Friday, March 25, 2016

2e AD&D Funfest - Revengeance of the Chronostone: Escape from Fireball Island!

I run an annual RPG game for my old high school and college buddies at a mini convention I put on, called ScanCon. The game is usually some kind of one-shot mashup rpg I've come up with that I'm thinking about running at a convention or two the following year. Often they involve nostalgic 80's themes, like He-Man, Tron, or Johnny Mnemonic. I run these games using 3.5e or 5e D&D rulesets, because they're so pick-up game-friendly.

Not this time, though. This year I decided to not only have the players re-create the first D&D character they ever played, I also wanted to run the game in the first D&D edition we ever experienced: the dreaded 2nd edition AD&D!

I know, I know, its not the beloved 1st edition AD&D all the true bloods know and love, but 2e was the game I played in for many years back in high school, and so did most of my players (though you wouldn't know it based on how they thought ThAC0 worked). And to be honest, I knew it would be hard enough to reference the 2e books while we were gaming, so I didn't want to add in the incredible confusion the layout of the 1e books would cause. If you don't know what I'm talking about with the difficulty of looking something up between the 2e and the 1e AD&D books, then you either haven't ever read them, or you have memorized the 1e AD&D PHB and DMG books so well that you've automatically achieved the incredibly complex requirements of a 1e Bard.

Now, longtime readers might remember that I consider the most important part of coming up with any adventure is generating a ridiculous title that captures the spirit of the game.

For this adventure, I started with "Revengeance of the Chronostone" for two reasons:

  1. I regularly justify time travel plot elements with a McGuffin I call "The Chronostone," and my players are very used to it appearing in our one-shot games.
  2. "Revengeance" has to be one of the stupidest words I've ever heard, and so I had to use it.

With that done I needed inspiration for the actual game. To find that I went to Gygax Magazine #4 and turned to the excellent "Island of the Lizard God" one-page dungeon, written by Will Doyle.

I have a ton of dinosaur, lizardman, and jungle terrain, so this was an obvious place to start.
But my 1980's nostalgia cannot be denied, so there was still some mashing-up to be had. In this case, the Fireball Island boardgame was perfect as our "Overhead Hex Map" to represent the Island.

The Island of the Lizard God's town of Driftwood is now Fireball Island's "Shipwreck Beach," the Crucible of Steel is the "Idol of Vul-kar," and move the caverns of Mount Sacrifice into the "Caves of Doom", and you've got yourself a ready-made 3-D adventure map!

This little henchman mini showed where the players were on the map.

And since I love to add subtitles, the adventure naturally became:
"Revengeance of the Chronostone: Escape from Fireball Island!"

The game was only supposed to be 4 hours long, so I scheduled a casual two-hour character creation session the day before the game, so people could re-create their characters of old in glorious 2e AD&D. That gave them plenty of time to read their character's relevant 2e sections (race and class) of the 2e AD&D books and try to remember how things worked back then (especially the spellcasters). I also gave everyone 180,000XP to level up their characters to appropriately heroic levels.

Characters were:
  • Serpico the Just, the Lawful Good Necromancer (L9)
  • Marcus the Magic-User, Generalist Mage Extraordinaire (L9)
  • Corbin Dallas, Berzerker Fighter (L8)
  • Melody Mistwalker, Elven Druid (L9)
  • Carlitos the Dwarf, cunning Thief (L10)
Since these 2e characters hadn't seen the upside of a character sheet since we entered our most recent millennium, I decided that it would start with a dream sequence for each of them long after they were retired. They were old, fat and happy with a ton of wealth obtained through years of conquest. But as they slept in their plush feather beds, they suffered from a horrible nightmare. A figure in a sickly yellow robe chased them through a maze of damp caverns, and just as they turned a corner to escape the caves, the figure appeared in front of them and plunged a dastardly-looking dagger into their heart! The last images they saw before waking were the glittering red gem in the pommel of the dagger sticking from their chest, and the draconic skull-face of the attacker under the robe!
Yeah, yeah, enough exposition. Let's get on with it!
The characters each woke up as their youthful selves on a jungle island, inside a bamboo cage. All their equipment had been taken from them, and they could see lizardmen performing some kind of strange ritual through the foliage. Occasionally a couple of lizardman guards would walk by and poke their spears into the cage, mocking them in their lispy lizardman tongue. After intense discussions between the characters trying to remember how ThAC0 worked (so they could decide whether to start a combat), the Druid decided enough was enough and transformed into a snake to slither between the bars and check things out.

Let's see, I don't have a bamboo cage mini, but I do have... a burnt down cabin?... Good enough! On with the adventure!
  • The moment of immediate shapechange by the druid is where I knew I had made the right decision in letting them play such high level characters in a system I had long forgotten. Because I don't really remember the 2e rules either (though I never let the players know that), there was no way I could anticipate everything they could do, and couldn't try and make sure they stuck to a particular path. So I decided not to even worry about it. I just got to describe the island and world and they'd do the rest! Self-generating adventure!

Lizardmen absolutely love sacrificing Jungle Princesses. I don't know why either, but they do.

Anyway, the druid saw that the lizardmen were getting ready to sacrifice a beautiful jungle princess, and so started slithering back to the other characters to spread the news. In the meantime the Dwarf Thief rolled a really lucky Intelligence ("perception") check and found a shard of obsidian, which he picked up and started cutting through the ropes that held the cage door shut. The druid returned and worked on it from the other side, and soon the characters were sneaking out of the cage.

Aquarium plants + grass flock = easy Jungle terrain.

At this point I told the players they'd have to keep quiet, since they were trying to sneak past the guards, and could only speak to tell me what they were doing and make hand-gestures to eachother. I figured this would make for a tense round-by-round stealth scene as they crept around the guards on all sides.
Instead Marcus just moved up to cast Evard's Black Tentacles right in the middle of the Lizardman ceremony area, and all hell broke loose.
Okay, so the painted tentacle minis are purple, instead of black. Verisimilitude ruined.
 The mystic tentacles strangled a third of the lizardmen to death, and tripped up most of the rest. A couple remaining lizardmen threw tridents at him, and one rushed toward Marcus to claw him to death. Thinking "fast," Marcus quickly cast Fireball at point-blank range into the chest of the onrushing lizardman.
  • This is where I feel it might be appropriate to tell you a little about Marcus's player's playstyle. See, we used to call his character: "Marcus the Carcass," because he would regularly rush head-long into danger and die, so we'd have to spend a ton of gold getting him resurrected back in those days. I think he died at least four or five times over the course of our high school games. And back then, that took 1000gp diamond for every level of experience they were. Not cheap. In any case, it was clear at this point that SuperChad was going to play Marcus as he had always played him, as a squishy wielder of mass arcane destruction.

The Fireball naturally obliterated the lizardman, and threw a wounded (but surprisingly not dead) Marcus a good fifteen feet. Meanwhile, Serpico fired off a slew of Magic Missiles, Corbin the Fighter yanked a spear out of a lizardman's hands and stabbed him to death with it, and Carlitos recovered his shortsword from their stolen belongings and backstabbed the last lizardman guard.

But then, a lizardman Ogre burst out of the jungle to hopefully smash the wounded and prone Marcus to death. That's when Melody the Druid nonchalantly changed from snake form into a Tiger and pounced upon the Lizardman Ogre (L'Ogre?). Doing like eleventy-million points of damage. This is because of the "Pounce" ability of large cats in the 2e Monster manual (if both front paws hit, large cats get two free 'rake' attacks with their back claws at like 2d6 each). She killed it in one stinkin' round. I suddenly remembered how much of a pain in the ass high level druids are in any D&D edition.

Freeing the Jungle Princess, the players learned that her name was Sheena (Queen of the Jungle, obvs), and her hunting party had been captured by the lizardmen. She was the only surviving member and needed to get back to her village. The lizardmen were planning to sacrifice her to their "Lizard God." Pretty much ignoring everything Sheena was saying while she dropped plot hints, the party instead searched around the ruins and found the Lizardman's treasure chest. Inside they found a bunch of coins, a couple gems, and a Leprechaun!

Greetings adventurers! Time for some annoying riddles!

Nicholas Nimbleknickers* was his name, and he was very pleased to be out of that treasure chest! To reward the players for his freedom, he offered them to choose either ask three questions or answer three riddles. If they chose the riddles and answered them correctly, they'd get a magic item for each one!

  • During game prep I had wracked my brain to remember all the magic items the characters had ever come across in our ancient games from yesteryear. I made a list of them, and then when the players would answer a riddle I'd have them roll a die and get one of the items. It wouldn't automatically be the item associated with the character, but as soon as another player recognized the sword or amulet, they'd tell everyone exactly what it did and where it came from. It was a good way to take a walk down memory lane.

I had Nicholas appear multiple times during the game, and every time he'd offer three questions or riddles. After wandering around a bit the players actually asked Nicholas a question once or twice to get on the right path. But mostly they just went for the magic item riddles. The riddles were mostly ones I knew from the Hobbit or from favorite Movies.

"As I was going to St. Ives, I met a man with seven wives. Each wife had seven sacks, each sack had seven cats, each cat had seven kits. Kits, cats, sacks, and wives, how many were going to St. Ives?"

As all my players are of course fans of all sequels to Die Hard, this ONE wasn't a problem. But not all riddles were so easy, and if the players answered riddles wrong (which they did a few times), then Nicholas Nimbleknickers would lower their maximum hit points by 2d6 as a penalty. Once that happened a few times people were a lot less anxious to blurt out their first answer. After answering three questions or riddles, Nicholas would disappear behind a rock or tree, Dungeon Master cartoon-style.

Mostly the 'disappearing act' consisted of dropping behind Castle Greyskull and taking off the stupid hat and mustache.

 The players then escorted Sheena to her village, but not before first almost getting eaten by a giant singing death worm while passing by the Swamp of Sirens! It tried to lure them into the swamp by creating illusions of more damsels in distress, but they beat the giant singing worm to a pulp and moved on through the jungle.
"Hey, what's that? Another damsel in distress?"

(Really got my money's worth out of this mini.)

Marcus again came close to death, but the party saved him at the last minute.

Arriving in the town "Shipwreck Beach" (a town made of interconnected shipwrecks) the players met up with Chief Tiberious, who was very happy to see his daughter again. He also explained that the lizardmen At first he offered them shelter, but the players botched the hell out of their charisma checks while asking for free stuff, and the Chief decided that the town would be better off without them around. Long story short, they paid the chief a bunch of gold and he was cool with them staying overnight. They also met one of the town founders, who was a hyper-intelligent talking gorilla named Philip. But the players were more interested in asking about whether there was a blacksmith in town and what magic items they could steal, rather than even asking why this gorilla was so smart.

"Yeah, yeah, talking gorilla, we got it. Hey, are there any magic weapons at the blacksmith's I can steal?"

Sure enough, in town there was a blacksmith (Bildrath), and the players proceeded to buy equipment, potions, and haggle on prices to their heart's content. Carlitos the thief engaged in some standard pilfery for his kind and made off with a scroll of a bunch of mage spells, which he gave to Serpico (without telling the Lawful Good Necromancer where he got it, of course). Nicholas also showed up for a bit, and a few more questions and riddles were answered.

"I'm the start of the end and the end of time, I'm essential to beats and I surround every rhyme!"

That night, Marcus attempted to "pickup" Sheena with some sweet talk. He failed his Charisma checks miserably, and got slapped in the face. As the DM, I actually slapped him in the face. I feel that the physical interaction was important to maintain the integrity of the storyline. Also sometimes you really just want an excuse to slap a dude in the face. Especially the dude who keeps hitting on your NPCs.
The next morning, the players asked the chief about getting up to the giant Idol of Vul-Kar on top of the mountain (from Nicholas, they learned that their way home lay within that castle, but also that if they tried to climb up the outside of the mountain they'd be obliterated by fireballs). The chief lent them a scout (Nigel) to take them to the Caves of Doom, which lead up into the mountain, but warned them that those caves are also where the lizardmen live.
Tight fit in the winding caverns. Single-file marching order time!
Nigel the scout led them safely to the caves, and as they entered the Caves of Doom, they had to choose between two paths. One would lead through the main lizardman encampment, and the other would lead in a secret passageway that would likely be trapped. They opted for the secret trap-route. Nigel was going to leave, his job done, when Marcus charmed him with some fast talk into staying with the group, and promised him endless treasure and glory. Nigel agreed to stay with the group, and the party voted to let him lead (since he was "the scout"). Nigel lasted approximately thirty seconds in his new adventuring career path, as he was almost instantly shredded by the swinging spiked gate trap that sprung down from the ceiling when he turned the first corner.

After that, Carlitos took the lead and "I check for Traps!" was yelled at me about every five feet for the rest of the dungeon.

Nigel takes the lead.

At the top, they found the forge was populated by dwarf ghosts, hammering onto anvils in front of a giant door. Amazingly making all their saves vs. spells for just looking at ghosts (which ages you 10-40 years upon a failed save in 2e!), they figured out that the dwarves needed specific precious gems and gold to forge the door key. Figuring out what gems they needed, the players got the ghost dwarves to craft the key and open the doorway to the pillar of the Chronostone (and a few more magic items).

Dwarf ghosts are friendlier than you'd expect, as long as you make your Save vs. Spells!
Taking the stone, the castle immediately started to shake as if it would collapse, and Nicholas Nimbleknickers appeared again in the doorway. The party immediately asked him what was happening (Question 1)? He answered that the citadel was collapsing without the power of the Chronostone to hold it in check. They asked him how to escape (Question 2)? He answered that they should give him the Chronostone, and he promises he would make sure they got home safely. Being the savvy and extremely paranoid players that they are, they refused, kept the Chronostone, and instead retreated down the side of the mountain to the river. There they jumped in a small boat, braved the rapids, and escaped the erupting mountain volcano.
Nicholas just wants to help... you DIE!
 But just as they were pulling the boat ashore, the roar of a terrifying dragon was heard! Landing before them was a huge Dracolich, wearing Nicholas's little hat! He spoke in a loud booming voice and once again demanded the Chronostone! The players guessed his true nature, turned it around on him, and pointed out that he still owed them one question or riddle (they had only asked two last time they saw him)! Dragon-Nicholas acquiesced and asked another riddle, which Corbin answered, and the Leprechaun/Dracolich (Lepro-lich?) gave Corbin his beloved magic sword he'd been waiting to find the whole game: Valor (longsword +2/+4 while berzerking).
After which, Nicholas the Dracolich immediately attacked.

Serpico sprung into action and spread his Improved Dust of Disappearance on all the characters (obtained via previous riddle), which helped a lot when the Dracolich would fly up and try to pick targets to roast with dragons fire. Sadly, the (randomly rolled) target almost always included the druid or the fighter, who regularly made their saves so neither ended up dying. However the druid spent most of the combat changing form to heal instead of fighting, since transforming heals 10-60% of a druid's hit points in 2e, so that kept her out of more of the battle at least. Carlitos spent the combat sneaking around and trying to throw Runecutter (+2 Handaxe of Throwing) at the Dracolich, but never quite connecting.  Corbin stood his ground waiting for the Dracolich to land, at which point he'd rush up and slash him hard. Serpico and Marcus, for their part, did the majority of the damage. Consistently rolling past the Dracolich's 45% magic resistance, every spell they cast seemed to roll maximum damage. It was a mage-fest of magic missiles and spectral touch spells. In the end, Nicholas the Lepro-lich was defeated.

Corbin goes full Berzerk mode!
As the Dracolich fell to the ground and the wychlight left its eyes, the Chronostone shattered into a blinding light. The awakened magic sent all the characters back to their own time and bodies, waking up in their plush feather beds.
As each of them rang their bedside bell to summon their servants to prepare them a hearty breakfast, they had to wonder: were their adventures on Fireball Island real, or just a fevered dream...?


*Admission: The name "Nicholas Nimbleknickers" I blatantly stole from the Dungeon Bastard's World's Worst Dungeon Crawl game from GameholeCon 2014.

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