventure's over there!"
* Impromptu dwarf mining songs.
* Sticking his foot in a pool that ended up being a giant green slime.
* Noticing the strange cold affecting the house, yet still being the first one inside.

A fateful shard
At the end of the first session, the group had 1 of the 13 shards they needed to find. This gave me the opportunity to wrap the session up by actually handing Mark one of the shards I'd created and revealing the magnetic, white board "mirror" it goes in. Folks seemed pretty pleased with that and there were a number of questions about it afterward. Since he was the one who found it, Mark has the responcibility of holding onto the actual, physical shard he received until the next time we play. I  wonder if they'll be able to finish the adventure if he loses it.

Overall, I think we all had a great time. It's been over 8 years since I actually ran a game for friends and it was funny how fast things came back. And how pissed I was at myself for not doing this sooner, because it was a blast! In the next week here we'll set up a date for the concluding session - though we plan to play on a weekend so we can get farther along. Although I'd really like to get to the end to the end of the adventure, I plan to stick strictly to the two session format of these episodes, so we'll see how it goes. Will the team manage to find all 12 remaining shards and solve the mystery of Tergeron Manor? I'll post here just as soon as I know. Thanks for reading!

Adventure Soundtrack: Various tracks from Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust for group scenes and combat, various tracks from From Hell for investigation.

1 comment:

  1. WOW! When I saw that Jason was running through A Light in the Belfry, the little gamer in me cried out in happiness!

    I still have the module and associated CD somewhere in my stack of gaming products! Really looking forward to the continuation of this adventure and the further tales of Erratic Episodes! :D