Posted on October 13, 2016
Labyrinth of Ruin, Part 1
There’s a real risk of me going totally fanboy crazy over Descent and the Fantasy Flight campaign-in-a-box games, so I’ll try to rein it in a bit.
It’s just… after playing 40k, and pissing money away on that finding companies like Paizo and Fantasy Flight that aren’t actively trying to wring every last bit of money out of you, it’s nice. It’s like a warm hearth and a big bowl of food for a dog that grew up chained to a tree. A tree that kept changing what you were allowed to put in your points buy army; i.e. the worst kind of tree.
You pay for FF games, and their many add-ons, don’t get me wrong. But take the 2nd edition of Mansions of Madness, for example. As with Descent, they came up with a GM (Keeper?) app – it tells you what tiles to lay out and as you go on through the house, reveals the cards and tells you what the monsters do. Basically it replaces the human GM with the app that makes appropriate sound effects and what-not. The game is still played in real-space, with pieces and a board and cards and stuff.
So for this Second Edition did they just start over from scratch? No! 2nd Edition contains a conversion kit that will let you use your Investigator and Monster minis, as well as all the map tiles from the previous version AS WELL AS all new Investigators/Monsters and map tiles. Instead of forcing you to start over with a new edition, the new edition makes your existing game much bigger.
Anyway, I didn’t come here to (solely) talk about how great Fantasy Flight are (and if I wanted to I could have said, for the sake of balance, that they wouldn’t need a 2nd Edition of most of their games if they’d just fucking test them properly) but to get you caught up on the Labyrinth of Ruin Descent campaign.
Our intrepid band of adventurers:
High Mage Quellen, Geomancer package – An elf in a dressing gown capable of summoning turret-like Kidney Stones of enormous size and becoming more refreshed the sweatier people are around him, the Ureamancer is played by Bryce.
Karnon, Beastmaster package – despite Matt’s yeti character’s miniature lugging around a tree trunk, Karnon is actually armed with a spear, a skinning knife that does extra damage to wounded monsters and a summonable wolf for whom everyone has a great deal of affection, even if he goes through a dozen of them a night.
Dezra the Vile, Hexer package – Jim’s curse spewing witch has the biggest and certainly flappiest cloak of any Descent character yet. Like High Mage Q., Dezra is a Mage class character, but unlike HMQ, Hexer is a debuff package and so can either be wasted (because you killed that monster quickly anyway) or can really pay off (synchronized monster explosions). We’re unlikely to find out any time soon, because Jim can never make the sessions where they get XP.
Ulma Grimstone, Apothecary package – Sean plays this buffing/healer (surprisingly) halfling (obviously), who spends her time throwing bottles at people’s heads. To her friends, she gives them small healing potions that they can take at their leisure. To her enemies, she lays debuffs on them by tossing ink and poison on them.
Jain Fairwood, Wildlander package (?) – Rolland’s scout is a run-and-gun damage dealer. Jain already has skills to move and shoot and the Wildlander has options for even more, so she is (fittingly) the fastest moving character. Which would account for the big flappy cloak I guess, even if her’s is not as impressive as Dezra’s.
The story so far…
Descent is slightly light on backstory. I mean, good, that’s fine, let’s get on with things. But I do wish they’d do a bit more. Story snippets and plot advances as player handouts? That would be amazing for a game that’s already so tangible-object oriented. Not much in Descent happens in memory and pretty much nothing in conversation, freeing our faces up for chinese food, beer and dick jokes; the sacred trinity of Thursday night games.
But the story so far is that our forementioned Intrepids are seeking the fallen city of Sudanya. Here is the blurb:
Dreams of fortune and glory, untamed lands, and old mysteries have brought you to the edges of Terrinoth, near to the ruined city of Sudanya. Little is known of this place and its people, but tales and legends give naught but high allure to the seasoned adventurer.
A dark omen shrouds your steps when you first discover the scattered remains of a Dunwarr expedition to these lands. Dead and burned, the bodies of these explorers transform to caution what was once a sense of excitement. Your destination of the Pylia Caravan, formed into an encampment for several weeks of local trade, lies not far on the road ahead. The expedition’s fate forces you to recall many dark rumors regarding the mysterious city. Sinister forces, terrible magic, and a deep seed of evil led to Sudanya’s downfall, or so it is said. Will you unlock the secrets of the forgotten city, or will this grisly scene prove an ominous sign of things to come?
Spoiler Alert!: Yes.
The Dunwarr are dwarves… these particular guys were dwarves before being hacked to pieces. One well-funded, well-equipped, well-organised expedition suddenly put to the sword wasn’t about to deter our heroes. The adventurers carried on to the nearby Pylia Caravan, which had set up shop in this fragile neck of the staggeringly dangerous woods.
There they found a raid in progress as the Pylia were being ransacked by a band of nasties, including some goblins who were trying to drag one of the survivors off into the woods. The adventurers sprang into action (since that is the best way to get into action) and rescued the pretty lady from the mean goblins. She breathlessly thanked them, rewarded them with a few trinkets and told them that they could possibly enlist the assistance of one of the Dunwarr survivors, seen skulking nearby or a local woman who was a renowned healer. The party said no thanks to the suggestion of the healing lady, as they already had a halfling who smashed bottles in their faces when they needed healing, but they decided to take her up on her suggestion of finding the dwarf.
They didn’t go find the dwarf right away. Instead, they followed up on some other weird rumours, that seem to have nothing to do with Sudanya… maybe. They prevented an historic alliance between Ogres and Trolls which is pretty great news for everyone that is a) edible, b) not an Ogre or a Troll. They also investigated the strange case of a bunch of miners going crazy after getting strange dark stones lodged in their skin.
Eventually though, they went looking for the dwarf and found him, although they had to fight through a bunch of guys to rescue him from a cage. Their new buddy Raythen then had a favour to ask of them… which was to go steal a bunch of stuff with him.
Raythen acts as an ally and in this case, he’s a treasure seeking drone. His attacks aren’t amazing, but he can quickly move around the board and if he is standing close to treasure, he tosses it to the nearest player, auto-magically letting them search it. The players are growing fond of the scoundrel.
After this the players chose to go on another of Raythen’s suggested larks, which was to go track down a tomb that it turns out he really wanted to protect. Sad news: they didn’t protect it. Returning bad guy Lord Merick Farrow was in the tomb busy smashing up some magic items and the group was unable to stop his vandalism in time. Sad Raythen.
This part has always puzzled me about quest choice. In Imperial Assault, players get quest cards, which they can choose from as they go. Each card has a brief story outline (You have to break some dudes out of Sith Jail, you have to go seek out a prototype weapon, you have to do something related to player character X) and while it isn’t enough to know everything that is going to happen, it does help inform what the quest will probably involve and what the rewards are.
Descent doesn’t have this. Players can choose between two quests at a time (if they win the previous quest), and in Descent can technically know everything about the quest before they play it (not so in IA)… so, I think they’re supposed to know what all their options are ahead of time? I.e. This is the type of quest, this is who is definitely a bad guy in this quest (some of that is still up to me), this is what the rewards are… etc. So far we’ve mostly been making choices based on how cool the quest sounds; Axe Fight in Whore Town is usually going to get picked over Delicate Negotiations of Border Access, no matter what actually happens in those quests.
As of now, I’ve been telling players what the rewards are, roughly. But there isn’t a whole lot of guidance that I’ve seen. Not sure there is a better way of doing it. I’m glad there is a bunch of quests to chose from. Of nineteen possible quests (most of them two parters), players only play 9, of which only the very first quest is mandatory. That’s pretty good replay value and with a different bunch of characters would be quite a different experience. Throw in a few side quests from the monster/pc packs and you’ve got a decent little four month campaign of games, two times over.
Aaaaaand fanboying again…