Monday, September 4, 2017

Beyond the Funnel - Intrigue at the Court of Chaos

Heroes of the Lady in Blue

After running the module A Hole in the Sky by Michael Curtis three times, I had become both desensitized to player death and eager to upgrade the intensity of my bloodlust from level-0 characters to a full fledged level 1 party. The funnels are great fun and a unique, simplified introduction to Dungeon Crawl Classics. But the time had come to move on to the full-game with its blood magic and corrupting influence, warriors capable of great feats of strength and combat prowess, and clerics whose channeling of the divine would test the patience of their deities.

How Does the Game Change from Level-0 to 1?

Here are just a few of the prominent features that stuck out for me that were different:

Spellcasting

This is the first time the players have had access to magic. In DCC, there are no spellslots for either wizards or elves. They gain access to a number of spells equal to that allowed by their class plus a number equal to their intelligence modifier. Spells are selected at random, as is the case for most things in DCC. 

In addition to the spells that they pick up, they automatically have access to Patron Bond and Invoke Patron. The Patron Bond spell is a week long ritual that forms a pact between the character and their deity or another otherworldly being. Depending on if its successful or not, the character will then open up the option to cast Invoke Patron to attempt to ask its deity for aid. This is a great spell that allows for all sorts of potential scenarios to play out. The kicker to asking for aid from a deity is that it will call in the debt at some point, creating endless opportunities for future adventures.

When casting a spell, a player makes a spell check. This is a d20 roll modified by their intelligence modifier and level which is then paired up against a table in the book that explains the result. There are over 180 pages of the core book dedicated to spellcasting. Each spell has countless possibilities from its base effect, description of how it manifests, and the inclusion of effects that are specific to the individual who cast it.

Spellcasting is a dangerous business in DCC. Wizards can sacrifice their physical being to empower their spells via a mechanic known as spellburn. Just like burning luck, the player can elect to reduce any number of strength, agility or constitution points to add a modifier to their spellcheck. If they sacrifice a full 20 points, they get an automatic critical!

The cost of failure can be extreme. When a spellcheck fails, the caster will lose the use of the spell until they spellburn 1 point per the lost spell's level to regain it or they wait a day for it to recharge. If the spellcheck comes up with a natural 1, the spell may misfire and the caster may start to see their physical being warp and corrupt. Because of this, wizards and elves who live long enough are likely to give others an Emperor Palpatine vibe.

What an uggo.

Mighty Deeds of Arms

These are maneuvers that Dwarves and warriors can attempt that go beyond simply trying to swing a weapon to wound an opponent. They include called shots to the eyes or limbs, attempting to disarm or trip an opponent, and even calls to rally and inspire allies. The mechanic is that the warrior or dwarf rolls their normal attack roll and rolls a deed die to determine if a special attack of their declaration succeeds or not. These are fun and give the warrior classes a little bit more creative edge to their characters rather than being big bags of hp that hit things. The book even encourages players to work with their gamemasters to develop their own signature Mighty Deeds of Arms.

Character Death

The funnels were wrought with character death. Every five minutes, another one would bite the dust. It isn't so different with level-1 characters and beyond, but they do have a little bit more survivability. After dropping to 0 hp, the character has a number of rounds equal to their level to be healed. If they are healed in this way, they gain a gnarly scar or some other permanent reminder of their near-death experience. If no one gets to them in time, there is an option to allow the character a luck roll and the ability to burn luck to survive. If this works, they come back with 1hp and a -4 penalty to all rolls for the next hour and a pemenant -1 to either strength, agility or stamina. Jeepers. Maybe the player will wish they had died after all of that.

Intrigue at the Court of Chaos


The Characters

Samuel the Elf: Samuel had survived the Hole in the Sky and taken the Lady in Blue as his patron. He went back to his village where he operated as a shipping captain; however he recently began smuggling people across the sea and has been proselytizing to immigrants about the benefits of converting to his chaotic patron.

Raton the Dwarf: A professional ratcatcher who survived the Hole in the Sky with Samuel. He has since devoted his time to developing a rat amusement park in town and is training his pets for sinister purposes.

Zander the Elf: Zander began working for the local courthouse transcribing old documents that served as the foundation of the laws for the kingdom. He has become frustrated with the law of man and wishes for a return to nature.

Stan Putsky the Warrior: Stan became a business associate of Samuel's and worked with him to ship exotic animals that he had captured to far away places for profit.

Oz the Wizard: A local fortuneteller who is known to be something of a fraud. Though his fortunetelling skills are false, he is very good at investigating the backgrounds of those that he would con and thus can typically spin a good enough tale to fool the naive.

The Adventure Highlights

  • The adventure officially begins after the players witness a puppet show on a city street and are summoned to the Court of Chaos. Once there, the players are asked by five monstrous hosts who ask the players to venture to the Plane of Law to capture an item called the Yokeless Egg. Its purpose is left ambiguous, though it is communicated to the characters that it will be used to erode Law's influence in the multiverse.
  • Before the heroes embark on the quest, they are each visited by a different horrifying member of the court. Each tries to entice the character to obtain the egg and deliver it to them individually rather than to the court as a whole. They are offered power and magic items that are quite incredible. Seemingly, each of my players had no problem with this as they all accepted and no one protested (except Samuel who had a pretty epic breakdown and begged for his life when they first arrived).
  • Once the characters were ready they were armed with special chaos weapons that will work on the Plane of Law. They were then sent to their destination: a land of perfection with every blade of grass the perfect hue and aligned straight without blemish. No clouds were present in the sky and everyone found the temperature just to their liking. In the distance they could see a giant floating diamond shaped structure which seemed to be where the Yokeless Egg could be found.
  • The first obstacle was a giant ox who served as the guardian to the structure. He had an Eeyore quality to him, declaring white might have been a mighty declaration of reprisal if it wasn't for how bored he sounded. The characters caught sight of something written upon his horns. As the Ox stirred and readied to protect his charge, the players were eager for battle. After defeating the hapless creature he simply sighed as he passed on: "At least someone noticed me." Sad. Afterward the party looked upon his horns: the phrase to relieve the Ox from his sacred duties and avoid the confrontation.
  • Once inside, it became clear to the party that five trials would need to be passed. The first trial involved the players sculpting a piece of clay that remained from the gods' creation. They were charged with displaying what they would create from this fragment. We got out some playdough, which is essentially the same thing as the divine spark of the Creators.


  • Once inside, it became clear to the party that five trials would need to be passed. The first trial involved the players sculpting a piece of clay that remained from the gods' creation. They were charged with displaying what they would create from this fragment. We got out some playdough, which is essentially the same thing as the divine spark of the Creators.
  • Inside the Enlightenment trial, the PCs encountered a room with eight pillars that were lit up by sconces. A voice charged them with finding and fixing the imperfection within the room. As they set to work, several pairs of beautiful dancers appeared. As they swayed and moved, their actions became more erratic and they began colliding with the characters and causing damage. The heroes soon noticed that there were no shadows being produced from blocking the light. As they set out to put the flames out and relight them with new light that would cast shadows, several of the party members tried to distract and calm the dancers. Raton began instructing them how to do the YMCA, Samuel pulled off the worm, Zander got everyone into the chicken dance and Oz channeled his inner Chubby Checker said "Come on everybody, lets do the twist!" 

  • In a room labeled Construction, the PCs encountered a room with a bottomless chasm that divided the room some 100 ft. A door could be seen on the otherside. Close to the characters' position were six different colored vials: tangerine, crimson, azure, gold, emerald, and plum. The solution is to drink the vials in the color of the rainbow starting with the reddish liquid. Drinking them out of order causes strange results. Raton had a crate of his rats with him, and he decided that it would be a good opportunity to test the results of the liquid upon them. Some effects were visible, and some seemed to do nothing. After feeding one of the rats the emerald potion, the rat grew to be 12' tall and began attacking the party. One of the potions caused a rat to get very depressed and it flung itself into the chasm, committing rat-suicide. One of the rights began to glow like a lightbulb. After all of the experimentation was done, the players tried everything from trying to dump the contents out  to mixing them all together. It always seemed the vials would refill, with the exception of the red one when consumed. Eventually, Stan Putsky stepped forward and just started guzzling the strange brews in the correct order, and a mist appeared over the chasm and seemed to offer a way across.
  • The final confrontation brings the party to the chamber where the Egg is defended by reflections of the PCs. Each reflection is an idealized representation of themselves with better looks, brawnier muscles and seemingly more confident. The party went to battle with them and despite the conjuration of more than a few lions from Oz and a badass flaming hands spell from Samuel, the rolls were not with the party and we saw our first DCC party wipe. 
  • They suffered defeat and now are prisoners of the Scions of Law who will now put the PCs on trial for colluding with the forces of chaos. They will give them a chance to plead their case and in the end will render a judgment they feel is suitable for their crimes.
In our DCC games, Justicia, Goddess of justice and mercy, is represented by her avatar, Jessica Biel.

Conclusion

Our first session was a huge learning curve for me as a "judge" (the term for dungeon masters in DCC). I made a lot of bad calls and fumbled through how the spellcasting system works, but it was a good first attempt at learning how to make a DCC game work. There were other miscellaneous things my players were trying to do based on a 5th edition mindset that proved challenging. For example, one of the players wanted to use their action to focus on evading the enemy (they were looking for a boost to their AC). How do I handle this? Agility is already factored into AC, and there doesn't seem to be a specific action included. 

I noticed that my first-time players are very nervous to burn luck or "go big" on spellburn. Going conservative in DCC is in my estimation a huge mistake. The game rewards risk-taking, and if you aren't willing to take those risks then you might not be successful. The player psychology of trying to conserve resources for the future is a fine idea for other games, but it won't produce the exciting moments that make DCC shine. When one of the players at the very end of the session finally started to take notice of this, the tempo started to change. He started burning four points each round and I found myself feeling excited for the player and hoping for a good result. 

Overall, I am happy that I am starting to get people on board with playing DCC games. There is still a lot to learn in order to make games run smoothly, but this session was a good first step. My mission going forward is to help my players to understand the system, and then to get them back to roleplaying. It can be difficult to learn a system and do an effective job developing your character and getting yourself into the story at the same time. With regular play, I am confident we will all be feeling comfortable with the system and I am certain the players will be the ones teaching me the rules before too long.

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