The players wake up unconscious in the dungeons below an island fortress operated by yakmen, but the yakmen are currently battling crazed blood-covered muscle guys, and weasels are sucking blood from the corpses, and there are zombies with the tops of their heads from the jaws up sawed off patrolling everywhere, and it's dark and confusing. Pretty quickly they can find captives in the dungeons who can inform them that they were actually part of a mercenary crew sent to this island to steal "The Lambent Eye of Uvraj the Vacant," but when the first strike team infiltrated the fortress and gazed upon the eye it drove everyone insane, which is why the players lost their memory, and now the yakmen have mopped up the opposition save for pockets of lunatics in various closets and chambers. If they follow the clues they can figure out that the fortress is run by some sorceress named the Lady Olivia von Kirin Santos, who is renowned for her beauty (as well as presumed dead by most for the last thirty years) so determined people keep questing to her island to follow the rumors and woo her and failing and getting locked up or tortured. And she keeps weasels.
|Kittens here, but you get the picture|
So session 1, Oakland:
Adam as Gurdjieff Niaflim, Eric as Pumpkin the Gnome, and Ricky as Appear the Sorcerer make their characters. This takes a very long time. We don't have enough copies of the book and it's hard to find where the right information is. Eventually it's all sorted out and they spend some time opening cell doors and finding fish. They find a prisoner named Stevens Ragusa, scare the bejeezus out of him with dancing lights, ("I make a light shaped like a guy and say 'Wooooo'" "Stevens says 'Torment me not, ghost, I have suffered enough at the hands of these yakmen' ") and make him their ally. G.N. says, "I really want to know what it's like outside." In a torture chamber they find an ice ooze in a corked cauldron and slay it. They walk into a room and kill a handful of yakmen battling their former comrades. Session ends. I panic (how does XP work in this game??) and give everyone 316 XP, enough to level up. This was not cathartic for me and I am dissatisfied. I message my friends Nick and Jameela who live in Philadelphia and ask them if they want to play DnD and they text me exclamation points and swear words indicating that yes, they do.
Session 1, Philly:
Jameela as Pacca the Cleric, and Nick as Milton Measely, a teenage astronomer who gets his powers from a satellite called The Eye in the Sky. Jameela doesn't know what feat to take. "There are feats in this game?" They spend some time opening cell doors and finding mice. Someone casts an illusion down a hall and a headless zombie runs up and KOs Pacca - knock-down brutal fight ensues and the victorious adventurers bandage up in a prison cell while the weasels patrol around but are fooled by the illusory door. They scare the yakmen away from the battle with their illusions and their former comrades burst through the door and slaughter the yakmen and bathe in their entrails. Pacca and Milton lure the pirates into the torture chamber and release the ice ooze which freezes the lunatic pirates and threatens to freeze Milton's eye to the keyhole where he's peeking through but he makes his save and the ice ooze slithers down to the ice chambers. Pacca and Milton meet a mysterious dandy in a purple wig named Three-Face Adamson who feeds them false information and teleports away when they close the door. Pacca and Milton Measely bicker: "I told you we should have killed him," etc. Session ends. I've prepared this time for XP awards and give them a meagre sum of XP. I feel satisfied.
Pacca and Milton save a sword-legged pirate named Aliu Alexi from a wardrobe. They go into a dank chamber where three doors are sealed with red paint and candles burn on tall candelabras and incantations are written on the doors and they hear the beating of a heart beyond one and they say "Nope" and go the other way. In the arms of a pig idol they find a glass orb the size of a bowling ball with magical multi-colored snakes inside, steal it, find a window, and led by Aliu Alexi hightail it back to the boat, which is actually a white cathedral shaped like the underside of a cow on the inside, and it's operated by an invalid priestess of Belm named Morrigan von Moon, who's employing a purple-skinned mercenary captain named Vex Mondri, and they promise Pacca and Milton Measely 300 GPs to rescue the Lambent Eye of Uvraj the Vacant. Session ends. Another meagre sum of XP. "XP for gold in this campaign," I remind them.
Session 2, Oakland:
Enter Sasha as the urchin thief Nicolai. She brings wine. We create her character for what seems like days. I really want to play Dungeons and Dragons. Adam eventually rejoins as the dwarven wizard Gurdjiff Niaflim. Adam: "He has a disgusting, flaccid body, and a transparent wrap like cellophane which displays colors and patterns." Me: "Perfect." G.N. finds Nicolai hiding in a wardrobe. After chasing the yakmen away, their former comrades burst through the door ("Two muscled men covered in blood and wielding knives burst through the door") and Nicolai spends some rounds trying to bring them back to their senses with hypnotic words and a lit candle. It almost works too. They stab Stevens Ragusa with their knives and bathe in his entrails. G.N. kills them with a quarterstaff while Nicolai watches. G.N. throws the body of Stevens down the stairs to the ice chambers. Enter Billi as the "trifling" druid Cr33d at the bottom of the stairs, who looks like Lisa Loeb but is made of cotton candy. All play dissolves into jokes and pop culture references as Billi describes his character. Everyone becomes distracted and tired. G.N. says "I really just want to see this ocean world. I wish we could go outside." Session ends. A meagre sum of XP. I am saddened and want to play more.
Session 3, Oakland again:
This time I bring beer, peanut M&Ms, and kettle chips. Sasha brings home-made peppermint fudge and wine. Zombie guards attack the corpse of Stevens Ragusa and Gurdjiff Niaflim becomes impatient and runs past them into a chamber filled with ice blocks. A zombie tries to strangle him. A zombie tries to tear off Nicolai's face. Appear appears at the top of the stairs and incinerates one with a fiery orb and G.N. destroys the other with his quarterstaff. The three of them melt gold coins out of an ice block for half an hour and scare away a pack of yakmen. They melt a potion of vomit grey ooze out of an ice block. They melt a legless woman out of an ice block. "My name is Virtue von Bask - I came to this island to woo the beautiful Olivia von Kirin Santos, but she refused my advances, etc." "Olivia von who?" say my players. "Nate, do you just spend your overnight shifts thinking up these names?" Yes I do. I need a quest quick. I flip through my fancy new copy of A Red and Pleasant Land. Roll roll. Seduce ______. "Bring me back to safety, but - um - if you seduce the Lady Olivia, and humiliate her in her nakedness, I will reward you, uh, greatly." My players are unconvinced. They carry her pick-a-back upstairs. They find the room with the heartbeat. Pumpkin shows up from a meditation meeting across town (or something) and says, "Sure I'll play, what's going on? Okay. I open the doors." Everyone recoils. Everyone stands in the next room. Pumpkin opens the doors and finds mummified yakmen, as well as (oh shit, uh, roll roll roll) a wealth of gold, a magical scroll, magical mushrooms, and (this next thing is not random) a giant beating heart in a curtained cage. G.N. identifies it as the heart of a sea titan. "Huh," they say, and kill it, and bottle the sea water that flows from it. They go into a room and hear lunatic shrieking behind a door. Pumpkin says, "I open the door." Everyone recoils. The room is filled with insane pirates. Pumpkin says, "I run past them. No wait, I torch that creepy doll on the wall, and then I run past them." So he does. The pirates are distracted. Appear grabs a kayak from the wall. They escape out the front door. Guys are impaled on stakes out there. Yakmen stand on top of a gatehouse and don't see them yet, so they climb the giant black wall that runs the length of the island and down into the ocean to a black tower out in the ocean. It's freezing cold and the clouds are real low. The slate grey waves break against the rocks. They walk along the wall to a watchtower behind the keep and climb it. They still have Virtue von Bask. They can see the whole island up here. There are hills and twisty brined trees. They can see a small hut on a small rock in the ocean. They can see the cathedral boat. G.N. says, "I liked it back inside. Let's go steal that eye." Everyone agrees. Session ends. Everyone levels up to the cusp of level three because of the huge amount of gold they found. Wowzers, hm, gold for XP is a weird beast, I say to myself.
Session 3, Philly:
My friend Jon lives in Austin and works in a governmental compound somewhere underground in a cubicle and he wants to play but he doesn't have a webcam or a mic, so we agree to try it out. We make his character the day before this time. He creates King Hu Harpagos, a mute Reptile Man with chalk and a chalkboard. I say, "Okay, you can either roll 3d6 in order down the line, or. . ." "I'll do that," he says, and does really well except for 4 INT and 7 WIS. I told Sasha that she could speak an animal language as her extra language so I tell him the same thing and he decides to speak snowfinch, which is a dialect of Passerine, spoken by swallows, sparrows, and finches. I tell him he knows one secret about the world and he quickly comes up with a good one. Jon is a real gem. He and Pacca and Milton Measely make for the shore in two rowboats with a small contingent of pirates. Vex Mondri told them he'll give them 10 GPs for each lunatic pirate they bring back alive. I'm eating home-made guacamole and tangerines and blueberries and smoked herring and Sasha's leftover wine. They march up to the gatehouse. Pacca took the feat that makes her take 3 less damage from every attack when she's wearing heavy armor. "WTF," I say. "Okay." They kill a pack of walking sharks and the savage trained eagles that the yakmen guards send at them. Fifteen yakmen pour out of the front gate wielding swords but they pepper the yakmen with flintlock fire and crossbow rounds and magical spells. King Hu fights admirably. The pirates break and run. The yakmen break and run. "This is fun," says Jameela/Pacca. They gather their pirates. They intimidate the yakmen, who indicate that they're scared of the Lady Olivia and her . . . "That's a drawing of a crawling eye," says Nick. They go into the keep and fight the lunatic pirates in the entrance hall. The lunatic pirates push down a good-guy pirate and tear out his eyes and are about to bathe in his entrails but the good guys K.O. them in time and bring them back to the ship and have an argument with the purple-skinned pirate captain, who doesn't want to deliver on his word, since they lost so many pirates in the fighting. Everyone crosses their arms and frowns. Morrigan von Moon sighs from her chaise lounge. "I must have . . . the eye." They sleep the night. Session ends and my friends get enough XP to level 2.
|Virtue von Bask (No legs not pictured)|
|"The Lady Olivia von Kirin Santos, Leaning Upon a Tiger, Not a Car"|
What's the take-away from all this? I'm not sure - always bring good snacks. Tell everyone to show up an hour before the game actually starts. Tell new players to show up an hour before that at least, or if possible do it with them separately. The 5e PHB is poorly organized and it's really laughable and I'm amazed they didn't do better. Don't give new players too many doors per room, but possibly only if they're Adam, and want to get outside. Print out good pictures to show your friends. If you're doing gold for XP, better be prepared for a fluke roll on the random treasure table to rocket your players almost all the way to level 3. Simple initiative is a lot better when you roll it at the beginning of each round - seriously, everyone winces every time I say "Roll for initiative!" and clenches when they lose and go "Yess!!" when they win. It's really great. Give yakmen bows or spells. Give the enemies a ton of HPs or a shield if you want them to last more than a moment. Stockpiling notes from one group to the next can really make a dungeon complicated, in a good way. A pretty small sandbox island with one dungeon and a handful of NPCs and a few d100 tables can last a really long time.