Friday, 29 August 2014

Vikings & Valkyries - Session Ten

Session 10 (August 23, 2014)

(Back to Session 1)

Lately, I have become quite enamoured of AS&SH (see my review); I discussed it with the party and we decided to convert our campaign to AS&SH. Thus, this post both reports about the events of our last session and thoughts about the conversion and whether we appreciate the changes the new system brings to the campaign.

For continuity's sake, further reports of this campaign will still  be tagged Vikings & Valkyries, although I will, of course, add the ASSH tag, as well.

The party members present were the following:
  • Esja (Ranger 2)
  • Freydís (Priest 3)
  • Gottfried Flogasson (Fighter 4)
  • Harald Greentooth (Fighter 3)
Referee's note: Because in V&V advancement is represented by increasing attributes, converting those was a bit tricky, and I may have left some of the stats unlikely high; however, the additional bonuses are still minimal, and this gives me a good excuse to throw a whole bunch of monsters at them, which is always nice.

Class wasn't too problematic, either. For Gottfried and Harald, it was straightforward. For Esja, I offered the Ranger and the Scout; she opted for the more combat-oriented one. For Freydís, I similarly offered the traditional Cleric and the "less fighter, more caster" Priest; the latter was chosen, actually to my surprise, as I thought not fearing the front line, that comes with the Cleric, is a huge advantage. Some of her spells reflect her abilities in the previous system, some of them are completely new (so is Turn Undead).
The party left for Thorgunna's stronghold in the mountains. After a few days of travel, they met a pair of cavemen. Afraid at first, they turned out to be quite friendly and the party offered their help, so the cavemen led them back to their leader. The cavemen's chieftain (called Akrán), glad to hear the party would help them bring peace, told them they should visit their shaman; he sent a young boy to show them the way.
Referee's note: For cavemen encounters during the session, I employed a simplified grammar; I figured not allowing communication with the cavemen would harm the game more.
Fighting a strange aerial creature (a pterodactyl, really), they climbed up the cliffs to the shaman's cave. Passing by a bunch of human skulls, the party carefully entered the cave and found the shaman: a miserable blind man, who only wants better things (better furniture, better food, etc.); notably, he spoke Norse fluently and without a foreign accent. The party learnt the location of the carcass of a giant worm; having been lying dead for a few hundred years, its heart is still beating, and a powerful magical artefact.
Referee's note: It was the first combat using the "new" rules; it was rather quick (I rolled rather poorly for the enemy's hit points), and we didn't have much chance to use the two-phased combat.
The party headed south in search of the site. After a few days of travel (uninterrupted by random encounters) they arrived and saw a huge mouth, now petrified, protruding from the top of a rocky hill. Atop they noticed a bunch of figured with hunched backs: another tribe of cavemen, seemingly guarding the entrance.

At first, an awkward encounter took place (Esja tried to move closer to take a better look, but she failed her roll so the guards noticed her; however, the reaction roll was fabulous, and following a short chat she was allowed to leave), then, at night, the party collectively ambushed the guards and quickly eliminated them altogether.

Then, they descended on a rope down to the mouth of the dead worm to the camp of the cavemen. The noise woke the sleeping cavemen up, who also let loose their pet beast, a mountain ape, but it did not matter: they were slaughtered by the combined power of the adventurers, save for two of them, with whom the party conversed about the whereabouts of the heart of the worm.
Referee's note: This was an interesting combat from the tactical point of view; their masterfully executed ambush didn't give much chance to these primitive folks. However, when they learned from the cavemen that they were in fact guarding their own kin and not the heart (what is more, they were possibly cast away by Akrán), they regretted their actions and offered peace.
Further down the worm the party found a few rooms and a chamber they left undisturbed; then, they met a slightly larger-than-average dwarf seemingly made out of stone. From him they learned the location of the heart, so they headed that way. They walked past a room and entered the one the dwarf talked about: in the middle of empty room on a pedestal sat the heart, a two-fist-size ruby, still beating quietly but noticeably.

The party, suspecting a trap or other defense mechanism, mulled over their options. One of them went back to talk to the dwarf: in his room, instead, four shady figured (shadows) ambushed him. Harald ran back to his allies; the group now collectively headed back, but in a chamber with alcoves the shadows surprised them again. The party, thanks to their weaponry and Freydís's priestly abilities, defeated the incorporeal creatures.
Referee's note: Despite Esja's Alertness ability, the Shadows succeeded at the surprise roll again. Their immunity to non-magical attacks seemed harsh at first, but since the beginning of the campaign the party has acquired two magical weapons (Esja has a longbow +1, blessing of Ullr, and Gottfried recently obtained Sommarsverd, a longsword +2 that emanates light like a torch and deals double damage to undead). Ultimately, Freydís's player succeeded at a 4-in-12 chance of turning the Shadows.
In the last round of the combat, the dwarf also appeared, seemingly to help the party defeat the undead. Following the battle the party inquired about the contents of the other room next to the heart; the dwarf told them it held his sleeping brothers. Only Gottfried and Freydís entered, not to desecrate their holy slumber, only to find that inside rest three similar statuesque dwarves, all connected by a visible string of magical energy to a levitating orb of blueish hues. All the decorations inside were symbols of Yikkorth the Ashen Worm.

The party then, contemplating their options and using a number of Auguries, agreed on a plan: with the help of some rope they secured the heart without actually touching the ground around it, so that they can move it off its place only with a single pull. Upon that move, as they suspected, the defense mechanism activated in the form of an earth elemental (HD 8) erupting from the ground and attacking the party. Fierce-looking combat commenced, but the party emerged victorious. On their way out they were attacked by a band of shadows and the dwarf, but the adventurers showed no mercy and defeated them all.
Referee's note: Okay, now there's a number of things I want to say. First, let's not forget about acknowledgements: the module I used was Into the Worm's Gullet, a one-pager by Dyson Logos (and it wasn't the first time I used it). Adapting the monsters included wasn't too difficult: the apes became a tribe of cavemen (I changed it to allow other options beside fighting their way in, and to make the fight easier, if necessary; in retrospect, I think they could've dealt with the more robust apes, as well), and the Umber Dwarf became a 5 HD stone automaton.

Second, I interpreted the situation differently than a simple hack-through. The dwarves and the elemental were originally sent by Odin to ensure the worm's heart wouldn't fall into the wrong hands. However, over the years, one of the dwarves became corrupted by Yikkorth, so he trapped his brothers in a room with the blue orb. Fearing he might not be able to defeat the guardian elemental, he waited for heroes to come and do the dirty job themselves. In the meantime, he praised Yikkorth's name in a small sanctuary he built, and mastered the practice of raising shadows.

When the party arrived he was eager to help them, and when Gottfried went back to talk to him, he falsely assumed that the adventurers succeeded so he sent his shadows to kill the survivors. He was much slower than his minions, so when he arrived at the scene, his creatures were about to be defeated - so he acted as if he was to help the party. Of course, when the party did obtain the heart, he had no choice but to attack them - only to find that they weren't weakened by the guardian at all.

Which brings me to another point: the 8 HD elemental did no damage whatsoever; I simply failed to hit. Of course, if it had hit, it would probably have killed a character (3d6+1d8 damage).
Another ruling on the spot was concerning Augury: the spell only works 7 out of 10 times; I decided to roll that check in the open, and tell the party it simply didn't work in case of a failure. Although I can imagine many situations where misunderstandings can make things more interesting, not knowing if it worked or not was pointless obstruction of knowledge, and would pretty much guarantee the party never use the spell.
All in all, we liked the game, so we will definitely stick to it for this campaign. As for the game world, well, they may even be transported to Hyperborea at some (fairly close) point.
(Next session)

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