Thursday, August 20, 2015

Session Report: Aldsburg Chronicle [A12-ish]

... in which the the players battle the undead, goo, and a cistern ...

I've missed quite a few session reports, but here is the gist of things.
  • The party is in the dungeon beneath the Low Farms
  • They are going down to try and find a hidden bridge to cross the Gorge
  • This will lead them INTO the dungeon beneath Juniper Tower
  • At which point they are going to try to find the Giant Ruby
  • The Flameblades know who the party is and sent assassins
  • A few Characters have died
  • A bunch of NPCs have died
  • A good time was had by all!
 The tagline pretty much sums things up.  the party explored the dungeon some more, got into a gnarly battle with a band of skeletons and were chased around by a big grey wad of goo that obviously dissolved things.  How did they know that without fighting it?  This is what I want to talk about in today's post.  The majority of the adventure session was spent on something so mundane and generally uninteresting I find it hard to believe how much fun everyone had.

The Cistern
A circular chamber some 50' wide dropped down 40'to inky black water.  A plank and rope bridge stretched precariously across the gap ... a bridge that was previously weakened due to battling some giant mold crabs and smashing them against the posts.  The party had crossed the bridge, but in fleeing from the goo, they ran back across it toward the dungeon entrance.  The goo, being a corrosive pile of filth, dissolved the plank and rope and splashed into the disgusting cistern water below.

The party now had to figure out how to get across this huge fucking pit.  Oh yea - and everything in the dungeon is slick with slime and mold (there is a theme).  Luckily, with some clever tactics they discovered a small 1' ledge that wound around the cistern right at the 40' waterline.

The Plan
One of my players is always on about having all sorts of crazy gear ... you know who you are mr. "leather work gloves".  For the first time in AGES he suddenly had all of the right things at the right time.  Crampons, pitons, and the often unwanted position of party leader.  He climbed down and slowly made his way around the ledge, pounding in pitons and stringing rope to make a walkway.  The other parts members would come down and make their way around.

The Fun
EVERYTHING needed a climbing check.  This was a serious shit-show of problems.  The fighter in ring mail who wasn't good at climbing to begin with, the endless slime, the lack of proper lighting, and the the ever-present threat that the fucking goo thing might be able to swim and would drag one (or more) of the party members into the unknown sewage depths while eating their eyes made this one tense situation.

What this post is actually about is the use of Narration, Die Rolls, and Rulings all together.  Just rolling dice to get around the pit would have been ... well ... just rolling dice.  Only narrating the situation would have basically been group story-telling which removes the game element.  Ruling if they could get across the pit or not is a binary and doesn't offer much choice.

I've been encouraging my players to tell me what they are doing when looking for secret doors or searching for traps.  I'm using the die rolls to supplement that activity.  In other words if the players describes something that will really make a difference, I make the difficulty much easier ... but I do it on my end.  Hackmaster uses opposed rolls (actually we made all skill rolls opposed rolls no matter what the rules say), which makes this kind of adjudication easy.  If successful, I make sure to include what the character did in the description of success.  Narration and Die Rolls combined - check.

Ruling are difficult.  In games with few rules rulings are king.  In games with a lot of rules, rulings are frowned upon.  In my game, rulings are integral because my players are a bunch of smarty pants and we tend to ignore a lot of the rules as written because we don't want to look things up.  The rulings in this cistern crossing were made, spur of the moment as all good rulings, to show that what the characters were attempting was possible, but very difficult.

The result?  Everyone participated and everyone stepped up their game.  Characters helped each, PLAYERS encouraged each other, and the entire time th threat of really unpleasant squishy death loomed over them.  When the party got up the other side of that cistern we had a few minutes of celebration ... and it was 2 hours later.

WHAT?  2 Hours to cross a pit?  Yep.  And everyone, including me, had fun.  In fact, it was more fun than most combats we have.  Move fun that a lot of the social interactions we have.  More fun that some sessions we've had.  This isn't everyone's cup of tea, but for my group it has already had a big influence on how I'm going to design my dungeons.

I read on another blog (wish I could recall and give credit) that the best designed puzzle or challenge encounters are where the GM sets up the situation and DOES NOT supply or think of a pre-determined resolution.  Actual Player Agency ... which in turns requires Reasonable GM Rulings. It happened naturally at the table last game and I'm definitely going to lean this more and more.

The Rest of the Adventure
Then they found some loot and solved a secret door situation in the baths then it was late and all the players went home. Satisfied. As the GM, I was pretty damn pleased myself.