Warlock's at Play
Finished up our summer camp today. Yesterday we finished when the party was hit by a fireball. Nothing gets your attention quite as fast as a large AOE damage spell. Suddenly everyone is praying to the saving throw gods and hoping their PCs and items survive the next 5 minutes
Three party members went down with that fireball, I run my one shots and summer camps with two PCs per player, so no one has to sit out any game time because a PC was either incapacitated (e.g. paralyzed) or killed. The warlock Leptor was now in front of them. Out in the open in the courtyard, in the sights of an opposing warlock, with the mercenaries and their leader (recent allies) watching but doing nothing. One party fighter at 1 hp, another fighter at 18 hp. What do you do? Three of them surround the 1hp fighter and they take off.
The fighter shouts at Leptor. “Stop your attack, I have a proposition” Recap, last week the party made a deal with a fallen ranger named Antarcus, go in and take care of the warlock Leptor, then unlock the secrets of Baltron’s keep, and Antarcus leaves them alone.
Their plan was to offer a deal to Leptor, if he didn’t take it they would take him down. So the lizard man fighter told him, “I have a jewel, the Eye of Set, I want to destroy it in the Black Flame.” That got Leptor’s attention, as he knew of the Black Flame, so he didn’t attack.
“You attacked me on behalf of Antarcus, you were sent to kill me, I have no reason to let you live”. PC responded, “If you destroy the jewel, it will unlock Baltron’s secret lair”. He made that up, but I thought it was a plausible and interesting lie. I rolled an encounter reaction, negative.
“How would you know this? You are lying to me.” Pause, PC looks very nervous, the rest of the party has left to safety with Antarcus, they are getting healed and attended to. The PC fighter keeps talking, “Behold the Eye of Set”, the PC takes out the Eye, a black diamond encased in a globe of volcanic glass, Leptor eyes it greedily. “Why would you seek to destroy this item, it emanates power.” PC: It is evil, and would consume you.” Leptor: “Give it to me, and I will reward you richly”. PC: “You haven’t paid your men, how could you pay us?”
I rolled another encounter reaction roll for that, Leptor is arrogant, he wouldn’t like being challenged that way. I rolled high however, so I continued. “Ha, you are a brave mercenary lizard, standing alone in the courtyard, and speaking to me so. You have earned my attention.”
The player shouts out, “Yeah!” and it continues. Now, in AD&D, when you roll for encounter reaction, you have to interpret the results in terms of the current situation in the game. At this point we had 2.5 hours to finish the module. I knew that even if they worked this out
They could never cover the entire module contents, two underground complexes, in the time allotted. So one the spot I made a decision. In the module, Leptor hasn’t been able to make it into the underground complexes as he hasn’t found the keys for the teleportation discs
So I decided that he had found the keys, but he wasn’t going down there, as he would have to go with most of his henchmen (a 7th and 4th level fighter) and if any of them died or he was wounded, he would be vulnerable to Antarcus when he returned. He needed others to go in.
And here is the party, wanting to access the flame. It was perfect, they go in, either they die, or they use the flame, return to him, inform him of what is there and what challenges he will face, and they leave. He then accesses the facility, gets what he needs, and pays Antarcus
So I now have a reason for him to need the party, and thus not just kill them. So he tells the lizard man. “You, and only you, come into the tower, we’ll talk. I think we can come to an arrangement.” The lizard man PC nods, and walks forward. Leptor holds up his hand, “Stop”
He then reaches into his spell pouch, smudging his finger, then he draws a line under one eye with talc and under the other with powdered silver. Then he speaks, “Skrytý nic víc”. His eyes turn a deep shade of sapphire blue, and he scans the courtyard.
“Thin air spoke and a hammer appeared out of nothing. No more tricks mercenary, I will kill you where you stand if you cross me. Why do you think Antarcus and his motley crew leave me be? I am Leptor the Lazuli, scourge of the Hggeath Pass, Slayer of Turam Bhag the Marred”
The PC entered the tower, he was escorted to Leptor, Leptor tells them he has a way to get down to the flame, but hasn’t gone, and explains why. So he offers the following deal, the party goes in and burns their jewel, report back on what they find, so Leptor can plan.
This was the pivot, by doing this Leptor can give them access to the bottom underground layer, and they would have just over 2 hours to explore it by this point. The player told Leptor he would take the offer back to the party. Leptor told him to gather them in the courtyard now
This meant no sleeping and rememorizing spells, but they would all be healed back up. So he went back to the party, they agreed to the deal. And Antarcus agreed to let them go, and also agreed to cease hostilities against Leptor if he found any loot fairly quickly.
We were on! They were shown the teleport pad, and sweated whether this might just be Leptor using a disintegrating machine on them. That occupied at least 15 min. Then they were off. They arrived in a room with 4 doors and 4 statues, stepped of the platform and the room starts filling up with water. About half the party can drown, the rest are lizard men. They check for traps on one door, open it and it leads to a wall. They check the wall. Go to the nearest door, it opens to a wall. The PC hits the wall to check it, and it's a secret door.
So I figure it’s time for a secret door check. 2 in 6, the PC rolls it and I tell him, “The wall isn’t very solid, it gives a bit when you hit it.” So he takes out his maul, breaks it down, and they find a hallway. The floor is flooding and the hallway is now flooding. They go down the hall,
End up in a room with a round raised pad and a bulls head. One of them steps on the pad and touches the bulls head. Mist comes out, save versus petrification. He rolled, it, reeled out of the mist. And it dispersed. He asks, “Did anything happen to me”. I say “you felt like your insides were becoming hard, everything constricted, then it faded as you pushed back against it in your mind”. He says, “I made my save, but maybe its a bad effect if you lose but a good effect if you win! I should try to hurt myself and see if I’m invulnerable!” I don’t make this stuff up.
They decide against that, look in the nearby hall and there is a circular door with no handles. The decide that will take too long to sort out They walk back to the room of statues, flooding, and then the PC priest asks me, “Can I cast Detect Evil”.
I say, sure, he asks, “what’s the range”? In 1e AD&D, Detect Evil has a range of 120’, so I look at the map, a few areas are insulated from detection spells, so it homes in on a room full of mummies… and the Black Flame. FOR REAL. So I immediately go into, “check the rules” mode
When something fortuitous happens, I review the rules, so when it is over, I can show them that the rules gave them the advantage, not me helping them out. I know that the spell detects the degree of evil, and sometimes the kind (70% chance for this priest). So I tell him,
“You detect evil to the north west, and to the south west, the evil to the north west is the evil of the chain and the whip, the evil of the south west is the evil of the tooth and claw.” Northwest is lawful evil (a quartet of mummies), Southwest is the Black Flame (chaotic evil).
And I add. “The evil in the South West is malignant, destructive and consuming, the evil of the North West is vengeful and mad, but the evil to the South West is far, far more intense. It is primal, it would taint your soul to touch it.” That’s the degree of evil bit. So they figure it out.
That was unexpected by me, they hacked the exploration of the dungeon with a 1st level spell, and it just so happens that the thing they are after is not in a detection proof area of the dungeon. SWEET. So they now know where to go. They head West and see a hallway of 2 foot
Wall spikes covered with black tar, on both sides, with a 4 foot space between them. They talk that one out for a while and decide to just walk through. BADASSES ALL. Nothing happens, in the module nothing happens here, it’s just a hall of poison spikes. They come to a door.
They check for traps then unlock it. It leads to complete darkness that soaks up a magic swords light and torchlight. They don’t think to cast continual light (which works but much dimmer), so they can’t see. The priest still has detect evil on for 40 minutes. That’s 1e baby.
He decides to walk through the darkness towards the evil of the flame. BADASSES ALL! So he walks. And an invisible stalker tries to knock him into a hole. The stalker misses. “A breath of cold wind rushes past you” The PC says, “We are getting close to the flame, evil wind!”
He talks so the rest can follow his voice. The stalker gets two more attacks at their movement rate, and their path takes them by but not in the hole. The stalker misses again, I describe it the same way, then hits, “The wind buffets you in the chest, lifting you through the air”
“And you plummet down, down, down to the cold embrace of chilled, fetid water.” The rest of the party is IN COMPLETE DARKNESS ABOVE AND THEIR GUIDE IS GONE. Delicious. They freak. I then continue, “You see down into the pool below, it’s lit by a heavy green glow”
“You see skeletons in the filth, LIZARD MAN SKELETONS!” Note: the PC is a lizard man, and the module specifies lizard man skeletons, it felt perfect, it referenced the PC but I didn’t put it in, it was already there. These happy accidents are role playing gold. The next moment…
Was role playing dynamite. The player of the PC priest had asked me to use this piece of art for inspiration for his character. I haven’t been able to credit it, but I found it on the Forgotten Realms Wiki. So he takes out his holy symbol, that three bladed dagger with the tassels
That’s a holy symbol. He’s a priest of Mictlantecuhtli (pron. Mict-lan-te-cuht-li), Aztec god of death, so I tell him, “These creatures are particularly offensive to your god, they are insults to his domain and power.” So he tries to turn them, it ends up that a 7th level
Priest in 1e blasts skeletons out of existence. So I tell him, “The skeletons flash and burn under the water, maroon flames wreathe them as they turn to dust and wash away.” They thought that was cool. So the PC cleric calls them all down there
They all follow his voice and jump, the party druid transforms to a flying squirrel to ride down without taking damage, everyone else rolls damage for the fall. The lizard men discover the underwater staircase, and they unlock a door, leading to a room
With a throne, a frog demon, a teleportation disc, and a chest. I look at the clock, we have about a ½ hour left. I could give them hints, but I let it lay, and see what they do. They assume its a fight, step in the room, and the demon springs
The party fighter runs at the demon and gets initiative, tags it on the side, just barely. It screams and jumps on to him claw, claw bite. The lizard man keeps most of it away but does get bitten a bit.
The party ranger drops two shots from her +1 bow at it, but it is only hurt by +2 or higher weapons (the fighters sword was +1/+3 vrs giant sized creatures), so it worked. The arrows hit but fall harmlessly. There is howling. Another uses his +1 scimitar, rolls a 20…
It does nothing. More player howling. Demon tries to polymorph the fighter, he saves and fights it off. Everyone decides to bolt, demon gets an attack of opportunity and tries the CCB but fails. They head to the water, the demon is bound to the room so “it snaps back as if held by an invisible chain.” So they now are stuck. Where to go? What to do? I could jump in… but I wait. They talk. One of them asks if protection from evil would hedge out the frog-demon
I told them it likely would. The priest has protection from Evil 10’ radius. Boom. Sometimes they have the hack, and that’s a sweet thing. It shows them that you need lots of different spells to survive. They put it on and get to the pad in the room
They use the key and it takes them to a secret compartment behind the statue in the room with the black flame. I kid you not. The way the module is set up, if they go through the secret door from behind the statue, the only thing they can “set off”
Is a chime, if they walk within 15’ of it, then it rings, and a jewel shatters releasing a demon and four mummies awake and come to the location. If they stick to the wall of the chamber, and walk to the flame, they could stay out of the range of the chime
I show them the illustration, they study it and talk. They see all the stuff in the room, they are deciding what to look at. One of them says, “We go right for the flame, nothing else”. They all agree. Then the ranger says, “Stick to the walls, there may be
“Things that work at a range. Traps and stuff.” For real. We have 10 minutes left. I ask them what they do. There is some chatter, and the party ranger says, “We are going along the wall, then to the back of the flame, and dropping it in the fire”
We have 5 min left. They do that, they drop the Jewel in the fire. “Black flames greedily envelop the Jet Black Jewel, it’s volcanic glass globe shatters and is consumed, soon the Jewel itself shimmers, and GROANS, and there is a movement of the ground
“And then everyone’s mind is filled with the image of a jackal headed man.... The Jewel dissolves as if never there.” With about 2 min to spare. It was awesome. Three fatalities, mission accomplished, 4 days of play, 12 hours at the (virtual) table.
This was an example of a perfect fit for my game. A small bit of reskinning and Baltron’s Beacon fit my campaign world like a glove. TSR products were often this good, the right balance of flavor and ideas but enough modularity to modify it.
There were factions given that worked beautifully for my group, they navigated equal to superior forces to survive when they were almost wiped out. They were alternately clever and savvy and then wildly reckless and thoughtless. They expected magic to save them, when it only does so… sometimes. They did do some excellent role play, they eventually all took crazy risks, and there were some great moments. When the party warlock reduced a troll to action figure size then stomped it flat.
When the party priest uses detect evil to find their destination? Awesome. When that same priest blasts skeletons out of existence? Lots of great moments. All earned, I pulled no punches, re-rolled no results, all in the open on discord.
When a party fighter ended up with 1 hp after the fireball, he saw that roll happen, he knew he just pulled his luck. He was back in the game after that I’ll tell you. They bargained, fought back and pulled it out. Awesome sessions. Awesome game.
I run a game of Vancian flavor, in the sense that warlocks are powerful, Antarcus did not move against Leptor because he could easily slay all his men from a distance. Warlocks are not to be messed with. I got to RP this one as arrogant but enterprising
I always make deals with the PCs and factions, violence is wasteful, get opponents on as allies and cut ties when it serves you, evil uses you, it doesn’t just kill everyone. So I love it when the PCs want to bargain. This is where “rules light” on social interaction
Works well. I didn’t need an extensive mechanic for this, encounter reaction rolls placed at strategic junctures, then I adhere to those roles and interpret them for the game. Ref discretion on when to roll them, and clever player moves can be rewarded without dice
I feel energized. I have the tone and mix, the system and the world. I get to play in it every week, run games with kids who have infectious enthusiasm. They always scream when they roll well or get it done. You should be able to bottle that.