Thursday, July 29, 2010

To Use the Claw, or Not to Use the Claw?

The topic of today's entry is about how one of the players used Nephrym's Claw, and how I kept it from being too dark for the kids. But first, a little bit of business to make reading and writing this blog easier.

You may have noticed that I refer to my kids as 'O', 'S', and 'N'. Obviously I wish to keep my kids' names anonymous for their protection. I'm not sure whether this is absolutely necessary in the case of this blog, but when it comes to the Internet, I would rather not take unnecessary risks. Using single letters, however, just doesn't look right to me. When I read back over my entries, I keep seeing the single letters as typos. I considered just making up fake names for the players, but I've come to a different decision. From now on I'm just going to refer to the names of the characters, not the players. You'll just have to use context clues to differentiate between when I'm talking about the players or when I'm talking about their characters.

Back to the story. Norma and Willa, being dwarfs who are good at this sort of thing, noticed that a 10' x 10' bit of the floor they were standing on was a trap. They announced it to the party and everyone started removing themselves from the area. We rolled initiative to determine turns. Fiona the halfling stepped off the way she came, as did Bubda the Beat-boxing Bard. Elerisa, however, had already gotten past the trap and was standing on the bottom step of a spiral stone staircase. For her turn she moved further up the stairs. The third step was the trigger, the section of floor gave way beneath the dwarfs, and they went down a steep slide that dumped them into a pit filled with giant centipedes. This made for a nice little sequence with a cinematic feel, with the hapless dwarfs tumbling away into the darkness, then a split-second of weightlessness followed by a "squish!" as they were dumped into the pit of writhing bugs. When I showed them the picture of the giant centipedes in the Bestiary, all five kids yelled, "Ewww!"

The two dwarfs spied a hole in the wall across the pit through which they could escape, but as they were wading through the centipedes to get there, Willa, who was already a bit low on hit points, took some serious damage and failed a saving throw against poison. Her character went to below zero hit points, which pretty much means you're unconscious and going to die unless somebody does something to help you.

Norma got across and dragged her friend to safety. The escape hole involved some spelunking which she handled fine, even dragging the body of her fallen colleague. The hole led to a corridor that sloped down even deeper into the temple and which came to a dead end. Norma searched for secret doors and found one that opened up behind the bookshelf of the the wizard's laboratory where they had earlier found Fibon's skull. This time she searched the room more completely, hoping to find some healing potion. Instead she found Nephrym's Claw and a tiny Quasit Demon who was still in the room (trapped in a heptagram, long story) who told her how the Claw worked, daring her to use it.

Norma deliberated for several minutes. She's got a firm grasp on mathematics and knew she could survive a cut from the Claw, but it was the permanent hit point loss that made the decision difficult, plus the fact that she didn't know what else might still be out there to deal her more damage and put her below zero HP. To make matters worse, the episode with Fibon's skull was still fresh in her mind, and she wasn't sure who she could trust. Perhaps the demon was lying? Meanwhile, her friend with the unconscious character was urging her to do it, or else she would die.

Ultimately she took the plunge (as did the Claw) and harmed herself for the good of her friend.

Now, when Norma first entered the room and started searching, I considered not mentioning the Claw and just throwing some healing potion in there. I ignored the whim, though, and went with the Claw. In my mind's eye I picture a character struggling in vain to control the depth of the cut to limit damage, but the talon's dark hunger is just too powerful. The Claw violently jabs itself in deeper into the flesh than the character intends. This is the gory detail I decided to leave out. Instead, I described it in purely mathematical terms. Norma announced she was using the device, I rolled damage, and announced the effect on her hit points. She used the blood from the Claw to revive her friend and restore her to almost her maximum hit points, and off they went to catch back up with the others. Everyone was happy.

...except for the diminutive, ageless demon, screaming his evil little head off, demanding to be released, but left to remain - maybe forever - in a small heptagram painted on the floor of an abandoned wizard's lab deep beneath a forgotten, underground temple.

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