The Monster Squad Returns
A little over four years ago I wrapped up an epic, three-and-a-half year long D&D 4th Edition campaign. The players included my brother Tom, two friends from middle-school and high-school (Randy and Chris, aka "Cone"), and Randy's friend Tym. When we started the campaign, a spinoff of a previous D&D 3.5 Ravenloft game, my brother wanted to give Planescape another try, however I was still interested in Ravenloft.
So I decided to split the difference.
Our Ravenscape campaign began with four player characters getting summoned to the Domain of Dread to do the bidding of a foul summoner. Each player character had a monstrous twist:
- Obsidian, the Shifter Druid, played by Randy
- Wonk Urhugar, the Dhampir Goliath Fighter, played by Tom
- Guhlmorg, the Goblin Sorcerer, played by Tym
- Gravesend, the Tiefling Bard, played by Cone
We eventually started calling this foursome the Monster Squad.
Meeting weekly, most of our initial adventures centered around evading vicious monster hunters, clandestinely slaying foul fiends, and befriending the more kindly monsters who just wanted to live in peace. As the campaign progressed we moved on to Planescape, with the PC's getting involved in Sigil faction politics, and operating a bar and brothel called the Trunk of Junk (formerly the Tenth Pit Alehouse). Epic tier brought interaction with deities, the inclusion of my friend Frank, who played the Lady of Pain as a Deva Ardent, the death of Strahd von Zarovich, and all the ramifications of dealing with Gravesend's daddy: Orcus.
The campaign ended with the ringed city of Sigil crashing off the coast of Dementlieu, the Monster Squad's battle against the largest possible dragon while in their Elven Man-O-War Spelljamming ship (we really did mash up everything), and the final battle against Orcus himself. Sigil was returned to it's former place atop the spire, and the cosmology of Planescape returned to the original, AD&D 2nd Edition Wheel, rather than the weird 4th Edition version.
When the campaign was over, our crew disbanded and we went our separate ways. Over the years I've had the chance to play with a couple of these guys during one-shots and mini-campaigns, but never as a group.
So imagine my glee when I suckered the entire crew of Monster Squad alumni back to the virtual tabletop again last night! With a stack of Dungeon Crawl Classics swag, and a copy of Sour Spring Hollow by +Michael Curtis, I was ready to reintroduce this crew to glory, riches, and certain death.
Reunion World Tour!
As I concocted the plan to get my Ravenscape players back to the table, I figured that the most exciting way to add spark to what could end up being a one-shot,would be to include backstory from our last campaign. Since the best way to truly experience the visceral sensations of Dungeon Crawl Classics for the first time is through the 0-level funnel concept, I needed to somehow connect those epic, 30th level 4E characters to a bunch of ragtag, know-nothing, commoners.
First I advanced the story five-hundred years from our previous campaign. Sigil now resembles a more Victorian society, while the Outlands surrounding the great spire, as well as the planes themselves, have a bit of a "Wild West" feel. I pulled this idea from way back when I wanted to blend Planescape and Deadlands for a Plane Justice concept. The Trunk of Junk Bar/Brothel/Wedding Chapel was still owned by two members of the original Monster Squad, and the famous establishment had an entire cast of interesting employees working hard to keep the joint looking fine and fit.
For our 0-level funnel our PC's would be those employees.
Now that I had a jumping-off point, I needed an adventure.
I've had my eyes on The Chained Coffin for quite some time, ever since the boxed set arrived as part of my Kickstarter reward for the DCCRPG 4th printing. I love the Appalachian feel of the Shudder Mountains, and the touches of American folklore and mythology. My maternal grandmother was from West Virginia, and we used to vacation as a family in Hungry Mother State Park near Marion, Virginia almost every year as kids. The Appalachian Mountains are connected to my own personal history, so the images and scenes contained within this beautiful box really strike home.
Not content with just the main box, and even though it could take me months, if not years to play through all the added content that comes with the main Chained Coffin box and the two additional modules (Chained Coffin DLC), I had to have it all... all things Shudder Mountains!
But where to place the Shudder Mountains in the Planescape cosmology...
Looking at one of the Planescape maps, I saw some mountains in the Outlands that rested right up along the edge of the Great Spire. What a perfect image! Beautiful, rolling, lush hills sidling right up next to an infinitely tall spire. The starter adventure, Sour Spring Hollow, even opens with a teleportation to a haunted farm, so there was very little customization necessary to get this module to fit a Planescape campaign...
... or should I say Shudderscape?
I should note that immediately after our adventure last night several of the players asked about grabbing their own weird dice. With their surviving characters advancing to 1st level we are planning a follow-up session next month, perhaps exploring another section of these twisted hills. But whatever we do, and whatever we play, I'll be content knowing that the band is back together.
The Employees of the Trunk of Junk:
- Cone's 0-levels
- Ren "Choppy" Swilligen the Woodcutter
- Jer "Dirtbane" Kane the Gravedigger
- Tarris "Goes to Blowin" Midtower the Elven Glassblower
- Gran "Too Tan" Topknot the Halfling Dyer
- Randy's 0-levels
- Ronda Wolf the Halfling Dyer
- Slim Whitman the Outlaw
- Ryuh Haw the Herder
- Buz Beevis the Herder
- Tink the Robot Merchant
- Tom's 0-levels
- Cockswain McCrane the Halfing Mariner
- Puck Pace the Costermonger
- Bilbo Swaggins the Confidence Artist
- Tutone Malone the Guild Begger
- Tym's 0-levels
- Feddi the Elven Glassblower
- Grendy the Herbalist
- Nemo the Minstrel
- Adeelsa the Halfling Trader
Sour Spring Hollow
Sixteen employees are hard at work in the infamous "Trunk of Junk" Bar/Brothel/Wedding Chapel in the great planar city of Sigil. A local spirit-delivery-bauriar (ram-centaur) named Sanderson arrives with a new tasty drink called "Sour Springs Spirits." The terrible beverage knocks all the tasters out, and plane-shifts them to a part of the Outlands at the base of the Great Spire known as the Shudder Mountains.
The employees quickly realize that they are on haunted ground, as they are beset upon by cackling and crowing spirits that can turn blood to dust, and flesh to husk. The Sigilian employees figure out some relatively interesting ways to divert some of the spirits (prayers to Smeesh - God of Lint and Cheese, and really bad jokes), but ultimately suffer terrible losses as the entities are not affected by regular weapons. The wayward tavern-workers discover than anyone killed by the spirits is transformed into a corn-husk doll.
The spirits eventually leave, but return time and time again, each time claiming more lives.
A well to the east reveals little but a shambling mound that continues to moan the word "Hobb."
Four buildings stand on the haunted ground. One by one the players search, finding useful gear and equipment. A broken stick of hawthorn seems particularly interesting, and it proves to be a useful weapon against the spirits... especially when combined with a hammer-head. There's also a building with a magic, flapping book full of spells. The last building has a child's drawings depicting a woman with a holy symbol coming to some houses, getting her walking stick broken, and her body crucified.
One of the buildings turns out to be a Gardinel, a living building that can digest visitors (claiming two employees), but otherwise these investigations lead to some great loot.
Grendy tries burying one of the dolls in the nearby graveyard but disturbs three Earth Hounds that hill him. Ronda Wolf lures the Earth Hounds to the Gardinel with a crushed hamster, but the living house uses its great tongue to lash out and drag the halfling inside. Fortunate they hounds follow.
Eventually the party discovers the body of a priest of the Sovereign crucified on a scarecrow at the top of the corn field. Investigating the corpse, the employees notice that it is reaching out to the sky. They try a whole mess of ideas to interact with the corpse. They put some stuff in the corpse's hands. Nothing. Nemo calls upon the Sovereign for guidance, and is zapped by lightning, inducted into the priesthood instantly.
But that doesn't lift the curse.
Since they did not explore the well, the party goes back down and communicates with the bushy construct. They trade the mound a piece of hawthorn for an abandoned holy symbol of the Sovereign. Back to the scarecrow.
Once back at the scarecrow and priestess' body, the party places the holy symbol in the dead's outstretched hand. There is a great thunder clap in the sky, and a ring of positive energy flows over the farm, destroying the remaining spirits. A few cackling spirits attempt a final attack on the party of Trunk of Junk employees, but they are successfully repelled.
- Sour Spring Hollow is a piece of cake to place, and offers a quick but smart adventure for a starting group of 0-level characters. We made it through the adventure in about three hours of total gameplay.
- At the beginning of our session I gave all of the players a bit of backstory as to what had happened to their previous D&D 4th Edition characters:
- Gravesend ascended to godhood at the end of our last campaign, and now rules over the land of the dead as the Raven King. His son Kell, daughter of a drow general who led a demon army, is now a prominent politician and businessperson in Sigil. He's also kind of a dick.
- Obsidian the Shifter Druid is still alive, still an owner of the Trunk of Junk, but has been missing for quite some time (... hmmm... future quest?)
- Guhlmorg the Goblin Sorcerer, known by many as the Chronomancer, spent so much time bending and warping time that he exists a few moments ahead of existence. This means that when he's bartending you can only remember him if you are looking right at him (obligatory Doctor Who reference.)
- Wonk Urhugar the Dhampir Goliath Fighter died centuries ago, but his great-great-great grandson Krad Urhugar acts as bar manager for the Trunk of Junk.
- To showcase the wild and crazy, do-it-yourself feel of DCCRPG, I started bending the rules early. I asked each player to talk about backstory from the previous campaign. Depending on the stories they told, and how they were displayed as art around the walls of the Bar/Brothel/Wedding Chapel, I dished out some bonuses to attributes and Luck. One PC, Randy's character Slim Whitman, died during this sequence after drinking something called Guhlmorg's Prolapse in Time. He should've just had a beer.
- In the original adventure the Deadfall in the well doesn't really say anything, but I thought that moaning "Hobb" like the name "Hodor" would come off as super creepy. It also gave me the opportunity to do a creepy voice in the mic repeatedly, as if doing the bird calls prior to the Hobb Spirit arrivals wasn't creepy enough.
- Cthulhu's Suspenders of Swag: I needed to throw a magic item into the game, and so many of the descriptions of cabin contents included clothing. I made one of the pieces of clothing be a set of overalls with way too many suspenders. Wearing these grant +5 to Personality rolls when talking with someone else wearing suspenders.
"I'm having trouble with the mathematics." - It's been a long time since Randy's rolled dice.
"This is like the hardest choose your own adventure book I've ever played." - Cone wasn't far from the truth.
"You said when someone dies, you can get their stuff, but that doesn't count when they get eaten by a house... right?" - Randy longed for all the sweet swag that Tink the Robot Merchant was carrying.
- Jer "Dirtbane" Kane the Gravedigger - Turned to a husk by a Hobb Phantom
- Tarris "Goes to Blowin" Midtower the Elven Glassblower - Turned to a husk by a Hobb Phantom
- Gran "Too Tan" Topknot the Halfling Dyer - Turned to a husk by a Hobb Phantom
- Ronda Wolf the Halfling Dyer - Grabbed by the Gardinel (living house)
- Slim Whitman the Outlaw - Violent intestinal prolapse after drinking the "Prolapse in Time" beverage at the bar
- Ryuh Haw the Herder - Turned to a husk by a Hobb Phantom
- Tink the Robot Merchant - Crushed by the Gardinel's stomach
- Cockswain McCrane the Halfing Mariner - Digested in the Gardinel
- Puck Pace the Costermonger - Turned to a husk by a Hobb Phantom
- Bilbo Swaggins the Confidence Artist - Turned to a husk by a Hobb Phantom
- Feddi the Elven Glassblower - Turned to a husk by a Hobb Phantom
- Grendy the Herbalist - Arm torn off by Earth Hound while digging in a grave
- Adeelsa the Halfling Trader - Turned to a husk by a Hobb Phantom