Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Explictica Defilus

I've run N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God a few times over the years...mostly as a B/X adventure (see these ancient posts, if interested) but at least one time as an AD&D adventure in the early 2000s (before this blog was even a "thing"). That was for my buddy, Kris, but we were both pretty drunk if I recall correctly and I'd never even read the thing...I was just trying to run it as best I could while simultaneously skimming it. A very abbreviated session that didn't go anywhere (as one might imagine).

Welp now, as previously mentioned, I'm running it for my kids, per their request. Haven't yet got around to posting my "first level problems" post (eventually, eventually) but one of the things about playing "no-hold-barred" AD&D: characters die. Sometimes all of them. And then you're left scrounging for low-level resources when what you'd ACTUALLY like to be doing is sending them up against frost giants and kuo-toa.


N1, as I've blathered in the past, has a lot going for it. It also has a lot of problems, especially power curve versus low level adventurers of the type for which it's intended. Some of these things it tries to fix on its own (including a 7th level "ringer" NPC wizard to accompany/aid the PCs); some of it are fixed by getting the rules correct (spirit nagas impersonating deities don't grant clerical spells, so converted clerics shouldn't have any). But still, given the scope of the adventure, I'd hardly call it a scenario for "novice" players...more an intermediate (or tougher!) module for experienced players using low-level characters.

Enter the PCs.

"Investigation" is not my kids' strong suit: problem solving, negotiation, ally building, bold action is their more usual modus operandi. N1 expects players to investigate the town and figure out what's going wrong with it. My players are just looking for adventure. It's definitely not the perfect marriage...they aren't curious about "plot" and "backstory" even when such things might provide them with clues or aid in their problem solving. Here's how things have gone down thus far in our play of N1:

Two zero x.p., first level characters...Salamander the elven assassin and Potter the half-elf fighter...enter the town of Coeur D'Alene drawn by rumors of mysterious disappearances and goings on in the community. After gaining rooms at the Slumbering Serpent Inn, inquiries got them directed to the nearby hut of local eccentric Ramne who, while friendly enough, was rather cryptic and tight-lipped in his conversation. Deciding the old hermit was a dead end they decided to explore the town and, finding the prices at the Golden Grain Inn to be more reasonable, shifted base.

At this point, running low on coins after one too many "simple suppers" the PCs were only too happy to partake of innkeeper Bertrem's free drinks, even as they hobnobbed and traded barbs with the greasiest-looking scallywag at the bar (Derek Desleigh, 4th level assassin). Beginning to feel groggy, and suspecting they'd been drugged, Potter retired to their bedroom while Sal went down to the river to soak his head and sober up. He returned to the Golden Grain Inn just before sundown but found his room empty, his traveling companion vanished into thin air!

Rather than investigate further, Sal decided to wait until midnight, when the inn was shut down for the evening...he then crept downstairs and began a search of the empty common room. Picking the lock on the kitchen door led him to a cellar stair that he descended torch in hand and sword drawn. At first, little of interest was discovered, until his elvish senses detected a secret door that led to a hidden room where he found the odious Derek standing guard over a hog-tied and hooded Potter! Combat ensued, and Derek was defeated by sheer dint of luck and tenacity. Potter was released and the assassin's body searched for goodies, but little was found besides the fiend's short sword and dagger, with which the half-elf armed himself.

The stout, barred door in the corner of the hidden room was ignored in favor of the ladder leading to an obvious trapdoor, which Salamander pushed through, sword in hand. The trapdoor gave way to a bedroom, where a sleeping figure was stirring in a large bed. Sal drove his shortsword through the man's belly before he could fully rouse and a lighted candle revealed the fat innkeeper's startled and death-stricken face, his bedsheets now pooling with blood. Searching a nearby armoire and finding nothing save clothes and a scabbarded longsword (which he took), the assassin descended through the trapdoor where he and Potter decided to "play it cool" and hope the authorities blamed the murder on the deceased Derek. They carefully closed up the secret room and made their way back to their own bedroom(!), there to slumber the remainder of the night.

Instead, they were rudely awakened some hours before dawn by scaly hands covering their mouths. Finding themselves assaulted by three troglodytes and a slim, hooded figure, Salamander decided to struggle using the dagger he kept close by. Unfortunately, his aim was poor and the trog was easily able to put the elf in a stranglehold (130# of elf is no match for a 180# reptile man in a wrestling match). The elf's bite was little more than a wasp's sting as the sleeper hold forced him into unconsciousness. Potter, meanwhile, surrendered and allowed himself to be bound and gagged once again.

After this, the captives were marched some 30 miles north and east, through hill and forest, into the swamplands surrounding Lake Pend Oreille. There they were brought to the very lair of the fiend, an island surrounded by muck and murk, the lake waters held back by a dike of mud and bramble and pinewood, a gaping hole in its center revealing wooden plank stairs descending into darkness.

Down, down, down the adventurers were led...down passages carved from wet, swollen earth and wretched mud. Through nightmarish tunnels, over subterranean lakes, past giant toads and snakes and cold-blooded maws of reptilian monsters (and worse) they were paraded till they reached yet another stairway, guarded by the same hateful troglodytes that forced them grimly on, ever deeper into the muddy labyrinth.

Past giant spiders and poisonous centipedes and walking corpses performing mindless routines, with the screams of captives echoing wetly through the muddy halls, they came at last to a huge underground cavern, yet another grotto of unknown origin, its vault held aloft by stone columns covered in a phosphorescent lichen, bathing all in a ghostly green light. A flat-bottomed barge was poled into the water, ferrying both captives and captors to the lone island where the adventurers would confront their destiny.

It was not a long wait. She slithered from the alcove almost at once, disgorging a shower of coins from the hoard of loot and spoils. Enormous in length, hideous in visage, ancient in her evil, Explictica Defilus the reptile god emerged into the ghastly illumination. 

Only an asshole
puts a spirit naga in
a 1st level adventure.
Salamander and Potter could only stand in awed silence as the spirit naga communed with their human captor, receiving a full report of the going ons in the inn, even while the troglodyte servitors emptied a chest of loot (including the characters') onto the ever-expanding pile. Finally, satisfied, the god focused her gaze on each of the adventurers in turn, swaying back and forth as she enslaved them to her will.

"You will replace my servants whom you have slain," she hissed at them in her sibilant tongue. "You shall assume the roles that they played, bringing me more slaves, more tribute, more worshippers to spread my cult. Only through your worship and servitude may you atone for this offense against my divine will. Now pick up your weapons, return to the surface, and do my bidding."  This the PCs hastened to do.

Except that Salamander had made his saving throw with a 17 and still possessed free will.

The elf only pretended to succumb to the naga's permanent charm ability. I guess I screwed up, because I only now remember and realize that both elves and half-elves have resistance to charm (in my defense, the players didn't remember/remind me either) so I'm glad that at least one of the party members made their save. Explictica, perhaps, might not have been fooled by the elf's false worship (she does, after all, have ESP as one of her spells), but a precedent had already been set earlier in the module itself with the person of Derek...the assassin pretending to be a worshipper despite NOT being charmed. So I let it stand...the PC wasn't doing anything to give it away anyway (running, attacking, etc.). 

SO...pretending to worship the naga and doing her will, the assassin slowly gathered his weapons, studying the creature even as he got within sword's reach...and decided to try assassinating the monster!

A surprise roll was made for Explictica, with a roll of "2" indicating complete surprise. Per the PHB, "if [assassins] surprise (q.v.) a victim, they may attack on the ASSASSINATION TABLE...the assassin decides which attack mode he or she will use: assassination, back stabbing, or normal melee combat." Diego (playing Salamander) elected assassination. The chance of a 1st level assassin auto-killing a 9 HD creature is 10%. Diego rolled an 02...monster dead.

Oh my.

Explictica's death ended the charm effect on Misha (the cleric) and Potter, but not the troglodytes (who were understandably upset about the death of their god) and the scene turned into a general melee. However, the party emerged victorious; though not unscathed, all three survived and the trogs were cut down. The cleric, being freed of the naga's baleful influence immediately communed with her goddess, Merikka ('Merica?), and provided needed healing...even as the two PCs set about looting the naga's den. 

We stopped there. The tumult of rejoicing in the house pretty much precluded anything else.
; )


  1. Wow ! That's going to stick with him for decades. Fortune favors the bold ! Welcome to second level.

    So from a odds point of view 3% chance of working? 33% chance of surprise and 10% chance of instant kill.

    1. I think most longtime gamers have a story or two like this in their hip pocket: the time the guy with the dagger of venom one-shot the beholder, or the 1st level character that miraculously survived (and delivered the killing blow) some high level encounter that they should never have been in.

      Yeah. It'll probably be a lasting memory for my kids.

  2. Sounds like a lot of fun, and really illustrates how low-level characters in oldschool D&D can hold their own against (or even defeat) high level opponents if the dice are with them. The odds of 1st level characters surviving this scenario in 3e+ would be pretty slim I reckon.

    1. I think the odds of success/survival were pretty slim in MOST editions of the game. Of course, there's always a chance right? That's why we play the game (same old maxim as applies to sports)...a person could always end up rolling a string of 20s (or see the monster roll a string of 1s). It happens.

    2. I dunno, I just feel like damage, hot points, AC and to-hit bonuses scale upwards a LOT quicker from 3e onwards. Damage especially once all the monsters are getting Strength bonuses. Plus the really swingy abilities that can win a fight with a single roll (such as assassination) get pulled out for reasons of balance.

    3. Hmm. Okay. Perhaps. After all, in 3E, “assassin” is a prestige class only obtainable around L6 (still with an auto-kill ability, though).

      When I ran my kids through U2, they encountered a peryton (maybe TWO…can’t remember at the moment). These were 1st level characters with no magic weapons (peryton are only harmed by magic weapons). However, they were able to kill the creature(s?) with poison they found earlier in the adventure (from a deceased half-orc assassin). Still…dick encounter.

      I’m not sure “balance” really has that much to do with it. I mean, okay: a 3E character *should* be able to take an appropriate challenge of the appropriate EL…but there are ways around the standard CR system (both up and down the scale). A 3E DM can design a “fair” encounter that will still completely annihilate a party of the “appropriate” level…I’ve done so in the past. That’s kind of ignoring the “spirit of the law” thing, though.

      1E doesn’t really try to “balance” anything…not really. Instead, it’s trying to MODEL something (combat, for example, or how certain abilities function or a monster’s relative power). Sometimes, it errs one way or another (and often THAT depends on one’s opinion…look at all the virtual ink spilled over a shield’s “lack” of effectiveness because it’s only a +1 bonus to AC!). But generally it’s not concerned with “balance.”

      The real crap-shoot here is trying to put a level range on a scenario that’s more concerned with verisimilitude than fair footing.

  3. I love this. I've had a few adventures be "short circuited" by player ingenuity or player luck, and it's always been fun. It's part of what rpgs great, I think.

    1. Yeah...me, too. Was just writing on another blog how we (DMs) need to curb our impulses and let this kind of thing simply play out as it occurs...rather than hoping or wishing or influencing results to what we WANT them to be. Ends up making for better stories.

      [and with regard to player victories...always let them have them. The other shoe eventually drops regardless]

      Truth be told, I wanted the kids to succeed...I just didn't expect that they would.
      ; )

    2. (Sorry about the broken formatting!)

      Agreed. I had to dump half of a Call of Cthulhu campaign because the players were clever and stopped it before it happened. I didn't mind because it made for a better story.