Monday, October 11, 2010

Fresh Blood at the Keep on the Borderlands (Part 2)

All right...we'll skip to the killing, so I can blog my other notes.

Once in the cave proper, the younger Muir hauled up his brother and the first two men-at-arms (there being nothing to which they could tie the rope, so it was wrapped around his waist). While he helped hold the rope steady for the spindly cleric to make the arduous climb, the three humans already in the cave went about kindling lantern and torches to shed some light on the dark gloom.

Unfortunately, this was enough to attract the orcs in the guard room a mere 30' from the entrance.

And so they were set upon by half-a-dozen pig-faced orcs (they even asked, "are these the pig-faced orcs?" Yes, of course). Imagine the thief, braced and roped to his drinking buddy, only 30' up the side of the 50' cliff while more spear-wielding orcs than you can count on one hand charge out of the darkness, outnumbering you 2-to-1.

"Ho-ho my lad," indeed.

Fortunately, the party was NOT surprised, the elder brother Muir achieved initiative, and he wasted no time in launching his sleep spell into their midst, knocking them all out without a single spatter of blood.

The party wasted no time in getting the rest of the group up the rope while the Muir brothers slit the throats of the orcs and looted their bodies. Electrum! (Steve-O and AB will be sorry they missed THAT score)

To the right, from whence the guards issued, the party discovered the fairly disgusting accommodations of the orcs. Though they held their noses and sorted through the refuse, they found no more treasure (apparently, orcs don't trust each other enough to keep their loot anywhere but next to their own skin). While they considered sleeping in the orc den (in order to recover the magic-user's sleep spell), this idea got voted down pretty quick, and the party decided to explore the opposite direction.

The orcs had carved niches in the walls of the caves in which were mounted the heads of various victims, grim totems or trophies that were in various states of decrepitude (from fleshless skull to freshly decapitated orc). Just as they were really starting to get leery, the sounds of many tramping feet heralded the arrival of yet another orc patrol.

This time, there was no sleep spell to save the party, and the lead man-at-arms (Glen?) was struck down by multiple spears. However, the party DID manage to kill one of the orcs in the exchange, and the cowardly creatures broke and ran, as sheep before wolves.

Collecting their fallen comrade, the party retreated to the canyon floor to hold a funeral and discuss their next move.

Says, Luke: we need to get the hell out of here and fight something smaller than orcs. “Basically, we need to find the weakest monsters possible.”

And so the party decides NOT to return to the orc caves and set about invading a lower cave complex (in the Caves of Chaos, “shit rolls down hill” and the lower rung monsters are forced to lair beneath the tougher ones). The next cave the thief was sent to explore would be the home of the resident kobold population.

Let me tell you about kobolds…the “little dog men” as Gygax refers to them in B2. They may be runty, but they are cunning little bastards.

And the way Gygax has set them up in B2, they are dangerous little guys as well. I could probably write a five page analysis of “Gygaxian ecology” using his kobolds as a study…but I still haven’t decided if Gary was an evil genius, or just a cold-hearted bastard.

I mean, it makes sense that the kobolds have taken measures to defend themselves…after all, in a community of Chaotic/evil humanoids, if they were any LESS cunning, they’d probably be slaves a stronger tribe. Maintaining their independence has necessitated innovation and strategy on their part.

Or perhaps Gygax just wanted the kobold caves to be as tough as any other.

Well, we’ll leave the question un-answered and return to our tale: the younger Muir brother was once again tasked with scurrying up to the cave mouth, rope in hand, to do an advanced reconnoiter and anchor the party’s way up. Fortunately, there were a few tree/bushes growing near the cave mouth (the kobolds using a bit of tree cover, you see?) to which the thief could tie off the rope. And having easily scaled the cliff, Muir set about doing this.

Meanwhile, I read and re-read the kobold entry, slightly aghast. There’s a 2 in 6 chance of a wandering kobold patrol of 8 KOBOLDS showing up when the party first enters the cave.


While our little thief friend is whistling a happy tune and tying off the line, little does he realize he has a one in three chance of being ambushed by a huge posse of spears! Pretty much instant death to a lone adventurer dressed in leather armor. “Doo-dee-doo…” hummed the thief.

Look, I’ve already acquired a bit of a rep for killing characters at these Thursday night meetings…EGG was basically telling me, “here’s a potential freebie…look! It’s in the adventure.” Crap. I found that I couldn’t bring myself to do it…I made Matt roll the six-sided dice to see if death wandered up on him.

Fortunately, he rolled well.

Not realizing how close to doom he’d brushed, the thief finished tying the lines and the party climbed up to the kobold cave. Got themselves situated, fired up their torches, organized their marching order, and sallied forth.

And the point man falls into a pit trap twenty feet in.

Fortunately, the pit isn’t spiked (and he’s only bruised, not broken), but the trap door IS on a rotating pivot and they have to work a little to see how they’re going to hold it open and get Slim (or whatever the merc’s name is) out of the trap. They do so...just as the nearby kobold guard cadre decide to investigate the light and noise.

Oh, boy. Now, if I’m remembering the order of events correctly, it went down like this:

- The kobolds achieved surprised and hurled their spears (they each had one for throwing and one for stabbing). Targets were determined randomly and only one character got hit. Unfortunately, it was the merc they’d just pulled out of the pit and he died.

- In the first round of initiative, the kobolds achieved the first strike, swarming around the pit, and kill the magic-user (the elder Muir). I actually rolled a D6, killing him and THEN saw that kobolds only do D4 damage. Re-rolling with the four-sided dice, I still rolled a “4” spearing Luke’s seer through the ribs.

- The two remaining mercs moved to engage but the cleric and thief decide to bail, yelling for everyone to get back to the rope.

- Both mercenaries turn tail and are cut down from behind. A spear hits the thief in the back, and reduces him to 1 hit point, but otherwise the kobolds allow the pair to flee, having secured both meat and loot aplenty.

Gubr and the remaining Muir brother decided they’d had enough of the Caves and headed back for the Keep after this. And that’s how we wrapped up for the evening.

In debriefing the boys, it appears they all had a fun time and all intend to return this Thursday for another session. Asking Luke if he felt bad that his survival rate was so far 0 for 2 he said, “no, my death was totally fair.” I’m not sure what he meant by that unless it was that I (as DM) was impartial in my handing out of death to the players. I don’t think he meant that his character’s death was “deserved” (the attack on his character was fairly random based on where he was standing…and the dice were rolling hot).

I DO wonder if Matt and Matt’s enthusiasm would have been dampened had their own characters died. Certainly B2 is turning into one hell of a death trap for PCs…though it is weird that both my nephews and my wife were able to mount fairly successful excursions in the last year on multiple occasions…am I getting meaner? Was I “too easy” on my non-sibling family members? Were they just blessed with extraordinary “beginners luck?”

Actually, thinking back, all those earlier excursions DID include an Elf in the party. Elves are definitely the badasses of the B/X game. Plate-armored wizards have a high survivability, and Steve’s Joachim certainly gave his party a leg up prior to his untimely death (and let’s face facts: if Steve-O had made the tactically sound decision to charm the ogre, that whole party might still be alive!). Definitely something to think about, strategy-wise.

Our next game is going to be Thursday night at Gary’s Games, but we will be nipping into the Baranof for a quick drink before-hand. My brother, AB, is adamant that he will be present this time (he was sorry to miss the last session), and the New Boys said they might bring a 4th buddy (a guy named Randy). Steve is still looking busy, but Tim from Gary’s plans on playing, and who knows…maybe others will be showing up for the event.

While I still plan on running B/X (natch), I’m thinking I might take a break from B2 for the night, and running something a little bit more suitable for a one-off session (and something with a little more OOMPH). Something like a single level dungeon crawl, rather than just a low level goblin hunt. Perhaps an AD&D conversion like A1 or S2 or even the original Tomb of Horrors (now, how would one stat a demi-lich in B/X? THAT’S an interesting quandary!). Hmmm…I’ll have to think about it. Nothing TOO complicated (as I’ll be juggling far more players than usual)…but when is B/X ever “too complicated?”
; )


  1. 'Unfortunately, it was the merc they’d just pulled out of the pit and he died.'

    That's very cinematic.

    Slim clambers out of the pit. Stands up and turns to the rest of the party. "Thanks guys, man it is really far down there, good thing ..eerghh. The tip of a spear pokes out of his chest. Slim staggers, takes a step back and plunges into the pit as a horde of kobolds rush the party.

  2. I find it interesting that the rules for the Kobold Pit Trap are slightly different than the normal B/X (and Holmes) rules for trap activation (B22).

    Perhaps it models the tricky nature of the kobolds and their more lethal than average traps?

  3. Just curious but what is the expected party size for a B\X adventure? I know for instance that by the time 3.5 D&D came around the minimum party size was expected to be 4 and with pre-made adventures if you had less than 4 it was going to be a tough fight.

  4. I was wondering the same thing about party size. Not having played B2 in ages, I can't recall if it's assuming the massive groups of early D&D. Do you think the encounters need to be scaled? It seems like each time, the group has barely got in the door.

  5. There's a thread on dragonsfoot about B2 party size. The module suggests six to nine classed players.

    One post says "The only hope a 'two classed characters w/ retainers' party is going to have in a straight up fight is against the kobalds, and even that assumes they don't fall victim to the entrance pit or ambush."

  6. As I recall, the party size assumed for B/X and 1/2e games was six classed characters. I don't recall how this got put in my head, but that's how I rolled since I started playing in '84.

  7. Aye, 6 to 8 or 6 to 9 was almost always the caveat printed on tsr modules.

  8. It does seem you are indeed playing with small parties. Leveling them up a bit before the game might help even the odds, or reducing the number of monsters. (Then again, your game seems to be gathering players. This might not be a problem for long ;-) .)

  9. B2 has been designed for "six to nine player characters of first level" including "at least one magic-user and one cleric in it." As 1st level clerics receive no spells, I can only assume this is for later (more dangerous) caves where there are undead to be encountered.

    The adventure recommends that if fewer than this is available, the DM should make mercenaries available, as well as other NPCs (I've done both).

    But look at this: a 1st level character isn't much different from those 4 hit point men-at-arms. If I HAD six to nine PCs (instead of 3-4 PCs plus 3-4 mercs) it would just mean MORE PCs would be dying...player characters would absorb the damage that is currently being soaked by NPCs!

    I really don't think it's been as bad as all that...I think they've just had some back luck. Um...coupled with one or two questionable moves.
    ; )

  10. "now, how would one stat a demi-lich in B/X?"

    You should see if you can get a hold of this new book; it's called The B/X Companion. It has lich stats in it and you could work from there. ;-)

  11. @ Bighara: You know, I forgot that I was actually considering a B/X Conversion of Tomb of Horrors but (due to its high level), I wanted to publish the Companion first...and now, of course, the Companion is out.

  12. "But look at this: a 1st level character isn't much different from those 4 hit point men-at-arms."

    Didn't you do a whole post (which I can't find) about how much more kick-ass 1st level characters were than 0 level normal humans?

  13. Entertaining as always! Thanks for this! And come on, is there any other kind of orc besides the pig-faced kind?!

  14. @ Grat Sax: My earlier posting still stands...but why use a PC as a meat shield when one can use a hireling? Part of what makes PCs a "cut above" is their ability to attract and recruit followers.

    @ Drance: Not any worth mentioning.
    ; )

  15. I know this has moved on but what if the issue of a larger party isn't one of HP but one of ideas. With the suggested group size you could have twice as many tactics in play at one time as what has been happening, literally. Also as retainers are NPCs I would guess that you let the players do the thinking type work resulting in, again, fewer ideas. I'm running on at the mouth a bit as you of course know your game better than us but I know that as players and DMs we run the risk of thinking in mechanical terms when the issue isn't necessarily one of mechanics. Diversity of ideas means that there are more opportunities for those truly brilliant moments where the situation stops being mediated by what is printed on the page and becomes about the situation the players and DM have negotiated.

  16. @ Ghost: This is an excellent point and I will be discussing it when I talk about my recent game session with 7+ people!
    : )