Dungeon World: Soloing the Cinder Queen

  • Ivan (human invoker of some god of the ocean)
  • Brana (dwarf warrior hireling)
  • Clotilda (human protector hireling)

SPOILER WARNING: If you are going to be playing this adventure any time soon, I'd stop here.

I got my physical copy of Servants of the Cinder Queen a few days ago (a Kickstarter project on time? GASP!), and since Melissa and I still have no meaningful internet and haven't played a roleplaying proper game in over a month now, I figured I'd run her through it.

Dungeon World isn't exactly conducive to solo play, so I gave her a pair of hirelings that turned out to be a subservient harem willing to do "anything" for their pseudo-god, including following him into the next best (or would it be the worst?) thing to hell and back.

Well, assuming they survive, of course.

Since we wanted to get the ball rolling (and it was a solo game), I started with the general intro before shifting gears to the in media res intro, which in a nutshell is "you blunder into the catacombs section and are now trapped, someone is stuck in the rubble, and oh yeah there are flaming skeletons approaching".

She decided to have Brana be the one buried in the rubble, while Clotilda stood in front with her shield as a pair of burning skeletons hobbled over to them. Clotilda did her best to keep them at bay, suffering only severe burns as Ivan idly spent some mantra to aid Brana from a distance. When he was relatively certain that she was probably not crushed, he started blasting the skeletons from afar with jets of water, the steam doing little to alleviate Clotilda's burns.

Once Ivan vanquished the skeletons and Brana freed herself, they found that there were several paths to choose from, so picked one arbitrarily and started walking. They wandered through the catacombs for a time before coming across a large chamber with three sealed vaults. In each door was a peephole that allowed them to see inside: one room had wet walls, another somehow contained wind, and the last was completely silent.

Ivan spit water on the first one (which I figured would count), blew on the second one, and then eventually "solved" the third one through "action attrition". After the dust had settled he found himself the proud owner of a hammer, cloak, and...hour...glass? Not feeling the need to examine or test any of the objects, they were preparing to head through an opening in the northern wall when a pair of robed figures--disciples of the Cinder Queen--arrived, escorting a whatever you'd call a group of skeletons. A rattle? I'm going to go with a rattle.

Concerned about his (needless and frivolous) expenditure of mantra, Ivan waded into melee and smashed them apart fairly easily, while Brana and Clotilda took most of the, well, heat. As the last skeleton fell the disciples fled, but rather than pursue them Ivan meditated to regain a bit of mantra, spending a few points to heal his companions. Not because of their dutiful and thankless service, but because live servants make better walls than dead ones.

Brana of course led the way through the fissure, with Clotilda taking up the rear in case the disciples came back. On the other side they found a black disk of volcanic glass stamped with the symbol of a hammer, and when nothing attacked them they continued on, passing through a series of smooth volcanic tubes that eventually lead outside. Having not saved any villagers or vanquished any named evils, they backtracked to where the entrance had collapsed and went another way.

This time they found a room with more flaming skeletons and disciples, some villagers trapped in a pit, and a guy that was both obviously evil and a wizard, partially because he was wearing robes and wielding a flaming staff, but mostly because when he spotted them trying to sneak about, he pointed and commanded his minions to kill them in the name of his mistress, the eponymous Cinder Queen.

Ivan started blasting everyone with water, but when his mantra again ran low pulled out the hammer he had found and started clobbering everyone; to his delight it allowed him to easily smash through the skeletons and knock the only marginally more durable disciples about. Once most of them were dead the evil wizard stepped in, introduced himself as Thorde Skul (which was another indication that he was evil), and started blasting them with fire.

For some reason Ivan thought of the hourglass. He dropped it on the ground, and as the water started to flow down a cloud of mist surrounded them, shielding them somewhat from Thorde's magic. This gave Ivan enough time to gather up the last of his mantra and utterly pulverize Thorde Skul's skull. With Thorde defeated Ivan brought the villagers back to the entrance, had them clear the rubble out of the way, and returned to the village victorious.

Disclaimer/Note: We didn't have a lot of time to play this (and so didn't explore all of the areas), were playing with a largely untested class (invoker), it was just Melissa, and we were just kind of chilling on our bed, which is not exactly the most conducive environment for some "serious business" gaming.

Just so no one gets the wrong idea, I'm pretty pleased with this. Yeah, part of it is because this is basically the first Kickstarter that I've backed that not only delivered on time, but didn't make me feel like I wasted my money, but most of it is that it's a nice, tight package of interesting, thematic content.

I do have some nitpicks, however:

I do not like the, I guess cardstock cover. I'm not sure exactly what you'd call it, but it's very stiff, like a card, which makes it kind of a pain to flip through. Obviously if you only got the pdf version this isn't a problem.

I think the exploring the catacombs move could have been tweaked to give you a kind of progress currency, so that the longer you wander around the less likely you are to find a random catacomb location. Maybe even something like "take +1 if you mark your way with chalk/use string/draw a map/etc".

I don't think any of the monsters were built using the monster creation rules out of Dungeon World. Like, the burning skeletons have the Group tag, which means they should have 6 HP for the base. Now, maybe the 4 is to account for the fact that they're gradually burning to ashes, but they should have +4 for "being kept alive by something beyond simple biology".

There's also a flying imp thing that only has 4 HP (despite being Solitary), the disciples deal 1d4 damage (should have been d8, or even d6 if you take the option that reduces their damage), and Hvitr (the patriarch and judge of the gods) has 48 hit points. I mean, jesus, at that point why give him hit points at all?

I honestly don't think that Thorde Skul really works as a Danger. I get that the book says that the grim portents are intended to "work differently" here, but I just don't see the point: Thorde's plan is to have the flaming skeletons dig up the library so that he can get a book, take the book to the caldera (which is pretty close by), and using the book to break open the obsidian disk so that Gildarthe can get through.

All of this stuff can be wrapped in a single session. Plus, you only "need" 1-3 grim portents for an adventure front: it could have just read "Thorde discovers the book and breaks the seal". Even so I can see the grim portents list being useful as a kind of villainous checklist for the GM's side.

To end things on a positive note: 

I'm going to say that the puzzles are probably at the perfect level of difficulty: Melissa was able to technically bypass the first one pretty quickly, figured out the second one almost immediately, and was able to eventually solve the last one by just guessing actions until the door exploded.

I liked the random villager names: we didn't start in the village, but I could see it being useful there, as well as for the prisoners inside the catacombs. Same goes for the random catacomb locations: always nice to have these sorts of things handy when you don't want to/aren't supposed to map out the entire dungeon.

Again, I still enjoyed this adventure/don't feel like it was a waste of six bucks: I dug the adventure background (A god smashing a volcano? Awesome.), both gods, monsters, and magic items (lot of interesting stuff, there). Yeah it might need tweaking, but then I've paid over three times as much for "high-end" adventure modules that demanded more to make them palatable.

As for the invoker, I think it could use some tweaking. Melissa burned through all of her mantra by the time we were finished, but given that it was her pulling almost all of the weight I'm not too surprised. I think I should reduce the amount of time you need to mediate to gain mantra, and have it so that when you make camp you get it all back. I also think that it needs a self-healing move.

I didn't have Melissa roll+Loyalty on the henchmen because they were intended to replace other actual players. Instead I just had them add their bonuses, and when they got hurt I reduced their skills until they were healed. It was quick and dirty, but it got the job done.

It was running pretty late near the end, so I wrapped up the fight with a heavily wounded Thorde and his group of disciples using a single roll: Melissa got something like an 11, so I figured that she would cave his skull in pretty easily and they'd just mop up the rest since disciples are pretty shitty in actual combat.

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