Sunday, January 10, 2021

OSR: The Calaveras Campaign 11, 12, 13

This is an ongoing Knave Macchiato Monsters campaign, a smallish sandbox of sorts with new players to the hobby. Read what happened before here.

The cast of characters:
Solbion (iagson) - dwarven smith apprentice of the city of Falkcrest. On a sabbatical year, seeking to see and experience the world.
Nerisse (Mo) - redhead bow-woman, who wakes up in the first visited dungeon without any memory of how she ended up there. Has some newly discovered Fae-powers.
Angan Enge (Copernico) - beastman of the Biber Hills, assigned by Rhys to accompany the adventurers.
Hirelings/Animals - Sprig, the freelancer astrologer-wizard

Session 11

After seeing the phantom, illusion, ghost or hologram of the robed elder in the last session, we get an immediate random encounter with reptilians (troglodytes) carrying a sack to "Old Gregg", wanting to pass by the PCs. Their reactions is weary and rude, but not necessarily hostile. They move north, past the ghost/illusion of the wizard's warning, without giving much information to the party.
The next room, circular and with a the rug in the center. The players avoid stepping on it, seeing the troglodytes did that too when carrying the sack. It has passages in all cardinal directions, and they go for the studio room to the left. Exploring it reveals tiny people in jars, and a scroll of diminution as treasure retrieved.
Returning to the rug room, and going further to the north. They have the suspicion the troglodytes moved to the doors to the east. Unfortunately, they are locked. To the west, however, they see some bodies at the end of the corridor. Wisdom makes the PCs avoid them and trace back their steps. Next, they decide to check the second corridor to the west, opposite one of the locked doors.
There's a pit, and behind it a pile of treasure. Solbion jumps to retrieve that, only to find out that it's an illusion. Instead, there is a peacock's feather, and instructions on how to enter the realm of Ynn...! Returning, they notice (by dropping a torch) that at the bottom of the pit there is a pool of water and a skeleton floating on it. Again, caution prevails and they decide to ignore the valuables...
Back in the room with the rug, last cardinal direction to check out is east. They find the statue of a hunter flanked by two hounds. The statue itself flanked by some (mildly glowing mirrors).

Solbion has the clever sense to pass the open room by ignoring the statue and mirrors, looking into the floor to avoid unwanted reflections. Dwarven cunning! Unfortunately some steps ahead, past an arch with serpent motifs reveals a fearsome foe, yet another giant spider. Spells fling, spear jabs, but its a lone one this time, so they hurt it and it manages to escape through a crack in the ceiling, after a poor morale roll.

Proceeding to two rooms that get explored, but not interacted with!
First, a big room with several chipped statues of old nobles, and corridors and locked doors going in all directions. The body of a chocked dead dwarf near an archway. Then, a "control room" with a stone boulder on a corner, and 6 numbered levers. Again, the party ignores that, and prepare to rest for the night.

Session 12

Group wakes up cold from the metallic floor in the control room. Angan's condition due to the spider's poison is debilitating, the hill-man starts the day coughing blood. Lesson: don't get bit by any spider!
Almost immediately his acorn necklace starts flaring with heat for an instant. A signal? A cry for help? An enchantment? All of these are unclear for now...
They continue exploring North, following the underwater noise in search of the reptiloids. There's a skirmish with three troglodytes near the sandy river bank (they are aggressive from the get to). Decent use of glue by Nerisse to blind one, the corridor as a choke point, and some spells make this a short affair. The adventurers have the upper hand this time around. Tumcool, one of the troglodytes, agrees to present Old Gregg to the group. Angan hopes the troglodytes might have an antidote or cure for his poisoned condition.
They meet with Nancy, an albino troglodyte, takes the offering the adventurers bring: the body of the dead dwarf they found a while back. Sadly, the troglodytes are not able to provide help regarding the poison, only freak the PCs out with their primitive "fresh meat" diet and hanging fish... Old Gregg is even less helpful!
Moving back to a known location, they are able to capture the spider with a well-placed Roots spell by Angan, and Nerisse's ability to put it to sleep. Then the coup de grace, the carcass might help to concoct an antitoxin with the right tools, perhaps? Sprig suggests that...!
Finally, they decide to move towards the corridor where they found the dead dwarf. A stone archway with tree and root motifs carved serving as ominous entrance...

Session 13

Last we left off.... out heroes scoundrels were exploring the archway. Solbion advances as much as possible, torch in hand. With the flickering light he's able to see black roots all around, their density increasing as the corridor advances.

Angan thinking himself a naturalist druid from the nearby Biber Hills, decides to step forward, all care to the wind. The roots animate, and grab his legs, twisting and squeezing painfully! He suffers some damage, Solbion and Nerisse quick to the rescue.

Another strategy then: Nerisse uses her fae-ability to hover above the ground (and the roots!), tied by the waist by a rope. On the other end both Angan and Solbion hold tight.

Safe enough! Passing by the roots is harmless for her. Moving forward, the roots thicken, and she's able to see an ascending staircase. Going up, she sees a big space, thick with vegetation, almost a jungle. In the center, a big bronze buddha-like statue? And... movement on some branches? Monkeys? Babys!
Nerisse wants none of this, and quickly traces back.

Now on the corridor with the roots, she's able to retrieve... some big black tomatoes! The graffiti at the entrance of this place was right! And we all know what players do when presented with rare food/drugs/substances...

Their pupils and eyes turn pitch black, they recover some stamina (HP), and.... Solbion develops an addiction. How fitting for a dwarf! He convinces the group to advance and get more tomatoes: "QUICKLY!". Fortunately the roots seem non-aggressive to black-eyed individuals.

Finally, they find a space of black trees. A garden. In there, a bucket and more tomatoes! In searching and harvesting them, a shadowy figure appears. No-nonsense, it wants the intruders dead!

A lengthy combat ensues. The creature seems immune to parley, reason, or willing to flee. Angan uses his Roots spell to start rearranging the vegetation in the room, creating for himself and his companions a "safe" patch in the center of the room. Solbion ignites one of the trees, to be able to track the shadow even better. Unfortunately Nerisse suffers the most getting her Str drained (gulp!). But the party has the upper hand, once again, since they are resourceful and are in a 4 to 1.

With the shadow gone, they take a minute to recover, check the room, and find several goodies (including a secret door and a chest) that we will reveal next session.

Referee Commentary

For session 11: on about fifteen turns of exploration I was only able to roll a random encounter once, right at the beginning of the session, these pesky troglodytes. As a consequence exploration felt static at times, void of urgency or tension. But such are the trappings of randomness.

The dungeon has some very interesting locales and encounters, like for instance the hunter's statue with the mirrors. It genuinely annoyed my players and made them be paranoid about that and future statues in the underground complex. Oh, and the layout of this adventure (the PDF) is brilliant, like every Necrotic Gnome product. I was running this pretty much as we go, only having done a cursory skim of the material beforehand.

One point that surprises me is that two PCs have spellcasting at their disposal, yet they get rarely use it during the game. Not sure why that is? Perhaps free-form casting is too intimidating for them? Have to try and remind them that this is a possible option in their arsenal.

All in all, we are having a tough time to cram OSR dungeon exploration. Our sessions are quite short, and the players have a hard time to decide a course of action. For instance Mo is losing interesting in these kind of procedures and game. Seems to favor (light) puzzle solving, and more role-playing and politic interactions. So I will have to think what to do about this.


  • Daniele - woman-at-arms, sword & board.
    Mauled to a pulp by an animated serpentine statue in session 4.
  • Pancho - guy with a lance, and a tendency to grab shiny stuff in front of him.
    Dropped from great height by a giant eagle in session 5.
  • Ber - a goat granted by Rhys the beastwoman shaman.
    Eaten and scratched to death by fungal goblins in session 7. Instrumental even after death.
  • Zemalayu - carrying a crossbow and knows some spells. Ranger-like. Face heavily scarred and mutated. Speaks through some tattoos.
    Bitten dead by giant spiders from the Glenry Wood and their poison in session 10.

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