Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Gamehole Con: Return to the Labyrinth

My second year attending Gamehole Con in Madison, WI was an extremely memorable one in part because it was my first time running a game that I wrote for strangers. For those wondering what the hell a Gamehole Con is, I assure you it isn't an orifice for unseemly behavior or an explicit reference of any kind. Gamehole Con is one of the largest tabletop gaming conventions in the Midwest with over 2,500 attendees. Hosted at the Alliant Energy Center, Gamehole Con is a place to meet some of the lead game designers, illustrators and story tellers in the industry, play a wide variety of games and network with other gamers.

A few months ago I wrote a post to help me brainstorm the kind of game that I would write for convention play. I wanted something that would be silly, self-contained and laced with a nostalgia factor. The idea of a Labyrinth sequel came to mind and a proper send off for David Bowie's character from the film seemed appropriate in light of his death. Over the course of the last few months the adventure I wrote underwent a number of playtests and revisions before I settled on the version I ran at the convention.

The Labyrinth...this time Jareth is out for blood.

Why DCC?

I ran the game using Dungeon Crawl Classics. The reason was because it is a system that emphasizes the absurd, off-the-wall type of storytelling that aligns with my idea of what the Labyrinth was all about. I also feel it is a system that is designed to emphasize unpredictability which is a theme that is heavily emphasized in the Labyrinth film. Sarah is constantly complaining about how the Labyrinth "isn't fair!" and this same saying is often uttered by my players when we play DCC.

Image result for jareth not fair
That's not true Jareth, the basis for comparison is D&D 5th Edition where the characters get opportunities to make multiple death saving throws, medicine checks and utilize every character's healing abilities before they die!

The Story Hook

The adventure begins fifteen years after the original movie. Toby Williams (the baby from the Labyrinth film) is having a birthday sleepover with all of his friends (the Player Characters). Toby has grown up in privilege and his entitlement is emphasized to the PCs as the game begins. While Toby is a somewhat insufferable teenager, his parents are loaded and his birthday party is sure to be a decadent affair that none of the characters would dare miss. Prior to the start of the adventure, every player must answer the following questions:
  • Tell us how your character and Toby first met.
  • Name a reason that Toby and your character have a sour relationship.
  • Name the gift you have brought Toby for his birthday.

Jareth the Goblin King has grown tired of his role as monarch of his drunken and impish subjects. Looking to retire from it all, he has returned to an old plan of succession to give him his respite. That evening as the teenagers are getting ready for bed, dozens of goblins pour into the room through a magical portal. They are all looking for Toby, but they did not anticipate so many children would be present and are confused as to who they are to kidnap. They end up grabbing everyone and away they go into the world of the Labyrinth.

The PCs all find themselves held prisoner within the Black Oubliette. They soon meet Hoggle, who is drunk and dispirited. It would seem that fifteen years with no visits from Sarah have left Hoggle somewhat jaded about friendship. He does share that Jareth has declared Toby the inheritor of the realm and is to be coronated in thirteen hours. Jareth himself appears and tells his captives that Toby seems eager to use the power he will inherit to punish the PCs for their perceived offenses against him. Jareth provides an insincere apology to the PCs for mistakenly being captured and offers that if they can make it to the center of the Labyrinth before Toby's coronation, he will use his powers as Goblin King to return them home. Not wanting to be victims to Toby's tyrannical plans, the PCs spring to action to solve the Labyrinth.

Highlights from Gamehole Con

  • One of the players asked me five times to search the wall for a worm wearing a scarf. She never found him.
  • The first door of the dungeon has four methods of opening it: a door knob, a pull handle, a shed-door handle near the bottom and a rope attached to the top which would drop the door down like a drawbridge. Which way would lead to the city at the center of the Labyrinth?
  • Twisting and turning down four-way intersections eventually led the PCs to discover a pit of spikes on the floor. Later, a pit of spikes on the ceiling. Did they dare cross?
  • Once the PCs came to a winding set of tunnels, they were chased by the dreaded cleaners. Every time they discovered a path leading out, the wall would seemingly move and block their exit! It was a very deadly encounter.

  • Once the PCs escaped the Oubliette, they found themselves within a hedge maze that required careful navigation with the aid of a poetic riddle to escape.
  • Eventually the PCs found the notorious doors from the Labyrinth (the ones where one of the heads always tells the truth and one of them always lies). Only problem when they got there...the heads were missing. They had been stolen by the Fireys and taken to the Bog of Eternal Stench. The battle with the Fireys was quite fun with the threat of being pushed into the bog and a game keep-away involving the door heads.
  • No convention inspired session should be without a critical boss battle! The PCs come upon Ludo fighting Humongous as entertainment for Toby's coronation. Unfortunately, we ran out of time for this encounter at GHC.
  • Once inside the castle, the PCs made their way to the iconic Escher-inspired chamber of the castle. The twist at the end brought a lot of excitement to the table and a definitive conclusion that had us off to a great start to the convention!
I found it to be really rewarding and motivating to see folks enjoying something that I wrote. My previous experience DM'ing at conventions has been exclusively through D&D Adventurer's League. Not to discount the enjoyment I get from seeing people leaving those games happy, but the flexibility and creativity that I can have over a homebrew product allowed me to give the players a little bit more agency over the unfolding of the story. In fact, there were a fair number of places in this adventure where I intentionally did not create details to see what the players would invent. The "door of many things" I described earlier with the multiple methods of opening was one such device and it turned into one of the most interesting elements of the dungeon. 

What do you think? Would you play a Labyrinth inspired DCC game? Maybe you'll have a chance to play it at KhaosKon in Oshkosh on May 5th, 2018!

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