Thursday, November 13, 2014

Castle Ravenloft

I played Castle Ravenloft as a one-shot using Dungeon World rules. I have both the original I6 Castle Ravenloft adventure from first edition, and the 2nd edition version House of Strahd. They're very similar, I had both on me just in case and borrowed from both.

The group was people I normally play beer and boardgames with. We play rpgs occasionally, but except for my wife none of them have played a proper D&D campaign before. One guy at this session had only played a tabletop rpg once before. The point is, it wasn't too serious, and people were open to the narrative structure of Dungeon World because they're not used to mechanics-heavy games anyway.

Since this was a one-shot, I had to streamline things to get stuff done. Everybody picked a class and filled out their character sheet without too much trouble (one reason I love DW, its easy to grok even for beginners). Everyone described their character and then we did the tarot card reading from Madame Eva. Then a riderless carriage arrived to take the party to the castle. The paladin declined both the tarot reading and the carriage as dark magic, but to move things along I said the party could knock him out and put him in the carriage.

Here's the characters we had (again, not too serious):
Detta , daughter of Calypso - Pirate
Uther the Lightbringer - Paladin
Belatrix LaStrange - Witch
Bryan "The Elf" Johnnson - Bard (human, not an elf)
Wesley Snipes - Vampire (with man-servant Ryan Reynolds)

In the past I've let silly names and such get on my nerves, but I've come to embrace it. Its a silly game to begin with, shooting fireballs and monsters and such, and if it makes the player happy, then great. Also, two things tend to happen: either the player realizes how silly it is during play and lets it drop, or by treating it as normal it becomes accepted and less silly.

Most of the session was exploring the castle. We used a grid and minis, not for exact movement and tactics, but its a great visualization tool. And the castle is slightly complicated in layout, so its better to have a map drawn out. The first few rooms have some ominous gargoyles but they don’t attack right away. There’s organ music drawing the characters to a hall room set up with a feast. The Count himself appears to be playing the organ, but when Uther attacked it was revealed to be an illusion, and all the food was rotten. The wine was good though, and Belatrix helped herself to a lot. THEN the gargoyles attacked. Two of the players had never played DW before but they got the hang of describing actions pretty easy. I really like how I can change up mechanics and tactics based off of player description. When Uther just attacked, its Hack and Slash, but when Detta wanted to tumble behind the gargoyles she rolled Defy Danger and just dealt her damage after it succeeded. I decided the gargoyles would pile on Uther since he was out in front, so even though they were getting killed off at least one of them just dealt damage while he was swarmed.

This was a one-shot, so to make the “mark XP on a miss” mechanic mean something I allowed them to level every time they got two XP. At one point, one of the players was hoping to miss in the middle of a fight so he could get a cool advanced move, but it didn’t happen.

One of the clues from the Tarot card hinted at crypts below the castle, so the group took a spiral staircase down as far as they could. Uther decided to go off on his own on the main floor, finding a chapel in ruins. He picked up a silver raven statue, a holy item of some type. Then he spotted two glowing red eyes watching him from above and…failed a Defy Danger check. So cut back to the main group, who had found dungeon cells partly submerged in water. A teleportation trap put Ryan Reynolds in one of the cells but he was quickly freed, and another prisoner, Ivan, was freed as well. Nobody trusted Ivan, but he seemed harmless. Uther returned to the party with foggy recollection of what he had seen, and eager to press onward. 

Further ahead in the dark was an old torture chamber, half-submerged, with a platform and thrones. Presumably to watch people being tortured? Detta started climbing on the platform just as several rotting hands raised from the water, and the group found zombies all around them. As they were hacking into them they realized that the disembodied limbs were fighting back. A Spout Lore roll discerned that the bodies would keep fighting until they had taken so much damage that the dark magic animating them could no longer sustain them. Wesley had one hand dig into his shoulder, only releasing when he tore off the zombie’s head. Uther tried channeling divine force through the silver raven statue, and a flash of light drove away the zombies. Meanwhile, a great wolf had snuck up on Detta on the platform. When Wesley tried communicating with it as a creature of the night, it actually spoke to everyone in an accented human voice, then disappeared in a cloud of fog. Strahd had visited them.

They continued into a room with locked doors and a “throw a gem in the fire” puzzle that they figured out right before the iron skeleton statues in the room attacked. They continued on to the crypts, an enormous room (it took up the entire dry erase mat) dotted with small tombs and hallways to greater tombs. They mostly ignored the smaller tombs and got separated by a portcullis at the king and queen’s tomb. As Bryan Johnnson waited outside three hellhounds approached. He climbed on top of a tomb as the rest pushed the gate up. Strahd appeared again and grabbed Uther in a choke hold, then used the charm he had placed on him earlier in the chapel to make him attack his allies, though he ended up being more of a distraction than a threat. Belatrix had found a red amulet earlier and noted that Strahd was wearing a similar one, made by the same hands. This was enough of a tie to use her thorn attack to pester him from a distance. The escaped prisoner Ivan turned out to be a werewolf loyal to Strahd, but Detta shot him with a crossbow with a silver medallion tied to it and he fled. Detta also distracted the Count by attempting to stake him with her own peg leg. Yep, pirate. It only did 3 points of damage so didn’t get his heart by a long shot, but was enough to make him withdraw. 

I was worried about time at this point but felt like we could accomplish a little more so pressed on, and it worked out wonderfully. They recovered the Sunsword from Sergei’s tomb, took a different door from the puzzle room and found their way upstairs in the study, where they found the Tome of Strahd, describing his sad story, and the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind. Knowing that the object of their search was in a high spot, they found a staircase up the tallest tower. A distant thudding turned out to be a supernatural heart near the top of the tower, and the whole structure started tilting wildly back and forth as a strange creature of Strahd’s necromantic magic chased the group of the stairs. A hybrid abomination of a werewolf, a gargoyle, and a giant spider, it was knocked down the stairs as Detta used the Holy Symbol to blast the heart with sunlight.

At the top of the tower Strahd was waiting, next to several open windows as a storm raged on. Uther attacked with the sunsword and Wesley with claws, and Strahd threw them both around like rag dolls. Bryan hammered the abomination with sonic attacks while Detta finished off the heart with her rapier. Uther was picked up by Strahd and thrown out of the window, landing far below on another tower…with the Sunsword, the weapon best suited to fight the vampire. Still, he was overwhelmed by superior numbers. A rapier strike brought him to 0 hit points. He could have disappeared in fog, but I ruled that the strike went through his heart and pinned him to the wall. Since the Vampire class says a staked heart keeps you from rising, and vampire legends aren’t consistent about a wooden stake, I figured that was enough to keep him down. Just to be sure, Wesley tore Strahd’s head off with his claws. Sergei’s ghost brought Uther back to group and he destroyed the body with his sunsword.

Not bad for a one-shot! I’ve never actually had all of the items from the Tarot card reading come up in play, but luck worked in everybody’s favor. Everybody was really focused, even though most of them weren’t very familiar with the Dungeon World rules. One thing I love about casual RPG players is they just want to have fun with the game, they don’t get too hung up on rules. They also trust me to run a fair and fun game, which helps. 

Some notes on individual characters:

Detta was the Pirate class. Her peg leg was a “look” she chose off of the character sheet, and DW encourages you to embrace the fiction, so her trying to use her own leg as a wooden stake was awesome. She used her “fight like a pirate” move in almost every combat, we found it easy to work in her using the environment to her advantage and actually encouraged her to do more than stand there and attack. Her “sea legs” move helped in the rocking tower too. We kind of skipped over the Bonds part at the beginning of the session, but she filled hers out and used it to role-play her interaction with other characters.

Uther the Lightbringer—okay, the player of this character has a habit of challenging the other players in the group and being a little annoying on purpose. He’s the “lets open two doors at once” or “lets split up” player, but he knows not to push it too far. Which works perfect for a stereotypical Paladin surrounded by Chaotic characters (the only other Lawful character was the Vampire). He played along well when I had to be heavy handed with the vampire charm, or knocking him off the roof.

Belatrix LaStrange was the Witch. I LOVE the Witch class but I feel like more than most classes it needs a conversation with the player about what it can do, specifically the Hex and Thaumaturgy moves. Funny enough, most of the time Hex backfired by hitting another party member or targeting an undead creature in disguise. Also, she used her Skinchanger advanced move to turn into an elephant, which is not what I think of when I think Witch. But at the same time, it wasn’t that effective in a tight castle, she mostly just picked up things.

Bryan "The Elf" Johnnson, using a variant Bard class that’s more about inspiration and less about “magic music”. So he encouraged Uther to use his bare hands while being swarmed by gargoyles, which was perfect because his sword wasn’t effective at that range and he got a +1d4 damage. Also the name—its a human Bard, he just goes by the nickname “The Elf” because its easier to get gigs this way. This player likes to dick around and has a very dry sense of humor, so he’ll push the story in weird ways.

Wesley Snipes…the vampire who doesn’t have sunlight as a weakness (jaywalker). He was disappointed he couldn’t choose “black leather trench coat and sunglasses” as gear. He could choose a trusted manservant instead of an actual weapon (since he had claws anyway), so he named that guy Ryan Reynolds. It was funny but not distracting, honestly. And this guy had only ever played an RPG once in his life before this, so he did a great job playing his character, picking up the rules, staying focused, and helping build the story. The thirst mechanic didn’t come up much, mostly because I forgot to have him start with 1d8 points at the beginning of the adventure, and he didn’t take much damage to heal. 

Three of the classes we used were from Awful Good Games, you can find their products here