Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Expedition To Suddenly Less Sucking Than I Expected, Part 7

After 148 pages and 6 blog entries we come to the last, longest, and (who knew?) best chapter of Expedition To The Ruins Of Greyhawk.

Last time the PCs found the boss, beat the boss, then the boss' boss came and smacked around that boss, then the pseudomom of that new boss showed her fake son who was boss.

Because unbeknownst to the boss of the first boss, the first boss was the boss of this homemade magical copy of his own boss' mom which he wanted to use to undermine his boss. But now that her boss has been slain by his boss, she has no boss and so wants to use the Godtraps of Castle Greyhawk to turn her into a true mom of the second boss and not just a copy of that mom.

Got it? No? Whatever, just follow the breadcrumbs until there's a Witch Queen.

Breadcrumb one is a glowwy fairy who is like Help Me PCs You're My Only Hope.

The glowwy fairy is like "Listen, my boss has been trapped by the fake momboss! To her we must go."

Why would the PCs believe anyone who asked them to do anything in this adventure? Believing people around here just gets you kidnapped by cults, pinned between warring demonesses, drinking green slime, researching pointless spells, and duped by larcenous sidequest thieves.

Probably because if they've made it this far through Expedition they've learned that when you almost die fighting a boss and then the GM turns the page and there's someone saying The Princess Is In Another Castle you pretty much suspend all judgment or urge to roleplay and bend over and follow the bouncing ball or else play some other game…
(Note to self: make bouncing breadcrumb ball magic item out of mixed metaphor.)
“I have only one real clue—a cryptic verse whispered to me by a lillend oracle who lives in the head of a dead god of prophecy on the Astral Plane! Perhaps you can make heads or tails of it: 

Watched above by hawks of gray, deep below old castle’s clay,
Guest of madness lost from ken, your mistress waits in Zagig’s den.

Under ziggurat crowned with fire, beyond the room of rainbow’s ire,

Lonely mistress filled with rage, caught within a pretty cage. "

Ok, the third line doesn't scan, but I'm inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to anybody who  lives in the head of a dead god.
What stands between you and the glowwy's lonely boss? Bosses. Lots of bosses. Which may not be the cleverest answer, but it's a good one, because boss fights are what this module does best. Boss fights and call-backs to old TSR adventures.

At this point there isn't much plot left and the overall dungeon design, as usual, isn't really interesting--despite what it looks like on paper, it's essentially linear with chokepoints you need to pass on the way to the Final Goal, and most of the moving parts are too isolated to interact with each other very much--the aurumvoraxes won't chase you past the gates of their lair, the Orb of Opposition doesn't work on anyone but its intended target, the Room Where Whatever A Wizard Thinks Up Becomes Real So Long As Its In That Room has miles of hallway and a dracolisk between it and anyone you could use it to fuck with, the shrinking effect is localized to the Wonderland encounter, the big boss doesn't change her plan if you attack her then get scared and leave and come back later, etc.

So all we're left with is a list of rooms which are good (big text) or aren't good, including….

-Red caps (which amount pretty much to mischievous, tinkery Warhammer goblins) riding a mechanical juggernaut they reanimated while one shoots bolts at you from an arrow slit. The juggernaut has a "boss pattern" to its magic attacks (it's a machine, after all) and, fairy-taleically, the Redcaps refuse to fight in even numbers.

-A lich who the PCs interrupt in the lab dissecting an aboleth. The lich turns invisible--I know, I know, but listen--then he uses ventriloquism to make the severed aboleth head talk and threaten the PCs. Plus there's jars of aboleth juice and spare tentacles scattered throughout the room that'll slowly turn the PCs into only-water-breathers if they touch them.

-A pair of intellect devourers. Not too complicated but their mind control and confusion powers are interesting, plus, y'know, giant walking brains with claws.

-Yellow musk creepers with zombie bulettes. Not my bag but, hey, somebody's trying, nice to hear.

-A mind flayer looking for the other mind flayer earlier in the adventure (via remote control of a hook horror) who is mentally remote-controlling some hook horrors. It's nice that, unlike with the dragons and beholders, there's an actual in-game reason for the multiple supposedly-exotic high level monsters.

-Dracolisk. Not a very interesting encounter, but I like Dracolisks--and it seems to fit what's going on down here in the dark more than the blue dragon, asian dragon, wyvern and skeletal dragon. So between this and the intellect devourers I'm giving Expedition one style point.

-A thief and a bard. Guh.

-Dork with a horn he blows and a skeletal dragon.

-A Wonderland-themed throne room where you fight the Red Queen, some card guards, and an old Greyhawk wizard with a .357. Not my kinda crazy but, again, someone was trying (and referencing old Greyhawk stuff) and the fact that the card guys have a duo-dimension effect (impossible to see from the side) is cool, I wish I'd thought of that for A Red and Pleasant Land

-An ape who hits you with the severed head of a dead plesiosaur it was eating on a beach (why is there a beach in a dungeon? Long story, not good). It's kind of like if Rachel just farted in the middle of the Voigt-Kampff scene in Blade Runner. "Is this testing whether I'm a Replicant or a plllrrrrrrrrt". You wouldn't say it fits, but you'd have to be really boring not to appreciate it.

-An illusory feast and drink that compels you to eat it but really You're eating maggots, Michael

-A spell-absorbing T Rex named The Dormant King in a pool of psychic interdimensional mind bubbles. The actual spell absorption effects are dull--absorbed spells just add to various ability scores--but I'm sure you can do better. The bubble dimension is underdeveloped but has all the parts you need if you want to get all Beyond The Black Rainbow with it.

-Old Man Joke: A waiting room--bright blue walls, an unseen servant takes your hat a magic mouth says "Zagig will be with you shortly".

-Another Old Man Joke: A belt of giant strength +4 made of pink lace that constantly emits scandalous moaning sounds and ridiculous grunts when worn, negating any Move Silently checks and penalizing all Charisma-based skill checks by –6 (marked “Has its Uses”)

--Shockingly Lame Puzzle Seemingly Meant To Forever Discredit The Idea Of All-Character-Skill-No-Player-Skill Challenges Forever #1:

You are in a large chamber, seated in a semicircle with your friends. At the front of the room, your teacher—a powerful wizard named Slerotin—is lecturing you on the nature of the true magic that lies beyond what mortals can shape into spells. This, he says, is power magic, and its direct manipulation is what allows the Suel Imperium—your home—to prosper in the face of adversity. Eventually, your teacher turns to you and asks you to repeat the lesson to him.

No matter how the PCs respond to the question, each can attempt a DC 20 Spellcraft check. If at least one succeeds, the teacher smiles, and the group gains 1 [mcguffin acquisition] point. If everyone fails, feelings of shame overcome all the PCs, and each takes 2 points of Wisdom damage before the vision fades.

-Shockingly Lame Puzzle Seemingly Meant To Forever Discredit The Idea Of All-Character-Skill-No-Player-Skill Challenges Forever #2:

The false Iggwilv (the final fucking boss you won't meet for ages) knows the command words to operate this prison, and she is unlikely to reveal them. However, she possesses a tome written by Zagig that chronicles the prison’s creation and records its command words. (Where that is they don't say.)

Perhaps the simplest way to free Shenda from the prison, however, is through the Use Magic Device skill. A successful DC 30 Use Magic Device check allows a character to utter the correct command word by happenstance.
-A version of Wizard-choosing scene from Willow. This tests player skill--but since the player skill is the ability to have seen and remembered what happened in Willow, it's still stupid.

-A demon encounter inside an inverted stepped pyramid where each step toward the center has a different and more horrible effect than the last, so falling really sucks.

-Ichor shrine--the actual encounter is just another pile of losers but:

When Fraz-Urb’luu was finished with Telvechus, he left the demon’s heart suspended in the air above a five-sided pyramid designed to leach energy from it in the form of ichor and store it in bubbling pools below.
-And just when you thought Chapter 6 could not possibly be more metal:

Along the curved northern wall stand seven statues that once depicted Boccob in loving detail, but each has been warped by magic—one now sports demonic horns, another seems to be eviscerating himself with his own holy symbol, a third is eating the pages of a spellbook, and the others have been altered in other bizarre ways. To the south stands a pulpit, its stone floor awash in gore and filth, next to an eighth statue of Boccob that has been covered with blood and excrement. At the edge of the dais is a stone altar crawling with vermin.

...Livashti prepares for their arrival by draping some chains over her ankles and wrists and lying down on the altar. She then directs the blaspheme [undead duplicate] Riggby to stand over her and act as if he is about to sacrifice her in Boccob’s name...
 If she can trick a lone PC into clambering up onto the pulpit to “save” her,  Livashti attempts to dominate him. If successful, she orders her new ally to pretend to untangle her chains while calling out to his allies to stay back and fight “that monstrous undead menace.” In the meantime, Livashti directs the dominated character to use any protective magic items, spells, potions, and resources he might have to protect her. Then she cowers behind her new ally and begins casting her short-duration protective spells on herself—particularly divine favor and spell immunity to any spells the PCs seem to be casting a lot.

Once the blaspheme has been destroyed, Livashti telepathically orders her dominated ally to clutch his head and shriek out, “My mind! It’s in my mind now!” and then attack his one-time friends...

This combat should be the second toughest that the PCs face in the adventure, and they might be forced to flee. If they do so, Livashti does not stay idle here. She leaves the prison, teleports to Greyhawk, and immediately begins the process of tracking down the PCs, hoping to murder them one at a time if she can’t magically control them.
That's a god damn villain. I want her phone number.

-Remember how waaaaaay back in the introduction to the module it made you read about Zuoken the incongruous monk? That was for no reason. Zuoken doesn't do anything in this module. Motherfucker was just taking up space they could've used for more Livashti.

-Also, the touching-Billarro's-hand-to-the-orb-to-make-him-Robilar again quest isn't as cool as it should've been. Billarro's just tied up in the final boss room, you don't have to chase him down or bean him with it or anything.

-The rest of the final encounter is nicely disturbing though…

Five identical human females are held aloft in ghostly tentacles* of energy. Four other tentacles caress the southernmost gemstone. Flashes of energy travel down the four writhing arms and up into each of the five women. “You are too late!” cries one triumphantly. “You cannot stop us now!” says another with malicious glee.

Only one is the real evil mom copy, the rest are just creepy disguised demons.

Ok, so the disguise thing may be getting overused by this point but they are demons, after all and it's nice to see them used as something other than horned damage bears.

So this last chapter is fulla goodness. But is is chock fulla goodness? I mean: it's got a lot to like, but it's also rrrrrealllly long. Let's see the math:

Pages: 66
Words: 54, 185
Good Ideas: 16

...so a good idea every 4 anna quarter pages. I'll call that a happy ending--after a slow beginning and a middle that could give you a coronary.

Next time: The Final Idea Scrape.

* (relax, they're just good friends)


charles mark ferguson said...

Now you mention it it is hard to reconcile Livashti + hentai tentacles + 7 statues of boccob with the tax dwarfs.
Ps thanks. The "my eyes bled so yours wouldn't have to" is really appreciated. And the Zen advice on let your rules be your prose module design is gold.

huth said...

would the fart score you higher or lower on the VKT

Tom said...

The fart itself would not affect your VKT score. The REACTION to the fart during the test would affect your score though I'd imagine.

Brian Sailor said...

This module had me hoping for a really cool look into the mind of Gary Gygax but left me with the feeling that maybe Castle Greyhawk was really kind of overrated. I know that's blasphemy to grognards, but there you are.

Zak Sabbath said...

Well this module has little to do with the original Castle Greyhawk--which no published product has reproduced.

All we know for sure is it had a fountain of snakes--and that is cool--and passages to the wild west and wonderland. Which is....something.