This was … not a great session. While running it we quickly came across some curious mechanical issues. Namely, that “Forbidden Lands” doesn’t really discuss how to handle dungeon exploration… At least not to the same extent that old D&D does. “Powered by the Apocalypse” games (like Dungeon World, Freebooters on the Frontier, and so on) handle everything in the same way – very very lightly. We changed to “Forbidden Lands” for a little more crunch – and with the exploration and “push/trauma” mechanics we got exactly that. The first session was a LOT of fun. This time we found that handling exploration of a ruin/dungeon was hard because of this strange omission.
Much of the time in the session was spend trying to work out who was doing what and when.. We basically defaulted back to the B/X system of 10 minute turns that allowed a search or move for each character… and a random encounter every 2 turns. But this wasn’t quite satisfactory for the long term..
But without further ado:
The trio squeezed into the tower… It was dark inside, but Atli had luckily packed some lantern oil and a lantern. Once lit they saw they were in a great round hall with four huge statues surrounding an ornate sigil at the center of the room. In the dim light they could see a hallway continuing opposite. Atli noticed something was up, and spent some time comparing the outside and inside… the hall seemed to take up the entire tower… yet there was an archway opposite the entry that seemed to lead deeper in..
Thora examined the statues – and recognised founders of the Legion – Donar with his Hammer, Hervor with her Sword, Bjorn and his Shield, and Jordur with her Spear.
Elin examined the sigil, which was a number surrounded by runes the could barely understand: “The ordered way leads to the rising door”? Atli better understood the runes: “Follow the ordinals to open the ascension door.” When he touched the number in the sigil, a small spark appeared around his hand.
They all ignited their own sparks. Elin was sure this whole place was magic and wanted to look for stairs. When they approached the walls the smooth stone melted into writing and images. As they walked around the circumference they read stories of the Legion’s many battles against demons and other threats. Until the wall melted away and an archway appeared before them.
Thora stepped through – her spark flared red and then disappeared. Atli stopped at the threshold and held back Elin. “Find a sigil!”
Thora looked about the small square room. “18. Not this way”
They returned to the main hall and Thora reignited her spark.
Through the obvious archway was another small room. The lantern reached all the walls, and only the arch they entered, and another oppostite marked the walls. IN the center was the sigil they expected – 2. Thora led the way and all the sparks briefly flared blue and became a little brighter (still no match for the lantern). Beyond the arch was a corridor leading left and right, with doors spaced along it. Thora sheathed her sword (too big for the cramped conditions) and drew a dagger. Atli crossed the corridor and opened the first door opposite them. The lantern showed an identical stone cell with no exits, and a sigil of 5.
“Its going to be too easy to get turned around in here. Everything looks the same. Right forward, left back. Check the hall to the right.” Thora took a defensive position in the center of the corridor, watching the darkness for any movement.
Atli moved forward till he came to the end of the hall. 3 doors stopped him, one left, a barred one in front, and the other right. A smell of piss, shit, and rot wafted out from the central door. After getting a nod from Thora, Atli pushed open the right doorway. A metal sigil “3” gleamed in the center of the stone room, and a window to the right. They all entered and brightened their sparks.
Thora looked out the window and was shocked – the view was filled with vast swathes of coloured stars and mists. The tower seemed to stretch forever up and down, and there was no sign of any ground. Chain securely attached to the window led up and down. Far above she could see a dim light coming from a window far up the tower. She rushed back and turned out the lantern Atli was carrying. “I spotted a light in another window. I don’t want them to see ours.
Elin spotted strange ripples moving across the stone walls. Frowing she went for a closer look. Then the stone stretched and tore like rotten flesh and a huge pile of warty flesh squeezed out into the room, floating before them. The others turned to stare in shock as it began to squirm in mid air, unfolding tentacles and revealing a needle filled maw. All three backed away. The creature turned, sensing them, and then shimmered like a heat mirage and disappeared.
“The hells?” Atli looked pale.
“Ssh” Thora stood ready while Elin nocked her bow.
Tentacles burst from mid-air and wrapped around Atli, dragging him towards a distortion in the air. Elin loosed an arrow which which plunged into the distortion, while Thora leaped forward and plunged her dagger and arm after the arrow.
The thing reappeared, spraying black ichor all over the room. Thora wrestled it to the ground, driving her dagger repeatedly into its rubbery skin. It gave a shudder and deflated, slowly liquifying.
“I’ve not seen anything like that, but I’ve heard stories. I think it was a demon.”
“Thora sweetie, that covers all manner of ills” Atli growled, testing the raw marks left by the tentacles.
“Demons crawl into the world through tears, when magic has distorted the world too much. I think this place counts?” Elin looked around fearfully.
For some reason this system just didn’t sit right with anyone at our table. It might be that we’re all more used to older D&D, or even the light system of PbtA games. Forbidden Lands seemed to be rolling lots of dice (different colours for stat, skill, and gear) and the binary results were less interesting than the 2d6 for PbtA. It seems to be “fiddly” without making the game better for our table, and the realisation that I was “hacking” the game on the fly to get it working didn’t sit well with anyone. I was asked if we could convert the characters either to D&D or back to Freebooters on the Frontier…
Not sure what I’m going to do. But I’m a little sad that we bounced off Forbidden Lands so hard.