Friday, April 5, 2024

They Met At a Tavern: Deathbringer One-Shot

 It's been a while since I ran a Meetup one-shot at the brewery. After all, my original series of one-shots morphed into a campaign, and I ceased the pickup games. But, I've been itching to both run games for strangers, as well as play a few other games on my shelves. So I posted up for a Deathbringer one-shot, and picked a few possible brief adventures from the files.

I ended up with four players: Elijah, Roy, Mark, and Alex. Elijah, Roy, and Mark had gamed together before. None had played the system before, although Elijah was a follower of Professor Dungeonmaster. I distributed the rules and character sheets, and did a quick run-through of chargen and the five player options. There was some negotiation on what characters everyone wanted to play, and we ended up with:

  • Artemis, Scoundrel
  • Vandal, Grimscribe
  • Blog, Deathbringer
  • "Johnathan," Plague Doctor

I had a few options to run, and picked "Requiem for Atticus Stumps," by Tim Shorts. Tim's dark and grotty Komor Forest fits with the esthetic of Deathbringer, and "Requiem" has flexibility to explore multiple small locations depending on playable time.

The gist is that the adventurers are asked by a pair of elderly locals to collect a "death coin" from a local barrow to inter with their old friend to help his soul's journey onward. And since the party consisted of two out-of-work ratcatchers, a ne'er-do-well with gambling debts, and a former militia medic with a bad healing track record, of course they said yes. Especially with the offer of being able to share in the funeral buffet.

Oh fun. I'm dropping them into barrows without a Witchfinder. Let's see how this goes...

Mechanics-wise, the adventure is written for Shadowdark, so there was no significant conversion. 

So the party hit the road, connecting with an odd duck of a farmer named Harlow who agreed to lead them to a few undisturbed barrows where they would have a good chance to find a coin. He helped them avoid any encountered enroute, and they soon located a low barrow. 

The red flowers signifying evil and the runes signifying "prison" were not a deterrent. The party removed the stones blocking the barrow entrance.

Harlow illuminated a lamp that didn't appear to require fire or oil for lighting the way. He wouldn't enter very far into the barrow, and the party needed a torch. What, no one has torches? Roll for torch. OK. You have two torches. Followed by typical party arguing on who was entering first and how to best explore the space.

The Scoundrel finally entered, and didn't observe any traps. The barrow was small, with an alcove containing a metal urn and a stone slab sealing another chamber. The rest followed.

The Plague Doc pried open the lid of the urn, releasing a noxious gas. All but one failed their save and lost one point of CON. Since Deathbringer only tracks stats by bonuses, I just had everyone subtract one point from the bonus. If someone didn't put points into CON, they were now at -1. More on this later.

There was a little loot at least. 

Now to deal with the stone slab. It took a couple of tries, but they pried it off. The chamber beyond revealed a sarcophagus and a few stone jars. The party carefully negotiated around the sarcophagus and escaped outside to open the jars. No gas this time, and a few more trinkets. No Death Coin yet, though.

Ok, might as well try the sarcophagus. Still gas-shy, they cut a couple of poles to pry off the lid at distance. With a bit of pushing the lid slid back. And woke up the inhabitant:


Grumpy shadow-thingy. The party fortunately won initiative, and was able to cause some damage. The adventure didn't specify silver/magic limits, so I let them throw down. Its attack was a combination of damage and STR drain. Again, I just made the call to subtract from the STR bonuses, if relevant. The adventure called for death at STR = 0. Since DB doesn't use a Strength score, I'd probably just make an equivalent call for something like this. In a 3-18 array, the lowest penalty is -3, so if the PC was hit enough to reach -4, I'd probably make the call that they perished. 

Anyway, some back and forth, with the Deathbringer doing damage, the Scoundrel attempting a backstab, and the Grimscribe throwing a couple of combat spells. The Deathbringer took the most damage, standing toe to toe with the thing, requiring a bit of patching up from the Plague Doc. 

Finally, the thing evaporated into its final rest, and they were able to pull a bit more treasure from the sarcophagus, including one of the desired coins. The Plague Doctor sealed the barrow with a bomb and everyone high-fived.

The party rested at Harlow's farm, then returned to the village the next day in time for the funeral and banquet. The funeral party passed a hat and rewarded them a bit more coin.

DM Notes: 
Well, it was fun to run for strangers again. I'll renew that habit. We did end up talking after the session a bit, talking rules and experiences, and a bit of debrief for the session. 

I shorted the time a bit vs a Sunday session, with only a two hour window. Even with a relatively quick chargen and general kibitzing, I didn't have time to run a very extensive scenario. I'll adjust my timeframe in the next session to provide a bit more flexibility. I'm not sure if I'll keep running weeknights, but there are a number of ongoing weeknight sessions in the local Meetup, so I may keep at it. Otherwise, I'll shift back to alternating Sundays, trading out with the campaign. Future sessions will likely be tryouts of other games, although I'm tempted to run Deathbringer again for its simplicity and fun factor.

As I discussed before, Deathbringer packs a lot into its two pages. The limited player options allow for quick chargen and even with the small amount of exposition on the pamphlet, it provides a lot of attitude and atmosphere. It's best run by someone with a bit of skill to make interpretations, since not everything can be packed into the two pages. It will be fun to see how it scales for levels. In the event we had a Grimscribe, I threw in Daniel Collins' "Book of Spells," a compact collection of the OD&D spells. I also considered a levelless spell collection such as "Wonder & Wickedness." Cantrips were provided by Knight Owl.

As for the scenario, it is set up with three small barrows to explore, and a random table of treasure. So we could have hit multiple barrows, time allowing.  As mentioned before, it's statted for Shadowdark, but it was relatively seamless to run in Deathbringer. There are a few interesting elements. Convincing Harlow to help the party eliminates random encounters and possible time/damage drain. Although I would have loved to chase the party with the hook-handed monkeys... Each barrow is 3-4 rooms, so compact encounter areas, like the one the party explored. They all have possible threats to avoid, plus a requisite undead or two. Treasure is on a silver standard, and fairly sparse. This is consistent with Tim's other adventures, which are written to his own campaign and house rules. I think we came out with about 500sp worth of goodies, including a spell scroll and a silver sword. The adventure is available on Tim's Patreon page, along with myriad other small adventures, locations, and quirky NPCs. 

More soon!

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