Monday, January 9, 2017

Heart of Doom in the Tower of the Stargazer


New D&D players like all D&D players



It came to pass that in this 21st century of D&D equanimity and seepage into the average world of leisure, my in-laws once removed had joined a D&D campaign, a young professional couple learning this new game for the first time.  At recent family gatherings I've heard such things as, "It's a long time to sit around so I get bored.  But my Dragonborn Monk does always win."  I couldn't let this ambivalence stand, and I offered to run a game for them.  So on a dark and stormy Friday night Lady J and I showed up at the door bearing dice and traveling DM briefcase.

I wanted to present a short dungeon with a twist, the kind of thing that could be fully explored in one session and offered a bit of closure, or "story", so I had read over and prepped the one-page dungeon Heart of the Minotaur.  I was gonna populate it with Boggles and Nilbogs from the new 5e monster book.  I set the print out on the table, no DM screen, began to narrate an opening scene: "You three are walking down a country lane -oh wait, introduce your characters."

So the players went around the table, ogled their handout characters and we all decided that since two of them had been having apocalyptic dreams of a tower and the third wizard elf knew about a tower, they were walking down the road looking for some tower.  "Great, back on track.  You encounter a wounded woodsman who begs you to save his wife with his last dying breath.  He says he hit the thing with his axe but it laughed."

The players were unimpressed.  "Sounds like a distraction," said Lady J, who has been playing regularly for two years, "Let's get to that wizard tower."

What's a DM to do? "Ok.  So you walk down the road apace and you come to a right in the road.  As you turn toward the tower you think you had been dreaming about, an axe handle comes flying out of the trees from the opposite direction.  It strikes the wizard for 1 point of damage.  You hear mocking laughter from that direction."

"A silly place.  Let's get to that tower."   They were dead set on ignoring the dungeon that was literally on the table!

But I am a DM with a deep well of dungeons.  I reached back into the traveling back and pulled out Tower of the Stargazer, printed out zine style, looked it over quickly and said, "After many hours of hiking through overgrown and untended trails you come upon a tall and ominous tower, over which looms a single storm cloud."

And lo, the adventurers did explore the tower of the wizard Calcidius, nearly choosing to free him, but ultimately ascending to the exploratorium at the top.  They followed the order of operations, lit the fuse and the barbarian looks through lens.

"You see the creatures dancing in a circle.  You are glowing red.  You feel a tugging sensation.  Do you resist this feeling or do you go with it."

"I go with it."

With that the barbarian traveled through time and space and I ceremoniously ripped up his character sheet.  The player was bemused, but it made for a nice punctuation on the evening.  A lovely time was had by all.