Gaming Stories: Ride of the SS Stupid

The beauty of role-playing games lies in the stupidity of the PCs. Sometimes they will act with tactical precision and annihilate their foes, but often they will come up with the most ridiculous harebrained schemes imaginable. Those moments of glorious foolishness are where RPGs shine the brightest. Such was the case when the players in my Pathfinder game created the SS Stupid and set it off on its maiden voyage.

The Tube to Nowhere

The group had been delving through the old adventure module Seven Swords of Sin, which features a mysterious area called the Tube to Nowhere. This tunnel extends for miles in two directions and is completely dust-free, save for what the PCs themselves track in. It’s intended as a hook for further adventures, and to my knowledge the nature of the tube was never explored in any other Pathfinder product. But that lack of official detail wasn’t going to stop the players from finding out what was at the end of the tube.

Using the full resources of the dungeon they had just completed exploring, the group gathered together a rowboat and a girallon (reskinned as a lesser anghazani to match Pathfinder‘s 2nd edition lore). The crack leading into the tunnel was too small, but nothing that a summoned earth elemental couldn’t expand.

The group then clambered into a boat, with the anghazani they were determined to befriend (it had been held captive in a lab and tortured in the name of scientific experimentation). Reasoning that the tube probably had little or no friction, they liberally applied a grease spell to the bottom of the boat and prepared for their trip.

Just before they all boarded the ship, the group’s fighter crafted a sign for the boat, giving it a title: the SS Stupid.

Very appropriate.

My Gaming Bucket List

Now, the actual nature of the tunnel was left open to GM interpretation in the module. Prior to the session, knowing that the group might try to explore the tube (but not realizing that they would do so in such an insane way), I decided that one end came out in the First World, the land of the way. During the trip, however, the group speculated on where they were headed and one of the players made a comment about Alice in Wonderland. This sparked a desire to revisit my gaming bucket list by breaking out the AD&D classic Dungeonland.

Dungeonland was part of Gary Gygax’s Castle Greyhawk super-dungeon. It can loosely be described as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but everything tries to kill you. Its sequel module, The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror, is likewise inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. I picked up one of these modules ages ago at a yard sale and have always wanted to run them. Unfortunately, two things stopped me:

  • The adventures are for parties of levels 9-12, which I almost never reached when playing AD&D, and
  • When I did have the chance, nobody I played with wanted to participate in an adventure with such a ridiculous premise.

Well, the first problem is no longer an issue because modern games get to higher levels faster. Plus, since I’m adapting this module to a completely different system, I can use the guidelines found in the Gamemastery Guide to create challenges appropriate to the PCs’ level.

As to the second issue, well…the players all agreed to pile their characters into a boat with a four-armed ape, grease themselves up, and go bobsledding down an unknown path into another dimension. So silly isn’t really something they try to avoid.

What if I Just Kill You All?

Prior to the session, we had bounced around the idea of scrapping the game and starting something new, fueled in no small part by the players looking at the art for catfolk in the Advanced Player’s Guide and saying, “I want to play that.” The talk wasn’t really serious, as the current campaign involves one of the PCs running for mayor of a town and we all want to see how that turns out. But what if an unexpected disaster forced our hand?

Once the SS Stupid got sailing, I decided that such an…unusual…voyage required some sort of check. So I called for a Sailing Lore check. I figured I’d take advantage of Pathfinder‘s tiers of success: a success would mean the ship hit against the tunnel and the passengers took minor damage, a failure would mean serious damage, and a critical failure would mean the ship smashed against the wall of the tunnel at top speed, dealing a lot a lot of damage to everybody.

The gnome druid in the group had picked up training in Sailing Lore earlier in the campaign. But the person playing that character is notoriously unlucky at die rolls. So, while I determined how many dice I would ultimately roll for damage, she tossed her d20…

And got a nat 20. Smooth sailing, all the way into the unknown.

Now, I hadn’t determined exactly how much damage the crew would have taken on a failure. I’m not saying that I was planning to throw so many dice that I would be guaranteed to kill at least one PC. But I’m not not saying that, either.

Destruction…and Rebirth?

The group delayed long enough in the first room of Dungeonland that it shifted from the table with the “Eat Me/Drink Me” setup to a pool filled with various animals…which worked nicely for the group, because they had their boat with them.

Unfortunately, a deinosuchus brought an end to the expedition. While the adventurers survived the encounter, their poor ship got smashed between the giant crocodylian’s jaws. Only the name plate of the SS Stupid remained behind.

But hey…if heroes can be resurrected, why can’t their favorite mode of transportation come back, too? The players have resolved that the SS Stupid will return, but leveled up. Their new dream is to buy an airship, which they plan to christen the SS 2 Stupid. I say without irony that this is exactly what my game needs.

Images: Paizo, Wizards of the Coast

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