Monday, March 29, 2021

A "Heroic" Interlude

Folks who read through my back posts containing the "review" tag will find very few as relates to RPGs or gaming in general; instead, most of these are reviews for various films and television shows I've watched, most (all?) of which could be called part of the "geek" genre (science fiction, superhero, fantasy, etc.). It's been a while since I've written one of these reviews, but it doesn't mean I've stopped watching this kind of thing...just means I've stopped blogging about it.

But the fact is I've probably watched more "geek media" since the pandemic started. Not necessarily because we've been shut in (that's part of it, though) but because my kids are older now so some of the shows we previously skipped with them have been rewatched. And (often) rewatched multiple times.

The last month or so, that's been Marvel stuff found on Disney Plus. We streamed the Wanda-Vision series and now we're watching the weekly installments of Falcon-Winter Soldier as well as the previously cancelled Agent Carter (which none of us saw at the time it was being made. Too's excellent.). Along with the old Chris Reed Superman and Avengers films (including Black Panther, Doc Strange, Iron Man, etc.), and the multiple viewings of DC's Wonder Woman films, I've been steeped up to my eyeballs in the cinematic superhero genre. 

[the family also enjoys the old Adam West Batman TV show on occasion...still a hundred or so episodes yet to be streamed!]

I have not seen the most recent re-edit of Justice League, so I can't comment, but my taste in superheroes probably does run along a more "Disney-fied" vein. Heck, I enjoyed WW84 quite a bit...for me, it was reminiscent of the Wonder Woman I grew up with (in TV, cartoon, and comics)...campy and fun. My kids liked it a lot less than the first film (because they love the WWI stuff), but I just can't get behind a WW with a sword and shield, getting all stabby like a Greek hoplite or something. Give me more magic lasso any day of the week. 

*ahem* But that's DC stuff, where the power levels scale way off the chart of plausible (remember when Superman reversed time in that first movie?!) and I'm still (mostly) a "make mine Marvel" kind of guy. 

And, man o man, do I love love LOVE the Captain America stuff. The Falcon-Winter Soldier is right in my sweet spot for the genre. As far as "lore" goes, Cap has some of the best, and Falcon, Bucky, Zemo, U.S. Agent (!! Shout out to Wyatt Russell who is, like the perfect casting choice! Can't wait for him to turn psychotic!) just really gets me cranked. It's just such a cohesive bunch of comic book gobbledy-gook with plenty of Marvel soap opera mixed in to this idealistic concept set against the shady backdrop that is the military-industrial complex. 

*sigh* I could gush on-and-on about all these characters (and Carter, too! She's part of the whole Cap stuff), but I will spare my gentle readers. However, I will say that all this "hero stuff" has inspired me to once again look at the idea of running a superhero game (see Trey? You're not the only one!) and Lo And Behold the system I've been looking at most recently is NOT the B/X-based system sitting on my design board but (rather) the old Marvel Super Heroes RPG from TSR...a game I "gave up on" some decades back. I'm tinkering with it at the moment, especially with its universal FEAT mechanic, finding ways I could scale it down AND up at the same time.

[hmmm...that last bit probably makes sense to no one but me]

Unfortunately, as usual, I'm a bit pressed for time so all explanations (if any...sheesh I'm bad about this stuff) will have to come out in a future post.  What I do have time to say, at the moment, is the following:
  • I think (I think) that, for me, the super hero comic book as a source of "lore" and as a genre may be a dead one. I just don't care very much about "the ongoing story" because most of it is Let's just leave it at "I don't care" but ESPECIALLY I don't care about all the new "hero teams" that have been created over the last 20 years (mixing various heroes and villains like a Wild West version of NFL free agency with no salary cap). Just. Don't. Care.
  • I think the cinematic MCU is fairly coherent and is a good model to try emulating. Trey, over at Sorcerer's Skull, started doing an analysis of cinematic supers (how they differ from their comic counterparts) and I think that's a pretty good place to start.
  • Some may detest the light-heartedness and camp that creeps into these films, but I enjoy much of it, not least because it's too hard to take the genre uber-serious. While I appreciate the new DC films since (and including) Nolan's Batman trilogy, there is something I find very pretentious about using grim-dark to tell stories about characters in tights and/or hot pants with silly code names. I like that the actors take the material seriously, but the writers and directors (i.e. the filmmakers) needn't do so. Damn. Have some fun with it! 
And these three bullet-points I think are my new jumping off place for my own private Super-verse. A core "bible" of titles that doesn't play mix-and-match hell for "innovation." A downplaying of four-color costumed shenanigans with lower power levels (though still powered). And a willingness to not take the thing too serious, to allowing humor and the occasional eye-wink to show up.

The supers genre doesn't (generally) make for great "art," but it can still be fun, escapist fantasy. The same could be said about RPGs.  But I have to say that the more I consider the genre, the more differences I find from the D&D genre, and the more I feel I want to escape from systems that build on D&D's design tropes. Jeff Grubb's MSH was a far cry from the opus of Gygax and Arneson, despite some similarities (ability scores, power classes). I kind of want to go back to that well...I think there's still water there. 

All right. Later, gators.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Lost in the Dark


So it would seem that The Forest Oracle adventure still has few things to teach me...mainly that the thing needs even more work than I previously assumed. Last night the party entered the tunnel pass known as the Horns of the Dragon, an old dwarf mine that also doubled as a quick road through the rocky hills. Shenanigans ensued as the party figured out the best way to lead/drive their horses and mules into the subterranean caverns, but it all was worked out (it helped that Sonia the Magic-User had a secondary skill of animal husbandry).

Because the box text in this section of the adventure is small, I read/paraphrased it in order to provide the players with some description of the environment. As we came upon the first branch off the main tunnel, I read:
About 5,500 feet into the tunnel another tunnel leads sharply off to the south...
Wait. What?

5,500 feet converts (in D&D terms) to 550" in the underground. The slowest party member has a movement of 9" per ten minute turn, meaning it would have taken roughly 61 turns to cover that distance, a bit more than 10 hours. The party had only brought ten torches with them: enough for ten hours.

But at the time I was running the game I wasn't thinking hard about this...or doing these calculations...because I was already juggling a party feud (one player wanted to leave the party to explore the side passage while the other was adamant they stick with the main trail). In the end, the party ended up splitting, with both groups plunging their separate ways into darkness. I 'hand-waved' the issue, figuring I'd do the math later. Besides, it was always possible that Kitiara and Raistlin had stolen the halflings' lantern back at the Wildwood Inn (plus their four flasks of oil...).

More shenanigans ensued, mainly with players continuing to bicker at every crossroads reached, until the more "adventurous" PC was finally killed by fire beetles while exploring a side avenue. As it was time to check on my soup (and he had to make a new PC) we called the evening's session.

The problem is...and to be clear, I am totally blaming the author and editorial staff at the old TSR...the problem is the map of the tunnels has no recorded scale AND is drawn on hex map in a winding fashion. Caverns are given dimensions in their description ("roughly 1500' x 1500' and 20' high," for example) but, being natural caverns (or dug-out mining operations), none are regularly shaped. Trying to calculate the scale by working backwards from the description is still an "eyeballing" procedure. 

What I ended up doing (this morning) was assigning a figure of 500' per hex, as this seems to match the dimensions of the most regular caverns (per their descriptions), even though it does NOT match the narrative text boxes for the tunnels themselves (if it did, that first side tunnel would have been 6,500' from the entrance, not 5,500). This makes the entire length of the main tunnel, from entrance to exit, roughly 32,000 feet...about 6 miles. Which makes sense when compared to the main wilderness map, because six miles is the distance given between the entry and exit of the pass (the wilderness map DOES have a scale...two miles per hex).

But while the party can make 20 miles per day in the outdoors (about one hex per hour), there's no way for them to navigate at that kind of speed though the old tunnels. Littered with debris from numerous cave-ins, fallen timbers, and old mining equipment, a journey of six miles (at their speed) will take about 59 hours. Assuming 10 hours of marching per day, that's still six days underground, even assuming zero detours into side passages.

Ten torches and four flasks of oil aren't going to cut it. 

Now, if they'd actually beaten the beetles and made off with their luminescent glands, that would be something (of course, if the half-elf cleric had lived through the encounter, they'd also have his daily allotment of light spells at about an hour a pop). As it stands, they're not quite hopelessly lost in the dark, but nearly so. The party did acquire a +1 broadsword from the bandits, and that will shed light in a 20' radius when drawn from its scabbard, but we'll have to see if they remember that (Kitiara is carrying the sword, but she has her hands full with spear and shield at the moment). 

Anyway, it's just as well that we stopped the adventure where we did last night. Turns out, the party was walking for about 25 hours straight.  *sigh*

This is my mistake...I was so busy worried about un-stupid-izing the encounters in the module that I didn't pay close enough attention to the actual logistics. I will endeavor to do better going forward.

Diego's new character, by the way, is a dwarven thief. Here's hoping he bought a lot of torches.

This is how I picture Thisvynn
the NPC dwarf of N2...kee-rayzy.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021


Apologies (as usual) for the lack of posting. Had taxes to do last week, then had a kid come down with a cold which meant both kids were stuck at home until we could get COVID tested (good news: we're all fine). Then we had three soccer games over the weekend, one of which was in Tumwater (just south of Olympia), and so, yeah...I've been busy.

I've got a blog post in the hopper (er...on the draft board) that I'll hopefully get around to soon, but I wanted to "touch base" with folks quickly while I have a moment. Some readers might be wondering how the AD&D game is going. "Good" is the short answer. We are playing The Forest Oracle (modified) and so far things are going well. The party (two PCs and their henchman "Big Jim") have joined forces with three mercenaries named Kitiara, Caramon, and Raistlin who would be easily recognizable to long-time fans of the Dragonlance books. Their addition, for me, has been exceptionally amusing (though my players have no idea), because I simply play their personalities as they appear in the books...with a couple changes:
  • Kitiara is 27 years old, and 3rd level. Not an officer in the Dragon Army (of course). Wears studded leather armor, carries normal (non-magical) weapons. Same ability scores as the adventure modules.
  • Caramon is 19 years old, and 2nd level. All equipment as per DL5, save that he has only normal (non-magical) weapons.
  • Raistlin is 19 year old, and a 2nd level fighter. No, not a mage. He has the same ability scores as in DL5, except with a +1 to STR and +3 to CON (so 11 and 13, respectively...body/spirit never usurped by Fistandantilus). Was wearing scale and wielding two hand axes and a scavenged light crossbow. Currently dressed in chain armor (taken from a dead bandit).
Young Kit (from DL5);
still Lawful Evil.
Anyway, no deaths yet (or permanent blindness...removed the nymph from the adventure). The party just finished dealing with the "wererat inn" encounter; belladonna was eaten, fun has been had by all, etc.

But that's not really what I want to write about. What I want to write about is the importance of rules in the game. Not just the AD&D game, but ANY edition of D&D. 

Which I'm sure I've already addressed a thousand times in a thousand posts (in various ways) over the years. But I want to try it again, perhaps from a different angle, and I don't mind repeating myself, because it's something that's worth reiterating and emphasizing.

D&D is a game. Games have rules that constrain play (in a number of ways). The DM is the arbiter of those rules. For the game to matter, those rules at the table must be iron clad. The game is engaged through its rules. We play the game because we want to engage with the game.

Here I will voice my strong disagreement with the "modern" sensibility that the game rules are only guidelines. This idea is stated quite plainly in the 5E Dungeon, from the first page (well, from page 4, the first page of text):
"The D&D rules help you and the other players have a good time, but the rules aren't in charge. You're the DM and you are in charge." (page 4)

"Rules enable you and your players to have fun at the table. The rules serve you, not vice versa." (page 235)

"Remember that dice don't run your game - you do. Dice are like rules. They're tools to help keep the action moving." (page 237)
That last nonsensical bit is both preceded and followed by paragraphs on fudging dice rolls; basically, running the game by fiat as a freeform narrative, rather than as a structured game with rules, and I can't disagree strongly enough with the sentiment. Rules are "tools to keep the action moving?" No. That is absurd. How is a rule on encumbrance (as an example) used to "keep the action moving?" Nonsense.

Much of 5E is "nonsense" in my opinion (one of the main reasons I choose not to play it), but this type of thinking pervades DMs across all editions. You read it (or watch it or hear it) in numerous blogs, videos, and podcasts: the idea that game rules should be discarded and/or disregarded if and when they begin to interfering with "having fun" a term that seems to equate to: disappointing a player's expectation of what should happen

Please note that the "player" being disappointed can include the DM. Here's an example: a DM desires (i.e. has an expectation of) a climactic set piece battle between the party and the Big Boss of an adventure, an epic showdown to provide a "satisfying conclusion." That attachment to a particular end can result in the DM doing all sorts of machinations, manipulations, and mental gymnastics to preclude the PCs from interfere with the expectation. Which is just as bad (or worse!) than players crying and whining how "unfair" an energy drain or save-or-die poison attack is. 

Rules constrain our actions in the game. In the D&D game, a player's choice of armor for her character has a number of in-game consequences, helping to determine encumbrance and movement in addition to protective value (which, in the case of metal armor versus certain spells, might be a negative value). That choice matters...or rather, it should matter...but if the DM fudges attack rolls or ignores those movement values then the "mattering" disappears. And so too does the validity of the player's choice. 

In the AD&D campaign I'm currently running, I use a modified version of the training rules found in the DMG. The rules have been explained to the players; the players understand the manner in which the rules operate and how it constrains them. In our current adventure, the cleric just achieved enough x.p. to advance to 3rd level, and even possesses the cash necessary to procure training. However, the party is in the middle of a "quest" and the nearest priest is days away from their current location. The player has a hard choice to make: he can continue adventuring (still gaining an extra hit die, increased attacks and saves, etc.) OR he can choose to seek out a temple that can initiate him into the "higher mysteries" (i.e. 2nd level spell use). The latter choice will also impact the party, as the PC is the only healer in the group...although the party did just acquire two potions of healing. Of course, if "Peter the Adept" decides to separate from the party, the player (Diego) could simply introduce a new 1st level character to the group (they are staying at a roadside inn, after all)...and who's to say he might not enjoy playing the new character more than the prior one?

All these choices matter because we have rules that we've laid down and that I (as the DM) am enforcing. I could waive them, make the game easier...but I don't think that's in the best interest of my players. I want my players to have meaningful choices, because that leads to deeper engagement with the game world. Just "getting on to" the next action encounter does not. Action IS is the fundamental reason why we play the game...but without the deeper meaningful choices (created by rules which constrain action), it is a hollow exercise. 

Rules do not serve the DM; rules serve the game. The DM does not serve the rules; the DM serves the players by acting as an arbiter and enforcer of the rules. As the rules constrain action, so too does the DM constrain the players, providing choices that carry weight and impact ("meaning") in the imaginary environment, making for a richer campaign, a greater engagement, a deeper experience. The rules provide limits...those limits make the game challenging.

I understand that type of play is not everyone's cup of tea. Some people prefer "no constraint" D&D and see my constraints as old-fashioned and/or downright myopic, believing it is in the best interest of the table to allow dwarves to achieve any level of fighter, or half-orcs to be paladins, or wizards to cast an infinite number of attack "cantrips," or tiefling warlocks to exist at all. Folks will see me as needlessly limiting the "fun" to be had, disappointing players' expectations and curbing their imagination.

To which I say: 

I'm playing Advanced D&D, a challenging game with challenging rules for players who want to be challenged. 

Some people like a challenge. When I play a game of Hearts, I try to 'shoot the moon' with every hand. Every. Hand. Because that's the most challenging way to play: trying to make everyone lose at the same time. And because playing otherwise is too easy after the scores of times I've played the game. Even just sitting around a table, yukking it up with friends and family, and drinking cocktails...too easy without the extra constraint.

I've expended far more hours and effort at Dungeons & Dragons than at any card game.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

The Worst Module Ever Written

Thursday's session saw a lot of "maintenance" type work and not a whole lot of "adventure." Which for me is fine because I'm trying to run this game as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, similar to how I ran the game back in the day, when things weren't always about going into a "dungeon." Far from it! Most of the game happened between dungeons ("adventure sites"), taking place on the road or in towns or at whatever campsite the PCs had set-up in the wilderness. AD&D is much more about living D&D (or, rather, experiencing it) than about strict accomplishment. If all you're concerned about is acquiring points and leveling up...well, then you might as well play a more streamlined, less nuanced/clunky edition. Like B/X. Which is what I did for years.

So the PCs said goodbye to Big Jim and went about spending their hard-earned loot from the Tomb of Bendan Fazier. They asked Jim if he wanted to join them as a permanent henchman but he refused to serve 1st level characters ("Look me up when you have some more experience under your belt."). Jumbo was given most of the monetary treasure as Sonia and Barod had managed to recover a magic staff and wand, but they still had enough left over to pay training costs (for the cleric), cover living expenses, and outfit themselves for their next destination. See, Yakima isn't quite as amicable to wizards as one might expect in a city its fact it's downright inhospitable (plenty of temples and clerics, though). A college of sorcery was known to exist in (the barony of) Ellensburg to the north, however, and the PCs figured they could get their new items identified there.

[I haven't had the chance to blog about my campaign setting to this point, so I'll give you the brief: I'm using a post-apocalyptic fantasy version of Washington State as the basis for my world. No, it's not a terribly original idea, but being my own stomping grounds, I'm familiar with the territory, landscape, and I get to poke fun at things I like to poke fun at anyway (like renaming Bellevue as "Hellview" and making it a cesspool of evil). Also, I've got a great map of the place]

[oh, yeah...I'm calling the campaign Evergreen. More on all that in a later post]

But before they left town, they did take a last chance to locate Big Jim (as Barod was now a 2nd level Adept and feeling quite full of himself). They found him facedown in an alleyway where he'd been beaten and robbed. Once he'd sobered up and rested (and been healed) he agreed to sign on as a henchman, although the cleric was forced to acquire new weapons and equipment for the man. Fortunately, Jim was still wearing the plate armor he'd purchased from his share of the loot. 

Off they went. The journey was uneventful and the tower (just outside of town) was not hard to find. As a DM, I had fun running the old wizard with whom the party interacted ("Rupert") as it gave me a chance to show off some of the potentials for magic-use (with spells like wizard eye, unseen servant, ventriloquism, dimension door, ESP, and floating disk all making appearances...Rupert may be a glorified doorman for the college, but he doesn't mind showing off and impressing "the yokels"). Items were identified, and money changed hands, and the PCs learned quite a bit about the staff of striking and wand of conjuration they'd acquired...not everything, mind you, but enough to make the items useful. I'd assumed Barod would want the staff, but he gave it to Sonia seeing as how she was proficient with staves while he was only proficient with maces and flails. Ah, well.

[some words about is an awful spell. Much as I appreciate Gygax's work on AD&D as a whole, many of the spell "updates" and additions are poorly done. In the case of this particular spell, I am using Alexis Smolensk's version of the spell, although I still require the material component]

Unfortunately, they ran out of money in the process. Times being what they are, Rupert was willing to take an IOU in exchange for the party agreeing to deliver a scroll to an associate two days journey to the north....with the additional understanding that no more magical aid OR TRAINING (for magic-user characters) would be had until such time as the debt had been paid off. "But where are we going to get more money?" You'll figure out something.

Which leads me to the title of this post.  For the players' next "adventure" I am running the old TSR module N2: The Forest Oracle, an adventure about which I've written before. Make no mistake: it is a terrible adventure. Even without the excessive (and poorly written) box text and linear "plot structure," it is filled with errors and nonsense that show NOT ONLY a poor understanding of coherence and consistency in a fantasy adventure, but an extremely poor understanding of the game the game runs and how its mechanics function. For those who haven't read it, I'll list a few:
  • In the MM, a bandit's hit die is listed as "1-6 hit points," (i.e. the creature has less than 1 HD). The bandit encounter lists the bandits HD as "1-6," and the bandits as having 10 hit points each.
  • In the MM, giant frogs are given a range of hit dice (from 1 to 3, based on their size), and variable attack damage (via bite) of 1-3, 1-6, or 2-8 also (presumably) based on size. The module gives eight frogs with HD 1-3, 10 hit points each and 3 attacks of 1-3/1-6/2-8 via "blow/blow/bite."
  • A nymph has taken a human lover. This would usually result in permanent blindness, if not death for the human (assuming he's ever seen his lover naked).
  • Multiple encounters with groups of monsters requiring special weapons to hit (wererats, perytons), despite this being a low-level adventure and the absence of any magical weapons among the pre-generated characters. The perytons especially (four of them!) is an especially deadly encounter...I'd expect a good portion of a party to be wiped out without significant "fudging" from the DM.
  • Nonsensical surprise rules, random death (victims carried off by a yeti must save versus death to escape or "die horribly"), strange magics cast by low level characters (the "gypsy curse").
  • A 12th level druid backed by a "Golden Guard" consisting of druids "of Level 5 or higher" not being able to handle a score of goblins (and 5 worgs) living in known ruin a mere 6 miles from their stronghold.
  • A 4th level magic-user leading a band of "traveling people" somehow having access to a cleric capable of casting multiple cure serious wounds spells.
There is, of course, more issues than just these (another encounter with osquips is also especially deadly for characters levels 2-4), even without the terrible, terrible box text staining the module's pages. So, I'm sure the question in most folks minds is "Why the heck would you want to run this thing?"

Well, despite the poor execution, I still rather like the adventure. And for my purposes, strange as it may seem, I believe the thing is salvageable. Here's how I'm doing it:

First off, the thing has maps. If I haven't said it for the hundredth time or so, maps are not my forte...I am pretty much the opposite of Dyson Logos. I have made maps, I can make maps, but I have next to no confidence in my mapmaking ability. The maps in N2 are actually pretty good, especially if you consider the thing as an open area for exploration (a "sandbox"). Even the tunnel under the Horns of the Dragon appears reasonable to me. Consider what it is: a pass through the mountains and/or a played-out gemstone mine (not sure which part of the equation came first). Why should it be convoluted and "interesting?" The side caverns were dug off the main line (delving for gemstones) so as to keep miners from getting lost. It offers a sure path from one side of the hills to the other. From a design perspective, it allows PCs the opportunity to choose whether to take dangerous side treks or not. 

SO...good maps. Used like maps (i.e. showing locations), not for plotting an "adventure path." 'Course this only works if I can shoehorn the thing into my campaign world...which I can by placing The Downs a short distance north of modern day Thorp, Washington

Next thing is, capture "the gist" of what's going on in the adventure while removing any attachment to the order or manner in which things play out. There's a blight on The Downs caused by curse magic. There's a halfling thief running an inn that steals travelers' possessions (though why not just murder them?). A lone, crazy dwarf fights a guerrilla war against a band of mutants (orcs) in the old underpass. There's an enchanted lake. A few monster lairs. Road bandits. A ruined castle (now inhabited by goblins). A large river (this is a length of the Columbia in my setting) with few viable crossings. An encampment of "gypsy" surrogates with an ogre problem. And, of course, a tree fort filled with largely aloof druids of enormous power.

That's not bad stuff. Several of the encounter (especially the peryton) are overpowered for the average party of 2nd and 3rd level characters, but they're easily beetles instead of osquips, for example. The treasure take in the adventure as written is sufficient: enough to level up a party of seven 3rd level characters to 4th level, assuming sale of the truly random nonsense (why would the designer feel the need to include not just one, but TWO scrolls of protection vs. were-tigers? In two different locations? Did he simply not give a shit?). However, while the amounts are good, the type of treasure is not. 

Does a party really plan on hauling half a ton of copper coins around? Completed linearly (as the dungeon is written) the party will have 1400# of coins by the time they reach the first river crossing (over a tightrope), and that's less than half the coins available for discovery in the adventure total. Some 33-34,000 coins can be pulled as "treasure" by the end, which is fairly obnoxious. Considering the scenario has a bit of the "race against time" thing going, the adventure is forcing the PCs to choose between wealth and experience OR saving a village that was A) heretofore unknown, B) bears no familial/relationship connections to them, and C) has offered nothing so far as reward is concerned. 

So: treasure amounts? Fine. Treasure types? Need adjustment. 

Still, these are minor fixes. Really! Monsters and treasure are easy enough to adjust. My PCs are 2nd level or just about (at the end of our Thursday session a hill giant wandered into their camp site, and they managed to defeat it - after peaceable negotiations failed - which might have been enough to put Sonia and Big Jim over the top), so I can actually REDUCE the treasure amount and still give the party enough to make the adventure worth their while. But mostly, it's just a matter of changing encounters in the thing to be sensible...and appropriate (when necessary).

Let's take the Wildwood Inn as an example: you've got an honest halfling thief (ex-adventurer) running an inn that gets regular business (when the stolen goods are recovered, he knows who they belong to and intends to return it to the rightful owners) situated at a crossroads in a haunted/fairy tale woods. The wererats are guests that steal from the other guests and keep a big chest of gold and silver (as well as a bunch of silver bracelets) in their room. There's a lot that's terrible about this encounter that I'm not even mentioning but that's the basics: inn at a crossroads; halfling proprietor; thieving wererats. Here's how I change it:
  • There's only ONE wererat. Even a party of low-level PCs should be able to take such a creature if they have a silver and/or magic weapon between them and an attack spell. If that fails, they can still attempt to grapple the creature and tie it up, or use fire or...I don't know, players tend to be clever, right? But four wererats (HD 3+1, special attacks & defenses, plus some sleep magic ability) is a screw job as written.
  • The wererat IS the halfling innkeeper (he is a thief after all). Far from being ignorant of what's going on under his own roof, he uses his shapeshifting ability to aid in minor pilfering of guests. Maybe business isn't quite as good as he lets on, maybe he has debts. Maybe he's been shaken down by the, "traveling folk"...and doesn't want to be cursed any more than he already is. OR perhaps his lycanthropy is due to a curse from Madame Riva (the same gypsy matriarch that cursed the Downs) and he needs extra loot in order to pay-off her band so that they'll remove the curse. That certainly fits with the "fairy tale" themes of the module.
  • Far from being a hose job on the PCs, the thief is MEANT to be caught and discovered. Why? Because it makes for more interesting possibilities: the coward can surrender and beg for his life. He can try bribing the PCs with the goods he's stolen. He can explain his plight and ask for aid. He can make a deal with them or give them ownership of a dilapidated inn in the middle of nowhere. 
  • The treasure should be sensible...not heaps of coins (and certainly not silver! Why O why would lycanthropes want to keep silver around? There shouldn't be any silver in the inn!) but small valuables: bracelets, rings, necklaces, silk scarves or handkerchiefs, a fine pair of shoes...and, sure, maybe a silver dagger or two that the halfling has buried in the garden out back. Yes, there will be some coins - the innkeeper does business in hard currency, after all (and presumably buys his provisions the same way) - but you don't need 350# of coins. That's enough to fill eight backpacks!
[as an aside: I imagine it'd be pretty difficult to operate an inn by yourself, in the middle of a forest, with no supporting village or farmers to provide goods to the place. Such a roadside hostel MIGHT be possible if the halfling had a family: a wife and kids to help raise livestock, brew ale, work a garden, etc. but it would likely be pretty raw fare. Regular visitors could alleviate that (by providing coin the innkeeper could use to supplement the menu) but considering there're no delivery trucks and no refrigeration, food for the innkeeper needs to come from somewhere close by. Just saying...]

[me, I'd probably make the inn fairly run down AND give the halfling a family. Even so, the innkeeper would be the only wererat of the bunch (though a DM who runs a grimmer campaign could certainly add wererat children the PCs need to butcher...yikes, the fairy tale suddenly becomes a horror story of "rats in the walls!"...that's probably a shade too dark for my kids), giving yet another dimension of humanity to the innkeeper's situation]

But you see? It's not terribly hard to repurpose the concepts of these encounters to make them functional. For me, the hard part has already been done by the module writers: they made me a map with a bunch of numbered encounters. All the box text and "plot" stuff can go out the window; most of it is garbage anyway (why is the innkeeper in the downs this jovial fellow with this bustling/thriving establishment? Isn't his village suffering through a cursed blight with the populace on the verge of starvation?). But the structure of the this case, the small section of wilderness the map sound.

Well, sound enough (for my purposes).

All right, that's enough for folks to chew on for the weekend. If I get around to typing up my notes for N2 in a useable form, I will post them to the blog for interested folks. Later, gators!

Look - I'm not the only one to try
rehabbing N2! Though it does seem to
have killed the other guy's blog....

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Playing the Tomb of Bendan Fazier (P.2)

[continued from here; I ended my last post NOT because our session had ended, but because the post was getting loooong. Here I’ll be picking up the end of our first session, last Thursday…]

If you haven’t read the key to The Tomb of Bendan Frazier, you can find it HERE. The party exited the “Grand Hall” (as they referred to it; chamber #10) and, re-lighting their (dwindling supply) of torches, headed down the long stairway to #9, finding the statues, checking out the tapestry, noticing the river (again, no appearance by the river troll), and sticking a torch in the wall sconce. My players were grossed out by the mummification process (described in the tapestry), and horrified that the slave-workers had been murdered and dumped in the river (!), but intrigued by the images of treasure being carried into the tomb. 

While Big Jim and Sonia worked to get the tapestry off the wall (since it looked valuable...and is! I forgot to add that to the key but it's worth 400g.p. and weighs about 40#)...

[by the way, do you know how hard it is to find weights on the internet for tapestries? Even shipping weights! And modern day tapestries are generally a lot thinner and lighter than the materials used in past centuries. That was a damn extensive rabbit hole I almost fell into the other day, and the research available was completely unsatisfactory. 40# is a cheap-ass guesstimate of convenience. Bulk is probably closer to 1000 or 2000 coins weight...though, in the end (as the reader will see), this became largely irrelevant...]

*AHEM* While Jumbo and Sonia worked on getting the tapestry down, Barod discovered the necklaces hanging about the statues' necks. Tully was hoisted up (by Tiny) to remove the moon-shaped key from around the second statue, which immediately animated and attacked the dwarf; combat ensued. In the end, the party managed to destroy the caryatid column, but Tiny was slain, having interposed himself between it and Tully. At that point, we ended the session.

[as you can read, the adventure to this point had not been entirely un-fraught with peril...20% of the party had been killed, after all! Even so, when my boy declared that I "hadn't made the adventure hard enough," he was referring to the general lack of monsters in the tomb. Of course, they hadn't yet recovered much in the way of treasure either...]

Session 2 (Friday)

After some discussion on how to bury Tiny, the party eventually decided to strip his body of useful items (including his armor...he had been decapitated by the caryatid and so it was mostly intact) and then dump it in the subterranean river. Barod was anxious to press on: he presumed the bulk of the tomb's treasure must lie with the mummy of Bendan Fazier, and that said tomb was most likely behind the moon door. Sonia was a little less sure of this, but agreed to follow Barod's lead. Asked by Tully the dwarf if they should rest first, they felt there was no need: for the most part, the party was at full health, the bulk of damage from their last encounter having been inflicted on Tiny. 

Big Jim donned his fallen companion's splint mail. His bastard sword had shattered against the monster, but he still had his hand axe (Barod offered him his flail, but the big man declined).

Back up the stairs, through the sun doors, past the "grand hall," and down to the ancient preparation room with its "moon door." Now that they'd seen the tapestry (in #9) the party had a pretty good idea of what had taken place here, and my squeamish players glanced about nervously for signs of brains and internal organs that had been removed from Bendan's corpse. Sonia cast comprehend languages to decipher the writing on the door, and everyone was dutifully awed/disturbed. Barod wanted Sonia to use the moon key but she refused; so the cleric did so himself.

Instantly, bad stuff started happening: the cleric jerked spasmodically as the blood in his veins turned darker, standing out livid against his skin as his eyes rolled back in his head. Everyone took a step back as the cleric, stood up and rounded on the party: obviously he had been possessed by "dark magic!" Barod attacked! Random roll determined Big Jim was his foe! Big Jim decided to grapple his companion. Barod missed his attack roll to keep Big Jim at bay, and so the grappling was on! The usual procedure (DMG p.72-73) was followed and the fighter kicked Barod "where the sun don't shine" inflicting 12 points of damage, immediately taking him out of the fight.

While unconscious, the party cut a length from their rope (the bulk of which was dangling from the pit in chamber #10), and hog-tied the cleric. When he awoke (only 4 points of damage having been "actual"), it was obvious he was still possessed (foaming at the mouth and whatnot). After several minutes of discussion, they decided to take him back to the entrance of the dungeon to leave him with the mules. 

The party had just begun to devise a way to hoist him up the escape shaft when the spell seemed to wear off. Having taken charge of the party, Sonia the magic-user was not about to trust this apparent change of heart, even though Barod pleaded with the group to release him. They relented a bit by untying his legs, and then forced him to walk point as they crossed the threshold of the moon door (now ajar). Barod did not like this ("can't I at least have a weapon to fight with?") but was given no choice by the party. 

At the end of the passage, they found the tomb room of Bendan Fazier, including his sarcophagus, a rotted chest full of gold, and a metal box filled with platinum coins. The large sacks came out of the backpacks and the party filled them with coins. A trap door in the ceiling of the tomb was discovered and the party was happy to see a more ready exit. The sarcophagus they left alone, though they noted the need for a "star key" (which they had already seen around the neck of the statue in #9).

Deciding by this time that Barod could be trusted again (but warning him they wouldn't hesitate to put him down if he "turned" again), the cleric was finally freed from his bonds and the whole party left for the entrance hall, sacks of treasure in hand. Encountering no monsters (like river trolls) on the way out, they again rested, ate Tiny's remaining rations, and regained (or used) spells, all in preparation for opening the sarcophagus. The cleric was sure there must be good stuff inside (he specifically pointed out the magic staff and wand displayed in the wall painting in chamber #4), but both Barod and Sonia were sure there would probably be a big mummy monster to fight!

Back to the tomb (#12): with Tully and Sonia holding torches, Jumbo and Barod went to open the sarcophagus only to discover they'd forgotten about the star key! The party returned to chamber #9 where the cleric and Big Jim proceeded to brutalize the statue before removing the necklace it wore.

[this was rather clever. I allowed them to automatically hit and roll damage each segment...damage being halved as normal with respect to a caryatid column...and also gave the usual chance of breaking a weapon per the monster description. Fortunately, their luck (and their weapons!) held up]

Having reduced it to rubble, they retrieved the necklace. Asked if they were still interested in the tapestry laying on the floor (noting it had been soaked with Tiny's blood): "yeah, I fold it up and put it in my backpack." Explained, no it needs to be rolled up and it's pretty big/thick, they decided it wasn't worth the trouble....

Back to the tomb (again): same set-up as before. The key was turned, the lid was pushed off and the mummy of Bendan Fazier was revealed. When nothing jumped out at them, they heaved a sigh of relief...but they were hesitant to remove any of the goodies in the coffin. "Don't touch the death mask!" Sonia said. Barod took the staff; Sonia took the wand. "Why didn't you want me to remove the death mask?" asked Barod. "Because it's a death will kill you!" That's just what it's called. Oh.

Barod removed the death mask to reveal the Son of Kyuss beneath, which immediately sat up. Everyone was horrified. The mask was dropped. Saving throws versus fear were attempted and failed (except for Tully the dwarf) and most of the party fled in terror down the corridor back to room #11. Tully was not surprised but failed his initiative roll and was attacked and "wormed" by the creature. Bloodcurdling shrieks were heard by the party as they fought each other to clamber up the rope they'd left dangling from #10. More screams of terror and agony were heard (a second worm found a home in Tully, this one reaching his brain in a single round) as they charged from the grand hall, passed the antechamber and over the bridge, all the way back to room #5.

At this point (huddled together in the dark), I allowed the players to start making saving throws against the Son's "terror" ability. There's no real guidelines regarding how long it lasts (at least, not that I could find), but since they were now out-of-sight/earshot of the thing, I figured that if even one of them could come to their senses, she could rally the others. Which is what happened, as Sonia finally made her saving throw.

Pulling themselves together and checking what they had in the way of resources/gear, they gathered their courage and decided to go back to help Tully (if possible) or avenge their friend (if not). By this time, of course, Tully had already met "a fate worse than death" as he was now a shambling Son of Kyuss also (again, the FF description is unclear how long it takes for the transformation, only that "the process of putrefaction" sets in "without delay," but I figured it would be more terrifying (i.e. "fun") for the party to encounter the shambling corpse of their buddy wandering the halls. After all, there'd been a complaint that I hadn't added enough monsters to the dungeon...).
; )

The worms crawl in,
the worms crawl out...
They discovered Tully just as they crossed the bridge, standing beneath the threshold of the "sun doors" his rotten form not quite silhouetted against the continual light of room #10. Again, saving throws were called for and only Sonia was successful. She engaged the creature, blasting it with shocking grasp, but it punched back, scoring a glancing hit (1 damage). The projectile worm shooting from its face missed. Baron and Jumbo cowered at the bridge unable to approach closer.

Then the cleric had a brilliant idea...remove the support rods from the bridge and lure the "Tully mummy" to its destruction! Jumbo and Barod retreated over the bridge, calling for Sonia to do the same as they pulled the rods from their brackets.

Sonia turned and ran. The creature got a free attack at the mage's exposed back (with a +2 bonus) but failed to hit, as did the worm. We diced for her weight, and it turned out she was beanpole like her brother (Barod is 6'6" and 150#...Sonia is 6' and just over 100#). Even with her gear (not much) she was able to cross the bridge without collapsing it. The dwarf, on the other hand, was of average weight for his kind (156#) even without his leather it tried to shamble across the rickety bridge, the thing collapsed and he was dropped into the river below. 

The party started to cheer, but stopped when they saw it pulling itself up onto the rocky ledge of the riverbank. Knowing that the ledge would lead the undead creature back to the entry chamber (and the mules! and the treasure!) the party hustled back as fast as possible to the entry chamber #1.  From the collapsed tunnel to the south they heard sounds of a fight with undead moaning and loud growling (the river troll finally put in an appearance as I rolled to see if the dwarf would encounter the thing and the percentile dice finally rolled under 25...see area #7).  "That must be the monster whose footprints we saw!" exclaimed Barod. "We can let it kill the undead creature and then go back for the treasure!"

Jumbo said: "Um...if IT can kill the 'Tully Monster,' do we really want to fight it?"

"Good point! Let's leave!"

So they left. They took the treasure they had managed to discover (the gold and platinum, which had been left with the mules), sealed the doors of the tomb with iron spikes, and piled the largest rocks they could find in front of the door. Barod wanted to add some sort of warning message to the door, but after realizing he had no chalk, decided he didn't care enough to stick around.

The End

[that is, the end of the adventure; the characters are still alive]

So, there you have it. I found the Tomb of Bendan Fazier to be quite playable in practice. As is the usual M.O. with my players, they left a lot of money on the table (i.e. treasure in the dungeon), but they recovered some good stuff, too, including the wand and staff (which they had clutched in their hands when they fled the Son of Kyuss). The final tally of x.p. was even enough to level up the cleric...once he's had the opportunity to train, of course. Probably helped there were less characters to divide the treasure between.

Man O took so long to get this posted that I've got another Thursday D&D session coming up tomorrow. Welp, even though I haven't been blogging, I have been working on my campaign world (which I want to write about one of these days) AND prepping for our next session. Which has been tricky.

I'll explain why in my next post. Hopefully by Friday or Saturday..
: )

Monday, March 8, 2021

Playing the Tomb of Bendan Fazier (P.1)

Thursday afternoon, the foray into the Tomb of Bendan Fazier began in earnest. For the most part, it went extremely well for the party…so much so that when I asked the boy (over lunch Friday) what he thought of the dungeon he said, “You didn’t make it hard enough.” 

I laughed out loud for several minutes. Then I laughed out loud some more.  

Why are you laughing, Pops? “That’s the kind of thing players say right before everyone gets killed.” HAHAHAHAHA. 

Fridays are generally a no-go for D&D because (like most of our week) we have sports practice after school. Recently, though, practices have been at an ungodly hour (7pm – 8pm? Who does that? When are these kids supposed to eat dinner?!) so we had a couple hours to kill after school work and chores were wrapped up. 

A couple hours to kill…HAHAHAHAHA. 

I offer the following write-up of our game sessions as an example for any DM interested in running the adventure. I'd say it worked fairly well (i.e. as intended when I wrote it) being both fun and functional.

Dramatis Personae 
  • Barod (played by Diego, age 10); a 1st level cleric. 
  • Sonia (played by Sofia, two months shy of age 7); a 1st level magic-user. 
  • Tully (NPC); a 2nd level dwarf thief; has the map to the tomb and recruited this expedition. 
  • “Tiny” (NPC); a 1st level fighter with 18/07 strength; ot-nay oo-tay ight-bray. Dubbed “Tiny” because he’s smaller than Jumbo. Grunts more than he talks. 
  • “Jumbo” (NPC); a 1st level fighter with 18/77 strength; AKA “Big Jim.” 6’5”, 250# (300# with scale armor and shield). Smarter than he looks. 
  • Four mules, unnamed. 

Session 1  (Thursday)

The background goes like this: Tully had already investigated the tomb with his prior adventuring party. They did not have a cleric and the skeleton hoard encountered in room #1 proved too much for them; after taking multiple casualties (including their party’s magic-user) they retreated. Tully decided to recruit some holiness for a return delve. The PCs (Barod and Sonia) were only too eager to sign up for an equal split of the treasure. 

Because my daughter was late to the party, Diego/Barod entered the tomb first (with the three NPCs) leaving their pack mules outside. Having been briefed on what to expect the party was not surprised by the dozen skeletons that attacked as they entered the entry chamber. Barod attempted to turn the undead and rolled a “1;” combat was joined! The group had spread out upon entry and now each adventurer was dealing with three skeletons. 

After a round of futility and wounds, Tully turned and fled up the stairs roaring for the others to retreat. “You coward!” yelled Barod swearing to deal with the craven after the combat. However, Tully actually had a ‘Plan B:’ flasks of oil in the saddle bags of his mule. Sonia came up (leading her mule) just as Tully had recovered his makeshift bomb and was heading back to the tomb door. “Follow me!” She did, staff in hand. 

Meanwhile, the skeletons had turned at the stairs and were seeking new prey. Jumbo, Tiny, and Barod had all managed to down a couple skeletons, but now faced fresh foes. A natural 20 roll from Tully incinerated one of the skeletons and lit up a second with “splash damage” (yay, AD&D). The tide turned! Sonia bludgeoned another one to powder, and the party stood triumphantly amid a heap of bones. Cure light wounds spells were bestowed all around, but the party was still pretty beat up…they decided to camp (outside the tomb, with the door spiked) and recover their strength. They realized they couldn’t spend too much time doing so, however, as they’d brought only a week's worth of rations and round trip journey from the nearest town was four days of travel time. What’s more, Barod had neglected to purchase feed for his mule and was forced to share rations with the beast given the poor vegetation of the dry hills. 

Before leaving the chamber, Barod and Jumbo had explored chamber #2 and found both the scattered coins and muddy footprints. With some trepidation, they reported their findings, but Tully poo-pooed it: “the coins were probably left by the workers that constructed the tomb.” Barod wasn’t so sure. 

The next day (after another round of healing), the group decided to explore the broken southern wall of the entry chamber. Tully noted the downward slope and explained it was probably a secondary exit/entry tunnel used only for emergency and left unfinished…when they encountered the river at the end of the tunnel, this seemed to confirm why it had been considered “unsatisfactory” and walled off. Extremely happy to have found a source of fresh water, the party slaked their thirst and refilled their water skins. 

[a couple quick notes here: I had everyone do a "weight check" for encumbrance prior to the beginning of this exploration, and much wrangling was had over what to carry and what to leave with the mules. In the end, Barod ended up divesting himself of most of his equipment in order to carry his entire cache of armaments and not be slowed too much. Tully and Sonia ended up carrying the torches, but everyone had a backpack with some large sacks...they expected to haul a LOT of treasure out of the tomb!

[the other note is this: regarding the scrag (river troll)...well, I diced for it every time they encountered the river or entered an encounter area on the river (like chamber #9). The thing never showed up. Every time I rolled the percentile dice, though, the players got nervous, asking "What are you rolling for?" in tremulous voices]

They followed the riverside path until they saw the bridge overhead (#6); tying a rope to Tully they sent him up the rusty ladder only to have it disintegrate. Figuring that the other corridor from the entry chamber would lead to the bridge, they decided to retrace their steps, rather than press on (they thus, never discovered the scrag's den).

At #3 three character applied their might to the bronze wheel and heard stone moving in the distance. They thought maybe the stone doors at #4 had been activated by the thing, but Jumbo was able to budge them open with effort. They lit the torches in chamber #4 and studied the painting. Continuing on, they examined the rods in #5 but decided to leave them behind. At the bridge ("See we knew this was the way!") they reasoned that the rods from #5 could be fitted into the raised brackets of the thing to add stability, and correctly did so. They then proceeded to "the Sun room" (#8, the antechamber). 

Rather than look for a key, the party decided Tully could pick the lock. Although this activated the fire trap that burned him for ten points of damage, he survived and managed to open the door, whereupon the party was greeted by the magnificent sight of the great Hall (#10). When it was discovered that the jewels could be pried from the floor, several of the party members immediately set to work doing so before being halted by Sonia, convinced that this might activate some sort of trap or curse. She even suggested they find a way to glue the gem stones back, but after much grumbling allowed the men to keep the 3 or 4 stones each had already recovered.

Using Tully's spikes and Sonia's rope, four of the party descended into the preparation room (#11), leaving only the dwarf behind to guard the exit (he spent his time prying up gemstones). Finding the "moon door" the party called back to Tully if he'd found any keys, and told him to run back through the dungeon and see if they'd missed anything in the entry chamber. "What? Are you kidding?!" The players' reasoning was that the bronze wheel had triggered something, and perhaps it had opened a secret compartment or alcove in the entry hall (#1) since that was the only room they hadn't visited/returned to since they'd turned it. Not being able to fault their logic and being badgered incessantly (and not wanting to risk another fire trap), the dwarf reluctantly took torch and started back...only to return a few minutes later.

No way, no how.
"Hey, you jokers...there's still that big stairway [leading down to #9] that we haven't explored...and I ain't going down into the unknown by myself!"

Having (wisely) put his foot down on the issue, the party agreed to climb out of the lower chamber and assemble in the grand hall, leaving the mysterious metal "moon door" to wait below.

[to be continued]

Thursday, March 4, 2021


Since today is "GM Appreciation Day" (I'm not sure I knew that was a thing), let me first take a moment to thank all the GMs and DMs I've had over the years:

Jocelyn (AD&D), Jason (MSH and DragonRaid), Scott (AMSH, Battletech, ShadowRun), Rob (Traveller), AB (Toon), Ben (Heroes Unlimited, Robotech, Stormbringer), Joel (Mage, Ars Magica, Star Wars), James (AD&D2), Kris (DND3), Emerald City Gamers (various; mostly Risus), Pat (B/X), Alexis (AD&D), Luke (Savage Worlds, DCC, DND5), Randy (B/X), GusL (OD&D), and the numerous Convention GMs I've had over the years whose names I simply can't remember at the moment...

Thank you all. It was great fun, almost always. Really.

[should probably also thank my children: Diego (B/X) and Sofia ("D&D Three," which is not 3rd edition but, rather, her own game)...they will get a special thanks in the form of lunch, which I'll be making for them shortly...]

Okay. Accolades given? Appreciation expressed? Good...back to business!

Reading over the text of the dungeon I posted yesterday, it's hard not to notice that a lot of the treasure is given in coins (gold coins, silver coins, etc.) AKA "The Most Boring Treasure Of All Time," as many of my blogger compatriots would say. 

And for the record, I'm of a similar opinion...often (as in the case of the kobold mis-adventure) the stocking of a dungeon is my opportunity to express some creativity, as I figure out interesting ways to arrive at the correct treasure numbers through a whole swath of non-standard goodies. So, Why O Why, then would I open myself to the sneering contempt of my peers? What would compel me to give a river troll 2,000 pieces of copper (i.e. "pennies")? Sheer laziness?!

Well maybe a bit...but it was purposeful as well. First off, I was dealing with a constricted medium (i.e. I was trying to be terse with my writing), and coins are certainly an easy way to shorten the text. But part of it also was an attempt to make things both easier AND harder for my players.

Coins, as I've noted before, make for extremely portable wealth: easy to use, easy to exchange for good and services. What's more, coins are easy to players, young as they are, are still learning just what is of value in the world. Things covered in gold or silver are pretty obvious, but furs and fabrics and antique woods and whatnot have been passed over and left behind by these kids more than once. As we're once again starting with 1st level characters, I want to make the loot collection as foolproof as possible...because the PCs are going to need it!

AD&D is such a different game from B/X (and other editions of D&D). Money is sooo important in the Advanced game; especially at low- to mid- levels, I am finding it is the driving force behind the campaign. After the PCs have secured magical goods and tools that cut down on resource consumption, things become easier, but one still needs treasure for the cash drain inherent in the AD&D system. 

It's funny because I remember players in my B/X campaign complaining about all the treasure I was handing out..."after all, there's nothing to spend it on." B/X, while a great introduction to the game of D&D requires a great deal of tinkering to make it anything other than a pale comparison of the Advanced game. And it's not just that plate armor costs 400 gold coins; everything worth having (save for magic items) costs money, including transportation, provisions, living expenses, training, and hirelings. And generally it costs more and those costs occur more often.

Hard-won treasure of the coin variety is, thus, much easier for the players than weird stuff they have to both A) identify as valuable, and B) pawn/convert to ready currency.

[on the other hand, all those coins that goblins and hobgoblins carry on their person? That goes right out the window in my campaign. Where were they going...the marketplace? Nope. They might like treasure, but they don't carry it around in a purse. Instead, taking a page from the DMG (page 92, bottom left column) those coins represent the total value of the goods a humanoid carries. That hobgoblin's 3-24 copper and 2-8 gold pieces? That's what you'd get if you stripped his body of everything valuable...the battered helmet, the boots, a rough-worked leather belt, the crudely made morning star, and the iron torc around his neck. You might wear his clothing as a disguise (if you can stand the smell), but no one's going to buy it for any great amount of money]

I would also add that, specific to this particular scenario, I was trying to think up things that would A) have stood the test of time, and B) not award TOO MUCH experience points. So while antique furniture covered in gold leaf (like what Carter found in Tut's tomb) might feel appropriate for the theme, it would probably add up too high, too fast. So no gold leaf, and most everything is rotten and desiccated...or simply wasn't left in the tomb! The guy wasn't an Egyptian pharaoh, after all...the coins (and his magic items) were the bulk of what he wanted to take to the afterlife to "set up shop."

The chest in the tomb
isn't nearly so sturdy.
Mainly, though...this is supposed to be an easy adventure for new characters. And it already poses its own challenges (hauling a hundred pounds of coins out of the place when the chest is rotten...let alone fighting trolls and crossing rickety bridges with easily broken jars of loot) without making it tougher than it is.

Plenty of time to ramp up the toughness should they survive.
; )

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Just Another Tomb

Well, that took longer than anticipated.

Catching up on my blog reading Sunday, I happened across this post from Joseph Manola about a certain dungeon design challenge put forth by Patrick over at False Machine (whose site I don't peruse as often as I probably should). While I like a good blog-tastic challenge as much as the next dude, after reading the criteria I figured this particular one wasn't really for me: not only was I hopelessly late to the party (it was supposed to be completed a couple weeks before), and there's nothing really "art-punk" about me. Hell, I had to find a definition and visit a bunch of other web sites just to figure out what that term is supposed to mean!  SO...soft pass. 

Then my players got TPK'd fighting kobolds and I needed a new adventure.

Since Dyson's map was still staring me in the face from these open tabs on my laptop, I kept looking at the thing, analyzing the layout, seeing if it would suggest a scenario. And, of course (eventually) one did...and as the map was already drawn (and map-making is really my achilles heel when it comes to this D&D stuff) I figured I might as well use it. So I ended up kind of doing the challenge after all.

No, it's not artistic or "punk;" I am a total hack of a writer with nary an original bone in my body. Most of my adventure ideas come from books or movies I've seen over the years (I seldom draw on adventure modules, preferring instead the easier, lazier route of just running pre-made adventures). In this particular case, I drew on an old favorite of mine: the 1999 action film The Mummy. It pretty much has all the ingredients for a D&D adventure...monsters, magic, treasure, tombs, etc. 

The problem was: the map. Man, I puzzled over that thing for nearly two days before figuring out what various rooms were and how they interacted and whatnot. That was tough. That damn river. That giant chamber with the open pits. All that jazz. Plus it had to work for a small party of 1st level adventurers.

Anyhoo, I got it done, and we started the adventure last night. Although the party is in a bit of a pickle at the moment (the cleric failed at his attempt to turn the skeletons...jeez), I wouldn't say they're doing terrible. I mean, no one's died yet...
; )

This morning, I wrote up my notes in a bullet-point format in case anyone's interested in seeing how lame my adventures are (usually I just use a handful of notes on a spreadsheet). You can download the PDF from MediaFire here (do people still use MediaFire?) or you can simply read the text (posted below the map). I call it "The Tomb of Bendan Fazier." Cheers!

[oh, forgot to mention: this is for 1st edition AD&D; suitable for 5-7 1st level characters]

You know how long it took me to figure out
how to add numbers to this thing?
I am soooo lame!


The arid, windswept hills east of Akima are known as “the Tomblands” for it is said that the ancients buried many kings, wizards, and high priests among the dry rocks before the Great Reckoning. True or not, searching more than 600 square miles of wasteland for hidden sepulchers is a fools’ errand…and finding one not yet despoiled by treasure hunters is an even slimmer hope. 

But Tully the Dwarf knows one. 

1. Hall of Guardians
  • The outer door was spiked shut (by Tully) from his last foray. Putrefying bodies of three companions (no treasure, gear hacked to pieces) lie scattered about the chamber. 
  • 12 skeletons (HPs 4, MM p.87) programmed to kill any who enter the chamber; they will not pursue beyond this room. If turned they retreat to the river and are swept away. 
  • A bricked up, secondary tunnel has been collapsed at its base by a curious troll (#7). 
2. Desecrated Chamber 
  • The door to this room has been smashed open (by the troll at #7). 
  • Wet, muddy footprints (identifiable by a ranger) gives evidence of the culprit. 
  • Some scattered coins (D6 each of copper, silver, and electrum) indicate the place was looted. 
3. Alcove 
  • Careful examination of this dark and dingy alcove finds an ancient bronze wheel set into the wall. 
  • A bend bars roll is needed to move the wheel; multiple characters can combine their percentages for a better chance of turning it. On a roll of 00 (99+ with two individuals working, 98+ with three, etc.) the mechanism breaks. 
  • Turning the wheel: a loud grinding, stone-on-stone sound echoes in the distance as the mechanism causes the false wall at #5 to lower into the floor. 
4. Hall of Glory 
  • Doors to this chamber are stone and difficult to move (normal open doors roll). 
  • Each column holds a torch sconce with an ancient torch that may be lit. 
  • The eastern wall depicts a fantastic painting showing the reign of Bendan Fazier over an agricultural people, using his wand to conjure monsters and his staff to smite skulls. He doesn’t appear to have been a nice person. 
5. Rod Room 
  • Three rods of black metal lay in a heap on the floor; each is about 18’ long and weigh 70#. 
  • The southern wall is of different stone than the rest of the chamber; it can be lowered with the mechanism at #3. 
6. Bridge 
  • The bridge of ancient wood and rusted metal is rickety but only collapses if more than 150# tries to cross at once. 
  • Slots allowing for the insertion of three rods (from #5) reinforce the bridge so that there is no chance of collapse. 
  • A rusted iron ladder will disintegrate, dropping any would be climber unceremoniously to the beach below (1d4 damage). The subterranean river is exceptionally cold; its current is sluggish. 
7. Troll Den 
  • A river scrag (HPs 27, MM2 p.121) makes its lair here; it wears a silver necklace (120gp) as a bracelet. 
  • There is only a 20% chance the creature is here, but it will return D4 turns after a party starts poking around its possessions. Any time the party encounters the river, there is a 25% chance the troll is fishing (submerged) nearby; it will be drawn to their light and sound (surprising 4 in 6). 
  • The scrag’s collection of treasure includes five ceramic jars containing 400cp each (each weighs 50#), another containing 250ep (30# weight), an iron strong box (minimal rust) with 500sp, and a dagger +1 used to pick its teeth. 
8. Antechamber of the Sun 
  • Massive doors of polished metal greatly reflect light sources, illuminating the chamber. 
  • A sun-shaped depression over the obvious key hole allows the door to be opened with the sun key (#9). 
  • Attempts to pick the lock sets off an ancient fire trap (1d4+12 damage, save for half). 
9. Hall of Keys 
  • Each of the three statues in this chamber portrays a young woman standing at attention with an elaborate headdress (snake, dog, and owl); around each statues neck hangs a metal symbol attached to a rotting leather thong (sun, moon, and star)…keys to areas #8, #11, and #12, respectively. 
  • These are caryatid columns (HPs 22, FF p.18); each will animate ONLY if the key is removed from around its neck. Attacks will be focused on the person who holds the necklace. 
  • The tapestry at the chamber’s end may be illuminated by a torch placed in the empty sconce near it; it depicts the funerary ceremonies of Bendan Fazier, including the tomb’s construction, his mummification, and the sacrifice of slave workers in the subterranean river that flows past this very chamber. 
10. Hall of the Demesne 
  • A globe of continual light (L12) illuminates this magnificent chamber. 
  • The floor is an incredible mosaic depicting the realm once controlled by Bendan Frazier: a region north of Akima, including the Akima river and its main tributaries. The image is punctuated by hundreds of sparkling precious stones, cut and set within the image (350 gems worth 10gp each; diligent work can pry up five stones per turn of effort). 
  • The map is oriented with “north” towards the eastern wall; the rivers tributaries are made to appear to be flowing out of the three open pits along that wall. 
11. Room of Preparation 
  • This level is reached by dropping down one of the 20’ deep open pits in #10. All the mummification equipment was destroyed long ago, its pieces scattered on the floor amongst the shredded crumbling pages of Bendan Fazier’s tomes and scrolls. Empty torch sconces line the walls. 
  • The locked metal door in the southwest can be opened with the moon key (#9); it radiates both magic and evil. Anyone inserting the key into the lock must save versus spells to resist the impulse to immediately attack the other party members (attempts to pick the lock have the same effect). The madness leaves the character after one turn. 
  • Engraved in the door is a three-line verse in an ancient, dead language. Translated it reads: My Tomb Lies Beyond/Those Who Would Desecrate It/My Doom Will Suffer
12. Tomb of Bendan Fazier 
  • The chamber contains a rotting wooden chest containing 800gp (chest will break if moved), a metal box (with 100pp), and a large stone sarcophagus. The last may only be opened by using the star key (#9); a combined strength of 24 is needed to move the lid which is carved with another three-line verse: My Spirit Has Flown/Yet My Flesh Remains And Will/Rain Vengeance On Thee
  • A mummy lies within the sarcophagus. A scarab of protection fastens his funeral garment; one hand clutches his wand of conjuration (8 charges), the other his staff of striking (4 charges). His death mask is a mix of gold and precious jade with cut emerald eyes (3500gp value). Removing the mask reveals a horrible rotting face with wriggling green worms crawling in and out of its orifices. The remains, now a Son of Kyuss (HPs 19, FF p. 83) animates and attacks; all characters in the chamber must immediately save against magic or flee in terror. 
  • In the northeast corner, an ancient bronze ladder leads to a trapdoor in the ceiling which may be pushed open to allow access to #10. The trapdoor can only be opened from below. 

NOTE: Tully the Dwarf (a second level thief) is a middle-aged dwarf of hardy constitution (15 hit points!) and sour disposition. He brooks no nonsense, but is willing to cut PCs in for an even share of the treasure (he has no choice as he can’t face the tomb dangers alone). He has leather armor, a broadsword and dagger, a stout pack mule, torches, rope, and a couple flasks of oil. His main concern is finding a cleric to take care of the damn skeletons! He has a weathered map to the tomb that he keeps on him (under his armor) at all times.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Quick and Painful

Welp, the new characters died.

*sigh*  It was unfortunate for them, but they were both smart and stupid (as PCs tend to be). Turns out the giant weasel was little problem at all: despite latching onto the cleric/ranger and sucking her blood, the enormous amount of hit points afforded by that class combo (we rolled HPs and she ended up with 15), allowed her to just survive long enough to deliver a killing blow (along with the assassin's arrows). The PC then decided to skin the thing for its pelt...after healing herself, of course.

[this was un-prompted by me, though I did make note that its fur was soft and luscious under all the blood. Had the two simply made off with the skin, they would have earned more than 10 times what the witch had offered to pay them for the kobold horns as, per the MM, giant weasel pelts fetch 1000-6000 gold pieces at the open market]

[if I had to guess, my daughter's thought to become a furrier was a holdover from UK2: The Sentinel, where they dealt with a fur trader and received giant beaver pelts as a reward. They ended up spending some of their hard-earned coin having a tailor line their armor with the stuff, as well as fashioning warm cloaks]
This image scared my son.
While the ranger was at work, the assassin decided to scout ahead (alone) and, attracted to the sounds of a general hubbub, blundered his way into the large cave that acted as the tribe's common chamber...said tribe preparing the evening meal. Rather than beat a hasty retreat, he decided to draw sword and engage the creatures, while calling for aid. Needless to say, this was just a Bad Idea, made worse by the ranger also deciding to press the attack even after the assassin had been downed. 

I have seen so many TPKs at the hands (claws?) of kobolds over the years. So underestimated. 

SOooo...once again starting over. Over breakfast this morning (and on our ride to school) the kids have decided to go a different way with their next characters: both are choosing humans this time, and they're going to try their hand at spell-casting. Diego says he's decided to make a cleric, and Sofia declared she wants a wizard, so we'll see how that goes. 

The alignment issue turned out to be a non-issue, and once again I think I'll just axe it from the campaign...or, rather, ignore it for the time being. I like the idea of "supernatural evil," whether we're talking demons, vampires, or gibbering hoards of subterranean humanoids with a taste for flesh, but the cosmic distinctions feel a poor fit. At least at this level of character (more on that in a later post). 

Right now, I've got to figure out what I'm going to do for the new re-boot. I'm averse to using the same scenario, even though circumstances could still apply (Larissa the fenwitch still has need of powdered kobold horn, and still is uninterested in obtaining it herself). But if the players really are intent on playing "squishier" types, they're going to need a place where they can obtain some stout fighting men for backup...the village on the fens isn't really the place for it (part of the reason Larissa was happy to give the PCs the job). Hmm...I've got some thinks to do...