Wednesday, January 13, 2010

When NPCs Save the Party's Bacon

My Wilderlands D&D group finally managed to get together this week. Between the holidays and various people getting variously sick at various times, we had been doing the cancel-reschedule dance for over a month. It's only a good thing that I'm in the habit of writing down loose leads and notes for the next session as soon as the prior session has ended or I probably would have forgotten half the stuff where we last left off! Worse, our time this week was limited due to a couple outside factors (that we knew about going in). Nevertheless, we managed to get through a fun mini-adventure (following up on a lead from last time) and I...nearly killed the party. Let me explain.

As I mentioned in the post linked above, one of the rumors the party picked up was that the Naughty Nannies brothel was offering a 400gp reward for dealing with a pesky basilisk that was terrorizing the staff. Our intrepid adventurers have found themselves stuck in the City-State for a week while they wait for a sage to research a couple questions. So they figured, "Hey, why not?"

I for one could think of one good reason: a party of three 1st-level PCs facing off against a 6-Hit Dice creature that can turn you to stone would make for some pretty impressive odds in Vegas. But hey, it's a sandbox campaign and the party is free to pursue whatever leads it wishes, right?

One thing that's endlessly entertaining for a GM running the City-State is that merely crossing town can turn into a whole adventure unto itself. To whit: the party had to make its way from the Crusty Crab Inn to the Naughty Nannies by way of Hedonist Street and the Plaza of Profuse Pleasures. The dice were actually being pretty kind to the PCs--just a run-in with a roving gang of streetwalkers on Hedonist Street--until they got to the aforementioned Plaza. Then--a "2" on my d20 roll indicated saving throws all around. The Plaza, it seems, it subject to some pretty powerful, little-understood, ancient magics that occasionally afflict visitors with the urge! But not the happy fun type of dance. More like the "dance til you pass out, puking and sweating, from dancing continuously for 12 hours and even then your legs keep tap-tap-tapping away."

Unfortunately, both Rumple-Wumpkin and Beezle failed their saves. I'm not sure which is more hilarious: the image of a dancing otter doing pirouettes or the image of a blind elf wizard-assassin badass jeté-ing across the Plaza, but there you have it.

For all the laughs, of course, there was the very real problem of the fact that two characters were basically incapacitated. (A local houri informed the group that the condition was known to last for up to six days!) She pointed them towards the School of Bards, telling them that they had someone who could deal with it (I made this decision on the fly since we were short on time).

Of course, the School makes a nice bit of coin off removing this minor affliction, and the party soon found themselves out 400gp, the very amount they had set out to make from basilisk slaying! But the head of the school, Atlark the Hairy, offered the group a chance to recoup their losses. He told them to return the following evening to perform a task for him; in return, he would pay them 300 gold crowns. Not bad, not bad.

(Note to self: must think of task for Atlark to give the group...)

And so it was at last on to the Naughty Nannies. One of the things I do enjoy about running D&D is the opportunity to have fun with anachronisms. There's already a bit of precedence in the City-State book itself, where it describes the City's magistrates as wearing powdered wigs and judicial robes. So naturally I couldn't pass up the opportunity, nay, obligation to describe the staff at Naughty Nannies as looking like tarted-up Mary Poppinses.


The group talked to Madam Omelrantra about the job. She informed them that the basilisk had turned up in their cellar after a minor earthquake the week before. A hapless slave girl had fallen victim to its gaze, and no one on staff had dared venture down there since. Another party of would-be basilisk slayers had descended into the cellar a couple days ago, but had yet to re-emerge. So informed, the party resolved to do what their predecessors had failed to do.

Now, as you may recall from my character sketch post, the party consists of three PCs. There's an additional body on hand, Beezle's faithful, mute half-orc henchman Pagoda (he's mute because we all tended to forget that he was there half the time!). And it is around Pagoda, so often in the background, silent and near-forgotten, that this week's session ultimately revolved.

After doing some research on basilisks (which consisted mostly of asking every random NPC they ran into, "What do you know about basilisks?"), the party determined that they'd need some iron shields polished to a reflective shine, the better to catch the basilisk's own reflection in. A cunning ploy, for certain. Furthermore, Rumple-Wumpkin had very cleverly coated three of her crossbow bolts in poison from a disarmed trap way back in the first session of the campaign, and it was determined that now was the time to use 'em.

So Pagoda was dispatched to pick up some shiny shields for R-W and Pilar, and Beezle agreed to take point, since he's blind and all. Unfortunately, once down in the junk-strewn, many-columned cellar that the basilisk had been inhabiting, they failed to note my subtle clue of where the basilisk was making its lair (as in "there are a bunch of petrified people all staring at the same pile of junk") and walked right past the large junk pile it was hiding in. Which, of course, gave the monster a free attack.

I had decided prior to the game that anyone subject to a basilisk's gaze would get two saving throw opportunites (nice, aren't I?). A Wisdom save would determine if they'd met the thing's gaze, while a Constitution save would determine if they were turned to stone.

Rumple-Wumpkin failed both saves.

Ah, I hear it now--the cries of dozens of voices lamenting the cruel fate I inflicted on everyone's favorite otter ranger. But it gets worse.

Holding the shield ahead of her (and taking a commensurate penalty to hit), Pilar waded in to the junk pile, luring the basilisk out so Beezle could snipe it with the poisoned crossbow bolts (Beezle, although blind, takes a rare desert spice that gives him heightened awareness out to a 30 foot range, equivalent to darkvision). Only one of the three bolts hit, and the basilisk passed its "save or die" poison save. Furthermore, despite being faced with its own reflection every round it was fighting Pilar, the pesky basilisk kept making its Petrification saves!

Then it got a critical hit on Pilar. She went down with exactly 0 hit points and dropped to the ground.

At this point Beezle was faced with a tough choice: continue fighting, or get the hell out and try and find some help. Also at this point I feel I should note we were coming close to our designated wrapping-up point. So I decided I'd give the gang one more shot. The only caveat was that this last chance at pulling victory out of the jaws of defeat would be purchased at the hands of an NPC, and a lowly henchman at that.

As Beezle began to withdraw, Pagoda heroically dashed in to haul Pilar's body out of harm's way. As he did so, he picked up her reflective shield to hide behind. One more set of saving throws for the basilisk then as it was once again faced with its own reflection.

The Wisdom save wasn't the creature's strong suit. I needed a 12 or better, and the basilisk had failed this roll several times already. Sure enough, I rolled an "8" and the basilisk met its own gaze. Ah, but the Constitution save! A 5 or better would do it, and so far, obviously, the basilisk had passed every time. Not this time--the dice came up reading "3".

Unbelievably, the basilisk turned itself to stone at the last minute. Even more happily, Rumple-Wumpkin's share of the experience points was just enough to boost her to 2nd level! Hurray!

Oh wait, she's now a 2nd-level statue. Yeah, about that...

Well, what can I say? It was that hurried sort of "wrapping up so we can all get out of here on schedule" type atmosphere, and I was feeling generous. So in addition to the 400 ducats promised, the Naughty Nannies very kindly provided for a stone to flesh spell to be cast on the intrepid otter. (The hapless slave girl and even more hapless adventuring party that had preceded them weren't so lucky; in my world, basilisks can only digest silicates, which is why they have their petrifying gaze to begin with. The slave girl and adventurers had been nibbled to the point that they wouldn't have survived being made flesh again.)

Furthermore, Madam Omelrantra made the full services of her staff available to the group during their three-day recuperation. Pilar, being both a halfling and a cleric, chose to indulge merely in the gustatory pleasures of the main dining hall, but Beezle, Pagoda, and even Rumple-Wumpkin(!) availed themselves of the establishment's justly famed fleshy pleasures.

Despite the short session and the NPC bailout (which certainly wasn't a sure thing; I mean, it's not like Elmonster showed up with a healing wand or something), this was another really productive adventure. There are now two more leads for the party to consider: first, the job they owe to the bards, and second, where the basilisk came from. Pagoda and Beezle, poking around in the junk pile the basilisk was nesting in, found a small grate leading down into the bowels of the city--presumably that's where the creature emerged from. Dare they follow the trail? And once the week has passed, there will be even more interesting revelations from the sage they hired. Plus I may just have a couple other surprises up my sleeves... I said it before, I'll say it again: I love the City-State!

Oh, one last note: we're going to try out a daring and cheeky plan for our future sessions. Since we all have such unreliable schedules, we decided it would make more sense to actually schedule weekly games rather than bi-weekly. That way, when there's the inevitable cancellation, it only means missing a week rather than a month. Plus, who knows? There might actually be stretches where we manage to get together for two, three, or even four consecutive weeks. Imagine!
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