Friday, 12 October 2012

Speaking of James Raggi......

 ........Last night I ran the first part of Death Frost Doom for my group of home players.  Now, if you haven't played Death Frost Doom, and you think you might want to play Death Frost Doom, or you happen to be one of my players, you might want to skip this post.  There will be spoilers.

Still here?  Okay.

As you are probably aware by now, my game of choice these days is Dungeon Crawl Classics (and if not, welcome to my blog, newcomer!), so I had to adapt Death Frost Doom to that system.  James Raggi wrote an easy module to adapt, and DCC is an easy system to adapt for, so that took next to no time.  Mostly, it was coming up with appropriate save DCs.  Whether or not a save should be Fort, Will, or Reflexes is generally pretty simple.

Death Frost Doom centres around the exploration of an abandoned graveyard, cabin, and temple of the cultists of Duvan'Ku.  It is a module where the GM gets the chance to warn the players repeatedly that this is where BAD THINGS ARE, and then gives the players more than sufficient rope to hang themselves.  It is an excellent module, and one that fits the vibe of certain Appendix N authors very well.

I began this campaign arc with Harley Stroh's Sailors on the Starless Sea, about which I cannot say enough good things.  Because one of the players wanted more information about a magic item the party had found in that module, I lured them to seek the witch in Hirot, and ran Doom of the Savage Kings.  I staged this adventure as a "favour" done for the witch in exchange for information about the magic item.  She wanted a lock of her daughter's golden hair returned from the vault of Duvan'Ku so that she could lay the unfortunate girl to rest.

As a result, I was able to have the witch advise that the characters touch nothing else, disturb nothing else, and above all not sleep on the grounds.  "They were bad people there.  It is a bad place."

The module gives the same job to the thoroughly disgusting and well-drawn Zeke Duncaster, who has been trying to lay the souls of those slain by the cult to rest for 40-50 years, and has succeeded in doing so for less than half.

Zeke is one of the best realized NPCs I've ever come across in an adventure module, and role-playing his character was a lot of fun.  Honestly, my only fear is that I didn't do the character justice!

The module has an excellent line for old Zeke that I was unable to use, because the party offered him no violence. But, at least, I was able to reinforce the witch's warnings, and use the "You're doomed!  You're all doomed!" line.

Eight hours up the mountain from Zeke's place, the group finds the graveyard and the cabin.  That the place is lifeless takes a while to sink in -- they end up retreating for four hours, and build a fire.  Because a few PCs didn't even have blankets, I called for a Luck check from them, and those who failed took hit point damage from their night's "rest" -- I was fully prepared to allow them to freeze to death.

Returning (carrying firewood), they arrived before dawn, to see the moon apparently trembling and the petrified trees seeming to move in the off light.  They decided to wait until sunrise.  One wizard had a dog, and one elf had a falcon, neither of which was willing to enter the area.  The dog (using my Golden Lion house rule, by this point a very loyal pet) actually threatens to attack his owner if dragged in.  They find some rocks to tie their pets to, and hope for the best.

It takes the players a while to note that, although Zeke had been carving the grave markers out of wood, everything in the graveyard is stone.  That can't be good.  Closer examination shows that the wood has petrified.  There is an eerie, otherworldly susurration droning across the graveyard, faint but piercing.

They briefly examine the well ("at least there's fresh water") and note the tracks leaving the back door (although they do not follow them).  In the front room, they note the weirdness of the chairs facing them, the clock changing its time when they are not looking (but not every time they are not looking!) and that the mirror does not reflect them all.  I believe that at least some of the players realized that the mirror's reflection trick was alignment-based.

They also briefly explored the harpsichord, but, being well admonished to leave things alone, they didn't explore much further than this.  But, then, what group of PCs was ever able to leave things alone for very long?

A note related to the Detect Evil spell in Dungeon Crawl Classics:  This is a potent spell, lasting a very long time, and it indicates anything that is inherently dangerous if cast well enough.  But, in Death Frost Doom, the entire area is inherently dangerous.  And I made certain to repeat this time and again.

The party decides to head down the trapdoor and explore the area beneath, following the witch's information that the lock of hair is in the shrine below the cabin.  They actually have little difficulty deciding who is going first, sending a dwarf on a rope because the dwarf has infravision.  With length to hold on top, and length to tie the dwarf on, the rope is not long enough, though, and everything down there is a uniform cold that appears black indeed to the dwarf.  Not deterred  the party ties two ropes together, and they are soon all in the area below.

They traverse James Raggi's effectively creepy entrance hall and take a long time to reach in the fanged maw of the door at the end, turn the key, and pass beyond.  Even determining that the door was not magical and had no moving parts (Find Traps) didn't make this an easy decision.  The room beyond was also creepy, and the party wasn't sure if it was some clue to use the left-handed double door to the next area, or that you would lose your left hand if you did.

(Several times during the session, the group had encountered writing that they could not read.  DCC uses random language acquisition, which results in PCs who can read a wide variety of interesting languages, and "Do you know what I can read?" came up more than once.  I simply smiled and didn't answer the question.  More on this later.)

The next room was the initial chapel, and here we would have the only three fatalities of the day.  Again, Detect Evil proved to be of great value, although the dwarf's ability to sniff out gold and gems indicated that the very areas they were warned most strongly about were the areas that they might find treasure.  What to do?  They did the wise thing, and left well enough alone, taking the northern door when they were unable to open the (strongly magical) eastern door.

The northern door led to living quarters of various types for the cult.  They found nothing there of real interest to them.  Although no one said a thing, yet, the absence of any sort of opposition was being noted.  Surely, things could not be this easy?  Having little else to do, they went back to the chapel and tried to figure out how to open the door.

Now the dwarf could smell gold in one of two basins half-filled with black water.  He stuck the tip of his sword in, and stirred around, feeling something like gravel moving within.  Eventually, he reached in and pulled out a gold locket and a handful of old teeth.  Within the locket was a picture of a golden-haired woman, but the painting had been damaged by the water.  They tried the other basin, and also found old teeth.  They considered smashing the basins, but ended up putting the teeth back.

Then they decided to get the treasure from the organ.  After examining it to figure out how to open it (which none of them could do), one of them decided to play it.  "What are the rest of you doing?" I asked.  One player said "Move away from it" but the rest just had their characters cover their ears, and the resultant yellow mold killed three of them.  On the bright side, they got the treasure, and they were able to use the dead elf's teeth to get through the eastern door.

They come across the first of the "air lock" (or vault) style bronze doors, and decide to strike north through another "air lock".  They discover the first of the massive crypts, which I carefully describe as a narrow passage 30' high and as far as the characters can see, with a burial niche roughly every 3' square.  I.e., the dead are stacked 10 high in a room that extends as far as the PCs can see, on either side.  If they had explored farther, found out how large the rooms are, found out how many rooms each burial vault contains, and realized that there was another level that was exactly the same....there are a lot of dead folk buried here.

They then discovered the room with an 18-volume History of Duvan'Ku and an eyepiece that allows a character to read the language.  I printed out slips of paper with everything written in the language of Duvan'Ku, and passed around the one reading, "The History of Duvan'Ku" to everyone who used the eyepiece, with a strict admonition that, while they could read it aloud if they desired, they could not pass the slip to anyone else.  The slip was always passed to me, and then passed to the next person.  Apart from trusting each other, there was no way to be certain that they were each getting the same slip.  This was very much intentional, and those who have read or played through the module know why.

Now, the earlier questions about languages hopefully made sense to everyone in the group, and the players all thought that the eyepiece was a neat magic item.  Again, those who have read or played through the module know why it was included!

That's where we left it for the evening.  The group felt (correctly) that they had gotten a lot done in comparison to other recent adventures (it took 4-5 sessions for them to work through Doom of the Savage Kings, meaning that Hirot lost a fair number of NPCs to the Hound while they worked out what to do).

Overall, I feel that I have a good group of players.  Although their performance was sub-par during Doom of the Savage Kings in terms of overall "player skill", they definitely had fun amid the frustration, ending the adventure with a spell duel, a one-on-one combat with the Jarl, and the general hilarity that ensues when players assume that the world exists to serve their character's desires/needs/whims.  By contrast, they really soared in Sailors on the Starless Sea, as well as several other DCC adventures used in different arcs of the overall campaign.

But that is how it is with players -- sometimes they truly amaze you with how clever they seem to be, and sometimes you are left wondering how they failed to realize the obvious.  From those times when I get to play, I have noted the same in my own performance.  Some days you are in tune with the game; some days you are stumbling around.

I am really looking forward to next week's game (we play Thursdays).  I have said before that a little Raggi goes a long way, but it is also true that a little Raggi does wonders for keeping the players from assuming that the world is set up to ensure that they win.  Death Frost Doom is a great adventure for breaking the bonds of 3.x's "everything is designed for you, so you will never encounter anything too challenging!" assumptions.  Death Frost Doom forces characters to think, very likely to run, and very possibly to make real Faustian bargains that will haunt them for many, many game sessions to come.  I highly recommend it.

I'll let you know how the game goes next week.......



  1. Death Frost Doom is the Raggi module that I really, really want to run for my group. As far as I'm concerned it's his best, and most atmospheric, adventure.

  2. It's a good one, no doubt, but the tough choices of the Monolith might make it a better one. Not, "do" but "might".

  3. How are you going to handle the 3 dead characters? Are your players running multiple characters? Or are the going to run into/rescue a trio of new people?

    1. Hiya!

      In DCC, you start with 4 0-level characters, some of which may not survive. I let my players pick up new 0-level characters from time to time, which act as retainers do in some OSR games. They are also a stable of replacement characters should the higher-level ones die.

      So, this puts one player down to one character, and another down to two.

      But, even if someone were completely wiped out, there would be no new trio of people in Death Frost Doom.