IN THE SHADOW OF THE SPIRE
SESSION 1A: INVESTIGATING THE PAST
March 10th, 2007
The 15th Day of Amseyl in the 790th Year of the Seyrunian Dynasty
IN THE SHADOW OF THE SPIRE
SESSION 1A: INVESTIGATING THE PAST
March 10th, 2007
The 15th Day of Amseyl in the 790th Year of the Seyrunian Dynasty
Since we’re going to be discussing the Caverns of Thracia extensively as part of the Jaquaying the Dungeon essays, I finally motivated myself to collect the campaign journal / exploration of OD&D that I wrote in early 2009 so that they could all be accessed through one handy link. Check it out:
Part 1: Character Creation
Part 2: The First Foray
Part 3: Death in the Ruins
Part 4: The Second Party
Part 5: The Final Foray
Part 6: The Second Session
Part 7: The Twin Travails of Thalmain
Part 8: The Massacre of Fire
UPDATE: The following posts also contain thrilling exploits from the dungeon:
You might also want to check out the (Re-)Running the Megadungeon essays, which use a behind-the-scenes peek at this campaign as an example of how to properly run a megadungeon.
It looked absolutely nothing like this.
I usually don’t get heavy into personal biography around here, but I got married on Saturday. On the Wednesday before that, my brother and best man ran a session of OD&D for my small bachelor party. By means of celebrating my wedding, here are some highlights:
(1) John H. roled up a cleric with 4 Intelligence. In addition to taking everything hilariously literally, he was also convinced that he was actually a wizard. (Even going so far as to dress up in pointy hat with stars on it.) He carried two wands — his small wand was a stick he’d found on the ground; his big wand was a mace (“a big stick with a big metal star”). Although he couldn’t cast any spells (being a 1st-level cleric), Andrew H.’s charcter (who was a magic user) would cast spells for him, thus supporting his delusion.
(2) David P. played Enriquill. Enriquill was a dashing fellow who insisted that the true joy of adventuring could only be found in “savoring the finer things”. For example, the exquisite delicacy which are the sightless eyeballs of giant bats. (He would also sample cave moss and lichen, leading us to discover the crude goblin carvings describing three pits as “Deep”, “Deeper”, and “Deepest”.) When Enriquill died towards the end of the evening, with his dying breath he gasped, “Eat my eyeballs…”
And we did.
(3) I played Matharl, a dwarf with golden eyes, silver skin, and copper hair (which he would cut once every three months for the profit). Matharl had once been a member of the Doge City of the Imperial Emperor 362. (Yes, the 362nd Doge City of the Dwarven Empire. We have delved deep. And wide. And also invested heavily in surface real estate.) But after contracting the metallo curse, he was exiled.
(4) We also had a newbie at the table who had never played an RPG before. He rolled some truly amazing ability scores, but then balanced out his luck by rolling a 3 on 3d6 to garner only 30 gp in starting cash. Trying to buy decent starting equipment with such meager funds was an exercise the whole table contributed to. We eventually got him decent armor (leather) and a weapon, but ran out of money before we could get him rations.
(5) Our newbie had also shown up late, so the rest of us were already in the dungeon. Our DM decided to start the newbie back at town. When he was presented with, “You’re in town. And out of food. What do you do?” His response was, literally, “Wait… This is how we do this?”
He was pretty consistently awesome throughout the entire evening. A little too eager to leap head-long down dungeon passages, but Matharl eventually resigned himself to that by simply keeping his ass as far back as he possibly could while the suicidal little runt went on his rampages.
(6) I say “runt” because in filling out his character sheet our newbie had created a 342 year old, 4′ 3″ , 184 pound human named Rico Suave. (Ricky II.) This was good, goofy fun. It was also great because the upper level of the DM’s dungeon was composed of tight passages that we were forced to crawl through (with branching tunnels that we eventually found led to the Deep, Deeper, and Deepest shafts mentioned above). While he’d insisted that everyone except my dwarf would be forced to remove their armor while crawling through these cramped passags, Rico Suave had inadvertently ended up being shorter and weighing less than I did. Ergo, he, too, was able to keep his armor on. This allowed us to travel down the passages front-to-back
(7) This prevented a repeat performance of an early disaster in which gremlins — little green balls with red-veined legs — had savaged Rico Suave from behind and stolen his food. Actually, that encounter probably would have ended okay if I hadn’t set the tunnel on fire.
(8) The session started when we received a mission from the sultan to rescue his harem. (A perfect scenario for a bachelor party game.) He offered us a 1,000 gp reward and then gave us the intel he had received from a palace guard who had followed the “swarthy, humanoid kidnappers” to a cave 4 days from the city. We couldn’t question the guard because the sultan had killed him to keep slanderous rumors from spreading about the loss of his harem…
… Matharl instantly realized that if the sultan was willing to kill his own guard for having even less information than we would once we returned the harem, that we probably wouldn’t be seeing that reward. On the other hand, there were 8 beautiful harem girls in a cave.
Before leaving town, though, we made a point of spreading rumors all over town that the sultan had lost his harem. We even mentioned the reward and the location of the cave. We figured there was a pretty good shot that other adventurers might show up, clear out the upper levels, and leave us with a clear shot at the harem girls.
(9) That didn’t happen, but it did set up the scenario by which Rico Suave joined the party. The DM staged a scene in which Rico Suave heard our 4 Int pseudo-wizard talking about the 1,000 gp reward. When he later showed up, though, we managed to convince both him and the 4 Int wizard that the reward was only 500 gp. (But we would totally split it evenly with them.)
THE BIG FINISH
After several perilous delves, we descended the Deepest shaft and found a metal plate. We knocked loudly and waited. When it opened, a pair of glowing eyes peered out from the darkness below. I wanted to know what it was, so I dropped my torch. The DM ruled that it landed pointy-end first, rolled for max damage, and ended up having the torch skewer the furry goblinoid straight through the forehead. He plopped down dead.
Rico Suave, naturally, leapt down to the corpse. He yanked the torch free and then looked around… to find himself surrounded by a ring of more furry goblinoids and several ettins, all looking at him in complete shock. Rico Suave looked up, “Uh… guys. There are a lot of them down here. I think–”
And then he was torn limb from limb.
Thinking quickly, Matharl called out in goblin, “Quick! Over this way! The vile murderer has jumped down this shaft!”
I was able to convince the ettins and goblins that Rico Suave had killed my father. We had pursued him into these caves seeking vengeance, which we were grateful they had given to us. They offered me the honor of chopping off his head. Which I did.
It turned out that they were in a celebratory mood themselves, having recently “fulfilled the prophecy” by sending a band to the “surface of the daybringer’s bright light” to capture “the veiled ones”. We managed to get ourselves invited back to a celebratory feast of prime Rico Suave meat. (Enriquill: “Always enjoy the finer things.”)
When we got to the feasting chamber, we found four of the harem girls huddled in a corner and quickly confirmed that the other four had already been eaten. (Apparently the dwarf girl was a good cook and had been forced to cook her friends.) Rico Suave wasn’t quite enough meat for all of us, so the ettins were getting ready to sacrifice another harem girl to the pot.
Matharl, thinking quickly, offered to first perform a sacred ritual of his people to thank the humanoids for fulfilling his vengeance and to bless their feast. Although one of the ettins fell to arguing with itself over the matter and one of the goblins looking a little suspicious, Matharl convinced them to kneel in a circle around the cooking fire. He said that the ritual would bring the power of the daystar into their hearts and then doused them with the holy oil.
And by “holy oil”, I mean “highly flammable oil”.
With the monsters doused, everybody lowered their torches and started a bonfire.
As we were leading the harem girls out, we discovered that some cryptic remarks the ettins had made earlier actually referred to sea serpents and green gelloid monsters. It was during the final battle against these creatures, holding the line while the harem girls escaped, that Enriquill fell.
But we emerged largely victorious. And since Enriquill was dead, we each had a harem girl for ourselves. Since the girls were pretty certain that the sultan was almost certainly going to kill us (even if we hadn’t let four of the girls get eaten before we saved them), and they weren’t particularly enthusiastic about going back to him anyway, we decided that we’d heard some wonderful things about the city of Waterdeep.
(The DM was surprised to learn that we had been in the Forgotten Realms this entire time.)
For our third OD&D session in the Caverns of Thracia, we had four new players. Two of these players were completely new to RPGs; one had spent most of her time playing in the original World of Darkness; and the last had once played in a D&D campaign where the other players didn’t bother explaining the rules to her and she had basically watched while somebody else played her character for her.
This last player was particularly leery about giving D&D another try. In fact, I’m not sure if she would have shown up at all if it hadn’t been for the fact that OD&D was only one of the options for what we might play that night (the other was Arkham Horror). When the group decided on OD&D by a single vote, however, she joined the rest of us in rolling up a character.
I’m going to spoil the ending here: All five of the new players had a great time and all of them were eager to play again, including the player who had suffered such a sub-par experience the last time that she’d tried to play.
The new characters were: Greenwick the Halfling, Brennan the Fighting-Man, Howard the Magic-User, and Bob the Fighting-Man.
The spiel for introducing the rules and walking everyone through character creation took a little longer than in previous sssions because of the complete neophytes at the table, but we all had a good time of it. Howard’s player, in particular, glommed onto the OD&D rule that all weapons deal 1d6 points of damage and decided that, instead of buying a weapon, he could just convert a gold piece into copper and then throw the copper coins at people.
WHEN LAST WE LEFT OUR HEROES…
We also had two returning characters: Reeva (who had missed the second session) and the halfling Thalmain, who had now catapulted himself all the way to 3rd level (despite suffering an XP penalty from his low prime requisite).
At the end of the previous session, Thalmain had gotten himself cursed while opening a chest. Making a ruling based on the costs for creating a magical scroll, I decided that getting the local priest to cast remove curse would cost him 200 gp.
Fortunately, Thalmain’s share of the loot from the previous session had tallied at 240 gp.
This also gave us a nice hook for the new session: While the other PCs from the previous session were carousing with their loot, Thalmain found his own personal purse considerably lighter. Thus he had a motivation for rounding up a likely group of rag-tag treasure hunters (i.e., the other PCs) and returning to the ruins ASAP.
It was around this point, as the group was gearing itself up for the expedition, that Thalmain’s player asked for the map they’d made in the previous session.
I grinned my evil DM grin and said, “Herbert was the one mapping.”
And, of course, Herbert wasn’t there.
After a bit of haggling, I decided that Herbert would be willing to sell the map to Thalmain. Thalmain had 40 gp left, so I grabbed 2d20 and rolled… two natural 20′s.
Thalmain decided that he didn’t particularly want to go completely broke, so he decided to instead steal the map. This proved easy enough, since Herbert was cavorting at the local tavern with his wealth.
THE GRAND TOUR
As Thalmain led them into the Caverns of Thracia, he was able to act as a bit of a tour guide for the new players/characters. (“Here’s where the bridge almost burned down… Don’t open that door… Here’s the pit trap I heroically saved the party from… Here’s the place where I roasted lizardmen…”)
Eventually, however, they began pressing on into unexplored territory. A short while later, they found themselves descending broad stairs of stone…
And that’s when things got epic.
In the Caverns of Thracia, there is a room keyed thusly:
The Burial Crypt of the Cult of the Dark One: The reek of decaying flesh permeates the air here. Lying in ordered rows are rank upon rank of corpses. Most are long decayed and in skeletal form, but many are still fairly fresh, not having been dead for more than a few weeks (if you can call that fresh!). [...] If the southernmost pair of columns is approached within 5′ or if the columns are passed between or to either side, 1-4 skeletons will animate and begin to attack intruders. Each additional melee round 1-4 more skeletons will animate as long as there are living intruders to fight, up to a total of 400 skeletons. Skeletons, AC: 7, Move: 12″, HD: 1, Damage 1-6, HP 3.
I decided that the Thanatos cultists that they had killed before would have been moved down here, so there were also about a dozen bodies laid out directly before the leading into this large chamber and covered with fresh linen. (This creeped them out because, of course, it implied that there had been somebody around to move the bodies.)
Inevitably, of course, the PCs moved far enough into the room to trigger the undead guardians. As the corpses began to stir and wrench themselves free from the cordwood-like stacks of the dead, the party fell back to the entrance.
The two halfings — skilled in ranged weaponry — picked off the first wave. (Aided by the occasional coin-toss from Howard.) But more and more of the dead were beginning to stir, and they realized it would only take a few unlucky die rolls for the skeletons to reach their defensive position.
(Actually, I don’t think I’ve discussed this previously: Halflings are described in OD&D as having “deadly accuracy with missiles as detailed in CHAINMAIL”. These sessions are being run with the conceit that I don’t “have” Chainmail, so we decided that halflings would simply get a +1 bonus to damage while using ranged weapons.)
Against the eminent risk, they quickly rearranged their lines. Brennan and Reeva took the front line. Greenwick switched from ranged attacks to a polearm in the second rank. And then Howard, Thalmain, and Bob lined up in back using their ranged attacks to thin the undead ranks before they reached the melee fighters.
But, more importantly, they also started spreading oil in front of their defensive position. And as soon as some of the undead got close enough, they lit the oil.
Based on my interpretation of the room key, the undead would just keep coming. Each undead had 1d6 hit points. Those that survived the ranged attacks would enter the oil, suffer 1d6 hit points, and frequently die before they even threatened the melee fighters.
After a couple of rounds, it was clear that the 1d4 skeletons per round were just never going to pose any kind of credible threat: The defensive position they’d created was too strong. And while the oil would only last for 1d6 rounds, they had stocked up on it (in large part due to Thalmain’s success with a similar tactic during the last session).
I was in the process of trying to figure out how to make the encounter more interesting (since wittling through 400 undead 1d4 at a time wasn’t particularly exciting) when the PCs made it easy for me: They decided to try proactively eliminating the undead before they could rise. They tossed a flask of oil onto one of the piles of corpses and then fired a flaming arrow into it.
I ruled that the resulting conflagration was successful in destroying a large number of potential undead… but it also had the effect of rousing them. I rolled 1d10, got a result of 8, and went from rolling 1d4 to rolling 8d4 for the number of undead animating each round.
As the undead rose en masse, the piles collapsed — sending the dead cascading across the floor of the chamber.
It’s a testament to the strenght of their defensive position that they managed to hold out for several more rounds against the larger waves of undead without sustaining any injury. I was literally rolling fistfuls of d6′s to calculate the skeleton’s hit points while the players rolled a fistful of d6′s to calculate the damage wrought from the wide moat of fire they had laid down. They would read off the results and I would toss d6′s aside or lower their totals to reflect the current hit points of the skeletons.
Unfortunately, many of them were just 1st level characters. Eventually the law of averages worked against them and one of the skeletons emerged from the flaming oil and with a howl of undead rage managed to rip out Brennan’s throat.
Around this same time, my d4′s rolled high and a wave of 22 skeletons started heading towards them. At that point, they decided that discretion might be the better part of valor. But they weren’t done yet: Howard moved up to the melee line and they held the position for another couple of rounds.
As the wave of the 22 skeletons got close, however, they fell back.
But they weren’t done yet. See, Brennan had been the one carrying most of their (very large) supply of oil. So before they retreated, they rolled Brennan’s body into the flames.
1… 2… 3….
Surprisingly, a couple of the skeletons managed to actually emerge from the far side of the inferno and pursue them a couple of steps up the stairs. (I say a couple of steps, because Thalmain and Bob put arrows through their skulls before they got any further.)
When it was all said and done, I tallied up the dead:
They had killed 76 skeletons.
Killed? It’s probably more accurate to say “slaughtered” or “massacred” on a scale that a bunch of 1st level characters (with the exception of the 3rd level Thalmain) should really not be capable of dealing out.
Of course, they weren’t 1st level any longer. Everybody not only leveled up, but also maxed out their XP for the next level, bumping into the “thou shalt not get enough XP for two levels” ceiling. (Well, except for Thalmain, who bumped into the “thou shalt not advance past 4th level” ceiling for halflings.)
It isn’t the largest single-battle slaughter I’ve ever seen in a D&D game, but it’s almost certainly the most impressive. The only battles that rival it in terms of sheer number involve groups fighting large hordes of significantly weaker opponents.
Smart play. Very smart play.
Admittedly, if the skeletons had been smarter they wouldn’t have continued marching into the flames. But, on the other hand, I’m not sure how much difference it would have made: The skeletons had no access to ranged weapons and any possibility of a retreat was cut off by the chasm to the north. Even if they had hung back, they would have simply been picked off by the party’s ranged attacks.
To be continued…
FIRST TRAVAIL: FUN WITH PIT TRAPS
The pit trap in this section of the dungeon also led to some hilarity: After detecting its presence, Thalmain spent the better part of 15 minutes working out massively elaborate and overwrought work-arounds for trying to get across it… having missed the fact that there were 1-foot wide walkways to either side of the pit that could be easily walked across.
The funny part was that the other players had heard that information just fine. They, like me, just waited for Thalmain to finish his various exertions with ropes and acrobatics. When he was finished, Herbert calmly walked around the pit trap and patted him on the shoulder. “Can we go now?”
INTERLUDE: SLEEP AND SLEEP ALIKE
Following their first forays into the dungeon, the Thanatos death cultists had retreated to this chamber. This was going to be a tough encounter in any case and the PCs, unfortunately, alerted the cultists by talking loudly as they approached the heavy wooden doors.
This allowed the cultists to entrench their positions. When the PCs finally battered their way through the doors they found 8 well-accoutered guards in full plate; 2 cultist priests; and a trained black bear awaiting them.
Which is when I was forcibly reminded of just how powerful the sleep spell used to be:
Sleep: A Sleep spell affects from 2-16 1st level types (hit dice of up to 1 + 1), from 2-12 2nd level types (hit dice of up to 2 +1), from 1-6, 3rd level types, and but 1 4th level type (up to 4 +1 hit dice). The spell always affects up to the number of creatures determined by the dice. If more than the number rolled could be affected, determine which “sleep” by random selection. Range: 24″
At low levels it is, effectively, an encounter-ending ability. It was significantly neutered in 2nd Edition and then further neutered in 3.5 to the point where I almost never see it cast any more. But it quickly became apparent why it used to be a staple of the Magic-User class (along with magic missile and fireball):
Trust cast his first spell… and the entire room (except for the black bear) fell asleep. The bear was quickly taken down and a mass throat-slitting ensued.
There was much cheering and general approbation.
I had poetic justice a few minutes later, however, when the party triggered the sleep gas trap on one of the chests in the room. Everyone except for Thalmain was knocked out.
SECOND TRAVAIL: FUN WITH FLAMING OIL
Here we had another fun twist: Earlier in the session, several characters had been afflicted by a paralytic effect. Thalmain had been among those who had tried (unsuccessfully) to wake them. They had been forced to wait for the better part of an hour before the effect wore off. Left all alone, Thalmain now assumed that the sleep gas was, in fact, another paralytic effect.
When Thalmain decided to move their unconscious forms to the far side of the room, I was initially going to declare that the disturbance of being moved was sufficient to wake them up. But then Thalmain’s player specified, out of the blue, that he was moving them very carefully — and I decided that such careful ministrations would not be sufficient to wake them.
This nearly proved their undoing when, a few minutes later, a patrol of lizardmen showed up hoping to parlay with the cultists. Thalmain had spiked the door shut and even tried to bluff them into going away, but the lizardmen weren’t having it. They managed to batter the door open, although Thalmain’s cleverly placed iron spikes managed to wedge it in a position where they could only come through single-file.
But, nevertheless, it was still Thalmain the Halfling against an entire squad of lizardmen.
This would have probably ended badly if it wasn’t for Thalmain’s pyromania: He had, with great forethought, doused the floor in front of the doors with oil. As the lizardmen started to pour through the gap between the doors, he fired a flaming arrow into the middle of it and turned the entrance into a pyre.
A few lizardmen managed to leap through the flames largely unharmed… only to be struck by a second flask of oil that Thalmain had kept in reserve, spreading the inferno even further. The remaining lizardmen tried to pull back… only to be taken down by Thalmain’s archery.
It was a complete rout.
Shortly thereafter, Thalmain realized he could wake the others up by simply slapping them on the cheeks.
On this triumphant note, the characters retreated from the dungeon and the players retired for the evening.