We finished our first season of Mothership with Gradient Descent (it’s been a lot of fun). Our co-GM felt like a break and we had one more session on the calendar before hitting pause for the month of August. So I decided to run a one-shot using D&D (in the form of my homebrew ruleset Hackbut). Looking around for something simple to use, I ended up picking a one-page adventure site from Trilemma Adventures Compendium Volume I. The original PDF of The Coming of Sorg has been in my to-play folder for quite a while. It also comes recommended by Skerples. So I generated some 3rd level characters, slapped some stats on the module’s monsters, and we had a fun couple of hours seeing if our heroes could set things straight. Read on for a play report, and I will close with some commentary at the end.
- Hetz Zuril, level 3 thief, carrying a potion of animal mastery, and a ring of regeneration
- Baiar, level 3 fighter, wearing a girdle of giant’s might
- Cobrynth, level 3 cleric, carrying a staff of mastery and a ring of telekinesis
- Ralik & Tovak, heavy foot soldiers
- Trisdik & Mazian, handgunners
They approach the compound from the south. The wall has largely collapsed. Buildings are ruined. Mud is everywhere as well as the occasional decomposing body part.
They make their way to the dais, which used to function as the compound entrance. It is remarkably clean, except for a few scorch marks. Rusted chains lie at the foot its steps. Pillars on each side are engraved, noting anyone who passes through is blessed by Deel.
They carefully head around the east perimeter. They inspect a cave entrance at the other end of a pond. They dare not enter. Heading back into the compound they next check another cave entrance into which flows a small stream. They can see faint lights glimmer in the darkness. Cobrynth uses telekinesis to lob a length of wood into the stream. It disappears into the darkness. Nothing happens.
Hetz clambers up the sheer rock face without much trouble. Here he sees broken and defaced statues at each end of stairs leading up, hewn into the side of the hill. The steps are besmirched by evil scrawlings. Not a soul is in sight.
The thief drops down a rope for the rest to follow, but they opt to take the stairs in stead. About half way up the cleric and retainers are overcome by the curse resting on the steps. The retainers begin to scarf down all their rations and drink. Cobrynth flings flask after flask of holy water in every direction. Acting quickly, Hetz uses his giant strength to herd them all back down the stairs.
As they regain their composure, suddenly a loud bang and a bright flash of eldritch light emit from the high temple followed by an awful scream. Shortly after Hetz sees a massive jelly roll down the temple stairs. For a moment, it appears the thing is heading straight towards him, but it continues down the next stairs towards the party below.
Confronted with the monstrosity heading their way, Cobrynth raises his staff of mastery in an attempt to control it but fails. Hetz flings a flaming oil flask from above but misses. Baiar, aided by his girdle of giant’s might, tosses an enormous boulder at the thing but somehow also misses. The handgunners fire their arquebuses and one manages to hit. The ball simply ricochets off of the jelly. Meanwhile the jelly is frantically trying to grab someone with a pseudopod but fails. Cobrynth uses his ring of telekinesis to scoop up a couple of liters of water and douses the jelly with it, but it appears to have no effect either. Baiar and his heavy footmen move in to melee with the thing. Their weapons instantly dissolve.
At this point, the party decides to make a run for it. Thankfully, the creature is awfully slow. They make for the dais and reach it well before the creature closes the distance. It stops at the edge of the stairs leading up to it, apparently not willing or able to go any further. Cobrynth levitates a boulder within Baiar’s reach, and he tosses and hits the jelly. This projectile bounces off the thing without harming it either. Just when the party begins to despair about their chances of defeating the jelly, it begins to crawl off in search of easier pray.
Meanwhile, Hetz has silently snuck up to the high temple, two prepared flaming oil flasks in hand. He sticks is head into the doorway and sees an awful spectacle. The interior has been thoroughly trashed. A large group of cultists is fearfully chanting. They are lead by a thoroughly degenerate priest, and are stood around an enormous demonic maggot dribbling bile from a puckered maw. The thief does not hesitate for a moment and lobs his two missiles straight into the mob. They both hit an acolyte straight in the back of the head. The men crumple to the ground screaming, engulfed in flames. Pandemonium breaks out. Hetz disappears into the shadows.
Meanwhile the remainder of the party make their way up the rope left by Hetz, and carefully but decisively head up towards the high temple. When they reach the temple gate they see three cultists emerge from the doorway up ahead clearly looking for something or someone. Baiar and his men run up to engage them in melee. Cobrynth uses his staff of mastery once more and manages to gain control over two of the three men. They fling up their arms in obeisance. The third is stabbed in the back by Hetz who suddenly emerges from the shadows, and finished off by a mighty punch from Baiar.
Pressing their advantage, they send the two remaining cultists back into the high temple. Cobrynth has them tell the high priest that they succeeded in finding and killing the culprit. Satisfied, the leader turns his back to them to resume the chanting in service of the maggot that he refers to as “Sorg”. Right away, Cobrynth has the cultists stab their leader in the back. Again, pandemonium. The traitors are jumped by acolytes. The high priest, who has survived, begins to prepare a spell. The demon maggot stirs and aims his puckered, bile-dribbling mouth at the source of the disturbance.
Our heroes respond with no hesitation. Hetz emerges from the shadows to backstab the high priest. Baiar and his men run into the temple to lay in to the mob. The cleric follows a few steps behind, undoubtedly preparing some powerful miracle.
And we fade to black.
It had been a while since I took place behind the proverbial referee screen and I must say I missed it. Playing is fun, but there’s nothing like the amount of thinking on your feet you need to do as a referee. This being a one-shot, with a very loosely described module, I found myself playing it loose myself as well. I tried to say yes more often, and in particularly in combat try to stay close to the flow of the emerging narrative and avoid getting too bogged down in details.
With regards to combat, I tried a different approach from the one we had been using in our Castle Xyntillan campaign (inspired by OED). We still used side initiative, rolled each round. But in stead of going around the table and resolving player actions one by one right away, I in stead first declared what the monsters would be doing, then had the players tell me what their intent was, and then roll initiative. After that, I would resolve actions for each side roughly in order of: movement, missiles, magic, and melee. (This is inspired by Robert Fisher, and Daniel Bishop.) On paper this should be slower than the OED approach. But in practice it’s about on par, and somehow makes combat feel a bit more dynamic, which I like.
We weren’t using Roll20 for this, obviously. And although the module map is gorgeous, I did not want to share it with players because I felt like the amount of detail would bog things down. So I set up a second web cam, pointed it at a dry erase mat and logged into Zoom twice. This is a trick I’ve seen some people use on YouTube and it actually works quite well. I know you can share a second camera from the same Zoom session, but I dislike the way it then makes videos of everyone else very small. I want to be able to see my friends when we play, after all.
The pregens I created were all level 3 characters. My method is somewhat influenced by OED. I did three for each of the four classes in Hackbut. Rolled 3d6 down the line for attributes, except for the prime requisite, which got 2d6+6. HP was rolled randomly (1s and 2s were re-rolled). Alignment was assigned randomly using 1d6: chaotic on a 1, lawful on a 6, and neutral for the remainder (clerics are all lawful). Names I also randomly assigned from a list created with the excellent Fantasy Generator. I let players pick whatever equipment from the standard lists they felt they need, as well as retainers to round out the party to a maximum of seven total. I did, however, determine magic items randomly using the method Delta sets out in OED, with a few minor tweaks so that it also works for clerics (he runs a game without). I used the Delving Deeper treasure tables for this. Just the act of assigning some items to each of these otherwise pretty faceless characters makes for some interesting choices for players to make. It works really well and I recommend others try it.
Creating statistics for the monsters and NPCs was next to no work at all. Seeing as how I use HD as a proxy for both attack bonuses and saves in Hackbut, all I really need to do is assign HD, AC, and attack damage. I used d6 hit dice this time around, and I must say I really like it because I can easily roll hit points on the fly that way, and combats go faster. I mostly used the Delving Deeper and OED monster listings as a frame of reference.
On paper, the module is all about faction play. Players being players, of course, they bypassed all the encounters tucked away in the lower-level compound structures, and went more or less straight for the high temple. Despite this, the thing is nice and atmospheric and at the pace we play I think we could maybe even get two 2-3 hour sessions out of it. But in this case we were going to stick to a one-shot, so when we were rolling into the big confrontation and we were hitting our customary end time, I felt it was fitting to end on a cliffhanger.
Update (September 14, 2021): We ended up properly finishing this adventure after all. Read on for part 2.