Sunday, February 12, 2012

Episode 1: Thirteenish Shards

Heroes ready for danger!
Yup. They lost the shard I gave them.

After the briefest recap manageable and replaying only a few of the adventure's CD room descriptions, the party was back on the hunt for the remaining "twelve" mirror shards lost in Tergeron Manor. I was a softie, though, and gave them a replacement for the one that went missing, not truly expecting them to find the other twelve shards in the span of 5 1/2 short hours. How wrong I was.

Although the first few hours proceeded normally enough (excessive wariness, well-reasoned wariness, mad schemes, high jinxs), as the time neared our 6:00 deadline the adventure turned into the final moments of Clue or some sort of macabre Double Dare physical challenge, with the party running through the halls, kicking open doors, grabbing mirror shards, and tearing back to the parlor to hear the newest audio cut scene. I glossed over quite a few encounters as well and downplayed the haunted house's malign intelligence and damage dealing cold--even though I'm not running a third session of the game I didn't want it end on a dull note. Ultimately, the characters visited every room, heard every description, and--remarkably--managed to placed all thirteen shards back into the shattered magic mirror, restoring it... and inadvertently releasing the maniacal necromancer Morgoroth back into the world. Freed from the mirror, the full-powered necromancer stepped through the mirror and back into the seat of his power, with only four battered adventurers between him and a renewal of his dark deeds.

And that's where I called it. No reason to end the first episode on a total party kill.

A great session with what I think was a pretty satisfying conclusion. As for highlights, a few stand out.

A one point Zola's futzing with the corpse of a paladin set off a horrifying shriek that sent three of the four party members running in fear, our doughty dwarf being the only one to stand his ground. I had each character plot out the course of their flights (largely in secret), leaving Bearnar the task of hunting them back down. Fortunately, none of them got too far or bungled into any active dangers. Though Valeriu might have gulped down a few homunculus eyes while he was hiding in the pantry.

Nine to go
The master bedroom has contains a tub full of ice with one shard in it. As the party melted the ice (in a totally reasonable, effective way) it turned to blood... and eventually a blood elemental. As soon as that happened, the party decided that quietly leaving and closing the door to the room would be the best way to deal with the creature. They didn't expect it to turn into the 9-foot-tall scabhemoth that eventually came stomping down the stairs after them. They beat the thing handily, despite its significant number of hit points. Only after ward did I notice its equally significant damage reduction, but cest la vie.

One bathroom contains a rack of towels inexplicably soaking with blessed water. Fearing weird water in the bathroom, the party left these behind. At least, until Arth decided that the easiest way to get a glass shard inside a glass orb also containing a fireball would be to just break it in the tub. The rest of the party, largely dumbfounded I think, garnered quite a few "Bad Friend Points" for not talking him out of putting the fire orb in the tub, covering it with a pillow and a few blessedly moist hand towels, and then hitting it with a sword. I let the towels give him a bonus to his saving throw against the 10d6 fireball, which he made, but the end explosion still proved mighty. And it ended up breaking the shard inside. After it was revealed that a broken shard wouldn't work in the mirror the next few hours largely became the Quest for the Mending Spell!

There's one room with knights turned to steel, one of which has a mirror shard essentially fused into him. There's no way to free the glass short of a spell that allows the caster to become ethereal or otherwise insubstantial--like the relatively obscure wraithform spell. That's such an unintuitive  solution though, that when the party dragged the mirror into the gallery to touch the whole thing to the stuck shard I just gave it to them. Weird second edition design.

The still beating heart in the laboratory along with the adventure CD's beating heart sound effect totally made bringing my sub woofer along worth while. 

Aside from that insanity, some of the player-by-player highlights follow. You can also click on the picture below to see a close up of the house's map, with some little illustrations of some of the more noteworthy encounters (like the crystal coffin in the belfry, the blood smear where the blood elemental smeared-out, the dining room of the magical menorahs, and the coffee table of the exploding spellbook).

Behold the terror of Tergeon Manor
Bearnar (Jason Bulmahn)
* Downing a troupe of armored skeletons with on turn undead.
* Nearly saving his cowardly companions with a well timed (but ultimately ineffectual) remove fear.
* Chasing back down the entire party when they failed their saves versus a fear spell.
* Dragging his companions out of a library full of cloud kill.
* Sacrificing a dust devil spell to a pack of ghouls.
* Trying to rub Zola's soul back into her.

Sane Arth (Mark Moreland)
* Reproving how deadly a fighter with a longsword can be.
* Not contracting a petrification disease from the tainted coffin dirt.
* Nearly digging into a tempting bowl of delicious smelling creme' de wormfuck.
* Attempting to smother a fireball with a pillow.
* Attempting to smother a fire trap with his face.
* Popping a wall of force.

Valeriu the Grey (Rob McCreary)
* Concocting a way to melt a bathtub full of blood elemental without setting the house (or party) afire.
* Not setting off the devil mist trap in the greenhouse.
* Distance killing a giant mountain gorilla... somewhere.
* Knowing that a wizard would never trap a spellbook once when he could trap it twice.
* Skipping a ball of lightning into a starving vampiric mist.
* Mending the shard Arth broke.

Zola Nordandi (James Jacobs)
* Wisely not breaking the marble full of devil mist.
* Freeing the unseen servant chef.
* Dancing with a chair mimic.
* Throwing a ball of lightning bolt into a chandelier.
* Dancing through a cell block full of ghouls.
* Getting her soul sucked into a mirror of life trapping.

Just imagine that last piece in there
So that's a wrap for the second edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure A Light in the Belfry! The entire game was quite a flashback to my high school and college games, where I ran this adventure on several consecutive Halloweens. But I can't say I have any interest in revisiting second edition rules again any time soon. I must have asked for Wisdom and Intelligence checks a fifty times in those six-ish hours. While I like my games with some free form and interpretational elements to them, sometimes it turns out a little complexity in a rules system is actually a good thing. And trying to find anything in those rulebooks--oooof! I did a lot of adlibbing just to keep things running without a drawn out session of rules hide-and-go-seek. But for all the wonkiness, the story is a fun one and easily the best combination of classic D&D adventure and pure B-horror-movie camp I can think of--or ever want. I think this was my third--maybe fourth--time running A Light in the Belfry, and if I get my way it won't be the last. I am going to have to fix up my mirror for next time, though, the shards didn't fit a well as I would have liked--a fact losing one of them actually disguised quite nicely.

So thanks to James, Jason, Mark, and Rob for playing and being my guinea pigs for the first adventure of Erratic Episodes. Check back tomorrow for a bit on the props I used to bring Morgoroth's accursed mirror right into the game room, and a little later this week for the open call for Episode 2!

Whatever it might be.

Adventure Soundtrack Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and Interview with the Vampire for group scenes and combat, tracks from From Hell and Hannibal for investigation.

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