Tuesday, September 13, 2016

[CRIT] My Pal Zuggtmoy

My group has been slogging through the Underdark for the higher side of twenty sessions now, and they finally got the fuck Out of the Abyss. But not before our resident Orc decided to congratulate a certain demon lord on her wedding day:

First, A Bit of Background

If you don't want to read this section, you don't gotta! Just skip down to "The CRIT." But if you've played Out of the Abyss before or are just interested in seeing how the party got to this point, read on.

The Party Reunites

You know the old saying "never split the party?" Well, the players fucked up pretty bad on that front.
Up until now, the characters had been split between Gracklstugh and Blingdenstone for the majority of the campaign, each party believing the other to have died in Demogorgon's demolition of Sloobludop. Luckily, both parties had the idea to look for a way back to the surface in Neverlight Grove, encouraged by Stool (a myconid native to Neverlight Grove) and Sarith (a Drow infected with Zuggtmoy's "gift") respectively. Even the Underdark natives wanted to leave at this point, since they had faced evidence of the demon lord's mounting corruption more times than they cared to count.
The party's reunion was a somber one:
Topsy was assumed dead, lost during a sojourn in Mantol-Derith.
Turvy died during an assault by an Orcish slaver party.
Shuushar was drunk in a gutter somewhere in Gracklstugh, losing all will to live after leading what remained of his flock on a death march through the Underdark.
Ilvara had thrown her lot in with the Gracklstugh group after Asha abandoned her at Sloobludop, but the Blingdenstone party found this distasteful, considering she was why they were all in the Underdark in the first place.
The slaves who escaped from Mantol-Derith were gone:
  • Rystia executed Adamantlepiece when he imposed martial law on Blingdenstone, and Peebles helped her escape before the party could execute her to appease the rioting Svirfneblin;
  • Zilch died during the escape from Mantol-Derith when he lost his showdown with Asha's goon Shoor.
  • Sladis Vadir was written out because he was boring died during the medusa Neheedra's raid on Blingdenstone with her army of animated Drow statues.
Everyone saw Buppido die at Sloobludop, but then he turned out to be a lich who started a Demogorgon cult in Gracklstugh, so he had to be killed a second time (which involved getting clotheslined by Ralean, the party's Tiefling Rogue).
Lander perished from starvation on the treacherous ill-advised month-long escapade across the Darklake in a Kuto-Toa Dinghy.
Derendil and his "squire" Jimjar stayed behind at Blingdenstone. With the Diggermattocks, Chipgrin, and Adamantlepiece all dead, the Svirfneblin had no leader. They trusted Derendil though, who had helped settle the genocidal strife between the gnomes and their wererat neighbors. The "Elf prince" snapped out of his "I don't deserve to be a leader" rut just in time to take the metaphorical crown (our Tiefling Monk Sera stole the real one).
But hey, at least everyone's favorite Orc Ront was alive, surviving his lethal fall at Velkynvelve! His essence was absorbed into the faerzress, and was plopped down in the dead body of the Orcish slaver who killed Turvy. It was a pleasant surprise in a sea of disappointments.

"Myconids Don't Dance"

Upon entering Neverlight Grove, it was immediately apparent to Stool that something was up. Most of the myconids of Neverlight Grove have been affected by Zuggtmoy's spores, and they were dancing perpetually in preparation for their new Lady's wedding to - and corruption of - Araumycos, the fungi hivemind that pervades the Underdark and would give the Demon Queen of Fungi immeasurable power. A danger that Stool was able to summarize with a monotone telepathic statement: "Myconids don't dance."
The only myconids not affected by Zuggtmoy's spores were Basidia - one of the two ruling sovereigns - and Rasharoo, who was scouting out tunnels to the surface and planting nutrient caches along the way in preparation for their escape. Since the party knew something was wrong, Basidia was able to encourage them to check out the Garden of Welcome, since the other sovereign Phylo was doing some shady shit up there. Basidia had to know what was going down before it abandoned Neverlight Grove.
What the party found was a grove of captured Drow being grown into spore servants (a horrific process to experience and to behold), and a larval abomination tending to this maddening garden. Sarith's fungal infection finally burst forth from his noggin, turning him into a spore servant and signalling the beginning of combat. The party managed to destroy the gardener and put its crops out of their misery, but not before our Orc Warlock Pyfar sustained some serious acid burns ("THIS TEAM IS ON MY BACK AND IT'S GETTING HEAVY!").

Always the Bridesmaid...

Soon after the battle ended, Zuggtmoy's wedding procession began, her fungal bridesmaids and groomsmen engaging in an obscene mock wedding before scaling the giant mushroom tower Yggmorgus, which loomed in the background, partially obscured by thick pink mist. The party wanted to make sure their investigation for Basidia was thorough, and to satisfy their own morbid curiosity as to what sort of doom the demon lords' incursion spelled for the Underdark. They sneaked through the procession and ascended the tower into Zuggtmoy's chambers. The demon lord was meditating as her bridesmaids prepared her moldy gown and tried to shoo off the party.
But when an Orc as dumb, stubborn, and chemically disfigured as Pyfar has his mind set on something, nothing stops him.

The CRIT

When Pyfar stepped forward to address the Demon Queen of Fungi, she opened her eyes - black voids with pinprick white pupils set deep inside them - and attempted to turn him back the way he came with her mind control spores. The rest of the party couldn't resist the compulsion of Zuggtmoy's noxious spores and filed out of Yggmorgus in an orderly fashion.
Wisdom Saving Throw→ Natural 20
But not Pyfar! No siree.
"So how's the wedding coming along?" He lisped through his giant tusks, cheery as ever. "You excited for the big day?"
Rarely do I freeze up as a DM. I'm of the opinion that riffing off of other players is what makes a good game of Dungeons & Dragons tick. But this? I was utterly speechless. I fruitlessly scoured through the book a couple of times to see if I could get some guidance as to how Zuggtmoy would react. I had her say something along the lines of "you dare approach me, mortal?"
"I just wanted to congratulate you is all. Who's the lucky man?"
I had to pause for a couple minutes just to puzzle this conversation through. I expressed my exacerbation to my players, who at this point were beside themselves with Pyfar's inane questioning. Pyfar's player kept a (relatively) straight face, expectant. I decided that Zuggtmoy would react in much the same way I was: totally caught off guard, befuddled, and sort of amused.
Her conversation with the Orc was short - more of an exchange of pleasantries than anything - but it was an interaction the Demon Queen of Fungi wouldn't soon forget. This stupid little green creature was so sincere, how could she eradicate it, even being the wholly evil god she was?
Pyfar said goodbye and good wishes and strolled out of Yggmorgus to catch up with his zombified party. Zuggtmoy smiled - if only for a second - then slipped back into her trance, gathering the energies needed to assimilate Araumycos in a grand ceremony that would usher in a new age.
But she would remember Pyfar, the Orc who had big enough stones and the uncrushable optimism to address her like an old buddy.

Monday, September 12, 2016

[CRIT] A Knife for a Ration

I ran the first session of Adventurer's League (AL) hosted at Voodoo Leatherworks, and it was a smash hit! I started from the top with DDEX1-2 Secrets of Sokol Keep. Since our AL takes place on Voodoo's monthly game night, we had to set up a table in the dungeon proper in order to have enough room.

I had four players, but garnered enough interest that I may very well have six additional players next month, which means I may have to recruit additional DMs, and fast. Three of the players at the table that night were new to Dungeons & Dragons, while the fourth had played 2e but lost interest when her group transitioned to 3e (which is totally understandable).
Historically, I've been wary of using premade characters, but this session totally converted me: they made the game easy for everyone to pick up and play, and they freed up a lot of time typically reserved for character creation. Everyone made the characters their own, so player investment didn't suffer; it's not like how I always thought playing premades would be, where everyone is stuck with a hollow shell they didn't care enough to fill. I plan on making more premades to cover more class, race, and path combinations, and may even tailor-make premades to tie them into specific scenarios, in the same vein as the expertly crafted introductory scenarios for Burning Wheel.

The Adventure

While rooting around in the abandoned Sokol Keep trying to figure out how to relight the beacon atop it, the party was commissioned by the centuries-old spirit of a dead Tyr priestess to exact her bloody vengeance on the corrupt guardsman – Sergeant Grim – who killed Igan, the proprietor of Sokol Keep and her newfound acolyte. Grim wanted to loot the temple to Tyr that the Keep was constructed atop of, and murdered Igan out of greed when he tried to stop him. The priestess of Tyr trapped Grim and his men in the temple, but could not manifest to do the deed herself. She deactivated the beacon atop Sokol Keep, wreaking havoc in the nearby harbor in an attempt to lure a group of adventurers in to do the job for her.
The priestess of Tyr pointed the party to the excavation site in the basement of the western tower, and when they entered the temple they became trapped as well, trapped just the same until they meted Tyr's punishment on Grim. Grim and his men had run out of food, water, and light two days ago, freezing in their metal armor in the bowels of the keep. Understandably, they were quite repentant for what they had done.
But Tyr's justice is blind to the pleas of those he has already judged.

The CRIT

Our CRIT this session came from Dahlia, our wonderfully queer Dragonborn Sorcerer. The party was flush with rations – the typical starting amount is 10 days' worth for each character – which Dahlia realized were potent bargaining chips. She had a fellow adventurer stack four rations on the floor – one for each guardsman, save for Grim. She took one in her hand and held it out to the emaciated guardsmen:
"For each dagger in Grim's back, I will trade you a ration."
Intimidation → Natural 20
Grim collapsed to his knees in resignation; he knew how his men would choose, despite their loyalty. He felt the eyes of his men burrow into the back of his head. The first approached him and pulled his dagger, plunging it between Grim's ribs. His expression was one of pity and grim determination.
"Sorry boss, but what else am I supposed to do?"
He left his dagger hilted inside Grim - barely alive with anguish - and stumbled forward to the toothy-grinned Dragonborn, gorging himself on his reward.
Dahlia took up another ration from the pile. And another. And another. Grim's death was not slow. The priestess of Tyr was pleased that Grim's own men were the vehicle of her God's justice, redeeming them in her eyes. All were released from the tomb, and the party stood guard as Grim's men buried the leader they mutinied in an unmarked grave. They begged that the party set them free, to go their separate ways and nurse their broken oaths. Dahlia agreed.
The fact that they traded their leader for a day's food was punishment enough. Their stomachs could be filled - and would be filled - again and again. A moment's respite for the essence of the man they owed their utmost respect.

Friday, September 2, 2016

[KINK] Public Pony Play: My First Time

I've ponied up in public before, but only at Pride parades. That's a totally different environment, of course. That, and I just walked around and posed, nothing like full-on whinnying and dressage. So when my handler and I scheduled to do an outdoor training session at Palmer Park, I was pretty nervous, to say the least.
The day of the session, I got slammed with a bunch of homework, and I told my handler that we should reschedule. But when I saw how nice it was outside, and considered how long I had been looking forward to it, I was all "FUCK IT. WE'RE DOING THIS." I wasn't going to let my inhibitions rob me of an experience I've been looking forward to my entire life.
I put on my spandex suit - my “fur,” if you will - and polo wraps underneath my street clothes, since I didn’t want to have to strip down in a public park. I was jittery the entire time, watching the clock count down as I redid my right wrap like five times. When the time came, I drove down to Palmer Park, parking at the dog park. There was a ton of people there, which made my nerves even worse.
We hiked a bit to an open space that I got acquainted with during a navigation class I took at UCCS. It couldn’t be more perfect: plenty of space, shade, a tie-off point in the form of an old information sign, a rock to put gear on, and surrounding rocks and trees that reduced the wind to a gentle breeze. I got out of my street clothes, and my handler helped me tack up. She tied me off to the information sign, then put me in my hoof gloves.
Just as I got into my hoof gloves, a car - the first of five or six throughout the session - came up the road to use our training space to make a U-turn. I felt especially vulnerable at that moment; wearing rubber hooves and a leather collar, it was impossible to hide the nature of what I was doing. But the driver - as well as every other driver - smiled and waved, and we waved back. Of course, they ogled us in their rear-views as they drove away, but the warm reception we got helped me to settle down.
My handler took to brushing me, and that was the first time I had ever been in headspace in the great outdoors. I started whinnying and snorting, pawing at the ground, and begging for treats. My handler fed me a mint, which I ate while she groomed me. With each deep breath I took, my concerns fell away. This was a moment I used to only dream of, and I savored every second, the breeze running through my “fur” and tail.
We decided that this session should consist of the basics. So my handler led me out into the sun and run through my walk, trot, and canter. She even taught me how to do a flying lead change - both one- and two- beat - which is something I had been puzzling over for the longest time! Then we switched to reining during which we decided to rein Western style, instead of the typical English. I learned non-vocal commands - taps with a riding crop - for cantering and lead changing. We even laid out an intuitive system for future training sessions so that I could be taught without being spoken to in human-speak! It was a very productive session.
Sometime during the reining portion, a group of around six hikers were taking a break at the top of an outcropping that was overlooking our training ground. They asked what we were doing, and we replied in tandem “performance art” (which is true, actually! I need to write a whole other journal about why I consider my pony play “art”). One of them asked if I was a stallion, and I whinnied and tossed my head in reply, eliciting a laugh from the whole group. They watched us for a while, and Nightmare - being the attention whore he is - made sure his head was held high and gaits on-point the whole time.
Before I knew it, more than an hour had passed, and as the sun set, our first training session came to an end. I was walking on air, filled with pride. I didn’t anticipate pony play to be so well-received by bystanders. Two hours later, I was talking with a friend, and he made an interesting point: I could very well become recognized as “that pony in the park,” and when a parade comes around and I break out the showy tack, I would blow a ton of people’s minds.
The idea that pony play could be that entertaining to people makes me happier than I can describe.
If I told my 15-year-old self where I would be when I was 21 - just a year after finding my niche in the kink community - I wouldn’t have believed him. Hell, I don’t think my 18-year-old self would have believed me either. I can't thank my handler enough for making all this possible.
Dreams really do come true.