Friday, June 17, 2016

Bachelor Party Viking D&D Recap

A month ago I was back in the North having just run a two day Bachelor party D&D marathon and best manning a wedding. Because I wanted some secrecy and surprises, I didn't write much about the thing beforehand and general business afterwards left this lingering. I think its time to tell all.

Back in the day, the Antagonizer had a (somewhat infamous in my mind) surprise D&D birthday party. His now wife will probably never repeat that mistake, as the little white lie to get him to the location ballooned into him prepping for a birthD&D game he wouldn't be running, the game ballooned out of proportion with about 10 or more total players, and the game that was run featured a scenario that I didn't think felt at all birthday-y. So I had to do better, but it also became apparent that the bride-to-be and maid of honor were totally spilling beans left and right, so I also had to do it all on my own if there was to be anything surprising at all.

I went with a relatively obvious choice of scenario: vikings! I vaguely crossed it with hyborean age Conan materials, but that didn't really come out too much. My other good option was something totally Fury Road, but with the honeymoon slated for Iceland I stuck to my original idea and D&D 5e because it was a system I knew reasonably well and figured all the potential players would be familiar with (though I sorta wish I had used Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea, I knew going with the familiar was a better option in this case). So I picked up the old Vikings historical reference book, the basic Northern Reaches gazetteer, and a couple others (turns out the Great Glacier isn't really all that useful).  Strangely, I also was able to do a tourism in New York and see a Vikings exhibit at Times Square which also provided some good inspiration, though I didn't include all the trinkets I had been intending.

My original plan was thwarted by scheduling and such, so it wasn't one scenario for the whole weekend, so I had to go with two separate-but-linked adventures. The first riffing off a Croatan comment from the last D&D game that I played with folks (but also Frost Giant's Daughter), and the second ended up being Moby Dick. Because I knew of the Icelandic honeymoon, I also wanted to put some Viking/Iceland lore into the game. Unfortunately my dream of using floorplans and such from actual sites the Antagonizer would visit crumbled because 1) its hard to find floor plans of archaeological sites online, and 2) most of the sites they were going to didn't really lend themselves to this sort of thing. Alas. The one option I had really tried to insert, the crazy big church, didn't end up being discovered either, though that was ok because it was mostly there just to have a crazy big church and filled with boring undead.

Since I didn't think the group and I could pull off a two-day Saga of the Icelanders game, I opted to go with croataning a colony for part 1. The PCs were latecomers to the colony and their loved ones had been turned to seals for angering the Frost Giant's Daughter (conaning it up a bit in the process). I had initially been going to go with they were all just kidnapped, but somehow them being turned into seals (better than penguins, right?) came up when I mentioned my vague plans to one of the D&D guys here in Faraway. I sketched a by-hand map of some potential sites and filled them with a few characters inspired by viking myth and my two primary D&D references. So the party encountered pukja and a witch with a cat-drawn chariot and the like. The Groom hung himself from a tree (and sacrificed 2 points of Constitution) to master the seal-rune so he could transform seals back into humans (with rules basically just stolen from GAZ7), and then they took out the frost-giant's daughter. Fairly successful.

Draft of the map, missing witch's forest to the east, big-ass church, and others. Players didn't explore the Hudrefolk mounds or hot springs.

I think it also helped that I gave them some interesting character options. I gave out a reduced list of options from the available official D&D materials plus Unearthed Arcana. Since it was so restricted I reimagined the list of dooms from the Viking's book, trying to give each one a potential good aspect. The star doom was unlucky, which let any player tell the unlucky player to fail a die roll and grab inspiration. Because I was doing an all human game, I used dooms for the stat-rearranging. If players kept their stats, they got to pick a doom. If they rearranged stats or took the standard array they'd roll to randomly get one. It led to a couple less-than-optimal characters so dooms could be chosen, or the players just didn't care about their stats much. Not quite sure which.

Part 2 featured most of the same characters, but swapped one out for another as I opted to bring in a few others since it wouldn't just be blokes in the wedding itself as I had originally hoped. This time the scenario was Moby Dick. I had tried to lay the seeds of an old hero who was cursed and became a dragon, but it didn't really become relevant as the entire game was about 5 hours and three combats with the same dragon. I used a white dragon as the base and made a few cosmetic changes so the dragon was a bit more corpse-tearer inspired (poison breath, stole lair stuff from green and black dragons, etc). It was satisfying. I wasn't sure I could get the PCs to flee after the first encounter with it, but 5e characters are fairly resilient and once a couple went down the party realized things will be hard. They had gotten the dragon to within an few inches of its life, but it retreated into the water exit of its lair. The party explored the lair a bit, surmizing there was a second entrance so the dragon wisely came back after a rest through the main entrance, avoiding their well-laid trap after laying waste to the colony out of spite. After another encounter they had the dragon on edge again, so it retreated to the frozen lake where it figured it could rest for a day (regaining full strength at the expense of losing its lair). The party short-rested and booked it to the lake (rangers can nicely determine when dragons are around, though I still find that ability to be really vague). I think the players thought the dragon would just come up and play fairly, so I made it instead a bit of a whack-a-mole game where the dragon tried to come up from hiding then retreat back below the icy water. Luckily for them the cleric had water walk as a spell and the sorcerer had mastered the seal-rune so the icy waters weren't a huge danger. In the end they killed the dragon, which was quite satisfying and managed to do it in the time limit we had for the game. Not much exploration of the dragon's heritage and backstory, but it apparently wasn't necessary for folks to have a good time plus they got to go into a volcano.

Overall I think things worked out quite well. If I had had the time I would have ran it here before hand to test things out, as I could have fixed a few things up and done with a little more prep, but so it goes. I also had to go win the Best GM award for prepping and running an old school ridiculous module right after I got back to this sandpit, so I'm very happy with what I was able to do given the constraints that I had. It was exhausting, but worthwhile.

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