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.

B4: The Lost City – Pt 8

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The Evil Priest, moments before he is mercilessly hacked to pieces in under 3 rounds!

Last friday should have been our final session in the Lost City, but because of how things played out, we’ll be having one more session so that there’s at least a nice epilogue.

Darius, the Priest of Zargon featured on the cover of the manual, ended up being a pretty disappointing and anti-climactic boss-fight, particularly since he is the ultimate villain unless you’re playing the expanded version where you go down all ten levels and fight Zargon himself, so hopefully I can offer something that will make up for it tonight.

The party found a ton of swag in the council room where the Gargoyles were. Luckily the party had enough magic weapons that they could handle them, though, with the gargoyles getting 4 attacks per round, it was a near run thing for a couple characters.

In the grand chapel, the party met the two werefoxes, who I clumsily tried to roleplay for. I wasn’t really sure what to have them do. They couldn’t easily ‘trick’ the party, as they were vastly outnumbered and overpowered, so they pretty much had to play along with the party, with the fox girl latching on to party’s tank.

So, here’s how the wheels fell off the final session. My explanation of why Darius was up in the pyramid was that he periodically visits the 5th tier’s gambling den to collect a portion of the winnings to take back to the temple in the City. The werefoxes had been looking to score some money in the gambling den, but didn’t want to take the chance while a high priest of Zargon was around, so they’d been pretty much camping out and waiting for him to leave. The party decided they would camp out and wait for him to ambush him instead of going into the gambling den and fighting him there. I beefed up Darius’ escort from 6 to 12 hobgoblins, but even that ended up not being enough.

One of the Party’s thieves took to scouting the corridor towards the gambling den and got smashed nearly to death by the trap that alerts the Priest. Since the party was intent on fighting him in the grand chapel, I took a few minutes and planned a fairly intricate round-about strategy for him – a few hobgoblins would go in fire-team style, essentially creating a diversion at the southeast door. They’d wait for the Priest and part of his entourage to go through the secret door that the party hadn’t found, then go in. A second team of hobgoblins would then go in the southwest door to try to get the players from behind while they were fighting the first team. Meanwhile, Darius and the remaining hobgoblins were racing round-robin up the west corridor to try to get to the exit by coming in the northwest door. I calculated that the whole thing would take about 16 rounds.

Of course, the hobgoblins ended up dying pretty hard to the now 3rd/4th level party. The first team got slaughtered, and the second team found their friends dead before they got a chance to help. The party was kind of slow on the uptake, though, even as I kept having people move as though they were in combat, and they stayed around the south end of the room for a handful of rounds. As they finally decided to head to the other end of the room, the priest and hobgoblins came in. Darius tries to get a bless off, but gets hit before it resolves. A couple hobgoblins try to act as a screen while others carrying loot make a run for it. One of the lower level fighters was almost killed, but the hobgoblins’ priority was getting away with the take. They’ll probably wish they were killed by the party when they show up down in the city and the priest isn’t with them.

For a 6th level cleric, Darius ended up being an incredibly weak boss fight. In the face of the party, he himself lasted about two and a half rounds; he had a buff spell interrupted and got one attack on one character. All of his henchmen kept getting one-hit-killed, and a few easy magic sword hits (he only has AC5), burning oil and scrolls of magic missile took him down pretty quickly as well. With only 22 HP and human attack bonuses, he was a much less threatening encounter than the Gargoyles and a pushover compared to the Polymar. If I had it to do over again, I’d give him 6 3rd level clerics instead of 12 hobgoblins and put him in plate.

Since they didn’t encounter him in the gambling den, the party didn’t find the wall-to-wall flying carpet that was going to take them out of the dungeon. Lessa the foxgirl stole a few K GP worth of treasure off the priest, but there was so much other loot they failed to notice it was missing. The werefoxes liked the proposal that they be the ones that the Magi of Usamigaras put up as the puppet royal family of Cynidicea, so they’ll probably use the opportunity to clean-out the place. Tonight, the party will go back to the gambling den, get the rest of the treasure, find the carpet, fly out of the dungeon laden with loot, then get attacked by pteranodons and wash up on the shore of the Isle of Dread.

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?”

B4: The Lost City – Part 1

B4 is certainly living up to its reputation as a pyramid of blood.  The party has already faced multiple PC losses as well as losses from their potential replacement pool.

Though I’m sure it’s familiar with our player who’s been with us since we’d used LotFP, the DCC players who were not with us in the funnel are a bit taken aback by how lethal B/X is, especially when allowing players to roll for their HP at 1st level.  Like the DCC funnel, I’ve given everyone multiple characters, allowing them either to roll up their own or use the pre-gens that come with the module.  Unlike the DCC funnel, everyone doesn’t magically jump a level because they survived the first session; of course this assumes that reaching level 1 is ‘leveling up’; here, you’ve already got all of your classes with their perks – what you don’t get is that extra HP from having 1d4 at level 0 and the extra boost from being based on d8 rather than d6 hit dice.

One of the complaints some players had in DCC was how little XP they felt they received.  Though the numbers in B/X are going to be higher, I don’t know if players who are focused on the desire to level up will be any more satisfied getting 200-300 XP vs. 4-5 XP, given that it still may take several weeks to reach the next level.   I think that once the party thins a bit and XP will not be split as many ways folks will be a bit more satisfied with their XP hauls, but we’ll see.  The party technically missed out on some free XP they could’ve gotten by signing up with the Brotherhood of Gorm, and still may be able to get that payout if they get those sweet gold masks.  Depending on how they do, though, I think that the party should be able to finish the top half of the pyramid finishing out between levels 3-4 depending on their class.  Once folks reach level 2, I may introduce Death and Dismemberment, particularly if the pool of fresh PCs runs dry.

So, how am I playing my game?

Players have a pool of 24 potential characters who were part of the caravan.  PCs are rolled up out of this pool.  Once they’re gone, they’re gone.  A few died in the night because the party opted to rest a day after fighting the firebeetles rather than press on and find food and water.  There are about 8 non PC members of that party left.  Each player got 3 characters to start, as we only had a few folks show up at first, but as latecomers arrived and we suffered some PC deaths, we settled on 2 per player.

I’m trying to do combat simultaneously with shared initiative.  I’m using some inversion of weapon speed or weapon reach so that two handed weapons strike first in combat.  So what it’s been looking like is the guy with a two handed sword swings, I’d go around the table and everyone else would make their attacks, and if the monsters hit, I’d tell folks who they hit and what damage they did.  I may tweak this a bit, but it has been working out fine so far.  In the cramped corridors of the pyramid, there isn’t much in the way of moving around or complex tactics beyond “fighters, plug this hole”.

I’m going with the shield option I described the other day, but I have warned my players that I may revoke it if they start abusing it by just lugging dozens of shields with them everywhere they go.  I may restrict it to once per combat or somesuch.

Magic users start with 4 random spells, including read magic.  Holmes memorization from scrolls/dungeon book rules apply.

I’m nominally using encumbrance, but I’m going to leave my players to keep track of their own.  I don’t know that I’ll be particularly tough on this excepting when finding treasure hoards.  When the players found some gems and asked about cashing them in, I recommended they hold onto them, as it would be much easier to hang onto a couple gems in the dungeon than it would be a chest with nearly 2000 coins.

So how did my players fare in the dungeon?

They were careful enough in the entryway, but forgot to bother checking the cylinder doors for traps.  A falling block (I misread a trap on the fly) killed a fighter, and no one bothered to spike the door, so when the top room filled with poison gas, it killed a 1 HP fighter and nearly killed a couple others who derped around until I pretty much asked “are you going to open the door?”  One player’s characters actually hid in the cylinder, escaping poison gas, and jumped down and fought the fire beetles.  Amazingly, the fire beetles didn’t kill anyone!

The party decided to wait and rest and doing so, lost 4 from their replacement pool from thirst and hunger.  Back in the pyramid, the party ran into a wandering group of goblins looking for food for Zargon.  The goblins rolled remarkably high on their reaction – which is good for me, because I love RPing goblin encounters – and told the party about hunting and how they could help by killing a few of the white beardy men for food, thus pointing them in the direction of the first faction they were to encounter.  Though it quickly became obvious the ‘white beardy men’ were humans, the party briefly considered cannibalism in their desperation.

The fight with giant geckos was a fright, but amazingly no one died.  Drawn by the noise, the white beardy men, aka the Brotherhood of Gorm, showed up to investigate, ultimately offering the party refreshments.

One of the many tough bits about Lost City is that while you have factions, only the Priests of Zargon have a clear motivation – feed people to Zargon; the other three factions all want to ‘restore Cynidicea’, but there’s no real explanation for what that means nor is there any indication of the factions differing strategies in accomplishing that goal.  In the couple days I had to go over the module, I hadn’t really assigned any modus operandi to the top level factions, nor had I developed them beyond their personality quirks.  Once the party met the Brotherhood of Gorm, the Brotherhood didn’t have much for them to do yet other than offer a bounty on wandering greenskins.  This week, I’ll be fleshing out what each faction wants – each will want something the other has.  I also need to figure out what each faction can offer in terms of a solution to their city’s problem.  Probably each will specify some thing on level 5 of the dungeon that they think will help restore the sanity of their people, or at least further their cause and put them on top.

After a rambling explanation of what was going on with Cynidicea from Grandmaster Kanadius and a Gormless joke that went over my players’ heads, the party set out to explore and maybe meet some other factions.  The party was put off a bit by the Brotherhood’s chauvinism, which was to be expected.  I doubt they’ll find the other factions to be entirely to their liking either, but that’s kind of the point – hedge your bets and side with the least odious option.

They met the sprites, got some fireworks, ran into the weird buzzard undertakers, found the dead hobgoblin, were forced to pay the undertakers to haul off the hobgoblin, ran into a weird bird-masked lady who gave them a pouch of sweet smelling powder and found the treasure cache in the secret room full of stirges.  The party did decently against the stirges, but the two-handed sword wielding warrior maiden was sucked dry by one.  Damn shame, as she would’ve been a great addition to the Sisterhood of Madarua.

I’ve been having fun with this one so far, and I think my players are too, though some of them are a little taken aback by how quickly you can die in B/X.  I also think it’s easy to take for granted how much additional prep work B4 demands of you compared to the previous Basic modules.  It’s meant specifically to bridge the gap between running a Basic game and an Expert game and hopes to teach budding DMs more nuanced faction interaction, but it doesn’t hold your hand; just as it expects you to come up with a lot of details of bottom half of the pyramid and the city itself, it’s up to you to figure out what makes each faction different and special and how they should interact.  I was able to wing it, but I think my game would’ve been better for it if I had actually sat down and took the time to plan out faction interactions rather than refresh myself on room keys for levels the players certainly would not have reached in the first session.

Countdown to Running B4 – The Lost City!

Things I’ll need to address tonight in running B-4: the Lost City.

-Character pool: B/X is a high mortality system, and B-4 is very sink or swim (find food and water within a day or two or die) and opens with some pretty dastardly traps and an encounter that may be out of depth for 0 xp characters.  My thought for this is have a group of characters who stay outside of the pyramid and keep watch while the others investigate.  This also puts some additional pressure on finding food and water to bring back to their friends and may strain potential faction relations.  Alternatively, other members of the missing caravan may straggle in later.  The big problem with this setup is that there’s a decent chance that the original characters will all die off and have no one to replace them but Cynidiceans.

-Again, the high mortality of B/X.  While I like this aspect of the game, Lost City’s setup makes it challenging, especially even getting inside, as the only way into the pyramid is right into the middle of a nest of fire beetles.  I hate how shields work in D&D (literally every fighting style that makes use of shields, the shield makes up the lion’s share of your defense, not the measly +1 bonus to your worn armor), so I’m using an optional shield rule that will allow characters to sacrifice a shield to soak any one attack; that will at least keep folks alive long enough to get out of the 1st room of tier 2.

-Lost City is balanced for 6-10 characters, while I may have 4 players tonight.  I’ll probably give everybody two characters, maybe 3, borrowing from the DCC funnel.  Seriously, the fire beetles will probably take out two characters at least; even though they’re only 6 HP each, they do 2d4 damage and have AC 4, meaning they won’t be super easy to hit and will probably kill one character per hit, especially if I make people roll for their level 1 hit dice.

-Deciding whether the the Cynidiceans speak a language that the player characters can understand.  If the weird people in masks are speaking gibberish until characters can pick up the language, it changes a lot of the underlying expectations and concepts explored in the module.

-Keeping factions straight.  This shouldn’t be too big of a problem since there are only 3 factions that the party will certainly have to deal with, and it will be a lot of fun – I actually really enjoy roleplaying NPC characters.  The big challenge here will be trying not to have the followers of Gorm constantly snarking about how Gormless their rivals are.

-Figure out an end-game.  Where does this go?  No matter what happens, what the players accomplish, how much loot they managed to scrounge, they’re still stuck out in the desert.  I won’t have to come up with this for awhile, but at some point there needs to be a way to leave if the party doesn’t want to just settle down and become Cynidiceans.  When I’d fused this with Tower of Zenopus, I’d addressed this by setting Cynidicea below the port town at the bottom of a series of caverns off the eastern ghoul tunnels, making it the “lost city” rumored to be deep beneath the ruins of Zenopus’ Tower.  Of course, I don’t know that I want to run through Tower of Zenopus as a prologue for this.  If one of my players wasn’t someone from my Zenopus game last year and this weren’t planned to be something of a short term game, that would absolutely be the direction I’d go, but I may just stick some sort of magic exit creating swizzlestick somewhere in the city.