I've been putting off reporting on last week's session of Beyond Vinland for a couple of reasons. For one thing, we played through part of an in-print adventure module (Dungeon Crawl Classics #23 The Sunken Zigguart published by Goodman Games) and I am very hesitant to offer any spoilers. The module has a lot of neat flavor and some interesting new monsters, but I don't feel right letting the whole cat out of the bag. I hope you all can appreciate this position.
The other reason why I've delayed on posting a session report was that it was a rough go for the PCs, with a higher meatgrinder/carnival ratio than I normally like. Doug's dice were cold for a second session in a row. The party was also down a man, as Jason was visiting his ill grandmother. The Sunken Ziggurat calls for at least 28 levels of PC and I only had 15 levels show up. I considered a second appearance of The Mystery Elf, but I don't really like playing NPC party members. Instead, I tried to follow the guidelines given in the book for scaling down the opposition. And I gave the PCs an extra mechanical goodie.
Anybody else familiar with the Dork20 deck? It's pretty cute, featuring Dork Tower art by John Kovalic. Each card has some mechanical widget like "make a saving throw automatically" or "+10 to a Jump check" or somesuch. According to the instruction sheet that comes with the rules, you give each player 4 cards at the start of the session. Whether the DM gets cards of his own is entirely optional, and previous play suggests that if the DM's hand is empty then the PCs about a level's worth of additional power out of their four cards. At least for a short session like we normally play.
There's one big problem I've seen with supplementary widgets like my own d30 house rule and the Dork20 cards. Even highly competent dungeoneers sometimes forget they have these additional meta-resources. I think the key issue is that neither the cards nor the d30 rule appear anywhere on the character sheet. As a player I know I like to have all my mechanical tools laid out in front of me for easy reference, on the char sheet. (Incidentally, this is one of the reasons I shy away from playing spellcasters. Past the first level or two it becomes hard for me to manage my spells.) It's relatively easy to forget that the big purple die in the middle of my pile of polyhedrals is actually something they can use. We need to work on that. Maybe I should get more d30s and hand each player their own die, that I take back when they expend it? There's no point in having such an explosive house rule if it doesn't regularly blow stuff up.
Most of the bad guys the Warriors Three faced were monster types that are immune to critical hits, so we only got to see one use of the GameMastery Critical Hit Deck I talked about last week. But so far I like it and unless the players rebel I plan on using it next session as well.
I will share two small items from last Wednesday's game. First of all, check out Stuart's new Wall of Gravy spell over at his blog. I can't explain how, but that spell evolved out of the chitchat at the table. Lots of game groups come up with utterly ridiculous in-joke spells like that, but most of them never make it past the simple "har-har" stage. This is the first time I've witnessed someone actually carry out the threat of turning a joke spell into a fully functioning mechanical artifact.
And to finish it off, here's the one bit of spoilage I will share with you. Using the Eye of Susserak, the amulet they stole from the ghost they fought at the end of last session, Pat's dwarf was able to determine that a monster they were fighting had a special vulnerability to water. Unfortunately, none of the spellcasters had any water-based spells at the ready. And no one even had a wineskin on their charsheet, thanks to the rings of sustenance everyone relies upon for nourishment. So in the middle of melee Pat's dwarf whips out his willie and urinates on the monster. That's a dungeoneer devoted to getting the job done no matter what the cost.
It should be noted that the other players briefly debated whether penis-deployment should draw an Attack of Opportunity. I thought giving the DM ideas like that was a pretty cruel thing to do to a teammate. Funny, but cruel.
Why Middle Earth has been working for me
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