To finish out the previous sortie, the players interrogated a captured kobald as best as they could and ended up leaving him in Caves area with goblin markings all over him. After returning to the Keep, the party reorganized again. The guy that had picked Ventriloquism as his only spell bowed out to have dinner with his girlfriend. He was replaced by the “3.5 guy” from the first session. The guy who’d lost his fighter in the Gygaxian death trap doggedly rolled up a new character. With very little fanfare, the party set off to try their luck with the Caves of Chaos one last time.
(SPOILER WARNING: If you intend to play the Keep on the Borderlands, you probably shouldn’t read any further!)
After a being repulsed by a bunch of humanoid doggie-men, the party showed little interest in going back to the kobald caverns. I’d expected them to want revenge, but they decided to go back to the goblin caves instead. They spent twenty minutes trying to formulate a plan to get the kobalds and the goblins to go to war with each other. What they didn’t know was that the goblins were completely wiped out and that it was a waste of time. They journeyed to the goblin store room and the dwarf quickly figured out the trick for opening the secret door.
At the end of a short passage, the party found a staircase and a store room that was occupied by a couple of hobgoblins. The fighting was brief and bloody. After lots of discussion and planning, the dwarf crept down the stairs using one of the hobgoblin bodies as a shield. (Note: the stairs should have gone up, but I misread the map.) At the foot of the stairs, two crossbow bolts thudded into the hobgoblin’s body. The dwarf cried out in hobgoblin and then ran back up the stairs.
I can’t quite remember the way this all played out, but the players bounced a sleep spell down the stairs at some point and took care of the guards. (The seasoned dungeon master guy was miffed when I told him there was no saving throw against sleep– he would have really liked to have known that when he was rolling up his character!) They piled up the bodies at the top of the stairs and then… they waited. After a few hours, the guy on watch heard the sounds of stomping feet coming up the stairs… then a grunt of surprise… then the feet clamoring down the stairs. It wasn’t much later that the party was attacked by a large group of hobgoblins. There was probably an oil trap involved, oil was lobbed over the front line hobgoblins, and at some point… the hobgoblins lost a morale check and fled back down the stairs. The 3.5 guy had fallen in battle, though, and he crumpled up his character sheet and left the table.
The party then chose to rest to recover spells and hit points at the foot of the stairs with the two doors spiked shut. Halfway through the night… a horrible slime dropped down on the sleeping cleric. The guy on watch tried to cut it off with a knife as her screams echoed through the caves. He tried burning it with a torch, but it was too late to save her. Some time after this the party heard grunting sounds from the other side of the doors– some kind of command.
Then… simultaneously, both doors were smashed in. A magic user cast sleep down one hallway and the party heard several thuds as the hobgoblins on that side fell to the floor. I think this left about four or six more coming through the other door. These guys bashed their way in… and somehow party members started to die left and right. (The dwarf guy was going to retreat after the first round, but the dice didn’t allow it.) At the end, it was just one cleric and one magic user…. There were two hobgoblins pounding on the cleric while the magic-user lobbed oil flasks over him. The cleric missed his to-hit roll ten or twelve times in a row and finally got knocked down. Statistically, he really should have been able to kill those hobgoblins thanks to his plate+shield, but it wasn’t meant to be.
The magic-user fled with nothing but his starting gear. He now drinks heavily and is a fixture in the tavern back at the Keep. He’ll tell anyone who’ll listen how horrible the Caves are and how hobgoblins wiped out all of his cohorts, leaving him to escape alone.
I like that your Caves are evolving and “remembering” each session, despite the involvement of completely different parties of PCs.
Are your kids in the same Caves as my characters and these other adult groups? Or do they have a special, alternate, presumably gentler CoC?
Actually… the Lizard Man Mound my kids cleaned out is canonical in both your games and the Madicon sessions. So when I rattled of a half dozen hooks during the first Madicon session… there was no Lizard Man rumor. Too bad… they might have made some good allies at some point… or maybe even a source for Lizard Man Barbarian player characters….
(My kids are not particularly attached to the Caves of Chaos, though. They are planning an expedition to the much more gonzo Pit of Despair that’s a couple of sheets of graph paper to the East. They want lots of rooms to explore and more stuff to interact with… AND more deadly peril.)
I am greatly enjoying these recaps. What did the players think about this session?
I think the reactions varied greatly based on the expectations people brought to the table. People that have been trained to the 3e/4e D&D approach seemed to have a harder time even if they were trying to be open to a new style. Failure was not at all what people expected and maybe was hard to swallow. One guy was clearly into it, though– I think he was terrified by the sheer horror of it all and pretty well immersed into the action of the game. He told me… his usual DM is so dull and that he takes the adventures off the internet somewhere and says, “okay… you guys travel on to this other town.” He tried to explain to me how there was so much more story in my game– which I thought that was ironic because I was consciously eliminating any sort of narrative!
Loving the death and failure – reminds me of RPGing from days gone by. Your right – my later games of DnD have been more about building more powerful characters, and degrees of success rather than just success or failure.
That said, scenarios I’ve run have been more narrative / story based, and far from the dungeon crawl / invasion style of older scenarios, so TPKs are almost fatal to those stories (as the narrative was bound to those certain characters or a certain time period).
But your stories bought back memories of 2nd Edition ADnD in the Undermountain, or even earlier Red Box DnD adventures (inc. Keep on the borderlands), and a style of gaming I now miss in part. A time when 0HP meant character death :)
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