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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons - The Menacing Malady by Chris Perkins

Last night I ran another online game for people who responded to my post last week. This is a 2nd edition adventure that I converted to 5e. It is from Dungeon Magazine #58.

Why is This Happening? I'm doing this to learn what it is like to run games online and possibly to practice for doing my own goofy little D&D show.

If I do a show, I want it to be a game of hardcore D&D. We play every week and we play through old adventures that we've all heard of but never actually gone through. I have two old mega-adventures in mind that I have literally never heard of anyone playing through that definitely deserve to be used.

Who knows, though. Right now, I'm just putting my toe in the water.

Volo's Guide: I should note that I used the vegepygmy stats from Volo's Guide to Monsters page 197. They worked perfectly! I had to alter the russet mold. The 2e version transforms you. The 5e version causes "newborn" vegepygmies to burst out of the victim's body! I went with 2e version, as it was essential to the adventure.

There is a lot of meta-rambling in this article. The actual summary starts down beneath "The Scheme of Skargle." Tonight's group:

(Shane) Ambrose - Human Warlock
(Matt) Arietta - Human Warlock
(Ellen) Burwin - Gnome Bard
(Jesse) Kyrin - Human Cleric

A mold man aka vegepygmy

The players were all really nice. Once again, I ran out of time when preparing and didn't get to look up any of their powers or spells.

Kyrin in particular has this awesome backstory that I was able to sort of work in to this, but we just ran out of time. He's a cleric of the Raven Queen. The Raven Queen has a huge history in my campaign world, as she was almost killed by Orcus when I ran the HPE 4th edition path in 2009-2010.

The problem in this session was that I made about a million mistakes. I had to let it soak overnight so I could get perspective on the session. Let's start with me telling you a little about this adventure.

Mold Man Rampage: This adventure is written by the mighty Chris Perkins. It is about a 'hospital' that has a mold man infestation break out. The group needs to go in there and figure out what is going on. Spoiler alert: A bad guy used russet mold to turn all of the patients into mold men, who are now on a rampage/watering themselves.

When I looked this adventure over, I was on the fence about running it because it is about vegepygmies, which is weird. Mainly, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to pull it off. It's not a static dungeon. It's a place to explore and a mystery to solve. I find these types of adventures to be intimidating to run.

The Ground Floor

The Map: One hurdle I had to overcome was the map. We're playing on google hangouts - there's no way to display maps. So I made a map and emailed it to each player so that they could refer to it as we played. Describing the interior of the hospital would have been very difficult. This worked out perfectly.

Skargle: I saw the bad guy's name - Skargle. That's when I decided I wanted to run this. What a great name. I couldn't wait to say it out loud. I just imagined all the awesome villainy that this scumbag Skargle would partake in.

We never got to Skargle. It was a two hour session and again I tried to cram way too much in.

Conversing in Google Hangouts: One thing I am still trying to learn is the weird way that conversation works online. You can't talk over each other, it just doesn't work. It leads to a lot of little unanticipated things.

One thing was that when I would ask the group what they wanted to do next, there was a long pause. That's because people didn't want to talk over each other. Also, if a situation arose that the whole group could react to, I would ask them what they do. Again, they can't talk over each other, and because everyone is polite (which is awesome), nobody says anything for a moment.

These kind of things can be ironed out over a few sessions as you establish the group dynamic. But in a one-shot where nobody knows each other, it slows things down quite a bit.

I think what I should have done in those situations is to ask each individual person what they did.

Motor Mouth: Another problem was me. I talk a lot. Online, that's trouble because only one person can talk at a time. If the DM is constantly blabbing away and cracking the whip, there's almost no room for the players to play!

I caught myself actually cutting off a player trying to roleplay about five times. I'm so conscious of time that I would take any pause as an indication to move forward.

Everyone had put a lot of thought into their character. I feel like I didn't give them the space to express it.

D&D Wisdom: Chris Perkins gave some DM advice a few months back: "Talk less, listen more."

That has really stuck in my head but I've had trouble applying it in games. In the past, I've been in a lot of campaigns where the DM just sits back and lets the group flounder. I know sometimes the DM is doing this because they don't have any/enough material prepared and they are just trying to filibuster a session. I hate that. I would quit that game.

The question is, how long do you listen for? When do you move forward? That was the thing I struggled with last night. I did feel like they should have been given the spotlight more.

I'm so battle-hardened by the 5-encounters-in-5-hours mindset of 4e that I have never been able to shake it, and honestly I don't know if I want to. But I do feel the need to give players more of a spotlight, more freedom to express themselves.

DM Antagonism: It's funny because one of the things I am most proud of is that I was able to shed the mindset where the DM gets riled up by the players.

When I was younger, I'd plan a session. If the group destroyed it with a tactic that I didn't anticipate, I would harden. I would get real vicious with my other monsters for the rest of the session. I would clamp down on them with the city guards. I felt like I had failed as a DM - I needed to re-establish that my game could be challenging, and that people can't run roughshod over my campaign world.

Fandom: Over time, I have been able to completely throw that stuff in the garbage. Now I am able to be a fan of the characters. They are the stars of the TV show. I get to watch the show and help create the show. I get to make up some scenario, throw it at them and see what they do. They almost always do something you never thought of. It is a lot of fun.

When I ran Hoard of the Dragon Queen, I was a huge fan of Dark the Dragon Sorceress, who was played by a 9 year old. She was a fantastic player. She led the group through the chapter two dungeon and found every trap - not through rolls, but through listening to the clues in the flavor text. It was amazing.

Favoritism: The thing about being a fan of the heroes is that players might feel like you're playing favorites. I try not to do that, but I've been accused of it a number of times.

Often, when players think I am favoring another player, it is because the players accusing me are the ones making my life harder. They are usually the people looking to "break" the game, find cheesy power combinations, combine loot to be invincible and generally treat D&D like a video game.

Those players leave a bad taste in my mouth. That is not the type of game I am running. I want my game to be the saga of heroes. I want it to be about characters leaving a mark on my campaign world that other players they've never met will hear about ten years from now.

The Scheme of Skargle


The adventure starts out with nurses running out of a hospital being chased by a mold man. The heroes got to introduce themselves by doing something in this situation.

Running Vegepygmies: I had told at least some of the players that this is an adventure where it was possible to resolve most things without combat. The problem was that the way I had the mold men act was pretty much guaranteed to force combat.

There are 12 mold men in this building. They're in a lot of different rooms. I realize now that I should have taken a few minutes to write down things that they were doing in each area.

There's one mold man in a washroom/bathroom. He shouldn't have been standing there like a monster in a video game. I should have had him doing something. Going to the bathroom? Poking something with a stick?

There's another mold man in a herbalist shop. It is hiding behind the counter. I should have had it rooting through the stuff in the shop. That's interesting, right? That makes sense. The mold man is not just a pile of hit points waiting to be subtracted.

Better, there's all sorts of weird magic herbs in here that Chris Perkins made up. They're one of my favorite parts of this adventure. I could have had the mold man use that stuff.

Solving the Mystery

The group accosted the mold man outside and ultimately fed it to a foulwing, which is a dragon-like creature that people in my homebrew city use as mounts. 

A nurse gave the group keys to the building and asked them to find out where the 12 patients were, and where the "head doctor" was.

Modern Terms: As written in the adventure, this place is pretty much a hospital complete with syringes, patient files and "Dr. Edwin Alastair." It didn't sit well with me, so I reflavored it as a "House of Healing." I decided that everyone who works there was an adventurer when they were younger. I was going to tie the villainous SKARGLE to them, but we didn't get to do any skargling.

Exploring: The group headed inside. Burwyn smartly started listening - the place was very quiet. The heroes explored a main area, listening at each door.

Ambrose realized there was a mold man watching him from behind a circular stairwell. A huge fight broke out. The mold man clawed two people before it got killed as it tried to run away.

Some of the party wanted to take a short rest right there. Others felt that was not a good idea.

Then there was a bit of confusion. Arietta wanted to cast unseen servant, which takes 10 minutes. She was actually casting it during the battle. I was so whip-cracky that I didn't stop to hear Arietta's player and it took me a while to understand what he was trying to do.

It's a great idea to use an unseen servant to open the doors. I was so focused on time that I almost smothered the life out of the idea inadvertently, but eventually I caught on.

More Mold Men: They detected a mold man in a "patient bedroom" and decided to barricade it in there, which I thought was a really funny idea. They swiftly pushed a bunch of furniture up against the door and then used iron spikes to seal the deal.

A short rest was attempted. Burwyn rested. Arietta was working on the ritual. Kyrin decided to creep around and listen at each door. Ambrose had the amusing idea of going outside and peering into the windows of the patient rooms.

He ended up breaking in and looting some jewelry from a patient's personal belongings. At this point, the group was unaware that the mold men WERE the patients.

Edwin Alastair: Ambrose rejoined the group. The unseen servant was summoned. Burwyn was still a long way from being rested. The heroes found the doctor - he was being held hostage by a mold man. Edwin begged them not to kill the mold man. "He's my patient!"

The players sort of gasped and asked me how many mold men they'd killed already. I think it was three.

Kyrin rushed the mold man and knocked it back. They were able to restrain it.

The Mission


Edwin gave the group options. This is where the players get to learn the gimmick of this adventure.

There's a "brew of restoration" in this place. You can load it into a syringe, stick it in a mold man, and the mold man will make a saving throw. If it fails, it transforms back into a normal patient.

Edwin gave them the locations of lots of useful items:
  • The Brew of Restoration in the Herbalist Shop.
  • A POTION OF PLANT CONTROL in an office.
  • Syringes in another office.
  • A "soil syringe" upstairs in a storage room.
So this adventure is all about the group trying to inject and cure the mold men rather than killing them.

Edwin has healing spells! He healed both wounded heroes back to full.

The Herbs: The heroes decided to head to the herbalist shop. There was a mold man behind the counter that surprised Burwyn and a fight was had. Ultimately, Ambrose rolled a critical and blew its leg off, knocking it out. I'm pretty sure subdual damage can't be done with most spells but we were low on time so I wasn't worried about it.

They injected the mold man and were dismayed to see it turn into an old man minus one leg. The old fellow was alive though.

Here's the weird Chris Perkins herbs that the group grabbed:
  • Willowdust: You snort this white powder (!) and it makes you feel no pain.
  • Crawlbane: It repels insects
  • Deathmock: If you drink this tea, you fall into a cataleptic trance for 2d4 days where you don't need food or drink.
  • Hushthorn: If you drink this tea, you fall asleep for 24 hours and cannot be awakened.
  • Scarfade: Gelatinous salve that heals wounds.
  • Venompurge: Antitoxin, basically.
  • Wakemoss: When heated and eaten, it keeps you awake and vibrant for 24 hours.
Ambrose snorted a bunch of willowdust and felt full of vigor. He even got some temporary hit points out of the deal. 

Looting: After that, the group went to get the potion of plant control, which I think is the most insanely useful item for this adventure. They also found two other potions, but the adventurers weren't sure what they were.

They got some syringes and decided to head upstairs to get the soil syringe.

Mold Man Garden: Up there is a vast arboretum with a bunch of different gardens. Each garden has a magically-controlled temperature and different plants.

At this point, we were pretty much out of time.

The group scanned the room. There's three mold men in here. I decided to see if we could squeeze this in, so I had the group spot all three mold men and proceeded to do some injecting.We didn't get to finish that as we ran out of time.

One of the things I get a kick out of in this adventure is that there are mold men with weird traits and items. For example, there is:
  • A mold man with A BROOM
  • A mold man with RIPPLING MUSCLES
  • A mold man with A MEAT CLEAVER
We just didn't get to them.


The group was good, I just felt like I stifled them too much. I'm asking a lot of people who have never played together to coalesce immediately, adjust to my style AND finish an adventure all in two hours.

I should have streamlined this, but I was afraid I would take the Perkins out of this Chris Perkins adventure. There was, after all, skargling to be done.


Joseph Newell said...

Some really interesting and honest introspection on how to run a game. Some great food for thought for any DM.

One of the big questions I feel is how to appropriately shrink an adventure to give players time to deliberate and for the DM to listen while still providing a cohesive experience. Most of my attempts at this have come up feeling rushed and not very realistic.

Maybe the solution would be having just one or two things players can do as side-quest type things that don't directly advance the plot. An example of this would be to have only one or two loot rooms that would give enough flavor to retain the original designer's flair, while blocking off access to the other rooms. In this example, maybe fungus has grown over the doors and they can't reach it? That is much harder to be effective in pen and paper than in video games however.

Jesse said...

Thanks again for running us through. Enjoyed it, and those 2 hours flew by.

We FaceTime in one member of our group, and he's the one who DMs our Out of the Abyss campaign. When he's DMing, we don't usually have too much trouble, but when I'm DMing and he's playing, he finds it tricky to talk in at times if the rest of the players are conversing or if he just plain doesn't hear something because of lag or general technology issues. Even the "pros" on DCA seem to have similar issues, so I don't know what the best solution is there.

I wish we could have done that whole section, because I feel like our group dynamics were going really well, and that adventure was weirdly fun.

Favorite moment: When Ambrose signed the autograph for the dude in the alleyway. All I could think was "Hi, I'm Troy McClure. You might remember me from previous D&D campaigns like Mines of Madness or Ravenloft." Good stuff.

Anyway, had a great time. 10/10, would D&D again.

Matt said...

Hi Sean!

It's really interested to read your behind-the-screen reflections. After the fact, I suppose I can see what you mean, but as a player, I didn't really notice most of the "mistakes" you mention. The only thing that I noticed is the lag-time imposed by the nature of the medium. Google Hangouts already has a built-in buffer, and I know that I was trying not to step on the other players' toes too much by speaking over them. As Jesse says, I'm not sure if there's an optimal solution besides having the group play together more and develop a rhythm. I've been DMing Hoard of the Dragon Queen on Google for almost two months because one of our players moved to another state, and it's the only way we can play together. Similar issues crop up, but it is what it is. For the most part, I think we're all getting better at handling the medium.

One thing I think I could've done better as a player is focus more on the story hooks and narrative requirements of a one-shot. I've never actually played a one-shot before as a player, and I tend toward asking picayune questions (to satisfy my curiosity about the world) or trying to strike up in-character dialogue with other players and NPCs. But we only had two hours. If I had to describe my style, I'd say that I'm an active player, but I'm not always a proactive player. Just as a short story requires economy of style, a one-shot probably requires an economy of role-playing. All of this is to say that I never felt like I was being stifled or whip-cracked, but I was aware that there was a ticking timer. That's not necessarily a bad thing!

The adventure itself was fun, and I, too, would like to have met a villain named Skargle. I imagine that had we dispatched him, we would've merely attracted the notice of his even more powerful older brother, Skargamel. I can even imagine a sort of never-ending billy goats gruff succession with increasingly improbable names.

I really enjoyed having you as our DM, and I really enjoyed playing with Jesse and Shane. I agree that the "Always nice to meet a fan" moment in the alley was my favorite, and I would appreciate the opportunity to get to know Jesse and Shane's characters a bit better. It was a fun group, and I would certainly play again. As a sidenote, this was the first game where my wife and I were able to play together as players, and we both agreed that it was pretty awesome. Kudos to ya'll for making it a great experience!

Thanks for running this, Sean!

Zack said...

I don't know why, but I am really drawn to the idea of the willowdust. I think this could lead to an interesting trap where the players breath it in (making some con save) if they fail, they lose all sense of pain. With this the DM keeps track of their hp for the next hour or however long you want it to last. Could make something even as weak as goblins seem really threatening to players when their only idea of their hp is that they are covered in blood from goblin swords cutting them open. May give a new appreciation and realism to a game.

Sean said...

Joseph Newell: I think that could work. In this case I think maybe I should have gotten rid of the second floor. I could have taken a couple of the cool encounters and put them downstairs.

Jesse: Thanks! I thought you were awesome. That's the biggest drawback to online so far - the careful conversation. It's really weird.

Matt: I don't do one-shots either! That's really cool that your wife got to play, It worked out well. I probably should have just injected Skargle in about a half an hour before the end!

Zack: That sounds like a fantastic idea. Ambrose actually "did a line" of willowdust, it was quite amusing.

Anonymous said...

"Burwin" here! I just want to thank you again for DMing the "Menacing Malady" game. I had a terrific time and only wish that my camera hadn't been so glitchy. As Matt said, we play D&D online biweekly so I think that I'm used to the rhythm of the online environment. The beats between speech don't bother me anymore and I thought that the group had a good rapport, especially considering that we didn't know each other. I didn't feel like anyone was talking too much, including you, Sean, and I enjoyed the character beats everyone brought to the game. I particularly enjoyed the flourish with which you pronounced the term "Moldman!" at every opportunity. One thing that I learned from the one-shot was the importance of having paper copies of both my character sheet as well as notes on my class. For my regular game, I have paper copies of both of those things and that is super helpful for maintaining game flow and focus. During our game, I kept trying to switch between tabs on my computer and scrolling to look things up and I feel like that slowed me down a lot. Paper copies all the way for me moving forward! The trees will have to suck an egg. Who am I kidding? I always buy recycled... Anyway, I would happily play again with all of you, it was delightful.

Sean said...

technicolorlilypond: Thanks! I didn't notice any problems with your camera at all. I agree, I always use paper. I just feel weird with stuff being on a computer. Thanks so much for playing, you were a lot of fun!