Thursday, July 18, 2013

Returning to the Temple of Elemental Evil (Session Recap #2.1)

The first session after a long hiatus was an overwhelming success.  All in all it was good to be back in the saddle again; getting a chance to test out the numerous concepts and system changes I've made since we last played a year ago.  Character (re)creation was estimated to take 10 minutes for the group but instead approached 25 minutes.  The most time was spent selecting optional stats (as to be expected) but a surprising amount was invested in choosing a profession, a fairly minor choice that determines what you are capable of depending on your background.  Skills without a cumbersome skill system if you will.  Two portions of character creation were omitted, they would easily take the most time to decide so I planned on introducing them later.  Better to get a stable test bed on the foundations before adding in additional variables.  Other than that the system was swift and simple, players acclimated to it quickly and it still had enough nuances to keep things interesting rather than overly-simplistic.  I mentioned to them at the end that in the spirit of hard core OD&D we would be eschewing class features.  If you want to be a spy then lie, cheat deceive, subvert, conceal and double cross, your barbarian should be brash, insulting, table flipping mug spilling, machismo roughneck with a penchant for blood boiling rages.  Pull that off and you'll see something resembling class features.

One situation involving a magical mishap I finally got a chance to try I mentioned back in the A-Z 2012 Challenge.  My resident Spy was confronted by a Blind Samurai who during the course of conversation tried to sway him from his path, to abandon his goal of the Temple of Elemental Evil and to divest himself of the magic blade at his side.  The Samurai was quite concerned with magic weapons the one he wielded had taken his eyesight and since then he had dedicated his life to destroying them destroying four so far.  When the Spy refused to alter course the Blind Samurai revealed himself to be an assassin from the TOEE paid to take out his group after they thrashed the moathouse and dispatched Lareth and the first batch of assassins.  He promised him that his companions had already been disposed of so with the time they had available he requested an honorable duel.  Dousing the campfire he stood ready and order Maximilian the Spy to draw his cursed blade.  The blade (an inquisitors sword) sensed the powerful magic in the heraldic scroll at the Samurai's waist; the blade caught fire and illuminated the area, restoring sight to the disadvantaged spy.  A brief standstill and banter ensued where the Samurai planned on waiting for the cursed swords excitement to wear down and return the battlefield to darkness.  Maximilian took a measured step forward preparing for combat so the Samurai decided to speed things along, unrolling the scroll on his back he began an ancient incantation.  The inquisitors sword howled back to life, flame leaping into the sky drawing the sword hand like a dousing rod and before he knew it Max was severing the scroll in twain.  The spell half-finished the surprised samurai dropped the scroll, unsheathed his cane sword and split our unarmored Spy in two.  Time slowed, rewound right to the point where the scroll was being sheared in half.  The Samurai drew, cold steel flashed in a lunar crescent, blood was spilt and time reset again.  Groundhog day commenced.

I had forseen a few possible solutions to this puzzle.  The first was to use the groundhog day scenario to improve as a fighter. I did however stipulate that it would not be possible to simply memorize the set of moves like a chess game and succeed from there.  The Blind Samurai was far more experienced and every unorthodox block would be met and a new path would be taken for a merciless and sudden slaying.  In his current state Maximilian was outmatched.  At this point it would be time to fight fire with fire, blind fighting to ignore the quicker-than-the-eye bladework.. Making use of the constant resets to continuously learn from your mistakes and hone your skills and eventually beat him at his own game.  Use the Force, so to speak.  
Hokey religions and ancient weapons
The second solution had two outcomes, both of them hinged on realizing that if the Blind Samurai was intent on burning through the power of the inquisitors sword before they have their showdown he would instead cast a time acceleration spell on the sword or the wielder rather than himself.  Even though his blade was quicker than the eye it was merely a red herring, he just happened to be greased lightning.  The player could figure it out themselves, rely on their ability score or a saving throw to comprehend the arcane words.  If he figured it out and understood the arcana behind it he could finish the spell rather than letting it be twisted into its current state.  At this point he could haste himself and either fight (and potentially win) or prevent himself from dying, reach a stalemate and surrender the cursed sword. 
Seattle Street Samurai

The final option was an extreme gambit.  The character would maneuver himself in such a way as to take the attack and strike back potentially killing the two of them in the process.  This approach would require some creative combat rolls and roleplaying.  It is also the most dangerous but it would have received the greatest reward in experience.

During actual player, Max's player figured out how to finish the spell and opted to surrender.  It took quite a bit of time, but since it was on replay I allowed him to take the time to figure this one out while I worked with the other players with what was happening to them.  Of course making a point to drum a three point melody of unsheathe, draw slash as reality rewound and repeated in a macabre display certainly reminded him he had to keep brainstorming solutions. 

At the end I revealed that it was the magic slaying sword that was rewinding time, perverting the current magic to do so.  To maintain tension the magic had run out after Max completed the hastening spell and so it was do or die time now, no allowances for mistakes and no second chances.  Prior to that Max was free to experiment (and die) as he pleased.  When the dust settled the two of them stood in the clearing where the season had changed to autumn (a month had passed).  The Samurai collected the sword, thanked him for the honorable duel and promised to return in 30 days to continue what they started.  It is unknown whether this double agent will remain as honorable as he was and return to complete the Samurai's request.