Sunday, October 14, 2018

Don't Go Down the Well

Last week during our AS&SH game, my players were setting off into the deep deserts outside of Xambaala in search of a cannibal cult that had been tormenting the citizens of the city.  Before long they passed by a depression in the dunes: a small pool, surrounded by foliage.  An oasis in the barren wasteland.  I asked if they would like to explore it.
One of my players responded
"Oases are just wells in the sand."
And they gave it a wide berth and got the hell out of there.
So where did my players develop this fear of wells that transcends locale and form?

Well, it actually goes back to this thing:
From the Dungeon Alphabet
This image made me want to create a particularly gruesome monster to devour any adventurers who got overly nosy about deep, dark places.  I statted up my first DCC monster based on this horrific thing.
The battle with this monstrosity is one of the most memorable moments in our years of gaming together. With its multiple limbs it lashed out at most of the party at once, and its poisonous mandibles tore into their leader, sapping him of strength.  Despite its ferocity, the adventurers were getting the better of it, and it failed its morale and fled deeper into the well.  To my surprise, the warrior was not willing to let it get away.  He leaped into the well after it.

This was a pivotal moment for our group.  We ended the session with that leap and I set to work on figuring out what the hell was down that well.  This monster was the more fearsome thing they'd encountered and in an occupied dungeon with multiple factions I'd described the room as covered in dust and cobwebs, so surely the residents of the dungeon had learned to avoid it.  The possibilities at the bottom of this well became tantalizingly ancient and dangerous and powerful.  And our brave warrior was plummeting toward them.

The chain of events that this encounter led to culminated some six months later with a total party kill due to an encounter with a vengeful dragon mother who smelled the scent of her son on the scales of the armor our well diving warrior was wearing.  It was a story of hubris and justice and righteous anger.  Of all my years of play, it was the most memorable and enjoyable and satisfying arc I've experienced.

All because an idiot jumped into a well.

I don't think I've had a better game since, despite whatever great ruleset or module I've bought or what advice I've read in blogs.  Those few months of gaming made me sure this is a hobby I would keep for years.

It also made my players eternally cautious of wells and anything that might possibly be construed as a well.  From Rappan Athuk to The Ring to the Mines of Moria, wells have a significant impact on our psyche.  They represent the unknown, the hidden depths, all the potential for glory or despair obstructed by an open portal of darkness.

What could go wrong?