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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons - A Wizard's Fate by Chris Perkins

Today I'm going to write about the online game I ran last night. Using 5th edition rules, we played through an old Chris Perkins adventure called "A Wizard's Fate" from Dungeon Magazine issue 37.

As a kid, I flipped through this adventure and decided to run it when my group had level one characters in my home campaign world. Flash forward 20 years and I finally got around to it.

First, I'll talk a bit about this whole online thing, then I'll talk about how it went.

Recruiting Readers: A week or so ago, I made a post asking people if they want to play some D&D online. I am doing this because I want to learn how to run games online and get the hang of it. I am thinking about doing my own little D&D show.

There are a lot of adventures I want to run, and I think it might be fun to put them up on youtube if I can run it in a way that isn't boring to watch. I like the idea of running the hardcore D&D group that never skips a week and tears through classic adventures that few people have played.

Luckily for me, I got a lot of responses. Thank you to everyone on twitter who retweeted my request, especially Teos Abadia and Scarlet Moth. I really appreciate it.

I ended up with over 15 people, so I split them into 3 groups. I will run the other two next weekend.

Running Games Blind: One of the things I liked least in the game store was that there were a number of players that I didn't want to play with, but I had to. I was wondering if this would be the same way.

Quality Players: I ended up with three utterly fantastic players. They were fun, funny, they paid attention, were considerate, they were everything I value in a player. I was really bowled over.

There was a 4th player, but he had connection problems. I kind of assume this will happen each time, so I was ready for that. I'll squeeze him into a future game if I can.

Overprepared Again: When preparing this dungeon, I put too much in. I can squeeze a lot of D&D into 2 hours, but this dungeon has a lot of potential backtracking that can make things longer. I got into overpreparation mode, to the point that I ran out of time and wasn't able to read up on each character's spells and abilities like I wanted to.

The other problem was that I woke up at 4 AM and couldn't fall back asleep. This game started at 7 PM. I was almost falling asleep prior to the game, which really didn't help. I got through it OK, but I definitely wasn't sharp at all.

The Party

(Pat) Gurn Sirensong - Gnome Bard
(Joe) Zavagor - Half-orc Warlock
(Andrew) Finy Teetoe - Halfling Rogue

Zotzpox the Imp

The overall story:
  • An evil wizard named Elzid turned good due to his girlfriend, Erilyn.
  • Elzid's imp, Zotzpox, didn't like it. Zotzpox ended up blowing up his master and his tower.
  • Zotzpox is now waiting for agents from hell to come and pick up the treasure in the vault of the wizard's dungeon.
  • Zotzpox has Erilyn in captivity and will hand her over to the devils as well, for purposes of corruption and evil-doing.
  • A sage hires the heroes to obtain some of the treasure in that vault.

I started off with quick flashback things, which I like to do to introduce characters and to lay some groundwork for the upcoming story.

Zavagor stole an amulet off of a drunk panda-man and got a cryptic message from his demonic patron: "The gargoyle needs iron. The circle is wooden."

Keyquest: These are clues for the dungeon. There are three magic doors and three keys. If you put the wrong key in a door, horrible things happen to you. I couldn't see any clues at all in the adventure that indicates which key goes where, and I didn't want this to be just a guessing game.

Simple Clues: At first glance, the clues might look too simple (the group gets an iron key and finds a door with a gargoyle lock on it). But in my experience, what is simple to the DM is just one clue in a sea of potential clues to the players.

In this case, they were all over it. They immediately grabbed that clue and kept it in mind.

Finy ran into the imp in town, when he was buying the combustible agents that he eventually used to kill his master, Elzid. Finy actually did some dagger tricks to distract a merchant while Zotzpox snatched them and flew away.

Gurn met Elzid in a bar. Elzid needed help writing a love poem. A half-orc ended up dead and the scene was fled.

Hired: The heroes were hired by a sage to retrieve a specific item from the dungeon - the brain of Bigby's cousin. This brain stuff is taken from the 998th Conclave of Wizards, which I reviewed the other day.

I realized I was in Planescape mode, where we are very joke-y. I should have adopted a more serious approach.

The group took a rikshaw for a bit, then walked the rest of the way. The tower is in the city. In this homebrewed city, there are a lot of wizard towers.


Cameo: They passed another wizard tower. They saw a goblin trying to trim hedges for his master, a sorceress.

They really weren't sure what to make of it, even when the goblin held up his broken hedge clippers, hoping for help. His master leaned out the window and called him inside.

This was an easter egg for myself. That's Pollidemia the Wicked, an NPC that has been in my games for 20 years of real life time. I just wanted to plop her in there and see what happened.

Bidam from my Planescape campaign used to wash this little goblin's underwear and give him baths.

The Hill

The group arrived at the exploded tower. There were dead bodies strewn upon it. On closer inspection, the bodies weren't scorched - they'd each been killed by a little stinger to the neck. These three goons were minions of a woman a few of the heroes had ties with named Dornella.

Almighty Zotzpox: An invisible creature began to heckle the group. Gurn thought a god was speaking to them and he ended up bowing down to Zotzpox. The imp was tickled by this. It was very amusing. For the rest of the adventure, Gurn was praising mighty Zotzpox and it ended up playing into the climax.

Zotzpox called the adventurers names and told them to get off his property. Gurn turned to leave but the group made him stay. Ultimately, the group found stairs into the dungeon of the fallen tower. They went in.

Sealed in: They walked through a hallway and accidentally stepped on a pressure plate. A stone block slid out from the wall and sealed the group in the dungeon. They didn't know it, but Zotzpox was in there with them, invisible.

The Dungeon

Keys: In this dungeon, there are three magic doors that must be bypassed to get to the vault. Hidden throughout the complex are three keys.

It's cool, but a little tricky. If a group can't find a key, you could end up with frustrated players and a session that goes in the dumpster.

The heroes kept finding keys and Gurn kept picking locks. Any locked door that he failed to pick was declared a "false door." By the end of the adventure, the group had given themselves nicknames:
  • Finy: The Living Skeleton Key
  • Zavagor: The Gatekeeper
  • Gurn: The Key Holder
The group's tentative name: The Key Ring

I should mention that the Key Ring had an ongoing gimmick where they'd give an NPC a coin and then steal it back and a lot of variations on that sort of idea, which was very amusing.

Pacing: This was a group where you could just sit back and let them roleplay, and it was very funny. I had a lot of material that I wanted to get through, so I cracked the whip a bit too much.

I think that in short online games, the Perkins Dice, Camera, Action method is definitely the way to go. This group would really shine if I laid out a session that just had a few encounters/scenarios, and each was given time to breathe.

Traitor: At one point, Zotzpox quietly appealed to Gurn. He wanted Gurn to betray his allies and join him. Gurn was in awe of mighty Zotzpox, but never really considered turning against his trusty allies.

Dungeon Crawling

The exploration went like this:

Antechamber: The group unscrewed the head of a devil statue and found the iron key.

Two Partially Collapsed Chambers: The group missed a bit of treasure, which was hard to detect. I hate missed treasure, but I decided to let this go.

Two Locked Doors: Finy declared both of these to be "false doors." These doors would prove to be quite vexing for the Key Ring.

Library: The group quickly found a secret door in here. It led to a large, webby chamber.

Chamber of Webs: The heroes ended up fighting a giant spider. Zavagor and Gurn backed away, firing off ranged attacks. Finy dodged a web glob and jumped on the spider's back. He gouged both of its eyes out and killed it! I am pretty sure one of those rolls was a natural 20. 

The heroes found another secret door. Inside it was a treasure chest. Finy, the LIVING SKELETON KEY pulled off another expert trap dismantle on a magic fire trap.

The chest contained piles of loot, including a magic sword +1, a wand of the warmage +1 and an all-important brass key.

Trapezoidal Door: The group found a weird door that has a gargoyle face with a key hole in its mouth. Remembering the clue from Zavagor's demonic master, they put the correct key in it. The door and the key vanished. Beyond that was a...

Smooth Stone Circle Door: Before the group could mess with this thing, Zotzpox attacked! He was invisible. He plunged his stinger into Zavagor and dropped him! The stinger is very brutal. 5 points of damage and then 10 poison, or 5 if you make your save.

Gurn healed him with a spell as Finy stabbed the imp. Zotzpox turned invisible and fled, heckling them the whole time.

I should note that I de-powered Zotzpox a bit. In the adventure, he has a ring of spell-storing that does a lot of nasty things. I got rid of it.

After fending off Zotzpox, the heroes backtracked.

Rats & Bones: There's a trap on the door. In the adventure, it says that armor and helmets fall on the person who opens the door, doing a lot of damage. I had trouble picturing that trap doing 5 points of damage, so I changed it to a poison needle. Finy expertly detected and bypassed it.

Gurn befriended some rats. The rats directed the group to treasure in the rubble. Gold and a chalice. They also found more keys! These keys opened the "false doors."

False door #1:

Summoning Chamber: The adventurers found a room with a magic circle and a scroll that could be used to send Zotzpox back to hell! The trick would be in luring Zotzpox to it.

The adventure kind of poo-poos the idea of using this to defeat Zotzpox. I liked it when I read it and decided that it was viable if the group wanted to try it.

False door #2:

Woman in White: Erilyn, the woman who had turned Elzid to good was here, in a trance-like state. She was guarded by a giant skeleton. The group's key-senses exploded. They detected a wooden key in the abdomen of the skeleton!

They defeated the skeleton and eventually snapped the woman out of her trance. She explained the basic story of what was going on. Two things I didn't make clear:
  1. Zotzpox had actually been trying to blow her up. He put the explosive agents in two perfume bottles that were meant to be gifts for her. He didn't expect Elzid to mix them before giving them to her, but he did. The tower blew up.
  2. Zotzpox captured Erilyn and decided to hand her over to his devil masters when they came to get the treasure.
She didn't know those things, but I probably should have conveyed this to them somehow. At this point, we were low on time so I was hustling. I wanted them to go all the way through the adventure, as for all I know this is the only time we will play.

Zotzpox vs. The Key Ring

The group decided to deal with Zotzpox. Gurn was alone by the door. Finy was hiding in the shadows, having rolled a cool natural 20 on his hide check.

Gurn lied to Zotzpox and wanted to subscribe to his newsletter. Gurn rolled decently on his deception. He walked Zotzpox to the summoning chamber, where Zavagor was waiting on the lectern, ready to read the scroll.

Zotzpox immediately flew to the lectern and plunged his stinger into Zavagor, dropping him! Finy fought the imp, keeping him in the circle. Gurn healed Zavagor, who got up and used the scroll.

Chris Perkins actually wrote out what the incantation was:

With tongue of flame, I send thee on
Thy journey into fire;
To infernal planes, I say "Begone!"
Lest thou arouse my ire

The circle flared to life. Zotzpox rolled his save. If he failed, he was sent to hell. He made his save - but still took 2d6 damage. He had 1 hit point left!

Gurn stood over him... and he hit his god with a thunderwave. Zotzpox hurtled across the room and was embedded into the lectern, dead.

Gurn was definitely conflicted about killing his god, but he never wavered in his support for THE KEY RING.

Treasure: Now we were way over on time so I hustled them through the doors and skipped the trap in the final room.

This room is interesting. It has hovering spheres that contain treasure, exactly like the dwarven treasure vault on Acquisitions Inc. season one.

The group looted piles of stuff, almost got killed by an iron cobra. They actually got a clue on how to shut it off but they didn't catch it - it was a bit obscure and I was rushing them.

They found potions, a pile of copper, scrolls, a treasure map, and the brain of Bigby's cousin. The Key Ring was victorious and boom, they hit level 2.


Good Dungeon: The adventure is very good and I did it a disservice by rushing it. This easily could have filled 5 hours or more. The danger with this kind of adventure is in knowing when to let the group roam and when to keep things from dragging.

Great Players in D&D: The players were fantastic. I don't want to get too soppy, but it is a deep honor to me that players like this read my blog. It really means a lot to me. It was an awesome session, a good adventure and the players were top notch.

The Best Player in the World: I don't know if I've ever written this before, but I think that Anna Prosser-Robinson from Dice, Camera, Action is the best D&D player in the world. I know some people will scoff at that idea, as she doesn't remember how many attacks she has and stuff like that.

The thing that I love about Anna is that she is cognizant of the fact that Chris is running a game and juggling many things at once. She actually helps carry the load for him. She keeps it fun, she is ready to smooth over any player interactions and she is in no way selfish whatsoever.

Best of all, she is willing to let her character look foolish if it makes the game better. There are not many people who do that. She is a team player, she is the "glue."

The Cauldron: From 2008 to 2014, I ran 2-3 D&D games per week in a game store and at home. I got paid to run D&D campaigns! It was an intense cauldron where I learned a ton about preparation, the little pitfalls of running the game and what really matters in D&D.

What is Important to Me: In that time, I learned that the key to a fun game is the people. In my opinion, the rules are a means to an end. All of it is junk meant to aid you in creating a story together - a chapter of a book or an episode of a TV show. If that junk gets in the way, you throw it out.

There is a danger in that. If you junk the rules too much, the game starts to feel cheap and victory feels unearned. A lot of twists come from how a spell interacts with specific creatures and that kind of thing.

I honestly felt that these players were right up there with Anna and the people I most enjoy playing with.

Follow-Up: Two things to note:
  1. Zotzpox isn't dead. When devils are killed in the Material Plane, they reappear in hell. He might get demoted for his failure.
  2. It is likely that THE KEY RING will be hunted by devils. They want that treasure.


clavejones said...

Fun post. One could play through old Perkins stuff for a year and not get bored. Also, have you ever ran across old Willie Walsh adventures? That guy's stuff are hidden treasures.

Jason Raabis said...

I loved this adventure when it came out and ran it as the intro adventure in a campaign I started in 1993. Congrats on assembling a great group to play through it. How'd Google Hangouts work out?

Sean said...

clavejones: Back in '98 I actually spent time preparing to run a willie walsh campaign, but I ended up running a homebrewed thing instead. I've never actually run one. Thanks!

Jason Raabis: That is awesome that you ran this. It's a very good intro dungeon. When I read it, I felt like it was too empty, but in play it didn't feel empty at all. Google Hangouts worked perfectly! Thanks!

Ashley said...

Man, this sounds brilliant. I can't wait for next weekend! Though it sounds like that's going to be a tough act to follow. :)

Fabsi said...

Awesome post! I were thinking about responding to your message the other day, but I'm not fluently enough in speaking english and 7 pm PST is like middle of the night in germany :D.
I came across your blog through your how to run the curse of strahd guide, which has so many awesome ideas. Started recently to play 5E again and this time I didn't wanted to dm a home drewn abventure, so curse of strahd somehow got my nerve. This is really an interesting campaign and your guide helped me enormously. Keep up the great work!

Sean said...

Ashley: We shall see! I'm running another old Perkins for one group and maybe a Mike Mearls adventure for the other, not sure yet.

Fabsi: Thanks! Maybe someday we can play something. There's quite a few people who couldn't play for one reason or another. Good luck with Curse of Strahd!

LHaggard said...

Ran this adventure almost a year ago for newish players at lvl 2. They and I loved it. I changed the devil statue in the first room to a trap that summoned lemures until the cut off its outstreched arm. And I added a secret room which was used by elzid as a ritual chamber with an gelatinous cube in a pit, where he could discard his dark experiments.

Sean said...

LHaggard: That is awesome that you ran this. I didn't like that illusion thing in the statue room. The cube in a pit is classic. This is a really good low-level adventure, it definitely deserves more recognition than it gets.