I'm not dead yet, just lazy, procrastinating, and currently obsessed with finding a donkey in Minecraft. :) But I had two fun sessions of D&D at a cabin in the mountains last weekend that I wanted to write about. If you're normally bored by after-play reports, skip to the bottom where I reflect on DMing and design.
Gino - Divine Petitioner (worships Captain Morgan)
Adrian - non-combatant hireling
Aphrodesia - DP (worships Victoria and her secrets)
Mine - hireling
Anonimo - Rogue (my first thief like character I've allowed)
RP - hireling
Oma - F
The party was camped outside the Red Crystal Cave after last session's brief exploratory visit. They decided to go back in. There were sticky black guano droppings everywhere. They found a mummified goat carcass that appeared to have been drained of all moisture and had puncture marks. But big puncture marks and all over the body.
They came to a room with natural flowstone that was tall enough to disappear into darkness. Anonimo used is skill at climbing to explore and eventually secure a spike and rope. The party ascended to find a shallow, concave area that used to have water and had flowstone falling off into darkness on the opposite side as well. Anonimo descended to explore, heard a coughing and saw a very thin women shuffling into the darkness.
He tried to find her but couldn't, though the cave appeared to be a dead end. He also found a cluster of rosy-pink crystals growing. After rejoining the party they all headed down a smaller passage.
They found a room with puddles of thick, red liquid. The party quickly started bottling it up, emptying a wineskin of water to help. They continue exploring the only other exit. The passage becomes narrower, causing them to move through it sideways with no shield coverage.
Gino, in the lead, feels something under his feet. The guano is up to their calves now. He pulls it up to find it a mummified human hand. It has been drained of its liquid too. They press on. The passage opens up to a cave. The ceiling is covered with bat-like creatures. Gino gets the drop on them, throws a flash firework, and goes out swinging. Luckily, the firework blinded most of them, he quickly comes to his senses and backs back into the corridor. Adrian pitches several bottles of oil and it is lit. The critters are mostly toasted. A few blows and the final big ones are killed.
They find another cluster of crystals, a mother-of-pearl statuette of a limbless woman, and a earthenware religious yoke that Oma recognized to be her own family's. They left the cave and headed back to the nearby trading post. They discovered that the statuette might be of interest to the Sisters of Perpetual Abnegation (worship St Cecily) and sell the crystals for lots of gold (they are apparently useful in scribing magic scrolls). Gino decides to drink some of the red liquid he collected. It makes him feel more robust and yet weaker as well.
That night Anonimo had a terrible dream about a thin woman squatting over him, pulling pearls from his mouth while he was unable to move. In the morning he woke to feel literally weaker. The party decided to head back to the cave and kill the "witch" he'd seen.
On there way back to the cave they got lost, traveling in a big circle and finding themselves back at the trading post. They spent the night and tried again the next day, carefully building piles of stones along the way as they went.
On reaching the cave, they made a beeline to where Anonimo saw the woman. The whole party descended exept for Adrian who was to guard the rope. They found nothing but a filthy nest of sorts with a small string of pearls. While searching some small creatures attacked Adrian out of the darkness. They looked like caterpillars with hard, crab legs. She scampered down the rope and the creatures didn't follow.
After climbing back up the flowstone, the party decided to explore the passages they hadn't gone down. They came to a room with more puddles of red liquid which they gathered. They eventually heard the sound of a baby crying. In the next cave they found an infant lying on the ground. Aphrodesia was quick to pick it up, though the party had reservations. Only feeding it some softened rations quieted the baby. There was another cluster of crystals in this cave.
Heading back to town, the baby began crying again. They noticed it had aged by two years. This happened several times on the walk back to the trading post, the baby getting bigger and heavier in Aphrodesia's arms.
When they had almost reached their destination a group of ragged and hungry men surrounded them in the darkness demanding food. Gino was angered and took a swing at the men, missing. The two women were more sympathetic throwing bags of food and gold. The men, satisfied disappeared into darkness.
Upon reaching the post, they sold the crystals and tried securing the now ~8 year old child, but he ran off naked into the night. The trader told them it might be a Bantling and best left alone. Somewhere along the line Gino's weakness subsided, but not his robustness. The other party members decided to drink of the red liquid gaining some robustness and weird symptoms.
First, you can see a bit of my process with my map. I just rolled dice and traced them to make a cavern-like location. Then numbers are elevations. It looks like they never visited one room but I think they did the very first foray, when I called it a night due to lateness and being unprepared (this cave was one of 4 locations I had half-ready). I'm really happy with the way the simple method gives a decent sense of verisimilitude. This method will be in my 1000 post booklet (though there really isn't much to it).
The bat things were a flock of stirge, ~12, which I was sure would kill half the party. I forgot Gino had the firework. I have a tradition of giving players stuff on their actual birthdays. And Gino's player wanted fireworks, so I let him chose from a list. That was a few months ago.
With the red liquid I was trying to train these newer players that there can be rewards to trying things, so I made drinking it give permanent, extra hit points. I also wanted them to be a little leery, so I had them have a random side effect for a day. It may have been too much of a freeby, now Gino has more hit points than he should. But I think it was worth it. He was ecstatic when he realized I was giving him hit points for drinking it. It was also fun to watch the rest of the players waiting to see if he had any bad effects before drinking it themselves. And me pausing just long enough before asking him to roll again.
The "one ration a day or bad effects" rule combined with the poor availability of rations at villages has made food seem real in this world, or at least a sense of hunger and famine. The players are concerned about it and trying to buy it everywhere. Of course that made me think the bantling was the perfect creepy creature to have them find. It ate a week's worth of rations and stressed out Aphrodesia's player :)
I'm still trying to figure out my economy/store stocks. The trading post felt too much like Walmart with infinite rations and plate mail available. I'll have to implement a system that limits goods like some of you suggested in comments. My players have tons of gold, now. I need to figure out some gold sinks. I mentioned giving villages heath points. I want to do that by next session and come up with some suggested improvements. I think labor would be an easy ongoing cost, maybe allow the players to fund local village watch/guards. Or tell them they can hire peasants to make roads/cut trails. After getting lost for the first time that might interest them.
I tried out a simple hunting/foraging system based on Talysman's and I think it worked well. Foraging gives rations/time based on how "Lush" a terrain. With the plains' low lushness, hunting small animals and foraging are pretty close to equivalent. I remember now, that before heading into the cave the first session the party spent a chunk of the day hunting and gathering. The women decide to forage. I told them they were finding dandelions, wild onion, and wild strawberries. The men hunted feral goats and a few of them got lucky but one of them didn't. So, it was a good indicator to them of how available food can be.
In terrains that are more lush, like jungles, they should be able to gather enough food for the day just walking along the road. Though I'm thinking foraging (and hunting) might need to be "unlocked" first by having a local show you the foodstuffs and game they usually go after.
When I was scrambling to make the sandbox ready two session ago I was thinking the whole point of a sandbox is for multiple choices to be laid out in front of the players. While that is true, I was silly to forget that the size and scope of sandboxes are usually gradually revealed. That, no sandbox is revealed completely at first. I'm speaking from video game experience here, but I think it would translate. So it's fine for them to putter about around these initial three villages before I expand the map and reveal more, and more brutal terrains to come.
Since we had two sessions and this was the 4th, we aren't playing this week. I'm curious where they will head next. I didn't ask them again. But it seems like "where do we go now?" is a natural start-of-session decision, not something after the release of tension of surviving a dungeon delve and tallying up your xp. That's it for now. Hope you have a great weekend.