Last night, I attended an open table session at the Animefest office here in the Dallas area. I didn’t know what to expect, so I took my D&D 5e Player’s Handbook, dice, and gaming notebook. I also had a hard copy of necessary Microlite20 bits and Scenes of Chance in case we needed another GM. I forgot my miniatures, which did cause a momentary bit of embarrassment later.
When I found the place, I found two tables with people. One had a full group deep into a Pathfinder campaign. A few people sat at the other table and had started a new 5e campaign a couple of weeks ago. They graciously let me join, so I sat down and filled out a character sheet using Omonac. I wrote her out at 1st-level, though, since this campaign doesn’t have anything to do with the Adventurers League. For a moment, I considered leaving, since that made a total of 7 players. The DM assured me that he would scale the encounters to the group size and that I shouldn’t worry about it.
In previous sessions, the group had survived a shipwreck caused by a rampaging giant squid or kraken. As the ship sank beneath the waves, they found themselves trying to make the nearby Isle of Malimont. A dwarven sailor had screamed that no one had ever returned from this cursed island before he went down with the ship. The DM used this to include the two new characters (his RL girlfriend and me). We played other survivors who’d landed a little further down the beach.
The party had split during an earlier session when a couple of players hadn’t attended. So the first part of the adventure consisted of us trying to link up the entire party. Those who’d already explored bits of the island exercised more caution and stealth. Previous experiences with monsters here had demonstrated the local dangers. My little half-elf cartographer, of course, had no such notion. She simply wanted to find other survivors for mutual protection.
So when we saw them above us on a rope bridge in front of a waterfall, I shouted in joy and greeting. This woke some sort of crystalline bats with red glowing eyes and green acid blood hanging under the bridge. They swooped at us and began to attack our faces with stabbing beaks and tails. We made short work of them, as one would expect. A half-elf paladin created an epic moment by jumping off a twenty-foot cliff to attack a crystal bat in the air before crashing to the ground on top of it. The player had the right idea: RPGs like this work best when we eschew careful play and go for cinematic moments.
After the fight, I noticed a small cave behind the waterfall and a trail that led around to it. We went inside and found a grotto with skeletons, ancient rotted crates, and rusted old weapons. One skeleton, though, had embraced a wooden chest that had not rotted. The skeleton had a cutlass in good condition in its chest and a key around its neck. We carried out significant investigation, including a detect magic ritual performed by a gnomish wizard. This only indicated that key as a magic item. I decided to open the chest as no one found any traps.
The chest contained gold coins, inscribed with the symbol of an ancient nation none of us recognized. As a naive explorer (albeit Cthulhu-touched), I rejoiced in the gold and started running my fingers through it. On cue, a portcullis slammed down to lock almost all of us in the grotto. Bones started to fall from the ceiling and form into skeletal warriors. Several of the party members started to stuff as much gold as we could carry into our pockets and stomp on the bones. A bard pulled out a skull idol he’d found in earlier exploration and inserted it into a skull-shaped indentation in the wall. This had the dual effect of opening the gate and halting the flow of the waterfall. As the lagoon drained out into the ocean, the bones kept forming. Outside, a robed figure appeared. This figure had no face, though, only one large eyeball for a head. A rogue prepared to face it, but our monk bounty hunter ran outside. She performed some sort of acrobatic flip over the rogue, then smashed the eye creature with her staff. She followed that up with a roundhouse kick and a quarterstaff jab. This turned out so well (two natural 20s!) that she destroyed the creature’s head while we all looked on in amazement.
We fled the scene down a staircase that the lagoon had hid before. At the bottom, we found a pair of silver doors inscribed with dwarven runes. The runes read “WITHIN THESE HALLS LIES THE TOMB OF THE GREAT KING HARAVEN”. We could hear a skeleton army stampeding down the staircase behind us. The dwarven cleric grabbed the key away from the bard and opened the doors. We slammed them closed behind us in the face of the skeletons.
That might have put us in an even more precarious situation. The stagnant air indicated that the tomb makers had sealed it off centuries ago. Despite the intricate carvings and craftsdwarfship of the tomb, we could feel an aura of unnatural darkness. The tomb appeared to stretch out in front of us for hundreds of feet. Stalagtites reached down from the ceiling, formed by water that had seeped into the tomb over the years. After we’d explored a bit of the tomb, a darkmantle fell onto the dwarf’s head and wrapped itself around him. The paladin next to him ripped it off, and…
…at this point the players got distracted with chat and tiredness. We’d played for something like four to four and a half hours. We broke up and and left for our respective homes.
The group had some interesting house rules that unbalanced things a little but led to more of those epic moments. For example, skill proficiency grants +2 and advantage. This might have had more to do with unfamiliarity with the rules than a house rule per se. And the XP pool gets split up according to group preference. This might mean an equal split as traditional, but could go other ways on a particular encounter if the group decides.
I happily answered other rules questions when they arose, but I did not bring them up myself. After all, the other guy ran the session, not me, and I just wanted to play. No DM likes having somebody else criticizing and trying to take over the table. And running a group of 7 characters provides enough challenge all on its own.
Having a local “game clubhouse” that runs games on non-weeknights also feels nice. Wednesday night Encounters at 6pm just don’t work for my schedule and life. I wish the bill readers on the snack machines had worked properly so I could have contributed a little something to the upkeep of the place.
Next week I’ll go back and see how we finish out this session. I’d like to know a little more about this accursed island, after all.