A Deadlands: Weird Wars Adventure
|by T. Jordan "Greywolf" Peacock|
Locations: Part 1
Locations: Part 2
Scenery and Miniatures
Avatar of Anubis
This adventure was run once with my regular Deadlands group (with one new player), and then again at Necronomicon 2000 to fill a four hour time slot.
In both cases, the scenario ran over time. In the first playtest, it took approximately five hours, whereas it took exactly four hours and twenty-two minutes at Necronomicon 2000.
In the first run of this adventure, we had five players, only one of whom was not already familiar with the Deadlands rules, and it took about fifteen minutes to go over the basic rules. For a good portion of the adventure, it was not necessary to break into combat rounds, and many actions did not even require die rolls to resolve, so great familiarity with the rules did not seem to be a major prerequisite for playing.
The characters represented were the Adventurer-Archaeologist (played by the new player), the Museum Curator, the Master Thief, the Veteran, and the Native Guide. For the most part, the group worked fairly well together. The first major problem with the setup of the game was that, what with the threat of Nazis, the Veteran got posted as a guard, thus separating him from the bulk of the problem solving. When the Nazis did show up, we pretty much had action split across the tomb. The adventurers cleverly left traps unsprung to slow down the Nazis, and managed to buy themselves a considerable amount of time this way. However, the Veteran with his "Death Wish" took on some Nazis on his own, and in a simple case of bad draws of the action cards, he was gunned down before he had a chance to fire a single shot, and was the sole casualty of the adventure.
The heroes proved able to anticipate most of the traps, and to solve the puzzles. They managed to defeat Aye by banishing him with the Sceptre of Osiris, and the Native Guide tossed the sceptre and the mask into the Ammit pit while everyone else was rushing to flee the tomb. In the end, the Museum Curator was the "winner", largely by repeatedly putting his "mission objectives" above his own personal welfare, and by participating a great deal in the puzzle-solving.
The most tedious part of the game was the "grand finale", as the tomb started collapsing with Aye's destruction. Initially, I took the action into rounds as the heroes were fleeing the tomb, with blocks dropping all around them. This did lead to an amusing turn of events when the archaeologist, safely outside, had to run back in on account of the curator telling him that the native guide was still inside ... and the archaeologist was a die-hard hero-type. Eventually, they all got out, but the tedious exercise of going through the action deck unnecessarily slowed this part down, and added a full half hour onto the game time. In retrospect, I should have just asked who was running out, and who was dawdling. Once everyone was for certain on their way out, I should have ended the adventure right there with them all barely escaping as the tomb collapsed behind them.
Insofar as traps go, the players carefully made their way through the whole tomb. The Native Guide was particularly systematic in using a 10 foot pole to detect and disarm the spear traps, and then the group used iron spikes to deal with the "flip pit trap" ... and then they removed the spikes, leaving a nasty surprise for the Nazis when they came in later. They were fairly paranoid about traps in the door, and detected the pendulum blade trap, and successfully disarmed it by wedging a spear shaft between the two "pressure points", then removing the pendulum blades on the other side.
They also surmised the nature of the fire trap room, and moved the vats of explosive liquid away from the drop blocks. Later, the Veteran deliberately set off the explosives while there were Nazis in the room, by shooting it from the next room over, behind cover. In the Antechamber, the Posse correctly guessed the nature of the trap, and avoided it for the most part, though explosions and the like still caused several blocks to drop.
The Posse figured out the puzzle of the Canopic Jars, and put them into place before visiting the Anubis Shrine (which they did so by "picking" the lock). They then did battle with Aye in his weakened state, knocking the canopic jars away from their places once the sarcophagus was open, and thus weakening Aye. In a fairly dramatic battle, the Native Guide used the Protection miracle to ward Aye, and the Archaeologist dealt with mummies coming out from the walls in the Antechamber, while the Veteran died fighting Nazis (who subsequently fled when all the supernatural events started occurring). The Master Thief, Curator and Native Guide figured out the way to open the Anubis Shrine (by sliding the symbols of the Ma'at and heart on the scale so that the heart would be "lighter"), and acquired the mask.
At the big climax, the Curator used the Sceptre of Osiris to raise the dead bodies within the tomb to do battle with the Nazis outside. This provided a significant distraction, though I made the Curator make Spirit checks not to fall under the sway of the Curse for using the Sceptre for such a dark purpose. At last, the Native Guide banished Aye with the Sceptre, and disposed of the Sceptre and Mask in the Pit of Ammit while the place was crashing down, and the Nazis were distracted by zombies running around with orders to "kill their superior officers".
In the aftermath of this, I opted to remove a few of the traps that, in my opinion, only served to slow down the adventure further. I also changed the role of the Sceptre of Osiris, as having it being able to raise the dead (even if only temporarily) would call into question just what purpose the Mask of Anubis was meant to serve. I also reduced the amount of damage caused by the exploding jars.
At the scenario at Necronomicon 2000, I had a large number of players. The Archaeologist, Museum Curator, Native Guide, Master Thief, Veteran and Strong Man were present. I had one player who was going to play the Huckster, as he had previous experience with Hucksters, but he headed off and never returned to the table. Of the group, only one player (the Native Guide) had any previous experience with Deadlands. The Master Thief character was played by a fellow who tended to dominate "out of character" conversations, but seemed a bit timid insofar as "in character" actions. The Strong Man was played by a pre-teen who showed up and wanted to play, and did not seriously participate in the problem solving aspects of the game. The Veteran was a teenager who was largely handicapped by the same problem that plagued the Veteran in the first game - He got parked near the entrance to watch for Nazis. He still got a considerable amount of action once the Nazis actually started showing up, but had to spend a large amount of time just waiting for his turn.
Most of the character interaction and problem solving was dominated by a group of three players (who, I later learned, knew each other beforehand) who played the Native Guide, Curator and Archaeologist. These three PCs, in my previous experience, have a great potential to get involved in lively character interactions, due to their opposing motivations. (The Master Thief has great potential in this regard, too.)
Incidentally, when it came time to count chips, the Archaeologist and Native Guide tied for first place. Although I tried to be fair in awarding of chips, they were fairly active in "petitioning" me for the awarding of chips when they were playing up their Hindrances and achieving personal objectives, whereas the other players were far more timid in this respect. The Museum Curator came in a close third, and the Veteran came in fourth ... and it was all close enough that arguments could easily be made that I should have awarded more or less one way or the other, and come out with different results.
One thing of note is that the archaeologist got the group off to a fairly quick start by rolling a barrel of water down the entryway passage ... the quickest way of demonstrating the presence of the spear traps and the pit trap as well. As it so happened, all of the spear traps were set off by this action (there were none still waiting for the next person to step on the plate), so that allowed them to quickly bypass the first room. The pendulum blade trap was quickly dealt with by the simple fact that nobody noticed it until the door had already been opened - and then the archaeologist noticed the trap and pulled the others back in time to avoid the blades.
In the fire trap room, the archaeologist surmised that there was indeed a trap, and was careful to try not to set it off while getting the false Anubis mask, but I made him perform a Deftness roll to do this successfully, and he did not make the required target number. The blocks dropped on the vats (which had not been moved), and they all exploded. It's perhaps a good thing that I reduced the damage of the exploding jars - Although the Posse as a whole had quite a number of Fate Chips to burn, it could have been potentially fatal, or left them all badly wounded. The Curator showed his priorities by bodily protecting his papers rather than himself (and burning chips to survive), whereas the Native Guide sacrificially shielded the archaeologist with his own body.
When the smoke cleared, the group found the hidden door and moved on. They figured out the nature of the Antechamber traps, and (at first) bypassed them. However, during later exchanges between the Nazis and the Veteran on guard, the Veteran went running through this room and veered off the path (I made him roll Nimbleness to stay on the path, since he was running in a room with no light source, and with traps all around) and while he managed to narrowly avoid several blocks, he would have been crushed by another if the archaeologist hadn't heroically pulled him aside at the last second.
While the heroes tried to figure out the puzzles beyond, they left the false Mask of Anubis back near the entrance, and fooled the Nazis (at least temporarily) into taking the false mask. However, the Veteran had engaged in gunfire with the Nazis, and the Nazis had their retainers rig up some dynamite to blow the tomb, now that they had their prize (or so they thought). What followed was a strange series of exchanges where retainers would carry in dynamite, they'd head out, the Veteran would cut the wire, then he'd run out with dynamite with a lit fuse, as retainers were carrying more dynamite in ... and many explosions resulted, causing the destruction of the supply truck outside.
Due in part to the large number of players, things were taking longer than they had in the first game, and I had to cut corners to speed things up. The group correctly surmised that awakening Aye wasn't necessarily a good thing, though they assumed that they needed the Sceptre to open the Anubis Shrine. They pried open the sarcophagus - something that shouldn't have been easily done without going through the business of solving that puzzle, but I was running short on time, and figured I needed to cut the group some breaks. They fought a greatly weakened Aye, Salla used Protection to keep Aye from getting out of the sarcophagus, they grabbed the Sceptre, and at last tore out the mummy's heart, which incapacitated him.
The group made their way into the Anubis Shrine, and reasoned that maybe the way to solve the puzzle was to put the heart on the scale, and a feather on the other side. The Native Guide came up with a really good reason why he should have a feather, and, by this point, we were running overtime, so I cut corners again. (The "real" solution was to slide the symbols of the heart and the feather on the balance, but the group was looking for a mystical, not a mechanical solution at this point.) They put the heart on one side of the scale, and the feather on the other, and the Archaeologist burned fate chips to make a high Strength roll to force the scale to tip so that the heart would be "lighter". At this point, the shrine opened.
Meanwhile, the Nazis managed to set off some dynamite to cause some rubble to seal the entrance to the tomb, but not before the Veteran had made another mad dash outside and ran back inside with a bundle of dynamite (not sealed, thank goodness). So, once the Nazis left, the heroes were able to blow their way back out again. Since the heart of Aye wasn't actually squashed by anyone, he hadn't been technically "slain", and thus the big "tomb collapse" sequence was bypassed. Also, since the Canopic Jar puzzle wasn't "solved", and neither was the Mask of Anubis used, the mummies didn't pop out to cause further troubles (which, really, would have just stretched things on even more).
In the end, the Native Guide and Archaeologist tied for first place, closely followed by the Curator, with the Veteran in fourth place. I called for a tie-breaker vote, and the group voted on the Native Guide as the overall winner.
In retrospect, for a convention scenario, I think that if I had this many players again, I would want to have some more player handouts that would spell out in great detail the clues the Posse would find, rather than just announcing them out loud. I had to compete with noise generated from other game groups, and it's a good possibility that many of the clues were missed. Handouts would minimize that problem. Also, I think I would need to either not have the Nazis at the players' heels, or provide a convenient NPC character who can serve as the "sentry", and who can warn them if the Nazis arrive ... at which point the Veteran could then decide to split off to deal with them, if he's not already in a target rich environment by then.
I also revisited the prefabricated characters slightly. (Part of this was necessity, as the Archaeologist and Curator players decided to keep their character sheets, and I neglected to copy down all the statistics!) For instance, the Strong Man had "Heavy Sleeper" as a Hindrance, and his player interpreted this as meaning that if he wanted to get fate chips for playing his Hindrances, he should lie down and take a nap. What with the penalties to Cognition he already had, and the additional penalty for being a "Heavy Sleeper", it seemed nigh impossible to wake him up, so I removed that particular Hindrance. (The group shouldn't be setting up for camp in the middle of the tomb anyway, so it's not a very useful Hindrance in this scenario.)
Another thing I should touch on is the matter of changing the solution to a puzzle in the middle of an adventure. This is, generally, something I don't like to do. If a Marshal makes a habit of this, then he may encourage his players to not try to pay attention to the facts and clues, but rather just to come up with the most bizarre and entertaining solution they can think of. If you go this route, the game is no longer a "mystery" in any respect, but just a creativity exercise. This may very well be exactly what the Marshal wants, and if that suits your style, so be it. I find that in campaigns where the GM shifts facts repeatedly to fit whatever the players propose, things start to fall apart after a few sessions. Players in the group are encouraged to just go wild and try crazy things, rather than to carefully and meticulously try to piece together clues. And, in retrospect, if you look back at the clues the Marshal was originally giving you, often times they don't fit what the "real" solution turned out to be. The parts won't quite fit right, though at the time it sounded like a clever solution.
This is the sort of thing I generally only do in an "emergency" of sorts - That is, when I'm trying to get a game finished within a set time limit, and I'm running short on time ... or even over time, such as at a convention. Still, it's something I want to avoid as much as possible, since it sets a bad precedent.
Locations: Part 1
Locations: Part 2
Scenery and Miniatures
Avatar of Anubis