Thursday, December 31, 2015

DF Game, Session 70 - Lost City 4 - Arachno-Assassins & the First Bell

Yesterday we played out session 4 of the 5-6 that the PCs can manage in the Lost City of D'Abo before the caravan home departs.

December 30th, 2015

Weather: Varied (mix of rain and one torrential storm)

Characters (approximate net point total)

Angus "Mithrilbraid" McSwashy, dwarf swashbuckler (250 points)
Gerald Tarrant, human wizard (285 points)
Hasdrubul Stormcaller, human wizard (259 points)
Hjalmarr Holgerson, human knight (258 points)
Mo (his momma call him Kle), human barbarian (265 points)
Quenton Gale, human druid (252 points)

In reserve:
Kenner Baumfellen, wood elf scout (250 points)

We started in the trading camp. The PCs snapped up all of the paut and healing potions that Dr. Nick Mako had for sale. Angus came back, declared he had no idea what he missed and didn't care, and took back over as party treasure-tracker. They gathered some rumors in town, many of which just filled in gaps about the vegepygmies and their thorn-hounds ("spiky bear dogs") that they didn't have confirmation of. Mostly people told them, "Your druid can handle that." "I'm not that kind of druid," claimed Quenton. So they stocked up on rations and headed out.

It took only three days to get to the city, and camping overnight was a bit easier because Quenton revealed he has Weather Dome to keep out the ran. Their trip was interrupted briefly on the third day. Mo was in the lead (skeletons and knights being terrible point men) when he stepped over the wrong vine. The vine, and five others like it, snaked out of the bushes and grabbed at him. His Combat Reflexes allowed him to avoid most of them but one grabbed him and held him fast! He drove his feet down and attacked to break free, pulling himself loose. The vines grabbed at him again. One grabbed on, but Hjalmar's thrown axe cut it off and Mo snapped another off with his morninstar. Angus moved up quickly with his sword. The vines kept after Mo, even once severed! They cut one in half on the ground it, too, kept after them. Hjalmar stopped and looked to see their source, and realized there was a bulb with a red maw in the middle surrounded by the tentacles. He pointed and a vine snaked around his neck (a 3, followed by 17 on the hit location table). Mo smashed the bulb (which was partly concealed by an innocent bush) as Angus came and chopped it up with his edged rapier. It stopped attacking.

Quenton got a look at it and pronounced it an octopus blossom, a kind of meat-eating plant that could uproot itself to move. They move near game trails and water sources and grab unwary prey, and then move on when the pickings are too slim. Hasdrubel and Angus, not to be outdone, claimed you can boil them down into healing potions that are especially effective for barbarians. Mo didn't buy that.

Near nightfall on the third day, as they were setting up camp near the city, a huge storm rolled in (18 on the weather check). Gods-hate-you-guys rain and wind. Luckily Weather Dome kept them from being soaked, and good campsite choices meant they were above the flooding waters. They spend an entire day waiting out the storm, with only Mo sneaking out in the heavy rains to try and look into the city. Water flowed down in it, and the "safe" strip along the edge was a waterfall with the soil stripped off. Wind whipped the trees. Seeing nothing, he headed back.

There was some odd discussion here of Levitating to counter the winds, and to drop rocks on Rangol Grot's illusion-covered house in order to do something.

In the morning, after the storm had ended, they went down into the city via the big tree. The city's lake was greatly swelled in size, and the whole place was wet and steaming.

First Gerry sent down Quention with Levitate, after he secured a rope onto the tree. Hjalmarr climbed across and started down. Angus simply jumped into the tree . . . onto a weak branch. Snap. He fell. He grabbed onto another branch, which held just long enough for him to grab onto the trunk. Swashbuckler-style travel. He climbed down as fast as he could, doubling up his travel speed in return for a steep penalty. He was fine until he was about 60 yards or so down, when he heard a noise and saw a monkey-like skinny man on the branches. As he opened his mouth to yell to the group, a noose dropped around his neck from behind and cinched tight. He tried to look over his shoulder but couldn't see anything, so he slashed the rope with a blind cut, severing it. Then three of those monkey-man swarmed him. He yelled, "Mowgli!" based on the rumors he'd heard. One grabbed the noose, another waved a pointed wooden knife in his face, and still another closed from behind. Holding onto the tree with one hand and fighting with the other, Angus Kiai'd and stunned one and then cut it in half. He took a stab in the neck from behind as one jumped on his back. He Kiai'd the other, and sliced him down in a couple of hits.

Meanwhile Hjalmar kept climbing down. Gerry dropped himself down with Levitate alternating with just falling, which was vomit-inducing but not fatal or injurious. Mo started making monkey noises based on the ones he heard before, figuring it was the mowgli and he could mess up their communicating. Quenton made cat noises, "like a tree-leopard attacking mowgli, you know the one - basic stuff." It wasn't clear if this did the trick or not, but as Angus shrugged off another stab (Dwarves are tough) he Kiai'd a few times, repeatedly re-stunned the mowgli on his back. He got in three good hilt punches, knocking the thing out and it dropped off of him. Others scattered from the trees. Quenton waited in concealment at the bottom and watched them run into a house.

From there, they moved to the five-towers building they'd scoped out (and briefly climbed on) before. They weren't bothered. They found the building had two pocket doors, but very large ones (10' tall, 8' wide), on either side. They chose the West side to avoid being close to Grot's mansion.

The forced open the West door and found that inside were five smaller base structures, corresponding to the towers above. The four corners had large pocket doors; the main one had a dark wood, iron-bound, silver-and-bronze reinforced door with a central oblong keyhole and recessed hinges. The door had spells on it, spotted with Mage Sight.

They searched the four corner towers, first. They all turned out the same - five-story towers with central stone spiral staircases, devoid of loot and much beyond stone furniture, with single-color enchanted stained glass windows (which turned out to be normal, just protected from damage). On the top floor, however, there were windows on the N, S, E, and W facings, and large purple six-fingered left hands on the NW, NE, SE, and SW facings.

Since all were like that, eventually they decided to have one person touch each of the hands facing in towards the tower at the same time. It took some coordination, but with them all touching at the same time, whatever spell was on the door ended. Lockmaster opened it right up and it swung in.

The hand-touchers ran down and then headed in. They decided the door would close itself so they hooked their crowbar over the lip. They were ultimately right - as they climbed up, they heard it try to close and get stuck. They headed to the top, passing looted room after looted room.

The top room, however, wasn't on the fifth floor, but the fourth, with a very high ceiling. In it was a chest with three dead bodies near it, as well as six six-armed skeletons and a black-shrouded slender metal form. Hjalmar looked around, and told them what he saw. The skeletons and shrouded form were clearly animated, but not moving. The chest was clearly where the bell would be. They told him to come back down so they could plot.

They did . . . but in a short time they weren't alone. The shrouded metal thing (later recognized as an iron spectre, a kind of construct) glided down the stairs and sent a green beam from its one green eye, causing Fear in Hjlamar (he ended up at -6 for all non-fleeing actions.) Mo charged it and struck at it, but it dodged. He managed to strike it once but it slashed back and wounded his hand with its long metal talons. Angus piled on, seeing a chance to get it while they had the advantage. He slashed at it and caught it once and damaged it badly, as well, but took a red eye ray in return, and was paralyzed! He used luck, and managed to reduce a minutes-long paralysis to seconds. It floated away and up before Gerry or Hasdrubel could deal with it with magic.

They pursued, into a nasty and close-in fight. Mo made it up the stairs but took three arrows in the back, and then three more a second later. He also took five falchion swings from an arachno-assassin, as the six-armed skeletal constructs (not undead, Gerry confirmed) are called. Three landed and cut him up badly. An arachno-warrior (the shield-armed ones) attacked him, but its mace broke on a critical failure. It still managed to crack Mo's skull, but that still wasn't enough to put Mo down - he rolled a 4 on his consciousness check, which we house-ruled means you don't need to roll again until more damage comes up.

Hasdrubel did, however, start to cast a Spark Storm from the floor below, filling the room above. It would take five seconds to come up to power. The next fight seconds, though, were brutal.

Hjalmarr came up the stairs, and had a chance to step forward but didn't take it, worried about arrows.

 photo session-70-lost-city-4_pic-1_offensive-and-defensive-lines s_zps9idk6wsr.jpg

It was a fateful decision, as the arachno-warrior near him closed off the stairs and attacked, and was able to fend off Hjal's swings because of his superior position. Angus followed him, but an arachno-assassin jumped down to cut him off from behind.

The one facing Hjalmarr dropped a few blows and him, he couldn't defend, and he dropped, dead.

Angus soon followed him down - he was Great Hasted by Gerry, and rapidly chopped up the arachno-assassin behind him. He moved up over Hjalmarr's corpse to fight.

But he was zapped with the green fear ray, and was at -5 for fear.

 photo session-70-lost-city-4_pic-2_stairwell-battle s_zpsgk4nk02b.jpg

Then he took a shot from one of the constructs and went down. Mo kept fighting, downing one after another of the constructs with hard shots stacked as heavily as he could with Deceptive Attack (plus some remarkable rolling, on hits, consciousness, and damage) as he moved to have some chance of defenses. Even with Retreat and Cross Parry and shields, they couldn't keep him off of them.

Just as Mo took three more arrows and dropped one more of the arachno-warriors, the storm reached full power. That made the arachno-archers into point-blank-only, and the lightning that randomly struck doing 3d-3 kept hitting the foes, not Mo. In a few short seconds, all were down - Mo put down the two archers (one damaged by lightning), and the iron spectre went down from lightning.

 photo session-70-lost-city-4_pic-3_aftermath s_zpsbymtwgmn.jpg

Hasdrubel cancelled his storm, and they rested.

They looted the room, finding a magical shortsword and a potion on one of the corpses, evidence they were pirates from the southern seas (not physically far from here, by water), and checked out the chest.

The chest was stone, with a metal lock. They didn't spot any traps (their defaults suck), and Lockmaster failed over and over. So they used Shape Stone to get it open . . . which set off a poison gas trap that injured Quenton and Gerry. Purify Air cleared it out, soon enough.

Inside was 60 gold passage coins ($100 each), a magic ring, and something small and roundish wrapped in fine opaque cloth - cloth spun out of hopes and dreams, worth 1000 sp by itself. They carefully opened it, and found a slightly-oval shapped bell of gold, topped with a red-gold knob at top. One of the Golden Bells of D'Abo!

The healed up as best they could, but couldn't do anything for Hjalmarr. Gerry cast Zombie on him, though, to help get everything out of the lost city. He rolled a 4, so I ruled that the spell wouldn't be permanent, only lasting, so he could cancel it later without having to hack Zombiemarr to -1 x HP later.

They got back out of the city with brute-force Levitation

It was already late, so I just dispensed with encounters on the way back except for travel delays. It took four days to return to the camp.


Good session. Fun, despite the casualty.

- We mapped the big flight with a 10" dinner plate. That's how you know our host is a gamer - non-gamers don't want dinnerware used as map drawing tools.

- The big fight was actually me being, in a word, mean. My players have this tendency with set-pieces: they'll peek it, back off, test the limits of "activation" and "how far the monsters can go," then try to kill it with spells or ranged attacks or something without risk, and then - and only then - consider moving in with some kind of coordinated attack. Maybe. Generally they'll try some other form of "lock the door, throw in some spells, and wait it out."

So did this one a little differently. I set a real-world 5 minute limit. I said outright the arachno-assassins were clearly animate, and the iron spectre was clearly hovering, but they weren't shifting from their positions. I mentioned their glowing eyes and ready weapons. I figured, 5 minutes is enough time to spot the treasure chest, quickly decide if they'll stay or go, and then move in and set up. Or hesitate until the advantage was lost.

Instead they backed down the stairs and did the usual "let's plan this out." So the iron spectre went down to draw them out and/or pursue them (had they run, the arachno-assassins would have pursued) the PCs then had to come up, under arrow fire from behind and the sides, against active and coordinated opposition. They won, because the guardians were relatively fragile and not well equipped to deal with flails, but it cost them Hjalmar's life and well over 100 damage to Mo and serious damage to Angus. A few rolls differently and Mo would have died, too, against foes that really could have been overwhelmed a little easier if the PCs didn't have to leave most of their number out of the fight. When pursued, though, they quickly counter-attacked, which was the only move that kept them from being chased down from behind by fast-moving high-offense foes.

It probably won't change things, but yes, when the GM is tired of "peek in, test the limits of monster activation to the inch, then kill them with a ranged attack from safety" you can end up paying when you try it anyway. It's a valid real-world tactic, but so is establishing an interlocking defense or attacking before your foes are ready. You can't efficiently win every fight with "minimum risk this turn" type approaches.

- Angus used luck to re-roll his failed resistance to the paralyzing ray. He rolled a 4, but that was still only enough to fail by 1. Still, a 4 is pretty impressive and should do something. So I reduced the paralysis from minutes to seconds, but still left him paralyzed for what turned out to be 2 seconds.

- I decided I hate how Windstorm handles a lot of its mechanics. It's inconsistent, a bit silly ("-10 per yard" penalties), had a weird ST roll in it but doesn't really restrict movement (made your roll, move normally - really?). I'll go fix it so it's still effective but doesn't have these unique effects that don't map to anything else.

- I'd been holding on to those minis for a long time. One of my players admitted he saw them for sale online and decided not to get them for me, because, "He would already have them." He was right.

XP was 5 - 4 for sufficient loot, no exploration bonus, +1 for finding one of the Bells of D'Abo, no "clean run" bonus. Getting Hjalmar's corpse back to town (even if via Zombie) so he can be raised or Final Rested worked out okay.

. . . and I'd just finished the conversion and painting of Hjalmarr. oh well. I'll spray seal him again and give him back to his real owner, Vic.


  1. That was a rough fight and if we weren't perfectly armed- a 3d+4 crushing weapon against bone constructs, and a lightning storm vs. a metal one- it would have gone even worse.
    Hasdrubul's tactic was the right one- if he cast Spark Storm that before the monsters activated, they would either eventually die up there or charge down the stairs where we could take them 2 or 3 at a time. Unfortunately for Hjalmarr a Battle Enraged barbarian chased the iron spectre upstairs and his comrades defended him.
    I got very lucky on my rolls- a 10 or 12 to hit with deceptive attacks each time, missing only twice. If I hadn't forgotten that I Berserk cancels half move and dodge, I would have defended a little bit better. And the Shield spell Gerry cast for the final four rounds definitely saved Mo from instant death at 5xHT. The final tally was -93HP. Which beats Raggi's total by 5 points in the blood pool!

    I agree on Windstorm- you shouldn't be at full move, a ST roll for every step, and some sort of move reduction, adjusted for ST and inertia, would make sense. A rhino should be able to charge through (or even a linebacker, depending on the size of the storm and how much of a running start) with enough ST and DX rolls. But full move while you're IN it seems too easy. It's not a tornado, but walking in a 50mph storm isn't easy.
    It was sad losing Hjlamarr and if we have enough cash to resurrect him after we appraise the magic cutlass, I'd leave it up to his player. We could surely use a cleric, but it's his call. And the fainting arachnophobic Viking axe warrior was too much fun to lose so soon.

    1. They wouldn't have stayed still once attacked. Hasdrubel made the right move, but if you guys had just backed off, they wouldn't have waited up there for you to finish setting the ambush . . . the first second of Windstorm would have triggered a charge! They're offensive weapons left for defense, and had tactics designed to do so. The only tactical puzzle to them was, can you destroy them before they overwhelm you with high-damage attacks that don't often miss (in fact, missed only twice the whole fight)?

    2. Just to make it clear, it was "you have 5 minutes before they act" not "you have 5 minutes while they are unable to act."

    3. Windstorm could probably be treated as encumbrance? You're getting pushed by X lbs of force would probably translate into Move, Dodge, and maybe even skill penalties?

    4. I have another idea that's less of a nightmare in play - encumbrance means I'd need know the BL and encumbrance levels and modified move for every monster in DF. But rolling ST in the manner done in the spell - not a contest, just a flat roll - isn't a good way to go.

  2. I liked the perfectly circular tower. I'd have probably hand-drawn it ugly and blamed the architects.

    Both of the DF games I'm involved with have solved the tactical analysis paralysis problem with disads. Someone's always got Impulsive. A correctly played Impulsive character will say "You guys have 5 seconds to plan then I'm going in." Maybe in the long run adventuring parties will stop inviting Impulsive types, but I haven't seen it happen yet.

  3. Yeah, as a player I am impulsive. I did not give Mo the disad (Impatient is a quirk) so I'm forced to only rush in when I feel like the party is truly hemming and hawing, or over-planning, which is one of our common quagmires.
    "Great, the berserker charged in, shouting Leeeroy Jenkins..."
    This was a great setup and honestly, it ended bad- a PC kill-
    but if we were all up there when they activated I think we'd have lost Hasdrubul and/or Quentin unless we'd buffed them heavily. One arachno warrior did 38 HP to me in a single round when I have 6DR.

    1. Mo is always going to charge in, he's got Berserk with Battle Fury. You guys can't base tactics on sitting back and waiting for the enemies to come to you, because Mo can't do that once the fighting starts. Being mildly impulsive is a whole different problem. ;)

      It's possible more people would have died if you guys went, possible less would have. We can't really say either way. But I did want to make it clear that even in set-piece encounters the idea that the monsters will just wait and let you safely kill them with ranged magic, or fight in the channels you make, give you time to buff, or let you send in the fighters and leave your mages alone, etc. is an unrealistic and dangerous assumption.

      But I did give you guys enough to get up there and set up, if you'd moved quickly. And those arachno-assassins stayed up for some extra seconds (and got back shots, and double-teamed people) because you guys had to fight your way up the stairs and cede bonuses to them. Had you stayed down, perhaps they would have had to fight one at a time against three of you, but then again, Mo can't do that and the room layout and opposition abilities would have made that more difficult.

      Besides, Quenton wouldn't die in melee. He's not that kind of druid.

  4. Windstorm is one of those Grimoire legacy spells that needs to be rewritten from top to bottom, so Spark Storm and Body of Wind do as well. Those and Phantom probably need it the worst.

    1. I already did Phantom, but Windstorm is next on the list. Spark Storm is fine, once Windstorm is fixed to be more mechanically consistent.

  5. Those miniatures are a great variation on plain old skeletons


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