My first game was around noon on Thursday. First blog post of this series was yesterday.
Six players including an acquaintance from Milwaukee, Glenn, who I've run games for multiple times previously, either at conventions or when I was running Cha'alt at my FLGS in Madison, WI.
It was an exploration through The Black Pyramid of Cha'alt. Not sure if I did it intentionally, but the very last game of the convention was pretty much the exact same scenario - except it had a totally different vibe (will get to that in a couple days).
There are a few ways I like to start out a Black Pyramid adventure. I never begin such scenarios inside. The PCs are always trekking through the desert trying to arrive there for one reason or another. Why? A little something I learned in college called processional access. Partly, the journey is an important part of the destination. But it's also about the build up of emotion, anticipation, expectation, and gravitas that comes with getting to the good stuff.
Like in a porno, it's more enjoyable to watch the process leading to sex than to just immediately watch people fucking for no discernable reason.
Anyway, the PCs saw a sandworm near the pyramid and decided to run when it came towards them. This part of the scenario is important for setting the right tone, as well. If the PCs, at first level, were Hell bent on slaying the sandworm, this would have been their wakeup call. PCs would have died, telling players A) don't get cocky and B) I'm not fucking around.
Scattering was the right move, so they all survived.
It had been a long time since I've run The Black Pyramid and I was a little rusty. I almost forgot about the message in that glass case. Just like I almost forgot to have them roll for rumors about this nigrescent wonder of the world.
The first few rooms gave them a taste of gonzo. It's the "we're not in Kansas anymore" effect. There always seems to be a couple players who engage with the weirdness in order to move forward, while the rest of the party are either still acclimating, not yet able to interact because they're on edge or taken aback by how strange everything is.
And some people enjoy the silly and bizarre aspects of the megadungeon while others aren't quite sure how to take it.
That's all part of its charm. If you're going to run The Black Pyramid yourself, that unevenness and uncertainty is a feature, not a bug. At least, I hope you come to see it that way. It's a form of initiation, separating the wheat from the chaff.
Was it also weird running a session face-to-face after nearly two years of virtual? Yes, it was. There are cues I wasn't used to receiving because all my Roll20 games are text only. So, I don't know how someone feels about the game we're playing unless they physically type it out, which usually comes at the end when they say they had fun or "awesome game" or "thanks for running", etc.
Anyway, there were a lot of cool and interesting rooms they encountered... the floating colorful shapes entity, under a microscope, the frozen giant peach, the barrels of monkeys, the museum (where a PC stole a disintegrator rifle that didn't have an energy cell, but then returned it for the reward), the kabuki theater, the gonzo statue, democratic republic of Y'gk, etc.
A lot of stuff they interacted with minimally. The driving force for some PCs was to acquire treasure, and if there were odd people walking around without any noticeable loot, they were quickly bypassed.
There's no right or wrong way to explore this megadungeon. Some groups or individuals will want to really get in there and experience it all. Others will breeze through the more esoteric rooms in order to accomplish their personal goals. And the interplay between PCs is interesting, to me at least.
Combat happened sporadically. I don't remember them taking significant losses.
There wasn't a big finish or climatic resolution. If memory serves, the PCs came to a good stopping point just before our game was set to terminate and we ended things there.
All in all, it was a solid group and good game. The players were enthusiastic about what I had to offer, even if they didn't always make the most of their opportunities. I thanked them for playing and they thanked me for creating this unusual experience for them.
If I could go back and do one thing differently (I try to come up with some area for improvement each session), it would be giving the PCs a stronger motivation to explore the pyramid's interior than what I provided. I honestly don't even remember what I told them, something about inconceivable opportunities awaiting them inside or some vague bullshit like that. Strong motivations help players direct their characters. I didn't make that mistake the 2nd time running The Black Pyramid, though.
Oh yeah, I used the dice that remind me the most of Cha'alt, a gorgeous mix of chartreuse and fuchsia. See this old blog post for a visual.
That's it for now. Tune in for another blog post tomorrow!
p.s. My Kickstarter campaign for Cha'alt: Chartreuse Shadows continues. Please, check it out and back that sucker if you're into eldritch, gonzo, science-fantasy, post-apocalyptic gaming awesomeness!