Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Idalium Game 2: Honor Among Thieves

Session date: Monday, November 10, 2014
Game date: Saturday, November 10, 207 to Monday, November 12, 207

Tod P. Quasit, Jr., Fighter 1, hp 5, xp 24/2000
Tyrriel, Elf 1, hp 3, xp 23/4000
Quazzle, Magic-user 1, hp 1, xp 22/2500
Caryatid, Magic-user 1, hp 4, xp 22/2500

Brother Mookie, Cleric 1, hp 5, xp 11/1500
Wilhelm, Magic-user 1, hp 3, xp 12/2500
Twiffle, Elf 1, hp 1, xp 12/4000
Ylil, Thief 1, hp 3, xp 11/1200

A week had passed, both in real time and in game time, since the group's first explorations of the buried ruins of ancient Idalium. Vinnie's player couldn't attend, so Vinnie and his retainer/cousin Vito were absent (there was some speculation that it had something to do with a badly-prepared meal of giant centipedes).

As the party arrived at the Rusty Lantern tavern, they saw another NPC party noisily celebrating a successful delve below. This was "Rugger's Raiders", a group of rather scurrilous-looking rogues led by a rowdy dwarf named Rugger. They were in high spirits after their adventures, and Rugger was apparently feeling magnanimous, as he gave the PCs some general advice about the value of a large party. Jerry, one of Rugger's team, passed on a rumor that the local thieves' guild was becoming increasingly irritated by a group of maverick bandits who were apparently using the ruins as a base for their burglary operations in the city, cutting the thieves' guild out of its usual percentage. "Renegade thieves, eh? The very worst kind," quipped Tod.

The group headed down into the cellar, paid the toll at the trapdoor, and descended again into the ruins. The consensus seemed to be to go back to the room with the giant rats and hope that the rumors about rats hoarding shiny valuables would be true in this case. On the way, they checked out a few rooms they had passed by on their first trip. Shooting a crossbow bolt into the rustling pile of papers in the shop across the avenue disturbed another nest of giant centipedes. Tod quickly pulled the window shutter closed as the centipedes crawled up the wall towards him, and they moved on.

Tod forced open the door where they had heard squeaking last week, and was confronted by a pair of giant shrews. Well, I say giant, but that still only means the size of plump rats. But these little runts are quite the business in B/X D&D! Fast and ferocious, they leapt through the air at Tod and Brother Mookie, who stood in the doorway. Tod was overwhelmed with terror at the vicious critter snapping and scratching at his neck, and swatted it away and stumbled backwards through the party to go sob in the hallway. Meanwhile, his retainer Brother Mookie attempted to beat back the shrews, but was leapt upon by both of them and fell to the ground gurgling, his throat torn apart by the vicious critters. Tyrriel managed to kill one of the shrews, and they ended up resorting to a Sleep spell to finish the other one off.

To add insult to injury, the shop they were in had been thoroughly looted and empty of valuables, and with heavy hearts the group carried Brother Mookie's body back to the surface. A day was spent resting and healing. Brother Mookie's body was returned to the clergy at the Great Cathedral of the All-Pervading Light, and another eager young acolyte, Brother Jibber, was recruited to take his place.

So the group returned to the dungeon and this time went straight to the house where they found the rats last week. However, on entering the atrium of the house they saw that the door to one of the side rooms was ajar, with a light flickering beyond it. Low voices drifted from the doorway: "Oh, this'll fetch a pretty penny when we fence it up top. You sure we should tell Cretch about this?" "Are you nuts? Cretch'll have your hide for talking like that."

The party whispered back and forth, trying to come up with a plan to jump the bandits. They dithered a bit too long, because suddenly the voices stopped and then: "Hey, you hear that? Go check it out, Joe." A tough looking thug stepped out of the room, followed by six others, all wearing distinctive black and red checkered armbands.

"OK, you want to keep moving and forget you ever saw us. Looks like a pretty even match, but I figure we'd take at least a few of you with us, so you want to think real hard before you do something stupid."

The players again dithered back and forth, trying to settle on a plan. "Hey! You gonna scram, or are we gonna have a rumble?" "OK, OK, we're just leaving!" They casually walked down the hall to the front door, the adventurer with the lantern left the room, and once left in darkness Quazzle crept back up the hall to cast Sleep on the bandit group. With his single hit point, it basically came down to "Pray that you win initiative because it ain't ending well if you don't!"

So Quazzle's player invoked my "Order of the D30" house rule (originated by Jeff Rients), and rolled my big green d30 instead of the usual d6 for initiative. Lady Luck smiled on him, and now the party had a pile of seven snoozing bandits to deal with.

That was the first half of the game session. The second half was entirely improvised role playing. Typically in these situations, the slashing knives come out and the floor runs red, but my players took a much more interesting approach. They tied up and gagged all of the bandits and relieved them of the treasure they had been discussing. (An exquisite necklace and a pearl ring worth a combined 2,000 gold darics; no wonder the maverick thieves were debating whether to go doubly maverick!) Then they made plans to bring the bandits up to the surface to turn them over to the thieves' guild.

Three of them carefully carried the leader of the thieves back to the Rusty Lantern while the rest of the group sealed themselves into the house by spiking the two doors shut, guarding the sleeping and hogtied thieves. Back at the Rusty Lantern, Ylil made discreet inquiries around the tavern trying to suss out a contact with the thieves' guild. Ralph the tavern owner pointed them to Trixie, a sullen looking woman sitting by herself at a table. Trixie didn't seem much impressed by Ylil's attempts at small talk, but for ten darics told him to ask for Ruffino at a pawn shop in a rough neighborhood down by the harbor.

At the pawn shop, Ylil told the sketchy-looking shopkeeper that Trixie sent him to see Ruffino, and he was let into the back office and told to take the first door on the left. The plan was starting to seem a bit iffy at this point. "We sent a 1st level retainer all by himself to the thieves' guild... I'm so gonna die." But he didn't die, and "Ruffino" turned out to be a password, not a person. In the office Ylil found the Guildmaster himself, fat and well-dressed, smoking a cigar as he pored over accounting ledgers. The Guildmaster was very interested in talking to any of these maverick thieves who had been cutting into their business, and agreed to pay 20 darics for every member of the gang that was brought to him. "I'll sit him down, and we'll have a nice friendly conversation and I'll make him an offer he can't refuse. Either he joins the guild and starts playing by our rules, or... well, there's no need to go into that."

So Ylil went back to the Rusty Lantern and rented a pushcart from Ralph in which to transport the sleeping bandit (who woke up on the trip back to the pawn shop and had to be given a stern glare) and soon the party was down one bandit and up 20 gold coins. Then the return trip into the dungeon to retrieve five of the other six for similar treatment.

The last bandit they decided to keep for their own purposes. Quazzle glanced at his retainer Twiffle and said simply, "Charm him," and suddenly Twiffle had a new best friend, who was mightily confused about the situation he found himself in. The bandit sketched a crude map showing the best way to the bandits' HQ in an old mansion to the north, and they all headed back to the Rusty Lantern to celebrate their newfound positive cash flow.

I was really pleased with how this session turned out. It was roughly split in two parts, the first half being dungeon delving and a bit of combat, and the second half being an extended roleplaying scene where the players discussed their options and worked out a plan, followed by a lot of off-the-cuff city adventuring. Pretty much everything about the thieves' guild was improvised on the spot. I had some general ideas about it, and I had seeded the rumors table with information that the thieves' guild was concerned about the bandits in the dungeon, but the players came up with a plan that went beyond anything I was expecting. I really enjoy this kind of mutual creation of the game world, where the in-the-moment interactions at the table create elements of the setting that then become fixed.

I'm also pleased at how many avenues this opens up for the players. Not only do they now have a connection with the thieves' guild, but they have a charmed bandit as an inside agent or informant. I really do love the traditional megadungeon exploration game, but I think it has to be liberally spiced with opportunities for roleplaying interaction, whether in the dungeon or outside it. I think putting the dungeon directly underneath the city is already paying off in that regard. Also, having the charmed bandit to interrogate opens up all sorts of opportunities for the players to plan a raid or heist of the bandits' HQ. Megadungeon games also need to have a constant flow of information to the players, so they can choose their own goals and make plans.

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