Showing posts with label off the rails. Show all posts
Showing posts with label off the rails. Show all posts

Friday, December 20, 2019

Going Off The Rails - Part 5. The death of Bloodless Jack

Back in Part 3, I posted about how the characters confused their nickname for their opponent with his actual name. "Bloodless Jack" was a character nickname for a deadly pair of brothers, Marcus and Alex. Marcus was the warrior while Alex was the assassin. When cornered, the warrior answered with bluster and the characters killed him off.

Of course this enraged his brother Alexander, the actual assassin. Alex retreated to his brother's mountain top Keep and sent wave upon wave of assassins to kill the player characters.

That obvious didn't work, anything less than Bloodless Jack himself was not going to be strong enough to take the whole party. Eventually, the hunt was turned on it's head and the players located Alexander's mountain top abode. Then they did something weird.

They could have stormed the fortress themselves, or raise an army to do so, but they did neither. They hired a sage to give them instructions to recharge the Staff of Wizardry. I messed up that plan with a rather obvious counter. The Staff needed to be recharged under the full moon within a mountaintop keep. You know, Alexander's Keep.

Why not?

The players had exactly 8 charges in the Staff. They went to Plan B. They hired a horde of dwarves and hobbits to scout the land around the keep. They were smart about it, one assassin, one ranger and one hobbit per dwarven party to handle any natural or unnatural threat. They had several dozen parties. It was easy work, because they weren't being asked to fight, only scout and run.

I wasn't going to let the players assassinate Bloodless Jack, so a couple of the parties were captured and killed.

But raiding and sneaking wasn't their game. The dwarves found a weak point on the side of the mountain, a cliff face that couldn't be hit by weapons fire from the Keep. They used a Dig spell to remove the soil from the area. The dwarves dug an entrance 10 feet deep into the rock and near this opening the party and their minions assembled.

From their base, they attempted to storm the walls while the dwarves dug in another 20 feet. Then the plan changed. The characters retreated to their hidey hole and the wizard went to work. He used the remaining charges of Passwall to carve a hole deep into the mountain. The dwarves shored this cave open with their stonecraft and everyone else jammed all manner of debris in the unnatural cave. Within the hour, they had dozens of barrels of water, oil, bits of trees, rocks, mud, and dirt lining the Passwall cave.

When the mage concluded that enough junk blocked up the passageway, he released the outer Passwall spell inwards, sealing everything in place like a cork. From there, it was simply a matter of running away from the Keep, but being mindful not to run straight down the mountain.

As each Passwall spell expired, all kinds of flammable or incompressible material was crushed inwards. The pressure was incredible. The mountain cracked and the Keep came off it's foundations. The whole thing plunged to the base of the mountain. Bloodless Jack suffered a Disney-like death, but the players were thorough. They made sure they found a body.

It was a fascinating exercise in the physics of magic. One that I will never allow to be repeated. This was too much work to get rid of one bloody, +1 Staff.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Going Off The Rails - Part Four

Back in 2015, I started this series about having stuff go haywire at the game table and never finished it. The first post was about playing for far too long and having wacky $hit happen because the players were too tired to think straight. Post two was about making a bad DMing choice and having the players run with it. Post three was about the players jumping to bad conclusions because the DM believed they understood. Post four should tell you about how the players defeated the evil Assassin, Bloodless Jack, but it won't!

Since this is the fourth post, let me tell why I can't tell you about Bloodless Jack's end. I need to set up the scenario as it played out, so I need to back up a bit.

This post is about a different type of mistake leading to player high-jinx. My campaigns have always been a blend of Basic, Expert and Advanced D&D. One quirk from the Moldvay-Cook expert set is the Staff of Wizardry. One of the functions of this item is the spell Passwall, which doesn't appear in either the Basic or Expert set. As far as I know, this spell is only in Advanced D&D. We used that book right along side the Moldvay-Cook set, so everything was fine.

So... anyway, I let one of players have this Staff of Wizardry. The character in question was about 5 or 6th level, so he had access to powers that I never anticipated. I saw "+1 staff" and thought it would be fine.

Once I realized my mistake, I decided to take it from the player in epic fashion. I would simply present him with so many opportunities to use it, he would run out of charges. He would keep the +1 weapon, but loose all of the crazy powers in an incredible display of force. He'd get a great story and I would "unwind" a stupid DM mistake.

No, no, it is never that simple.

As the characters hunted Marcus and Alexander, I needed to crank up the power level of the minions. The characters were now battling mounted knights with lances. I expected with the powers of the Staff of Wizardry, they'd get cooked and the charges would be burned up.

Oh, and did they get cooked. The mage got cornered by some knights. It sort of looked like this:

He let the knights get within 10 feet of him. I figured he'd do something cool to fry them or die trying, either one of which would solve my problem.

You know, it didn't play out like that. He decided to offensively cast passwall to create an opening in the ground right in front of the charging Knights. The hole would be at a 45 degree angle down, it would start in front of the mage and go backwards under him like a ramp.  


He drew me a picture, which was probably better than this: 

That was creative. And super fatal.

Exactly what could I say to this scenario? Horse one plunged down the ramp and slammed into a wall of dirt at top speed. Horse two plunged into a hole and into horse one at top speed. Horse three plus the fact that each rider was wearing plate with a lance set before them was worse than a train wreck.

But the player wasn't done. As soon as the last horse plunged down the hole he wanted to close it. Violently.

Holy crap.

The other characters stopped him. Their plan was to close the hole slowly, so they could rescue the horses. Sure they would need healing, but they were fine mounts.

My ruling on that was "Yes, you can close the hole slowly. But those horses are going to hate you, forever even if you heal them. You can buy your own horses in the next town. Deal?"

It was deal. But the seeds were planted.

We debated on how passwall was a great offensive spell, but also debated its various functions. Yes, the hole can be orientated any way you wish, including straight down. No, you can't cast passwall into the air above you to enter other dimensions. Nor does it cause movement against gravity.

But what about the closing of the hole? How does that happen? The PHB is not really specific, so we came up with some guidelines.

You could close the hole in a controlled fashion, where the bottom closed first, gently pushing anything in the hole out. The hole can be closed violently, where the entire length of the tunnel collapses in trash compactor style. Anyone inside can escape so long as they are able to move. They take minor (1d6) damage from being scraped and battered geting out. Option three, the hole closes from the open side in, anyone in the hole must make a save vs. death to escape before total obliteration occurs. Failure results in horrific screams from the very earth with a ketchup laser effect.

The last option was one of the better mistakes I've ever made.

Next post, I can tell you how Marcus and his brother, Alex, a.k.a Bloodless Jack were finished.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Going Off the Rails – Part Three

In the last post, I described a player created assassin named Bloodless Jack. He sprang from the character’s minds fully formed and all I had to do was give him a character sheet and a band of minions. The players even gave him a very cool name. Somehow, minor details of a handful of traps inspired them to create a character out thin air. And he was so epic, I had to make him real.
I decided that he had two types of minions, one group of sword slinging fighters for security and targeted attacks and a second group of cleric-rogues for sneaky infiltration type work. Bloodless Jack would have a chief of operations, a warrior named Marcus Bastion. A nice strong name for someone who handles front line fighting and defense. 
How these two met in my mind was very natural. They were brothers. Bloodless Jack and Marcus Bastion. Everything makes sense… Wrong. 
Of course, it’s wrong. Brothers would never have different last names; Jack is as stupid a last name as Bloodless is a stupid first name. I completely understood that, so Bloodless Jack was obviously a nickname. And a character/player created nickname.

Obvious. Or so I thought.
Bloodless Jack, or just plain Alexander Bastion launches ambushes, targeted assassinations and finally outright treason to topple the crown prince for fame and glory.
So when the characters cornered Marcus and his brother in an attack on the crown prince, they asked:
“Which one of you is the assassin known as ‘Bloodless Jack’?”
Alex and his brother Marcus chuckled. The follow up question, “Who lead this attack?” was also met with a snort of derision as Marcus was suited in full plate and obviously leading the assault.
Marcus went down fighting… and upon his defeat was outed as the deadly assassin know to all as “Bloodless Jack”.
And thus, “Bloodless Jack” was truly born. Alex rallied his and his brother’s minions and relentlessly attacked the characters at every turn. An epic battle to the death, fought in back alleys and shadowy corners of dozens of towns, across an kingdom, all the way to the brother’s mountain top enclave.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Going Off the Rails – Part Two

Player inventions… How many times have you had a player try to invent something and complete throw a campaign into chaos?
Many years ago, I was running a campaign that had too many rogues to be well rounded. There was not much need for traps in this world, they only came in three varieties:
Noise making traps on homes,
Animal traps,
Generic fortification defenses.
Being made up of thieves, the party kept checking for traps where there were none. Since it was a point of interest for them, and one player rolled very well, I decided that a box did have a trap. I described workings in great and gory detail. The players and their thieving characters ate it up. Of course, the next door had a trap. Lacking any foresight, I described this trap as exactly as the one before.
And the seed was planted.
The next chest had the same trap as the first two, except this time it killed a character. My bad, I didn’t expect this to happen, but the players had. As the play paused to reroll a new character, of course another rogue, I overheard the strangest thing:
“Bloodless Jack got ya.”
“That was awesome.” said another player.
“What do you think he wants?”
“Don’t know. It could be that chalice.”
“Naw, we are going to give it away and a priest is a much easier target than us.”
“Fame,” added a third.
“Yes! It makes sense that someone would want fame and notoriety. Sort of like the guy in the cabin mailing bombs.”
“Ted something, right?”
“Yeah. We should nail this guy before he gets us.”
In just a 30 minute character generating session, the players had worked out that they were up against an assassin. A very detail orientated, cunning and evil assassin. A man who called himself Bloodless Jack. Bloodless as in so cold, the blood didn’t run in his veins. They had gathered all these details from the repeated description of a single trap described the exact same way, three times over.
Oops. These traps were simply on the fly details in response to the character’s expectations. At no time did I picture a mysterious assassin. I didn’t say anything that would have laid such an awesome name on him. In fact, there was no assassin except in the players minds.
Guess what? The very next session had a very fleshed out assassin bent on killing the characters. This assassin was neatly merged with the prior story, assassinating the priest who hired the players. He then took out the boat captain that hired the characters for security. As time went on, the characters were defending the crowned prince against this diabolical fiend.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Going off the Rails – Part One

Have you ever had a night of gaming go off the rails?
I had a 3 hours session turn into a 6-7 hour marathon of gaming. We should have cut it off, but everyone was having too much fun. The players had reached a remote village and were trying to set up a trade agreement. They offended the villagers and the party tried an Indiana Jones style escape to a rope bridge and escape.
The one magic users who could have stopped the villagers with a spell instead flew to the bridge with axe. He was prepared to cut the bridge after his fellow adventurers made it across. This is when the game exhaustion hit.
All of the players shouted “Cut it now!” And the magic user complied, trapping everyone on the wrong side of the bridge. Note that it was the players that made the request, their characters obviously were to far away. A little meta-gaming goes a long way when injected into the story.
We ended right there with everyone high-fiving and congratulating each other. Only the player who cut the bridge looked concerned and perplexed.
At the start of the next session, everyone was sheepish. With a little sleep, they realized the implications of last session. I started the next session with the characters toweling off from their heroic leap to into the river and swim to safety.
Sometimes, you just have to end with a gag to keep the fun alive. Die rolling and tactics are great, but a story sometimes has to jump to stay alive.

Chaos Star