Thursday, September 24, 2020

Submerged Spire of Sarpedon the Shaper: Sessions 2 and 3

 Previous report here. Underwater playtest of Lexi's Sawn-Off rules in the eponymous dungeon

Dramatis Personae:


Micah the Earth Elementalist and Krokka the Butcher. They are half-siblings.


Boris the Veteran and Johnathan the Traveler.


Samsa the Occultist and Gernald the Traveler.

Exhausted from their near escape, the group collapsed under the stifling blanket of the afternoon sun, passing into the realms of sleep, and awoke to stars.

Samsa and Gernald had joined the venture so Boris and Krokka opted to stay behind to recover from their bodily traumas.

Not wishing to revisit the surrounding towers so soon, Micah, Johnathan, Samsa, and Gernald waded into the ruffling surf, venturing into the cavernous dome topping the central tower. Inside, a stone sculpture and altar plastered in congealed seaweed with a healthy sprinkling of barnacles. A spiral staircase wound upwards through the ceiling and downwards into full-dark water.

Gernald, knowing the tongue of Carvings, stepped forward and entreated the sculpture to conversation. It responded, promising to answer one question if the group scoured its surface of matter.

The party assented, and Johnathan found a wavy knife nestled with rusty flutes near the altar during the cleaning. Much debate was had over the question, but finally Gernald bowed and asked: "What are the most dangerous things in this place?"

The rosy statue replied: "The one who waits, the one who stings, the one who devours, and the one who grasps. Most importantly - the one who crushes."

While Micah pondered the form of such things, Gernald, Samsa, and Johnathan ascended the spiral staircase and happened upon a huge, tarnished bell. The clapper was surprisingly clean, and radiated power from its inscriptions. Gernald managed to sort out a feeling of humility and routine from the north side and joviality or stirring from the south side. 

[DM's Note: This room originally existed at beach level, above the statue room, but I forgot that and retconned the bell to the roof.]

Samsa declared her intent to ring the bell. Johnathan and Gernald quickly retreated. After delicately testing the clapper, Samsa rung the bell, producing two mighty knells but no further noise.

Gernald noted it was 2:00 in the morning.

The bellringers joined Micah and plunged into the inky swell. The next room had walls adorned with stone protrusions, suitable for shelving, despite the lack of shelves. The party noted a large array of objects covered by silt, and recovered some marvellous curios.

Descending further to the next level, the party found an assortment of marble tables, one surrounded with opalescent seats fashioned from giant clams. Their skin tingled as they swam around. Johnathan, while examining a fireplace, was accosted by a dreadful snake skeleton that paralyzed him with one bite!

[DM's Note: I hate paralysis. I find it to be a lazy mechanic that engenders frustration and boredom. Fortunately, the party made their Con saves quite well.]

After a panicked retreat, it became apparent the party could not outpace the creature. Samsa summoned Clippet, Lord of Ducks, who proceeded to swim upwards while carping about the unpleasantness of the situation. The others stood and fought, getting in some mighty blows. Micah briefly held the thing at bay with a stone tentacle, and the creature retreated.

They looked at each other, then, for a brief moment.




In seconds, the skeleton lay in pieces. The group ate briefly.

The party swam into the portal from which the skeleton issued forth, discovering another pile of bones!

…These bones did not attempt to murder them.

After rifling through the pile, the party recovered a handful of coins and left, travelling down the staircase in this lesser tower to a curious room filled with many orbs. After some prodding, the orbs were identified as a multitude of woks, so the party resolved to turn them over. Most yielded forms of wildlife, though one was cemented by an unknown substance to the floor. It was let alone.

Under the largest wok, they discovered a mass of small eels squiggling around an red, faceted object. Accompanying these were four large eels that darted out and began circling the exterior of the room. Some debating resulted, but ultimately the party opted to leave the object alone.

[DM's Note: Originally, this room held nothing but kitchen utensils, but after describing the woks as "orbs", I felt a small measure of guilt at arising hopes and came up with some orb inhabitants.]

 Swimming upwards and then down to the next level through the central tower, the group discovered some basalt statues, more tables, and a suspiciously intact, well-carved wooden chair that identified itself as a "hot air detector." After more interrogation by Gernald, the chair revealed itself to be a thought reader, and expressed concern over it's master's location.

"Pray tell, how has my master conducted himself recently? I have not been graced with his presence in some time."

"I have had no occasion to worry over either his hospitality or his behavior."

"Ah, then you must be a special guest, indeed! My master holds very few people in any regard."

Our divers' skin tingled, and suddenly anemones erupted from Johnathan's eye sockets! Somehow, he retained vision through the tips of their tentacles. After some commiseration our divers continued, Johnathan opting to sit in the chair.

[DM's Note: Boris is the only original group member who hasn't been mutated. I wonder why?]

Concentrating, Johnathan scanned the lesser towers adjourning his current location, discovering a muffled clamor in one, silence in another, and finally three intelligences in the last. 

He felt a whetted hunger and, horribly, an awareness of his intrusion! One mind, filled with malice, cut itself off from his perception, and the other two quickly moved out of range. 

The party moved to retreat upwards through the center staircase, wondering whether they had time to decompress or if they had to risk depth sickness. Such speculation was stifled by the arrival of those intelligences sensed previously. 

These horrid creatures, equal parts spider and human, engaged the party in mortal combat. Micah bent the walls to prevent ingress, but the things advanced, using the tight spaces against the party, pinning some to the ground.

After several tense rounds of combat and some lucky dodges, the party managed to escape largely unharmed, bringing the creatures down with relentless spears. Johnathan, however, was knocked unconscious, necessitating a proper retreat.

[DM's Note: These creatures had a "save vs Death" ability, which I also dislike. I've amended it to permanent ability score damage on a failed save, not that it matters now.]

For the second time in four hours, our divers stumbled out of the star-speckled surf with an unconscious member.

Feedback: Sawn-Off's combat system is beginning to grate on me. Players autohit enemies, but get not only DR from armor but also the option to roll Defense (roll 1d20, add relevant ability score, try to get 20+) to dodge an attack. Granted, DR/Defense only work against one attack each, but enemies have neither DR nor Defense options, making combat trivial, if time-consuming against tougher foes. Very few enemies have multiple attacks.

I have some ideas to fix this, and I'll hopefully report back with some progress. Find out next time!

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Submerged Spire of Sarpedon the Shaper: Session 1

 Dungeon: Submerged Spire of Sarpedon the Shaper by Ben L.

System: Sawn-Off (an upcoming GLOGhack by Lexi). We're playtesting it: the full version has not been released yet.


Lexi - wrote Sawn-Off and many other good things.

Nick - recently released a neat 0.9 of a system called Nothing Ventured. 


(L) Micah: An Elementalist specializing in earth. Half-sibling of Krokka.

(L) Krokka: A Butcher well-versed in making meat.

(L) Mercenary: A hireling.

(N) Boris: A well-scarred Veteran. 

(N) Johnathan: A Traveler quite handy with a shovel.

(N) Robert: another mercenary hireling.

Content warning: body horror. All good? Righto.

Our intrepid band has been hired to recover an ancient tome from a submerged dungeon that once hosted a potent sorcerer-king renowned for blending creatures through generous application of mutagens.

After wading into the surf, our heroes took one look at the shadowed, dripping portal facing them and opted to dive in search of a...less foreboding entrance. Weighing themselves down, they landed upon half-ruined stairs and descended into an old, silted room that crowned one of the two smaller towers still intact.

Despite the multiplicity of crags and barnacles dotting the floor, nothing of value was found, and the party ventured down a exterior stairway to the other secondary tower. 

As Robert's flare began to illuminate the darkened room beyond, tragedy! As his armored foot landed upon the penultimate step, a ripple of light spread outwards, revealing strange runes, and Robert was engulfed in a swarm of bubbles. When they cleared not seconds later, his blistered, pinkish corpse sank gently towards the bottom of the steps, while the flare began to float upwards. 

[DM's Note: The trap at the bottom of this staircase activates whenever an object of significant size enters it. There is no indication that it needs time to reset, so I gave it a small reset duration, but was probably too generous letting the group loot Robert's corpse and then pass through the trapped area. I corrected this assumption at the party's cost later.]

Boris quickly snatched the flare and then prodded Robert's corpse, finding it uncomfortably warm. He then grabbed Robert's spear, ignoring the cooked flesh rubbing off the boiled fingers, and the others followed him into the next room. 

This room proved to be more fascinating than the last: a huge coral of unknown provenance occupied one side, coruscating in a rainbow of colors. Beneath the coral, an array of verdigris-ridden pipes reaching from the floor to the ceiling.

The coral's illumination reacted to Boris and Micah, so Mercenary chipped off a fist-sized chunk to keep. Fortunately, the liberated coral retained its luminosity. The party sifted through the muck, finding a hermetically sealed jar of dried eels. Their first flare sputtered out.

They resolved to move upwards, reasoning that the pipes had to originate from somewhere. As they ascended a set of interior stairs, the flare cast thready light upon a curious scene: jellyfish of all hues crowding around a glowing green pillar with pipes branching from its base. Some jellies drifted towards the unfamiliar light, and combat was joined.

Initially, the party's armor and defense served them well. A jelly soon settled over Mercenary's head, causing their face to blacken and pucker. In seconds, Mercenary's struggles ceased. Our heroes ascertained they would not win this fight with shovels or spears alone.

Boris, drawing upon his arcane tattoo, cast Air Wall, stranding some smaller jellyfish inside two thick slabs of air as the very water drew apart. However, as he did so, the remaining jellies rotated in unison and moved towards him in glowing, purposeful streams. Boris suffered further injuries from larger jellies, and Micah resolved to aid their ally.

Micah called upon the swirling silt underfoot, impelling it to rise up in a turbulent cloud between the two Air Walls Boris had conjured. Immediately, the jellies reoriented towards them, but the walls held those flickering, poisonous creatures at bay.

Two large jellyfish forced their way through the air wall, and were left punctured, colorless, and drifting. 

Johnathan, notably, acquitted himself well with his shovel, but gently loosed the spear from Mercenary's belt for the future.

[DM Note: Boris, thanks to his armor's DR, managed to make it out of the fight with 0 HP. Lucky duck! The fight itself went relatively well thanks to Sawn-Off's autohit rules, even though I kept forgetting individual initiatives. A hit from each jelly that dealt damage (eg: got past DR or evaded a Defense action) triggered a Con save versus poison, which everybody somehow made. It helped that the most assaulted characters had 17 Con.]

While Krokka butchered some jellyfish as potential food, Boris took his second trophy, gaining the ability to Identify Magic from the jellies' mindless attraction to arcane puissance. The party ate to restore their fortitude (an odd endeavor underwater) and Micah expressed interest in traveling through the pipes to deeper floors. 

Towards that end, Micah struck the green pillar once! twice! and the glass column, already cracked with time, shattered. Many things happened in quick succession afterwards. 

Firstly, a wave of roiling green liquid, heavier than water, flowed out of the pillar, and all parties present in the room felt their skin tingle as the emerald light washed over them. Then, the lump of rainbow coral Micah possessed shone with a clarion alabaster light, and burst outwards in a frenzy of branching growth!

Our heroes, wisely, began to flee the room, but the proliferating coral ensnared Krokka and Boris. Micah turned towards their sister and screamed silently as their eyes popped. Seconds later, a bubbling pain erupted in their forearms, and new folds of skin disclosed fresh orbs. Frantically swinging their arms, bejeweled with eyes, Micah advanced towards Krokka.

Boris, summoning his strength, burst free of the grasping coral, and stalked towards the stairs pausing not for his compatriots. Johnathan, already fleeing down the steps, looked backwards at the silhouetted figures then pressed onwards as the coral closed in. 

With Micah's help, Krokka broke free, but spasmed in pain as the tingling sensation sunk into her bones. Small, fluted holes popped open where the bone cleaved most close to her skin, and small antlike creatures crawled out, swarming over her limbs and then retreating to her marrow.

So burdened, the siblings helped each other down the steps, avoiding the encroaching coral. They joined Boris and Johnathan in staring wildly around the room below.

[DM's Note: The pillar contains a potent mutagen referenced later in the dungeon. There are, however, no guidelines for what happens if the pillar is broken, so I improvised. Each round the party remained within the philodendronian light, they had to roll a Save vs Con to avoid mutation and a Save vs Dex to avoid the coral. This was not quick, but it was dramatic. The rainbow coral has a range of possible effects when exposed to magic items, and that specific chunk Micah bore decided to grow.]

As the party debated their options, the tower trembled, and a flagstone plummeted from the ceiling above, trailing greenish silt. A thick coral protrusion forced itself through the hole.

The large fan of rainbow coral against the far wall began to oscillate wildly, with some parts spalling off the main body, others withering and blackening, and yet others beginning to grow outwards.

The party had four options.

  1. Exit through the trapped entrance from whence they came.
  2. Exit down the ruined stairs to the northeast, into darker depths.
  3. Pry open a silted, debris-covered door on the eastern wall.
  4. Descend further into the tower.
With time running out, they opted to exit through the only familiar entrance, knowing the risks. One barrier to swift ascent: their heavy gear, which enabled them to walk along the floor. Each member swiftly dropped half their pack, and swam outwards as viridian shafts sifted down from the ceiling. The trap, however, activated again, encasing both the leading Krokka and the trailing Boris in bubbles!

Boris, already weakened from the previous fighting, began limply drifting upwards with blistered legs. The others carried him out into the surf, panting under the hot afternoon sun.

~ finis ~

[DM Note: The secret door from room 7 to room 6 is noted in room 6's description, but not room 7's. This was a minor aggravation.]

It was a quite excellent session. I was surprised at how quickly the party resolved to begin interacting with objects, but I should have choreographed the risks better. Micah planned to travel through the pipes deeper into the dungeon, which would theoretically be quite possible were it not for the, er, mutagen.

Feedback on Sawn-Off: There were some edge cases that needed to be clarified (establishing what exactly a Veteran's trophy does at first level, deciding if initiative needed to be rerolled each round) but the core rules are quite breathable and lovely! I greatly enjoyed the freedom afforded to improvise aided by some small, handy tables.

One critique: combat quickly fell into a routine of "well, even if I'm not getting targeted, I should Defend". While the existence of other actions is clearly outlined, players fell into the habit of pressing familiar buttons. I perhaps aided this behavior by prompting them to describe all the actions they wanted to take, and I'll check myself in the future.


So, the main mutagen has been released, and the coral is feeding off it like a weed in moist soil. I envision it eventually working its way through the pipes and into the entire facility in an attempt to absorb every last scrap. This means that eventually, all pipes will burst, flooding whatever's managed to remain dry. My players are now on a timer to recover the book, and I'll choreograph the creaking pipes.

The tower that housed the mutagen will also be completely overgrown with coral and collapsed by the time they get back.

Such magical power must go somewhere. Deep inside the winding carbonate chambers, empowered polyps write and twist, agonized in the throes of mutation. What beings will emerge? Find out next time!

10,000 Chambers of the Cnite King

Deep within the turgid reaches of the Samarkand Desert, a lone crag of withered sandstone presents a visage long scoured by time.  Samuele B...