Monday, January 23, 2012

The Call of Cthulhu (or Really, the Call of the Kraken)

"Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth..." - Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Kraken

A year ago, my friends all wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons.  I was but a player in our group, and the last session had ended with a giant explosion that left the party split up and floating on debris in the middle of the ocean.  It was quite the cliffhanger, and we were all eager to find out what would happen next.  However, it was not to be.  Why?
Our DM was not going to be there that night.

You can imagine the horror and the disappointment.  Everybody was geared up and ready, and yet there was no adventure to be had.  I was determined to still play, so I decided to take on the role of DM for the night.  I had about two hours before everybody arrived and need to come up with an adventure of quality.

I knew three things at this point:
  1. The characters were afloat in the sea.
  2. The adventure had to end that night and put the characters back at sea.
  3. I wanted to engage the character in something besides a dungeon crawl of hack and slash.
One of the players was a genasi swordmage/swashbuckler named Nax.  Nax happened to be a water genasi.  He also had a thing for the high seas.  So, I decided to throw his love interest, a pirate captain, onto the seas and rescue the players.

Predictable?  Maybe.  Awesome?  You bet.  Doing things that resound with players always make for good games, and as the rescue unfolded, Nax was in prime roleplaying form.  I let him roleplay the NPC's, because he knew them better than I did.  He was having a blast.

Until the sea devils arrived.

They attacked the ship, and stole Nax's girlfriend, leaving the ship capsized and floating.  Off in the distance, a rocky island could be seen.  The group swam towards it and landed ashore.  A huge, rocky fortress greeted them.  Nax informed the group that this place must be the legendary Kraken's Skull, a hidden fortress used by a notorious pirate.  I asked him the notorious pirate's name.

"Beatrice," he said.  I was a little shocked, but I rolled with it.  There are so many reasons why a bloodthirsty pirate could've taken the name Beatrice.

I had luckily just purchased the Dungeon Tiles Master Set: The Dungeon, and, in the two hours before the game began, sketched out a rough map with the tiles and threw together a few encounters and created a few puzzles and tricks.  By the time the night was over, the party had only explored about half of what I had planned, and were trying to escape before the Kraken's Skull sank below the sea again.

It was an adventure that I put together in a short amount of time, simply because we didn't have a DM.  And yet, I remember it as one of the best games I ever ran.  Why?  Let me give my reasons.

  1. The hook was near and dear to one player. -This would be Nax.  He honestly felt like a real character at the table, not thinking about strategy in battle, but simply rushing into whatever he thought was right, simply to save his girlfriend.  This in turn made the other players try and become their characters to reason with him, and created a lot of good inter-party moments.
  2. The dungeon was a mix of puzzles and exploration, not just endless combat. - This sounds obvious, but I think that DM's need to re-read it as much as possible.  Giving the players something else to do/think about leads for more interesting games, and makes them want to continue playing DnD.
  3. The combats were exciting. - One of the combats involved fighting sharks underwater, while another had a carrion crawler creeping along a 20 foot wall (the stairs in the room had broken).  This was the most exciting combat of the evening.  I had a lot of fun rolling for the monsters and giving the players a run for their money.
I remember this adventure so fondly that I am going to try and update it.  I have more tiles in my collection, as well as more miniatures and more knowledge of monsters.  I want to finish the dungeon, including giving the backstory on Beatrice and what the Kraken's Skull really is (a temple of the Far Realm dedicated to the Kraken of the Deep).  I plan on documenting the changes and how I make the adventures more challenging/engaging, and then would like to get my friends back together to play it in it's full extent.  Maybe this will turn into our version of Tomb of Horrors (I don't plan on making it THAT crazy though!). 

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