Sunday, October 31, 2010

"No, Blackrazor!!! Not my souulll...!"

Thursday night's Baranof game started right where we left off the week before. That is: the part had apparently discovered the first of the three missing magic weapons...the black blade well as the halfling champion, Quentin Nogg, whom the party had also been tasked with finding.

Folks who own, or who are familiar with, White Plume Mountain are probably going to say, "what the hell is this all about?" There is, of course, no Quentin Nogg in the original S2 module, and certainly no one just hands Blackrazor over to the PCs without a fight.

Instead, the final encounter beneath the "inverted ziggurat" is with an ogre-mage named Quesnef. Quesnef has polymorphed himself into the form of a "doughty halfling warrior" in order to catch the players off-guard and hopefully do them some harm.

Yeah, right.

I've run White Plume Mountain several times over the years, generally with the straight Quesnef encounter, and guess what? No one has ever bought off in the claim Quesnef was a "halfling warrior;" certainly no one has ever considered him to be anything but a villainous enemy, no matter how straight-faced I ran it.

In my experience, ALL the adventurers that ever made it to the Quesnef encounter have drawn blade and executed a full-on Charlie Manson Special before the creature could even begin to spin its pack of lies. They made it past ghouls and crabs and manticores (not to mention microwave corridors and frictionless rooms) and now they find a friendly face? Right where Blackrazor is supposed to be? No way!

Nah, for me the encounter has always turned out to be a big, fat dud. The ogre-mage maybe gets a chance to turn invisible, possibly gets off a cone of cold, and then falls beneath the spells and weapons of a murderous group of experienced adventurers...all with little fuss or muss. Lame.

So instead I added the Quentin encounter. Quentin Nogg is an ACTUAL doughty halfling of the heroic variety. He was initially sent to recover the magic weapons, captured, and held in durance vile. Unable to escape past manticores and ziggurat, he's been rotting down here for three or four weeks, fed by Keraptis's servants and quartered in sumptuous surroundings, but still a captive whom the wizard has been unable to turn.

Placing Quentin as an objective ensured the party would at least pause before gutting him. Not that they trusted the halfling a whit...Terril the cleric still cast know alignment on the halfling immediately (I don't remember if Sweet Tito used his wand of enemy detection or not...I think the party was satisfied once they discovered Quentin wasn't some Chaotic miscreant). Even if they had, Quentin would not have been detected as an enemy...he was indeed a fellow adventurer in need of rescue.

Blackrazor was the true enemy.

The party finished gathering treasure...loot Keraptis had left trying to entice the halfling to join his forces...and then prepared themselves to exit the dungeon. As they had certain challenges they would need to navigate (not to mention possible wandering monsters) I didn't automatically rule "okay you backtrack your steps and leave the dungeon..." as I sometimes do when players are looking to retreat for some rest. The party re-traced their steps, climbing the ropes past the polar bears (who continued to honor the "non-aggression pact" previously negotiated) and headed back towards the frictionless room.

Blackrazor decided to strike once the party was in the narrow confines of the upper passages.

For those unfamiliar with Blackrazor, the blade is a sentient sword based more than a little on the Moorecock weapons, Stormbringer and Mournblade. As an intelligent sword, it has a special purpose: "to suck souls" in the words of Lawrence Schick. It does this by killing sentient beings and devouring their souls, feeding strength to its wielder, even as it satisfies its own dark hunger. Though it doesn't say so in the book, I have always taken the glowing star-like constellations of the blade to be actual imprisoned souls...a new star winks into existence with every death caused.

Blackrazor is never actually used against the players in the normal adventure module...instead it is an objective of play and (possibly) a trap: a Chaotic weapon that can turn on those of weak will, dominating them and compelling them to satiate its lust for souls through ruinous bloodshed.

Anyway...such was the circumstance here. Quentin Nogg was no enemy of the player characters, but Blackrazor was hungry after so many weeks of isolation, and it was determined to have its due in stolen lives.

The party marching order was this: Farnsworth and Gustav, Brian and Sly, Sweet Tito (still weak from his recent raising), Quentin and Terril, and Alster and Borgnine bringing up the rear. Since Terril was closest to Quentin, I had him roll the party's surprise roll. It came up a "1." I had Terril and Sweet T both dice off to see who the halfling would attack, as there was an equal chance of either, and the cleric lost.

With blinding speed (Blackrazor can caste haste on its wielder), Quentin turned on the cleric, black blade flashing. The halfling's eyes had rolled back in his head and he was obviously no longer in control. "Blood and souls!" He hacked at the cleric, inflicting severe wounds, even as Terril yelled for help.

In the following round, Blackrazor stabbed the cleric, deep through the kidneys. The cleric died with a curse as his soul was sucked out of his body. Without missing a beat, the halfling wheeled and brought the black blade crashing down on Sweet Tito's head, pulping his skull and driving his jaw deep into the elf's body cavity.

Alster attempted to cast hold person on the halfling, but Quentin made his saving throw. Brian loosed an arrow at him and Bornine hewed with his axe, but despite the wounds inflicted, Quentin seemed stronger than before as the blade fed him lifeforce. Sly tried to contact Sweet T telepathically, and could still feel his spirit hovering about his body.

[Sweet was wearing a broach of shielding which, in B/X, protects against death magic like finger of death. I decided to allow it to provide him with a saving throw versus Blackrazor's soul-sucking ability...'cause I'm such a nice guy...and Sweet managed to save. The only soul he'd permanently destroyed was the cleric's]

In the next round, Quentin again achieved initiative. A light flashed from the ring on his hand and suddenly there were TWO halflings wielding Blackrazors! Both attacked the cleric praying desperately for a miracle, but neither was able to strike home as the cleric blocked with his shield. Alster cast his 2nd (and final) hold person spell, but the possessed halfling again saved, this time with an 18.

Things were looking a might grim for the adventurers at this point.
; )


  1. Excellent module work. Kudos to you for an absolutely incredible 'fix' to one of S2's biggest weaknesses.

    This was a truly engaging session report to read.

  2. Also, nice to see that you got to use your blog's namesake to great effect.

    As to allowing a save for Sweet, well, that sounds like a reasonable adjudication to me. But what do I know...:)

  3. @ Scottz: Thanks. I was pretty proud of myself, too (in case ya' couldn't tell).
    : )

    @ Antonio: The toughest thing is balance. For example, making a halfling with 18 strength, 18 dexterity, 18 constitution, and a ring of spell turning would be...well, grossly unfair, to put it mildly. I wanted to make the guy dangerous without being too much of a bastard.

    I felt the ogre-mage was a good base to model. If the halfling's average damage was a little higher...well, at least he didn't fly and turn invisible and shoot cones of cold, right?

    @ Kelvin: "Oh dear" is right!
    ; )