Holmes & The Golden Medusa of Sorrow

So I played Holmes yesterday evening.

I created pregens with evocative stuffs (an elf who is an “exiled noble from the cursed forest”, a thief ratfolk from the “guild of the forgotten secrets”), and I don’t like dwarves and halfings so I used the same rules for, respectively, Snake-peoples and ratfolks. I was feeling creative so one of the pregen is a “Dream shade” and when one of the player chose it and asked me what it was, I explained I had no clear idea but what I imagined was that a really powerful magical entity was dreaming somewhere, and this dream is so strong that it embodies the world, so now you have this character who is a magic user. Someone mentioned a vampire because the character is named Carmina, and I said “yes, she’s a vampire dream, and if the vampire awakes, well she dies, so maybe she’s trying to find a way to solve this”. Character sheets can be found in the joined file (in French). I initially rolled random HP but then decided to give full HP to first levels characters when almost all of them had 1 hp.

I arbitrarily decided the alignment and didn’t say anything about it to the players. Carmina the mage is Chaotic evil, Ael’Fer’Hin the Elf is Loyal Good, Croquette the ratfolk thief is Chaotic good, Tristan the mage is Loyal evil. I don’t treat this as behavioral descriptor (and the players don’t know about them anyway), but my intent is to use them to determinate the language and communication with some monsters. A ghoul being chaotic evil, Carmina will be able to communicate with it, and the Medusa being Loyal Evil, Tristan will be able to communicate with it. I didn’t chose the character alignment based on the Monster alignment, I just chose what fit more to my intuitive view of the backdrop based on the characters I had, and mainly the portraits and names. So there’s no “Hey this player will be able to communicate with the ghoul !”, in fact, I didn’t even know what alignments the Monster were when I chose the character’s alignment. I’ll see if something arise from that. So we have 4 players, we’re playing online with only three players having a webcam, no VTT or shared map. One of the player had never played and was really engaged (although a bit of reorientating was needed, I talk about this in the end of this post), and the others all played a few games togethers with very simple home rules and based on their excitation after discovering RPG on actual plays. No veteran here.

I took a Dyson map who has something like a 7-10 rooms and the entrance looks like a dragon. I imagined a gothic drama backstory about an elven king-champion who abandoned his realm to devote itself to a forgotten absent goddess in an exiled place, where his frustrated love for her became a demon torment, and this torment took incarnation in the form of a Medusa. The king is now a ghoul lamenting on his throne in the throne room, with his crown, armor and sword. Ok, it’s a bit cathartic about a previous relationship, which is good for creating good fantasy gothic drama.

I’m a sucker for the Greek Medusa, I’m fascinated by it. Best Monster ever in human stories for me. It has a name and personality (it’s not a “specie”), a tragic story, a specific flaw, a specific power announced by some clues “perfect statues” in its lair, etc. Super badass. I realized that the Holmes bestiary and treasures tables follow the same logic of the D&D Bestiary-DM’s guide as described one of the AdeptPlay patreon post – but you need to ignore the advices in the provided dungeons who just use a Moldvay-like randomization of treasures by room.

My approach is the ecological one. There are also three dragon eggs in some room, with a possibility for a dragon to get out when the characters enter the room. I treat this opportunity with the “trap” mechanic (1-2/6).

I’m also using the Holmes 1st level random tables with some modifications. Berserkers and bandits are “cultists”, for instance.

During prep, I rolled to see the treasures of this Medusa and got this weird results: 12.000gp. So I decided that it’s a golden Medusa, it’s scaly and those scales are made of gold. Which is super cool. This has a few mechanical consequences. In Holmes, 300gp = 15kg, which means this Medusa weighs 6 tons. Also, you can trick this Medusa with a mirror but then it will turn to stone. For the moment, I use Attributes scores as “karma” – if you have 15 in Intel, you know about this story or this monster. Etc. That’s the first thing I consider before using any roll.

I use attack bonus for any kind of “trying to hit something”, even if it’s throwing a rope to grapple a statue.

I’m experimenting with ordering. So, when 3 striges attacked, I treated the range weapons as acting first (I would treat spells as acting first too, but no spells were fired). The daggers and short sword can hit two times. I kind of arbitrary decided that against a longer weapons, the weapon act first anyway, but we’ll see.

Two things in my mind.

First, I really like the reaction rolls. After the combat against the striges, one of the character lost 2hp (Carmina), freaking everyone out, but also reassuring players that even with 4 hp you can survive. The game shifted at that moment. They took a lot of time to discuss so I rolled for a random encounter, got an elf, rolled a 11 on the reaction table. So it was clear to me that this elf was looking for his royal heir (the elven PC) that he followed all this time, ready to help her.

Second, the mage and spells. Mage have only one spell so they are always hesitating to fire this resource. But in the end of this first session, after an injured PC but a few hundred golds found on dead bodies in the entrance, the player realized they could went back and create parchments. Within a few weeks and hundreds of gold, making parchments changes a lot the efficiency of the mage, as they can now double or triple their spell slots through parchment use. I never realized that before.

So we were at the end of the session anyway, after 2 hours of play where lots of table talk was involved, sometimes with a bit of dysfunctional play who had to be reorientated (players making statement about what they do, and others ignoring this then starting a conversation storyboarding “what we could do instead, maybe this, or this, or this”).


2 responses to “Holmes & The Golden Medusa of Sorrow”

  1. I like the free flow of ideas you describe — and love the Medusa, risk-reward ration, imagery and other implications alike!

    And yeah, reaction rolls are fun to interpret! What’s a phenomenal reaction for an ogre? Why, he offers to fatten you for a year and a day!

    I’ve often read that scribing scrolls is crucial though it does kinda force you to consider what the characters do between adventures, for better or worse.

  2. The spell scroll section in this game is remarkably open, as you describe, to the point that I said, “Wait, really?” and had to review it. The rest of the magic casting section seems not even to know it either, as it stresses the limitations based on memorization.

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