HelgaCon IV - The Fallen Obelisk

This week I'll wrap up summaries of the action at HelgaCon a few weeks back. Having run games in each of the first three slots, by Saturday night I was ready to kick back and turn DM'ing duties over to other people and get to act player for a while. Also I interface with the event, I'd only slept a couple hours the prior night, so I was pretty tired.

So that evening I got to play once again in BigFella's "Thousand Year Sandglass" milieu, an Arabian-themed campaign run with Labyrinth Lord rules and some lightweight use of miniatures and room tiles.

So the primary things here are that (a) BigFella runs a very nice, fun old-school sandbox (literally) game, (b) I get to play brothers with Paul again, the two of us running Hakim and Jiri Jarib (4th-level fighters with nearly identical statistics) which is really awesome, and (c) several of us being sleep-deprived, almost everything anyone said seemed painfully, ludicrously funny. So I was sitting there giggling and guffawing and gleefully mock-arguing in a slight Persian accent all night long. Sometimes I almost couldn't play rationally everything seemed so funny.

It's interesting action for a convention game, very open-ended, starting in a long canyon area with several different underground openings to potentially explore (the base of the great "fallen obelisk" tower, caves high up the canyon walls, giant temple statuary on one cliff-face, etc.), when you only have time for a single feature. Last year's action was a terrific bloodbath, with the Jarib brothers really lucky or smart to get out alive (everyone else went through 2 or 3 PCs that night, as I recall). This year had nowhere near as high a body-count (again, maybe the whole party being luckier or smarter or both). Jarib brothers are usually in the front of the marching order, ready to defend the rest of the party. Equipment is limited in this setting, with chain being the best available armor, as I recall, so at best you always feel pretty exposed/fragile. And at least last year there was a crapload of scorpions and other poison-y stuff crawling around.

The area we were exploring this time turned out to have mostly non-living stuff, like: a multi-armed skeletal swordsman; a trap that sucked the magic out of our wizards; a dust/vortex/elemental creature; a giant replica of the world's cosmology (a huge sandglass with upper & lower worlds); a spell-casting mummy (I think); and finally, a secretly bound efreet with centuries of experience playing chess for very high stakes. Some of the stuff I'm particularly fond of was luring the dust creature into a giant crushing room trap via an illusion; and having our smartest magician agree to play the efreet at chess, stunningly winning twice when the odds were very much against us, and so multiplying all of our treasure several times.

The new schtick between the Jarib brothers is that when we started fighting the first skeletal swordsman, it became obvious that it was only hit by magical weapons -- of which Hakim (me) happened to have 2 from PC generation, whereas Jiri (Paul) had none. So while fighting with a magic sword, I tossed the magic spear to Jiri -- who then started claiming it had been his all along by inheritance. Later we had to wrestle over it, and when I got it back he'd engraved his frickin' name on it! So that got carved off, but in a later fight he needed it again, and the whole cycle started all over. And pretty clearly it's now the "Jarib Family Spear" and I guess we're stuck with that. So see what your "hit only by magic" rule has wrought now, eh?

Very nice content and pacing. I think the party explored 12 areas or so, with maybe 4 or 5 monsters and 3-4 tricks/traps, and plenty of treasure to haul out. Also a nice feature with the in-game cosmic model; that really did conjure some nice campaign atmosphere, and I liked it a lot. Miniatures worked out fairly well (although there was some scrambling for the right room/corridor tiles at times). There was a point where I got totally panic-stricken by the dust monster, who was being represented by the same miniature BigFella will use for big stone elementals/golems, when we didn't really have to be quite so cautious. But other than that, a really nice game.

One thing I'll say I noticed throughout all of our games this year (goes for me, BigFella, and Paul): I could observe a steady improvement in all of our DM'ing abilities. I thought my G2 game was the best D&D I'd run in many, many years. BigFella here showed that he's chosen the right ruleset for his game, and he's getting even better at leveraging all of the rules to his best strengths, running the game efficiently and well. Paul (post on his game coming Wednesday) was also running a fair, pretty tough, really well-balanced game of old-school AD&D, and it very much nourished me to be in that game, too. I felt lots of confidence that rules were being adjudicated fairly, correctly, and quickly, so you could really totally focus on the in-game experience and what move your character/party should make next. Maybe this (the fact that we're all getting better at this hobby) is even more evident when I only play with these guys once a year or so. So there's a benefit, but I'd still trade that to play with them more frequently.

For more on this game:


  1. Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm curious; how did the DM resolve the chess game between the efreet and the MU? Was there some sort of ability roll, or did they actually play chess?

  2. Good question -- It was set up like a "combat", a mechanic I heartily approve of. Some combination of level/intelligence/background gave a "fighter level" (like Ftr16 efreet, Ftr8 for our wizard), AC was set 20-Int, damage was d6, first to 15 points won. Something like that. So it took a few "rounds" of building tension -- at one point we were behind and rolled a natural 20 for "double damage" to pull ahead, so there much rejoicing.

  3. Your praise fills me with great joy, o inestimable and learned one.

    The best material in the world is like sand on a stone without good players to do the deeds and make the tales happen.

    May the adventures of the brothers Jarib continue for many years to come!

    The capsule version of the chess rules, if I may be so bold (and so pedantic), the player's Int score was their equivalent Fighter level, 20 - their Wisdom was their AC, and both sides played with 16 hp for the 16 pieces on their side.

    I was truly thrilled by how that whole encounter played out. I shall be expounding upon the whole thing on my site in the near future.

  4. And there you have it, straight from the giant mutant lizard's mouth! :D

  5. ... I'd still trade that to play with them more frequently.

    Seriously, is it time to start thinking about running something over the interwebs?

  6. Ooh geez, I'm not sure I'd be good at that honestly.