Friday 4 December 2009

The Training Dungeon - creepy-crawlies and a descent into the depths of the earth

We start in room 2, the old goblin chamber where the party was resting up after the previous week’s exertions. The clerics got their Cure Lights ready, a bless, a protection from evil and a couple of others, the MUs learned up sleep, affect normal fires and detect magic.
After consulting the map, they finally sussed that the route to room 13 was the way to go and off they went, arriving at the door to find that it was not locked. Few are in this dungeon. They listened, but Lannius failed his hear noise roll and they opened the door to find a scene of decay and carnage. Bits of bodies, rotting flesh, bones. Slowly, they edged into the room and someone made a hear noise roll, result - a slithering scuttling from overhead. At which point, party members actually looked up and there it was a - a nine-foot scurrying worm shape, heading their way across the ceiling and down the wall.
It was at this point that the party did the last thing that I'd expected - they ran away. Specifically, they dived back through the door and shut it. They heard the noise of tentacles hitting the door and Hruthnor and Alurax readied their missile weapons.
"We open the door" said JG.
"How?" I asked "You've both got your hands full of bows"
After much prompting, Lannius tied a wire loop to the end of his 10' pole and used that to pull the door open. Through came the Carrion crawler and lunged for the two front members. Bows twanged and the CC got an arrow in the head. I should point out at this point that the CC only had 10hp (bad rolls on my part) but that didn't stop it heading straight for Hruthnor and hitting with four of its eight tentacles. The dwarf hadn't helped matters by getting a fumble (two 1s on the trot) whilst switching from xbow to axe, which meant his favourite weapon skittled across the floor. As the CC entwined a now-paralysed Hruthnor in his tentacles and started to turn to scurry off, the blows rained down and pretty soon the CC was a pile of sticky bits, some of those bits still attached to a paralysed dwarf.
I must admit, having looked again at the stats, that a single CC is actually a poor match for seven 1st levellers. The tentacle attack is all it has - I assume that once it's paralysed its victim, it scurries off to have a munch. The description doesn't give much else away, not even how long the paralysation lasts. Incidentally, this led to an amusingly cyclical conversation with JG, something along the lines of
"No, JG, Hruthnor can't move"
"What, not at all?"
"No, not at all"
"Why not?"
"Because he's paralysed"
"What does that mean?"
"It means he can't move"
Groundhog Day in the dungeon!

The party split into two - Alurax, Akurath, Lannius and Garazor searching the room for treasure and finding nothing, Elise, Alia, Zhastur the hobbit and the paralysed dwarf near the door.
The former managed eventually to find the secret door, Alurax being an elf, therefore having a 2 in 6 chance of spotting a secret door if actively looking.

Meanwhile, a roll on the wandering monster chart (now bereft of goblins) had revealed that the evil cleric and his zombie minions were on the prowl, looking for new recruits. All that Elise, who was rearguard, could hear were whispers, mutterings and footsteps coming out of the dark. She mentioned this to JG, and there was a great deal of indecisiveness on the part of the party (except for Elise, who decided to move everyone into the CC room and close the door). JG wanted to attack, which would have been an interesting fight, but sager heads kept quiet and heard the approaching footsteps and then a muttered "Hmm, what did this?" as the cleric found the remains of the CC. Footsteps went away again.

Eventually, the party made it to room 14, after I had ruled that a couple of CLWs would restore Hruthnor. There, they found the a ten foot by ten foot shaft. Going, not exactly. Elise went down on the 50' rope, only to find that halfway down the shaft there was another opening. She hung around while JG struggled to think about what to do. Eventually, she was pulled back up again and the party set off on the big loop of passageway that goes up and over room 14 to come back on the central north-south passageway. Elise had got a bit bored by now, and was hanging around the shaft room while the rest of the party were following the passageway until they rounded a corner and came face to face with 5 wandering kobolds.

It strikes me that an easy way to clear the dungeon would be to stay on level 1 and wait for the monsters to come to you, four or five at a time. Eventually, you'd have killed them all and could go and pick up the treasure without any risk.
In the fight, the party managed to wipe out the kobolds but Garazor went to 0hp. He gave himself a cure light and got all his HPs back again.
Meanwhile, Elise heard the approach of the evil cleric and zombie friends again. She decided to catch up with the party and let them know what she had heard. (Classic Dialogue coming up)

JG said "We're being followed....we retreat!"

In a rather circuitous fashion, the party arrived back in room 14, all deciding to go right to the bottom of the shaft rather than mess around with the opening halfway down. They arrived in room 29, whereupon they were confronted by a door. Lannius and Hruthnor decided to burst down the door and managed to make their saves vs. DEX, so they were on their feet when the giant centipedes attacked.
Killing one with every hit (I didn't even make them roll for damage, as the centipedes only have 1-2 hp, although a critical hit on a centipede should be something to see), they were soon working their way through the nasty little beasts, although as there were two per character, both Lannius and Hruthnor were pretty soon beleaguered. In strode Garazor and Akurath to lend a hand. Bad move.

As there were more characters fighting, the centipedes had more frontage to attack and so the pincers nipped and bit. Soon Hruthnor, Akurath and Garazor failed their saves, even with a +4 bonus (I ruled that the weakness of the poison meant not that you were ill if you failed your save, but that the save bonus reflected the rarity of fatal results). This result revised my opinion of giant centipedes as the most rubbish monster in the MM. Despite this, JG was not downhearted and pressed on with wiping out the centipedes. The good thing is that we'll not see them on the wandering monster roll any more.

They moved out of room 28 and soon found a blocked passage, complete with heavy rocks. JG correctly deduced, without any help form Daddy Grognard that he needed to add up the STR ratings from the party to see if they could move them and although I did roll for wandering monsters whilst they were doing it, nothing came along.

Once past that obstacle, they found a corridor that ran around a central chamber. The doors resisted attempts by Lannius to pick them, but the combination of Alurax and Lannius burst one open and they were confronted with a stone pillar on which were four slots. JG realised that the four slots corresponded to the four tokens, two of which he had, but without all four, he knew that he could do nothing and off the party went.

They were now going down a long passage towards room 30. There, at the end, they saw a shadowy figure, which they soon recognised as an orc sentry. It had not seen them, but it soon knew they were there when Alurax sent an arrow into it. With one hit point remaining, the orc shouted at the top of its voice that there were intruders attacking. With only five characters remaining, this meant that they were faced by ten orcs, but JG was reluctant to rush in and instead sent arrow after arrow at them. The orcs soon realised that they were sitting targets for the archery and charged in, waving their swords. In the first round of combat, Alurax went down and two orcs were toppled. I then hinted to JG that perhaps he had some resource that he was neglecting to use, resource. He (figuratively) slapped his head and recalled that Alia had a sleep spell learned (so the lesson about remembering which spells his casters had clearly paid off). A quick incantation and behold, the orcs were snoring. And then a quick dagger or two from Alia and Lannius and the orcs were dead.

Another one crossed off the wandering monster list.

There was a mysterious shaft in one corner of the room, which even the orcs had been reluctant to investigate. They went down it anyway, as JG tossed down the bodies, having first of course looted them. This was his introduction to electrum pieces, garnering in total about 100gp worth.

DMing kids is great - you can toss them 100gp and they think that they've won the lottery. I expect XP will be something similar. You can imagine it - "We slaughtered those orcs, how many XP did we get?"
"Oh, a hundred and fifty"
"A hundred and fifty? Wicked!"

They set off up one of the corridors out of the orc chamber and soon found a mysterious alcove. JG had remembered to look up as well as around when exploring a room and realised that there was a shaft in the ceiling. They sent Lannius up. Although he's got a Climb Walls of 85%, he rolled a 92 and fell ten feet, taking 4HP of damage. One occasion that his AC2 didn't help him. This provoked a certain reluctance on the part of the thief to have another go and so they decided to press on, around the corner and along to a staggered crossroads. At this point I rolled on the (increasingly empty) wandering monster list and up came "Party of Adventurers". I ruled that this was Garazor, Akurath and Hruthnor back from the start again.
It was just as well that they were up to eight again, because they headed up to room 32. They arrived to find four bodies lying on the floor.

I had set this up as an ambush scenario. Two bugbear brothers in room 31 had laid out the bodies, planting them with money and items in the hope that anyone finding the bodies would be too interested in looting to worry about watching their backs. So it transpired.

The party spotted the bodies and were immediately searching and checking to see what they had on them. I watched carefully and noted that they were all facing away from the door. So the bugbears burst in and attacked, taking out Zhastur the hobbit. One missed Alia on his first attack (yes, a bugbear missing AC10) but he made up for it on round 2 when he floored her, sending her to -1.
Then the fight was on. With the MU out of action, there was no-one to drag the party members back to safety and their survival depended on getting the bugbears killed before the wounded reached -10. Each bugbear had 18hp (a coincidence as I rolled them up) and those hp took a long time whittling down. Akurath and Alurax were brought to zero but no lower, and the rest of the party flung itself into the fight. Elise was next to get knocked down and finally, one of the bugbears fell. The survivor was backed against the wall but three characters (Garazor, Hruthnor and Lannius) were too great a match for it. It did hit Hruthnor for 8 points of damage but the doughty dwarf, with one HP remaining, bellowed out (in true King Leonidas style) "!" (okay, I did that bit) and swung his axe.
JG rolled a 20.
And another 20.
I just declared that the bugbear's head went flying off. (he only had 2hp left). I think that Hruthnor Butterfingers is well and truly forgotten.
And that's where we ended it.

Things that I’m learning about the TD

Carrion crawlers need to be committed in groups of 3 - or 1 per 2 party members. They are just too easily killed on their own. Also, the way that they are used and the places in which they live might be better considered. If they came out of holes in the walls or tiny passages and dragged their victims back down said holes, the party might have to go down after them, leading to an interesting session of fighting in confined spaces. The carrion crawler’s tentacles would be a more fearsome weapon if there was no way that the party could get round its flank.

The ideal party size for the TD is six. Eight is perhaps a little too overwhelming, and I don’t mean just from a paperwork point of view. Either that or up the odds a little. Maybe up the orc ratio to 3 per character.

Despite his young age, JG is acting very much as a player would be expected to act. Which is heartening. And he’s getting used to the dice that he needs and where to look on his character sheets for information.

In fact, as a DM running dungeons for kids, that’s the one thing that I would say needs sorting – much as I love the old goldenrod character sheets we used back in the day, they are overly complex for kids to read. Something nice and simple, with the to hits, the hp, AC and saves laid out in large script. I use, as I’ve already mentioned, the Dragonsfoot character generator and the sheet it prints out, with a little extra info on, could work just fine for youngsters’ character sheets. It really only needs the to hits, weapon damage and a note of the hp.

I’m also thinking of approaching the local school and seeing if we can’t get a small room at the next school fair (probably Easter or the summer) to set up a demo game with JG and perhaps a couple of his little friends. There’s nothing like seeing a game in action to whet the appetite either of those who used to play or kids who will be interested in the figures and the funny shaped dice (plus the home-made DM’s shield).

I have a good stack of pre-gens for anyone who wants a (very) quick start and there are several introductory dungeons for low-level beginners’ parties.

Now where did I put that copy of The Grinding Gear?


  1. "There’s nothing like seeing a game in action to whet the appetite either of those who used to play or kids who will be interested in the figures and the funny shaped dice"

    That is so true. I think that there are a lot of people out there that would want to play but have forgotten about the game or have been turned off by the new rules. A little public display goes a long way.

    As for simplified character sheets, have you looked on the Swords & Wizardry download page? You might find some simplified sheets that that you can use, mainly Burke's Character Sheet and Fitz's Sheets.

    Love the recap too, BTW.

  2. Thanks for the comments! I shall pop over there and check it out forthwith.