B4: The Lost City – Pt 9 (Conclusion)

I managed to finish off B4 last friday, which is good, because I was beginning to feel at the end of my DM rope. I don’t really know if my players enjoyed it or not, but the various issues I was having with the module’s design had turned running it into a chore. Even if they were having fun, there were plenty of times I wasn’t. I’d say that any and all of the stuff I ran as part of my Shadow Over Alfheim game (particularly Maze of Nuromen) was easier and more enjoyable to DM overall than the Lost City.

They party headed to the gambling den to clear out the rest of the take. The “weird” cynidicean encounters are a bit frustrating, because so many of them are just weird for weirdness sake, have little bearing on things, and often just create distractions. Ones like the room of people staring off into space and screaming randomly but not reacting to the players and the room where people are having a party and dancing with themselves may provide a pittance of XP bonus for murderhobos, but very little actual roleplaying opportunities; in fact, I generally gave the Cynidiceans a bit more cognizance of their surroundings and the actions of the players to make them more interactive than how they were written. At this point, though, I was glad they didn’t insist on finding out the mysteries of these two rooms and, after stabbing a guy in the leg to see what would happen (nothing) and talking to a fiddler in the party room who wanted to know why they stole the masks off the guys who were high on drugs in the foyer, they went to the gambling den and took the part of the loot that Darius had left behind.

And they took the 30′ x 30′ wall to wall flying carpet I’d placed there as a means to leave Cynidicea.

The factions loaded them up with some previsions and off they flew. I had kinda half-ass tried to throw a cool set-piece encounter at them as a “final boss fight”, but I don’t really know how well it went off. Part of the idea was to give them a chance to be set-up for a future game if we ever wanted to run Isle of Dread, but it didn’t quite work out. The flying carpet took them about a mile off the coast of the Isle on the way to wherever the hell it was they were going when they were attacked by three Pteranodons. The idea was that the Pteranodons would knock them off the carpet and they’d have to swim to shore. The problem was that they immediately tried to avoid them by flying higher, so by the time they encountered them, they were 500 feet above the water to where a fall would mean certain death.

I divided the Carpet up into 5 sections – 4 corners and the center. As the Pteranodons made their approach, I let them get a couple missile attacks in before they hit. From then out, the Pteranodons would randomly hit one area of the carpet, forcing dex saves and saves vs. paralysis to see if they got knocked back or off the carpet completely. Each Pteranodon would remain for 2 initiative segments (so melee characters could get swings in) before flying off to make another pass. In a few cases, folks got knocked off, but things like rolling ridiculously well to grab thrown ropes or use floating disc saved lives. The cleric proved his salt blinding the largest of the three and then, when it was able to find them by sound, by casting silence on the carpet.

It was a fairly kinetic, rough and tumble fight, but party killed two and drove off the blinded one, surviving the fight. I was a bit aggravated that one player seemed genuinely mad that I wasn’t rolling for the werefoxes, who’d gone with them; thank god no one pointed out to him that technically all of the characters whose players hadn’t made it were with them too and I wasn’t rolling for them either. By the time it was all over, I was glad to be done with it and proud that I hadn’t rage quit my own game (last week was a really lousy week, and while I wasn’t going to take it out on my players, I really didn’t have the patience for being nitpicked). They got back to whatever the hell city they were from/had been going to before they got separated, got the hero’s welcome, etc. etc., the end.

My game wrapped pretty early in the evening, so we spent another three and a half hours playing Index Card D&D, and I think most of us had more fun with that. I know I did.

Starting this friday, my friend will be resuming his regular DMing duties trying out a homebrew system built off Warhammer Fantasy RPG (don’t ask me which edition, I’m liable to say a random number and shrug) to implement in his urban adventure setting.

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B4: The Lost City – Part 7

If we weren’t using a Death and Dismemberment variation*, we probably would’ve lost most of the high-ish level characters and most of the rest of the original party members.

On the way down to level 5, the party encountered some hobgoblins who were keeping an eye on the trap door down to try to keep folks out who might be coming to mess with Darius, a high priest of Zargon, while he was collecting funds from the gambling den.  This encounter ended up a bit messy and the party couldn’t talk their way out of the bad reaction roll.  Some folks got hurt pretty bad, but the party managed to take out most of the goblins, with one escaping and another being bound and gagged and forced to lead them to the gambling den.

Here is where the poor dungeon design came in to haunt me again – how did the hobgoblins get past the two living statues?  Again, unless we go with the whole ‘only NPCs can use the secret pyramid tunnels’, the hobgoblins, and anybody, really, would have to go past two living statues/iron golems and two giant rock pythons every time they come up from the city! Well, the goblin led the party toward the gambling den and got a living statue’s axe right through his head – I hand-waved this by pointing out that he may not have been able to make whatever sign or speak whatever passphrase was necessary or may not have even known about needing it, as he very likely wasn’t the leader of his patrol.  I hate having to explain stuff like this players, and feel like maybe I shouldn’t, but I’m frustrated enough by the anti-logic of the dungeon’s layout that I try to address stuff when it breaks suspension of disbelief (which this module has frequently).

Anyway, the players searched Demetrius’ room looking for a trap door because there HAS to be a way into the rest of tier 5 that doesn’t involve walking past living statues an rock pythons, there just has to be! They didn’t find a more sensible way out, but they did find the secret treasure room with a closet-boss.  What is a closet-boss?  It’s when you open the door to a rather inconspicuous and isolated room that just happens to have a boss in it for no good reason.  In a 20 x 20 room, there’s nothing but a chest with 6500 XP worth of loot and magic items and a 10HD monster pretending to be a tapestry.

The first thing that the polymar tried to turn into was some vaguely bear-like creature (earning it the name ‘rug-bear’), taking some pretty brutal swats at the cleric.  It proceeded to eat one of the level 1 characters while the rest of the party beat a hasty retreat.  They ran into the Vultures and hired them to make a coffin for the dead character, just go down and pick him up; naturally, they found the polymar down there and a couple of them got gobbled up.  The players joined the fight after the second round, at which point, the Vultures made a run for it, straight into the room with the two living statues.  While most of the party was trying to hold off the polymar (which was more or less one-shotting players), someone tried to hold the door as the Vultures came running back screaming, two living statues in slow pursuit.

So, after a couple hours, the party hadn’t made any geographic headway and lost a few level one characters and had a few higher level characters sustain some pretty crippling permanent injuries, so we have a lame, 1-eyed thief (movement halved, no dex bonus, -4 on all ranged attacks) and a cleric with a shattered arm (-2 on all rolls requiring use of the right hand), but at least they ended up with nearly 9K XP to split between them.

The Polymar was probably the toughest thing they’ve fought, and may well be one of the toughest monsters in the top half of the dungeon.  With 10 Hit Dice and 3 attacks, it’s nearly guaranteed to hit at least once per round, probably twice, and very likely three times per target, meaning it takes between 1-2 rounds to kill a level 3 character before moving on to the next one.  The one saving grace is that it has AC of 9, so luckily the Vultures got enough hits on it with their hammers, else it would’ve been a TPK for sure.  The party really needed YOLO to tank for them, but that player is going to be out for the next couple of sessions.

I’m hoping that we’ll be able to wrap on The Lost City within the next session or two – Killing Darius is a pretty good stopping goal, and I’m ready to be done with this module.

*:How I do it is that I allow characters to suffer 1 grievous, permanent and crippling injury per level beyond the 1st instead of death.

B4: The Lost City – Part 6

Friday was another bloody session in the Pyramid (I’m sensing a pattern here). I feel bad that the same player keeps losing characters, especially since at least two of the last 3 times haven’t really been entirely his fault; wrong place, wrong time, brutal rolls.

The players were determined to avenge the deaths of the 3/4s of the party who’d been killed by the Banshee, so they stocked up on scrolls, including Silence and Magic Missile.  This fight would’ve likely been impossible if I didn’t allow for clerics to use scrolls, because Silence is not an arcane spell(!), but I always liked the idea of clerics carrying around liturgical papers that they could cast from.

The party hit a wandering monster encounter right as they were reaching the false tomb on the way to the king’s chamber.  They found a dozen hobgoblins wallowing in the counterfeit treasure.  The party got a high enough reaction roll that hobgoblins, while wary, weren’t planning on attacking so long as the party let them haul off the treasure.  If the party wanted to visit ‘the shouty man’, they could be their guest.

The party cast silence on one of their number who then ran in and began the attack on the banshee.  Unable to use its scream attack, the banshee was completely impotent to stop the party from having their way with the tomb, and the fight was a push-over.  Just to piss it off, they forced it to watch helplessly as the party members who weren’t carrying magical weapons pried open the coffin it was guarding.

The party waited out the hobgoblins, who had cleaned out the fake treasure, and returned for their rewards from the factions.  Usamigaras promised big rewards and eventually delivered on a large ream of 1st level spells in exchange for the two crowns which they will use to establish a puppet royal family.  Gorm declared YOLO Swaggins to be their champion to bear the raiment of the king (+1 Plate and +2 Sword) against the forces of Zargon and granted him access to their treasury; all things considered, I’m surprised he didn’t take the opportunity to clear them out.

On the way back down, the party ran into a bunch of crazy Cynidiceans wearing devil masks (the low-level cleric encounter) and made pretty short work of them.  Continuing on, the party went down the trap door, to the cleric Demetrius’ room, and on to the kitchenette where the two rock pythons were chowing down on a lady in a rabbit mask.  The rock pythons were a tough fight, since they get to do a bite and an automatic constriction attack.  The party’s main cleric would’ve died if they hadn’t killed the first snake before its second initiative.  The second snake managed to kill one of the party’s thieves – someone with a high AC should never be the first to melee a high hit die monster.  Since I agreed to use Death and Dismemberment for characters above 1st level who could be immediately cure-lighted and carried out (hence why I didn’t use it for the nearly half-dozen characters abandoned to the banshee), the thief only suffered a shattered leg – halved max movement and no dex bonus forever.

So, the last few sessions have gone from very low loot/low XP to incredibly high loot/high XP.  The last two or three sessions have all had 4 digit XP on a per-player basis, so just about everyone is level 3.  I think the Halfling would be level 4 if he hadn’t been level drained by the wight.  I think the group has decided that hunting down and killing Darius, the Priest of Zargon with ties to the gambling den on level 5 will be the end-point for the game, though a few people have thought “why don’t we go down the city and temple of Zargon to just kill them there?” Because this content is behind a DLC paywall.

I’m going to give Darius a wall-to-wall flying carpet or something, because B4 doesn’t have a rational end-game for anyone except for Cynidiceans who fill in for dead party members.  There’s a lot of fun stuff in B4, but too many things that don’t work from a sensible dungeon-design standpoint.  You either have to expect your players to accept at face value what Moldvay says about secret passages through the pyramid that only the inhabitants know about and the players can never have access to (a hard pill to swallow) or you have some very highly trafficked areas in ridiculous locations.  Lots of the random encounters are difficult to rationalize or justify quickly in answering the questions of “why are they here” and “how did they get here.” All people passing through from the city to the upper pyramid must have passed through the trapdoor in room 27 where the shrews are and the secret door past Demetrius’ quarters where there are two freaking rock pythons.  Why do the Cynidiceans wander up to the pyramid anyway?  There are just too many questions about B4 that can only be answered with “just because”.

I’d like to note something about how melee combat works – many games I’ve played with different DMs handle melee situations where a monster will roll a die and randomly attack the nearest character.  The rules, however, imply that once two individuals are in melee, they are locked in melee and will continue to be so until one is dead or spends one defensive round breaking off melee, at which point the other combatant either pursues and presses the attack (if initiative allows) or is engaged by or chooses to engage with another target.  Now, why is this important?  Because low AC characters can lock down big monsters while high AC characters can get some shots in.  If you go by having the monster randomly choose which nearby player it lashes out at, it unfairly puts thieves and magic users at risk (against ACs of 5-9, 5HD+ monsters can very easily score one hit kills) and discourages their active participation in battle, contributing to the whole ‘useless thief’/’useless mage’ trope.  However if you play by how the melee rules are written, a character with decent HP and an AC of 2 or lower (Plate + shield + Dex) can force the monster to continue to attack him, forcing misses and soaking damage while the thieves and magic users are safe to make their own attacks without being afraid of being one-shotted.  There are, of course, exceptions to this; big monsters or creatures with flight should have reasonable options in who they choose to attack, but there shouldn’t ever be a situation where a lizard man just stops fighting the fighting man and turns around 180 degrees to attack the thief who just tried to get a backstab.

B4: The Lost City – Part 5

The journey into the tomb at the heart of tier 4 was a bloody mess.  We’d have to go back to the DCC funnel for a session where we lost more characters.  Impressively enough, my players wanted to soldier on and keep trying!

With some dithering about early on, trying the “haunted” path one more time (only YOLO Swaggins made his saving throw against fear), the party eventually hunkered down to take the nautilus path into the center of the tombs.  The party managed to find and not spring any of the traps in the hall, and, with an abundance of caution, they reached the false tomb. Though their quest givers had specifically warned of the false tomb following the council of war, the party inspected it with an abundance of caution, piling up rocks and debris on top of one coffin before examining the other.

Now first, let me say that I don’t think that pyramid should be taken in a linear fashion, as there’s almost no way to deal with one of the tomb haunts by the level at which the players would normally arrive at it – they should almost certainly continue exploring down to the 5th floor for a bit, finding some of the necessary magical weapons, before returning to the king and queen’s tombs.  But the players were relatively insistent.

Unfortunately for the party, they chose the southern tomb (the king’s) first and got their shit utterly wrecked by the Banshee.  While not quite as fierce as its AD&D counterpart, its immunity to all but magical weapons and unavoidable AOE attack made it much more formidable than the party could deal with.  They went at it much longer than I thought they would and much longer than they should have.  Three rounds and four bodies later, the party realized they were way out of their depth and finally ran – even though they blamed not rolling a hit earlier so they would’ve known right off that their silver weapons were useless, if it were me, the second I knew I was up against something that did AOE damage for which there was no roll to hit nor to save against, I would’ve been out.

The only characters who escaped were YOLO and a Cleric who’d also reached level 2 last session.  They lost a cleric, a thief, a prodigal apprentice and an elf.  The elf was a real tragedy, because she very well could’ve levelled up this session if she’d lived.

The survivors ran like hell back to the friendly areas on the 2nd and 3rd tiers.  We finally reached the point where most of the original pool of characters are dead, and new characters are now rolled up from the Cynidiceans.

“After discussing the matter, the factions have agreed that an expeditionary force be sent with you to ensure that the relics are retrieved.”

“Awesome, how many guys are they sending with us?”

“The new characters you rolled up; you are the expeditionary force.”

The first order of business was retrieving as much of their party’s loot from the tomb as possible. Out of generosity, I’ve been giving a lot of the nastier tomb-guardians the Scooby-Doo treatment – if, after it menaces, you run the hell away and leave it alone, it won’t hunt you down and murder you.  If you peeked around the door, the Banshee would give you frowny eyes.  Luckily, YOLO Swaggins had good dex and a lot of HP, so he was able to survive long enough to lasso and drag out a couple of the bodies, though the thief who’d tried to backstab the Banshee was out of reach.

Y’know, more’s the pity that the party didn’t roll up any MU characters or that their elf died, since their best chance against the Banshee would’ve been to buy up a ton of scrolls of magic missile from the Magi of Usamigaras and spammed those.

The new party went for the Queen’s chamber and, just as scripted, the Queen pops out of her coffin and attacks.  YOLO took point on opening the coffin as he had the most HP.  He also had the most to lose when the Queen hit him.  There’s nothing quite like the response from your players when they’re up against something that causes level drain and you play it straight.  I do need to make note that I owe him about 400 XP, because instead of knocking him down to the half-way point between level 1 and 2, I took off the full 2000XP for level 2.  The party was fortunate that the Queen rolled for crap and that YOLO had decent AC, she only got one hit in before being hacked to pieces.  Still, level drain is always sobering.  The crown and the reward that the Sisterhood gave the party was enough XP to knock everyone new up to level 2 straight away, YOLO got his hit die back (and lucky for him, rolled a 6 again, so he’s still the party’s tank!) and the cleric now gets 2 cure light wounds!)

So, a few things:

-Doing individual initiative has actually sped things up, and there has been no complaining or arguing about who is doing what when.

-The Lost City does not make a lot of sense from a dungeon design standpoint; this isn’t going to be a problem except for when you have players who care about sensible dungeon design and will call you on it when it becomes relevant.  A lot of random encounters aren’t going to make sense, so you may need to wing it if the results you roll just don’t work for the room you’re players are in.

-It’s probably just because it’s the Tomb level, but things have gone from really Role-Play-ey to Hack-and-Slashy – this hasn’t been a bad thing, as it’s meant that the last couple of sessions have required almost no prep.  We’re very likely not going to go beyond some of the 5th Tier stuff, so I think I’m good on prep work.  I’ve got a tear-off I can hand whichever player gets possessed by Demetrius, I’ve already mentioned the rumor of a high priest of Zargon visiting the pyramid, and all I have to do now is let my players find and kill him.

-Even when players should know better (i.e. the first character dies before anyone can get a hit), they will attempt to persevere when they should run.  That Banshee was ye-close to a TPK.

B4: The Lost City – Part 4

Last Friday’s delve into the Lost City proved to be a session almost as bloody as the first, but it was also, by far, the most lucrative session we’ve had.

There’s been some actual interest in facing down Zargon, who I’ve acknowledged is an actual thing with stats in the dungeon, but I’ve also pointed out that it’s beyond the scope what we’re planning on playing.  Still, if the current “arc” doesn’t end in a TPK, I might let them see just how poorly they fare against the godling by allowing the Priests of Zargon to take them by an express tunnel to the bottom of the pyramid.  The party missed the one chance I afforded them, but they’ll have others, I’m sure.

The party returned to the 4th tier to continue looking for the round-robin path to the King and Queen’s tombs that don’t require the whole party making saves vs. fear.  The Rats nest could have been an ugly affair, but the players triumphed and found a major cache worth over 2000 XP.  They crossed the hall, springing the rolling boulder trap; per the suggestion of the module, I was generous in letting the party dive into the room they’d just opened.  One player decided to stay on the other side of the hall and wait for the party to make the full circuit around the block.  This proved to be a fatal mistake: while the other party members went along the northern loop that would have circled back around, a large party of Zealots for Zargon were coming the opposite way.  The Dwarf kept quiet and watched them pass.  The rest of the party decided to ambush the zealots with some flasks of oil and whatnot, and managed to do pretty well against them.  Killed 8 of them and sent the cleric leading them running.  Of course, I figured that the Cleric knew his way around the pyramid, and send 4 of the zealots to run around the loop and try to flank the party.  And they ran smack-dab into the lone dwarf who’d been hanging out in the hallway.

So, while the party made pretty short work of the band of zealots they were fighting, the dwarf wearing full plate could not outrun the unarmored zealots who managed to hack him to pieces.  Never split the party!

The rest of the party went back to the safety of the upper tiers to rest before going back down and floating disking the dead out of the pyramid to bury.  On the way back into the bowels of the pyramid, they ran into some Madarua cultists who, I decided, bore a silver sword to give to the member who’d joined them as reward for having killed a bunch of Zargon’s followers; they’d need it.

Unfortunately, instead of following the outside track, the party went straight for the room where the shadows were hanging out.  At first, they wisely decided to back off, but then came up with this strange plan where they would try to lasso some random jars or something and pull them out of the room.  The shadows weren’t going to abide by this nonsense and prepared to lay the hurt down.  I let the party escape, deciding that the shadows were more interested in guarding the room than hunting, so after killing one character, I let the others flee without pursuit.

Part of me is glad that they abandoned the idea to send a single character in with one of the jars linked to the Jester’s Tomb to shove as many handfuls of treasure through the jar as he could before the Shadows ate him, but another part of me kinda wanted to see just how bad it would go down.

Several characters only needed a few more XP to reach level 2, so I gave them a hint about the treasure that the Carrion Crawler guarded.  That thing went down without even a fight!  Easiest 3000 XP the party made!

I don’t know if they’re going to take another shot at the shadows; there are 5 shadows and silver weapons only do half damage (the player with the magic sword wasn’t there that night).  Even if they show up armed to the teeth with silver weapons, it will be one of the toughest fights they’ll have – maybe even tougher than the king and queen.

So, a couple things…

I decided to abandon initiative by side.  It just wasn’t working.  You would think that it would simplify things, with each player going around the table in turn and doing their thing, but it never turned out that way; it would turn into arguing about who was doing what, who should move where, and ‘I didn’t actually do that, everyone just said that I should do that, but I haven’t done my thing yet’.  It was much worse with simultaneous combat, because where do people move and when?  No one is going to want to move until the monsters have moved, and if monsters are supposed to be moving at the same time… ugh!  So, I’ve gone back to individual initiative, and doing the countdown.  And as much as I hate the countdown, things are going much more smoothly.  I AM however, breaking up monster initiative where I can (I’ll put 2 or 3 monsters on the same initiative; I wasn’t going to track all 13 zealots initiatives individually), and it makes the fights a bit more dynamic, I think.

I felt bad that both PC deaths happened to the same player, but while the shadows were bad luck (one shadow attacked each party member who hadn’t run, and one hit did a MU in), the Dwarf was all on him.  Again, never split the party and don’t go off on your own!

Sources of wood in the Lost City are a bit incredulous. Since someone brought up how implausible it is that there should be stuff made out of wood (mushroom wood, no less!), I think I may introduce a scarcity issue to compensate for the shield rules I’m using.  There were at least three character deaths averted last session by shield-breaks, but hey, even if shields grew on trees, there aren’t enough trees down here to keep up with how quickly the party is going through them.  I’ll probably limit shield buying to one shield per session per member of the cult.

Level 2 is not all it’s cracked up to be for some classes.  A couple players were shocked that neither attacks nor saves go up until 4th level.  But hey, the clerics can cast cure light now, so that’s a game changer!  Sometimes, though, that extra hit die is what makes all the difference.  The tankiest member of the party is now a halberd-wielding, plate mail wearing 13HP Halfling named YOLO Swaggins.

One player was rather frustrated that denizens of the pyramid knew about traps, didn’t set them off and seemed to have decent knowledge of the dungeon’s layout.  Now, this is one I’ve actually had to think about.  Any time I roll a wandering monster, especially if it’s a group of intelligent monsters or Cynidiceans, I have to figure out which way they’re coming from, which way they’re going, what would’ve happened to them and why they were going the way they were going.  Most of the Cynidiceans on the upper levels know about the traps and also probably are the ones who will reset them.  I’ve also reminded my players that the Priests of Zargon run the city and are regularly bringing sacrifices to Zargon so know their way around the pyramid pretty well.

The players seem interested in at least finishing the top half of the Pyramid.  I’ll have to figure out some sort of reason for them to go down to level 5, as finding the regalia of the King and Queen complete the main task that they’ve been asked to complete.  I ought to stick something that will let them get home somewhere down there.  The biggest issue with the module, I think, is that it never really addresses the crux of situation – the players are lost in the desert.  There’s plenty of adventure in the pyramid and city below, but at some point, people are going to remember “hey, weren’t we from somewhere and on our way to a place before we got distracted by the dungeon in the middle of nowhere?”

B4: The Lost City – Part 3

The party spent a decent amount of time screwing around in the Jester’s tomb, making all sorts of wild speculations on the uses of magic jars linked to the Jester’s sarcophagus. Their lengthy arguments were rewarded by an encounter with the wandering party of Cynidicean adventurers who assumed them to be hobgoblins and attacked.  The presence of an Elf allowed the party to avert a TPK, as the Elf was able to wake someone who woke the next, etc.  It was a near run thing, though.

I’d hope that the party would decide to sock the Jester’s coffin somewhere they’ve cleared out, rather than try to take it to one of the factions’ areas.  “Pretty sure the Magi aren’t going to be thrilled that you want to move a sarcophagus into their food store room.”  They ultimately decided they’d wait and see before they moved the sarcophagus anywhere.

The party avoided a group of wandering hobgoblins who were on their way to raid a tomb.  They went to the obvious skeleton trap (when you see skeletons standing around, what happens next is obvious) and managed to do pretty well.  Luckily the skeletons were 1 hp monsters; unfortunately, the 1st level cleric couldn’t roll to turn them until the fight was all but over.  Assuming that the mummy was a monster mummy, they torched the corpse of the guard captain from a distance before retrieving his halberd and plate.

At the council of war, the leaders of the 3 factions could naturally not agree on anything, but were able to give the party clues to the main treasure hoard on Tier 4.  The Brotherhood of Gorm believe that the best bet to stopping the followers of Zargon are to retrieve the sword and armor of King Alexander so that someone might act as champion against Zargon’s forces.  The Sisterhood of Madarua want to retrieve the Sceptre of Queen Zenobia, thinking its powers will aid them.  The Magi of Usamigaras have a much more ambitious plan; they’d like to retrieve the crowns of the King and Queen so they can set up a puppet monarchy by claiming some rubes they can control are the reincarnation of the royals and the rebirth of the royal line so that they can either unite the city against the priesthood of Zargon or at least create enough chaos that they can get a leg up on the other three factions.

The party also did quite nicely against the white apes in the Noble’s tomb in the NW and were rewarded with a plus 1 sword. The haunts did their job keeping the party from reaching the royal tomb (and certain death).  The fight with ghouls was pretty brutal and very well could’ve been a TPK, but some late lucky rolls joined with my shield-break rules kept the party alive.

The group was a bit happier with the XP haul this time around.  We had enough players that I restricted everyone to a single character, so the XP split ended up with around 600+ XP per character.  I pointed out that this was also the party’s first real delve outside of “friendly” territory; nevermind that the friendly territory was pretty deadly, too.  Thieves and clerics who have been around for all sessions should hit level 2 after next adventure, while fighty-men should be level 2 after maybe two or three more.  Elves will never level up, but that’s another story.

The response to the shield rule has been interesting.  It has significantly mitigated first level player death.  If you look at it in terms of “one hit becomes a miss once”, it doesn’t really seem like that big a change, but it has altered the way the players handle encounters.  Those who have shields will take the front line; when a shield breaks, that person will fall back if they can.  It also gives the factions a bit of additional relevance; they can provide shields to pcs who’ve joined and sell them to those who haven’t.  If anything, it’ll be a small money sink.  It’s certainly helped players ease into the brutality of B/X without having the game stall out with irreplaceable character deaths.  Because outside of Cynidiceans, who will make up the new party once the original 20 are all dead?

B4: The Lost City – Part 2

Things proceeded a bit more smoothly in our second session of the Lost City.  I had time to better flesh out the factions and even come up with some mini-quests that each side would possibly offer.

The Brotherhood of Gorm are followers of a god of justice and law, so despite their chauvinism and inability to get on smashingly with Usamigaras and Madarua, I’ve set them up to be a sort of facilitator faction; this plays well into the fact that these are the first guys the party met and with whom they are staying.

Usamigaras’ followers, as magic users, I’ve decided are a bit more capricious as a faction; they think that both Gorm and Madarua’s followers are too stodgy and serious.

Madarua’s followers are similar to Gorm’s in many respects, though their misandry leads them to disliking both Gorm and Usamigaras as male-led factions.  They dislike Usamigaras’ faction a bit more, as they have to share a tier together, and would like to see Gorm and Usamigaras’ followers at each other’s throats so that the women can get down to business.

Brother Kanadius of the Brotherhood of Gorm has decided that it’s time for a council of war to discuss dealing with the Priests of Zargon.  He has therefore tasked one of their PC initiates with delivering letters to the other factions inviting them to parley.  This gave the PCs a reason to find and meet the other factions.

I did give Usamigaras and Madarua faction specific quest options in which they would attempt to foment discord between the other two groups, but neither of these have really come up yet.  They still may eventually.  Part of Kanadius’ task for the party was make sure that the other factions aren’t trying to kill each other, so the PCs are awkwardly trying to mediate between the factions.  So far, I believe one player has a character who has joined Gorm and a character who has joined Madarua, while two players have one character each who has joined Usamigaras.

I’ve also gone ahead and determined what each faction sees as a goal that the players can help them with in the dungeon to aid them in their long-term plans; the faction leaders will discuss these during their council of war and, of course, fail to agree on which MacGuffins are more important.  This council will, however, give the PCs a reason to plunge into the undead hell of Tier 4 to find some sweet swag which they will be tasked with finding.

Much of the session was spent clearing out Tier 3 and meeting the factions.  The rotating room puzzle at the heart of Tier 3 provided the best possible use of a Read Languages spell.  Tada!  Suddenly the wonky runes are Cardinal and Ordinal directions!

The party evaded a small swarm of Cave Locusts by spinning the room to a new direction.  They impressively made the correct choice when rotating the wand-arm of the statue of Usamigaras and found the back way to the faction’s area.  There was a rough fight with a bunch of oil beetles, but the party managed to just survive it without losses.  The magi were grateful that their food supply was saved.  The followers of Madarua proved surly and taciturn, but welcomed one party member into their ranks.  Note on Madarua’s faction area – those ladies must all sleep on the ground or something; they don’t have any quarters!

The party did a spectacular job of taking care of the Draco Lizard in the NW corner of the pyramid; they lured it into an oil-trap they’d set, and it burned up real good (2 8s on 2 d8s + two successful ranged attacks!); it didn’t even matter that the part of the plan where they’d cast sleep on it was doomed to fail (Draco lizards are just barely too powerful to be sleeped).

On the way to find the trap door to level 3, the party was ambushed by a pack of giant weasels which, if I hadn’t been employing shield-break rules, would’ve killed at LEAST two PC, if not more.  The yellow mold room was wisely avoided, and the party tried stealing the vases from the Jester’s Tomb.  I think they’re going to try to floating disc his sarcophagus, move it to a more remote part of the dungeon, and use the trick-jars to stash loot.  I approve of this and will probably let them run with it.

So, a few things I’ve noticed – non-individual initiative is taking a bit for people to get used to, not because it’s significantly different, but everyone wants it to be their turn and roll their attacks right away; instead I’m making everyone take turns, going around the table.  It makes me feel vaguely parental in an unpleasant way, but I still think it’s preferable to the countdown method.

I am also begrudgingly beginning to admit that maybe ascending AC is a good thing.  I hate that feeling when players are looking at me like I’m stupid when I ask what AC they hit.  “I rolled a 14!” “What AC did you hit?” “I… rolled… a 14?”  I feel like it’s too late to switch now, but I think the next time I run a game for people, I’ll go ahead and convert everything to ascending…

There’s also some—I don’t really know what to call it; it’s not exactly griping—comments/feelings about XP and leveling up among the players, especially those relatively new to RPGs.  Someone pointed out that we averaged about 36 XP per hour that we played (it was actually 288 XP per hour split 8 ways), and at that rate it would take forever to reach level 2.  Once upon a time, I would’ve felt the same way, and even told someone once that if characters were still level 1 after the first few sessions, something was wrong.  I know now that I was wrong then, but I don’t know how to show this to my players.  There’s definitely a focus on leveling (at least one player admits to being a recovering MMORPGer) in newschool gaming, that makes it hard for folks to kick back and enjoy the adventure and perils that 1st level adventuring has to offer.  I mean, they killed a bunch of giant bugs, a pack of weasels and a Draco Lizard without losing a single party member!  It was a near run thing with the weasels, but no one died.

Hopefully the grumbling is more observational than actual complaint; we didn’t level particularly fast in DCC, where after months of playing, the highest level character is my 4th level Thief (who still only has 10 HP).  Still, DCC is a higher HP system, where you get half a hit die at level 0 and it uses a base d8 rather than a base d6.  Its ‘XP for encountering something’ system rewards Scooby-Doo-esque running through halls, opening doors, seeing monsters, slamming doors, then running to another door behavior, though if we weren’t being allowed to buy XP with gold, we would almost certainly be hovering around 2nd level still.  I’ve run the numbers on B4, and the first 5 tiers, monster XP excluded, has enough treasure to get a huge party to level 3 (Thieves and Clerics may hit level 4, even), and if it takes two-to-three weeks to clear Tier 4 and three-to-four weeks to clear Tier 5, everyone could easily be level 3 in about a month to a month and a half.  I’m not old enough to be all “Back in my day, we only had three levels, and we liked it!”, but seriously!  I’m hoping folks will be come to appreciate low-level B/X for what it is.  Despite this, everyone seems to be having a good time, and as long as they are, I’ll be happy.

And man!  Players are always concerned about details that never specified in modules and are usually overlooked in dungeon design, especially pertaining to doors: “What do the hinges on this door look like?”  “Does the door open inward, outwards or swing freely?” “Are the hinges on the right or the left?”  You’ll save yourself a headache if you go in beforehand and mark this sort of stuff up.  I at least had sense to figure that the doors coming off of the rotating room all open away from the moving part so that they wouldn’t snap or get jammed when the corridor spins.

“Hey, Tom Moldvay – would it have killed you to make the names in this module easier to pronounce?”