Thursday, August 26, 2010

black hobbits

So once upon a time I bought a module called Rat On A Stick, based solely on the name and cover art.  Turned out it was a dungeon adventure for Tunnels & Trolls and/or Monsters! Monsters!, the obscure T&T variant where you play the bad guys.  I really dig this module.  It's not perfect by any means, but it combines wholesome silliness and deadly danger in a way that greatly amuses me.  I've run it a few times here and there, never once getting too worked up about the fact that the T&T stats don't jibe well with running the adventure under D&D.

But one thing that haunted me for my first couple of runs of Rat On A Stick was the black hobbits.  These creatures inhabit a couple three rooms on the first level of the Rat dungeon.  I wasn't sure what to do with them.  They look to be bad guys, but why use black hobbits as opposed to, say, kobolds?  It took me a good long while to figure out what to do with these little guys.  But eventually I got a copy of the Monsters! Monsters! rules and it all came together.

One of my favorite bits in M!M! is the way you select your race.  Pick a card from an ordinary deck.  Ten of spades?  You're an orc.  Queen of hearts?  Lamia.  King of Diamonds?  Full on badass balrog.  Black hobbits come up on a Five of Spades.  It's a fun little system and one of the reason why some days I ache to run a con game of Monsters! Monsters! that includes chargen.  "Two slimes, an evil wizard and a giant walk into a bar" isn't the opening of a joke, but a distinctly possible course of events in this game.

Anyway, each of the 52 monster types gets a sentence or two of description.  For black hobbits the write goes like this:  "BLACK HOBBITS: This does not refer to their skin tone, but rather to their political affiliations."  That sentence is the secret origin of the halfings of the Chaos Party in my current campaign.  My thinking is basically "What if black hobbits were like all the ordinary stay-at-home middle class people of the Shire, except they lived in a dungeon and on election day they voted Chaos?"  They're perfectly ordinary chaps you can have over for tea and pipes, they just favor the social and/or economic initiatives of the Evil Overlord to the present administration.

The next part of my thinking on the black hobbits comes as a result of the level one map in Rat On A Stick.  In the middle of the map behind some double doors can be found a vast chamber with big honkin' pillars and a raised dais at one end.  According to the key a half dozen black hobbits are hanging out there.  It became my self appointed task to have these guys always Up To Something.  The first time the PCs visited this room the little guys were putting up folding chairs and arranging the podium for a Chaos Party rally.  Last night, as the party is marching toward the double doors I decide that the Chaos Halflings are building a parade float.

This snap decision leads to one of the best runs I have ever had as a DM.  The party chats up the halflings and find out that once a year a parade is held on level one and each level enters a float.  They make a large circuit around the dungeon and one chamber on the route has bleachers and a judges booth.  The halflings never win Best Float, but this year they're excited about their prospects with their new "Skull Shooting Fire Out of Its Eyes" theme float.

There's a little discussion about taking advantage of the parade to scout out depopulated lower levels of the dungeon.  But in the end the party decides that they'd rather help their buddies win the competition, via turning the float into an Animal House-style Deth Machine.

IT WAS AWESOME.

They juryrig a small ballista into the mouth of the skull, launching jugs of oil.  The eyes are upgrated from Rock Concert Pyro Effects to Actual Frickin' Flamethrowers.  A cow-catcher was slung under the skull and 20 shields were used to armor up the structure.

As the players are talking out there mad plans I am flipping through the module as cooly as possible trying to come up with a list of monsters from each level, what floats they show up with and who might be in the stands and/or judging the competition.  Here are the monsters in the parade and their floats:
  • 20 skeletons with Bat Shooting Fire Out Its Eyes (one drunken halfling "Oy!  They stole our idea for fire coming out the eyes!")
  • A couple of trolls with a float depicting elves on Vlad the Impaler style stakes (using actual elf corpses for maximum realism).
  • A trio of vampires (two Draculas and a Vampirella) with a float that actually floats, depicting the sun with a bleeding spear wound
  • A pair of shoggoths with an indescribable float that existed in more than three dimensions
  • Two anthro-Gnus whose float I can't recall at the moment
  • Three ogres with a Hanged Wizard themed float (a midget in the crowd was wearing the same robe as the effigy wizard, he was not amused)
  • Four elementals (one of each type) hauling a Shrine to Elemental Evil.
  • A group of mysterious plant men, with a float showing their opposition to all forms of animal life
The crowd watching is a just as motley, with a mummy and a female balrog for the judges.  Tobin the drunken dwarf considers hitting on the balrog, but after a quick scale drawing on the whiteboard the idea is abandoned as non-feasible.

I expected the party to throw in the towel once they saw the opposition.  Sure my house rules are player friendly, sure they've got a few sticks of dynamite and some artifact quality swords, and they've got a pet bear and an amored gorilla.  But for Frigg's sake, these guys are first through third level.  They have no business fighting most of the monsters on this list!

Man, I wish I could give all y'all a play-by-play.  That parade was quite possibly the craziest combat encounter I have ever refereed.  The PCs set themselves up to be at the end of the parade line and I rolled dice for the placement of the others.  As luck would have it, they started right behind the skeletons, who were behind the trolls.  The skeletons are incinerated in two rounds and the trolls panic at the sight of the fire.  They try to run away, knocking over the vampire float.  The vampires take umbrage at this turn of events and start fighting the trolls.  Both the vamps and trolls are doused in oil and lit up, with the trolls running around in a panic and the vampires turning to mist and floating away.  The plant men eventually route as well, as they don't dig much on being set ablaze either.  The elementals quit the field of battle when Edgar the Gorilla activates his Protection from Elementals rune on his elf-blade.  That blocks them from meleeing the party, who lob missiles over Edgar's head.

The nearest this plan comes to going completely pear-shaped is the shoggoths.  I wanted to turn to Tim and say "What are you thinking, man?  You're in a fight against shoggoths and your elf has ONE HIT POINT!!!"  Last night was Tim's first session in the campaign.  Despite each possessing 20 hit dice, the party eventually defeated the shoggoths in a pitch battle, thanks largely to Sir Roi of Cribbet's Sword of the Lightning Kings zapping the crap out of one shoggoth and my current house rule for PCs rolling natural 20 (20 = monster dead) taking care of the other one.

Did I mention that this battle runs down the length of the dungeon, with crowds of monsters cheering everyone on the whole time?  It ends with the PCs and the last surviving halfling pushing the burnt, battered framework of the float to the end of the route, making them the only entry this year to actually reach the judge's booth.  We close the session with the party reenacting the final scene of Star Wars, except instead of Princess Leia it's a balrog babe and instead of the Rebel Alliance's Medal of Bravery they receive Best Float in Chaos Parade '057.  Oh, and Sir Roi somehow ended up with the Silver Surfer's cosmic surfboard.