Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Beneath the Ruins
This past Saturday was the second night of Beneath the Ruins, an old school minimalist pamphlet by Alex Fotinakes and published by Geoffrey McKinney's Psychedelic Fantasies series (although, an expanded version of Beneath the Ruins is spread out through issues of Alex's Wizards Mutants Laser Pistols zine.
While I preferred the second Psychedelic Fantasies adventure, Within the Radiant Dome, to this one, I still think Beneath the Ruins was a good, solid, OSR mini-module for the kind of Dungeon Master who loves taking the existing bones and building his own skeletal creature - the meat is added whilst playing. At least, that's how I took it.
Beneath the Ruins has a few cool concepts, but each are explained in a sentence or three. Any kind of detailed elaboration falls upon the DM. I'm sure this can either be an exciting thrill-ride or treacherous nightmare, depending on the guy running the game. For myself, I enjoy the challenge. And not only that, I enjoy tinkering, adjusting, and adding a whole other dimension (sometimes literally) to the adventure.
Such was the case last session. An old friend visit the PCs again to ask a favor in return for a uber-powerful magical weapon. Unfortunately, only one player at the table that night had previously encountered said "old friend". No matter, since he was the one whose help was required.
For months, I had wanted to set up a kind of wizard's duel. Now was the time, this was the session! I didn't have a lot of time to coordinate the logistics of how such a match would be resolved, so I winged it with what seemed appropriate. The duel was to be a simple as it was deadly. Both wizards were of equal power, so they made a straight d20 roll to see who came out on top (this round). The villain won. Harold's Elf had to make a saving throw vs. death magic. He did. Round two saw Terrinel (I never know how to spell his Elf's name) the victor. Now, it was the antagonist's turn to save vs. death magic. He failed; the villain turned to ash. That's old school.
Looking back, I wish I would have illustrated the duel between sorcerers with some vividly purple prose. But I didn't. Oh well. Next time.
Moving on, one of the great battles of that night was against a tentacled beast living beneath a cavern pool with night lotuses floating on top. A tentacle had to be severed or else it would get an automatic hit the next round. Then, when all tentacles had been chopped to bits, the creature bit a PC to unconsciousness. I did, however, go into detail regarding how much could be seen beneath the pond's surface - the water now filled with slime and blood. It was a cool fight.
After the beast was defeated, Terrinel and the others assumed there was some kind of treasure down at the bottom of the pool. They waded in, searching for anything discoverable. I made my usual 33% roll to see if a small magic item - like a ring - was down there. I rolled too high, meaning that there was nothing. However, I decided to exercise my DM prerogative and go against my own ruling... mitigated by the fact that the magic ring found was cursed! Scanning the 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide, I happened upon a ring of weakness (or something like that). That description became the core of their newly acquired cursed ring.
Even though Beneath the Ruins lacks those kinds of surprises, it has some great bones. I recommend both that and Within the Radiant Dome even though there's no art and no real depth - being only the size of a pamphlet.
How much module do you like to start a session with? How much do you alter before the game and during? How spontaneous are you as a DM? Does that ever get you in trouble? Of course, some elements depend on PC actions... but can the entire adventure turn on a dime? Should it?