Monday, March 26, 2012

DF Game, Session 9 - Mystery of the Minotaur

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Vryce, human knight (286 points)
Borriz, dwarf knight (280 points)
Nakar, human wizard (272 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (280 points)
Fuma, human thief (250 points)

Inquisitor Marco's player couldn't make it. Fuma is a new player (but veteran gamer) trying out the game. He fit in really well, so here's hoping he liked it enough to keep playing.

The game opened with four of the "original" members of the group pouring over their map of the Caves of Chaos and discussing what to do. The plan roughly was, go find the Lord of the Maze (the minotaur) and deal with him once and for all (Honus) or just find his loot (Vryce, Nakar, Borriz). Fuma, who should have an accent over the u but I can't remember the html code for it, showed up and introduced himself. He'd arrived by caravan, and decided he'd take a shot at joining this (locally noteworthy) adventurers. Despite his obvious tattoo indicating he's been imprisoned, they welcome him to the group and include him in their plans.

They picked up some rumors - Kerrick the fur-trapper wasn't back from his trapping yet, which was unusual, and he's considering "missing." A farmer said the minotaur was a legend already when he got here years ago, and it was an immortal scourge by some god or by God to punish those who maltreated their livestock. Another trapper said the minotaur hadn't been spotted but he'd left tracks around.

Honus picked up some alchemist's fire (to potentially burn the LotM's corpse) and spoke briefly to Father Luke at the chapel. Father Luke advised him that if this minotaur is really immortal, most immortal beings have something that keeps them from their final rest on this world, and if can be removed, the immortality might go with it. Honus chunked 7 sp into the alms collection and slapped Father Luke on the shoulder in thanks.

The next day, after some stocking up, the group headed out. Thanks to Honus's inexplicably bad weather sense and shortcut attempt, they ended up getting rained on (despite Honus's predictions of "clear skies") without adequate preparations, which tired them out a bit.

The day after they made it to near the caves and camped out. On the second shift, as Borriz watched, three goblins and a hobgoblin moved up slowly on the camp. Borriz woke up (in order) Honus, Vryce, Fuma, and Nakar. All got up smoothly and got ready. Fuma slept with his crossbow loaded (bad for the bowstring, but better than getting surprised unarmed). As the goblinoids closed in, Honus got up and charged, screaming. Fuma aimed at the hobgoblin, Vryce shouted "Truce!" and Nakar made himself invisible. It messy, as always. One goblin panicked and shot an arrow at Honus missed, and Honus rapidly ran him down and then ran down another and bashed him to death with his morningstar, the Flail of the Gales. Borriz threw a hatchet a good 14 yards into a fleeing goblin and dropped him. Fuma decided, what the hell, and shot the hobgoblin (who was either waiting for Vryce to close, or just barking out orders of some kind) in the face. He rolled maximum damage (9 impale, 18 after multiplier because of the unarmored face) and the hobgoblin dropped.

The group took the one trampled goblin prisoner, bandaged up the two non-fatally wounded ones, and questioning began. The goblin broke quickly under a combination of Fuma's questions in broken Orcish (which the goblin also spoke in broken fashion) and Borriz's threats. They quickly found the goblins had a) wiped out the orcs, b) been looking for the party to "give money," and c) weren't trying to sneak up on them. Once Honus heard about the orcs, he called the goblin his buddy, shoved some food in his mouth and then dug out and gave him 20 sp. The poor confused goblin just shook and tried to answer questions as Honus fed him and Borriz kept telling him not to sneak up on them.

They sat him down by the campfire and then promptly went back to sleep except for the person on watch. They didn't bother to disarm the goblin, or even keep away him from the pile of weapons they looted from his friends.

Next morning, they dragged the shaking goblin up and checked on the wounded - the hobgoblin had died overnight, and the axe-wounded goblin was in bad shape. Borriz smashed the axe-wounded goblin's head in. The goblin asked if they wanted the food, they said no, but let him eviscerate his freshly dead buddy and grab a few choice organs to bring home. Waste not, want not. He didn't seem bothered at all by their ruthlessness, just scared of them.

They marched him back to the caves and noticed a few new things - hobgoblin sentries in the former orc and gnoll caves to the east, and fresh orc skulls lining the hobgoblin cave. Oh, and daytime patrols. The hobgoblins had clearly taken over and learned something. They put the goblin to work and sent him to fetch the chief. He banged on the hobgoblin door, they looked out, and grabbed him by the neck and dragged him in. About 10 minutes later they looked out again at the party, and then ducked back in. Another 10 minutes later, a big party of them, followed by the hobgoblin chief, marched out.

The parties quickly began negotiations. The hobgoblins offered a chest of coins - a big pile of copper ($0.10 coins), some silver ($1 coins), two gold ($100 coins), and a couple potions. In return, they wanted either the Gnoll Chief up on the highest level killed, or the Lord of the Maze killed - either one and they'd pay up. The party also asked about the six-fingered man they'd seen etched on the wall and the oddly-shaped metal torch. The chief denied knowing anything about it but was clearly shaken and lying through his teeth.

More threats and offers and whatnot, and they hammered out a deal - two potions now, then they kill the LotM, then they get the money and the chief tells them about these six-fingered guys. Deal! The took (and tested) the potions - both minor healing.

The asked for a guide, and got their friend the goblin. Borriz got his name and it was unpronounceable but shortened it down to "Brak." Fuma said, can I call him Nancy? So everyone called him Nancy. He lead them to the cave the LotM comes out of when he raids. It was the cave with a few scattered copper coins, a broken speartip, and (this was new) a dented-beyond-salvage gnoll helmet. They entered.

The group spent what turned out to be the better part of an hour winding around caves. Using his brandy-new shield-mounted lectern, Nakar tried mapping*. Soon his map wound in on itself and they decided they weren't doing so well with the map. They bypassed some sluggish giant glowing beetles that didn't seem aggressive.

As they turned one corner to a tight, tight bend, the Lord of the Maze trotted out and attacked. Borriz was facing him, and turned and All-Out Defended.
Vryce shouldered his way up, and Waited. The mino moved up and Vryce stabbed at him. Not yet berserk, he was able to parry one stab and dodge the other. The LotM then speared and gored Borriz - who prompted critically failed his parry and hit himself in the leg, nearly crippling it, and was severely speared by the minotaur. He fended off the gore attempt. He barely held on to consciousness.
The fight was short from there - Vryce mildy injured him with a stab, Borriz brained the LotM and mildly injured him on on his first strike and deal out maximum damage on the other. The mino's skull caved in and it left one eye cocked oddly and his brain exposed. He roared with rage and attacked! Luckily they fended off his strikes, and then Vryce stabbed him in both eyes, blinding him and finishing him. He dropped dead at their feet.

The group set up around Borriz and the mino, and tended to Borriz's wounds (he ended up needing both minor healing potions and then some) while keeping watch. Fuma searched the minotaur, including a body cavity search, but didn't find anythign interesting. Honus took his mail shirt and spear, again. Then Honus began to cut up the minotaur with the solid silver dagger they'd looted from some wights last time out. He kept up the minosection until he'd totally sliced everything up. Head off, neck open, chest open, organs open, stomachs (he has three) open and a bezoar removed and handed over to Nakar. Nakar checked out the bezoar and found it was wet and soggy, but consisted of rotted grasses, very old stone and bone bits, and assorted bits of grue - and wasn't magical.

The group spent a lot of time dissecting, discussing, and deciding. Then they decided against burning the corpse, but took his head (Honus would hold it instead of a weapon), his hooves, and his hands, and keep them visible at all times.

They began to track the minotaur, depending on Brak/Nancy's (soon determined to be useless) nose and Honus's tracking. They soon lost any trace of him on the dry stone, but kept searching. Nakar kept mapping (although we switched players - now Borriz's player and Fuma's player kept tandem maps)** but the maze still seemed too complex. Multiple times they used markings, numbered markings, arrows, etc. but kept coming back to places they'd been when their map indicated they'd turned down "new" directions. They ended up outside at one point and just camped for lunch before heading back in.

Finally, they used Seek Earth to locate the nearest source of gold (except what they carried). It wasn't far - 50 yards or so. But they couldn't seem to get nearer . . . and then Honus felt dizzy for a second and saw the group decide to go left . . . and turn right. He stopped them and explained. They tried again, and a few more realized what had happened.

They also took a look at their trophies - the mino head had dried out, the hands shriveled a bit, the hooves hollowed. Uh-oh.

Long story short, they began to check every turn and see if they could resist whatever supernatural power was turning them away from the gold. They slowly but surely made their way to a new area - a big cave full of meticulously arranged stacks of skulls, piles of bones, collections of phalanges, etc. and a sleeping mat of leaves and old furs. They searched carefully and found a big rock was being used as a "door" to wall off a small section of cave. Vryce got a double handhold and Borriz and Honus wedged in their crowbars and pried it open partway.

Inside was a smallish nook with a staff***, a wooden coffer, a small iron chest, and an ironbound chest. Some careful trap detection and examination and lockpicking by Fuma took care of a (decoy) lock designed to blast a jet of alchemist's fire into a would-be lockpicker, a poisoned needle, and the locks. They scored a few pieces of gold jewelry, a fine quality suit of elven mail (roughly Fuma's size, too, coincidently), three potions (major healing, universal antidote, and gaseous form/body of air), 51 gp, 930 sp, and the staff turned out to be magical. They spent an hour searching (and trashing the neat bone piles) while Nakar used Analyze Magic on the staff. It's a Staff of Healing, which lets a cleric heal people of minor injuries once a day per patient at no cost.

They looked again at the trophies - the skull was a bare skull now, and was gently flaking away. The body - they tried to find it with Seeker but the spell failed. The hands were bones. Double uh-oh.

After this, the group tried to find its way out, but even that took a lot of work before they managed to find the exit and walk out into daylight. They showed the skull, etc. to the hobgoblin chief, and Nancy/Brak confirmed their tale. They were given the gold and the chief told them what he knew about the six-fingered people.

They are the masters, who rule underground. They came from the big mountain (yes, the megadungeon), they rule everything underground, and they are clearly treated as feared gods by the goblinoids (at least when they're around). No, they didn't know anything about some metal torch, and they seemed alarmed the PCs meant that either they worked for the six-fingered blood drinkers or that they were nearby. In the end the PCs confirmed as much as they could through the chief's broken common. Seems like the hobgoblins serve the six-fingers when they are compelled to, fear them, and don't know much about them beyond that.

The group realized the minotaur was coming back again, and he'd want his mail and spear. So, evil bastards that they apparently are, they gifted them to the hobgoblin chief and told him to keep them safe deep within their lair. They figure the LotM will return and bust his way into the hobgoblin lair and kill them in bunches to get his stuff back. As I said, bastards. The chief seemed pleased with this well-made spear, but clearly has no idea what that'll mean for his tribe.

After that, the group returned to the Keep to rest up, pack up, and then head to Stericksburg.


* I don't allow the players to map unless a character is mapping.

** It doesn't matter to me which player draws it (Player A's character is mapping, and Player B draws it = fine with me), but someone needs to be doing it. No character mapping, no map. One guy mapping, yeah, everyone can join in if they want, I'm fine with that.

*** Which I described as looking like Moses' staff in The Ten Commandments.

See Secrets - We had some (inevitable) discussions about See Secrets, which Nakar keeps up and active at all times that he's awake. Like most spells, it's both absolute and powerful but also vague. My ruling has been that it'll reveal anything deliberately hidden automatically . . . if you can see the hiding spot directly. A secret door? Easily spotted. A normal door or secret door behind a curtain? Can't see it, even if the curtain was deliberately placed there to conceal it. The idea is to make you open chests to see the false bottom, use Night Vision to spot the stuff in the dark, flake off paint to see the hidden thing undernearth. Otherwise, I feel the spell is too broadly powerful, and becomes a potential abusive way to circumvent investigation and actual searching.

So for example, See Secrets didn't detect that the (fake) padlock was a trap, because it wasn't hidden. It didn't notice the stone door, because it wasn't a secret door but rather a stone slab door that just wasn't recognized initially as a door.

I figure that's a ruling I can live with, and so far so good, although the limitations bug my players a little bit.

Mazes: This is why I don't use mazes. This one was supernatural, but it also sucks to deal with. One player mentioned Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord and it's turnaround/teleport maze. That's not what I want to emulate, just because the fun-to-frustration ratio is a bit too low for regular use. They'll turn up, but not that often.

(Originally mis-titled this "Session 8" but it is in fact session 9)


  1. I agree. I also dislike mazes. They are tedious to deal with both as a player and as a referee. I also find that they actually take away from the mystery of a setting, because players stop thinking about it as an interesting location and just focus all their energy on not getting lost.

    1. I think the only thing that made this maze interesting was once they figured out it was magical. Then it went from "we're mapping wrong, dammit!" to "some magic is messing with us, dammit!" which is much better. Otherwise it's just frustrating.

  2. Mazes are a staple primarily because they are easy to implement in text adventure games. I liked them as a child because they were the only type of puzzle I could brute force my way through. (Still... if something can take the stuff you leave on the floor to mark rooms, it's nice if there is a way to kill it.)

    1. I think it's more of a staple because of the original labyrinth, and from there into video games where it was a mapping challenge. But really, as good as a labyrinth looks on a GM's map, it's just frustrating for players. It's akin to doing a kid's follow-the-maze cereal box challenge but while someone describes it to you and doesn't let you see the picture. Plus monsters.

      I'll use them again, but I'll make it clear it's a maze, and I won't use them often.

    2. The other thing that makes mazes not a very good fit for a tabletop RPG in my opinion is that a good maze is almost by definition nondescript, meaning that other than movement choices there is not much else to occupy or interest players.

    3. If one cares about such things, mazes are close to being a platonic example of using the player's abilities rather than character's.

    4. Yeah, too bad they aren't that fun. Probably more of a comment on mazes or platonic ideals in practice than a comment on player skill in games though.

  3. The last time I used a maze (made by, yes, minotaurs) I used a random maze generator I found online (set to "insane"), prettied it up in GIMP, and printed it out as a handout for the players, for the map they found in-game.

    There was a lot of swearing about blasted minotaurs, and then I handled it mostly like DF2's guidelines wilderness exploration - ie a few skill rolls and then you arrive at the next interesting bit down some time and some FP. I sketched out the "interesting bits" and made a point of them all being asymmetrical and twisty. Because: blasted minotaurs.

    It was pretty effective all told - especially handing them the map without any sort of advance warning that I wouldn't make them try to navigate it the hard way.

    Yes, this is basically the opposite of the player's abilities idea, but considering the reaction I got from my players, I think it was probably the right approach for us.

    1. That's an interesting way to handle a maze. Maybe I'll try that next time I do one - maybe an incomplete one, with a few bits marked "we didn't get here." I'll see how that works.


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