The Hall of Legends #006 – Weekend Warriors
Date: September 12th, 2014; September 13th, 2014; and September 14th, 2014.
Game: Dungeon World
Players: Ferrell Riley Kyle McCauley Jeff Burke Kristina Vansickle Daniel Fowler and Gary Wilson
I’ve been playing roleplaying games since I was in the 6th grade. I often wonder how that changes my perception of them vis a vis someone who came to the hobby as an adult. In many ways, I imagine our experience is not so different; people seem to instinctively understand the joy of group storytelling. But there is something you get as a kid gamer that is very difficult to replicate as an adult: the weekend-long, gaming sleepover.
From the 6th grade until I graduated high school, I participated in regular, weekend-long sleepovers in which my friends and I rolled dice and battled monsters late into the night. We’d play until 6 AM, fall asleep surrounded by books and dice, and then get-up a few hours later and do it again. I can’t count the number of times my nerdy friends and I would be sitting around the table, eating pancakes, arguing about the relative merits of the various 3rd-level Wizard spells (because, let’s face it, the Wizard sucked until he hit Level 5 and could take those sweet 3rd-level spells).
I have many distinct memories from this time, such as when the Tome of Magic came out and we spent a whole Saturday having our minds blown by all the amazing new options that lay in front of us (Wild Magic? Insane! Elemental Magic? Incredible! It was a heady time, I assure you). It was during these weekend sleepovers, probably around the 8th grade, that I created Gormakir the Cruel, a villain who remains a favorite of mine to this day (many of you will know the permutation of him that showed-up in Carcosa), and Cenduwain, the untouchable elf queen powerbroker in ALL my fantasy campaigns. To this day, my friends from that era occasionally ping me on Facebook and reminisce about those awesome times.
Adulthood robs us of this sort of thing, doesn’t it?
Which is why I was so excited about our recent Anthology Weekend. The idea was that we would play the same game of Dungeon World for an entire weekend. While we wouldn’t be able to play until dawn each day, and there was certainly no sleeping over, it was still great fun, and a close approximation of what it was like to game in junior high. For a single weekend, I was reminded of what it was like to have nothing to do but play roleplaying games, and it was kind of amazing.
And what an adventure it was! I’ve been promising a re-cap of the Anthology Weekend game, and this seems like as good a place as any.
Our party consisted of Gerda, the Dwarf Priestess (full title: Gerda Who Holds Fast to the Stone); Heiron the Human, the Human Fighter (his nickname, “the Human,” was given to him by the dwarfs of Gerda’s order, who raised him); Ariel, the Human Elementalist; Hycora, the Elf Druid; Greguh, the Orc Dungeoneer; and Xeno, the Human Mask Mage. They were on their way to the Castle on Dancing Peak, a long-abandoned (and routinely forgotten) keep deep in the Twisting Wood.
After battling a group of orcs who were after the blood-traitor, Greguh, the party arrived at the tiny village of Turning Knot, just outside the Twisting Wood. While investigating the nature of the castle in the wood, they learned, quite by accident, that this particular village had made an enemy in the god served by Gerda, the Sentinel (full name: The Sentinel of the Last Bastion of Day’s Final Night). Owing to the god’s wrath, combined with an angry, vindictive earth spirit inadvertently summoned by Ariel, the village of Turning Knot found itself swallowed by a crevasse. The party managed to escape the catastrophe relatively unscathed, but were no closer to learning the secret of the Castle on Dancing Peak, and had to get a move-on as there were orcs on their tail.
They set out into the Twisting Wood, a journey which took almost a week, as that particular forest is notoriously difficult to navigate, and came upon the ruins of a shrine to St. Abren, who, in life, tried to map the great forest. After narrowly escaping death at the hands (hoofs?) of a family of minotaurs who had made the ruins their home – and after recovering a trio of life-renewing bottled fairies hidden there – the party continued their journey.
The castle stood on a high, twisting peak (a “dancing” peak, if you will) freestanding in the middle of a deep valley. It was connected to the edge of the forest by a long bridge, which itself was a structure that had both an inner passage in addition to the topside crossing. The party trekked across the bridge, fighting off skeletons and manticores. In what has become my moral quandary equivalent of the infant goblins in Keep on the Borderlands, the party found a baby manticore and had to decide whether to kill it or let it live (they killed it, of course, just like every other party who has encountered a baby manticore in my DW games). They went inside the bridge, too, which was filled with numerous deadly traps. There they found a shrine to the evil rat god, Reekeesik. Behind the shrine’s altar, they discovered a little black door, carved with images of rat swarms, no more than three feet high. The door appeared to lead nowhere (it simply opened to a brick wall) but the party deduced that this door was used to travel to the 434th layer of the Abyss, the home of the rat god himself! Gerda’s god commanded her to find a way into that realm and slay Reekeesik. They didn’t know HOW to use the door, but they figured the answer would be somewhere in the castle.
The rest of the adventure principally revolved around searching the castle, discovering its secrets, and finding a way to destroy Reekeesik. During their search, they learned the castle was actually called the Castle of the Dreaming Doors, and that, in fact, there were numerous little doors all over the place, each leading to a different realm in the Outer Planes. They learned that one could only enter the doors during astral projection.
After discovering a secret tomb on the side of the castle, the entrance to which hung freely in open space (with a long fall into the valley beneath it) the party learned the castle belonged to the legendary Castafiel family. The Castafiels, it seemed, were religious crusaders who conducted raids into the evil outer planes and recovered from battle in the good outer planes. This strange castle, with its little dreaming doors, was the base from which they launched their raids.
The party encountered numerous monsters, including my infamous gelatinous cube trap, but their principle nemeses while searching the castle were the Flower Knights; ancient, wandering warriors bound to the Castle for eternity by powerful magicks. The Flower Knights were: the Knight of Mums, loquacious and eccentric; the Knight of Orchids, utterly insane and longing to be reunited with “mother”; and the Knight of Silver Lillies, who guarded the castle in its form on the astral plane. The party managed to defeat the Knight of Mums and the Knight of Orchids, but reached detente with the Knight of Silver Lillies, who refrained from attacking them so long as they didn’t bring anything evil into the castle from the Outer Planes.
Ultimately, the party discovered the plans being made by Lucero Castafiel to destroy Reekessik. Though Lucero didn’t live long enough to carry out the attack, he did craft a weapon, the Rat Stabber, forged from Olympian steel and the bone of a great owl belonging to the goddess Athena, which was to be used to destroy the demon rat. They found this weapon buried with Lucero in the Castafiel crypts and then made their way to the Dreaming Room, where special incense would put them to sleep and project them into the astral plane.
The conclusion was positively epic. The party entered the 434th layer of the Abyss, which was all inky blackness, and navigated their way to Reekeesik’s pit using Lucero Castafiel’s map (after destroying a few of Reekesik’s demonic minions, that is). The demon god’s lair was pulsating with millions of rats, which the party had to wade through before reaching him. The beast, a gigantic rat with thirteen legs, three mouths, and ten eyes, rose to meet them. Some members of the party were too scared to continue. Others were frightened, but steadfast. Gerda, believing she was answering a divine call, ran to a ledge and jumped, attempting to pierce Reekeesik’s heart with the Rat Stabber (which was a sort of javelin). Unfortunately, she failed and was swallowed by the rat god. But her loyal follower, Heiron, took up the weapon and plunged it deep into the beast, slaying it.
Gerda passed beyond the Black Gate, to the realm of her god, the Sentinel, who explained that her divine mission was to raise-up Heiron and lead him to Reekeesik. She then began her eternal watch on the Sentinel’s tower. There were lots of other cool details during the course of the adventure I don’t have time to mention (search the Anthology folder for The Irresistible Mule – you won’t regret it), but suffice to say, it was an amazing weekend.
I’ll conclude very quickly with something that occurred to me while I was writing this: the Gauntlet is entirely about recapturing that feeling of what it was like to game in junior high. The Anthology Weekend was the most immediate evidence of this, but I think, deep-down, all my efforts with this group are a love letter to my childhood.
But it’s more than that, too; more than mere nostalgia. It’s passion. It’s a self-sustaining energy loop, giving back two-fold what I put in. It’s like the character Max Fischer from the movie Rushmore: “I guess you’ve just gotta find something you love to do and then do it for the rest of your life.”