Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Running The Nightlight Circus

So if you have not gotten Odditional Materials, and you like Into the Odd, I heartily recommend it. It's got rules hacks like Maze Rats and Odd Dungeons, arcanum and new monstrous beings, and adventures like The Nightlight Circus, which I ran recently.

And if you don't want it spoiled, stop reading! It's a fun adventure with well-thought-out room descriptions, which describe both the rooms and the liminal connections between them (dusky smells versus fresh smells versus a staircase with light leaking through), which is great for making informed decisions. And it's got gambling and creepy folk!

The adventure is a location, the aforementioned Circus, a gambling den fronting for joy-missionaries waiting to brainwash more poor souls clapped in irons. There's a rumors table, but I figured I'd give the players more of a job or mission to have a reason to be there. The husband of a missing City Council troubleshooter hired the PCs to rescue him. Errol Brightlow, John's husband, knew the passphrase to let the PCs in, and gave them 20 pence up front to gamble with and blend in. Errol was a great reason to have them start in the Circus, rather than trying to shake the password out of random gamblers in various other parts of Bastion.

(Gambling in Into the Odd is fun! I imagine this maps to most OSR games. I decided games of chance would pay out on a 5-6 on d6, since the house clearly has an advantage. Games of skill required a WIL save to win. In games with a Wisdom score, I'd have them roll under that, possibly with a +1 per opponent.)

One of our players was rousing up a distraction, winning at cards, whilst the other used his starter package to try to read a grinning cultist's mind. Failing, he cast about for a familiar face and found... Santos Barbato, a confidant and bomb enthusiast. They spoke of the place at length and I rolled for a random encounter, discovering that a grinner had brought in vicious dogs who got loose. Toby, the professional duelist PC, ascended the bar and shot one dog down, while Lazarus abandoned his card table and rushed the south doorway, leading past the gaming front and into the quarters of the cultists.

The players killed a waiter rushing out of the gambling room, as the remaining dog caused an enormous mess of things. The waiter managed to down a companion, but they dragged him south and entered a room with a fire pit and couches, where a hugely muscled man hunkered down, captured and iron-clapped sailors imprisoned behind him. The PCs bested said man in combat, incapacitating him and stealing his thoughts, thanks to Toby's starting gear/traits - low stats and alright HP had given him telepathy. They freed prisoners and had them go through a doorway which smelt of fresh air.

Each room describes the passages out quite succinctly - well enough for the players to make decisions, without giving away more than their characters could get from standing at the threshhold. This is incredibly helpful when they're deciding where to go next.

The seriously injured strongman gave some clues as to Brightlow's location, due to our thought-stealing PC, and then was summarily thrown partway through an illusory wall, which electrified him to death. The PCs jumped through into... the Loot Room. My only regret is not pondering the loot room's description a bit more.

The loot room paragraph states that anyone disturbing the treasure would be known to the Joy Machine. That's well and good... but it is an immobile column of light, which has no obvious means of communicating with its people. If I had thought things through in advance, I would've decided that it could communicate with Copper, a beastly and mobile fellow, and send it after interlopers. As is, I figured it'll know who did things, and the cultists will be after the thieves... So a reaction perhaps more suitable to a second session, and less towards a one-shot. Hopefully I'll manage some time to run this again, and when the same players can return.

(The other question I would've answered with a bit more forethought: what happens if the players cut or destroy the electrical cables between 3 and 11? I'm sure that they could cause serious damage (d10), but what happens? Terrible, wonderful things, I'm sure. Copper running around on fire, dogs running around on fire, etc.)

Suffice to say, the players wisely snuck around / away from the Joy Machine (one had a Smart Arm oddity which was gnashing its mental teeth near it). They killed another enslaver, freed more prisoners (so now 10 random Bastiards owe the PCs their lives) and escaped, leaving an enraged/joyful Copper and company to hunt for them. Errol and John, reunited, headed home. The PCs got away with 125 silver each, and a 10g piece of Golden Lands jewelry with a melt value of 4g - they intend to find a very discreet fence and get a fuller price for it.

Twas a great adventure! The Circus-folk are wonderful, creepy characters, and it was nice that their lair has a public-facing front where the PCs can pretend to be about for legitimate reasons. I regret not thinking through the Loot Room implications, but I think it worked out fiiiine. And certainly the adventure does a good job of making dangerous things obvious - like the Joy Machine, which seemed to creep folks out.

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