Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Play Report - the Isle of the Ape

  Every Halloween I run a classic module for the party/my family. Sometimes they are integrated into a campaign world (like the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan), usually they aren't (like the Ghost Tower of Inverness).
  Since the party had done relatively well (is in, there were a few survivors) in the Tomb of Horrors I figured this time I would hit them with EGG's other 'killer module', Isle of the Ape.

  In my opinion, Isle of the Ape is a 'sister' to Tomb of Horrors; the Tomb will slaughter entire parties with traps, the Isle will slaughter entire parties with combat encounters.

Brief Aside: I have read in a few forums and blogs about people who think Isle of the Ape is a walk in the park. One guy said his party simply flew on a Carpet of Flying to the lair and they killed Oonga with a spell. If this is true, the DM who ran that session should be cast into the outer darkness. Isle of the Ape is lethal to any party.

  My family/party is savvy and made holograms (Lew Pulsipher's term for characters created at levels above 1st) and I told them a combination of:
  • How many XP each PC could have
  • Maximum levels for particular classes
  • How much gp value they could spend on magic items with a cap on cost of a single item 
  • Maximum number of henchmen per character (and the XP, etc. limits for henchmen)
  • I then sat with each spell caster and we determined their spell books
  • And I finally sat with each player and we created their list of 'high power' magic items.
  They made two complete parties of 5 PCs and about 12 henchmen/followers for each of the two 'teams'. They created a 'Team 1' that would land fiorst and 'Team 2' waited 'on a rocky islet near the Isle' to replace losses. Team 1 consisted of:
  Mom: A 22nd level Old School Bard
               -Art, 8th level cleric henchman
               -Bill, 10th level thief henchman
               -Joey, 9th level fighter henchman
  J: A 17th Level Magic-user
               -Amy, 8th level cleric
               -Betty, 8th level cleric
               -Cindy, 8th level magic-user
  A: A 17th level Fighter
               -Abe, an 8th level cleric
               -Bob, a 9th level magic-user
               -Clark, an 8th level paladin
  S: A 12th//16th level Magic-user//Thief dual class
               -Dwarf, an 8th level fighter
               -Elf, a 6th/6th Cleric/Magic-user
               -Frank, an 8th level cleric
  N: A 16th level Ranger
               -George, an 8th level cleric
               -Harry, a 9th level fighter
               -2 Pixie warrior followers
  Notice anything odd? Look again.
  The only clerics are henchmen!
  Of course, there are 6 henchmen clerics high enough level to build a cathedral, but it was very interesting.
  Now that we have met the party, let's get to the adventure!

Spoilers for Isle of the Ape Follow!

  Now that that is out of the way.

  The party get's briefed by Tender and then use their own Folding Boat and the one Tenser provides to go to either the rocky islet of the Isle itself. The party deployed into a sensible marching order with scouts out. The pixies were constantly relaying messages between the Isle and Team 2 to explain how follow on characters would know about the adventure.
  The party spotted the village and began their approach with caution - but not enough of it - they were ambushed by the entire tribe!

I ran Isle of the Ape about a dozen times in the late '80's. 6 entire parties were wiped out to the last man by a villager ambush.

  For those of you who haven't read Isle the villagers are, on average, 6th level Barbarians (UA style) with giant carnivorous apes for muscle and some truly high-level leaders, including spell casters. And there are hundreds of them and they are tactically savvy.

  The initial volley of arrows injured almost everyone and made a few henchmen concerned. The volleys continued as giant carnivorous apes were sent in and the elite squads of warriors began to close from the flanks. Mages and Clerics rushed to the middle of the party as the combat types prepared to be encircled. 

  Then the bard used her bardic music to Fascinate the closest combatants, allowing the party a precious full round of spell casting without being disrupted by arrows or 12' tall apes.

  A was able to slaughter the biggest ape and a lot more damage was done to the groups closest, but this was a drop in the bucket for the swarm of villagers. The bard planted a Suggestion that the villagers retreat to regroup and enough failed that the leaders ordered a retreat to avoid a rout. Units that were outside the range of the bard continued to harass and stalk the party for some time as they fell back, but the party disengaged and found refuge to heal. The best thing was the party spell casters had killed a majority of the village shamans and the overall leader had fallen in battle to A's fighter.

  Healed up, the party pressed on to the village but avoided it to close with the massive gate. They used mounts and spells to ferry the party over the wall, searched the clearing, finding the note from Zagyg and some treasure. The ranger found that the ape or apes came from a particular trail, so the party moved down that trail and then camped for the night. Magic items, spells, and henchmen served to keep the dinosaurs out of the camp, although effort was required.

  The days were pretty similar for the next two weeks - march for 8-10 hours, camp, deal with 2-4 dinosaur or other attacks each day. Some of the highlights were;
  -At a river crossing J used Wizard Eye and spotted some large, hungry mosasaurs waiting to snack on them
  -Each attempt to fly that lasted more than a handful or round attracted the attention of the flocks of gigantic, carnivorous pterosaurs always on the wing.
  -Their first encounter with one of the female gargantuan apes, which they realized must be fairly weak compared to Oonga - and they had to camp immediately to heal up.
  -The giant crevasse which had hordes of giant insects at the bottom and that was spanned by a single mighty tree. the party used a Wall of Force to cross and the fight against the giant lizards was a bit easier because of this. 

  One major encounter was when the party realized that a she ape was hiding artop an 80' cliff where she could watch the entrance to their camp. They did their utmost to ambush her, but she was still able to throw boulders to devastating effect before they killed her; then they immediately had to face another she ape drawn by the war cries of the first!
  [see the notes from players, below, for more details].

  The final battle with Oonga was fierce and if it had not been for quick thinking and some luck they would have all died, easily. I will leave the intricate details to the players to tell!

Notes from Players

  While preparing for the adventure, we actually prepared two parties. The one we brought consisted of a 17th level magic-user, a very high level dual-classed thief/magic-user, a 22nd level old-school bard, a very high level ranger, and a very high level fighter with a wide range of utility. The one we left behind contained the Grand Druid, a 15th level paladin, a replacement for the bard who was never actually finished, a straight thief of horrendous level, and a hilariously munchkined fighter unceremoniously dubbed, "Grabnok the Destroyer." 
  This last figure became a running gag of epic proportions, as we continuously lamented the decision not to bring him when we realized things like the fact that he would be technically always hit armor class -10 with every blow, or that his minimum damage was 24 points per blow with 3 attacks per round. "If only Grabnok the Destroyer were here, this battle would have been over already. I mean, he can kill Lolth in single round!" continues to be a buzz phrase with us.

  We had this exchange upon realizing that the bard had more hit points than some of the giant apes:
J: "Wow Mom, you're beefier than that giant she-ape!"
N: "I, uh, think that came out wrong."

  In a particularly memorable moment, we were ambushed by a giant ape hurling boulders at us from a ledge 80 feet in the air, but succeeded in turning her to stone before any significant damage could be done.
   In order to prevent any chance of her being returned to an animate state, we immediately set out to lever her off the ledge, which would cause her to crash and shatter beyond repair. Immediately after we started this, another ape of even larger size charged the contingent of the party that we had foolishly left on the valley below; however, by exactly tying three rolls in a row, we succeeded in dropping the stone ape onto the charging ape, killing them both.
  As we remarked at the time, this meant that we killed two apes with one stone.

  This also led to a Great Moment in Homeschooling when we briefly tried to learn the mass of granite by volume, then calculate the volume of a 50 foot tall female gorilla, then run it through the formula in the DMG for damage of dropped stones by weight to make sure that we had, in fact, legally killed the second ape. We did not complete this, however, because we gave up when we realized that one of us had just used the phrase, "roughly 7000d6 of damage."

  Upon reaching an area where the isle was split end to end by an immense rift whose distant floor was inhabited by swarms of giant insects and was crossed only by a single, massive (but narrow!) fallen tree, J's response was to throw up his hands and state, "Nope! We're done! The apes win! Where's the portal out of here?"

  When ambushed yet again by a giant ape and looking desperately through our equipment lists trying to find something that would give us an idea for a plan, we had this exchange:
Mom: "Uhh, I have a Staff of Withering. Would that be useful?"
(J, N, and S simultaneously turn their heads slowly away from their notes and towards Mom, and then shout, in near perfect unison): "You have a Staff of Withering!?"  Our continued disbelieving conversation after that consisted primarily of interjections such as, "How long have you had a Staff of Withering?" "Why do you have a Staff of Withering?" or, "When did you get a Staff of Withering", as well as highly detailed descriptions given to the previously-ignorant Mom of just what a Staff of Withering actually does.

  For some unknown and presumably unknowable reason, S saw fit to bring two Eversmoking Bottles to the adventure. (An Eversmoking Bottle is, for those who do not know, a magic item whose only effect is to produce 120,000 cubic feet of smoke when unstoppered). He proceeded to spend the entire adventure proposing the Eversmoking Bottles as a solution to nearly every problem, plan, ambush, or puzzle, regardless of the continuous complaints of the rest of the party.  

  When planning potential assaults on a native village, we came to the realization, oft revisited since, that DnD is so incomprehensibly awesome that sometimes the correct solution to the problem at hand is to create an artificial hill, unfold a full-size sailing ship at the top of it, and then use a bottle that produces infinite water to propel it down the hill and crash through the enemy gate, allowing you to launch a naval boarding action on a land-locked fortification.

  In one of S's greatest moments, during the initial ambush by the natives of the island, upon hearing the basic layout of their troop disposition, he immediately said, "Wait, these are classic Zulu battle tactics. Where's the flying reserve that's trying to flank us?", correctly preserving us from a flanking manuever.

  Our response upon passing an island that radiated good so intensely it nearly blinded the cleric, and was known to the bard as the Restful Reserve of Pik-Nik, a stable point in the planes where any may find rest? Travel around it, never go back, and do our best to not even cast spells towards it. After all, this is DnD.

  Upon realizing the sheer, ludicrous strength of the native islanders, we immediately began a running gag about the Magic Super Zulu. Forget Mind Flayers! Magic Super Zulu: scariest thing Gygax ever thought up.

  There were a tremendous number of henchmen on this adventure, leading to some interesting situations. For example, we were so short on name ideas that our henchman included Abe, Arthur, Bill, Ben, Charlie, and a dwarf known only as, "Dwarf." We also had one particular henchman fighter dubbed, "Joey," who quickly gained a justified reputation for bad luck. He was the only person hit during our first run in with a giant ape, was later swallowed whole by a giant lizard and only barely saved in time, and was actually attacked by the titular Ape himself. He did, however, also distinguish himself by doing more damage to the Ape in the final battle than some PCs, and somehow managed to survive the whole adventure. 

  Also of the note is the fact that J, deeply traumatized by a run-in with a Nereid in the Lost Shrine of Temoachan, was obsessed with bringing an all- or mostly-female complement of henchmen, causing him to be the target of many odd looks by the rest of the party.

  It really dawned on us just how powerful the party was when we realized that we just killed a tyrannosaurus rex in a single segment. (utilizing the disintegrate spell, for those in the audience who are curious).

During our second run in with a T.rex, we had this conversation:
J: "Don't worry, S, you'll survive the surprise segment. I mean, how many hitpoints do you have?"
S: "34."
J: "See? You'll be fine. N, how much damage does a T.rex do with its bite?"
N: (correctly quoting from memory) "8d6."
J: "Ohh, you're going to die, S."

  Early on in the adventure, N interrupted the rest of the party in the middle of a complex planning argument with the announcement, "Uh, guys, this might be important, but I've actually been riding a pegasus this whole time."

Gamemaster Observations
  Even high level magic users suck against armies of 200+ competent combatants.

  Creatures with 12+ HD usually make their saving throws.

  Almost every online discussion of the module seems to reveal that people son'tknow/forgot that Oonga has 100% magic resistance.

  1e bards are terrifying.

  I need more NPCs to have Wands of Enemy Detection.

Review: Star Wars VII

Beware! Some Spoilers!
I mean it!

  OK, to celebrate me not being dead the entire family went to see Episode VII last night. Here is a capsule review;

The Good
  1. Production values were excellent. It was a joy to look at and props seemed 'authentic'.
  2. Acting was solid, particularly from John Boyega.
  3. Cinematography and editing were great - I expect an editing Oscar to go to this one.
  4. Directing was solid, if workmanlike. Abrams sometimes struggles with direction, but he did well here.
The Bad
  1. While shout-outs were done well and 'fit' for the initial 2/3rds of the movie they overwhelmed the last 1/3rd.
  2. I get that they wanted to mirror the plot of Episode IV, but the ending seemed rushed and - like the early death of Darth Maul - like they wasted a great opportunity for recurring targets/foes.
  3. The background setting is a mess. Is the Second Republic big or small? Powerful or Weak? Is the First Order in charge of a lot or a little? Is there any Republican force/fleet or is it just the Resistance? Why is the Resistance base hidden/secret if they are approved by the actual government?

The Ugly
  1. Lazy writing of the worst sort. Why have Han and Leia break up? Why, to make it look like the beginning of Episode IV. Why is Luke missing? Why, to build a MacGuffin and make it look like Episode IV. Why did a family member turn to the Dark Side and start wearing a mask? Why, to make it look like.... You get the idea. The characters from Episodes IV-VI were effectively thrown under the bus to make this look a certain way and it was jarring to me and other old-school fans I spoke with
  2. Lazy writing of the most common sort. Ignoring established canon (it takes training to do anything serious with the Force except in times of high emotion) for the Rule of Cool is jarring and my willing suspension of disbelief rolled his eyes once or twice because of that.
Side Notes
   Showing a storm trooper whip out a melee weapon and fight Finn with it was a subtle way of pointing out Finn had received at least some formal training in the use of melee weapons, making his use of a light saber natural

   The implication that Kylo Ren is not fully trained was subtle. My fan theory is the Supreme Leader has trained him to be more than capable of dealing with 'normals' but woefully unprepared to deal with other Force users so he isn't a threat to the Supreme Leader
  This explains why a new, untrained user of the Force can face him - he's been setup to fail to keep him a mere weapon, not a threat.

  Poe Dameron. Ace Pilot and top agent appears, slips the MacGuffin to a stooge who gives it to an innocent, unsuspecting girl and then reveals his mission to a recruit who wants to escape and maybe do the right thing. He then vanishes, presumed dead, leaving the rookies to complete his mission.
  Sound familiar? It should - it is, essentially, the opening to the introductory adventure for WEG's Star Wars RPG (different NPC name, though)! Complete with Poe showing up at the end to congratulate the new players... uh, heroes, for a job well done.

My Conclusion
  Worth seeing, as it is a fun movie, but not on par with VI or V.

No, I am not dead

I do have a new job. And it doesn't look like we are going to lose the house or the cars. And I use a cane, now.
  But I am back!

The rest of the Atlas and other premium content will be sent to patron tonight!