Saturday, September 28, 2013

Roll20: The Beast of the Broch

Well, as promised, via the online usefulness of Roll20 last weekend I GMed a game of my own creation, an old school Basic D&D game called The Beast of the Broch, with three other guys and only an equator separating one of us from the others.

The result? An experience actually not too different from my past games - we over-ran on time (by about two hours!), there was a last-minute stand off/scramble to escape on the PCs' part (which ran smoother than in previous games due to this one being simpler and having some 'emergency exits' built in), and I want to do it again soon! Ultimately we used a minimum of Roll20's features - an online dice roller (though we turned off the graphic interface), a map builder with separate levels for players and the GM (fun to make, but I spent nearly a week creating these due to me being a little too particular), and the text-box chat function which, when Skype fell over on occasion, was a perfectly fine compromise.

So, all in all a fun game with some joking around, some 'character moments' or opportunities for genius/heroism/novel alignment play for the PCs (something I work at to foster in my games as it makes them more satisfying all round), and a bit of mystery. There' some discussion of the mechanics behind the game story after the jump below, but in short Roll2 provided most of the short cuts I needed (apart from the monster stats, roll tables and the like - a handy GM shield close by did the job though) and removed some of the messier game mechanics while still providing the visual clues and dramatic dice rolls. I'll stick with Roll20, I reckon, and see if I can't unlock some of its other features to ease play a little more.

Okay, the game itself. I stuck pretty closely to the old TSR rulebooks - namely the Basic, Expert and Companion sets, pitting the six PCs (plus two Halfling retainers) against what turned out to be a low-level Wight controlling four Half-Wights (a home made monster based on the Basic Set descriptions) and six skeletons as the Wight's 'pawns.' On paper this would be a simple task: enter the broch, kill the monsters and along the way find out what happened to the brother Rangers who'd used the ruin as their base until recently (the answer, it turned out, was in the monsters inhabiting the ruin now), but the twist was that there was an optimum order in which to take the undead on - from weakest (Skeleton) to strongest (the big bad Wight). Einar the Wight as an undead 'liege' was the apex of a pyramid of control that put most of his influence over the Skeletons. The resulting control allowed him surveillance over the broch and its immediate surroundings, along with a small line of defense that couldn't be turned by either of the party's two first level Clerics (as the Skeletons inherited Einar's 'strength' against turning while under his control), but which could still be bested with conventional weapons.

Above the Skeletons in the pyramid were three Half-Wights, a creature not fully described in the Basic rulebook save for them being 'half strength'. I inferred that to mean half the usual Wight Hit Dice, plus a Strength draining capacity equivalent to a Shadow. Their touch would indeed drain a level, but in a lighter way - all the PCs were first level, meaning a Wight attack of one XP level drain would simply kill them outright (and indeed Einar killed two PCs that way), so as a compromise I ruled that the energy drain attack of the Half-Wights would cost one Strength point (for up to a week) and reduce the victim's stats to that of a Normal Man in attack rolls, saving throws and abilities (which would therefore negate the skills of a thief or spell ability of any caster.) Quick thinking by the smarter members of the party ("throw a torch and some oil in to room after them and lock the door!") meant that the party was spared that, and in any case, the Half-Wights were effectively 'dormant' until the Skeletons were slain and Einar's power could then be allocated to the Half-Wights.

Einar was the greatest threat, of course, and as noted above, did for two PCs and reduced the party's only second-level member (one of the retainers) to first level status. had the party somehow encountered and (in credibly, though not outside their abilities) killed Einar then his influence over the Half-Wights would have lapsed, making them three free-willed Wights instead, possibly with the option of attempting to control a few Skeletons apiece. Tough call, and it never happened, but it was a fun premise!

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