The Return to the Return of the Starless Sea
by Terry Olson
This year was Goodman Games’ official return to Gen Con, and with that, the return of the Gen Con DCC RPG tournament! Speaking of “returns,” this year’s tournament, which was the largest in Goodman Games’ history (198 players!), was Return to the Starless Sea. Those of you with good memories will recall that two years ago in the year that shall not be named, we ran an online version of this tournament for Bride of Cyclops Con. But this year we ran it at a real table, with real players and real dice… and even a real wizard van! And we gamed on the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium!
Return to the Starless Sea differentiates itself from previous tournaments by having a zero-level funnel in round 1 and a first-level adventure in round 2. There were five separate flights of the round 1 funnel, each slightly different from the other. The top team from each of these five flights advanced to the final round, round 2. The funnel was designed especially for new players, giving them similar chances of advancement as experienced reavers. And we had a lot of new players. In fact, our final round’s second place team, “The Live Stock,” had players new to DCC. Awesome!
The first round begins long after the adventure Sailors on the Starless Sea. The keep has rebuilt itself and is repopulated with even deadlier adversaries. Now, a peasant army surrounds it, ready to end the threat once again. The players begin with 20 PCs but they can draw from a deck of an additional 30, which represents the gongfarmer horde surging behind them. This helps ensure that everyone can play round one for the full duration; indeed, only one team managed a “true” TPK, where each player ran out of PCs with no more replacements in the deck.
Even though the funnel format places a PC’s odds of survival mostly in rolls of the dice, those players who could tap into “gongfarmer ingenuity” managed to thrive where others faltered. Where some PCs trusted an unmodified Luck roll to get them through an animated wall’s chomping maw, others improved their chances by propping that maw open with miscellaneous equipment and farm animals. (When you’re invading a chaos keep, do you really need that spyglass?) Where some PCs tried to go toe-to-beak with a vorpal chicken of Chaos, others picked up severed heads from the ground and held them next to their own, giving the perplexed poultry a good chance of pecking the wrong target. Where some tried to strike a soul-absorbing jewel by slogging their way up a ziggurat’s stairway mosh-pit-packed with meltmen, others shot at the jewel with slings and bows, burning Luck to increase damage. (Pro move!) Where some took scoring penalties for recovering PCs from the gongfarmer horde, others bravely searched worm tunnels and rescued villagers to replenish their ranks. One group even followed winged beastman to their lair and defeated their leader, gaining his powerful mace of skulls! Finally, where some PCs chose to trudge down a crater fraught with obstacles, one PC forced a winged beastman to fly them to the bottom.
Round 1 ended with the PCs discovering that despite their hard-won victories, they were ultimately doomed. However, as they prepared to meet their end, they were rescued by a wizard van piloted by the Purple Sorcerer! He told them that the only way to finish their task is to stop it from beginning; the PCs joined him, and round 1 ended.
Round 2 began with the sorcerer using the wizard van to time-travel to the era before The Sailors on the Starless Sea, when the keep is under construction and the leviathan is… smaller. This adventure is in the typical tournament style, with a lot more options and fewer constraints. Unlike the funnel, each player gets only one first-level PC (all tables have the same five PCs). When that PC dies, the player sounds the Doom Gong and is eliminated.
The Purple Sorcerer quickly abandoned the PCs when a dragon attacked the wizard van, leaving the PCs to pilot the van and figure out how to use it to their advantage. One team, “Take Off Every Ziggurat” (our third-place finalists), actually played their round inside our own wizard van parked on the stadium floor. Amazing!
Who puts a first-level party up against a dragon? We do! And two of the five teams, the first-place champions “I Haven’t Had Enough Coffee for This!” and our van-based players “Take Off Every Ziggurat,” managed to defeat the beast! The others crash-landed the van and survived.
This round had plenty of highs and lows, but even the lows were entertaining. One PC wiped himself out of all existence and memory (Marty McFly style) by accidentally killing a direct-line ancestor. If you find yourself in the distant past fighting someone who looks a bit like you and is from the same region as you, it might be prudent to apply subdual damage. Just sayin’. Two teams suffered TPKs by being ambushed by soldiers who followed them into the complex. Always secure that dungeon entrance, folks! On the other hand, we saw brilliant uses of holy sanctuary to both prevent a pesky quasit (you know the one) from getting help, and to enable safe passage past the leviathan. And, for the first time, we saw our devious puzzle finally get solved! Kudos to our second-place team, “The Live Stock.”
Perhaps the most amazing part of the round was watching our champions, “I Haven’t Had Enough Coffee for This!” conquer the finale. The cleric called on Cthulhu for divine intervention to wind back time and reroll initiative for their fallen thief, successfully getting him back in action. As the rest of his party was struck down, this thief, Cut, managed a natural 20 to sneakily climb up behind Molan the Chaos Lord. Because of his amazing roll to get behind Molan, we granted him a +1d bonus to is backstab die, and he rolled a natural 24! He critted his backstab! Killing Molan mid-ritual was the primary goal of the adventure, and Cut did it just before Molan’s brother, the dreaded Felan, threw his axe Boomercleaver to mortally wound the thief. As Cut lay dying, he knew that his team had stopped the ritual and prevented the events of both round 1 and The Sailors of the Starless Sea from ever happening. That’s a better ending than Rogue One!
Congratulations and extreme gratitude to all our tournament players and judges. We can’t wait to roll dice with you next year!