Tuesday, June 7, 2011

I Blowed Up My Campaign!

Warning: Death Frost Doom spoilers in this post! You have been warned!

The group finished Death Frost Doom this past Saturday. It ended up being a much longer session than I had planned, and the players were throwing me curve balls all night. All in all it was a lot of fun. Here are some of the highlights, which include some events from the previous session as well:
  • Zeke - "NONONONONO you're all doomed!" The barbarian walked over a mile with Zeke screaming on his back, but made no move to harm him.
  • They completely destroyed the bleeding tree once they found out it bled. They spent a great deal of time trying to figure out it's secret. They blessed it, they were playing with the blood, you name it!
  • They tried sleeping in the cabin, which didn't go so well.
  • They brought the book filled with the names of the cult's victims back to the village priest, the barbarian carefully holding it out in front of him the whole walk back to town, only to have the priest drop it and fuck it all up.
  • The PCs plugged their ears upon hearing the eerie noises about the place.
  • The cleric set the clock ahead from 2:14PM to midnight, causing himself to disappear into oblivion for 8 hours of game time. This was cause for much confusion for the players, and was a huge real-life time-killer!
  • Everyone was cheerfully snorting purple lotus powder once they found it. The barbarian got comprehend languages and proceeded to read every single cursed phrase he came across aloud, causing all sorts of terrible shit, including one player killing himself with his sword, and the barbarian himself jumping into the bottomless pit with the cleric-polymorphed-into-a-rat on his shoulder! I pretty much had to bring them back by DM fiat, giving the vampire access to a wish spell which brought them back from falling - a condition of the bargain that got the players freed from the shrine.
  • The sorcerer got a permanent +1 INT from the powder.
  • My little cousin (13 yrs old) rolled on the purple lotus table and his character became "Violently Nymphomaniacal" for one hour in-game. He was really at a loss as to what to do with that one, and indeed was likely a bit embarrassed by the whole thing!
  • The thief fell asleep for 20 hours from the powder, and one of the other players wiped poop on his ninja mask while he was sleeping (and his player was away from the table, which made it extra funny).
  • After being asleep for a long time in-game, the aforementioned player asked, "What is this stuff again?", to which his brother responded matter-of-factly, "It's D&D cocaine."
  • The cleric picked up the cursed dagger & necklace, and never made an attack until after he also got a super-powerful magic sword, which led him to believe the sword was cursed. He was almost ready to discard the valuable weapon, until I basically intervened!
  • The painting - they kept showing it to people, didn't try to sell it. The barbarian autographed it. They took it out and examined it about 6 or 7 times throughout the adventure, which I found somewhat amusing.
  • Once they figured out how to open the tooth door, my sister knocked a tooth out of her goblin character's mouth using a dagger and a crowbar without batting an eye. Everyone else at the table was staring at her in shock.
  • They skipped every single crypt door, and really had no idea that the place was filled with dead people until well after meeting the vampire.
  • They also missed the manual with the instructions on creating a flesh golem, and a few other goodies I thought they would have enjoyed.
  • After the first player flipped a coin in the fountain and got a +1 CON, the rest of the party flipped 7 more coins in and collectively got seven permanent minuses before finally stopping putting coins in. The first player sat there with a huge grin on his face the whole time.
  • The barbarian also got 3 questions that he could ask of the Gods as a purple lotus effect. Holy shit, I was not prepared for having to answer those questions! I pretty much had to take a cigarette break to carefully craft my answer each time he asked one.
  • The players AGONIZED over what to do for a few hours! They tried EVERYTHING to avoid having to make a deal with the vampire guy. This was extremely fun to watch (they tried crawling up the chimney, only to be attacked by the ghouls outdoors, etc), but at the same time, it felt wrong. It was like watching a car accident or something, I really can't describe it.
  • Much to my surprise, two of the characters suicided themselves, charging into a horde of ghouls against hopeless odds rather than making the deal with the vampire. Two sessions prior, these same players mutilated some tribal barbarians who were hunting them for what they knew to be a misunderstanding. They kept one alive and made him watch while they ate his comrades in front of him, in order to get information from him. I will never understand player psychology.
Basically, this module played out far differently than I ever could have imagined. When it was all over, I actually felt physically sick about the whole thing, and felt like I had seriously harmed my players. These are characters that they have been playing for 8 months, and they were well established in the town upon which the legions of dead will be descending. The faces around the table wore looks of shock, horror, and in some cases, just plain saltiness.

Running it was a good experience though. I learned that I am basically a big softy, and it troubles me to a degree to inflict too much hardship upon my players and their characters. I also learned that I am hypersensitive to their facial expressions and body language. It is something I always try to pay attention to, as I look for clues to play off of in the game, but I can also misinterpret or put too much stock in these cues and their significance.

For example, I was pretty certain at the end of the session that they were all pissed at me and wanted to beat me up for doing that to them. However, a few days removed, there is more chatter than ever about what they are going to do next. There is a STRONG desire for them to undo what they did, and while the whole thing was very drastic and gut-wrenching, I think it has greatly increased the players' investment in the campaign.

Summary: Death Frost Doom is basically the most powerful module I've ever played or ran. It was awesome, but at the same time, I'm not sure if I could ever do it again. I felt like I was playing some dirty trick on them, which sounded fun on paper, and it was fun, but there was an unexpected feeling of guilt that went along with it. There were technically 5 deaths, in a group of five level 4 Pathfinder characters. I ended up "undoing" a few of those by DM fiat because they were so anticlimactic. If you feel bad about killing PCs (I often do) this is not the module for you! On the other hand, this module is so unique, that I have to recommend everyone participates in it at some point in their gaming career, whether as a player or GM.