Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Actual Play or Running Right Out of the Sandbox

Busy today. No time for my usual fare. However, I will give you Dungeon Masters out there a glimpse into the Giant Life with some actual roleplaying action.

I'll set the stage, I have in my infinite GM wisdom set up a basic Rome-type Empire as the setting. The characters are somewhere near the northern edge of the empire at the southern end of the Valley of Kings. It is high basin desert with harsh alkali soil, sage brush, bunch grass and not much else. The valley has been used for constructing tombs along both walls in often complex and deadly configurations dating back to pre-human and even pre-elven time. The further north the older the tomb. The Empire has allowed licensed folk to venture into the region and explore a selected tomb, all known tombs are cataloged, numbered, and marked on a map. They are sealed with the Imperial Church seal and that intact seal along with the corresponding permit allows one protection during the dangerous hours of the night. Not perfect protection but better than nothing. Adventurers are warned that the magic in the valley has dangerous radiation like side effects. Don't eat any grave offerings even if they look fresh.

Our players a stalwart ranger with a bear and a halfling druid with a bug deal going on, receive their permits and directions to their tomb to explore. They arrived without running into anything dangerous but the ranger and his pet bear 'Naugahyde' or 'baloo' or something find tracks leading in and out. Old tracks but since Ranger was such a good tracker and there had been no recent rain he sussed them out.

Worse the seal had been broken which negated the protections that the combination permit and seal provided, (the GM might have been a bit vague on that at first).

The two enter the dungeon to find every sign that someone had been messing with the place offering rugs and shrouds used to block light, and tracks lead further into the tomb.

The Ranger led the way to an area of sealed ossuaries and burial niches. Only not all of them were still sealed. Some had been looted and their contents tossed into piles on the floor. Of course, they poked through the piles (the Ranger wanted to carve runes on the bones for religious reasons or to read runes on the bones) and they found a flute made from a human thigh bone.

The Druid was worried, how could he study the insect life in situ if tomb robbers had been disturbing the pristine nature of the tomb? Never fear, he was able to view the fauna up close and personal. Tomb rats the size of dogs (I was thinking mastiffs our Druid, chihuahuas) started gnawing on our Druid. These rats were bigger than he was but our Ranger was to the rescue and had his bow-string snap. And he missed.

The fight progressed, I was getting worried because these were the clumsiest adventurers ever. One mishap after another. At one point the Ranger was sitting on the ground with a rat in his lap like Santa with a disease ridden, filthy, crawling with parasites, magically mutated brat. Who was trying to eat Santa's beard and face.

The druid was not without resources and decided what was needed was a crocodile. He opted for the small normal model but you know that it's not always the size that counts. Me, I would have called up the spirit of Godzilla or the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. This led to some serious rat chomping. Like head crushing decapitation time.

The druid and his bear, ('Thumbelina'?) rallied and put paid the angry 'lap-rat' and the rest fled squealing. I was gratified because I had no idea these big rats would be so dangerous.

Returning to the mysterious tracks, our party found a room that had been used and recently as the habitation of the living. Somebody was living amid these undead, mutated rat, disgusting insect and creepy crawly infested tombs. They also discovered a tomb spider.

Big as your fist, bright acrylic orange and green, the tomb spiders are endemic to the valley and Druid now had what he wanted; a bug to study. There were rumors that these spiders could use human speech and it did act as if it were used to people. The Ranger took a chance and talked to the critter.

For you DM's out there this little bug was a throw-away I never intended them to talk. I assumed they would squash him or at least shoot or stab but no they talked and charmed that little horror right to the edge of its web where they could hear its hissing speech.

The first and only real question they asked? "Who was living here?" not an unreasonable question. The answer? The most wanted man in the Empire a rebel general a known sorcerer, and cunning fighter. And apparently with the confidence in his magic and enough chutzpah to live cheek by jowl with a big ass spider, giant rats, and more, ghouls, vampires, ghasts, ghosts, specters, revenants, draugr, and other assorted undead than you can shake a stick at. 

The reward for the general alive or dead was more wealth than anyone could really imagine. Great heaps of gold, silver, doubloons and triploons. So they did the natural and patriotic thing without searching the chambers for any clues, treasure or anything. No looting of any kind. They high tailed it to see if they could track the General and his two companions. No looting. I even openly told them via the spider that the general had been collecting 'papers' from the tombs. There was a stack of scrolls I figured they would need to get through the hours of darkness plus more than a few others each worth a fair amount of coin but no they were too civic-minded to stop and rushed after the tracks. They lost the tracks but found a bandit ambush.

Bandits had been watching the tomb during the day and retreating to a safe spot at night assuming the General would only move during the day. They figured the druid and ranger would know the whereabouts of the General.

After some fruitful negotiations, the bear scared one bandit away and broke the neck of another but that was entirely an accident. The bandits they did search and found that they had been rolling their tobacco and smoking it with grave goods and shrouds. This had already began to mutate the killed bandit.

With a bounty on dead bodies they took the bandit and returned to the Imperial fort and waystation. They managed to enrage the way station's commander and nearly brought the entire garrison down on their heads.

They settled in for the night as it was nearing sundown and the area outside the waystation was filled with undead.

Will the blood of the freshly dead bandit attract unwanted attention? Will his spirit come seeking revenge? Who else is sharing the waystation with them tonight besides the soldiery?

We'll find out tomorrow morning.

GM's round up? What were we expecting? A standard dungeon crawl. I'm up front, if I show you a hook bite. I had just intended to make the evening hours a bit more dicey by having the seal broken. I had no clue they would actually talk to the spider, no clue they would want to know who was there before and was taken off guard by them abandoning a ripe juicy tomb without any looting or murder-hoboing. It was like they were playing actual people or something. 

And it was some of the best times I ever had as a DM.

If you had fun reading this you should play in one of my games. Drop me a comment and I'll send you an invite. If you are a DM with a sand box that's ever gone sideways let me know. If you are a player who's ever run off the beaten path let me know.

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