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[Storming the Wizard's Tower] Actual Play..Loooonnngg

Started by madviking, January 12, 2009, 10:21:00 PM

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We decided to play Storming the Wizard's Tower for last Thursday's session.

It was a fun time with one hiccup that was decidedly not the fault of the game itself,
but arose from frustration over a lack of experience with the rules, combined with some really bad luck.
The result was one player tuning out for the last part of the session,
so we wrapped up early, as soon as the fight during which this occurred was over.
We've been playing together for a long time, so we've been able to resolve the issues behind the incident
through (lively) discussion.

I used The Horsehall from the rules as the town. Doug played a Young Warrior, Juchi,
Rob played a Swordmaiden, Willow, and Rick played a Horsebound, Tristan.

I decided to follow DVB's advice and simply set the thing in motion
and see where the players would take it. They didn't disappoint me much, but
I did allow them to not discover a whole bunch of stuff, mostly
because they don't really need it, but I was biting my tongue.
I have to remember that it's not about my clever back story.

A royal wedding is planned. Prince Wiglaff is to marry Princess Breike
of the mountain clan (Tristan's cousin). Juchi and Willow are returning from
a trade mission with the farming folk. On the way home, they find a
battleground near the old woods. Dead, hacked up woodsmen are
scattered all around. Rob wants to know what happened, so I have him
make an Arcane roll to know something. It turns out that Willow
has some experience with wounds, and determines that these men
fought one another, some with axes, some with bare hands.

At this point I ask Doug and Rob for Perception rolls, since they are being
ambushed by a Mad Woodsman (1 XV), last man standing from the carnage.
This is Wode, Juchi's cousin. Wode is overcome with relative ease. 1
round. They were able to detect his ambush. Willow wanted to keep the
woodsman away from Juchi, so Juchi could shoot him with an arrow. We
decided that  this was creating a tactical constraint. Rob rolled
Skill, getting 3 hits. Wode has a weakness that makes him attack the
nearest person (sees red) so I decided that he would simply charge Willow, if she was closest.
We felt that Rob should be able to redo his setup because of this. He chose to
brace. This worked for us. Juchi's attack cleared Wode's damage boxes,
and Doug chose to simply incapacitate Wode.

They decided to investigate the area to see what could have driven the
woodsmen to madness. They detected 2 sets of horse tracks headed into
the woods, frozen under a thin dusting of fresh snow. A couple of days
old. They try to follow the tracks. The Woods are a monster. They are
frightened badly, each losing 3 dice during setup. The forest is starting to freak them out.
They decide to abandon their effort and report this to the town.

In town, Tristan discovered the groom to be missing a day before the
wedding. He questioned various people and discovered that Wiglaff had
ridden north out of town late the previous night. He reported this to
the queen, who charged our heroes with finding Wiglaff and
getting him back before the mountain clan discovered his ducking out
of his marriage to Breike.

The Horsehall folks don't know it, but the bride is missing too. Nobody decides to talk to the
mountain clan wedding party. I don't force it on them. The Mountain clan wants to find Breike
without any meddling from the Horsehall.

About this time, Rob and Doug decide they need to somehow cure Wode of
his madness in order to properly question him (Wode isn't a monster any more). Rob uses Skill and the
help of the Winter Priestess (his person) to get through to Wode, healing some of his madness. Wode
tells of a terrible thing happening in the woods. Just that day, a
giant, black-barked oak had swallowed up Snorri as he tried to chop it
down. Nobody has ever seen a tree like this before.  Tristan asked Wode
if he'd seen prince Wiglaff, and he said that he had, riding into the
woods the day before Snorri was swallowed up. Further questioning revealed that a few hours before
that, 2 riders entered the forest, but Wode hadn't seen who they were.
Wode has no memory of what happened during his madness.

They decide to stop questioning Wode, and go find Wiglaff in the
woods, big black oaks be damned.

Rick had discovered during his search for info about where Wiglaff went that
Wiglaff's brother, prince Alberich, had been seen leaving the
Horsehalls earlier the same night. The players assumed from this that
Alberich was assisting his brother to weasel out of the marriage.

Rick took a map called Childhood Memory. He asked if he knew anything
from his childhood about the two princes when they had visited his
clan. I had him roll Arcane, with 2 dice for the map. He had! It was a good moment. He remembered poor hunchbacked
club-footed Alberich being bullied and picked on by Wiglaff, and
joining in to avoid Wiglaff's scorn and possibly being bullied himself. The
players then wanted to know about Breike, too. Tristan knew she was the
fairest of them all, but that she detested Wiglaff while being kind to
poor Alberich. I feel I could have done better here,
imparting some actual useful information, rather than just colourful back story stuff.

The truth that nobody learned is that Breike and Alberich have been
having nightly assignations in a secret bower deep in the woods since
the wedding party has arrived in the Horsehalls, nearly a fortnight.
Breike has seen past Alberich's form not because she's especially
enligtened; he's slipped her a love potion.

So, to find Wiglaff, the pcs enter the woods, made dark and dangerous
by the (as yet undiscovered)  sins of two princes and a small, eensy-weensy pact with dark

The entirely overdone back story goes: Wiglaff was told of the lovers secret rendezvous by a
woodsman who saw them enter the woods and saw fit to follow. That same
woodsman was Snorri, later swallowed up by the evil tree. Wiglaff went
after them with murder in his heart. Caught, Alberich knew
he could not match Wiglaff's might. He told Wiglaff that nothing could make him
give up Breike. Wiglaff and Alberich fought. Alberich was stabbed, his
life ebbing away, and here he swore a terrible oath, sealing his
fate, the fate of Wiglaff and Breike, the woods, and the Horsehalls
forever. As his last drop of blood departed his body, he cursed
Wiglaff. Wiglaff's blood will feed the forest until the end of time.
The forest will grow strong from the blood pumped through his
murderous heart, and cover the land with evil. Nothing good will grow
where the forest advances.  Only madness and death will remain under
the trees. Breike will be Alberich's bride in death. With his last
breath, Alberich pierced Wiglaff's heart with his spear, pinning him
to the roots of the Great Tree of the Forest. It didn't take long for
evil to spread. In hours the woods are a dark miasma of terror and
madness. The woodsmen are its first victims.

Only the bravest could possibly travel within the woods now without giving in to madness and despair.
Alberich is given no rest in death. He wanders as a creature of shadow,
shunning the sunlight, hating all life. Breike is driven mad, still
under the sway of Alberich's potion, but he no longer loves or desires
her. Those emotions ended with his life.

If Wiglaff's blood continues to feed the Great Tree, everyone in the
Horsehalls and the nearby clans will be forced to leave or die.

So, into the evil woods the players go. The woods require Perception
to traverse. The woods attack with Madness and are Frightening and
worth 5 XV. Anyone who takes damage is actually becoming more and more
afraid, approaching madness. If they're put out of the fight this way,
they'll 1) run screaming unless restrained or 2) curl up into a ball
and gibber.

The woods are really effective against people with low Perception who
are frightened out of a couple of white dice for the duration of the
battle. It took 8 rounds to finish, with Tristan mad and gibbering, Willow
on the verge of it (he managed to stay in despite lousy odds), and Juchi, amazingly, unfazed. Rob
and Doug eventually hit on the tactic of encouraging one another,
singing inspirational songs against the fear, since they have decent
command dice. Rick was having difficulty with the rules at a loss as to what to
do for the most part during this. I made tons of
suggestions, and there was a lot of useful discussion about what to do.
We put many of the suggestions presented in the rules into play in this fight,
but we'd lost Rick by then.

Rob was frustrated by the difficulty of making progress, but was always focused on figuring out useful tactics.
He said he really enjoyed the fight, and loved the concept of terrain as monster.

Doug was able to rely on his blue dice and really good rolling to avoid taking any damage, but was finding it hard to make progress.

2 of them, Tristan and Wilow, have the spell Bath of Healing Light. It was, at best,
marginally effective at healing. Rob had 7 green dice for it, but was
never able to achieve more than 4 successes, and that when he had 3
miscast boxes, which he felt obliged to fill. I think  5 total castings of it between 2 characters
actually healed only 4 damage boxes. Perhaps bad luck, but not horribly so. Maybe that's the intended
ballpark. Our experience was that the penalties for casting seem harsh.
Upon reflection, I think it's vital to figure out a way to keep attackers off of
spellcasters to minimize the loss of spell dice due to attack.

They were getting the hang of battle by the 4th or 5th round. They thought of tactical advantages such as torches piercing the darkness
and using maps as weapons, as wellas the previously mentioned giving orders. Sometimes we forgot to charge or brace, when doing nothing but attacking.

We ended the session with the characters in the middle of the woods (but the woods defeated),
one of them useless pending some sort of healing, one of them nearly
so.  Both are supposed to miss the next adventure, which they both found annoying.

I wonder if they'll figure out a clever way to solve this? I'm eager to find out. I
have a few planned encounters left: Some Evil trees which
guard the Great Tree of the Forest, mad Breike, who seeks a new lover...forever, and the shade of Alberich
(insubstantial, but vulnerable to sunlight), I plan to have him at the Great Tree watching
Wiglaff bleed, to make it hard for the heroes to simply heal or kill Wiglaff to save the world.

I'm trying to figure out a way to make Wiglaff as a monster, since all that's really required for the salvation
of the town is for Wiglaff to stop bleeding on the tree. Killing him, healing him, removing him.
Maybe I'll just make him a tactical feature. So much effort required to pull out the spear, kill, heal, etc. With Alberich's shade around to fight,
that might be enough.

I haven't decided what treasures yet, either. If all goes well, and
Wiglaff and Breike are saved, the wedding could go on and the tribes could give
royal treasures to the heroes. Or maybe the new alliance with the
mountain clan is forged for some benefit the pcs can call upon in the
future. Maybe a new character type: Mountain Clan.
Maybe the bloody death-aligned spear drawn from the Great Tree and Wiglaff's body.

Rob, Doug and I gave the game 2 thumbs up (tm) each.

We have a few reservations, but nothing serious. I had a great time playing and designing the adventure.

The first is battle seems to take a while (8 rounds in 90 minutes) Probably an effect of us
being noobs and not actually having enough distinct dice to make the
rolls all at once.

The second is, not all stats seem created equal, but whatever.
Perception, Strength, Endurance seem most important. There are good
uses for the other stats, though, so it's not too bad. Maybe balance is not the intent, anyway.
I expect experienced players to take advantage of their strengths and avoid their weaknesses.
I expect to make adventures that take advantage of their weaknesses and triviailze their strengths.
This was more an issue for Rick and Rob than the rest of us.
Rob wants to choose where the stat dice go after he rolls them, not before.

Third, magic seems fairly weak. We didn't have a damage spell to try out, though. Probably working as intended at this
level. Level 2 magic may be better (?) This was more an issue for rob than the rest of us.

I think that's quite enough for now,

Eric Hansen


8 rounds! That's too long.

I blame: making a 5-XV terrain monster. Yikes. Guaranteed to frustrate and block progress. I mean, that's why you create big-XV terrian, right?

But here's a thing, if you're intent on such a crazy-big terrain:

Quote from: madviking on January 12, 2009, 10:21:00 PM
Rick took a map called Childhood Memory. He asked if he knew anything
from his childhood about the two princes when they had visited his
clan. I had him roll Arcane, with 2 dice for the map. He had! ... I feel I could have done better here,
imparting some actual useful information, rather than just colourful back story stuff.

Yes! Or you could have made this information useful itself. Here's one way: "what you know about the woods counts as a weapon for traversing it, so everybody gets 2 red dice."

Overall, your goal as GM isn't really to systematically hit them where they're weak and annul their strengths. It's to challenge them to use their strengths inventively, if you see.

Thanks for playing my game! If you have questions I missed or if you'd like me to comment on anything in particular, just point 'em out to me, it'll be my pleasure.