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[DCC RPG] The Pale Kingdoms

Jorjowsky

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Today we played our first game of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG and, while it's way too early to tell if it's going to have real staying power with our group (we are fickle), we had so much fun I thought I should post an Actual Play report.

Some notes first:

Our Group

We are four players in total. There's me, my wife (Teeshy), my mother in law (Lady J) and a friend of ours (Mr. T. No, not that one). I am the DM, and the other three form the party of PCs.

Our experience with RPGs is... well, not particularly extensive, but we make do. I started playing in the early 90s, but after three or four years of infrequent play I had a decade-and-a-half-long hiatus from the hobby; at some point I started to collect games again and kept myself informed of what was going on with the hobby, but never got around to playing... Until I moved to Australia, got married and found more people to play with! With the above players (which had never played an RPG before!) I've run games of D&D 4e and the Dragon Age RPG, which were a lot of fun, as well as a bunch of boardgames in between story arcs. Awesome times!

Then about a year and a half ago, real life got in the way, and we stopped playing... until now. Lately I've been reading a lot of OSR games, blogs and posts, and I wanted to try something in that style. After much deliberation, I chose the DCC RPG and after asking the group if they would be interested in getting together again to play (hell yes!) I started to prepare a new campaign.

My Campaign

I'm calling my campaign The Pale Kingdoms because, you know... TPK. That's reason enough, right there. Amirite?

Since we're going with a different type of game than what we're used to, more old-school in its approach (high lethality, player skill over character stats, sandbox-y rather than story arcs-y) I thought to change the setting as well, to something more alien than the vanilla fantasy we're used to. Tentatively the campaign will be set in some sort of Underdark, only rather than "endless caves and tunnels" it will be more like "huge pockets of open space under the earth, where entire civilizations live, scheme, trade, kill and conquer".

I plan on using a lot of the already published work on the Underdark and its inhabitants; but suited, tweaked and (where necessary) completely deconstructed and reassembled to my own purposes (e.g. my Duergar eat coal to power the tiny furnaces that work inside their stomachs, on the grounds that why the hell not?). The whole thing is also inspired by computer RPG games like Gothic I or the Avernum series (the campaign starts with the party sent to toil in an inescapable underground prison, before discovering it's actually a whole world in itself, ripe for both exploration and exploitation) with dashes of Ultima Worlds of Adventure I: Savage Empire or classic pulp and science fiction novels such as Journey to the Center of the Earth or The Lost World. Or anything else I think it's cool, really.

But before any of that takes place, in order to give myself time to prepare the necessary details while we get used to the system, we are going to play through some of Goodman Games' published modules. We've started today, with DCC #67: Sailors on the Starless Sea; a level 0 adventure ("funnel") by Harley Stroh. How did we do? Well...
 

Jorjowsky

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Session 1 (Friday 7/6/13)

On which we start the Sailors on the Starless Sea level 0 adventure...

We didn't have a lot of time to play today, so we got right into it. Wanting to have everybody start on the same page, I started by giving a short introduction to old-school play as I understand it (caveat: I'm aware my understanding is limited and, I'm sure, flawed; but it's what we're going to go with anyway, so nyah), as well as talking about DCC's rules and assumptions, including the concept of "funnel".

Then each of the three players rolled a level zero PC, a process that took... about twenty minutes, I guess, because none of us is too familiar with the game yet; I imagine it wouldn't take more than five minutes per character otherwise. Once that was done and understood, I gave them a big heap of randomly generated characters using Purple Sorcerer's Tools to complete their starting pool of characters (reminder to myself: buy some of their adventures in rpgnow to support them. Their tools are awesome). They (blindly) selected another three each, for a grand total of twelve poor bastards absolutely unprepared for what lay ahead...

This is the starting roster:

Teeshy: Albert the Alchemist, Betina the Herder, Carl the Elven Forester and Dazza the Halfling Trader (she was going with an A-B-C-D theme, you see).

Mr. T: Reg the Gravedigger, Lex the Dwarven Miner, Frankie the Halfling Moneylender and Axel the Smuggler.

Lady J: Quigley the Halfling Dyer, Confusking the Wizard's Apprentice, Lemonade the Halfling Chicken Butcher and Tracer the Astrologer.

Good stuff! And so, off they went, ready to storm an ancient (and eeeevil) keep which appears to be the source of some recent and mysterious disappearances in the village...

Deciding the southern road going into the keep, with its thorny vines and gloomy atmosphere, was an obvious trap, the group proceeded to circle the keep and look for an alternative entrance. The northeast side proved too scary and ominous, being blocked by a sinkhole covered in ghostly mists; the northwestern approach proved more feasible, and they were able to carefully climb through the rubble of a broken wall into the keep's courtyard.

From their vantage point they could see the courtyard was in a state of decay, as if nobody had tended to it in some time. They could see a mysterious well on the western side, a half-burnt building against the eastern wall, and the keep's gatehouse (the main entrance, which they had avoided) to the south; along with a tower still standing to the southeast.

As they approached the well, they noticed two ugly beastmen with their backs to them, peeking over the gatehouse walls and guarding the southern road. The beastmen appeared oblivious to their presence; very cautiously, the party decided to slowly and silently walk along the western wall while staying at the shadow of the keep's ramparts, trying to stay out of sight for as long as possible.

When they got closer to the well, they decided to send Axel to investigate it. The smuggler got close to the rim and peeked inside; at first he noticed nothing but darkness... but then he felt something terribly wrong was happening, with the shadowy depths falling further and further away from him, as if time and space were being bent by mysterious forces beyond his understanding. But he was unable to avert his eyes and, before he knew it, he was falling inside the well to a fate worse than death.

(Mr. T failed both his Will save to stop Axel from going over the rim, and his Dex save to desperately grab the chain hanging down the well itself.)

Axel fell into the well, never to come out again!

Shocked by the loss of their friend, the party started discussing their options. What to do now? Could things get any worse?

That's, of course, when the beastmen noticed their presence.
 

Jorjowsky

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One of the two beastmen guarding the gatehouse walked off into the southeastern tower (which exited into the courtyard), apparently to investigate the noises coming from the well (something like OH MY GOOD IT'S FULL OF STAAAAaaaaarrrrrrrssssssssssss), while the other watched the well with curiosity. The party nervously discussed their options. Huddled in the shadows of the western wall, they appeared to be hidden from view -- but for how long? What should they do?

Then the door to the tower opened up and the beastman guard came into view. His bulbous eyes opened wide and he yelled in surprise, which prompted the party to go with tactic number 27B (also known as "fuck it! ChaaAAAAaarge!").

By the time the party reached the tower, a second beastman had joined the fray, and more could be heard inside. Forming a semicircle, six valiant PCs proceeded to fight the two enemies, pushing forwards to corner them against the tower's opening. The melee proved vicious and deadly... for the beastmen! While his companions had obvious trouble connecting their hits, Reg the Gravedigger managed to kill two of the fiends in as many rounds, using only the edge of his (rather sharp) shovel. Oh, how glorious it was! That evening he truly became the Jason Bourne of ye olde worlde.

Unfortunately, the beastmen were far from alone, and more reinforcements promptly came out of the tower. The party closed ranks, and up to four of them joined forces to fight against their enemies, which due to space constrains were forced to fight in pairs. Reg managed to kill a third beast (Mr. T made up a tagline on the spot: during the day, he dug graves. During the night, he filled them), and Frankie soon followed suit, scoring his first kill. The beastmen weren't up to the challenge, it seems, managing to wound some of the party but not killing anybody. One of them even fumbled so badly with his spear, he tripped and fell to the ground, where he was quickly finished by Betina.

Where's the lethality?, the party wondered. This is a piece of cake!

That's when the next pair of beastmen jumped into the fray, one of which promptly slayed the moneylender.

Frankie's head was poked full of holes by a beastman's spear!

To make matters worse, a bigger and meaner foe came out of the tower ready to dish some punishment. This beastman wielded an axe, which in an impressive stroke managed to cut down the dwarf to size! Smaller size, I mean.

Lex was cut in twain by a beastman's axe!

The party quickly overcame the horror and renewed their assault with newly found fierceness. And, of course, it was Reg who dealt the killing blow, with a mighty swing of his no less mighty shovel...
 

Jorjowsky

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After such a harrowing encounter, the party was shellshocked, taking a whole two and a half seconds before quickly stripping their fallen comrades from all of their worldly possessions. Attrition by wealth, as the corebook calls it. Good call.

Feeling nonplussed about the moans and pleas of help coming from the stinky tower, the PCs decided to backtrack and investigate the burnt building. They found scary stone gargoyles perching on the top of the scorched walls, and the whole structure closed off by a pair of bronze doors with demonic faces carved into them; and did I mention the doors were barred from the outside? And that the word REPENT was painted on them?

Their initial enthusiasm somewhat tempered by their recent losses, the party decided to leave the building well the fuck alone, thank you very much, and walked back to the tower to cautiously investigate it. The interior was unpleasant, with the floors covered in gore-stained furs, smelly and full of fleas and lice; and with a door leading to ye gods know where. There were several people chained to the wall, moaning in despair and begging for help; so of course our heroes didn't wait a single second to free them from their captivity.

Hahaha! Yeah, right. They thought and thought and thought about it; then considered it a bit more. Despite recognizing them as some of their friends, who disappeared from the village days before, some where convinced it was some sort of trap. What if they suddenly become monsters? What if they're just bait? Others wanted to do the right thing and liberate them from their chains. Others wanted to go home and forget this whole ordeal ever happened.

In the end, they interrogated them about what they knew (nothing, really) before reluctantly unchaining them from the wall. Grateful for some reason, the prisoners agreed to join forces with the party and try to destroy the evil lurking in the bowels of the keep! Don't ask me why...

A total of three new, randomly generated level 0 characters joined Mr. T's party (which was down to Reg, the Gravedigger who apparently used to work for the Spetsnaz): Avrail the Elven Sage, Benjamin the Corn Farmer and Lenny the Locksmith.

With the group back to full strength, barring some painful wounds (Carl and Dazza were down to 1 hp each!), the party considered their options...

To be continued next week! (hopefully)

Current tally:

Kills: Reg (4 beastmen, 1 big meany boss beastman), Betina (1 beastman), Frankie (1 beastman).

Deaths: Axel, Frankie, Lex.
 

Jorjowsky

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By the way: Since some of my players might read this thread, I'd politely ask anybody who's read or played through Sailors on the Starless Sea (or any other DCC module, since we're likely to try a few) not to put spoilers in here. Let's let them discover the carnage by themselves, please. Thanks! :)
 

Gaveriss

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Good deal. I am looking forward to how things work out for your band of would-be heroes. Also, I'd love to hear all of youR impressions of DCC. How are you handling the funky dice? Did you buy them? Are you using some sort of App? Or did you just adjust things to using regular gaming dice?

- Gaveriss
 

Jorjowsky

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Good deal. I am looking forward to how things work out for your band of would-be heroes. Also, I'd love to hear all of youR impressions of DCC. How are you handling the funky dice? Did you buy them? Are you using some sort of App? Or did you just adjust things to using regular gaming dice?

- Gaveriss
I bought a set of Gamescience dice, yes. I already had a d30 I bought years ago as a novelty; this time I got a full d3 to d24 set, plus a d7 bought separately. We did get to roll some: the d30 as part of the character creation (to choose the "lucky roll" maybe? I forget) and then a d3 after Mr. T rolled a critical during the battle with the beastmen (I think the crit result was something like "add d3 to your normal damage"). My players seem to like them, as they are "special", but I guess the novelty will wear off.

I'm not super-happy with the Gamescience dice myself, to be honest. Some need filing as they have leftover burrs from the casting/sprue removing process, which is a bit of a hassle, but I can work with that. Furthermore, I found inking the numbers in to be way more time-consuming, and the result more disappointing, than I was led to believe by what I read on the 'net.

More problematic is that the only set they had in stock in the store I bought them from (Military Simulations, here in Australia) was "translucent yellow" or somesuch. They are so translucent, in fact, that in dice with lots of faces (anything from d10 onwards, but it's most egregious with the d24) the top result is hard to read, since you're also seeing (backwards) all the other numbers in all the other faces, including the ones on the opposite side of the die! Quite annoying.

I'm thinking of removing all the ink (black) I put on them and re-painting them white; then, after the paint is dry, painting the numbers black again on top of the white; so when you roll the dice, you'll see the black of the top numbers (including the actual result of the roll) contrasting with the white on the back of the numbers from the hidden faces. I'll work on that before the next game.

I'm never, ever buying translucent dice again if I can help it. Or jewelled, or any of those fancy effects we've gotten so used during the years. Plain, "ugly" colours for me, thank you very much. Can't beat the readability!
 
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Jorjowsky

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Oh, and since you asked about an app: Yeah, I'm using Purple Sorcerer Game's Crawler's Companion app for my little android tablet, and it's awesome. We had two copies of the corebook on the table and, while we did peruse them every now and then to check on things, most of my rule referencing (such as it was; level 0 play is easy as pie) was actually done with the app.

We still did all the dice rolling with actual dice, though.
 

Jorjowsky

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Session 2 (Friday 21/6/13)

On which only a chicken stands between life and death for the whole party...

There was no game last week (damn you, real life! Leave us alone!) but there was today. Oooh boy, was it ever. Here's the report.

Our heroes searched the tower for the belongings of the new arrivals; not as easy as it sounds, given the state of filth and decay permeating the whole structure. A rot grub, living among the piles of trash littering the floor, almost managed to burrow itself inside one of the PCs! It missed the mark, though, but the party got the hint and left with haste.

Forcing open the door at the bottom of the tower, they entered the dark corridors that led them deep under the keep and into the hill. They went down several flight of stairs until they reached a landing that provided them with several options: keep going down into the darkness, investigate a dark tunnel to their right, or open a mysterious door to their left.

They chose the tunnel and, after several twists and turns, they reached an old stone portal barring their way. The portal was inscribed with silvery runes and sigils, which Confusking (the wizard's apprentice) managed to read. The passage spoke of banes placed upon the gate, threatening to attack any interloper with burning purges, baleful storms, and other not-at-all-nice curses. So, of course, our group of valiant explorers did what only true heroes do: in less time than it takes to say "not our problem", they had retreated back to the fork in the road and were forcing open the other door instead.

Because level 0 adventurers might be crazy, but not stupid.

The door opened to a vault containing a nice amount of coins scattered on the floor (ka-ching! Dazza the halfling trader filled his pockets to the brim with them) and three seemingly empty chests. But Avrail the Elf found a secret compartment in one of them and quickly proceeded to open it... A shame it was trapped! A small blade, designed to cut off a finger or two, somehow managed to find his throat instead; and before anybody could react, he found himself quickly bleeding to death on the dusty floor tiles.

Avrail learned the hard way to check for traps before touching anything!

(The trap was meant to deal 1d4 damage and slice off 1d2 fingers. I rolled a 4 for damage; Avrail had 2hp. Oops.)

The group wasted no time in picking up the Elf's belongings and loot the chest, which had some cool loot in it; including a vial of black lotus oil, which Confusking identified as a useful concoction to increase one's health for a short period of time. Quigley scooped everything up and the party moved on, down the next flight of stairs...
 

Jorjowsky

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The party reached a big chamber with ominous murals on the walls, depicting disturbing scenes of human sacrifices, hordes of rampaging beastmen, and hooded figures commanding (or summoning?) tentacled monsters that emerged from the waters of an underground sea. There was also a pool of brackish water in the middle of the floor, and they could see something glowing at the bottom. Finally, there were four niches, one on each corner of the room, carved into the walls.

The party looked inside the corner nooks and found four musty robes inscribed with Chaos signs. Not wanting anything to do with the C-word (despite often and happily acknowledging they were little more than a band of psychopaths themselves), they decided to leave them where they found them; except Dazza, who used one of them to improvise a makeshift money bag (he wrapped his recently found treasure with the robe and carried it over his shoulder, rather than in his pockets).

This would become important later...

As they exited the room, something floated to the surface of the pool they were neglecting to investigate. Carl went to investigate but, not wanting to jump in the water, used his ten foot pole to bring the object to the edge. It was a skull, strangely glowing in the dim light of the chamber. Using a hammer, he broke it to see if there was something interesting inside; there wasn't. They decided they wanted nothing to do with it, the pool, or the other skulls that happened to float to the surface while they were pondering their options, and left the room for good.

(It took ages to do all this. Every little decision was consuming them with dread, and by this point each player was scared of each character's shadow. I loved every minute of it. No need to roll dice, just lie back, relax, and let the player's paranoia do the work for you!)

A few more flight of stairs later, they reached an enormous natural cave that seemed to have its own inner sea. Standing on the black sands of an underground beach, they could see a longboat coming out of the darkness towards them, and stopping about fifty feet from the edge of the waters. There was a menhir sitting next to them, carved with swirls and spirals. Fueled by his luck deciphering magical stuff so far, Confusking decided to investigate them.

That's when he became possessed and started killing his companions.
 
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