Actual Play: The Mazes

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Actual Play: The Mazes
« on: April 08, 2012, 04:43:51 PM »
Planescape in Dungeon World
Chapter 1: The Mazes

In which the Many seek the One, and the Heroes must retrieve a Sword lost amid myriad Threats to the Flesh.


Ram, a prime human paladin seeking the true nature of Sigil and of his own existence;
Magnus, a cleric of the Norse gods fighting for personal glory far from his home in Ysgard;
and, Benker Bristlecone, a halfling thief and Taker namer, escaping his past on the prime and making new trouble on the planes.

The Dark of It

Break into one of the Lady of Pain’s secret extradimensional mazes and steal a legendary sword, Lightbringer, from the prisoner Vartus Timlin, ex-factol of the upstart Expansionists and arguably one of the best swordsmen on the planes. Simple enough.

The heroes entered the maze using a portal key Benker had unwittingly stolen earlier that same day – a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles. Once through the doorway, the unlikely trio found themselves in the maze alright, an endless, chilly labyrinth of cracking stucco and broken flagstones with the odd cloud of mist from the Deep Ethereal spilling in. The portal was one-way only – they’d need to find the exit. Luckily, their employer, a wealthy aasimar merchant by the name of Spiral Hal’oight had already given them the chant they needed, gleaned from fiends and diviners and possibly Bothan spies at no small cost. They knew the way in, rough directions to the way out, and the key to activate the portal home – a metal bowl that was provided to the prisoner daily, filled with a nourishing gruel. A cruel joke of the Lady of Pain, no doubt. Timlin has held the key to his own escape every day for the last 10 years and he didn’t know it. As luck would have it, the bowl was near the portal in and so it now found its way into Magnus’s knapsack. Now they were off to find the sword.

Magnus, being the wisest of the lot, decided to take the lead through the labyrinth and the group soon found themselves in a courtyard described to them by Spiral, complete with a great statue of the Lady, her arms outstretched. It was badly damaged though as if someone had hacked and punched it repeatedly, a visible expression of Timlin’s rage. From there, they were able to use the directions they were given to find the portal out, though they did get lost several times on the way there. (I had a custom move prepared for when they were navigating the maze.) The portal leading out of the maze was behind a secret door in a blind, just as Spiral had told them. Beyond the door were two pillars with faint blue light glowing between them. On the floor between the secret door and the portal was a carving of the symbol of the Lady of Pain.

Benker gave it the stink-eye and investigated it closely, checking for traps (Trap Expert). Sure enough, he found it – in fact, he was standing right on top of a pit trap but was simply too light to activate it. This prison was made for a human, not a halfling. The group made a note of it and decided to press on, their mission still not complete. Back to the courtyard they went, only this time, they realized something about the maze had changed – walls that were not there before somehow sprung into existence. Magnus, angry at this realization, smashed his way through the stucco and crumbling plaster only to reveal more maddening hallways, intersections, and dead ends on the other side. Despair. But not for long: A great metallic howl echoed throughout the maze. The Minotaur was awake.

Rounding the corner some distance from the heroes came a great monstrosity – part minotaur, part golem, and all nasty with a gigantic mordenkrad in this grip. Its eyes beamed with an unnatural red light as its gears, pulleys, and steam valves began operating. Ram and Magnus weren’t about to run away though Benker was definitely up for a hasty retreat. The paladin Ram demanded The Minotaur leave them be (I Am the Law move), but it only provoked the beast. The battle was joined. The minotaur swung wildly with his great maul, smashing walls and revealing new paths as the heroes hammered its armor and pierced its flesh (plenty of Defend, Hack & Slash, and Cast Spell going on). Even Benker got back into the fight, messing with the beasts controls and attempting to aid his friends (Aid move). This angered the minotaur who smashed its head through the wall and tried to gore the halfling, who got snagged on the horns and hoisted into the air. The fight raged on (lots more H&S, Defend, Cast Spell), the heroes taking a beating and giving it right back. Ram stuck it deep with his polearm; the minotaur responded by smashing his armor to bits. Benker eventually got back down from the great minotaur’s head only to get smashed by a massive hoof quite badly. As Magnus called upon the Norse gods for magical power and hammered the beast for the last time, its red eyes flashed and banished the cleric to another part of the maze before it collapsed into a heap. Benker and Ram were all alone, the area around them ruined.

Magnus appeared in a section of the maze choked with razorvine. Ahead of him stood one of the dabus, the Lady of Pain’s servants and caretakers, hacking away at the razorvine with a pair of hedge clippers. The cleric tried to speak with the strange creature, but it only seemed interested in knowing why the heroes were there and intimated that they weren’t the first to come looking for the sword. During the exchange, another dabus showed up with a gore-soaked bag of dead cranium rats in its hand. Like its brethren, it looked to Magnus and told him he didn’t belong here, then proceeded to ignore him as it told the other dabus that the minotaur was damaged and in need of repair. The servants of the Lady of Pain said they’d go get “The Third” and effect repairs immediately, floating off down the hallway and leaving Magnus by himself. The cleric, figuring that Benker and Ram would head back to the courtyard as planned set about trying to find his way back there…

Ram and Benker had decided to do just that. Only Benker’s legendary sense of direction once again got them lost and rather than turn up in the courtyard, they ended up back at the portal through which they entered the maze. Only now, they heard voices up ahead and light not natural to the maze. The halfling thief sneaked his way up as close as he could and heard a female speaking to a group of men – mercenaries by the sounds of it as they seemed quite fixated on their pay which they were trying to renegotiate with the female (who incidentally had a familiar accent, like that of Magnus). After a heated exchange, they settled upon a new deal and started to head off deeper into the maze. Ram and Benker followed them at intervals, a rope between the halfling and paladin to keep them together even if they were out of sight of each other. Benker did manage to spot a faction symbol on one of the hireswords – The Fated, Benker’s own faction! It seems this group of Fated mercenaries, led by a tiefling woman, was also headed to the courtyard and once they slipped inside the door and closed it behind them, Ram and Benker discussed their plan.

Magnus got lost on the way to the courtyard, ending up in a new area, a chamber that was little more than an intersection of corridors with multiple doors. In the center of the room was a number of ratty blankets, soiled padding, and a threadbare bearskin rug. The cleric poked around a bit and found something underneath the bedding, a longsword with the word “Lightbringer” carved into the blade! Thrilled at his find, Magnus stowed the sword and tried to find his way back double-time to the courtyard to gather his companions. Meanwhile, Ram and Benker decided to go with the straightforward approach and entered the courtyard. After all, Ram was interested in discovering truth and this was Benker’s kind of people. What could go wrong? Short answer: plenty. While Rendela, the tiefling, was quite friendly, her hireswords were surly and treacherous. The halfling did his best to do a little information gathering and fast-talking among his Taker comrades (learning that the Harmonium, another faction, also had a cadre of warriors in the maze), but his general lack of charisma and the tension of the moment culminated in some escalation. (I can’t remember exactly, but I think there was some Defying Danger with Cha, Discern Realities, and Parleying that didn’t come off so well.) Swords were drawn and the situation was tenuous, yet salvageable.

Back to Magnus who was by this time approaching the door to the courtyard, beaming about having the sword. He was followed. He could hear a buzzing in his mind, mental contact from something in the vicinity. “Fear me. Fear my coming,” it said. “What others know of me is a mask that hides my true might. They think I am vermin, those rats whose brains pulsate with bilious light. They do not know I see through the thousand eyes of my body. My body lives among them, and they do not see me…” Spilling around the corner and into Magnus’s presence was the biggest swarm of cranium rats he had ever seen – over a hundred at least which approaches urban legend status. From a distance, it continued to probe his mind while the cleric closely studied them and read their minds as well (Discern Realities). It took from Magnus one of his divinatory spells and told him that they were part of an entity called The Us and they were seeking escape from this maze. Magnus told them that he knew the way out and had the key and would help them after he had reunited with his friends. They agreed and as a show of faith, told the cleric that The Us could sense his comrades directly ahead in the courtyard and that they were in danger. With that, the cranium rats dispersed in all directions, disappearing from sight. Magnus, alarmed, charged the door.

Ram and Benker were doing their best to calm the situation. One of the hireswords had approached Ram and was giving him a hard time. Rendela was also trying to keep the peace while the rest of the mercenaries agitated for a fight. She was obfuscating and vague, but Benker figured out that she was there for similar, but not diametrically opposed reasons. She wanted to help Timlin escape and (allegedly) didn’t care about Lightbringer. Her Fated beliefs were very much in line with Expanisionist screed and it was said Timlin had squirreled away a great deal of wealth in his time. A deal could definitely be worked out if only tensions could be eased. At that point, Magnus busted down the door and charged in, before him a scene of probable violence between his two friends and the six Fated warriors. Tensions escalated even more, Ram stabbing the Fated hiresword in front of him and the mercenaries surging forward. Rendela and Benker tried to stop the violence as Magnus prepared to do battle. The hiresword near Ram threw his hands up in the air and offered to switch sides for better pay. Benker quickly agreed to help calm the situation, negotiating a fair price for service. Rendela accused the hiresword of treachery. Magnus moved in such a way to show Benker he was in possession of Lightbringer who then proposed another course of action – each group put away their weapons and go their separate ways with no further conflict. Their goals were not at odds after all. (Parley, weak hit.) Rendela agreed to the terms on its face, but said she’d need Benker to go along with her as a peace hostage, a custom of her Norse background.

Benker thought this was an acceptable compromise, figuring he could escape later and rejoin his friends. Magnus, not certain of the subtleties of Benker’s idea, reached into his knapsack to offer Benker the portal key out. Only it was gone! When the cleric’s face twisted in rage, Benker knew that Rendela had slyly used her factotum’s magic to purloin the metal bowl while they were talking (and failing and inviting GM moves…). Violence was a foregone conclusion at this point. Ram and Magnus leapt into the fray with Rendela who held her own against the two. The mercenaries attacked. Benker quickly stole the bowl back, taking it from Rendela as she fought off the cleric and paladin. (Some cool weak hits on H&S and failed Defend moves from the PCs really made Rendela pretty threatening as befit what was established about her so far.) Benker was rushed, however, and flubbed his Tricks of the Trade a bit, causing Rendela to reflexively use her Taker supernatural abilities to fill the thief with a powerful sense of self-interest and greed. Benker clutched the metal bowl tightly and ran straight for the portal home as the Fated closed in on her friends.

Knowing that they came from a similar background, Magnus decided to sue for peace one more time. Calling out to Rendela, he suggested an oath, as was their custom, to end the senseless violence that would serve neither of their goals. The Fated was also the most influential and numerous of the factions on Ysgard, the plane from which Magnus hailed. There were ties here. (Parley, weak hit.) Rendela stopped her hireswords and said she’d honor the oath if Magnus would seal it with blood which was also their custom. The berk who turned stag on her and offered to work for Benker would have to pay for his treachery. Ram and Magnus agreed, with Ram delivering the pointy justice the cowardly hiresword deserved. With that, the heroes and the Fated parted ways. Magnus and Ram saw the direction Benker went and figured the thief was headed for the exit portal, so off they went.

Benker found the way out easily enough, but as Rendela’s magic was slowly fading, he couldn’t remember why he was overcome with such a strong sensation such that he coveted the bowl enough to flee the combat and go toward the exit. What’s more, something had changed. A contingent of heavily-armed Mercykiller bounty hunters were making their way through the portal chamber, led by a dwarf carrying a ten-foot pole. Benker laid low. That’s the third faction they knew about in the mazes and this one was rather smartly taking over the exit and holding position. Magnus and Ram met up with their halfling companion and they all breathed a sigh of relief at having made it this far though they were concerned about how to deal with the powerful Mercykillers that would have a defensive advantage once they dug in. It was then that Ram decided to examine the sword that Magnus had found. The paladin was possessed of senses that pierced lies and, knowing a thing or two about swords, proclaimed “Lightbringer” to be a fugazi. This wasn’t the real sword at all. The heroes were back to square one, only now the maze is filled with potential enemies.

End of session move. With all their many awesome feats of daring-do and no shortage of hard lessons learned from failure, they’ll be leveling up when they rest. But can they afford to spend time lying about when Lightbringer is still in play? I guess we’ll get to see how this all plays out this upcoming Saturday!