Felltower – Themes from an awesome play report

+Peter V. Dell’Orto runs a pretty awesome “pickup” Dungeon Fantasy megadungeon campaign, called Felltower.

His most recent play report was epic on several levels, not the least of which was, “hey, Dragon!”

More broadly, though, the session was interesting from other perspectives than was was clearly the fun that was had.

What did I notice?

Research Matters: Peter’s been doing neat things with his monstrous rumor table, and these rumors, for good or ill, drive self-motivated player actions. The value of a crap-ton of clues, some of which are true, some false, some mixed, tossed into the players’ hands can’t be overstated. It puts near total agency in their hands, allows plot seeds to be sown with lots of time to ponder implications, and otherwise makes for a fun beginning to each session.

Mysteries Remain Mysterious: Did they ever figure out precisely what was eating their wizard eye scry things? Not right away, though they perhaps made educated guesses. The players, also, are willing to walk away from a mystery and not hound it to death – at least, not immediately.

Loot First!: This was interesting and something I tried to do fairly unsuccessfully in my last Alien Menace campaign. The players scored their loot – tens or even hundreds of thousands of silver pieces worth of loot – immediately and with no real obstacle or fight involved. The trick was preserving the loot, and transporting hundreds of pounds of it out of the dungeon and back to town.

Mysteries II: That sword has serious foreshadowing written all over it, but conveys enough immediate utility (enchanted magical bastard sword that’s enhanced vs dragons? In a dragons lair? Out sword and have at ’em!) to tempt/demand immediate use. In the S&W Campaign we play in, Peter’s character Mirado has Woundlicker – a magical blood-drinking sword. It so far seems relatively benign, but is already motivating some “on the black side of grey” behavior from Mirado where he’s making decisions about prisoners and keeping combatant foes alive. This powerful sword – a Named Weapon, it would seem – reeks of plot development later. That’s good.

Fighting Dragons: I’m surprised, in a way, that they didn’t make more effort to extract the loot first, then return and kill dragons. Perhaps they had no choice, the way out was blocked. Perhaps the sword was already making its presence felt.

Baby Dragons, Mama Dragons: Were I to come across a party of, say, intelligent apes, carrying the mutilated bodies of human children, perhaps wearing one of their skins as a hat, I’m pretty sure what my reaction would be. Kill ’em all, but before hand let everyone know what I found. They killed the youngling dragons, and successfully engaged the big one. But there are bigger ones, and for all we know, every dragon in the area around Felltower now has a telepathic “Be On the Lookout for . . . ” in their heads. The loot is valuable, and the dragon eggs will make a future Danerys very happy. But that pathway is one not easily turned from, and once again, Peter laid the seeds of many future hard fights.

Two-trick ponies: OK, not a pony. And more than one trick. But Peter’s dragon always had a second power or ability up its sleeve. Cut the thing with a sword big enough to get through DR (assuming it had DR, maybe some sort of Injury Tolerance, etc)? You trigger an explosive blast of corrosive blood. Fireproof? Oh, well, the non-ignited (or partially ignited) juices powering the breath are bad news by themselves. You have good armor? No problem – dragons are good grapplers with their mouths and claws. Think you can play the one-on-many trick? Great. Have a giant striker tail upside your face. Next time it’ll have spikes. Poisonous spikes. Poisonous flaming corrosive spikes. Mwa ha ha, etc.

Mysteries III: I’m not sure his players, other than the last-minute decision to go for the vitals, ever really got the chance to figure out why that dragon was so resilient to their strikes. That might come up later, I have to imagine.

Oh, you thought you were done?: The fight with the bats on the way out was inspired – and handled well by the players. I get a mental image of Vryce as Han Solo charging the stormtroopers in the Death Star. Well, the beginning of that scene, anyway.

Parting Shot

The neat thing about this is how many tropes this manged to invoke while not seeming like consciously trying to invoke any of them. They got the loot first, then getting out was the hard part. The fights they had were challenging and required a lot of thought. They could have gone either way with poor play or bad luck. And they were never really safe until they got out, and the size of the loot, and its lack of portability (and ire-inducing nature if they happened upon another dragon) made it a challenge in and of itself. They’re lucky there weren’t bandits . . .

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