A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of running a Shadow of the Demon Lord one-shot as a reward for Patreon backers of Have Spellbook, Will Travel, the flagship fantasy comedy radio play podcast of the Don’t Split the Podcast Network.
After digging through the catalogue of SotDL published adventures for a Novice-level adventure suitable for a one-shot, I settled on The Demon’s Wet Nurse by Stan!
It’s tough picking out an adventure for a one-shot! I always want something a little unusual that the players will remember. I want combat to be a side-dish, not necessarily the focus, of the adventure. I want an interesting mystery to solve, but for there to be enough things to do and ways to approach it that the players don’t feel railroaded. And I want it all in a package that I can read and understand in a short amount of time while still not feeling too stumped when the players start asking questions.
I’m asking a lot, and The Demon’s Wet Nurse delivers!
Here’s the link to The Demon’s Wet Nurse if you want to just go buy the thing and read it instead of reading my *SPOILER* recap of our game below.
This session turned out to be a great test of the Demon Lord system because I was running a game for one person who was familiar with SotDL itself, four who were experienced D&D players, and one who liked games but had never really played a tabletop RPG before. Despite this, we spent a very minimal amount of time looking up rules or stumbling over how to do things. Even combat flowed quite smoothly. It’s really a testament to the ease of use of this system! I’m plotting a campaign for my nerdier real life coworkers who are interested in D&D, and I’m definitely planning on running Shadow of the Demon Lord for them. Even though I’ve played various editions of D&D my whole life, and am truly happy with the direction of 5th Edition, I still think Shadow of the Demon Lord is an easier system for new players to sit down and start playing.
In The Demon’s Wet Nurse players start at a small crossroads town and sit down to enjoy a meal. They quickly discover that this town is suffering from some kind of plague which appears to be food-borne, but not before they’ve had a chance to eat some of the town’s food themselves. The adventure includes a fun little sickness mechanic where players roll every four-hours of in-character time to see how their sickness progresses. By luck of the dice (and also because one character was a hunger-free clockwork and another was a disease-immune goblin) the players actually didn’t experience much sickness, but they were shown the worst possible effects of the sickness in NPCs in town. When they visited the town’s infirmary, the players were inquisitive enough to investigate the excrement and vomit of sick patients and discover unnatural tiny creatures moving around in them. The adventure describes these creatures as “insects and worms” but I played on what I knew my players personally hated and called them weird spiders.
I did not anticipate the players sneaking into the town’s graveyard and digging up a grave of one of the deceased, and had fun improvising the effects of this disease on a corpse. I described a black acidic ichor filled with the weird spiders as having dissolved the abdomen of the dead villager, and starting to burn through the bottom of the cheap wooden coffin. This game is fun.
The players had a lot of places and people in town to visit, all colorfully described in the PDF The first half of the adventure consisted of the players tracking down the source of the plague by methodically talking to townspeople about who they had contact with, what they had eaten, and where their food came from. Maybe some folks enjoy hacking-and-slashing kobolds, but I like a good detective story, and the players were happy to participate.
I may have tipped my hand about the source of the disease when describing where restaurants were getting their food from, “Well there’s a brewer in town, I keep chickens out back, we get our milk and butter from the Golden Meadows dairy.” The players were pretty quick to pick up on my accidental vocal shift between naming food sources that I was making up on the fly and then saying the one food source with a proper name. Ah well, my players are smart guys and didn’t need any help or hints from me to figure things out.
The second half of the adventure consisted of investigating the Golden Meadows dairy and discovering that the place had been taken over by a demonic cult. The climax of the adventure was the players infiltrating the farm, defeating the cultists, and rescuing a baby who the cultists were raising to become a demon. (The disease came from the cows on the dairy who were afflicted by the demonic presence.)
I’m still grappling with the right way to tune difficulty in this system. I wanted to beef up the cultists’ strength because we were playing with six players, so I added a brutish orc warrior and a magic user to the cult, but one player had to leave early before we got to the main combat session, so I ended up pulling my punches a bit in combat to make sure the players could all get to the end of the adventure. Deciding whether to pull punches is tough, because as a GM you don’t want to feel bad about your players dying left and right, but you also know your players are smart enough to know when you’re going easy on them. When I asked players for feedback after the game, gaming hero James said, “Don’t be afraid to kill me.”
In the future, I’d like to trust that I play with smart and good players who will properly react to difficult, life-threatening challenges without me adjusting the difficulty for them. Lessons learned!
Speaking of difficulty, The Demon’s Wet Nurse adventure describes two ways of dealing with the demon-possessed baby (who breathes fire and mind controls you, you should buy this adventure) to complete the game. The simple way is to just kill the baby. There’s also a complicated multi-step procedure for exorcising the demon from the baby, which involves defacing half of the two hundred demonic sigils that are scattered throughout the dairy farm. When I read the adventure I thought, “Well no player is ever going to do all that.” So I was shocked when, encountering the very first demonic sigils on the farm, one of the players took the can of beets that they received as random item at character generation and used it to deface the sigils. They went on to use blood from an infected cow they had slain to cover the majority of the remaining sigils, and they eventually figured out how to exorcise the demon from the baby without me telling them to! I was shocked and so incredibly pleased with them.
Anyway, three key takeaways:
– Shadow of the Demon Lord is a great system and I want everyone to play it.
– The Demon’s Wet Nurse packs a hell of a great adventure, with great little maps and everything, into an affordable PDF and you should buy it.
– Players are amazing and I love them.