The Abomination Vaults

Last week my friends and I wrapped up a long-running game session, where we played Pathfinder Second Edition’s excellent dungeon crawl, The Abomination Vaults. When we started this adventure several years(!) ago I thought it was going to be a simple, casual, and classic adventure of heroes descending into a deep dungeon to vanquish an ancient evil. I was only partially correct.

There were several things that made this game special, and last week’s wrap-up so emotionally bittersweet.

The most prominent thing that made it special was that it was my childhood friend Dave’s first time as GM in close to twenty years. We were teenagers the last time Dave attempted to run a game, and it ended rather infamously among our circle of friends. But he gave it another try and man did he deliver.

It was great to watch his comfort levels grow in real time. I remember rather vividly the hesitation in his voice when it was time for him to speak as one of the game’s many monsters. It was clear he was self-conscious doing a squeaky little goblin voice for the first time in two decades, but we helped him through it and took what he offered. As the game drew on, he slipped more easily into the many roles a GM must take on as the heroes delve deeper into the dungeon, until he was speaking with all the venom and hatred of a campaign’s final boss as the heroes dared to challenge them.

And he pulled off a major surprise, too! He secretly commissioned Garth to draw up evil clones of our characters in a home-brewed aspect of the campaign, and when it was time to face them he revealed the long-hidden art to us all at once. We had no idea this was coming, and it’s going to go down in our history as one of the coolest gaming moments at our table.

I’m going to pat myself on the back a bit for this next part.

I don’t like playing tough, stoic characters. I pride myself on making characters who are vulnerable and scared, and show emotions other than heroic anger and righteous indignation. Things went bad for us down in the Abomination Vaults, and often, and I like to think that one of the things that made this adventure so special was the emotional element I brought when my character had numerous panic attacks, freak-outs, and other overwhelming emotional moments that brought the party together.

When several party members were slain over the course of the adventure, I feel like I did some of my best roleplaying to bring home the weight and tragedy of those events. Even better was that my friends at the table came with me on these roleplaying moments, and helped to craft scenes that everyone was involved and invested in, rather than “Mookie has the spotlight.” Roleplaying can take a back seat in dungeon crawls, and I’m going to pat myself on the back and say that I think I helped to bring some of that to this game.

Last week’s wrap-up was the epilogue to this grand adventure, where we looked back at the many mishaps and triumphs of our characters, and closed the book on a story well-enjoyed. There’s no greater feeling at a gaming table when you can reach The End and feel such grand levels of satisfaction.