Tuesday, October 3, 2017

MCC: Hive of the Overmind

Put my usual DCC campaign on hold last night to run through Hive of the Overmind for Mutant Crawl Classics.  This is a 0-level funnel adventure released as one of the first stretch goals from the MCC kickstarter.  Written by Julian Bernick of Spellburn fame.

From the cover:
Younglings on their Rite of Passage are shocked to regain consciousness with no memory of how they came to be in a gigantic insect hive so far to the north of their homelands, laboring as drone-slaves of the savage ant-men.
In a land where an "insect revolution" has taken place, the PCs must contend with insectoid mega fauna and a maze-like underground installation before facing the ominous Overmind: a building-sized insect queen cybernetically linked to an ancient Chaotic AI.

Play Report
The setup of this adventure brings back an old trope: you wake up in a dungeon.  Upon regaining their senses, the PCs see a battle raging between a bunch of ant-men and a giant bee.  All my players immediately attacked the bee, helping the ant-men.  This worked out well for them as the ant-men resumed their normal activities and didn't suspect that the PCs had regained their will, so they were able to begin exploring without further issues.

They recovered their gear and checked out a well (my players will never, ever go down a well - cries for help be damned), and lost our first PC to falling rocks (but they recovered a cool blinking skull), before arriving at a bridge spanning a lava river.  Normally, I love bridges over lava, but this whole encounter was everyone's least favorite part of this adventure.  The bridge is sticky and requires lots of strength checks to walk across or be stuck.  We had an encounter with some ant-men during the process.  They spat mind-controlling saliva at some characters. So then it was a cluster of characters stuck on the bridge, controlled characters trying to cross the bridge to return to farming, and a general lack of options available to the players at this point.  I generally don't care for mechanics that are removing play from my players, and this encounter is built all around that.  It took a long time to get through (eventually one player used the vine ropes they'd recovered from the well room to create tracks across the bridge), but the challenge was all about regaining control of characters - not terribly exciting for a set piece involving a lava river.  Two more PCs were lost fighting the ant-men.

After this, they found the nursery, with its great dome of larvae swarm.  They had actually collected a good bit of edible fungi from the initial cavern, as well as some dried roxon meat in their starting gear, so they had no trouble bypassing the larvae swarm without incident - tossing food across the room to clear their path.  One thing I recommend changing if combat does occur is restatting the larvae swarm in the manner of DCC's bat swarms or rat swarms or the like.  I've always liked how DCC handles swarm creatures and see no reason to roll up 1d4 larvae swarms per PC (we still had 13 PCs at this point).  But they avoided combat here, found a rucksack with a few artifacts (gauzer rifle, force shield belt, and 3 radshots) and found the hatch to the lower level, bypassing the rest of the main hive floor.  Our first artifact checks all went surprisingly well, allowing the PCs to have a good understanding of the operation of these items.

In the fusion chamber, they quickly killed a giant cockroach and then rushed to press all the buttons on the control table.  Amazingly, they activated the fail-safes and repaired the leak.  Because they'd dropped down from the hive without going through any of the other areas, they really had no idea what they were dealing with here, so I let them know.  I'm not sure about having an instant TPK for a bad roll or opening the wrong door here, without much warning, but I guess it would teach players to be cautious about playing with technology they don't understand.  Although, is that a good thing?  MCC seems to be a game that is most fun when players try a Hail Mary with some artifact they have no idea of its purpose.

Continuing exploration found an engineering room with a great haul of artifacts, although we lost another PC when a poor artifact roll caused a wristband to self-destruct.  The rest of the artifacts were mostly understood and stored for later use.  From here, they made their way up the ramp to the Queen's chamber.  First round of combat, the PCs tossed in the two grenades they'd found and obliterated the Queen.  It was pretty amusing to have what they assumed was the big boss of the dungeon instantly destroyed so.

Still looking for a way out of the hive, they returned to the lower level and continued to search.  They met the android Y-4 and decided to leave him to his guard duties, and moved on to the Overmind's chamber.  The fight against the Overmind and his Ant-Borg was pretty tough.  Lost another PC who was snapped in half by Ant-Borg, and a few other PCs were badly wounded, but surprisingly survived.  One guy even survived a critical hit, which is a first for a 0-level in our games.  After being knocked prone and wounded, one PC remembered a six-pack of some strong smelling grain drink he'd recovered in the engineering room and cracked a cold one open.  While it provided no combat benefit, the character lying on the floor drinking beer during the boss fight proved to be one of the most memorable moments of the adventure.

After killing the Ant-Borg, they decided to spare the Overmind in exchange for his help using the Digger.  They drilled out of the hive and made it back to their village safely with a pretty good supply of new artifacts.

We had a fun time with the adventure.  We're all pretty comfortable with DCC at this point, so MCC with just 0 level characters doesn't play too different aside from the use of artifacts, and those were fun and fast to use.  I did struggle a bit to describe artifacts in a way that wasn't too obvious or too obtuse.  I think it'll take some practice to get right.

I like the transition of this adventure from the upper level hive with its dirt walls and organic filth everywhere to the lower level installation full of polished metals and technology.  It's a good introduction to the world of MCC, and the accompanying artwork is as fantastic as I've come to expect from all Goodman Games products.  The map by Stefan Poag has a lot of the cool styling we're used to from the Doug Kovacs DCC maps, although I'd like to rework the upper level to be less linear.  It's a straight path with side rooms, and while I always appreciate when a module provides a wandering encounter table, that's harder to use effectively when the players don't have real choices about where to go.  I ended up only using encounter checks on the main path and gave warning when they heard noises coming so they at least had the option of staying on the main branch or moving to a side room to hide.

I don't think my players ever really connected what was going on in the place though.  The only information about the past android insurrection comes from Y-4 and the Speculatron, but having already killed the Queen my players saw no reason to piss off Y-4.  They were a bit mixed on what to do with the Overmind.  The Queen with his face on it and the Ant-Borg definitely showed that he was a somewhat insane ruler of this hive, and they had clearly been captured and brought here, but ultimately they decided that they'd done pretty well raiding his lair and that they'd leave well enough alone if he'd help them escape the place.  There's definitely room here to develop him into a future villain, rebuilding his ant army to take revenge on the Clan of Cog.  I especially liked Ant-Borg and could see potential in developing an army of robo-ants to attack the PCs later.

It's great to see the MCC kickstarter delivering its adventures.  A Fallen Star For All, Incursion of the Ultradimension, and Warlords of Atoz have all been released as well at this point, so I'm looking forward to getting into more MCC adventures with my group.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the detailed write-up and feedback, it's great to see how it went for you guys!