Thursday, September 18, 2014

Cinders of the Servant Queen Play Report

Ran Servants of the Cinder Queen and it went really well. Spoilers ahead:

Gor Krestle the warlock Vassal of Mab and Valeria the vampire fled north from Albion after preventing the rogue magician Jessica Gristle from freeing the fairy Lord of Last-Breath from his millennial prison, because they had accepted payment from the noble House Cromlech to do the opposite and didn't want to deal with the fallout. They reached the land of the Norge and stumbled upon the miserable little town of Meervold. They stayed the night at the dilapidated inn for free, because the innkeeper, Armar, had no will to live or, evidently, to charge them for anything. So many people had gone missing and so man incinerated human skeletons had shown up in their place that he figured the town was lost. The next day (conveniently mist-shrouded and overcast, allowing the party's vampire to walk about freely) Armar was gone, leaving behind only smudged ashes on the threshold.

The party next encounters Finni, a simple young turnip-farmer, weeping and eating his last turnip in a mud puddle. Valeria finds out from him that a suspicious wizard-type and his band of hooded acolytes passed by, taking up residence in the ruins of Kaldhammer, a monastery lost to a fire demon invasion/volcanic eruption five centuries ago, which was only halted by a calamitous flood caused by Storm God Hvitr. Berta Solsisdottir, the town's unofficial leader, offers them a reward to defeat this wizard (since she figures he is trying to release Gildarthe, the fire goddess that erupted the volcano), sells them equipment, and lets them look for hirelings. Gor Krestle offers the townspeople half the reward as payment (to Valeria's horror), but only Aghnildg, armed with a broken sword, takes them up on the offer. They head out, Valeria swings back to vampirize Finni, but is stymied by the number of witnesses, so she join up with the main group.

They arrive at the ruins of Kaldhammer just after nightfall and proceed to was four hours looking for food so Valeria doesn't need to eat their only henchwoman. They fail miserably until they ask Aghnildg for help, who succeeds in finding a raccoon on her first attempt. At this point, hooded cultists crawl out of a tunnel in the ruins of Kaldhammer to attack. Valeria and Gor flail ineptly as Aghnildg dispatches them. She suffers some trauma at so much death, but Gor says they are just "dirty rotten turnips". Aghnildg takes this to heart.

The go down the tunnel and encounter two burning skeletons. Aghnildg kills one easily as Gor and Valeria struggle with the remaining monster. It kills Valeria in an incandescent bear-hug before Gor takes it down. He calls on Mab to identify these creatures (she possesses Aghnildg and sucks half his HP out of his arm in recompense), and it turns out they are Servants of the Cinder Queen, undead that remain animate so long as they burn. Gor readies his water skins and goes deeper into the tunnels, braving skeletons on the way. After a couple dead ends, he finds a guarded chamber and just runs past the Cinder Servant Guards.

He finds sleeping quarters, but with the Servants hot on his heels, he runs down another passageway, finding a dead end with a giant pit filled with villagers. Hoping to rally them to his cause, he rushes down the rope ladder with Aghnildg, only for the Cinder Servants to pull the ladder up once he reaches the bottom. He snags the bottom rung and yanks on it, pulling the Servants into the pit. They die in the fall. Inside the pit in Gunnva, a Magic-user and Aghnildg's sister. By means of a rousing and slightly threatening speech, she galvanizes the villagers into a determined, if malnourished and unarmed, fighting force. Aghnildg makes a habit of crushing the skulls of her enemies while calling them dirty, rotten turnips.

They go deeper into the mountain and come across a chamber with a fissure in the far wall and three stone doors. They decipher the runes on the door and acquire Jafnir, a hammer than returns to the wielder when thrown (Gunnva keeps this), Spakri, a cloak that allows the wearer to fly brief distances (Aghnildg takes this), and a magical hourglass that they promptly forget about. They then go into the fissure and enter the volcano's caldera, only to find the wizard reading aloud from a book and waving a staff, moments away from releasing Gildarthe.

They have a pretty harrowing fight. Gor and Valeria focus on preventing the wizard from reading from the book as Aghnildg and the rock-throwing villagers take on the cultists and Cinder Servants. Aghnildg dies heroically from a fire blast to the face (courtesy of the wizard) after she single-handedly kills nearly all the cultists, and the villagers flee after taking out most of the Cinder Servants. Gor and Gunnva finish of wizard, but the last cultists takes them down and restarts the ritual. They have three turns to stop the ritual--Gildarthe's massive face is visible pressing up against the floor of the caldera.

They are both below 0 HP, and I say if they succeed a Poison saving throw they can get back up at 1 HP, but if they fail, they take 1 damage, and die at -4. It's pretty lenient, but whatever. Turn 1, Gunnva and Gor fail their saving throw. Gor dies. Turn 2, Gunnva fails her saving throw. The cultist is still reading from the book and chanting. Turn 3, she succeeds, calls Jafnir, throws it, and makes a critical hit, killing the last cultists stone cold dead. She loots the bodies, collects the valuables of her companions, says goodbye to her sister, and returns to Meervold.

In retrospect
  • If the players don't do anything, the wizard succeeds in releasing Gildarthe and the volcano erupts, annihilating Meervold and releasing a bunch of fire monsters. I dropped clues that this was happening, but I should have just straight-up told them. I'd also suggest making some of the Grim Portents (Dungeon World's jargon for the bad things that happen in the absence of player intervention) more obvious to players, regardless of location.
  • The villagers and Aghnildg rolled freakishly well the entire time, and it made me glad I roll in front of players., Hidden rolls would have made Aghnildg feel like an GMNPC when really she was a wildly lucky incompetent. My players loved her, and were really upset when she died.
  • The ending was super perfect. Nearly averted TPK, a Hail Mary critical hit.
  • I am more and more starting to think that dying should be easy, but death should be hard. The drama of trying to resuscitate downed characters is great. I think I'll transplant 5e's death saving throws mechanic to whatever it is I'm running from now on. 
  • Hvitr's Vault (the room with the hourglass, cloak, and hammer) was a little frustrating. As written, it is hard for players to figure out how to open the stone doors. Each requires a different action (one opens by striking it with your fist, the other opens by applying bodily fluid, the other opens when you blow on it), but there really isn't any way to figure this out. I put markings on the door that gave clues, but they were pretty obvious. I'd suggest putting a book in the monastery library that explains how to open the doors. 
  • I gave the Servants 18 HP and had them take d6 damage a turn just from being on fire. My players were at level 1, so this was still plenty dangerous, but I think giving them more HP could be good--it makes fleeing and waiting a valuable offensive strategy, something that distinguishes Servants more from other monsters.

2 comments:

  1. Very cool! Did you run this with Dungeon World, or did you use an OSR system like LotFP?

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    1. I actually did use Lamentations of the Flame Princess, though the classes were playtests for my vampire and warlock classes.

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