This is a play test of a campaign written for The Black Hack by Simon Forster. The Black Hack is a set of OSR rules by David Black. I have used The Black Hack to run my own fantasy campaign, The Chronicles Of The Latter Days Of Yarth and my group is familiar with the rules.
Because this is a play test document I will be including my thoughts on the adventure design as well as a narrative of play, this will necessarily involve SPOILERS. Please bear this in mind if you hope to play this adventure yourself.
Session 9: The Obsidian Desert
The party walked through a long tunnel and emerged from a cave onto a vast desert of black sand.
In the distance they could see a jade tower rising into the heavens. They decided to make for it as it was the only visible landmark.
The going was slow and there were minor hindrances from the heat and the sand that heroes of this calibre just shrugged off.
The random encounter table was uninspiring here. I rolled several times before deciding to ignore it and just got minor aggravation stuff. As usual, I decided to throw in the scorpions and shooty stuff from the tower whenever I wanted to rather than rely on the dice.
After travelling for most of the day our heroes came to an area where the desert sand became fused black glass. They decided to continue across it rather than try to go around.
The going was slippery but manageable.
The characters have to make DEX rolls to avoid falling over on the glass and taking tiny amounts of damage. This sort of thing annoys me. There's no consequence to falling over, even taking the maximum damage from a fall is inconsequential and easily shrugged off or remedied.
If this treacherous footing was combined with a combat it would have a point. Falling and missing the opportunity to attack or defending with disadvantage because you're prone is a real problem. Unfortunately this area is the only place where the scorpions can't pounce on the players so it was wasted.
I didn't bother with the DEX rolls.
The only thing of note that happened whilst the party crossed the glass area was a bolt of energy that flashed towards them from the jade tower. It missed everyone luckily and no damage was done.
The energy bolts are another annoyance from the random encounter table. They can be dodged (quite easily by this stage of the game) but they can't be stopped so they're silly things that the players just have to accept. They don't do much damage and aren't something to be feared so the players essentially just ignored them.
I added one here because the glass area doesn't add any game play to the scenario. There's no reason for its existence and it didn't evoke a sense of foreboding. Rolling to dodge the energy bolt gave the players something to do but ultimately it added nothing to the game.
As they crossed the far edge of the glass and returned to the more familiar sand underfoot our heroes spotted some palm trees off to their right and went to investigate.
They found an oasis with an old woman living next to it. Her name was Murgatrude and she welcomed our heroes and gave them food and refreshments.
Murgatrude explained the jade tower was the way out of the desert and was guarded by the Devil himself (JEREMY snorted at this) and, furthermore was protected by swarms of scorpions.
We had one of those awkward question and answer sessions that have cropped up before. Murgatrude apparently has coconuts, dates and figs to feed the players with. The obvious questions about where the coconuts and figs came from (I allowed the palms to be date palms) had to be met with answers of 'the pantry' etc.
Anyway, this was all good-natured ribbing and Murgatrude joined the party.
With Murgatrude in tow our heroes continued onward.
Without warning the sand in front of them churned violently and a pair of giant black scorpions erupted from the ground and pounced on the party.
Remuz was quicker than the scorpions however and blasted them with a fireball as they scuttled forward.
The singed creatures were then met by Ragnar's sword and Gus leapt on to the back of one of them stabbing furiously with his knives.
In a matter of minutes both the evil looking creatures were dead. One of them poisoned by its own stinger as it stabbed itself repeatedly in an attempt to get Gus off its back.
I made the scorpions 12HD monsters with over 100HP each and doubled their damage. They both died in two rounds and only managed to hurt Remuz who was immediately healed by Zaboka and they only managed that because Karl forgot he defended with advantage.
Straight up fights like this are not a challenge to a Black Hat party of this level. There needs to be a variety of incoming attacks, ranged, magical and melee to keep the party on their toes. Something that can't just be met with the shieldwall of the PCs.
I should have thrown in a second wave of scorpions to threaten the NPCs whilst the players were engaged with the first lot and then added some energy bolts from the tower to either add some more damage or, better still, to fuse the ground into black glass and cause everyone to make DEX checks or fall over thus opening themselves up to attacks with advantage.
This would also have given a reason for the area of black glass from earlier.
I didn't however. Poor show on my part.
With the scorpions defeated our heroes marched on.
After a while they came to a red cliff which they decided to scale rather than walk around. They followed a winding switchback path to its summit where they found a ring of monolithic stones each inscribed with many runes.
Remuz declared it was a summoning circle designed to conjure something described in the runes as 'almighty power'.
Our heroes decided to leave well enough alone and move on.
I mean, who would mess around with this?
Anyway, the players decided they had no interest in summoning anything that they weren't better informed about and continued towards the jade tower.
The stones are supposed to be red but I used the green hex plinths I had, Adapt, improvise, overcome...
Getting ever nearer the jade tower the party was distracted again by what looked like the remains of a temple away to their left.
Investigating they found a band of desert nomads camped around the ruin.
Once again they were met with a friendly reception and partook of desert hospitality.
Once again the nomads were 'vague' about their wanderings and 'unsure' about where they'd been or where they were going next. The players were convinced they weren't nomadic at all and just stayed here in this one spot devoid of all food, water and shelter.
The character on the other hand nodded sagely and engaged in small talk about sand, and camels and other dererty stuff.
Our heroes noticed a trap door in the floor of the temple and asked about it.
The nomads said they shunned the depths of the temple and had never been down there.
My players had a discussion about what to do here. The general consensus was to ignore the temple basement and continue to the tower, It took them quite some time to finally decide to 'just have a look'.
The general run of play has made them increasingly reluctant to be sidetracked by what they see as unconnected and pretty pointless encounters. The rewards on offer are not worth the effort to their minds.
What they really want are answers to where they are, why they're here and what they can expect in the future.
They've been unsuccessfully seeking a narrative thread that just doesn't exist in the campaign and they're getting a little fed up.
The most telling remark was from Karl (Remuz) who said 'we're play testing, we should at least see what's down there.'
Bravely (resignedly?) our heroes descended the steps into the pillared basement. They looked with interest at the frescoes that showed a war between red and black giants.
They looked with more interest at the jumble of giant sarcophaguses at the end of the hall.
Remuz and Zaboka detected evil and magic and two of the coffins showed signs of magic. One of these was duly opened and the red gravel and dust it contained was searched for loot.
Disturbing the red dirt caused it to rise up and coalesce into a two headed red giant surrounded by a swirling shield of sharp-grained sand.
Our heroes fell on the giant with spells and swords and it was quickly defeated without managing to harm anyone. The second giant fared no better.
Again, these fights add no complications so they're not a challenge. I increased everything to 12HD and 100HP and double damage again so as to try to give a veneer of danger but no one was fooled.
Inside the coffins Gus found a magical arrow which he added to his quiver.
Gus then spotted a secret door that led into a concealed crypt that contained a huge sarcophagus.
Ragnar couldn't shift the lid so Remuz tried to force it open with his butterfly wand, he pressed the wand into a crack between the lid and the body of the sarcophagus and activated the wand again and again until its charges were exhausted hoping to force the lid off by the pressure of the butterflies inside.
It didn't work but they probably helped Gus to lift the lid off when he tried.
Remuz was determined to find a use for his 'useless' wand. It gave us a laugh at least.
The huge mummy of the red king rose up surrounded momentarily by a cloud of escaping butterflies and demanded that all present should bow to him and aid him in reclaiming his lost kingdom.
Remuz declared that this was certainly a possibility if the Red King could explain what their reward would be. In response the Red King reached out and bestowed a 'gift' on Remuz, he reduced his magic prowess to that of a minor wizard.
There's a random table of curses. I let Remuz roll.
There's no option to help the Red King despite his demands, there's no kingdom to reclaim, no back story other than what can be extrapolated from the frescoes in the other room and no explanation of why he wears a mouse mask.
He's only here to be fought and so I had to make the party want to fight him because initially they didn't want to.
Therefore he did the dick move of cursing Remuz.
There was a moment of stunned silence as the party looked at the red King with disbelief then everything happened at once.
Zaboka removed the curse from Remuz, Remuz swore and fireballed the Red King for huge amounts of damage and Ragnar waded in with his sword. Gus moved behind the Red King and knifed him in a sensitive part of his lower back.
The Red King died horribly.
The Red King, unsurprisingly had no treasure so our heroes left the temple and made their way into the jade tower to see what awaited them next.
The players were stunned into momentary silence by the Red King's action, it was priceless.
Karl declared him an 'utter c*nt' before the characters unloaded on him. The Red King didn't stand a chance and got the kicking he deserved.
We had a chat about using him in other games. Giro is going to introduce him into his West Marches game complete with a cloud of butterflies just to annoy his players and I plan to use him in the future whenever I can. The Red king will henceforth always live up to his reputation of being an 'utter c*nt'.
This out of character humour was the high point of the evening so I decided to end the scenario there and didn't put any scorpions in the way of the characters entering the jade tower.
This level as a whole was unsatisfactory and didn't really hold enough content or interest to warrant the characters gaining a level although they did, to keep things on track.
I felt this was the most underused of the settings so far. There is so much potential in a desert setting that went unrealised.
It was obvious some thought had been put into a history of the region but none of this manifested itself during play and no details were provided so I could flesh it out on my own without doing some serious writing myself.
The Red King was the culmination of this with his only dialogue being a demand for help that, if agreed to, led precisely nowhere.