Crawljamming Away from the Starless Sea
Somehow, someway, I convinced the family to return to the weird dice, fumble tables, and corruption-filled game of Dungeon Crawl Classics. Although my middle daughter Evie picked up her Rapunzel character sheet with a bit of trepidation, the DCCRPG really seems to be growing on my eldest. Carrie's a regular in our local game club events, and just last week played in a Crawling Under a Broken Moon game session.
Before I get into the meat of this post, I just want to note that it's broken up into several parts. There's a brief intro about running the game (you're reading part of it now!) followed by how we handled the 1st level characters, a play report, and then some behind the scenes info (rules modifications, a dragon named Voracious Steve, you get the point). So if you get bored with play reports and just want to skip to the mechanics, just keep scrolling and you'll get there.
We've been planning our Disney vacation for several weeks now, and everyone is this house is in "Mouse Mood." Disney TV, Disney movie marathons, Disney outfits, Disney music… at this point it's coming out of our pores! In the middle of all this celebration, I started hinting at a return to those 0-level heroes from our two sessions of When You Wish Upon a Starless Sea.
If you missed those two posts, you can find them here, or save 'em for later:
Over the summer I tortured my family by making them choose classic Disney characters, and then I forced those poor souls through +Harley Stroh's unforgettable Sailors on the Starless Sea. One by one, my family's favorite characters died horrible deaths as they faced off with beastmen cultists in a cursed fortress.
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Alice from Wonderland, Flynn Rider, Snow White, Doc, Quasimodo, Aladdin and Jasmine, and Professor Doofenshmirtz… all dead.
But there were some heroes who survived and took that enchanted boat from the Starless Sea and passed through a portal to the unknown. I took those remaining seven characters, advanced them each to 1st level and waited patiently to continue their tale…
Running a bunch of 0-level characters can be a lot of tun, but once a character reaches 1st level they require quite a bit more attention. For that reason, I wanted to limit the number of characters each player had in front of them to one. This was a welcome change to my kiddos. Carrie stated that this was "more like a 'regular' role-playing game."
I thought that was a funny comment!
I didn't want to ditch the characters from the last two sessions obviously, so I announced to my family prior to the game that we would be using Character Trees should this game continue as a full campaign. Character Trees are a concept from TSR's Dark Sun campaign setting. Each player would have a set number of characters and could change characters any time that it became logical in the story. For Disney Crawl Classics campaign I imposed the following rules:
- Each player can have up to three characters on their character tree.
- Each character has the same number of experience points (I'd do this differently with "grown up" players, but for my kiddos this worked.)
- Players can acquire new characters as they meet NPC's during the course of the campaign.
As to the rest of the player characters, here is who the players chose for this session:
Dark Mickey the Wizard (Jen)
- Str 10, Agi 10, Sta 13, Per 9, Int 18, Luc 7
- AC 10, HP 10
- Occupation: Wizard's Apprentice
Phineas the Thief (Cooper)
- Str 8, Agi 13, Sta 10, Per 13, Int 12, Luc 12
- AC 12, HP 7
- Occupation: Indentured Servant
Rapunzel the Cleric (Evie)
- Str 10, Agi 13, Sta 10, Per 14, Int 12, Luc 13
- AC 16, HP 8
- Occupation: Healer
Merida the Warrior (Carrie)
- Str 11, Agi 14, Sta 12, Per 5, Int 9, Luc 9
- AC 16, HP 16
- Occupation: Hunter
Following their flight from the Starless Sea, the survivors of Emperor Charlemagne's expedition to the Fallen Fortress of Chaos found themselves floating through a portal into the unknown. While escaping the subterranean ziggurat, the team grabbed lots of useful gear and loot, and made sure to equip whatever they could. The seven survivors were no longer simple commoners…
… they were now heroes!
During their adventure four of the characters found hidden power within themselves, and unlocked their true potential. Merida led the team as a sharp-eyed Warrior. Rapunzel joined forces with a mysterious deity of nature to become a Cleric. Phineas' chaotic tendencies were a perfect fit for his new Thief abilities. Finally, Dark Mickey would make his master Yen Sid proud by becoming a Wizard.
The boat was moving slowly through an underground pool for several minutes, but then it started to fall down a seemingly endless hole. The team couldn't just hold onto the boat and do nothing, however, as a swarm of deadly bats followed the boat down the hole, biting and tearing at everyone's flesh. Phineas wasn't about to get eaten by bats, and the thief grabbed his crossbow and let loose several quarrels. Soon, bat-kabobs fell to the deck! Rapunzel tried to heal some of the wounds caused to the party but failed in petitioning the neutral gods of nature to hear her plight.
Worst. Cleric. Ever!
At least Dark Mickey had a sleep spell ready to go. Summoning the negative energies within himself, the mouse beckoned each of the bats to fall to the deck and take a nap. Luckily the bats listened. Once on the deck, Phineas and Merida lobbed them over the side of the boat.
That's when the boat struck ground!
Using his glowing skull, Dark Mickey shed some light on the small chamber that was at the bottom of the deep hole. The cave was barely large enough to fit the wrecked boat. The only noticeable feature in the room was a small pool to the north. Merida tossed a skewered bat-kabob into the pool and the corpse seemed to sink fairly far. Exploring more closely Merida believed the pool to lead to another chamber potentially, but would need some light to be sure.
Between the four adventurers, the only light source was Dark Mickey's glowing skull. Dark Mickey offered to let Merida or Rapunzel hold the skull but everyone refused…
… no one trusted Dark Mickey!
"Fine, I'll go… ha ha," Dark MIckey exclaimed as he jumped into the pool. The mouse wizard swam about thirty feet before surfacing in a much larger chamber.
The chamber was over a hundred feet in diameter and contained a massive underwater lake surrounded by a stoney beach. A strange wasp-shaped craft floated in the center of the lake, crewed by slowly moving creatures. The glowing skull couldn't reach far enough to illuminate the craft's deck, but it did allow Dark Mickey to notice another figure on the beach to the east.
Relaying this information back to the rest of the team, Rapunzel, Phineas, and Merida all swam through the underwater passage. The figure on the beach hadn't noticed the heroes yet, as it's back was turned. Phineas took this opportunity to sneak up and approach the figure. When the thief got close enough, he made his presence known, only to be greeted by a jovial Lizardman Mercenary.
The Lizardman said that his name was "Cap'n Zack" and that he was the commander of the Slack Squirrel, the Wasp Ship that now floated in the center of the pool. Cap'n Zack's tale of woe began deep in the asteroid belt, millions of miles away from Earth. The Slack Squirrel had left its home asteroid port of Bral and discovered a beautiful frozen statue encased in ice during a treasure hunting excursion. But when Cap'n Zack and his crew thawed the statue they realized that the dragon "statue" was not a statue at all...
… it was the evil dragon prince Voracious Steve!
Voracious Steve took control of the Slack Squirrel and forced Cap'n Zack's crew to consume cursed slushies, turning each of the lizard men into mindless zombies. Cap'n Zack was bound and stuffed in a barrel for later consumption. Unable to control the spelljamming craft without a helmsman, however, the Slack Squirrel crashed here on Earth and Cap'n Zack escaped. Cap'n Zack was alive, but he'd need to find a way to climb out of the cave on his own, as he was not powerful enough to face the dragon.
But with the party's help, perhaps they could defeat Voracious Steve together and take back the Slack Squirrel!
Merida noted to Cap'n Zack that Phineas was a master of disguise. Perhaps the party's thief could sneak aboard the craft pretending to be a lizard man zombie. Once he was close enough to the dragon, he could strike a deadly blow! The rest of the party was okay with this plan, and using some fish heads and bodies pulled from the pool, Phineas made himself up to look like a zombie lizard man.
The thief boarded the Slack Squirrel at the front of the vessel, followed closely behind by the rest of the team. Carefully Phineas moved into the center of the vessel, down a long corridor towards the ship's cargo hold. There, a small dragon, about the size of a house cat, commanded four zombies to repair the damaged vessel.
"Work, work, my evil minions of death!" Voracious Steve squeaked. "This vessel must fly again so that we can conquer this world!"
Voracious Steve then pointed at Phineas. "You, zombie minion, come here and help with these boxes!"
The disguise worked! Phineas inched closer to the tiny dragon and prepared to strike. Just thirty feet away the rest of the team prepared themselves. Merida pulled out a battle axe and Rapunzel clutched her holy symbol. Dark Mickey was busy cutting away a piece of his ear to cast a terrible spell: Chill Touch. This spell required the Wizard to Spellburn, sacrificing mouse flesh for more power. The notch from his ear would guarantee a truly terrible spell-effect.
Once everyone was ready they gave Phineas the signal to attack. The thief backstabbed the dragon, nearly slaying the creature in a single hit.
"Treachery most foul!" squeaked Voracious Steve. He commanded the remaining zombies to charge the four adventurers, but was then struck by Rapunzel's paralysis spell.
While Phineas and Merida were able to stand toe-to-toe with the zombies, and Dark Mickey remained at the back of the team, Rapunzel had a really hard time getting the strange nature deities to listen to her prayers a second time. Her attempt to paralyze her zombie assailant failed, so much so that she gained the disapproval of the gods. But Rapunzel's heavy armor protected her from the zombie claws long enough to "turn-undead" and force two of the creatures to flee to the back of the room.
|We used poker chips to mark penalties such as disapproval. Evie was not pleased.|
Merida's axe took down one of the beasts, and Phineas' sword another but not before both were bitten by the zombies. The lizard man teeth broke off when they struck flesh, causing severe pain and limiting the heroes' ability to fight effectively. By the time Merida pushed her way past the last decapitated zombie the battle was over.
Dark Mickey just finished using his Chill Touch spell to completely drain the life from Voracious Steve!
Cap'n Zack boarded his beloved vessel and shook the hands of all the team. The battle was won, and without Voracious Steve, the rest of the zombies collapsed.
"Are you ready to fly?" Cap'n Zack asked the party. Everyone nodded, and the Lizardman led Dark Mickey to a strange golden chair.
"This is a Spelljamming Helm," Cap'n Zack stated. "Simply sit in this chair and we can take off."
Dark Mickey did as he was asked, and soon the Slack Squirrel was flying! It flew up out of the deep cave and far above the forests of Charlemagne's Empire. Higher and higher the craft flew, and Dark Mickey was ready to leave the Earth and head for the stars…
… and then a stream of crossbow bolts flew past the Slack Squirrel as a warning shot.
A pair of magic-powered, gnome-crewed biplanes appeared on either side of the Wasp-ship. The lead pilot pointed to the party's vessel and then pointed to something off in the distance. It was a strange floating island hovering in the sky. The pilot wanted the Slack Squirrel to land on the island's runway.
Dark Mickey complied, and flew towards the floating island, with a biplane on either side. Merida noted that each of the gnomes had their names stenciled into the sides of their craft.
One called himself "Maverick" and the other "Goose."
Behind the Scenes
I wanted to changes things up for this next series of adventures. At Gen Con 2015 I picked up my first 'zine: Crawljammer #1 by +Tim Callahan. I was a raging Spelljammer fan back in the 1990's, and after losing most of my books during college, spent the last few years recollecting all those beautiful space-fantasy books. The idea of magical spaceships flying through the phlogiston always gave me a big smile, and Crawljammer's theme and setting definitely hit all my nostalgia nerves.
Let me just quote Tim from the back of this book:
"If Thundarr the Barbarian and Iron Maiden had a baby and that baby were an RPG zine inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs using DCC rules, that baby might be called Crawljammer and it would be destined to split the moon in half with its wail of glory."
Crawljammer #1 is 32 pages of pure awesome!
Rules for running DCC in space, some sample ships, a basic cosmology of the Solar System, stats for Lizardman Mercenary characters (like Cap'n Zack!), and a full adventure titled Cry Freedom and Let Slip the Bat-Men of Venus. I was fortunate enough to buy the zine when Tim was working at the Goodman Games booth at Gen Con, so he signed it for me.
From what I've read so far (just #1, although I need to get my hands on the rest!) Crawljammer works great for anyone looking for Planetary Romance adventures. So whether you are a Space 1889 fan, an old Spelljammer veteran, or someone like me who believes that John Carter is a seriously underrated movie, Crawljammer is right for you.
Designing the Adventure
When I used to run Spelljammer, my favorite part of each campaign was the acquisition of the spacecraft. I relished that moment when the fantasy characters first realized that they had in their possession the means to go "anywhere." There are several published adventures I'd like to run in space, but first we'd need to introduce the Slack Squirrel.
That meant I needed to write the adventure myself.
Fortunately, writing a DCCRPG adventure on the fly is pretty easy. I had a basic plot written out in just a few minutes that looked something like this:
- Cap'n Zack is stranded in a deep pit.
- His ship was captured by a dragon after discovering it "frozen" in space.
That's probably more than my initial notes actually.
Since this session was going to be a "bedtime adventure", something that my wife and I put together in the last remaining hour before the end of the kids' day, I didn't need too much filler. Our typical bedtime adventure lasts between 60 to 90 minutes, so we've got to keep things moving. I like to start these sessions off with some action to grab my five-year-old son's attention, and then coast into some planning and problem solving before ending the night with a climactic sequence.
Turning Cap'n Zack into a Lizardman was my first decision. I wanted to use some of the rules from Crawljammer #1, and this gave the players a new character class to try. My wife and Evie could both use a new character on their tree, and this gave them the chance. I didn't give Cap'n Zack any stats before the game, since I didn't plan on him entering combat, but once we were finished with the session I let Evie roll him up:
Cap'n Zack the Lizardman Mercenary (Evie)
- Str 12, Agi 13, Sta 8, Per 6, Int 10, Luc 13
- AC 16, HP 10
- Occupation: Knave
The bat swarm encounter during the ship's long fall was unchanged from the statistics found in the book, but I did tinker with the Zombie monster entry.
Lizardman Zombies: As regular zombie but with the following change
- Brittle Bite: Lizardman Zombie teeth detach after a bite attack, causing severe discomfort in the target. Anyone bitten by a Lizardman Zombie suffer a -2 to all actions until they spend one action removing the painful teeth.
Finally I have to again (as always) give a big shout out to Purple Sorcerer Games! All dragons in Dungeon Crawl Classics are unique, and I wanted Voracious Steve to be something special. But working under time constraints required me to put him together quickly. That's where Purple Sorcerer's The Crawler's Companion saved the day! I entered a "Dragon, Cat-Sized" into the generator and out came Steve:
Voracious Steve: Cat-sized bronze dragon; Init +1; Atk claw +2 melee (1d8); AC 11; HD 1d12 (12 hp); MV 30; Act attacks 1d20, spells 1d20; SP see below; SV Fort +1, Ref +1, Will +1; Al C.
Obviously our next adventure will take place on the floating Gnome city of Serraine, as featured in the old D&D Creature Crucible Top Ballista. But from there, now that the party has a Spelljamming ship, the sky's the limit! If I can keep the kids interested perhaps we'll visit Bral, or Venus…
… or a certain Purple Planet…