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AD&D Session 11: “You Just Ruined My Story Arc”

The lives of even the skankiest and most disease ridden trollops matter.

This session was a hot mess.

Two thieves and a paladin crashed the game out of nowhere. This was in addition to the usual crew that include Fluid the Druid, Torin the Ranger, Fagor the Half-Orc, and the Swoleceror. This was a bunch of players and I barely managed to get things under control for any length of time.

In the first place, the paladin had suspiciously good stats. Multiple 18’s. Just insane. I debated whether or not to let him in like that. He claims to have used some kind of online character generator. I am just not convinced that it’s doing anything remotely like the real method III. Ah, well. It’s only for a session. How much damage can a paladin do in a single session, anyway?

Fagor opened up the session clamoring for the report cards. Did the players that were leveling get E, S, F, or P ratings? Well this one cleric got an “F” for one session so he could not enter this session at level two like he had hoped. Oh, the howls of protest this elicited! I ruled that he still had training to do.

The Swoleceror was supposed to be stuck in the Swiss Family Robinson tree house the players built in the jungle near the huge ruined pile. I rule he somehow tagged along with the others last session just for the sake of getting everybody on the same page. He elected to cast Read Magic on the scroll the players had recovered. It had Feeblemind, Project Image, Zilifant’s Effervescent Protein Bomb, Ray of Enfeeblement, and Extension II on it.  Scrolls. Scrolls!

The druid had left with the horses last session. I was sure he was dead because he’d run into orcs. We argued about this until I agreed to play it out at the beginning of this session. I’m like, okay… you ran into a crap ton of orcs. What do you do? He’s like… what’s the encounter distance? I’m like… uh… heck if I know. He asks if they are on horseback and I say no. I realize I have been outplayed at this point, so I tell him I am checking to see if the orcs can alert the Apache Indian scouts in such a way as to keep Fluid from breaking out. The dice say he is fine.

Now, I had thought that the druid was going to hang out in the jungles after this, but he shows back up in town. The player thought I had put his other character– the cleric still in training– out of this game which was not my intention. I decided not to fix this because there was just way too much “business” to attend to here. Besides, how much damage can a druid do in a single session, anyway?

So this rabble of seven adventurers with basically NOTHING in common has to figure out what they want to do. Total chaos! Torn the ranger tried to list off a few places they could go, but he was drowned out by the commotion.

Fluid the Druid

Fagor gets my attention and asks if there is some way to take advantage of the siege-time economy to make a lot of money. He wants to know if he makes a killing doing something like that if he gets experience. I tell him that the only purpose of the economic rules in AD&D if for me to arbitrarily take money away from the characters on a whim. Also, the experience for supposed to be for treasure recovered from dungeons. (Patron adventures would count, too, I suppose.)

The group decides to go talk to Prince Elric, the Melnibonéan ruler of Trollopulous. The players ask him how his debauchery has been going. Miserably, he says. They were expecting a shipment of fresh trollops from beyond the mountains of the southwest just before this wretched siege was instituted. Supplies are dwindling. Even worse, there is this beautiful naked woman with angel wings routinely swooping into the city and flying off with the city’s most salacious harlots. The value of Zanzel Malancthones trollop futures has gone negative. Food riots could begin any day now. His mutual funds are worthless. Prince Elric can barely enjoy his depravity under the circumstances.

Fagor is intrigued by the chance of smuggling in a fresh batch of slovenly trulls through the blockade. So much money could be made! But the rest of the party takes an interest in this flying naked woman thing. They ask Prince Elric if there’s anything they can do for him with this. He brightens at the prospect of having this tremendous headache taken off his plate and asks them what they desire. Chaz the elven thief says he would like to set up an autonomous zone within the city, but the other players over rule him, asking for money instead. He offers 800 gold each to the party if they can capture her alive and bring her to him.

With this amount of money on the table, the players are off.

The paladin takes this moment to explain that he was waiting in line behind the players because back at his order he was caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar. In order to make penance, he was told to go get in line with the people seeking audiences with Prince Elric… and then aid the quest of whoever happens to be in front of him when he arrives.

Now 800 gold each is a tremendous amount of money. About half what is needed to pay training costs to go up to second level. Rather ridiculous. I felt confident with this figure because I didn’t think the party had any significant chance of collecting.

Now, the session was completely out of control up until this point. I sternly instructed the rabble to get their act together, elect a caller, and try to cooperate enough that something could actually happen. They tried to be reasonable for about three minutes or so and then we went back to the inevitable chaos that this particular group necessarily elicited.

The players asked me for more details about the patterns of this weird naked angel looking woman’s activities and they decided to ambush her in the early evening. Fluid the Druid announced that he was casting Animal Friendship on a dog and was going to have him sniff out the most licentious trollop in the city. I ruled that they of course had found a likely candidate, because after all, the odds of the players successfully accomplishing anything were next to nothing.

Fluid pays forty gold to her up front for the night and takes her to an outdoor cafe in the middle of Harlot Central. He attempts to persuade her to shack up with him out in the wilds, start a hippy commune. She flirts with him and leads him on in his quixotic aspirations. Meanwhile, the two thieves skulk in the shadows. The ranger and Fagor take up positions on a rooftop. The Swoleceror memorized jump so that he could (failing everything else) jump onto the naked angel woman thing as it is flying off with the evil trollop.

The players hash all of this out and get everything arranged as they like. They look around for a pimp, and spot a guy in flamboyant clothes, boots with goldfish swimming around in them.

The naked woman with angel wings alights right in the main square of Harlot Central. She/it walks towards Fluid the Druid’s table, then speaks in sonorous tones: “Dulcinea, the day of your doom is has arrived!”

Now, I granted the players something like surprise because of course they had no chance at all to effect anything. I was positive that this creature would at the very least get away somehow. I kick things over to the players to have them declare their actions. Most of the players are pretty cautious. The one thief asks if he can give instructions in the form of “if this happens then I do this and if this happens I do that.” I tell him those sorts of combat actions are pretty much foreign to AD&D. Just not that sort of granularity at all here.

The Swoleceror reads Ray of Enfeeblement off his scroll and rays of plaid shoot out of his hands, encircling the naked woman with angel wings and imbuing her with an unearthly glow.

Then, while the rest of the party held back, the paladin elected to charge in and overbear the naked woman with angel wings. He staggers her, which results in a followup attack. She is then knocked flat and is stunned for one round. (!!) Fagor and the ranger are heading downstairs in response to this turn of events. The next round there is a long argument about the grappling rules which I wade into and somehow manged to resolve. The paladin drives his knee into the naked angel-winged woman’s crotch and she takes an alarming amount of damage. She is freaking out Exorcist style due to her close proximity to the paladin.

The next round she gains initiative. This is the only moment she gets without suffering from stun effects. The paladin grapples her again. She then casts some magic on the group. Strangely enough, Fagor, the ranger, and the paladin all make their saving throws versus wands. The group doesn’t even find out what the effect would have been. Her followup attack never happens because the paladin stuns her yet again. Fagor leg drops onto her while the ranger puts a black bag over her head. (Combing through the nuances of these grappling rules took a VERY LONG TIME to sort out and adjudicate. I think I get the idea of them now. To the extent that anyone can.)

At this point, I throw up my hands in exasperation.

I read over the relevant monster entry and various spell entries again at this point to determine if there is anything I can do to salvage the situation. The players then chain her up and put her in a wheel barrel and head back to Prince Elric. I determine the one thing she could try under these circumstances and the players hear muffled sounds coming from within the leather bag. I roll the dice and… the effect fizzles. One of the thieves picks up a dagger and a rope that she’s dropped.

I reread the entries again to make sure nothing else significant can happen and then grudgingly let the players convey her to Prince Elric’s audience room. He is rubbing his hands together in anticipation. That one thief jerks a handful of feathers out of the thing’s wings. Elric has the treasure dole out 80 platinum pieces to each member of the party. The players correct him, that it should be 160.

I inform the players that they have completely ruined my story arc and we call it a night.

Too bad for Fluid the Druid, but the visiting paladin didn’t get around to casting Cure Disease on Dulcinea before leaving the campaign.

Cast o’ Characters:

Fluid the Druid — [Delve 9, 10, and 11] [Frozen at 2000 xp until he levels.]

Torin the Strider [Level 2!] — [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 6b, 7, 8,  9, 10 and 11] 2250 + 800 = 3050 xp (levels at 4500) [Looks like a member of ZZ Top]

Fagor the Half-Orc [Level 2] [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 6b, 7, 8,  9, 10, and 11] — 2000 + 800 = 2800 xp (levels at 4000) [His horns have grown incredibly large. Looks frightening and diabolical.] (His name means “astonishing hero” in orcish. For real!)

Hans Franzen the Swoleceror — (2 hits, Burning hands, Jump, Message, Read Magic, and Zilifant’s Effervescent Protein Bomb) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6a, 6b, 8, 11] [Frozen at 2500 xp until he levels.] [Looks like a member of ZZ Top] 670 gold. Training costs for level 2 paid! +1 hit point at second level!!!

Chaz the Elven Thief — [Delve 11 only] 800 xp

Some other Thief — [Delve 11 only] 800 xp (Has weird ‘weeping dagger’ and a rope that follows voice commands.)

Random visiting Paladin — [Delve 11 only]  800 xp

Experience and treasure:

The party picked up an even 160 platinum for each adventurer. One of the thieves picked up a weird “demon” dagger and a “demon” rope.

Time:

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

(Day 16-21: More carousing, fasting, panhandling.)

Day 22-25: Altar of the Beast-women

(Day 26-31: Resting)

Day 32-33: The Pugs of Slaughter

(Day 34-39: Resting)

Day 40: The Overbearing of the Crystal Men

(Day 41-46: Resting)

Days 47-48: The Song of Fàgor

(Day 49-70: In shock from an awesomely weird adventure. Sad!)

Day 71: The Woman in the Ice

(Day 72-76: Resting)

Day 78-79: The Return to Trollopulous

(Day 80-85: Carousing in a besieged Trollopulous.)

Day 86: “You Just Ruined My Story Arc”

The graveyard:

Dorkorus — Half-elf fighter/magic-user/thief — [Half brother to Keebler Khan, talked with a lisp!] Killed by a pug-man in the sewers  of Trolopulous.

Dairage — Elf fighter/magic-user — Killed with his shield spell on, valiantly taking down the leader of the pug-men so that the party could have a chance to escape certain death!

9 Hapless men-at-arms!

Arthur the Gallant (7 hits) [Delves 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6a, 6b, 7, 8, and 9] XP: 122 + 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 + 255 + 0 + 195 = 2584 [Looked like a member of ZZ Top] — Killed in the sewers of Trollopulous while bashing a baby wererat with his shield.

AD&D Session 10: Return to Trollopulous

The last session had concluded with an epiphany about how these games work, why the players do what they do, why they don’t go where I expect them to. With the new dungeon fragment that I’d improvised echoing in my imagination like a primordial half cadence, I have never been more certain about what was needed to complete it. I take 30 minutes to sketch it out. May end up revising it.

Waiting for people to show up to the hangout, I look around for pictures of mythical elfin women for inspiration. Everything looks the same, like trashy dress-up women from the nerd conventions. All of them exotic in precisely the same way, all of them wearing the same chintzy horns regardless of the creature they are portraying.

Fàgor’s player shows up. He asks me about the cryptic message I’d sent him the other day when I had determined the nature of the four scrolls that were discovered last game. (“Scrolls. Scrolls!!!”) I am full of ideas. Are the table results sound? Is the spell density orders of magnitude greater than in other editions due to Gygax’s intensely specific vision? Are the results balanced for the campaign? I extemporize the equivalent of a thousand word game blog post on the topic but even as I do it falls flat. The game has a life of its own and it is compelling for its own inscrutable reasons. The players just don’t need to know anything beyond what is in play. Arguments between dungeon masters pale in comparison to whatever meaning they bestow upon things.

The moment passes and more players arrive. The question of whether or not to free the evil sorceress from the ice. Brother Payne resolves to do so at the earliest opportunity. The debate about what to do next seems to range quite a bit. Nobody wants to take charge, really. Gradually a consensus is reached. They want to take the scrolls back to Trollopulous and sell them so they can pay training costs for everyone that is ready to level– the three protection scrolls (vs. Magic, vs. Demons, and vs. Fire Elementals) all fetch a pretty significant amount of coin.

The Swoleceror player couldn’t make it. Also Keebler Khan is back in Trollopuous. Nobody could cast read magic to determine what is on the last scroll. The thing I was most excited about for the game has to wait for another time. I should expect this by now but this sort of thing always surprises me.

The players make their way to the outskirts of the huge ruined pile where they have established their jungle base. They find large numbers of mushrooms. Their recent psychedelic excursion is so odious to them, they immediately destroy them all. They are scared that something is going to get them. Wryly, the ranger remarks, “sometimes the adventure comes to you.”

Players march about half a day through the jungle. Then it is another day through rolling hills. No random encounters. Players plan to arrive very early in the morning in hopes that the orcs will be sleepy and confused. As they get close to the siege of Trollopulous, I set differing chances of being encountered by either orcs, Apache scouts, or white apes. The dice say no orcs. Then they say no Apache. Then they say yes, there are white apes. (How on earth do the dice get this so right?!)

The players are plying their way through the swamps heading toward the barred grate northwest of the city that the ranger had identified many sessions ago. Someone says something about how they could lead the orcs into the city through this passage, and then Trollopulous would fall. They go over a rise and… they are surprised by two gigantic four-armed white apes!

Surprise combined with a potential loss of initiative. Wow, this could be absolutely devastating. I rub my hands together in anticipation of the complete chaos that is bound to ensue. Then Fluid the Druid’s player points out that the special ranger surprise rules may apply here. Rangers surprise (q.v.) opponents 50% of the time (d6, scare 1 through 3) and are themselves surprised only 161/3% of the time (d6, score 1). The players had rolled a one, indicating that they were surprised. The apes had rolled three… which normally would mean that they weren’t. But in this case– assuming I understand the rules– oh my gosh, this actually turns out to be mutual surprise. Good golly what a curveball!

The players declare their actions. Ranged weapons from Fàgor and the ranger. Druid starts casting a spell that takes three segments to go off. Everyone else prepares for the the deluge. Somebody asks if the white apes count as “large” opponents and then smiles grimly when I say yes. Probably set the hit dice on these guys too low if the players were going to deal out damage dice like I suspect they would!

The players score a bit of damage with the ranged weapons, the two apes each miss Brother Payne (!!), and then the spell goes off. It is talk with animals. The druid is saying something obviously ludicrous, so I check both morale and reaction to see what happens. The druid’s charisma bonus is significant enough that things cool off temporarily, but the apes are still wary. He then boldly walks up them and starts picking lice out of their fur. I check reaction again and… oh man. The two apes hunker down and start grooming the druid. The players then quietly tiptoe past the group and head for the grate that leads into the sewers.

At the grate, the players all try and fail against their bend bars rolls. The players ask me to describe it and I say they are standing in foot-deep sludge; the grate is held closed by a small ring of metal with a strange dial on it; the passage beyond it is five feet tall and would allow passage in single file only. The players elect to bash the ring of metal holding the gate closed. Fàgor tries and I check for Apache scouts. The players argue about what to do next, but then Torin announces a successful roll. The grate is open and the enemy does not appear to have been alerted.

There is a big argument about what to do with the horses. The passages is too long to just cram through. This vexes the ranger’s spirits. Fluid the Druid offers to take care of them in the swamp due do his dislike of cities. This makes no sense, but the players eventually agree.

They go a long way in the passage, northeast I think. After a while is more like the sewers they remember. Fàgor sees heat signatures of two figures. The party freezes and the two figures disappear. I think they go a long way southeast. It starts getting colder. They get to an intersection and hear the tom tom tap tap of drums to the north. The players strike east through the goo and the sludge. After a long while, they find a cave-like opening to the north.

The players go in and immediately Fàgor and the paladin fall in a pit. The players argue about how to get out until Fàgor just shoves the paladin up while someone else feeds him some rope. Then the rats arrive. There is biting and kicking with some rats getting kicked into the pit. The players take some damage in the exchange. The paladin heals himself. Brother Payne offers somebody a sip from his healing jug.

They go in the next room and there are three passages. The players are about systematically search them when something fails to sneak up behind them. It is a humanoid rat creature. The combat goes for a few rounds and it is beaten down rather handily. This seems weirdly anti-climatic to me when Fluid the Druid’s player pipes in to say, “good thing that wasn’t a wererat.” I am confused by this. I reread the monster entry. Every time this happens, I miss some significant feature in the description. But there’s nothing there. Oh but there it is in the stat ares: all are hit only by silver or +1 or better magic weapons.

Crap! The players start giving me a hard time because I went off on some dipstick the other day about there being no do-overs in D&D. I struggle to get control of the game again. Maybe… this is a rat man which is totally different from a wererat? But no, then the number appearing would have been higher to compensate for the lack of pizzazz. I’m baffled. Somebody else says that maybe it is like the horror movies where the slasher gets killed buy then comes back again and again for rampage after rampage. I brighten at this at which point the ranger quickly declares that he stabs the “rat man” repeatedly with his silver dagger, slits his throat, everything.

I resign myself to having run a lame adventure. The players go into the south room and find a bunch of rags. Fàgor searches it. I describe how gross it is, but he doesn’t care. He is covered in raw sewage! He picks through the rags and a poisonous snake bites into his armor. He chops at the snake but it disappears back into the mess.

The players go check out the north room. Inside they see a bed with a nightstand, a cradle, a lamp…. But it’s all like the weird stuff from those Sasquatch commercials. Very crude. They go look in the cradle and holy moly! there’s a baby rat creature in it. The players are completely smitten with this scenario. The paladin declares he is shield bashing the baby. (To be fair, he did confirm that it was emanating evil first.)

At this point there is another failed surprise attack. (The dice just were not favoring the rat creatures that night!) This time it’s another humanoid rat wearing an apron. It has a frying pan in one hand and a rolling pin in the other! A fight ensues and the players are hitting and rolling all these big damage amounts. I’m like, oh yeah… let me mark than down. The ranger is stabbing away with his silver dagger but not hitting for much. The rat creature is missing a lot, then randomly goes after the paladin and rolls an 18. Even accounting for the protection from evil ability this is still a hit. The damage roll is very high. Enough the take the paladin to negative hit points… even beyond the optional -3 mercy rule. (He’d neglected to request a healing spell from Brother Payne and wasn’t at full hit points.)

Everything changes. Fàgor is grabbing the pack on the paladin and running. Brother Payne is healing the ranger. Everyone is acting without planning. The rat monster attacks again. Payne and the ranger are now fleeing with the rat monster pursuing. Fàgor then crashes into her, knocking her into the pit so that everyone can have time to escape. The players throw flaming oil into the pit to hopefully distract her and they they leave without doing any more searches.

They slog through the sewers a long while passing through another intersection. They continue east and come to a door just to the south. The players ask if they recognize it and I say there are scorch marks all around it from flaming oil. They know where they are now and are confused as to why the lair was positioned the way it was. (Map maker and/or DM miscommunication previously.)

The players turn right at the next intersection and head south. They see a passage through the bricks to the east. They keep going to find a ladder and they emerge into… Trollopulous!

They find out that Zanzel Melancthones is going to pay them 5500 gold for the protection scrolls and the players then have many intense discussions about who and how to level everyone. Lotsa stuff to figure out now…!

Cast o’ Characters:

[Wandered in from from the jungle and randomly joined the group.] Fluid the Druid [level 1 druid] (Deity = Mother Nature) [Delve 9 and 10] XP: 195 + NONE FOR TEN, YET = 195

[Looks like a member of ZZ Top] Brother Pain the Acolyte [Delve 3b, 7, 8, 9, and 10] XP: 351 + 54 + 255 + 0 + 195 + 2965 = [Frozen at 1500 until he levels!]

[Looks like a member of ZZ Top] Torin the Runner (7 hits) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 6b, 7, 8,  9, and 10] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 + 255 + 0 + 2965 = [Frozen at 2250 until he levels!]

[His horns have grown incredibly large. Looks frightening and diabolical.] Fàgor — (12 hits) Half-Orc Fighter [Delve 7, 8, 9, and 10] 255 + 0 + 195 + 2965 = [Frozen at 2000 until he levels!] (His name means “astonishing hero” in orcish. For real!)

Experience and treasure:

Gonna go with no experience for killing monsters. 5500 gold for the three protection scrolls… plus 150 more for the gold belt buckle. And wow, the eight gem stones recovered are worth 1000, 550, 50, 450, 150, 15, 900, and 130 gold respectively. Total XP and gold is each 8895. Divided three ways this comes out to 2965. (None for Fluid the Druid because he is in limbo, probably captured by orcs.)

Time:

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

(Day 16-21: More carousing, fasting, panhandling.)

Day 22-25: Altar of the Beast-women

(Day 26-31: Resting)

Day 32-33: The Pugs of Slaughter

(Day 34-39: Resting)

Day 40: The Overbearing of the Crystal Men

(Day 41-46: Resting)

Days 47-48: The Song of Fàgor

(Day 49-70: In shock from an awesomely weird adventure. Sad!)

Day 71: The Woman in the Ice

(Day 72-76: Resting)

Day 78-79: The Return to Trollopulous

The graveyard:

Dorkorus — Half-elf fighter/magic-user/thief — [Half brother to Keebler Khan, talked with a lisp!] Killed by a pug-man in the Trolopulous mega-dungeon.

Dairage — Elf fighter/magic-user — Killed with his shield spell on, valiantly taking down the leader of the pug-men so that the party could have a chance to escape certain death!

9 Hapless men-at-arms!

Arthur the Gallant (7 hits) [Delves 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6a, 6b, 7, 8, and 9] XP: 122 + 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 + 255 + 0 + 195 = 2584 [Looked like a member of ZZ Top] — Killed in the sewers of Trollopulous while bashing a baby wererat with his shield.

AD&D Session 9: The Woman in the Ice

The game returns after a brief hiatus. I had every intention of giving my notebook of sketches and monster tables some attention during the interim, but really… it just never happened. It mostly came down to not knowing what the players would do. Fear and anxiety grew. What if I never have as much fun again as we did in whatever previous session was the best? What if I let my friends down? Truly, it was Dungeon Master Slough of Despond if there ever was one!

Then the guy that played Funk– the dude that wrestled the crystal men into the pits– he pings me staying I must be AFRAID to run a game with him in it. Right in front of the other old school dungeon masters, too. Suddenly there was zero chance of the game getting canceled.

Now, going into this one, everything about the players’ overall mental state was a complete revelation to me. Maybe to you their actions will make perfect sense. To me? It was well that I hadn’t wasted any time prepping. There was just no way I could anticipate any of this.

See, I had thought the last session was some kind of gaming tour de force. I was convinced that my dungeon of extreme weirdness was going to get an encore delve, because clearly… it was some of the best D&D gaming anyone had ever delivered. Obviously, right?! Alas, the warm feelings I have for what the players described as being a psychedelic experience were not shared. The players had zero desire to go back to either the red cathedral, to mushroom land, to the dungeon that held the portal, or even to anything in the huge ruined pile.

Go figure!

The players did ask about the red moon that Fàgor had seen. It was gone. They also wanted to know more about the lion vs. ape turf war that was going on in their vicinity– and maybe wanted to go bash in some gorilla heads, too. One player character from Trollopulous showed up to inform the group that the city was under siege. Another player was going to bring his cleric in from there, but when that didn’t make sense he introduced “Fluid the Druid” into the game instead.

The ranger declared that he had spent the past three weeks scouting out the jungle. Given that and everything else, it was clear that if there was any sort of alternate dungeon nearby, the players would know of it. So I declared it to be in existence half a day’s journey from the huge ruined pile where the players had made their new base of operations. The players immediately latched onto this. The weirdness of the ruined pile, the chaos of Trollopulous, the baffling red moon– all of this was shunned in favor of… something different.

In retrospect, this is an entirely natural and almost inevitable move on the players’ part. Again, though, going into the session this was completely unimaginable to me. Once this relatively subtle social signal was received, I became 100% confident in my ability to make up something that would actually suit the players.

Trekking across the jungle they soon see this mountain towering above the trees. At its peak is a Mount Rushmore type head of a tribal African. Now… aside from the Apache Indians currently placing Trollopulous under siege, there are no non-white people in this setting. The demi-humans are all white as well and have no culture of their own. They evidently just appear in the world via the trolls of Elfland stealing unbaptised infants and replacing them with freakish changelings, often abandoned to a life of desperation on the worst streets of the city.

The players climb the granite slab leading up to the giant head; it takes three hours. They climb over the teeth on onto the replica of a tongue and look up at the perfect likeness of an uvula hanging down from the ceiling. The druid casts “detect snares and pits” which pauses the game as I investigate this strange new spell. I declare a large column of basalt at the back of the throat begins to lower down into the depths. The players find footholds in the basalt and climb down it about a hundred feet.

The druid wants to hurry in hopes of getting more use out of his spell. The players drop down into an octagonal room with passages going north, south, east, and west. To the north he sees a series of three pit traps about thirty feet across altogether. The players want to know details of their construction and also of the masonry. The floors and walls are made from marble blocks (not limestone); it’s unlike any of the rock nearby. The pits have a veneer of marble on top and seem to fold down. The players examine the first one and see a skeleton at the bottom.

The paladin wants to see what’s on the other side of the pit traps. He takes a grappling hook and throws it past the pits. Pulling it back it seems to catch on something. Putting his entire weight on the rope causes it to slip. The ranger is noticeably relieved that this course of action failed and persuades the group to go east and then north, hoping to circle back to whatever is north of the traps.

The party carefully makes its way through a passage that twists and turns; they come to a t-intersection and head north… then they come out into into this large room. Dealing with such a large room given the limitations of torch light turns out to be a challenge. (Almost thought the players would fail to find out what was here due to the difficulties of playing out the back and forth.) Somehow they discover a beautiful woman frozen amber-like in a gigantic block of ice that blocks off the entire north side of the room. The paladin reports that she is emanating a strong sense of evil.

The players search for secret doors in the west wall of this room and sure enough, one stone in the wall lifts up like a latch allowing an entire panel of wall to be shifted to the side. Just inside the passage is a lever surrounded by blinking lights. The players debate whether or not to pull the lever. They are tempted! They have a hunch of what it will do, but they are not sure. They are about to walk on when Brother Payne suggests that Funk, whose player had stepped out of the game, could pull the lever while the rest of the party takes cover somewhere. This almost sounds good to the party but cooler heads somehow prevail over the more impulsive players of the group.

The players move through the passage, come to another t-intersection and cut left. They come to a dead end and search the wall. They find a small sliding panel about six feet from the floor that reveals two holes. Brother Payne or maybe Fluid the Druid sticks a pinky finger in. The ranger pokes an arrow inside; ties a string around an arrow and pushes it all the way through then brings it back. Baffled the players head back the the intersection the try the other passage.

This one also dead ends; searching reveals a secret passage. I stop the game to get the players’ precise marching order and disposition, which I neglected to do at the last secret door. Whoops! The players open the door and move in with Fàgor the half orc leading the way. Turns out there is a sleeping frog man right by the door.

Now, if I had been running this “if you say it then your players say it” style as directed by Steve Jackson in The Fantasy Trip, this all would have been a complete disaster. I let the players talk through and work up a sane plan in spite of the circumstances and the difficulty in coming to a consensus quickly. I intervened in the discussion early on to put everything on Fàgor who would have known things the party didn’t, but I think his ultimate course of action was improved by a relatively loud discussion that could not have really happened under the circumstances. This is campfire AD&D, not The Fantasy Trip.

Fàgor starts killing frogs one at a time while the party readies for a big melee. I decide that there is a one-in-twelve chance of a dying frog to make a noise that wakes somebody up. I end up rolling a one on the first check. Next turn somebody ribbits and the frogs are groggy. I think I gave them +3 to be hit just then? The players start bashing heads in exchange for relatively trivial damage. The monsters fail a morale check and the players get their free AD&D attacks on the three fleeing frogs. One survives and makes it through a passage to the south. The players purse.

The players see the fleeing frog croaking to four other frogs in that room. The frogs see the players. Before initiative is rolled, the players hash out that Brother Payne will toss flaming oil at these guys while the rest of the group heads back to the north room to get into position for ranged attacks and/or pounding on these guys as they come through the door. Again, the planning and coordination here was not entirely likely under the circumstances, but the intent here was to give the players a solid chance to keep control of the game.

Brother Payne loses initiative and is knocked off balance by the frogs. His flaming oil goes astray, but I think on the next turn he makes it back into the north room with the frogs hot on his heels. (This could have gone very, very badly for Brother Payne, but the initiative roll here combined with a multi-session PC fighting withdrawal combat repositioning rule interpretation meant everything was chill.) The ranger fires his bow and Fàgor unleashes his giant crossbow. The paladin and funk and somebody else intercept, aided by the paladin’s protection from evil ability.

One frog manages to survive all this and flee; the players pursue but it is evident that it is going to pull away from the heavily armored player characters. The players quickly search the north room and find a chest full of electrum, gems, and scrolls. They head back through the secret passages, past the woman in ice, and back to the original octagonal room. They hear croaking sounds to the north. The climb up the columnar basalt and pull the treasure chest up after them. They wait by the top for a couple turns, flaming oil at the ready in case the frogs pursue. They don’t show up!

The players then head back toward the huge ruined pile. On the way back, an encounter is indicated. Brother Payne’s player was stoked to hear that there were DINOSAURS on the tropical encounters in the DMG. (Making a note of that for next time!) What actually ends up crashing through the jungle is two giant rhinoceros beetles. Fluid the druid casts talk with animals and tells them that there is savory frog food to the north. The beetles ask if they are good to eat and Fluid insists that they are. The beetles then head north in search of frog food.

Cast o’ characters:

[Wandered in from from the jungle and randomly joined the group.] Fluid the Druid [level 1 druid] (Deity = Mother Nature) [Delve 9 only] XP: 195

[Looks like a member of ZZ Top] Brother Pain the Acolyte [Delve 3b, 7, 8, and 9] XP: 351 + 54 + 255 + 0 + 195 = 855

[Looks like a member of ZZ Top] Torin the Runner (7 hits) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 6b, 7, 8, and 9] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 + 255 + 0 = [Frozen at 2250 until he levels!]

[Looks like a member of ZZ Top] Arthur the Gallant (7 hits) [Delves 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6a, 6b, 7, 8, and 9] XP: 122 + 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 + 8 + 80 + 255 + 0 + 195 = 2584

[His horns have grown incredibly large. Looks frightening and diabolical.] Fàgor — (12 hits) Half-Orc Fighter [Delve 7, 8, and 9] 255 + 0 + 195 = 450 (His name means “astonishing hero” in orcish. For real!)

[Left Trollopulous in the middle of a siege in order to find adventure.] Funk — FIghter — Also worships Issek (at best a saint) [Delve 7 and 9] 255 + 195 = 450

Experience and treasure:

2000 electrum pieces recovered and 11 frog men killed. Total experience points this delve is 1174. Divided six ways this comes out to 195 XP each. [Note, the party recovered 8 gems and 4 scrolls; the xp value of these will be awarded if they are sold in Trollopulous. Don’t forget the gold belt buckle from last session, too!]

Time:

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

(Day 16-21: More carousing, fasting, panhandling.)

Day 22-25: Altar of the Beast-women

(Day 26-31: Resting)

Day 32-33: The Pugs of Slaughter

(Day 34-39: Resting)

Day 40: The Overbearing of the Crystal Men

(Day 41-46: Resting)

Days 47-48: The Song of Fàgor

(Day 49-70: In shock from an awesomely weird adventure. Sad!)

Day 71: The Woman in the Ice

The graveyard:

Dorkorus — Half-elf fighter/magic-user/thief — Half brother to Keebler Khan, talked with a lisp! Killed by a pug-man in the Trolopulous mega-dungeon.

Dairage — Elf fighter/magic-user — Killed with his shield spell on, valiantly taking down the leader of the pug-men so that the party could have a chance to escape certain death!

9 Hapless men-at-arms!

It’s Coming!

 

Get ready, y’all. This one’s gonna blow you away!

The Fractal Nature of the AD&D Game

Peter Conrad writes in with a question about the AD&D:

Hi Jeffro, I’m really enjoying these play reports, and have been planning to run “orthodox AD&D” as well. I’m wondering how you interpret the initiative rules? I have been pouring over the DMG and online and I can see a few ways that people do it.

Thanks for the great question, Peter!

I think Gygax is pretty clear about how initiative works in the DMG. (His surprise rules do make a bit of static, though.)

Here’s my take on it:

1) DM decides what the monsters will do. Check reaction and/or morale if need be.
2) Players declare their actions. If they want to win at rpgs, they will advise a high t caller who will then speak for group.
3) Roll for initiative by side. Highest gets to resolve their actions first. Ties indicate simultaneous action.
4) Gygax has detailed direction on how to handle multiple attack routines and spell spoilage, but this tends to not to come up a whole lot.

So the pattern is (a) make a plan in the face of uncertainty, (b) commit to it, (c) accept the consequences, and (d) imagine and describe the new situation that emerges from all this. This is the soul of the game and both requires and inspires imagination.

The vast majority of people have looked at these rules and dismissed them without considering the consequences of doing so. When you pick up this game there is going to be a great deal of social inertia in play to allow each and every player to operate independently. Don’t give in to it Even in the seventies there was a great deal of pressure to move to a separate initiative roll for each figure in the game. This is a disastrous move for a lot of reasons.

In the first place, AD&D is a game that is primarily focused on the strategic level. Making a design change that will inevitably inflate the amount of time it takes to resolve a given combat situation absolutely destroys this. It puts a lot of pressure on the dungeon master to make smaller, less epic battles that are unlike the epic monster mashes that Gygax took for granted. Furthermore, it creates a whole host of game design issues. The AD&D rules do not have the sort of granularity required in order to manage the hyper-detailed situations that emerge from this type of thinking. One tempting house rule in this area fundamentally changes the game while creating an impetus to overhaul practically everything about it.

The worst aspect of it is the social dimension. The meat and potatoes of AD&D is forming a plan with your friends. It’s something you can do sitting around a camp fire drinking beer. You don’t need a basement full of Napoleonics miniatures to get into this. But what happens when you switch to individual initiative? Players stop coordinating so much with the other players. They are not as inclined to think outside the box and work together. Lots of people just check out. You go in a circle and then multiple times re-explain the situation to the guy that stopped paying attention or the girl that started playing a game on her phone. They then hem and haw about what they want to do in isolation from everything else with knowledge that the AD&D game assumes that they can’t have!

Definitely hold the line on this! If you do, you’ll begin to rediscover the “lightning in a bottle” that made AD&D such a phenomenal cultural force in the first place. The social dynamics involved in players learning how to coordinate and work together and use their imaginations are far more engaging than anything that war games, euro games, or computer games have to offer. It’s crazy fun.

So accept AD&D for what it is, a game of epic adventure and imagination. Go all in on this core concept of the game: (a) make a plan in the face of uncertainty, (b) commit to it, (c) accept the consequences, and (d) imagine and describe the new situation that emerges from all this. This is how you run the game when the players arrive at the tavern looking for something to do at the beginning of the session. It’s also how you can run each and every encounter– including those that involve combat.

Good luck!