Thursday, July 7, 2011

Mayhem & Moathouses: How to handle a bloodthirsty DM

...and mayhem ensued.
Thanks to a patch of peonies in my neighbor's yard and a blog post by James over at Underdark Gazette [sadly, James has packed in the old blog] I feel compelled to do a write up about good ol' Village of Hommlet.  James, as you probably already know, posted a couple of times last week about everyone's favorite old school village adventure. But why the peonies, you ask? Well, the first time I played T1 it was 4th of July weekend 1982--yes, I remember this kind of crap--and my mom had just picked a bunch of peonies from the garden and put them in a vase on the dining room table which, that weekend, doubled as our gaming venue.  To this day, when I catch a whiff of the distinctive, peppery scent of peonies, I am reminded of the Village of Hommlet. 

Smells like trouble!
Anyway, the DM at the helm--we'll call him Byron--though fresh out of 7th grade at the time, was the most murderous referee in our gang.  Definitely aligned with Chaos, he liked to force the players out of their comfort zone. This outing would quickly prove to be no exception; indeed it may have been his crowning achievement.

Our very first encounter as we wandered into town was with an exceptionally belligerent Elmo who--though outnumbered 8 to 1, wearing no armor, and packing only a dagger--picked a fight with our paladin. For those unfamiliar, Elmo, though posing as a moronic farmhand, was actually an enormous ~5th level ranger with some bitchin' magic armaments, including the aforementioned dagger.

Anyway, he killed our paladin with a single, massive blow from the dagger, so the rest of the party jumped him.  We had 3 fighters and the cleric facing him while the MU blasted him with magic missiles and the halfling thief snuck around for a backstab.  Even so it was touch-and-go for a few rounds, but thanks to some crappy rolls by Elmo, we took him down without any more casualties on our side.

However, by this time a bunch of villagers had taken up arms and were coming at us.  We ran for it, eventually finding our way to the Inn of the Buxom Wench* where we commandeered the 2nd floor, barricaded the stairs, and launched a fusillade of arrows at the militia, sending them scrambling for cover behind the wall surrounding the inn.  Leading the militia was a revived Elmo who was clearly not quite as dead as we'd hoped.

*T1 devotees will note that this is not the real name of the establishment. The actual wench was known more for her welcoming demeanor than her cleavage but it was the name we used at the time and it has stuck.

We were terrified that the entire town was as tough as Elmo, though this did not stop us from "errantly" lofting flaming arrows into neighboring houses.  But good-natured Ostler Gundigoot talked everyone down and, against all reason, managed to negotiate a cease fire.  After a hearing with Rufus and Byrne, we floated a canned apology for all the death and destruction we'd wrought and promised to pay reparations to include fees for raising all the dead townsfolk as well as rebuilding the razed houses.  Since we were cash-strapped 1st level n00bs, it was suggested that we go to the moathouse to secure the weregild.  Much to our dismay, R&B insisted that a fully healed Elmo accompany us; partly as punishment for his part in inciting the fracas but mostly to make sure that we didn't lose our way.

At the moathouse I only remember a few encounters: the murderous frogs who killed off two of our party including the halfling thief and another, less memorable character; the puncture-resistant zombies--they only took 1 point of damage from piercing weapons as I recall--and the final meetup with Lareth, who was kind enough to take out Elmo for us.  For that we were very thankful.  In fact, when I look back on T1, to this day I think of Lareth not as a malignant disciple of evil but as one of those respectable bad guys who, under different circumstances, might have been a valued ally.

Meanwhile, our hatred for Elmo was so intense that we cheered when Lareth bashed his head in with his staff of striking; though we were equally glad that Elmo had, by then, relieved Lareth of the vast majority of his hit points.  Not satisfied with his death, Elmo's corpse was defiled by the surviving party members and tossed into the swamp as frog food.  To add further insult, instead of returning his possessions to his grieving parents, they were parsed out amongst the party along with the rest of the treasure haul.  But, true to our word, we paid off our debt to the town and were feted as heroes of the realm before shuffling off to our next adventure; this was 1982 remember, we still had a few years to wait for the continuation of the T-series.   

At the time I remember being furious with Byron the DM for coercing us into such a chaotic scenario in town, but also a little ashamed that I was taking such pleasure in terrorizing the villagers with flaming arrows.  Byron loved this sort of mayhem and if the players went along with it, he would be happy and our mayhem-seeking would bring us prosperity and happiness.  If, on the other hand, we had refused to fight Elmo and/or the villagers, instead relying on our faith in a just humanity, I'm certain that within 30 minutes we would have been rolling up new characters as the corpses of our PCs swung from the gallows.  Instead, for the far more sinister crimes of mass murder, grand arson, and public mayhem, we were given a hefty but not insurmountable fine and sent off on an adventure.  I don't think we were conscious of it at the time--though we would come to be aware of this tactic in later years--but we were totally playing in a manner to placate Byron and therefore protect our characters.  And we had an incredibly fun outing--if a somewhat sociopathic one.

On hindsight, the whole thing turned out to be a pretty clever set up to get us to the moathouse that we otherwise knew nothing about and had no reason to visit--other than the usual "thar's gold in them hills" excuse.  But more importantly, by "forcing" us into such a chaotic flurry of morally ambiguous action while simultaneously killing off the only lawful member of our party (the paladin), the behavior of that  party was ever-after skewed toward chaos in a way that we could not have done intentionally.  Or perhaps I'm giving the DM too much credit; he was, after all, only 13.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pretty interesting. I like your analysis, even if it is not necessarily what the DM intended. It just seems to have worked out in an oddly appropriate way.