Scraps from the table

Phaexoha Yxqemb

My entry in this year’s (2019) One Page Dungeon Contest is called “Treasure Island Map”, because I had to give it an English name for the contest. It’s really called “Phaexoha Yxqemb” which is more intriguing or off-putting depending on your brain type. It’s a bit weird but could be used to pass the time some rainy afternoon.
A series of squiggly line nonsensical words

Last year (2018) I came joint 34th with “The Pyramid Scheme”, which is a little easier to understand, but maybe not so easy for all the party to survive. One of my classic moral dilemmas really. We’ll see if I do any better this time out, somehow I doubt it, I think the judges will find this year’s one annoying at best. Since you’ve come this far, I’ll give you a hint, it’s all in how you fold the paper.

A desert tale of death and betrayal

Scraps from the table

The Rise of the Pumpkin King (a review)

The Meetup I run (Cork D&D Meetup) traditionally has a Halloween special every year. Well when I say every year, we’ve done it twice now and we’re not yet two years old, so that’s every year and therefore it’s now a tradition! The idea is that we mix up all the regular tables and once a year you play with people from the other tables and get to make new friends while being killed by a different DM. It’s a “one shot” with disposable characters and most tables play the same scenario. This year we had seven tables and I believe six of them played the same one; “The Rise of the Pumpkin King” by Daniel Vilar Seoane which we purchased on the DMs Guild.

This is  a review of this scenario from my point of view along with the feedback I have received from the various DMs and players at different tables.

RiseOfThePumpkinKingBlack

My first impressions  on reading it were that the scenario was good. It has a good solid plot line which is easy enough for players to follow to the conclusion. Plus, there are plenty of opportunities to direct them back in the right direction should they stray.

The adventure starts with the group traveling along the road to a town called Goldgrain. I’m not sure but I don’t believe that that name has much significance outside Ireland (and possibly the UK), but here there is a popular biscuit (cookie) named Goldgrain. I don’t know where Daniel Vilar is from but I don’t think this was on purpose. Anyway the group come across a wagon crashed off the road. Large animated pumpkins are dragging a body into the woods. This encounter introduces the main minions of the scenario and should the group successful stop them (and of course they do), then the body turns out not to be dead and up jumps an informative NPC trader named Wilburg who then acts as a reference or announcer for the group when they reach the town.

This is a classic story element, rescuing a vulnerable NPC who then introduces their new found heroes to the town/village/settlement. It’s a classic because it works. I use a similar one all the time, mine involves the village children “ambushing” the group with wooden swords and soft topped arrows en route to their village, only to have one of the children really be attacked by whatever bad guy cannon fodder the story needs. This introduces the bad guys and the children then parade their saviours to the rest of the village; the good guys. After a while one of the villagers will present the main quest. Poor little Sarles Letjar (7) has had to be rescued at least three times by different groups now; you’d think he’d learn, or at least get older.

The Rise of the Pumpkin King, follows this trope and the group soon find themselves in the inn of a retired adventurer named Joyce. Joyce is basically the village elder and the only one not quaking in fear behind nailed shut doors. This is how we learn about the history of these pumpkins and a possible cause. The village burnt a witch at the stake a year ago. Joyce also tells them about the local alchemist, Dryleaf, who is looking for a cure for the problem.

This scenario is well written. All the major NPCs are well described and come with roleplaying directions. These describe how they will react to certain probable approaches that the group might take and even if they don’t take that exact route the guides act as an excellent framework to adjust the NPC’s behaviour. Furthermore the whole backstory to the adventure is nicely thought out and fits together well. The group is thrown into the middle of the story and must uncover the past to save the future.

And so the group investigates in town. For my group this took a fair amount of time. Time well spent since they uncovered half the plot at this point. Then they set out for the abandoned witch’s hut in the woods.  The hut and the encounters associated with it were good fun. My players exercised a lot of freedom and ended up missing the clue which leads to the main dungeon. The author was aware that clues could be missed and he included ideas on how to get the group back on track. This is great for beginner DMs. Experienced DMs would have no trouble with this. In my case, while battling an abomination outside the hut, they left Dryleaf (whose nefarious deeds they had uncovered) unguarded. He duly escaped, leaving a faint trail through the woods that the ranger managed to follow all the way to the main lair.

And so we come to the main dungeon. It has some great touches, but unfortunately the author did not include a map. I pondered through the description several times and then just had to draw it out to get a better sense of it.

LairPumpkinKing

I won’t go into the contents of the lair. It was fairly straight forward. My group, which was composed of six level threes were getting fairly battered and looking for an excuse to leave and come back later, or to rest up. The scenario as written does not put them under time pressure, so I introduced some. My players were experienced, you might not want to do this to new players. The dungeon includes animated vines which act as a trap at one point. It also describes the lair as being lined with vines. So I took this one step further and had the entrance seal behind them after they had delved in a little bit. Then the vines continued to knit closed behind them; ever advancing, forcing the characters onward. In my devious DM mind, this was the Pumpkin King drawing these invaders on so that he could destroy them himself.

And onward they indeed went but they destroyed him; twice. Although the outcome was in doubt and could easily have led to a TPK. That would have been fine in my case, this was a one shot with disposable characters. If you are including this in a larger campaign, be aware that the Pumpkin King is a tough encounter after a series of hard ones. You might want to let them have that rest after all.

This adventure took us just under 4 hours to run. Which was just a little too long for our needs. Some of the other tables at the Meetup failed to complete it. The scenario has about 8 potential combat encounters, so if you are running under time constraints you should consider dropping some of them or at least making some of the earlier ones easy enough to be over in just one round. This keeps the story moving as intended but also speeds things up. Apart from that everyone enjoyed it, DMs and Players alike.

Scraps from the table

Josephus’ Room

This is a room/encounter I ran twice recently, which may prove useful to someone sometime. It is a puzzle room, based on the mathematical puzzle known as The Josephus Problem.

The room is accessed through a secret/illusionary entrance in a cliff wall.

The adventurers find themselves in a magically dark tunnel and must fumble forwards. Suddenly they emerge into a circular room. Looking back they find there is no door behind them only solid rock.

josephus

 

In the centre of the room a lever stands up from the floor. When the party have settled for a moment a ghostly figure materializes out of the rock to their left. It is a large stone statue of a warrior. It moves to the lever and pushes it in the direction away from which the characters have entered. Immediately eleven stone chairs materialize from the walls in a circle. In each chair sits an identical warrior.  The chairs all bear a number engraved high on their backs, visible to all in the room. One to eleven in this case. The ghostly warrior moves to the top chair, number one. As he approaches the occupant disappears. He does not sit down but instead walks clockwise around the room. As he approaches each chair the occupant disappears and then reappears when he has gone past. When he reaches chair number seven, he sits down. Then starting at the first warrior, each in turn kills the warrior to his left until there is only one warrior left intact. So the warrior in chair one reaches out with a giant stone sword and smashes the occupant of chair number two to pieces. The the occupant of three smashes number four. Five smashes six. Seven smashes eight. Nine smashes ten. Eleven then smashes number one. Three kills five. Seven kills nine. Eleven kills three and finally seven kills eleven. So our ghostly warrior wins. He starts to glow and stands up. He then walks through the solid wall on the opposite side of the room and is gone. The lever automatically rights itself back to the centre and all the chairs and remains of the warriors disappear.

After a short time the warrior returns through the wall. This time he pushes the lever towards the original entrance. Now twenty-one chairs appear and he behaves as before. This time he sits in chair number eleven and once the game finishes he is the survivor. He now stands up and walks out. The room resets and it should be clear what the players must do in order to continue in, or in fact get back out.

But when someone pushes the lever a large random number of chairs appear. I suggest d100 chairs. Or a d6 x 10 + 1d10, something like that. The trick is to figure out which one is the lucky seat. There are of course some fail safes built in. The occupants of the chairs will only make way for the person who pushed the lever. Once they sit down they start to feel heavy and in fact to their companions they take on the look of one of the stone warriors. It would take a strength check to get out of the chair during the game and the winning warrior will immediately attack that one person. Only the single occupant of the winning chair may go through the appropriate door. To everyone else it is solid rock.

Obviously you can add more restrictions as befits the deviousness of your players, or not.

What you use as the warriors should be appropriate to the party. In one case I used reskinned gargoyles and in the other reskinned earth elementals.

The puzzle is simple enough that it can be figured out. The trouble is, with high numbers it is easy to make a mistake and sit in the wrong seat.

My players got very nervous when I drew out the chairs and made the player place their mini on the chosen one. Then you play it out. Smash, smash, smash.

To be extra nasty, I found that those best at calculating tended to go first. Once they are out of the room, you can ask them not to help the next person, because after all they are no longer there.