Sunday, 26 February 2012

Three Improvisations

Took the Castle of the Mad Archmage to the mini-convention at the uni Saturday, two new players and one veteran adventurer braving the upper works.

Of course they mostly ignored the thin trail of plot crumbs that would have sent them to keyed areas, and went exploring around the upper works of the castle, treading into decidedly unkeyed territory.

What to do? Push them with the railroad tender's stick back onto the yellow brick road? Hell no!

This is ... OLDSCHOOL!

After this game I realized that my system preparing content for an adventure on the fly takes about as much time during play as does preparing it in downtime, and is almost as quick as looking it up in notes. The downside is that you can't really join things up sensibly ... or can't you? It's kind of amazing what emerges after the fact as you connect the dots.

Spoilers follow!

1. Before the game started I bought a sealed Pathfinder randomized miniature from a dealer and resolved to unpackage it as an encounter at the first unkeyed room. A bonanza for the somewhat understrength party (3 PCs, a henchman and a hireling) as it turned out to be ...

The rare, iconic paladin Seelah - in fact, the only Pathfinder iconic character I know. My awareness roll had her fast asleep, succumbed from an all-night vigil watching the castle for signs of the heresy she quests to uproot within. The rest was easy. Sleeping in armor, naturally, with her sword, of course, in the top floor of a tower she had barred the bottom door to (but left the wall doors open). Anyone who wakes her has to dodge her panic attack. This party got a decent reaction roll and convinced her to come along. That was fortunate, considering what randomness would throw out in the next unkeyed areas...

I've taken to using a simple d12 roll to populate empty areas, easily enough remembered:

1-4 is a monster, even numbers (2 and 4) with treasure.
5-6 is a trick or obstacle, even number (6) meaning roll again for an additional content.
7-8 is a trap or hazard, even number (8) meaning roll again.
9-10 is a feature.
11 is empty..
12 is ... just treasure! No strings! Honest.

This created a trap going into one tower that I improvised to be the first trap I ever encountered as a player: a stone dragon's head that breathed fire. By great coincidence the next room, up a spiral stair, turned out to contain a monster, no treasure, and (rolling on my table) a dragon ...

Here the improv started. After all, what is a dragon doing cooped up in a 20 by 20 foot tower room reachable only by a narrow staircase? Instead of attacking immediately, the dragon started asking questions, bantering with the rogue who'd stuck his head up the stairs, wondering if it was a self-aware illusion, doubting the reality of its own situation.

The true nature of Schroedinger's Dragon was revealed in an open die roll, and in the ensuing conflagration the rogue was chomped and burned to a crisp and would certainly have died had it not been for Seelah trying a desperate miracle and getting a natural 20 (more on this later but I'm starting to warm to the idea of allowing a desperate attempt to cast spells or try miracles at a higher level than usually allowed, with nasty consequences for failure of course...)

In the next tower over was the third and last improvisation, another decidedly challenging monster rolled up together with a feature: an ochre jelly with a light source. This got turned into a magically lit lantern with cut-outs of variously expressive faces on the sides, dangling over a Satampra Zeiros-style basin which contained an ochre jelly.  The weird foe scorched the arm of the fight but in the end fell to the slashing sword of Seelah.

Got some commendations about the system, and had to leave in the middle of a cliffhanger with the promise to come back next Saturday and finish it off. Another great session courtesy of the old school!


  1. I love the idea of opening an unseen miniature as an ersatz random encounter table! I also love the idea of a self-doubting illusion spell; very Eberronish in some ways.

    I think I would have had the light source be within the jelly itself, forcing the players to fight the monster to get at the shiny stuff, but then that's part of the fun of this hobby, seeing how different players and GMs handle situations.

  2. Ah! That would have been a great idea, kelvin.