Sunday, September 7, 2014

Dungeon Crawl Classics - The Portal Under the Stars - Playtest

That 70's Game

If you read my previous post about Dungeon Crawl Classics, you will know that I've been pretty stoked recently about giving this game a shot.  My wife, who loves theme parties, thought the idea of a game designed to invoke the feel of the early era of role-playing would be a perfect vehicle to throw a big kid-free, alcohol laden, RPG-filled, 70's party.  We would use Dungeon Crawl Classics as the game of choice, grab some great friends (new and old!) and enjoy a great romp through an old-school dungeon.  Great idea, Jen!  But despite the similarities between DCC and other OSR or OD&D retro-clones, I really wanted to give this game a test drive first before creating an event and inviting a ton of people.  

My wife was already onboard for this playtest, and my good friend and fellow 2014 Gen-Con'er Frank was willing to give the game a shot, but I would still need a couple more play testers.  So we drafted Carrie and Evie, my two oldest kids, who were both chomping at the bit to play again (they had played The Strange earlier in the day).  Jen and I had some doubts that the two could stay up as late as they would need to finish the adventure, but both girls assured us that they were good-to-go.  

To speed things along, since we were playing later in the evening, I made a stack of 0-Level characters using the fabulous (and free!) party generator from Purple Sorcerer Games.  I ended up printing twenty-four of the poor, low-hit point bastards equipped with pitchforks, sheep, cheese dip and other amazing items, and randomly dealt each player four "character cards." 

Our Party of Reaving Minions

Evie (my 8 year old daughter)

  • Casey Rybak - Cutpurse
  • Cutie - Mendicant
  • Princess Bubblegum - Elven Forester
  • Bunnyface - Dwarven Blacksmith

Jen (my wife)

  • Zoltar - Fortune Teller
  • Philippe de la Punxe - Woodcutter
  • Ivy Stank - Dwarven Mushroom Farmer
  • Venus - Merchant

Frank (friend and avid 1st Edition AD&D fan)

  • Billibus the Grey - Tax Collector
  • Bo - Trapper
  • Annie - Orphan
  • Chuck - Potato Farmer

Carrie (my 10 year old daughter)

  • Carty McGee - Halfling Trader
  • Iron ManU - Halfling Moneylender
  • Cow Man Jr. - Dwarven Herder
  • Steven Marteb - Gravedigger

The Portal Under the Stars

As a note for those of you not familiar with Dungeon Crawl Classics, "The Portal Under the Stars" is an introductory adventure in the back of the core book.  

Our glory-seeking and fool-hardy adventurers were assembled in the middle of the night outside of a stone portal adjacent to a large hill.  Only a few hours outside of the town of Zerlina's Rest, in the land of Tannryth, the band of adventurers had heard many tales about this stone structure through one of their fellow party members.  Old Man Roberts, owner of a local estate and client of Cow Man Jr, told the young dwarven pig herder that every fifty years, when an enchanted star rises in the east, this stone portal allows access to great treasure.  Sure enough, once the star appeared in the sky, there was a glow amidst the stones, and a path appeared before the team of sixteen explorers and two pack animals.  

The first hallway seemed simple enough.  Bo the trapper commanded Chuck the potato farmer to illuminate the corridor with his lantern.  At the far end of the hallway was a sturdy wooden door.  Bo rolled a rock down the hallway, and when it appeared free of traps, slowly stepped down the hall using a crowbar to tap on the stones ahead one by one.  At the door Princess Bubblegum moved forward and investigated the handle.  Noticing that there was indeed a locking mechanism, but that it was not engaged, the elven forester opened the door.  

The next room was small, only twenty by twenty-five feet, with another sturdy door opposite the entrance.  On the far wall from the entrance to the room there were four stone guard statues, two on either side of the door and each clutching a spear.  The statues were especially intimidating because they were holding the spears in a "throwing position."  Chuck had the perfect piece of equipment for this room: a sheep!  So the potato farmer shoved his beloved sheep into the room.  The animal moved ten feet in, turned to look back at it's master, and was skewered by a spear thrown by one of the guard statues.  Everyone in the party jumped!  There were three statues left with spears, and it was clear that they were good shots.  Philippe tossed a hunk of wood into the room, but that didn't work as a decoy for any more spears.  Princess Bubblegum scanned the hallway looking for a secret door, hoping for an alternate way around this Guardian Hall.  No luck.  

Steven Martab, the party's gravedigger, was not afraid of the room.  Believing that the sheep died because it entered the middle of the room, Steven got on his belly and started to crawl around the edge of the room.  He made it pretty far too, about fifteen feet before one of the guards lobbed a spear at the gravedigger, impaling him.  It took only a moment for Steven to bleed out.  The whole party put it's heads together to think of some kind of plan.  Someone had to go in the room and risk getting hit by a spear, so the team drew lots.  It would be Princess Bubblegum, the elf, who would enter the room.  While she was readying herself with Jharune, the elven deity, Princess Bubblegum's woodcutter friend Philippe used his grappling hook and some rope to drag the sheep back to the party.  

With grim determination on her face, Princess Bubblegum lifted the sheep corpse in front of herself as a shield and put a sack on her head so that she couldn't see the incoming spears.  Quickly the elf ran across the room, and managed to outrun a third spear!  Once on the far side of the room, Princess Bubblegum dropped the sheep and carefully snuck up next to the last armed statue, removing it's spear.  The rest of the party entered the room behind the elf.  Emboldened by her actions, Princess Bubblegum opted to investigate the next room.  Opening the door, the elf saw a much larger room with a door on each wall (four in total), and a large statue of a bearded spell caster in the center.  The statue was pointing towards the door.  Ivy Stank, mushroom farmer, moved into the room and decided to try and engage the statue.  She took a spear and fashioned an oil-soaked spearhead on the end.  Lighting the spearhead, Ivy threw it at the statue, but there was no effect.  The statue did seem to track the spear with it's finger as it weapon sailed through the air, but nothing happened.  Chuck then hoisted the dead sheep and threw it into the center of the room.  Again the statue tracked the flying corpse, but nothing else happened.  Princess Bubblegum figured the statue was not much of a threat so she entered the room to retrieve the dead sheep.  All around the edges of the room there were scorch marks as if previous explorers tried to set up campfires.  Princess Bubblegum decided to try the door to the east, but as soon as she came within five feet of the portal a cone of fire erupted from the statues finger.  The rest of the party watched in horror as Princess Bubblegum was incinerated right before their eyes.  

Realizing that the statue may have been guarding the doors, Bo threw Annie's rag doll towards one of the doors, and sure enough the statue lit it on fire.  But Zoltar had a plan deal with this fiery statue.  Grabbing Cutie's jar of congealed cheese dip the fortune teller approached the statue cautiously.  The statue twisted towards Zoltar but didn't react, since the fortune teller was careful not to approach a door.  Once at the statue, Zoltar took all of the sticky cheese dip and shoved it down the finger-hole of the statue.  Zoltar then returned to the door the party had used to enter the room and grabbed some of Philippe's wood.  The fortune teller threw the log towards one of the doors, but when the statue went to incinerate the object, the cheese-induced backup caused the arm to simply melt.  Success!  

The party moved to the far side of the room and opened the northern door.  There was a very large chamber, with a long pool in the middle and six slowly moving crystal forms lurking about the room.  Choosing to try one of the other doors before engaging the six crystal creatures, the party went back into the fire statue room and opened the door to the west.  After a short twenty foot hallway there was an entrance to the south, and at the center of a twenty by twenty foot room was a throne.  From behind the throne a great serpent appeared, an enormous snake with a horn coming out of it's head.  The snake announced itself as Ssisssuraaaaggg the Demon, and immediately launched itself into an attack!

Cutie the mendicant and Casey Ryback the cutpurse tried to reason with the snake as it darted towards the party but it was no use.  Cutie ended up pulling her club and swinging at the creature, but missed.  Zoltar also missed with a thrown dagger, Philippe missed with his axe, and Ivy missed with her shovel.  Poor Ivy Stank, the dwarven mushroom farmer, tried to step away from the serpent so that other party members could attack when the creature coiled up and bit deep into her leg.  The dwarf was dead within seconds!  The next line of adventurers were much more effective.  Bo struck home with his spear, Chuck stabbed the creature with his pitchfork, and Annie's club bashed Ssisssuraaaaggg's ribs, breaking several.  Ssisssuraaaaggg wasn't able to land any more bites on the party, and eventually Venus sunk her dagger into the head of the snake, killing it.  The demon turned into ash, with just it's horn remaining which Cutie picked up, hoping that it could help her if she would decide to become a great and powerful wizard.  

The throne room didn't have any other treasure, but there were hieroglyphics all along the walls telling a story about how visitors from the sky originally came to the structure, and made contact with a human.  There was a promise of the astral creatures returning some day, but it was no time soon, so the party left the throne room and took the easternmost door from the central fire statue chamber.  In this burial room were seven mounds of bones, carefully resting in seven alcoves.  Bo quickly closed the door and told the party that they were heading north.  

Back into the room with the pool, the party saw that there was a doorway on the opposing side of the long room.  Encircling the pool were the crystal creatures, resembling slow moving constructs, and pillars.  Venus the merchant felt that the fastest way to the opposing exit was to swim through the pool.  Jumping into the water, Venus moved to the other side of the pool and noticed that none of the crystal forms came near her.  The rest of the team jumped in after the merchant and made their way to the far end of the room.  Once exiting, it seemed that the only person the crystal constructs were interested in was Chuck, most likely since he had the lantern.  Before they could arrive, however, the team shuffled through the doorway and into a room with a magical gate.  The team moved through the gate with great expedience, hoping to bypass a fight with the crystal golems.

The next chamber seemed to be another hallway, but with maps on the floor and clay figures all about.  Nothing seemed to move, and the figures hadn't been moved in a long, long time.  After investigating the room, there was one door left at the end of the hall.  When the party opened this door they were struck by both awe and terror.  A massive room, fifty feet across and seventy feet long lay before the adventurers.  A forty by sixty foot pit was at the center of the room, eight feet deep.  In this pit were seventy clay soldiers armed with spears.  At the end of the hall was a large throne holding the weight of a massive clay warlord.  Atop the throne was a great glowing orb.  But as soon as the party started to enter the room all of the clay forms began to animate.  Annie the orphan quickly ran back and started to stomp the clay figures, but this did nothing.  A few of the characters took shots at the glowing orb, but that also did nothing.

Iron Man U and Carty McGee tried to distract the statues, now trying to leave the pit, by swinging a great ten-foot pole at them and making a ton of noise.  While this was going on, Billibus, Chuck, Venus, Philippe, Zoltar, and Casey Rybak ran down the hallway towards the warlord.  Since the clay soldiers were attacking with spears from inside the pit, Philippe, and Chuck, were both struck and killed by the warlord's minions.  The remaining adventurers slashed, stabbed, and bashed the warlord, who would in turn claim the lives of both Venus and Zoltar.  Cow Man Jr. and Annie continued to look for clues in the map room, but still couldn't find anything.  Cow Man Jr. peered outside of the room only to watch clay statues pierce and kill both Iron ManU and Carty McGee.  Fearing that the statues were about to leave the pit, suddenly Cow Man Jr. watched as all of the constructs fell to the ground.  Casey Ryback hit the warlord in the head with a dagger, destroying the construct general!  

The remaining eight adventurers rolled the rest of their dead into the pit with the clay statues, and entered the secret room behind the warlord's throne to claim their treasure.  


Carrie was thrilled that Cow Man Jr. survived

Notable Quotes

"How big is this thing of cheese dip" - Jen in planning mode

"Is death contagious?" - Evie is still a bit new to old-school gaming.

"Is it naked?  Is it peeing?" - Evie wanted to know exactly what the statue looked like.

"I think we should send the sow in." - Frank really wanted to use Cow Man Jr.'s pig as bait.  

"I bet that cheese dip is pretty well congealed." - Jen finished her planning.

"Don't touch my pig!" - Carrie wasn't about to let go of her prized sow.  

"You know, Cutie survived a plague, don't let a snake eat you!" - Jen screams at her daughter, who was trying to parley with Ssisssuraaaaggg the Immortal Demon-Snake

In Memoriam 

  • Steven Martab - Grave Digger - Spear thrown by a statue
  • Princess Bubble-Gum - Elven Forester - Incinerated by a fire statue
  • Ivy Stank - Dwarven Mushroom Farmer - Bit by a snake
  • Phillipe de la Punxe - Woodcutter - Stabbed by a statue
  • Chuck - Potato Farmer - Stabbed by a statue
  • Iron ManU - Halfling Moneylender - Stabbed by a statue
  • Carty McGee - Halfling Trader - Stabbed by a statue
  • Zoltar - Fortune Teller - Stabbed by a statue  

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