(Content warning: Hell, brief mentions of gender, xenophobia, slavery, studding people, misery, suicide.)
On December 29th, I ran a one-shot game, a playtest of Xenophon's Avatar GLoG outline as well as my Hitch in Hell setting. This required some tinkering to merge the assumptions of both in a small outline. Notably, I ended up writing techniques for different sorts of benders as well as the three classes brought from the Hitch in Hell. Because it was a one-shot, I knew I wouldn't have time to focus on hexcrawling, so I constructed a scenario with a slight traveling prelude before getting into a small dungeon space. I also wanted to design with the potential for any kind of bender to be useful in some part of it.
- Gorinich, playing a salamander airbender
- Ren, playing a salamander firebender
- Xenophon of Athens, playing an El Doradan waterbender.
- Oblidisideryptch, playing a damned idolator
After reading the prelude from Hitch in Hell, I explained that the party had been travelling through a part of Hell called the Braggerlands, searching for magic "Spartan Seeds" in the Caves of Creon. Believing themselves near to their destination, they came upon a fortified camp of Salamandrine Men. Fearing the suspicion of the inhabitants of the camp, they nevertheless approached when they realized that an emberstorm would blanket the area in a couple of hours.
I designed this encounter as an opportunity to set the tone of the sort of social interaction the player characters were used to. None of them, not even the salamanders, had any particular knowledge of this small culture, but they were unsurprised to be threatened and condescended to. These people lived in homes of hollowed-out giant faces and wielded cruel, inefficient polearms. When the party asked for shelter, this was granted, yet the officer speaking with them demanded they stay in separate face-homes according to which of the three genders they belonged to. When this was met with questions, the officer reiterated rather than explaining. After much fruitless discussion, the party elected to claim to just all be men so they would be able to stay together, which the officer accepted.
The party was then shown to a face-home, where a few male salamanders stayed. They bided the emberstorm interacting with them, playing cards and yelling at each other. The party learned a bit more about the society in which they were visiting, about how its men were studded by the state and used as conscripts in endless skirmishes. They were told that by entering the camp they were now slaves, a development that might have frightened them more if they hadn't already decided to escape as quickly and forcefully as possible after the emberstorm passed.
They escaped as quickly and forcefully as possible after the emberstorm passed. It did not prove difficult with the application of surprise and bending. In retrospect, I like this first section of the session. The people they met were sufficiently cruel for the theme of a Hitch in Hell while still being coherent. On the other hand, I worry that the players might have been affected more by the encounter if they saw more of themselves in the sins of the salamander camp. It was enjoyable to see their scummy player characters' disdain for their scummy hosts, but I think in the future I want to create a fruitful opportunity for ethical disorientation.
Still searching for the Caves of Creon, they encountered a lion-ox (first draft was a sphinx) drinking at a sulfurous hot spring. Seizing the element of surprise, they attacked and quickly slew it, freezing the water around its head to blind it. It was here that we saw how powerful bending is in Xeno's outline, especially when it is creatively applied. What followed was a series of considerations on how to best cook or boil the lion-ox's flesh, where to camp, and other practicalities. They also recovered a tablet from the boiling spring explaining a firebending technique. Studying it was beyond the timescale of the game, but I wanted to include such treasures since they seem like an important part of Avatar GLoG.
After camping, the party found the Caves of Creon, surrounded by the wretched and incapacitated forms of over a hundred people, pathetically struggling in the mud. *Slashing* their way through, they met with one damned soul who was somewhat more composed, an unburied suicide named Haemon. He explained his lot, and said that this was indeed the Caves of Creon that they sought. This sequence is interesting to me, because it highlights the tension Hitch in Hell has, where it wants to depict people acting cruelly and yet it also wants to attain some measure of mercy. The player characters were somewhat aloof in dealing with these damned souls, which makes sense since every part of the game has prompted that. Something for me to think about.
I won't summarize the Caves room by room, but the party quickly found a fortune in gold talents, as well as a trio of guardians (Niobe, Edith, and Eurydice.) They also spoke with Creon, who punished himself for his tyranny by staring into a Dolorous Palantir, which showed him scenes of torture in other parts of Hell. In another part of the caves, the party contended with the beheaded Medusa, starting a fight when one of them stabbed her animate headless body and another opened the box containing her head.
(Naturally, she was an Earthbender)
This fight ended with one party member turned to stone and medusa herself falling down a deep chasm. Deciding to cut their losses and possibly return for the PC-statue on another journey, the rest of the party loaded up with magic seedbags and quickly stole a pair of gold talents before cheesing it for the door.
The moment the gold was removed from the caves, the entire place began to sink into the ground. 400 gold richer and one party member poorer, the party began the long journey home. By experimenting with the seeds they learned that throwing one to the ground produced a fully armed and armored soldier. When they got back to the boomtown of Canoe, it would be with an army...
As a game, I believe the session was a success. Xenophon noted that his outline resulted in characters of a higher power level than he now preferred, which we could all understand. Poor Oblid, the only player with a non-bender, was also playing the class which is most dangerous, since it summons hostile creatures as its main gimmick. While the bender is powerful, it is fun to play, and while I didn't always understand how to interpret the bending rules I was amused to see then used in the problems the characters encountered.
El Dorado: a Hitch in Hell is focused more on theme and emotional experience than on a particular ruleset, and those themes displaced the ones we might have pursued with a session of Avatar GLoG in its natural setting. I hit on the theme of terribleness pretty easily, but I think there's room to work on its accompanying theme of sorrow. That is something that is easier in campaign-level play, but I'm unlikely to run a campaign in Hell anytime soon.