Thursday, 11 November 2010

OSRIC One-Shot: The Ghost of Lion Castle.

Given that we've been unable to get the group together to finish off our Dragon Age RPG campaign, my friend Silv has been getting his RPG fix by reading this blog. He's been just as keen to start playing “Old School Style” as I have been to introduce him to it. So, although the Harn sandbox is still months away from being play-ready, he came over to game a little tonight. My plan had been to put him through the solo module “Ghost of Lion's Castle”. Mostly because he already had a 1st level dwarf fighter/cleric ready to go. As a solo module, Ghost of Lion's Castle doesn't really need a GM as such, but I took on the role anyway. I got a delightful surprise when Aimee turned up to the game as well, having only expected Silv, so we set about rolling up an OSRIC character for her. This would be their first introduction to the Old School play style, so I dropped a hell of a lot more hints than I would have normally. Even so, neither character made it back alive. Want to know why? Read on.

The PCs:

  • Bogdin: Lawful Neutral dwarf male Fighter 1/Cleric of Siem 1.

  • Klara: Lawful Evil human female Assassin (Acolyte of Naveh) 1.

Having gotten themselves thoroughly drunk one night at an inn near Azademere, Bodgin and Klara stupidly agreed to draw straws for the “privilege” of mounting an expedition to Lion Castle. Trapped by their own bravado, the pair departed in the morning, equipped only with basic items and a magical journal in which to record events for the entertainment of the Inn's patron. According to the Inn-Keep, anything written in one would magically appear in the other.

The nine day journey through the hills and mountains passed without incident, leaving the two bemused adventurers to marvel at the sculpted, castle-sized Lion before them. Under the fading, red light of a spectacular sunset, it almost seemed that the grass around the lion was stained red with the blood. Faced by this dark omen and wary of a chance encounter with the ghost of Sargon, master of the Castle, they made camp until the dawn.

Perhaps unwisely, come the light of the day, the pair made straight for the Gatehouse in the Castles outer-curtain wall. While Bogdin stood guard, Klara searched the ground before the two ruined doors for any sign of traps. Confident that there was none, the two brazenly walked through the gates, only to be separated by a rapidly descending portcullis. Bogdin, having leapt forward into the gatehouse itself, quickly spotted and wisely stayed away from the murder holes in the ceiling. Meanwhile, Klara, having jumped back the way she had came, set about climbing the curtain wall, trying to gain entry to the portcullis mechanism from above. She warily approached the door leading into the gatehouse from the ramparts, again searching for traps and finding none. Entering, she found herself in an otherwise empty room with a spiral stair (leading up) and a chain suspended from a hole in the ceiling down to another hole in the floor. Looking down through the murder holes at her companion and not thinking to first check the room above for any threat (or, for that matter, a winding mechanism) she called for her companion to toss up his rope from below. This he did, weighting the end of the rope with a torch. Soon after tying the rope to the handle of the door she had recently come through, Klara watched as her companion climb up through the murder hole to join her.

Warily, the pair retraced Klara's steps back through the doorway and approached the nearest wall tower. Again a door was inspected and again no traps were found. The pair entered the room cautiously, to find it plain and unremarkable save for a spiral stair case. A stair case from which could be heard and odd clacking noise. The duo dithered about what to do, allowing a foot long giant beetle to gain surprise and press it's attack. Klara quickly went down under it's bleeding mandibles, nearly bleeding to death before Bogdin awakened her (at great risk to himself) with a quick cure light wounds. Though weakened and befuddled by her near death experience (I house- rule that any character who falls below 0hp and regains consciousness takes a cumulative -2 penalty to all dice rolls until resting for eight hours) Klara was determined not to be an idle spectator to this continued life or death struggle. Alas, she learned the hard way the folly of firing into melee, her arrow catching Bogdin in the arm-pit instead of striking true to harm the foe. In the end however, Bogdin healed himself with his final cure spell and thereafter slew the scurrying blight with a blow from his flail.

Together, the two descended by rope from the ramparts of the wall and retreated to a safe distance to rest. They returned at dawn the next day, Bogdin having already spent one of his two cure light wounds in order to restore his companion to full strength shortly after the dawn. They climbed back up the rope onto the undisturbed curtain wall and returned to the scene of their first battle. There, they were perturbed to find the beetle mostly devoured, with nowt remaining saving the shiny black carapace itself. With care, they descended the tower stairs and out through another doorway to the overgrown courtyard below.

This time, when the party detected movement in the undergrowth, they reacted with alacrity. Alas, they were faced only with the fearsome menace of a bunny, which Klara slew handily with her bow and declared the coming nights dinner. Finding themselves at the tail end of the Lion-shaped castle, they moved around it to the south, following the path from the gatehouse. Arriving at the Castle's paws, they took note of the many arrow slits visible in the paws and the pool of hardened lead beneath the beasts muzzle. Electing for a cautious approach, they hugged the “paws” and “front legs” of the stone beast, ducking beneath arrow slits and giving the patch of lead beneath the muzzle a wide birth. This proved a wise precaution, for two hatches where a true lions nostrils would be were quickly opened by unseen hands or means and a torrent of hot lead disgorged. Thankfully, neither character was close enough to be splashed by this molten rain. They were, however, by now close enough to spot the murder holes in the Lion's “jaw”. Taking shelter beneath Bogdrins shield, the duo ran for the open gates to the Castle situated in the Lions chest. A few boulders did fall upon them, but though Klara took a glancing hit to the shoulder Bogdrin himself remained unharmed. This time, when the portcullis fell above them, the two leapt forward, and found themselves in a short hall.

Cautious now, unsure whether to attribute the Castle defences to magic, mechanism or man, they began to explore the first level. In the blacksmiths shop, Bogdrin claimed a hammer to wield as a mace and (his mind on Klara's catch) a pot from the kitchen. The food store quickly prove itself to be empty, so they took one of the hallways two spiral stairs down into the castle basement.

Soon confronted by an odd shaped room, they left through a set of double doors to find themselves in a corridor with a second set of double doors before them and two doors on each wall. Each door bore the name of a hunting cat – Panther, Tiger, Lion and Mountain Lion. With some trepidation, the pair decided to explore the Mountain Lion chamber first, on the grounds that the mountain lion was the smallest species of the four. Confronted by three mummified beasts of that nature, the adventurers had a heart-stopping moment before they correctly observed that the “mummies” were not moving. Noticing that one had a gem embedded in it's chest, Bogdrin decided to take no chances and pounded the corpses head into mush before taking the gem. However, as he reached to take it they heard the pounding of footstep from the corridor. A hairy eight foot tall man-beast with a bats nose and ears burst into the room, demanding to know what was happening to the masters pets? He barely completed his angry demand before Klara's arrow stood proud in it's chest. With nary a sigh the beast crumpled to the floor. A relieved Bogdrin set about resuming his looting.

Next they tried the Panther and Lion rooms, finding again three mummies and a gem in each. On the four try, they spotted an even larger gem in the Tiger room -and two more of those infernal beetles. Judging the prize not worth the risk, Bogdrin shut the door on them. The beetles seemed content not to pursue at this time. Instead, the pair headed through the second set of double doors, coming across a hallway with four alcoves at one end. In one alcove, they found a small fire, a rickety chair and a bedroll, in which they discovered the slain guard's small treasure. A second alcove stank of the guards piss and offal, yet that did not deter Bogdrin from searching both it and the remaining two alcoves also, to no avail.

Retracing their steps, they elected to take the other spiral staircase back to the first level. However, upon entering the room that contained the stairs on the basement level, they spotted another room and decided to investigate. This chamber held a well, whose waters Bogdrin tentatively tested for purity, before the two re-filled their empty water skins. Catching sight of a strange rune in the wells inner wall however, Klara had herself lowered down by rope, only to disappear in a purple flash. Bogdrin, alarmed, threw himself in after his companion.

Klara re-appeared in one of the empty alcoves by the guard's camp and immediately set about returning to the well room. Bogdrin, on the other hand, found himself looking straight into the glass eyes of a mummified tiger -and the compound, less welcome eyes of a startled beetle. Luckily, he was able to exit the room, closing the door behind him, before the two angry beetles could react. However, this time the disturbed beetles began chewing through the door to reach them. Had he inadvertently stepped on their nest on the way out? He did not pause to find out. Instead he ran down the corridor (in the wrong direction, I might add) crashing into Klara coming the other way. The two recovered from their shock quickly however, and returned up the stairs before the creatures could return. Choosing another path, they entered several empty rooms before coming across an eight-bed barracks. Here, two more of the bat-men were dicing on one of the beds. Unwisely, Bogdrin decided to attack and engage only one of the beasts, leaving the other free to launch itself at the far less melee capable (and already wounded) Klara. Even as Bogdrin slew his foe, Klara once again fell to hers. The second creature roared it's desire for revenge and charged Bogdrin, who desperately tried to kill it before his companion bled to death. Finally, Klara's life near spent, he turned his back on the second creature and fled to his companions side. It failed to land a blow on the dwarf's retreating back, allowing the cleric to cast his last cure spell. It was enough to save her, but not enough to restore her to consciousness. At that moment, the surviving creature charged Bogdrin once again, felling him with a terrible blow to the back of the head.

Their adventure -and their lives- were now over.


Despite the TPK (always a risk with just two characters) both players seemed to enjoy the pace of the game and the challenge of an “Old School” type adventure. Silv intends to have Bogdrin's brother, a Fighter Thief come to investigate the dwarf's disappearance. Klara's temple intends to send another of it's students to enquire after Klara. Hopefully, next time, they will come in greater numbers and with the PCs all the wiser for reading their predecessors fates in the Inn's Journal.

One thing I would comment on however, is the difficulty in DMing a module laid out with numbered entries in the manner of A Fighting Fantasy book. Flicking back and forth for the correct entry did slow down play a little and made it difficult to recall details about rooms the party had previously entered. This was not helped by the absence of map keys on the map provided. All in all though, it was a useful introduction to Old School Gaming for my two players. Neither was too disappointed at loosing their character. I had explained how frail 1st level D&D players were, with their single digit hit points, compared to the Dragon Age characters (30hp plus at first level) so they were well prepared for the likelihood that one or both of them would not make it back. In preperation for next time, I'll number the map properly with the various entry numbers and increase the number of monsters encountered to reflect the greater party size. I expect play should be smoother afterwords.


migellito said...

I love the reporting journal device! What a fantastic idea.

Dangerous Brian said...

It came straight from the module. I think it was a device to explain away why the solo-players next character would know as much about the Dungeon as the previous character. But I agree. It's very nice plot device. I've been thinking about using it for a "Trial of Champions" style scenario.

Dangerous Brian said...

Actually, just had another idea for a plot hook: the party's sponsoring patron is an older wizard, no longer able to travel as he used to. Instead, he lives viscerally through the adventurers, reading about their exploits and offering helpful advice through the medium of the journal.

migellito said...

I like the aging wizard angle. One of my long-time npc's is a fairly high-level mage who was never an adventurer. He's old and frail, so in spite of the fact that he can cast 5th level spells, he only has 2 hit points :)

... said...

I've been playing this module for a few weeks now. The first time I played it, my Magic User (I still love the Basic Rules) was killed quickly by the portcullis.

Undeterred, I created another Magic User, who eventually became pet food.

I hesitantly decided to take a different approach. I created a group of human characters (fighter, cleric, magic user, and thief). I was hesitant because I was obviously "going aginst the rules" of the SOLO adventure, but furthermore, I felt I would be playing this module as if I were playing chess against myself.

Well, my fears have been unfounded so far. First, I'm learning about the balance between DM and PCs. I'd like to expand on this idea, but since English isn't my first language, I can't find the words to elaborate. Secondly, I am learning so much about the mechanics of being a dungeon master. This module has helped practice the basics of rolling the dice, and describing rooms and situations. Thirdly, I'm learning how to play and DM the character classes. There is, of course, much more I have learned.

At this moment in my adventure, Tiimo (Veteran fighter) is quite hurt; Horloks (Medium maic user) is still cowardly, Slyme (apprentice theif) has stepped up and become important, and Aleeya (Acolyte cleric) is happy to help but despises being motherly. They've barricaded themselves in a room on Level 1 (L63)and are debating whether to continue or rest some more.

And it is white's move...