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Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games
Updated: 1 week 4 days ago

Running First Edition AD&D Without Modules or Campaign Supplements

Tue, 05/19/2020 - 23:42

Just looking over these old sessions and I have to say, it really takes my breath away:

  • The Hole in the Sky
  • The Thing in the Sewer
  • The Big Score
  • The Drums of the Dog People
  • Altar of the Beast-women
  • The Pugs of Slaughter
  • The Overbearing of the Crystal Men
  • The Song of Fàgor

The excitement from that initial flash of inspiration coming to life. My attempts at adventure design blowing up in my face or collapsing in unexpected ways. One page dungeons that never got used. My mistakes in carelessly interpreting monster manual entries being revisited and then evolving into significant campaign elements. Encumbrance rules creating an awesome game scenario out of nothing. Players going in disorganized and without a plan and nearly meeting their doom for nothing. That time we stayed up until midnight because we HAD to play one more delve. That one multi-class elf character that took over the game session with his unquenchable thirst for the ludicrous. The Swoleceror spellbook that never got recovered. Oghma sitting in and showing everyone what play is like when an elite player seizes the initiative. The crescendo of a half-orc’s improvised composition conjuring an entire world.

Every session completely different from every other. Rude sketches on loose leaf paper held together by little else than random monster results, a fanatical commitment to playing by the AD&D rules as closely as possible, and the audacity and persistence of the players.

All of it emerging out of exchanges that go like this:

Players: Who the frack is this guy’s superior officer?
DM: Uh… I dunno… uh. He answers to the prince.
Players: What? That’s insane.
DM: Yeah, yeah. Sure. He totally answers directly to the prince.
Players: Okay, we go talk to the prince.
DM: (Under his breath) Oh crap.
DM: Okay, you go see Prince… uh… um…
Players: Yeah?
DM: Yeah, it’s Prince Elric.
Dan: I LOVE THIS GAME

It shouldn’t work. It can’t work. None of this makes sense. But then out of the chaos something just seems to emerge in spite of everything: Swords & Swolecery! A Game of Terrific Trollops, Glittering Gold, & Punishing Pugmen!

No other campaign would play quite like this. And yet… it is undeniably pure and unadulterated first edition AD&D.

Easily the best game ever made. Don’t settle for less!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

AD&D Session 8: The Song of Fàgor

Mon, 05/18/2020 - 23:37

So last session I’d just stolidly stood back and did nothing to frame up a situation or scenario for the players. I’d just left it entirely up to them to recall any loose threads from former sessions that they wanted to follow up on. This time I decided to try the exact opposite of that.

I waited for a lull in the conversation and then took a moment to rapidly move several things forward that had been suggested in earlier sessions:

  • There is an index card on the tavern bulletin board from Zanzel Melancthones offering a 1000 gold reward for the return of the cadaver of a crystal monster that had been brought to him previously. He offers 5000 gold for the apprehension of whatever thief presumably broke into his tower to take it.
  • There is an army of 50 Giant White Apes, 100 Apache horsemen, and several hundred orcs converging on the city of Trolopulous.
  • Fàgor (and only Fàgor) has noticed a blood red moon in the sky that nobody else seems to have seen.

We have six very different players this time. How in the world do they sort this out?

Some have this idea to go scout out what is going on with this army for the city. Others are very much enticed by the gold for the reward. The scouting missing looks to have the most support then Fàgor’s player stops everything to get more information about this red moon thing, but this turns out to be even more baffling.

The players go see the captain of the guard. The guy seems to be rather incompetent, declaring that they are a bit short on men-at-arms. The players (some of whom have served) ask who this guy reports to. Off hand, I just say the prince. They are shocked. This nudnik reports to the prince?!

Evidently some sort of common sense world building fail here. Naturally I double down. But the players want to see the prince now. And I have nothing on this guy. “The prince? Oh yeah. The prince. Prince… um… Prince Elric???” I tell them he looks like Nekron from Fire & Ice,

The players are really concerned about the fair city of Trollopulous and want to help. Prince Elric is not too concerned.. When informed of the approaching army, he declares that greatest treasure of the city is its trollops. He proposes holing up with them in his tower for a few days and then maybe summoning some extra-planar entities if things look like they’re getting out of hand.

The players decide to go north into the jungles. The set out after picking out their mules and war horses. I immediately get a random encounter of 20+ orcs. Obviously a detachment from the coming army. Maybe some kind of rearguard or something. Spies? Fàgor and Maubert ride straight up to them while the rest of the party keeps going on. Maubert scolds them for being out of position and rudely directs them to go a few miles west. They buy it and fall all over themselves to get going.

The players camp out on the jungles edge. At some point, Fàgor calls the other player characters “faggots”, explaining the “fag” is of course orcish for human. (Though his name means “great hero” in orcish, it transliterates as “human killer.”) In the night these four lions wake everybody up. Next day the ranger notices one trailing them. He send a couple arrows at it but misses and then hits a tree it was crouching behind. It slinks off with a growl.

The players get to the huge ruined pile in the jungle. Fàgor wants to go up the rope that the party had left behind, but when he pulls on the rope it nearly brings a precariously balanced boulder down right on top of him. They want to work out a way to get their horses into the ruins. The players find a place in the ruins where they can house their horses then get ready to go into the temple. (They don’t have any men-at-arms or henchmen with them this time for some reason.)

The players head in and cut left. They find a door and inside are jail cells with skeletons in them Fàgor uses his pike to carefully retrieve a golden belt buckle from one of the skeletons without opening up the cells. The players then continue in the maze of twisty passages, going in a complete circle. They head back in down another path and come to a hallway with five seven foot tall statues, each with twelve wings.

The ranger goes to investigate these things and then whoosh! He disappears. One by one the players go investigate, trying different things. The all disappear one after another with a big whooshing sound. Fàgor I think throws a rope near the statues and then pisses on it, maybe tries repositioning the wings. Then he steps toward the statues and disappears with a whoosh. The paladin was last. He slips to the end of the passage along the sides and discerns a circle in the floor. He considers a few different things but ends up jumping in to see what happens.

They have all ended up in this weird strobe-light filled, screeching pulse place. The players can’t think of anything to do except move in a random direction. They arrive at some sort of crystal lattice that is growing out of nothing. They find at the top of it a platform with a organ on it. Somebody goes up to it and pulls out some of the stops, hits a key or two. Then somebody else hits the lowest foot pedal on the organ and the platform suddenly starts to tip over as the crystal lattice disintegrates.

Fàgor then starts playing the organ, a soothing, peaceful tune in a Lydan mode. The pulsing cacophony ceases and is replaced with clouds and some kind of kudzu type plant begins to grow from every direction. Fàgor then modulates into a substantially different sort of song. Counterpoint is involved. It all culminates into a legitimately intricate composition. As it develops, a red sandstone structure grows around the players which then gradually spawns architectural complexity, furniture, stain glass windows. When the song concludes, they are in some sort of alien cathedral.

The players consider looting the place but decide not to as there’s nothing demonic about the artwork. They go outside and see a world full of gigantic mushrooms. They explore a ways, concerned that they might inhale dangerous spoors. They find a stream of crystal clear water that leads to a pool. The players don’t want to drink it. They fill a waterskin with it.

They head back to the cathedral and decide that they want to take a mushroom cutting before they bail out. As soon as they slice into one, mushroom figures in many directions start moving towards the players. Everyone except one person fails their open door check. They all run inside, find a circle on the floor and all dive into it. They appear back at the temple, find their way back to where they housed their horses, and then camp for the night, their sleep interrupted by both the howling of wolves and the roar of lions.

Hans Franzen the Swoleceror (2 hits, Burning hands, Jump, Message, Read Magic) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6a, 6b, and 8] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 + 0 = 2012

Brother Pain the Acolyte [Delve 3b, 7, and 8] XP: 351 + 54 + 255 + 0= 660

Torin the Runner (7 hits) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 6b, 7, and 8] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 + 255 + 0 = [Frozen at 2250 until he levels!]

Arthur the Gallant (7 hits) [Delves 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6a, 6b, 7, and 8] XP: 122 + 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 + 255 + 0 = 2389

Fàgor — (12 hits) Half-Orc Fighter [Delve 7 and 8] 255 + 0 = 255 (His name means “astonishing hero” in orcish. For real!)

Malbert the Veteran (9 hits) [Delves 2, 3a, 3b, and 8] XP: 122 + 753 + 351 + 0 = 1226

Experience and treasure: Nothing! (They’ll get something for the gold belt buckle when they go back to Trollopulous, maybe.)

Time:

Day 1: The Hole in the Sky

Day 2: The Thing in the Sewer

Day 7: The Big Score part I

Day 8: The Big Score part II

(Day 9-14 — player characters all carousing¹; Keebler Khan fully recovered) <—- I day of real world time = one day of game time!)

Day 15: The Drums of the Dog People

(Day 16-21: More carousing, fasting, panhandling.)

Day 22-25: Altar of the Beast-women

(Day 26-31: Resting)

Day 32-33: The Pugs of Slaughter

(Day 34-39: Resting)

Day 40: The Overbearing of the Crystal Men

(Day 41-46: Resting)

Days 47-48: The Song of Fàgor

The graveyard:

Dorkorus — Half-elf fighter/magic-user/thief — Half brother to Keebler Khan, talked with a lisp! Killed by a pug-man in the Trolopulous mega-dungeon.

Dairage — Elf fighter/magic-user — Killed with his shield spell one, valiantly taking down the leader of the pug-men so that the party could have a chance to escape certain death!

9 Hapless men-at-arms!

 

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

AD&D Session 7: The Overbearing of the Crystal Men

Sat, 05/09/2020 - 01:01

Session six is about where I normally reach creative exhaustion with an rpg campaign. The desire to try some other obscure system is one threat that must be overcome. One or two players being on the low energy side could easily sap my will to continue at this point. But AD&D is great. Everyone knows what it is. The campaign can easily handle new people coming and going, sure. But I’ve got to say, it sure seems like people really want to play this. None of us has any clue how any given session will go. And people just really want to go back in. It’s a real enthusiasm that is very hard to say no to.

I am still a bit worn down from the futility of attempting to plan for a session. My brilliant campaign idea went out the window the first session. My lovingly made one page dungeons have sat unused for weeks as the players stomp through my ridiculous campaign world doing random stuff. What can you do in such a circumstance? Oh, that’s obvious!

I open up the session with a flat, “what do you do?” Somebody points out that they have a lot of options. They can go back to the ruins in the jungle that are two days journey to the north. They can check out whatever is going on in the south where a group of large creatures headed some weeks back. They can tackle the dogmen yet again. They can explore the sinkhole that they discovered previously. And they can go investigate the weird laughter that they heard in the northeast section of the sewers. Five adventure scenarios to choose from.

The players decide to go after the dogmen. It’s been seven days since their last foray into the dungeons, though. So there’s no telling what’s going on down there. I make up a quick D12 table with the three outcomes I think are most likely– a 1-3 option, a 4-7 option, and a 5-12 option. I get a twelve and imagine in my head what has happened during the week. The AD&D rule of having one game day pass for each real day creates pressure for the players to complete objectives while they have the chance. Opportunities can just evaporate due to inaction! Which is sorta where we ended up this time. The hostages were all dead by now, for instance. The value of the haul is thousands of gold less and the chance of having grateful first level adventurers joining the party’s retinue is off the table. Ya snooze, ya lose!

The party has mass quantities of flaming oil this time. The had trouble deciding how to carry it all. They spend a lot of time working out the ideal marking order for the sewer section where they can go three abreast. They find a door that they forgot about and try to open it. I dutifully check for wandering monsters. Somebody made a map and explained where they were, though. So they continue on toward the lair of the pug-men.

They send the half-orc Fàgor up to check things out and he doesn’t see anything with his heat vision. The party rolls up to the entrance and see that the pit is wide open. They concoct a scheme to cry out as if they just fell in so that the pug-men will come investigate. They ham it up and I check for wandering monsters– a one! I check my tables and see what investigates.

The party is surprised to have something come up on their six in all this. Before they can really react, the cleric back there took some damage and the two remaining men-at-arms got dropped– the torch in the back goes out! The players wail away on these things and I tell them they are hard. Hitting them makes a clanging sound.

As things evolve, there are two competing plans. One is to throw flaming oil onto the bodies of the two men-at-arms who were each carrying five vials of the stuff. The other is to fall back a bit and (somehow that I can’t really imagine) throw the monsters into the pit. This stops the game as one of the players suggests that we use the grappling rules on page seventy-two. I have never played these things in anger– I’ve never even heard of someone playing these things in anger. But somehow we ended up on the Overbearing Table where it turned out to be rather easy to knock an opponent to his knees and/or knock them flat. There is not much defense for this except to be big and win initiative.

Anyway, I let the player responsible for this narrate it from his perspective, one tweet at a time:

  • Real time game report. The thread: I have spent 48 minutes making sure none of the players are culturally sensitive.
  • We have purchased 30 oil flasks and are determined to kill Dog men. Furries beware.
  • We are hunting the Dog Men in their home. We believe they may be holding men captive in their lair. Which them being furries can mean only one thing: Sodomy.
  • We are now fighting a group of Dog Men. We set a trap for them but some snuck up from behind like the perfidious snakes they are. The Henchmen are actually earning their pay.
  • TWO HENCHMAN DOWN TORCHES DROPPED ON BACK RANK. CHAOS NOW REIGNS SUPREME.
  • My character Funk holds the front with the cleric. The rear guard are now taking on the dog men and are missing. Darkness is rising, fear grows. DM: “These things are hard.” Oh snaps….
  • These are not dogmen. These are something made of stone. The darkness has deceived us!
  • CRYSTAL MONSTERS IN THE SEWERS BEFORE THE DOGMEN CALL THE PRESIDENT!
  • We are luring them towards us with a pit in front of us. We are bringing them to death, flaming oil flasks being sent. Destruction everywhere. The half orc was hit but his momma hit him harder in grade school.
  • DM THROWS UP HIS HANDS HE CANT HANDLE THE ART OF TERRY MOTHER F’ING FUNK!!!
  • FUNK THROWS A CRYSTAL BOI INTO THE PIT OIL FLASK GOES IN HE GETS BAPTIZED BY FREEDOM!!!! OTHER TWO ARE ON THEIR KNEES TRYING NOT TO GET SOME FREEDOM TOO!
  • CRYSTAL BOI DEAD FUNK IS UNSTOPPABLE!
  • ANOTHER CRYSTAL BOI TOSSED IN THE PIT BY FUNK THE FUNKER CANNOT BE STOPPED NO ONE IN THE HISTORY OF A D&D IS MORE POWERFUL!
  • ROASTING MY IRON RATION OVER THE FLAMING CRYSTAL BOIS SINGING “WHO IS IRELAND’S ENEMY”
  • CRYSTAL BOIS ARE ALL DEAD DM FRUSTRATED I’M UNSTOPPABLE AS USUAL.
  • They are healing the half orc. We voted to only heal half of him.
  • SESSION DONE Lesson for the day is dont trust mute on your mic when talking to your wife. If they DM rolls heavy on you bust out obscure rules and wreck his evening. Godspeed you beautiful animals.

One of the men-at-arms turned out to still be alive, lying in a pool of filth and flammable oil. He is the last one of ten! During the fighting I needed to roll the paladin’s henchman Gilbert’s strength. He got a 17!

The players go into the party room were they fought dog men before. They are all gone. Man, that fight would have been scary if the crystal men were blocking the exit and the dog men were coming out of their caves from the other direction. Some day!!

The players search the party room and Fàgor finds this hidden recess in the wall. There is a pouch in there, but he won’t reach his hand inside. He takes a spear and wedges it out, standing such that any flaming jets of acid shooting out of the wall. The bag falls on the floor. He carefully dumps out its contents attempting to avoid inhaling any strange dust that might be in it. Inside is a bunch of gems.

Two players gotta leave, so their characters escort the surviving man-at-arms to safety, healing everyone else before they leave.

The players explore the other two rooms of the dogmen lair. One is full of skinns and rags. The other has shackles, chains, and an iron maiden. They open it up and there is a body inside that had been there for a week. (I check to see if it is a Swolecerer clutching a spellbook… the dice say no!)

The remaining party heads west in the sewer for about half an hour. They get bored and come back to the door they found earlier. They try to open it. Another wandering monster turns up, this time it’s (rolls dice) some kind of slime that (rolls dice) lands on top of the paladin. One of the players gets really excited about this, pausing the came to consult the Player Handbook. What color is it, he wants to know. I am loath to just say “green”, but finally I tell him. He says the paladin can just cure disease to get rid of the thing. I’m incredulous, but consult the Monster Manual and sure enough… it all checks out. Three combat rounds would have been the end to the paladin’s plate mail, but under these circumstances, he just comes out with a bit of a polish.

Party drops a half-naked Brother Pain down into the sinkhole. He notes two tight passages, one to the northwest and the other to the southwest. The players mull it over and decide that exploring the second level of the dungeon at close to half strength is not a good idea. Nobody bothers them as they head back to Trollopulous.

Aulis Martel the Acolyte (8 hits) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6a, and 7] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 255 => [Frozen at 1500 until he levels!]

Brother Pain the Acolyte [Delve 3b and 7] XP: 351 + 54 + 255= 660

Torin the Runner (7 hits) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 6b, and 7] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 + 255 = [Frozen at 2250 until he levels!]

Arthur the Gallant (7 hits) [Delves 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6a, 6b, and 7] XP: 122 + 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 + 255 = 2389

Gregg the Acolyte (10 hits) [Delves 4, 5, and 7] XP: 54 + 766 + 255 =1075

Fàgor — (12 hits) Half-Orc Fighter [Delve 7] 255 (His name means “astonishing hero” in orcish. For real!)

Funk — FIghter — Also worships Issek (at best a saint) [Delve 7] 255

Gilbert (Strength 17) and Sullivan: [Delves 2, 4, 6a, 6b, and 7] (122 + 54 + 8 + 80 + 255) / 2 = 259

One shell-shocked man-at-arms: — (7 hits) [Delves 6a, 6b, and 7] (8 + 80 + 255) / 2 = 171

Experience: 804 XP for killing monsters. Gems worth 1000 + 5 + 50 + 50 + 500 + 50 + 90 = 1745 gold pieces value. Total XP is 2549 divided 10 ways.

Time:

Day 1: The Hole in the Sky

Day 2: The Thing in the Sewer

Day 7: The Big Score part I

Day 8: The Big Score part II

(Day 9-14 — player characters all carousing¹; Keebler Khan fully recovered) <—- I day of real world time = one day of game time!)

Day 15: The Drums of the Dog People

(Day 16-21: More carousing, fasting, panhandling.)

Day 22-25: Altar of the Beast-women

(Day 26-31: Resting)

Day 32-33: The Pugs of Slaughter

(Day 34-39: Resting)

Day 40: The Overbearing of the Crystal Men

The graveyard:

Dorkorus — Half-elf fighter/magic-user/thief — Half brother to Keebler Khan, talked with a lisp! Killed by a pug-man in the Trolopulous mega-dungeon.

Dairage — Elf fighter/magic-user — Killed with his shield spell one, valiantly taking down the leader of the pug-men so that the party could have a chance to escape certain death!

9 Hapless men-at-arms!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Thoughts on Running an AD&D Campaign

Sun, 05/03/2020 - 13:07

So I am six sessions into an AD&D campaign with no modules, no resources beyond the core rules and the monster books. Normally this is a crisis point in a campaign. If I am running something that isn’t D&D, I am generally burned out from the effort required to keep things going. AD&D is not like that! It has many qualities that bring energy into the system. An AD&D campaign that gets over the initial hump has a momentum of its own. It is far less effort to keep it going than it is to go do practically anything else. The act of allowing the AD&D rules to set the baseline structure combined with a willingness to allow play to go where it must opens up a deep well of inspiration.

For those not following the campaign play by play, here are a list of differences between AD&D and B/X:

  • Magic is way more interesting. Tons of off the wall spells get used. Having to find magic the AD&D way creates one of the best incentives to adventure ever made. Success here– finding even two or three new first level spells– can fundamentally change the nature of the game and the balance of power between the first level classes. Exciting!
  • With three big books of monsters instead of a “pure” edited down list of archetypes, the players run into something they’ve never seen before almost every session. Everyone knows the original monster manual monsters by heart and they can recognize the B/X monsters especially with minimal description. AD&D monsters are all over the place, and because they were created before anything was really systematized, they have big broad-brush features that eat standard dungeon operating procedures for breakfast. Weird is good!
  • The “down and critically injured at exactly zero hit points” rule takes out some of B/X’s arbitrary death, gives one more thing for players to consider doing when in the heat of battle, and presents a real problem when the players have to figure out a way to evacuate someone from the dungeon when monsters threaten to overwhelm the slow moving party. Also, having a particular character being out of play for a week of game time allows a player to continue attempting to level their main PC while giving them the chance to sample something completely different.
  • The crazy rich range of player characters can completely change the tenor of the party in an instant. A group with an assassin will play completely differently from one with a paladin. The presence of a ranger or a half elven fighter/magic-user/thief can have wild effects on the behavior of the party as a whole. The nature of the game seems to change faster than the players can master it, keeping things surprising, weird, and fresh where B/X might turn into a grind.
  • Specifically, unbalanced classes that warp and stress common assumptions about the rules do something unique to the game. ACKS, for instance, has many variant classes. The assassin and the priestess classes there were sampled, found to be uncompelling, and then passed over. AD&D eschews balance, even coherence in favor of over the top archetypes. This is not a problem to be solved but rather a phenomenon to be leveraged– it makes everything more dynamic, less static. If attribute methods can limit the frequency of the weird stuff sufficiently (and one-in-nine chance of a paladin seems just about right) then this is a potent spice for exciting gameplay.
  • The easy access to healing at first level is balanced by the mind-blowing amount of gold required to pay training costs. Making it to second level– anyone making it to second level– is something that can take two or even three times as long. Anyone that makes it there will be out of play for a couple weeks of game time for training, again opening things up to allow for the player to try out a completely new character type.
  • The “one real world day corresponds to one game day” rule is the one thing that ties all of this together. I am strongly tempted to run more than one session a week when a time-dependent opportunity emerges in play. Players haven’t suggested this, but I suspect that two competing groups with some overlap between players would be insane. (One would probably cohere around the paladin, the good group… the other would be the circus freaks.) What I have seen at the table is that there is an extra incentive to do “just one more delve” when the players come back with no treasure. They see an opportunity, they fear it won’t be there next week, they know a little more than they did before, they think they can just go get it, they’ve underestimated how much real time it will take to do this because time just flies while you’re playing this game– and so they go back into the dungeon when other groups are tempted to call it a night. Gaming gold, y’all!

In summary, AD&D is objectively better than every other incarnation of the D&D game system.

No one understood what in the heck OD&D was, what it ought to be, what it could be. (Ken St. Andre and Steve Jackson had entirely reasonable responses to early D&D– ie, actually go design a game that people can understand.) Meanwhile, Gary Gygax had certainly discovered something that could keep people coming back to his house nightly for years on end.

Holmes and Moldvay only saw parts of this. What they saw and what they expressed about the game was certainly good. But Gygax knew something that they didn’t. And proven gaming wisdom that can allow you to recreate the wonder and excitement of his home campaign is baked into the AD&D rules.

All you have to do is let it work for you!

Just quit trying to fix it. The stuff you think is obviously broken all solves gaming problems you don’t even know you have.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

AD&D Session 6: The Pugs of Slaughter

Sun, 05/03/2020 - 00:03

This session, I had to get a new recruit up to speed. Couldn’t help but notice that a summation of the campaign events that mean so much to me just come across as noise. But I have to sketch out the game space enough that people can make decisions even when they don’t want to know the details.

New guy wants to play an elf fighter/magic-user. He has no idea how spell selection works in AD&D and as he rolls up his starting spells he innocently asks if he starts with Read Magic. I jump in immediately with “OBVIOUSLY you start with Read Magic. Seriously what kind of adventure game is going to start you with spells but not give you Read Magic. Inconceivable!” Not sure if he got the joke.

Anyways, I briefly attempt to explain to the guys that there are some people who are really good at D&D and that most are not. I have seen a wide range of play ability and this group is… average. With that as a preamble I tell them that due to their recent successes (and also due to the DM getting the death dial rule wrong), other parties of adventurers have started forming, following their group’s example. One party went into the sewers and got completely wrecked. It’s possible that some were taken hostage. They were all saving up gold so they can level. Guy at the tavern says that they will gladly fork it over if they are rescued. And there may even be a spell book with three swoleceror spells in it if the magic user didn’t make it. Could be great!

Now, I hasten to interject that I am not trying to steer the players one way or the other. They are free to do anything, go anywhere. But I am certainly not trying to convince them to take on the sort of risk that could get them all killed. The players did not debate this at all. The paladin used is detect evil on this thief to confirm that this wasn’t some kind of ruse.

I’d told the players that there were ten men-at-arms willing to go in on this one due to the party’s reputation and the lure of large amounts of gold. We consulted the rules on this and determined that they would cost 1 gp a month. Compared to the cost of plate armor and training fees, this was of course nothing. Life is cheap in AD&D! (If I was Alexander Macris, I could tell you how many of these guys would be available in the fair city of Trollopulous. But I am not!)

The party decides that entering at a different location is a good idea. They go up the northeast of their entrance and head into the sewers. Before they go in, they notice a sinister figure that fades in into the city when they catch him observing them. Down in the sewers, they hear maniacal laughter to the east. The players ignore all this and head west.

After a couple hours of slogging in the much, they hear fluting sounds. The players immediately thing “At the Mountains of Madness”, but before they could decide what to do, these green balls with suction cup tubes pointing in every direction land right in the middle of their men-at-arms. They are easily beat down but one man-at-arms takes some damage. The cleric heals him and the players decide to turn back.

Somehow they end up going north. At this point I have no idea where they are trying to go or what they are trying to do. Then these howling wild men crash into them, hooting and hollering in a most unsettling way. The men-at-arms are shaken and fall back a bit. The cleric uses Command on one of them to cause one of them to charge. He is cut down by the bestial, howling wild men.

At this point the men-at-arms completely break. The players finish off the wild men and are disappointed that they don’t have any treasure. They make a halfhearted effort to look for a lair, but then turn back. During the fighting the party’s stalwart cleric happened to take enough damage that he dropped to exactly zero hit points. The paladin healed up to one hit point and the players evacuated him out of the dungeon and back to the city.

Upon returning to the tavern, they players are shocked to find the nine surviving men-at-arms ingratiating themselves to various wanton wenches with tales of their daring exploits in the sewers below Trollopulous. The players are furious and rebuke them in front of everyone, brandishing their blood and muck-covered boots with pride as they instruct everyone in the extents of their audacity.

Three hours of game time has elapsed by this point and I suggest that the players can take another stab at this if they wish. Combing back from the dungeon empty handed galls them, so they readily assent.

The cleric’s player rolls up his replacement– a half-elf Fighter/Magic-User/Thief, half-brother to Keebler Khan. (Their mom is very prolific.) The cleric had very much walked the line throughout the campaign, frequently admonishing the other players to be brave, pursue good, and turn away from trollops in order to pursue higher things. Switching him over to a half-elf changed the tenor of the session 180 degrees. In a lispy voice, no innuendo was off the table as this one player took and held the notorious rpg-spotlight for the rest of the night.

Back in the sewers with a lisping charisma-18 half-elf leading the nine men-at-arms into the depths. The players come across a door. Ten attempts later it is open and they find an oil-scorched room with a sinkhole in it. The half-elf is down it in a moment and discovers a cave complex below. He was all set to explore it and/or bring everyone else down with him, but then the ranger recalled to everyone that they were on a mission. Later!

An hour of trudging though the sewage brings the players to a new location. The elf and the half-elf go forward to spy things out. They see heat signatures and go for surprise. I think they get two segments of surprise, dropping one pug-man with darts and arrows. The elfs high tail it back to the main body. The half-elf dives under the legs of five men-at-arms, looking up the skirts of their leather armor as he dives to the middle ranks, because of course he does. He yells words of encouragement to them as the front line meets with the guards. With a paladin in front and a second rank of spearmen backing him up, the pug-men are decimated in the exchange after taking a couple of flaming oil canisters to the face.

Two surviving dog men flee inside of a cave. The party pursues and then three men-at-arms fall into a pit. They can see three different passages from there. The party takes out the two fleeing pug-men with ranged weapons and the half-elf scouts out the room the pug-men were going to. He blunders in the aftermath of an epic pug-man pow wow and loses 5 segments to surprise, nearly getting killed in the process.

The rest of the party then goes into the room and the party takes on about 14 pug-men as the come back from an incredible stupor. It’s total chaos. Pretty soon, men-at-arms are dropping like flies. The tides of battle turn against the pcs, in part due to ill-timed losses on initiative. In a last ditched effort, the players target everything they have on the leader in the hopes of causing the monsters to fail a morale check. The elf wades in with his shield spell on and takes him down, but dies in the process along with the half-elf and eight men-at-arms. But the pug-men flee the room and head down the left unexplored passage.

The players don’t even search for treasure but haul every human body out of the room in order to give them a Christian burial. They make it back to the sewers when they hear drumming sounds. The players refuse to ditch the bodies of the dead, but with 30+ vials of flaming on them, create a sufficient blaze to cover their escape, narrowly making it out of the dungeons alive.

Only two men-at-arms were still alive at the end. The paladin’s henchman Sullivan had dropped to zero hit-points and was recovered.

So much treasure on the line here and not one gold piece came out of the dungeon this time! Many discussions about just why it is that players couldn’t pull this off. Could you have managed it in their place? Write your fool-proof plan in the comments!

Characters in this game:

Arthur the Gallant (7 hits) [Delves 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6a, and 6b] XP: 122 + 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 = 2134

Hans Franzen the Swoleceror (2 hits, Burning hands, Jump, Message, Read Magic) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6a, and 6b] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 = 2012

Torin the Runner (7 hits) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, and 6b] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 = 2012

Aulis Martel the Acolyte (8 hits) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, and  6a] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 => [Frozen at 1500 until he levels!]

Gilbert and Sullivan: [Delves 2, 4, 6a, and 6b] (122 + 54 + 8 + 80) / 2 = 132

Two men-at-arms: [Delves 6a and 6b] (8 + 80) / 2 = 44

Note: These XP totals do not include any bonuses due to high prime requisites.

Experience and treasure:

No treasure! Delve 6a nets 139 XP divided 16 ways for 8 xp each. Delve 6b nets 566 XP divided 7 ways for 80 XP each.

Time:

Day 1: The Hole in the Sky

Day 2: The Thing in the Sewer

Day 7: The Big Score part I

Day 8: The Big Score part II

(Day 9-14 — player characters all carousing¹; Keebler Khan fully recovered) <—- I day of real world time = one day of game time!)

Day 15: The Drums of the Dog People

(Day 16-21: More carousing, fasting, panhandling.)

Day 22-25: Altar of the Beast-women

(Day 26-31: Resting)

Day 32-33: The Pugs of Slaughter

The graveyard:

Dorkorus — Half-elf fighter/magic-user/thief — Half brother to Keebler Khan, talked with a lisp! Killed by a pug-man in the Trolopulous mega-dungeon.

Dairage — Elf fighter/magic-user — Killed with his shield spell one, valiantly taking down the leader of the pug-men so that the party could have a chance to escape certain death!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The AD&D Death Dial

Sun, 04/26/2020 - 01:00

After four sessions in a row with no player character deaths, something just did not seem right. And I am not talking about the players’ mysterious capability to roll high whenever I ask for a save versus poison and I can’t watch them roll, either!

In a real D&D game, you are typically going to have one or two character deaths every couple sessions. Zero deaths after four sessions is pretty nuts. That sure makes it seem like that AD&D is completely pathetic when compared to Moldvay Basic! What’s going on here?

Well, turns out that if you thought that AD&D was a game where ALL the player characters could drop down to -10 hit points and stay in the game, you’ve got it all wrong:

Notice that the “drop to -10” rule only applies to characters that were dropped to zero hit points exactly. That -10 rule is really more of a clock that can run out if the combat the players are in starts to drag out. Note that Gygax gives Dungeon Masters latitude to allow this special case to be extended to include hits that drop characters down to the -1 to -3 range.

So if you want to dial back the meat-grinder you get in the early levels of D&D, crank this setting up to -3. If you’d like a game where player characters die at rates comparable to those in #BasicLevel games, then leave it at zero!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

AD&D Session 5: Altar of the Beast-women

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 01:22

In the intervening week since last session I revisited my sewer dungeon and touched it up a bit. This mostly consisted of deciding what treasure was well and the status and posture of what was guarding it. The players were quite alarmed by the dog men’s incremental improvement in coordination and tactics.last time and suggested the possibility of coming in through a different entrance in order to be less predictable, so nailing down what the sewers were like in every direction seemed like a sound use of prep time.

Game night arrives and (per Gygax’s direction) we no have a full week of game time to catch up on. This is a truly stellar rule as the monster’s have a chance to lick their wounds, injured players have time to recuperate, and players have have a chance to attend to all the stuff they don’t do when they’re own adventures. If you don’t play the “one real day = one game day” rule, then the focus of play becomes entirely and ONLY about the adventure. Flip that one switch and the campaign gains a chance to breath, everything has a chance to grow organically.

The party’s cleric that serves the hilarious proto-god Issek is, for example, spending his off time begging on The Street of the Gods. (He put a few coppers in the tin in order to make people think people are giving.) The paladin meanwhile spent the entire week praying and fasting. (When asked which the holy symbol of his faith was he immediately replied that it was a cross. Good man!) Everyone else was presumably chasing trollops.

Word on the street is that your mom is a changeling.

The ranger was a special case, though. I had a rumor I’d been sitting on for weeks because no one would talk to my NPC ranger in the tavern. (If you knew what sort of humiliations they’ve endured at the hands of new school DM’s that have stripped them utterly of any kind of agency, you would grasp how this sort of thing can happen.) Then last week, the PC ranger was wanting to buy a horse. Inspiration: why not let the player be that guy that finds out stuff? PROBLEMS SOLVED! Even better, the fact that the players literally have the reigns of the campaign shifted even further into their control. That’s how you win are rpgs right there, y’all!

One other thing we clarified here was that Keebler Khan’s mom is not part of anything like some sort of broader elf culture. There’s just not that much in the way of any kind of demi-humans in the realm. Occasionally a human child is replaced by what people believe to be changelings. Many of these freakish children end up abandoned, consumed by the streets of Trollopulous. Pretty sad! Not a whole lot of perks for the odd demi-human freak in this world.

Anyways, I start the game with the ranger’s player’s scouting run. He suspects the dog men are coming and going to the city from some other entrance. I tell him he sees the sewage pass out of the city into a swamp to the west, but that it’s covered with metal bars. The players want to know about other entrances into the sewers besides that and I say that there are other manhole covers to the west, the south and the northeast– kind of randomly, really. Almost as if the city were randomly built on top of something else.

I ask the ranger what else he sees on his scouting, hoping he would improvise some random details I could incorporate into the game. No such luck! Turns out nobody knows anything about the world outside the sewers. I tell them there are jungles to the north, which surprises them. There are wild men to the south, a sea to the southeast, and mountains to the southwest.

I tell them the ranger came across some tracks heading south. Maybe 20, 30, 40 (?) creatures… big…. Some of the players want to follow them. Others say that they are afraid to go back and tangle with the dog men. Why would they tangle with something bigger and more numerous? The players debate a while and finally decide they want go find where the tracks came from.

This is of course in a place where I have spent next to no time prepping. I surreptitiously roll on a random table in the back of the Fiend Folio while the players start planning their excursion and shopping for mules, pith helmets, etc. They travel a day to the jungle’s edge and we stop to double check that this is even according the rules. It all comes down to how much it’s rained in the past week. Like how many hours even.

Anyway, I rule that with the ranger’s help they can follow this trail. They make it to these cyclopean ruins at about five o’clock in the evening on the second game day of the session. They’re at a big outer wall. There’s places where it’s fallen in. Up above they can see a temple in amid the huge ruined pile. The paladin suggests tying the mules to the wall so that they can go up and investigate.

As the party nears the temple, they hear the sound of drumming. Inside there is a naked woman on the alter. She is surrounded by ape-men. One of them is about to sacrifice her. The party attacks with ranged weapons and takes out the guy with the knife. The ranger rushes in Errol Flynn style but there is an earthquake the rest of the party is blocked off from him.

The other players decide to disbelieve the illusion. Three of them walk through the rubble and inside the temple. Inside, everything has changed. There are two beast-women inside, each with the body of a lion and the torso, arms, and head of a woman. There is a fight and gradually the players elect to retreat back through the illusory rubble.

Moments later it dissipates and they see everything’s changed again. They hear screams for help from a passage beyond the alter, but can’t tell whether it is from the left way or the right. One of the clerics immediately declares that he is pushing the alter, because there is always a secret passage underneath them. It budges and there is a staircase down. Keebler Kahn leads the way with his predator-vision. There is one beast-woman down there with the ranger! The party rolls in and the paladin finishes her off with an epic blow while the ranger protests.

The players collect 5000 electrum from the scene, camp in the vicinity, and then head back to Trolopulous for a well earned rest.

I was thinking that one of the clerics would have enough experience to level after this game, but double checking the rules this long heralded event is going to have to be postponed. The cleric’s experience point total is frozen until he can come up with enough gold– 1875 piece– to pay for his training!

He doesn’t even have a third of the necessary funds.

This game is unreal!

Keebler Khan was knocked down to -2 hit points again. With two clerics and a paladin in the party, there was little chance of this being life-threatening. With the exception of the initial total party kill, there have been no player character deaths even with  several saves versus poison having to be made. While AD&D is absolutely punishing with its training requirements for leveling, the negative hit point rule combined with the large amount of healing spells make the player characters practically indestructible when compared to their B/X counterparts.

Still, the ranger very nearly didn’t make it out of this one!

Characters in this game:

Arthur the Gallant (7 hits) [Delves 2, 3a, 3b, 4, and 5] XP: 122 + 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 = 2046

Hans Franzen the Swoleceror (2 hits, Burning hands, Jump, Message, Read Magic) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, and 5] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 = 1924

Torin the Runner (7 hits) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, and 5] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 = 1924

Aulis Martel the Acolyte (8 hits) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4 and 5] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 => [Frozen at 1500 until he levels!]

Keebler Khan the Veteran/Prestidigitator (5 hits, Charm Person, Spider Climb, Write, Read Magic) [Delve 3a and 5] XP: 753 + 766 = 1519

Gregg the Acolyte (10 hits) [Delves 4 and 5] XP: 54 + 766 = 820

Note: These XP totals do not include any bonuses due to high prime requisites.

Experience and treasure:

2096 XP for killing monsters plus 5000 electrum gives a total of 4596 XP divided six ways for 766 each!

Time:

Day 1: The Hole in the Sky

Day 2: The Thing in the Sewer

Day 7: The Big Score part I

Day 8: The Big Score part II

(Day 9-14 — player characters all carousing¹; Keebler Khan fully recovered) <—- I day of real world time = one day of game time!)

Day 15: The Drums of the Dog People

(Day 16-21: More carousing, fasting, panhandling.)

Day 22-25: Altar of the Beast-women

 

 

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

AD&D Session 4: The Drums of the Dog People

Sat, 04/18/2020 - 02:10

The past week saw me feverishly working up one page dungeons for the game, agonizing over them, and then wishing I had dozens of them on hand. I am convinced that seriously preparing an actual mega-dungeon will substantially impact to quality of the game. On the other hand, I conjecture that a certain amount of actual play will also prove invaluable to that creation process. We’ll see how it goes until then.

Every session has been crazy different so far. Total party kill the first session. Something very close to a total party kill the second session. Maybe an overly generous treasure haul during the third. Some of it was very inspired gaming. Good times! Good enough that my campaign seems to live in its own shadow.

So what shook out of the game this time?

The game opens up with the ranger asking about how much a horse cost. I’d put him off last time and then never looked it up! I put him off again and then digressed into an explanation of Gygaxian timekeeping. Everyone knows Gygax told us plainly that “YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.” Long time B/X DM’s like myself failed to grasp that he elaborated on this principle so far as to insist that a game day passes for each real day that elapses between sessions. If you want to know why people were so keen on playing D&D back in the day several nights a week, this is the rule that helped make it happen!

There are more digressions and I keep trying to bring the subject back around to all the great rumors and adventure hooks I’ve got prepped back at the cavern. Time and again I am derailed from this with some question of esoterica related to how I run the came or what exactly a particular player character’s abilities. Or how XP is divided up. Or just what each character’s take was last time and why.

Finally I get to the part that I’m so excited about. I describe who is in the tavern and who isn’t. I can’t wait to see what sort of character interactions emerge from this just like in the bad old days of session one and two which I now fondly recall. I establish the scene in about thirty seconds, but it seems like an eternity. The players then ask if they can get ten men-at-arms to come with them. We then consult the rule books because we remember something somewhere about the paladin not being able to have henchmen or something and before we can figure that out, I just say that Gilbert and Sullivan are really jealous about the big treasure haul they got last time and so now they want to come back. The paladin offered them 80 gp each and the deal was done.

The players were completely uninterested in the tavern and the wider world. Why would they be? The already know where the dungeon is. They want to go back and get more treasure. I am super excited about my box text and I try to read it several times, but there is more planning to deal with. Finally I get to say it, it’s totally my favorite part, but it’s obvious a simple “okay you’re at the dungeon” would have sufficed.

The players go in and splash through the sewers. But they don’t have the mapper with them from the first few sessions. (Maubert has met a trollop who wants to move to the country and use his money to start a business selling high end organic herbal beauty products.) They have no idea where anything was or where they had been before or where they actually wanted to go or anything. This one detail somehow got lost in all the planning.

The party went through one intersection in the sewers and then another. They argue about which way they might have gone before and end up deciding to keep going north past the second intersection. They then go a fairly long ways, expecting maybe a third intersection. But it is a long time coming, which is rather confusing. Then they hear the sound of a drum and they are not quite sure which direction it is in.

They elect to keep going. They come to some webs, which they burn up. They come to some more which has the shrunken body of strumpet webbed up into the ceiling. They take her down and search her finding ten copper pieces. They hear some more drum sounds which seem to be further away now. Still they elect to keep going.

(At this point I was very tempted to relocate one of the one page dungeon levels I had worked up and placed elsewhere somewhere in this vicinity. I thought about this for a moment and then decided that whatever was about to happen was going to make way more sense and be more fun than my arbitrarily warping reality in order to route around an unforced error on the part of the players.)

They finally come to another intersection and I call for a surprise roll. The ranger rolls a one and I pause the game to check the rules for that which are relatively elaborate. Attempting to process them in the heat of the game, I rule that the players are surprised. The ranger questions the ruling and I insist I have it right even though I know it’s not what we expected. A few rounds of combat ensue and the ranger and the paladin both have to make saving throws against poison again. They both make them and the spiders are defeated.

Now the players are 100% sure they have gone the wrong way. They really don’t want to continue into the unknown while their way of escape is blocked by monsters. They form up into their marching order and make their way back.

Coming to the intersection they see dog men in every direction. The ranger wants to shoot his bow from the second or third rank and I rule that the ceiling is too low. The party holds their position and prepares for melee, but the dog men just throw spears at them. The ranger asks if the ceiling is too low for that and I say no it isn’t.

The party then picks up the spears and falls back a little, and then equips their second rank with the spears. There’s some melee and some healing. Two dog men fall and the last ends up running around the corner. The players want their free attacks and I end up ruling that they don’t get them because the dog men don’t get them when the party falls back a little. The party then moves back up to the intersection with the aim of blocking the let and right passages with flaming oil before clearing out the other monsters blocking their way out. Turn after turn, the oil is tossed. We look up the actual rules for flaming oil and are shocked at how detailed they are. Just like with the poison rules for the assassins, this stuff is way better then the sort of thing I have improvised for my B/X games.

When the fifth dog man drops, I check for morale and they fail badly. They scatter in three directions. The party pauses to loot the bodies and then heads for the exist.

Really tense game. Everyone was sure a player character was going to die or that maybe there would be another total party kill. But somehow they all made it. The reward this time was… to make it out alive. Which didn’t seem all that bad in the end. One player suggested maybe trying a different manhole next time as they had gotten very predictable. This never occurred to me, so I go back to my mega-dungeon prep with this very obvious idea ready to work into my conception of the game.

With this close shave with death for next to no treasure and the warning that the dog men have finally observed the players utilize flaming oil tactics and then lived to tell about it, I can only imagine the players are that much more interested in investigating alternative entrances into the sewers.

I do have to say, if this was a B/X game the body count would have been much higher. The players have mass quantities of healing  far beyond what low level B/X parties are ever going to see. Further, the players can be brought back from up to -10 hit points. Stuff that looks like certain death from a Basic D&D perspective is just not near as big of a deal here! This more than makes up for the lack of an automatic sleep spell for the magic-users.

Characters in this game:

Arthur the Gallant (7 hits) [Delves 2, 3a, and 3b] XP: 122 + 753 + 351 + 54 = 1280

Hans Franzen the Swoleceror (2 hits, Burning hands, Jump, Message, Read Magic) [Delves 3a and 3b] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 = 1158

Torin the Runner (7 hits) [Delves 3a and 3b] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 = 1158

Aulis Martel the Acolyte (8 hits) [Delves 3a and 3b] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 = 1158

Brother Pain the Acolyte [Delve 3b only] XP: 351 + 54 = 405

Gregg the Acolyte (10 hits) [Delve 4 only] XP: 54

Henchmen Gilbert and Sullivan, the men-at-arms [Delve 2 only] XP: 61 each

Note: These XP totals do not include any bonuses due to high prime requisites.

Experience and treasure:

This delve the players the players gained 392 XP for killing monsters in addition to 10 copper pieces, 26 electrum, and 31 gold for a total of 436 XP this time. Divided eight ways, that comes out to 54 XP each.

Note: 17 total dog men have been killed so far in this campaign!

Time:

Day 1: The Hole in the Sky

Day 2: The Thing in the Sewer

Day 7: The Big Score part I

Day 8: The Big Score part II

(Day 9-14 — player characters all carousing¹; Keebler Khan fully recovered) <—- I day of real world time = one day of game time!)

Day 15: The Drums of the Dog People

¹Note to party: Keebler Khan’s mother is OFF LIMITS when it comes to finding trollops!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Emergent Fantasy World of AD&D

Sat, 04/11/2020 - 17:09

Tam Robinson is a babe.

I’ve been tough on the players.

I just had no interest in running a game featuring kobolds and goblins like happens so often when you run Keep on the Borderlands by the book. But you know, with three healing spells at first level for each cleric, high powered rangers and paladins holding things down, and with enough money in the game that the fighting-men can afford plate armor now… hoo boy, they can hold their own up against some pretty tough opposition. Tougher opposition means bigger payoffs– a tradeoff that seems quite satisfactory, at least when the players are winning.

The magic-users are kind of hysterical. Gone are the predictable Sleep-tossing special weapons units of my B/X games. We really are seeing a lot of weird stuff crop up in play: Spider Climb, Burning Hands, and Read Magic have been the spells that been used so far in the game. Such off the wall spells! The players are one spell scroll away from fundamentally changing the balance of power between the classes, but even if they do they still have to make the “chance to know” rolls to get the good stuff. Spell books and spell components add yet another limitation to the magic-users. Magic is strange and weird and mysterious again!

Meanwhile one cleric is very, very close to leveling up. Several others of the tough guy types are maybe halfway to second level. Another good haul could could cause characters to take a break from adventuring in order go take care of their training requirements. Guys that drop to zero or less hit-points miss out on both the big scores and the experience.

The effect of finding significant treasure last session can’t be understated. I had worked up new rumors and new NPC’s for the tavern but nothing else mattered the moment that a significant treasure haul was discovered. Talk about having a motivation for your characters! It was so intense it was palpable.

And the collision of the wandering monster tables with the encumbrance rules made for a surprisingly elaborate scenario– one that came out of nowhere, really! Weird magic-user spells combined with relatively elaborate morale rules added a lot of color to stuff that would have been a little more predictable under B/X.

The game has its own internal logic and it sure does assert itself quite strongly. My desire to create a sort of auteur type monster setting is overruled by the capriciousness of the dice, the rapaciousness of the players, and eclectic specificity of the rules. (And on the player side, my smart aleck spin on the AD&D half-elf begins to look ludicrously out of place.) As I revise my rough notes for the game, refresh and restock areas, and ponder what is needed, the AD&D game begins to shape me much more than I anticipated.

The rules are ponderous, sure. But once the essence of the game is extracted from the manuals, I have to say… it sure does work. AD&D is alive. It is packed with gaming insight. Random tables like the city/town encounters matrix are a godsend, solving longstanding game design problems with just a few rolls of some percentile dice.

Most of all, Gygaxian wisdom brings a depth, breadth and scope to your game that is far richer than the stories that you might think to impose on it. You can do a lot worse than take a chance and see where all of this stuff leads.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

AD&D Session 3: The Big Score

Sat, 04/11/2020 - 01:02

Huge turnout for session three. Everyone was super stoked. I warn everybody I am running AD&D by the seat of my pants just making up my own stuff as we go. Nobody cares about that, though. They want to play D&D!

Every other session starts with a tavern scene where a menu of adventure hooks are not so subtly deployed for the players to select from. Not this one! This game we have a little bookeeping to attend to. The characters from the last session take the body of the crystal monster to Zanzel Melancthones as evidence that they have dealt with the threat to the city’s trollop-based financial system. He gladly accepts the body, presumably because of its utility in his magical researches. One of the player characters saves back a few shards of it, though. No way that could ever come back to haunt them!

The players calculate that it will take four days to heal up from their very close call last time. They buy additional gear with the 100 gold each they get paid by Melancthones. The paladin returns the sword of St. Thomas to the church. The two men-at-arms (Gilbert and Sullivan) opt to spend a bit more time with their families in the coming days. Pretty sure it has nothing to do with the thousand yard dungeon stare that now besets them. Meanwhile, some of the player characters buddies have rolled into town after hearing about their modest success. They all want a piece of the action… and they totally get it.

The players head back to the den of the humanoid crystal monster and search it. [DM rolls dice… nods.] Oh yeah. There’s a rotten chest in there with 4000 electrum and 5000 gold pieces. Everything stops. The game suddenly gets very, very serious. Rule books are feverishly consulted. Arguments break out. Gear is exchanged. Plans are devised. The players have to know precisely how much of this they can carry. And given that every combat in the campaign has either resulted in total party kill or else an extremely close shave, the players are very serious about planning for disaster.

They load up on the gold and file back through the runnels to the sewers. [DM rolls dice… smirks] Oh yeah, there are howls coming from the North. It’s about to get real. The players grudgingly drop their sacks of gold and array out in their combat posture. But they have fallen for the treasure madness– they declare that they will fight to the death to protect their loot!

Keebler-Khan, half-elf fighter/magic-user!

The dog men hurl themselves towards the players’ line. And man, they are tough! In a straight up exchange of blows, it looks like the tides of battle can easily turn against the players. One of the magic-users– the swoleceror– flexes and then lets loose with a burning hands spell, which I had never seen used in actual play before. At first it seems awesome, almost like a flame thrower. Then we realize that it only does one hit of damage.

It’s ridiculous. Kind of anti-climatic. But I rule that the dog men’s fur is on fire and that they check morale. They fall back, the players then win initiative and drop a couple of them. I check their morale again and they flee. The players then gleefully used the rule that spelled their doom in session one to mop up the remaining dog men.

The players then haul their loot out of the dungeon, avoiding any undue attention in Harlot Central with the exception a lone foppish dandy. The players buy up plate mail for all their heavies and replenish their supply of flaming oil. The half-elf was going to be out of it for a few days, so he is replaced by a cleric.

Everybody heads back to the sewers. Oh, wait. There’s box text for that:

You head down Electrum Street, turn left on Slum Avenue, take a right on Jewel Lane, and then head straight into Harlot Central. You see a round metal plate about two feet in diameter in the middle of the alley. What do you do?

Yes, we do that every time.

The fighter has bought a pick and attempts to persuade the group to dig down to where the rest of the treasure is. A vote is held and it goes against him. They slosh through the sewer water and make it back to the crystal monsters den. [DM rolls some dice.] Oh, but the eletrum they left behind is gone. Hoo boy, the party is furious! They want to find whoever it was that took it.

The explore the passage near the den a bit further and find it circles around to four pillars. There are runes above a doorway there. Beyond it is a room with two stone boxes. A cleric bashes in the top with his flail and then shoves the stone lid off. Upon seeing a corpse inside, he hastily puts it back. He does not want to desecrate a burying place!

The players search the room and find that the bricks in the wall can be pushed through. The paladin pushes several in and they crash loudly on the other side. Inside there is a spiral staircase. The players check it out and they end up going down a LONG time. Like maybe a couple hours or so. It comes out in this open space and continues down maybe a couple hundred feet more. It ends in a watery expanse of indeterminate scope.

The players head back up and before they can get past this open area, three huge spiders drop onto them from above. They lose initiative and the burning hands spell goes off relatively uselessly. The fighter and the ranger each get bit, but miraculously they make their 14+ saving throws against poison. There’s a scuffle and one of the spiders is killed, this triggers a morale check and the two remaining spiders run away. The players op to let them go as they ran towards the water.

They make their way back to the to the tombs and the paladin checks out the other one. He shoves the lid off and sees the body of the enshrouded seven foot tall being inside. The paladin says he detects evil, and I tell him that he has started to glow.

They go back to the sewers and find another side room to the northwest of their previous battle. They have the jump on the dog men this time and start hurling in flaming oil. Most of them miss and the dog men are panicked, set for a charge. But then, round after round the oil just keeps coming. Finally they realize they have to break out. They take their licks to escape the flames and then are cut down one after another. It’s absolutely brutal.

The players go back inside and they’ve found it– the four thousand electrum pieces they’d left behind the previous day. They load up and exit the sewers, noticing a pair of red eyes down an eastward passage on their way out. The cleric raised his holy symbol and delivered some tough talk and the thing seemed to run away. Or else just close its eyes. But the players have a sneaking suspicion that they haven’t seen the last of whatever it was!

Cast o’ Characters

Arthur the Gallant (7 hits) [Delves 2, 3a, and 3b] XP: 122 + 753 + 351 = 1226

Malbert the Veteran (9 hits) [Delves 2, 3a, and 3b] XP: 122 + 753 + 351 = 1226

Galfroy the Prestidigitator (4 hits, Charm Person, Hold Portal, Message, Read Magic) [Delve 2 only] XP: 122

Henchmen Gilbert and Sullivan, the men-at-arms [Delve 2 only] XP: 61 each

Hans Franzen the Swoleceror (2 hits, Burning hands, Jump, Message, Read Magic) [Delves 3a and 3b] XP: 753 + 351 = 1104

Keebler Khan the Veteran/Prestidigitator (5 hits, Charm Person, Spider Climb, Write, Read Magic) [Delve 3a Only] XP: 753 = 753

Torin the Runner (7 hits) [Delves 3a and 3b] XP: 753 + 351 = 1104

Aulis Martel the Acolyte (8 hits) [Delves 3a and 3b] XP: 753 + 351 = 1104

[Some other cleric] — [Delve 3b only] XP: 351

Experience and treasure:

Delve 2 resulted in one dead crystal monster for 111 xp… plus 100 gold for each character. That results in 122 XP… and presumably half for the men-at-arms.

Delve 3a resulted in 5 dead dog men for 224 XP and then 5030 gold and 46 electrum. That results in 5277 XP split seven ways for 753 each.

Delve 3b resulted in 7 dead dog men for 336 XP, one dead spider for 71 XP and then 4044 electrum and 29 gold. That results in 2458 XP split seven ways for 351 each.

Time:
Day 1: The Hole in the Sky
Day 2: The Thing in the Sewer
Day 7: The Big Score part I
Day 8: The Big Score part II

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Step Up Your Game: Reaction and Loyalty

Thu, 04/09/2020 - 00:53

Charisma. It’s not just a dump stat, they say. But look, if you don’t have a lot of it, you’re going to be stuck in a career as an assassin. Which is kind of funny, actually.

Of course if you were going to actually use that stat in an AD&D game, you’re going to have to flip to the middle of the combat section to find the reaction table. Why is it there right in the middle of sections detailing initiative and missile discharge? Evidently this something pretty important to consider when the players have initiative in a random encounter, right?

WRONG!

Dig this: It is common for player characters to attack first, parley afterwards. It is recommended that you devise encounters which penalize such action so as to encourage parleying attempts ~ which will usually be fruitless, of course!

Hilarious. It’s a tough world out there, y’all. Parleying with monsters has about the same chance of succeeding as begging for divine assistance!

The AD&D morale rules are pretty slick, though. The rules spell out when to check along with several modifiers to the roll. Henchman use their loyalty score for the check while monsters have a base morale derived from their hit dice. In the event of a morale failure, the amount the roll was failed by determines the precise behavior. This is some seriously rad stuff.

If you don’t keep up with anything else about these rules in the heat of the game, remember when morale checks occur and most everything else should fall in place. (And do note that while initiative is by side, morale checks are going to by individual for the party’s henchmen while groups of the same monster type will be rolled for collectively.)

Loyalty should be carefully tracked for the party’s various henchmen and associates. There are a bewildering number of modifiers to this vital statistic. However, if you are just starting out with a relatively friendly man-at-arms, a value of 50% plus the relevant player character’s loyalty bonus will be plenty good enough to get you through a session or three.

One last note here about the significance of these rules. While the reaction table is buried in an odd corner of the Dungeon Masters Guide, the morale and loyalty rules are repeated on the very last page. He didn’t put the saving throw tables or the combat matrices back there, he put morale and loyalty! A lot of people will have a tendency to pass over these rules, but Gygax thought they were pretty important.

Don’t let him down!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Backtalk: Old School and New School Are Not Just In Your Mind

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 23:50

Okay, got a lot of feedback this week that deserves a response. Here’s a hot take from Trever Bierschbach over on Twitter:

“I think all the limitations people see in old and new school gaming is of their own making and within their own group. So many people seem to forget the most basic rule in TTRPGs…the rules are guidelines, change, adapt, eliminate as your group sees fit.”

This is a good example of a very common position you see in rpg discussions whose only purpose is to stop constructive analysis altogether. Its invocations of banal truisms make its position seem far more plausible than it actually is.

You hear this sort of thing a lot because it is easy to express and it sounds smart. The truth takes rather more effort to elucidate:

  1. Rpgs do indeed require referees who will make rulings and also adapt, extend, and modify the rules of whatever system is in play. Some systems will require a modest amount of this primarily in their application (ie, Moldvay Basic), some will force you to do a great deal of this (ie, AD&D), and still others will (through the table experience of the game designer) seem to anticipate the vast majority of rulings and interpretations you will be required to make well before you realize the designer has already sorted the hard stuff out for you. (For the latter sort of game, see the Adventurer Conqueror King System.)
  2. The fact that these games require this sort of modification does not make all changes to the rules equally expedient. Some changes are in the spirit of the game and enhance play. Others are more akin to placing money on Free Parking: they violate the intent of the rules and transform the system into a sort of non-game.
  3. The fact that people played D&D according to “new school” style anti-principles very early on in the history of the game in no way legitimizes the grossness and tediousness of this type of play.
  4. A great many people think they are particularly creative and intelligent for taking a least common denominator approach to the old games. They are in fact following the path of least resistance, pretending to play a game rather than exploring the potential within one. This is not smart and it is not special. It is in fact painfully common.
  5. Most of the rest think they can simulate the salient qualities of what the old school has to offer by incorporating elements of what they think that entails into games that were designed from the ground up specifically to repudiate those qualities. They are of course mistaken.

I hope this clears things up!

Games are real. Rules are real. And playing them produces consistent, repeatable, and observable situations and dynamics at the table. Don’t let a spurious pose of rpg ecumenicism seduce you away from the best that tabletop gaming has to offer!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

AD&D Session 2: The Thing in the Sewers

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 02:15

The party this time was much tougher– a fighter, a paladin, and then a magic-user with charm person, hold portal, message, and read magic in his spell book. These new characters had just awakened from horrible nightmares as they saw in their minds eye a group of hapless adventurers torn apart by horrible demonic entities.

Back in town, the party arrives at the table and sees Zanzel Melancthones face-palm in despair as he puts away one shot after another. On the other side of the tavern a roguish gentleman wins a game of craps as another man complains bitterly that he must be cheating somehow. The players go investigate the dice and they seem to be fair. They don’t start anything. The rogue greedily collects his winnings while a cheap trollop brings another round of drinks to his table.

They talk to Zanzel and he complains about how hard it is to find good help these days. Two parties had failed to come back just this month! At this rate there’ll soon be no adventurers left at all, and then who would go on quests for him? Terrible! The party asks about how the other group died and he says they went down into the sewers and never came back. Meanwhile, a brazen strumpet was disemboweled right in the city streets just last Tuesday. People are staying home in fear now, they’re spending less, businesses are doing poorly– if this keeps on, this is going to be hell on his stock portfolio. If only there was someone to help him!

The players volunteer their services and he offers them 100 gp apiece to take care of this mess. He calls over two purple sash wearing extras from the city watch to help pad out the party: Gilbert and Sullivan. The players sally forth. They head down Electrum Street, turn left on Slum Avenue, take a right on Jewel Lane, and then head straight into Harlot Central. They find a round metal plate about two feet in diameter and maybe an inch thick that they pry up. The climb down a ladder and head into the sewer.

Inside about half a block north they find some loose bricks in the wall. They one out and drop it on the dry edge of the sewer tunnel. It makes a loud, booming, resonating sound. They take more of the bricks out and head down a tunnel. They come to a round room 30′ in diameter. To the north is an east-west passage. They go east and find the remains of several people. The number of bodies matches up with the missing adventuring party minus one.

The players go back to the round room and decide to wait for the monster to come back to its den. Before long they hear the booming sound of a brick falling to the ground. Then another and another. The paladin leads the way back down the passage to the entrance to the side tunnel and there is a foul thing leering at them through the hole in the bricks. When the paladin gets up into its face it recoils in horror and attempts to flee. The party takes advantage of their free combat throws to wail away at it, but their weapons glance off it uselessly. Even flaming oil seems to have no effect. The players chase the thing through the sewers until they realize they won’t catch it. Then turn back when they hear howling sounds.

They go back to Zanzel to report in and he is glad to help out. He tells them he has extremely competitive rates for his sage advice and that it’s nothing between him and them. He kindly offers to deduct the fees from what he pays them later. The players ask if they can rent some kind of magic weapon and his eyes light up. As he starts to break down various high interest loan programs he could connect them to, the fighter suggests that his paladin friend check in with the local church to see if they can help out. They go to the cathedral and the priest there explains that he’d get in a tremendous amount of trouble with the hierarchy if anything went wrong. The paladin pleads with him, though, so he goes and retrieves a sword that belonged to St. Thomas and begs him to bring it right back.

The party heads back to the sewers and goes back to the monster den and… [DM rolls dice, looks shocked] it turns out to be right there! The paladin leads the way scoring a couple of quick hits. Then he misses a couple of times and takes enough damage to be nearly dead. Then the players have the idea of passing the sword around through the group. The fighter takes a turn until he is knocked down to one hit point. Then Gilbert takes a turn. Then Sullivan… who gets knocked unconscious. The party debates a moment, then realizes that the paladin really can “lay hands on himself.” He goes back to the breach once more, noticing that the creature has largely healed up from his earlier wounds. Somehow he scores two more hits and the thing is killed even though for many turns victory seemed almost impossible.

The party collected their wounded and made haste for the exit without bothering to search the room. In the sewer tunnels, they heard howls coming from the north and threw flaming oil at the monsters. The splash damage lit their fur on fire and they stop dropped and rolled, giving the players enough time to make their escape.

The players escaped the dungeon with 66 experience points to split five ways. That’s 11 each!

Very difficult to run this game without lapsing into what’s essentially “Basic D&D… but with AD&D monsters, magic, and classes.” Not real clear on how the paladin’s protection from evil should work, either. Not too worried about it, though. We’ll sort it out if he lives long enough!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Key Difference Between Old School and New School D&D

Mon, 04/06/2020 - 01:33

The thing the really differentiates the old school from the new school in role playing games is where player choice manifests itself.

New school games typically give the players latitude to play whatever type of character they want. This ranges from GURPS where classes and levels are dispensed with and every conceivable character ability is broken down into point values all the way up to recent editions of D&D where there are a bewildering range of races, classes, feats, and so on. The newest of new school games emphasize elaborate player character backstories that the Dungeon Master is expected to somehow tap into in his campaign story.

But notice where all this choice for the players manifests itself. It resides almost entirely in the pre-game area. Players can be the exact type of character that they want to play, but in game they end up pretending to play a more or less linear set of situations that are already charted out.

Old school games in contrast give the players very little choice in character creation. You roll your attributes, pick a race and/or class, roll your hit points, buy equipment and you’re done. There is, for example, only about a 1-in-9 chance of someone qualifying for the paladin class. There is no guarantee that there will be one in a party and if there is one, there is no telling which player will be the one that gets to try it out! Playing an old school character is thus more about looking at what the dice give you and then making something out of it. Someone in the group is liable to be stuck with a “hopeless character” while someone else gets to play the best character they’ve ever rolled up. It happens! Dice are like that.

While choice is quite limited in an old school character generation, everything changes when play actually begins. In an old school game, the players can pretty much go anywhere and do anything. They can freely take actions that aren’t even covered by the rules, set their own campaign objectives, pass over the Dungeon Master’s scenario hooks and set off to find a place that an improvised non-player character mentioned in an offhand and ad-libbed comment. Rpgs are like that.

One more factor exacerbates these two difference and that is of course the frequency of player character death. New school players can be expected to play their character effectively forever, so they require a lot of choice (and balance) in character generation because this one choice will pretty well be set in stone. Old school players are playing a game. If their pawn is “killed” they have a chance to come back with a better character or perhaps one that is more suitable to the current strategic situation. Balance between each player’s characters can emerge over time due to the law of averages, but only if death is allowed to level the playing field and cull the herd.

In general, the inevitable result of player choice is to create unused system and/or unused scenario preparation. A dungeon master that has created an elaborate dungeon will start the game at its entrance and limit the campaign to its exploration. Give the players a choice and all that prep is liable to be in vain!

Similarly, in the Moldvay Basic D&D rules, magic users get their choice of starting spells for their magic users. This one choice typically induces analysis paralysis in new players as gameplay stops while they attempt to assimilate the implications of a dozen cryptic spell descriptions in a game they are unfamiliar with. Old hands will typically just go with the most powerful combat spell and ignore the rest. Some groups are so sure about which spell is the most essential to optimal play, the choice of which spell a magic-user takes is liable to cease to be a choice at all!

I’m not familiar with the Wizards of the Coast strains of D&D, but I’m told that choice of which feat must be chosen is pretty well set by the “community” of players that surround the game. People that refuse to go along with this out of a desire to explore something different are looked at askance; their idiosyncrasies come at the expense of the party’s ultimate effectiveness.

With the Adventurer Conqueror King System I saw the same thing happen with its proficiency system. Given free rein, players will typically spend every free slot on some sort of healing-related skill. The entire effect of this elaborate system could be dropped altogether and replaced with AD&D style bonus spells for first level clerics and the end result would be maintained with far less friction. Player choice ruins that system just as assuredly as impetuous players laughing your “old man with an adventure hook” out of the tavern spoils the adventure you had planed.

How do you get it back? With randomness. The ACKS Players Companion contains tables with a variety of templates for each character class, each one embellished with a few deft proficiency choices and equipment selection. This allows not only for the proficiency system to be used as it was designed, but it also makes each new cleric or fighter rolled up significantly different than the one before. Which obviates the need for a great many house rules and variant classes as well.

Meanwhile, further back in time we see Gary Gygax utilizing a similar technique with regards to spell selection in the AD&D game. All the way back to Greyhawk magic-users were required to make their “chance to know” roll in order to be able to use a given spell. Gygax went even further, however, and made the four spells that magic-users start with something that is left entirely to the dice. The effect on the game is immediate. Instead of players collectively limiting the magic-user to just one or two spells from the list, suddenly almost all of the first level spell list is brought into play.

This depth and range and color is only possible because the sort of choice that new school players take for granted was ceded entirely to the dice.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Hole in the Sky

Fri, 04/03/2020 - 01:30

Well I don’t think I have ever run AD&D before unless you count that one disastrous attempt to run “Roarwater Caves” from Dungeon Magazine issue #15 a long, long time ago. Times have changed! With many years spent studying the ancient texts and an all star crew of players on hand, now was a great time to seize hold of gaming dreams from another time.

My first encounter with AD&D or any kind of role playing game at all was with a strange kid at a YMCA summer camp that was willing to run a couple of elementary school students. It was a weird and very brief experience. The guy let us use someone’s continuing characters that were carefully recorded on this parchment-like paper. The kid that was playing with me wanted to crawl into the mouth of the green devil face, which would famously annihilate anything that was placed inside it. The dungeon master was mortified as his elaborate character sheet became invalid for continuing play.

But that’s D&D for you.

I open up with the players in the tavern. A farmer is complaining loudly that he is sure that the dragon has woken up early from his hibernation– much of his cattle have disappeared in the night. A ranger speaks very seriously about increased activity among the wild men to the south. Many of the signal fires can be seen as they communicate over great distances. Finally… there is Zanzel Melancthones drinking himself to a stupor at the bar.

The players ask who Melancthones is and I say the local high level magic-user. They ask me to describe him and I say he’s the sort of guy that’s liable to have to have 1d6 scrolls on him. The assassin walks straight up to him and buys him a drink. Alas, he gets a 01 on his reaction roll. Melancthones erupts from his chair, shoves the assassin to the floor, and beings pummeling the poor adventurer with his fists.

The rest of the party restrains the old wizard as he laments bitterly that no one believes him. With the other party actively distracting him, the assassin attempts to pick pocket him. The chances were slim due to the assassin not getting his thief skills until level three, but the roll was a 20 on percentile dice and I declared that he managed to pilfer two scrolls off the old guy! The casting of a read magic spell would later determine that the scrolls contained lightning bolt and protection from magic. Kind of a nutso haul right out of the gate, but okay!

The wizard takes them to his tower and shows the party this amazing device he created– it’s a long tube with glass on each end. He claims it can allow you to see far away places as if they were nearby. A player magic-user then takes the device and sure enough views the northern jungles, the western hills, and the southern sea as if they were just across the street. But then in this other direction which he can only describe as “yonder”… well, the player magic-user can’t seem to find it. But the second player magic-user can. There it is… the hole in the sky!

The players are hired to go check it out. 50 gold pieces now and 500 when they come back with news of the place. Also they manage to borrow a patented Melancthones’s Magic Farseeing Tube and gratefully accept his offer to pay for their horse rental. They set off into the yonder. After a days ride they encounter a pack of some kind of howling dogs. They confront them, kill one, injure another and send them packing. As they travel on they hear in the distance the dim sound of horns which are off key, followed by screams.

The players reach the ends of the earth. The see that there really is a hole in the sky. The edge of the world slopes upward gradually. A magic-user strikes it to no effect and then laments not having any iron spikes to hammer into it. The party takes stock and realizes they only have half as much rope to reach the hole. The assassin runs back to the farmsteads and takes another 50′ of rope from a barn. Meanwhile the rest of the characters throw rocks into the hole. They hear the strange horns coming from the hole and hear screams there, so they throw a rock with light cast on it up into the hole. Even with Melancthones’s Magic Farseeing Tube they cannot see what is happening inside.

The party is stumped about how to reach the hole in the sky until he recalls that he can cast Spider Climb. He takes out a vial with three live spiders inside and eats one of them. Then he consults the players handbook and calculates that he will only make it half way up! The thief elects to climb the celestial dome up to the hole in the sky and makes it up there, then calls down, “you ate a spider for nothing!” The 80′ x 100′ room he is in is filled with dried old vines covering everything. He ties the rope to them and the party makes it inside.

They note that the floor, walls, and ceiling are perfectly flat, perhaps made from some sort of metal. There is a lever next to the hole in the sky which the assassin impulsively pulls. The hole snaps shut as flat metal plates spiral into place. The rope is unfortunately cut in the process. The players are left with about an eight foot length.

With a bulls-eye lantern to light the way, the party elects to explore one of four strange passages leading from the room.  These passages are neither man-made looking nor like natural caves. The angles of everything are in all directions, not quite crystalline. After a while the party experiences a moment of vertigo, wondering if there is something non-Euclidean about the shapes of the passageways.

The passage begins to slope downward and then gradually begins to widen. The party comes to a stream formed from a foul, oily liquid oozing out of cracks in the walls. The assassin attempts to set it on fire with his flint and steel, but nothing happens. When the party jumps over the stream, they hear the blaring sound of the out of tune trumpets… and then screams. In the pulse of a sort of strobe light they see humanoid forms coming towards them.

The players discuss various options including something involving flaming oil, but then decide to hold their position and wait for these things to arrive. I rule that weapon length determines who goes first. The players manage to take out two of the seven humanoid things. When killed, they disappear in a puff of greasy vapor. The monsters manage to drop a magic-user and knock the thief down to one hit point. Looks like trouble! The players discuss their options, maybe fleeing or even just jumping back across the stream. The cleric offers to cover everyone’s escape, but then the thief points out that he is the only hope to save the mage. The mage who has run a very faithful AD&D campaign points out that the rules for retreats are not favorable. The players may as well stand and fight!

In the next round, the players lose initiative and the monsters take down everyone but the cleric. The cleric had previously told everyone not to worry, he has a back up deity. In this dire moment before his final act of the game, he holds aloft a very beautiful hard back book about everybody’s favorite game. The cleric says he appeals to the creator of this tome for divine assistance. I regretfully inform him that it has no effect. He rolls his attack and it comes out to a natural 1. He then falls in the mass of screaming, howling creatures that claw and bite him to pieces. His last conscious thought being to wonder if such things are capable of consuming his very soul.

Rest in peace:

  • James King, Human Cleric, 5 hit points, level 1, 0 XP.
  • Azirian, Human Magic-User, 6 hit points, level 1, 0 XP.
  • Zordak, Human Assassin, 6 hit points, level 1, 0 XP.
  • Verrod, Human Thief, 6 hit points, level 1, 0 XP.
  • Tundar Neverflim, 3 hit points, level 1, 0 XP.

Killed by screaming, humanoid monsters in the hole in the sky.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs