The Alexandrian

There are quite a few older D&D modules that feature various creatures with gemstones or gold coins or magical items lodged in their gizzards. I was never a big fan of the idea: First, it seemed weird. Second, it seemed improbable that any of my players would actually hack open one of these creatures and find the treasure. Third, if they ever did find one of these treasures it would only prompt them to go around systematically gutting every corpse they created.

Admittedly, the “kill ’em and loot ’em” mentality has never been particularly heroic. But advancing that into the territory of butchering your enemies in the hope that something valuable might be squeezed out of their intestines just seems to take things to a new level of tastelessness.

But this is the tale of how, after twenty years of gaming, I ended up putting a gemstone in a gizzard.

And it’s not my fault.

SPOILERS FOR MY PLAYERS BELOW THIS LINE

THE SET-UP

I’ve recently transformed my open table OD&D campaign into a full-fledged hexcrawl in order to playtest some wilderness exploration rules I’ve been tinkering with. In order to facilitate that play, I rapidly threw together a hex key. In one of the hexes, I placed Atarin’s Delve, a fun little lair designed by Dyson Logos and available online for the low, low price of absolutely nothing.

Atarin's Delve - Dyson LogosOne of the first groups to venture into this newfound wilderness left town heading west looking for a particular patch of razorgrass that they had been told was a landmark that would lead them to a ziggurat filled with gold. They missed, and ended up stumbling randomly across the caves of Atarin’s Delve instead. After playing dice with some bandits near the entrance of the cave, they turned the tables on the bandits (who had been using a loaded die carved from the blackened shin bone of a lich) and won big. The bandits, predictably, tried to ambush them. But since the PCs had their own backup hiding in the tall grasses nearby, an adroit combination of sleep and charm person neatly took care of that problem.

The bandit they had charmed — a fellow named Tillick — turned out to be a wererat. Rather than delving into the heart of the rat den, they used Tillick to lure out Atarin and his crew into an even larger ambush (which was a resounding success).

Let me back up for a second: One of the members of this party was a particularly dim-witted fellow named Mar. (Intelligence factor of 6 with a player willing to really go for it.) Mar had gotten a magical sword on his last delve into the Caverns of Thracia and was dying to try it out, but for the past week they had just been trekking through the wild with nary a hack-able foe in sight.

So while the others were carefully bluffing their way into position for their ambush, Mar was more of the opinion that they should go charging in and just get straight to the hacking part of the affair. Those lying in wait for the main event could see that Mar was getting antsy and decided that he needed a distraction.

One of their number — a theurgess named Varla — was carrying several large, sparkly jewels. She pulled one of these out, enticed Mar’s easily-distracted eye with it, and then handed it over so that Mar could continue playing with it while she remained focused on the awaiting ambush.

Mar was amusing enraptured. And then the halfling named Baz said, “I bet you can’t swallow the whole thing!”

Which, of course, Mar promptly did.

AND THEN THERE WERE GHOULS…

At this point roughly half the party decided it was time to head back to town. (In other words, it was late and the players had to work in the morning.) But the other half of the group decided to push on into the caves: After all, the bandits were dead and the caves were probably filled with their loot. Plus, as Travis put it, “Right now there’s only four shares.”

Famous last words.

(Tangent: Travis is a two-thousand year old human. Well… sort of. Two thousand years ago he was kidnapped by cultists and brought to the Palace of Red Death to be sacrificed. He was rescued shortly thereafter by a group of wandering PCs. Unfortunately, the Palace of Red Death is experiencing temporal tumult: The group which rescued Travis originated in an epoch two thousand years after his own time.

Travis actually became known as “the Other Travis” because, quite unwittingly, the player named his new PC Travis without realizing that the other PCs at that session had only just finished exploring a schoolroom soaked with blood with the words “TRAVIS KILLED US” scrawled on the walls.)

Where was I?

Oh, right.

They all died.

The caves were, in fact, pretty well cleared out at this point. One of the few encounters left were the nine ghouls in area 14. Unfortunately, the remaining party members were not overly endowed with intelligence: The aforementioned diamond-bellied Mar was there, along with a couple more in the low single digits.

In area 4, Mar walked between the magical pillars… and fell asleep. After he’d been shaken awake, he walked through the pillars again… and fell asleep again. Third time was a charm, though, and he made his save with a slight, shivering tingle. The others thought he was going to help them across the room now that he was on the other side, but Mar’s curiosity was consumed with what might lay beyond the double doors: He threw them open and… “AAAH! UNDEAD!”

He ran back across the room, between the pillars… and fell asleep again.

About 60 seconds later, the group discovered that ghouls could paralyze them.

About 30 seconds after that, Varla was the only one left standing. Which is when she summoned a cloud of winged, battle-crazed halflings.

They were illusionary, of course. But since they were the product of OD&D’s particularly potent phantasmal forces spell (which has no duration other than concentration and deals damage as long as the illusion is believed) they almost managed to save them all.

Unfortunately, Varla’s player chose a d20 with a peculiarly literal understanding of the term “average roll”. After knocking out most of the ghouls, it went on a long string of rolling nothing except 10’s and 11’s (when all he needed to roll was a “12” in order to hit).

THE SEARCH FOR VARLA

Varla, however, had made certain preparations. So a couple days later a Facebook invite went out:

“My name is Alberti Visconi. Two weeks ago a party of fourteen rode west into the Gap. Two days ago, six of them returned. One of those left behind was a woman named Varla. She was a very wealthy woman. A very wealthy woman who left behind particularly… specific instructions upon the event of her death. In order to execute those instructions, I need proof of her death. I need her corpse. And you’re going to get it for me.”

Which set the stage for an almost entirely different set of players to take the overland map drawn by the last party (which had been acquired by Alberti) and use it to track down the cave where Varla’s body had been left.

But before that could happen, I needed to figure out was happening in Atarin’s Delve.

I’ve written before about the process of restocking the dungeon. One of the first steps is to simply look at the raw material offered by the dungeon itself: In this case I didn’t have much more than a bunch of ghouls, a blue orb that causes ghouls to rise 1d12 hours later, a strange necromantic sorcerer named the Hollow One, and… the corpses of a bunch of adventurers, a dozen or so wererats, and Atarin himself.

This one’s pretty obvious, right?

Wererat ghouls with vestigial lycanthropy; desiccated ghouls flaking dry with age; and the zombified corpses of the very adventurers they’ve come to rescue.

It was about mid-way through this rapid-fire restocking process, as I wrote up a description of Ghoul Mar (his lower jaw was missing and his magical katana hung limply in one hand, with a chance each round that he’ll forget its purpose and simply hurl the thing at the nearest opponent while giving in to the bestial, teeth-rending impulses of the ghoul) when I realized what I had done:

Mar had eaten Varla’s diamond.

Mar was now a ghoul.

That diamond was still in there.

And that’s how I got a gemstone in the gizzard of a ghoul.

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5 Responses to “Tales from the Table: Gems in the Belly”

  1. Sashas says:

    The best part about this setup is that the party going in will have several opportunities to learn of the gemstone before going in. You have “There’s a diamond in that ghoul. Awesome! We should get that out somehow.” without “We’ve probably been missing gems in other monsters’ bellies. We should cut them all open.”

  2. -C says:

    I’m sorry, I don’t understand what’s wrong with the party cutting open the corpse of every monster they find. They already dissect everything they come across in order to salvage material components.

    We’ve taught them that we’ve hidden treasure in that dungeon. So now anything that’s a feature, they dissect. This would be a problem, but the wandering monsters solve it for us.

    Either the treasure is hidden and it’s your job to hide it better and the players will search everything at the cost of fighting, or finding hidden treasure isn’t a part of the game (and you should just receive it as a reward for successfully completing my precious encounter).

    tl,dr; gizzard is a reasonable area to hide treasure.

  3. Dyson Logos says:

    Awesome. I’m glad the delve worked so well.

    And I still wonder why almost no PCs ever think to go AROUND the pillars instead of between them. They are set in a triangle in a fairly large cave… just go around them and open the damn door.

    But yeah, having the area 4 trap just outside of the nearly overwhelming force of area 14 seems to often result in people getting knocked out on the retreat.

  4. Sashas says:

    Re: -C

    Some folks would prefer to leave dissection out of their roleplaying games for the same reason most leave torture and rape out. All three might be included in what actual money-grubbing “adventurers” would do in the dungeon, but they are not heroic and may not be “fun”. Obviously, YMMV.

    Now, another reason to avoid the dissect-everything mentality is that as little time as possible in an RPG should be wasted on activities that are just reflexes with no choice or even calculation involved. In other words, if the party really does dissect everything, then no one should ever have to say “I dissect…”. It should be assumed as soon as they roll their search check for loot. Either way, cutting open the bodies is not *part of the game*. It’s either assumed or doesn’t generally happen.

  5. Andrew says:

    Yeah, I recommend everybody go check out Dyson Logos site; the mini mega dungeon is AMAZING. Great stuff!

    Always enjoy reading how the dungeon crawls worked out.

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