Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 53.

Owlbear Rodeo VTT continues to enhance my game. The two full moons of Lunacy empowers lycanthropes: two players become werewolves and one of them dies in the intense battle. I reflect again on character death.

Owlbear Rodeo VTT with a mixture of their tokens placed upon a white board photo I had taken over a year ago.

VTT Thoughts – Owlbear Rodeo:
First, I want to bring up Owlbear Rodeo. I brought it in to my Saturday Dragonclaw Barony campaign at the end of January to help the players of that group wander through the simplified Basic Fantasy floor plan I was using. It worked well and it was nice to see the players interact with it while still relying on Theatre of Mind for most things. For my Barrowmaze group last night it was time for a different application. They were returning to an outpost called East Tan (the East Tannery), where they were going to help defend it from Lycanthropes that are enhanced and go on a rampage during the two full moons of Lunacy. I had drawn up a map of East Tan on a large white board in the summer of 2019 for the players who game at my home. But due to the pandemic we are all gaming virtually. How was I going to provide them with that white board picture and maintain that interaction like we have in person? Luckily, I have a habit of taking pictures of things I draw on the white board for future reference (it is a leftover habit from when I was a philosophy professor and wanted to keep the logic formulas I wrote on the whiteboards in my classrooms in case I needed to refer to them after class if students had questions). In this case nearly 1.5 years later, I just uploaded the picture into Owlbear Rodeo right before the session and threw some tokens on it to represent some wagons (they are the large gear symbols you see in the picture above). The players then added tokens for themselves, and the red circles represented bear traps they set and attempting to hide to capture or kill any lycanthropes that would dare to attack them, It worked really well! And as you can see, the red dots and the letters on the buildings done in this VTT look like they were the original markings I made on my whiteboard in the summer of 2019! The scale isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t matter to me in this instance since the placement of the tokens is simply to provide a point of reference, for details we verbally discuss actions, and this allows a flexible and adjustable interpretation of the situation which I prefer. I love the broad and simple application of this software.

Game Diary:
The players knew Lunacy was approaching. The Army of the Light are now becoming very well known in the Duchy of Aerik. The outpost of East Tan, which had been been liberated from a kobold infestation two years ago, requested the now much more powerful group to return and defend them, for they had heard that lycanthropes might be preparing to attack them during lunacy. The group was excited. The players spent 90 minutes purchasing supplies (they already had a “war wagon” with crossbow turrets, and now they purchased another wagon to block off another area of road. They silvered over 170 arrows, and bought dozens of bear traps (which they also silvered). They had a month in game time to prepare, and prepare they did!

90 minutes may seem like a lot of time to prep, but Lunacy game sessions are always high intensity adventures in my campaign. It was pointed out that in the three lunacy sessions I’ve run, that 3-4 characters turned into lycanthropes (two, who are wererats, are currently in gaming limbo and out of the campaign, but someday I will have a lycanthrope adventure for them), and several characters died. The most memorable of those sessions was when I had players defend the Keep on the Borderlands from a siege from all directions: werewolves attacked by battering the front gate with a battering ram, wererats crawled up through the lower levels and fountain, and werebats flew overhead and dropped werespiders into the keep from the air, where they used their webbing to create choke points in the streets preventing movement! It was lots of fun!

With 2.5 hours left in our game, the players arrived in East Tan and set themselves up (see the map above for the placement of the wagons (gear symbols) and bear traps (red dots).

In the first attack, some wereboars disguised as patrons of the Inn (“I” on map) transformed themselves, but Cobalt (paladin), and Balthazar (wizard), killed them. Next, more wererats attacked people in the Tannery (“T” on map), but they were also killed. More wereboars appeared in the Lumber Mill (“L” on the map), but Cobalt and Zen (monk) dealt with them without much fuss. Yet another pair of wereboars charged west on the road from the bridge to take on the characters on the southern wagon. One was skewered on a pole arm and the other stunned and taken down by silver arrow fire from the Guard Tower. The group was surprised (and I am sure the lycanthropes were too, for those lurking in the woods nearby would’ve hear screams from outpost victims, and then members of the Army of the Light would go in and a few moments later come out having successfully dispatching the intruders)!

The pack leader of the werewolves – name MaGallan – had enough of this. As the adventurers at the southern wagon were cheering during the skewering of the wereboar, MaGallan charged in from the west with three werewolves and six wolves. Gimli “Rot-Face” (dwarven berskerker) was bitten by MaGallan and two werewolves (the third was caught in a bear trap), and a couple of the wolves got a bite in as well. Gimli failed his saving throws – and right then and there under the power of lunacy he transformed into a werewolf before their eyes! MaGallan ordered him to attack Kiaria (seeker) right next to him. Next round MaGallan lunged in and bit James (arcane thief), he failed his save and also abruptly turned into a werewolf under the power of the savage double moons! The player’s were shocked by this sudden turn of events! Gnoosh (gnome rogue/illusionist) cast fear and somehow got the six wolves and two werewolves to flee. MaGallen looked up, pointed at Gnoosh, and told him he was next to join his pack. One player threw caution to the wind, he had his wizard launch a fireball into the intersection. The werewolf in the bear trap was scorched to death, James, the new turned werewolf also failed his save and was scorched so bad that not even his enhanced werewolf regeneration could save him; he was dead. MaGallan passed his save, but was left burned badly. In short order he was struck down.

The werewolves had now been either scared away, or burned by the fireball. Gimli had survived the fireball, but was unconscious at -8 hit points. Normally a person would bleed out -1 hit point per round and then die at -10, but he was a werewolf during lunacy, and he was regenerating 4 hit points per round – he would be back up and fighting in mere seconds! Several players wanted to save him if they could, but how could they render harmless a Dwarven Berserker Werewolf fueled by Odin’s Fury? The druid cast entangle, and other spell casters cast charm person and sleep. This restricted his movement, diverted his attention, and then lulled him to sleep. They shackled him up in chains and put him in the Barracks (“B” on the map). We ended the adventure there.

As I always do after each adventure, I asked the players what they thought of the session. There were some extended pauses and then a few quietly said “intense.” The feeling in the air was noticeably different. I am sure one player was sad that his Arcane Thief had perished, and others were wondering what the fate of Gimli might be. There is one player in the group who is a long-time AD&D player, so losing characters in the much less forgiving 1st edition is something he is long used to (“characters die” is a phrase I’ve heard him say many times), indeed, although he has four characters now, he previously lost one character to lycanthropy in a Lunacy adventure, and three other characters have died in my game, so he has effectively lost half his characters over the last three years. But not everyone has that perspective on character loss. Just a few days ago I wrote a blog post about why I have players use multiple characters. This may be one of the tests to see if my system works, for even though I want players to focus on a group of characters rather than put all their hopes and desires onto one character, we really can’t help but develop a favorite character at some point, can we? Even I as the GM am rooting for characters, especially if someone has put 20 or 30 sessions into building that character up. You can tell a player “a character may have existed for one session or thirty sessions, but don’t forget the joy you had using them, and the anecdotes you will be able to share years from now with other gamers.” It’s a nice sentiment, but that thought process doesn’t always work.