Grim dark in the middle of the day
This afternoon I had an opportunity to have a new play-tester play his second game of Dungeon Down. A few things were learned, but a lot was confirmed.
A veteran of many delves, Marius found himself with several new companions for this particular dungeon. He set forth with an initiate paladin and two wizards…or rather a witch and wizard. As they trekked to the abandoned ruins they sought to explore, Marius was sure he could trust the sorceress much more than the snickering elf wizard seemed to imply. The quiet, stoic paladin was a tough nut to crack as he did nothing but mutter prayers and play with his rosary.
First entering the dungeon, the adventurers saw the dungeon swung to the right with naught but moldering sacks in a dim corner to the left. The shuffling sounds to the right were the only warning of advancing mummies. Continuing his previous lesson on tumbler lock technology over the previous 20 years, Marius was distracted and needed to fire two bolts to drop the first mummy.
Before the paladin could even loose his sword, the two mages made quick work of the other two mummies, the dart from Joliee exploding the Pharaoh in an explosive burst of smoldering cloth.
The various piles of treasure scattered about were quite rewarding to the party and soon they had various magic items equipped as they proceeded down the long corridor towards a junction point.
In the ruins of some crates, the unshakeable explorer trailed off on his lecture about the merits of sliding versus rolling latches to be amazed at the swarms of trained beetles the goblins were controlling with their screeching language.
So dumb-struck was he that his first shot sailed wide above the diminutive beasts to clatter harmlessly against the wall. The second shot struck home and sent a goblin to a loud and messy end.
Again the sorcerous heroes displayed prowess and expertise as first Joliee fired a mystical dart of energy straight through Marius. Her pleading apologies and the callous laughter of the elf wizard were the last sounds to be heard by Marius before he slipped into the blackness of unconsciousness.
As the paladin lifted his still glowing hands from him, Marius knew he had been close to death.
“I am so sorry, I have never missed with a spell before. You have to please forgive me…” her pleading was an incessant stream of begging between choked back tears while the smirk on the face of the wizard told a different story.
In Dungeon Down, as I have mentioned numerous times, shooting obstacles (including other miniatures) has a chance of hitting the obstacle. Joliee manages to remind the player of this an incredible number of times through-out the game.
Regrouped and recovered, the party proceeded cautiously towards the junction. In the shadows of a storeroom, several ominous shadows lingered. As he approached closer he saw a sinister grick slink forth to attack the party. Taking a few steps forward to ensure his clear shot, Marius slew the serpent-like monster with a single bolt. As he shouted over his shoulder to warn the party, the hulking mass of a Gibbering Horror struck Marius dead with fear.
Not wanting to risk further deaths, the party reorganized in the narrow corridor as Joliee threw-up a wall of fire to protect them. To their collective horror, Marius again was struck dead by fear before he had even fully stood upright and even the paladin felt his heart quiver for a moment as unholy energy gripped him. The final insult to the party was as a Bone Horror absorbed the slain Grick and moved towards the prone form of Marius.
Mystic energy crackled through the air as spell after spell hammered into the Gibbering Horror with only a single errant bolt striking the wall instead. Once the massive bulk of the beast was felled, the corpse slowly reshaped to be knit into the ever-growing form of the Bone Horror.
I’ll take a moment to explain the Bone Horror. In the game I have a few abilities that interact with corpses. Healing is the most obvious (and most often used) ability. There are monsters who can turn the dead into skeletons or create minions of themselves. The Bone Horror works a bit different. It absorbs corpses to gain additional wounds. In the first game it was used, the Bone Horror was a 6 wound monstrosity before the party was able to deal with it. In this game it was a mere five wounds but was left as the lone monster facing the party and was quickly killed.
Marius again was revived by Erick and proved his composure by taking the lead into the storeroom. The rest of the party wasn’t too sure of this thief until the prearranged signal…his gurgling death scream. Joliee rounded the corner first to see Marius being devoured by a unit of shelves. The mimic curled behind wooden shelves to try finishing its meal as her first blast of eldritch magic seared away part of the chimerical form.
Anirion followed suit and destroyed the abomination with a searing dart of his own. The nervous paladin stared at the thief, carefully examining him before he let the gnome stand.
“You’re worried about nothing. Just some bad luck.”
His loud voice did draw more of that bad luck as a hulking minotaur came into the room followed by a troll. With two quick twangs Marius brought the bellowing minotaur to his knees, bright red blood pooling on the floor. The troll leapt over the prone minotaur and swung at the nimble gnome, barely connecting with him, but smashing a stack of crates to kindling. Joliee ran forward and flashed up a wall of fire near the corridor, engulfing the troll in flames. Stepping beside her, the elf wizard sent the troll’s head flying back down the corridor with a flash of heat and light.
In all the flurry, none noticed the foul mockery of the paladin that stepped into the room until he began reciting unholy scripture at the paladin. Gritting his teeth and gripping his holy symbol, Erick fought back the stygian powers of the evil champion. Bewildered to still be conscious, Marius dove backwards and fired his crossbow at the anti-paladin. He was gripped with terror as he watched the anti-paladin smile…until blood spilled from his mouth and the villain fell down lifeless.
The corridor again ended but not before revealing more treasure for the party to divvy up. By this time, all four were feeling confident about their abilities as numerous magic items and additional equipment made packs heavy.
Doubling back to the corridor fork, a dog sized spider, hunting cat and skeleton sorcerer were quickly dispatched as the heroes twirled around reanimating bones to destroy the skeleton sorcerer. Marius again was felled, this time by the webs of the spider.
By now, the paladin initiate was questioning his change in vocation. Marius reminded him of Prior Al. Old feeble Al had tried to train as a knight. He had unshakeable faith, but he lacked any sort of coordination. That was how he cut off his foot. Well, the right one. The left foot was apparently from some sort of carpentry accident. He found himself distractedly trying to remember which eye the old man told him he lost during his first joust.
Woken from his reveries by the twang of a crossbow, Erick was sure he would be reviving the thief again soon. To his surprise, Joliee stepped forward and rocked the entire dungeon with the force of her magical blast. As he wiped the dirt and dust from his face, he was surprised to see Anirion point the fully alert gnome to lead on. How is it a fight happened and the gnome didn’t die?
Marius and the sorcerous heroes plunged forward to the sound of an ear-splitting roar. Too far away to hear the shouts of his comrades, Erick was confused by the twang of crossbow, death wail in the distance and roar of flames. Flames? In the dungeon? How could that be possible?
This game marked the first encounter with my Chimera. I have created this beast as a Level 4 monster. I wasn’t sure about the stats. At first I thought it might be a bit tough, then I saw the stats aren’t insurmountable. In fact, in play it was the dice that made the difference. If a few rolls had been a bit higher, or at least not 1s, the party would have easily bested this monster and carried on to finish the dungeon. Not as visible in the picture is the Babau. As I mentioned in a previous post, this demon will warp in and out of reality to harass the party.
The biggest danger from the Chimera was his breath. His first round saw him squeezing into a narrow corridor (reducing his defense) to burn the gnome and two wizards.
Erick did step into the fray and revived Joliee, only to have her fall to a second gout of flame. Erick himself stood against flurries of attacks by the poisoned tail of the Chimera and the scrabbling claws of the demon until the poisoned sting finally pierced his platemail and sent the deadly poison coursing through his veins.
The fight was very tense with the Chimera and it was brought down to it’s final wound. With the ability to do flurries of attacks (with a chance to hit itself), the Chimera almost did itself in. On one turn, it almost hit itself 3 times in a row (defending against its own attack by a single digit in all cases). I was left trying to tell the poor play-tester that the party doesn’t die every time. But he was ecstatic. He was actually the first to admit the party kill was mostly due to his own mistakes. And bad rolling. The one and only time the paladin had to save the day and he fails to heal Joliee and then subsequently rolls 1s for his defenses against the Chimera and its poison (when even a 2 would have kept him alive).
Having a solo play-tester for his second ever trial of the game gave me a few solid observations. First of all, I did very little coaching on what the sheets meant, which dice to roll, and which ability was used for what. Since my goal is to design a simple set of rules that was easy to remember, I would say that bodes well. The only rules issues I noticed were that he had to be reminded to include dice penalties due to wounds and he wasn’t 100% sure what the difference between Miracles and Spells was until I threw out an idea that has guided my design: Sorcerers are selfish and only affect themselves and others while Miracles help others. That cemented it for him and he could even identify who used what stat on the bad guys by the skill effect.
The next observation came directly from him: the Cunning heroes may have more opportunity to gain experience than other heroes, but only if they lead from the front. Marius accounted for more kills and disarmed 7 traps. He also would have only earned a total of 1 experience from combat as he was dead at the end of every fight but one. The more solid Mighty heroes are more likely to survive and both Sorcerous and Resolute heroes benefit from flexibility and only really face death if they are foolish.
The final observation was a confirmation of what I had noticed before: the game plays best with more players. It is both more challenging and rewarding when there are more players. Ideally each adventurer should be individually controlled and the dungeon to be controlled by a player as well. This makes mistakes both more and less likely and the risks and rewards from treasure more exciting.
I hope this was inspiring to you today, if nothing else, I feel confident sending out demo rules for those interested now.