Monday, June 20, 2016

Seven Voyages of Zylarthen/The Haunted Tower Play Report, Part 2: Towers in RPG Modules are Larger Than They Appear

A Candy Cane Golem

Clarification: Chris Gonnerman commented after Part 1 that much of the module was really the work of Stuart Marshall. I should have pointed this out, as there's a bit about the genesis of it in the PDF. Again, you may download The Haunted Tower here.

Before the play report, a quick digression:

Towers in RPG Modules are larger than they should be. I discovered this while designing my own module and comparing the size of the "tower" in it with famous real towers.

It swamped them.

The tower in "The Haunted Tower" is 90' x 90'. This is only slightly smaller than the famous "White Tower" (118' x 105') in the Tower of London. Even though the height (90') of the White Tower is less than its width, for many years it was the tallest building in London.

Judging from the cover, the Haunted Tower looks three or four times as high as its width. This would make it at least three times the height of the White Tower and, say, twice the height of the Tower of Pisa. So it would be quite a structure for an expat mid-level alchemist to construct on a hill outside of town.

It would be almost as large as five Highclere Castles (the real Downton Abbey) stacked on top of one another.

I think part of the problem is that "indoor" floorpans are often way out of proportion, probably due to the use of 10' squares as building blocks. While 10' may not seem large in the context of a cave or underground area, it's actually a sizable space within a room. For example, my relatively spacious-seeming loft apartment is (I think) no more than 20' wide, if that. Expressed in 10' square units, rooms in houses or even towers and castles are not really that large.

Not that it really matters. But there it is.

Back to the play report.

Ollie the Fighting-Man (my son Ollie's character), Zinda the Hobbit (my daughter Lydia's character) and Linda the Magic-User (my daughter's doll Betsy's character) were ready to proceed.

But first we had to pick figures. There was much rummaging around the thirty-year old unpainted Ral Parthas--many of which had their swords broken or curled.

My wife get's annoyed when I mention this, but there was a bit of transgenderism (which for some reason seems to be a staple of my games). Lydia picked the only painted figure--a tall Gandalf with a beard--as Linda's figure. And she said that she wanted her character--the Hobbit--to be disguised as a man. She rejected many of the thief types as looking too evil. "I'm not evil--I'm a thief. I steal things so I can get treasure," she earnestly explained.

Who said RPGs couldn't teach your kids ethics?

Ollie was adamantly against choosing a fighter with an axe. So we rummaged some more to find one with an unbroken sword.

We were ready.

The module has a hook where after you open the front door, you then walk a few steps down a hall and plunge down a chute to the basement level, where presumably the adventure usually starts. Remember that it's written with solo play in mind. But with three characters, one of whom was wielding a ten-foot pole, this was problematic.

Ollie fell into the chute (a foreshadowing of another fall he would have later) but was then pulled out by the others. There was no way they were all going down into that darkened basement.

They then walked into a sort of classroom where they found a Read Magic scroll and a sort of love letter in one of the desks. There was an "injured giant rat" hiding in the corner, but they didn't really stay long enough to discover it. And I ruled that the rat would be afraid to challenge a group of three characters. Perhaps they'll encounter it later.

Next was the "Candy Cane Golem Workshop" where they discovered an apparently lifeless Candy Cane Golem in two halves. On the table was a sort of cookbook that explained how a mixture of water and sugar could be used to glue the Golem back together. There was no debate as to whether or not this might be a good idea (it was obvious to them that the Candy Cane Golem was a "good" monster), and suddenly Ollie and Lydia were telling me how they had a lot of water (true) and sugar (false) in their backpacks.

Politely saying that they almost certainly didn't bring any sugar with them was their first introduction to resource management.

Then it was up the stairs to the next level (without checking the other rooms on the first floor). I don't know about the rest of you, but whenever I read a module I always make a conscious or unconscious assumption about the route the players will follow, which to some degree informs what things I pay the most attention to, or pay the most attention to before the first session. I always forget that this assumption will almost always turn out to be wrong--whether the players are forty...or four.

For those of you who have played D&D with young children, do you find that they are constantly playing with their figures--either moving them around or just playing with them? Or is it just my kids?  I'm probably  a wimpy referee but I hesitated to stop them since they seemed to be getting so much joy out of it. But the "marching order" was continually changing as giant hands swooped down to handle the figures.

The first room on the second floor contained a set of three shelves with a total of fifteen chests.

Now remember, my children have never played this sort of game before. Pretty much everything they know is from cartoons or stories or just four-year-old common sense. So the following reflected that mixture of ignorance and intuition.

My daughter announced that she wanted to open one of the chests by standing back and carefully lifting the lid with her sword. That floored me. I have absolutely no idea where she got that from.

Inside was a "small glass vial containing bubbly pale green liquid." Lydia said, "yuck" and put it back in the chest. It then hit me that after her initial surprising display of careful chest opening prowess, Lydia had no idea that Zylarthen/D&D features "potions" as treasures. I debated somehow telling her but then figured that discovering that herself would be part of the fun. I did have Linda the Magic-User suggest that she had nothing to lose by taking the vial with her.

Linda found another vial with a "slightly milky liquid"--eliciting another "yuck!" from the party, and then Ollie found a common lamp wrapped in straw, which elicited "oohs" and "ahs"--another example of the effect of having no preconceptions.

It was very important for them to each open a chest. But with twelve more to go, they didn't seem to have much interest in the others. So it was up the stairs to the next level, again busting my preconceptions--I had skimmed over that level, assuming it would be the last one they explored.

Here they would have their first fight. Notably, for an adventure that is pretty non-lethal--most of the monsters do only 1 point of damage, or you can easily run away from them, etc.--Ollie would almost die.

My wife and I briefly discussed this before the first session. Do Oliver and Lydia know that their characters can die? Should they know they can die? Should they die?

We'll have to leave Ollie's rude encounter with a planet for Part 3, but that's not what almost killed him. What did? One word:


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