Splatter-Elf Play Report #3: Hail to the Beef
Whether or not the rules or the game system worked (more on that later), I have to say this was the most fun I've had running a game in a long time. Everything moved at a reasonable pace, everyone clicked and seemed to have fun, and there was plenty of goofy weirdness that I always see as a staple of a good game.
We had the same Soldier of Slaughter and Uff from the previous session, though our Cutthroat player was replaced by a different guy running a Detritus Dwarf. It took him a few minutes to understand why he carried around a giant sack of garbage and filth like an insane hobo, but he was eventually cool with it.
Some wild fighting took place as the players tried every trick they could come up to gain an advantage in a fight with a group of pistol-wielding cattle rustlers. After much swearing and threatening and climbing through windows and hiding behind doors and throwing hunks of rotted meat (seriously), they eventually used several startled cows as a distraction to finally turn the tide of battle. Well, actually they forced the cows into the dining room and kept attacking them until they panicked and started trashing the place. Had they just used those attacks against the enemies the combat probably would have ended much quicker, but it wouldn't have been nearly so fun.
I then led the players through some stereotypical over-the-top magical traps that would have dissolved their flesh or exploded their eyeballs, but being seasoned players they wouldn't take the bait and managed to bypass everything pretty much unscathed. It's amazing the stupid things they will attempt in combat, but they shy away from fun-looking traps like virgin handmaidens.
They also actually bypassed the guardian monster and the Indiana-Jones-style obstacle course of death masterfully. Both were meant to not necessarily kill the characters but to wear them down before meeting the evil wizard, but they managed to get past both with some cunning plans, careful attention to detail (remembering some hints I dropped previously) and sheer dumb luck. We laughed at the dwarf for dragging that damn cow the whole way through the wizard's dungeon, but in the end the friggin' cow turned out to be the most valuable member of the party.
Instead it dragged on for a friggin' hour. The wizard didn't have a high defence or much health, but they just couldn't roll a hit to save their lives (literally). The wizard wasn't hitting his kill spells, and was only whittling down the players a few points at a time. It took so long to eventually put him down that the distracted guardian monster came back, and the players did not have the stamina or the resources (both in character and in real life) to deal with it. The Uff desperately drank an unmarked potion hoping it would do something useful. It was poison and he died. The Soldier went down swinging like a putz right after missing with his super-duper Blood Power.
And then the fucking dwarf ran away with the magic axe that could kill the monster.
They probably could have survived had they played a little differently. The dwarf in particular had a special ability that made him immune to damage for a short time, which he could have used to protect himself while hacking the monster with the axe. They certainly would have fared better if the dice hadn't kept falling against them. But such is the way of Splatter-Elf: Live fast and die hard.
Best part? We nailed rule #10 from Philip Overby's original Splatter-Elf manifesto: At least 67% of the characters have to die!
I'm still pondering some of the implications of the rules. Some of the battles went a bit long and felt tedious. At first I thought it may have been because of the of the system: The players weren't hitting a lot and when they did they weren't doing a lot of damage.
This begs the questions, "Should I increase their hit bonuses? Decrease the monsters' defences? Increase the damage per attack?" The more I think about it though, the more I realize that our problem may not have been the rules but instead the party composition. We had two "tanks" (I apologize to my OSR readers for the terminology) and one striker. Of COURSE our group tended on the defensive side. The Soldier had a counter-attack ability, and the Dwarf had the aforementioned damage resistance. Both had very high defences and health but did minimal damage on a hit. This is a prime setup for slow, attrition-focused combat. Had I realized this at the time I may not have been so worried about it dragging on.
Next time I'm going to force them to play different styles of characters. Entirely for game testing purposes of course, not because I got bored or anything. ;-)
Another point that came up was around some new rules I haven't discussed here regarding Blood Points. Previously, only spellcasters had Blood Points (they were used to power their magic). Now, all characters have them, and they power special attacks or abilities that allow the characters to kill and butcher more effectively.
Players get more Blood Points for killing foes as well as describing their actions in blood-chilling detail. Basically, whenever a player hits I tell them how severe the wound is then it's up to them to describe the visual impact of the action, in whatever horrific, disturbing or slapstick way they wish. If they get a reaction out of the GM or the other players (whether cringing or laughing, preferably both), then they get a Blood Point for their effort.
Maybe the players just weren't used to the system, because it didn't come into play much. While they certainly tried their best to earn the points (the guy running the Uff took to it with particular glee), they didn't actually USE them. One of the guys told me afterward that he had misread and misunderstood the power, which is my fault for how I wrote it). I'm not sure if the powers just weren't useful, or if they didn't know how they worked or what, but it's going to take a little more testing to figure it out.
So I hope you enjoyed my play report and my thought process on the mechanics. It may seem a little scattered and random but I'm literally using this as an opportunity to figure things out as I go. As I write this down I'm realizing what works and doesn't work and why, and you folks have the good fortune of following along with me. If anyone has any suggestions, please share and point out why I'm an idiot.
For more info on Splatter-Elf as a genre, be sure to check out the new Splatter-Elf blog by Philip Overby. He's been detailing lots of weird and wacky creatures and characters that would fit beautifully into a Splatter-Elf game.