Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Back to the Swamp: N1 Curse of the Reptile God

Yo' Dicechucks, you've been silent since July. What the heck are you up to?
Thank you for asking. What happened was this: I started playing 5E online--using a psudonym of course--during the pandemic. Someone leaked this secret to the OSR police and they busted me on charges of Taking Opportunity Attacks in the First Degree and Rolling Charisma Checks with Malicious Intent. The outfall is that my blogging rights have been revoked. DiceChucker Enterprises Legal Team has been working on getting a reinstatement; they've managed to get a temporary easement that allows me to post old material that was written before I went afoul of The Law. So here is a piece I wrote up 7 years ago when I went on my N1 tirade. Read it quickly, before the pigs shut me down again.

I've gone on record as saying that the Naga in the basement of N1 was perhaps not the best choice of critter to base your entire cult on. Besides being far too powerful an opponent for the posse of novice PCs who are supposed to be going through this adventure, the naga charm ability is just a Mass Charm spell which doesn't really create the creepy side effects that the module calls for. The cursed townspeople of Orlanes often were characterized as losing interest into complete apathy regarding their work and or family. And the cursed cleric of Marrakesh was so far gone that he defiled the sacred tomes at the church and kidnapped a young girl from the neighborhood to be his sex slave. Nothing about a mass charm spell would cause that sort of reaction.
Of course you could just change the Naga so it's a less powerful critter, but then it seems unworthy of your worship. How about an ancient artifact of evil? I like the sound of that because it allows us to redefine the charm to handle the range of results that are described in the module. So instead of a Naga it's a statue of a magic constrictor snake with a woman's head that comes to life under the full moon. When the statue comes to life it encircles the victim in its coils and infiltrates their will with it's hypnotic gaze. In this way it can manufacture 5-10 new "cult members" per full moon.


JB said...

I have less issue with the naga being in N! then with some of the violations of "D&D reality" that Niles seems to blissfully ignore.

Specifically: clerical spells. The naga isn't an actual deity, so I'm not sure how the "clerics" following the thing have access to high level spells. Rather, they should have been stripped of their powers by their own deity. When I ran N1 for my campaign last year, I played them without spells.

The mass charm I'm more okay with. In 1E I'm kind of used to these spell-like abilities working a little differently from the actual the monsters individual flavor and distinguishes their abilities from the MU's spell list. Harpies, nagas, vampires, etc. all have slight variations on the standard charming.

One thing I found: elves and half-elves are incredibly useful in this kind of scenario because of their resistance to charm. That was the real kicker for my group and allowed my players (two elves and a half-elf) to defeat the naga with a bit of luck and quick thinking.

But, yeah...I've seen N1 TPK groups before, especially when I ran the thing as a B/X conversion.

Timrod said...

"I'm kind of used to these spell-like abilities working a little differently from the actual the monsters individual flavor and distinguishes their abilities from the MU's spell list."
I'm right there with you; I think the description of how Explicta converts new mebers--entwining the captive in her serpentine body and whispering sweet, slithery nothings--is an excellent addition. I'm just a bit underwhelmed when something called the Reptile God has a stat block in the Monster Manual. Nothing kills mystique like a stat block.

JB said...

For whom is the mystique killed? The DM? Or the players?

The DM already sees “behind the curtain;” it’s a Necessary Evil for the DM to NOT be mystified, because the DM is the one running the game and needs the mechanics to be solid.

For the PLAYERS: there is PLENTY of mystique and mystery. IF the DM is doing their job right. Which means (duh) communicating stellar narration and painting a vivid scene incorporating sight, sound, and stress.

I’ve run N1 a couple-three times, with Explicitus being encountered…mm, twice(?) that I remember. In both cases, the players (different groups) were properly awed, repulsed, and frightened/freaked by the situation. I know it SEEMS O So Lacking in magic and fantasy, but it ain’t. Trust in the game, man…it works the way it’s written.

HOWEVER…if it’s YOU (the DM) that expects to be thrilled and mystified by the adventure…well, there’s plenty of adventures out there that seem written to be READ, rather than PLAYED. Of course, you could also just read, um, good fiction? Or try being a player rather than a DM?

I know, I know…DMing is a thankless job. It also rocks being a god and rockstar (for the players) all in one. I prefer the DM’s seat myself. But, then, I’ve always had an inflated ego.
; )

Rick said...

EW 5e

Timrod said...

JB: "Trust in the game, it works as written." Sure, but if it doesn't work the way I want it to work, then I'm changing the damn thing.

JB said...

Mm. So...considering my quote in context (in response to your stipulation that stat blocks kill mystique), I will repeat my original questions:

"For whom is the mystique killed? The DM? Or the players?"

My assertion is that it's not the the bits "behind the curtain" that thrill and mystify the DM. The DM gets thrilled by the act of creation; the DM gets mystified by not knowing how the PCs will respond to that creation.

I mean...that's the game.

And if that's not working the way you want it to...then, perhaps it's not the game for you? At least, not from the DM's side of the screen.

But maybe (and I'm just reflecting on this now) that's the real divide between the game as it was originally played and the game as it's played now. Or the expectations of what "game play" is. Popular adventures being written with more attention to style than mechanics. And players looking to have more control over the crunch/mechanics of their character than just playing the game. "No, I want my PC to be like THIS" with minute idiosyncrasies, skill lists, and back stories.

Probably (maybe), because the DMs are left flailing for applied game mechanics due to the need to write adventures like a magical story. Because mechanical depth by itself isn't "entertaining" enough.

And, of course it isn't...not when players are spending all their time flexing and twiddling with the minutia on their character sheet, instead of engaging with the game being presented.

A catch-22 of the game in the 21st century. Leading to non-stop dissatisfaction all around. all means, change it if you dislike it. But if you dislike the way the game is designed to Boy. That's tough. Tough to come back from that.

I just run 1E (these days) and I find my satisfaction in that. As an old geezer (older than Gygax was when he wrote the damn thing), I take great pleasure in adding to the system where additions are needed (needed in order to make a more robust, mature game). But the thing as set up works very well. For what it's designed to do.

RPGs are a bit like vehicles. Some are designed to do different things. You might not like the fact that your car isn't designed for "off-road" action, but you can still try to drive it that way (to your sadness). And while you can kit-bash the thing to be more "off-road friendly" the result is likely to be ugly and less efficient than if you'd purchased a vehicle specifically designed for the purpose.

D&D is a great game. By I heartily disagree with the idea that it can EVERYTHING to EVERYBODY. There are LOTS of RPGs on the market...and some do different things far, far better.

Timrod said...

Two things:
1> Rick, is it any consolation that I got the posse to play DCC once I got a chacne to run the game?

2> JB, My apologies, I shortchanged your comment. In fact, I thought I had deleted the response that ultimately was published--really that was just a rough draft of a preamble that I had decided to move on from.

To your original question: for whom is the mystique ruined [by statblocks]? We can probably skip over the obvious answer about players and get to the DM response. If I'm running a module called Against the Cult of the Reptile God, and the purported reptile god is a standard issue, off the shelf monster from the dang Manual of Monstropolopities, my inspiration to run that encounter dies a little.

The statblock signifies that the reptile God can be killed. Not just defeated or stymied or deterred, but actually murdered to death. And in D&D, if murder can be done, by jove it will be done. Or the PCs will die trying. As a DM, I feel a little less interested in playing out that scene.

Sure, If I were a good DM--and I'm not saying that I am any such thing--I could kick that scene into shape with my exquisite narrative abilities and clever tactical thinking. But I'm much more likely to do that if I'm inspired by the material. In the case of N! I invested myself in the modge by changing things up and making the Reptile god less know-able. By turning the god's presence into an artifact, successful PCs will have only taken out a magic shrine to the reptile god, the actual god is still out there unknown and, as yet, untouchable, and enraged at their sacrilege. I like that potential ending better than one where a bunch PCs are making boots and luggage out of a naga carcass. Although sounds pretty cool too.

Incidentally, is that where the term naugahyde is derived from?