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.
- Exit through the trapped entrance from whence they came.
- Exit down the ruined stairs to the northeast, into darker depths.
- Pry open a silted, debris-covered door on the eastern wall.
- Descend further into the tower.
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.
IF YOU ARE A CURRENT OR FUTURE PLAYER DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER.
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!