Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Well That Escalated Quickly

We have another submission from another anon! Behold:

So I figure since we are trashing other GM horror stories I should give one or two from my own meager GMing experience.
So it was after my first adventure in AD&D I must have been like 10 at the time and my dad was the GM, but as a 10 year old clearly I thought, well I could totally be a GM, then I could make epic battles and crazy annoying wizards that are so damn hard to kill even against a party of 9… Like our arch-nemeis Leptor, who could kick our asses with an invisible imp and pit traps, we hated him a lot. Turned one of his generals into a tuna, good times.
Back on topic, I decided that I could make an adventure where the players were awesome, and so it went pretty well it was a standard dungeon crawl in a giant lair at first (that’s a layer with giants in it to be clear), and that went pretty well, eventually the players managed to find a sword that was insanely good against giants, and they went on a slaughter quest killing giants for experience. I had fun calculating the experience and having them level up, then having them fight more giants and rinse and repeat, until if I recall correctly it got to the point where we were just acting out the parts of the dieties of the characters fighting the bad guy, who for the life of me I cannot recall, maybe the giant god?, but yeah after that we decided that we liked my dad’s GMing more, but at least it was fun until it pretty much couldn’t escalate any more.
Eventually I tried again with GMing when I was a bit older, and it was going pretty well had a dwarf fighter and drow rogue doing quests etc. until I got to an adventuring module where you basically get kidnapped into a spaceship or something and these aliens have tech weapons that can ignore armor. Well my players were not really too happy with the fact that they lost their equipment and that the module creatures were basically ignoring their armor, although they did enjoy the fact that the creatures cores were basically usable as grenades. So I ended up giving the reigns of that campaign back to my Dad, and joined in with a necromancer who I had intended to be the BBEG of my campaign, and since my dad said that this was the last campaign he would GM for us since I kept taking over and giving it back to him we stuck with it and it was good fun, but I still had a reluctance to GM until this previous year.

The SUE Files: Read This One Dramatically

One of the other players was kind enough to end abridged versions of the prophecies mentioned up in Dragonslayers, albeit without the curly font.

Here's the first one, about going to the island:

When Primal Forces stir,
The Cauldron’s Child and Frozen Lily meet.
The promise of return will lure,
Endless Guardians to defeat.

Upon the distant, mystic Isle,
The guardians’ guard shall seek to test.
Through magic, strength, or gift of guile,
To prove your worth:  this challenge best.

The seer writes upon the page:
The means to lift both Curse and Boon.
Hidden knowledge of the Never Age,
Sealed in written Rune.

--- (Mercifully shortened, iirc)

But after spell and lock and cage
The final trial still yet awaits
yet raise the Cutter high in rage,
and so sealed is the Soldier's fate.

And here's the second one, the much-abridged version of the summary of the ritual:

Beasts Eternal guard the sacred Rift. What cannot be killed can only be shunned, bound
beyond its means for an eternity. The ritual means, written below, fills this and only this
purpose. Sacrifice will be required, of both the performer and the performee.
Ingredients Necessary
Twenty-Nine Courics of Crystalline Reality, Pure
Forty-Seven Courics of Matter, Premature
Five Pounds of Dragon Eye, eight in total, of equivalent weight
Ten Pounds of Dust of Diamond, ground within a Basalt mortar with a pestle of Mithril
Three-Hundred Seventy-Eight Candles, Tallow struck through with the Wax of Bees
Forty-Three Gallons of Ichor, taken from a Fuchsian Worm
One Dragon Fang, taken from a still-living dragon of no less than three Millennia in Age
One Mortar, carved from a Fallen Star with a Blade of Adamant
Seventeen Cauldrons, forged of Silver and Hardened with the Blood of Angels
Twenty-Five Obsidian Rods
One Brush, forged of Adamant with head of Phoenix Down, per Participant
Grind the Pure Crystalline Reality within the Starmetal Mortar using the Fang of the
Dragon. Prepare not in advance, or the Reality will begin to deteriorate. Store in Sixteen
of the Angel Blood Cauldrons, evenly distributed.
Mix the Matter Premature and the Wormblood together in the final Cauldron with a
Rod of Black Glass, before adding the mix to the other Cauldrons in turn. Repeat until
supplies are exhausted.
Roll the Dragon Eyes in the Dust of Diamonds. Drop the Eye of Dragon into the
Mixture, one for each of half the Cauldrons. The remaining Dust of Diamond is added to
the self-same Set.
Mix each Cauldron with a Rod of Black Glass, stirring Widdershins against the
currents existent. New Rods will be required to finish mixing the Cauldrons of Dragonic
From Black to Blue of Sky the Lesser Mixture grows, while Black to Red the
Mixture of Power glows.
Place now the Candles within the Cauldrons Lesser, their Wicks without to lift from out.
Allow to soak for Hours Three.
Heat Both with Flames Arcane until the point of Froth and Boil, then Chill until the
Colours mute.
Utter unto Mixtures then, the Phrase
Vers Drilgic, Korinth Yinxirzijic
Fethos Versvesh, Dibelaci Jihai
Upon such Utterance, Black becomes Thy Toil.
Use now the Brushes prepared against Fire and Destruction to construct the Sigils of
Power. Apply the Lesser Mixture to create the Great Circles and Central Runes, and
the Mixture of Power to create the Inner Circles of Runes. Draw first upon the
Lesser’s Power, lest the Greater Power refuse to be Tamed. Once drawn the Lesser
marks, apply the greater under Lesser’s Grip.
A Circle, Nine Paces wide, ascribes the Top. Nine Paces further mark Each of those
that lie Below. The Runes that mark the Intersects painted in the Lesser Mixture, while
those Without are made of That with Power.
Apply the marks in careful time, for limited is the time that the marks will last. Without
the treated vessel contained, the Power quickly burns that which Lasts.
Upon Completion, but not a drop of Mixture before, the Phrase of Binding must be
Uttered, lest the Mixture turn to Bile, and do naught but Poison the lands it touches.
Azarun nomeno Tharm, fogah koli Creafora, vur jikmada wer Dos di Oium vur Tairais
ekess azarun wer Fueryoni malrak waphir. Ini Asta Iejir si azarun Astahi, ini sia Iejir
si azarun nomeno Tharm.
All Assistants must form a circle, evenly spaced, within the Top Circle. The Frozen Lily
must take her place at the foot of the Lonely Rune within the selfsame Circle.
Upon the emergence of the Beasts Eternal, the Ritual itself will Commence. The
Assistants must repeat the Pledge of Binding during the time.
Si majak di sio ihk wer vragul di azarunra wer Fueryoni Ro. Sia mamiss nishka vers wer
Azarunra, sia Geou vur Fedark ui majaktor ekess wer gjahall di wer Sultana Iri, wer
Sargti di wer Salora.
To the Leader of the Ritual goes the power of the Timing. By invoking the Binding
Dictum, the Frozen Lily may seek to seal the Beasts fought, though a sacrifice of both the
Circle and the Dragon must be provided. Only when sufficient Blood has been spilled of
the Beast may the Ritual succeed, for the Beast’s own Blood must be presented against it,
though the Ritual exacts its own tribute upon the invocation of Dictum.
The Binding Dictum must be stated using the Name of that which is invoked to be bound.
The Eternal Beasts, thrice named by Man and God, respond only to their First Names,
those bestowed upon them before the Gods, Abbadon and Tanith.
“I Invoke thy name, ______, and Bind thee. I break thy Curse, and Banish thee to the
Realm that Isn’t. Your Blood bears Witness against Thee, and now this Circle gives of
Itself to Seal thee.”
Only one of the Beasts can be bound with a single Invocation of name, though once bound
naught can escape the grip of the Bonds. Upon both being bound, the final Seal may be
enacted with the final Proclamation of the Keyed Key. The Ritual shall claim its
sacrifice, a the lock to place upon the Beasts’ Prison, a possession of attachment and
investiture to the Invoker.
Once Chosen, the Proclamation must be given.
Persvek wer Boja vin tiselaiw tepohaic sultada,
Vin krunir: wer dos di Tairais jikmadator.
Boga wer Dos, wer Molis vur Stoth nishka wielg,
Sari treskri lowda ini Driki vur Kepesk.
Mrith regipre de wer Hianag di wer Ricin,
Ro Fueryoni nishka jaseve asta Sultana Platohol zara.
Upon this Utterance, the Beasts and their Lock shall be lost, forever gone from the
And with their Absence, so is it Imminent for the Frozen Lily and the Cauldron’s Child.

Next time: Suetopia!

The SUE Files: Dragonslayers

When last we left off, our players had a new toy, albeit one they were apparently forbidden to use except on the Dragons. This means, naturally, that we need a new prophecy, because whenever anything happens in-game, some old person on a mountaintop has predicted it in a meditative trance. GM!Marty has a little spiral notebook of “various prophetic musings”; these, once inexpertly rhymed, are the plot hooks. He loves this stuff, especially when he can put it in his own alphabet and expect us to sit and translate it on our own time – and then accuse us of metagaming when we do, because “[our characters] could never break such a detailed code].” Bear in mind, it’s just a set of glyphs that stand in for English letters, 1:1. That isn’t a code; that’s a font. It’s the handwritten, awful equivalent of putting the players’ briefings in Webdings. This prophecy, though, is in plain Common/Basic/Standard; it’s also a dry, boring slog through meter that’s too lengthy by half (and mostly monosyllabic), with a completely unvarying rhyme scheme. Of course, it’s also read in this deep, exaggerated, ludicrously booming voice, and no one can do anything else. We’ve had combat stop for one of these.
I can’t fully describe the experience without resorting to film. Take any fight scene from Star Wars and have Vader stop in mid-swing to read the contents of a random Goth teenager’s poetry journal, then jump around screaming “ask me what it means, ask me what it means!” It was the campaign equivalent of a Big Lipped Alligator Moment, only without the plot insignificance, because we’re expected to analyze these for “hints”.
This one is relatively straightforward. Frozen Lily and the Cauldron’s Child (Vitae Womb, how deep) have to go to the island they were already going to. On the way, Lily significantly changes the wind blade, having taken advantage of Moonballs Tower’s “enchanter’s thurible”. Yes, a thurible is an incense burner and Marty meant crucible, but he has utterly refused to change it so far. Apparently the Orb did something involving a lot of magitechnobabble to give a +10 bonus to enchanting, and this made the sword awesome.
I had forgotten, several posts ago, to mention that the wind blade got re-enchanted several times; by the end, it was basically the best sword imaginable. One of those enchantments, which I thought was a separate blade, wreathed the thing in frostfire, so they named the thing Winterflame, and during downtime Lily just kept injecting more magic into the thing until it was, hands down, the best weapon in the campaign. Yes, Riceball had better numbers, but Riceball was verboten except for use on the Dragons. Besides, it traveled in a nice little case; the frostfire sword was the thing that got pointed at the monsters all the time. Probably half of the party’s increases in skill and stats went to making this weapon more effective. This will be significant later.
Anyway, along the way they have to face an enemy that makes illusions of their worst fears, because Cliché Bingo is the only game GM!Marty can capably play. Rick, Big Damn Hero that he is, is afraid of letting his personnel down, and accordingly many are killed in front of him. Then he goes berserk, and kills an impressive number of these fear demon things. Lily, being less violent by nature, just iceballs everything in sight rather than be dragged back to her own personal circle of Hell.
This was, of course, a test, which they “more or less passed”, and their reward is more prophecy! This time, it’s a ritual…and it is a long one. It takes dozens of pages of melodramatic poetry to describe, and it needs everything to be just so. It won’t kill the dragons; once they’ve already been killed, this massive magical endeavor will render them re-killable, for lack of a better word, although they’ll be banished instead. No reasons for any of the ritual stipulations are given; it’s just one big, long, stupid series of hoops to pad out the final act.
And that, readers, is why I don’t like running fantasy RPGs. Ultimately, the explanation for the fantastic elements frequently comes down to “it’s magic” or “a wizard did it”; I never found this satisfying, and neither do my players. For all that the reasons can easily be ludicrous, at least (reasonably hard) science fiction usually pretends to have a rationale behind the apparent weirdness, and my groups can take that and come up with something creative and interesting. Given technology and the internally consistent logical framework it implies, they’re an endless source of surprises. Given enough “it’s just magic”, they quit trying…and the story is that much less for it. Yes, I know there are Magic A is Magic A type of settings out there, but they still just feel wrong.
Thankfully, real life intruded, and if he was going to have the campaign done by the end of the semester he couldn’t send the players on a hunt for literally hundreds of rare ingredients. Instead, the liches and Fantasy Japan volunteer to do most of the “real work”, so the party can just focus on fighting the dragons. Most of their plans are still shot down, but eventually they even get to do something useful with their month of preparation and make a fleet of alcohol-powered V-1s. They’re powered by dwarven Decanters of Endless Booze, one per plane, and this is why there were so few of them, but still, progress; they even have as much as a third of their reasonable payload! Marty was in rare form here.
Naturally, they did precisely nothing; most of their “primitive guidance systems” missed the island with the dragons entirely. However, Rick was handy with a sword and an army of Lily’s ice minions; while he was hacking and charging, Lily was coordinating the ritual, miles away.
I have to say, this was actually a good fight. Everyone liked that they had a part that played to their strengths, and everyone’s part was vital enough to hold their interest. Of course the ritual part was just a series of checks, but still. It felt the good kind of cinematic; by chance, the switching of focus from one player to another was handled almost perfectly on time, increasing in tempo as events reached their crescendo. Rick was backflipping off one dragon to stab the other in the chest, switching between blaster rifle and katana as the opportunity arose and keeping them too close together to flame him; Lily was handling complications in the ritual almost before they cropped up. The GM even got the weather right; lots of lightning and swirling spirals of clouds, like the sky was spinning around them. I think the volcano erupted at some point, and everyone was too focused (and in Rick’s case, too airborne) to notice.
The fight ended at dawn, with the clouds parting as the last dragon dissipated; the island started to sink just as the lava reached the escape boats. But hey, they’d just beaten the Dragons of Eternity; molten rock was no big deal. They flung Riceball at the nearest lich, told him to get it back to its rightful owner, and leaped through the portal, elated to finally go home.
On the subplane on other side was Marty, calmly sipping tea and thanking them for “giving me so much time to take over the multiverse while you were handling this little matter for me.”
Damnit, Marty…

Monday, July 29, 2013

In Retrospect This Was Inevitable

Let me just say this, by way of opening: I am a colossal hypocrite. I've been posting all these stories of my friends' and others' horrifying DMing, and neglecting the elephant skeleton in the walk-in closet, so to mix metaphors.

I once co-GMed, and then solo GMed, a Deadlands game, both Weird and Wasted West. In fairness to me, the fellow with whom I was GMing came up with a lot of the more offensive parts and stupid decisions. In fairness to him, I came up with much dumber decisions than he ever did. Now one of the players has posted his campaign journal...and reading it quite predictably makes me facepalm constantly at how asinine we were being.

Anyway, nine perpetually stressed-out engineers play a campaign devised by a biologist and a mathematician during a 48-hour post-exams celebratory Red Bull haze, where we started with "Hey, what if Teddy Roosevelt was born a decade sooner so he could be a Texas Ranger pulling the party together as a massive Indy Ploy?" and kind of went all kinds of crazy from there. What could possibly go wrong?

The answer is a lot. But then again, I had "help", and it was the first long, storied campaign I ever ran. And lots more excuses. Bah. A lot went wrong, but honestly the behind-the-scenes stuff, should I ever get around to writing about it, was hilarious in hindsight.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The SUE System: We're All Mad Here, Alice-chan

Right. Fantasy Japan time!
When last we’d left off, the party had played Hangman and gotten a wizard’s tower, along with heaping cartloads of loot.
They were, of course, prevented from enjoying it. They had to rush back to their current benevolent Marty Stu, Arns’gyr/Arn’gyr/Arun’ger “Depending on how Marty feels like spelling it today” Ravenscroft, who is also Acererak, the leader of several kingdoms in various guises, and secretly manipulating both players while also overtly manipulating them. He’s leading a k-tuple life where k is ludicrous, and he can do it because he’s “just that badass”. The whole thing kind of reminds me of the Wobblies from Paranoia (although he doesn’t like Paranoia much); if you actually trace all of his secret identities, he’s got secret identities as spies spying exclusively on his other secret identities for the benefit of still other secret identities. Everything is just as planned, and Marty thinks this is just so cool. He’s also explicitly described as being able to defeat the Dragons the party’s trying to kill, because what Elminster Problem? He’s even described as being able to defeat a clone of Marty in a “fair fight” – but, of course, Marty would always cheat better.
He is every bit the twit he sounds. Rick rightly doesn’t like such a needlessly manipulative bastard; he needs Lily to more or less drag him off to see the resident Xanatos Speed Chessmaster. In his pause-laden, sanctimonious way, he tells them to go get a magic sword from some kingdom with too many apostrophes in its name. Apparently he has/is all the spies needed to know where this sword is, what it does, and why they need it, but he can’t just pop down and get it for them. Instead, they need to ask the Emperor of Fantasy Japan for it.
Quick disclaimer: the player accounts I have are all spotty and indistinct, and my queries to Marty about it were months earlier, so much may have changed. I hope it did, anyway.
Marty, see, knows about as much about Japan as he does about middle school science, so this place has more in common with Wonderland than anyplace else. He knows everything he likes is Japanese, but has never actually researched the history of Japan; instead, he’s simply inserted all the elements he likes into a vaguely medieval generic fantasy world and stripped out everything else. Everyone chugs sake and eats rice balls, all day every day, except when they eat sushi (or, come to think of it, bread). A rabble of “shoguns and daimyos and prefects” (emphasis mine) rules a serf caste of “basically rice farmers”, and above them all is the Emperor, who sits all day composing haikus during endless tea ceremonies with a bazillion geishas and courtiers (when he’s not reading manga). Armies of samurai run around with katanas and only katanas, mounted archery be damned, except when they’re sneaking around in black bodysuits “as ninjas”. These are probably distinct from the ninja training schools on remote mountaintops that also teach mangled Buddhist philosophy. In similarly ludicrous fashion, we’ve got peasants committing seppuku and “samurai merchant lords”. The education system’s got sailor suit school uniforms (not gakuran, though), nationally standardized exams, and very important clubs, by the by; apparently samurai go through public school like anyone else, and that makes the system a meritocracy.
I feel like Milo from Atlantis; there’s bullshit here from every era.
I admit, I’m being a stickler for historical consistency here. It’s not like he ever explicitly said it’s Japan, but still, the skein of Japanese names and architecture over everything doesn’t sit well when there’s no rhyme or reason to the anachronism. I’ve done crazily jumbled-up settings before, but neither so disparate nor so unjustified. There just isn’t enough of any one element to explain its own existence, let alone the conflicting parts. There are no sword hunts, but peasants still exclusively use “peasant weapons” that double as farm implements; they have ample supplies of high-quality steel, but still make katanas via folding and armor via laminating. They don’t even have the rainfall for rice, let alone the coastline for fish. Welcome to Utah; try the sushi.
All of this pales, however, next to the Celestial bureaucracy that got jammed into the rest of it. Yes, apparently this pseudo-Japan uses a Chinese sort of pantheon…but without the Grand Tao. There’s a Jade Emperor sitting on top of a giant mountain of bureaucratic immortals, he makes the rules, and they trickle down. Apparently Marty has efficient bureaucrats hope to become celestial functionaries when they die, or something like that.
I should mention here that Marty is a perfect bureaucrat…in his own mind, anyway. He’s the sort of person who writes detailed, lengthy letters to the editor about the treatment of his past letters to the editor; you could set a trap for him with a box, a stick, and a complaints department. He honestly thinks he’s helping to “improve the system” by “giving feedback” to people who are patently not going to change a thing, because if they had the power to make the decisions he wants, they wouldn’t be handling consumer complaints. Complain about anything, and he’ll march you along to complain to the right people…who are clearly the people behind the complaints desk, otherwise why are they there? I kid you not, this is a man who said, earnestly and while sober, “they always pick me for early room selection because I give such good feedback”. Then, too, he’s a time-consumingly ingratiating little sucker; I’ve never known anyone to monopolize so much of the time of so many busy people for no good reason. He doesn’t actually remember anything about them, of course, but he’s convinced that “they save the best things for me at the dining hall because I’m on a first-name basis with them.” So is everyone else. Their first names are etched into their nametags. Besides, if there were ever any “best things” in the food vats, who could see through enough grease to tell?
That, at any rate, is why he constructs this silly toy-train bureaucracy inhabited by people with very neatly arranged pens, and shortly thereafter forces the players to read a bunch of paperwork in order to do anything.. It’s what he thinks is the perfect system because it lets him “make a difference” in his own self-serving, inept way.
For all that, the whole reason they’re here, the magical god-slaying ubersword, has a fairly recognizable backstory: forged by a god who then got killed with it. It’s so sharp it cuts the air, never chips or scratches, has been around since the dawn of time, etc. etc. etc. Very specially magical metal stick, style of thing. Naturally, no “inferior gaijin pigdog” (different countries, Marty…) could ever be trusted with the holy sword Amegiri/Anigiri/Onigiri. So either it’s cutting wind or it’s a rice ball, but either way it’s not leaving the Emperor’s side. And yes, he wears the atom-splitting uber-sword around every day, because he is always in full ceremonial dress.
Naturally, we need a Convenient Event to happen to allow them to prove themselves worthyish. Lo and behold, that day, the entire court takes a nap. Right in the middle of the afternoon bacchanal and poetry slam, they apparently have naptime.
Then mind flayers and psions attack, and the party makes a minimal contribution to their being turned into neat chunks by “a combined force of samurai and ninja monks”. Apparently the entire Forbidden City was napping, because someone parked an invading psychic monster army on the lawn, and they fight their way to the Emperor and defend him because he’s sitting on the only reasonable chokepoint. Construct siege engines are shredded, another few thousand bodies add to the kill count, and the Emperor favors them by making them “minor nobles”. They’re “shoguns” now, apparently; it still freaks me out to pluralize that.
Anyway, the Emperor offers them “any boon [he] can grant”, and apparently this came with raised eyebrows and pointing at Riceball the Wind-Cutting Sword, because that was the only boon it was “feasible” to grant. Pick a card, any card, no not that card, this card. They get to borrow it for a while, and they have to return it just as they received it. I kid you not; they signed a rental agreement for the god-slaying sword of ages.
In triplicate.
Next time, things get surreal.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The SUE System: Moonballs Tower

I might be back. We’ll see.
It’s time for the next stage of the plot. I’m skipping over about a page of notes, just because the campaign itself was operating mostly on inertia here. In essence, the knife-wielding maniac lab experiment from before is replaced by a crafter/enchantress ice mage. I have been asked to call her Lily. She’s based off of the backstory of a character from a good campaign. As far as I can tell, it’s a classic story: boy future PC meets girl in magic high school, they like each other, they eventually marry/research collaboratively, demons murder girl and imprison her soul in Double Super-Secret Hell, boy becomes borderline evil arch-necromancer in order to invade Hell with an army of zombies and free her soul for resurrection over the course of the campaign. I’ll cut the player some slack; he wrote the backstory when he was ten, I believe.
So apparently now Lily’s freed by Deus Ex Marty, and of course other things have to change, because GM!Marty is the Nurgle of interactive storytelling and has to putrefy everything he touches. She’s a spy, now, for the same lich group that shot down the group’s space fighter. As an aside, I have no idea why so many GMs do this, because for once it’s not just GM!Marty pulling this. I’ve seen campaigns where every single party member has some dirty secret that will make half the party murder them, artificially inserted by the GM for reasons of…I have no idea. Spite, I suppose. The one campaign I GMed collaboratively needed weeks to detangle all the pre-ordained fights between PCs, and I’ve never heard a good reason for wasting that kind of time or fostering that kind of distrust. PCs invariably fight anyway; disruptive secrets are better given to bureaucratically important NPCs, so the players can have fun with the nonlethal damage rules and nobody’s sore about it later.
So anyway, Lily the Spy also has retrograde amnesia, weakened magic, and a ring, and she and Rick finally stumble upon the plot. There are two towers, and the party needs to clear out both.
One is subterranean, being the Tomb of Horrors. I was always under the impression it was written not as a serious module, but as a satire of a module – at its best, it’s a one-shot for disposable characters and masochistic players. For whatever reason, though, GM!Marty absolutely loves it. He will run it as written, he will run it embellished or converted for every system under the sun, he will run it multiple times in a row, and he will defend it in every particular with all the irate fervor of the fanboy. For this run, though, he let Rick use his grenades and blaster rifle, while Lily marched an army of ice minions through before them. I’m not going to spoil the Tomb for those who haven’t seen it, but I will say that thermal detonators and endless minions do a lot to lower the body count, so it was just grueling, boring, and stupidly arbitrary.
The other tower was much, much worse. He made it specially.
They were sent there to retrieve the Orb of Moonlight, because everything Marty does oozes pretension from every fetid orifice. The wizard who owned both tower and orb was definitely long dead, according to the order of liches sending them on the quest. Yes, a magocracy of liches honestly believed this. Same liches as before, by the way; they sent them on the quest instead of killing them, because Marty hands out plots with a closed fist. Once there was no plot, and now there is a mandatory plot, as delivered by yet another Marty Stu: the immortal, nigh-omnipotent lich named Arn’gyr Ravenscroft, because Marty has the subtlety of a fifteen-year-old Goth who’s just discovered solipsism. As they say, this is gonna suck.
Now, he’s not so industrious as to make his own maps, so Moonballs Tower (he never named it) was made according to online maps—and given this, I’m amazed how badly it turned out. We usually gamed in rooms with blackboards, and we used these for sketching battle maps and so forth. I loved it for Deadlands; a map on a table can get bits covered up by all the cards, chips, and herds o’ dice, and everyone could see a vertical board better anyway. Unfortunately, it didn’t have a grid, and this meant Marty had to draw his own, because the SUE system depended utterly on the almighty five-foot square.
I wish I could say he drew quickly, but that would have been too loud. Marty, for whatever reason, was convinced he had supernaturally acute senses of smell, taste, and hearing. Not in any testable or useful way, of course—he mostly just got ticked off at innocuous or nonexistent stimuli because “they’re much worse to [him]”. Incidentally, he got fervently offended at the implication that his senses were in any way “sensitive”; no downsides here! This made him a pain to be around in any case, but it was worse by an order of magnitude when chalk on a blackboard was involved, since he drew at a glacial pace and would cartoonishly wince and hiss in pain if anyone wrote at normal speed. This was also his justification for keeping all the blinds drawn and the lights low, by the way; he hated bright light. Maybe it was vampire practice.
Now, that many lines drawn slowly is a problem in any case, but not an insurmountable one: sensible people might draw the floor ahead of time and cover up the unknown bits. Not Marty; he didn’t want his players to know where they were relative to the rest of the dungeon, so everything had to be drawn out whenever his players entered a new room. He also chose a dungeon map that had many, many transitions between floors, which of course meant the map needed re-drawing—and, of course, bits not currently illuminated needed to be erased. Without any monsters at all, just strolling through a bare dungeon, two-thirds of the players’ time was spent waiting on maps, and I know this because they did it going out.
Naturally, we did all this in any of a series of identical conference rooms, where the door was right by the chalkboard and the conference table was ludicrously long. It’s a moot point, but he would throw a hissy fit whenever anyone walked “behind the DM screen”, meaning anywhere near the quickest route out of the room. Anyone sitting on the useful side of the room had to walk around the entire table or he’d start whining. So while he’s spending all this wasted time drawing parallel lines, don’t get up…
And don’t be the person in charge of mapping, either. For someone so particular about grids, he changed his frequently, especially where walls were curved. And, too, the total lack of reference means usually you end up going off the page, and don’t you dare ask to see anything of his maps.
As for the actual map…there are five labyrinthine levels, most of them effectively toroidal because there’s a hemispherical conservatory in the bottom. I have to give him credit: he wanted a wizard’s tower, and he did add arcane pseudoscientific apparatus in random places. “Glass things and so forth.” There was no rhyme or reason to their placement, no records of any kind, and no reagents, but he made a token effort to disguise the monster gauntlet.
There were, I grant, short offshoots from the main path, but in reality there was only one path winding from a secret door on the ground floor to the fifth-level platform. There was, by the way, no obvious door; they had to search the whole exterior in five-foot segments, one by one. Once inside, they had a bunch of five-foot corridors and ten-foot rooms, and every room had at least one encounter. They were themed by floor; alchemical stuff, oozes, golems, undead, and the fifth was whatever he felt like. Observant readers might note that all of these things are immune to crits, which very much pissed off the incipient sniper in Rick. Moreover, the oozes and various sorts of animate alchemical slop have very, very high racial Grapple bonuses, and most of the undead were the tentacle-covered kind. Lily spent most of the dungeon being hugged by something nasty. As for the minions…well, apparently an ice fist punching acidic slop is several orders of magnitude more energetic than one would expect, and the ones that didn’t die to that were punched out fairly quickly.
So that’s the party scuppered or nearly so; while they had enough of an ice wall between them and their foes to avoid dying outright, every fight took several times longer than it ought to and they just…kept…coming. When they were done with a fight in one room, secret doors opened and they had an ambush; when they finished an ambush, something would get back up and try to kill them again. Every week for months, this went on, carving a trail of blood by inches and meeting every crit-immune, grapply thing in the Monster Manuals.
The only vaguely original thing was the conservatory. It was “its own self-contained ecosystem” (other than some fish tanks) made of acid; everything in that room was nonmagically “made of superacid”, biochemistry be damned. There was a fringe of trees, a lake, and an intelligent acid Kraken somewhere inside it.  They scared it off with eight gallons of Create Water into the lake, but the room itself took quite a bit off of the remaining minions. Eventually they’d come back, Enlarge Creature on some of the fish in the feeder tanks, and win its trust against a backdrop of Lily’s player’s snarky Darths and Droids references.
Then they left and came back, which meant the lich had time to “prepare”. Remember all those ambushes? Second epic, same as the first. The alchemy and ooze levels were cleared, so instead of goo, they had golems; above them, undead packed into the floor like cordwood and some kind of tentacle-torsoed zombies dropping on them from the ceiling. A few phased through the walls, and more came from secret doors that already had other rooms behind them. By the end, they had a triple-digit body count in exhumans alone, although exact numbers depend on how mid-combat reanimation affects the total. That doesn’t sound awful, but when they’re all killed one at a time using the SUE system’s insane combat mechanics, this represents a very, very long slog—much of it spent running and Passwalling backwards while they hit and ran. At some point, Rick got hold of a katana that shot little energy blades when swung, which used fatigue rather than irreplaceable power cells as ammo. He went in a sniper, but leveled so often inside that he took more levels of Knight than he had Soldier just so he could more effectively use it. In true GM!Marty, what-is-a-cleverness fashion, it was called the Windblade.
Now, given all that buildup, one might expect the lich fight to be suitably impressive. Of course it wasn’t; he gated in infernal help, but the fight followed the pattern: grapple, absorb crit, wait, repeat. Unfortunately, the lich was not a particularly effective spellcaster when compared to the damage output of a huge demon punching Rick repeatedly in the face while another one tried to rip apart Lily. It’s a minor point, I know, but I always feel like something is lost when a boss is less impressive than his or her henchbeings. If you’re going to have, for example, a spellcaster, let them fight him at a distance or something; if the campaign’s big bad is primarily a legal or bureaucratic threat, let them defeat him legally. Obviously they can beat the crap out of him afterwards, but it just seems so much more satisfying to let them best the BBEG in some arena where his strengths come into play.
But no, we have to stab the lich to death after covering him in an antimagic field. The field might count, but it was generated by an artifact the quest-giver gave them with instructions to use it on the lich, so I’m disinclined. That’s not even a MacGuffin, it’s a damned Fedex quest.
Now, once the lich drops, there is of course the problem of the lich’s phylactery, and the party is on it immediately. They scan everything for necromantic auras, but of course that doesn’t help, because the lich put a Magic Aura on his phylactery so it has a faint illusion aura. This is at the end of a ten-hour session. His players are exhausted and cranky and really just want to wrap this up and go home, which obviously knocks his trollier plans into a cocked hat—even he knew his players were going to leave if he pushed them. So, in a burst of quick thinking, he improvised.
“Okay, guys, we’re playing Hangman!”
Out of character, game stopped, playing Hangman at 2 AM, with the words being “dispel” and “Nystul’s” – and proper nouns, especially trademarked proper nouns, are very bad form for Hangman. No attempt to rationalize it in game, either. I like to think if it had failed, he would have resorted to writing the words on a note and holding it above their heads. Come on boy, jump. That’s a good dogg- I mean player.
It did not go over well, by the way. They asked if they could just make a Knowledge: arcana roll. Nope, “that’s too easy”. There isn’t even a game left, at this point, just one guy holding out a hoop and two other guys jumping through it. Finally, after half an hour of individually adding articles of clothing and extremities to the poor Hangmen, they got the apostrophe in “Nystul’s”…and didn’t get the hint, because the damn disguise spell isn’t called Nystul’s Magic Aura on the d20SRD we usually use for d20 reference, nor in the SUE system. Heads were hitting walls at this point.
Anyway, eventually they found it; it was the left of a pair of +1 gauntlets sitting in a treasure heap. “Because it’s hidden in plain sight, see?”
Now, I’ve played liches and had liches as characters. You don’t do this; it violates narrative causality and is just plain dumb. You make it indestructible and hide it somewhere ludicrously safe – Sigil, if you’re in Planescape, so those pesky gods can’t interfere. Heck, for one slightly weird d20 Modern-ish game I made my phylactery the golden record on Voyager II before it launched, banking on researching a rangeless Teleport before I needed it. It’s supposed to be special, something people want to protect, maybe something that no one wants destroyed… it’s not supposed to be a rock picked at random. It’s just not a good story. One could say it’s a very vulgar, nouveau liche thing to do, if one was inclined to stupid puns.

I think I’m just going to leave it there. Hangman. Random gauntlet phylactery. Next post: Fantasy Japan!