Pickup 4: unhygenic play with jellies, retcon, windfall

Another two-player session with Adam. I got my VTT working correctly, with the dynamic fog-of-war I had been aiming for, which put me in a pretty good mood. In theory this meant a chance to test my “no torches, 5 foot candle radius, 10 foot lantern radius” house rules. As you’ll see, Adam had other plans.
On the other hand, I had hoped for a higher player-count based on the interest people had expressed. But I’m comfortable running for just Adam, and I was quite confident we’d still have a good run.

We started by chatting about our ongoing project (a zine we’re writing together, hanging on my final contribution) and seeing if his character, Grignr the Coward, had the stats to multi-class into a thief or other class. He did not; he’s a fighter, and that’s it. His background did state that he was a former carpenter, so we briefly discussed the merits of hammers, maces, morningstars, and axes.

Grignr had a super high charisma, 16 (among orcs and giant-kin; 12 among humans). Adam wanted to start with the orc he had tied up last session as his new retainer. I thought that was reasonable. Adam’s characters had treated the orc well, Grignr was a half-orc himself, and Grignr hadn’t even been the one who tied the orc up. So we rolled a reaction check and Grignr’s fearsome charisma made Bagrum Gro-Yagrum a loyal retainer. Adam elected not to hire any other retainers. He explained that he planned on infiltrating the orcs and attempting to depose Borshak, and he wouldn’t be able to get away with it if he had any humans hanging around.

Bagrum would be willing to tell Grignr everything he knew about the dungeon, I decided, so I informed Adam that Borshak had an orc magic-user, goblins, kobolds, ogres, and a troll working for him, along with the usual orcs. I checked my notes and map to see where I thought Bagrum would have been and would know about, and we got started.

Adam’s first move was to extinguish his candles and use infravision only. Luckily, my random encounter generator has a toggle for that, allowing him to surprise opponents (which he would have no chance of doing if he carried a light). I thought this was a good tactical move.

The pair descended down the stairs into the lair. As usual, they encountered a guard at the bottom; this time, a kobold. He had surprise on the kobold, and the creature rolled a fear reaction, so I presented it as quivering and nervous as it stood alone at a perilous post. (I’d previously said that the door guard position had such a high fatality rate that Borshak wouldn’t even investigate if one of the guards went missing.) Adam ordered the creature to run up the tunnel so it wouldn’t bother them. Grignr and Bagrum entered the next room and attempted to open its huge double doors, which had a painting of Borshak on them, enchanted to yell and raise an alarm if they were opened. Unfortunately, they failed their open door check several times. Under my new and experimental random encounter rules, I make a random encounter check every 15 minutes of real time or whenever the characters spend time doing stuff – struggling to open a door, for instance. As a result, the party encountered 2 more kobolds. First, though, we resolved the door situation. Grignr applied his carpentry know-how to take the doors off their hinges.

Beyond the doors (and farther than Adam had been in the dungeon so far, lmao at last week’s room 2 tpk) was a large room with stairs and statues and some curtains beyond, and, most pressingly, 2 kobolds. No chance of surprise but the kobolds rolled a positive reaction. Adam ordered them to pick up the halves of the door and guard them, under the pretense that Borshak wanted to gaze on his own portrait. They hopped to. Bagrum showed Grignr how to open the secret passage into the barracks area of the lair (censored for future players) and the pair went on.

In the barracks they encountered a long hallway strewn with filth and 3 doors. Two of them lead to the kobold dormitory, and the third was locked. Bagrum had never seen it opened. Adam suspected treasure behind it and decided to smash it down. The noise from this triggered another encounter check, and Adam bumped into 6 orcs, positively inclined. Adam convinced them that Borshak had likely hidden some treasure behind the locked door. I can’t remember if I rolled another reaction check or just went with it; either way, the orcs decided to help Grignr and Bagrum.

Behind the door was an ochre jelly, poised to fall on anybody who managed to open it.

I told Adam that a slimy thing fell on him and asked him to roll for surprise. He was surprised. The creature then got a free round of damage, 3d4->7 versus Grignr’s 8 HP. I’d instituted a house-rule that characters could fall unconscious to negate half the (non-magical) damage from a hit, and I reminded Adam about this. He took the opportunity. Then we rolled initiative. The jelly won. Before I rolled the 3d4, I asked Adam how we wanted to handle death – at 0 hp, wound at 0 and death at -4, or unconscious at 0, wound at -4, and death at -10? OR something else? I was really unwilling to let Grignr simply die. It felt too hopeless. I decided to wound at 0 hp and roll a death save or die. 3d4->8 brought Grignr to -4. He made the death save. Bagrum pulled him out of the jelly and brushed the bits of jelly off him, while the orcs all attacked it. (First they made morale checks, at a penalty for having their leader go unconscious, and all but one passed.) All misses.

Next round, Bagrum took 3d4 damage from the ooze on his fingers and died. That was it for the game. Adam asked if that was how it worked, does Bagrum just take the damage? I took a step back from the situation. We read the monster manual description and discussed it a bit – how do oozes and jellies work? Is it just contact with them or do they require attack rolls?

I realized I hadn’t given the jelly a single attack roll the entire. It simply dealt damage. That can’t be right. At the very least it needs to make an attack roll to hit the first time, even if it does deal automatic damage after that. (And does it deal automatic damage after that? I think it depends on the specific creature. The jelly is said to deal damage through the digestive enzymes it secretes. It’s otherwise a single giant amoeba. So it probably needs to keep attacking. An ooze, on the other hand, is a colony of many little creatures, and leaves bits of itself behind when it hits somebody, so it must continue dealing damage. Jury’s still out for puddings.)

Fuck it, we’ll retcon the whole thing.

I made two attack rolls for the jelly. Both missed. On Adam’s turn, we kept the orc misses, but gave him an extra orc attack (from the one who fled when Grignr went down) and an attack from Grignr and Bagrum. Grignr got a roll of 30, a major stunt. Now’s a good time to explain my stunting rules, stolen from Eero Tuovinen’s work on Coup de Maine.

My basic combat algorithm is “Target 20”: roll 1d20 + attack bonus + enemy ac. If the result is 20 or higher, deal damage. For a level 2+ fighter, if the result is 25 or higher, deal +1 damage or do a minor stunt. For a level 2+ fighter, if the result is 30 or higher, deal +2 damage or do a major stunt. (In this case I forgot about the “level 2+” thing, alas.)

Grignr rolled a 30. His major stunt was to pick up the pieces of the door and drive them into the jelly, tearing it in half. I guess Adam didn’t know that jellies can divide in half and survive! (Normally they do so when hit with electricity.)l Against a different enemy, I might have asked him to pick a different stunt, because you can’t simply cut somebody in half, but in this case, it worked well, and the jelly divided.

Bagrum rolled a 25 and speared the front half of the jelly to the ground, immobilizing it, though it could still attack adjacent enemies. (Again, I forgot that he shouldn’t have been able to do this.)

The rest of the combat was quick and uneventful. Two orcs fell before the jellies were killed. I remarked that the 6 HD jelly was one of the largest single foes our play group had ever overcome. For whatever reason, we tended to fight hordes of 1–4 HD monsters rather than individual large monsters.

Behind the jelly was an apparently-empty closet. The gang searched inside of it for a secret door. 3 searchers covering 35 feet of wall. I was excited for Adam’s victory and I didn’t want to do any math, so I decided to just roll a single search check for each of the three searchers, and a single wandering monster check, to see if he found the secret compartment at the back of the closet. (In hindsight, it might have been better to only roll for one of them, as only one could possibly have been searching the correct area.) No wandering monsters and they found a chest full of old scrolls. Adam assigned one of the orcs to carry the chest and continued forward. (In hindsight I might have rolled morale or loyalty to see if the orc tried to slip away with the chest.)

Near the end of the passageway the party encountered a set of 4 statues, and Grignr began to examine them before I rolled another random encounter. 6 kobolds, aggressive, with surprise, and given the positions of the miniatures on the VTT, they could only see Grignr and Bagrum. Of course they attacked! They slew Bagrum before the rest of the gang caught up. One or two more orcs might have died, I can’t remember, along with most of the kobolds. Grignr cried out to the orcs that the kobolds were treacherous and had declared civil war, which the orcs of course believed, as they thought Grignr was one of them. Meanwhile goblins had overheard the fight and came running, whooping and hollering, in the party’s direction.

Adam decided to flee rather than take his chances with the goblins. He asked to loot the bodies on the way out but I didn’t think he would have enough time before the goblins arrived. He retreated back two rooms (this is probably hard to picture but I am unwilling to show the map, sorry) where he find the two kobolds, still guarding the door halves (I rolled a morale check to see if they would stay or wander off) and 3 skeletons, milling about idly, apparently from the feared eastern section of the dungeon, where even the orcs dare not go. The party slew the two kobold guards and sent a runner to Borshak, warning him that the kobolds had declared war. Then they retreated to split up loot.

The loot was absolutely bonkers, 5 spell scrolls with a total of 44 spell-levels among them. That’s 300 gp per spell level, split between Grignr and the 5 remaining orcs. (If he had been a magic-user he could have totally destroyed some dungeons with the spells in those scrolls, but, oh well!) He walked away from the adventure with a cool 5500 xp.

As we wrapped things up, Grignr told the orcs he could lead them better than Borshak, and bring them more riches, and pointed out their haul as evidence that Borshak had been holding out on them. I had to agree. They vowed to depose Borshak and take his riches.

We discussed the practicalities of running a gang of orcs. I’m not looking for a full campaign, just a series of dungeon-crawls, so I think if Grignr runs a gang, he could get as many orc retainers as he wanted, until they all died anyway. Next session I’ll roll up the survivors as his fully-statted henchmen and we’ll go from there.

3 Appreciations

I had a ton of fun playing in this game Pigdog. Not very common you get to start a civil war and recruit a large number of followers straight from an enemy faction all at the same time.

3 Appreciations

I think it’s both funny and good that the parts of the game I obsess over (the mistakes) might not be the parts you came away remembering. This happens in Reavers, too; I was surprised to hear that wrestling the medusa in Lost Donenashoe was a peak Wolves moment for you.

It just felt desperate and dangerous and in the end a solid plan worked out for us to be able to defeat her. You seemed to be thinking of it as a cartoonish brawl but I felt like it was closer to a knife fight in the dark. If something went wrong at all it was over for us.