Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Play-Testing The Insanity

So...we finally, FINALLY had a chance to restart the AD&D campaign Monday night.

Sad to admit, but it's been close to six months...just insane the amount of time that's slid by since our last delve. Oh, we've played Dungeons & Dragons since then...I've run games for my kids and their friends (Blizzard Pass as a one-off just a couple weeks back); AD&D even. But we needed to get back to actual play in our (my) game world, not just development.

When last we'd left off, the team had used a staff of summoning to conjure a pack of shriekers, whose shrill screaming upon finding themselves in the afternoon sun managed to drive away the lizard folk they'd been fighting. They then continued their scouring of ancient paths, looking for the sunken city hidden somewhere in the swamp. 

And they found it...or at least the remains of the last surface plaza, complete with a single standing building, a temple of ancient design, its dome cracked from long centuries of neglect, it's massive doors scratched and scarred and bereft of the gold leaf that once covered their frames. 

Enter the temple they did, and choosing NOT to despoil the statue of the goddess they found therein (though tempted by the rod of blue crystal held tightly in its hands) they found a long stairway descending down-down-down into the bowels of the earth. Down to the temple crypts, where they hoped (and expected) to find some sort of treasure, ripe for the plucking. 

Father Barod ("Beanpole") led the way with his hooded lantern. 

Here's the "box text" from DL1 for the Hall of Ancestors:
Dim light shines up through the floor. A vast hall stretches to the east. The ceiling, heavily reinforced, stands solidly above, but below, the floor has fallen away in several places. Hot mists, carrying the odor of decay, rise through the holes in the floor.
Beanpole, the party's 3rd level cleric decided to go check out the gaping hole that cut across the floor of the chamber. 'I'm going to go peek over the edge and see what's down there.' Will Big Jim (the trusted retainer they've had since Bendan Fazier) go with you? 'Yeah, he's staying by my side.'

I did a double-take as I looked at my notes for the chamber:
  • There is a 65% chance that any weight greater than 50# within 5’ of a hole will cause the floor beneath it to collapse. The fall to the cavern floor below is 700'.
What? I checked the original text in DL1. Here's what it says:
Any dwarf can tell that the floor is unsafe. The holes open to a 700' drop straight into the lower ruins of the city. Anyone who weighs more than 500 gpw [gold piece weight] and comes within 5' of a hole's edge runs a 65% chance that the floor below him will collapse.

Even if a hero makes it to the edge of a hole, all he sees is a foul mist gathered below.
That's all the text says. And for the most part, my restocking/rewriting of DL1 was focused far more on monster and treasure selection than on environmental hazards. Strange, perhaps that such a deadly trap isn't better telegraphed...especially for a DragonLance adventure (where the "heroes" are expected to succeed). But then it IS telegraphed because "any dwarf can tell that the floor is unsafe" and anyone playing DL1 should have Flint Fireforge (4th level dwarf fighter) as a prominent member of the party. Unfortunately, there are no dwarves in my players' party.

This is a good example of why play-testing is so important. Looking at the encounter area on paper, it doesn't seem terrible (probably one of the reasons I didn't bother adjusting it). Standard chance of springing a trap in OD&D or B/X is 2-in-6 (33% chance)...with something as "obvious" as this hazard, is a double chance (4-in-6, 66%) so unfair? Especially considering that a cautious party might use a 10' pole to probe the floor, or rope up together, or use the lightest party member for exploration?

But even so, some sort of Get Out of Jail Free card could be provided besides "have a dwarf in the party." I wrote before about including "Flinty" as a findable NPC in the adventure, and he IS there, albeit in the lower cavern levels. A better idea might be to have the dwarf stashed in the swamp outside the temple. This gives the PCs a potential benny for taking the non-psychotic approach to dealing with NPCs (find a helpful set of eyes for subterranean hazards); players eager to deal out death to everything on two-legs will thus be justly penalized for their lack of imagination.

Ah, well. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that.

Beanpole weighs scarcely more than 50# soaking wet, but he is dressed in plate and carries 20ish pounds or so of extra gear. I informed the player that the floor creaked mightily as he stretched out his lantern over the edge of the hole and asked him to roll the percentile dice; unfortunately, he rolled a 34. The floor collapsed with a groan taking the cleric with it.

I rolled for Big Jim...though, topping 300# of gear and muscle, this probably should have been automatic. As the Fates were obviously on the same wavelength as myself, the dice came up low and Jim followed his employer into the drop.

The nice thing about having Google at your fingertips: you can quickly find out how long it actually takes to fall 700'. 6.59 seconds it turns out, equivalent to a bit more than one segment. Diego scanned through his spell list for something that might save him...unfortunately, nothing. We did allow him the opportunity to pray for divine intervention on the way down (see page 112 of the DMG), but the gods were apparently satisfied at the doom he'd chosen for himself. 

Sonia, my daughter's character, was quick with a spell of her own; she sent a message to her brother: "you're going to die." Diego was not amused, but Sofia laughed mightily.  Until they discovered that all the torches, oil, etc. had been carried by Beanpole and Big Jim and now the party was left in the subterranean hall without a light source. 

*sigh* Hindsight. 

ANYway...I'll skip the rest of the evening's escapades except to say that no one else died and they DID escape the temple crypt and have now discovered a new PC (Frederick, a gnomish illusionist/thief) that was skulking in the swamp, hiding from lizard men and otyughs. It feels good to get back to playing D&D, and I am immensely hopeful we'll get to play more in the next couple/few days. I'm not sure the players want to continue exploring the Sunken City (their resources are quickly dwindling and they've yet to find anything resembling treasure...well, except for that blue crystal staff embedded in the statue of the goddess). If they don't decide to continue, they will have to deal with matter of 3,000 gold owed to Duke Van-Uz (the Duke could employ two 5th level assassins for 900 g.p. and would still be less out of pocket than the 1,500 he originally gave to bankroll the party). But they might be better served finding a smaller dungeon, closer to civilization. And I'm currently working on a ratty little thing that might do the trick.
; )

However, that'll (probably) have to wait till after Thanksgiving. Lots to do the next couple days.

More later. Hope everyone has a happy holiday! Best wishes to you all!


  1. That message part cracked me up!

    1. Us, too. My daughter is quite funny...much more so than my boy.

      What's really interesting is that she was able to find a use for the spell...she is always looking to find a use for ALL her spells, not just the combat ones. Her spell use in the session included jump, comprehend languages, sleep, and message...I think the only ones she didn't get to were shocking grasp and audible glammer. However, "utility" spells generally find a lot of use in my campaign.

  2. Going to jump in here as well with the, “You’re going to die.” As in, the Gods failed to intervene, but they wanted to give you a message about your impending doom. :)

  3. Weird... you post this as my thoughts have been bending toward For Gold and Glory and if it could run the Al-Qadim modules that have been collecting dust in my basement. I think, the in Advanced world, 2e might jut be my huckleberry instead of 1e/OSRIC.

    Oh, and I posted a reply to your query for my non-blog contact info btw.

    1. Yep…saw that. I’ll be in contact.
      : )

      I have the Al-Qadim book, but I always found the idea of ‘porting D&Disms (elves and orcs and whatnot) into a setting so rich with legend and folklore to be…mmm…”mildly distasteful.” With modification though, it could probably be a blast.

      [of course I DID my “modification” already…it’s called Five Ancient Kingdoms]
      ; )

    2. I never used demi-humans in Al-Qadim. For a bit, I was working on researching/writing up some more Middle Eastern inspired playable races, but I have no idea where those notes are.

      (Once upon a time, I was working on a Persian-themed setting for B/X. I was mildly surprised it didn't get me on a No Fly list...)

    3. Interesting! Um...all of what you said.

      If you continue down this road (world building with AQ and your 2E system of choice) I would be VERY interested in reading the results of your excursion on your blog.
      ; )

    4. I've spent some of the time this morning, while waiting for the holiday festivities to begin, combing through my disastrously disorganized Drive. I can't find those notes anywhere. I'm beginning to suspect I have them saved locally on a semi-defunct laptop that I can *probably* persuade to return to life enough to retrieve them. I was slow to embrace cloud storage, and I regret the hell out of it. XD

    5. Yeah. I’m STILL slow with “the cloud” (don’t trust it). I end up transferring all my files via Zip drive between laptops, and it’s a pain to organize the stuff (so much so that it ain’t organized…natch). I feel your drama.

  4. It's sinking into a swamp, but there's a 200 m deep void under it (rather than mega-tons of smelly mud?)

    1. I know, right? Hickman design…what are you going to do?

      I suppose it could just be a MAGIC subterranean void holding the swamp up….
      ; )