Sunday, 31 May 2015

Ruins by the Lake, part II

Well, it's been a while, because the lads have been having exams and I've been working hard on my thesis, but we managed to squeeze in another session a few nights ago. Bromeen and Bjorn (two Dwarves), Wizard (a Magic User), Wiz Khalifa (a Cleric) and Josef (a Thief), having been more-or-less thrown out of Threshold for being more trouble than they're worth, had decided to explore the ruins by the lake a few miles north of town. Once there, they ran into a merchant, on his way to market-day in Threshold, and then some Halflings (who referred to themselves as 'Nelwyn') on some sort of pilgrimage to sites connected to a mysterious Halfling hero called 'Willow'. After that, they ran into some giant White Apes - the last session closed with the Apes (who had a couple of very favourable reaction scores) hoisting Wiz K. on their shoulders and running round with him like some kind of giant doll.

The first thing that happened in this session was that the White Apes (who remained ridiculously happy) gave up on throwing Wiz Khalifa in the air, and buggered off, having been distracted by something else. So, what might have been a nasty encounter ended in some relief for the party (who had been saved by a series of perfect reaction rolls to be frank). After this, the guys started poking about in the ruins, and soon found an entrance to the catacombs under the ruined city.

The catacombs area series of iterations of the Wizards of the Coast random dungeon generator. I ran the generator 4 times, producing small (12-24 room) dungeons, each with 4-10 monster encounters, then linked the maps with corridors and staircases. Keeping a tight control of the source-books means that isn't a great range of monsters - though Kobolds, Orcs, Goblins and Bugbears are all going to appear from the humanoid side of things, come here to loot the ruins and (they hope) establish a forward-base to attack Threshold; and as is often the case these nefarious chaps are accompanied by the odd wolf or dire-wolf. Some of the monsters I've had to substitute as I don't have stats/rules for them in any edition I have access to - Darkmantles (I think I had two of those) have been substituted with Giant Bats, and the Krenshar and Worgs of the original listing have been replaced with the already-mentioned wolves and dire-wolves. There are a few skeletons and zombies (the undead original inhabitants of the city, buried alive 60 years ago) and lots of various (and variously-sized) snakes, bugs and spiders.

Because the 4 different iterations use the same room descriptions for their contents, I needed a way to generate room descriptions for the duplicate rooms. So I turned to a place any sensible DM should consult as much as possible, Beyond the Black Gate blog, specifically, the 'Weird Things in Rooms table'. First result I rolled? A "19. A viking longship, far too big to fit through a door, fills the room."


A happy hour or so later, I'd restocked all the rooms I needed to. There are some crazy rooms in the catacombs I'm telling you.

Anyway; back to the PCs. Creeping down the staircase and into a junction of hallways, the PCs remembered to light torches and lanterns (they forget that sometimes). Their first decision in a complicated junction was to get Josef to look for traps on the door in front of them. Josef found the trap but couldn't disarm it. Luckily when the blade sliced down, no-one was harmed. In the room, they found a dome of black glass that made them fearful (94 on the Weird Things... table). But first, some small spiders (about the size of cats) charged towards them. They were quickly dealt with and it was on to the main event - the black glass dome.

Wiz K, being a Cleric and deciding this was some magic that, if it wasn't exactly ungodly, was at least the wrong sort of godly, decided the only thing to do was smash it. I kept telling them it made them fearful - they didn't listen. Time for saving throws.

Bromeen, Bjorn and Wiz K - the ones with the hit points and the biggest urge to smash things - all failed. OK, I told them, you're paralysed with fear of the black glass. Wizard and Josef, however, who have 1hp each, and who didn't want to touch the thing anyway, made their saving throws. "Err, are we completely paralysed? Can we still talk?" asked our paralysed PCs. "You can talk, and move, you just can't bring yourself to approach the dome" I replied, reasoning that the paralysing dread-effect was like a force-field of fear that the dome was pushing out. "Go and touch it, go on go on go on, and smash it!" chorused those too fearful to do it themselves. Wizard was not keen, asking instead what he could see, so I told him it appeared to be a dome of dark glass with some kind of swirling black gas inside that he could faintly see (I wish now I'd told him it showed stars he didn't recognise, but it's easy to be wise after the event); but Josef, goaded by his fellow-party-members, finally consented to put his hand on the glass. I made a show of rolling a die. "Nothing happens - it seems to be made of glass". Josef then decided he would lick (!) the glass. Another die-roll. "Nothing happens - it seems to be made of glass".

At this point Wiz K piped up: "if I'm not paralysed, can I throw my warhammer at it?" Of course, he could, so I decided that it would have AC 5 and 3 points of damage would smash it. I hadn't worked out what it would do if it wasn't completely smashed, but if I run this again I think I'll require a Save at -2 (or at minus-however-many-points-of-damage-the-thing-took) as the dome responds with a psychic-energy backlash. Anyway, Wiz K's hammer hit and did enough damage to smash it completely. "The glass shatters and the black gas billows out. Bromeen, Bjorn and Wiz K fall over". Some consternation. "Are we dead, or unconscious or something?" they asked. "No, the force-field that kept you away from the dome has collapsed, and you were knocked over with the shock - that's all." "OK - can we go and breathe in the gas?" Err yes, if you want to, guys... another roll even though I have no reason to think that the gas is harmful... and nothing happens. I really should be more responsive to what they're trying to do and give them more positive feedback. Or in this case, negative feedback along the lines of 'yes you breath in the gas, you feel it burn your lungs and your mind goes dark, now Save v Spells, if you fail, you're a ghoul' or something.

All that was left for them to do in this room was for them to collect some of the bigger shards of black glass and start looking for other ways out. Another door at the back of the room led somewhere new - this time to a room with a bloodstained altar ("Smash it!" cried Wiz K - it's rapidly becoming his catch-phrase) and some drums (presumably used to provide music for sacrificial rituals). This room had some snakes in it - not big ones, but they still managed to bite Bjorn (I can only assume, on the nose, as he's AC1). He made his saving throw against poison however so only took a couple of points of damage from the bite itself. As he's appointed himself as the party's Tank, he shrugged off the damage. Again, the critters were more of a nuisance than a threat.

A quick search of the room revealed this was a dead-end. The altar didn't seem to be connected with the snake-cult. Which meant the PCs didn't really care. They liked the drums though, Bjorn took one, convinced that it will come in useful (he's been trying to get a musical instrument for days now). Then they made their way back to the room of the glass dome.

Turns out there's another, untrapped, door back into the corridor they originally came from. But that door was stuck - so they took their chances with trapped one, Wiz K (AC2) going first and the others scurrying along in the time it took for the trap to re-set. Coming out of the room and turning right, they made their way down a corridor with a portcullis at the end. Finding that it was easy enough to lift (any 3 characters, or the 2 Dwarves, could have lifted it) they made their way into the room beyond - where hundreds of skulls, each with a melted candle balanced on it, stared at them from niches in the walls. There has obviously been some grim necromantic magic going on in this part of the catacombs. But the PCs didn't care, when a perfunctory search revealed no secret doors or hidden treasure. Back to the portcullis, and down the corridor again to the junction, where they took another door.

This door led into a room with a pit in the middle ("Smash it!" shouted Wiz K, to some hilarity) and some Goblins who were not very happy about being disturbed. The party had not been quiet or careful when approaching the door, and had not tried to listen or anything else that might have given them a clue as to what was beyond. Cue 4 Goblins attacking with initiative - especially when they saw the intruders included Dwarves.

However, as 3 members of the PCs' party are insanely armoured, the Goblin missile attacks (two thrown axes, an arrow and a spear) were ineffective. The PCs made short work of two of the Goblins and severely injured the third. At this point the injured Goblin and Goblin 4 (the weakest of the bunch) surrendered.

The two Dwarves are both Chaotic. The three Humans are all Neutral. This is not a mix liable to lead to 'nice' gameplay. They are fairly typical murder-hoboes. They grabbed the Goblins and wrestled them to the floor. "What are you doing here?" the Dwarves demanded, in their best Goblin. "We were sent here to stand guard - we don't know why, we're just doing what we were told", replied the terrified Goblins. "Who sent you?" "The Chief did - Chief Grrarthurrd". Bromeen had become bored with this interaction, and decided that decapitating one of the Goblins would make the other more talkative, and maybe provide more information. So, he hacked the head off the injured Goblin (a prone and immobilised opponent being an unmissable target after all).

I didn't quite know how to handle the morale shock to the other Goblin. It would be quite obvious that the PCs would happily kill it next, so I reasoned that it would only have one course of action open to it: to attempt to break free and attack the party. I decided to roll a d20 and the closer to 20 I got the more resolutely the Goblin would pursue this action, while the further from 20 the more terrified it would be. So basically, 20 and 1 were my extremes of desperation and terror.

1. I rolled a 1. Surely, the dice were telling me that this Goblin's escape attempt was doomed. And it probably know it.

"The Goblin, seeing that you've just cut its comrade's head off, screams, does a massive shit, and then dies of fright."

This provoked the most laughter of the evening, I think; the idea of a Goblin shitting itself to death (they are all 17 I suppose). But eventually they calmed down and did a search of the room (but not the bodies of the Goblins - they forgot about that) and tried the door at the far side. Now this door is locked, and made of stone, and too tough for the party to batter down. There is a key - but they haven't found it, because they've forgotten to look. So, having failed to pick the lock and failed to charge it down, they've wandered away from this room. This is a pity, as this leads to the rest of the dungeon. So I suspect they'll soon be back.

One more corridor lies on their side of the locked stone door - a corridor with two doors at the end. Deciding on the left-hand door, Josef tried his 'detect traps' skill - but failed to detect the scythe-trap that sliced out at him seconds later. I gave the trap a 'to hit' roll - against Josef's AC the trap needed a 13. And of course I rolled 16. Not particularly massive blades on the scythe, let's say d6 Damage, and I rolled a 3. How many hp does Josef have? Oh, yeah, 1hp...

As has been the case all the way through this campaign, I've allowed the PCs a procedure to come back from 0hp. First, other party members must be able to administer first-aid, which they did (this means if there's a TPK, there's no-one around to save your life). Having staunched the bleeding, the next thing is to make roll CON or under on a d20. If this works, you go to 1hp but permanently lose 1pt of CON (to represent the permanent effects of this major injury). You can then heal as normal. This procedure has saved the lives (briefly) of several PCs since I started playing with this group.

Josef took the d20 and made his CON roll - but missed by 1pt. So that's it, Josef just died of his wounds at the door.

And there the lads decided they should leave things, as time was getting on. What is behind the door? Who will replace Josef? Will Wiz Khalifa get to smash anything? Will the Dwarves get to murder any more prisoners? Find out in next week's episode of ... no wait, that's something else isn't it?