Monday, February 12, 2024

Dubzaron Session 139: Escape from Barsoom

This session was played on 01/31/2024. 


Chippette of the Mysteris (L1 Priestess, Lawful)
Daria (L9 Bladedancer, Lawful)
Proteus Beta (L3 Mage soothsayer, Neutral)
Reaver (L5 Barbarian Death Dealer, Neutral)
Rory (L5 Barbarian Death Dealer, Neutral)
Tulsa Doom (L1 Shaman Snake Handler, Netural)
Sheela (L1 Mage, Netural)

Proteus: Nonus (L4 Fighter), Pytho (L1 Geckoman)
Roray: Subatai the alien guy

Session Report

A group of PCs has been trapped on Barsoom for months on end. Some of them did some interesting downtime actions such as Reaver the Barbarian who became an ornithopter pilot for Helium's navy (air force?). But mostly the players didn't know what to do in downtime on Barsoom. Some mentioned they had no random encounter charts for exploration. Oops!

Turns out I was using the Fiend Folio random encounter charts but changing the appearance of most of the monsters do be more spacey and/or planetary romance. That'll come into play later since, as all Elite DMs know, good random encounter charts are the backbone of a great campaign.

So the party didn't have much of a plan for tonight except "we want to get off Barsoom". Hmm alright then. They got trapped here a while back when they came through a mechanically powered portal in a dungeon. They broke the engine by taking the crystals out because they are greedy. But it opened one last time and sucked them in from Dubzaron world to Barsoom (Mars). 

Recently they went off to capture the White Witch (yes, from Narnian fame) who was doing sacrifices to open the portal with Old Magic since the PCs messed up the mechanical functionality. It was touch and go capturing the White Witch (Proteus died and was cloned as Proteus Beta fr fr no cap) but she was languishing in Helium's dungeons for months thanks to the heroic PCs.

Dejah Thoris and the royal family of Helium thus was paying the PCs upkeep expenses, housing them in luxury in the crystal castle. 

The PCs spent a great deal of time at the beginning of the session trying to put their heads together on how they might escape Barsoom. Some of the details above were vaguely known to them or perhaps they forgot the specific elements of it since the time between Barsoom sessions was so long. It started to come back to them when they got permission to interrogate the White Witch.

She was quite rude and Reaver even had to go all Taming of the Shrew on her at one point. But before the guards could extricate the PCs from the dungeon for this breach of protocol they had learned the above and some extra info:

-White Witch is working for the goddess Issus herself
-the PCs knew where the temple of Issus was located and believed maybe they'd find some portal or means to open it there
-they could also open the portal they were already aware of about 30 miles from Helium if they sacrificed a Barsoomian (human like, not thark)

The PCs then had audience with Dejah Thoris and learned, were they to go to the Temple/City of Issus, they'd never be allowed back to Helium or any other Barsoomian city. Those of you who have read the books know this is taboo. Once you see Iss, you do not return! It is a final pilgrimage. 

PCs didn't want to risk having no Safe Zone to return to since they didn't even know what they were looking for at Iss. So the two neutral barbarian PCs figured why not just capture one of Helium's enemies and kill him to open the other portal. 

So that became the plan.

This all took way too long and could have been prepped by PCs before hand. But I must say the "worldbuilding" of it was fun since it was like playing trivia with the "John Carter" books where myself and the players brainstormed what we recalled from the stories to dovetail it into something gameable. This is probably similar to what 5e players of "Forgotten Realms" campaigns do when they are not railroaded. But it's more fun since the Appendix N stories are simply more interesting than the setting books or tie in novels of Forgotten Realms. 

During their talks with Dejah they learned that there were currently border disputes with the city of Zodenga. I used my patented random distance and direction decider system (found in THIS session report about Barsoom) to determine Zodenga was currently about 36 miles north of Helium. Zodenga, I decided, was a city walking on spider legs and always on the (slow) move. 

Oh lastly, all this roleplaying could have been for naught because I determined that the ritual spell to open the portal was on a scroll the PCs captured from the White Witch's library a while back. I ruled Proteus Beta could have been studying this the whole time since he did no other downtime actions. And he'd need to make an ACKS "Magic Research" check to see if he'd actually be able to pull it off in the first place even with the blood sacrifice.

The check was pretty hard. Like 14 or better on a d20 I think because hes only level 3. If I was running 1e I would have done this with a "Percentage to Know Spell" check.

He succeeded in the throw but this goes to show that you can't always prep things. We'd have needed to shift the PCs plan yet again and had a totally different session entirely if he'd have failed. Practice NoPrep so you can be light on your feet for things like this!

They then spent some time buying thoats (which was some more fun trivia about what they are like, what normal D&D mount they would be similar enough to for pricing etc) to ride off into the wastes north to their goal. Reaver was on his ornithopter.

I began using the AXIOMS article for hex stocking combined with the Appendix B from the 1e for what sort of terrain. The AXIOMS has stuff like "valuable terrain", "dangerous terrain" and such. This helped make the vancian style travelogue I was running not only have NPCs and monsters but also interesting terrain features and types that were unpredictable.

Alright onto the travel itself.

First monster was a sand creeper or something like that from Fiend Folio. The entry says it simply wants to kill Good things and you absolutely can not shake it by running since it has perfect tracking. So it was creeping on Chipette the "Lawful" Priestess before the Pcs decided to evade. Some hours later it was still following them so Reaver and Rory the barbarians set up an ambush and killed it in a surprise round. The thing has some good abilities and decent HD but two mid level barbarians with good equipment was too much for our creeper pal.

The party came across some valuable moss in one hex but didn't have the means to farm it for magic item creation (or to sell it) and had to leave it behind. 

There wasn't much else in the way of encounters but they did come across a 10 foot high pyramid obelisk with an ipad type thing on the front. Proteus Beta (iirc) was able to type in the pass code and get it open as it was a treasure cache fr fr no cap. Inside was a bunch of gold and a throwing disk that seemed pretty magical and powerful upon first look.

Some day or so later Sheela the ladymage bumped into a huge mushroom which expelled powder that made her sneeze uncontrollably. Forever. 

This is why it was easier that night when, camping, a tall SlenderMan in a red brimmed hat was able to sneak up behind Sheelaand put a blade to her throat. Reaver was awake but the bad guy was so sneaky it just didn't work out. Reaver was seemingly about to kill slenderman (despite it likely meaning Sheela would be dead) but he got a look into slenderman's eyes and was charmed. This guy seemed really great!

Reaver really played it up, talking to the slender fellow about how he's too thin and needs to hit the gym and he believes in him. Damn it feels good to be a bro!

This all happened because slenderman (actually a vampire) got surprised on the party but he also got a very positive reaction to them (not max but close). So I did some fancy footwork and abductive reasoning on why a vampire wouldn't just kill or capture one of them. He needed something. But what? His description was improvised as I was talking and I was imagining him as an edgy gen y high school dude ("I've studied the blade") so he needed something from the city of Zodenga.Since I memed up all this stupid stuff, he needed his bejeweled trenchcoat which was being held in the Zodenga museum of history. 

He couldn't go inside due to all the holy relics in there which being around caused him pain. But PCs could do it!

Since Reaver and Sheela were charmed they thought this was a fantastic idea. Since slenderman's reaction was so positive I had him agree to help the party get a sacrifice if they did this, as well. I figured he could have been following the pcs for a few hours and hearing them talk about their (dumb) plan.

So a session that started with a plan to have a Barsoom war skirmish with an ornithopter and thoats became a big dumb heist instead.

Reaver hovered way up in the clouds above the city while the rest of the party went inside the city. I made a reaction check if the guards would care about these non red-martian humans entering their city and they didn't. Did the same at the museum and the guards there didn't care. 

I can't really relate exactly what happened in the museum except it was slapstick and really stupid. 

Rory's henchman checked the display of the trenchcoat for traps. He's low level so of course he thought it wasn't trapped and of course he was wrong. Chipette (iirc) grabbed the trenchcoat and the whole museum rang with alarms. Daria stood in front of a guard to try and block his view or trip him up from chasing Chipette. Rory did the same. Sheela sneezed in someone's face at some point (???) and then ran outside. 

I was checking for reactions and iniative from guards around the museum. The place wasn't crawling and had about one guard per wing. The city was also mobilizing but Reaver dropped from the clouds to grab Sheela off the street when she ran outside. 

The wall guards noticed him but their reaction was Friendly so they thought it was just some kind of air show. Reaver flew with style to fool them and gave them a thumbs up or something.

The whole thing was very stupid. Ocean's 11 this was not.

But they got out of the city and back to slenderman who gave them a prisoner Zodenga soldier in trade for the trenchcoat. He also gave Reaver a magic ring as a gift of thanks of which I'm absolutely certain nothing bad could come of. Good rper Reaver popped it on since it came from his new best friend. 

The party trekked a few days south back to the sacrificial table and portal for this poor soldier.

There wasn't much in the way of difficult encounters on the way back but when they got back to the ruined city with the altar they came across 3 giant beetles that were eating the ruined buildings like fraggles. These were just stone giants but I changed how they looked. DCC taught me how to just change the look of monsters on the fly like this. You can even slightly change some of their abilities but keep the same relative difficult and treasure types etc when you get really good at it. For instance Slenderman is a vampire but I shifted some of his abilities to more align with the worldbuilding concept I had and was created for him. 

Reaver was able to trick the giant beetles into moving away from the part of the ruined city they needed by leaving a trail of like 100 gold pieces which the creatures were eating up as they went off in the distance.

Proteus Beta was then ready to do the ritual by killing the Zodenga soldier. The soldier in true "Fighting Man of Mars" fashion begged a blade in his hand before he was killed of which Rory (I think?) obliged before gutting him. Proteus opened up a portal back to Dubzaron world with the blood component on the chaotic altar.

Slenderman suddenly appeared and jumped through the portal (Deuces, players!) and the Party was like wtf. I then told them I'd randomly determine how many people could go through the portal before it would close. So based on the roll (minus one for quick Slenderman!) some PCs or their hench might remained trapped on Barsoom.

Sadly the dice were in the PCs favor and it stayed open for all of them. They were back in Dubzaron and traveled to Kyle OConner's city of Claymore Crossing to end the session. 

PC Class Grades
Chipette: E. Leaned into the diplomacy stuff with the White Witch and Dejah at the beginning; which is part of her ACKS template.
Daria: S. There wasn't much bladedancing going on.
Proteus Beta fr fr: S because there was no spellcasting. He may have been gun shy since Arcane spells can backfire on Barsoom.
Reaver and Rory both got E for setting an ambush and generally being bloodthirsty Neutral barbarians.
Tulsa Doom. S. Since he was a shaman who never communed or did anything that shamany that I could recall.
Sheela. S for no spellcasting as well.

DM Grade and Thoughts: B-. I felt I delivered well on all the random elements of this session but the heist was probably too easy. I feel there's probably something I missed there as far as problems or issues they could have seen. The slenderman stuff was well done since it can be difficult to have a monster/NPC challenge that isn't simply about combat. Also changing the monsters on the fly to be more Barsoomian worked well and gave good flavor I think.

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