Thursday, December 16, 2010

Roll Over!


Last Sunday saw a test card perfect summer day in the Capital and, as blogged earlier, I was stuck inside almost for the duration of its balmy and later humid length. It wasn’t all bad, though. I, Paul M, Jamas and Meromo played my near-complete D&D game ‘below Barbigazl’, a sequel to the 2007 smash-hit and character-killer that took its PCs (that’s Player characters to those of you not playing at home) into an abandoned Dwarven kingdom where deadly goblins, deadly undead and surprisingly sophisticated and ruthless Gnomes awaited. The original game ended with a rush and was a bit of a fumble due to a lack of preparedness and closing windows of opportunity (read: real-life timetables). Could the follow-up improve things? Well, as it turned out, a little. But not entirely.

The party this time were sent on a mission by the community of the Gnomes they had last ambushed (see Jamas’ description here) and was situated as the title suggests, some distance below the Dwarven stronghold, in strange caverns of giant fungi, a lost city of rock salt, and narrow tunnels inhabited by horrible blind troglodytic humanoids. There were some unconventional steps – the opening monster was no mean enemy – a green dragon with an impressive hoard. The party dispatched him after some puzzle solving and could have walked away then and there intact and rather flush for the experience. But credit to them and their players, they hung on, entering the mountain in search of the ‘missing behind enemy lines’ character they were enlisted to rescue. Then their troubles began, and I’ll leave it to Jamas to describe the story in his blog.

It was a very enjoyable afternoon, situated in an off-the-street art space in the CBD with plenty of room and (a revelation!) a whiteboard which became my favourite tool as Dungeon master – so useful for mapping out tunnels and corridors and spaces, assigning a marching and fighting order for the party, and it became pretty much our fifth member for the game for that. I think the guys enjoyed themselves. We had one character death – not an heroic one, but the guy involved distinguished himself early on so wasn’t without his triumphs before the curtain descended. Everyone made sacrifices – my chief one was sidetracking (and in doing so railroading) some deadly Kobold caves. I’d been reading Tucker’s Kobolds, an infamous and hilarious editorial from Dragon magazine committed to digital form – during my last-minute creation of the module I realised the insanity of the intricate pitfalls and traps I was obsessing over at the expense of the greater game, and stopped, making sure that sections of the game such as this could be closed off if time was short.

As it turned out, time did diminish somewhat, but we were all home before tea and nobody got hurt. The new creatures I created (the mole men) were suitably ooky and threw the party, almost TPK-ing them, as did an encounter with an enormous slug, a traditional monster with surprising advantages, but a rewarding encounter for giving some of the characters ‘beats’ to play out their specific talents. I missed some opportunities along the way – putting in magical items that were either irrelevant or not that useful where another would have been, and failing to get the party to rest adequately between encounters. Their oversight turned into an inability to rest once they were deep inside the goblin lair, and death was sort of inevitable for one character who had been in turn cursed against wielding anything metal, burned by acidic slug spit, afflicted with a leprous disease, and finally shot by a goblin. In the end the last act was eerily like the earlier game – a Mexican stand-off, albeit with short grey-green Mexicans, and a hastily-orchestrated retreat with the party’s rescued Delver and his all-important crosier, back to safety and ready to plan the next adventure.

Will there be another attempt on Barbigazl? I hope so. There may be an opportunity, and there’s certainly enough in the way of loose ends to create something close to what I’d have liked both games to be. But with two attempts down, will the third time be the charm? Roll d20 to see, I guess…

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