Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Labyrinth Lord in TN - Gameplay Journal

While visiting family in Tennessee, I played some Labyrinth Lord with my nephews. They'd never played anything like D&D, although they're familiar with it from others playing it at school. Will is 11 and Jamie is 8 - a bit young for the game, but I toned down the scary descriptions and violence a bit. Will naturally became the "caller", and Jamie followed his lead.

It took a long time to roll up their characters, and this was a detraction from the game (esp. since 1st level mortality rate is so high) - I made a mental note to always have more pre-rolled characters available. Fortunately, I had made two non-player characters to accompany them: Thirsty Fiefel 's brother, the magic-user "Fiesty Thirfel", joining to search for him. Another was a female dwarf they named "Gorga Dorg" (they were highly amused to discover that female dwarfs also had beards). Gorga was out of work as her silver mine had recently been shut.

Will rolled up a dwarf he named Zok, and along with Jamie's character, a human fighter he christened "Shadow Shark" (!), met the others in a village inn. Upon hearing Thirfel grousing about his missing brother, they all agreed to go out to the Iron God's temple ruins and see what they could find.

On their first trip out, they entered cautiously, undeterred by the enchanted goblin head at the main entrance warning of doom (raised eyebrows and stinkeye from their Mom in the other room). Will kept a map, and they decided to go straight whenever possible, noting passageways but not entering them. Upon encountering their second door though, they decided to open it, and surprised a bunch of giant rats amongst some smashed barrels on the other side. Combat ensued, and Zok was badly bitten when finally Thirfel cast a sleep spell and the rats all laid down for a snooze. At this point, Thirfel suggested that they kill the rats in their sleep, but the kindly Will, or rather, his Lawful character Zok, declined. Afraid to waken the rats by searching, they carefully left the room and firmly shut the door behind them, and went back to town to search for a cleric to heal them.

After donating to the cleric's church, being healed, and resting for the night, they went back to the temple again. Zok continued with his map, although I could see its accuracy was waning. They continued much the same way, avoiding the room with the rats this time. Having proceeded fairly deeply into the 1st level, and for some reason not wishing to explore side passages or open doors, they finally plucked up the courage to open a door and enter another room. Unfortunately for them, it was the personal chambers of the evil priest. He'd overthrown the original head of the temple and been subsequently turned to an iron statue as punishment by the Iron God himself.

The statue became animated and attacked the party... during the ensuing battle, Shadow Shark rolled a natural "1", and his weapon (a flail) failed a roll to see if it broke. He switched to a hand axe and continued battling. Thirfel cast his Sleep spell again, only to discover that it was completely ineffective against animated statues (which, after all, never sleep). Gorga was causing the most damage via her spear (somehow), and Zok was getting badly hurt. Suddenly, Zok decided to flee the battle! He left the lantern and bolted from the room using his infravision to guide him. Shadow Shark almost fled at that moment too, but decided to stick it out, even though it meant the party would be split up in the dungeon.

I asked which way Will would have Zok flee, and reading back from his map, he attempted to navigate his way out the way he came. Unfortunately, he made a wrong turn due to a map mistake, and fell right into a pit trip (which left him with 1 hit point after the battle). At this time I had to explain that as a dwarf, he was just too short to climb out on his own. Not only that, but he didn't have any rope, and was pretty sure the others didn't either. To make matters worse, the now known to be shoddy map was still in Zok's possession, making his comrades escape from the dungeon more difficult, assuming that they didn't die first from the iron fists of the animated statue.

Back at the scene of the battle, things were looking up: the iron statue of the evil priest was beginning to wobble and was severely chipped and dented. The party began to believe that they might have a chance - even the magic user was successfully hitting. Will was sure he would never live it down if they survived and were able to rescue him - but still hoped they would. Then, the iron priest rolled a natural "20", and it was all over for Jamie's PC, Shadow Shark.

At that point, their Mom intervened as it was time for bed. I told them we'd have to pick it up later, although when that would be, I'm not sure. It was about five years ago that I last saw them! I plan to roll out the rest of the battle to see what happens and let them know the fate of their PCs. I did a morale check before we called it a game and both NPCs passed, even though one of their number had fled and another had died. It's now up to them as to whether Jamie's character (at exactly zero hit points) is somehow revived and whether Will's character is rescued from the dark pit where he lies, full of shame and on the brink of death!

This game held a number of lessons - I felt a little slow while referring to combat tables, would have liked to have made map making a bit easier, and have a new perspective on the perspective of younger players! I did all dice rolling out in the open, something I never did when I was younger myself. Back then, I wanted the anonymity of dice rolls to allow myself and the players the luxury of sparing them the harshness of their results, or whatever deficiencies of the game I thought existed. Now I'm keen to really see how well the adventure writer and rules makers thought out their respective designs. Was the adventure really suited for 4-8 1st or 2nd level characters? I think Matt Finch did a great job in this regard - I didn't modify the module very much - only reducing the number of rats in the first encounter and randomly rolling their numbers (it came to 4 instead of the written 8), but this seems fair given the smaller size of the party and the lack of any clerics with their healing abilities. I was surprised to see how well the party did against the iron priest monster (I've still to roll the result of that encounter).

The kids both said they had a lot of fun, and were disappointed that it had to end... I'm not sure how we could possibly continue, but maybe the older of the two (Will, ie. Zok) would be o.k. continuing to play in a play by post manner on the web. I've already got a forum up for this purpose - anyone who cares to make use of it, just let me know. I've never attempted a play by post game, and am unsure how dice rolling would be handled, although some options definitely come to mind. Nick and I have discussed doing this in the past, which is where the forum came from, though originally for a Call of Cthulhu game. As he's planning on moving to the Czech Republic, I don't see how else we could proceed.

My sister, that is, my nephews' mother said how she can already foresee having to buy Dungeons and Dragons books. She mentioned that there's a group at their school that plays, and that she'd try to pick up the books at Barnes & Noble or some such place. I told her that she really won't be able to find Labyrinth Lord there, and that I could help her find cheaper and better options, but she seemed to think that since the kids would be most exposed to the newest and most available version of D&D (ie. 4th edition), that that's what would make the most sense to get for them. I tried to tell her that they weren't ready for the level of rules sophistication they'd find there, but she's very much a "it's a Windows XP world - we're not going to get a Mac or learn Linux!" girl. Still, she did say before I left that her next computer will probably be an iMac, so there's hope. Nothing against Windows necessarily folks, just making a point here...

Update: Out of curiosity, I decided to see how the NPCs fared today. The female dwarf was killed in only one more round of combat. Thirfel fled for his life out the door, making a right turn and guided by the lamp he'd left in the iron priest's chamber, but becoming disoriented quickly due to a lack of infravision and panic, so the dice rolls said. A wrong turn was taken (putting him about 30' away from Zok, still in the pit, at his closest) which placed him into a large chamber with a single door. However, as he couldn't see the door and was being chased, and as he appeared to have no alternative, he turned to face the statue - won initiative due to it's slowness, missed hugely in his attempt to strike it with his meager dagger, and was promptly hit with the full damage of the iron statue's fists due to another natural "20" being rolled by the monster. He died twice over. At least the end was quick!


Don Snabulus said...

They did rather well for new players. I am participating in a blog-based adventure that works pretty well. The only bad part is that combat takes forever when you are waiting for 6 adults to find time from their busy lives to respond when it is their turn to fight. The role-playing is awesome though.

Hopefully the kids can make a go of 4E. If not, LL is fairly cheap and they can bug ma to get it for them.

Sounds like it was a good trip. (since nothing besides RPGs really matters [grin /])

ze bulette said...

lol, yeah, I was tempted to go into more details about the visit like the 4 wheeling, feeding the horses, hanging out and catching up - but it IS a blog about rpg'ing after all! hehe

Don Snabulus said...

Moody Minstrel is running a sci-fi campaign called Lyranell that you might check out. I wanted to ask before I shared it (thank Moody). The RPG system was created by Moody and the rules are proprietary, but it might give you an idea about how fast (or slow) things move along, etc. I've really enjoyed it and it has worked well for us.

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