Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Blade of Eight Souls

Not the original blade, but as close as I can remember


Although featured in The Great Gen Con 2015 Review, this deadly, and woe-inspiring magic item deserved its own post.

It is incredibly rare for me to use props in role-playing games, especially in recent years.   Miniatures, sure.  Whenever possible I do enjoy tossing out crazy figures on a board right in front of my players.  But I do not consider miniatures quite the same as “props”.  A miniature is a representation of a character, NPC, or monster on a map or board, while a prop is something you hand to your players so that they can feel something akin to what their characters are experiencing.

When I was younger, in high school especially, my friends and I would use candles and incense to “set the mood” for Ravenloft adventures.  Sometimes we would say a red candle represented an ancient ritual candle.  Occasionally we would try to “age” maps or letters by lighting the edges on fire and then quickly blowing them out.  This almost cost us our kitchen once…

… I sure hope my mother isn’t reading this post. 

This past week I decided to use a “prop” to represent the Blade of Eight Souls in a Dungeon Crawl Classics Role-Playing Game adventure at Gen Con 2015.   I planned on running eight friends through +Carl Bussler's  Well of Souls, and wanted my players to get the full “feel” of DCCRPG.  In Dungeon Crawl Classics, magic items are all very rare and should be completely unique.   You won’t find a large table of magic items in the DCCRPG rulebook, instead Judges are expected to create their own individual items.   There shouldn’t be a dozen +1 magic weapons strewn about on cold dungeon floors, but rather one or two very specific items placed logically.  

A single item's acquisition could very well require an entire evening's effort.

Perhaps the player characters uncover a +1 enchanted hand axe that was used to fell the last goblin prince.  While the weapon offers an additional +1 to hit and damage against goblins, each fumble causes one of the user’s features to become more goblin-like.

Or there could be a +2 suit of magical black leather armor, once worn by a crafty thief who stole the Emperor’s very soul.  The suit offers a +3 to all attempts at stealth and subterfuge, but wearing the item immediately places a curse on the wearer, causing a ghostly assassin to start hunting down the character now mistaken for the long dead thief.

You get the idea. 

Only three of the players last week had experienced DCCRPG before, and I wanted to go "all out" for this game. So I came up with the Blade of Eight Souls:

This +1 Dagger grants a permanent +3 bonus to the user’s Strength.  The user must be chaotic, and should a lawful or neutral character pick up the weapon they must make an immediate DC 14 Will saving throw.  Failing the roll causes one’s face to completely melt away (instant death).  If the saving throw is successful the character changes alignment to chaotic. 

Slight confession: I came up with most of that “on the fly”.  While I planned the magic dagger, originally titled the Blade of Souls (to match the Well of Souls), it was just a +1 Dagger that granted +3 to a chaotic user’s Strength.  No face melting.  I wanted to add some kind of curse, but forgot to include it in my adventure notes before the game.

The "Eight" part got added only when I realized a major mistake on my part when handing out characters.  I was a little nervous about running DCCRPG for so many new players, and I accidentally gave out twenty-four characters to the group of eight players.   So everyone got three characters.  But when I looked down at the adventure notes, it was designed for twelve to sixteen 0-levels!

Crap!

I needed a quick way to trim down the party, so I hatched a quick and dirty plan.  I had Farid, the guide for the party, march the team of 0-level commoners into the swamp surrounding the cursed Well of Souls.  Once there, I had Farid pull out a finely crafted dagger in the game…

… and I immediately drew a nasty looking dagger on an index card…

In hindsight, I with I had a true prop for this scene, and when I run Well of Souls again (or at least reintroduce the Blade of Eight Souls to another group) I will have some kind of toy knife.

Farid told the party that he could not give them the Tablets of Fate until a ritual was performed.  I used the index card dagger to draw a line across my chest, stating that Farid cut himself, just so.  Each player was expected to have one of their three characters “volunteer” to be part of a special ceremony, and this meant cutting themselves with the dagger so that the blood of everyone could mingle.  Each player took the index card dagger and showed how they cut themselves.  Some made quick "cuts", while others drew out the scene, making faces, moaning, and acting in character.  

Once the index card dagger made its way around the table, I stated that everyone performing the ritual immediately died, and their souls were now trapped in the dagger.

Poof!  Eight extra characters instantly out of play!

Our pile of dead character tombstones

Farid then told the party that they could release the trapped souls for a “boon” (I was going to give the party each a point of Luck), or keep it as a weapon to confront the terrors below. 

The party wanted the weapon, which sort of reminded me of a scene towards the end of the John Ritter/Jim Belushi classic “Real Men”.  

[Judge's Note:  If you get this reference, tell your judge that he or she owes you one point of Luck at your table, courtesy of Living 4 Crits.]

I tossed the dagger out on the table to see who would pick it up, and one of the players (Rustin) grabbed the blade, announcing which of his two remaining characters would heft the cursed weapon.  Since this was a 0-level funnel, Rustin’s chaotic character eventually died and I had the dagger try and make a deal with the dying commoner:

If Rustin's dying character quickly stabbed another character, he would be be allowed to live.

Ultimately this didn’t work, since the Blade of Eight Souls is a liar, and when Rustin successfully took out another player’s character, both of them ended up dead on the floor.   I think this happened again later once Troy’s character grabbed the dagger.  All in all, I believe four or five characters in Well of Souls died because of that cursed item.  But having the index card dagger on the table made all of the arguing about, and jockeying for that damned dagger a terrific experience unto itself. 

I’m fairly certain that the Blade of Eight Souls will see life again in a future DCCRPG game.

Jen and I and the Tablets of Fate