Saturday, July 28, 2012

Pitching DCC to 4e Players & Doom of the Savage Kings Play Report

As mentioned back in the first post of this blog, one of the reasons I wanted to start blogging was because of the excitement DCC put in me for the hobby. Since getting back into the swing of things, it has been rare for me to consider hopping onto newer games solely for the fact that I wouldn't know anyone around here that plays it and would have to sell them on it person by person. DCC's charm struck me, however, and I was determined to put forth the effort. I see a lot of horror stories here and there about awful FLGS, so I feel pretty lucky to have a really awesome one in my area. The store doubles as a cafe so it has nice atmosphere, good food and drink and best of all those of us there for RPG's don't have to worry about any kinds of issues such as renting table space.

Since I started going there, up to this point, the store had pretty much exclusively featured 4e events. Encounters and Lair Assault are both sent to us from WOTC to be ran and we have a semi-frequent LFR group on the weekends. When there were just a few weeks left on the pre-order for DCC, I decided to put out some info and see if it caught anyone's interest. Several people were intrigued so I ended up running a Level 0 demo using "Portal Under the Stars" from the original Free RPG Day quick-start.

Surprisingly, it went over very well. Most players had previous experience in other editions so they noticed the similarities. Overall, all the feedback was praise. People enjoyed the lack of battle maps/fooling with minis and fast combat for a change of pace. One player remarked that he enjoyed having the random occupations because it got him to think and roleplay outside his comfort zone of the usual classes/character types he would expect to play. The overall conclusion was that people wanted to see more of DCC and especially what it was like once you had proper character classes and magic; all that other fun stuff.

Two months later or so, DCC has been out for awhile. I had a lot of time to pour and re-pour over the book and was fortunate enough to play in a session of "Doom of the Savage Kings" at Forge-Con ran by Dieter Zimmerman; excellent session and I met some great people. I finally felt like I was ready to dig down and run something beyond a demo. However, quite a bit had changed in that short time. Most of the players from the Level 0 demo had either moved away or were in the process of doing so. In short, I'd have to pitch DCC a second time to our new players; several of which were only experienced with later editions of D&D.

So I put out the word again, I tried to play up the gonzo style and unique elements DCC had. I also wanted to format what I was running to work in such a way that it could work in a store-ran style, meaning players could drop in and out between sessions without seriously hampering the story, to match the appeal of stuff like LFR. I love ongoing games as much as the next person, but there's a commitment involved and then you get people missing who are plot-relevant and have to either trash stuff or just put things on hold. I wanted something that could churn along on its own while also still working as a story.

With LFR on the mind, I decided to construct things similar to its format. Since Goodman-Games is supporting DCC with an ample supply of modules, and so many third party publishers are embracing that as well, I felt I could pretty safely pitch this "store campaign" as one where I'd be running those 99% of the time. I presented the concept as an episodic story, much like how LFR is set up but with a bit more cohesion between adventures, and drew comparisons to the stories of Conan as an example. We would have a cloud of heroes and there would at least be some lead-in between adventures but for each "story" as it were the primary cast might have some people gone and others present each time. After one conquest, the wizard decides to stick around in town and pour over some tome the group recently discovered while the party moves on seeking rumors of lost treasure. That kind of stuff.

My other plan in kicking things off was to start from Level 1 right away. I love the funnel, don't get me wrong. However, of the few remaining players I had there was a sentiment that they'd rather "get to the good stuff" than run another funnel. I also hoped that having the exciting spellcasting system upfront would wow people. Though I have not ruled out doing some original adventures that are more tailored story-wise to the characters, in the hopes of keeping things tied to the modules I decided to take a page from Pathfinder Society and abstract XP. Rather than keeping exact count, I am merely going to declare they gain a level after X number of modules. To keep the scale DCC uses I suppose that X will have to inflate with each level.

I settled on running "Doom of the Savage Kings" and ended up with a nice turn out of six players. We spent the first hour of so creating their characters as I used various instances to go over some of the rules. I wanted everyone to have that old school experience so I required rolling 3d6, but was a little forgiving allowing them to do 3d6 then arrange to your liking. We had one player turn up late so we quickly had him work up a Warrior and I placed him in as a citizen of Hirot. For lack of currently having a means to print a lot of stuff, I went with keeping the spell tables to myself so the magic would be more surprising to the players in the end. Page flipping for the spells, even with my bookmarks, was the only real drag I felt like I had on my end. On that note, I can't wait for Purple Sorcerer's Crawlers Companion app to roll out.

Overall, it was a huge hit. The first question when we wrapped up was when was the next session and could it be ran more often; my initial pitch has the game set once a month. I stumbled over some rules, but I expected that. Even though I have been constantly reading stuff about DCC since back last fall, it is sometimes hard for me to remember that it is a fairly new game actually. There were no major issues. Everyone had a lot of laughs with the spell misfires and corruption. The Zocchi Dice were a point of marvel when things began; with bit of disbelief cast on the existence of a d24. Where possible I tried to share my set to the players so they could experience using them. Both Warriors sat side by side so I let them use my d3 between them for the deed die, for example.

The only real downside is that our Wizard player was rather unhappy with his character. He didn't enjoy having mostly 0's and negative modifiers. His first spell check resulted in a very harsh corruption spiking his Personality stat with a permanent -1 and he spent a lot of the module feeling like there wasn't much he could do. That being said, I don't think it was really a case of just not enjoying DCC; though that is a possibility. This player took part in the Level 0 demo and enjoyed it quite a bit.

I haven't seen a lot of talk about it, but I do think there is something of an acquired taste with spellcasting in DCC. It's a high-risk, high-reward system. If you're not the type of person to potentially have something extremely negative happen to your character, permanently, for doing what your class is designed to do and then be able to laugh it off then I could see where playing a spellcaster might be frustrating. I don't play certain classes in 4e because there are elements to them I do not enjoy; really the same thing.

Me personally, I love it. I love that tension that seems to come in at higher levels where every spell really counts and there's a struggle of "do I cast this now or not? Is it really necessary?" going within. However, not everyone may feel that way. Some time after the fact, I noticed I overlooked the rule about using luck to offset corruption and the player opted for that though he was still not very happy. I am going to get the player to try out a Thief in our next session and I have a feeling it might be more to his taste. The only other real negative thing to report is that everyone felt the name "The King of Elfland" was very cheesy and not that impressive for a Patron. I may just end up referring to him as the Archfey or something.

Regarding the plot, I did shorten the module down some. I mentioned going in that sometimes we may not always finish the module in one session. However, for our first outing I really wanted to finish things up in one shot and give them a complete story. To condense things, I took a page from the game I played in at Forge which also had the module shortened to fit our time slot. After escaping from the tomb, I excised the encounter with Iraco and the ensuing chaos it might cause regarding the Jarl.

The players never discovered the big twist with the lottery box where names were drawn so other than some initial suspicions of Sylle Ru the party just considered the Jarl to be a man stressed beyond his means due to the Hound. The party was eager to take the place of the girl at the Standing Stones and were generally forward and helpful so I decided to roll with that. Instead of the trek into the Fens after the Hound, the party gathered outside Hirot for a final epic showdown. While I was sad to skip that part, I really liked how things played out. On the plus side, I could always recycle that segment into something different.

My only complication, on the Judge's end, is that the party was pretty thorough in exploring the town and being determined with talking to everyone. They accepted the help of the hag, but between some not trusting her item would actually work and some convinced that only the spear would work the party was determined to go to the tomb as well. Between things like that and lots of high checks at the right moment, the party gathered the majority of magic items in the module. I saw there were some concerns on the number voiced over at the Goodman-Games forum. It felt wrong to outright remove some from the module; especially at the cost of punishing good roleplaying and die rolls. So my players might be sitting high in the power category for level 1's. However, I am not too worried about it. DCC is an unpredictable game so I have faith that things will balance out; one way or the other.

What follows is the summary document I have up in our store's facebook group for roleplayers. In the future I may not always update the NPC and location stuff here, but I will continue to post session summaries and likely new hero profiles; who knows. After the darker turn Encounters has been taking this season, I was very surprised that we had a mostly Law aligned party; that also tended towards the good/heroic side of things to boot. Odin also became one of the important deities for our known world as the character Jarppie kept hailing him as he rushed into battle. With all the Norse dressings already in the module that might just become an ongoing thing.

Where are we going from here? I set up Lloré with a bit more importance and made him more of a wanderer despite Hirot's isolation (he's essentially their only source of outside news) so he could be an ally to the party with regards to rumors. We'll be running through "Sailors on the Starless Sea" next.


1) Jace: An Elf who spent much of his younger years studying Alchemy. This eventually led into the study of the arcane arts and ultimately to Jace accepting the King of Elfland himself as a Patron. Now a Wanderer, he travels the world seeking knowledge and to use his sorcerous talents to aid those tormented by foul beasts.

2) Falcor: A Falconer who became a Cleric of Aristemis after hearing the demi-goddess' call. Still accompanied by his trusted falcon, he set out upon a pilgrimage to spread the teachings of Aristemis and also to see to the destruction of the forces of Chaos.

3) Markav: Once a rope maker, Markav eventually stumbled upon an ancient tome filled with the long lost secrets of a powerful Wizard. Studying these, he began following in the ancient sorcerer's footsteps and set out to adventure and discover more arcane secrets. Learning of the Three Fates through the tome, he was able to contact and negotiate a pact with them accepting the trio as his Patron.

4) Jarppie Meatshield: A simple butcher from the lands far to the north who left his home to adventure as a Warrior. One day, when his village was under siege he joined the battle wielding only his meat cleaver and using a rack of ribs as a makeshift shield. From that day forward, Jarppie felt the desire to live an adventurer's life. His shield remains emblazoned with the symbol of a rack of ribs in honor of his first taste of combat and he continues to wield his cleaver into battle.

5) Ozwald: A former court jester turned Thief. Cruel in combat, Ozwald favors skulking around the battlefield waiting for the proper opportunity to strike with his garrote. Skilled at sleight of hand and con games, he also has a penchant for dressing up as a woman.

6) Ulfric: A Blacksmith working in the village of Hirot. Displeased by the Jarl's failure to remove the threat the Hound posed on their village, he masterfully forged his own two-handed sword and began training to become a Warrior. When the party arrived in Hirot seeking to save the town, he joined them in their cause. Unable to return to his mundane life, Ulfric has decided to join these adventurers.

-Hirot: A lonely village set at the foot of the Trolltooth Mountains. The village was once home to some three hundred souls, but since the depredation of the hound the population has shrunk to nearly two hundred. The remaining village folk lived in constant fear, cowering in their homes most nights and emerging at dawn. The majority of buildings in Hirot are timber framed, wattle-and-daub constructions. Many of the smaller homes are mere hovels with families and livestock sharing the hard-packed earthen floor. In contrast, the homes of prominent merchants are two or even three stories in height. Many buildings are abandoned, their former inhabitants slain by the Hound of Hirot. Key to Hirot's character is its isolation. For most of its folk, knowledge of the world ends roughly twenty miles from the village gates. Hirot is ruled by its Jarl, his trusted advisor Sylle Ru and his seven Thegns.

Important Deities:
-The King of Elfland: Master of the verdant realm glimpsed only through sun-dappled groves, the mist of great waterfalls,and the moments of dusk and dawn, the King of Elfland rules all elf-kin from his throne of mist and ice. Fierce once roused, the white-bearded regent keeps watch over the dreaming land, protecting against incursion. He grants fearsome powers to his champions on the material plane, but can often seem fickle and sanguine; neglecting affairs not immediately pertaining to the Elflands.

-The Three Fates: Beholden to neither god nor man, the Three Fates weave the collective destinies of the universe upon the loom of time. As wardens of order, they strive against the diabolic powers, wicked gods, and forces of the outer dark that seek to undo the work of creation. Their anathemas are fell magics and the chaos-born corruption these magics unleash; supplicants of the Three Fates must exercise great discipline lest they become the monsters they seek to vanquish. Those that align themselves with the Three Fates tend to one of two archetypes: either the wizened arch- paladin, marshaling white magic against the forces of chaos, or the fiercely paranoid witch-hunter, seeking—and often finding— corruption behind the illusive masks of the world.

-Aristemis: The Law-aligned demi-goddess of true seeing and strategy. Also known as the Insightful One.

-Justicia: The Law-aligned goddess of justice and mercy. She seeks to bring aid to those suffering and for her followers to head the charge against the forces of Chaos.

-Odin: A powerful god associated with not only war, battle, victory and death, but also wisdom, magic, poetry, prophecy, and the hunt. His power is considered supreme among even the gods.

Important NPC's:
-Lloré: Hirot's sole bard and storyteller. Fond of entertaining crowds within the Wolf-Spear Inn, he is also the only source of news and information from beyond the walls of Hirot.

Chapter 01: Doom of the Savage Kings

I. The Village of Hirot
-Having crossed paths in the wilderness Jace, Falcor, Markav, Jarppie and Ozwald began travelling together since they shared the same destination: the village of Hirot. The small vale where the village rested seemed ever-filled with thick fog and mist when freed from the forests surrounding the area.

-The party came upon a grim procession marching a young woman bound and gagged. Our heroes met the Jarl of Hirot and first learned of the malicious Hound: a creature of Chaos plaguing the village. For the past few months, the Hound would prey every night on the village killing its citizens. The beast seemed to be immortal as although the Jarl and his seven Thegns had killed the beast, it merely turned into mist only to reform and return the following night. Eventually, the Jarl's advisor Sylle Ru, a elderly sorcerer, had determined that by staging sacrifices at the standing stones beyond the village the Hound would only come every three days.

-Using a lottery to decide who would be the tribute, in this way Hirot has slowly been marching down the path to destruction at the maw of the Hound. Unable to stand by and allow the village to sacrifice one of their own the party requested a chance to stop the Hound. Cynical, the Jarl refused giving them the sole option of standing in the woman's place as a sacrifice.

-The party consented and the young woman, named Morgan, thanked the heroes mentioning that her father ran the Wolf-Spear Inn in town and they would be welcomed there for their kindness. As the procession departed, the party gathered at the standing stones to stage an ambush on the Hound.

-Between a sneak attack by Ozwald and a powerful casting of Magic Missile by Jace, the party managed to get the drop on the Hound and defeat it. However, true to the Jarl's words it turned into mist and vanished. With no means of tracking it, the party marched on to Hirot.

-The party thoroughly explored the village of Hirot making many allies. Though some feared the Hound would come for the village tomorrow due to the party's actions, many felt encouraged by the heroes' attempt to bring an end to the curse plaguing Hirot. Nothan, leader of the night watch informed the party that a local blacksmith had been training in hopes of facing the Hound himself.

-The party met with this blacksmith, named Ulfric, and ended up recruiting him to their cause banding together to seek a means to slay the Hound for good.

-At the Wolf-Spear Inn, the party met Morgan's father, the inn keeper, Broegan and the local bard Lloré. Meanwhile, Ozwald showed interest in the fair Morgan. While the rest of the party questioned Broegan, they learned that some local thugs by the name of Ilham, Kej and Stein had recently tried to seek out and discover the Tomb of Ulfheonar. Many eons ago, Ulfheonar was a savage king who ruled over the very lands where Hirot had been founded. His tomb was rumored to have many riches for anyone brave enough to discovery and explore within. Above the mantle at the Inn rested a replica of a relic known as the Wolf-Spear; a weapon Ulfheonar was claimed to have owned which could slay any creature.

-While in the Inn, they also learned of several other areas of interest within the city that could be useful in their quest including the local Chapel of Justicia and the hovel of an old woman named Ymae; who was known about town as the Mad Widow and rumored to be a witch.

-Seeking more information, the party visited the Mad Widow. Inside her hovel, which was curiously larger on the inside, she confirmed that Ulfheonar's spear could slay the Hound if it were found. She also offered to spin the party enchanted threads that could be used to bind the Hound and defeat it that way. However, such a one of a kind magic artifact could only be parted with in exchange for one of the party members agreeing to marry the hag.

-Aloof of human customs, from living so many years already being an Elf, Jace agreed to the Mad Widow's bargain. Ymae informed the party that once the Hound was defeated they were to return to her at which time Jace would have to make good on his promise.

-Next, the party visited the Chapel of Justicia. There they met Father Beacom, a cruel seeming man who was warry at the party initially until Falcor began conversing with him about the forces of Law and their struggle against Chaos. Noticing a mural within the Chapel that depicted a holy warrior wielding a warhammer against a beast of Chaos, the party inquired about its meaning.

-Father Beacom was reluctant at first, but after some discussion with Falcor he took the Cleric aside to show him the Chapel's secret. They were in possession of a holy relic, the head to the very warhammer depicted in the mural. Though he was wary to give away such a sacred object, Father Beacom wished to see an end brought to the Hound as much as the rest of the village. He informed Falcor that a new shaft would need to be crafted for the warhammer and then, if it were rededicated to the services of Law, its power would return.

-Returning to his smithy, Ulfric helped to reform the warhammer into proper form. Then, praying to Aristemis, Falcor dedicated the weapon to championing the forces of Law and destroying the minions of Chaos. In an instant, the warhammer regained its magical property as a weapon to slay demons and devils.

-Moving on, the party visited the Three Rats; a Inn of ill-repute. There they met the opportunist Master Jenks. He confirmed that some of his men had went to find the tomb of Ulfheonar, but had never returned. However, he knew where they were headed and could easily give the party a map for the low price of one hundred gold.

-Clearly realizing that Master Jenks was trying to extort the party for all they were worth, our heroes began trying to negotiate for the directions. However, they made little progress. Eventually, Ozwald dressed as a woman hoping to win over Master Jenks favor with "her" charm, but even then he offered little discount on his valuable information. The party tried to gamble for the prize, but remained wary that Jenks might cheat.

-Ultimately, Ozwald realized Master Jenks had to be a fellow thief and negotiating in Cant, managed to come to an agreement wherein the party might borrow the information as a favor between two experts of the "trade."

-Armed with the information they needed, but tired from their conflict with the Hound and exploring the village the party rested at the Wolf-Spear Inn planning to set out early in the morning for the Tomb of Ulfheonar. The majority of the party remained convinced that the spear alone would bring victory and were wary of trusting the Mad Widow's aid.

-In the morning, before setting out, the party visited the Jarl's great hall known as Meadhold. There they found little patience from the Jarl who had long been stressed at his inability to find a solution to the curse upon Hirot. The party also met with Sylle Ru under some suspicion that he might be behind the Hound. However, they quickly came to realize that Sylle Ru was quite sincere. A former adventurer himself, he had met great despair when his party bit off a little more than they could handle and he escaped as the sole survivor. Though he desperately wanted to save Hirot, he was taxing himself day and night in research looking for a solution.

II. The Tomb of Ulfheonar
-Heading north, the party traveled until they came to a small pool where several streams met before a large earthen mound. Set in the face of the mound was a large stone door decorated with serpentine spirals. In a feat of great strength, Ulfric managed to open the tomb entrance. However, this awakened a serpent spirit within the pool of water that quickly engulfed the blacksmith.

-The party found themselves in a desperate fight as Ulfric slowly began to drown trapped within the water serpent. Ultimately, Falcor managed to shove their companion free as the party's combined might slayed the beast.

-Exploring Ulfheonar's tomb, the party cleverly bypassed several traps while finding a large cave bear pelt and skull fashioned a a cloak and helmet. Granted to Ulfric, he could feel the power surging through it allowing him to enter a berserk rage upon his choosing.

-The party also faced off against two gruesome ghouls who seemed to have some alien being crawling beneath their very skin. As the first ghoul fell the source of their odd condition became clear, within each body was a smaller serpent-like creature that busted forth at its host death to strike the party.

-After dispatching these creatures, our heroes came to a small chamber that had been caved in. Sifting in the rubble, Ulfric found a magical shield emblazoned with the crest of a lion which he gave to Jarppie. However, it came at great cost as a large stone fell due to Ulfric's sifting of the area striking the blacksmith and injuring him.

-Moving deeper into the tomb, the party discovered a dead end but noticed a small crawlspace leading up. It's small size proved a detriment for the party forcing anyone wanting to enter to have to remove their armor and push or drag it behind them. Initially wanting to send Ozwalrd, fearing for traps, the party became stumped as the thief refused such a dangerous task.

-Jace, followed by Jarppie for protection, eventually took the lead hoping his infravision would help spot any trouble along the way. Crawling through several bends the duo discovered what appeared to be the main chamber of the tomb which also held a large spear and shield. Fearing traps, they called back for Ozwald to advance.

-Crawling through, Ozwald was surprising by another ghoul dropping down from a secret crawlspace leading higher up that no one had noticed. Fearing for his life, Ozwald retreated out allowing Ulfric, Falcor and Markav to deal with the creature before everyone advanced to Jace and Jarppie's location. A lengthy feat regarding time due to the small size of the crawlspace.

-There, the party claimed the spear finding it entirely non-magical as they triggered a magical trap that began collapsing the chamber; making it more than clear that this was a false tomb designed to deter tomb robbers. Markav managed to barely escape at the last minute before being crushed under the entire weight of the mound above the tomb.

-Taking the upper crawlspace that the goul had come from, the party managed to find the true chamber of Ulfheonar; the skeletal remains of the savage king seated upon his throne. In his lap rested the legendary Wolf-Spear. Already posessing the bear hide cloak likely worn by Ulfheonar, the Wolf-Spear was entrusted to Ulfric. Jace also claimed a drinking horn whose mysterious liquid could give resistance to poison and even heal wounds.

-Reaching out to his patron, Jace contacted the King of Elfland questioning the powerful being if the Wolf-Spear would truly be able to slay the Hound. Busied with a lavish party being thrown, the King of Elfland had little time to spend on Jace and merely offered a confirmation that with the spear they could achieve victory granting the spellcaster a small boon of the King's power to use when they faced the beast.

III. The Hound of Hirot
-After exiting the tomb, the sun was already starting to set. Moving quickly, the party reached Hirot just in time as Nothan was beginning to lock down the gates in fear of the Hound. Seeing Ulfric decked out in the gear of Ulfheonar, only spoken of in legend, the villagers rejoiced. As the gates to Hirot closed, the party took a short moment to rest outside the village as they awaited the Hound. Falcor did his best to patch up the party's injuries.

-True to its nature, the Hound emerged from the mists surrounding the village slowly approaching the party as if it sensed that this would be their final showdown. Wielding the Wolf-Spear, Ulfric bravely stared down the Hound ready to put an end to its curse upon Hirot. Rushing forward, Ulfric pierced the Hound with the Wolf-Spear pinning it helplessly to the ground.

-Taking advantage of this, the party proceeded to lay into the Chaos beast with blow after blow. Ultimately, Markav sacrificed some of his very essence in spellburn to the Three Fates allowing him to summon a powerful sphere of force energy blasting the Hound and destroying the creature. Rather than shrinking back into mist, this time the beast merely burned into ash leaving only the Wolf-Spear in its wake.

-Having defeated the Hound, the party was given a heroes welcome in Hirot. Even the reluctant Jarl offered thanks while Broegan informed the party they would have free room and board at his Inn for as long as they needed. Making good on his promise, Jace went off to visit the Mad Widow Ymae. To his surprise, she was no longer an old hag but young and beautiful with flowers in her hair.

-However, beside her stood a creature of pure flames; both a demon and her true husband. Angered at her antics, the demon swore no creature of the material plane would ever have her and bid the Elf to depart. Running forward, Ymae kissed Jace farewell and gave him a parting gift: an enchanted shirt of golden mail.

-Returning to the Wolf-Spear Inn, Broegan gave drinks all around as Ozwald began cozying up to Morgan. Meanwhile, Lloré started a new song, of his own design, hailing their new local hero Ulfric joined by his companions that had traveled to Hirot from far away banding together to slay the Hound of Hirot.

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