Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Madicon 21: Goblinoid Genocide in the Caves of Chaos

I’d bought the Dungeons & Dragons Basic set at a teacher’s supply store back in the mid-eighties when I was still in elementary school. By the time I had the necessary social skills to organize and run a campaign with it, my friends had all grown up and moved away. We got entangled with careers and marriages and kids and life… and eventually my only hope in ever finding out how the game really played depended on a random sample of strangers that weren’t even alive when it first came out. Fortunately, my fears of having no one show up to my Keep on the Borderlands game were unfounded. Five people came to my first session:

  • One guy was an experienced, long time player that knew quite a bit about the earlier editions. He became the unofficial leader and rules-explainer of the party.
  • Another was probably a D&D 3.5 type of guy who kept trying to create modern-style rules that he could hack. Alas, there was little in the Moldvay book for his munchkinery to get traction on.
  • One was a 17-year girl who (I think) had never played a role playing game before.
  • Another was a quiet guy who seemed to hang back most of the time. I later saw him running Palladium’s Nightbane role playing game for a couple of guys.
  • We also had a college aged geek-girl who arrived dressed for the cosplay contest. She would later tell me that she had enjoyed the game, but I couldn’t help but notice that she was playing solitaire on her smart phone half of the time.

While most convention games are run with pre-generated characters, I chose to have everyone roll up new ones. I just consider it an integral part of the old school experience. As the players showed up, I gave them a sheet of authentic early eighties loose leaf notebook paper and asked them to roll 3d6 in order. For the next forty minutes there were howls of agony as the players discovered that dwarf was a class, that they could very easily end up with only one or two hit points, that magic users only got one spell in their books, that clerics got no spells….

(SPOILER WARNING: If you intend to play the Keep on the Borderlands, you probably shouldn’t read any further!)

I explained very little about what was going on beyond a few rules clarifications here and there. When everyone had their characters, I briefly described the Realms and Borderlands area. I read the Gygaxian prose about the party’s arrival to the Keep and let them introduce themselves. (I always like doing that because you can see immediately how serious or silly the group is.) The party went right on past the chapel and made a bee-line for the tavern.

Two players went up to a couple of men-at-arms and very quickly found out that a caravan was late, an elf had gone missing on a hunting trip recently, that there was a crazy old dude that lived in the swamps, and that a dragon was due in the next few weeks to come raid the livestock again. The two guys that spoke dwarvish ended up chatting with a dwarf guy that told of his brush with death at the Caves of Chaos. He warned the party than an Ogre in the goblin caves wiped out all of his cohorts, leaving him to escape alone. The party hired him at standard rates and he agreed to show them the way to the Caves.

The 3.5 guy went out of his way to flirt with the bar maid. He really wanted to roll the dice, too. I let him… looked carefully at the roll… and said that she called him “sweety” and maybe winked at him once, but that was it. (I think this was the first die roll of the adventure.) All through the game he would try to find stuff he could roll for like that, especially if it had absolutely nothing to do with improving the party’s situation.

The hired dwarf led the party to a camp site near the Caves and the party pretty much accepted it with little paranoia. They carefully divided up watches for the night. (Nothing was going to happen monster wise due to their location, but I had to train them to worry about this stuff for when it would matter.) The first watch heard neeker-breekers. The second watch heard louder neeker-breekers. The third watch was magic users and they woke up the dwarf so that he could investigate the sounds that a badger was making. During the fourth watch, the party was overrun by frogs. The 3.5 guy was captured as many as he could and made frog leg stew and frog jerky. (I let the players mark additional rations on their sheets.)

The players made it to the caves and I drew a quick sketch of the area. It took a long time to explain the contour lines and the scale. The party opted to head straight into the goblin cave and marched right into where they thought the action would be thickest. The point-men tapped all around with ten foot poles as the walked. I made a couple of rolls to check for the wandering goblin guards, but the party seriously lucked out. They made it to the main guard area without any trouble… and then won initiative. They even managed to kill a couple of goblins in that first round. The goblins lost their morale roll and ran down the hall toward their main living area.

This left the party alone in this guard-room for a moment. They opened up a barrel they found there with their ten-foot-poles and looked inside to find… a bag full of coin! Jackpot! But then the party heard the ominous tramping of feet heading their way. Someone asked which direction it was coming from, and (thanks to a good INT check on the asker’s part), I told them that even though it’s difficult to tell in the echoing caves, it seemed like the sounds were coming from both directions.

The party quickly set up for battle, pouring oil all over the far passageway. The stoutest fighters barred the opposite passage leading to the known exit. The goblins came, initiative was rolled, and swords clashed. A couple of goblin guards fell to the blows of the party’s fighters and then fled after botching their morale roll. Meanwhile, on the other side… I ruled that a player could watch the hallway and get a preemptive action before initiative and combat began. The 3.5 guy used that to light the oil right when the lead goblins were standing in it. They went up in flames… and the much larger group of goblins on that side fled back to their inner areas in terror.

The party chased down the guards so that the exit would be clear and then planned their next move. They decided to hold back their sleep spell just in case the Ogre showed up. (They had no way of knowing it, but they had inadvertently neutralized the Ogre threat for the moment.) They marched further into the goblin lair and came to the common room. They fought them, then after very little debate, lined them up against the wall, and killed the defenseless women and children. They kept one goblin kid alive and tried to get him to do stuff, but it didn’t work out and they killed him, too.

This left a closed door and a lightly defended passage. The party spiked the door closed and cleaned out the passage, discovering a storeroom full of comestibles in the process. Back at the door, the party’s dwarf made his “open door” check and the party went in for the big fight with the Great Goblin, his main dudes, and his babes. We rolled scads of d20’s, and even though there was almost no significant tactics involved… the danger and suspense seemed pretty intense. (To me, anyway.) As luck would have it, the only death was of the dwarf dude that they had hired back at the tavern. The players cheered when this happened because they wouldn’t have to pay him.

At this point, the players were very pleased with themselves. They now argued for a long time about the best way to get the loot back to the Keep. I made them describe what they were doing, but anything they said would simply work for the most part. (I wasn’t enforcing any optional encumbrance rules– I just wanted to be clear on what was happening.) The party went back to the store-room and started loading up these barrel-things that they had cut in half. At that moment… the secret door opened.

Out came four hobgoblins. The party lost initiative and the hobgoblins slaughtered the magic-user, the cleric, and the thief. This left a very stunned dwarf and fighter. The dwarf’s player argued that the best loot would be right by the entrance in easy-to-carry bags, and I accepted that. He and the fighter grabbed the stuff and then ran like heck back to the Keep.

The two survivors got about 1400 gold and 1600 experience points. Thanks to their prime requisite bonuses, their experience shares came to 880. I was really impressed by this, as I’d expected the first outing to quickly lead to a total party kill. We were a little over half way through the first session at this point, so it was conceivable that one of these characters could level up during the convention. In spite of some carelessness, the group was playing superbly well for a first-time session.

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7 responses to “Madicon 21: Goblinoid Genocide in the Caves of Chaos

  1. Chris Mata March 14, 2012 at 7:07 am

    (SPOILER WARNING: If you intend to play the Keep on the Borderlands, you probably shouldn’t read any further!)

    That is my favorite part of the whole post. It made me think that it’s too old for anyone NOT to have played it and its too old for anyone to have played it.

    Keep was the 2nd module I ever played in and we spent more than a few sessions clearing out the caves.

    It is probably, IMHO, the best pick you could have made for a one shot convention setting. It hits all the high points.

  2. Jimmy Anderson March 14, 2012 at 8:53 am

    First, great read! THANK YOU! I don’t game much anymore (almost never) so these are a great way for me to “keep up” and I appreciate it.

    Second, I like how “3.5 guy” lost any other sort of identification. Cool, and I can relate. :-)

    • jeffro March 14, 2012 at 12:13 pm

      Thanks, Jimmy.

      The “3.5 guy” appellation is not meant to be pejorative. He just seemed to me to be someone that was struggling with how different the game was from what he’d grown up with. All the normal gaming stuff that he’d do was useless or worse… and the stuff that he could do… didn’t seem like anything to him. (I think it’s awesome that his two hit point magic user was able to set up an impromptu oil trap, though.)

  3. earlburt March 14, 2012 at 11:41 am

    “The player characters of an old school game are not just murderous, thieving hoboes, but they are monstrous terrorists as well.”

    Yup. At least my terrorism had both secular and Divine sanction. These people didn’t even make an attempt at justification.

    • jeffro March 14, 2012 at 2:00 pm

      If you’re gonna steal, you might as well steal from the best. ;)

    • Brendan March 15, 2012 at 5:58 pm

      After fighting the giant frog in Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom, my players (specifically a dwarf) decided to cook and eat it it as well. He wanted to smoke the left-overs too, but we determined that would take too long to be practical in the dungeon.

      What is it about frogs?

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