The Lost Lizard People of Los Angeles!

So, earlier this week, a friend of mine sent me a link to this.

Then, another friend sent me a link to this.

I mentioned that it made me want to run a Spirit of the Century game, and the response was, “We’re free on Friday.”

I threw together an adventure – really easy to do with SotC – and we played last night. It was fun. Here’s the pitch from the game:

Dr. Hubert Toynbee met with ridicule after his claim that he has detected a labyrinth of tunnels beneath the city of Los Angeles carved by a race of lizard people 3000 years ago. Now, his discovery of a hidden entrance to this network may prove the redemption of his scholarly reputation. And who better to plumb the depths of this ancient mystery than the stalwart members of the Century Club?

A lot of the set-up I used was based directly on the news story, but I changed the name of the person who made the map from G. Warren Shufelt to Hubert Toynbee, a character that I’ve used in other SotC games as a scientist who tends to get the characters caught up in dangerous situations. The characters who came to help him out were the Saint of Killers, Myra Hawkridge, Artemis Argo, and Veronica McLean.

The adventure itself was pretty straightforward, with the characters first of all breaking into the sub-basement of the Public Library and finding the hidden secret entrance to the network of tunnels. They had a bit of a tight squeeze, but managed to get into the tunnels before being caught by the security guard. They then followed Toynbee, his maps, and his detector down through the maze of passages to the large deposit of gold he had detected.

Now, I had initially planned for Toynbee to just send the characters down, but they seemed to assume he wanted to go with them, and I really didn’t see any reason why he shouldn’t – I had initially had some concerns about having to run him as a character, but then I decided that he would be that wonderful pulp trope, the gormless scientist baggage. It also gave me a solid rationale for having the characters follow a single path through the adventure, with the scenes I had designed, rather than having them wander and encounter them randomly or something.

The trip through the tunnels had some standard tropes: a tight squeeze at one point, a narrow crumbling bridge over a chasm, and an attack by a swarm of sewer rats. Mostly, these were just for colour, to make the expedition interesting and add a frisson of danger, but the rats were also there to make sure we had a brief, easy combat encounter for people to start remembering how the system works. We don’t play it often enough for us to have internalized the mechanics yet, but I’m hoping to change that.

Then they reached a room with large, carved gold tablets set in the walls, showing the disaster that drove the lizard people underground. They spent some time deciphering these and photographing them, and realized that the last of the tablets showed a large city being built in a vast cavern underground. This got the more scholarly among them rather excited, and they pressed on to find this lost city of lizard folk.

I had two more encounters to throw in before they found the city – one a dangerous cavern where making noise caused stalactites to drop from the ceiling (a bit of an homage to the piercers from AD&D), and an attack of giant albino rats. I decided to skip the rats, though, both because of the time and the fact that it was just another fight, albeit somewhat tougher; it didn’t actually add anything to the story. So, after they passed the stalactite cavern (thanks in part to a clever declaration by the Saint: “That was the last loose stalactite.”), the arrived at the gate to the city.

They spent some time deciphering the intricate gold and stone locks that held it shut, finally realizing that it was based on the moon phases (odd for an underground city, but I figured that memories of the surface world before the disaster would have mythic significance for the lizard people), and making a declaration about what the combination would be. They opened the gate and found a dark, vast cavern, filled with ancient buildings.

The buildings were open-walled stone pavilions, with roofs set on columns, and a few interior dividing walls. They were laid out in a manner to force the streets to wind and twist, giving the illusion that the cavern was even larger than it was. It was pitch black, with no sign of any light sources ever having been there. The characters began a careful exploration of the place, turning up a squashed gold bowl, a much-degraded bronze book, a working fountain, and deep, claw-like gouges in several of the stone surfaces.

This, of course, made them nervous. The discovery of a deep pile of bones, the earliest being mostly dust and the most recent being mainly rats, didn’t make them any more comfortable. And that’s when I sprang the monster on them.

They caught sight of it disappearing over a rooftop, and Veronica leaped up with a flashlight to see what it was. I had based the things primarily on the description of the rakoshi from the Repariman Jack novels, except I made it more naturally a quadruped, took away its eyes, and gave it an elongated, bony skull with two rows of whorled openings running up it. It used these to make a hooting, harmonic hunting call that doubled as a mental attack, doing Composure stress.

They killed it fairly quickly, and then figured out that it was just a baby. And they heard the calls of others in the distance.

From the top of the house they were on, though, they spotted a walled building with a broken door similar to the gate into the city. They headed there, intending at first to hole up and hold off the other creatures. Inside, they found more gold tablets, which revealed the story of how these things had wiped out the whole city after being found as eggs in a nearby cavern and raised as pets. The lizard folk abandoned the city, sealing it with complex locks to keep them bottled up. A small group of the lizard people stayed behind, fighting a holding action to let the rest escape, and carving the last record of the civilization.

And the characters realized how screwed they were, stuck in this building in the middle of the hunting ground of what may be hundreds of these creatures.

Myra found (declared there to be) a trap door into a tunnel that led out away from the building. The majority of the characters took that route, while the Saint of Killers ignited his sword of light and went to lead the monsters away. What followed was a chase through the dark city while being stalked by these creatures.

And I made a misjudgment, here.

See, I let the characters make Athletics checks to run, deciding that they needed to accumulate 10 shifts to make it to the gate. But I set the difficulty at Good. After the first rounds of rolls, I dropped the difficulty to Average, and that helped some, but there was a different problem with the way I had set things up that I didn’t figure out until later.

I had come up with interesting things that would happen if the characters failed: attacks by the creatures following them, getting hemmed in, stumbling and falling, losing their way, stuff like that. But I hadn’t come up with anything interesting for characters who made it to the gate to do. So a couple of characters made the gate ahead of the others, and basically sat around with nothing to do. Which made the fact that the last couple of characters were rolling crap all the more painful. In retrospect, I should have had one of the creatures trying to break out into the tunnels, or the ghost of one of the lizard folk appear to help them seal the gate, or something. Anything besides them just sitting there feeling they didn’t have anything to do.

After a bit of this, one of the players at the gate said,”It’s late. Let’s just wrap this up. They escape and we seal the gate.” And I couldn’t argue, so that’s what we did.

All in all, the game worked pretty well, but that issue with the final scene was something that I could have done without. The SotC book says, in talking about setting difficulties, to imagine success, and imagine failure. I had imagined failure, but hadn’t imagined success well enough, leaving that side of the equation empty.

Oh, well. We game and learn.

Thanks to Clint, Fera, Penny, and Tom for coming to play.

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3 Responses to The Lost Lizard People of Los Angeles!

  1. Michael says:

    Sounds like it was fun. Sorry I missed it. Stupid flu. 🙁

  2. Fred Hicks says:

    Good example of why imagining success is just as important. Imagine Failure seems like such a big thing (I feel like RPGs of the past have trained us to be success-focused), so it tends to eat up a lot of mindshare when it comes to thinking about setting up challenges… the thing to keep in mind, and I’m not always good about this either, is that the emphasis should be on Imagine Both. Because if you make failure too awesome relatively speaking, where’s the motive and reward in success?

  3. Selenio says:

    I love this kind of “urban myths”, they are always interesting to know and obviously make great story hooks for RPGs.

    I really like the way you developed the story, maybe some day I’ll borrow the idea for my group.


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