Ok, this is the final installment of my Gamehole Con blog post series. And hopefully, it's also the best. Buckle up, hoss! If you're not sure where to start, this is it.
So, this session was the last of the six games I ran at Gamehole Con. Our second time into The Black Pyramid of Cha'alt.
Being so close to Halloween, I had been thinking of different ways I could make my sessions more festive and spooky. I'd been dragging my creative feet all week, but had a few hours between the purple islands game and this one. That left me enough time to write up a d12 table of literal Halloween decorations to dress up The Black Pyramid.
Now, The Black Pyramid doesn't really need any dressing up. It's already weird and nightmarish - the whole structure is made of impossibly smooth black stone, indestructible and capable of collecting, harnessing, and transmitting evil. And the contents of its non-Euclidean rooms are straight out of a carnival funhouse.
And yet... I couldn't resist bedazzling the black lily with tiny obsidian jewels.
Before I go any further, I slowly sipped a bottle of water the entire session in order to not wear a mask, which made the session about 15% better right off the bat. It being Saturday night, the convention was very loud. I also felt bad for all the players who were masked the entire game. I'm not sure how I would have GMed if hampered with a mask, too.
Let's talk about the players. I really have nothing against them. They were fine [edit: but I did feel like I, as the GM, was giving more than what I was getting in return]. In fact, I had a nice conversation with a young woman who arrived at the table early. She happened to have a water bottle, sans wrapper, full of vodka and Mellow Yellow. It was as chartreuse as you could get - the same hue as the dice I brought (with fuchsia numbering) - maybe a little on the yellow side, but it had a weird glow to it that made the thing just about perfect. The prophecy? Again, I wondered.
A returning player NOLAbert (and my friend on Twitter) was also in attendance. Quiet, but handled himself well. I do need to work on prompting specific players when they seem to be taking a backseat to the extroverts. It's all about personal attention.
A few of the other players seemed jaded or too cool for gonzo, but really a nice group who seemed game for just about anything.
As you know, when inspiration strikes, I like to give the PCs a different sort of beginning. I had just finished my d12 Halloween décor table and it was nighttime (perhaps a full moon outside?), the table alone conjured up imagery of The Twilight Zone, Heavy Metal, and H.P. Lovecraft (is there a more awesome combination?), so I was primed for something really out there.
A meteor streaked across the deep-purple night sky of Cha'alt. The elders from the PCs' settlement, Vega Corso, relayed the prophecy - every 111 years, a meteorite crashes into Cha'alt, either signaling good or ill. The elders wanted the PCs to check out the meteorite, especially since it landed only a couple hours away.
The PCs trekked through the cold desert, noticing The Black Pyramid on their left. Eventually, they came to the meteorite. Its chartreuse glow was pulsating as a pool of molten zoth surrounded it, growing outward, consuming everything in its path as the PCs stood alone on the precipice of the ichor-dimmed tide.
Remembering my own game mastering advice, I quickly corrected myself. No, the PCs weren't the only ones present. A couple of humanoids were coming from another direction to see the meteorite for themselves. The PCs predictably kept their distance as one of the interlopers touched the effulgent yellow-green substance himself. He lit up like an eldritch jack-o-lantern before melting into the sand.
The PCs backed up. The chartreuse stuff continued to spread. The PCs kept retreating until they saw The Black Pyramid again, remembering rumors of dark strangeness inside. "Maybe something in there could help us?" they pondered.
Entering the demonic sepulchre, they noticed a Spirit Halloween banner crumpled in the corner of a circular room - yeah, a couple of the players teased me about that. I just ran with it, though. Transdimensional engineering and all that. Nevertheless, that crumpled Spirit Halloween banner set the tone. The idea came to me while watching this video during my between games late lunch.
I love using "found things", incorporating them into what I'm writing or running whenever it feels appropriate. For one, it makes the world seem more spontaneous, personal, and alive. Another reason is... why not? It's there waiting to be used, wouldn't it be wasteful not to include something like the following in a game?
A flyer was taped to one of the hatches (see nearby picture). Everyone was amused and many took a number for lessons. My single regret of the session is that I never did a callback to the ninja master or his karate school. Oh well, next time!
Anyways, the PCs began exploring as usual. They encountered a few of the same rooms as the last GameHole expedition, but some were different.
I finally... FINALLY!!! got to use that deja vu room. And it worked great, just like I planned nearly 3 years ago. Only took them 10-15 minutes to figure it out, which is the perfect length for a singular mind-bending puzzle / trap.
Periodically, I rolled on the Halloween random table to spice up the rooms. The decorations started out rather harmless, but eventually I got to some of the hardcore ones, like the corn maze with the little demon boy. He sent one of the PCs into the cornfield where he was never seen again. After strings of little glowing skulls hung across the nigrescent walls, the corn maze seemed a nasty escalation, surprising everyone around the table.
Combat went in the PCs' favor because there were 7 players each with multiple characters at the ready... just in case. There was a creature the PCs didn't want to fight, so they ran from one hatch to another. One PC, the slowest or unluckiest, was attacked and maybe killed, I don't recall.
Eventually, the PCs reached the museum and a member of the party controlled by the friendly young woman I was talking to before the game began was able to locate something that could possibly help them. A meteorite that fell to Cha'alt exactly 111 years ago. It was mostly intact with a little bit of fuchsia liquid dribbling out of the sides.
Elated at having found a solution to the problem, they carried the meteorite outside. Just before they made it out, though, a scarecrow was in the first room. One of the PCs set the scarecrow on fire; as the others climbed out, the scarecrow stabbed another unlucky PC, almost killing him.
The glowing chartreuse liquid had almost reached The Black Pyramid as the PCs hurled the fuchsia meteorite into the opposing hue. Now, at this point I usually give the PCs the benefit of the doubt, regarding them as capable, successful, even heroes in some cases. Normally, I would describe the primordial zoth receding and tell the PCs they won.
But that's not what happened this session. Still inspired by The Twilight Zone, Heavy Metal, H.P. Lovecraft, Halloween, and whatever demons dwell inside me, I described the chartreuse and fuchsia becoming agitated and rising up like sentient ooze struggling against each other. Thinking about it now, I can't remember if the fuchsia overtook the chartreuse or if slime of both colors continued to malevolently grow. But I do remember the young woman's character reaching down to touch the fuchsia ooze and she glowed brightly fuchsia for a few seconds before melting away.
Whether I suggested it or the players lamented that the planet was doomed, I don't recall. But it was one of those rare downbeat, indeed apocalyptic, endings that surprises the fuck out of everyone playing. This is a good place to end the session, I said. And that was it.
My Twitter friend stayed behind to talk a bit after the session. He said he enjoyed it. The player on my immediate right said that he liked the bizarre funhouse style of the dungeon and that it felt really old school - "You don't really see that kind of thing anymore." But everyone else got up and quickly left without saying much at all, including the young woman. I have a feeling that some were still in shock and others were just pissed-off that the conclusion was so bleak.
On the way home, I didn't bother listening to a podcast or even music, as was my normal routine. Instead, I thought about that session and how strange it was, I could still feel this palpable darkness. My mind wandered in various directions. Is this what Lamentations of the Flame Princess is supposed to be like?
I could see the appeal. The Game Master can be an innocent bystander, saint, or serial killer... depending on his whims. A spurious God casting his merciless gaze upon mortal animals, man... playthings tortured for sheer amusement, broken upon the wheel of cruel, capricious fate.
After all, this is a fallen world, born under a bad sign. Why not put things in motion, sit back, and enjoy the screaming? How terrible would it be to wander around an actual funhouse with all sorts of people and entities trying to kill you - or worse! And then, when you finally escape, the world finds a different way to end. Yes, I could make a career delivering such horrors to players, either unsuspecting or in on the cosmic joke. But should I willingly give myself, along with my divine gifts, over to darkness?
Only time will tell.
The night drive back home gave me a few unsettling ideas for Cremza'amirikza'am, so now that I'm done blogging about GameHole Con, I can get back to finishing the new megadungeon for Cha'alt: Chartreuse Shadows. If you have any interest in eldritch, gonzo, science-fantasy, post-apocalypse gaming, I urge you to back the Kickstarter so we can get the biggest and most lavish Cha'alt book possible!
Thanks for reading,