Saturday, November 26, 2011

Goblins Redux

My friend Jeremy, his family, my ladyfriend Morrie, and I have a half-assed Thanksgiving tradition which we started three years ago. In that far off year of 2009, I was doing quite poorly financially, and Morrie (not yet having met either Jeremy or myself in person) wanted to come up and visit the both of us. So during the time off, Morrie and I both spent the Thanksgiving vacation staying with Jeremy and his family. We spent the week having all manner of fun with one another, and among other things, we spent one very enjoyable evening playing an extended session of D&D. It was the Zalekios campaign, which Morrie made a character for. Since then, we try to get together over Thanksgiving to enjoy each others' company, and wreak some havoc with some chaotic evil role playing.

This afternoon, while Morrie and I were getting ready to head off to Jeremy's home, we realized something annoying: neither of us had the slightest clue as to where her character sheet for "Jerry the Chaotic Evil Halfling Barbarian" was. We were already late, and had no idea where to look, so Morrie suggested something which would end up teaching me several valuable lessons before the day was done:

"Why don't I just play the four Goblins?"

I blinked. The idea was twofold odd: I've never been in a game where a player played more than one character, and I've never been in a game where a player's character is so drastically lower in level than the other players. Truth be told I've been interested in trying both of those things for a long while now, and Morrie was willingly taking on the task of guinea pig. "Sure," I finally replied. "I'm sure Jeremy won't have any problems with that." So we show up, pumpkin pie in hand, and I tell Jeremy about Morrie's idea. As I suspected, he's fine with it, and we begin play.

As play began, Zalekios was standing over the body of his good twin, and the GM gave me space to come up with a plan. Seeing that I was trying to take over the town, I decided to assume the role of my twin. After all, we were twins. The only problem was Zalekios' rather horribly self-mutilated face. Fortunately, I had a dead twin on hand whose face I could cut off and wear temporarily. I then promptly chopped up my twin's body, and spread his remains about town. When the townspeople became frightened, I told them that I would go off and gather a fighting force to protect us from "these vile acts." Having a charisma of 23 comes with distinct advantages; such as being able to dupe 377 villagers into believing you're not wearing their dead mayor's face as a mask.

So off Zalekios went to fetch the small group of goblins which he had conquered in a previous game. A few days later he returned, no longer wearing the dead mayor's face, and with the 33 goblins in tow. When asked about his "injuries," he claimed that he had been cut viciously while defeating the goblin tribe's chieftain. But now that chief was dead, and the tribe owed him their absolute loyalty. Again, 23 charisma can be damned helpful in duping level 1 commoners. Once I had everyone convinced, I began directing them in constructing better "defenses." A phrase which I've placed in quotation marks because only Zalekios knows that the pits and walls won't be used to keep anything out. The purpose of those obstacles is to keep the villagers in once Zalekios begins to establish the new order of things.

The whole thing was done in a very rules-light way, because there aren't really any rules on the subject. Essentially, Zalekios' role in the first half of the session was that of director. I told the GM what I wanted the villagers to do, and he told me what worked, what didn't, and what complications presented themselves. I was really very happy with the way this played out. I tried something almost exactly like it a few months back which failed miserably, so I'm glad to see it can work if done properly. I may need to give it another try soon.

Morrie, playing the goblins, really shined during this part of the game. Building on the role playing the party (especially Poog) had done the last time these goblins were in play, she set about to cause goblin mischief, and generally make Zalekios' life more difficult. When Poog cut off all the pig tails in town "for his collection," Zalekios had to quickly spin some lie for the population about pig tails being a necessary reagent in a spell which would ward the town against evil. Even my 23 Charisma was strained getting them to accept that one, and I had Poog flogged for the nuisance.

The town needed lumber for its walls, so I sent Rita, Chuffy, and 3 other goblins to protect the humans who were gathering it. The GM used this as an opportunity to run an ad-hoc 1st level adventure. He sent a couple bears to terrorize the commoners, and Morrie took control of Rita & Chuffy, while I played as the three Monster Manual standard goblins. It was a genius idea, nestling a 1st level adventure within a 13th level adventure. It worked fantastically, and everyone had a great deal of fun.

Once the goblins returned with the lumber, it was starting to get late in the evening, and we still wanted some time to play Magic before Morrie had to go to work. To speed things along, we decided to put off furthering the construction for a later date, whilst Zalekios, with all four goblins in tow, answered a persistent call from Al'Kim. Al'Kim is a high level government official with the nation of Mulgran who believes Zalekios is a loyal compatriot. And while the two do share goals, Zalekios is also the second-in-command of an organization seeking to overthrow Mulgran. I hold that it is Al'Kim's fault for making Zalekios sit in a waiting room for 30 minutes once. But I digress. Al'Kim wanted Zalekios to investigate some unusual goings-on at a port town a few days' travel away.

On the road, the five characters were attacked by three wyverns. This is what I had been waiting for: a chance to see how well level 1 characters survived combat geared for my level 13 powerhouse. I began combat by casting Fel Flight, granting me wings, and flying up into the air. This left most of the goblins somewhat helpless, but Rita managed to hit one of them with an arrow, and Mogmurch successfully threw an alchemical explosive at one of them dealing a few damage. On the wyvern's turn, they mostly ignored me and went straight for the goblins. Poog was reduced to -3 in a single bite attack, and none of the goblins managed to make any hits.

Zalekios, with his lowly 10 wisdom, decided to dive bomb the Wyvern laying atop Poog, and attempt to pin it to the ground with a slam attack to the neck. I rolled my Combat Maneuver roll against the wyvern's Combat Maneuver Defense (Zalekios' game hasn't switched fully to Pathfinder yet, but we have house-ruled in a few of the better rules) and Zalekios succeed. The three wyverns failed to make any progress that turn, but Rita did manage to pull Poog aside and feed him a healing potion. In the following round, Zalekios channeled his Eldritch Blast ability into the Wyvern, killing it. And, as a bit of theater for my goblin minions, Zalekios used his move action to take a big bloody bite out of the dead Wyvern's head. They cheered for their Blood God.

By then, though, a second wyvern had landed and made a bite attack against Zalekios, which fortunately missed. Still riding the high from his utter domination of the previous wyvern (and still suffering from 10 wisdom), Zalekios used his clawed hands to grapple the offending beast's head, digging his sharp fingers deep just behind the jaw. He was again successful. I jokingly asked the GM what the DC would be to rip the dragon's head off. Truthfully, my plan was to try snapping the creatures neck, but I never expected what happened on the goblin's next turn.

First, Chuffy managed to make a devastating sneak attack on the wyvern's underbelly. But even more spectacularly, Mogmurch successfully threw his last alchemical bomb of the day into the snapping maw of the grappled wyvern. The GM allowed this as an automatic crit, and Mogmurch rolled just below max damage an all his dice, blasting the mighty CR6 creature with a fiery explosion which left it reeling. This left me wondering just how plausible my earlier joke was. So when my turn rolled around, I asked the GM what the explosion's visible damage had done. He confirmed that numerous muscles and tendons had obviously been severely damaged or even destroyed. So Zalekios looked the monster in the eyes, set his legs against it's shoulders...

...and pulled.

I think Jeremy was a little flabbergasted. He asked me for a strength check. I rolled the twenty-sider in my hand for a long while. This was the kind of roll which could make-or-break a game session. For all my philosophical skepticism, I tried to force the die to roll high through sheer will. Finally, I threw the die, and a 19 came up. I think Jeremy had been hoping for something low so he could simply ignore the question of how to adjudicate such a ridiculous plan. He settled on making an opposed strength check for the wyvern, and I kid you not: he rolled a 19. I thought for sure I was finished. No way was Zalekios stronger than a fucking dragon.

But as it turns out, Zalekios is just strong enough that his roll was 1 higher than the wyvern's. The bones cracked, the skin tore, and Mogmurch and I were bathed in the blood of our victory. The final wyvern fled.

We ended the session there, and I came away having learned 3 very important lessons which I will take with me into my future GMing:
  • Anyone who says 'playing characters of vastly different levels sucks' doesn't know what they're talking about. Based on how much she was smiling, I would say this ranks among Morrie's top five gaming sessions ever. And I say that as as someone who has been gaming with her for 3.5 years. In RP, the goblins were providing a lot of the game's entertainment and challenge. And in combat, never once did they feel useless.
  • At least in some circumstances, a single player can play multiple characters without being overwhelmed.
  • Adventures where the PCs simply direct others in performing tasks (finding lumber, digging trenches, etc.) can be a lot more fun than you might think. I'm starting to ponder a game where each party member is given a task: one to build the defenses, one to train the villagers to fight, etc.

For the record, all of Morrie's goblins survived the game, and everyone agrees they should return. But Morrie, wisely I think, has decided that she does not want these characters to level. She thinks it's more entertaining when they're low-level goofballs who get on Zalekios' nerves and sometimes manage to help despite themselves.

We have decided, though, that Mogmurch deserves something special. He has been granted the title of "Dragonboomer," and from now on will always receive a +4 when attempting to throw objects into a small space.

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