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!
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!