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Comments on "Elzemon and the Blood-Drinking Box"
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Author:  herecomethejudge [ Wed Dec 26, 2018 10:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Comments on "Elzemon and the Blood-Drinking Box"

**Spoilers/plot points within**

We started out some 0-level characters recently in a funnel, then ran "Sailors on the Starless Sea" (excellent module, very rich and balanced). I'm planning on doing "People of the Pit" as the next big adventure but need time to prepare it, so I grabbed "Elzemon and the Blood-Drinking Box" in the meantime because it looked like a short, simple adventure to run for now. "Elzemon" is a good story idea, but I believe the module is flawed in a number of ways worth noting for anyone looking to use it. I'd strongly suggest that anyone modify it to a fairly significant extent to spice parts of it up and tone other parts down.

First, the module begins with a three-day journey from town to a waterfall/cliff setting, but no suggestions are in the text for how to generate some random encounters to actually play out those three days. So you'll need to work something up ahead of time in terms of countryside dangers or hazards to keep things interesting if you want that to feel realistic. You could also tie in something about Elzemon, the demon in the story, maybe interacting with the PCs before they get to the waterfall in his invisible form, or his servitors -- basically anything but "and now you're there, three days later." You basically have to write this part yourself.

Navigating a trap at the waterfall to open the secret passage where the module begins was OK, but once PCs are inside it, there is then an extremely long section of the adventure in which PCs have to descend a 15000' spiral staircase, actually having to camp overnight because it takes so long, and there's only one monster encounter per day (same monster each time). I found this very monotonous in our session, so again you have to flesh this out a lot yourself if you want it to stay interesting IMO. I'd say 50% can come from the text, but it really needs another 50% of new material to come to life and not get dull.

At the bottom of the staircase (finally), PCs have to cross a series of narrow bridges over an acidic pool which can mildly damage tequipment and steal HPs. The way this part is written, it's nearly impossible for 1st level characters not to fall in repeatedly, to the point of spending tons of play time on very tedious and frustrating efforts to pull them back out again. This adventure was written just for 1st level, and I think this part is FAR TOO HARD for 1st level PCs. Three DC 13 agility checks are required in a row to navigate the bridges for any PC who doesn't want to be left behind, plus there's an invisible demon swatting at PCs which can push them in even if they can pass the agility check, and there are monsters in the pool as well. The game slowed way down here, and I had to ease things up quite a bit just so PCs could move forward.

Once the main task has been completed, these things (bridges and stairs) basically just have to be navigated in reverse, where they have the same problems again. I had to improvise quite a lot not to have it become monotonous once more.

So...I liked this setting and story idea a lot, but it was too sparse in places, requiring lots of additional content to keep things interesting, and too hard in other places, requiring mods in the opposite direction. Please keep this in mind if you plan to use it and spend a fair amount of time fleshing it out in advance, would be my suggestion for any judge.

Author:  GnomeBoy [ Thu Jan 03, 2019 9:01 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Comments on "Elzemon and the Blood-Drinking Box"

Is it possible the bridge was too hard because you had added in extra stuff before that point?

I can see no inherent problem in "you travel for three days and you're there!" Especially, if a gaming group has limited opportunity to play. But if the game you run dips greatly into "here's what happens each day to this party" throughout your campaign, and days in the wilderness always entail crossing fierce animals and worse, that's a stylistic choice that, yes, would require some rejiggering of the module.

I haven't yet run this module, but I do see the 'repeated' stair encounters as opportunities for strategic thinking... "how can we do this better than we did last time?" The adventure name escapes me, I can vividly recall the "aha!" moment we had in a game years ago, where we had a 'repeating' encounter and we realized we could build on what we had done before to do better each time...

Author:  Raven_Crowking [ Thu Jan 03, 2019 11:18 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Comments on "Elzemon and the Blood-Drinking Box"

When I first ran the Blood Drinking Box, my players were freaked out by the endless stair where nothing else existed. And there is an encounter for that stair in the text, if PCs go down and never look back. That freaked them out so much that they went back up the stairs to see where the encounter came from!

Author:  clairelenore [ Thu Jan 03, 2019 3:36 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Comments on "Elzemon and the Blood-Drinking Box"

boy howdy am i ever with herecomethejudge on this one! admittedly, i am the most noobular noob in nooberton, but when i played this, we like, killed the invisible demon with a lucky crit or something before we even got to the bridges and we still barely made it across. i mean if you've got six characters going across three bridges then just on the odds alone there's going to be at least nine falls into the acid leech-lake and how are you supposed to fight giant leeches and swim and grab the rope they're throwing you all at the same time? we got dunked and leeched several times on the very first bridge until we decided to just send the thief across with a rope. he could spend his luck if he blew the saves and then the warrior followed holding onto the rope and could climb back up if she slipped. everybody else just stayed back and anchored the rope from shore. which obviously would not have worked with the demon thingie still around.

although now that i think about it and since i have played quite a bit since then, maybe that kinda shows that somebody more experienced than than me could probably have come up with better strategies and done okay even getting imp-smacked along the way.

anyway, we had fun with it at our place!

Author:  ThickSkullAdv [ Fri Jan 04, 2019 8:03 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Comments on "Elzemon and the Blood-Drinking Box"

I ran Elzemon for FreeRPG Day this year. For me, I found it a unique adventure, as I ran it in a survival-vs-the-elements type way (a la Castaway or AMC's The Terror ) . While I wouldn't consider it an inordinate amount of prep, here's what I did do:

- Changed the "motives" of the starting wizard to create tie-ins to my own games. Gave the PCs different options of what reward they'd want for helping the wizard, which would lead to next adventure. Probably not necessary for a one-shot, but I like to create game tie-ins

- Picked the encounters I wanted the PCs to have as they went down the stairs and when in advance

- Created what voices/messages the "taunting" Elzemon would use. I determine that Elzemon, being a demon, would actually use 2 different voices to confuse the players, each with conflicting messages

- Created dehydration/starvation rules. This was probably where I spent the most energy. I created (and later posted online) how starvation and dehydration would affect players. By the time they get to the bottom of the stairs, they are starting to feel the dread of, "Holy crap... we didn't bring enough water..." It made for some interesting game play.


It really is a fun adventure! I would encourage any judge to play it.

Author:  Bilgewriggler [ Fri Jan 04, 2019 8:26 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Comments on "Elzemon and the Blood-Drinking Box"

ThickSkullAdv wrote:

- Created dehydration/starvation rules. This was probably where I spent the most energy. I created (and later posted online) how starvation and dehydration would affect players. By the time they get to the bottom of the stairs, they are starting to feel the dread of, "Holy crap... we didn't bring enough water..." It made for some interesting game play.


I ran this for a group who insisted on casting Detect Evil every hour on the way down, making the descent an interminable exercise in dicing. They actually tracked their own rations, got worried they would run out, and debated turning around and going all the way back up to get more food, so I had to cheat a little and tell them they started to see the glow from below just to keep the adventure from being grotesquely prolonged.

Author:  ThickSkullAdv [ Fri Jan 04, 2019 8:54 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Comments on "Elzemon and the Blood-Drinking Box"

Bilgewriggler wrote:
I ran this for a group who insisted on casting Detect Evil every hour on the way down, making the descent an interminable exercise in dicing. They actually tracked their own rations, got worried they would run out, and debated turning around and going all the way back up to get more food, so I had to cheat a little and tell them they started to see the glow from below just to keep the adventure from being grotesquely prolonged.


Back in my young days (mid to late teens) I ran my usual party through AD&D's D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth. I told them that it was going to be a months' long expedition and that I'd be tracking their consumption of supplies. I made them purchase and write down every spell material component they thought they'd need. They hated it. I came to hate it. I thought it would make it interesting and it just made it horrible. I learned a lot about the balance between realism and fun game play that summer.

Author:  Bilgewriggler [ Fri Jan 04, 2019 11:11 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Comments on "Elzemon and the Blood-Drinking Box"

There’s a reason Bags of Holding are relatively cheap in D&D!

Author:  Raven_Crowking [ Fri Jan 04, 2019 2:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Comments on "Elzemon and the Blood-Drinking Box"

ThickSkullAdv wrote:
Back in my young days (mid to late teens) I ran my usual party through AD&D's D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth. I told them that it was going to be a months' long expedition and that I'd be tracking their consumption of supplies. I made them purchase and write down every spell material component they thought they'd need. They hated it. I came to hate it. I thought it would make it interesting and it just made it horrible. I learned a lot about the balance between realism and fun game play that summer.


Back in the day, I did track consumption of supplies but I never warned anyone about it.

Discovering you have no food or water deep underground is part of the spice of life. Why else would someone try barbecued giant spider?

Author:  Bilgewriggler [ Fri Jan 04, 2019 2:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Comments on "Elzemon and the Blood-Drinking Box"

Raven_Crowking wrote:
Back in the day, I did track consumption of supplies but I never warned anyone about it.

Discovering you have no food or water deep underground is part of the spice of life. Why else would someone try barbecued giant spider?


:lol:

Author:  herecomethejudge [ Fri Feb 08, 2019 7:03 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Comments on "Elzemon and the Blood-Drinking Box"

GnomeBoy wrote:
Is it possible the bridge was too hard because you had added in extra stuff before that point?

I can see no inherent problem in "you travel for three days and you're there!" Especially, if a gaming group has limited opportunity to play. But if the game you run dips greatly into "here's what happens each day to this party" throughout your campaign, and days in the wilderness always entail crossing fierce animals and worse, that's a stylistic choice that, yes, would require some rejiggering of the module.

I haven't yet run this module, but I do see the 'repeated' stair encounters as opportunities for strategic thinking... "how can we do this better than we did last time?" The adventure name escapes me, I can vividly recall the "aha!" moment we had in a game years ago, where we had a 'repeating' encounter and we realized we could build on what we had done before to do better each time...


I don't think so about the bridge because I didn't add in anything extra. Another user above wrote about this adventure turning into a joyless exercise in dicing. That is what happened to us both on the stairs and when crossing the acid pool (both ways, in and out again); it became a prolonged, tedious, mechanics-heavy experience for everyone.

Also, the "three days and you're there" was probably the least of my complaints. Still, since the three days is a fixed part of the module, I would have appreciated some sample encounters or at least suggestions written in to improve the depth of the adventure. It also would have given the players more to hang onto in their minds from this adventure prior to the mind-numbing descent down the stairwell.

Interestingly, a fluke in the gameplay led to one of the more interesting experiences in our sessions. When the PCs camp for the night on the stairs, Elzemon the invisible demon is supposed to taunt or disturb them. I happened to roll the option for "imitates sounds of children crying," which I role-played as children calling to the PCs that they were trapped in cages and needed to be let out. On the way out, this actually caused the party to turn around, go back down the stairs, and search for these invisible kids again. They only realized at the very end that it was just the demon messing with them. This improved the experience dramatically, and I think the module could use more of this type of thing baked into it to give it more depth.

There definitely really cool ideas in this module which I remember vividly as I imagined them. I just think it could maybe use a revision to be less clunky and more fluid in terms of the mechanics, with more "connective tissue" between encounters.

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