Monday, 16 November 2009

It's all fun and games till someone loses three characters (Training Dungeon, Session 2)

We started at room 11 (see map above), where, as you'll remember, the party was holed up at the end of the previous session. JG decided to get the two wounded characters healed up with Elise's two remaining Cure Lights. Then, rather than wait another four hours to get the two clerics full of Cure Lights again, he set off for the crossroads and room 9. A quick instruction about ten foot poles and checking for traps and they were in. Inside the room was a set of strange carvings on the wall at the point marked A.

The party approached the carvings but despite my putting a pressure pad trap at X, perhaps assuming (counter-intuitively) that the party would not walk straight down the middle of the room, that's just what they did. Ah well, sometimes DMs think too far ahead of the party.

The trap would have closed the door to the corridor. A strange chanting would have started, and the carvings would have been illuminated by an eerie phosphorescence. In order to open the door to the corridor, the party would need to solve the puzzle, which required a total of 36 INT but there was a chance that even if they did this, the door to room 12 would open, allowing a horde of skeletons out.

The four characters that stood at A, looking at the carvings had a total intelligence of 50, so it didn't take them long to work out what buttons to press, regardless of the fact that the door to the corridor wasn’t actually shut. However, they still managed to set off the part that opened the door from 12, and the skeletons were revealed.

(I should add here that although one of the maxims of Old School play is ‘test the players, not the characters’, I have a problem thinking up puzzles and tricks that can challenge a player’s intelligence. I’ll be blogging on this soon).

The two clerics (Elise, a Cl/Mu and Zhastar the hobbit) rushed forward and managed to turn eight of the fourteen skeletons advancing. The other six weighed in and it was a tough fight. First, the hobbit rolled a 1 on his to hit, so I asked for another roll and he got another 1. Footman's mace went spinning across the room. Elise was swinging left and right with her lucerne hammer, smashing bits and pieces off skeletons. Up stepped Alurax, about to find out the hard way about edged weapons and skeletons.

Next round, down went the hobbit. Alia the MU dragged him to safety, and up stepped Hruthnor, deciding that half a battle axe is better than no battle axe at all. The doughty party whittled down the skeletons while the skeletons whittled them down. Alurax went next, and Lannius Light-finger moved in to fill the breach. Note the edged weapons here, not a good thing. Eventually the six skeletons at the door were despatched, but by now, the other eight were advancing again.

JG chose to have Elise's cleric carry on with the lucerne hammer rather than try to turn them again and make a hasty retreat. Soon she fell to the bony advance. Hell, that MU was doing a lot of binding and resuscitating. Hruthnor, Lannius and Akurath Bladestrong finally managed to prove that while sticks and stones may break bones, swords and axes do just as well, only a little slower. A couple of criticals did help during the melee.

With the party licking its wounds and three of the seven on zero hit points, JG decided to take the three fit and standing PCs (who were all down on their HPs) off on a jaunt of their own, splitting the party. Lannius, Hruthnor and Akurath set off down the corridor from room 9 and turned down towards room 8. In there, they found four sleeping wolves seemingly guarding four clay pots hung from hooks on the walls.

Lannius decided to try and do a move silently. He had a 20% chance but rolled 24 and the first wolf woke and went for him. At the sound of combat, the other wolves woke, but before they could all rush Lannius, the two dwarves had charged in and joined the battle.

Well, you remember the lucky rolls last week. This week it was "the dice are trying to kill me". Wolves with 2+2 HD (HPs of 13, 13, 7 and 13 respectively) THAC0 of 16 (I thought that this was pretty good, perhaps too good but it was the figure from the summary at the back of the DMG) and the lucky dice this time were a bit too much for the dwarves with their ACs of 5, and they went to minus pretty quickly. All four wolves then turned on Lannius (AC2), who had the good sense to back into a corner, allowing only three to get at him. But alas, he too fell.

At this point, JG (who is very taken with Hruthnor) burst into tears. I consoled him with some Daddy DM words of "It happens to us all, mate" and assured him that the three characters, it being a training dungeon, would reappear at the start again.

Curiously, whilst the zero-HP characters were resting up the four hours to get their spells back and some chance of healing, I'd done some wandering monster rolls. In the first hour, the evil cleric lurking deeper in the dungeon and two of his zombies had passed by (no reason for him to go into what is in effect a ruined chapel when he knows that any dead bodies in there are going to turn into skeletons) and in the third hour, I got a roll for adventurers, so I deemed it appropriate that the three previously dead characters were the ones who happened by.

Cure Lights at the ready, all characters back up to full strength, off they went, eager for revenge on the wolves. By now the wolves were not sleeping but were on edge - down the corridor came Team Adventure, weapons at the ready. I deemed that the wolves still had the damage from earlier, to make it a bit fairer on the team - not that they needed any help as JG's dice luck had changed, along with his dice (he’d swapped sets). The wolves were swiftly despatched, Hruthnor lopping the head off one (8 damage on a wolf that only had 7 to start with) and Lannius chasing one badly-wounded one (1hp left) across the room until it turned in the far corner and went for him. Bad dog.

So, to sum up, Wolves lost on the replay. (Okay, English football joke, apologies for the parochialism).

Well, after that, there was nothing to do apart from break open the clay jars. Imagine JG's delight when he found one of the four tokens therein. He remembered who had told him about them (spirit-possessed skeleton in room 3) and knew how important a discovery this was. In fact a high-five between player and DM was in order. Father-son bonding moments are good.

From there, they made their way back up the corridor and down the one that leads to room 7. Halfway down the corridor, I rolled for wandering monsters and up came two giant centipedes. A further boost to JG's confidence as Hruthnor and Alurax pinned the beasties to the floor with a crossbow bolt and an arrow respectively.

(Giant centipedes must be put in dungeons for their nuisance value alone - 1-2 hp and a bite which you can save at +4 - world's weediest monster?)

And it was at the threshold of room 7 that I chose to halt it for this week. Next week, I need to put on my poet's hat again and devise a rhyme for the nymph statue which waits for them in room 6, which should give them clues as to how to handle these two rooms.

What was learned – JG experienced character death for the first time. Although he cried, as I knew he would (a heart-wrenching moment for me as well, thinking 'Is he up to this?') I think that it made him a stronger player. The demise of one of his favourite characters fired him up for revenge. In recent conversations that I’ve had with him, he seems totally reconciled to the notion that a character death in what I’ve taken to calling ‘real dungeons’ as opposed to the soft-cornered Training Dungeon merely means a new one has to be rolled up. And that’s cool.

The party also encountered undead for the first time, and I had to explain the process of turning. With the second group of skeletons, JG decided to have Elise the cleric weigh in with her hammer rather than try and turn them. He seems to have cottoned on to the fact that blunt weapons are the best thing to use against skeletons, but not the crucial part that clerics play in the battle against the walking bones.

JG still has the urge to hurtle off with low HPs and a lack of spells. And on this occasion, he split the party, to his ultimate detriment. But that’s what the Training Dungeon is all about.


  1. Cool! You're Training Dungeon is a great idea! By the way, how's The Blade Itself? I've got the trilogy sitting on my shelf, but haven't started it yet.

  2. Thanks for the feedback, James. I'm toying with posting the whole thing but I think it might be too big. There are 38 keyed rooms and features. And of course it might spoil the suspense. Perhaps I should wait until Team Adventure have finished it. It's a Word document at the moment so if anyone's interested, I could e-mail it for their perusal. My good buddy Old 4 Eyes, who has watched it develop, has talked about running it, so I'd be delighted if anyone wanted to try it out on their Junior Grognards.

    The Blade Itself is as good as I'd hoped, having previously read the stand-alone (but set in the same world) Best Served Cold. Cynical, humorous, visceral violence, a well-created milieu without having to wade through chapters of exposition. I can see campaigns being set here in years to come.

    Do yourself a favour and dip in!